Australia 2016 Part 13:  We’re moving again! (Death March to Sydney)

Friday, August 5, 2016

It was a dark and stormy night.  Just kidding.  Bulwer-Lytton aside, last night was pretty bad.  Genene finally stopped throwing up sometime after 10 PM.  She was so thirsty, but each time she tried to take a few sips of water or Gatorade, she threw up again.  Her belly needed a rest, and she finally just collapsed into blessed sleep.  Greg seemed slightly better, having only tossed his cookies twice in the early evening before collapsing into fitful slumber.  I felt like I was in the Monty Python “Bring out your dead!” scene from “Holy Grail.”  I was mopping foreheads, packing bags, and trying to get things situated for this morning.

We were moving again today.  When we first arrived at the resort, I thought I would never want to leave.  Now I just wanted to get us out of here and back to civilization.  None of us wanted any part of breakfast at the resort.  In the morning, Genene was just beginning to hold down some sips of Gatorade, and Greg just wanted to sleep until we had to go.  I didn’t have any appetite, and my tummy felt just a bit off.  I didn’t know whether I was just having sympathetic grumblings or whether something was really wrong.  (When you spend time in a room with two people who are retching the evening away, you begin to think about joining them.)  In any event, I did most of the packing because Greg and Genene still felt pretty low.  I got everything into our bags and prepared to head out.  The lodge wanted us out of our room by 8 AM, but I told them we weren’t leaving until the van was ready to load.  They did not argue.

Just before we left our room (the aptly named Shipwreck Goulbourn), our travel agent phoned to let us know that our flight to Sydney had been canceled.  And I thought the day couldn’t get any worse.  The good news is that they had already booked us on another one.  I was very happy that they had taken care of things for us, but it meant we would have a longer layover in Adelaide.

As we left our room, a couple of the lodge waitstaff rushed up and exclaimed, “You didn’t get any breakfast!  Would you like us to pack anything?”  Ugh.  No.  We said thanks but no thanks.  The massive double doors opened, and the staff all lined up to bid their goodbyes.  Miss Peppermint Tea told me to have a pleasant journey.  I was reminded of the Stepford lifeguard on the Barrier Reef.  What the heck are you thinking of, lady?  We are the walking dead here!

We had discreetly asked the hotel manager if we could ride up front in the van, because I thought that would help us with carsickness.  No one paid attention to our request, and we got shoved into the back of the van.  It was completely loaded, and everyone was quiet on the hourlong ride back to Kingscote except for the little California boy who had spent his time two nights ago chasing kangaroos.  He was in the front seat with the driver yapping about nothing, and I wanted to put a pillow over his head.  I was just hoping that Greg and Genene could keep their act together–so to speak–so we would not have to stop the van.  I had packed an entire roll of toilet paper into the backpack just in case.  Happily we all made it to the airport and got checked in.  There weren’t even any metal detectors at this airport.  I don’t think our bags went through any screening, except for being weighed.  I guess they figure if you flew to the island you must be okay.

As we sat in the small terminal gate area waiting for the plane, we began comparing notes with other people from Southern Ocean Lodge.  Three of the four members of the family from Calgary were ill.  The family from Des Moines had two sick people.  We saw another fellow sitting in the corner with his head hanging low.  Then we found out that one of the van drivers was a substitute because the regular employee was afflicted with illness. This seemed like a lot of sick people for a resort that only has 21 rooms.  Greg and I began to get more annoyed as we thought about it.  When we were sitting in our room all day yesterday, we were only made aware of one other person who had been ill.  It turned out  that a lot more of us were sick.  Was it food poisoning?  Flu?  Virus?  We didn’t know, but we knew there were several of us afflicted.  I was dismayed that we were not offered better onsite medical care or first aid.  With 20/20 hindsight and knowing how many people were affected, I thought that the resort should have brought a doctor to all of us, or at least gone out for a stockpile of medicine and electrolytes.  We watched the incoming plane unload, and the Southern Ocean Lodge people were waiting–all smiles and charm–to greet the newcomers.  I thought about saying something to them, perhaps giving a warning.  In the end, I just sat quietly.  I hope it was the right decision.

Our flight back to Adelaide was 20 minutes.  I felt like we were returning to civilization.   Our airline, REX, was efficient. During the brief flight, they offered a small bottle of water and a single fruity Mentos.  I thought it was a nice touch for the little puddle jumper.    We had stored our large bags with REX in Adelaide while we went to the island, and they were waiting for us in Adelaide on the luggage carousel, just as promised.  At least that part worked right.  We took a moment to unpack the safari duffels and repack everything into our three rolling bags, and we headed into the main terminal.

Greg and Genene felt like eating lunch, and so did I.  That was a good sign.  We didn’t miss those fancy gastronomical experiences one bit.  We found a café, and each of us had a simple croissant with ham and cheese and a big old fully leaded Coke.

Greg fell asleep in the terminal.  He still felt pretty weak.

Our layover in the airport in Adelaide was long, about five hours.  Genene sat quietly and listened to music on her iPhone.  I tried to nap but couldn’t manage it.

I began to feel a little “off”.  I hoped it was just my imagination but alas….

The time to leave finally came.  It took us forever to board the plane, and we were so far in the back that we loaded from the rear door of the aircraft.  Once aboard, I had a small altercation with a rude man who thought he should take up the entire overhead bin with his jacket and briefcase.  When I tried to move it to make room for my camera backpack, he admonished me not to wrinkle his jacket.  I said, “Why don’t you consolidate it then?”  (After all, his jacket and a small briefcase were taking up half the bin.)  He got up to move it and then told me my bag was too large for compartment.  I finally said never mind and went forward a few more rows and found a spot for my bag.  On the way back, I looked at him and said, “Thanks for your help.”  My heart was gladdened a few minutes later when a big burly man put his gear on top of the guy’s jacket.  I’ll bet the Bin Hog didn’t argue with the Muscle Man quite so much.

Just as we got to cruising altitude, I came to the sad but inevitable conclusion that my stomach rumblings were not in my imagination.  I knew I was going to be sick.  Luckily we were only three rows from the back of the plane.  I jumped up quickly, airsick bag in hand, and managed to make it to the galley area in the back of the plane where the jump seats are.  I was out of sight of most everyone, thank goodness, when I tossed up the first load.  The flight attendant was a sweet man.  He was my angel, the Angel of the Qantas.  I couldn’t believe how helpful he was.  He got a cold wet napkin for my face and gave me some Vicks “lollies” (candies) to “get the yucky taste out.”  I felt miserable.  He let me sit in the jump seat for the entire flight with my head hanging low.  The flight was just under two hours, which seemed like an eternity as I sat there watching them unload coffee and snacks from the rear galley.

Of course, just as we were coming down to land, the second bout of sickness struck. This time was the real McCoy.  I filled the sick bag.  It was nasty.  (To bring to mind another Monty Python scene, “just one wafer thin mint.”)  The Angel advised me to just toss the airsick bag into the trash.  The flight was about to land! I managed to squeeze into a bathroom and tried to throw away the sick bag.  I was in a hurry because I knew I had to take my seat for the landing, and I felt like ten kinds of crap.  I tried to shove the bag into the trash, but we all know what the airplane trash cans look like at the end of a flight.  It was so full that the little trap door didn’t want to open.  There I was, rushing to shove that bag in, get rid of the evidence, and hustle back to my seat before the air marshals came for me.  I pushed a little too hard on the trash can lid, and the entire contents of the bag basically exploded onto me, the side wall of the bathroom, the floor, you name it.  It looked like the walls were weeping.  I have never been so mortified in all my life.  I was walking in it.  It was all over me.  I kept apologizing to The Angel.  I tried to clean it up but just made things worse.  The Angel was undoubtedly one of the most gallant men I have ever met.  He acted as if this happened every day and was not a big deal.  (I hope his job isn’t really like that.)  He told me not to worry and said, “The ground crew can clean it up when we arrive. ”

I walked back to my seat in disgrace, tracking the evidence of my shame along behind me.  My clothes were spotted.  I stank.  With each step, I could feel the stickiness beneath my feet.  I can never fly Qantas again without wearing a bag over my head.  When the plane landed, I let every single person get off the plane before I got up, including the three rows behind me.  They deserved to get off first for having to put up with that hideous funk!

Our driver was waiting for us at the baggage carousel, and so were our bags.  I guess when you are the last one off the plane, your bags have time to make it to the claim area.   We warned the driver that I was sick and refrained from the usual handshakes and pleasantries.  He got us to our destination swiftly and without commentary (except for the usual grumbling that experienced drivers do in a big city).

We were returning to Pier One in Sydney, the same hotel where we began our stay in Australia.  I felt distinctly unhip this time.  The glass of champagne they offered us upon arrival was unappetizing (so you know I was really sick!).  We asked them to bring ginger ale to our room,  and we went directly to our suite and called a doctor.  How novel!  They had a doctor on staff and for a price he would make a house call.  While waiting for the doctor, I hosed myself off in the shower and bundled all my clothes into plastic.   In 40 minutes, the doctor arrived, rolling medicine bag in tow, and checked us out.  I didn’t have fever.  The doctor told us that our symptoms were “suggestive of food poisoning” but he couldn’t be sure.  Whatever it was, it was nasty.  He dispensed a fistful of medicines for all of us, and Pier One added his bill to our tab.  We felt pampered by Pier One.  They knew how to take care of a sick person!  They brought cold bottles of water and called to make sure we were okay.

We knew we would be in no condition to tour tomorrow so with sadness we called to cancel our plans.  I was particularly let down, because the one thing I felt had been missing from our tour thus far was real and meaningful interaction with aboriginal people.  Tomorrow’s tour called for a traditional aboriginal welcome in a sacred area in a national park.  It was our last chance to learn more about their culture.  When we phoned our guide to cancel, he tried to convince us to change our minds.  This only made us feel lower because we really wanted to go.  However, none of us could really be persuaded to wake up early after our death march across Australia.  We took our medicines, turned off all the alarms, and went to bed.

Australia 2016 Part 12:  Clifftop Walk and a Bad Afternoon

Thursday, August 4, 2016

We settled into the lap of luxury for one more full day.  We started another morning with a hearty breakfast in courses at the lodge.  We all had fruits and pastries to start, and then waited for our hot courses.  I had a salmon omelette.  Genene had the French toast.  Greg ate bircher muesli, whatever that is.  We had a morning walk scheduled, and our afternoon itinerary called for a trip to Seal Bay Conservation Park.

The lodge prides itself on its eco-friendly footprint–guilt-free, fancy pants accommodations.  They collect rain water for irrigation.  Their foods are locally sourced, whenever possible.  These solar panels were visible from the side of the lodge opposite the ocean.

You can actually review a memo in the Great Room each day on how much electricity and water was used to run the lodge.  That’s my kind of detail.

At 9:30 we met several of the other lodge guests and found our old friend Shane, the forester’s son.  He was taking us on the clifftop walk.  I was happy to see him because he is young and enthusiastic.  Everyone remembers Australia’s first conservationist star, Steve Irwin.  Shane had the same sort of enthusiasm, but in a more muted way.  He clearly enjoys talking about the plants and animals of his homeland.  It was an absolutely glorious day, and we took off right out the back door of the lodge and headed to the cliffs.  Shane explained that people go to Africa to see the big mammals, but you come to Australia for reptiles.  There’s one list that says that of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world, Australia has 21 of them.  Shane told us that while it was true that Australia has a lot of snakes, it actually ranks pretty low in terms of the numbers of people killed by the slithering spawn of Satan.  One reason is that most of these poisonous snakes are in remote regions, where they are unlikely to come into contact with people.  By way of example, people in India are much more likely to get snakebitten than an Australian, just because the snakes and the people in India are on top of each other.  In contrast, the population in Australia is concentrated along the edge of the continent, away from the snake habitats.  Australia also has access to a lot more anti-venom treatments, lowering the threat.  In spite of Shane’s reassurances,  we all watched where we set our feet.  That’s another thing I learned from Daddy while walking in the woods.

On the cliff walk, we were also on the look-out for the heath goanna, a big lizard that can grow up to 5 feet long.  The goanna cannot control its body temperature so it has to sit out in the sun until it can become active.  It lives in burrows in the ground or in hollow logs.  The goanna lays her eggs in the center of an existing termite mound.  (Remember how the brushturkey in the Daintree built a mulch-mound for its eggs?  The goanna does the same thing only she takes advantage of someone else’s work.)  Momma Goanna seals up the egg chamber.  The termites work at keeping the mound at the right temperature for themselves, and that works for the goanna eggs too.   Momma Goanna waits for the eggs to hatch 8 months later. The baby lizards eat termites until Momma Goanna comes back to get them.  She helps them get to the surface of the termite mound, where they can get some sun.  Sadly we never saw the goanna.  I am not sad to say that we did not see any snakes, either.

The clifftop walk was absolutely stunning.

Our walk was pretty leisurely.  We had to go single file along the cliff top, and we all kept an easy pace.  Shane would stop periodically to point out a plant, a bee, or a goanna hole.  At one of the stops, we had a bit of excitement. Shane had his back to the cliff’s edge while giving his lecture, and his foot slipped.  He dropped to the next level down, which was only about a 1 1/2 feet.  Shane was caught off guard by the slip, and he went all the way down to his rear.  I know he was glad there was a step down!  A couple of us reached out and held onto him, mostly just to make him feel secure.  He was not in any danger of falling, but there was a look of real fear in his eyes.  He admitted feeling a bit foolish because he had been warning us not to get too close to the ledge.  He didn’t follow his own advice and nearly paid a big price.

Shane, come back!  Splat.

We stepped out onto a rocky promontory, and Shane told us he had something exciting to show us.  I was so glad we had brought a set of binoculars and my zoom lens.  I found myself wishing again for my 500 mm lens.  In the next shot, you can see it:  a pair of ospreys on their nest. There’s a triangular-shaped rock in the next photo, just to the right of center in the lower third of the frame.  At the top of the rock you can make out the large brown nest.  At the top of the nest, you can see two black spots:  those are the ospreys’ heads.  What a fabulous place to build a nest!  They can just go fishing and come straight back up to eat.  As I watched through the binoculars, one of them left the nest, swooped to the water, grabbed a fish and flew back up.  Spectacular!

Here is the view of Southern Ocean Lodge from the cliff top.  Our room was at the top of the lodge, closest to the Great Room.  The hallway is fairly steep.  Luckily for us, it was an easy walk to the wine cellar and beer refrigerators!

We got to the clifftop trail turnaround, and Shane gave us the choice of continuing on or turning back with the group.  The trail was plainly blazed, and there was no danger of getting lost.  Shane told us if we kept going a little ways, we would get an even better vantage point on the osprey nest.  Who can say no to that?  Our family and the fellow from Calgary chose to continue the clifftop walk and the rest of the group turned back.

What a reward for our efforts!  The ospreys were clearly visible on their nest.

Our friend Constantine was visibly moved.  He told us that he was a pilot and said, “Seeing these birds speaks to my soul.”  Even when we were ready to turn back, he kept heading away from us up the path, clearly enthralled.  We bade him a good morning, and watched the birds for a few more minutes.

We took a last look out at the sea, and started back toward the lodge.  We needed to save enough time to have lunch and then get ready for the afternoon tour to Seal Bay.

As we got closer to the lodge, Genene began complaining that her stomach was “off.”  At first, I thought it was just another case of the schnitzel scamper we had in Sydney, but she said this was different.  She said she felt nauseous and really, really, really needed to get back to the room.  We gave her the room key and she went ahead.  I hollered at her and she stopped once for this shot and then was gone.

By the time, we got to the room, Genene was violently ill.  It was one of those situations where she didn’t know whether to sit on the pot or hover over it or both.  She was losing all that fancy food from both ends.

After a while, we tried to get her to come to lunch with us, but she couldn’t touch it or even think about it.  She drank a couple of sips of tea at the lunch table and asked to go back to the room.  We let her and continued dining without her.  We were sad because we knew we had to cancel the planned afternoon excursion to Seal Bay Conservation Park.  There was no way she could stray far from the bathroom, and she was too sick to leave alone.

The lodge staff tried to help, but they had limited weapons in their arsenal.  They had a cute boutique gift shop, where you could buy slippers, earrings, wine, honey, artwork and so on.  What they did not have in the fancy shop was ANY first aid medicines.  I usually travel with a large bag of over-the-counter medicines, but since we were traveling in the “first world,” I trimmed my first aid bag down considerably.  I figured that I could pop out to the drug store if needed.  That was a mistake.  We didn’t even have any Immodium, and we were far away from civilization.   The lodge employees tried to pitch in, but they really were not equipped to deal with our situation.  They brought a pot of freshly brewed peppermint tea, and someone raided the staff refrigerator to come up with two small bottles of Gatorade.  Another employee found a box of Immodium and gave to us.  They offered to take Genene into town to the doctor, but this would have meant a one-hour trip in the car.  There was no way she could have been away from the bathroom for that long!  She was having to make a run for it every 10 to 15 minutes.  We had no choice but to tough it out and “shelter in place.”  We took her fancy rollaway bed from its prime spot in the window and rolled that baby right up to the bathroom door.  That way, she could travel the minimum distance between trips from bed to toilet.

This picture tells the tale:  bed near the toilet; peppermint tea on the table, along with ginger ale and Immodium.  Our fancy stay had taken an ugly turn.

And then things went from bad to worse.

Greg began to feel nauseous.  And he got sick too.  I was the last man standing, so to speak.  It was no fun for me, playing the part of nurse.  To quote some Star Trek, “Dammit, Jim!  I’m a lawyer, not a nursemaid!!!”  I was mopping their heads with warm washcloths and trying to keep track of which glass was whose.  (I sure as heck didn’t want to drink after either of them!  We did not know whether this was food poisoning, a virus, or some kind of plague.)

I felt okay, but I wasn’t taking any chances after watching Greg and Genene.  I dug into my first aid bag and took a Cipro, which was left over from our trip to Thailand last year.  At least I was smart enough to pack some prescription drugs.  I never thought I would need a Cipro in Australia!  I checked back in with the lodge staff, and the same lady offered to brew us another pot of peppermint tea.  This time, I wanted to slap her for offering.  I wanted some real medicine for my sick family!  Greg and Genene spent the afternoon alternating between moaning, groaning and sleeping while I stared out the window.  Late in the day, I did slip out of the room for a moment to get a glass of red wine from the bar, but I was afraid to eat fancy food in the dining room.  I asked the staff bring me a tray of meats and cheese to the room, and I settled in for the long haul.

Our itinerary called for us to leave tomorrow, and I hoped we would be able to travel.  What a sad ending to our stay.  The lodge was supposed to be our splurge.  Instead it was our scourge.  We would not be sticking our toes in the Southern Ocean. Genene never even made it down to the beach.  There would be no iconic photo of us standing next to seals and kangaroos with the Southern Ocean in the background.

I spent my last evening at the lodge hoping that Genene and Greg would be able to settle down and sleep…and hoping that I wouldn’t be next.

Australia 2016 Part 11: The Wonders of Kangaroo Island

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Our plan for relaxation and sleeping in changed.  Southern Ocean Lodge scheduled us for two tours today, and we really wanted to see all that the island has to offer and so we said yes.  Our morning tour was billed as “The Wonders of Kangaroo Island.”

Having breakfast in courses is always a good start.  We began with pastries, followed by a seasonal fruit plate.  We rounded off the morning with a hot course of eggs and sausages, lest we starve on our morning tour.

Our guide for the day was Shane (Come back, Shane!  Come back!). He was a young, energetic redheaded Australian with his hair in a neat pony tail. He told us that he was the son of a forester, and I felt an instant kinship with him.  I’ve noticed that since Dad died, there are reminders of him everywhere, even in unlikely places–a man on Kangaroo Island, a tree at Uluru.  Grief is odd that way.  It has a way of finding you wherever you are.

The touring van was fully loaded.  There was a family of four from Canada, an older couple from Adelaide who came over on the ferry, and a French/Swedish couple.  It is always fun to find out where people are from and where they have been in the states.  We also like to get tips on where to go in their countries.  The people you meet on the road all have good traveling tales, just as we do.

Our first stop was a koala preserve.  We walked through a line of eucalyptus trees and cast our eyes upward.  It didn’t take Shane long to spot some of the furry fellows.  (He confessed later that someone else comes out earlier in the morning and puts flags at the bases of all the trees where koalas are spotted.  Cheaters!)

It was hard to get good pictures of most of them.  They look like a large black ball in the tree branches.  To give an Arkansas comparison, the koala in the tree looks a little like a very small squirrel’s nest at first.  Then your eyes adjust and you can see arms or legs moving and make out the shape.  Finally we found a koala that I could get a good camera angle on.  He was wedged into the branch and trunk of the tree, so I was able to get to one side and take advantage of some of the natural light.

The koala looks like a giant teddy bear, but do not be fooled.  They have large powerful claws and can be aggressive.  Shane told the story of one of the cooks at Southern Ocean Lodge who kept trying to get a koala to take his hat off.  The koala ended up punching him in the face, barely missing his eye with the claw.  They cannot see very well, which may explain some of their aggression.  You might swing first too if you couldn’t see what was coming at you.  The koala sleeps up to 21 hours a day.  They are marsupials, giving birth to an underdeveloped baby that crawls into its mother’s pouch, staying for the first six to seven months of life.  They are fully weaned at about a year.  They have few natural predators and parasites.  Their diet is their Achilles heel.  They eat eucalyptus leaves, and that’s it.  The species is threatened mostly because of habitat destruction.   Shane told us that koala meat does not make good eating.  Because of their exclusive diet, they absorb too much of the eucalyptus taste/odor.  Shane told the old joke about how the aborigines used to cook koala.  They put the carcass in a pot with two rocks and boil it.  Then they throw out the koala and eat the rocks.


What we did learn as we sat and watched this fellow is that koalas have big bladders.  As we watched, this guy urinated, and the stream ran all the way down the tree in a gush.  Then he took a dump.  He looked around for a minute and then jumped to a new limb, since he had completely soiled his sitting area.  Then he let out some kind of noise that was a cross between a pig grunt and a growl.  Charming!

Shane said that we were lucky to see him being so active, since koalas spend so much of the day sleeping.  I guess we caught this fellow in his three hour window of whizz/poop/grunt!

Our next stop was the lighthouse at Cape du Couedic. The loss of 71 lives from three major shipwrecks in the late 1800s led to the construction of this lighthouse, Kangaroo Island’s third such structure.  Stone and sand were gathered from nearby to construct the lighthouse.  Water for construction was gathered from a well constructed nearly 500 feet downhill.  Water was carried up the hill by bucket. The light was first lit in 1909 with visibility to 27 miles seawards.  The fuel for the light was kerosene.  Originally, three families lived on the island to man the lighthouse, and conditions were harsh.  Fresh supplies arrived only every three months, and sometimes the seas were so rough that the boats could not get close enough to deliver the supplies, which meant the families had to stretch their rations for another three months.    The light was automated when converted to acetylene gas in 1957, and they finally got electricity out here in 1974.

As we walked down toward Admiral’s Arch, we were treated to one of the most magnificent rainbows I have ever seen.  Before our eyes, it changed from partial to full to double.

And this guy was hiding in the rocks.

And these fellows were surfing in the water.

Whoa!  It’s a double rainbow, man!

Can you see all the fur seals in this photo?  Shane claimed that he had never seen so many at Admiral’s Arch.

Admiral’s Arch was loaded with fur seals on this day.

The pups frolicked together.  We all spent a long time just watching them play.  Genene was particularly amused by the youngsters.  They belly-flopped and slid into each other.  They had mock battles.  And then they all hit the water together.

The sea looked very rough.

The roof of Admiral’s Arch is uneven.  These icicle-like structures look like stalactites, but they are not:  these are petrified roots of long gone trees.  The sea water has eroded the rock, leaving the roots.  Eventually, the arch will lose its roof, and the remaining rock will become an islet.  The sea will begin to erode the next inland rock and will form another arch.

The seal pups were fearless.  They swam in the rough surf with abandon.

None of us wanted to leave Admiral’s Arch, but the tour had to continue.  We piled back into the van and headed onward.

We stopped to look at the remains of the storage area once used by the lighthouse settlers.  As I already mentioned, the families had to wait 3 months for their supplies.  In 1907, this jetty and the “flying fox” (a winch) were constructed, and that made movement of materials up the hill a little bit easier.  For 24 years, almost everything, including visitors, was winched up this hill.  An overland service did not begin until 1930.  Nearby was the ruin of the storage shed, which was partitioned into three rooms, so that the families could separate their rations and avoid disagreements.

Those early settlers had a stunning view, but life must have been hard.

We took a rest stop, and I had to get this picture of the handwashing station.  What a great way to use rainwater!

Our last stop was Remarkable Rocks, a collection of striking granite boulders on the edge of the sea. They have been eroded by the crashing sea and the wind over 500 million years.  Many of the rocks are colored by golden orange lichen, which can be slippery when wet.  It was drizzling lightly, so we had to step carefully.  Shane told us to be on the lookout for all the different shapes in the rocks.  It was a bit like cloud-watching.

All of us found the pig.  Woo pig sooie!

Can you see the camel?

I think this rock is paying homage to Uluru.

We all scrabbled around on the rocks.  Genene and I were feeling silly, so we kept looking at each rock and exclaiming in our best English accents:  “Remarkable!”  (You can’t take us anywhere.)  After a while, we got tired of getting rained on and the rocks had stopped being remarkable, and so we all went back up the boardwalk to our van and headed back.

We returned to the lodge for lunch.  We all had a tomato salad for a first course.  Genene had risotto with blue cheese.  Greg and I had smoked salmon tartarine with fennel, along with a side salad.  Dessert was ice cream made with condensed buttermilk with crumbled almonds and some kind of candied fruit.  It was all good.

After lunch, I was ready for a nap.  Greg and Genene found a chess board, and Genene asked her dad to teach her how to play.  Apparently they had a pretty spirited game of chess because they were gone a long time while I was snoozing.  Greg said that he beat her, but it was close.  He doesn’t want to play her again.

They eventually joined me in the room, and everyone agreed that a nap was a good idea.

Here is a shot of Genene taking a nap in her fancy bed with her beloved stuffed dog Senior.  She has had him since her first Christmas, and he has been on all our trips except for Peru.  (Genene cried when she realized she had forgotten him on that trip.)   I think I saw Senior staring off to Antarctica and dreaming of knocking off his seventh continent.  He’s on his own for that one because I have no interest.

We spent a little time hanging around the bar, which is all-inclusive and always open.  Wouldn’t you?

Our evening tour was called “Kangaroos and Kanapes.”  (Aren’t they cute with the K’s?)   Our driver told us the alternate name for it:  Roos and Booze.   We piled into the van and made a short trip to a grassy field full of kangaroos.

We learned that a group of kangaroos is called a mob, and we definitely had a mob on our hands here.  Baby kangaroos are called joeys, as are the offspring of all marsupials.   (So the koala has a joey too.)  I wanted to see a joey in the pouch, but we could not spot one.

Our guide explained that we should approach the kangaroos with caution.  While not aggressive, they can attack if they feel threatened.  She suggested that we approach them using the same principles as the old childhood game, red-light-green-light.  As you approach, as long as the kangaroo keeps grazing, you may continue to advance.  If it puts its head up to look at you like the one below…stop.  When the kangaroo begins to graze again, you may step forward another step, and so on.

The field was full, and our guide invited us to spread out and “find your own kangaroos.”

We all walked among them.  I was a little disappointed in one young man in our group.  His family was from California, and the boy was about Genene’s age.  He had a camera and he was excited to get an up-close shot of the kangaroo.  He paid no attention to the red-light-green-light concept and instead walked quickly toward all of them.  The kangaroos’ responses were universal:  they simply hopped away out of range.  The boy would change directions and walk quickly toward the next batch, to the same effect.  I could tell that he had never been hunting in his life.  He had no concept of how to approach cautiously.  It was aggravating because he would walk from batch to batch and thought nothing of running off kangaroos that we were trying to approach.  It took us quite a while to spread out into a different part of the field to get away from him.  Kids will be kids.

We managed to get up pretty close and I got some good shots.

Yes, that is dried kangaroo poop on the ground all around this guy.  The field was loaded with it.

We happily followed the kangaroos around the field as the sun went down.  At dusk, we walked to the nearby cabin, where our hosts had prepared wines and appetizers.  Our guide told us about the people who had once lived in Edwards Cabin.  Their story was one of a hard life.  The man of the story, Clem, was a native of Kangaroo Island and convinced his young wife, Lucy, to leave the big city of Adelaide, come to the island and live with him.  They had one son, Robert, but Clem died of cancer when Robert was still a toddler.  Lucy raised her son all alone there.  She stayed loyal and true to the island and the land.    She lived a hard life there without electricity and running water.  When her son grew up, he met a woman, married her, left the island and didn’t come back.  Mom was broken-hearted and donated the cabin and nearby land to the conservation society.  People in the community have a shorthand way of referring to anyone who lives a hard life in the country:  they call it “pulling a Lucy.”

We also learned that Kangaroo Island was once inhabited by aboriginal people, but they were gone by the time of European settlement.  There is physical evidence that they were on the island from about 16,000 years ago to 2,000 years ago. Why and how they left the island remains a mystery.  Mainland indigenous people call the island “Karta” which means “Land of the Dead.”  Creepy!

We were so happy with our day.  We started with koalas in the trees and ended with roos and booze in the field.  And now we got to roll back to our resort just in time for drinks and dinner.  What more could you want?

We got back to the lodge and changed out of our roo poo shoes and tried to spiff up. We made our way to the dining room to start another long hard evening of three-course dining.  First we had a little starter:  a bit of lamb bacon with beef-fat fried crouton.  For the appetizer, Greg had American River oyster, and Genene and I had some shaved pumpkin, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin seeds.  For the main course, Greg and Genene had free range pork cheek with roasted cauliflower.  I had kingfish on a bed of sweet savoy cabbage.  For dessert,  Greg had green apple and rose macaroons, while Genene and I had olive oil ice cream with chocolate cake side.  We were feeling really fancy so we got them to bring us a cheese tray to finish.  We are definitely not “pulling a Lucy.”

Tomorrow, our itinerary calls for us to take a cliff top walk and go to Seal Bay.  Are we really finishing our last full day here tomorrow? Didn’t we just get here?  I want to be pampered some more!

Australia 2016 Part 10: Kangaroo Island

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

This morning, we made the short jump from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island.  We were flying a regional airlines, REX, with a very strict weight limit on bags, so yesterday we spent time loading our safari duffel bags so that we could leave our larger rolling bags behind.  We did not know exactly how luggage storage would work, but our driver told us that REX would be able to tell us everything.  I had spent some time the night before tossing and turning because I didn’t know exactly how it would all pan out.  I should not have worried.  REX knew just what to do:  they checked our bags to be stored and told us they would be waiting for us when we got off our return flight (fingers crossed).  They charged us $7.70 per bag (Aussie dollars, which are worth about 80 cents each).   Our biggest problem was that my backpack (loaded to the gills with camera gear) was overweight.  No worries, mate.  Greg’s backpack was much lighter so I unloaded two heavy lenses, enough to balance the load, and we were off to the gate.  As soon as we got there, we returned the lenses to my camera bag, which has better padding.  I am not sure why they wouldn’t just let us average the weights but we got it done.

Our chariot awaits.

We left at about 9:30 AM.  The flight was short, about 30 minutes.  We were each in single side seats on different rows so there was no visiting.

We always like to have one “splurge” locale and hotel on our trips, one place where we enjoy creature comforts and fine dining.  We selected Southern Ocean Lodge for this trip.  They run an all-inclusive eco-resort on the island, and the price of the room is all-inclusive:  food, beverage, minibar,walks, tours.  There are only 21 rooms at the lodge, so it is billed as THE exclusive spot for Australia’s Galapagos.  Woo pig sooie!  We are about to get fancy!  When we got off the plane, the Southern Ocean Lodge representatives were waiting for us.  Eleven of us boarded the bus and began the hourlong journey to our lodge.  Along the way, our guide asked if we wanted to stop and look for the mother whale and baby that have been seen from the shore at Hanson Bay.  The vote from the passengers was unanimous, thank goodness.  “Of course!”  Our driver said it was quite unusual to see a whale here this time of year, especially in the bay.  This whale had recently calved, and the theory was that she was making sure her baby could travel before moving out.  We were so lucky.  Moments after we piled out of the van at Hanson Bay, we saw her.  Again, I wished I had my 500 mm lens, but I got her with the 300 as best I could.

Thar she blows!

You can see from head to fin in this one.

We hadn’t even arrived at the resort yet, and we had already seen a whale!  Magical!We arrived at the Lodge in the late morning.  An entourage came out to greet us, calling us all by name.  Our bags were whisked away, as we walked down a pathway, approaching a large set of double doors.  As we approached, they opened, and more staff members greeted us.  Greg felt as if he needed to click his heels together and salute.  We stepped into the most stunning great room I have ever seen.

The dining area has a view of the lodge and the Southern Ocean.

We were invited to sit down in the great room and have a glass of wine.  I felt more relaxed already.  Each family made itself at home in different areas.  A lodge representative soon found us and discussed our proposed itinerary.  She told us that it was only a suggestion, but their plans for us included some tours.  Today would be free, but tomorrow morning, there would be a morning tour of the island, and tomorrow evening, a trip to see kangaroos in the wild was scheduled.  Thursday, there was to be a morning cliff top walk and in the afternoon a tour to Seal Bay.  I realized that I might have to reconsider the “no tour” idea I had in my brain.  After our briefing, she showed us to our room, and our bags were already stacked in the closet.  She showed us how everything worked, including the floor warmers!  The view from our room was simply spectacular.

Each of the 21 rooms is named for a Kangaroo Island shipwreck (foreshadowing!), and a book about all of the shipwrecks is in each room.  Our room was the Goulbourn.  We eagerly read our about room’s namesake.  The Goulbourn was an iron barge that left under the tow of a steam tug, the Melbourne.  The crew on the Goulbourn consisted of the master, two crewmen, and a cabin boy.  On June 29, 1866, they encountered rough weather, and there is some indication that the captain of the steam tug may have led them off course, as they were not even slated to come to Kangaroo Island.  The Goulbourn took on water.  The tug hung around until the Goulbourn sank but never got close enough to render assistance.  People watched the barge go down from shore and were critical of the tug captain and his failure to launch a rescue attempt, but they did admit that the seas were rough and they could not mount a rescue from land.  As soon as the Goulbourn sank, the tug proceeded on its journey.  The crew of the Goulbourn was never found.  Nice knowin’ you, mate!  Where’s Gordon Lightfoot when you need him to strike up a happy tune?

The view from our deck.

I like this next shot.  I am actually outside taking a photo of Genene in the room.  Her smile is genuine.  As soon as she saw the comfy chairs, the lamington welcome, the fully stocked minibar and her bed sitting in the window, she said, “This is the life!”

The iPhone panorama shot is pretty useful when you want to show the big picture.  Get a load of Genene’s bed, sitting in the window.  She’s got the best view of all.

After some obligatory wallowing on the fine sheets and rifling through the minibar, we washed up and headed to the great room for our three course lunch.  We all started with yellowtail kingfish ceviche.  Genene and I had slow cooked lamb with charred corn.  Greg had Boston bay mussels with fennel.  For dessert, we ate rock melon with honey infused parfait.  We were like pigs in slop.

An aside about honey, which appeared a lot on our menu on Kangaroo Island. Honey is an important export on Kangaroo Island.  The island is the world’s oldest bee sanctuary.  Ligurian bees were imported from Italy in the 1880’s and released on the island.  In one of the few success stories involving introduced species, the Ligurian bee has made a good home on the island.  Due to the island’s isolation, the bee has remained free of the diseases that have afflicted bees worldwide.  Infected bees cannot fly to Kangaroo Island because it is too far, and the Ligurian bees on the island have remained genetically pure.  Bees, beehives, beekeeping equipment, honey, pollen, beeswax–all are prohibited on Kangaroo Island.

Here are Greg’s fancy mussels.

After lunch we strolled around the great room and common areas.  I found the wine room and made Greg take a picture of me.

The Razorback in slop.

We came back to our room and continued to be dazzled by it.  We stared out the window for a while, thinking thoughts like “I’m king of the world!!”  Genene spent some time drawing.  Her friend Jose from Rome tasked her long distance via Facebook with sketching Uluru from memory, and she sat on the floor happily and worked on that project.  Greg and I took a short nap.  By the time we awoke, Genene was sleepy and wanted to stay in the room.  We let her nap while we took a walk.

There was a long boardwalk winding through the scrubby trees and bushes down to the beach.  We needed our jackets for the afternoon was very cool.  A wind from Antarctica was blowing on us.  The water is the bluest I have ever seen.

The waves were big and rough, and shoreline was littered with rocks.  I felt sorry for the poor men of the Goulbourn.  They never stood a chance when they hit the water.

As Greg and I strolled along the beach, a light rain caught us off guard so we made our way back up the boardwalk.  We hadn’t even stuck our feet into the Southern Ocean.  We told ourselves we would bring Genene back tomorrow or the next day and check that off our list.

We went back to our room, roused Genene from her slumber, an explored the rest of the lodge.  There was no TV in our room, but there was a common room with a large TV and DVD player, as well as board games and cards.  Perhaps we will have a movie night tomorrow or Thursday.  There was also a separate building with a  spa.  A massage sounded great, but I wasn’t sure when I would fit it in with all the activities that had been suggested to us already.

From 6 to 7, drinks and canapés were served in the great room, and we indulged.  The lodge places an emphasis on Australian wines, and I tried some Shiraz and Cabernet.  Some wines are even produced on the island.  Greg was delighted because they had a row of refrigerators devoted to beer.  Dinner began at 7, and it was a multi-course affair.   We started with a little egg palate teaser, followed by a lettuce appetizer for Greg and me, while Genene chose blue crab and abalone.  I had a snapper for the main course, while Genene and Greg had Wagyu beef.  For dessert we had a banana mousse with ice cream and Genene had mini-magnums, fig and passion fruit ice cream dipped in dark chocolate, and white chocolate ice cream dipped in white chocolate.  The wait staff greeted us by name and wanted to know about our day.  We felt pampered and glad to be on the “slow train” for a few days.

We strolled happily to our rooms and off to bed.

Australia 2016 Part 9:  the triple A day:  Ayers Rock to Alice Springs to Adelaide

Monday, August 1, 2016

We came in late last night and went straight to bed.  This morning we would need to get breakfast, pack our bags and be ready to leave for the airport by 8:40 AM.  Piece of cake!  We have grown accustomed to living out of our suitcases.  We haven’t been unpacking our bags at all; instead we just mine around in them until we find something clean or semi-clean to wear.  We stuffed the odds and ends back in, including a pound of red dirt from all our shoes and hats, and called ourselves good to go.

The breakfast buffet at the hotel was good, although I would have preferred self-serve coffee.   I want to drink more than they want to serve!  That’s a perennial problem for me, and not just with coffee.

We didn’t want to wait on a porter so we hauled our own bags down the stairs and through the resort.  Gone are the days when we have to lug Genene’s gear for her.  She hauled her big suitcase right down those stairs like a champ.  The AAT Kings bus to the airport was jam packed.  We put Uluru in our rearview mirror and took the 8-minute ride to the airport.  The airport at Uluru was a bit chaotic.  Apparently a flight had been canceled the night before, so there was a mad rush of people trying to escape from the big red rock.  The airport has only two gates and two metal detectors so there was a bit of a scrum to get through.  We shuffled through the line with plenty of time to spare and waited for our plane.

Today was a travel day.  Our only goal was to get to our hotel in Adelaide before the end of the day so that we could relax, regroup and get ready to head to Kangaroo Island tomorrow morning.  Unfortunately there is no direct flight from Uluru to Adelaide, so there were two plane rides today.

The flight to Alice Springs was uneventful and short.  We were only in the air about 45 minutes.  I loved the Nevil Shute book “A Town Like Alice.”  It would have been nice to spend more time here, but it was simply a transfer point for us.  It looked much the same as the desert around Uluru, at least from the air.  We were unloaded right down onto the tarmac and walked quite a distance to get into the terminal.

The airport was larger than Ayers Rock but still pretty small.  Airport security is much more relaxed here, reminiscent of the old days in the USA.  As we have gone through the gates, we have not been made to remove our shoes.  They never took our water away from us.  There are a few random checks for explosives.  Alice Springs seemed particularly relaxed.  Their perimeter fencing around the terminal was not imposing at all, and they even had an outdoor play area just off the cafe.  It seemed so much more civilized than being trapped inside a building all day, as we are in an American airport terminal.  I noticed that the outdoor play area seemed to be populated almost exclusively by aboriginal families.  I wonder if this is because they still feel a stronger connection to the land and the outdoors than a westerner does.  I enjoyed watching the kids playing and having a good time.  They were a little younger than Genene, and all of them were running and rolling around in the red dirt.  American kids of their ages would be lost in their iPads, as Genene is (and I am).

We had time for lunch in the café and a quick wash up before our next flight.  Our flight left at about 1:15 PM and was in the air for 2 hours.  We didn’t change any time zones, so we got to Adelaide at about 3:15 PM.  We immediately wished that we had packed our coats within easier reach.  It was cold and rainy.

Our driver Ian was waiting for us in baggage claim.  He had a rock-star parking spot just outside the baggage claim area. He asked if we wanted the 20 minute express tour of Adelaide.  We said, “Of course!” After all, we were leaving first thing tomorrow morning for Kangaroo Island and really would have no opportunity to see his fair city.  Ian gave a great driving tour.

He started before we even left the airport.  The Adelaide airport houses the aircraft that won the contest for the first flight from Great Britain to Australia.  In 1919, the Australian government offered a prize to the first Australians to use a British aircraft to fly from Great Britain to Australia.  There were very specific guidelines on who the crew could be, the maximum continuous hours, the check-in points, and so on.   Six airplanes entered the contest.  The winning plane, a Vickers Vimy, left Hounslow Heath at 8 am on November 12, 1919.  According to Wikipedia, It flew via Lyon, Rome, Cairo, Damascus, Basra, Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta, Akyab, the Rangoon racecourse, an unscheduled stop in Singora (Siam; due to heavy rain), Singapore, Batavia, and Surabaya, where the aircraft was bogged and had to make use of a temporary airstrip made from bamboo mats.  There were times when the mechanics had to walk on the wings to make repairs in the air.  (My job doesn’t seem so hard in comparison.)  The plane reached Darwin at 4.10 pm on December 10,  1919. The flight distance was estimated as 11,123 miles and total flying time was 135 hours 55 minutes,for an average speed of 81.9 mph. The prize money was shared between the Smith brothers who flew the plane and the two mechanics. The Smith brothers each received a knighthood.

Ian drove us through the heart of town.  Adelaide is the capital city of the state of South Australia and has about 1.3 million residents, making it the fifth most populous city in Australia.  It’s a planned city, laid out in a grid with a ring of parks.  He drove us past the War Horse Memorial, a monument to those noble animals who served their masters during WWI in Palestine and Gallipoli.  Over 39,000 horses were shipped out of Australia to serve, and at the end of the war, the government said that the horses could not be brought back due to quarantine issues.  Their riders were ordered to shoot their own mounts, a very distressing thing to have to do.  We were not able to stop to walk around the monument, but I read about it later because it aroused my curiosity.  The inscription on the base says:  “He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength:  He goeth on to meet the armed men.  He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword.  Job 39: 21-22.”  Amen and amen.

Ian drove us past several of the lovely old churches, but he told us that Australians are not a religious people.  The early churches could not survive without combining.  For instance, the Presbyterians merged with the Methodists to form the United Church in Adelaide.  It’s an interesting notion that they had to put aside their theological differences to sustain their congregation.

Ian was hitting on all cylinders when he brought up water and infrastructure next.  He explained that having an adequate supply of drinking water and water for farming is an issue in Adelaide.  My ears perked up when Ian told me that they are using desalination and aquifer storage and recovery.  I must study more about that.  Maybe I can write this trip off on my taxes!

We got to our hotel, the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel.  It was a hip spot in the heart of the city, and after Ian’s Chamber of Commerce tour, I was sorry we wouldn’t get to see more of it.  We spent about an hour getting our Kangaroo Island gear together.  We were warned by our travel agent that the regional air carrier that flies to the island places strict weight limits on the baggage.  We must leave some of our gear in storage on the mainland while we go to “Australia’s Galapagos.”  We had to deal with the conversion from pounds to  kilos and get a per person allowance.  My camera gear is heavy, leaving me little room for my clothing and gear.  We had to equalize the load, so Greg and Genene’s bags got some of my stuff.

After all that ciphering, we were hungry.  We set out on the streets of Adelaide to find some grub.  We walked down Rundle Street and surveyed all the choices.  It was nice to stretch our legs after a day in the airports.  As we window-shopped, a light rain began to fall, so we selected Taj Tandoor, an Indian place.  We had seen turban-clad Sikhs dining inside and figured that was probably a good sign.   We were right.  We had a wonderful meal.  We were thrilled not to be eating airplane food or sandwiches from a resort or room service. It was a real, sit-down dinner.  The food was perfectly spiced and delicious, and the service was attentive but not intrusive.  We ate a mixed appetizer, fish curry, chicken butter masala, gosht palak, and eggplant raita.  The wine and beer flowed easily, and the warm naan hit the spot on a cool, damp night.  It’s not always easy to have conversation with our preteen daughter, who now has ideas of her own which involve pop culture that we don’t comprehend.  I know that we bore her, but on this night, we found common ground and enjoyed an excellent family dinner together.  We relaxed, talked and laughed.

After dinner, we walked around Rundle Street and found a store devoted solely to chocolate.  What could go wrong?  Genene had something called Death by Chocolate, a flourless cake.  I had a Spanish hot cocoa, which is like a hot chocolate on steroids.  It’s basically a melted candy bar.  It reminds me of the drink they had a Starbucks years ago called Chantico.  It was basically 6 ounces of melted chocolate.  Melissa Kilpatrick and I used to sneak out of the office on a tough work day and sip the nectar of the gods and return to our desks, jacked up on sugar and ready to work some more.  It was heavenly.  I don’t know why they stopped selling it because I thought it was divine.

Our bellies were full of curry and chocolate, and we ambled back to the hotel.  Tomorrow, we will begin enjoying a few days of relaxation on Kangaroo Island.  We plan to listen to the Southern Ocean, observe the wildlife, and just hang out.

Australia 2016 Part 8:  Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), Camel Rides and the Field of Light

Sunday, July 31, 2016

We were in for another long day today.  We watched the Uluru sunset yesterday, and today’s itinerary called for a sunrise viewing of Kata Tjuta.Our guide picked us up at 6:15 AM and we were off.  We shared the van with a family from England and one from Australia.  Our guide was an attractive, engaging young lady from Germany named Hannah.  I am beginning to wonder if they have any Australian guides in Australia.  Yesterday we had Toulouse from France, and this was our second German guide of the trip.  Thankfully Hannah was sweet, unlike the Opera House Nazi we met earlier in Sydney.

Enough sweeping generalizations about foreigners and complaining about perfectly nice people!

Kata Tjuta is about 33 miles west of Uluru, so we had a little drive ahead of us.  Most of us were pretty quiet during the predawn ride.  Perhaps our companions had a rough night as we had the night before.

Kata Tjuta is a series of 36 rock domes rising out of the desert floor. The aboriginal name translates as “many heads.”  In fact, the Pitjantjatjara people only have three words for numbers:  one (kutju), two (kutjara) and many (tjuta). That sure would make their math class easier.

Kata Tjuta got their “whitefella” name from explorer Ernest Giles, who first saw them in 1872.  He wanted to name them after his benefactor and trip sponsor, Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, but the Baron owed a favor to Queen Olga of Wurttemberg because she had given the baron his title the year before.  The domes became the Olgas.  Incidentally, Giles always said that he saw Uluru before William Gosse, but Gosse beat him to naming it Ayers Rock.

All of Kata Tjuta is a sacred men’s site.  It is said to be the home of the snake king Wanambi.  It is so sacred that women cannot go there, and even today aboriginal women will turn their heads while riding in a car to avoid looking at it.  It is still used for Anangu rituals to this day, though what goes on there is a mystery to us outsiders.  Our guide claimed that the men’s business and women’s business, though segregated, are considered equal in importance in aboriginal society. I asked her if she was aware of a women’s sacred site as large and imposing as Kata Tjuta, and she was not.  She wasn’t aware of any site that men had to avoid looking at while driving by in the car either.  I’m not sure I buy the separate but equal theory.

We arrived at the lookout and trudged up a gentle hill to our vantage point.  We were not alone. There were probably 75 other tourists from various tour groups vying for position to watch the sunrise.  We are old pros and threw elbows with the best of them.  I shoved my big camera lens between the selfie sticks and got my shots.  From our vantage point,  Kata Tjuta was close, but we could also see Uluru.

The first warm glow of the sun lit the night sky.  The crescent moon sang her last night song.

Uluru looms at sunrise.

My intrepid travelers.

Kata Tjuta glows with the first light of the sun.


Uluru says, “Look at me!”

Kata Tjuta says, “Enough of that Uluru.  Cast your eyes here!”

It only took a few minutes for the brilliant reds and oranges to fade, and we were left with the early morning sun.  Our guide rounded us up, and we headed back down to the van.  It was a short ride to a rest area with picnic tables and a bathroom.  Our guide fixed us a delightful breakfast in the bush.  She made hot raisin bread with butter, milk and cereal, tea, hot chocolate and–most important for me–coffee!

A word about the bathrooms:  our guide described them as “long drop toilets” and warned us not to lose our iPhones.  They reminded me of many of the old-style privies you used to find in parks all over Arkansas and Texas.  (You still do in remote areas like Albert Pike.)  It was just a bank of toilets sitting over a gaping hole that stretched down, down, down into the darkness.  The smell was rank, and I could hear the steady, low buzz of flies.  We were told that the flies in Uluru are very oppressive in their summer (our winter), but we did not have much trouble with them.  I think they are all hiding out in the bottom of that outhouse waiting for hot weather.  We did our business and got out of there!

The desert is in bloom, and delicate beautiful flowers are everywhere.

My delicate, beautiful flower who begrudgingly allows me to take her picture.

The Australian family asked Greg to help them take a photo of them with one of their cell phones.  Genene and I were resting quietly on the benches nearby, watching the impending disaster.  Greg and technology do not get along.  After a time, we heard laughter.  After several tries, Greg had managed to cut the Aussie’s heads off in each photo.  They should have paid attention to who was carrying the big camera on her hip.  Finally they saw the error of their ways and motioned for me to come over.  I quickly rescued Greg from their mockery and got the shot for them.  In return, they took this nice family photo of us.

After breakfast, we took a walk into Walpa Gorge, named for the wind (walpa) that whistles between the rocks.  Hannah explained some of the geology to us and pointed out various plants that are used as tools, food and medicine by aboriginal people.  Of particular interest to me is their use of spinifex grass.    They take the grass and beat it on the ground until the resin comes out as a fine powder.  The powder can be heated and will form a sticky blob, something akin to super glue.  When cool, it hardens and will adhere anything.  Heat it up again, and it gets sticky.  Aboriginal people used this resin to make spears and daggers:  ingenious!   I wonder how they ever discovered that.

Walking into Walpa Gorge.

It has been very wet this year, and grasses pop up from the red earth.

It was very difficult to capture the colors in these photos because the gorge was either bathed in sunlight or hidden in dark shadows.  I did my best.


We strolled back out of Walpa Gorge, talking with our traveling companions as we went.  We learned that the English family is doing our trip in reverse.  They are headed to the Barrier Reef tomorrow.  We warned them to stay away from the marine biologist!

As we crossed the final footbridge with only a couple hundred yards left before getting to the car park, a kangaroo appeared as if on cue.  He was a little hard to spot against the red rock, and I wished I had my 500 mm lens.  He showed out for us, and I think I captured him pretty well with my 300.

It was the perfect end to our morning tour.  We had seen Australia’s iconic animal bounding in front of us, wild and free.

We came back to our hotel by a few minutes past 11:00. These beautiful birds hang out on the grounds.


We had time to wash up in our room before lunch and shed our cold weather gear.  I am amazed by the extremes of this desert.  In the morning, you need to “rug up” with coat, hat and gloves.  By midmorning you want to get shed of all that, and by afternoon you need to be in shorts and a t-shirt.

This next shot is from our room, and you can just barely see Uluru peeping up over the trees.  What I really like in this shot is all of the desert oaks.  I wish I could tell my dad about them.  He was a forester and loved trees.  I can’t tell him, so I’ll tell you.  Virtually all the trees in this shot are desert oaks.  The name is misleading, for the tree is a kind of pine.  Notice how all of the smaller trees are skinny and scraggly.  When young, this tree conserves its energy.  It stays skinny and small, using all its energy to send its tap root down, down, down.  Once the tap root gets down about 80 feet to the water table, the tree can get a big drink and spread out its limbs.  See how the canopy on the older tree is spread out.  Daddy would have loved to hear about that.


We had lunch in the town square at the Gecko Cafe.  I had the “outback” pizza with smoked kangaroo, emu, and other “regular” pizza ingredients, along with another Jack of Spades porter.  Greg had a kangaroo burger, and the meat was lean and delicious, something between beef and venison.  Genene stuck with the pork loin sliders and a nice, cold Coke.

Can you see the kangaroo and emu?

You should definitely be able to see the kangaroo in this shot.


We strolled around the very small town square and watched two aboriginal girls painting.  The artwork was beautiful.  Many of the paintings use an intricate pattern of dots, and Kuniya and Lira make appearances in many of the works.  I wanted so much to take the girls’ photos, but photography was prohibited and I respected their wishes.  I am not sure how to describe them without sounding condescending or patronizing.  They have very distinctive, beautiful facial features unlike any person I have seen before and a look in their eyes that seems almost untamed.  It was like looking backwards to a time when people’s needs were simpler and more basic.  They probably pulled out their iPhones after I left.

The stroll back to our hotel took less than 10 minutes.  The noonday sun was hot and our bellies were full.  We had another sunset tour scheduled, so we were happy to have the chance for a nap and a break from the action.  We went to our room, cranked up the air conditioning, pulled closed the shades, and watched our eyelids for a while.

At 4:00 PM we left again for a very special event.  We were taking a camel ride to dinner!  Amy the cameleer from Uluru Camel Farms picked us up from our hotel.  She was tall, blonde and beautiful.  She wore shorts and cowboy boots, much like a saucy Texas girl might.  She had a cowboy hat with a feather sticking out, and her iPhone stuck out of her back pocket.  She makes her living with Uluru Camel Tours and loves her camels as we would love a horse or a dog.

We got to the farm, had a brief safety briefing, and went out to meet our caravan.

The camels all have names.  I was assigned to ride Jill, and Greg and Genene shared a ride aboard Diesel.  Diesel made a noise like Chewbacca the entire time he was sitting down.  Amy says it is because he wants us to hurry up and get going.  The camels get up with their back legs first, and it was a little scary because it is a long way up (though not as far up as the elephants we rode last summer).  We held on for dear life as they climbed to their feet.  Amy made them get up one at a time, with the camel at the rear rising first.  Amy explained that if she stands the camel at the front up first, every single one of the camels will rise at the same time, which is not a good idea with all of us greenhorns around.

Camels are not native to Australia but were imported from Afghanistan, India and Arabia in the 1840s to help with exploration, colonization and settlement of Australia.  They were used to help haul supplies and people and were instrumental in construction of the overland telegraph through the desert.  The heart of Australia is brutal, and these animals are much better suited to this country than the traditional European mount, the horse, whose sharp hooves get stuck in the sands.  The camel has a soft, flat foot.  They were born for the desert.

The camels did their jobs well, but with the introduction of the car, they became obsolete.  The cameleers turned them loose into the countryside, where they have thrived in the wild.  In fact, the feral camels are a problem, as most introduced species are.  They eat too much of the vegetation, competing with the native species, and they drink watering holes dry, causing problems for farmers and aboriginal people.  They also damage fences, water tanks, pumps and pipes.  Their exact numbers are unknown but may be as many as a million.  The Australian government does participate in culling operations to keep their numbers in check.  Uluru Camel Farms captures a few of them every year for their use.

The camels we rode all started their lives in the wild.   It takes the cameleer only about three to six months to train a wild camel.  Amy claims that they are as smart as a 7-year-old child and can easily learn.  They do not respond well to brute force or fear tactics and must be trained with care and love.

Diesel makes his Chewbacca noise.



Greg mounts first with Amy’s help, and Genene will ride in front of him.  I am going to ride Jill, the camel in front of Diesel.


Howdy, partner!

Amy talked non-stop about her camels.  They are her babies, and she is passionate about their welfare and keeping.  She reminds me of every real horse person I have ever known–wonderful, heart-of-gold, crazy.

Uluru begged us to take its picture again and again.

My self-portrait.

Now this one needs to make the Christmas card for sure

In this next photo, you can see Diesel’s pierced nose.  You can’t use a bit on a camel as you would a horse because they are ruminants, like cows.  They regurgitate a cud all day, and a bit would interfere with that.    You can also see the breakaway string attached to the rope.  If another camel in the line jerks away, the breakaway rope snaps, and thus prevents damage to the camel’s nose.  Diesel actually popped his breakaway rope once during our tour.  Luckily Amy happened to be on the ground nearby when this happened, although I don’t think it would have mattered much.  He didn’t run.  He just put his head down and started eating.

The caravan has a particular order.  The lead camel is, of course, a leader and is ridden by the cameleer.  She or he is the most trusted camel of the group.  The next most trusted camels are at the rear of the caravan.  The camels right behind the lead camel are like the kids that the teacher seats at the front of the classroom.  They are the cheeky ones you need to keep your eye on.  I was on Jill, right behind the lead camel, and Diesel was right behind me.

We arrived at our dinner destination and got the champagne welcome.  This is my kind of caravan.

Amy sat her lead camel down and got off.  One by one, she came to us and assisted with our “camel down” and dismounts.  I said goodbye to cheeky Jill.

I caught the moment as Diesel went down, with Genene and Greg holding on for dear life.

Greg says goodbye to Diesel.

And so does Genene.

We walked up a short trail to our sunset vantage point, where we drank champagne, ate canapés and watched the sun go down on Uluru.  The group at the top of the hill was much larger than just our caravan.  Many people arrived to the dinner by bus.  How boring!

We were treated to an aboriginal dance.  I must confess that we all found it a bit underwhelming.  For one thing, the men were wearing what looked like Adidas running shorts under their costumes.  That took away from the “wild” effect considerably, and there was no possibility of me getting a “peekaboo” under the fringe.  For another, and I am not sure how to say this, I wondered how authentic the dance was.  Two of the three dancers looked as white as I am.  I realize that to even give voice to this is perilous:  in America, we have spirited debates about what constitutes being African-American, and the issue is thorny.  Greg says that his mother claims to be part Native American, and he always says in reply, “Your grandfather was once scared by an Indian, and that’s as close as you came to being Indian.”

I think his grandfather was once scared by an aborigine.

Are you looking at me?

We watched the dance respectfully.  I took my shots.  But…I really wish I could show you those girls we saw in the town square earlier today.  They were not in any costume, but they looked more “real” to me.


The sunset was spectacular.


We sat down at our table, set under the open stars, and met our dinner companions, all Australian except for us.  They wanted to know about Hillary and Donald, of course.  It was a fascinating crew.  There was a retired miner, a rural health nurse, some city folks from Sydney.  Our conversation was lively and easy.  They wanted us to tell them about America, and we tried to be good ambassadors.  They wanted to know if we are gun owners.  (We are.)  We wanted to know if they had seen the road trains in the outback.  (Sure!  Many times.  Scary as hell.  They will blow you off the road!)  One of the ladies from Sydney made me feel so proud.  She gave us a little pep talk.  She said, “So many people in your country think that American isn’t great any more.  That is not how we see you. America is still great.  It never stopped being great.  We look to you for how a free people should act.  Your economy drives the world economy.  You are still great.”  I wanted to stand up and sing “God bless America” by the time she finished pumping us up.  I sincerely hope she is right.

Our dinner was wonderful.  It was billed as a three course, bush tucker inspired buffet and it delivered.  We loaded our plates ate it all–chicken, beef, kangaroo, emu.  Wattle seeds were used in several of the dishes, and every third item had the modifier “bush”:  bush tomato, bush yam, bush onion.  It was all delightful. As we ate, a man played a didgeridoo, and that was a truly awesome sound.  I really felt as if I was in Australia as I listened to its low drone.  Our Australian tablemates seemed unimpressed and did not stop talking.  The most interesting thing about the didgeridoo is how the musician uses circular breathing to maintain a constant drone.  I have never been able to figure out how to breathe like that in years of playing the clarinet, but apparently it involves using air that it stored in puffed cheeks while inhaling through the nose.  Our musician had it down to an art, and the didgeridoo hummed constantly.

After dinner, we sipped on port and coffee, and our astronomy guide came out to give a lecture.  He was a New Zealander (Kiwi) with the most powerful laser pointer I have ever seen.  He could actually point a beam of light up and it seemed to extend all the way to the stars.  He got in one joke about how they couldn’t find any Australian astronomers because they were all in the pub.  As he lectured, we all noticed how disruptive the people at the table next to us were being.  The entire table was filled with rowdy, drunk Italians.  They were cackling, talking at the tops of their voices, and being very disrespectful.  People at other tables made the “shhh” noise several times, but they continued to laugh boisterously.  (I was so thankful that it was not a table of Americans.)   The Kiwi continued his lecture for a minute or two, stopped, and said, “Italians…shut up!”  The entire audience clapped with approval.  I guess the Italians had some shame because they quieted down after that and made no more trouble.

We had no trouble finding the Milky Way smeared in a wide swath across the sky.  The night sky was cloudless, and there was virtually no light pollution.  The Kiwi was able to show us the Southern Cross, some signs of the zodiac, and even a distant galaxy.  At the conclusion of his lecture, we were dismissed to make our way to our last treat:  a walk through the Field of Light.

The Field of Light is an art installation by British artist Bruce Munro.  He is known for producing large-scale immersive light-based art installations.  His work has been shown museums in London and New York, but this is art on a really grand scale.  The work uses 50,000 stems covering an area equal to seven football fields. The entire installation is solar-powered, and all the materials are reusable and will be recycled for other installations.  The artwork uses over 236 miles of optical fiber.  Enough facts and figures:  Let’s walk through it.


This next photo just might be my favorite of the night.  As we walked through the field, I looked up and found the Southern Cross.  Standing there without benefit of a tripod or even anything to steady myself, I pointed my camera at the sky and got a freehand shot of it!

To give you an idea of scale, in this last shot, you can see the silhouettes of a group of people on the right side of the frame.  There were a lot of lights.

Buses were waiting for us at the far end of the art installation to take us back to the resort.  The day was long, but it was fascinating.  I found myself wishing we had more time at Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  I would like to simply sit and look at the red rocks for a few days to see if I could gain some enlightenment.

Alas, it is not to be.  We get back on the plane tomorrow.  We are heading to Kangaroo Island for a few days of relaxation.  I think we have earned it!



Australia 2016 Part 7:  Uluru (Ayers Rock)


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Our day started at the butt-crack of dawn.  Our driver was to pick us up at 5:15 AM, so we had to have our bags packed and ready for the porter at 4:45.  I never sleep too well on “transfer” days.  I am worried that I will oversleep, worried that I will miss the plane, worried that the driver won’t be on time, and so on.  I slept some, stared at the clock some and waited for the alarm.

We got up at 4:15, splashed water on our faces, brushed our teeth, and zipped up the bags.  Thala Beach Resort packed a boxed breakfast for us to take away, and it kept the wolf away.  Thankfully there was no Vegemite in it!

Our driver arrived promptly and drove us back down the winding road to Cairns.  In Arkansas and Texas, you drive slowly in the predawn hours out of fear of hitting a deer.  In Australia, the danger is running into a kangaroo.  We did not come close to hitting any, but we saw a few poor, unfortunate dead ones on the shoulder of the road.  Like many of our drivers, this fellow asked about our upcoming election.  Australians are following the US election with a great deal of interest, perhaps with more interest than we Americans.  They seem to regard it as something of a soap opera or entertainment.  What will Trump say next?  Will the Russians crack Hillary’s email server?  Stay tuned for another episode of “As the US Burns.”

Our flight left on time at 7:30 AM, and we were in the air for about three hours.  There is a 30 minute time zone change between Cairns and Uluru so we set our watches back a half hour.  We will lose it again later when we get back to Sydney!

The airport at Uluru was very small, and we walked across the tarmac to the terminal.  Signs instructed us to throw away whatever produce we were bringing in.  There is a lot of concern about spreading fruit flies throughout Australia.  I didn’t have time to put that last breakfast banana into my belly, so I tossed it into the bin.  The baggage claim area was small, and for once our bags came out quickly.  A large AAT Kings bus was waiting to take us to our hotel, Desert Gardens.  There are half a dozen hotels and resorts in the small township of Yulara, which mostly exists to serve tourists who want to see Uluru.  There are only about 1,000 full-time inhabitants, making it the fourth largest city in the Northern Territory, after Darwin, Alice Springs and Katherine.  Back in 1963, only 5,462 tourists visited Uluru.  Last year, there were 279,794 visitors in the national park.  Tourism has definitely found its way to the outback.

We arrived in the late morning to find that our room was not ready yet.  We had a tour beginning at 2:00 PM, and the front desk told us that they could probably get us into our room for a quick freshen up before then, even though check-in was not officially guaranteed until 3:00 PM.

We took advantage of some of the down time to do laundry.

We were excited because use of the washers and dryers was free.  The front desk even provided us with laundry packets!    We met a very nice lady from Melbourne who was retired and making her first visit to Uluru.  We teased her about not having seen her country but then had to take it back when she told us she had seen the Grand Canyon in the states, and I had to admit that I had not.  She was very jovial, and it was fun to just sit by the washer and pass the time.  She taught us a new Australian expression.  We told her that we were going on a sunrise tour of Kata Tjuta in the morning, and she told us that we better “rug up!”   That means to put on some warm clothes.

After our clothes were done, we wagged our bags full of clean laundry over to the café at the hotel and got some lunch  The best part of that was my discovery of the James Squire Jack of Spades Porter.  It was very Guinness-like.  The rest of the lunch was unremarkable.  We did get into our room with a very little time to spare.  We had about 40 minutes–just enough time to gather up our backpacks, slather on the sunscreen, shoulder the camera gear and head out.  We were off to Uluru.

Our guide arrived promptly in a comfortable van.  She was a lovely young French woman from Toulouse, whose name none of us can now remember, so I will call her Toulouse.  I must confess an initial bit of disappointment at having a young French lady as our Uluru guide.  I guess I was hoping for another Crocodile Dundee type or perhaps an aboriginal person with a boomerang and a didgeridoo.  There was another Australian couple in the van, along with a guide trainee.  My disappointment quickly waned, for Toulouse was an engaging and enthusiastic guide.

How can you describe Uluru?  Facts and figures do not begin to do justice to its looming presence on the red landscape, but here goes:  It’s 2 1/4 miles long and 1,141 feet at its tallest point.  The huge slab of rock is believed to extend below the ground for another 3 miles.  It is an enormous monolith sitting in the middle of nowhere in the desert.  It reminds me just a bit of Enchanted Rock in central Texas, only on a much larger, grander, colorful scale. I found this graphic in one of the free tourism books and I think it is illustrative.

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park expands across more than 327,414 acres of Australian outback.  Uluru is a World Heritage listed site.  The area holds a deep cultural significance to the indigenous people, the Pitjantjatjara and the Yankuntjatjara, collectively known as the Anangu.  They believe that they are the direct descendants of the beings who formed the land and its physical features during the Tjukurpa, sometimes called the Dreamtime or the creation period.  Before the Dreamtime, the world was featureless.  (I was reminded of Genesis:  “And the earth was without form, and void.”)  The stars of the creation show are a python, an emu, a blue-tongued lizard and a poisonous snake.  They traveled across the land, creating features like Uluru.  I don’t think my Western mind is able to comprehend the nature of Dreamtime.  Apparently it is a misnomer to even call it “Dreamtime”:  it is neither a dream nor a time.  Aboriginal people describe themselves as being able to connect to it.  Perhaps after a few drinks, I might be able to understand it better.

Uluru was known by the aboriginal people for many thousands of years, but it got its “whitefella” name from explorer William Christie Gosse, who spotted it in 1872 while on a surveying expedition in the outback.  He named it Ayers Rock, in honor of the Chief Secretary of South Australia.  Gosse just happened to be engaged to Ayers’s daughter.  I guess he was trying to impress his in-laws-to-be.   Gosse shouldn’t have bothered:  while he was out exploring the outback, his girlfriend found another beau and jilted him.  I’ll bet he spent a lot of time thinking, “I wish I had named that blasted thing Gosse Rock!”

Uluru sits on land traditionally owned by the Anangu.  In fact, at one time the area was what was essentially a reservation for the aboriginal people, who described being “herded” onto the desert land after the arrival of Europeans. In the mid-20th century, the government of Australia realized the significance of the place and the potential for tourism and carved out Uluru and Kata Tjuta from the rest of the desert and declared them a national park.  Predictably, they ran the aboriginal people off of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, causing a political outcry that lasted for years.  In a high point for aboriginal rights, the government of Australia passed an act to give the Anangu people their land back in 1985.  The event is called the “Handback.”  Five minutes after the Handback took effect, the traditional owners signed a 99 year lease back to the Australia Parks and Wildlife Service.  As a condition of the lease, no scientific studies of Uluru or Kata Tjuta are allowed. Much about the Anangu culture remains unknown, and they still conduct ceremonies on their holy site.  Three communities of aboriginal people live in the region, and four indigenous men, four indigenous women and three “Australians” serve on the council that oversees the park.  According to Toulouse, everything is going “quite well” with this arrangement.

Anyway, enough preliminaries:  I give you the first look at Uluru.

This one might make the Christmas card:

It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the desert was in full bloom. Toulouse explained that it has been an unusually rainy year, resulting in a bloom that hasn’t been seen in years.


Toulouse drove us all the way around Uluru.  She told us that certain parts of Uluru are considered to be so sacred by the Anangu that they request that these areas not even be photographed.  In fact, the entire north face of Uluru is sacred ground, so I have no photos of that area.  Toulouse stopped and told us the story of Liru and Kuniya:

During the time of creation, the Tjkurpa (Dreamtime), there was a woman python named Kuniya.  She was a good snake.  She set her eggs at the base of Uluru (and you can see the eggs, large boulders, at the base of the north face) and went out hunting.  She had a very bad feeling and so returned to check on her eggs.  They were fine, so she went back out.  She discovered her young nephew who had been speared and left to die in the outback.  Spearing is an aboriginal custom.  It is a way of punishing a young man for violating tribal rules.  It seems quite harsh, but the tribe is not without mercy.  The person who administers the spear to a youth is also responsible for tending the child’s wounds and nursing the youngster back to health.  To spear someone and leave him for dead is a violation of aboriginal law.  Kuniya was furious about her nephew’s injury and abandonment and went out looking for the culprit.  She searched the desert and found Liru, the venomous snake.  He was responsible!  An epic fight ensued.  Kuniya’s first blow with her stick was a glancing one and only scratched Liru.  (You can see scratches in Uluru that depict this.)  Her next blow to his head resulted in Liru’s demise.  You can see a wavy line depicting Kuniya slithering in.  You can also see dark spots, the blood of Liru, and the head of dying Liru depicted in the rock.  (I had to squint really hard to imagine this.)  I respected the wishes of  the Anangu and took no photos, so you’ll have to take my word for it.  Toulouse explained that these stories have several layers of meaning for the Anangu.  First, the young boy learns that misbehavior can earn him a spearing.  Another lesson to be learned is that the tribe will (or should) always care for you, even if you have misbehaved.  A third message is about the importance of family–the aunt took care of her nephew and battled on his behalf.  The final, and perhaps most important message, is this:  never mess with a woman!  As Toulouse delivered this message, the men in our group nodded thoughtfully.  Greg whispered to me that he already knew that one.

Toulouse showed us the sacred men’s sites and sacred women’s sites.  Men cannot even cast their eyes toward a woman’s site, and vice versa.  As you may imagine, men’s duties and women’s duties were strictly segregated, and the duties of each remain secret to the other.  (That is why four aboriginal men and four aboriginal women serve on the council; so that the secret duties and places of each are fairly represented.)  Many of the secrets remain unknown to Westerners, but some things are obvious:  women gathered plants for food, while men hunted.  In the women’s sites, you can see flattened areas of rock where they pounded seed into flour paste.  The men’s areas had drawings on the wall that depicted watering holes and information about the land and hunting areas.  All of us ladies were joking about our secret women’s business.  I joked, “It’s all a secret until the credit card bill comes in.”  The men all cackled at that.

Climbing Uluru is not prohibited, but it is frowned upon.  As I have already mentioned, Uluru is sacred ground and it is disrespectful to crawl all over it, willy-nilly.  Also, the Anangu people as custodians of Uluru feel great responsibility for  us, the “guests” they have invited onto their land.  They feel great distress if anyone is injured on Uluru, and the climb is strenuous.  Many people have had heart attacks or heat stroke while climbing it, and others have fallen to their deaths.  The back of the park entry ticket says, “It is requested that you respect the wish of Anangu by not climbing Uluru.”  We respected their wishes, but we saw plenty of others who did not.  The climbing area is scheduled to be closed by 2020, so if you want to violate Anangu custom, you better hurry up and get your ticket to ride.

This picture gives some perspective on the size of Uluru.  You can see people climbing at the base, and you can also see people at the handrail.  Follow the rail (the line visible in the center of the photo) up to the top and you can just barely make out a person standing there, a tiny white dot against the sky.  That “dot” person is only about 1/3 of the way to the top!

We went inside the caves and overhangs.

In this photo, you can see some of the cave drawings.  Aboriginal culture is the most longstanding one on earth, having 50,000 years of continuous existence to its credit.  We expected these cave drawings to be thousands of years old, but Toulouse disabused us of that notion. She said that many of the drawings were quite recent.  In fact, some of the people in the village can remember when they were painted.

The black streaks down the rock come from the water that runs off when it rains.

Toulouse took us to a pool of water.  You can see the grass and the rock reflected back.

The late-day light was different and cast strange shadows on the rocks.

We stepped into this cave, which would have been a place for families to gather.  The drawings demonstrate lessons to the children by their parents.

The circular feature is a watering hole.

Kangaroo tracks are depicted below.  Can you see how the long foot hops?

Like other aboriginal people, the Anangu do not have a written language.  Their traditions are passed along through oral storytelling, cave-painting, and song.

Greg got this next photo with his iPhone set to panorama.  I thought it turned out great.

We took a short walk down to one of the largest bodies of water at the base.  The rainwater trickles down through the rock and into the pool, making a refuge and watering hole for animals.


We retired to our sunset observation post, along with a few hundred other vans and cars.  There was plenty of room to spread out, so we all had our own view.  Toulouse poured sparkling wine and set out fresh bread with olive oil and spices.  Our tour was finished, so we were just having a grand time relaxing and joking with the other couple,  Toulouse and her trainee.  We sipped our sparkling wine and traded travel tales.  That’s always a favorite pastime.  The people you meet on the road can often give you the best ideas about your next destination.  Genene got to practice a little French with Toulouse.  She told Genene that her accent was quite good:  Go Awty!

The lore about Uluru is that the rock changes depending on the time of day and the light.  We were absolutely enchanted to discover that this is true.  As an amateur photographer, I have already discovered the difference in morning light, mid-day light and evening light, but Uluru puts all of that on a different level.  We dipped the bread into the herbs and olive oil, sipped the wine, and watched the show–the same show that humans have been watching for 50,000 years in this spot.

When the last light faded, we piled happily back into our van and headed back to town. We were very tired after the early start and full day of activities, and we were ready for some chow.  The town of Yulara has only a few restaurants, and Toulouse suggested that we try one in the town square.  She dropped us off and we bade a happy goodbye to our new Australian friends and wandered into the restaurant.  We were immediately disappointed because the restaurant was a “cook your own food” place.  No one had told us that.  Our resident cook, Greg, is normally game to stand at the barbie at any time, but tonight he was not in the mood for that.  We are on vacation!  We didn’t want to stand in line to buy raw meat and then stand over the hot coals.  We wanted to sit on our butts after a long day of travel and touring and be served!

Yulara utilizes a free bus system.  The resort buses make a continual loop around, so it should have been easy enough to hop on and go back to the hotel for some grub.  We found the bus waiting for us and hopped aboard.  It just sat there, and so did we.  We were pole-axed.  We had been up since before 5 AM.  We had ridden an airplane, done laundry, walked around at the base of Uluru, watched the sun go down, and drunk a bunch of cheap sparkling wine.  We were DONE.  After about 8 minutes, during which Greg, Genene and I simply sat in a mouth-breathing stupor on the bus, all of the riders began to stir around and murmur.   One guy finally said what we were all thinking:  “Hey, mate, what’s with the bus?!!!”  The driver admitted that something wasn’t functioning right and he was waiting for help.  Why didn’t he tell us that??!  We all hopped off, grumbling.  One local fellow told us he would walk us across the trails back to our hotel.  (As I mentioned, the resort buses travel around in a big circle around what is basically an enormous median, an island of land criss-crossed with trails, and our new friend was proposing that we walk across the middle of the island.)   He reassured us that he had a “torch” (flashlight).  Brilliant!  Off we went, blindingly following and trusting a stranger we just met on the bus.  Anything was better than continuing to sit there starving to death.  About four minutes in, as we and other bus-mates all walked with our new friend through the pitch black night on a winding trail in the middle of the desert, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect spot to be relieved of our wallets.  It was just a passing thought, and I did not want to telegraph fear to Greg or Genene so we pressed on.  Happily, our young Samaritan was totally legit.  (Thank goodness there are still good people in the world.  Greg admitted later that he had the same bad thought.)  Our friend showed us the way to our hotel, and along the way, we got to admire the most beautiful night sky.  The Milky Way looked as if it was painted across a jet-black canvas.

We wandered into our hotel dining room, and the maître d’ informed us with a certain haughty air that we could not dine there without reservations.  I always hate this kind of brush-off, especially when you can look behind the person and see a dozen empty tables.  Then he offered officiously, “Would you like to make reservations for tomorrow night?”  Genene and Greg have been watching a lot of Fawlty Towers lately, and the first thing that came into all our heads was, “No, you silly twit!!!”  We stifled the urge.  Instead Greg and I said in unison, “No, we don’t want reservations tomorrow.  We are hungry now.”  He gave us an impassive stare, and we trudged away to our rooms. We walked past the dining room windows, counting the empty tables as we went.  I resisted the urge to stick my bare buttcheeks up to the window.

Thankfully, there was a room service menu.  We got into our robes, washed the red dirt off our bodies, and pounced on the room service tray as soon as it arrived, scarfing down burgers and fries.  In retrospect, we would have been better off cooking our meal on the Barbie in town, but then we would have missed the walk-about in the desert, the Milky Way and the silly maître d’.  And after all, isn’t that what a vacation is all about–adventure!

We won’t get much rest tomorrow.  We are going to watch the sunrise from Kata Tjuta and continue touring the park.