Sunday, October 12, 2014

Our final days in OZ

I guess I’d better finish this up before I forget what we did…. The final installment of “What I did on my summer vacation.”

Kings Canyon was supposed to be a pretty big hike.  You hike 6+ km around the rim of the canyon, involving some very steep stairs right in the beginning and no shade whatsoever.  The other option was a 2km hike through the center of the canyon in the shade.  The little guy, only 2 days out from receiving second degree burns on his foot, and a little sore from the long trek the day before, opted for the short walk.  I can’t say this mom was too disappointed.  After we finished the short hike, we decided instead of sitting around for another hour and a half waiting on the group, we would go at the big hike from the end.  We put on our fly nets (these suckers are aggressive and abundant - up your nose, in your ear, in your eye) and searched for the trail. Supposedly, the climb wasn’t as steep and the views were excellent.  2000 stairs and 30 minutes later, we were at the top!  Jake was a trooper…I think he felt like he had been tricked a little bit.  But the views were well worth it.  We sat for a little bit resting and listening to the guides as they came by.  We learned that it was the Australians that introduced Eucalyptus to California and provided so much fuel for those nasty fires!  They did apologize...

Lunch was at a big campground, complete with playground.    Here’s where exciting event #2 happened for Jake.  He was playing with this little girl from Canada on the monkey bars and they were taking turns seeing how far each of them could jump and grab the bars.  I was watching but was trying to be the mom that let her kid take some chances (I’ve been criticized once or twice for being a little uptight in that department).  Her brother comes along and the boys start daring each other….well, one thing led to another that led to Jake taking a giant leap across the bars.  He got it with one hand but the momentum sent him sailing through the air only to land smack dab on top of his arm as he hit the ground.  I thought for sure he had broken it.  After another visit to Dr. Daddy, we deemed he had just bruised it, maybe sprained it at the worst and he was wrapped up in a makeshift sling and given a little dose of “suck it up” and “you know you don’t have to take every dare given to you, right?”

He sports his injuries well, I think.

Our drive to our campsite this day, was when we started making use of the 4WD portion of our bus.  Geesh, we bumped and turned and bobbed and shook….Jake passed out cold on my lap.  The campsite was at a pub so for the first time, everyone partook in a little drinking.  It went a long way in loosening up our group.  Everyone was extremely nice, but not very outgoing.  I won’t even say they weren’t friendly, because they were…we just weren’t getting the “fun” vibes from very many people.  After traveling so much and then going on this trip, I see one reason people think American’s are obnoxious.  We’re friendly.  We force people to talk to us…even if they don’t want to.  I think we might have been a little guilty of that a few times.  Jake slept right through the steak dinner (arguably the best dinner we had on the trip) and straight into the morning (his only night sleeping in a tent).  When he woke up, the poor guy had a trail of bug bites going all the way across his bum.  He itched for days.

Day 4 is a blur to me.  We did a really nice hike and a swim in a gorge that was so cold, it literally took my breath away.  Other than that, I remember thinking I was just about done with the outback.  We camped out in the middle of no where with no water (outside what we brought with us) or toilets or anything – all sleeping in swags – and had the most peaceful night yet. 

I thought we took the polar plunge.  I have never swam in
such cold water in my life.

Katie, preparing our dinner the last night on her make shift

Showing off our fly nets.  I lifted mine up in a moment of

These are the swags we've been talking about.  That's Jake in the

Night sky.

Our last day, we got to stop at an aboriginal community and take a little tour as well as paint some of our own artwork.  This was a lot more interesting than I had hoped and would rank right up there at the top for me.  Our guide was “cheeky” (a new Australian word, I’m still working out the exact meaning of), a little superstitious (ok, a lot), and very open and honest.  We got to do a little cultural exchange as she asked me if America is really as dangerous as it looks on tv (she watches a lot of COPS).  She was shocked that we eat deer and didn’t believe me when I told her I thought it was more tender than kangaroo.  Apparently, I had not had kangaroo prepared properly…no doubt she was right.

This week had us spending a lot of time contemplating how the aboriginals were treated by the Aussies...very similar to our Native Americans in the States.  Andy and I changed our opinions many times and in the end, never really came up with a solid stance.  It's all so complicated, and is never what it appears...  I was hoping to educate or enlighten or at least force my opinion on you, but in the end, I walked away as confused as I ever was.  If nothing else, at least I'm more educated on the topic and have some new things to think about.

The handprints on the wall there were from early "artists,"
according to our guide.   I think...

Jake, showing off his Komodo dragon (I know, not
indigenous to Australia, but inspiring none the less).

Those circles are supposed to be watering holes.  Jake thinks
I went a little overboard with the dot painting technique.
"Sometimes less is more, Mommy."

As we plopped back down into our hotel beds that evening, we all agreed that this was definitely an experience to be remembered forever.  If you can believe it, our tiny little family actually got closer.  Jake showed some extreme toughness and the ability to make lemonade out of a mess-ton of lemons. 

We were happy to land back in Kuching and get back to Savannah, but we all agreed we wish we could have seen more.  It was kind of like a foreigner coming to the United States for 10 days and seeing the Grand Canyon.  It’s Grand, but it’s only a tiny piece of what’s available.
Unfortunately, we were met with tiny little rat turds all over the boat….I bet you can guess what I’ll write about next time…

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Australian Outback Safari - Day 1-2

Our bus...taken later on our trip.
We were picked up from our hotel promptly at 5:45 to start our Outback tour.  Our bus was a fairly new, air-conditioned, 4WD vehicle seating about 15-16 people with a trailer attached to it to carry all of our bags, camping gear and food.  We would be switching campsites every night and making some pretty long drives between sites, so it was nice not to have to sit with our bags everywhere we went.  Our guide was Katie, a perky thing from New Zealand that would prove to be one of the highlights of the trip.  We were only the second people to be picked up and everyone was still pretty sleepy, so it would be much later before we really got to know the rest of our group.

Our first major stop was going to be at Ayers Rock, or Uluru as the indigenous would like for everyone to call it.  A little blurb from the brochure... "Uluru stands an imposing 348 metres above the surrounding desert and has a circumference of 9.4km. It measures 3.6 km long and 2.4 km wide oriented in an east-west direction. Rather like an iceberg, there is more of Uluru under the ground than above it which really brings home the enormity of it. "

I read somewhere that you can actually see it from space.  The biggest rock in the world.  Anyway, it was 3 hours away so we broke up the time with a few stops.  The most memorable being the camel farm.  Jake and I had decided long ago that we wanted to ride one of the many camels in the Outback (until recently, I had no idea they even had camels.  But apparently, they're abundant...left over from WWII days).  We giggled the whole time...Jake would have loved to have done the whole safari on the camel.  It was just a short ride (think pony ride at the fair), but well worth the effort (and $13).

As we drove our first few hours we were all cranning our necks out the window to see what Australia looked like.  The first time one of us spoke, it was Andy.  "This looks exactly like west Texas." 

"I thought it was very similar to Oklahoma myself,"  was my reply.  "hmmmm....."  It reminded me of our 21 day crossing to the Marquesas only to pull up to an island that looked exactly like Mexico (at least from one side).

So we were thrilled to finally arrive at Uluru and see the big red rock, which did not look like west Texas at all.  But before we could see the big rock, we stopped at our campsite to eat lunch, unload and get a little briefing.  That was when we had our first "incident."  We were just about to start to eat when we heard Jake waling.  We looked over and he was hopping around with one of his feet covered in ash.  The kid had stepped in a fire pit, used the night before and covered up in ash.  It wasn't smoldering but I have to say it was the most proper fire pit I have ever seen, complete with bricks around it and I still, for the life of me cannot believe he didn't know what it was (which is what he said).  A long story short, he ended up with first and second degree burns on his little foot.  Andy and I aside from being worried, of course, were just sure this was the end to our very expensive vacation.  With the help of some medical supplies, Dr. Andy fixed him up.  We took the wait and see approach.  After a hard hour or two (a lot of crying and wriggling), the ibuprofin kicked in and the initial shock started to wear off.  Just in time for our tour of Uluru.  We took a fairly short walking tour and learned all about the significance of the rock to the Aborigines, along with some of their creation stories.  At the end, Jake actually liked the stories better than the rock.  We finished up just in time for a sunset viewing, complete with champagne.

One of the blisters on Jake's foot.

Thousands of people come here every year to climb Uluru.
Lots of signs trying to convince people they don't want to
climb the rock.

Our guide, Katie, explaining "the kitchen."
A small cave where women used to do their

I'll explain the goofy hats later.

Our first night was spent sleeping under the stars in a swag.  It's kind of like a zip up sock for your sleeping back, but has a mattress and pillow.  My first thought was that they were a little over rated (highly touted on the website, as well as by the guide and other reviewers online).  It was a little clostraphobic and I thought the bathrooms were too far away for my nightly stroll (but at least we had bathrooms).  I'm feel like a tool saying that I'm spoiled with the night stars out on the ocean, so even that was a bit less dramatic than I was hoping for.  With all of that said, we were still having a good time and extremely thankful that Jake's foot was turning out ok.

Day 2 started way earlier than I would have liked (5:00 am) to view the sunrise over Uluru.  I stayed back at camp looking for a misplaced camera, but Andy said I didn't miss much.  I guess we're a little jaded living on the boat - stars, sunsets, takes a lot to impress this bunch.

We were soon headed off to hike the Olgas, or Kata Tjuta.  This was a pretty lengthy hike.  I was worried about the little guy, but he hung in the full 5.whatever kilometers with barely a wimper.  As a matter of fact, he ran ahead a bit to chat up our guide throughout the hike on varying subjects, but mostly dinosaurs.  She liked kids and whether she new it or not, by appearing interested, she was instigating a weeklong friendship with Mr. Know it All (she later dubbed him her "google").

To be honest, most of the week was hiking, driving and camping so the significance of the various rocks and mountains sort of ran together in my head.  I'll let the pictures do the talking.

If you look really close, you can see a kangaroo in the middle
of the picture.  Jake got to check his "kangaroo" box.

After a few more stops and another long drive, we ended up at our campsite for the night.  This was one of the most remote places we would go.  We saw some dingos (even a baby), some wild camels and horses, and got to try out our first "bush shower."  Apparently, you light a fire to heat up the water and shower in a 3 sided structure while looking out into the wilderness.  We skipped the fire as it wasn't that cool of an evening, but enjoyed the whole outback-ness of it all.  I haven't mentioned the food yet.  While breakfast and lunch were somewhat redundant, the campfire dinners were awesome.  This night was the first night Katie, our guide made the traditional "damper" bread over the fire.  Absolutely delicious (we were lucky enough to get it every night afterwards).

Another "Where's Waldo."  See the baby dingo?

I chose to sleep in the tent at this particular campsite while Andy and Jake stayed in the swags.  Unfortunately, I had to get up in the middle of the night again and make another long trek to the bathroom.  My biggest reason for complaining is because I'm a scaredy cat.  I just new something was going to sting me, bite me, or jump on me (the bathroom was three sided to).  I got back to my tent just in time to hear a pack of dingos start howling.  They howled and howled and got closer and closer.  I've never been so glad to be back in bed.  

A chipper 6:00 am wake up call had us up and moving getting ready for our next day's hike...Kings Canyon.

Some random pictures from some of our various stops between major sites...

Jake took this picture.  Cool little thing on one of our lunch stops.
We're arguing over wether it's a perentie or a goanna.

Funny little Emu.

A salt lake that was way more interesting than I thought
it would be.

Jake gathered some salt for his dinner.

 Hopefully I'm leaving you full of suspense, like your favorite soap opera.  If not, you're probably at least glad that I'm done for the day....only one more post left to wrap up this self proclaimed epic tale...