Australia, 2007 Journal: Part 6

25 Apr 07

The next day was maybe my favorite. We walked the King’s Canyon, which started off with a steep ascent to get us to the plateau top. We all stuck together. The rocks had layered patterns from sand dune wind shifts and beehive formations from geologic movement. There were cliff faces we got on hands and knees to peer over. Some vistas were literally one foot thick jutting out into the canyon. Don’t step there! Cypress trees, the symbol of Lebanese flags, were up there. We’d step over many large cracks in the rock. One day that whole point would crumble off. Geoff pointed us to a secret water hole and we hung out there. It was called the Garden of Eden because of the lush vegetation growing in this tucked-away spot. We swam and ate oranges in the sun. Mark jumped off a short ledge into the water. We slipped and slide trying to get out of the underwater slimy ledge. We were too afraid to swim down and see how deep the pool was. I felt seaweed in one part and didn’t want to go reaching around in blackness. As we left, a bunch of young girls in bikinis arrived and our men were sad. Rosa was disgusted. I led us out the other side of the canyon and down a neat rocky cemented path. At the bottom was an air-conditioned trailer selling drinks and ice cream. I got two (!) raspberry-pineapple ice pops and a Coke. Oh God it was so refreshing! Mmmmm…

For lunch we went to a resort with a swimming pool (freezing and every time we got in, the sun would hide in the clouds), a covered grill area, showers, and no flies! We swam and showered while the girls just slept. Geoff and Ben made hot dogs with French baguettes. Crumbs everywhere! Then we kicked the soccer ball around in the grass before leaving. We drove off, collected some firewood at dusk and watched the sun set as clouds rolled in (see photo). I found a dingo skeleton. We found a wolf spider in a hole too and tried to coax it out. Rich got a close-up of its hairy maw. Nearby was a famous barrel by the road. On one side it said “Lift Um Foot” to slow down for a big bump. The other side said “Puttum Back Down”. We had a group meeting; it was late and we had to decide whether to drive a longer way to the planned campsite or settle for a camp (still an hour out) which was an Aboriginal site and technically people weren’t allowed to camp there but these guys do it when they have to. We arrived eventually: almost everyone was sleeping in the back in the pitch black; I was sweating because Melanie wanted the windows mainly closed so no wind could mess up her hair or make her cold. We snuck around and found the best camp site. As it turns out the camp is in the middle of a massive crater, and the next morning we saw ridges all around us.

For dinner we had grilled corn on the cob and potatoes cooked under coals and I mashed all the rest of our meal (chicken and pasta and such) into one bowl like those bowls at KFC with mashed potatoes, corn, and crispy chicken with gravy all mixed in. Everyone took turns saying what their favorite part was. When we first did this on the first night, I said I wanted to be with a small group of different, interesting people. IT was taken as a poignant remark. This time I added that I was glad to have gotten to know each person fairly well and that I was glad to share all the experiences with them. Then I paid homage to the two soldiers my unit lost, as homage to ANZAC Day the day before.

Rain rolled in and out all night. This forced me to take down my mozzie pyramid, annoyingly. I set up a tent with Nicholas and we didn’t have a drop of rain the rest of the night. (I woke myself up once with a noisy runny nose. I apologized later to Nicholas) Ben and Geoff were the only ones not to get a tent out. Bleh. As everyone went to sleep, we tried some roo tail. I snapped off a vertebra in my hands and picked some really sticky, fatty meat off it. It was sort of like really fatty, kind of dry rib. My hands were still sticky and smelled like roo when I went to sleep, despite washing my hands in our wash basin. Eww.

Last Day — 26 Apr 07

The morning was special because Geoff made pancakes As usual I had my stuff squared away and packed early. I could tell everyone was a little worn out from the long tour and some long hikes, plus no one wanted it all to end. I got myself a tall helping of fresh pancakes while others scurried around. I put on some margarine and found some maple syrup (!) stashed in the trailer. Mmmm…

This final day was a relaxing day. We hit the road and stopped at some petroglyphs, a 45-minute off-road drive that very few people ever visit. We voted to go there although I personally just wanted to go to the end because 1) if I don’t know a path I want to finish it ASAP and 2) I wanted more time to party that night. But after we got to the site, I was glad we went. We hiked over to a gorge with sloping rocks high into the cliff. At the back was a pool of water bordered by a tall stone face on the far side. We walked up the sloping rocks (it was like a wide slide) and examined the Aboriginal petroglyphs. There were dozens of small frogs near the water. The temperature was really hot by this point and we snuck into any shade we could find.

Strangely out here a construction crew was fixing the bumps in the road so we listened to their chatter about us on our radio scanner. One guy said something like “pay a lot for that” which Ben told Geoff was, “bet they paid a lot for that” but I heard “I’d pay a lot for that” in reference to Rosa who was up front. Seems like more likely for construction guy talk!

We stopped at Edderly Gorge and swam. Mark, Geoff, Lennis, and I threw the soccer ball around in the wide, flat, shallow channel while everyone else watched and Rosa tanned. Then we went to the next place, also a water hole, and Ben and Nicholas swam (the infamous “cutting diamonds” comment). We skipped rocks on the water idly and I picked up a bullrush (my mom calls it that but I’m convinced Americans call it a “dog” something (edit: “cat tail”)) and broke it apart, sending white seeds flying everywhere like magic or some bubbles. Geoff got a picture.

Finally we arrived into Alice around late afternoon. Where’d we go first? The drive-through beer shop of course! Everyone picked up something to drink before and after our restaurant reservation. I got Rum and Coke in a can. Nice! Next we went to ANZAC Hill which overlooks all of Alice. Some of Alice looks like sprawl but the buildings on the outskirts are covered up by thick forests. The whole region is locked in by stone formations. A small valley one way led to the small airport.

We watched the sun set as a group. The ANZAC Hill monument was an obelisk with flowers laid the day before from the city’s public organizations. We felt like the crew from Ocean’s Eleven gathering around the fountain at the end of their heist. The scandal in the paper was that someone had sprayed graffiti on the obelisk and the city had tried poorly to remove it. I got bored waiting and watched students go through rugby drills on an athletic field below. It’s weird to see that configuration when you’re used to an American football field or baseball diamond. Apparently tour guides bring their newly-acquired tourist girlfriends to romantic, graffiti’d, war remembrance ANZAC Hill.

Then we went to Annie’s Place, a hostel, and dropped off Lennis and Melanie who’d already booked there. Eveline and Mark went there because they wanted a private room. Their attempt to be subtle about this failed when Geoff, hilariously, said they’d have to go here and not Toddy’s if they wanted to shag! Eveline blushed and Mark was sheepish. The rest of us went to Toddy’s and checked into one dorm room for $20 each with shuttle to the airport for me. Ben and Geoff got their own rooms. It was so weird on the drive there because we had so much space and legroom in the back!

We all hurried to take turns showering! Then everyone got dressed up to go out. I found out my one pair of pants was wrinkly and covered in red dust so I was forced to be the only schmuck in shorts. We had some drinks sitting outside before we went to Bojangle’s, a strangely Texas-like ranch bar and restaurant where all the tourists go after their tours. On the way there Geoff thought I shouldn’t go in flip-flops so once again I ran back to the room to change into my damn smelly shoes that I just wanted to throw away ASAP! It was a long walk there so we were late but it was fun just talking along the way with new friends.

We arrived and got a table. I got my Guinness! The place was already packed: I met a South African chick who I pointed over to Lennis. She came by later and I think she was disappointed that he was older because she never came back. There were some Swedes who got hit up by everyone. Irish stuck-up girls, even some black guys who dressed in FUBU who must’ve been US military serving at the nearby secret-squirrel joint installation. I had a great time and talked to everyone, saying goodbyes and promising a place to stay in Dallas and DC. I passed around my notepad and collected everyone’s contact information. I asked Lennis for advice from an older man to a younger man. He said just follow one’s passions above all. Geoff got sloshed. It was funny because Mark came up and told me Rosa’s underwear was sticking out in the back. You see, when we stood around that spider in the hole and I shone my Surefire in it, Rosa tried to give me a wedgie. I countered by informing her I was wearing wedgie-proof boxer briefs. “What are those?” she asked plainly.

So when confronted with this news I got up to buy some promised rounds and when I returned I made eye contact with Mark and wedgied Rosa in front of everyone before calmly sitting down to toast her while everyone laughed happily. Ben 2, Rosa 1. That’ll learn ya. Eventually it was late and people were drunk. Rich and I watched a guy get thrown into a paddy wagon outside. I suggested going back to the hostel to drink, and we did. Ben found a supermarket cart and Geoff got in. Ben pushed him down the sidewalk and let go. Geoff crashed into a curb and fell out, a noisy racket in a quiet neighborhood. We all jumped in the air at the same time for a goofy photo, too. At the hostel, we drank in Geoff’s room. I was feeling pretty tired so I slowed down. Geoff did his ditty on the bed and shifted one bed around 360 degrees with Rosa on it. He had said earlier that he had strange vibes that night. I think he was trying to flirt with Rosa since they spent most of the tour together but she wasn’t interested. I departed for sleep and so did everyone else. I tried to sleep but woke up a lot in a very hot dorm room with no ventilation. Also my nose was running all over so I got up at like 6AM and sat outside to recover.

27 Apr 07

I found the TV room that most hostels have. It had a couple Internet kiosks, so for a couple dollars I got about an hour online. Via e-mail I found out Georgetown offered me a $10k scholarship which was unexpected and very exciting! Whee! No doubt helped by David Martinez’s e-mail to the director of admissions recommending me! Meanwhile I checked and saw my stocks were up and also there somehow was a mosquito under the kiosk, biting my feet and making them itch. I went outside and sat on the stairs outside our room adding small anecdotes to my notepad. Later I packed up my bag as my shuttle was at 11 or so. Richard and Nicholas woke up and we shot the breeze. Eventually it was time to leave. Geoff stopped by and saw me off. Off to Alice Spring’s airport.

Needless to say, I was “randomly selected” for an explosive test. Only my third “random” inspection on this trip! We all know the #1 terrorist target in the world is Alice Springs!! Do I really look like a terrorist when I grow a beard? The airport is small but nice…and air-conditioned. I went to a big cafeteria area and ordered a burger and fries even if it wasn’t noon yet. Damn anyone who had a problem with it! The gate was automatic doors with a walkway leading to the runway and plane.

Qantas is nice because they offer plenty of amenities and food and still believe in hiring attractive and pleasant stewardesses who are diverse in race. Their dresses have dotted patterns on them for an Aboriginal painting motif. This is a culturally sensitive move for a country still deeply uncomfortable with its colonial past with the Aboriginals. Our snack was a muffin which came in an awesomely-designed fold-out box with stylish colors. It reminded me of the designs Apple uses for its products. A nice touch! Plus the dinner mat they give you doubles as a trash bag. A final note is that at least Alice and Adelaide let visitors see people right at the gates. Remember that?? People were hugging each other as planes arrived and I was like, “What the fuck, were they both traveling at the same time??”

Adelaide was fun. I’d been there before. I saw a Time Magazine about the Virginia Tech shootings. The airport has a Cooper’s (Oz’s beer of choice) pub right there! Plus a full martini bar. I talked to “Destiny” until my plane to Melbourne was about to leave.

On the next leg I kept slogging through my books. I’d just finished “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth” and started “River Town”. I marveled at how I managed to bring the perfect gear. Nalgene bottle for drinking in the truck, a compact ruck with Camelbak backpack for hiking. I think I actually wrote about this before so I’m going to move on…heh. =P I feel like I have Alzheimer’s when I write journals. To be fair I’ve written 81 pages!

I arrive at Melbourne and felt like an old hand. I got my ruck quickly and purchased a ticket + return on the Skybus shuttle that goes into downtown. I helped a mother who was by herself load the gear into the bus. At the station after a 30 minute ride, I caught the free shuttle to Nomads Industry, a pretty swanky backpacker’s chain. I already had a private room booked although now I wanted a dorm room to save money. They of course said they couldn’t switch. Oh well, privacy is nice.

It was around dinnertime so I went to the hostel’s bar area which was packed. They offer “free” dinner which consists of a dollop of noodles with sauce. WOW! I had a Guinness (freaking $6.50!). I didn’t talk to anyone so I went up to my room to sleep. The stupid TV only had one station, and the satellite signal kept being interrupted so blips would get really annoying.

27 Apr 07

The next day I didn’t do much but watch Saturday morning music videos, writing the names of songs down that I liked so I could download them later. Eventually I went out with the goal of finding the supermarket and a shoe store. I walked up and down and all around the shopping streets. Foot Locker charged like $200 for decent-looking shoes! Eventually I found a big shopping complex between the two parallel main shopping roads. I found an athletic store and Fiona, a blonde who was interested in politics and asked questions about American presidential candidates, helped me pick a neat (relatively cheap $100) pair of Nikes that have a swooshy pattern on them. She asked about Hillary. I said I preferred Obama, whom she didn’t know. I also bought some sock liners that don’t really show above the shoe line. They were super-cheap. Thanks China!

Three levels down was the supermarket. I needed gum and proper shampoo and soap. I’d only showered with shower gel confiscated from the Adelaide Paringa while on tour. I also got a big block of Cadbury (my mom informs me Cadbury now owns Hershey or the other company which I sort of doubt) Dairy Milk Rocky Road. It was okay, not as good as Fruit and Nut. It has cherry pieces and nuts and marshmallow and caramel.

Later that night I walked all the way to the other side of town to the JFK Memorial next to the govt. buildings. There was a flagpole with no flag and a plaque with JFK’s face on it, contained in a little pocket of manicured gardens. I’m pretty sure there were wombats in the park! It was dark and they hid in the shadows.

28 Apr 07

The next day we had a miscommunication and I was worried about us and missed you. I don’t really want to write about it. I missed the afternoon AFL (Australian Football League) game but caught the night one at Telstra Dome, an easy walk. It’s right by where the airport shuttle stops. I watched the Brisbane Lions play the Carlton Blues. The Blues are based in Melbourne so they had the most fans but Brisbane was a far better team. It’s amazing how well those guys catch the rugby ball and kick the ball accurately to each other. In many respects these guys are more talented and athletic than NFL players. I paid for a good seat but my section was full so no leg room! I sat next to a couple of deaf women who were rooting for separate teams and ribbing each other the whole time.

Carlton was actually winning most of the time but Brisbane poured it on at the end. I went home early and slept.

29 Apr 07

I don’t remember what I did the next day but I saw Sunshine at the downtown theater; it was $12,50!! Then the cashier was like, “Do you mind? There’s a black line on the print…” Fine, fine. Sunshine was spectacular. Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow in Batman Begins), Michelle Yeoh, and some others I sort of recognize. It’s a tense movie like 2001. They’re flying a bomb into the Sun to re-ignite it and end the ice age on Earth. Of course there are complications. The soundtrack was by Underworld (it was fantastic). You must watch! A top movie of the year. Afterward I got a smoothie outside and drank it on the way home.

30 Apr 07

On my last day I went to the Chinese-Australian Museum tucked away in an alley in Chinatown. The lady up front was nice and asked me if I was Chinese. I said yes and we talked about Chinese horoscopes and my tattoos. In the basement there was a mock-up of a gold-mining town. Chinese flooded to Australia after rumors of gold spread. By 1850 there were about 50k Chinese. The next floor had an exhibit of mugshots of Chinese criminals and the stories of the crimes they committed. Many arrests were for petty crime but some were for some money matters leading to murder or attempted murder. That the Australian govt. exacted a racist fee of something like 10 pounds (UK) to stay there increased money-related crime and led to Chinese arriving in smaller ports and joining large Chinese marches to gold areas to avoid paying.

The top floor covered Chinese social life with clubs, weddings, and school photos. Plus info on Chinese dress, business, homes, etc. Finally a display on Australia’s harsh anti-immigration policies. Not long later, only 8k Chinese lived in Australia!

There were lots of school kids (mainly Indian and Asian) running about happily in the museum as a class field trip. They put their backpacks neatly in the lobby. It was weird listening to the guide ask them if they knew what racism was. It’s a shame children have to learn about it at all. But the kids were bright and handled the topic studiously and maturely.

Next I wandered westward to the Melbourne Museum. It had an amazing insect exhibit along with specimens of a lot of unique Australian wildlife. I looked at the stuffed tazmanian devils and wallabies and the pinned praying mantises and butterflies and crayfish. One section had actual tarantulas and scorpions and ant farms and beetles and I marveled at how big they were. Seriously I’ve never seen such good specimens before. Also the displays were very informative about insects. Other exhibits: a 3D demo, models of human anatomy (lots of embarrassed school girls avoiding looking at nude mannequins), and student-created projects for fashion, technology, art, architecture, etc. Some of the displays and portfolios were damn good and I’m glad the museum supported the students in that way. There was an Aboriginal display also, mostly faces. To be sure I enjoyed the Papua New Guinea boats and head dresses and shrunken heads and weapons and shields that they had at Adelaide’s museum. Now that place had a great cultural exhibit; it differentiated between the many tribal peoples with stunning displays of their handicrafts and customs. I noted the photos of elongated skulls using head wraps from birth. Also the massive fishing and ritual boats the main room housed.

Other stuff to conclude Melbourne. One guy tried to recruit me for a street casting call. I said I was a tourist and wouldn’t be there to do it. At the AFL game, each team would take the field to REALLY cheesy theme songs that sounded produced on a child’s synthesizer keyboard. I laughed while others sang along to it. Book covers were all different than in the US! So it was like looking at a completely foreign display shelf! In my opinion the cover designs were almost without exception worse, featuring generic designs not always related to the actual book. Was this for printers to keep costs down? It just seemed…weird.

The time’d come to leave. My final night I got a Guinness at the Nomads bar. It was empty save for the patio outside. I started chatting with the bartender about pouring the perfect head of Guinness. Turns out she studies international relations at a Melbourne university so we talked about that. A British bloke from near Sheffield came over to get a drink. He was piss drunk. We talked about my parents and England, as well as about the “war”. Later I met some of the people outside but they were really young, drunk, horny, and boring.

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