...or The Calm Before The Great Red Bumpy Storm
07.06.2012 - 08.06.2012 17 °C
I'm writing this from the MacDonnell Ranges Caravan Park in Alice Springs, the night before the real road trip begins, and I had every intention of posting this - I sprung for the $5/45min Internet card here, but the damned thing doesn't work with iPads apparently. But I'm getting ahead of myself - let's back up a bit, shall we?
2 nights earlier...
The Crowne Plaza Alice Springs is an interesting place. The room is one of the most comfortable I've ever stayed in, but this comfort is offset by the gotchas elsewhere. For example: there is only wifi available in the lower lobby area, and it costs $10 for 2 hours (if you are going to charge, why not have it available in the rooms?); the hotel restaurant requires reservations...and has a dress code. Luckily I was able to find some food in the lobby bar. $50 for dinner. No joke. For food from the bar (it was pretty good food mind you). Then $30 for breakfast. All in all, a wonderful place - I'll never go again. Not even to get my travel adapters back (details to follow).
My Greatest Challenge (number 1): gearing myself up to drive on the opposite side of the road was a nerve-racking experience. The woman at the Britz rental office could clearly see the sweat pouring down my face (embarrassing). She asked if I was hot. When I informed her I was merely worried about, in the best case, making a complete ass of myself the moment I pulled out of the parking lot, a local at the other counter laughed and said "no worries, here in Alice everyone ahead of you is making an ass of themselves". I'd like to say that helped. But really, the whole experience was sort of like working yourself up for hours or days (in my case, months) about going on your first major roller-coaster - once you've done it, it is really no big deal. In fact the hardest part of driving on the left: your coffee is now on your left...that isn't easy to adjust to, and it delays your coffee intake by valuable seconds as you smack your hand into the driver's door and wonder where the hell you left your damned coffee. OK, I made that last part up. Anyway, I'd like to say I was instantly flawless, but alas it seems every time I go to pass someone I inevitably activate the windshield wipers instead of the turn signals. I call this the "North American in Australia Road Salute".
Soundtrack: Hymn / Kirlian Camera...randomly chosen by the iPod, but was perfect somehow.
Driving through the Outback is everything you may have read (if you haven't, well read about it). It is endless upon endless miles (well, kilometers) of flat expanse - ground shrub, maybe desert oak, and in many places hills of red soil. Imagine we terra-formed Mars...then slapped a long straight stretch of inexcusably poor quality wrinkled and narrow pavement ("bitumen") through it and called it a highway. Outback - right there.
Driving south then west from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock.
Wildlife count: one dead dingo, another dead dingo being eaten by what appeared to be a vulture (are there vultures here? if not, it was the world's ugliest hawk), a dead kangaroo, another dead kangaroo, a huge hawk and countless other birds eating - yup, a dead kangaroo, a dead wallaby (maybe a baby kangaroo, but let's be positive-thinking), and finally an emu (not yet deceased) and a wild camel - yes, a camel.
I pulled into the Ayers Rock Resort for my first night of camping, and decided to pull into the lodge for a bottle of wine (the only place to get "take-away" wine here). The only thing I remember seeing on the menu is "Jacob's Creek Cabernet Shiraz: $39" (actual retail value: $8.99 in most places, including Canada). I had instant coffee that night.
The only last thing to say about Road Trip Day 1: you may have gone camping to some remote places and seen some incredible stars...but you have nothing on me. I have never seen anything like this: so many damned stars the sky almost seems lit up with track lighting, the milky-way clearly sprawling across the sky. I would have loved to take some pictures, but nothing turns out with cheap digital cameras. Oh well.
Onto day 2...
6:10am wake-up. It' probably 0 degrees celsius outside. No way I'm getting out of bed.
7:10am: Jesus Steve, did you come to Australia to lounge around in a rented sleeping bag in a tiny camper? It's probably 5 degrees celsius outside. Oh well. I was able to see most of the last part of the sunrise from the campsite, it was absolutely breathtaking. Or was that the cold doing the taking of the breath?
Ayers Rock is somewhat paradoxical: it doesn't take any bad pictures, yet no pictures do it justice. I can see why the Aboriginals consider this a sacred place - or at least I can pretend I do. It made the homesickness disappear (oh yeah, by the way, got struck with really bad homesickness on the way from the resort to the rock - I am human you know!). I had no intention of climbing it, but the climb was closed anyway due to high winds at the summit. I walked around a small area of the base, as I didn't have much time before I needed to head back to Alice (another thing about Outback traveling that you'll read that is 100% accurate: distances are way farther than they appear on a map. The drive in from Alice took 5 hours for a 440Km drive, and for some reason when driving the minutes seem to go faster than the kilometers...even though that isn't really accurate). I wanted to get back to Alice in plenty of time before sunset, as I had learned that this tiny campervan is a bit tricky to navigate (e.g. cook and wash dishes) in the dark. I digress - Ayers Rock: adjectives to describe it: awe-inspiring, breath-taking (it had warmed up, so I know it wasn't the cold this time), big, surreal, stoic, peaceful, spiritual, and red. All along the base were several alcoves that apparently had purpose for the Aboriginals: there was the "Men's Cave" (no women allowed, please), the "Kitchen Cave", the "Learning Cave", etc. Basically the biggest, ancient condo you'll ever see. I made it as far as Kantju Gorge, where a permanent water hole was (this time of year, a permanent puddle really: I laughed at the "No Swimming" sign) - the feature of this grove is this is where the Aboriginals would go to "think" - meditate, whatever you want to call it, because it is so quiet. The really eerie thing is, the grove really is that quiet: no wind noise (despite the desert winds blowing by everywhere else), no animal noises, you couldn't even hear the road from there. The only thing you could hear is people - specifically tourists. I wanted to stay longer and "think" but I had to find the "Toilet Cave", which was thankfully not attached to the rock.
A quick stop in town and then the long drive back to Alice. And that is where I am sitting now in the rapidly dropping temperature in a very nice caravan park...that charged me $35 for an overflow site crammed between the camp kitchen, the playground, and the toilets. Oh well.
From here on in, things will really start to get interesting.
Soundtrack: A Strange Device / Emilie Autumn.
I forgot to mention: the rental company gave me permission to travel to all my intended places, so this means that tomorrow I start on My Greatest Challenge (number 2, and probably my biggest): driving the length of the Tanami Track. Why is it such a challenge? One: almost 1000 of dirt road, some of it quite rough and if not driving carefully, treacherous (especially on your tires...sorry "tyres"); two: no accommodations, I'll need to bush camp along the way (this also means 3 days without a shower...I wonder what the hookers in King's Cross will think of me then?); three: timing the fuel stops, I have a long range tank that gets me about 1000Km, and I'll be fueling up at the last major stop about 300Km in so I should be fine there. So the real challenge is managing the stress level. Which, admittedly, started to spike the moment I made it back to Alice.
Minor Crisis (number 1): burned my hand by spilling a fresh hot long black (Americano) coffee all over it. Not major, but made washing dishes pretty miserable.
Minor Crisis (number 2): it's Friday, and the RV parks were all mostly full. I was able to get squeezed into an overflow spot, but only after they made me sweat while they checked it out to make sure they had one available.
Minor Crisis (number 3): I have discovered that I have left my travel plug adapters at the Crowne Plaza. Not a huge issue, but this means I will have no music to listen to while stuff charges through the cigarette lighter plug while I drive tomorrow. So maybe this is a major crisis?...
Minor Crisis (number 4): if I expect to get to the fuel stop while it is open (because it will be Saturday here), I need to leave this park by about 6am tomorrow. It doesn't matter if it is -50 celsius, I need to get up, shower, eat and leave by 6am. I'd probably be ok leaving a bit later, but see the bit above about managing the stress level.
So that's it - now I really do go dark for three days...because if you hear from me sooner, something went horribly wrong. See you all in Broome!