Sunday, July 3, 2011

On leaving Adelaide, a Groovy Grape tour & uneventful Cairns

Ah, leaving Adelaide was such a bittersweet memory.
We threw a great going away party!
(I tried to find a good group photo but I can't get it from facebook!)

Adelaide was good, it was perfect for school. Quiet, small, beautiful. The people were the best part. I hope we all stay in touch, it's going to be so interesting to see where we all end up.
Keep in touch guys! Come visit me in LA! You will always have somewhere to stay in LA.

I also said goodbye to Soul Capoeira, to Chan and Aimee...

What a great gooup of people, my capoeira brothers and sisters from South Australia. They offered me the opportunity to teach a workshop on my last night there, and it was really fun, we even did some drumming, and I loved it! Thank you so much guys!

Next it was the Groovy Grapes tour. Adelaide to Alice Springs in 6 days. Here's a blow by blow account (edited version), for anyone who's interested...

22 - 27 June, 2011
Start time is 6:45am in front of the Parliament building on King William and North Terrace. Bus is late. I get in the front and the tour driver seems ok, I think. Everyone else is half-asleep, in a daze. We travel out of Adelaide into the dark morning, cloud cover but no rain. Cold, cold. He stops to show us the “Australian Loch Ness Monster” but none of us want to take a picture. It’s a creature made of tires, set up in a salt lake. There’s all these salt lakes around, half filled with water and salt, they turn pink in the winter. I realize I left my camera at the capoeira studio the night before. We stop for lunch. It was good and I’m getting less apprehensive.

Transition from post-grad physio personality to tour group mode. We drive and drive, the view from the front seat is fantastic and it’s not too long until we get to our campsite. We settle in at Stony Creek campsite and go off for a hike at Alligator Gorge. First thing, we get lost. The tour guide (name: Derek. Sometimes we call him D, or D-tour, or other names…) drops us off, gives us some dodgy directions and takes off. He said, ‘Go right!’ and it becomes a joke because it clearly wasn’t the right way. It doesn’t matter, we meet up with him again and go down a million stairs to the nice part of the hike, beautiful!

We walk down into a canyon surrounded by red rocks, there’s a creek at the bottom.

We take a group picture. We climb out of the canyon, and Dutch guy and Swiss guy run up the stairs with me. We see kangaroos hopping around on the way home, it’s awesome! Dinner is a three course meal with meatball appetizers, pork chops, salad and some kind of date walnut cake for dessert. It’s not bad. We play darts before dinner. After dinner we clean up, and there was talk of a campfire and dreamtime stories, I mean dreamings.

Waking up is early, like 5 or 6am and we head out for another long drive, we all sleep most of the way. Lunch is again good.

Second night is in Coober Pedy, in underground bunkers.

We take showers and tour the opal museum.

We buy opal souvenirs. We have pizza for dinner, then sit around in the kitchen having a chat. There are aborigines in the town. They walk barefoot and I want to give them some new clothes. There’s a cowboy vibe. It’s a small town based on dreams of opals. Their dreams are put into rusty machinery, into dusty holes. The people are covered in dust too, and they are proud of their choice but also desolate.

So leaving early is good, and we are heading for Ayers Rock Desert resort. Derek buys Eric a soccer ball, actually two, but one gets left behind.

At some point he also buys us ice cream, at one of the many stops along the way. We arrive around 3pm, get more supplies from the supermarket, and head out on the base hike.

It’s beautiful countryside, and Uluru is magnificent from a distance, looming red out of the desert. The hike itself is 10K, walking around. You can climb up but the aborigines don’t want us to. It’s sacred for them. D is pretty adamant about not doing it, and there are signs saying the walk is closed. It’s another strange thing, this disrespect by the white people for the wishes of the aborigines. I mean, it’s a rock, it’s there, let’s climb it! That’s how I respect the desert. Heck, peak-bagging is my thing, so why not? But it’s the situation, it’s a religious symbol. I can respect that. There are other rocks to climb. But there are a lot of people who do climb it, in blatant disregard for open statements by the aborigines NOT to climb it. This country is still young, and we are in the “wild west”, if you want to compare it to the United States. In a discussion later with one of the other people on the tour, he pointed out that mistakes were made in the past regarding oppression of native people, and we don’t have to make the same mistakes again. But still people climb the rock.

We walk around, the weather is beautiful, and it’s all good. There are sacred areas where you’re not supposed to enter or even take pictures of. Our guide prepares our swags and we make a campfire and have dinner. It’s our first night camping and it gets cold. We had Hungarian stew, it was delicious, and nice on a cold night. We sit around the campfire and anticipate the 4am wakeup call for the sunrise over Uluru.

(Swag: a sleeping bag cover made of canvas. So you sleep on the ground, but you zip yourself and your sleeping bag up into the swag, and there’s even a foam mattress in there. It’s as comfortable as it can be, and nice to sleep under the stars.)

Sunrise: It’s beautiful.

We see a wild camel on the way. Then we drive to the Olgas, where we do a 7K walk around and in between the huge mounds. We see a dingo, Derek says it’s really rare to see one, he’s pretty impressed. He said that the presence of the animals in the Olgas represents spirits of aboriginals who’ve died and ceremoniously had their ashes scattered in the area. They still perform ceremonies out there in the parklands.

We have a discussion on aboriginal culture these days. Despite preservation of tradition, there is a huge problem with alcohol, and they just sit outside all day, drinking. Eric asks, but why don’t they just get a job? It’s a good question, there are a lot of factors that go into that. I think it has to do with a sense of entitlement, and passivity. There’s resentment for sure. And lack of responsibility. It’s hard to judge, being an outsider. In my opinion, it’s not productive to blame others for your plight. But I also know that opportunity can be rare, and hard to recognize if you don’t have role models and support. Why did some cultures evolve to embrace change, while others stubbornly and to their downfall remain stuck in the past? It’s important to respect your ancestry, but surely ancestors want what’s best for their children. That’s life, you have to change. There’s the money problem, there’s the racism problem, there’s the lack of facilities, lack of schools, lack of money, lack of respect. Many aborigines now work as artists. There is aboriginal art on sale for upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. There are aboriginal cultural centres all over Alice Springs. I found a really nice gallery and almost bought a little painting that caught my eye. Now I wish I could go back and get it. But still, it’s hard to earn a living as an artist. It’s not something most parents want for their children (conservatively speaking). They want them to be doctors or lawyers, or engineers. What about an engineering school out in the outback? How to get these kids learning and empowered to believe in their ability to be successful in the “white man’s world?” You can only make a change from the top down. If you can’t beat ‘em… I’m just saying.

Anyways, the walk in the Olgas was nice, and then we went back to camp for more sitting around the campfire. This time we make a really good fire and end up melting the fire pit. Also we get some neighbors from the next camp who come by and hang out for a minute. They are just out for 3 nights, so we’re like seasoned travelers by comparison. We love each other, we’ve bonded and we’re like a little family. Their group tells us about the night before they spent in Kings Canyon with mice crawling all over them in their swags. We keep hearing stories about the mice, about how on the last tour our guide woke up with mice all over his swag, trying to get into the warmth. And, we are going there tomorrow.

That afternoon we had some free time and Eric and Stu had a jump in the pool (ICE cold), then went over to check out the camels. You can go on a camel caravan into the desert. Then we brought some beers over to watch the sunset over Uluru.

We took some pictures and went back for dinner.

So this next morning we wake up a little later (9am?) and roll groggily out of the swags. Onto the bus to Kings Canyon and the mice. We drive out of the Ayers Rock Resort and hit the road, only to stop a short ways out. Why? To pick up a hitch hiker. Ha! More craziness, but it’s all good. It’s a guy from Austria, who barely speaks English. He’s got a huge smile and just laughs and answers “Yes!” to everything you ask him. Luckily we’ve got some German speakers aboard. He’s got a Nikon D90 and a tent, and has walked from the Ayer’s Rock airport. He wants to get to Alice Springs, but he’s coming with us now, as we’ll be there in two days. Apparently he’s supposed to be in Oz for 3 months, but is already out of money and he’s only been here for 12 days. He’s a little strange. Anyways…

So the hike today was amazing, lots of cool rock formations, canyons and prehistoric ripples. At the watering hole some people jump in, I don’t know how, it’s too cold, no way!

We walk back and sniff eucalyptus leaves on the way. Tonight is the last night in the outback. Dinner is hamburgers. The Austrian helps cook and we’ve found an enormous tree trunk to use as our fire. And best of all, there were NO MICE! I don’t know why.
Arrival in Alice Springs. A small town. People only come here as a dropping off spot before heading to Uluru, the Olgas and Kings Canyon. I guess better than Coober Pedy (which means white man’s hole), but still. The same groups of aborigines walking around barefoot, needing a shower. We are instructed not to walk around alone at night, as it’s quite dangerous. It’s a different vibe here, more backpackers walking around and the aborigines don’t look at us. They ignore us, and we ignore them. I can’t help but stare out of the corner of my eye. I’m just a tourist here, and I feel like an intruder. There’s one little main drag, and he drops us off at the hostels and we meet for dinner at 7. We have one last evening together, and it was a good time.

It was a good group, a good tour, and good fun. A GREAT start to the rest of my travels!
I have two nights in Alice, and spend the next day wandering the street with Ana, a German girl from the tour. She is really excited to buy a digeridoo, and we go to a free ½ hour workshop.

It’s surprisingly fun, and I learn how to make noises that kind of resemble the sound they’re supposed to make. We walk around, buy some souvenirs and pack- off tomorrow for Cairns!

29 June- July 3, 2011

Arrival in Cairns. It’s raining! But warm. Nights in the outback got down to 1 or 2 degrees C (30’s F). Here it’s tropical and I’m looking forward to SCUBA in the Great Barrier Reef. I meet up with a few from the tour who have also come here, we go for dinner and have a chat. I go the next day for scuba, we take a big boat out to Agincourt reef, leaving from Port Douglas, it’s at the edges of the continental cliff.

The ocean is rough, it’s raining and we go airborne a few times on the way out- thank god I took my seasick pills or I’d have been green as and miserable! The crew rush around, bundle us up into lycra suits and off we go, thrown into the sea. We go down about a metre and start practicing our skills. My goggles start to fill up with water- I have to go up to the surface and exchange them for the kids size. It was awkward, slow and cumbersome, I’m not used to all this equipment. I didn’t really like it. I was aware that if something happened to my equipment I would drown down there, and it wasn’t a good feeling. Especially after the goggle incident. But I give it another chance. (There was even a girl on board who didn’t like it at all, she came right back up and decided it wasn’t for her. So I didn’t feel quite so bad about not loving it.) The next dive was nicer, warmer and brighter as it had stopped raining. I was more comfortable and knew more of what to expect. And a sea creature came up to me and made friends! A huge fish, blue and green came up and bumped into us, nudging us and swimming around, he was like a dog, wanted to be patted! It was totally awesome and I felt more comfortable. So I went for a third dive… Experimented with swimming around the way I’m used to, and tried to get closer to some other creatures in the reef. It was an overall terrific and even emotional experience, entering this other world. It was exactly as I’d imagined it, except for the fear and awkwardness… I don’t know if I’ve got the “bug” but I would do it again. The other thing was the boat was too big- everything happened so quickly and we were so rushed.

So after the diving, everything else in Cairns just paled in comparison. The hostel was nice but boring. My roommates were nice and quiet and didn’t snore, and that was good. I spent the next two days just relaxing and catching up on trip planning and calling home, and enjoying the tropical weather. I didn’t even do any more tours- everything is so packaged and artificial. I’m looking forward to Asia, and some real adventure.

And now… off to Sydney! The best part- getting picked up by a friend from the airport and staying with her for a couple of days… Friends are the best part of traveling!

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