• Vegan Iceland

    Vegan Puerto Rico

Perth, Australia

Oct 31 – Nov 7

Every time I board a plane, I hand my ticket over and get a weird panicky feeling that they’ll say it’s invalid or something and not let me on. I guess it has something to do with the fact that all my tickets were prearranged and I don’t ever remember having to pay for them! This flight went just as smoothly. Amazing how that works, huh? I handed them my ticket and passport and was quickly on my way with no questions asked. It’s a crazy feeling!!

Air New Zealand is a great airline. You get free wine and your own personal TV screen so that you can choose the movies you want to watch. I watched Whale Rider and Mama Mia. Then I spent a few minutes browsing my Perth guidebook to sketch out a vague plan of places I might want to check out. My specialty vegan meals were all prearranged, which worked out wonderfully. My food looked way better than the other stuff they were serving and I even got it before everyone else. The only down side is that when they hand it over, they shout “Special meal for Cristen!” and everyone stares at you like you’re some sort of freak. They even fed us twice on the plane. It was heaps and heaps of food!

Anyway, after a 1-hr flight from Christchurch to Auckland, then an 8 hr flight from Auckland to Perth, then a shuttle bus, then a train, I made it to my hosts’ house in Perth. Luckily they gave me really great directions on how to get to their place from the airport and they met me at the train station in Subiaco (a pretty suburb only 3 train stops from the city center). I stayed with Alivia, Cara, and Tim, Cara’s boyfriend who just flew in from Melbourne. Bonnie, their other roommate, was in the US while I was there and she let me sleep in her room. Their house was great (with a nice garden and a cozy chi tea corner), but sadly I forgot to take pictures of it.

Everyone I’ve met here so far keeps asking me the same thing: “Why Perth?” The reason they ask this is that most tourists going to Australia choose to visit the east coast (Cairns, Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast, Great Barrier Reef, etc.) Not nearly as many people go to Western Australia….which is pretty much exactly the reason why it intrigued me. Perth is the most remote capital city in the world and I knew nothing about it. From some very basic research, I learned that Western Australia has Ningaloo Reef – a reef that’s just as diverse as the Great Barrier Reef, easily accessible by land (so cheaper to get out there and snorkel), located in the Indian Ocean (which I’ve never been to before), and not nearly as commercialized (so people take great care in protecting it). I also learned of Rottnest Island – an island with small marsupials called Quokkas and many bays that can all be visited by bicycle. That was pretty much enough for me to book my ticket to Western Australia instead. If I was to generalize, the actual city of Perth seems very materialistic and initially not very welcoming, but I’m happy I came here and spent some time (great couchsurfing community, good cheap vegan food, and lots of things to do but not so much that I’m too overwhelmed to make a decision).

I was pretty tired when I arrived at the girls’ house (Perth is 4 hours behind New Zealand), but I went with Alivia to my first official CouchSurfing party. It was the housewarming/birthday party of two Estonian girls who recently moved to Perth. CouchSurfing reminds me a lot of my days in AIESEC – a little bit cliquey, a little bit of drama (which inevitably happens when you have an odd assortment of people from all over the world who probably wouldn’t cross paths if they weren’t all in this group together), but still an amazing way to make friends with people who all share similar goals about promoting cultural exchange. Another similarity is that AIESEC and CouchSurfing are all about acronyms and social gatherings. Instead of AIESECers or SNs (Student Nominees), we now have CSers (CouchSurfers). All the CSers (both hosts and surfers) post events on the group bulletins. The Perth CS community is especially active and many events are planned each week, making it easy to find good people to spend time with while I’m here. Other CSers apparently love it here too – I’ve meet several people who just came here for a quick visit and ended up staying more than a year.

Alivia left the CS party earlier than most people, but it was still around 1am. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and I got a late start the next morning (feeling a little ill from lack of sleep and too much wine on an empty stomach). I went into Subiaco to see an exhibit of John Lennon line drawings and to buy all kinds of goodies from the Station Street Markets.

Then I took the train into town and saw the Earth from Above exhibit, the Aboriginal Art Museum, and I took some Maoz Veg food down to the Swan River to read for a little bit.

The next day, I had lunch with Amy, a girl from CouchSurfing who I’ve been keeping in touch with for several months now. The Red Bull Air Race was going on, but I didn’t feel up for the crowd, so instead I took the train to Fremantle and went to the Fremantle Markets, the eShed Markets, the Freemantle Prison, and walked down by the beach.

That night, I distracted Alivia from her homework and she told me about all the dangerous creatures I should avoid in Australia (such as the Redback and White-tailed spiders). They’re bad news and she drew me a picture.

After several attempts to mail my ballot (apparently there isn’t a FedEx anywhere in Perth), then losing and finding my ballot several times, then going to the regular post office only to find it closed, I finally managed to mail it. When I said it needed to be there in 5 days, I was told it would cost $40. That was not going to work for me, so I settled on the cheapest option ($12). I have no idea if it actually got there in time, but I had gone through so much trouble already that I figured I may as well follow it all the way through and at least try.

After taking care of that once and for all, I met with Kieran. We went to Tiger Tiger and had coffee, then went to Scarborough beach and Trigg beach. He let me choose the music from his iPod while he was driving. I chose the band called Texas Faggots. They weren’t very good.

While walking barefoot on the beach, I scraped my foot on some rocks and got a bloody toe – my first wound of the trip so far (probably not the last).

That night I made dinner for my hosts – a mixture of veggies I bought from the market, accompanied by lentil soup to which I added the rest of my beetroot hummus so it would be hot pink. Then we all cuddled under a blanket and had tea in their chi tea corner.

The next day, I went to the Western Australia museum. Then I went to Kings Park, a giant park with hiking trails and botanic gardens. You could seriously spent a few full days there and still feel like you haven’t seen everything. I spent most of the day there and stayed until it got dark and started to rain.

Anyway, Kings Park has amazing trees.

And amazing birds.

And amazing flowers and plants.

Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I left Cara and Alivia and figured I’d stay in a hostel the next night. I also thought I needed to meet other travelers and feel like a backpacker again rather than a roommate. I chose the Aberdeen Lodge for two reasons: 1.) It was cheap. 2.) It used the word “Lodge” (which in my mind sounded more cozy than the word “hostel” or “backpackers”). Wow – I was wrong about the cozy part. I found out later from other people that that place has a reputation for being the grossest hostel in Perth. It sure was gross. I didn’t want to eat there, sit on the couches, or use the shower. I stayed only one night and slept in my sleeping bag. And the weird part is, lots of the guys there had been living at the hostel for 2 months! I have no clue what the appeal is.

I woke up feeling pretty anxious, homeless, and not knowing what to do with myself exactly. I had tried to make plans with two different groups of people to go up north, but all my plans ended up falling through. I really didn’t want to stay in that gross hostel again. Just as I was looking into my options, Amy emailed me and invited me to stay at her place (her roommates don’t allow her to have couchsurfers anymore, but she’s obviously allowed to have friends stay over). I was to meet her at a cafe that night and stay with her the next two nights. We’d just tell tell her roommate we’ve been friends for ages.

In the meantime, I walked around downtown and bought some watercolors just because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time (maybe I’ll try to paint? Not sure yet, but now I have the option). Then I found a place called PAWS. I walked in there because I saw a sign outside that said something about animal rights. It turned out to be a vegan grocery store and info center that provides free vegan food and free Internet access for donations. Yay. It started raining so I just stayed there all day talking to the owners, eating good food, and using the Internet to watch the election results come in. Obama won quickly and easily. Yay yay yay!!!

That night I met Amy, Michael, and some other people at a cafe to plan her upcoming “BBQ and a Book” event, a fund raiser for children living in Cusco, Peru. Here’s her book: Children of Cusco (I bought one!) After the planning session, we went to an Indian restaurant, then back to Amy’s place to drink wine and watch Into the Wild.

The next day, I was going to borrow Alivia’s bike and Micheal and I were planning to go to Rottnest Island with some other folks. But, it was pouring rain when we woke up so we had to call the whole thing off. We had a few hours to kill before heading into town, so we went back to Micheael’s place to talk to Sebastian and cut all their plastic bags into strips. Once in town, we met up with Daemond and set off to the Green Peace photo exhibt. I had been raving about a great cheap food place I found yesterday so we all went there to eat. This time however the TV was not playing election news like it was before. This time it was playing a video all about animal cruelty. It said things like “When you are eating the bloody, tortured, flesh of animals, you are consuming death and misery” and “When you surround yourself with vegetables, angels come into your world.” And just in case you didn’t understand the words, the TV displayed closed captions in just about every language. It was a very bizaare experience and one that kinda made us all lose our appetites. Everyone stared at me awkwardly while chewing their food and I got to feel like the weird vegan girl who secretly drags people there to brainwash them (I agree completely with promoting a vegan lifestyle – just not in such a pushy, creepy way). After we were thoroughly weirded out and not hungry anymore, I dragged everyone around to try to find a crochet hook. We went to several stores and both store owners were absolutely positive that crochet hooks cannot be found anywhere in Perth. It was clearly not my day.

After a few more failed attempts, we decided to give up and find some kangaroos instead. Wild kangaroos turned out to be much easier to find than crochet hooks. Some of them even let you pet them!!

After the kangaroo petting, I went to a bar with them for a little while (the guys, not the kangaroos). Then I went back to Amy’s place to chat and help her make some cookies for her event.

I had made plans to head down south with some people for the weekend, so the next day I packed up all my stuff and put it behind Amy’s fence so that I could pick it up later in the afternoon. Then I met up with Michael to teach him how to crochet with plastic bags. He’s from Quebec but has been traveling for several years and spent the last year in Perth. He just left a few days ago for Thailand.

Some Notes

  • Aside from the interestingly large amount of people walking around the city barefoot, one of the first things I noticed upon arriving in Perth was the crows. Crows are everywhere! They’re big and they’re really really loud! It’s kinda like a cross between creepy cackling, babies crying, sheep baaing, and those toys – the kind that’s like a tube that you tilt upside down and it makes a long, drawn out sound like “waaaa, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa”. I don’t know how to explain it, but it sounds like that. The crows are crazy and sometimes it sounds like they’re taunting you as you walk down the street.

  • The Kangaroo Paw is a flower species common in Western Australia. I think they’re really cool looking.

Leave a comment


  1. Alana

     /  November 13, 2008

    How do you think Austin’s sister city compares?
    It looks incredibly more interesting to me!

  2. martha

     /  November 13, 2008

    cristen, you are incredible. i am loving reading these. keep living like you mean it and letting it all unfold as it will. thank you for letting us tag along :)

  3. Grandma

     /  November 13, 2008

    WOW! Those trees in Kings Park look fantastic! And the flowers! Everything! Sounds like a wonderful time you are having in Perth – except for that gross hostel. Now you on that Reef. Can’t wait to read about it.
    Love you

  4. The red backs are very common in Guadalajara, we call them capulinas or viudas negras, there is a saying “si no tienes capulinas en tu casa, no vives en Guadalajara”, if there are not red back in your backyard, you don’t live in Guadalajara

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