Broome, Western Australia

Port Hedland out of the way…
Well it should be an old story now that VirginAustralia almost messed up my family vacation to Sydney last year. Being one that believes in holding businesses accountable for their actions, despite all attempts by VirginAustralia not to accept it erred, I was eventually able to squeeze some sort of compensation from them – a credit to my travel bank account. The airline expected me to utilise within a year. Time passes very fast, especially when you are having fun. A year has just gone by and I must use the balance in the travel bank or lose it. The question then was, in this vast continent called Australia, where do I really wanted to go. It was either darwin or Port Hedlands that was on my mind, that was until I heard of Broome from a colleague.

So why Broome? The answer was in the history of the town. It was the capital of commercial Pearl farming in the world and hence had a rich history in the diversity of people that call Broome home. It was also because of what I have heard about its clear blue waters known and depicted by its most popular beach – Cable Beach. As I was told, at low tide if you look carefully at an unmarked spot you will be able to see the footsteps of a Dinosaur! I was also told that it was the gateway to Kimberly, one from which many an adventurer set up for their exploration journey of the Kimberly – an area that consists of ancient, steep-sided mountain ranges. It is a popular stop for cruise ships in Western Australia and features in many Australian Travel magazines as one place that one needs to visit in his lifetime. All these were the reasons why I had to jettison the idea of Darwin or Port Hedland and chose to visit Broome. I knew the answer was certainly not about its future – not much economic activity was happening there. The sands are red…. the sort that do not support farming. As to mining, it wasn’t Broome that commands the pride of place as well.

Broome is a remote northern city of Western Australia. It is around 2,200kms away from Perth. If that doesn’t say much, consider that as being 30hrs drive away by road or 2hours 30 minutes by a jet plane.

I wanted to be a backpacker….

I wanted to be a backpacker. One of my ambitions, when I retire, is to travel and see the world without this costing me a fortune. This was to be my first experience in backpacking and I gladly embraced it.

In planning for the trip, I wanted to stay at a budget hotel and have an opportunity to mix with that group of people that are always on the move, exploring new territories and taking in the sights and sounds of our beautiful planet. I got on booking.com to reserve accommodation but the options I got were not appealing. Consider sharing a room with 4 bunks and paying $50 per night? I freaked out. That would be a lot of body odour and possibly smelling shoes in a container box. I am sure my constituents will rebel at this and may catch some sickness there from. I settled for the next sensible thing, a 5 star hotel advertised as “Broome with a view”. The Mangrove Resort Hotel.

That part of my backpacking experience, the one that was doable, was to find my way to Perth’s Domestic Airport Terminal 2 without my car or using a taxi. I called in the help of maps.google.com and thereafter commenced my journey. After a sweaty 2hrs of walking and using Transperth, I arrived at the Airport. This was a trip would have taken me less than 30mins by car. In making it to the Airport in one piece, without my car, I was pleased with myself.

…and it was take-off to Broome.

The trip was in a Fokker 200, a plane designed for 100 passengers. We had a full flight, probably with 2 empty seats. Everything went well, except for a little delay at take off, Perth airport must be having too many flights taking up and landing than its runway infrastructure could cope with. It needed to expand, Perth is no longer a little city, not anymore. Our flight was delayed for about 30mins but we finally took off. I sat next to a middle-aged couple, they were sort of a nice pair but not much conversation took place between us for the two and a half hours flight, except for a simple hello and thank you here and there, when beverages were passed.

Maybe it was Quantas announcement of its losses and plans to slice 5,000 jobs or maybe it was just that VirginAtlantic was miserly and was trying to cut costs to address the loss it also announced, the refreshment provided aboard the flight was one of the worst I’ve had in a very long time. The flight was smooth, smooth enough that I wanted to catch some sleep. I did not succeed with this. The attraction to take in as much view of the vast barren land that makes a large part of Western Australia and was fleeting past my window was enough to stop sleep in its tracks.

Yes, you'll need a 4X4

The pilot’s voice finally came on the speakers informing us to prepare for landing. The plane landed and ,again, as I had witnessed several times over the passengers that have patiently sat in the plane for more than two hours could not wait for an extra five minutes for the doors to open. They were all up in the aisle, flinging the luggage racks open and displaying that impatience that is common to most men. Me? I was calm and quiet, after all I was on vacation. I alighted from the aircraft to be met with the warmest gust of air of a type I can hardly say I had experienced before. Surely, this was Broome and we were in the northern fringes of Australia! I walked into the arrival terminal, across the carousel and in no time was out of the small airport building. I got to the taxi rack and after a wait of about five minutes, a taxi came along and I made my way to the front passenger seat.

The driver must just have finished a stick of cigarette as the air in the bus was fouled with a nauseating cigarette smell. I hate cigarette smells and was getting annoyed when the driver tried to start a conversation with me. Where are you from? I am originally from Morocco. I answered that I was from Nigeria. He paused and then said “what the fuck is going on over there? Men there’s a lot of killing in that country!” For the second time, in two days, I was being called to act as the Njgerian Minister for Communication, a position that I was neither being paid for nor appointed to by the Nigerian government.

View of the Roebuck Bay

I confirmed the killings and mentioned that it was an attack by the Islamists against Western Education. One thing that gave me hope, in the ensuing conversation, was this guy was probably a Muslim and he was unhappy on how a group of people, under the guise of religion, will reject rather than embrace an opportunity! The opportunity that western education provides. It tells me that true Muslims were not supportive of the “jihad” that is being waged against innocent, men, women and children in North East Nigeria.

I was soon at the hotel. Remember, the one whose slogan is “Broome with a view”? An elderly lady was at the counter, one with a charming smile who tenderly asked “how may I be of help to you today?” I was in the best of mood, probably it was the smile that disinfected me of the anger that was brewing in me earlier. Oh, top of the day to you, if you’ll give me a second, I will hand over to you a beautiful piece of paper so that you can help me find a wonderful room in this BIG city of yours. She did whatever people of her type does on the computer and handed me a key with directions on how to get to my room. I walked across the frontage of the hotel, made a corner, took a flight of steps and was at my room’s door.

The room was modest but far away from anything luxurious. I was disappointed. I settled in, took a shower and was out of the room. It was time to explore and on the agenda was China Town.

There was nothing Chinese about China Town…

When is a name not a name? Well if you ask me, it is when the name depicts something and the thing named is not in the least a semblance of the name. You got it! There was nothing Chinese about China Town!

When I browsed through the top 10 things to do in Broome earlier on Tripadvisor.com I didn’t pay attention to the things travellers had written about China Town.

Chen's Chinese

Who would? If you have been to China Town in Singapore, Korea, San Francisco, you would have already made up your mind on what to expect in China Towns. Think Different, so advised Steve Jobs. Broome’s China Town was a world apart from such China Towns. At 7pm on this Friday, there was nothing to see. The shops that adorned the town, the Pearl Shops, were locked up and the only thing that depicted a semblance of life was an odd bar with a couple of hippies at the front yard.

Japanese Monument

I walked further then I met the original landowners of Australia – the Aborigines. The truth hurts but must be told and I do this with a deep sense of apology. They were everywhere on the field and the sight depicts homelessness and a general abandonment of whatever potentials that life may hold. It was a mix of generations – the old, the new and the very new. It was a sight that I behold nearly everywhere I have been on this vast continent. I also saw the presence of government, it’s efforts in providing medical care to this group. Right there, on the field, was an ambulance attending to whatever medical needs these people have.

I kept on walking until my stomach started speaking in tongues which I deciphered as it saying “I am hungry”. Then came the tempter. In my case, I wasn’t being asked to turn stones to bread as it was with Jesus. It was a still, subtle voice saying you deserve a McDonalds. I took a look at my expanding waist line and remember how my daughter taunts me on this. I said No, I don’t.

Aborigines on the move

Then the voice became persuasive, just across from you is a McDonald, it’s the closest place to get a burger. I was yielding to this reason and was about to cross the road when I got strength from above and said begone from me, you Devil. I am not having a burger. I settled for fish and chips and took this along with me to the hotel. It would be my delicious supper. Oh, I almost forgot, it was also with water as I also said No to Coke as well.Yeepee, I survived the tempter!

On getting to the hotel, I noticed an unusual number of vehicles parked everywhere. I went to the receptionist asking to know what was happening. She informed that there was a pool party going on with a live band. I made it to the pool side and there was a lady playing a mixture of cool soul songs to the guitar strings of another member of her band. I took a seat and spread my fish and chips on the table, it was time to eat. I was at peace with myself looking at the vast waters of Roebuck Bay, the harmony between the water and the mangrove forest around it and how calm and easy going the people around me were. Everything was devoid of stress. I imagined this was the way the good Lord wanted the world to be. Damn Adam! He shouldn’t have eaten the forbidden fruit and brought a course upon us all. I took a look at the Cliffs around the bay and the different layers of brownish rocks that have been exposed by the years and years of the water pounding on the cliffs. I concluded that the earth was from old and my faith was once again reaffirmed in the creation story in the book of Genesis.

I looked at my watch, it was a little bit after 9pm, I walked back to my room, placed a few phone calls and fell on the bed with a heavy sigh of “a-ha”. I put on the TV and listened to the news about man’s foolishness and stupidity across many places in the world fuelling wars and death. I said my prayers, closed my eyes and slept.

All he saw was potential…

I woke up to the gleaming rays of sunlight penetrating into my room. I shrugged my shoulders and turned to the other side. If there was anything that I had come to accept as fait accompli in Western Australia, it was the early risen of the morning sun. The sun, in all it’s full glory, rises over the land as early as 5:30am on most days. Today, I am on vacation and was least bothered with the sun. I tried to catch some more sleep. It was futile, I soon gave up as my body clock seemed already programmed to come alive and will not yield to the manual override that I was suggesting. I said my morning prayers, took a quick shower and off to the hotel’s dining room I headed. Got there only to be told that breakfast was not included in my room rate and that I needed to pay $25 extra for this. I chose not to do this.

I headed to Cable Beach as I had been told that no vacation to Broome was complete without visiting this beach. It was the town bus that I joined. This bus looks told a story that it had seen better days and the end was coming to it. The Driver was white bearded and his look was one that suggested he took his work more serious than life. I paid my $4 fee and took my sit at the back of the bus, joining only two other passengers. We passed through China Town, the Airport, the Crocodile Farm and finally were at Cable Beach. The trip afforded me the opportunity to see Broome for all it was – a sleepy old town with a coastline whose glory days have passed. The roads were good with a trickle of vehicles on the roads. The houses were not new and reflect ages in their existence but were well taken care of.

I went straight to the Indian Ocean shore and was whaoed by the sheer cleanliness of the water. It was untainted by filth in any form.

Cable Beach

You can see through it and it was luring. For as far as the eyes can see, it all was crystal clear water and there were no dirts anywhere on the beach. It was as if some fellow cleans the beach and he does this diligently and frequently. The beach was not crowded and the few people there were busy pursuing their different passions – yoga, running, walking, swimming and for some just sitting down and taking in the clean fresh air. I took a few pictures, captured the sight on my GoPro and was walking back until the sight of some unusual looking rocks in the middle of the beach caught my attention. I walked towards this mound and was met with another wonder of nature.

Cable Beach Rocks

Right around me were black rock boulders on a floor that seemed to have been tiled by a skilled workman. The tiles were made of limestone rocks that have been smoothened and polished by the incessant washing of the ocean water. It exhumes a sort of beauty. A different kind of beauty. I took some pictures with a plan to print these and frame them up for my wall. I walked back towards the cliff and once again was accosted by the red soil. It was everywhere, covered with some overlay of grasses and other light sand. I am sure those interested in finding out how old the earth was will find some amazing things to work with here. I took a slow climb up the ladder and headed to Sunset Bar & Grill. I settled down to a full continental breakfast for 28 quids, taking my sit at a spot with an unhindered view of the ocean. I ate in silence, slowly, but the whole world around me was noisy, full of chatters. There were family tables and others of friends all having breakfast and talking from the same mouth. It was a delicious meal and after giving it some time to digest, I walked towards the bus stop.

Passing through the car park, I came across the burst image of a gentleman with a parrot on his shoulder. His name, Robert McAlpine.

Freeman of Broome

I read the tribute to him and what really caught my attention was the statement “all he saw was potential”. Robert came to Broome from the UK in the late 70s, a time when Broome had been in significant decline with the hay days of the Pearl Industry gone. He saw opportunities to invest in tourism and promoted the rehabilitation of the historical aspects of Broome and he pursued them significantly becoming the architect of present day Broome as a tourist destination. For this, in 2012, the people of Broome awarded him the Freeman of Broome title. I said to myself, if he is the freeman supposedly every other man in Broome is under bondage, a slave maybe?

Well, that said of McAlpine, he did what many in his time would consider brave, he bought into many Broome properties. Some say it was as many as 85, many of which were in disrepair and for a town with no meaningful source of income, one will consider this as great risks. He was said to be responsible for the remodelling of the Sun Pictures, reputed to be the world’s oldest operating picture gardens. In essence, he single handedly managed the transition of Broome from a dying remote town with its lost glories in pearling to the darling of many adventure seekers as a tourist place of interests. As I walked away from his burst image, I wondered whether I see the same thing in Broome to which my answer was an emphatic No. Its not the sort of place on this beautiful planet of ours that I will like to live. I then asked myself again whether I see such opportunities in my home town and country. That got me thinking. Opportunities abound everywhere.

As I moved towards the bus stop shed, I encountered a few camper vans. The dusts on these vans tell a whole story of what they’ve been through to made it to Broome. The occupiers were mainly teens and young individuals whom I assume had taken a gap year out of school to pursue some weird adventures like touring around Australia. A few of them are lazing around in the shades the trees provide while I saw two fellows and a lady, in her bikini, take the trip to the Beach to cool down. I felt this was one thing that I needed to do. To throw all the cares and concerns of life aside for a year or so and be free. Freedom in the sense of seeing the wild beauty that Australia and some other countries provide.
After what seemed an eternity and a lot of sun tanning, the town bus finally arrived with our dear bearded driver at the wheels. As we entered, he took a special interest in one bloke and asked where he was from. Mandurah, the bloke answered. Our bearded driver said something, which I didn’t catch, to mean that he knew him as he had lived in Mandurah before. I was just so happy to be in the bus, with its air condition and shielded from the hot rays of the sun. I thought of the sight of the vast empty lands that I saw from my window in the airplane and concluded that the reason they remained uninhabitable for this long is the fierceness and mercilessness of the weather agents like the sun. Just imagine how people will survive in the wide open under this sun. We were soon at the market, an open local market that holds every Saturday. I alighted from the bus with a couple of other tourists. We crossed the road and were in the market where various articles were displayed for sale, mostly dresses and pearl necklaces. There were a couple of food vendors as well as local paintings.

Broome Market

I took a look around, found nothing of significant interests, except for the paintings. The paintings were well presented and were the artists representations of the various relief features of the Kimberly – cliffs, rivers, birds, crocodiles etc. Albeit, these were over-priced and ,to me, they did not represent value for money. I took a few pictures and walked to the Broome Visitors Centre.

…and all I saw was nothing to do….
At the Visitors Center, my attention was drawn to the warning to be careful about purchasing pearls in Boome and to attend a presentation on pearls and what to look for.

Visitor Centre

I entered the exhibit, with the thoughts of buying a pearl ornament for my wife. After going through the exhibits, the pearls were just not impressive to me and again, like most things in Australia,they were over priced! I walked to the visitors centre look through the various activities and tours on offer like 4X4 drive through the Kimberly, Helicopter flight over the Roebuck Bay, Catamaran trip, open roof bus tour of Broome, visit to the crocodile farm and similar attractions. There was simply no interest from me on these. I took one of the visitors guide and sat down looking through it to see if anything attractive will jump out to me. Nothing did.

It was lunch time and I was hungry. This time there was not much debating between me and myself, I crossed over to the Chicken Place and ordered an ordinary sized chicken burger. I ate this in silence while looking across the oval or field. In the open plain of the field, despite the heat, were the Aborigines in groups. My thoughts wandered on whether these group of Australians were without a home where they could rest their heads and avoid the heat of the day. I could not fathom what the issues were and gave up. When I was done with lunch, I found my way back to the hotel. Mid-way through, my fitbit vibrated, a notification that I had achieved 10,000 steps for the day. I got to the hotel, with a lot of perspiration, and quickly turned on the air conditioner, took off my soaked dress and fell on the bed for an afternoon nap. I woke up around 5pm and went down to the back of the hotel, taking in the beautiful sight of the Roebuck bay, its vegetation and the muddy flats created by the low tides. In the distance, I noticed something unusual, whipped out my camera and zoomed on it. It was a boat, with two men in it,

Stuck on the mud flats?

possibly stuck in the mud and waiting for the tide to come in. They looked relaxed and were probably fishing as well. The musician started his performance and the crowd started trickling in, taking their sits across the yard. I went to the bar and ordered myself some crocodile meat with a glass of orange juice. I was in the yard for another one hour or so and returned to my room to catch up on the day’s news and what stupid acts men have engaged in again for the day. What was news for the day was the problem in Ukraine and the decision by Russia to mobilise its troops across the national borders of Ukraine to protect its citizens there. I ruminated over this a little and concluded that this was nothing but an act of aggression by Russia. That was not the wisest of all moves. The crazy attack in China of a gang of men wielding knives and stabbing people randomly at the train station, killing 33 in that singular incident, was also mentioned. O God, please help mankind! This was my thought when I went to sleep.

Back to the hustle of Perth…
It was 8am when I woke up the next morning and remembered that I needed to check out of the hotel in less than 2 hours. I called the receptionist and requested for a late check out which she granted without any fuss. I considered whether I could make it to Church here in Broome and felt that was not likely. I got on my phone, made a few calls and then was back to my itinerary on what I needed to do before leaving Broome. It was a visit to the Museum and the gift shop. I was told that today being Sunday it was most unlikely that the two places will be open.
I took my time in saying my prayers, took my bath and read the days papers. Found out that my idol, Dolly Paton just performed at the Perth Arena over the weekend, I was unhappy and asked how come I never knew that Dolly would be in town. I turned on the television and got hooked on an Australian outback trip to Kununnura, a border town in Western Australia, east of Broome. I was awed by the sights shown on the TV, the beautiful mountains and the fresh river that flows for 55km with its residents amongst which were the crocodiles. I concluded that there was a lot to see in Australia and I have not started yet. I packed my few belongings, and went to the receptionist to check out. This time, the receptionist was a young lady of European accents. She wanted to know where I was headed to and I made her know this was Perth. Something in that answer doesn’t satisfy her and she asked where I was originally from. I said Nigeria. She said, a-ha, then the heat here should be nothing to you. I told her that it was something as Nigeria doesn’t get this hot. That was a shocker to her as she said she expected it to be much hotter in Nigeria. Taking on the toga of the Minister of Information for Nigeria, as I have often been called to do, I took some time to explain the weather in Nigeria to her. She told me she was from Scotland and it’s always cold over there. She must be one of the many European students that visit Australia to work and vacate for a period of six months to one year. I said my goodbyes, took an apple from the counter and walked to Chinatown.

I sat down at the Aarli’s bar and ordered a Chicken Meal. On finishing my meal, I walked the 1km distance to the airport, checked in and used the available time I had on hand to finish this journal.My experience in Broome is that it was a sleepy little old town that you may want to visit if you are seeking for some quietness and want to be away from all pressures of modern day city living. However, if you are the very adventurous, unless you are ready to drive a 4×4 and head out into the Kimberly, there is virtually nothing to keep you engaged. Oh Yes, the bars were pretty populated and if you drink, you will find some good company in these. For me, it was another experience and was relaxing to the body. It allowed me to give some thoughts to some pending issues and overall, with someone else paying the bill for the flight, I have no regrets.

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