AND…….TheRestOfTheTrip.

6 02 2011

Items I have learned:
-swags – the Australian version of a sleeping bag.. kinda. Its complete with a mattress pad in the bottom!

-Australians, or at least the ones in the outback, are incredibly PROUD of the scores of dangerous animals/creatures/whatever around… If they are ever biten by one its pretty much considered the best thing ever. Scott (our tour guide) shared multiple stories of him and his friends being bitten by spiders. The key being how long they all waited to seek medical treatment because “it wasn’t so bad.” Scott actually got bit by a spider.. and then decided to go surfing for a weekend! He came back and his huge ass bite burst. It took blood gushing all over his bed before he FINALLY decided that oh I dunno.. maybe he should go to the hospital. Ok, if I was EVER bitten by ANYTHING… I would be at the hospital within minutes… not decide to take a weekend surfing trip and sort it out when I get back! Nuts.

Helen, Sonya and I sitting on our swags

Helen, Sonya and I sitting on our swags


So finishing off day one, we went to a lookout to watch the sunset over Uluru and have dinner. I was impressed with Scott’s cooking abilities, especially considering he could cook better than I can with out ANY kitchen appliances!
After sunset we drove into the Ayers Rock campgrounds.. and set up camp.
We didn’t actually have any tents, we all slept outside in our swags. The weather was still so HOT that many people just slept on top of them. Being the wuss that I am, I slept inside as I didn’t want any bugs/insects/spiders/ANYTHING crawling on me.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Day 2 – Kata Tjuta and the Valley of the Winds Walk

It was up at 4:30am the next morning to see the sunrise. Now given the fact that I HATE the mornings, I expected to be pissed and cranky. But surprisingly, I was wide awake and ready for the day.

Now there are flies pretty much EVERYWHERE out there. They are a different breed than the ones at home. They are smaller, and pretty much live to annoy humans. Ok, well maybe that’s not a factual statement but whatever. They are drawn to sweat/liquid, so they will fly to eye balls, nostrils, ear.. etc. And don’t batting them away does anything… they are aggressive little bastards. ANYWAY. We wake up to go and see the sunrise. Because we were sitting and not moving around.. the flies seemed to be about 10 times worse. They were relentless, and arrived even before the sun!

After quality time with the sun/flies it was off to eat breakfast and drive over to Kata Tjuta. Kata Tjuta consists of 36 domes, it’s name means “many heads.”

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

We did the Valley of the Winds walk in the morning. Because we were out and about at 7:30am, I was actually able to enjoy this walk. It was ONLY about 30 degrees rather than the 45 it was the day before. The other great thing about this walk was that there was a pretty constant breeze the entire time. The walk took about 3 hours and ended up with us making it to this amazing lookout.

Valley of the winds walk

Valley of the winds walk

Helen and I

Helen and I


Scott talked all about the geology of the place, but not being so incredibly interested in the types of sediment around.. all I could pretty much tell you is that it is all held together by sandstone… I think? Meh.

 

After the trek it was back to the campsite for some lunch. We then drove off to Kings Canyon where we would be camping that night and exploring the following day.

Now Scott was not a bad looking Australian, he had that whole mountain man/scruffy thing going on for him. But BECAUSE of that.. I got the wonderful pleasure of having this girl on the tour basically monopolize my seat on the bus (I was sitting right in back if the drivers seat). In her attempt to impress our tour guide I got to hear ALL about how many jello wrestling competitions she won, how many baskets of fruit she was able to pick, how strong she is, how everyone under estimates her, and finally how she doesn’t need a man. Whatever. A few minutes of this and it got annoying.. but we are not just talking about about a few minutes.. she sat there and “chatted” pretty much every second we were in the bus..

So the car rides were REALLY fun. Anyway, we drove to kings canyon and set up camp. Stopping briefly along the way to pick up, literally PICK off the trees.. some fire wood. My contribution was pretty much just standing there and watching everyone else tear down the trees (I found out later that the bark was toxic and that if you happened to get a splinter, you would need to seek medical attention)

There was a pool at the camping grounds (and HUGE spiders in the toilets… I kid you not). We cooled off in the pool only to go back to a bonfire and warm right back up again. Why the hell Scott felt the need to have a bonfire when it was 40 something degrees that day… Im’ not sure.
It was a full moon that night, it was actually pretty amazing to see.

Day 3 – Kings Canyon
The last and final day of the tour. Again we were up bright and early to go to Kings Canyon. Kings Canyon consists of a really steep hike for the first 15 minutes. I literally felt like my legs were made of jelly during part of it.. obviously I am INCREDIBLY fit… not. Anyway. You have to climb to the top of the canyon first, but after that you have this amazing 2-3 hour walk, with gorgeous lookouts and amazing scenery. Uluru was my favorite thing to see on this trip, but Kings Canyon was my favorite walk.

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

So there is a watering hole in the middle of the walk. Now, all I heard was the other tour guides talk about how dirty the water is, and how there had been a brown snake in there the week before. So, some how I opted to not jump in. But half the group did.

watering hole in Kings Canyon

watering hole in Kings Canyon

After Kings Canyon, we stopped and ate lunch, and then made the drive back to Alice Springs. That night we all made plans to meet back up at “the rock bar” (yes the tour company I went with ALSO owns a bar) later on that night to eat dinner and hang out. The evening was fun, but Scott left with out saying good bye. We had managed to make a few friends with some of the other tour guides.. and you know being the nice considerate person that I am.. I decided to share with them just how thrilled we all were with Scotts disappearing act (meaning.. we weren’t at all).

Anyway, long story short the next day I was wandering around Alice Springs (I had one last day in Alice Springs before I would fly back to Melb) and I ran into Scott. Well.. it turns out that his house was broken into and his roommate was beaten up. Yeaaaah.. awesome. I felt like a jack ass. Whoops.

Day 4 – Alice Springs

Given the tempature and my lazyness, the majority of the day was spent in the pool at the hostel. But, I did manage to make it out in the morning and go to the Aboriginal musuem. As I stated earlier, what I really liked about this trip was being able to learn a bit more about the aboriginal community. The museum itself was nice, and I really did like the fact that they were showcasing Aboriginal Art. The only fact that I didnot like, is that there is a lot of infomration that the Aborigine people keep to themselves, info that they have to go through ceremonies/study/etc in order to be able to access it, and parts of this museum sort of made some of that information readily available. Granted, I understand why they would do that, the goal is to educate the world about the aborigine culture and traditions, but at the same time if the aborigines themselves want this information to be secret, then shouldn’t we respect their wishes?
Anyway, one artist in particular stood out to me. Her name was Emily Kame Kngwarreye. She only learned to paint when she was 80 years old. 80! She gained a lot of success towards the end of her life, and her paintings were used to provide income to her whole community. I was able to see a painting called the “earth’s creation” which sold for just over $1 million, which at the time was a world record price for aboriginal art. In her description of her work, Emily wrote that she painted “a whole lot.”

Earths Creation - photo courtesy of www.aboriginalartnews.com.au

Earths Creation - photo courtesy of http://www.aboriginalartnews.com.au

After my adventures in the city, it was back to the hostel to relax, unwind and fly back to Melb.

Our Group - The Rock Tour

Our Group - The Rock Tour

All in all – it was a FANTASTIC trip. Probably the best tour I have EVER done. I highly recommend it to anyone who happens to get a chance to go.

 





Dream Time – A step into the Anangu World – Uluru

1 02 2011

Items I have learned today:

Torch = flashlight. I arrived in Alice Springs to see that the tour I was going on asked that I have my own “torch.” I was a little confused when someone at the office told me I could get one at K-Mart.

Tosser = a douchebag

On the piss = intoxicated/drunk

So I arrived at Alice Springs around 1:00pm. It wasn’t until I stepped off the train that I realized exactly how HOT the desert can be. Granted, I knew that I would be there for 40 degree weather (To put things in perspective, I believe 36 degrees is 100 farenheit) but the idea of 40 degrees and the actuality of it are two COMPLETELY different things.

After locating my shuttle and checking into Toddy’s (the hostel that I was staying at), I decided to make a trip into the city to pick up some toiletries (that I brilliantly managed to forget in Melb). I made it about 3 blocks, came to a shell station, and decided to spend the additional mark-up prices to avoid having to do any more walking in the heat. If I was this much of a wuss just walking the city blocks around Alice Springs, I’m not quite sure how the hell I expected myself to survive hiking Uluru and the desert! In any event, I walked back to the hostel, called “The Rock Tour” (the name of the company I was doing my tour with) and had them inform me that I needed to COME IN to their office which was “only a few blocks past the shell station.” AWESOME. So it was back out in the heat to finalize the trip. While there, I also learned that I packed pretty much all of the wrong things for a camping trip (think sun dresses and jeans, when it should have been shorts and t-shirts), and that I needed to buy a hat and a back pack. Well, I couldn’t be bothered with any additional walking so I decided to sort that out while on the road (the gas stations would have to have hats right?) Sigh.

Anyway, it was back to the hostel for food and relaxation before the 6am pick up the next morning to start the tour.

The Rock Tour

The Rock Tour

Now, before I get started on the specifics of the tour, I wanted to say a few things (or.. ahem write as it may be). My favorite thing about this tour, was not just the places that I saw (which, yes were absolutely incredibly amazing), but also the people I was with, and the fact that it was pretty much the first opportunity that I have had since being in Australia to learn some of the history and the background of the anangu (stands for ‘we the people of this land’ – the aboriginal community over there). I will delve into this a bit further later on, but it’s almost as if people try and pretend the aboriginal community does not exist over here, or if they do acknowledge their existence then they are defined and labeled by the extreme – the aborigines that suffer from alcoholism and have not been able to cope. The whole situation is extremely sad to me – so it was a nice change of perspective to visit these sites that are considered sacred to them, and find out a little bit more about some of their culture and who they are.

The Rock Tour – Day One.

It was up and out of the door at 5:45 am to check out and get myself situated before the pick up. Scott, our tour guide, picked us up promptly (the 12 of us conveniently staying at the same hostel). It was off to make a few additional pick-ups, a brief stop at the rock tour office (for those who neglected to finalize their details the day before) and then off.

Uluru up close - well about 0.1% of it

Uluru up close - well about 0.1% of it

Uluru

Uluru


Now the first day was spent at Uluru. Unfortunately it was about 4-5 hour drive out. Had I mentioned yet that I some how chose to go during the hottest month of the entire year? I think Scott’s opening speech went something along the lines of “This will be trying, but worth it” in other words ‘are you guys f*ing nuts?’ We had to stop at the airport for a pick-up, and a missing passenger (who’s flight had electronic problems and arrived later on that day) so we did not actually make it to Uluru until the middle of the afternoon… the HOTTEST part of the day. ashksdahdjksahsadk.

Our first stop was the Aboriginal cultural centre. I actually really liked this, because unlike the museum I would go to in Alice Springs a few days later (to be included in a later blog), this cultural center felt more authentic, it shared the legends and the pieces of cultures that they felt comfortable sharing. Uluru is considered sacred ground to them. According to http://www.environment.gov.au/parks/uluru/culture-history/culture/creation.html

The Anangu believe that –
“None of the places we know in the world existed until creator beings, in the forms of people, plants and animals, traveled widely across the land and, in a process of creation and destruction, formed the landscape as we know it today. Anangu land is still inhabited by the spirits of dozens of these ancestral creator beings which are referred to as Tjukuritja or Waparitja.
The journeys and activities of the creator beings are recorded in the landscape. Sites where significant events in their story took place are linked by what we call, iwara (paths or tracks). Some of the sites are so very significant that they are known as ‘sacred sites’. Today our people still know where these sites and these iwara are and where they go although there is no physical road. Our grandmothers and grandfathers teach us this.”

Unfortunately tourism has pretty much eliminated any present use of it. In fact it was only in 1985 when the government returned ownership to the Anangu community. One of the things I learned about Uluru even prior to going was that it was considered sacred to the Anangu community and they DO NOT climb it. They ask everyone to respect their wishes/culture and not do so. Well guess what? Everyone apparently climbs it anyway. There is a railing and everything built into the rock, and the tourism board only “strongly discourages” the climb. INSANE. Of course I can understand the need to climb things, and most of the people on my tour probably would have climbed up it (it was closed because of the heat – closed from Dec -Feb) if they had been able to. But for me personally, I could not.

Anyway, we start our walk around 3:00pm(ish). Scott points the various caves and artwork that has been carved into the rock by the Anangu. They used to the caves to teach the young. They were also used for resting during the hottest part of the day, to conserve energy for a more feasible time to be active.

A Lesson via Scott

A Lesson via Scott


Conserving Energy - and School

Conserving Energy - and School

Now Uluru was probably the most amazing thing that I saw during this trip, unfortunately however the heat made it so I was unable to focus on anything else other than my discomfort while completing the base walk (the walk around the base of Uluru)

the base walk

the base walk

Really.. my train of thought went like this-
“it’s f’ing hot!”… “where’s my water”… “yum… really warm water.. DELICIOUS (sarcasm)”… “are we there yet?”…. “ugh”….”it’s f’ing hot!” You get the picture.
I really did try to focus on what I was walking around, and if I had to do it all over again would pick a different time of year to complete it.

But, when I did finally round the corner and see the car park (parking lot) I really did feel a HUGE sense of accomplishment. Even though physically the walk was not all that challenging (it was all one level – no ups or downs), doing 5-6k in 42 degree weather IN THE SHADE was a bit hard.

Me - soaked and happy after  the walk

Me - soaked and happy after the walk

One last thing I wanted to share about Uluru – there was a woman on our trip named Rose, she is first nations. She is taking time now to see as many indigenous native sites as she can. I was very interested in her story, although we did not a get a chance to talk too much, I asked her about how she decides where to go. She stated that she goes where she feels herself/her spirit being called to and that Uluru had been calling to her for years. Now I know you all don’t believe in things like that, and you don’t have to, I’m just sharing this because her story impacted me. Anyway, not only did I find it inspiring that she is traveling around the world seeing indigineous sacred sites, but she also shared that she cried when we all first got to Uluru, because “she finally made it.” Now, that’s the kind of stuff that gives me a chills.

The rest of the trip to come… days 2 and 3 will be posted shortly.





No Sleep Tell Alice… A Train Ride through the Australian Outback

25 01 2011

Items I have learned today:

ute = utility vehicle aka a pick-up truck.

Bogan = Australian version of white trash, although they don’t necessarily need to be white

It’s amazing the looks I get when I have to ask what things mean. You would think that the accent would give away that I won’t necessarily pick up on all the slang. It’s not like I grew up with terms like “gasbag.” For me, that sounds more like someone with severe gas problems… here it means to gossip.

Wrapped up the job at transport and logistics. On my last day the CEO had a good bye lunch for me (which of course I found the catering company for). His farewell speech consisted something along the lines of “Well… we don’t usually have lunches for people like you……” as well as a few shots at the fact that I will be moving to Sydney. It was very heartfelt and touching. Bah 🙂 No, the thought was nice, even if the wording was um.. interesting.

With TLISC behind me, it was off on my own little adventure. I had always planned to do little trips here and there, but somehow had not got around to doing them. Going to Sydney for New Years just re-established my need to get out and explore.

So a few days later I took a train to Adelaide (my trip would end at Alice Springs and Uluru – aka Ayers Rock). Now, hopefully you are all aware that there has been some flooding here. Something like 70% of Queensland was affected. That’s about the size of all of UK being under water or all of WA, OR and ID for the folks back home. It is estimated to cause between $5-$15 billion dollars in damage. I only mention this because on the 9 hour train to Adelaide, the flood had made its way down to Victoria. Now I tried to capture some of the horses/cattle that were knee deep and water.. but again.. we come across the constant battle between Maria and her camera.
Here is what I was able to capture. This isn’t even an inkling of what’s going on in Queensland, but it shows you how spread out the impact is. Apparently the train I caught just barely made it out of Victoria, and they shut it down a few days after I left.

farm land under water - pic one

farm land under water - pic one

farm land under water - part two

farm land under water - part two

I left Melbourne at 8am Saturday morning, and arrived in Adelaide at 5:00pm that evening. Instead of a full day at work, it was a full day on a train.

Adelaide is the capital and most populated city in Southern Australia (the name of the state), but it really doesn’t feel like a big city. It was amazing to me how it goes from city to basically country so quickly.
I headed to my shuttle. The bus driver proceeded to forget that I was on the bus (ok, I admit I’m short.. but I’m not that short damn it!) and announced that he would give me my “own private tour of Adelaide.” The private tour consisted of him zooming past all of the other hotels/hostels he had previously dropped people off at with out saying a single word. It was very informative… i learned LOADS. sigh.
Anyway, once he finally got to Backpackers OZ he shuttled away letting me know that one day was just not long enough to see Adelaide. Well, if he had bothered making any suggestions on what I could/should see that might have helped! I digress.. again.

So I check in, get myself sorted and head back downstairs. Now, traveling by yourself is kind of thrilling and empowering, don’t get me wrong, but the dynamics of some hostels are not. I literally felt like I was back in high school with some aspects of this place. The “cool kids” talking and laughing in the corner, and everyone else just sort of sitting around. So, I decided to make the best of the situation and grab a map and do some exploring, after all I really did only have one night in Adelaide. As I am making my way over to ask the person behind the front desk where I should go, I notice two girls holding a map about to leave. Being the ever so polite, considerate, wonderful person that I am… I completely invite myself to join them. I believe the exact words I used were “Where are you guys going? Oh! Can I come with you?” What are they going to say? No?

So I end up crashing their party basically. In retrospect, I feel kind of bad because one was visiting the other and they only had that day and the next before they separated and here was this American inviting herself along, but I found out about that after the fact. As one was German, we ended up going to Ellis Park to Schutzenfest (shooting fest) a German festival in Adelaide, listed as “the largest folk festival in the southern hemisphere.” It is a little ironic that my one day in Adelaide, or Southern Australia for that matter… I end up at a German festival! But I actually had a really good time eating sausages, having a few german beers, and enjoying the German/American/Australian music. I am grateful that those two girls let me tag along.. although I really wish that I could actually remember their names! I’m a horrible person… I know.

Schutzenfest - program courtesy of http://www.schutzenfest.com.au

Schutzenfest - program courtesy of http://www.schutzenfest.com.au

We head back after the music ends (around 11pm) and it’s off to bed. The next morning it’s up nice and early for my 24 hour train ride from Adelaide to Alice Springs on the Ghan, originally called “The Afghan Express”

The Ghan

The Ghan


The original Ghan started construction in 1878, and was not completed until 1929. The first train to Alice Springs arrived on AUGUST 6th (such a FABULOUS DAY… ahem, my bday). The train is named after the Afghan camel drivers who helped reach the countries unexplored interior. Unfortunately after they were finished using the camels they released them to the wild, where they managed to reproduce like CRAZY. To this day they provide one of the biggest problems to nature/wildlife in the outback, drinking water/using resources that other animals and species need to survive. I believe there is something like 1 million feral camels out there… crazy.

I had always heard that riding in the Ghan was an amazing way to see the outback. A perfect way for someone like me who freaks out from moths.. let alone spiders, snakes and scorpions. Considering the fact that I can not sleep on trains ( or anything that keeps me in an upright position, I need to be able to actually lie down to sleep comfortably) and this was a 24 hour train ride.. I actually had a surprisingly good time. I ended up sitting next to a girl named Eki from Holland.

We traveled through red galore, compared backpacking stories, played a complicated card game called 500, saw actual dried up salt lakes (where all that remains is the salt and it literally provides the illusion of water), saw the millionth track “Iron Man” statue (to honor the workers who constructed the railway), the finke river, part of the beautiful Australian outback and arrived in Alice Springs at 2:00pm the next day, surprisingly awake and ready for the sun.

iron man - 1 millionth track - photo courtesy of http://www.on-walkabout.com

iron man - 1 millionth track - photo courtesy of http://www.on-walkabout.com

And the adventure continues………… Shortly……..








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