Monday, April 7, 2008

Trip To Cairns

OK, now as you all (should) know, I am currently in Cairns... but I'm sure you are wondering how my trip to GET here went! Well it's your lucky day because I am now going to tell you! (In one post too, even though the trip took 3 days... just want to finish this one up quickly so I can post about snorkeling and rafting!)

First off, once again I was picked up VERY early in the morning... before the sun even showed his face. This is becoming way too common for me! When I got on the bus, the bus driver was supposed to collect my money for the trip... and I was VERY proud of myself that even in this half-asleep state that I was in, I realized that he was overcharging me by about 45 dollars. Hah, score another one for Karen despite her dreadful math skills!

After everyone was picked up, we went to the REAL bus. (I guess the REAL bus driver wanted to sleep an extra hour while someone else picked did the dirty work...)

Now, the bus we were getting on was like a luxury hotel compared to what I was used to from my last tour... there were only about 15 of us on the trip, but the bus had about 40 seats... so each of us had our own 2 seats on the bus (and there was tons of leg room, air conditioning, TV - it was almost like it was made for the queen herself!).

The bus driver, (Allen) said that we had a bit of a drive before our first stop, so we should all take a little nap and he'd wake us up in a couple of hours. Wow! Of course, it was a bit hard to sleep when he kept honking the horn every half hour or so (he said it was to scare the eagles that were feeding on the roadkill so he wouldn't hit them... but I have my suspicions...)

Anyhow, he woke us up a little ways down the road and talked to us more about where we would be going on our journey to Cairns. We obviously couldn't go through the rough terrains that we went through in the 4WD vehicle of Heading Bush, but we would be going through plenty of dirt roads and even the outskirts of the Simpson Desert...

There was plenty of time for us to twiddle our thumbs on this trip... there was quite a bit of driving in between each stop. At one point, after driving through kilometers and kilometers of nothing, we were very excited to see a police station. In the middle of nowhere! Apparently there are two cops that live out there with their families, and they have to look after an area of 2000 km... all by themselves. So, if there is an accident 1894 km away, it might take them 6-8 hours to even get there... imagine living like that! Actually, imagine you were the one in that accident. Although I suppose if it's a bad one, the helicopter comes first... right?

We did have a toilet on the bus, but the driver told us that he only wanted us to use it in an emergency, since those toilets weren't really meant to be used for three days straight... instead, he made occasional stops in the bush, for us to use the same 'bush toilets' that I was accustomed to! Ahhh, memories. It was funny watching the girls look nervous their first time peeing outside... I'd been through that many, many times before but now it was completely natural to me! Hahaha...

Our first stop was at a little Aboriginal village, where we were offered the opportunity to buy some artwork at the town art gallery, or we could go to a little convenience store. It was a really quick stop, 15 minutes at the most, and then we were off on the road again. I'm not saying much about it because really, there isn't anything to say... we looked at the art, then went back on the road! Most of our stops were really short on this trip. It wasn't really much of a TOUR... it was more like a bus ride with a few stops and a bit of commentary.

After we were back on the bus, we had a bit of a 'getting to know you' where we had to talk about ourselves for a minute or so... and then he talked a bit more about what we could expect during the trip. He told us that one thing we would be able to look forward to every morning was him playing us a few Australian songs, which we would most likely be sick of by the end of the trip. "G'day G'day! How ya going? Whaddaya know? Go strike a light!" ended up being our theme song, with people randomly singing it at the strangest times (in the bathroom, after dinner... etc).

Allen told us that since we had a bit of a drive to our next stop, if we liked, he'd put in a movie. 'Yay, movie!' Thought we... but when he tried to turn it on, it wouldn't work. Oh well, not a big deal, we would just have to talk to each other more and listen to more music. At least the air conditioning was still working, right?

We all settled back down into our large, luxurious seats and got comfortable for the drive. I must admit, that I was a bit worried that this tour I would just be told most of the same things that I was already told on my Heading Bush trip, but that wasn't the case. One huge thing that was different about THIS tour as opposed to the other one was that this driver talked a lot more about cattle stations and people who actually make a living by working out in the bush. The other tour was more about the actual land, and the history that it held... and the connection to the Aboriginals.

It is interesting - there are so many cattle stations (i.e. cow farms) out in the bush, and in the middle of nowhere... the cows just roam free in these stations, eating what they find, until they are rounded up and sold for beef. The amount of rain that each cattle station gets can make or break them. If there is no rain, they have to sell all of their cattle before they die of thirst, and they tend to have to sell them for less money in order to sell them quicker. Many cattle stations in the deserts of Australia have been going through hard times they have been in drought (just centimeters of rain each year!) for 5 years.

The next stop was to a giant termite mound... and giant it was! This particular mound is dead now, but it is thought to be 200 years old... I am next to it for scale :)

Termites that live in the ground make their mounds by mixing dirt and saliva, so the color the dirt is determines the color of the mound. But yikes, imagine how many termites lived there when it was alive! And in this whole mound, there is only one queen termite, who made all the babies to populate the entire mound. How would you like that job? To constantly spit out new whippersnappers all day and night long? She obviously did a very good job, seeing the size of this mound...

So, we looked at the mound for 10 minutes, got our pictures and then BACK on the road!

Soon, we got to the Northern Territory/Queensland border... (I'm back on Sydney time now guys!) check out the Northern Territory sign. See the misspelling?

What is really funny is how it was corrected... A tiny red cross out...

Right at the Queensland border, we passed a sign that said "home of the Min Min lights!" We Allen asked for an explanation of this, and he told us that long ago, there was a hotel called the Min Min hotel, where there were crimes committed involving poisoned alcohol, death, and prostitutes... the hotel was shut down it burned to the ground soon after. Ever since then, people driving by at night would sometimes see strange lights following them through the area... sometimes for miles... and this still happens today. Even respectable and trustworthy people have reported seeing them. There are tons of theories as to what these lights are, from fireflies to gas bubbles... but no definite explanation has been found.

The next stop... the middle of nowhere. Yes, that's right! One of the points in the brochure for this trip was that you would go to the middle of nowhere and take a nothing walk! And I still came! I guess it was a little eerie, that nothing was around, not a tree, or anything.

Imagine being stuck out here with no gas and no water? It was hot too...

The reason for no tree-life in areas like this is that they are made up of a type of soil called 'black soil', not for it's color though. Black soil cracks when it gets too dry, so any trees that might be growing in them fall over... the roots can't take hold. And when it does rain, the cracks fill up as the soil expands... so really, the soil is constantly moving, expanding and shrinking depending on the weather.

After 10 minutes looking around 'nowhere'... we got back into the bus, where we had a bit more of a problem. The air conditioning stopped working. Oh no! First the TV, now this! And we couldn't even open windows... just the vents on the top of the bus. Our bus driver apologized (but for some reason he was smiling), and he said that we should just think of it as "an experience!" An experience! This wasn't the luxury bus ride we thought it was! This was roughing it in disguise! Anyhow, we were troopers, so we didn't complain. This was the outback, after all!

We were now driving down 'Plenty Highway', headed to our sleeping place for the night... a cattle station called "Wirrilyerna Station". On the road to the station, I became really excited when I saw some emus, and I shouted "Emus!" I thought everyone would rush to my side of the bus to see them, but no one said anything... a couple of people glanced out of the window but it was almost like I had shouted "Squirrels!" while looking out a window in NJ... people acted like they saw them every day! But these were the same people that got excited over seeing kangaroos just minutes later. What gives here? Kangaroos are like the squirrel of the outback! They're everywhere!

Anyhow... when we got to Wirrilyerna station, we were told to expect nighttime 'music'. I think most of us were picturing some kind of hoedown or something, but apparently they had just rounded up a bunch of cows that were ready to be branded and sold, and because they were so close to where we were sleeping we'd be hearing them mooing all night long. I have a little video for you to imagine it... you do need sound to hear the mooing though!

This place definitely had a rustic beauty to it... especially around sunset. I took a few amazing sunset pictures... the reds were so much more vibrant than I had seen before, because of all the dust in the air... the sun would reflect off all the dust, making the colors spread more across the horizon...

They had a few pigs on the station that roamed around free. They were pretty disgusting little creatures... This one took a nibble of my dress.

So when I was talking to the bus driver, I learned that at this station, when they sell their cattle, they actually keep the females for breeding and only sell the males. He told me that when we eat beef, we are actually eating bull, not cow... or most often at least. This was a surprise to me, I had always thought it was the other way around, but I guess I wouldn't know, never having lived on a farm...

Dinner was AMAZING. We had spaghetti, mashed potatoes, corn, and green beans... and for dessert, fruit cocktail topped with ice cream and Milo. YUM! I haven't eaten this well since we had pancakes and eggs in the outback!

The people who lived on the farm had quite a few pets... the most interesting being a pet kangaroo named Mary whom they rescued when she was a baby. And they totally treat her like a member of the family. Every night she has ice cream, and every morning she has toast and coffee. They also had two adorable dogs that got along quite well with Mary... and a few sheep, and of course the pigs (piglets too - which were adorable!) It really was a nice little place... I could probably get used to living there...

At night, after dinner, we did a bit of star gazing, (and learned how to use the southern cross to determine where south was) and we looked at the old wool-cutting house (they used breed sheep instead of cattle, but since cattle is more profitable they only have a few sheep now - mostly black sheep. Baah baah!)

I missed sleeping outdoors, so I managed to sleep outside on a cot for part of the night, and the stars were amazing... there was no moon so I could see them so well... millions of stars. It was beautiful. But, it ended up getting pretty cold and windy at night so I ended up going back inside to a nice warm bed.

The next morning we had breakfast, and I had a SUGAR CEREAL! You know, this was the first sugar cereal that I have had since coming to Australia... wow, what a treat. And here is Mary, who joined us for a morning coffee...

And here is one of the baby cattle that was wandering around in the morning...

And a picture of the sunrise (which was just as beautiful as the sunset!)

Anyhow, after we ate brekky, we headed back on the road, with a quick stop at the town of Boulia. Apparently, Trevor (The guy who owned the farm we were just on) owned 5 houses, the butcher shop, and the bar in Boulia. And he used to be the mayor. Small towns!

The next highway we were on was Kennedy highway... which we would be on all the way up to Cairns. It was on THIS highway that we saw camels! (Ok, they were farmed camels, but still. Camels!)

At one point in the road, we stopped at a lookout where I saw some interesting graffiti - I love cheese? I guess there are worse things to love...

For lunch, we stopped at the remote "Middletown Pub", and had our (delicious!) barbecue lunch at the Hilton Hotel...

The sign says 'No air conditioning, no TV, no pool, no charge!'

There were quite a few interesting characters there... even though it was a very remote area, a lot of people stop by to visit this bar as they drive the highway... and a few regulars come by every day!

There was one guy there who was making a documentary of some sort, so he was taking pictures of us (tourists) taking pictures...

First Becki...

Then when he saw me taking a picture of him taking a picture of her...

My turn!

Our next stop was at Winton, home of the Waltzing Matilda song... and the Waltzing Matilda museum.

Now, if you don't know Waltzing Matilda, it is Australia's 'unofficial' national anthem...

It was written by Banjo Patterson and his girlfriend (he wrote they lyrics and she wrote the music) and it became so popular that it was sung all over australia... they would sing it when the soldiers marched off to war, before football games, while drinking...

The lyrics are:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong, Under the shade of a coolibah tree, And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled "Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?"

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda "You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled,"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong, Up got the swagman and grabbed him with glee, And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag, "You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda "You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me" And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag, "You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Down came the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred, Up came the troopers, one, two, three, "Who's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?" "You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda "You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me" "Who's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?","You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Up got the swagman and jumped into the billabong, "You'll never catch me alive," said he, And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong, "Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?"

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong, "Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?"

This is a song about a true story of a drifter who many years ago stole a sheep, and when he got caught, he tried to swim away in a billabong (water hole) rather than be sent to jail, but ended up drowning while trying to get away.

Now, to make sense of the lyrics - Matilda is another name for a swag (what I slept in when I was in the outback) so 'Waltzing Matilda' actually means walking along with your swag... (because as you walk, your swag swings so it looks like it's dancing, or 'waltzing') "Jumbuck" means sheep, and "tuckerbag" means food bag... and "Squatter" means the person who lived on the land (i.e. the guy who owned the sheep).

For the longest time, the Australian people wanted to have this song as the national anthem to Australia, but of course the government said that they didn't want a song about a thief who died while trying to escape as their national anthem... so now 'Advance Australia Fair' (which I talked about in an earlier blog if you can remember! the kids school!) is the anthem.

The funny thing is though, that while many Australians know the lyrics to 'Waltzing Matilda', a great deal don't know all the lyrics to the actual national anthem.

In the Waltzing Matilda museum, there was this disturbing maniquin... it was meant to just show the style of people back then, but something weird happened to her neck and it was duct taped on... perhaps a prank? Scary, nonetheless...

And her false eyelash is falling off!

After the museum, we headed to our sleeping quarters for the night, at a pub in Hughenton. We had shepards pie for dinner... again, delicious. It was made a bit differently than what I am used to... it didn't have mashed potatoes, they were potato pieces... and it had cheese. Sooo good. No ice cream this time though :(

The bar was kind of noisy and crowded, and they were having a pool competition... you could barely tell that we were still kind of in the middle of nowhere. I did, however, go to bed with a full stomach and a smile on my face!

The next morning was our last day... we didn't really have much on the agenda... we made a quick stop at a place called the porcupine gorge where we saw a gorge and some huge spiders...

For lunch we ate at Millstream falls, where for the first time ever I saw a Cucuboro bird (up close!) They are really funny looking and make a sound like they are laughing...

He was obviously hoping for a handout. Not from me buddy!

And after lunch we walked over to the falls...

and soon we were back on the road again! Oh, and for the truck lovers, I got a picture of a 'Road Train', which is really a huge truck that carries things like cattle. And makes huge dust storms when they drive by us. Just saying.

And our final stop before getting into Cairns... a tropical rain forest!

But first, check out this nifty hat. It has those corks to keep the flies out of your face... supposedly works because of the constant movement. Why didn't I have one of these for my Heading Bush trip!

Anyhow, the rain forest was really cool, kind of how I remembered the rain forest in Costa Rica to be... (but then, it has been so long since Costa Rica that I probably think that about all rain forests! After trekking for about an hour through the forest, we reached our final destination ... this waterfall...

And of course... there was swimming!

I really wasn't the only one swimming, you can see someones feet to the right of me :)

Yes, I think this blog was a bit rushed too. I am leaving Cairns tomorrow though, so I just wanted to become completely caught up before leaving. Show me a little appreciation!

All in all, this tour was well worth it. We didn't do all that much, but it was fun and educational, and a good way to get from Alice to Cairns... rather than just go on bus straight through and not learn anything, or fly and not see anything... Swimming in the waterfall was awesome... my favorite part. Besides the ice cream :)


Dad said...

Great post again Karen, and I see I've got a lot more of them yet to read. I knew I should have taken that speed reading course.

stacy is amazing said...

you saw a Kookaburra!! Like in that song! In the song they mentioned how Kookaburra's like laughing, "Laugh, Keookaburra laugh..."

PMH said...

Loved the pictures...especially the waterfall ones. I need to get those blown up. I know the Waltzing Maltida song! And the Kookaberra song. I learned that one in Girl Scouts.

Oh yeah, and that hat with the corks - I almost got one of those.

Cheryl said...

Mooooooooo! Come on, moo with me!

Karen said...

I will NOT moo with you, Maureen!