THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Friday, 2 March

Again, I retrieve morning coffee from the mellow, hippie cantina. And today, I am V. The hell with Barb. We depart at nine o’clock, bound northward for two places – The Pinnacles, an alien landscape of stone towers, and New Norcia, Australia’s only monastic community. We leave Perth on a six-lane divided highway that quickly shrinks to two. Once the exurbs of Perth have slipped behind us, the vegetation becomes scrubby and dry and the air warms up considerably. The passing landscape seems devoid of people, inhospitable to all but a few hardy sheep. We soon have our first encounter with the legendary road trains of Australia, trucks that pull two or even three trailers. On a two-lane road, these monsters are quite intimidating, all noise and color and turbulence. It’s one thing to pass a road train in the ‘overtaking lane’, but when one barrels down the on-coming lane, all I can do is hold on.

New Norcia is hard to find, being both obvious and invisible. We sign up for a tour, but first go up to the hotel for lunch. The burgers are most excellent, though the flies are most insistent. A little discreet poking around the first floor of the hotel reveals a Game of Thrones pinball machine. A) Pinball machines are still being made and B) The brothers dig GOT. Awesome squared. According to the chatty bartender, there are nine monks remaining. Founded as a mission to the aboriginal people in 1846 by Spanish Benedictines, the monks ran an orphanage and, until recently, boarding schools for girls and for boys, St. Gertrudus and St. Ildephonsus. The campus is eerily quiet and spooky and hot. We are shown the interior of the dormitories, which are empty and expectant. There’s a big room with squares of sunlight on the floor and metal frame beds all made up. Ali finds it creepy. We abandon our tour.

After a frustrating half hour of GPS craziness where the white arrow that indicates our trajectory veers alarmingly into empty space, we pull ourselves together and decide to forego the fucking Pinnacles in favor of reaching our destination today.

This is The Heights B&B in Jurien Bay. We park in a driveway surrounded by garden gnomes, ceramic toadstools, and kitschy figurines (e.g. hedgehogs in teacups). Variations on this ridiculous theme extends to all exterior and interior surfaces, which are covered with plaques of sappy aphorisms and pictures of Disney princesses. Out back in an enclosure, two lambs – Lamborgini and Burnie, who has a black head ‘as if he were caught in a fire’ – bleat tragically. Our search for dinner is futile, so we pick up some convenience store sandwiches and eat on the patio with the sheep.

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