Monday, August 07, 2006

Outback Part 3: Hot water and pink roadhouses

(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 three. Enjoy!)

First things first: Becca absolutely bailed my behind out at Dalhousie Hot Springs, our halfway point of the trip. I was already enjoying the warm waters of the hot springs and went to place Becca's beer (yes, we know this is a rough life) in a safe place on the shore. Right before the edge I slipped and put my left hand down in the water to catch myself. As I pulled it back out of the water, I felt a yoink!. I promptly looked at Thorsten and had the following exchange:

Me: "Crap."
Thorsten: "What?"
Me: "I just lost my wedding ring in the water"
Thorsten: "Oh..." (stealthily swims away to join the rest of the group)

After a few minutes of frantic searching on my part and Drew trying to convince me to put off the search until nighttime when the ring would show up better via flashlight, Becca arrived, allowing me to have the following conversation:

Me: "I have good news and bad news. Good news is the water is great and here's your beer."
Becca: "Can you wait a sec until I'm in the water?"
Me: "Bad news is I just lost my wedding ring."
Becca: "Okay....well.... let me come help look."

No riot act, no nothing. In fact she did more than just help. As I thrashed around the area more than likely burying it further, she ran back to the truck, got a flashlight and plunged in in search of the missing ring.

After about five minutes of feeling around blindly in the muck and in what could only be described as a Gollum-like moment, she stuck her hand again into the mud and amazingly pulled it out of the water with the ring around her finger. Yes, she had bulls-eyed the ring. Crisis amazing averted and I safely put the ring on my other (bigger) ring finger until we got out of the pool. As if my wife didn't have enough talents, I guess treasure hunter can now be added to the list.

The springs were really nice, otherwise. A fantastic place to watch sunset and (even better) sunrise, as long as you didn't mind small fish nibbling on various parts of your body. The really gung-ho members of the group also added a late night star-gazing dip, but we were happy to be old cold fogies and hang out by the fire and snuggle into our wam swags.

The hot springs in the end were a welcome relief and a good respite between two very long days. Day five started with our first real hike of the trip: a little steep hike that gave us views of the Painted Desert. The physical exertion gave a quality reward: views that were quite colorful in the morning light (due to the having been created over millions of years into today's combination of sandstone, siltstone, clay stone and silcrete) and made the hills stand out from the desert in the distance.

From there we rattled into Oodnadatta, visiting the two hot spots: the Pink Roadhouse and the Oodnadatta Medical Clinic, which serves as a Flying Doctors Clinic outpost. The Pink Roadhouse (and yes, despite the picture it was all pink) is an icon and bit of an institution: a gas station/mechanic/post office/supply shop/canoe rental/restaurant/hotel. In short what any place you find in the Outback has to be. Everything for everyone.

The Medical Clinic in many ways serves the same role. The work they do up here dealing with everything from Aboriginal health issues to wayward travelers to education on how to avoid accidents on the Outback roads is truly yeoman's work. In fact, the English nurse that gave us the tour recommends that younger folks only work up here for no more than two years at a time, fearing burnout otherwise. An interesting issue to have in a quiet town like Oodnadatta.

On the way to the hot springs we hit the ruins of the Dalhousie settlements, which made us rub our eyes a couple of time to be sure we weren't seeing things. Fed by the same aquifers that power the nearby hotsprings, this farmstead was like the stereotypical desert oasis, with date palms, reeds, and pools. The rich green colors were quite a change after all the reds of the Outback.

Day six was the big ugly. 500km plus of travel with almost all of it being on unsealed roads. Conversation was a bit more at a premium today; instead people find peace more in their books and sudoku puzzles or gave up and napped. The only real highlight of the day was having lunch at the geographical center of Australia. The mark is commemorated by a funky flag pole and a guest book that everyone signed. Plus a few of us took advantage of the location to run 'around' Australia. For such a herculean effort I felt surprisingly spry. :-)

Today was our official introduction into the Northern Territory. Tomorrow brings Uluru. The big rock. The part of the trip that everyone in so many ways has been waiting for. Hope that like Melbourne previously it lives us to the impressions it made on me nine years ago.


No comments: