Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Alice part 4

I'm not going to tell you that I slept well on the ground, in my swag, outside, because I didn't, but at least I could see where I was going when I had to get out of the swag, put on my damp shoes and walk to a suitable tree on three occasions during the night. I've never seen a brighter moon. Stunning.

Matt played the morning song, and woke us up with a cheery greeting. He had told us that we had to tell him we loved him when we woke up so we dutifully did so before receiving our instructions. Departing in 45 minutes: time enough for breakfast, and to roll our swags.

We were driven to another campsite where we had a shower, before heading off to Kata Tjuta. After arriving at our destination, we began our hike and upon reaching the beginning of the circuit track, Matt gave us a very entertaining geology lesson which involved a bit of a pantomine with some of the group pretending to be mountains, and some carrying rocks and dirt, and me and Elvis saying 'holey, holey, holey' as we twisted our butts towards the ground in an hilarious approximation of seismic activity.

With instructions on where to meet, we set off; marveling at the strange rock formations of Kata Tjuta which translates as 'many heads.' There was an easy walk followed by a very steep stone staircase which led to the lookout where Matt was waiting with snacks. Thus refreshed and photographed we completed the walk
and traveled to the Cultural Centre at Uluru. After checking that out, we went 
on a short walk to see some of the cave paintings and listen to Matt tell us a story while drawing in the sand on the floor of one of the caves.

Our next stop was the Uluru sunset viewing area where we grabbed a table, and had a beer while Matt cooked dinner. It was here that our war cry became important. As people flooded the area, pouring out of tour buses, we had to defend out territory so we used the war cry to scare them away. It was so beautiful to see the moon rise beside Uluru and the sunset behind us. We were the second to last to leave the area.

When we returned to camp we made quite an entrance, Queen's We Are The Champions was blaring from the bus accompanied by us singing, waving our arms and pumping our fists. The whole campsite knew that the Rock Tour, the best tour, was back in town.

After showering, we gathered around the campfire, drinking and chatting, until it was time to retire for the evening.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: The Alice part 3

This is not exactly a celebrate post, but I thought I sneak it in. My apologies if there's any offence. (I had such a great holiday, I have to share.)

At 5:40 am, I met tour guide Matt, who welcomed me on board his bus where I greeted 12 strangers. To the soothing tunes of Jack Johnson, Passenger et al, we drove in sleepy silence to Mount Ebenezer roadhouse.

Awake now and refreshed with coffee and Coke in my case, we set off on the next leg of our journey bound for Watarrka (Kings Canyon). One by one we went to the front of the bus, grabbed the microphone and introduced ourselves  to our fellow travellers using a set of prompts which Matt wrote on the windscreen of the bus. I learned I was the only Australian, apart from Matt, and the oldest passenger. Accompanying me were an American couple, a Chinese man named Elvis, a Korean lady, 3 Germans, 2 young ladies from The Netherlands and a couple from Belgium.

Bread rolls and apples were distributed as we approached Watarrka and prepared to ascend a set of steps called the Devil's Staircase. We spent the afternoon walking right around the rim of the canyon including a descent to The Garden of Eden were Matt had snacks for us and we watched ripples on the water reflect on the sheer rock walls.

At one point during the three and a half hour hike, Matt got us together for a group photo and it was here we learned our war cry which he said was to become very important to us.

After stopping along the highway to collect our own firewood, which we loaded on top of the trailer (this activity was not mentioned in the brochure),we visited another roadhouse for a toilet break and to buy beer and cider, although by the time we arrived, after dark, the cider had sold out. Matt then drive us to our campsite which he said he would chose at random. Whenever we were driving Matt played us a wonderful eclectic collection of songs which function as the soundtrack to our adventures.

We were motoring along the highway with rumbling stomachs and great expectation when Matt  suddenly pulled off the main road on to a dirt track. Black Betty was roaring from the speakers as he raced along the bumpy track, sliding on the dirt while flashing the interior bus lights on and off.The song had just about finished when we broke into a clearing and following a three sixty, Matt parked the bus next to a campfire site. The song ended right on cue and we laughed and cheered. No power, no water, no toilets, no tents, and internet connection.

It was all hands on deck to unload the firewood, get the fire started, and unload the swags as Matt got to work on dinner. Bathed in the light of a full moon with a roaring fire to keep us warm, we ate drank and chatted until at some time (I no longer cared about time and had stopped looking at my phone-there was no signal anyway), Matt showed us how to use the swags and we set up our beds for the night. Soon we were all asleep under the stars. It was my first ever night sleeping outside.

Day 1 of The Rock Tour was over and it had already exceeded my expectations.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Alice part 2

Lasseters offers its guests the free use of a mountain bike and funnily enough, I wanted one. I had two hours and forty five minutes which I calculated was sufficient for me to get around and tick off four items on my 'to see' list, as well as pop into The Rock Tour office to check in before tomorrow's tour.

First stop was Olive Pink Garden, just down the road from the hotel. I rode in, parked at the kiosk/gift shop, and walked to the top of Myer's Hill. From there I enjoyed a panoramic view of Alice Springs, before descending the rocky path back to my wheels.

Next, I rode along the walking/riding path which runs beside the Todd River. The path eventually turned from concrete to dirt and I encountered a sign which advised novice riders to choose the blue track. I buttered my face with sunscreen, took some water and a few deep breaths and headed off. Boy, I am glad I took the blue track because I nearly died several times (slight exaggeration) on my way to the old Telegraph Station. Seriously, I expected to crash at some point, but I didn't. Thankfully...although a bit of a crash would have made for a more entertaining recount.

At the end of the ride, (that's not me in the above photo by the way), having followed the somewhat scarce and ambiguous signs to my destination, I hit the sandy banks of the Todd, and there was water. Shock. Horror. Once safely across that puddle, I toured the historic precinct, had a Coke and a bite to eat, then called the hotel to say I would not be back on schedule. The ride to the station had taken a longer than I anticipated.

I left the Telegraph Station, filled with admiration at the feats of Australian pioneers, and returned to town, where I first visited The Rock Tour office, then cycled on to the Alice Springs Reptile Centre, where I made a new friend. 

Next was a trip to Coles for some snacks for tomorrow, then a short ride back to the hotel.

I relaxed with a beer and watched the footy, then went to Lasseters casino (attached to the hotel) where I ate a goat and Guinness pie at a restaurant called The Goat and the Bucket, then played roulette for the first time in my life. A friendly croupier showed me how to play and watched with some amusement as I blew $20, before wishing him well and leaving the table.

Back in my room now, and packing for my camping/hiking adventure which begins at 5:40am tomorrow morning.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Alice

Day one of my trip to Alice Springs, the Red Centre of Australia.

Getting up at 4am is not my idea of fun, but it does mean cheaper airfares and more time on the ground exploring. There are no direct flights to Alice Springs so the first leg was Sydney to Melbourne. I flew with QANTAS which meant that breakfast was included. I like to eat regularly so breakfast part 2 was vital. They served Greek yoghurt with muesli. I had never eaten this before, but it was offered and I was hungry so I ate and enjoyed it, despite being slightly cramped by the large fellow sitting next to me. 

After a half hour wait, I boarded another plane bound for The Alice. The benefits of flying QANTAS, as opposed to the budget carriers who usually transport me around the country, were soon manifest. A nice exotic brunch and a movie, Eddie the Eagle. Both were great and when the movie finished, having been interrupted only once by the captain who directed our attention to the mighty Lake Eyre, we began our descent.

Both landings caused me intense pain in my sinuses; the descent to Alice Springs actually made my nose bleed. On the ground, I booked a bus to my hotel and smoked a cigarette while chatting to a local who had just returned from a trip to Hobart.

The sky was a cloudless azure, but it was surprisingly chilly: 14 degrees in the middle of the day with a fresh breeze. My beanie was on my head when outdoors for the rest of the day.

After checking in at Lasseter's hotel, I went to my room and attempted a nap, before heading into town to have a look around. I walked, and walked, and walked: a couple of hours, taking photos, checking out this famous small country town in the middle of Australia.

From Todd Mall I strolled to Billy Goat Hill which the guy at the information centre told me was a lookout. It's actually an Aboriginal sacred site so I just looked at it, rather than climbing it like I wanted to, before moving on to Royal Flying Doctor Service tourist facility and Alice Springs base. Started by the Reverend John Flynn, this remarkable organisation services some 280 000 patients annually and covers around 80% of Australia.

I walked back to the hotel with some help from a local who initially seemed so surprised that I talked to him, he forgot where he was. On my journey I crossed the famous Todd River which usually has no water in it, and where despite it being a dry bed, a annual regatta is held.

In the evening I watched a couple of rugby league games on Fox, ordered dinner which took an hour plus another five minutes after I called to see what was taking so long. When it arrived, it was cold and not even what I ordered. Forty five minutes later I finally received my order which unsurprisingly was gratis.

Some time around nine o'clock, I fell asleep on the bed watching TV, woke up at 9:20, brushed my teeth, and went to bed, for a very, very good night's sleep.

It's 9 degrees and sunny as I write. Ten minutes to ten and it's time to do some more exploring.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Celebrate the small things: clothes

I'm doing some laundry this morning.The forecast is for a dry sunny day, but it's winter and there isn't generally quite enough warmth in the air or daylight hours to fully dry clothes on the line.

The other problem with winter laundering is the volume. More clothes are required in the colder months, and with only a smallish machine, more loads are also necessary. It takes longer to wash, dry and iron, and it takes longer to dress and undress.

What a tragic life. What a wretched man I am to be afflicted with these tribulations.

I'm thankful for clothes. I may have to wash them, but at least I have them. I can dress warmly and wear different ones every day. I'm thankful for the washing machine which does the work for me and I'm thankful for the sun, however weak it may be, and for the air, however cold it may be.

The washing machine is beeping its triumph. Time to hang out my clothes with gratitude.