Thursday, September 10, 2009

Western Australia with our new 4WD Nissan Patrol

We're in Australia right now, and we've bought a red 4WD Nissan Patrol -- the big brother of the Nissan Pathfinder -- loaded it up with 2 spare tires, tons of extra water, dried foods, a spare 60 liter canister of extra petrol, camping gear, and a French girl and a British girl -- and are driving around western Australia.

A few anecdotes:

Buying the 4x4:
Because we’re buying the car from backpackers, we go the old-fashioned route and start looking at flyers in hostels. In addition to showcasing their vehicles – year, mileage, recent repairs -- the "car for sale" advertisements also noted they have a “roo bar.” Apparently, its de rigeur to keep a kangaroo bar attached to the front of your car to prevent damage when those lovely little creatures dash in front of your car on the highway.

Preparations for travel:
Consisted of lots of details that you don’t think of before you set off on such a trip. We’d need a can opener, wine bottle opener, and a cutting board. We’d need plastic plates, bowls, silverware, tin coffee mugs, pots, pans. We’d need a gas stove, gas canister, Tupperware of many sizes, and a table. We need a cooler. We need cardboard boxes – or preferably, empty milk crates – to store this all in. We need dish sponges, dish soap, a metal-wire scrubber.

Then, of course, you can’t venture hundreds of miles from civilization without spare petrol canisters, spare water canisters, at least 2 spare tires (including a spare wheel rim), a car jack, jumper cables, and a basic tool set – at least a wrench. Back at home, we have half a dozen old wrenches lying around in garages and tool sheds, but here they’re $10 at the hardware store.
Ditto with building the bed – we needed metal screws, yet another thing that everyone at home has, but here in a new country, we need to get it from the store. We also need a hacksaw.

First day:
I put food – gallons of canola oil, at least 15 kilos of dry beans, 2 kilo of oats, 4 of flour, 5 of rice, and a boxload of fruits and veggies – into cardboard boxes across the hardwood floor of my friend's living room in Perth. Some of the boxes are so heavy I can’t lift them, and spread out over the floor they take up what seems to be the entire center of the room. I wonder how we’ll ever fit this into the car.

I wander outside. Sara has strapped the 2nd spare tire to the roof rack, and it seems to take up half the space. She’s standing on the roof attaching camp chairs, a shower jug, and a soft-shell second cooler to the remaining roof space. “Shove the food in under the bed,” she says, referring to a narrow cube of space in the back. I go back inside and try to lift the heavy boxes. No can do. I drag a box across the wood floor. An edge of a plastic bag holding 3 kilos of bulk chickpeas snags on something, and the beans spill out over the floor.

Hmmm, I think, looking at a sea of thin, easy-to-tear plastic bags filled with beans and lentils. This could be a problem. I suppose I could line a cardboard box with a trash bag, and any bags that rip would spill into the trash bag. Then I could throw them all into a soup. But we don't have a plastic trash bag.

I wander back outside. Sara is still standing on the roof tucking things under the cargo net. She’s got a plastic net hook in her mouth. “Hey, I think we should get some ratchets,” she says, “so if we have to break hard for a kangaroo, all our stuff won’t go flying over the highway.”

Another $30, I think to myself. These trip costs are adding up fast.

The first week:
Our LPG (natural gas) tank is leaking. We know because we drive 140 kilometers with a full tank, and then stop to refuel; we fill 45 liters. There’s no way 140 km burns 45 liters. No way. So we pull into Geraldton at 3:30 pm and call a mechanic who specializes in LPG installations and repairs. By 4:40 he’s figured out what we need, a 1.5 hour service that can be done in the morning.

“Know any place around here to sleep?” Sara asked. “A camping ground, someplace free. We can’t afford the $25 a night camp sites around here.”

“Ah, well, you could drive 10 km out of the city and look for something,” the guy said. “Lots of brush in those parts. Or if you want, you could sleep here after we lock up.”


“Sure, you wouldn’t be the first ones to do it. We lock the gates at 5, so once you’re in, you’re in. But you can spend the night here, sleep in the office if you want, use our kitchenette. You’ll get to meet the dogs, too. They’re our guard dogs, attack anyone who tries to get thru the gate. but don’t worry, they’re real friendly.” large Doberman and Labrador. “Don’t let em put you off. They bark like mad. Bark at every little sound. They bark at their own bark.””

Sara came back to us with the plan. “What do you think, guys?”

“This place would be warmer than a tent,” the British girl said.
“And it has a kitchenette, with a real stove,” said the French girl.
“And a proper toilet,” said the British girl.
“And running water. We can wash our dishes. Get the sand out. They’ve needed to be scrubbed for two days,” I said.
The vote was unanimous.