Sunday, July 16, 2006

Putting the TOUR in Tourist

(And see entry below for hot camel cup action!)

One of the things we're having a hard time adjusting to in the latter part of our Australia visit is having to become Tourists (with a capital T-O-U-R). For most of the past 13 months we have been traveling and sightseeing fairly independently. We would take a bus or train or other form of public transportation to get to a place and then we'd explore it on our own time. There have only been a very few times (2 in Laos, 2 in Vietnam, 1 in China, 1 in New Zealand) where we have done a tour in order to get to places that either a) we couldn't connect by public transportation, b) weren't allowed to go into by ourselves, or c) didn't have the technical skills or social/language contacts to visit by ourselves.

Our most recent travel experience in New Zealand was as independent as we've been: it was just us and our car going where we chose when we chose and doing what we chose. Central/Northern/Eastern Australia, on the other hand has been, and will continue to be, a very different experience. Whether because you need certain permits to access protected or Aboriginal-held lands, advanced 4-WD handling skills, knowledge of how/where to avoid being eaten by crocodiles, lots of camping equipment, or access to a boat, almost everything we want to do/see here is requiring a tour.

Check it out:

  • Adelaide to Alice Springs camping in the middle of nowhere outback: TOUR
  • Hiking/swimming in Kakadu Park (and avoiding crocs): TOUR
  • 4WDing/camping on Fraser Island: TOUR
  • Heading out to the Great Barrier Reef to dive/snorkel: TOUR
  • Sailing around the Whitsunday Islands: TOUR

This bums us out for many reasons. The most obvious is that it is so hideously more expensive that way and pretty much makes it impossible to keep to our budget. (It'll also probably mean that we will have to trim the above list). But also because in general we are wary of being thrown together with lots of other not-necessarily like-minded folks and being marched along according to someone else's schedule.

Actually, that being said we've been incredibly fortunate with the tours we've gone on. We've actually really enjoyed them all both for the experience, what we've seen and learned, and the interactions with our fellow travelers. But we've also been really really careful and picky looking for trips and have only selected ones that have very small group sizes, and are geared toward the sort of eco-touring we like to do. We'll obviously write more about it later, but our Outback tour turned out great and our group of 10 really bonded (despite 7 different nationalities and a 17 year age gap between oldest and youngest)

I think that's why we're so nervous about the upcoming trips. The groups will tend to be bigger, and they are definitely geared toward a more touristy cookie cutter type experience then we like. Plus we've noticed a definite lack of targeting of our demographic (are we that abnormal?). Our choices for tours in the north and on the east coast seem to either be trips that are active and roughing it and adventurous but that emphasize partying and craziness for young 20's crowd or they are sedate comfortable trips in coaches for the well-to-do. What about active tours for the late 20's - early 40's crowd who still want to get out there and rough it and experience things? I guess we're just doing this trip 10 years too late. Who am I kidding? I'm actually much less uptight now and able to enjoy the party crowd now than I was 10 years ago. Oh well.

We leave for the first of our being-nervous about trips tomorrow morning. The good news is that there will be at most 9 of us so size-wise it'll be good. But it looks like we may be the oldest by 10 years or more! Wish us luck (or earplugs). :-)

More from the Outback soon!


(Picture just a teaser from the Painted Desert during the Outback trip)

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