Tested

“And I also know how important it is in life not to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.”
-- Primo Levi, Bear Meat


Yesterday, on my way to work, I pulled into an unassuming petrol station.  While the fuel dispensed, I noticed the bird poop smattered over my windshield so I grabbed the communal scrub brush soaking in bright blue cleaner.  As I began scouring the dried scat, my mind flashed back to a year ago in Western Australia.

On a rare, overcast day in Perth -- a city that boasts 285 days of exotic sunshine -- my mother and I pulled into a petrol station a few kilometers south of the [PER] International Airport.  After more than a month cruising through the outback, we needed to fill our Britz Hi-Top one last time before we returned it, but – more importantly – we needed to hide the evidence. You see, hire companies in Australia aren’t ignorant to foreigners and their antics.  It is written into every rental agreement, in every state, that drivers never utilize unsealed roads.  As you can imagine, no one abides by this rule since the nation is rugged, wild, sparsely populated and two-thirds desert.  Indeed, this country was meant to be conquered via the open road. To receive our $3500 bond, Mom and I borrowed every container with clean fluid and began rinsing the gargantuan Britz in the parking lot to eliminate any speck of red dust.
Of course Mom & I could’ve paid for a bonafide car wash, but why? Especially since the sudsy water in the bucket was complimentary for patrons.  Though many endeavors precariously teeter between ethical and simply being a cheapskate, they also strike a deeper nerve with travelers.  I was reminded of the comical yet all-too-backwards scene from Into The Wild wherein the main character approaches a ranger, asking “Where’s the best place to launch [to kayak the unbridled Colorado River through the Grand Canyon]?:
RANGER:  ...Do you have a permit?
CHRIS:       A permit for what?
RANGER:  You can't paddle down the river without a permit. If you like, you can apply
                   for one here, get yourself some experience, and I'll put you on the wait list.
CHRIS:      Wait list? To paddle down a river?
RANGER:  That's right.
CHRIS:      (giggling) Well how long do you have to wait?
RANGER:  Next available is May 17, 2003.
CHRIS:      (laughing) Twelve years?

The way Chris perceived the wait list, and his reaction, is the exact principle I’m referring to. Recalling abluting the Britz, these are the actions you take and the personality traits that surface when you become a nomad.

Mom & I chose to recuperate in NSW a.k.a. New South Wales for 5 days, after 36 in the outback.  We stuffed ourselves at pricey, well-known Sydney establishments like Mr. Wong's; slept in every day since we each had a Queen bed with a pillow menu at Amora Jamison, and strolled through cute neighborhoods like Darlinghurst.  Though we were reveling in urban life, it was the polar opposite of the past five weeks in Western Australia where we fended for ourselves.

We simply had changed too much.  Despite Sydney’s vibe, Mom and I could not entirely shed our nomadic skin.  Desperate for clean clothes, the nearest laundromat was over a 2 kilometer walk away and not open late. Refusing to pay the outrageous taxi fare and haul (literally) our entire wardrobe to another neighborhood of the metropolis, we pulled back the curtains in our extravagant hotel and scanned the cityscape.
Eureka! In illuminated red letters, a block from our reconnaissance window, I zeroed in on the word “Travelodge.”  Mom and I set off, backpacks crammed full of rank clothing.  However, I grew uneasy about our mission since we were unfamiliar with the hotel’s layout and may be stopped by staff as we wandered around the building.  My mother – who watches a Jason Bourne film every time it is aired– reassured me “you belong here,” quoting the main character. 

So, I feigned confidence and smiled nonchalantly at the front desk attendant as we waltzed across the Travelodge’s lobby.  I made a beeline for the elevators while Mom casually asked a clerk how to access the laundry room.  The world was our oyster.

Throughout my time abroad in Western Australia, I secured many discounts.  There were tons, I just needed to find the boldness to ask!  Regardless of age, origin, or sex, there is one commonality between all budget travelers: they are exceedingly assertive.  With a little sweetness, the foreign exchange teller waived my transaction fee, I paid $30 AUD for a WA Discount Pass (that saved $100 on lodging), and – most importantly – the hire company delivered a replacement Britz Hi-Top since ours hadn’t been returned but we needed to get on the road to Cervantes (pronounced “Seer-van-teez”).

As the fifth – and final – week in Western Australia neared, Mom and I had morphed into excellent vagabonds.  After surveying a campervan park our first night as guests, we realized we could pay for a grass site without electricity, but run an extra-long extension cord to the power box so long as we did it at night after all the staff [& occupants] dispersed.

By this point in the voyage, we were confident in our adaptability and willing to further test our skills considering our vagabond behavior had only been rewarded thus far.  We questioned, why settle for free electricity, when we could aim for an entire night of lodging that cost $0? The challenge became exciting, addicting, and practically a game… as in how many costs could we cut before the universe reprimanded us?

With just two nights until we flew out of Western Australia, Mom & I decided to take the risk of sleeping in a public park.  This manicured area south of Freo a.k.a. Fremantle was situated near the beach, offered 24/7 WCs a.k.a. bathrooms, and provided heated grills.  Essentially, it was a free version of the RV park we slept in the night prior. After using the various amenities, I parked the Britz in a dark corner – as out of sight as possible –  and passed out.  However, in the back of my mind I anticipated being awoke in the middle of the night by a police officer’s assertive knock.
However, that knock never materialized and we snoozed soundly that morning under the shade of a gum a.k.a. Eucalyptus tree.  Staying in an extravagant Ritz-Carlton is certainly global travel, but you want for nothing. You’re never really tested by the world outside.

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