Saturday, March 29, 2008

Heading Bush - Day 1

Well, I finally found a little bit of time so I might as well start getting you guys caught up on my tour. And let me just say, as much as I like writing these blogs, the task before me is quite daunting... I have quite a bit of catching up to do, not only with the 10 days in the bush, 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! Ahhhh!

Well, 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 all of my 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) who 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 '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... when we are all nice and clean and ignorant of what was to come! So here it goes! 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 darling?

As we were driving to our first destination, Gus would tell us stories of the places we passed. At one point, we passed a dry lake (the name unfortunately escapes me but it was similar to Loch Ness I believe... something like Tochess) and he told us about a monster that lives in the lake (or the sand since it was a dry lake). Then a couple of minutes down the road, he pointed it out to us. Sure enough, there was a 'monster' in the lake, built out of old tires... created to look a bit like 'Nessie'. This was the first example of many to come of how people in the desert get very bored, and like to build things out of trash (especially tires).

The next story he told us was of a place called 'Snowtown' Why was it called 'Snowtown' are you wondering? 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, and a lot of sheep died... and as they were decomposing, the winds started to pick up and the wool of the sheep blew off... and the look of wool in the air gave the appearance of snow... but that is actually not what this town is NOW famous for. In 1999, 8 bodies were found stuffed in barrels in an old bank vault in the small town. The name 'Snowtown' still sends shivers down many Australians' spines. Personally, I like the dead sheep story better.

Anyhow, by now, after all the city driving and the stories, we were 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 site, AKA Melrose Place - so I did not meet Brenda and Brandon or whomever is on Melrose Place). OK, we actually didn't have lunch IN the town of Melrose, more like in the woods NEAR the town of Melrose. It was here that we got our first taste of what our food would be like for the next 10 or so days! Pun fully intended! We all helped out, chopping veggies and cheese, and then made our own sandwiches and ate... 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.... that's just a little teaser for you.

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 onto 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 that happen throughout the desert called 'Whirly-Whirlies'. These are like mini tornadoes, that look really neat when viewed from afar. 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. It is even 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...

Just wanted to throw those in there. That was at a stop right before we reached the caves... and here (below) you can see some old ruins of houses (house) from when this area was settled. You can imagine how hard it might have been for someone to live in this area... dry, hot, 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. Probably it was made out of straw... and the dingos huffed and puffed... ;)

Finally, after practically 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... and unfortunately, after 5 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... in the form of a silver staircase. My head pounded more with every step, but I really wanted to see the ancient artwork so I bravely trodded on! Yes, BRAVELY! Let me feel like a hero! 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. Too little, too late, sign!

Once I got myself up there in mostly one piece, I was pretty impressed. The cave paintings were really neat... 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, huh? A mummified kangaroo!

Well, our day was pretty much over now, and we headed to our camp site for that night. We made a quick pitstop at a store that had a pretty neat seismograph (and I had an ice cream that tasted oh-so-good after such a hot day) and then we got to camp. This is where we were introduced to a shovel that we would have to get to know very well in the next few days... affectionately known as the 'Sh** Shovel' (censored for innocent eyes). Yes, we were truly roughing it. No bathrooms... no showers... nothing but us and woods. And ants. And flies. And the shovel. If you were wondering what the shovel was for... well, I'm pretty sure you could guess.

The camp area actually looked quite nice, so you could almost forget that you were so far away from any modern facilities...

You can see that there are still trees in the Australian outback, even though it is so dry...

So, after the explanation of the shovel and how we would have to find our own bathrooms... we unpacked our beds (sleeping bags and something called a 'swag' in 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. Eventually, 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.
(I guess the whole possibility of the creek one day getting enough rain to no longer be dry did it for them...) 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, hahaha!

Anyhow, here is a picture of our beds (still rolled up).

We unfortunately couldn't have a fire on our first night, because it was so hot 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 of that night, but one of the girls talked a bit about how she spent time in Africa, and worked in a hospital for children. She spoke of one small child with AIDS that was kept in a room all by himself, and she only knew that he was there at all because one day she heard him crying and looked in the room and saw him sitting in a bed, his diaper completely full of poo (she said it seemed that he hadn't been changed in 2 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 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... I wish more people would be able to go out and help children who really need it...

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 lot to get there) really tuckers you out. But first, 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 we just walked off to find a bunch of trees far away from the boys, but we did it together!

After the group pee, we got into our swags and tried to go off into dreamland. I was awake for a little while... staring at the stars. Unfortunately, the moon was almost full so I couldn't see as many stars as I would have been able to on 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 (university) classes because of my firefighting. Just wanted to throw that one in before I end my FIRST BLOG OF THE DESERT TOUR!! ONLY 9 MORE TO GO!


Dad said...

Great post Karen. I can't wait to hear about the next nine days. Between the ants, the whirly whirlies & the sh** shovels you really were "roughing it".

Lisah0822 said...

ACTUALLy, i think brenda and brandon are 90210 (i believe)....

you had me cracking up at the sign mocking you, then banging your head, HAHAHAHA!!! omg, you really know how to make your blogs interesting to read.

cool cave drawing, gross kangaroo!

very sad aids story. actually so sad i almost couldnt smile reading more,till you wrote something funny again. but now i can't get that poor child out of my head :-(

can't wait for more!!!!!

Cheryl said...

Firefighting huh? Well I guess there are worse things you can dream of. :D
Looking forward to the next installation!

PMH said...

Well, at least now I know that this is one thing I will not do. Don't want to sleep with the ants.

I like hearing about your dreams since I have suddenly stopped remembering my dreams.

Sad about the little boy. I would have helped him...