I just had a look, and it’s been over a month since I did a proper blog update! That, I must say, surprised me.
My apologies for not doing more sooner, and my apologies for leaving you with such an alarming last post for so long. As an update let me assure you that there have been no recurrences of the kidney stone incident (thank goodness), though there was one other trip to the hospital that week for a suspected appendicitis (I kid you not) that thankfully turned out to be nothing – just inflamed lymph nodes in my digestive system near the appendix that closely mimicked the symptoms of an appendicitis. I’m telling you, there’s just far too much going on in my abdomen for my liking at the moment!
As I said though, all is fine for now. I’m currently at my brother’s place near Perth just taking it easy and planning my next move. Whatever happens I’ll be back in the UK on September the 9th, I just need to sort out going to ride an elephant in between now and then. How I’m going to do that, as I rapidly run out of cash, I don’t know, but I will that’s for sure! 😉
But anyway, that’s all in the future. For now let’s look to the past. Not decades, but just a few weeks ago, somewhere between New Zealand and the ambulance, when I headed over from Sydney to Adelaide and then took The Ghan up to Alice Springs.
The first part was a simple little jaunt: Sydney to Adelaide. Just a wee over-night trip, with a little stop off at Broken Hill along the way to admire a bit of Australian heritage (or something like that).
I had to spend a few days in Adelaide (again!) while I waited for my train north to depart. The Ghan is another one of those legendary Aussie train journeys. From Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs, I intended to do it in two parts, stopping off in Alice for a week or so to go do a 3 days camping tour of the Red Centre – Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon and The Olgas.
The trip started with a vegan breakfast at the Parklands Terminal (Keswick Station). I asked for the veggie breakfast, but when I told them no eggs the whole vegan thing came out. I wasn’t expecting any special treatment. I thought I’d just get a veggie brekkie and eat around some things. But they did their best to accommodate me, even though they’d never done one before, so this is what I got.
Basically burnt courgette (zucchini), roasted red peppers (capsicum) and tomato salsa. It was not very appetising I’m afraid. I mean top marks for effort, the chef checked the ingredients on the marg to see if I could have it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much. When the woman behind the counter came out to see how they did and ask what I would normally expect from a vegan breakfast I told them “Much the same as a veggie breakfast: Toast, beans, mushrooms, hash browns. Y’know, the usual.” Hopefully next time they will just go with the flow and not ‘try’ so hard.
The journey itself was quite uneventful, and much like the trips I’ve had on the Indian Pacific. The big difference was they’ve got rid of the lounge car, so you now get to spend all your time in the rather uncomfortable Red Service Day-Nighter Seats. Not very good for your back or knees. You can take a walk to the cafe car to get some food or something, but you have to be back in your seat when you’ve finished. I’m telling you, it’s not as nice as it used to be (and by ‘used to be’ I mean back in January!).
There’s not much to see as you travel north, as you can see from the picture above, so the train staff try and get you excited about any little thing. They made as big hoo-hah about “The Iron Man” statue, a ‘monument’ put up by the rail workers to commemorate the 1,000,000th sleeper laid. So much so that you start expecting something fifty foot tall, a tower of modern engineering.
And then this thing trundles past!
I’m telling you, I wish I’d taken a picture of the bemused looks on everybody’s faces as it went by. Now that was a sight to behold.
I only had one night on the train and then I was in Alice Springs.
To call Alice Springs ‘sleepy’ would be an understatement. In fact I’m sure they’d love to tell you there’s a lot going on. But if I tell you that this is the main high street (both directions) at one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon,
I think you start to get the picture.
But I wasn’t here for the social life, I was here to do The Rock’s 3-Day Red Center Tour.
It started with a 6am pick up from the hostel. I’m not a big fan of such early starts, be it for flights, tours, or morning satsang, but what are you gonna do? The first part of the trip was a good six hour drive south to Ayers Rock. Our guide, Mark, did what he could to keep us amused, including having us draw our names on the windows, along with the flag of our home nation plus a picture of anything we liked (best one to win a beer).
As we were traveling, lunch was provided. Mostly everyone got a cheese and ham or just cheese sandwich. I, being vegan, got this instead.
That’s not dressing it’s swimming about it, it just balsamic vinegar. Talk about acidic. Once again, I wasn’t expecting or asking for any special treatment. I’m willing to go veggie if the moment demands it. But once again, an ‘A’ for effort, but a ‘D-‘ for execution. Thank God I took loads of snacks with me.
When we got to Ayers Rock it was absolutely chucking it down!
We did a walk part way around the base, as we weren’t allowed to go up it.
We even got to see waterfalls on Ayers Rock, which I’m told is quite special (but just felt wet to me, lol).
I was sorry I couldn’t go up it, but I did get to see Ayers Rock, so I’m happy with that.
And I got to do another headstand, which is always good.
We even stayed for sunset, which sadly due to the cloud cover was nowhere near as impressive and we had been hoping. But it did give us the chance to monkey around a bit.
After that we drove to our campsite, stopping along the way to collect firewood. Our guide cooked us a nice vegetable coconut curry, which was delicious,
then we got to spend the night sleeping out under the stars in a Swag Bag; a tarpaulin sleeping bag with a thin foam mattress and a proper sleeping bag stuffed inside it, and with a flap/hood to pull over your head to keep the creepy crawlies out. It’s about as comfortable as it sounds, and I was absolutely freezing all night. Quite simply one of the worst nights sleep I’ve had in ages. I was not amused.
Day two saw us up early to see dawn at Ayers Rock.
Once again, thanks to the clouds, not as mesmerising as it could have been unfortunately. Still, nothing you can do about the weather. We had breakfast in the car park,
then once again it was back aboard the old jalopy,
to head off to the next location, The Olgas.
Some of us caught up on our sleep along the way,
but pretty soon we were there, as they’re fairly close by.
This was to be a 3km hike, taking a few hours. Thankfully the sun came out, so we had some nice weather to do it in.
And finally the red centre started to look a bit more red, once it dried out.
Our guide told us a bit about the local geology and culture as we did our hike, and at the end we were rewarded with this view,
which made the effort all the more worthwhile. Everyone was happy to be there;
I got this headstand picture,
taken by a lovely chap from England called Martin who was quickly becoming my official photographer on this trip. 🙂
NB: Yes it was a bit cold, and yes, those white shorts are the only bit of trouser garments he brought with him!
After The Olgas we headed back to Ayers Rock to do another wee walk round some of it, this time in the sunshine,
before once again heading off to set up camp again.
Once more we got more firewood,
this time so Mark could actually cook on the fire, rather than on the gas stove on the back of the trailer.
The food was good, but it in no way balanced out our having to sleep in the swags again. I was even colder that night, waking up at 5am, thoroughly miserable, with frost all over my bag! Honestly, I was glad to get out of there and back on the road.
For the last day we were off to hike Kings Canyon.
It was a world of different landscapes, as these pictures show,
including a watering hole,
and the canyon itself.
Our guide took the opportunity of a wee rest,
while we took the opportunity to monkey around a bit.
I got a couple of decent headstand pictures. One at the watering hole,
and one up top on the way back.
After that we had the long drive back to Alice to look forward to (with the odd stop along the way…)
Our tour was meant to end with a short camel ride, but we got there five minutes too late, so they were closed. Honestly, I was a bit annoyed about that, as it was the bit I was looking forward to the most. You’d think they’d know how long these things take, and be able to plan them a little better. But anyway…
After getting back to the hostel we all met up at a local bar to have dinner together and (for most of them) sink a few beers. I don’t drink, but I went along as I met some really nice people on the tour and it was fun to go hang out with them and have a laugh (and know there was a bed to sleep in at the end of it). But when the tequila shots came out I made my excuses and left. Much fun was had by all apparently, I got a report from Martin-The-Dirty-Stop-Out the next day, but I just can’t stand around being sober while other people get drunk. The novelty wears off for me real quick, and I’m sure it’s not much fun for them either. Each to his own, and for me it was a warm bed and a good long lie-in. 😉
The tour was fun, and I’m glad I did it, but I wish I’d done it in summer when the nights are warmer and there’s less chance of rain. If you get a chance and you’re in Alice Springs I recommend giving it a go.
For ‘surviving’ the trip I rewarded myself with a proper vegan meal at the Tea Shrine in Alice Springs, another unexpected delight offered up by Happy Cow that totally took me by surprise!
They’re heavy on the mock meats, but the food is absolutely delicious! I think I ate there every day I was in Alice pretty much. At $8-10 per meal how can you say no?
And that’s it for the Red Centre Tour, but not for the red centre! I was not to be defeated by the lack of camel ride, so I made my own arrangements. That’s coming up next, and boy was it special. 😉