Category Archives: Thoughts

Trip 3:Saturday, September 2 Part 1 (of 3)

It is almost inconceivable that the trip is so nearly over. It seems odd, too, that I can spend so much time with people I really like all the while realizing that I’ll probably never see them again. I am battered and bruised and weary, yet I am sorry to have this part of my current Australian odyssey end. It is so fresh and beautiful out here, and though it is hard, it is uncomplicated.

We arose this morning to a noisy flurry of cockatoos. There were a few clouds in the sky, and they were tinged pink by the rising sun. Soon the magpies added their caroling to the other morning sounds.

We were breakfasted, packed, and on the road by 8 a.m., crossing the miles, climbing into the next mountain range, stopping to look back over the plain we’d just crossed.

The mountains rose before and around us, red and stained, in slanted slabs and layers jutting out of the ground, like the bones of the earth with the skin peeled away. I was reminded again that much of what one sees in the Australian landscape is owed to erosion. So, in a way, it is the bones of the earth we were seeing. Up and through Inglis Gap, a pass in the King Leopold Range, and down the other side, to continue our drive to the Napier Range.

From Inglis Gap

From Inglis Gap


King Leopold Range

King Leopold Range

Birds were wonderfully abundant. In trees, on the ground, or on the wing, they were delightful, and we occasionally stopped just to enjoy them. There were galahs, pink and gray and handsome; wompoo pigeons, with their “woop, woop, woop” call: butcher birds, black and white and noisy; a wedge-tailed eagle, always impressive.

We rolled into Windjana Gorge National Park, and this evening’s campsite, around lunchtime.

Camp near Windjana Gorge

Camp near Windjana Gorge

Windjana is cut through the Napier Range, which was once a barrier reef that got thrust up long ago from the ocean floor. The range is Devonian-era limestone, with the outlines of coral polyps and even older pre-coral skeletons still visible in places. The rock is strangely worn, with sharply defined, black pinnacles in some places. Fascinating. I look forward to exploring—later.

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Trip 3:Friday, September 1, Part 1

September 1 is the first day of spring here in Australia. We rose at dawn, as usual, but had a leisurely morning, while John greased the truck and did a few minor repairs. (Those rough roads really beat up even rugged vehicles.)

It was another crystalline morning—clear, unblemished blue from horizon to horizon. The magpies, cockatoos, and crows set up their usual morning chorus. John says the crows in this region are the largest in Australia. That’s easy to believe. I had thought they were ravens, they’re so large.

Most of the group has wandered off to swim or take pictures. I explored for a while but then returned to camp, for a bit of tea, rumination, and writing. I have written extensively about all I’ve seen, but I should probably also note that those with whom I am seeing it are a remarkable lot and have added immensely to this experience. Everyone is well read, well traveled, both interested and interesting, fun, enthusiastic, and thoroughly enjoyable. I consider myself extremely fortunate in having such an ideal group of traveling companions.

I’ve been impressed with our guide, John, as well. He’s very tall, wiry, thin but strong, with shoulder length, wavy, dark blond hair. He is tremendously widely traveled and at times appears a bit world weary, but he is patient, resourceful, polite, and full of stories about his interesting life. Born in London, he left school at 15 and has spent most of his life wandering, mostly in Africa and then Australia. He rolls his own cigarettes and often seems to prefer smoking to eating. Amiable. Slow of speech but quick of wit. He actually delights in the challenge of the horrific roads, even though it means a lot of time fixing the truck, as he was doing this morning. So perfect—in fact almost iconic—for this setting and job.

Belinda came by as I finished my notes, and we hiked together down to the water hole, to photograph reflections and water lilies.
manning-reflections manning-waterlilies
By 9 a.m., John had finished working on our vehicle. We had a final coffee and biscuit break before heading back on the road at 9:30. (Had to push start the truck, which seemed reluctant to leave.)

We made a short stop back at Barnett River Roadhouse, for fuel, water, and treats. I had one of the wonderful fruit “ice lollies” they seem to have everywhere here, even in these remote spots—a frozen cream, passionfruit, and pineapple confection on a stick that was yummy and refreshing. Then we were rocketing along the dusty red road again, covering the 120 kilometers to Bell Gorge in the King Leopold Range.
after-manning
When we stopped to stretch our legs at one point, I was delighted to see delicate flowers growing along the road. I thought they looked like Sturt desert roses. Someone else said they thought they were native hibiscus. So I grabbed one of the reference books on board and found out that we were both right – because the Sturt desert rose is a type of native hibiscus. Lovely flowers.
nativehibiscus

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Trip 3:Wednesday, August 30 Part 1

I awoke a few times during the night and, looking up at the stars and tree branches, I felt completely alone and removed from the world. It’s as if even the tent is a reminder of civilization, and peeling away that last layer made me feel completely free.

Dawn was beautiful and cool and musical. This area seems so beautiful this morning, though it is not really an area one would identify as beautiful. It’s just so perfectly removed from everything.

We rolled up our swags and gathered around the fire for tea and breakfast. I was warming my cup of tea over the fire when Shirley said, “Isn’t this when you miss your microwave?” Somehow, that intrusion of civilization, even just spoken, induced something between panic and melancholy in me. The thought of being anywhere other than the middle of nowhere, sleeping under the stars, seemed horrifying at that moment. I don’t know if it’s Australia I love so much, or this lifestyle, or if the two are so interwoven in my mind that there’s no way to separate them, but right now this is the only place I want to be. Anyway, I reminded myself, with gratitude, that I have five more days out here. (And yes, I do know that I would not survive for long in the wilderness, and that to a certain extent the wilderness would be less attractive if it weren’t balanced by “the real world,” but it’s where I need to be right now.)

We packed our gear and headed back down from the plateau, returning to King Edward River to pick up the trailer we’d left behind.

We hadn’t gotten much farther along when a loud thump got John’s attention, and we stopped to find a nut missing from the trailer hitch. Most of the group went in search of the missing piece, and we were stopped for a while. The nut was never found, but John and Don worked diligently to jury-rig an alternative.

Enforced Stop

Enforced Stop


About an hour later, we were on our way again, retracing the miles back to the Gibb River Rd. Green parrots, galahs, and butcherbirds accompanied us as we drove. Wonderful. We drove straight through to Drysdale Station, were we stopped for lunch. Here, John was able to buy a new nut and bolt for the trailer and got it repaired. (It is not unusual for people out this way to stock all sorts of things for repairing vehicles—though one would want to make sure to not drive out here in something rare and exotic—pick something common, and you’ll always be able to find parts.) We were soon back on the road—have to make up for lost time, to get to our evening destination (don’t think these are roads one would want to negotiate in the dark).

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August 25, Part 2

We disembarked at the beginning of the hike into Mini Palm Gorge. The temperature is approaching 110˚F, and I think that is contributing to my difficulties, but mainly it was my aching ribs that were slowing me down. I couldn’t take a deep breath without pain. I kept up with the group for about half of the hike, but I could tell I wasn’t going to make it for the whole two-and-a-half-hour trip in. Also, squeezing between rocks as we got farther in was not comfortable. So at a shady spot about half way into the gorge, I told the others I’d see them on the way back.
Bungles-MiniPalmGorge-enter light Bungles-MiniPalmG-rocks-palm
The spot where I rested was so beautiful that it was impossible to feel at all sorry for myself. Red rocks, palm trees, and other vegetation rose up on either side of the spot. The air was scented with spinifex and other grasses and shrubs that covered the ground. Butterflies wove deliriously through the air. The path, actually the dry bed of a seasonal river, was made up of thousands of fist-sized rocks. I lay down on the warm rocks and just listened to the wind and the birds.
Bungles-MiniPalmG-palm fronds Bungles-MiniPalmG-rocky bed
When the others returned, we hiked back to the 4WD, stopping frequently to stand in awe of the weird rocks.
Clouds were gathering, and I asked if it might rain. I was told it might–in another month. This is just the “build up” before the Wet (the rainy season)–like the clouds are practicing.
Bungles-PM-Clouds Rocks
Back in camp, we enjoyed seeing quail, willy wagtails, spinifex pigeons, and crows dash or flutter in and out. It was quite a show.

There was a cold-water tap, and we used it to rinse off the heat and dust of the day. Then we settled down to a cup of tea and munchies to begin another delightful evening.

As I sat, happy and slightly cooler from the splash of water, it crossed my mind that, in the right circumstances, it doesn’t take much to satisfy one’s needs. We have running water here, though cold only, and a clean dunny (outhouse), and I’m quite comfortable. Tomorrow, we’ll have neither.
Bungles-PM-Late Light
The sun is now setting in a blaze of glory, the air is warm and soft, the flies are gone for the night. It is such a magic moment that it is almost heartbreaking. \

Dinner is about to be served, we have clean clothes from our stop in Kununurra, and our surroundings are beautiful. All seems right with the world at this moment, and I thank God for the serenity and the opportunity to be here.

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Thoughts on Photographs

Just one more post on the issue of thumbnails, and then I’ll get back to the trip.

I realize that in some cases–close ups of flowers or sunsets — the thumbnail is probably enough to give you an idea what I’m talking about. But there are times that the thumbnail really doesn’t show anything — and even an image that runs the full width of the column doesn’t offer all the full-size image. So I was wondering if I could ask you that, if a thumbnail looks like nothing, like just a blob of color, could you click on it then? Because every image is picked because it shows something of interest, and there are times you’re just not going to see anything without clicking. (And since I’ve been writing this blog since 2007, it’s too late to go back and change all the photos).

Here are a couple of examples, just so you know what I’m talking about.
Thumbnail — you can’t see the pandanus (the palm-like leaves) at all.

Pandanus

Pandanus


Full column width
Pandanus

Pandanus

Here are some fabulous, worn rocks from a few days ago.
Thumbnail — looks pretty much like nothing
Nganlang Rocks 1
The full column width version is better, but still doesn’t show all the detail you get when clicking on it and seeing it full size.
Nganlang Rocks 1
Of course, because I’m a writer first and foremost, I’ll still be happy to have you just as a reader. The words are the most important part of this site–which is exactly why I diminished the photos in the first place. But I also love Australia, nature, geography, and all the wonderful stuff that is out there to see, so I do hope you’ll occasionally look at the photos.

And tomorrow, back to the writing.

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Questions

I’m interrupting the flow of this trip to ask a couple of questions. I’m hoping some of you will answer.

WordPress lets me know if anyone clicks on things on a post–links, videos, or photo thumbnails — so I know that only about 2 out of every 75 people actually click on the thumbnails, to see the images full size. Why do you think most folks don’t click on thumbnails (or, if you’re in that group, why don’t you click on the thumbnails)? There are some really remarkable images in the several hundred posts on this blog, but most of you have never seen them. Are images less important to you than words?

When photos are particular favorites, I’ll add a note encouraging folks to click on the thumbnail. Can you think of anything else I could do to encourage people to look at the photos full size? Or are you unfamiliar with Australia and don’t expect the photos to be interesting?

Any insight would be appreciated. I’ll keep posting, but I may cut back the number of photos if you feel that photos are not all that important. Thanks.

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Trip 3: Trying to Reach Oz

 August 18–20

And I’m off again, this time, back to my much-loved Australia. I am departing on a spectacularly clear, blue-skied day. As I had hoped at the end of my last trip, I didn’t have to wait as long for this trip as I did for trip two. I’m sitting now at the gate for my flight, beginning to relax after the rush to get everything settled and arranged at home before heading off for a month. But now I am ready to depart—and truly ready to get back to Australia.

…Oops. Turned out, getting back was not as easy as I thought it would be.

Normally, the flight over—not just to Australia, but to anywhere—hardly seems deserving of comment. Even a really long flight generally consists of little more than sitting around. But this time was different. This time, the effort to reach my destination was sufficiently challenging and time consuming that it became its own saga—or more like a comedy of errors.

Actually, the flight to Los Angeles was uneventful, but shortly before we were to land, a flight attendant came on the intercom and cheerily said she had an update. I was thinking maybe a gate change. Instead, she announced that the flight to Australia was cancelled. My heart stopped, and then raced. Of course, the airline was frantically trying to come up with a solution to the problem, as an entire jumbo jet full of stranded passengers would not be a pleasant situation for them, either.

We were herded around the Los Angeles airport for a couple of hours, as they tried to get us on flights to San Francisco, where there was another flight to Sydney schedule to leave in a few hours. If they could get us all to San Francisco in time, they thought they could accommodate most of us on that other flight.

They found me a seat at the back of a 727 headed north, and then, a few hours later in San Francisco, they found me a seat on the 747-400 headed for Sydney—though it was a middle seat in the middle section of a packed flight. But I was on the plane. The flight had been held for us, and once we had arrived and the requisite number of volunteers had decided to stay in San Francisco, there was a mad scramble to get us into the air. There are strict rules about how long a flight crew can be on the plane, and we were quickly approaching the limit. Cross that line, and the flight gets cancelled. (I found out later that we took off with only five minutes to spare.)

After 14 hours of quasi-sleep interspersed with turbulence and the occasional meal, we were landing in Sydney. Unfortunately, I was far too late to make my connecting flight to Darwin, and the next flight wasn’t until evening. The airline told me they had already booked me on that flight. I asked them to also call the hotel in Darwin and tell them I’d be arriving late.

The airline had also arranged a hotel room for the day. When I arrived at the hotel, there was a message waiting for me—the hotel in Darwin didn’t have a reservation for me! Fortunately, the hotel contacted the tour operator with whom I’d be traveling, and the tour operator called to tell me I was really booked in a different hotel. Nice of them to let me know. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t had to call.

For one crazy moment, I thought I’d try out the hotel swimming pool. I then decided that, after almost two days in transit, I’d be better off taking a short nap followed by a shower and changing into fresh clothes. The nap helped, but I was fairly staggering by the time I arrived back at the airport for my next flight. At the airport (and I’m not sure why I would be surprised by this after all that had happened) I found out the airline had actually booked me on a different flight than they one they told me about, one that stopped in Cairns first—and that flight had already left. The charming ticket agent, probably noticing the color draining out of my face, found that there was a seat left on the 6:10 flight to Darwin—a non-stop flight. So actually, a better option.

One bright spot in the evening, as I took off (an hour later than scheduled) was seeing Sydney below me, a broad glitter of lights spread beneath our wings. I could see the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and I could see Sydney Harbour outlined by the lights on shore. It was the first sign I’d had that I’m really in Australia. (Because seriously, airports are all the same place, no matter where they are.)

I finally reached my hotel in Darwin by 11:30 pm (midnight in Sydney—I was reminded on arrival of the half hour difference in time zones). I’ve spent more time in transit than I can calculate at this moment. I got a drift of warm, fragrant air as I carried my luggage to my room, but it was too late to think about stopping to enjoy it. My tour is going to be picking me up in six hours, and I absolutely must get a bit of sleep in before I take off on my camping trip. So goodnight, Australia. It’s good to be back.

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