I ran into two old friends last night.
Ed was sitting in the restaurant. We greeted one another briefly and he pointed me toward the foyer, saying I would find Helen there. Sure enough, she was standing just outside the dining room holding two cups of yoghurt.
We exchanged a few words and then she asked me to move on because ‘the thugs behind me are going to take this yoghurt’. Beyond Helen were two Blues-Brothers types, wearing suits, ponytails and no sunglasses. They smirked.
And then I woke up!
Egads, why in the world would I dream about Helen and Ed? Yes, they were a very special couple to me, but both died many years ago. Ed had been my first editor, back in the days when I worked on a daily newspaper in Nebraska. Helen was his wife. I adored them, and they were very good to this then-young journalist.
But why was I dreaming about them? I reckon it had to do with a story Ed told me about their married life.
I’ll set the scene and share the story and you can decide if I’m right.
It’s the early 1970s. The community is about to celebrate its 125th anniversary and the newspaper, the Kearney Daily Hub, is compiling a special commemorative edition. I’m in the office on a Sunday afternoon, pasting up proof pages. The office had agreed that the journos should paste-up the layouts for this publication. It wasn’t our normal job, but the newspaper wasn’t a union shop and we knew the stories and were more likely to be able to juggle text sympathetically.
Ed and Helen strolled by and when they noticed I was there, they popped in to say hello. I stopped for a smoko—cigarettes in the office were still the norm—and Ed said, ‘Shall I tell you about when we quit smoking?’
Helen choked on a giggle and wandered away, shoulders juddering.
Ed proceeded to recount the many times they had tried to stop smoking. Helen would try and Ed wouldn’t, and vice versa. So finally Ed told her to pick a day and let him know, and he’d quit with her.
He arrived home after a long, trying day. It just so happened that Helen swooped on him with the makings of a ‘heated discussion’.
By the time Ed was relating the story to me, he could no longer remember the issue—just the way it all played out.
Helen was on the front foot, and the discussion went on and on. Ed groped in a kitchen cupboard for a pack of cigarettes, then a desk drawer, then to the bedroom—all the while trying to hold his own in the ‘discussion’.
Finally he broke. ‘Where are the $#@*?&# cigarettes?’
Helen leaned back, folded her arms and nonchalantly said, ‘Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you. We’ve quit!’ As Ed said, he lost the ‘discussion’ and had to quit smoking. And he had no regrets.
As for me? I stopped smoking seven years ago today. No regrets—just dreams about dear friends!
Obviously Poor John and I didn’t get enough of South America last year, which is why we’re on our way back next month.
It’s another overland trip—in sleeping bags and a tent again—cruising along the recently completed Trans Oceanic Highway that goes from Rio to Lima.
Country-wise, we’ll visit Brazil and Peru in 55 days. It’s a new trip for Oasis Overland so we’ll be pioneers. Most of the time we’ll be in Brazil and that’s what we’re enthusiastic about because we only had two weeks in Brazil in 2012. Frankly, the country is huge—the size of an Australia plus a Western Australia.
Have a look at the map above. We’ll be seeing national parks, colonial cities, the national capital, the Amazon, the jungle, remote beaches and the Pantanal. Actually, I’m especially keen to revisit the Pantanal. We had Christmas there in 2012.
The Pantanal is one of the world’s largest wetlands, but we saw it in the dry—very dry—season. It was fascinating in the dry, but this time there will be water.
We’ll also be revisiting some of the highlights of Peru, including the delicious national dish of ceviche. This time, Poor John is also keen to do the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Not sure my knees are up to the thousands of steps on that hike, so I might do the Lares Trek again or—shhhh—take the train.
There are three other great aspects to this trip.
- Three friends are thinking about joining in too.
- We already know the driver and guide. Colin and Danny were with us for the last month of our Oasis trip in 2012. They were coming on as new crew in South America, and were onboard for some final training. They are good at what they do and a lot of fun.
- It made it on to Wanderlust magazine’s list for the top 50 trips of 2013.
Our vaccinations are current, the passports are going in for Brazilian visas and we’ve paid for the trip, so stay tuned for more of our overland adventures. Here are some more details about the adventure itself.
At long last, I made it to Kings Canyon in Australia’s Red Centre. I’ve been to the heart of this great continent three times—seen Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Alice Springs—but this was my first visit to the canyon.
It’s so impressive. The red sandstone cliffs surrounding the canyon rise 100 metres above the canyon floor and the scenic Kings Creek snakes through the base.
The canyon is part of Watarrka National Park. It’s an important conservation area that features 600 species of native plants (10 per cent of those are considered rare) and permanent waterholes. There are also some great Aboriginal artworks, but their locations are off the beaten track and not promoted to ensure they aren’t vandalised.
We’d hoped to do the canyon’s magnificent Rim Walk, but it was closed because of high temperatures (it hit 46°C while we were there). Opening times for this walk are shortened when temps hit 36° (no walking after 9am), and closed completely when temps exceed 42°. It’s a sensible approach. There is absolutely no shade up on the rim, plus there’s a killer set of steps at the beginning of the walk.
So we did the Kings Creek walk instead. It took about an hour and was very dry (no sign of the actual creek). There’s a platform at the end of the path where you get a great view of the rim.
For thousands of years the creek and canyon have had enormous spiritual meaning for the Luritja people. Scientists estimate that the Luritja have lived in the area for 20,000 years.
But white people didn’t discover these places until 1872 when explorer Ernest Giles and his party arrived. I was interested to learn that he named both sites after his friend, Fielder King, and not after some king of the time.
By the late 1880s, cattlemen were settling in the area with Tempe Downs being the main station. Kings Canyon and surrounds are definitely not cattle country and, after a run of bad seasons, the station didn’t have enough grass or water to maintain a herd.
Jack Cotterill visited the canyon in 1960 and were so overwhelmed by its beauty that the Cotterill family started the push for tourism. In the summer of 1960-61, they built a road to the canyon, and a tourist lodge. Just over 20 years later, Tempe Downs surrendered 1059 square kilometres of land so a national park could be established. Watarrka National Park was formally declared in 1989.
We stopped for lunch at the small picnic ground near the canyon entrance. That’s where we saw a small tree planted by children from Watarrka School.
I’m looking forward to a repeat visit so we can actually do the Rim Walk and see some water in the creek. Maybe I can arrange to ride in on a camel.
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) always seems to come off as Uluru’s poorer sister—and the neglected one. Lots of people who visit Uluru, speed away before taking time to go ‘round the corner’ to see The Olgas. Surprising, because the two places are less than 50 kilometres apart.
So now it’s time for a closer look at Kata Tjuta.
This place—made of congomerate—is even bigger and, in many ways, more impressive than Uluru. Its 36 domes of sedimentary rock consist of cobbles and boulders. The domes cover almost 22 square kilometres, with the tallest (Mount Olga) rising more than 500 metres above the surrounding plain.
Kata Tjuta is sacred under Tjukurpa and Anangu men’s law, but the public is encouraged to enjoy its sunrises, sunsets and two spectacular walks—the Walpa Gorge and the Valley of the Winds.
The Walpa Gorge is just over 2 1/2 kilometres round-trip and takes about an hour. It’s a fairly easy walk, once you get past the slope at the beginning.
The Valley of the Winds walk, which was partially closed when we were there this time because of high temperatures, has three parts. A return trip to Karu Lookout is a moderate walk that takes about an hour. The track is closed beyond this point when the temperature exceeds 36°C (97°F). The mercury range from 43–46°C (109–115°F) when we were there.
But when it’s cooler and if you have up to four hours to spare, you can tackle the more difficult walks to Karingana Lookout or carry on for the full circuit of 7 kilometres. The views really are spectacular but, because of the heat, I don’t have photos from this visit. Maybe I can find some good ones from 2011.
Kata Tjuta (and Uluru) are steeped in Dreamtime legends. Many relate to the great snake king, Wanambi, who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga. Apparently he comes down only in the dry season. It was plenty dry when we were there, but he didn’t make an appearance.
As an aside, in case you’re wondering about the site’s name—explorer Ernest Giles named The Olgas in 1872, to honour Queen Olga of Württemberg.
This changed in 1993 when Australia adopted a dual naming policy, meaning this landmark (along with Uluru) had official names that included both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. For 10 years, the order of the names was English/Aboriginal, but the order was swapped in 2002. The name Kata Tjuta means ‘many heads’.
Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park is a World Heritage site. It is one of few such sites in the world to be recognised for both natural and cultural importance.
If you get there, be sure to visit in the cultural centre. It has lots of interesting information and insight, simply and sensitively explained. And there’s some amazing artwork in the gift shop. Wish they allowed photos.
We get a lot of visitors at our beach house on the southeast coast of Australia.
Aunt Esther gave us a thick visitors’ book not long after the house was completed in the early 1990s. There are just a handful of blank pages now. Plus there are four shoeboxes full of homemade napkin rings.
I love cloth napkins, so get each visitor to make a napkin ring, using a cut-down toilet paper roll and lots of glitter, textas (markers), crayons and such. Then everyone gets issued a napkin that’s used for the duration of their stay. Note to self: do a picture parade of memorable napkin rings.
That said, I can’t get all the visitors to make one. This pole house in the trees is a popular spot for all sorts of wildlife. We’ve seen kangaroos, echidnas, goannas, sugar gliders, possums and a whole range of birds.
This last weekend, two laughing kookaburras landed on our front deck. They popped in two days in a row and spent both afternoons chuckling and looking hungry. I admit that we fed them a bit of leftover chicken. I assured them that it would taste just like ‘snake’.
Besides being good laughers, kookaburras (also known as kingfishers) are carnivores. They usually eat mice, snakes, insects, small reptiles and smaller birds, but are also quick to steal meat off an unattended barbecue.
Our visitors were still sitting on the deck railing the day I left to drive back to Canberra. I rather hope they haven’t stayed to peck away at the cedar window frames. As cute as they are, it’s still another offence they commit.
P.S. I was about a metre away from the birds when I took these photos.
This place is wonderfully quirky in every way—from Australia’s remotest traffic light to its award-winning pub that serves very cold beer and great food, has regular entertainment and the THONG TREE.
For Australians, thongs are those rubber things you wear on your feet. But for much of the rest of the English-speaking world, thongs are those slingshot-style (and probably ill-fitting) underpants.
On our overland road trips—with lots of English passengers—I get a kick out of using the word ‘thongs’ in almost every sentence. Do you like my thongs? Where are my thongs? I need to buy new thongs. My favourite thongs are green!
The Daly Waters Pub is well aware that thongs get a shellacking. They are misunderstood and underappreciated in many parts of the world, so out the back of the pub, and in support of the lowly thong, you can add your footwear to the heavily decorated tree.
If you have some spare thongs to add (see the P.S. below for the background), you’ll find the Daly Waters Pub just off the Stuart Highway in Australia’s Northern Territory, which is rather fitting. The settlement was named by explorer John Stuart on his third attempt to cross the continent from south to north. He made it all the way from Adelaide to Darwin in 1862.
P.S. In case you can’t read the Thong Tree poster, here it is. I’ve corrected the spelling.
‘Australia’s First Thong Tree
‘Due to the introduction of exotic species such as reef sandals and the swedish masseur, the native thong which can be found throughout Australia has experienced a drastic reduction in numbers over the last decade.
‘We at Daly Waters are attempting a captive breeding program. If you would like to make a donation and assist us by increasing the gene pool, please see the bar staff.’
It’s more than 10 kilometres and it’s worth every step. I’m talking about the walk around the base of Uluru (Ayers Rock).
The first time I did this walk was in February 2000. Five of us flew there, including friends from the USA, one of our daughters, our very first exchange student, Jean-Mi from Belgium, and me. Poor John got left behind to work, and look after Aunt Esther (more about her someday) and the dog.
Jean-Mi had arrived two days earlier, from a cold and snowy Europe. Within 48 hours we were in 45°C weather and he was saying it was ‘the hottest I’ve ever been in my life’. It was also the day he learned that wearing sunscreen and a hat makes a whole lot of sense—and that wearing sandals and socks is just not done in Australia.
Three of us thought about climbing the rock, but realised our shoes and water bottles weren’t up to the effort. So in addition to doing the Mala Walk, we chose to walk around the rock—the whole thing.
The perimeter of the actual base is only 9.4 kilometres, but the walking route is a little longer at 10.6 kilometres. Some of the walk skirts around highly sensitive areas that the Anangu people believe shouldn’t be viewed and/or photographed.
These areas are part of Tjukurpa and Tjukuritja.
Tjukurpa (pronounced chook-orr-pa) is the foundation of Anangu culture and refers to the creation period when their ancestral beings created the world. It tells of the relationship between people, plants, animals and the physical features of the land. It also provides answers to questions about rules for behaviour and for living together.
Tjukuritja is the physical evidence that the ancestral beings created the world—meaning the trees, rocks, caves, boulders, cracks, waterholes and more. The Anangu believe the ancestors and their spirits still inhabit the land. And when you walk the base, you can’t help but feel they are right.
So here are some more of the views you’ll see when you do the entire base walk.