It was the third time the bus broke down.
Somewhere right outside a small mining community in Western Australia, our bus had enough, and it wanted us to know. So with an explosion and plume of smoke, the bus came to a crashing halt.
It was the end of a long journey that began back in Perth. During our first stop, on the outskirts of Perth, our problems began. The bus wouldn’t start. Our driver tried again, looked under the hood, did something, and said, “OK, we’re ready to go.” But not that ready. The bus still didn’t go. We were going to have to push.
Down the hill we pushed and the bus came to life. The bus was moving, all was right in the world, and we wouldn’t have to go back to Perth. Our wise driver tried not to turn the bus off during the trip for fear of this happening again. It was a well-founded fear, because soon, at the Pinnacles, our bus turned off. Out we went again, pushing as hard as we could until we got our bus moving and continued up the west coast.
In the town of Geraldton, our driver stopped to work on the bus and assured us it was fixed. I wasn’t sure what the problem was, and when he explained it in car lingo, my unmechanical ears couldn’t decipher what he was saying. I was just happy the bus was moving. I didn’t feel like going back to Perth.
Pretty soon, our air conditioner stopped working, and we were forced to drive in a sauna, the bus amplifying the 100-degree desert heat. This wasn’t what I had expected, though I dealt with it better than some of my fellow riders. Having experienced worse in Asia, I wasn’t too bothered by this. I’d learned to expect the unexpected. I was still in Australia, after all, about to spend two months traveling—nothing could be that bad.
Our bus always seemed to be on its last leg, and that leg finally gave out with a large bang. The bus clicked and clacked, made some grinding sounds, and the stick shift bounced up. Smoke and dust filled the front of the bus. We all knew what had happened, though none dared say. The driver pushed the bus for a bit longer but eventually resigned himself to the fact that we weren’t going to reach the next town.
The problem with breaking down in the outback is that there aren’t many people around. And if you break down too far from the last town, you might be without cellphone reception and stuck there for hours. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to us.
It was early afternoon when we broke down. We entertained ourselves by drinking, playing trivia games, and playing the occasional game of Frisbee. Hours passed, and the sun moved farther down in the sky. We were getting anxious.
After a few hours, a car finally drove by. Our driver flagged it down, explained the situation, and told us he was going to get help in the previous town. We would be out here for an hour by ourselves. Visions of the horror movie Wolf Creek suddenly jumped though my head. This was going to be a long hour.
Luckily, we still had plenty of beer.
True to his word, our driver returned with a tow truck an hour later. Half our problem was solved. The other half was how we were going to continue on with no bus. The earliest we could get our bus back was on Tuesday. Not a big deal if it wasn’t Thursday. I wouldn’t mind spending a night in this sleepy mining town, but not five.
None of the other passengers were keen on the idea either, and after some phone calls, our driver found a four-wheel-drive that we six would have to cram into. A difficult task, as the car was meant for five people—without luggage. It was going to be a squished trip up to Broome, but at least we were on our way now.
And we still managed to save a few beers.
For more information on Australia, visit my guide to Australia travel.