Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Changes in Latitude

After Alice Springs, I took off to Sydney for my last few days Down Under. I'd seen all my must see's in Sydney at the beginning of my trip so I was able to just totally chill out- eating good food, drinking lots of coffee and wine and visiting book shops. Alas, all good things must come to an end and on December 13th I flew back to Wyoming. My flips flops were in for a rude awakening as I stepped off the plane into the windy southwest Wyoming night. Mostly it's just been cold but we even had a semi-decent snowstorm one night (coincidentally it was the same night I'd promised my two-year old niece to go to the Chipmunk movie).
I've spent the last two weeks here in SW Wyoming with my family, enjoying seeing Christmas morning through the sleepy (and somewhat confounded) eyes of my itsy bitsy nieces. But the traveling bug has already bitten and I head off tomorrow again..... my short term itinerary is as follows....

Through Jan 3d- NYC (by way of Laramie, WY) to whoop it up with two of my very good friends
Jan 4th- home!
Jan 5th through 10th- Disney World (two of my friends are running in the marathon and I've been graciously offered a spot in their room at the Waldorf Astoria....I contemplated that offer for all of 2.7 seconds)
Mid January for a week to ten days- probably western Montana (checking out the uni, a girl can't travel forever, yanno)
End of Jan- looking like I may be heading to Thailand for 30 days. Nothing set in stone yet.

That's all I got in the hopper so far.

Oz's Red Center

Nothing like ending my year by uber super mondo way way way procrastination. Yanno, like, this post.

On the 6th of December I flew to Alice Springs from Cairns, and began a three-day tour of Australia's Red Center the following day. The tour itself was mostly marketed toward the backpacker crowd. You can infer that we had many luxuries. Your inference would be wrong. 21 passengers in a 21-passenger bus, pulling probably 8 hours a day in said bus, sleeping under the stars, battling ants, 40 degree Celsius daytime temps, and picnic'd meals. It was a little rough around the edges but it was good times, and by the end we were one big "United Colors of Benetton" family.
As with most things on a grand scale, the pictures from Kings Canyon in no way represent its vastness. This shot does not show off its beauty either but I was hoping to provide some slight idea of scale with the human folk in it.
They say it almost never, ever, ever rains in the outback. Well it rained when we were looking for firewood. And then that night at camp it started to rain once I got into my sleeping bag. I thought I'd ride out the rain, how much can it rain, after all? Well my swag and sleeping bag starting soaking through and I called quits to head for the covering (where the ants were worse).
Our second day took us to Kata Tjuta (pronounced Kotta Joota) for a 7 kilometer hike that would take us through the Valley of the Winds. Once again, the scale and the beauty of this place is lost through my index finger and shutter.
 The actual Valley of the Winds. Quite windy as you'd expect.
Later that same day, we explored Uluru a bit. We camped overnight nearby and were up before sunrise in order to watch the rock greet the day. We had a sunrise breakfast then we trekked off to hike the perimeter of the monolith.
IMAGINE the size of this rock! And while you are at it IMAGINE that Sarah could figure out a way to get these three pictures in a row vice stacked.
Only two water holes around that whole big rock.
Original Aboriginal drawings in an open-sided cave. This is only about a 1/3 of them in this specific cave, they ran about 15 feet long and 6 feet tall.
21 tour takers: an American (me!), a Brit, a Canadian, an Aussie, 3 Koreans, 2 Thais, 2 Dutchies, 2 Fins, 3 Mexicans, 1 Japanese, 1 Italian, 1 Spaniard, 1 Frenchie, and a German. Our tour guide was, as you'd expect, an Aussie.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Warning in the Northern Territory

Ooh, Alice.

Flew to Alice Springs on December 6th from Cairns. If you don't know, Alice Springs is in almost the very center of Australia. Flying in, looking out at the red red dirt and the open open land, I was reminded of a t-shirt I saw once about Cheyenne, Wyoming that said "Cheyenne: it's not the end of the world (but you can see it from here)" - Alice Springs is an old telegraph station that managed to live on as the largest town in the middle of far flung mining sites. Almost everything about The Alice reminded me of Southwest Wyoming- the landscape, the people, the hard scrabble existence, the beautiful sunsets. The biggest downside to Alice was that my hostel was,,,,,mmmn, er,,,,, it had a lot of character. What it did NOT have was air con. Temps well over a hundred during the day, and hardly below 90 at night.
 Some views from ANZAC hill. As hard as it is to believe, these pictures are, indeed, Alice Springs and not Sweetwater County, Wyoming.
 The actual ANZAC memorial.
 The aboriginal significance of the hill. You go, arragutye alknarintye.
 Lastly, sunset.

Roadtrip Roundup

(I'm back in the US, and finally have good internet, final Oz blog posts all shortly.)

On November 21st, I left Canberra in my Toyota Corolla, loaded up with travel food, 18 liters of water, a sleeping bag, a GPS (not that I thought it was really necessary, an opinion I would soon shed), and Pete Murray's crooning. December 1st, I pulled into my northern destination of Port Douglas- just an hour and a half north of my original destination of Cairns. Little side trips into towns, mountains and beaches excepted, my route looked something like this:
I put a little over 4000 kilometers on my rental (2500 miles for the metric impaired) --- I "car camped" five nights --- stayed in hostels the rest of the time --- I grew to love McDonald's and their free WiFi and their surprisingly good quality lattes --- I ate a lot of boiled eggs and tuna --- I mostly drank hard cider --- ran into very very few Americans; a family in Bundaberg, a backpacker in Airlie Beach and a few folks in Port Douglas- Americans, it seems don't travel or, perhaps, don't leave the big cities --- I got sunburnt once, damn you Noosa Heads and my blistered tata's (the sun was much stronger the further north I headed) --- paid as little as AUSD 1.36/liter for gas and as high as AUSD 1.51 - roughly $5.60 to $6.25 a gallon in US prices --- it rained on me for 1600 kilometers (Blue Mountains to Brisbane, essentially) --- there was one area I labeled "The Highway of Death" owing to the kangaroo carnage (seriously, like one every 1/8 of a mile) --- saw rainforests, forests, cities, towns, one and two building 'communities', shrub covered deserts, beaches, dried up lakes, miles upon miles of sugar cane fields, and macadamia trees, and corn, and bananas, and mangos, and lychees --- in all, this was perhaps my most favorite part of my most favorite holiday.
Blue Mountains.
"Highway of Death" area.
About 1500 kilometers into the 1600 kilometers of rain.
More rain further north. This prompted me to stop at an exotic fruit winery called Murdering Point.
The ferry to Cape Tribulation.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I Be Trib'ing

Captain Cook didn't like Cape Tribulation; that's why he named it that. Apparently that's where all that voyage's troubles started. Only about 60 kilometers north of Port Douglas, my home for a few days, I ventured up there today. It's a tropical rainforest and unique in Australia in that the rainforest goes all the way down to the beach. The road warnings, the croc warnings, the endangered species warnings, the verbal warnings about suddenly changing weather, the welcoming name of Mount Sorrow- all these meant that I had a superb day! It was slightly cloudy, but there was a breeze, hardly anyone up there. I had a good lunch, the drive was fine, and I got some pretty little coral pieces when I beachcombed. I may or may not have broken the law by beachcombing. I seriously don't know.
Welcome to Cape Trib!

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

In 2006 I got my PADI dive certification. I have SCUBA'd exactly zero times since then. Frankly, snorkeling is as enjoyable and a lot less hassle and math. Coming to the far northeast coast of Australia, however, made me rethink my SCUBA indifference. It is the Great Barrier Reef. So I opted for a day trip with Quicksilver Cruises and signed up for the 3-dive option. I'm glad I did. The water was warm, the visibility was awesome, the wildlife was abundant, the corals vibrant (can't tell in the pics, of course) and it was one of those moments in life when you keep thinking, "I can't believe I'm doing this!"
On the 3d of December, I boarded a 45 meter Catamaran along with about 25 other people and we pushed out about 8:30. Got to the first dive site about an hour and a half later. Had a 45 minute dive around a large pillar type coral- saw a rather large shark as well. It was hanging on the bottom and I was alright with it till I saw it start to move, then I got a little weirded out. But it just clung to the bottom.
These little blue thingies, like super fancy pipe cleaners were fun because if you waggled your hand in front of them they'd pop inside themselves. Some corals that were at least 10 meters high were positively covered in these things.
That's me! 
Second dive had a somewhat domesticated fish that the crew has named George. George is slow moving, big eyed, as big as an adult human and very loving. It leans into you to get you to pet it. It's like a dog.
Me petting George. 
George moving on in the hopes of finding somebody with a snack.
The third dive had stingrays, lots of them. No pictures of those. Most of them hung to the bottom but one started to swim around and appeared to be circling me and all that was going through my head was: STEVE IRWIN!
Another bold fish. This one was not friendly like George but obviously quite curious about the camera. It was probably 4 feet long and quite hefty looking from other angles.
I didn't feel as intense as I look.

My Northern Destination: Port Douglas

Advice I received in Canberra was spot on: go past Cairns and hit Port Douglas instead. I pulled into town on the first day of summer: December 1st. And I've been homesteading a bit. (I head out tomorrow for Cairns.) I pulled 3900 kilometers on my little rental car; plan to do a roadtrip roundup post later, complete with my route. But, for now, Port Douglas'  Four Mile Beach in the late afternoon.