Friday, August 11, 2006

Outback Part 5: Canyons, Big Macs and too much techno

(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 the final installment. Hope you've enjoyed it!)

The penultimate day of the journey meant our hardest hike of the trip: doing the hike around Kings Canyon. The hike was supposed to take three and a half hours. Not surprisingly our photo-happy group finished up in about four hours.

The Canyon itself was formed as an after effect of an inland sea that existed 200-400 million years ago. There are still pieces of the sea's existence visible, the best example being the Garden of Eden. In it is a variety of plants and trees, including a fern that is 150-200 million years old. Beautiful stuff and one of the true quality resting places on the trip. Especially so for Becca who'd finally reached her fill of watching people crawl and walk out to the edges of the canyon (despite the fact that she gave it a go herself). I'd give her more grief about it except for the fact that I spent a good half an hour making sure Chu didn't walk her way off a particularly dicey edge.

Our trip towards the Western MacDonnell ranges suited our collective mood. Smooth with the occasional bump here and there. For the most part though the mood was one of a group that was just about done. We gotten through the rough parts and were on the home stretch. Hence behaviour like group singing at full bore in the back as we rattled our way to our campsite. Who says life in the outback is so rough after all?

The final morning of the trip started the way any camping day should: a full cooked breakfast, complete with eggs, bacon and hash browns on toast. I was in heaven since breakfast in Commonwealth countries usually involved baked beans, a definite non-starter for this traveler. I'd rather have the damn deep fried spider I tried in Cambodia again...

Actually, the food on the trip has been fantastic. A little too fantastic as all of us ended gaining a few kilos. Expecting your basic bland campfire food, we instead were pigging out on Indian (Butter Chicken), Thai (green curry), Southwestern (burritos), midwestern comfort food (tuna cassorole), Aussie fusion (Kangaroo goulash, or 'roolash') and more. Drew was a master of campfire technique, and secret ingredients and we all took turns stirring the sautes and the sauces. (In addition to being a required chore, it was a good way to stay warm on cold nights!)

A pit stop at Gosse Bluff gave folks a chance to see what sort of formation results from a meteorite hitting 200-300 million years ago. From there we found finally found sealed road again and the Glen Helen Gorge. Part of the group took flights over the Finke River (the oldest river in Australia) while the rest of us tested out our rock skipping skills in the river itself. A nice relaxing venture while the other folks were flying around the gorge.

After folks got done playing Junior Birdman, we made our final stop of the trip: Ormiston Gorge and Pound. Just beautiful views, a nice hour or so walk and a swimming hole that on a warmer day would have been tempting. Today though it was filled with kids on school holiday and dead fish. Yep, dead fish. Evidently in this area the fish stress out over the rise in water temperature, allowing a bacteria to grow in their gills that eventually leads to their death. They were also present in the Finke River as well, making for an extra degree of difficulty while skipping the rocks.

After lunch and the obligatory filling out of trip ratings, Drew drove like a man who knew he had a rum and coke waiting for him in Alice, prompting a few of us to heckle him about changing his safety rating.

With that though we arrived in Alice Springs and the end point of our trip. With the end point came a glorious, glorious shower (especially important for me as I'd failed to take advantage of the two available on the trip and had reached a particularly high stank saturation point) and a night out on the town. After over 3000 kilometers on the road and being half way around the world we arrived in the center of the Australian Outback to...

...have dinner at a US country-western themed bar, complete with peanut shells on the floor and live web-broadcasts. We were disappointed to realize that the time difference meant that no one would be awake at home to a) see us on the web cam or b) buy us drinks via the internet. (We did get to watch Jenny and Michelle receive song dedications and messages from friends and families in England and Holland.) We still had a great time though as the group had one last outing together, complete with peanut shell fights, huge plates of food (with Chu blowing us all away by putting away two full meals), plenty of drinks and a even a bit of nightclub dancing, complete with WAY too much techno. I mean unhealthy amounts of techno with the occasional DRINK MORE and GET DRUNK signs popping up on the video screens. Well, most people danced; anyone that saw me at our wedding knows I stayed FAR clear of the dance floor.

Overall the trip was an amazing experience. We were certainly worried at the start whether ten days would be too long. In fact it was just about the max we could do as part of a group. But thanks to Sebastian, Seh Ling, Wei Leng, Thorsten, Michelle, Jenny, Chu, Drew and Elena it went heaps better than we could have ever imagined. To get to see parts of the Outback that most people never even dream about with a great group made this one of the highlights of the trip. For us the defining image of this trip will be waking up in the mornings that we camped in the wilderness. Nothing around but the sunrise starting another amazing day in the Outback.


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