Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Heading for the Outback!! (Day 1 of 5)

5:00am came really soon for us today, and as a result we, especially me (Kendra), were dragging all day. I felt so poorly rested – similar to jet lag. So, I will preface this post by saying that after a very good night’s sleep tonight (which I’m hoping to get), tomorrow should go much better for me.

Be all that as it may, we finally ended up getting out of bed at 5:30am and tried to finish our packing, getting ready, and eating breakfast before having to haul our very heavy luggage up the trail through the eucalyptus trees to the back of our hosts’ house at 6:15am for the cab. (Not that I really know how heavy our luggage was because Tim moved it all).

The cab came on time which was great and we headed off into the city. I was not feeling very well even then. The cab driver didn’t know where the hotel was (amazing the lack of knowledge about this incredibly small city we have observed from 2/2 cab drivers so far), so we dug out Tim’s itinerary to give him the address. After this, he was able to fine it. The staff at the Majestic Rooftop Hotel was great about stowing our luggage for us during our tour, and the hotel looked great. I think we will really enjoy our time there when we return. While we waited for our driver and tour guide, Geoff, Tim headed out to find a coffee shop recommended by the hotel staff.

[Tim] The shop was just opening up as I walked across the intersection. As I ordered our 2 long blacks, about 10 other customers arrived from different directions, who all knew each other well and began some friendly morning conversation. It felt very strange to be the only stranger in this close-knit community, but not really awkward. They knew I was from the U.S. as soon as I spoke, and actually thought I might be somebodies brother (also from America).

Tim brought back two very strong long black coffees from Cibo. The coffee was good but was not waking me up at all. Soon enough, Geoff drove up, came in, helped us with our baggage and our tour began! He was driving a large Toyota turbo-cooled 4x4, with massive wheels, a souped-up suspension system and some hard-core-looking radio antennae.

[Our trusty chariaot of the Outback]

Of course it took us all day to pick up on some of this stuff, but I will start by describing our tour guide. To those who know both of these individuals, this is going to seem unlikely, but he is a cross between Tim’s father (Gene) and George L. from Kenbrook (the older George rather than the younger one from when we were 14). He gets very excited about plants and certain animals like Gene does and he knows a great deal about the history, geography, and geology about this area. At the same time, he loves to tease women especially and he is constantly telling jokes to me that at first appear to be a real story but ends up to be a joke, and I am usually slow to understand that it is a joke. In this way he is a bit like George. He is also similar to George in that he is very settled in what he does and in where he is. He just seems incredibly comfortable in his own skin and has a very casual attitude with all people, which is good.

He is a very good guide. He doesn’t actually work for the tour company we signed up for – Tours by Jingo – but has his own company and was subcontracted to take us on the tour. He makes some adjustments to the tours he guides, but they don’t seem like they detract from the overall experience. Also, I forgot to mention above that Tim and I are the only people on the tour! So, the tour is very personalized and we don’t have anyone else to deal with, and no one else needs to deal with us except for Geoff. “Lovely!” (as they say here).

[The Road Ahead...with the radio antennae and Geoff's hat]

Geoff would later tell us some humorous (some horrific!) stories of how individual personalities, cultures and customs can clash while together on a 5-day tour through the outback! The itinerary above pretty much describes the basic agenda of the day. Geoff made some amendments to the itinerary, though, which worked out fine. After a few hours of driving out of Adelaide, through the suburbs and into more sparesly poplulated areas, we started seeing some really interesting terrain, like a huge shallow salt lake where the harvest salt that probably ends up on the interstates around Philadelphia in the winter!

There were also alot of crop fields and another lake which had an amazing pinkish hue due to high levels of some chemicals. Geoff was laughing at our interest in the herds of sheep we passed- they are very commonplace here, but we rarely see them anywhere besides Amish country Lancaster or a live Christmas nativity. So he stopped and let us take a few pictures of the big fluffy sheep and the little lambs that were running around.

We stopped for Tea and “Biscuits” (cookies) by a pretty duck-filled creek at very windy small town called Jamestown which seemed to be stuck in a permanent state of limbo between old world and new.

[Jamestown. In all it's glory]

[Somehow, Geoff managed to keep that water hot all day. And those chocolate cookies were great! Kendra's freezing here.]

We stopped to fill up with gas and have lunch at a very small town called Hawker. Despite the very small size of the town, there was a very talented artist there who had a gallery open, and Tim and I stopped in to get a few postcards and look at his work.

[They made some great sandwhiches here!!]

The scenery in between and after on our way to the hotel was sometimes beautiful, sometimes very monotonous, and sometimes I actually fell asleep from exhaustion. (Also, I’m not feeling well today – I think just traveler’s fatigue and change of climate). To put it in perspective for you, most Americans probably consider Texas, Arizona, etc. to be areas that have the most wide open spaces. I have a good friend from Texas who likes it for that reason. Geoff told us that most people tell him the King Ranch in TX is the largest (or one of the largest) piece of land for cattle in TX at about1,300 square miles. Now, don’t get me wrong, my dear Texans. That impresses me, since we live in the North East, and you are lucky to find enough land for a 300 square foot parking lot much less room for cattle. However, here there are very many large pieces of cattle lands that are 30,000 square miles. It is hard to picture how large and empty most of the land is here. It would be like blowing up only Texas or Arizona into an area the size of the US and having that same distribution of city versus large empty land. So, anyway, I am not claiming to be an expert on any of that, but just trying to provide you with a perspective of what we are driving through.

[The landscape changes....]

[The Road to the Outback]

[Wow...it's really bright out here! Not a cloud in the sky!!]

[Pretty barren landscape behind me- and a big drop, too!]

[We saw alot of these gum trees that have started rotting from the inside out, then had the decomposing material inside start burning and charring the insides of the trees.]

My favorite thing was when we were able to see the animals. The first thing I will warn people is that at least in Southern Australia, there are by no means an abundance of Koalas. We have only seen their fuzzy butts while they were hiding from the public at Cleland when we were there. Apart from that, although I have seen them listed on several menus, I have seen none in the wild, and our tour guide said they are not too common and are mostly considered pests and a nuicance.

However, we have seen many kangaroo and also wallaby (a small kangaroo relative) and emu. We also had the good fortune of seeing both in the rocks and very close to our car a very rare and endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby. Geoff was so excited! We thought it was indeed a beautiful animal. I would describe it as sort of a cross between a small kangaroo and a raccoon, if you can picture that. It has a ring tail and the coloring is white/gray/brown. Sadly, there are a large number of dead Kangaroo on the road as well as other animals that have been killed. (Geoff calls these types of kangaroos “was-a-roos”).

In addition to seeing all these animals, once we left Hawker, there were no more towns – even small towns – and so when I had to go to the bathroom, I had to go pee on the ground. This was of course both traumatic and embarrassing to me, but there wasn’t anyone around, and it wasn’t actually that bad. I started getting woozy somewhere around there and so I switched seats with Tim in the car so that I could lay down and have Tim carry the conversation with the guide more. This helped me feel better. Also, Geoff turned on some air for me.

[This was taken at one of the very few places of standing water in a huge area- it's very very dry here.]

The last major stop we made before our final one was to stop and see some fossils. These fossils are recently very famous as being dated before the pre-Cambrian era (Austrapsilius fossils). They were once living organisms that formed something similar to a modern coral reef, but a little different.

[The oldest fossilized animals EVER!]

[These are ancient sandy water ripples that have been fossilized]

When we turned onto the road to the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna (which is quite famous in the film industry and several movie stars have stayed there during filming), I saw the moon out in broad daylight, and it was really huge. Picture in perspective, a moon the size of a grapefruit overtop of a normal sized beach castle. It was really amazing to see. I felt a little like I was on Mars, since instead of a beach sandcastle, it was overtop of an extremely barren landscape with some jagged red rocks in the background.

We pulled up to the hotel and were greeted by most of the town’s population of 6 who were at the hotel bar. And – as luck would have it – it was census night in Australia. This only happens every 5 years, and here were are in a town with less than a dozen people! What an odd situation! Tim and I had to fill out the forms as visitors as well as a whole group of backpackers who had wandered in for a drink. The backpackers were from New Zealand, Germany, Israel, and elsewhere. They looked possibly Tim and I’s age or younger. I wondered how they are able to take a long backpacking trip.

[The Parachilna Praire Hotel]

[Fabulous food..great drink...wonderful people!!]

[Another part of the hotel]

[Kendra and Geoff filling out Census forms...here the tourists really do outnumber the locals...by about 200%!]

Anyway, we had a drink and talked to the workers of the hotel and Geoff some more and then had a wonderful dinner. I had this great pumpkin soup and mashed potatoes. Tim had goat in a nice smelling curry seasoning with rice and a salad. Geoff treated the table to a bottle of great red wine made in South Australia. Tim ordered a scoop of desert lime gelato for dessert and I had a few bites. After this, we headed out for a very quick look at the stars and now I am ready for bed and will be asleep shortly if people stop making noise right outside our door. For 6 people, they are rather noisy…

So, that is it for today. My overall consensus about the tour so far is that I am not sure this is really my thing, although I am willing to say that I could just be tired and will feel very differently in the morning. It is interesting to see and meet people in these super-small towns, but the landscape is not incredibly interesting to me for the most part, and it is making me nauseous to bounce around in a car all day. I have been pretty impressed with the great food – including vegetarian options that we have been able to experience today in both of our meals. Also, as I stated previously, it is nice to have great wines to enjoy. Finally, Tim really seems to really like the tour, and so that makes it worth it regardless. I think it reminds him of his time at camp and some other nature adventures he has had.

[Tim]: What a day! We went from big(ish) city to almost-off-the-map outback in a few hours. I am having a really good time. The scenery reminds me somewhat of Arizona and New Mexico, but with a very fall-like temperature. It’s not that very visually stimulating, but our guide, Goeff is more than making up for that. He’s very knowledgable and is telling great stories. He’s been in the company of so many types of people and relates those experiences so well you almost feel like you’ve had them yourself, even though it’s just the three of us- for which we are glad. We’re a million miles from nowhere, but the moon is so bright tonight that we haven’t seen the huge expanse of stars that we’re sure is up there. The food so far has been amazing and the people that we have come in contact with are wonderful. It’s fun seeing Goeff get very excited about geology and animals.

Oh, and there's great beer, here too!!!

One thing that's really interesting about this place is that it used to be a major stop for the old steam train that went across Australia. I'ts now been replaced with newer technology but still runs. I took a few pictures of the tracks and the old railway station that's just across the street from the hotel.


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