Saturday, August 05, 2006

Outback Part 2: Crazy people in the outback

(In order to keep the Outback story from becoming an opus of Cervantes-esque length, we've elected to split the up the ten day adventure into five two day stories for your reading pleasure. Here is part two. Enjoy!)

The theme of day three was what happens when you spend too much time by yourself in the Outback.

First stop: the new Federation of Australia populated by Cornelius (aka Talc Alf) and Mr. Bojangles. Cornelius pontificated for quite a while on his theories regarding the alphabet, and all the meanings inherent in their shapes and history. As Drew mentioned/warned us before he started his spiel, the guy has some crazy and interesting ideas on languages. Certainly an eccentric fellow but to some members of our group he was even more important: he had the 2-0 score line that sent our German contingent into a funk and Germany out of the World Cup.

Lunch was in Maree and was only of note because we crossed paths with the Groovy Grape bus (a bus tour of the Outback). They had a small group (two Swiss women and three US college women's lacrosse players who put the nox in obnoxious) who were already getting on the nerves of the guide to the point of him threatening to leave them in the desert. We'd see them a few more times over the next few days. We also met a man who was walking his camels across the desert. Why? No reason why really just because. Again, a little too much sun goes a long way.

We had a warning about what kind of country we were entering though as we left Maree. This kind of a sign definitely gives off a "don't mess with me" vibe.

Right, back to the crazy people. Our next stop was a sculpture park in the middle of the Outback, near Alberrie Creek. Evidently a group of locals and an artist from Melbourne use the sculptures as a protest towards the Uranium mining in the area as well as at one point a spot for a rave. Odd sculptures (airplanes on their tail, a funky dream catcher, etc.) but impressive when we found out from Drew that they were all built by the one sculpture without any help. As you can tell by the pictures, to do that takes a lot of time and some serious focus. Or to be slightly off-kilter.

The one semi-normal stop of the day was lower Lake Eyre (or Lake Eyre South). At 1250 square kilometers and 12 meters below sea level, it's an impressive example of a salt lake (or salt flat, currently). Well, it would be except for the fact that upper Lake Eyre checks in at 8500 square kilometers and 16 meters below sea level. Leaving the truck perched high on a dune over looking the lake (Drew subsequently gave us all heart failure careening down off said dune.) we headed out crunchily across the lake. It was a cool feeling to walk across the crispy salt encrusted top. Now try to imagine that that underneath the salt and mud are fish that hatch and reproduce when the lake fills up every 12-18 months. As Becca says, "Science is cool."

Off-kilter continued as a theme for the evening as we took in a few drinks at the William Creek Hotel. We all took in a few pints as we mixed with various groups passing through (including the Groovy Grapers who were getting even closer to being dumped by their guide...can a leader mutiny on his troops??). My own personal lowlights were getting punked telling a joke to a 10 year old (him giving the punch line three words in... little brat) and nearly getting chased out of the bar for putting on Johnny Cash (but not so for putting on Gorillaz). Oh and a drunk Queenslander pointed out Sebastian's similarity to Dr. Who, causing those of us who knew of Dr. Who to be kicking ourselves for not thinking of it first.

We're not sure if it was the beer or the slightly warmer temps (nighttime clocked in at a balmy four degrees Celsius) but day four started with a solid night's sleep and waking up to beautiful purple and yellow hues brightening up the flat outback skyline.

After a lazy morning (involving SHOWERS!!! One of only two opportunities and very exciting to most of the crew) we headed off for a solid morning of driving on the flat red roads of the Central Outback. Our one brief stop was at the Dingo Fence (a 9300 km fence protecting the cattle of South Australia) which provided some entertainment not only in photo ops but also in the antics of our own energizer bunny twins: Wei Leng and Seh Ling. In this instance the hilarity ensued in part from the fact that their feet were so small they couldn't actually get across the cattle grate (and was helped along by Seh Ling's efforts to capture Drew's nature break with her video camera).

Photo ops taken, we plugged ahead to the mostly underground town of Cooper Pedy. Cooper Pedy is the Opal capital of the world and in terms of a wild west feel and hazards makes Phnom Penh look like a small town Americana. Their active use of dynamite seems to be now limited to their claims though we did hear stories of it being used on competitors' claims, rival restaurants, police cars and even the competitors themselves.

Our visit was quite a bit more peaceful. We had some time to explore town (we checked out the underground bookstore and the only underground pokies in the world) before meeting up with the group again to take a tour of the Umoona Opal Mine and the model of the town's unique underground homes. (It's so hot you can't really (or wouldn't want to) live on the surface).

Mining in Cooper Pedy is best described as gambling. There is no way to scientifically find Opal so it's mainly just people digging in random places trying to get rich. A result of this is that people are not allowed to drill for Opal in town. Instead people file for "housing extensions" and hope for the best. One house in Cooper Pedy has 21 rooms and has evidently found enough Opal to pay for it.

Impressive but I'm fully expecting the town to collapse upon itself any day now. In the meantime, the coolest part of the town (and the tour) has to be the rooms they showed us. The walls were treated in a way that meant there was no work to be done on it. I like the low maintenance houses. Of course to change wiring looked like it would take a jackhammer to do so. Not so good. Never mind thinking what might happened if your roof caved in...

With those claustrophobic images in my mind, we headed off into a glorious sunset to spend the night under the stars in the Simpson Desert. I'd much rather take my chances with the scorpions and snakes than a rouge Opal trader who's spent a bit too much time in the scorching sun of the Outback...


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

love this blog! have already sent the link to my family and friends, to make up for the email that i sent them-which in comparison was so short and lacking of detail! And they love it too. Glad to hear you're still enjoying oz and maybe we will actually meet before you go?