Saturday, April 03, 2004

Dubbo, Australia--Sydney, Australia--Day 64

I woke up this morning and headed straight to zoo after hitting up McDonalds (again) for breakfast. I went back and rented another bike so that I could get straight to the hippos. I have to admit that I was struggling a bit to get up the hills to the hippos. I made it though and spent the next hour and half watching them and reading my book while I waited for the keeper to come at 10:45 to feed them. I was able to take a few pictures of the some of the hippos getting in and out of the water because I think that they were getting antsy about wanting to be fed! So there were several times that I hopped up to grab a quick photo and then sat back down to wait for the keeper, which got several weird looks from the onlookers as well as the hippos who were defiantly watching what I was doing!

There were six hippos, Nile, Susie, Mana, Rumbin, Mafuta and Happy. The males, Mana and Happy, were separated in their own enclosure and Susie herself had her own since apparently she was getting aggressive towards the other three females. Nile was the smallest of them all and Susie by far the oldest, with the keeper estimating that she was at least 35 years old! I spoke with the keeper for a little bit while getting plenty of wonderful shots of the hippos feeding out of the water. Mana was especially cute since he has a huge tooth sticking out over his lip. I also got some great shots of the habitat, which had been called “Hippo Beach” and of people watching the hippos.

Afterwards I returned my bike and stopped to get an ice-cream before calling a cab to the airport. I was happy with the photos and was going to transfer the photos onto the computer when I got back to Sydney. My ride to the airport was quick and I made it to the tiny airport with plenty of time to spare. Over the phone, the Quantas people said that I might have to pay a fee for changing my ticket but when I got to the airport, they were more than happy just to put me on this later flight without any problems at all.

My flight back to Sydney was just fine and I was proud of myself for making my way back into the city without Emma to help me! I stopped off to check my email before catching the bus back to Emma’s place where I was going to meet her after she finished work.

I started out transferring the photos from my memory sticks to my computer without any problems but had quite a difficult time trying to open my photo program and rotating some of the photos and all of a sudden my computer froze. I tried to restart it and when I did the worst possible thing that could have happened did.

My computer ate my hippo photos.

I honestly do not know how it happened but when my computer came back on, they were gone. I could not believe it! After several hours of trying to fix what happened and pinch myself to remind myself that yes, this is actually happening; I just had to turn off my computer before I went nuts.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Sydney, Australia--Dubbo, Australia--Day 63

Today I got up and after getting directions from Emma as to how to get back to the airport, I got on the bus and then the train. I only had one mishap (getting off at the wrong train stop) but made it to the domestic terminal with plenty of time to board my flight to Dubbo. The plane was this tiny turbo propjet, which I would have been terribly nervous to be in before this trip, but since I now feel like this flying pro, I was not bothered by the fact that we had to rely on propellers to get us to Dubbo!

The flight was just fine and was short and sweet. Literally, we were served lunch along with chocolates and mints! I arrived in Dubbo and had a taxi called for me by the flight attendant (I was impressed!) and we headed straight to the zoo. Since I was only staying for the night I just had my small backpack and camera with me so I could do all of my photo transferring when I got back to Sydney. My taxi driver dropped me off at the Western Plains Zoo and I got my ticket and then rented a bike to ride over to the hippos. After quite a bit of huffing and puffing uphill, I made it to Hippo Beach to find six hippos all about in three different separate areas. They were all basking in the sun and I checked my brochure only to find that hippo feedings happen daily at 10:30 am and since it was now 1:30pm at this point, there was little chance that the hippos would be swimming around waiting to be fed. I decided that it would probably be best if I came back in the morning to talk with the keeper and see them in feeding action. At least I knew where they were and how many there were.

I headed back to the main gate and dropped off my bike and then stopped in at the gift shop where I found the most amazing hippo hat ever and then went back to the main gate, double checking with the woman working there that there were in fact just six hippos and I ordered a taxi back into town. The same taxi driver that dropped me off picked me up and he was surprised that I had only been at the zoo for such a short time. Luckily my ticket for the zoo was good for two days so it wasn’t going to be a problem for me to come back in the morning, I just had to go back and change my Quantas ticket (again!). So the taxi driver dropped me off at the Quantas travel center.

I was told there that I had to call the international Quantas number rather than change the ticket there and so I headed back towards my hotel, stopping off to see a movie on the way. My taxi driver warned me of walking around by myself and was very concerned that I did not go anywhere by myself, which seemed like kind of a problem since I was by myself! After the movie I found my hotel and checked in and called Quantas, then spent the night in my hotel room, grabbing dinner at the oh so exciting Subway and McDonalds for dessert.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Alice Springs, Australia--Sydney, Australia--Day 62

Today Emma, Victoria and I got up and checked out of the hostel and spent the morning walking around Alice Springs running some errands as well as checking email before meeting up with Uli from our Outback trip to get a taxi ride to the airport. It was lucky because Emma and I were on the same flight and Victoria and Uli were on the same flight. We also ran into Emma’s friend Nick (who hung out with us last night) only to find that his car had been broken into last night, which was a shame since he now had to wait around in Alice Springs to get it fixed.

We met up with Uli and got our taxi to the airport and checked our things in. I was the lucky person who had to get all of my bags searched and checked for explosives while going through the x-ray machines and the guy was actually really nice about it all and assured me that it was just random that I was picked, not because they actually thought that I had any explosives.

Anyways, surprise, I didn’t have any explosives and so we said goodbye to Uli and Victoria and Emma and I sat down to wait for our Quantas flight. Emma got up to get something to eat and when she walked away someone came up to me and said hello. I looked up and found that it was the girl from Sydney (remember, from the Sri Lankan family) that I had met a few days earlier. Apparently their flight had been cancelled yesterday and so they had to take this one! Her brother then came over and started chatting to me and I looked over my shoulder and saw their dad waving at me. I just had to smile to myself as they were so nice, but I hadn’t anticipated seeing them again. Luckily I was with Emma and I didn’t have to find myself in an awkward situation sitting with them on the plane or anything.

They left and Emma came back and then I went to get something to eat. Pretty soon it was time to board and it was really exciting being on the plane with Emma, since I haven’t been on a flight with anyone I have actually known! Even though we hardly talked through the whole flight since there was a movie playing, it was still nice to have someone there with me. Our plane landed into Sydney and I could hardly contain my excitement since I was going to get to see Emma (two Emmas, I know it is confusing) who was my roommate while I lived in New Zealand. She was going to meet us at the baggage claim and I could not believe that I was actually in Sydney.

We got our bags, Emma (from NZ) showed up, and so it was all very exciting all at once. We got our bags and the three of us headed down the train to take back into the city. Luckily, Emma (from NZ) was there to show us how to get around because I could hardly pay attention since I was so excited. We said goodbye to the other Emma (not from NZ) and Emma (from NZ) and I caught the bus back to her apartment, which is in Glebe, an area near the University of Sydney. After dropping off my stuff, we headed back out to get some dinner near the Opera House where I took a few pictures and we watched the ferries go by for a bit.

We had dinner at a pancake house which was really good and then we headed back to Emma’s apartment (or as they say here, flat) and got my stuff ready for my trip to Dubbo tomorrow!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Alice Springs, Australia--Day 61

Today we were woken up at 4:30am again and Brendan seemed to be in a better mood, although we all weren’t sure if this was because it was the last day that he would have to put up with us or if he was feeling bad about how things went the night before with the whole shower fiasco.

We were off a little bit later this morning (6 o’clock!) and had a funny incident with our entire box of dishes falling off the back of the truck which seemed to lighten up everyone’s moods. There’s nothing like searching around into the dirt in the pitch black for forks and spoons! After collecting what we think was all of it, we got back into the car and headed over to Kings Canyon for a four hour hike (which starts off going up a hill called “Heart Attack Hill”). The hike was awesome and we were lucky to start the hike when we did because it was rapidly getting hotter and hotter. The hike wasn’t too strenuous though, except from Heart Attack Hill, and we stopped many times along the way to learn things about the Canyon and its surroundings from Brendan. For all of you who have seen “Priscilla--Queen of the Desert” this is apparently where a lot of it was filmed. Anyways, the hike was great and it led us down to the “Garden of Eden” which is basically this really big water hole that you can swim in. Since I didn’t have my swimsuit I figured that not too many people would be offended if I jumped in with my underwear on so I did just that and the water was a little green and murky but still really refreshing. It was only after we all jumped in and got out again that Brendan remarked that the last (and only) time he had gone into the Garden of Eden to swim he got a massive ear infection and was in the hospital for three weeks. Gee, thanks for telling us.

Anyways after swimming and hiking back up to the top we made our way down to the car park and I felt really bad for the people who were just starting to hike because it was already around 35 degrees Celsius and just not a good time to start out. We all met back up down at the car park and a few of us had Popsicles which was the best thing ever at that point.

We got back into the car and started making our way back to Alice Springs traveling on a dirt road and then doing some 4x4 driving on sand dunes and things. The funniest part was when we spotted this wild lizard thing in the middle of the road and stopped to pick it up (which apparently is like a $10,000 fine for picking up wildlife) as well as spotting a group of wild camels (did you know that Australia is the #1 exporter of camels?). Brendan zoomed off the road that we were on to drive right up to where the camels were and we took a bunch of pictures. Then Brendan asked if any of us had ever seen a camel run before? Hmm…one could only guess where this would go and as Brendan started up the car and started honking his horn, it wasn’t long before we all could say that we had seen a camel run. I felt terribly sorry for the poor camels, not only because we were chasing them and obviously scaring them in the car, but also because they do have quite a, well, unique way of running (for those who have seen it, you know what I mean--for those who haven’t, well I guess you will have to come out here to catch a glimpse!)

We stopped off for lunch near a dry riverbed where I managed to slip into quite a lot of mud and where there just so happened to be the most flies on the whole trip. It was almost impossible to hold your food, let alone eat with all the flies around and I just kept walking around and around trying to rid myself and my food of the horrible little things.

After driving for a bit longer on the dirt road we made it back to the main road and stopped off to see the Singing, Piano playing Dingo. Yes, it is true, there is actually a singing and piano playing Dingo (a dingo is a wild dog) which was saved by a family a couple years ago from being killed and they subsequently discovered that it would sing along to the daughters’ piano playing, then would jump up onto the piano and pound on the keys singing to itself. This dingo is now internationally acclaimed and is even part of the new Trivial Pursuit game that just came out in Australia. Pretty funny and well worth the two dollars that I donated to the local charity they were raising money for.

We got back in the landrover and soon were back in Alice Springs! Three days had passed quickly and despite the whole shower thing, we all had a good time and Brendan’s mood had seemed to lighten although it was really hard to tell what he thought about us. I picked up my stuff from where I had stayed before the trip then headed to Victoria and Emma’s place to stay with them for the night. I finally made it over to Quantas to sort out my tickets and after an hour of frustration I finally left with my tickets set for Dubbo and to Sydney tomorrow!

I came back to the hostel and we all took shower to get ready to go out on the town with our group at a place called Bojangles, which is this place in Alice Springs where just about every tour group goes to let loose after their tours. We had a great amount of fun and spent most of the night on the dance floor mixing with the locals who were quite entertaining in themselves.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Alice Springs, Australia--Day 60

Today we were woken up by Brendan at 4:30 in the morning, which of course is way too early for anyone to get up. I surprised myself, however, and didn’t really feel that tired (or as tired as I should have been!). We packed up our swags and had breakfast and were on the road by 5:30am and heading off to catch the sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta (another really neat rock formation) at a viewing spot that was far away from the other tourists, which turned out to be really great since we basically had the whole viewing area to ourselves to watch the sunrise, with other people only showing up after the sun had risen. After taking a ridiculous amount of pictures, we then got back into our landrover and headed over to Kata Tjuta where we started out on a four hour walk which was also really great. We were practically the only people there as well and I really couldn’t get enough of the contrasts between the blue sky and green trees with white trunks, as well as the red dirt everywhere. It was really beautiful and I was surprised to see so much vegetation in the Outback. After four hours of walking and talking, as well as the occasional factoid from Brendan, we climbed back into our landrover and headed to a spot to have lunch which gave several neat outlooks over to Uluru and Kata Tjuta as well as many, many flies. They were so bad that I had to eat my lunch under my fly net, with one hand holding the net sort of shut around my face and the other holding my sandwich under my net. Anyways, they were really bad.

Tonight we were to sleep more in the bush and away from all of the other campsites. Our camp was a proper bush camp (with a shower and everything!) and after surveying our surroundings we got back into our landrover and Brendan dropped us off at the main campground’s swimming pool for a nice afternoon dip.

Things were going just great- most of us got into the pool and had a great time swimming around practicing synchronized swimming (obviously the thing to do!) and having a great laugh about everything. A few of us decided to jump into the showers that were near the pool which later turned out to be a big mess since apparently we were not technically allowed to use these facilities, and were only supposed to use our bush shower.

I won’t go into too much detail but basically it turned into a sort of fight between our guide and a few of us and was really just one big misunderstanding since we were never told not to use them (we were paying to use the pool and we weren’t allowed to use the facilities for the pool??). Anyways, after picking us up Brendan was quite mad at us which made for a very awkward situation afterwards while dinner was being prepared. It was like we were all back in the third grade or something and extremely weird since we were all supposed to be having a good time. Anyways, while Brendan made dinner the rest of us watched the sunset and came back to have dinner, only to have Brendan refuse to eat with us. Whatever.

That night we all sat around the campfire and Brendan finally came out of hiding after a while, bringing with him a didgeridoo for us all to try out and I have to say that I could make a couple of notes out which weren’t too unrecognizable. It was fun but the whole atmosphere was still weird and uncomfortable and we all went to bed wondering what would happen in the morning! Brendan was convinced that he was “going to lose his job over this” and the rest of us couldn’t believe how much he was overreacting.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Alice Springs, Australia--Day 59

Today I woke up several times before it was actually time for me to wake up at 5:30. I packed up my things and headed out to meet my guide (whose name I would later learn to be Brendan) for the next three days who was waiting for me. We exchanged hellos and I put my stuff into the back of the trailer and got into the landrover. We pulled out and picked up two other people along the way Uli, a guy from Germany, and Vicki, a woman from Australia. We then pulled into a convenience store and stopped to pick up four others, Emma and Victoria from England, and Marika and Gherman, a couple from Belgium. After sorting out paperwork we set off to our first destination Uluru, which is also known as Ayers Rock, and is a sacred cultural site for the Aboriginal People as well as the biggest rock in the world!

After driving for about an hour we made it to a camel farm where we stopped to use the facilities and could also pay to ride a camel. Since it was only $5 and I couldn’t see the next time that I would actually be riding a camel, I paid and climb on top of a camel and for the next oh, two minutes or so was paraded around with the Marika and Gherman on our camels around a big loop. As we headed down the final stretch towards the others waiting for us, our guide made the camels sort of jog which of course made us bounce up and down more. The worst of it was when the camel was getting up and down because it just felt like the camel was going to fall over and that you were going to fall over with it. The camel guides instruct you to lean back as far as possible and trying to do this while holding on and keeping your balance was actually quite hard.

After our camel rides we got back in the landrover and kept on driving towards Uluru, having a contest to see who could spot the rock first. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy outside so our hopes to find the contrast of bright blue skies with the massive orange rock were low but everyone was excited anyways. We stopped off at a roadhouse on the way to a few drinks for later tonight and then made our way to Uluru. We finally spotted Uluru and headed into the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park where we first stopped off at our campsite to have lunch and to get an idea of where the facilities were during the daytime, since we would be coming back at night after the sunset and it would be difficult to point everything out then! After lunch we headed over to Uluru and the Aboriginal Cultural Center. The (Aboriginal) Cultural Center was really interesting and had several different buildings dedicated to telling bits and pieces about Aboriginal culture as well as video and audio clips all of which were fascinating. After spending about an hour in the cultural center we were dropped off by our guide at the base of the rock for a walk around. There is also a climb up to the top of the rock, however it was closed today due to the weather (impending rain and winds) and so it was closed but just looking at it made me not want to do it anyways since it was so steep! Aboriginal people also ask that people don’t climb it since it is so very sacred to their culture (its kind of like stepping right over and into a church’s altar) and so I would not have climbed it anyway.

The base walk was really nice and took us about 2 hours to complete after stopping for photos many times and talking with Emma and Victoria the entire way. The rock itself is just magnificent and it really is hard to believe that it is just one huge and rusty rock. I was actually really glad that it had been raining and was a bit cloudy because not only did this add an extra element to the rock (including water trickling down it!) but was also not as hot as it could have been. The flies were in full swing though and I felt very happy that I had my new fly netted hat to keep them away!

After walking around most of the way we met up with Brendan again to have a sort of mini cultural lesson about Uluru and the stories that Aboriginal people tell to their children about the rock’s formation and origin, as well as some really neat cave paintings. After this we headed to the sunset viewing area/lookout only to join about 50 billion other caravans and coaches who were setting up their own places to view the sunset from afar. We picked a good spot and opened up four bottles of sparkling wine as well as chips and dips and watched as the sun made it way down behind us which made Uluru different shades of orange, red and purple.

After the sun had set we got back into our landrover and headed out back to the campsite and built our campfire, set up our swags while Brendan made us dinner! What luxury! Dinner was great and afterwards it was time for bed! Falling asleep under the stars was wonderful--a nice change from hotel life.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.