Sorry this is so soon after the last installment, save
it and read it later if you are sick of Aussie
updates! But I didn't quite get to writing about the
center
of Australia yesterday before I had to catch my
greyhound....I am currently in Hervey Bay, Queensland
enjoying (not!) the first signs of winter. It is
pissing down with rain! The Red center, as the desert
country surrounding Alice Springs in the Northern
Territory if fondly often referred to, was a very
close second to West Australia as my favorite place on
this odyssey. And I certainly wasn't expecting that;
in fact, I was rather dubious about Ayers Rock; I
assumed this was the only attraction of note in the
region and that it had been hyped too much to be that
affecting. I could not have been more wrong....As
you'll discover if you read on.....!

By far, the most important and amazing thing about my
trip was a young, cute, adorable male called Rex. He
weighed about 5 pounds and stood 15 inches high. A
baby kangaroo. Several weeks earlier, our guide, Ben,
had witnessed his mother being killed on the highway.
On discovering the tiny, hairless joey in her pouch,
he was about to kill him when several of his
passengers came screaming off the bus, begging him to
give him a chance at life. The vet gave Rex a 1 in 50
chance of surviving. Nine weeks later, Rex was doing
quite well when he came into my life. I immediately
adopted him and diligently learned all of the tasks
associated with his care. How lucky was I to get
this experience on a paid tour of the outback? I
still can't believe it was real. Rexy, as I called
him, needed feeding formula every hour, simulation of
his mother's behavior to encourage him to
urinate(involving brushing his balls with a branch
back and forth till he peed), patient coaxing to jump
and exercise his muscles, and about twenty hours of
sleep inside a man-made pouch of cotton towels and a
pillow case. I grew very attached to this little fur
ball, and by the end of the trip, I was singing little
lullabies to him as I rocked him to sleep in my
sweatshirt, let him curl up with me in my sleeping
bag, and carried him on hikes in my backpack, next to
my water bladder to keep him cool in the heat. Rex
was the highlight of this trip for everybody. We
especially enjoyed how he would forward somersault to
get into his pouch; this is his programmed manner of
getting into mom. However, Rex would often mistake
all manner of objects as mommy's pouch, and as such
would entertain us trying to forward roll into our
pockets, laps, sleeping bags, and knees, most of the
time failing to secure a hold and stumbling over
before trying again, seemingly undeterred by his lack
of success. God, he was adorable. I am so spoilt, I
am not sure if a kitten or puppy will ever be enough
for me after the love and devotion this kangaroo
showed me. No words.

And I have to share a song with you. I had heard this
song on tours before, but by this trip, I was
determined to commit it to memory. It is
laugh-out-loud funny, and supposedly (I am not saying
ANYTHING about authenticity!) quite an accurate
generalised depiction of the aussie male (I am not
trying to offend any of my Aussie mates, so apologies
in advance!)

The song is called "BLOKE" and is sung to the same
tune as Meredith Brooks' song "BITCH".

Here goes:

I hate the new age guys,
I'm a chauvinist, I live on beer and pies
Yesterday I lied
But my mates gave me, an alibi "Cheers, guys!"
I really was out drinking, I said I was at work...
Sometimes, you look at me like I was an angel
underneath
But I haven't brushed me teeth

CHORUS: I'm a bloke, I 'm an ocker,
And I really love ya knockers
I'm a laborer by day
I piss up all me pay
Watching footie on TV
Just feed me more VB
Just pour my beer, and get my smokes and go away!

Or take me as I am
That might mean you'll have to fetch another can....

CHORUS: I'm a bloke, I"m a yobbo
And me best mates' name is Robbo
Its Phil gets me cigarettes
I dress in Flannelet
Shearers' singlet that is blue
Throw in a few tattoos
You know you wouldn't want me any other way!

Lovely picture, isn't it?

SO, where I left off last I was partying hard in Alice
Springs the night before leaving at 5am on a five day
safari of the center. It had been a while since I had
let some alcohol flow, and the night was quite a
memorable one; including a rather unfortunate personal
attempt by my aged and decrepit self to out-maneuver
nubile 18 year olds at a limbo competition. The
following morning I was greeted by a thumping
headache, air that felt like thick soup to fight
through, and a spine that felt like it had been
re-arranged by fairies in the night. Not to worry I
thought; Tex had assured us that the first day of the
five day safari was spent driving; meaning lots of
blissful bus sleep.

Tex is a fat liar.

I climbed into out monster 4x4 TRUUUCCK, nearly
dislocating my one good shoulder trying to get my
short arse into the passenger seat. I like sitting in
the front with the tour guide. As many backpackers in
Australia will note, the tour guides are often the
only Aussies you get a chance to know on a personal
level; there are no shortage of POMS (british),
German, Dutch, and er...more POMS staying in youth
hostels, but you hardly ever meet Australians in
Australia. That's why I make the effort. This may
not have been a good idea this morning, as this guide
was rather chatty and seemingly hell-bent on imparting
his entire life story before our first pit-stop,
despite my pained grumblings and doubtless dribble
from the left corner of my mouth, as my body fought to
stay awake. Tired. Not even the beginning of it.
The thought that I also had arranged tours every day
until April 23 was not a pleasant additional thought.
As you all know, early mornings and my personality are
not an amicable fit.

Our first stop was a camel sanctuary. Our guide, Ben,
cheerily announced that we could all go for a camel
ride here. It was barely 6.30am. I laughed in his
face, hobbled, then fell out of the front cab, and
staggered towards the smell of hot coffee coming from
the roadhouse. God help anyone that spoke to me; and
heaven grace me with patience if anyone asked me where
I was from and then remarked "oh, its so cold there!",
when I state Alaska as my place of residence.

The "Rock" or Uluru, as the Aboriginal people refer to
Ayers, is over 350 Kms from Alice Springs. Few people
realise this and our guide explained a time when he
drove a limousine for a living, and a Texan asked to
be taken to the "rock" from Alice Springs Airport, and
being told to "step on it" because his onward
connection left in an hour and a half. This country
is very spread out, and we had a lot of ground to
cover.

My first glimpse of Uluru most definitely drew a gasp
from my lungs, despite my blurry state, which actually
probably added to the dreamy way it appeared as if out
of nowhere. It was beautiful. Not in any way like I
expected. I gathered all my remaining energy reserves
and embarked upon the 10.6 k hike around its base in
the blazing sun of mid-afternoon. I was amazed at the
sheer scale of this monolith, and how different it
appears at all varied angles. I was curious about the
climb to the top; but I knew I was not going to
disrespect the aboriginal elders' requests for
tourists to remain firmly on the ground. This is
still a very sacred place for them, and so many
tourists have died from heat exhaustion in the
attempt, it has brought the local tribes much grief
and turmoil. I wish all who came could be sensitive
to this.

Feeling somewhat more lucid after the walk, we
proceeded to a viewing area for sunset. We broke out
the champagne, cheese and crackers and sat back for
the "show" of changing colors. I am trying to not
sound pretentious, and I am sure my emotional state
was partly due to my only having an hour of sleep, but
I was truly and sincerely moved at the spectacle. I
shed a few tears; there is something very spiritual
about this place, there is no doubt in my mind.

Back at the campsite, I was irrational and blurry;
demanding my swag and, falling into it like a drunk in
the street, I fell fast asleep; considerations about
snakes, spiders, heat and dust all second to my
craving for shut eye.

The following day we were awoken at 4.30am so that we
could drive over to Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas)
for sunrise. Bleary eyed, I went through my now
almost robotic routine of unpacking and packing my
backpack (I want to burn it at this stage in my
travels), rolling my swag, stepping into clothes and
climbing into the truck with a toothbrush in my mouth.
Sunrise was glorious. Until the flies came. And
swarmed.

We spent the morning hiking through Kata Tjuta,
another sacred aboriginal site for "men's business".
It was massive in scale and just as impressive, if not
more so than the rock. I was beginning to realize
that worrying about smelling funny, or keeping my
clothes clean was a futile pursuit. This red dust was
intrusive, it got into anything and made it pink. All
my socks and t-shirts now have pinkish tinges. But
that's also one of the biggest things I've learned on
this trip; not to be connected to my possessions for
how fast I have lost and/or ruined them. It was so
hot that I soon shed my shirt in any case and hiked in
my bra. I know it sounds shocking, but you really
lose all sense of whats proper in this type of harsh
environment. Appearances are secondary to a desperate
attempt for comfort.

We drove over some horrendously flooded out and bumpy
terrain to our next camp at Kings' Canyon National
Park. We all realized why we were in this monster
4WD. We would hit rivets in the road at fairly
moderate speeds and all go flying off our seats
(including rexy in his pouch), like cowboys at a
rodeo, complete with whoops of joy for more, more!
(well, at least from my mouth!).

Camping under the stars was really magical. As was
drinking and toasting beers around the campfire
sitting on our swags. I was really enjoying myself.

The next morning, before our hike, we went on search
for some aboriginal bush tucker (outback food);
primarily the witchety grub - a caterpillar like
larvae that, apparently, whilst disgusting in
appearance, serves as an excellent source of protein.
They live in the roots of certain shrubs which we
spent nearly an hour digging out before Ben could
excitedly offer one of them out to a brave and willing
victim,.... I mean, volunteer, of course, to eat. It
was white, wriggling, raw, and looked very much like
my worst nightmare. I hate crawlies of any kind.
Especially caterpillars. But I had to do it!
Giovanna and I both ate one, raw, by biting off the
body right under its head. It jerked as I bit it, and
suppressing a reflex to vomit I didn't so much chew as
swallow the gooey substance became in my mouth. For
those of you in disbelief, I still am, and have to
look at the photos my fellow travellers took of me
jamming it into my gob to believe I actually did it.
Ewwwww!

Kings Canyon was phenomenal and offered the additional
plus of a refreshing cool swim at a waterhole at its
base. For those of you who have seen "Priscilla,
Queen of the Desert", this is the place Guy Ritchies'
character has always dreamed of hiking dressed in full
drag, heels and a tiara. To which Terence Stamps'
character so memorably replies: "Great. That's just
what this country needs: Another cock, in a frock, on
a rock".

The following day we travelled to Palm Valley National
Park where ancient palm species trees and Cicada trees
grow in abundance along the oasis of the river flowing
there. More vistas of red outback, glorious rock
pools, cascading waterfalls and places to yell and
sing my heart out without worrying about anyone
hearing me. I loved it here. I was getting quite
adept at the bush camping thing too; proudly brave of
the insects except on one evening when we had a shower
block at the campsite. Ross, a traveller from the UK,
kindly offered to walk me to the showers which were a
few hundred meters from our site. With flashlights in
hand, we set off through the scrub. No matter what we
did, however, we kept only finding the toilet block
and kept imagining such terribly creepy things lurking
in the pitch black darkness that we gave up, giggling
to keep up our spirits as we hobbled, ashamed, back to
camp.

We took many opportunities on this safari to discuss
aboriginal culture with our guide. Over the past few
months, I have listened to a wide spectrum of
"opinion" on the issues facing Australia's population
of indigenous peoples, and I feel that after hearing
arguments from a variety of perspectives, I am
beginning to get a grasp on this political and highly
sensitive topic. Perhaps my own opinions will have
taken shape by the time I am ready to leave the
country, and I will share them with you then. We did
take the opportunity of having lunch in an Aboriginal
community on this tour; and it was an experience which
very much reminded me of the time I spent in a South
African Township in Cape Town, combined with
experiences of being in grocery stores in Poland
before the fall of communism. Lots of bleak concrete
and a lack of variety of brands to purchase. The
people, on the whole, acted shy and hesitant towards
me. But it was a valuable insight.

Our final day took us to several lakes in the West
Macdonnell Ranges National Park. It was a welcome
change to spend some time in water out of the dry and
unrelenting heat. I was exhausted, and could only
think about collapsing when I got back to Alice. And
it was so hard saying goodbye to Rex. I cried. I can
honestly say that Kangaroo gave me more joy and love
than every guy I've dated in a year. I will miss him.

Which I did; until about 10.30pm when Giovanna came
back to the room and told me I should get up, get
dressed and come to the bar to celebrate my birthday!
I hadn't had any dinner, so I was doubly excited to
find she had even gone to the trouble of getting me a
cake with candles on it which I blew out at midnight.
She truly is a gem, and the most wonderful friend and
travel companion anyone could ever ask for! Ross and
Matt were there as well as our whole tour group to
help me celebrate. The highlight of the evening was
the lovely Caribbean band who obliged my musical
passions by letting me sing a few songs with them. It
was a thrill to do so, especially on that day.
Turning 28 in Alice Springs. Could be worse. Eh?

I am sorry for the length of this letter! Thanks for
persisting to this point, take care and until next
time........

Which shall feature my 3 day escapade of hell through
the outback from Alice to Cairns, the Great Barrier
Reef, sailing in the Whitsundays and 4-wheeling in
Fraser Island(where I am headed tomorrow!)

Love to you all.
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