“Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone…”
KALBARRI: How can one not fall in love with this place? When I first heard the name I didn’t even know it existed on the map, but when I got off the bus after a nine-hour ride from Perth and stepped foot on Chinaman’s Beach to watch the sun set, my relationship with beaches changed forever.
I never would’ve heard of this place if one of our really good friends from St Catherine’s College, M, didn’t come from here. In April of 2012, she invited L and I to spend our semester break at her hometown and promised lots of good times at the beach, which she said would not disappoint us. The three of us have established a tradition of going to the beach on those rare non-busy weekends over the years that we have known each other, but so far we’d only visited Rockingham. M said that Rockingham beach was nothing compared to the ones we were about to see in Kalbarri, and she was true to her word. So early that week, we packed up our bags and bought a pair of sunnies and a bottle of sunscreen and left behind all thoughts of thesis, epistemology, and anthropology in Perth as we embarked on the nine-hour bus ride to Kalbarri.
To be honest, when I was a kid and up until my time in Perth, I hated going to beaches. As Muslims, going to the beach wasn’t about putting a bikini or a one-piece suit on and splashing around in the waves; we girls have to worry about covering up too, which means having to wear a ‘burqini‘ — a two-piece swimsuit that covers all — and a scarf or a cap even when we swim. Getting changed into and out of the burqini is one huge hassle already; let’s not talk about having to lug this thing around when it’s all wet and sandy and heavy.
I remember going to the beach a few times when we lived in Ghana. I don’t remember the name of the beach anymore but we used to go with other Malaysian families and their kids as well. Lin’s family and mine went together a couple of times, and we would collect sea shells at the beach, which I kept in a plastic container on my dressing table in my room for many years after that. One time when we went to the beach, I couldn’t remember where I put my glasses before I dived in and boy, did I get an earful from my mother. We eventually found them on one of the lounge chairs, much to my relief.
In Malaysia our family’s preferred beach is Port Dickson, mostly because it is relatively close to home. Even though West Malaysia is a peninsula, we have surprisingly little beaches that are suited for recreational activities and swimming because most of our western coast are covered by mangroves — not exactly a pleasant location to be spending your Sunday arvo with the kids. I think it is because of this that not many kids in Malaysia know how to swim. If I had kids I wouldn’t bring them to Port Dickson though; when we went there with my brothers, aunts, and grandfather in 2006, the beach was filthy with litter floating everywhere and it was overpopulated. When we were there last week however the beach was very clean, but the same could not be said for the sidewalks lining the beach. It was appalling, to say the least.
Kalbarri was thankfully nothing like Port Dickson. Granted, Kalbarri isn’t as famous as the beaches of the East Coast like Bondi Beach, but this was an enormous plus for me because I hate going to beaches overcrowded with tourists. There were hardly any people at the beaches we went to and the water was so clean and clear-blue that I swear God must’ve dumped a huge bucket of chlorine into the ocean to make it this blue!
When M said we could go ‘snorkeling’, I was getting quite nervous already about having to go deep into the ocean to see all those fish; I had no idea that one only needs to walk no more than five meters into the water and dunk one’s head in et voilà! There’s an entirely different underwater universe hiding under the cover of the ocean! I wish I had a waterproof camera to capture the underwater life that I saw then; this is definitely in my list of things to pack for my next trip to Kalbarri.
L and I had an amazing time lying on our stomach in the sand while the waves crash into us and pull us back into the water. This happened on repeat nearly a hundred times. We swallowed salt water and got our feet cut up by the sharp rocks and had to get water out of our ears so many times, but it was all worth it, because we were like two children splashing and screaming with no care in the world; in other words, carefree. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I went to a beach and had this much fun — even when I was much younger.
We visited so many beaches in Kalbarri — Blue Holes, Chinaman’s, Red Bluff, Pot Alley, you name it — that when I look through my photos again, I don’t quite remember which is which anymore, so I do apologize for the inaccurate and obscure labeling of these photos. I tremendously enjoyed beach-hopping though; M, our most experienced hostess, knew which beach was good for swimming, snorkeling, and/or playing with the waves, and could forecast the mood of the ocean by reading the waves. L and I obviously knew none of these things so we were happy to just follow in tow, as long as we were heading to another beach next.
Not all beaches were suitable for swimming though, as some were too deep and received waves too rough for the inexperienced swimmer. Case in point:
Suffice to say that by the time we left Kalbarri, the sound of the waves crashing into the golden white sand and the mesmerizing blue of the ocean have never quite left me, and I know that I have finally fallen for the charm of Western Australian beaches. I found that whenever I was at the beach, I shed nearly twenty years of my age and have fun shamelessly like a child. The worse part is that I simply couldn’t help myself; whenever I’m in the water I could feel my inner self tickled by the caressing movement of the waves underwater and delightful laughter escapes from my lips even before I could shut myself up. I forgot for a moment my unfinished thesis, questions about polygamy, and the absolute horrors of epistemology.
At the same time, the countless hours we spent at the beach have relaxed my brain to the point where it could actually start functioning properly again. By the time we went back to Perth and resumed our lives as students, I was fully recharged — physically speaking, and also in terms of my motivation and morale — and ready to attack the disturbing issue of polygamy in my thesis again. There was only thing that disappointed me: the fact that after all those gallons of sunblock I’d plastered all over me, I still came back looking half-roasted, with my skin a few shades darker than before.
Still, I simply cannot wait to be back, because I know there’s not quite another place on Earth like it.