While staying in Perth, we have no car. This means walking to our destinations and being more observant on the way.
I think most travelers would say that one benefit of a trip is having the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. I reaped this benefit twenty years ago when Rich and I were car-less Peace Corps volunteers in Papua New Guinea, and I am reaping it now as a strolling visitor of Western Australia.
Walking nearly everywhere we went in Papua New Guinea—with the occasional hop onto public transportation—helped make our surroundings become part of us. Today, a map of where we lived and walked still graces the wall in our living room, photos of our students remind us of ventures on foot into the bush, and stories of the places we hiked still waltz into conversations like old friends.
Twenty years later, we have come to Oceania, once again, to gain another perspective—this time with the pleasure of allowing our daughter to witness and understand slices of the human experience beyond her small home town.
We chose not to have a car while we are here. Considering that I am often still slightly befuddled crossing a road here on foot, all of the drivers on the left side of the road in Western Australia can certainly be grateful for this decision.
I am also grateful. Despite some challenges, a car-less existence has advantages.
With no car, I don’t push through spaces from point A to point B at sixty miles per hour. Rather, I am forced to slow down and become part of the spaces between points.
Since landing in Perth, as of this moment, I have walked over 150 miles. As a result, I have noticed witty store signs, colorful wall murals, and perplexing pieces of graffiti. (To the person in the Central Business District who let us know that “Matt has herpes,” we are grateful to you, too, sir. Fantastic information.)
A city is like a living puzzle, an organism that breathes life, and with each of my 150 miles of steps, I have had the time and inclination to look up and see the many charming, unusual, striking, funny, and surprising pieces of this puzzle.
Some of the pieces of the organism make me laugh. For example, I have decided that no one names a shop or makes a sign the way store owners do in our home base suburb of Subiaco, Western Australia.
Missing from this sign compendium is the optometrist’s place: “Eye-Q.” And here is the inside of . . . wait for it . . . Fee Fi Pho Fum (a Vietnamese restaurant, of course)!
Walking everywhere has also taken me to outdoor urban nooks. Last week, I studied a map of Subiaco to figure out where I hadn’t been. I saw a park-like area called “Subiaco Common” and headed over there. I was greeted with steps leading down to a shady green world that had a small stream of water running through it. The water led to a large pond, an oasis in this dry climate, with a fountain in the middle.
We have also been compelled to attend events we can reach by foot or by the subway train. This next clip is from the “Sunset in Subiaco” series which brings performers to public spaces on Sunday evenings for free concerts for the community. This is the gospel choir from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) singing Aretha Franklin and George Michael in a car park area. Why? Because it’s awesome and fun to hear a choir sing “I Knew You Were Waiting” at a free outdoor concert in a car park by your apartment, that’s why!
When a performance is not reachable by foot, we head to the Transperth station a five-minute walk from our apartment. This art installation at the station greets us.
We travel short distances on trains from this station only to find ourselves walking through other mazes of neighborhoods, shops, and squares. One recent trip found us in the suburb of Northbridge where tents, food stands, and buskers were set up for Perth’s Fringe Festival. This weeks-long festival is a walker’s dream with large areas set up for performance art, theater, and cabaret acts of all kinds. This night, we had tickets to see the Aboriginal dance group Djuki Mala from northern Australia.
We had seen this group already at another festival called One Day in Freo. But this time, this group who blends traditional and modern in powerful and often humorous ways were the headliners. Amazing. After shaking hands with members of the group after the show, we wound our way through a labyrinth of tents, vendors, and buskers. We saw a woman on a bicycle selling sliced apples with cinnamon and sugar, a solo techno artist with a futuristic helmet on a keyboard, and a husband-wife team doing death-defying feats with lighted hula hoops and fiery torches. We would have missed all of that heading straight for the car.
I’ll end with pictures I took during a night out to the beachside suburb of Cottesloe. Once again, we took the train then walked inland half a mile to the beach. In this case, the evening’s walk helped me appreciate the contours of the landscape. From the train stop, we walked up a hill and had no view of the water. Then suddenly, near the top of the hill, the whole ocean spread out before us.
Most of the time during the summer, the sky here is completely clear. Some days have passing clouds. However, on this day, we reached Cottesloe on a very cloudy day with intermittent showers. The clouds added to what would have already been a spectacular sunset over the Indian Ocean.
This is the same night I decided to I sit and track the progression of the setting sun.
Because that’s the kind of thing you do when you slow down.