Sunday, November 9, 2008

La comida no es buena, mate!

Perth Sundays in the park include wiffle cricket.

(On Saturday I took a ferry to Rottnest Island and had a good time, although it physically exhausted me to the point I couldn’t blog about it. I’ll try to put together a robo-post that will come up next week while I’m incommunicado in the Outback.)

After a week in Australia, I decided on Sunday to do something entirely un-Australian.

After speaking with Claire and Ian in the morning, I took a three-mile hike (according to my GPS) in Kings Park, the sprawling expanse of wilderness on the west side of Perth’s downtown. Not that walking in the park is un-Australian – in fact, upon getting back to the park’s edges, I saw literally hundreds of Aussies having a Sunday picnic doing that most quintessential of Australian stereotypes: barbecuing (I didn’t see any shrimp on those barbies, though).

Bill Bryson claimed he saw some echidnas in Kings Park on his hike, but I just saw cat/birds and massive ants, both of which I have had enough of.

I arrived at the bus stop to get out of the area and after waiting a half-hour (I could’ve left sooner but again forgot I actually had to hail the bus), I boarded a bus but found that I only had a dollar coin and a $50 bill. Luckily one of the locals took pity an spotted me the remaining $1.30 I needed.

So where was I going? To uphold the Aussie spirit of sportsmanship, to watch a match of …. soccer. Soccer (or association football, if you prefer) is about Australia’s fifth-favorite sport, after Aussie rules football, rugby, netball, horse racing and go-carts, but I met a Perth Glory supporter on the bus. Matt was decked out in his soccer kit and helped me with the (largely already figured-out) directions to the match. He asked me some questions about US soccer ( er, “MLS,” “youth sport,” “Beckham”) and showed me to the ticket booths, where Ihad no trouble getting a good, cheap seat.

Matt and I met his friend, Chris (Claire has a couple cousins named Matt and Chris), and we headed in. Of course, we were right in the sun and I had short sleeves, shorts, no hat and had not brought sun screen. Luckily, I saw a family about three seats down lathering up and they were perfectly willing to share their sunscreen with me (I might not have even asked in the States).

The game itself was entertaining. Both teams scored an early goal, then the visitors dismayed the crowd by scoring one just before the half. A busy second half followed, and the home team thrilled the supporters by kicking a successful penalty literally seconds before time ran out. The game ended in a satisfying 2-2 draw (as satisfying as a draw could be, that is).Aussies don't get all that excited about this sport, either.

Perth does one right when it comes to sporting event tickets, rather than just let the drunkards drive their way home after the match, all tickets are accepted as same-day fares on the local bus system. So I took the train to downtown and walked into the Northbridge district where I decided to grab a bite to eat.

I was standing in front of Zapata’s Mexican restaurant, debating whether to try Mexican food 10,000 miles from Mexico, when a black man also looking at the menu suggested I try it. I mention his race only because the gentleman — a US Navy retiree from Arizona — has lived in Perth for 14 years and said the location was the former site of Perth’s only soul food restaurant.

So I tried it, and should have figured out something was wrong when I wasn’t offered free tortilla chips. I had to order corn chips (incorrectly on the menu as “papas fritas”) and when they arrived they were a bit stale with little bite in the salsa. I was sitting at the end of what appeared to be a large picnic table and there was an Italian women and her son, about 10, sitting at the other end of the table. The waitress mangled their order (which I understood perfectly well) and, feeling bad, I shared my chips with them.

I ordered a combo with a chicken taco and shrimp quesadilla (although I think I received a shrimp enchilada) and both were passable, although strangely seasoned (it turned out the kitchen staff was from Ecuador and Chile). The sides were terrible though: the beans were dry and overdone and the rice was pale, thick like risotto, underdone and tasted like it was thick in cayenne pepper. Blecch. I won’t be going back there. (Above, John 10,000 miles from Mexico, but having tacos.)

Actually, since I’m waiting in the Perth Airport for my flight to Darwin right now, I won’t have to. I’m going to miss Perth, it was good to me. It’s a good, laid-back town.

It should be noted that despite checking in a good hour before my flight, the window seat I requested was gone and I’m going to be stuck in the middle seat for 3.5 hours. I have also not once had to show an ID, despite checking in a bag and going through security. Get on it, Australia.

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