Crossing the Nullarbor – Part Three

This is the third and final post about my Nullarbor trip. Check out Part One and Part Two.

Crossing the Nullarbor: An “In-Tents” Ten Days
Part Three
March 9th – March 12th, 2010

Day 7 – Cape Le Grand National Park to Stirling Ranges

I woke up after a kookaburra landed near my sleeping head and let out a maniacal laugh. Those birds are ridiculous!

During tour season Nullarbor Traveller always has one bus heading from Adelaide to Perth, and another one traveling from Perth to Adelaide. Whenever these buses cross paths, there is a chance for passengers to be exchanged, since some people don’t want to go on the full Nullarbor crossing — they’d rather start and end their trips in the same destination. We picked up three new passengers today who wanted to head back to Perth with us: two nondescript Taiwanese girls, and an incredibly antisocial older German man named Peter.

P1020456

The first sign that something was up with Peter was that he always wore heavy duty ear protection whenever there was music being played on the bus, or people were talking during group activities. I’d understand if he didn’t like the music played, but I think the traditional solution is to have headphones so you can listen to something of your own choosing.

After awhile he’d start distancing himself from us completely — whenever we’d stop to look at something he’d either run ahead of the group so he could experience it alone, or linger back and take a look once everyone else had experienced it. He’d pitch his tent as far away as possible, and hide in it all night. Rather than pitch in and help with meal preparation and cleanup, and firewood gathering, Peter started buying his own ready-to-eat meals so he wouldn’t have to come anywhere near us during meal times. Attempts to include him were met with scowls, and questions were responded to with one-word answers. While all of us were decent pals, Peter was a grade-A jerk.

P1020452

Despite gaining new passengers, we lost a dear friend — the tour company has a stuffed version of Donkey from Shrek that gets traded back and forth every time the tour buses cross paths. Donkey exists solely to cross the Nullarbor, staying up late, swapping manly stories, and making waffles in the morning.

We had a lot of ground to cover today, but since I was well-rested from a few days at Lucky Bay I wasn’t able to sleep on the bus like I’d normally do. Instead, I faked sleep and listened in on an awkward conversation.

Cecilie had the seat behind me for the entire trip, and I quickly learned that this was a girl with no filter on her mouth. She’s a nice girl, but with no concept of what might be interpreted as inappropriate/offensive, any conversation with her had the potential to get awkward very quickly (a highlight from a few days prior was when she told Simo “I’m not going to stop asking until you tell me something nice about your ex-wife.”).

Today’s conversation started off with Cecilie grilling Gary the older Canadian gentleman about his dead twin brother, well past the point of him being happy to answer her questions. Eventually she got ahold of someone’s bridal magazine (not sure why this was even on the bus in the first place), and she shared the plans for her dream wedding and wedding night hanky-panky — despite the fact that she has no idea who she’ll end up marrying, but she can describe the hypothetical groom’s physique in excruciating detail. Worry not, she has no plans to get pregnant — she made it very clear that she’s on the pill. The Canadian couple told her that they had no interest in hearing about her birth control, but Cecilie let them have it in detail. She followed up by asking them how they kept their bedroom life spicy after many kids and 40 years of marriage, something they weren’t too keen to discuss in public. Very glad I was feigning sleep during all of this.

For lunch we ate some excellent falafel wraps that Simo had prepared the day before, and I was amazed at the sheer number of people who had never tried falafel before and were actually grossed out by the concept. Gary was the funniest — he was eventually willing to try falafel wrap, but drew the line at hummus, saying that it was just too wild for him. Putting a creamy chickpea-based sauce on a dry chickpea-based nugget? Insanity! Instead, he loaded his wrap up with ketchup. Apparently they don’t get too much international fare in rural Canada.

We made camp at a nice campground with electricity just outside of the Stirling Ranges, and while almost everyone else went for a hike in the mountains, some of us stayed at camp, charged our gadgets, played ping-pong and prepared dinner.

The wind picked up something fierce at night, and we did some salsa dancing in the camp kitchen to stay warm. With the departure of Donkey fresh in our minds, I watched Shrek with Frenchie on her laptop, stopping frequently to explain such tricky English terms/phrases as “swamp”, “noble steed“, and “ogres have layers“.

Lunch: Falafel wraps
Dinner: Beef stroganoff
Memorable tunes: Ghostbusters Theme Song

Day 8 – Stirling Ranges to the Valley of the Giants

P1020466

P1020467

P1020470

P1020472

In the morning we stopped at a few cool rock formations along the coastline.

P1020487

P1020492

After lunch we went for a swim at a place called Elephant Rocks, which featured some cliff-jumping into the ocean. Good times.

P1020536

P1020538

Next we went for a walk through a tingle tree forest, featuring a sky walk up into the canopy. Apparently I’m not afraid of heights and semi-shaky metal scaffolding, because I breezed through the walk while others were terrified for their lives.

P1020553

While walking in the forest we discovered some new friends we hadn’t anticipated: giant march flies with a taste for human flesh. Unlike most of the small, harmless flies we’d encountered previously, these suckers were downright evil. Our fly nets were useless since they weren’t going for our faces — it was a hot day, we were in shorts, and they were after our delicious leg meat. Operation Kill All Flies began in earnest. Luckily they’re extremely slow and easy to murder en masse.

P1020556

Next we drove to see the largest known tingle tree, and that sucker was big. It had huge holes in its trunk caused by forest fires, but it was still going strong. Lots of plants in the Australian bush can withstand big fires, and some even need to be burned before they’ll drop their seeds to the ground. We were all able to fit in the big empty space where the center of the trunk had been burned away. I think there’s a group photo floating around in which half of us are in the process of killing a fly, or making some horrible face as we’re being bitten.

At night we camped in an area of the forest that was probably the primary breeding ground for the march flies. There was no escaping them at dusk. No matter what you wore, or how much bug spray you put on, there were going to be at least 20 flies somewhere on your body or clothes, probing for flesh to bite. This was the only night that I set up a tent, as the thought of waking up to flies biting my face was too upsetting to handle. Even though it was hot outside, I ended up putting on long pants and a hooded sweater to wear as I set up the tent, and they still bit the hell out of me.

As soon as it got dark they disappeared immediately, and we enjoyed our last campfire of the trip.

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Grilled chicken and veggies
Memorable tunes: Limp Bizkit’s cover of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” (I didn’t say “good”, I said “memorable”… weirdo foreigners and the weird shit on their iPods)

Day 9 – Valley of the Giants to Margaret River

P1020571

At the first hint of dawn, I could hear the flies buzzing around. By the time I woke up in earnest, there were a few dozen swarmed on the outside of my tent, trying to get in. Good call on not sleeping in my swag.

P1020569

P1020575

The first stop of the day was at one of the tallest trees in the forest, which is used as a fire lookout. Giant spikes plunged into the tree act as a grand spiral staircase, and we were able to climb up and take in the view. No fires spotted. Plenty of flies, though.

Stephanie went absolutely nuts with the fly-killing whenever we’d board the bus. Every time someone would open the door, a new batch of them would fly in and she’d get to work. Her sandal helped smear fly guts over almost every flat surface of the vehicle. This is one invasion the French were able to resist on their own.

We drove a few kilometers away, and like magic the flies disappeared completely. We enjoyed a dip in a big freshwater lake, since it’d been awhile since anyone had seen a shower. After some intense swim races and chicken fighting, it was time to eat lunch and move on.

In the afternoon we donned hardhats and flashlights and toured some local caves. We all know how I feel about stalagmites and stalactites, but it was nice to get out of the sun.

P1020584

We pulled into our final night’s accommodation in Margaret River, which was a rather packed campground with plenty of people and a few goats. Instead of infinite choices as to where to sleep for the night, we were confined to a small area. Mr. Antisocial Peter was nonplussed by this development. He was going to be in close proximity to the group whether he liked it or not.

Since it was the final night, things got a bit rowdy. We had to finish the entire contents of the alcohol cooler, and make the most of our last night as a group. Just like the last night of the semester in college, alcohol seemed to make people want to do one of two things: get frisky with each other, and/or stay up late and play juvenile pranks on each other. Apparently there’s something fun about pulling the supports out of tents while people are still in them, bonus points if you the tent is shaking and the occupants are making noises that deserve a rating somewhere between PG-13 and R. Double bonus points if the occupant is an antisocial German jerk.

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Spaghetti carbonara

Day 10 – Margaret River to Perth

The grand adventure finally came to an end, with an afternoon spent hauling ass down the highway to get everyone to their accommodation in Perth. However, the morning had quite a few highlights.

P1020595

P1020597

We had free reign to eat any leftover food on the bus, and what better use of a bag of oranges than to make fun of Peter behind his back? Credit to Sandy and Gary in the back of the bus for this brilliant idea. The entire group turned around and had a great laugh, which Mr. Grumpypuss couldn’t hear. Sure, he saw everyone turning around and smiling, but made no effort to check what was going on for himself. That’s how little he wanted to be involved with the group.

P1020669

Later, Captain Happypants fell asleep and almost fell out of his chair.

P1020606

The one stop of the day was at the Wardan Aboriginal Cultural Center. Our guide, Josh, walked us through the forest behind the center and taught us all about the medicinal value of the native plants, and talked about the sheer numbers of white men that have died or endured illnesses in the bush when there were plenty of plants nearby that would have helped them, had they only known which ones to use.

P1020631

P1020659

After the tour, it was time for a fire-building demonstration. Josh built a raging fire from supplies gathered in the bush in almost no time at all. We learned how to build spears and axes, and how to use the traditional tools to kill some dinner (note: no actual kangaroo femurs were broken with giant boomerangs during this lesson).

P1020653

Finally, Josh showed off his didgeridoo skills by playing a few songs. An older Aboriginal guy came out of nowhere, and started dancing around the fire like an absolute maniac (if he were busting those moves in a hipster bar, he’d definitely be “That Guy“). He grabbed me to join him, and it was a lot of fun to stomp around the fire and act out the stalking and spearing of a giant emu. Worth noting is that as soon as Peter saw that people were being dragged up to dance, he stood up and walked away from the demonstration.

Eventually we arrived in Perth, split up into our various hostels, and most of us agreed to meet up for fancy dinner later. The night was a bit tame since we’d gone big the night before, but it was a good time, and a fitting ending to an exhausting, exciting 10 day trip through some of Australia’s most isolated attractions.

Random:

– You can cross the Nullarbor without going days between showers like we did. Most of the roadhouses you pass have public showers that cost a few bucks, but the tour doesn’t allow time to wait for over a dozen people to get squeaky clean.

– A few of the roadhouses had signs on their dairy fridges saying “Disregard Printed Expiration Dates – Products have been frozen”. I’ll just skip the dairy while I’m in the desert, thanks.

– NASA’s first space station, Skylab, re-entered Earth’s orbit in 1979 and rained debris all over southwestern Australia. Esperance sent NASA a fine for $400 for littering, which NASA ignored. In 2009 a local radio host raised the funds and paid the fine on NASA’s behalf.

– Australians like to base small, crappy museums around replicas of cool things. The giant great white shark replica was somewhat cool, but the imitation Skylab fragments we saw left a lot to be desired.

– I didn’t finish my Jim Beam.

– I could never be a tour guide. I do not suffer fools gladly.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Travel Journal

Crossing the Nullarbor – Part Two

I’m breaking this trip up into multiple posts. Check out Part One.

Crossing the Nullarbor: An “In-Tents” Ten Days
Part Two
March 6th – March 8th, 2010

Day 4 – Koonalda Homestead to Western Nullarbor

It rained a bit overnight, which is a bit of a shock when you’re in a swag and all of a sudden your head gets wet while your body stays dry. I had to pick up and join everyone else on the covered veranda of the abandoned homestead.

P1020323

P1020333

P1020345

P1020361

P1020373

At sunrise while everyone else was eating breakfast and taking down their tents, I took a tour through another abandoned car graveyard, as well as the main house on the homestead. A rather upsetting discovery was the homestead’s toilet, which hasn’t flushed in 20+ years, yet some visitors keep trying to use it with disastrous results.

Nobody realized I had wandered off from the main group, and a few times people who ran off into the bush to do their morning business ended up positioned behind shrubs such that while the main group couldn’t see them, I got an eyeful from my vantage point. Anywhere else there would have been plenty of trees between me and these people taking their A.M. constitutional… aah, the joys of the Nullarbor.

It was to be another big day of driving with few stops (800+ kilometers for the day), so we decided to give the old, unpaved highway a try for an hour or so, since it eventually met up with the modern highway before the South Australia / Western Australia state line. Ow. Bumps galore. Driving cross-country must have been incredibly painful before the new highway was put in. As a plus, we saw some wombats and dingoes as we drove along.

The agricultural border checkpoint was no joke — no fresh fruits, vegetables or honey are allowed to cross the state line. We stopped before the border and feasted on as many oranges and bananas as we could, throwing the rest into the trash. Officials actually boarded our bus and searched all of our bags for contraband, which felt like a bit much since I’ve never had to stop at the station on the California/Nevada border. We saw a guy in the SUV next to us get busted with a few giant tubs of honey in his trunk — he looked like he was about to cry as they confiscated it and wrote him a ticket.

P1020378

The time changed at the border, and we gained 2.5 hours which helped us continue our super long day of driving.

P1020383

P1020384

We stopped at the abandoned ghost town of Old Eucla, which was destroyed 100+ years ago by the unchecked non-native rabbit population. The rabbits came to the town and ate so much vegetation off of the nearby sand dunes that they destabilized and covered the entire town. Modern Eucla was then built 5km north, on higher ground. We played around in the graffiti and sand filled ruins of an old telegraph station, while being mindful of the recent death adder sightings.

P1020391

P1020389

P1020393

There wasn’t much else to see during the day, except for a few very special trees that travelers have decorated to break up the monotony of the drive. The Booze Tree, Underwear Tree and Shoe Tree were all worth a look.

P1020398

P1020406

Shortly after the famous 90 Mile Straight, we camped out overnight just off of the highway, next to another small salt lake. Thanks to the time change we were going to be able to sleep in, so we had a big night around the campfire.

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Spaghetti with meat-substitute bolognaise

Day 5 – Western Nullarbor to Cape Le Grand National Park

We officially crossed the Nullarbor once we hit the small town of Norseman. Our first cell phone signal in days was quite a treat.

A few hours later we arrived in Esperance, a town which has repeatedly been voted as the home of Australia’s most beautiful beaches. We did some shopping and restocked on beer, and headed to Cape Le Grand National Park which would be our home for the next two days — staying in one place was a luxury we earned by doing so much driving on the previous days.

P1020437

We stayed at the campsite at Lucky Bay, which featured such perks as potable water, solar-heated showers, and an actual camp kitchen. No electricity though — a shame since everyone’s gadgets were dead after our Nullarbor crossing. Most iPods, laptops, camera batteries were completely out of juice — finally we had flushing toilets, but couldn’t blast The Thong Song at will. Talk about a trade-off!

P1020412

P1020416

P1020423

The beaches really were amazing — the sand was some of the whitest, most fine-grained stuff I’ve ever seen, giving the shallow water that amazing aqua blue color you rarely see outside of movies.

P1020425

P1020428

In the afternoon we climbed a local mountain called Frenchman’s Peak, and got a great view of the park. It started to rain, so we spent some time hiding out in a cave until it was safe to climb down.

The weather was questionable for the rest of the day, and we considered breaking camp and heading into town to stay indoors overnight, but in the end we toughed it out. As soon as I went to sleep in my swag on the beach, it nearby started raining buckets. Like a flash, I was up and dragged my bed under a sheltered picnic area to ride out the night… except the picnic area already had some of our people sleeping under it. Two people who had planned on getting a little “privacy”, without everyone else in the group knowing what they were up to. Sorry guys, I discovered your dirty little secret, and I’ll be sharing this shelter with you tonight! My head got soaked, and I tracked a bunch of wet sand into my bed, but in the end it wasn’t too bad.

Lunch: Sandwiches on BACON CHEESE rolls!
Dinner: Chicken stir fry

Day 6 – Cape Le Grand National Park

P1020441

P1020439

P1020448

Woke up at sunrise and hit the beach to take some photos. After last night’s rain it looked like things had cleared up, but there were some dark clouds on the horizon.

The dark clouds rolled in, and we decided to do a 6 kilometer coastal walk despite the weather. Simo dropped us off 6km away and told us how to find our way back to camp. Everyone dressed for bad weather, and as soon as he left us the sun came out. 3 hours of hiking under the hot sun with no sunscreen, sunglasses or camera. We were supposed to stay in one big group, but after awhile of getting scorched, Stephanie and I took off by ourselves and high-tailed it back to camp, 45 minutes ahead of everyone else.

After lunch we had the entire afternoon free to do as we pleased — an entirely alien concept during a trip based on sitting on a bus. While I tried my luck boogie-boarding, Cecilie decided to sculpt an anatomically correct man out of sand. When the other guys and I finally had a chance to see it, we were in for a good laugh — the balls were all wrong. If the poor guy were real he’d be completely unable to wear a belt without squeezing his testicles off. We gave our feedback and she fixed the problem, then hurried away before she asked for a model.

The rest of the day was reserved for card games, dominos and beer. Not a bad way to spend a day in paradise.

In the evening I tried to speak French, but failed rather miserably despite studying it from 7th-12th grade — it’s been around 10 years since I’ve given it any thought. All I really managed to do was sing a few songs about my love of steak and potatoes that I learned in my very first French class ever, and explain that I stuck with French instead of Spanish because our middle school French teacher was an absolute hottie who liked the same bands we did. Somehow, the French girls found this all very impressive.

Lunch: More sandwiches on BACON CHEESE rolls!
Dinner: Burgers, sausages, lamb chops

On Flickr: Full trip photoset

1 Comment

Filed under Travel Journal

Crossing the Nullarbor – Part One

I’m breaking this trip up into multiple posts.  Stay tuned for the latest and greatest.

Crossing the Nullarbor: An “In-Tents” Ten Days

Part One
March 3rd – March 5th, 2010

In the months before leaving Los Angeles to head down under, I spent quite a few Sunday evenings bonding over German beers with my improv friends at the Red Lion Tavern.  One evening, the lovely and talented Katie Dodson asked me what I hoped to get out of my trip, and the first thing out of my mouth was “to get over my aversion to camping”.  Well, Katie, I did it!  All it took was 10 days of traveling the Australian outback with a cooler full of beer, a bunch of new friends, a few dozen new bug bites and infrequent access to a shower to make me a believer.

This ten day trip took us from Adelaide to Perth via the Nullarbor Plain — a remote stretch of road  that less than 1% of Australians will cross in their lives.  The trip was run by Nullarbor Traveller, the only tour company interested in basing a business around it at the moment.  While being the only company in the game could lead to a lackluster tour, I’m happy to report that Nullarbor Traveller is the real deal, and anyone interested in this type of trip should book without hesitation.

There was a lot of driving, but with a few stops per day to see the sights and get some exercise.  We camped outdoors every night, sometimes at campgrounds (showers/toilets), and sometimes in the middle of nowhere (no facilities — a toilet paper roll attached to a trusty shovel).

P1020232

Most people were in tents, but myself and some other lucky folks were able to upgrade to swags — a single-person hybrid between a single bed and tent that keeps you toasty and dry while you stare at the stars.

Cast of Characters:

Primary:
– Simon (aka “Simo”) – our Aussie guide/driver
– Steven – England
– Roland – Switzerland
– Cecilie – Norway
– Bec and Tina – Germany
– Stephanie and Jeremie – France
– Sandy and Gary – Canada
– Eva – Australia
– Lene – Denmark

Supporting:
– Christopher (?) – Swiss (?) guy who left us on Day 3

There was some friction between some people early in the trip, but by the end we were pretty much all one big happy family.  The one exception is Peter, an old German guy who joined us later in the trip and will get his own stories in a later post.

Day 1 – Adelaide to Lake Gairdner National Park

Simo picked us up from our hostels in Adelaide around 7am, and we hit the road without hesitation.  People were sleepy and kept to themselves, as is so often the case with these early morning tour pickups.  I’m a firm believer that introductions are best saved after coffee and lunch.

P1020170

P1020175

P1020184

Our first stop was in the Flinders Ranges for a “scenic camel ride”.  Scenic, yes, but also hot and painful.  My camel was a stubborn old girl named Faryl, and in her attempts to chomp on grass and leaves during the ride, she’d direct me into shrubs that would scratch my legs, and low hanging tree branches that would thwack me in the head.  Helmets were a good idea, but a few times I almost killed Steven behind me by bending tree branches forward and then letting them go once I’d passed under them.

P1020202

Over lunch we were advised to buy fly nets to keep the bugs off of us in the wilderness, but there was only one left at the store.  Despite offering it to the ladies, I ended up with it.  I was very happy about this, as the flies were brutal for the next few days — although of your standard small, non-biting variety.

Before we left the last large town we were going to see for the next few days, we stopped at a liquor store and were advised to stock up since the prices are almost double at the roadhouses that are sprinkled throughout the outback.  I bought some beer and got back on the bus, and apparently was counted in Simo’s passenger headcount.  It was then that I realized that the campfire would be lonely without my good friend Jim Beam, and I snuck off the bus to buy some… and the bus started to leave without me.  I had to chase it down with my bounty in hand and bang on the windows.  Lesson learned: don’t mess around with headcount.  Simo joked that he probably would have realized I was missing after a few hours, so it wouldn’t have been TOO bad.  Plus, I’d have Mr. Beam to keep me company as I waited.

P1020206

P1020207

That night we camped out around Lake Gairdner, Australia’s second largest salt lake.  It was “postcard Outback”: bright blue skies, a few white clouds, coarse red dirt, and scattered bright green bushes and trees.  The salt lake was completely dry, and with the sheets of pure white salt and the other scenery it looked like an alien world.

Once it got dark the flies disappeared, and were replaced by the night sky.  The stars were amazing — you see different stars in the southern hemisphere, and the familiar constellations are all “upside down”.  To be fair, the stars haven’t moved — I’m the upside down one.  We could also see Mars, the first time I’ve seen it with my naked eye.  Extra special since all of the dirt around me made me feel like I was on a red planet too.

Lunch: Subway sandwiches
Dinner: Beef burritos
Memorable campfire music: Calexico, Fleetwood Mac

Day 2 – Lake Gairdner National Park to Coodlie Park

Holy shit, the flies came back with a vengeance once the sun came up. We ate some breakfast and high-tailed it out of there.

P1020247

We stopped at a few reasonably interesting rock formations during the morning, but nothing that blew my mind.

P1020265

After lunch it was time for the highlight of the day: swimming with wild dolphins and sea lions in Baird Bay. This excursion is not included in the price of the tour, but it was only a hundred bucks and was well worth it. Most of us paid the money, put on shorties and took a boat to where the animals hang out.

To be honest, the dolphin portion of the trip were really lame. Like, really, really lame. First of all, since we were in open water with rare shark sightings, we had to stay within a few meters of our guide, who was wearing a “shark shield” which emits tiny electric pulses that completely bugger a shark’s internal navigation system. We had some poor swimmers, so the guide was constantly assisting them, and the rest of us had to stay with the slowpokes instead of venturing off in hunt of the dolphins. Whenever we did see some, they’d have a quick look at us and then disappear. We were constantly getting into the water, having a brief sighting, and then getting back on the boat to go find some more skittish dolphins to look at. The guide was sternly lecturing certain people for scaring them off before the poor swimmers had a chance to see them, which caused the incredibly outspoken Cecilie to mouth off to the captain, starting a big argument about whether the whole experience was a ripoff.

Luckily, the sea lions made up for everything. The boat pulled up to a protected cove that a handful of sea lions were bodysurfing in, and more of them showed up once they realized it was playtime. They were like the puppies of the sea — incredibly curious, good-natured and willing to play. They’d sit at the bottom staring at us, and as soon as we’d dive down and do some flips and turns to prove that we weren’t boring they’d join us for a swim. Some of them played fetch with thrown rocks, and others would nuzzle up to an extended fist. Pretty amazing since this wasn’t Sea World.

After some sandboarding and looking at some local caves, we eventually we made it to Coodlie Park, the farm retreat owned by Hassie and Jo, the owners of the tour company. We had the option of sleeping indoors in bunks, or outdoors. Due to my newfound love for my swag I was the only person who opted for outdoors, which was the right choice until I woke up to pee in the middle of the night. The farm dogs did not take kindly to my presence as I walked over to a bank of trees. Every time I’d take more than a few steps, a dog would bark once — more if I didn’t stop. I didn’t want to wake everyone up, so I endured a strange game of shuffling and stopping after the first bark, again and again until I made it over to the trees.

Lunch: Veggie burgers
Dinner: Coodlie Park BBQ – Burgers, homemade sausages, and lamb chops from animals raised on the farm.

Day 3 – Coodlie Park to Koonalda Homestead

We started the day with a surf lesson at one of the numerous bays in the area. Since I was “experienced” and they didn’t have many boards to choose from I ended up with a 7’2″ board, far smaller than I’m used to. All of my training was on larger boards, so I had some trouble, but I managed to catch a few nice ones. The water was pretty cold — there’s nothing in between Southern Australia and Antarctica — and I stayed in the water until I couldn’t feel my toes anymore.

After playing in the water all morning, we had a long day of sitting still on the bus. We had a lot of ground to cover, so we only made a few brief stops between lunch and making camp for the night.

P1020271

We made a quick stop to see a replica of the largest great white shark ever caught in the area. The guy who caught it put a live baby seal on the hook as bait, justifiably causing a huge animal rights uproar. Yes, poor baby seal, but it still makes for a badass story. I’d never fully understood just how big great whites are, and yes, this thing could swallow me whole without biting… but there would almost certainly be a lot of biting involved.

P1020397

The best stop was where the Eyre Highway crosses the Dingo Fence — the longest fence in the world. There’s a small tunnel covered with metal grating that goes underneath the highway, perhaps only 2 feet tall. A bunch of us crawled into the tunnel and laid on our backs, facing up through the grating at the sky. Then, we waited for a road train. It took awhile, but WOW, what a thrill when we finally had one drive directly above us. A bit more intense than lying on the roof of your car near the airport runway fence.

P1020276

Another cool stop was for the unconventional road signs advertising a camel/kangaroo/wombat crossing.

P1020288

P1020289

Then it was back into the bus, and finally hit the “official” Nullarbor Plain. The name “Nullarbor” literally means “no trees”, which is inaccurate. There are trees, just not very many. Lots of low bushes, and the occasional tree to break things up.

P1020291

P1020292

Our camp site for the night was an abandoned old farm and service station called the Koonalda Homestead. The farm is right off of the former unpaved Eyre Highway, and used to make a lot of money by selling gas/supplies to people passing by. Once the government put in the new paved highway 20 kilometers to the south in the late ’80s, the people at Koonalda lost their livelihood. They walked off of the property shortly after the new highway went in and gave the land back to the government. Since then it’s been one of the best-kept secrets of the Nullarbor. There are no signs advertising it, and it’s a long drive down an unmarked road off of the main highway. Simo said that most times he camps at Koonalda, there’s nobody else there.

We pulled into Koonalda and noticed a pickup truck — we weren’t going to be alone tonight. An older gentleman carrying a beer came out to see who had interrupted his peaceful evening, and Simo led the conversation with “G’day! We’re as unhappy to see you as you are to see us!”. He invited the guy to join us later at our campfire.

P1020296

P1020297

P1020306

Daylight was fading fast, so we had 20 minutes to explore the property. It had a real Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel to it. Tons of old cars of various makes and models just rusting away in the hot sun for 20+ years. Smashed beer bottles everywhere in the car graveyard. Between the rusty scraps of metal and shards of glass, I was very careful walking around in my flip-flops. I’m pretty sure I’m good on my tetanus shots, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

This was our first night of camping with no facilities. We were introduced to our new friends “Doug the Shovel” and “Rolly the Toilet Paper Roll”. Simo then gave us a lesson on how to shit in the wilderness. The three suggested poses were “The Chinaman” (standing up, no props required), “The Water Skier” (standing up, tree branch or something else to hold on to required), and “The Lazy Australian” (heels and palms flat against the ground, everything else pushed up).

After dinner the old guy joined us around our campfire, and started creeping people out in the way that only an old drunk stranger in the wilderness is capable of. Maybe he hadn’t seen a woman in awhile, because he was paying extra attention to our ladies. He was fascinated by how international our group was, and was very forceful in his requests that each of us sing him a song from our home countries. I thought this was a fun idea, so I gave him a piss-poor rendition of the first minute or so of “The Gambler”. When it was his turn he decided he’d sing something Maltese instead of Australian, because that’s what crazy old guys do. Eventually, his crazy old charm grew on me and I found some of his more offbeat jokes to be more hilarious than everyone else. He asked us where we were camping the following night, and when we told him he then asked if any of us had seen Wolf Creek (a horror movie about a creepy loner in the Outback who tortures/murders a group of international backpackers). Jim Beam and I were the only ones who interpreted this as “comedy gold” instead of “the last words you hear before you are murdered”.

After the old guy left and a few people had gone to bed, Simo and I had a nice conversation about music. His iPod had been supplying the tunes for a few days of driving, and his musical tastes were almost perfectly in line with mine: Pixies, Daft Punk, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elvis Costello, Al Green, and more. A solid, eclectic mix. We agreed that the Black Eyed Peas put out some amazing stuff before Fergie joined, but that they needed her to blow up and make a zillion dollars (none of the girls on the trip had any idea that a pre-Fergie BEP even existed). He also agreed that Elvis Costello is the “One True Elvis”… Presley can go die on a toilet for all I care.

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Veggie curry
Memorable campfire music: Pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas

On Flickr: Full 10-day trip photoset

4 Comments

Filed under Travel Journal

The King of Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island
February 26 – 28

P1010959

Kangaroo Island was named by some sailor dudes who ran out of food, found the island, and killed a shitload of kangaroos to fill their ship with. Now that’s what I call good eating!

P1010963

That was a few hundred years ago, but even now you could probably kill enough of the suckers to eat well for a long time. In fact, there’s so many of them that if you’re driving a car around the island at night, it’s only a matter of time before you DO kill one. Kangaroo Island night driving is like a video game — wild creatures pop out in front of you with little notice, there are point values for each one, and you go for the high score. Kangaroos, wallabies, birds, you name it… KI is a roadkill lover’s dream.

The Tour

P1020099

P1020134

There were only six of us on this Groovy Grape tour, so it was pretty laid back. Two German girls, a Dutch girl, an English girl and a Korean guy. Not exactly a party group, which was fine. A few days of clean living was just what I needed.

Day One

P1010970

P1010987

On the first day we took the ferry over to KI from the mainland and visited a lookout point and a few beautiful beaches. Then it was off to a remote cabin to do some kangaroo-watching, chop firewood (yes, I look ridiculous while doing any kind of manual labor) and prepare dinner.

P1010965

After dinner we went down to a dock for some penguin-watching, but the full moon meant that the little buggers had more light to go fishing with, so they didn’t head back to their nests at the “usual” time. GOD DAMN YOU PENGUINS.

Back at the cabin we discovered that the tap water was from a well, and tasted horrible. This is when we realized why we had been given so much fruit punch concentrate — it was the only way to choke the water down. As an added bonus, now we all have diabetes.

We camped out around the fire overnight, and I’m pretty sure one of the vegan girls was eating marshmallows, blissfully unaware of what was inside of them. I did not feel the need to inform her — this girl freaked out when I told her that parmesan cheese particles are airborne, and were hopping from all of our spaghetti plates onto hers. Some people just don’t know how to take a joke.

Day Two

P1020012

P1020028

In the morning we went down to the island’s protected sea lion colony for a guided tour. The fatties were pretty lazy and huddling together since it was cold out… not much to see here. I was hoping to see some crazy alpha male power struggles. Usurp the throne!

Next up was sledding down a giant sand dune called Little Sahara. Fun, but sand got everywhere, and stayed there for days. Yes — even there.

P1020045

Then off to some boring caves to look at stalagmites (the upward-thrusting phallic things) and stalactites (the downward-hanging phallic things). We saw a baby stalagmite, only a tiny puddle on the floor, that was apparently “born” in 1977. Now, my mother teaches in Eastern Michigan University’s department of Geography and Geology, and I can now say without a doubt that geographers are far cooler than geologists — while geologists are watching things grow micrometer by micrometer, geographers are dealing with crazy shit happening every day. Yugoslavia split into seven countries in the blink of an eye! Zaire is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo! The ONLY interesting thing we learned about the caves is that they were discovered because a horse named Kate Kelly fell in and died. Why interesting: (a) that is a stupid name for a horse, (b) the horse’s remains were never found.

P1020052

P1020070

P1020072

P1020080

The Flinders Chase National Park was a highlight. There is a big attraction called the “Remarkable Rocks”. The committee that named these things doesn’t win any points for creativity, but gets full points for accuracy and alliteration (as do I). These may be the only rocks that have ever made me genuinely happy, other than those in my glass keeping my scotch cold. They looked like they belonged on the set of some sci-fi show’s alien world.

P1020089

At Admiral’s Arch we saw some fur seal hanging out, in no apparent danger of being clubbed.

We stayed overnight at a little farmhouse with drinkable water where I played didgeridoo for the first time. I’m actually decent at it, and picked it right up while everyone else in the group failed miserably. Go figure.

Day Three

P1020100

P1020116

Went for a koala-spotting walk in a eucalyptus forest and saw eight of the little “tree lice” in about fifteen minutes. Koalas are cute but BORING. Next!

P1020137

P1020138

Next up, the island’s eucalyptus distillery where they extract the essential oils from the leaves and put them into medicines and hand creams and other things which were all conveniently for sale. Rather than buy anything, I played with a orphaned baby kangaroo in a shopping bag.

At our lunch stop we encountered a drunk, shirtless old man with two huge dogs who told us where we could find some tame kangaroos and wallabies to hand-feed. He pointed at an old shack across the street, and said we should drive just behind that and follow the road until we found the animals. We actually tried this, and found nothing. Eventually the drunk guy wandered up, and told us that we hadn’t driven far enough… “just a little further, around that bend”. It got creepy quickly — like the scene in Goodfellas when Robert De Niro is trying to get Lorraine Bracco to go into an abandoned old shop to pick out some “free dresses”. We got the hell out of there.

Eventually it was time to head back to the mainland, and we hopped back on the ferry. I bumped into a girl I knew from the Great Ocean Road trip, and she asked if I wanted to meet up for a drink that night once we got back into Adelaide. I said it was a great idea, assuming our buses got us back to the city from the docks in one piece. Of course, this jinxed the whole thing: her bus had a flat tire, and mine broke down completely. Lesson: don’t joke about this sort of thing!

There may not be any updates for the next two weeks or so. I’ll be in the middle of nowhere on a 10-day tour! See you in Perth!

On Flickr: Full photoset

4 Comments

Filed under Travel Journal

Life Lessons on the Great Ocean Road

Great Ocean Road and Grampians National Park
February 23-25

P1010735

Life Lesson #8191: Don’t throw away your backup alarm clock, even if you’ve never used it and it’s a prime candidate for something to toss.

P1010744

Life Lesson #8192: If you need to wake up at 5:30am and you don’t have an alarm clock, staying up all night is not as good of an idea as you might think.

P1010755

Life Lesson #8193: Tour bus sleep is some of the worst sleep you will ever get. Plus you get to wake up every hour to take pictures of things you’d normally be keen on, but find horribly uninteresting in your exhausted zombie fugue state.

P1010773

Life Lesson #8194: Don’t buy extra alcohol at the rest stop, thinking that you’ll just share it with the people who forgot to buy any of their own. Screw those jerks, they probably don’t want any, that’s why they “forgot”.

P1010769

Life Lesson #8195: If you’ve been up for around 36 hours straight and someone gives you the option to (a) have 0 drinks and sleep for 6 hours, or (b) drink 2 litres of wine and pass out for 4 hours, resist the idea that some Pinot Gris would go lovely with this chicken.

P1010812

Life Lesson #8196: Hungover tour bus sleep is even worse than non-hungover tour bus sleep.

P1010832

P1010855

P1010859

P1010867

It’s been a few days since I finished my 3-day/2-night adventure with Groovy Grape. It picked us up in Melbourne and dropped us off in Adelaide.

So, yeah. I may have made some errors in judgement leading up to this trip. I was exhausted for Day One, plus hungover for Day Two, and feeling generally icky for Day Three. Oops.

However… the Great Ocean Road is amazing! It’s like the Pacific Coast Highway on steroids. There’s a low, beachy section close to Melbourne which features some famous surf spots like Bell’s Beach. As you get further out, you encounter rocky cliffs and amazing arches/pillars/etc that were created from millions of years of slow, boring erosion.

There were around 20 people on the tour, making for a rather full bus. As usual, I was the only American. We had the usual blend of English/German/French/Swiss/Korean/Canadian which seems to be about par for the course on these kinds of things. People skewed a bit older, especially the four Canadians who were all 60+.

I was scared by having old folks around, until I realized that these people got a strange sense of satisfaction out of proving that they’re still cool enough to hang with the young kids. Some semi-reverse psychology came in handy: “You’re probably too old to do these dishes. That’s a shame… I’ll just have to use my young, limber body to do them myself.”. OK, I made that up, but these people did almost all of the chores and wouldn’t let us help… and I’m OK with that!

Our tour guide Fleur was energetic and knowledgeable. I’d been warned about her ahead of time — that she’s happy to let the passengers choose the music, but she is not a huge fan of any songs with swearing in them. Sure enough, on Day Two I made a mix on my iPod and she played it… any song containing “fuck” would be skipped immediately after the f-bomb dropped, but it took a few “bitches” to merit a track change. I got the feeling that she was losing faith in my mix, until her track skipping landed her on Walk Like An Egyptian… YES, THIS IS ON MY iPOD. This was a deliberate plant in the playlist — people with her personality type can not resist its charms. Hell, you probably can’t resist its charms. You are probably holding your arms out like a fool right now.

P1010935

P1010880

P1010883

We hiked around the Grampians, saw some waterfalls, climbed Mt. Hollow and ate a lot of kangaroo-based food. This portion of the trip was fun, but I am a City Mouse and was sick of visiting my friend Country Mouse by this point.

Random:

P1010903

Kangaroos are EVERYWHERE out in the country. To the point where you become completely desensitized to them.

P1010944

This albino kangaroo reminded me of the Cryptkeeper.

P1010940

My mountains, let me show you them.

On Flickr: Full Photoset

2 Comments

Filed under Travel Journal

PHOTO UPDATE: Melbourne

Laughter Club

Melbourne GPO

P1010718

I finished uploading the rest of my Melbourne photos. Check them out on Flickr!

Leave a comment

Filed under Photo Blast

The Law of Smells, and other tales

Melbourne Wrapup

I’m leaving in eight hours for six days of adventure (Great Ocean Road, Grampians National Park, Kangaroo Island). After that I have a few free days in Adelaide, and then it’s a ten day adventure from Adelaide to Perth.

Catch you later, Melbourne. I’ll be back soon.

Lately I’ve been taking little notes on the go, whenever something even slightly interesting happens or comes to mind. At any given moment I may have a few paragraphs of material in my head, which I distill into a few choice keywords which I jot down in my phone’s notes application.

I will now go through my phone and use these keywords as jumping off points in a failed attempt to recapture the former glory of my fully-formed theses.

It’s like a game of telephone between three people, but the guy in the middle just learned English as a second language, and we’re pretty sure he’s just ingested a large dose of veterinary grade ketamine.

“time machine”

I recently read Chuck Klosterman’s latest collection of essays, Eating the Dinosaur. The title is a reference to one of the essays in which he discusses time travel, along with the merits of going back in time in order to eat some delicious dinosaurs (note to self: you’ve been in Australia for over month and still haven’t eaten crocodile). Klosterman also poses some open-ended “If you could do anything in category X, with restrictions Y and Z, what would you do?”-style time travel questions that are a lot of fun to think about and to ask other people.

I’ve tweaked some of these questions a bit so I can ask them of complete strangers and not have them look at me like a total freak. They’re constantly evolving, but one is along the lines of:

“I’m going to let you borrow my time machine. You can use it to go back to any time in the past, but once you’re there you have to live out the rest of your days there. You can’t use any of your knowledge of the future to make yourself rich or famous, or change major historical events, but you can certainly use your knowledge to have fun. Also, nobody will ever believe you if claim you’re from the future. What do you do?” (yes, Klosterman’s questions are probably better. Also, I’m surprised that everyone so far — about 20 people — has been excited by the question. People like thinking about this kind of crap more than I ever knew.)

Even when the responses are boring, it’s still an interesting way to break the ice. However, sometimes the responses aren’t boring, and actually help to illustrate whether someone is fun or not. Some of the most memorable responses have been:

“I’d go back to 1978, because it sounds like a fun time to be 20 and they had modern stuff like blow dryers back then.” – Girl, 20ish

“No, I’d maybe wait a few years. 1982. Then I could be there for the rise of The Smiths, and when Morrissey breaks out I’d KNOW him, and I could follow him around to be there for him. He’s my favorite.” – The same girl, after I made fun of her for the complete inanity of the blow dryers line. This is around the time that I noticed her all-black outfit, asymmetric haircut and the tattoos that didn’t say “Morrissey” but may as well have. This is also around the time that I excused myself from the conversation.

“I’d go back in time and be in the Back to the Future movies. Think about it.” – Different girl, 20ish. I accepted this because there are probably many people who were in those movies and are neither rich nor famous. I also figure this wouldn’t change any major historical events: Michael J. Fox still grows up to be the most famous person anyone can think of with Parkinson’s, and Lea Thompson still moves on to cause legions of guys like me to change the channel whenever Caroline in the City comes on. Bonus points for a clever answer (“ironic” isn’t the right word here… “meta”, perhaps?).

Of course, everyone always wants to know what my answer to the question would be. I think I’ve recovered emotionally from missing out on the chance to see Snakes on a Plane on opening night, so I’d probably go back to 1978, because it sounds like a fun time to be 26 and they had modern stuff like blow dryers back then.

“that guy”

Kids, skip the $160k college education and repeat after me: “Don’t Be That Guy”. Over half of what I learned in college can be boiled down to this trusty phrase, so save the money and start traveling and spreading the good word.

That Guy can take on many forms, none of which is not to be trusted: That Guy took the last slice of pizza. That Guy stole your girlfriend. That Guy ran a Ponzi scheme. That Guy murdered and ate little boys.

In that magical summer between high school and college I had what was essentially the exact same one-sided conversation with a multitude of adults. Anyone who has ever “moved on” to the next chapter of their life knows this one by heart: it’s the one where you quietly listen while someone older than you tries to convince you that they were cool at your age, and sets themselves up for a few years of living vicariously through you, while sprinkling a few pithy aphorisms throughout.

The take-home messages were: (a) “this is an exciting time in your life”, (b) “you’ll learn more outside of the classroom than inside of it”, and (c) “I’m a friend of your parents and have no idea what to say to you, so please accept this Garfield graduation card with $25 cash tucked inside”.

All completely true, but let’s focus on (b). No mention of That Guy yet, but we’re getting there.

Yes, I did four years of hard labor at a top engineering school, and while I’ve already forgotten how to read a bode plot or solve a differential equation, I’ll never forget the life lessons presented on the first day of school and then reinforced every day since then. They stick with me since I helped run orientation three times.

For one small segment of Harvey Mudd College’s freshman orientation, the two genders were split up into different lecture halls and given the straight dope on what it’s like to be a smart boy/girl with a painful lack of social skills. Traditional issues involving the opposite sex: “How are you supposed to be successful with a girl at a party when you’ve never even talked to one”? Traditional issues involving the same sex: “How do you share a dorm room with a guy who sports wood whenever he watches anime, and has no inclination to hide it”?

The part I do know about, “Men’s Issues”, can be boiled down to three simple rules for the incoming freshmen guys to follow:

  • “Don’t be a jackass”
  • “Don’t stalk the women” (you REALLY need to drive this point home with lovesick nerds)
  • “Not on your roommate’s stuff” (some people get off on the weirdest things… literally and figuratively)

If we trust that these three statements are true, we can then derive “Don’t Be That Guy”.

As a quick aside, I don’t know too much about the “Women’s Issues” meeting except that the older girls actually prepared a list of “Guys to beware of” for the incoming freshwomen. Of course, this list always had the opposite effect of whatever it was intended to do — being put on this list was one of the best things that could ever happen for your social life. This may hold true of all “bad boy” lists in the world, except those which legally require you to go door-to-door upon moving to a new neighborhood. Sometimes it pays to be thought of as That Guy, whether it’s true or not.

So, why are we talking about That Guy in the first place? Simply put, I hate him.

I spotted That Guy early last night, shortly after arriving at the Ding Dong Lounge. A band was playing and everyone was standing around enjoying the music, dancing in a reasonable manner, when That Guy crept out of the shadows. Surely you’ll agree with the tell-tale signs that help to identify him:

  • That Guy is the most enthusiastic dancer in the entire venue
  • That Guy has a personal soundtrack playing at twice the tempo than the music the rest of us hear
  • That Guy is a pinball, and our drinks are bumpers worth 50 points per collision
  • That Guy did not get the memo that we’re all wearing long pants tonight
  • That Guy learned his dance moves from Pee-wee Herman, but eventually the student became the teacher
  • That Guy does not clap between songs. Instead, he rapidly squeezes a squeaky dog toy
  • That Guy is going to drink that entire pitcher of beer by himself, so help him God
  • That Guy smirks instead of apologizing
  • That Guy does not own a full-length mirror, and it shows
  • That Guy seems to know Those People in the audience. Those People do not look happy to see That Guy
  • That Guy is being escorted out by security

Unfortunately, That Guy is like Agent Smith in The Matrix — possessing new bodies at will. Less than an hour after being escorted out, That Guy had taken on a new corporeal form, cut in with the girl I was dancing with, took her hand in his to spin her, and managed to run their connected mid-twirl hands into my mouth.

As I started to bleed from my lip, That Guy skulked back into the shadows alone, sans apology.

Random:

  • Yes, I got digits.
  • Does That Guy play by Vampire rules? I mean, my blood is on his hands, so am I bound to turn into him?
  • In some cultures/mythologies That Guy goes by the alternate name “The Douchebag”.
  • Vampires, shape-shifters, telepaths and maenads not enough for you? In the next season of True Blood they’re going to reveal Jason Stackhouse to be That Guy.

“gretsch”

I have never played a Gretsch hollow body electric guitar. We should change this.

“law of smells”

I wish I could unsmell some of the things I’ve been forced to endure during my travels. A Nasonex spray created by the Men in Black would be ideal — two squirts up each nostril and I’d blissfully forget about today’s trip on the city tram.

Shared hostel bathroom facilities are the worst — there’s something about a room with no windows, four toilets and four showers that has the potential for evil. When all showers and stalls are occupied simultaneously, good men have been broken — men far greater than myself. I will suggest the term “shit sauna” and leave the rest to your imagination.

Luckily, not everything is bad news. I have developed my Law of Smells, which goes as follows: “If you find yourself around other travelers and something smells foul, worry not, for you are not the offending party”. So stop checking yourself. You took a shower today, and your new deodorant is working wonders for you.

It’s like a luxury item so expensive that simply asking what the price is means that you can’t afford it — but replace “luxury item so expensive” with “smell so horrible”, “asking the price” with “acknowledging its presence”, and “ability to afford it” with “responsibility for it”.

Things are extra true if any of the following are involved: dreadlocks, hackysacks, tank tops, tribal band tattoos.

“full length mirror”

Constantly in search of inexpensive Halloween costume ideas, I’m filing away the notion of “guy who doesn’t own a full-length mirror”. Easy.

“layers”

Loud bars + shouting to be heard + different accents = plenty of opportunity for misunderstandings.

Conversing with two Aussie girls, complaining about the heat:

Me: “If you’re too hot, just take off some of those layers!”
Girl: “Excuse me? We’re too hot and you want to take off and lay us?”

I mean, kinda… but let’s get first names first.

“on the road”

I paid a visit to an actual book store to buy some PAPER BOOKS (gasp!) since my Kindle disappeared and I’m going on a very long road trip. I couldn’t bring myself to buy exorbitant prices for the paper copies of the eBooks I’ve already purchased (e.g. Infinite Jest, which cost $10 in Kindle version and $35 MSRP in this bookstore). I’ll be ordering a new Kindle soon, and have it sent to wherever I’m staying in Adelaide or Perth so I can re-download all of my purchases and pick up where I left off.

The only paperbacks that aren’t priced higher than a black market kidney around here are Penguin Classics, so I picked up On The Road and Cat’s Cradle. I passed on Love in the Time of Cholera, thank you very much.

There’s something charming about devouring On The Road while being, you know, on the road… but it also feels incredibly cliche. OH WELL. Maybe it’s more unique since I’m reading it on the Great Australian Road Trip instead of the Great American one. Anything to add a little tangy zing to this sandwich that you’ve all already eaten!

“jaywalking”

Melbourne is a jaywalker’s paradise, since most of the streets have dedicated tram/streetcar lanes running in between the car traffic lanes.

Look right stepping off the curb, run to the tram tracks, hang out for a bit, look left stepping off the tram tracks, run to the opposite curb. EASY MODE.

4 Comments

Filed under Travel Journal