Archive for September, 2010

Wrapping Up in WA

After a week of being in Western Australia, Dallas and I are both getting anxious to get back to the boat and get going. The cost of living here in WA is quite high thanks to the mining industry, so it’s not the best place to be having an unplanned vacation on a tight budget. Apparently we’re not the only ones finding it “dear” (expensive). There was an article in today’s paper about the way in which the mining industry has created a “two-speed economy”, with those working in mining making almost twice as much ($100,000/year on average!) as those in retail or hospitality. Quite a discrepancy! Fortunately, the sunshine and natural beauty are free.

Monday was a public holiday. Believe it or not, it was a celebration of the Queen of England’s birthday, even though her birthday is actually in June, I think. They must have needed a spring holiday. Anyway, there were all kinds of people out and about in Fremantle, filling the al fresco restaurants and beer gardens and making the town feel even more vibrant than before.

This morning we returned to downtown Perth, dropped off our bags at a backpackers’ hostel, had a bite to eat (more accurately, Dallas had a bite, I had a slurp) and took a nice, long walk through Kings Park en route to the hospital for the post-op check up. The doctors were pleased with the results of the surgery in terms of both the jaw and the facial cuts. They showed us the X-ray on which you can very clearly see the metal plates embedded in my chin. In most cases, these remain for life without any complications. They also removed the stitches, and I dare say that I’m looking much improved. Tomorrow I have one final appointment to get my two chipped molars filled in, and then I should be done with medical care, hopefully for a nice, long while!


Perth from Kings Park

xrayJaw of steel

DSC_0446 (2) The great maxillofacial docs, Nathan and Philippa, and my new face (minus the eyes)

Thursday we fly back to Christmas Island and will be quickly wrapping things up there as well so we can get on the move. The seasonal clock is ticking!

There’s not a lot to report from Perth.  We’ve spent most of our time the last couple of days resting and moving from a hotel in Perth to a backpackers in Freemantle (Freo as the locals call it).  For some reason it’s been difficult to find more than two nights available anywhere at a decent price, so this is our 4th accommodation in a week.  Lauren’s jaw continues to get better, although there is still a bit of swelling.  Tomorrow she has the follow-up appointment with the surgeon where she might get her stitches taken out and should get cleared to go back to Christmas Island.

Saturday afternoon Australia’s biggest sporting event occurred.  The event is the Australian Football League (“Aussie rules” football) Grand final.  Aussie rules football is sort of like a variation of rugby, but it involves lots and lots of running, tackling, short hand passes, and long kick passes.  Goals are scored by kicking the ball between two inner posts (6 points) or missing a bit and still getting the kick to go between two outer posts (1 point).  We watched a bit of a match in Darwin and it looks like an incredibly fun game to play.  The Grand Final was between Collingwood which is sort of like a blue-collar version of the Yankees and St. Kilda, which is sort of like the Cubs.  Collingwood wears black and white stripes, has been in the Grand Final a record 40 times (since 1897), and is the team everybody loves to hate.  St Kilda has won only one Grand Final – a 1966 victory over Collingwood by one point.  St. Kilda is also the record holder for most last-place finishes.  Needless to say, we were rooting for St. Kilda.  Both teams are from Melbourne, where the match was played, and there were over 100,000 in attendance with thousands more at an overflow site in a city park.  We watched the first half at the hotel, with Collingwood getting out to their usual large lead.  St. Kilda eventually began to get things going and pulled to within a couple of goals at halftime, when we went to watch the rest of the game at the Melbourne Hotel.  The game lived up to is billing as an exciting match, and the Collingwood fans lived up to their reputation of being loud and raucous.  With only minutes left, St. Kilda took the lead for the first time in dramatic fashion, but when time expired after 80 minutes of play, the score was tied at 68.  We were excited about getting to see a Grand Final decided during overtime, but everyone else seemed to be calming down – post game interviews started, fans started leaving, and things were getting quieter.  We were afraid that the Grand Final was going to be declared a draw, which seemed unthinkable, but when we asked we were told that there was no overtime.  A complete match would be played the following week to determine the championship.  That was almost equally unthinkable coming from the heavily scheduled and scripted television-dominated US sporting scene.  So, next week Australia will do it all over again.  It’s like having two Super Bowls in the same year.

DSC_0398 Australian rules football has lots of scoring, so there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to get excited

So far, Freo has lived up to its reputation as a pleasant, trendy seaside town.  We spent part of the afternoon at the Maritime Museum.  Maritime museums have certainly become more interesting to us since we started travelling by sail.  This one was small and we only made time to take in the first floor, but even that lasted for about 2 hours.  The museum had a lot of local and fishing history, but we did learn some interesting things about Indonesian and local sailors.  It appears that the Indonesian fishermen we saw at Ashmore Reef have been coming to what is now Australia for more than 200 years to collect sea cucumbers, shark fins, and trochus shells for the Asian markets.  The Australians have now restricted them to coming to only a few offshore reefs and they also require that the Indonesians travel without engines and without modern navigation equipment.  You can definitely see how they would want to prevent the exploitation of the natural resources by large, modern vessels, but forcing the Indonesians to sail without even a small auxiliary engine or GPS seems almost criminal.  Their vessels are made of wood, navigation is by homemade compass, and living conditions are pretty primitive, but a GPS for modern navigation is so cheap now that it really seems like it would not only be a significant safety item but would also take away any excuses about the Indonesians accidentally straying into prohibited locations.  It’s a tough balance.  On one side are the extremely poor Indonesians, who are in debt to several families who own the meager fishing boat, have wives and children to feed, and have ancestors who have been coming to these reefs and islands well before Australia claimed them.  On the other side are the Australians, who are firmly in control of the reefs and really are attempting to conserve the natural resources and marine populations, allow continued traditional fishing, and still maintain control of their borders from an immigration perspective.  The museum also had interesting displays on the 1983 America’s Cup race which was won here in Fremantle by Australia using a secret and revolutionary winged keel design and marked the first time the Cup was won by a country other than the USA.  Fremantle was also home to two world record holding single-handers.  One was Jon Sanders, who sailed around the world three times non-stop (over 685 days at sea) in the 1990’s and the other was David Dicks, who was the first teenager to sail non-stop, single-handed around the world in 1996.  It was David Dicks’ age record for a circumnavigator that was broken by Zac Sunderland last year.

DSC_0401 Perth has some great architecture and the Freemantle Maritime Museum is no exception

DSC_0406 Jon Sanders sailed this boat around the world 3 times non-stop.  It’s displayed similar to how it was when it was Jon was on deck and the boat was doused by a 100-foot wave in the Southern Ocean.

Last night we had dinner at Little Creatures, a local brewery on the waterfront that was recommended by the dental assistant in Christmas Island.  It was a really fun place with great atmosphere and good food; we even managed to find some soft food on the menu for Lauren.  Apparently it’s a well-known and popular spot.  Before we left Los Angeles, we met a young couple from Perth who were visiting Venice Beach.  We didn’t anticipate making it to Perth, but they were telling us how great it was, so I took a few notes on my Blackberry.  I just dug up the notes on my laptop and guess how they start: “Perth. Fremantle. Little Creatures…”  Pretty funny.  I’m not sure we’ll make the rest of the locales on the list, but I guess we’ve checked off an important one.

Parts of southwestern Australia, including the Perth area, are one of the few places in the world that enjoy what’s called a Mediterranean climate.  Our old home in Southern California is another.  With the warm, sunny days and cool, clear nights it really does feel like being back in Southern California minus all the smog and congestion.  Perth is a bit out of the way (even the locals find it easier and cheaper to vacation in Bali than to make it to the other side of Australia), but it’s well worth a visit.

Baby Got Bite

I was discharged from the hospital today. Yay! As we walked out, Dallas remarked that tomorrow will be the first day in a week that we won’t be spending part or all of the day in a medical facility. That’s a long time for us freedom lovers to be tied down! Also, as much as I loved the attention from the sweet nurses (including my husband), I won’t mind having a break from being assisted to the toilet, poked and prodded at, lacking energy, etc. I’m sure I’ll get to experience plenty of that as I get older, but for now I’d like to continue enjoying my youth!

Yesterday went about as well as it possibly could have. We got yet another early start, caught the bus, and were the first of the last-minute add-ons for surgery to arrive at the hospital. It seemed to have paid off – we only had to wait for about an hour and a half before they took me down to the “transit lounge” to get cleaned and prepped for surgery. Then it was only another couple of hours before I was being sedated. (It could have taken all day!) As they transported me into the operating room, I was a little nervous and pointed out to the Irish anesthesiologist that I was still awake, just in case he didn’t notice! He told me to relax and inhale from a mask used to calm me (the anesthetic was applied through the IV), and less than 30 seconds later, I was in la-la land. I awoke to a different and friendly-faced anesthesiologist asking me about my pain level, which wasn’t too bad (4/10) except for in the throat. (I guess they inserted a tube into my throat to prevent choking on fluids). Then my jaw started to clatter involuntarily, but he quickly pumped me full of more drugs, thus relaxing my jaw and bringing the pain down to a 1/10. Then came the best part – Phillipa, the lovely junior doctor (thank goodness some have a decent bedside manner!), came over and informed me that the surgery had gone very well and that they hadn’t had to use any screws or braces to close my jaw; repairing the break at the bottom of the mandible seemed to be sufficient. Finally, they took me upstairs to the ward where I saw Dallas, grabbed his hand, smiled, and pointed to my face saying “no screws”. 

I spent the night in a room with three other women with various ailments, and by evening, I felt well enough to chat with them and watch Mamma Mia together, each on our separate TVs (you have to pay $7/day to watch them!). It was fun to have the female company, and I was surprised how quickly I was able to recover. Throughout this process, I have been amazed by the body’s healing abilities – each day I am less swollen, more mobile, and more energetic. Today I am raring to go, but my activities will be limited for a while: no alcohol for a week due to antibiotics and no solid food for 3-4 weeks!! Oh well, I will just have to take a page from Dallas’ grandmother’s playbook and start “whizzing it up”. One other thing – my facial lacerations, which the surgeon cleaned up and stitched, can’t be exposed to sunlight for…wait for it…a year! That is going to be a little awkward with our lifestyle, but I’ll just have to get into the habit of applying some super duper sunscreen and wearing a hat on a daily basis. pic

Mmmm, instant soup for dinner…can I go back to the hospital for some real food?

Dallas is just now recovering from spending several days running back and forth from the hospital to the boat, grocery store, hotel, etc. and not getting much sleep in between. He wasn’t permitted to stay in the hospital last night, so he stayed in a dorm-style room at a backpackers lodge full of late-night partiers. Not the best environment for someone who’s sleep deprived and has to get up at 6:00, but he is now in the midst of a long nap here in our comfortable hotel room. We are pleased to be staying in this room for at least two consecutive nights – plenty of time to rejuvenate. I just wish the mini bar wasn’t stocked with so many goodies that I can’t have!

I have a follow up appointment with the maxillofacial surgeon on Tuesday, and the next flight to Christmas Island after that is on Thursday, so we will be a bit behind schedule but back on the water soon enough. Thanks so much to friends and family for their well wishes and notes of support! It means a lot!

Slowed to a halt

Life has a way of slowing us down sometimes, and in my case, it happened very abruptly! I crashed and burned pretty hard, but I’m very thankful that my injuries weren’t more severe and that I’ve been in great hands in terms of my medical care. After reminiscing with Dallas about the medical facilities we’ve seen on our travels (e.g., Tonga, Vanuatu), I’m counting my blessings that my bike accident occurred at Christmas Island. The staff at the hospital was incredibly nice, and I was able to recuperate in an air-conditioned, unmoving room for a few days, which would not have been an option in the less developed islands.

Dallas has demonstrated himself to be a very attentive and patient nurse. I was pretty disabled the first day or so since I couldn’t open my mouth much at all or use my left arm, but he helped me accomplish the day to day necessities such as feeding and bathing. When not tending to me in the hospital, he’s been tending to the boat and also offered to help some Argentinean cruisers with engine trouble. They pulled into the cove on Saturday under sail, and we were impressed with their ability to bring the boat to a halt so near the rocky cliffs and get their anchor safely dropped. When the British cruiser from another boat came to ask for our help in towing them to a mooring, we discovered that they had not anchored that way by choice. Their transmission wasn’t working, and Christmas Island is not the ideal place for such repairs, but Dallas has been able to use both his Spanish and his mechanical skills to fix the presenting problem (and identify a new one…typical with boats).

Yesterday afternoon we hopped on a plane bound for Perth. I was more than ready for a change of scenery after staring at the same four walls for a few days, and donning a hat and sunglasses, I could almost pass as a vacationer rather than someone in need of medical assistance! We arrived in Perth pretty late and already sleep deprived (particularly Dallas who had been awakened twice the night before to talk to the insurance company) but tried to take in a bit of the city en route to our lodging. Today we’ve had a chance to walk around and get a feel for it, and it is pretty impressive. The Sydney of the west coast, it’s an attractive, clean, metropolitan city built alongside a very wide and blue river. There seems to be a lot of money here, much of it presumably coming from the mining operations here in Western Australia. The architecture is a mix of traditional European (e.g., the public buildings and galleries) and modern urban, and there are some classy looking restaurants, jazz clubs, etc. sprinkled throughout. Definitely not a bad place to be for a little while…

sunset Sunset from a different aspect than usual

architectureA glimpse of downtown Perth

It is looking like we’ll be here for a week. The specialist who evaluated me at the public hospital today confirmed the fracture in the center of my jaw and made an appointment for surgery tomorrow morning to pin it back together. With any luck, that will fix my bite (at the moment none of my back teeth meet up – hence the starvation diet of soup and fruit puree), but he suspects that he’ll need to use some “screws” to hold things in their proper place for a bit. Oh joy! I will probably be discharged after one night but will need to return in a week for a follow up, after which we should be able to return to the boat and get moving again.

Saturday started off just as we’d anticipated.  We had a great dive on the underwater wall right beside the boat.  The visibility here, which is some of the best in the world was off just a bit because of the rainy, overcast day, but it was still a fun dive.  We followed the reef slowly down to 50 feet or so and then started descending the wall.  We were at 100 feet in no time with no end in sight, just a deep, vast, featureless blue stretching out below us and beside us.  We swam the wall out to a nearby point and then returned, slowly decreasing our depth as we went.  Even with the start at 100 feet and some uncommon buoyancy issues, we managed to stay under for nearly an hour.  Although some of the reef was killed by unusually warm water earlier this year, it was still spectacular in spots.  We saw plenty of reef fish, but kept our eye on the deep blue as well to see what we could spot.  By the end of the dive, we’d seen a white tip reef shark, a very large cod, a tuna, and a group of four big Napolean Wrasse at least as big as the ones we saw on the great Barrier.

There has been a scheduled community social event each day we’ve been here and yesterday’s event was the Chinese Mooncake Festival put on by the Chinese Literary Society.  The local community here is a combination of Australians, Chinese, and Malays.  In the late 19th century, large phosphate deposits were discovered here and the a mine was started using Chinese and Malay labor.  The mine is still in operation today, and the diversity is pretty impressive for such a small place, with common sights like Mosques and temples, and common sounds like the calls to prayer and several languages being spoken.

After taking in a bit of the mooncake festival, we visited the Golden Bosun, which was mentioned in our cruising guide and by locals as a convivial local pub.  Convivial was an apt description.  We were engaged in conversation from the moment we walked into the open-air veranda until we left.  There are some places where it’s hard to sit down and not meet someone interesting.  It seemed most everyone had seen the catamaran in the cove.  We got a good laugh out of someone telling us that when they saw our catamaran in the cove Friday morning they said “Ahh, looks like Hollywood’s in town."  Maybe we’re just not used to seeing her from a distance.  We also got a glimpse of the Australian combination of love of gambling and high-paying mining and industrial jobs, with guys repeatedly willing to bet $100 and more on a simple flip of a coin.

The unplanned part of our adventure occurred the next morning on our way home from a new friend’s house. We hopped on the bikes for the short downhill ride to the cove, but halfway down the hill Lauren hit some loose gravel and took a tumble.  After checking her over for broken bones, bleeding, awareness, etc. I ran back up the hill and had our friend come back with his truck.  It was clear after taking a good look at her that we needed to visit the hospital, so off we went.  We found out today that what we thought would be a few stitches turned out to be a fractured jaw.  Actually, they use steri-strips and glue here instead of stitches, so several of the cuts on her face have a light purple covering instead of ugly stitches.  The hospital here is small (6 in-patient rooms), but well-staffed and is actually a clean, well-run first-world hospital, which is more than we can say at many of the places on our itinerary.  Lauren is the only in-patient, so she’s been getting all the nursing attention she needs.  I can’t imagine the staff anywhere being more kind and friendly.  They’ve really been incredible.  We definitely have to say a big thank-you to Peter, Nola, Ivonne, Doreen, Julie, Terry, Helen, Amy, Allie (sorry if we’ve misspelled any names) and all the rest.  You guys are the best!

DSC_0370 Lauren in the X-ray room with Terry & Doreen (the shades are for the bright “aiming light” on the machine)

Unfortunately, the nature of her jaw injury requires a specialist to assess and treat it, so we’re headed off on a flight to Perth, Australia tomorrow to see one.  That’s about all we know right now.  Other than not being able to eat solid food, she’s in pretty good shape.  She has a few sore spots, especially her elbow, but a couple Tylenol (Panadol here) every now and then are doing the trick.  I called our insurance company today to provide the required notification today and got a typical US health insurance message that went something like “Really value your call, but you’ll need to hold for a while.  We don’t cover all the things you probably think we do.  Re-read your policy.  Don’t think we’re going to send you money just because we’re talking with you.”  You get the idea.  We have a basic emergency plan for travelers not living in the US, so it will be interesting to see how all of that pans out.  I guess out next post will be from Perth.  It’s a spot we’ve always wanted to see, just not under these conditions.  Oh well, that’s life.  Looking at it as an unexpected adventure is working for us so far…