Wednesday, June 29, 2005

On Diving

We're on Magnetic Island, a 45 minute ferry ride off the coast of Townsville. The weather in Cairns was overcast, preventing us from basking in the supposed warmth of the tropics. Here on the island, though, the skies have finally cleared up. I just returned from scuba diving out on the reef. Though the vividness of the corals was more evident further north, I still really loved it. This was my fourth dive, which I didn't realize until I was in the water and felt abnormally comfortable with a 20 kilo tank strapped on my back. Were I not from the Midwest, I reckon I'd take up diving as a hobby.

Noting our comfort, the instructor let me and the only other diver on the trip stay out a little longer, and we managed to see a multitude of birght fish, a silver stingray, and an array of jagged, leafy, and soft corals.

I'm off for dinner.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Spinifex, Spinifex, Spinifex

A 4,500 kilometer drive across mostly barren landscapes, performed in nine days, has a way of turning one's mind into puddy. The brain, realizing it's not inherently needed to perform, slips out the back door, and you're left to sort out the past few days with the kind of hazy recollection one has for ages one through three. Scattered, indistinct, full of dead-ends.

Consequently, the last three we've spent between Alice Springs and Cairns are difficult to describe now, as so much of it was spent staring out the window pondering the various oddities of the universe. I do remember thinking there was a whole lot of spinifex, a most unhospitable plant, out there. Spinifex is the earth's only entirely inedible grass and leaves nasty thorns in the legs of horses, camels, cattle, and people. Not surprisingly, this made the early exploration of Australia quite difficult.

Other than that, I'm fairly dry of information, or even of inspirational prose set in the outback towns of Mt. Isa (with a population of roughly 10) and Hughenden, but I will share one short story worth telling from our days out at Uluru.

Let me start by saying that I suspected upon introduction that Karl, our driver, did his fair share of the hallucinogens back in his youth. Don't get me wrong, he was informed and perfectly competent -- enough to entertain and feed a group of twenty for two days. But something was afoot as he chuckled mercilessly during all conversation.

As we pulled into our empty campsite, shrouded in the kind of darkness only the desert can provide, he was overheard to mumble into the microphone, "Well over there are the tents. Over here is your kitchen. And up the road are the toilets." Then he paused.

In total sincerity, he attempted to finish his thought. "So's all happening."

Unfortunately, it's one of those quotes that needs to be imitated in pacing and delivery to fully appreciate. One needs a sense of the spaciousness of the outback and of Karl's gentle laugh. One needs to sit on a bus for seven hours, viewing nothing but pure and unadulterated desolation, alternatively noticing the large height of the roadside termite mounds and repeating the word "spinifex" over and over because it's an enjoyable word to pronounce.

We were truly in the middle of nowhere, and Karl, in that perfect Australian wit, managed to sound as if we'd arrived.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Go There, Man

Today in Alice Springs, we passed by a traveling family, standing on the side of the road in a van which they'd turned into what looked like a mobile home. It was cluttered with fast food litter and dirty laundry. An enormous feathered dreamcatcher and a chain of opal beads hung on the rearview mirror. The children were screaming and shoeless, the father stroked a beard that ran down past his collar, and the mother sat idle, manicuring her dreadlocks. Mary turned to me, and in all seriousness said, "Take a good look, Jeff. Don't you dare turn us into that."

And I can respect that concern.

After two days spent solely hiking around Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and King's Canyon, I can adequately judge the worldwide collection of notable rocks henceforth. As far as these sites went, I'd say these were top notch. Red, glowing, unreasonably alive with color.

After that we returned to Alice Springs, where we rode camels at dusk and visited the world's largest school, the Alice Springs School of the Air which is taught via computer and radio sets.

Also, I've put my photos from Darwin to Alice Springs, along with a few from those beloved rocks, here. They most likely won't interest any of you, as they're primarily of vertical ridges and jagged, maroon edges -- personless and horizontal. But the real viewing turns one into a Japanese tourist.

But alas, we must move on. Tomorrow morning, we depart Alice Springs on another three day trip through the outback, north by northeast (stick it, Hitchcock) to the primary tourist outpost of the Great Barrier Reef.

I speak, of course, of Cairns. Should you be so unfortunate and uncouth as to enunciate the "r", they'll leave you out there a la Open Water). I'm eager to view the lesser known towns of Queensland, Mt. Isa and Boulia. 'Til then.

Shall we ride camels? Posted by Hello

Yes, yes we shall. Posted by Hello

Sunrise at Uluru. Posted by Hello