I finally found a little bit of time so now is as good a time as any to start getting you guys caught up on my tour. Let me just say that as much as I like writing these blogs, the task before me is quite daunting. I have so much catching up to do, not only with the 10 days on the tour, but also with what I have been up to while I have been here in Alice Springs. Also, I have to let everyone know what I am doing next! And I have to do all of this in the next two days or I’ll be even more behind!
So I guess the best place for me to start is at the beginning.
I was picked up at my hostel at about 7:30 and I met the rest of the people that I would be spending the next 10 days with. There were 11 of us in our group (10 plus Gus, our tour guide) and there was also another Heading Bush group (with whom our paths would cross from time to time) that had about 8 people in it.
The first couple of hours of our tour actually was just us trying to get out of the city of Adelaide. Gus the tour guide repeatedly mentioned how much he hates city driving, and how he couldn’t wait until we were out of the area of traffic lights, pollution, and people rushing around with their eyes constantly on their watches.
Before we were fully out of the city we had to stop in the central office to fill out paperwork (the standard ‘if you die while on the trip it’s your own fault’ kind of paperwork). After our lives were signed away, someone decided it would be a good idea to get a ‘before’ picture of all of us while we were still all nice and clean and ignorant of what was to come. The picture is below! From left to right it’s me, Sara D, Gus, Christine, Penny, Sarah R, Pat, Matt, Adrian, Sandra, and Dave.
Don’t we all look fresh faced and innocent?
As we were driving to our first destination, Gus told us stories of the places we passed. At one point, we passed a dry lake (the name unfortunately escapes me but it was similar in sound to Loch Ness I believe – something like Tochess) and he told us about a monster that lives in the lake – or the sand rather since it was a dry lake. A couple of minutes down the road he pointed the monster out to us. Sure enough, there was a ‘monster’ in the lake built out of old tires. It was created to look a bit like ‘Nessie’. This was the first of many examples to come of how people in the desert get very bored and like to build things out of trash or old tires.
The next story he told us was of a place called ‘Snowtown’ Why was it called ‘Snowtown’? Is it because this is the only town in Australia that has snow on the ground year-round? No. But good guess. It’s actually because years ago, there was a particularly brutal frost in the winter where a lot of sheep died. As they were decomposing the winds started to pick up and the wool of the sheep blew off. The look of wool in the air gave the appearance of snow. As interesting as that story is, that is not what this town is most famous for. In 1999, eight bodies were found stuffed in barrels in an old bank vault in the town. The name ‘Snowtown’ still sends shivers down many Australians’ spines. Personally, I like the dead sheep story better.
At this point in the drive we were all getting pretty hungry, so we stopped for lunch in the town of Melrose – who’s claim to fame is being the oldest town in South Australia, not being a Hollywood school or something, AKA Melrose Place. I did not meet Brenda and Brandon or any of those people. Ok if I’m being totally honest, we did not actually have lunch in the town of Melrose, more accurate would be to say we had it in the woods near the town of Melrose.
It was here that we got the first taste of what our food would be like for the next 10 days. Pun fully intended. We all helped out with lunch, chopping veggies and cheese, and then made our own sandwiches and ate while standing up. Well, I was standing up, because the ground was crawling with ants. The flies weren’t too bad here. We swatted away one or two, but this was nowhere near as bad as they would become….
Here we are, making our sandwiches:
The orange thing you see is our traaaiiler (yes I spelled it correctly… it’s a long story which I will explain later), where our luggage and food supplies and most important, our beer, would be living for the near future.
After lunch, the people who didn’t chop veggies did the cleaning up, and we headed back on the road.
As we were driving we saw a really neat little phenomenon. When wind and dust and sand get caught up together they create little things in the air that pop up throughout the desert called ‘Whirly-Whirlies’. These are a kind of mini tornado. They look really neat when viewed from afar, but they aren’t anywhere near as powerful as actual tornadoes are. But they can still blow things around a bit. I wasn’t able to get a terrific photo of them, but here is one:
As we were driving along, the landscape continued to get emptier, and green vegetation sparser. We were headed for the Yourambulla caves, a place in the Flinders Ranges where we could see some authentic Aboriginal cave art. If I haven’t mentioned it before, or if anyone doesn’t know this, the Aboriginals were the native people of Australia who inhabited the country for thousands of years before any white people came along and stirred things up. It is thought that they are the oldest race on earth.
The Flinders Ranges are a very important part of South Australia as well – they are extremely old ranges, and some of the oldest forms of life (fossils) have been found here.
Here is a picture of some dead trees…
That was taken at a stop right before we reached the caves. And here (below) you can see some old ruins of a house from when this area was settled. You can imagine how hard it might have been for someone to live in this area. It was dry, hot, there was not much life around… And whirly whirlies blowing off the roofs of their stone houses!
Just kidding! Whirly-whirlies can’t do that. The roof was just the first thing to go after this place was abandoned. Likely it was made out of straw and the dingos huffed and puffed.
Finally, after driving all day, we got to the Aboriginal Yourambulla cave painting site.
We had to do a little bit of a hike to get up to the site. After five or so minutes of walking, my head started POUNDING. One person suggested to me that maybe I hadn’t drank enough water (it was an extremely hot day so we constantly had to be drinking water) so I drank more. The headache didn’t subside, and someone else told me that perhaps I was drinking TOO much water. I couldn’t win! I just had to grin and bear it until I could get to some pain killers.
After our short walk in the killer heat, we got to the area where the cave paintings were and we had to do a bit of climbing first to see them. Luckily, we were able to take the stairs. My head pounded more and more with each step but I really wanted to see the ancient artwork so I bravely plodded on. Yes, I meant bravely. Just let me feel like a hero this once. I deserved it after that headache!
When I got to the top, I saw this sign, which at first I thought was mocking my headache:
But after I banged my head on the top of the overhang, I realized it was just warning me not to bang my head on the top of the overhang.
Once I got myself up there in mostly one piece, I was impressed with what I saw. The cave paintings were awesome to see. It was like looking back into time.
The signs around the paintings said that the exact age and purpose of the drawings isn’t known, but it’s thought that they relate to the stories of the ‘Dreamtime’ – the time of creation.
After we finished marveling at the paintings we made our way back down the stairs and headed back to our vehicle. On the way, we saw another interesting sight:
Gross, right? A mummified kangaroo!
Well, our day was pretty much over at this point, so we headed to our camp site for that night. We made a quick pit stop at a store that had a seismograph I had fun playing around with, and I got myself an ice cream that tasted oh-so-good after such a hot day.
When we finally got to camp, we were introduced to a shovel that we would have to get to know very well in the next few days. It was affectionately known as the ‘Sh** Shovel’ (censored for innocent eyes). Yes, we were truly roughing it. No bathrooms… no showers… nothing but us and the woods. And ants. And flies. And the shovel. If you were wondering what the shovel was for… well, I’m pretty sure you can guess.
The camp area was quite nice. You could almost forget that you were so far away from any modern facilities:
As you can see in the picture above, there are still trees in the Australian outback even though it is so dry.
We next unpacked our beds, which were really just sleeping bags and something called a ‘swag’ in which which we were to put our sleeping bags, and tried to find a sleep location that didn’t have too many ants. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find one of those. The ants were everywhere. And Australian ants are RUDE! They bite first and ask questions later. After a few of us made it quite clear how unhappy we were getting bit by millions of ants while we slept, Gus told us that if we slept in the creek bed (the DRY creek bed) we should be fine, because the ants are usually smart enough to stay away from those areas. Ordinarily you should never sleep in a creek bed because you never know when it would suddenly not be dry anymore, but Gus assured us that this one would be safe, and we of course trusted him.
A few hours later, a flash flood washed away all our things and nearly took our lives. Just kidding!
Anyhow, here is a picture of our beds (still rolled up).
We couldn’t have a fire on our first night because it was so hot and dry that there was a complete fire ban for all campers. We cooked our meal (stir fry!) over a portable gas stove, and then settled down to get to know each other a bit more.
I don’t remember everything we spoke about that night, but one thing I do remember is that one of the girls talked about how she spent some time in Africa and worked in a hospital for children. She told us about one small child with AIDS that was kept in a room all by himself. She only found out that he was there at all because she heard him crying one day and looked in the room. She saw him sitting in a bed, his diaper completely full of poo. She said it seemed that he hadn’t been changed in two days at least. She said that when the boy saw her, he pointed to a dish that was just beyond his reach. It was his food, and he was too weak to reach it. She said that because AIDS has such a stigma in that area, this is sometimes how the infected children were treated. Unfortunately, she left the hospital shortly after this, and heard news about a week later that the boy died. Probably from starvation because he wasn’t ever able to get to his food.
That story had nothing to do with Australia, I know, but it was just such a sad and poignant story that I wanted to share it anyway.
After we all ate and talked for a bit, we set up to go to bed. Being in the middle of nowhere (and driving a long way to get there) really tuckers you out. But before we went to bed, the girls had our very first group pee! This is very important information actually, because it signifies the beginning of our bonding with each other. Basically all we did was walk off to find a group of trees far away from the boys, but we did it together!
After the group pee, we got into our swags and tried to drift off into dreamland. I was awake for a little while staring at the stars. The moon was almost full so I couldn’t see as many stars as I would have been able to if it was a new moon, but it was still beautiful. And the quiet… was amazing. There was not a single sound except the occasional snoring from one of our group members.
That night, I dreamed that Cheryl and I were volunteer firefighters, and that I was really worried because I had been missing a lot of my college classes because of my firefighting. Just wanted to throw that one in before I end my first post of the desert tour. Only nine more to go!