Australia, 2007 Journal: Part 5

21 Apr 07

By now we had properly entered the desert, the Red Center. We stopped by Talc Alf’s isolated ranch. I believe he is a Dutchy who moved there long ago. He is the mailman for the entire track out there, a massive expanse. He has a workshop for engraving stone and selling it. His area is full of posters and print-outs full of symbols. His most notorious theory is that of his interpretation of the name “Australia”. I don’t remember it off-hand but I have a photo of it. I want to say that Talc Alf, a fierce Aboriginal advocate, had a stack of stickers for a new proposed Australian flag that I’ve only seen deep in the Outback. The Union Jack of Great Britain has been replaced with the Aboriginal flag. This is what I really wanted to bring home!

Talc Alf’s dog carried a deflated ball around to whoever would play. Thje dog would drop it 10 feet away from someone and position himself in a crouch to the side of however someone would kick the ball. The dog’s desire for fetch was not tempered by the blasting heat.

Later we drove on a long desolate expanse named something like The Dustpan. We stopped in the middle to take piccies. Ben brought out two nerf-like boomerangs and we flung them artlessly into the wind, which carried them forever. Mark almost managed to catch his own throw. Richard threw a wooden boomerang he bought. It would just flail into the ground. Apparently boomerangs used to hit kangaroo’s legs can often be near as big as a man! We took a detour past a cattle station and suddenly the land turned to red sand. Desert. Sand dunes. Ben caught a bearded lizard with his hands. It was sunning on the road. It has folds of skin that fan out under its throat when threatened, hence the name. Rich and I tried digging for water after Richard said he found some. All we got was damp sand. On the way back out past the cattle station, Rosa asked Ben what the windmill was. He said that when enough cows stood by it, sensors in the ground activated the “fan”, which blew air onto the cows. A “cattle fan”. We laughed heartily when her belief was confronted whit his admission of foul play. How does a Dutchy not know a windmill when she sees one? We camped out in the bush. I forget where. By this time, small scorpions, large spiders, and long centipedes eating massive moths was normal at night. You would have liked the golden orb weaver or whatever it’s called. Apparently one of the strongest threads out there, of a golden color. Very intricate, 3 dimensional webs. The small male spiders lurk near the large female. They do dances. If they’re lucky, they get sex before she eats them.

22 Apr 07

At lunch we stopped at Hookey’s Water Hole. Lennis, Rosa, and I swam. It was cold. But good for mid-day sweat. We went forth to Oodnadatta. By this time my shoes and socks really smelled and I was self-conscious. No one else has this problem?! Oodnadatta was interesting. The center was the roadhouse, painted light pink like on Mexican houses. All the equipment and abandoned vehicles were pink also. We got our bearings and took off on foot to explore the town. There was a relatively new Aboriginal school where all the kids went regardless of color. The kids got along although from class projects at the museum, one could see the whites had a clear advantage. We walked by an outdoor movie theater which must be a hoot for everyone. We saw some leftover tracks. It is strange that so many Afghans came here. Why? Clearly they are used to harsh climates but it’s a long way to come and Afghanistan in these days was quite beautiful.

We drove to the center point of Australia, off the main roads onto a really remote stretch of path. Eventually we found the center. There was a steel structure with a plaque and flagpole. A jerrican to the side contained a visitor’s log. Many many Dutchies and Swiss. Even an Amanda Sneed from Texas who was on the Heading Bush tour ahead of ours. Rich noticed the GPS coordinates on the plaque didn’t correspond with his GPS unit. We struck out to find the true center according to the given coordinates, which themselves were probably inaccurate. Our theory was that early GPS had problems and later they recalibrated. About 300 clicks away we found it. One pair of tracks had gone that way also. Part of our group lagged behind and started following camel tracks instead. How do you confuse camel toe with a man’s foot print? We stuck some sticks there in an “X” and took some photos and left. The guides were a little displeased that we took this extra time. They said they wouldn’t tell future tours about it! I forget the timeline around this point but we camped out at Dalhousie Springs, an Aboriginal area with campgrounds for us. We stopped in after dark and ran off to the hot springs nearby! The water was quite hot indeed! The stars were out and it was quiet except for mozzies buzzing by. The water was hot so we got out quickly and had dinner. Kangaroo curry I think. Before bed I went again to the spring with Eveline and Mark and Richard. We enjoyed a dip — the water seemed warmer — with some music. Richard and I left to sleep. Eveline had mozzie bites all over so who knows what happened later! I woke up early again to enjoy sunrise in the spring with Geoff and Ben.

Some other morning (hmm…) we got up early to drive to a look-out in the Painted Desert. The sun came out and lit up ochre-colored hills jutting out from a Mars-like flat land. The flies were out in force. Our breakfast plates were swarmed with hundreds of hungry flies. A weird noise was discovered to come from a nearby dingo who walked past us, keeping a wary distance. He called out sadly to his mates. We took silhouette photos of us doing YMCA poses.

23 Apr 07

Eventually we were on our way to Yularu, a campsite near Ayer’s Rock, Ulara. The road turned to asphalt and we saw tour groups and buses and motorcyclists. As we drove along the road we saw a large green monolith and Ben said it was Ayer’s Rock. Those of us who’d never been, believed him. I thought it was odd! Shouldn’t it be red? Maybe it was the lack of sunlight? We kept driving past it and I was uneasy. Turns out the bastard was playing us. Eventually we saw the large grand rock. We passed into the national park and went into the cultural center. It was a brief exhibit but it explained what some of the bush tucker like honey ants looked like. Most of these exhibits had photos of Aboriginals with audio interviews. I didn’t find that very compelling. The stories were too breezy for consumption. Apparently at least 35 people have died climbing the rock, which has a steep dirt path with only a hand chain for support.

Climbing is strongly discouraged by everyone and the closings for dubious “high winds” and “incoming rain” are fabricated to help out. Still, a lot of people want to climb which I think is insensitive and pointless. Egotistical. The Australian govt. gave back the site only recently, under the condition that people could still climb it. Sheesh. Wouldn’t want to affect tourism! Honestly I think people would still come. Somewhere in the cultural center my ankles got bitten a lot and from there until I got home my ankles and feet seemed to itch from bites despite my wearing shoes and being watchful. Bloody annoying. It’s why the guides don’t expose skin. Ben told us Uluru wad discovered to not be the biggest monolith in Australia. If it’s true then it’s not publicized. It’s also supposedly more remote.

I forgot to mention we stopped for water, which was getting dangerously low, in an Aboriginal-only town named Finke. It was Sunday so everything was closed. We went to a faucet to fill up. The heat made me wish the water was much cooler. Two Aboriginal boys came on bikes to meet us. They had flavored ice pops. It was funny because one of them saw me and jumped in shock. He prodded the other and pointed at my arm tattoo. Now this tattoo has done a lot for me. I wanted to get a big tattoo on my arm but something that matched my arm. Not something goofy on the bicep like most get. But I also wanted a plainly visible tattoo that shocked and awed and uniqued. This did it. Everyone stares and some work up the cojones to ask what it means. When I say “happiness”, it removes the danger of it. Most just say they really love it. It leads into conversation about my Arabic tattoo on the arm’s inside and then we chat openly later.

When I was in the airport in Fiji, a Hindi woman who I’d think to be shy brought my toasted ham and cheese sandwich and gasped with delight we she saw Eudaimonia. She revealed that she wanted an “Om” tattooed on the inside of her wrist but was scared. I told her to take the plunge and I think she got embarrassed by her admission despite her culture and job status and apologized and quickly left.

In the Adelaide airport I stopped into a gift shop for souvenirs and didn’t have much time. The girl working there was 26, immediately asking me about the tat. She said she knew Greek since she lived there for a while. But strangely she said she didn’t recognized the letters. She breathlessly said she loved tats and had her name, Destiny, tattooed on her back (tramp stamp) in cursive. Then she proceeded to talk about how cultured she was, traveling all over, with her rich dad who spoiled her with things like a Mini Cooper convertible. She said she’d been to the Middle East, the US, everywhere, but right now she was helping a friend out by covering her teaching at a local fashion design school. Strangely she brought up that she was newly broken up, then corrected herself. It was a year ago. And said her boyfriend was too plain and overprotective. Uncultured. She called herself too cultured. She then asked if I had a girl and I said I did and still she seemed flirty. Even in this small Adelaide airport I could meet a stripper with lots of guts. I politely said I had to go catch my flight.

But men would be more likely to ask me about my tats as I guess with longer hair and an out-of-control beard and large frame I scare off most people and especially kids. The Finke boys were clearly in awe. Mark brought out our soccer ball, blowing it up with air at the nearby mechanic garage pump. He took to the street with the boys. He hogged the ball and showed off. The boys did also, kicking the ball high straight up. We were told expressly not to take any photos. People were probably watching from windows and would tell the boys off later. We are supposed to ask Aboriginals first before taking a photo but in Finke it was more strict. As we left, the boys chased us. I thought we should have left the ball. We probably made their day more exciting.

They use two voices by the way; a guttoral tongue for Aboriginal and a higher, less throaty one for English. It was weird hearing Australians call them blacks — I associate blacks with Africans and call Aboriginals Aboriginals. Some racism would come out at times: once we were out in the middle of nowhere and saw a vehicle parked off the road on top of a hill. We stopped to investigate. An Aboriginal family was there, with about seven children and their mother. No father. Geoff and Ben got out and talked to them. They were fine but could use some water so we filled up their containers and Thermos. The father walked back to say hi. I wasn’t by the rear door so I couldn’t hop out when we stopped so those by the door just sat there for half a minute, like they didn’t want to get out. Eventually they did but Rich said to keep an eye on the grog (beer). Others secured their valuables. Pssh. The kids were curious about us and investigated. One had blonde hair, a couple others had chocolate streaks. Not quite sure but I assumed they dyed it somehow. Turns out they’d camped here for a few days while the dad was trying to collect “tektites”, small meteorites from outer space to sell to jewelers, probably getting ripped off. The man joked that he felt cross-eyed looking for the rocks here, on this flat expanse full of similar blackish stones. The tektites were blacker, like they were charred. Our group took photos secretively like people at a zoo and Geoff and Ben warned us afterward.s

One thing that got really annoying was the insect shift changing. By this point, mozzie nets or tents were required for sleeping. We’d exit the vehicle at night and the flies would be gone. But then you’d feel a little itch here, a little itch there, a high-pitched whine past your ear. Mozzie time. I changed into long shirt and pants ASAP despite the heat. Where was the damn water for them to breed?? I would usually sleep in just my swag (most people used 2-person tents) with a stick or tent people to raise my mozzie net above my head. I got more adept at building it by the day. The first night heavy winds knocked my stick over in the loose riverbed sand. Byt he end I had a fucking Frank Gehry-esque reinforced anti-mozzie pyramid. Then I’d wake up at daybreak and look up to see mozzies gathered on the net, smelling me and waiting. Then as light came, the birds would sing and flies would pitter-patter onto the net like drops of rain in a gradually-increasing storm. Eventually flies and mozzies fought for real estate, gathered mainly where I was breathing. (my morning breath wasn’t THAT bad!) I had to wait until the mozzies left before I got up, my head net already donned!

24 Apr 07

So the next day, after camping in Yulara Resort, doing some laundry and taking good showers and eating seafood spaghetti (yes I ate it, even the big tentacle bits) and looking at Rich’s photos on his computer, we headed back to Uluru for sunrise. Then we took a tour form the local ranger who showed us a water hole, some local plants, and cave drawings. I had talked to one of the rangers the day before in the cultural center. I wanted clarification on words like A_n_anga. If a letter is underlined, then an “r” sound precedes it. So it’s pronounced Arnanga. She told me how the program pays her and the others to learn the local dialect which is used in three connected tribal regions near Uluru. I was impressed that the rangers had learned the language but she showed me the “holy grail” dictionaries and resources they used. It’s similar to the green “Hans Wehr” Arabic dictionary that any military Arabic linguist swears by.

Aboriginals used smoke to signal rituals (very long) at the Rock. Ma_l_a means “wallaby”. Puta is “pouch”. Wali is “man”. Acacia bark needles poked into warts will kill them. When we stood atop our truck during sunset the day before, I was compelled to go talk to all the other tourists since we hadn’t seen many people lately and I love finding out what countries people are from. I met Brazilians; a talkative Dane, Josey; Swedes; Brits; all pretty young.

Later we walked around the base of Uluru. I finished first. I wanted to run it but didn’t want to be all sweaty. I saw a putting green of soft level grass in one crevice of the rock. Strange eroded hole patterns on another rock face. Some places were sacred and you weren’t allowed to take photos.

Then we went to the Valley of the Winds at the Olges (Kata Tjuta) and walked to the end of the gorge. Some benches were there. Richard and I got there first. We marveled at a sheer, tall rock face and large tadpole frogs in a cool water puddle, a rarity in this area but a relic of recent rains. Everyone was not as talkative at this point, tired from the hikes. On the way back I talked with Geoff about schools and presentations and finding professors who will kick your butt for inspiration.

One night we played a game Rich taught us called “Assassin”. I have actually played this before at my grandma’s house in Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s sort of the family home and we’ve had get-togethers there many times. And Grandma would always have us play this game after dinner once it was dark outside.

One person is God and controls the flow of the game. People volunteer to do this. He passes out cards to everyone. One card is the Ace: the Assassin. One is the King: the Detective. Everyone closes their eyes and God tells the Assassin to wake up and pick a person to kill. Then he goes back to sleep. The Detective is told to wake up and is allowed to inquire if one person is the Assassin. Then he goes to sleep. Everyone wakes up and God informs them all who has been killed. Then everyone discusses who they want killed as a suspect. A majority must be made. The person chosen reveals the card. If the person isn’t the Assassin, then the citizens have killed an innocent! A detective may speak up and say, “I am the Detective and I know ____ is the Assassin.” People will generally agree with him. A Detective would know for sure if he ID’d the Assassin and God confirmed it, for example.

Everyone goes back to sleep and the process repeats. It’s interesting because the Assassin and Detective (and God) must be careful not to give away sounds or a person’s location as they trade information. I found it funny watching people gang up and kill others. We had some Assassins survive. I seemed to be spot-on in my original instincts, usually based on where God’s voice was facing when giving instructions. Also if it took a while for an Assassin or Detective to tell God their target you could assume certain things, like the killer would be far away or opposite the murdered person, having to clarify where they were pointing.

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