Monday, April 26, 2010

Running out of options

I'm still in Darwin and close to giving up on getting across to Asia by sea. I've tried freighter companies and they strongly refuse to take any passengers. There is also the option of taking a cruise ship but they are not keen on letting me do one sector of a trip instead of the return-trip and if they do, they ask for payment for the full trip which can be more than $5000 so that's out. The cruises I could find were fully booked up anyway. My last choice is to find a yacht that might be going in that direction and ask if I can come along. I found a website where I can search for yachts but so far there is nothing going in that direction in the near future. There is a yacht race from Darwin to Indonesia in July and I could almost certainly get on one of those, but I'm not sure I want to wait that long because I've been in Australia quite a while already and am keen to start exploring south-east asia. There are a couple of possibilities of yachts in June but again I'm not sure I want to wait that long. They also take quite a while to get across and the captains are more keen on crew who will stay on board and keep sailing around Asia with them, rather than disembarking as soon as we hit Indonesia. I even enquired about chartering a boat but that runs into the thousands of dollar so is also out.

All of which means that I'm getting pretty close to giving up on finding a flightless way over. Lou, the other flightless traveller I met here, also gave up and flew to Singapore today.

Anybody have any helpful suggestions?

A Painting

An Aboriginal painting I bought off a person on the street in Todd Mall in Alice Springs, by the name of Pango Williams. It is called 'Bush Yam Dreaming' and the brown squiggly shapes represent yams.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I've been in town now for a couple of days. The heat/humidity is intense. Luckily I have air conditioning in my room. When I'm out, I scurry from one shopping mall to the next. I sweat more easily than other people so when I'm outside I get drenched with sweat while other people seem to saunter around at their ease and pass me by, looking at the weird sweaty guy. It probably doesn't help that I'm wearing long pants so I may have to sacrifice sartorial elegance to practicality and wear shorts. I did manage to walk around outside quite a bit yesterday, walking to the waterfront to check on the boat situation.

That situation is now my major concern. I have to find a boat that will take me over to Indonesia. I was originally lined up to take another freight ship from Brisbane to Singapore but that was re-routed and the next isn't available until July. I've made enquiries about cruise ships, to take just one or two sectors of their route. Some of them, however, want me to pay the price of the entire trip which can be $5000 or more, so that's out. I thought I found one where they would let me take a Darwin to Bali sector but then discovered yesterday that they don't do that after all.

I've had a notice on the noticeboard of Darwin Sailing Club for the past few weeks but haven't had any responses other than an email from another person, Lou, who is trying to do the same thing and asking if I'd found anything. We've agreed to look out for each other for any possibilities. My next step is to approach some other sailing clubs and see what happens. I think, however, that I may just have to concede defeat on this part of the trip and take a flight. There really just doesn't seem to be any feasible alternative. Everyone keeps making jokes about swimming or getting returning refugee boat and those jokes are beginning to wear thin.

Anyway, I will keep looking for a few more days at least. I also want to do a bit of tourism in Darwin, especially a visit to Kakadu National Park.

The Ghan part 2

After a few more days in Alice Springs and still appalled at the social conditions there (about which, possibly more later) I boarded the Ghan at 6pm on the evening of April 19 and we set off for Darwin. If the average age of my fellow Uluru and Ocean Road tour passengers was somewhere in the twenties, the average age of the Ghan passengers (or at least those in Gold Class - I did see some backpackers getting on in a cheaper class) is probably in the sixties. Where are all the people in their thirties and forties? Raising families and building careers I guess. At least the people on the Ghan were a bit more interesting to talk to. Most were recently retired couples taking this famous trip that they’ve always wanted to do, but some were doing it for the second time.

Just north of Alice Springs, we passed over the Tropic of Capricorn. I’ve decided to make this a significant point for my overall trip. We can imagine the earth being divided into four parts from bottom to top: the first part is from the South Pole to the Tropic of Capricorn; the second from that Tropic to the Equator; the third from the Equator to the Tropic of Cancer; and the fourth from the Tropic of Cancer to the North Pole. My adventure will take me from the first part (New Zealand) through to the fourth part (England). I’ve now made it into the second part and further moments of significance will occur when I cross into the third and fourth parts.

Watching the sunset and the nightsky from my cabin on the train was amazing and I was even brought a cup of coffee in the morning so I watched the sunrise over the outback.

The Ghan stopped in the town of Katherine for a few hours and I got off to take a bus to Katherine Gorge. The first thing that struck me was the heat and humidity. Within five minutes of walking up the path to the lookout over the gorge, I was dripping with sweat. I kept going for a while until I had a decent view and then turned around and headed back to the visitor centre for an iced coffee. I had intended to go swimming or canoeing on the river but high waters meant that those activities were closed due to the risk of crocodiles.

After a few more hours on the train we arrived in Darwin. Overall, the trip was an enjoyable one although perhaps the scenery was not as interesting as I expected. Maybe this is partly due to the area being more green than usual instead of its characteristic red. But the service and meals in Gold Class on the Ghan are great.

This doesn't really warrant an Endurance Rating as it wasn't something to endure. But if I have to give something: a 2, just because of a few fellow passengers.

The Ghan coming into Darwin. You can just see the city in the distance.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Red Centre, day three

As I write this, I’m in the bus on the way back to Alice Springs and its none too soon. This will probably be the last guided group tour I will every do. Nearly everything bad I’ve heard about group tours is true. You get herded around like sheep and there is little room for individual choice. The bus stops, you get out at places where dozens of other buses have stopped, and join the hundreds of other tourists taking photos of the same things. If an interesting lizard or other animal is spotted, the poor creature has multiple digital cameras thrusted into its face. Then it’s back aboard the bus to endure inanely laughing and shrieking young adults (is everyone on drugs except me?) and the driver’s atrocious musical tastes. On this last, particularly grueling, afternoon, I even had to resort to swigging a few mouthfuls left in my previous night’s bottle of wine to get through it.

The tour leader who on the first day seemed so jolly and enthusiastic is by the third day irritating and overbearing. (We’ve got up at 5am each day, so that may be a factor.) For a start, on two occasions he’s called New Zealanders ‘sheep-shaggers’ before he realised I was a kiwi. He is also apparently from another century because he believes that at dinner-time, men should gather round the barbeque and drink beer while women make salads and sip wine. And women apparently do the washing up. His only acknowledgement of modernity is his concern for the environment, but in this he is an environmental fascist. He yells at people if they stray off the beaten track and step on some scraggly plants. He even admonished us not to swim in a water hole because our deodorant and sunscreen would pollute the water. Last night around the campfire there was a slight mutiny when he told off the German-speakers from speaking German, saying that it was impolite to leave others out of the conversation and that they should speak English. I can see his point but he did make it rather rudely. At one point he made the argument, like Basil Fawlty, that ‘we won the war,’ the relevance of which I wasn’t clear on. The German speakers were not impressed and made their feelings known both then and the next day.

Oh, we did stop at King’s Canyon, walked for three hours, and saw some fantastic scenery.

Endurance Rating for the three-day tour overall: 7

Red Centre, day two

On the second day we went back to Uluru to watch the sunrise there and then took a walk around the base of the rock. There is an option to climb the rock although we were unable to due to strong winds. Climbing the rock is an enormously controversial issue. The local aboriginal people, the Anangu, believe the rock is sacred and do not want people climbing it. They also own the rock and the land around it, after it was returned to them by the Australian government several years ago. So why don’t they simply prohibit walking on the rock? From what I can gather, although the details of story differ according to who is telling the story, they either did ban climbing it for while or considered it and did research on what the impact on tourism would be and the result was that banning the climb would impact too severely on tourist numbers. Instead, they permit climbing but request that you do not do so, a kind of moral rather than legal prohibition on climbing. This is also emphasised by many of the tour operators. Both the tour leader and the guy who I booked it through urged non-climbing. However, I probably would have climbed had I been able to. I’m in favour of respecting people’s spiritual beliefs (although why respect false beliefs? I don’t respect Christian beliefs, I think they’re ridiculous) but the fact that they don’t take their own beliefs seriously enough to sacrifice tourist revenue for indicates to me that it is not a strongly held belief. That doesn’t mean that I’m accusing them of being hypocrites. There’s nothing contradictory about holding a belief but sacrificing it for the benefits that could be gained by doing so. But if the spiritual belief can be outweighed by revenue then I can’t see why it isn’t also outweighed by the enjoyment I would’ve got from climbing the rock. I also think its a strange position to hold that the option to climb must be kept open while advocating non-climbing. Surely if the moral pressure not too climb is strong enough to do the work they hope in deterring people then it would also have a similar effect on tourism. That is, a moral prohibition could have the same effect as a legal one, and so revenue would fall similarly. Perhaps there is a way of resolving the apparent contradiction: the moral pressure may work on peoples voluntary desires, so that they will still desire to visit the place even though they cannot climb. That way, the Aboriginals get what they want without losing revenue. But perhaps they need to do some research into what the effects of a moral prohibition would be before doing it.

The Red Centre

On the first day of this three-day tour of Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) and other sites nearby, I was picked up by the tour bus at 6am in the morning. Uluru national park is over 400 km from Alice Springs and with stops it was nearly NINE HOURS later that we arrived. The age-range of the group is about the same as before, that is, most of them are in their early twenties. This time, however, they don’t seem to be annoying me so much. Perhaps being more prepared has made me more tolerant. Still though, they are pretty annoying and ignorant. Two girls sitting in front of me thought it was HILARIOUS to play with rubber lizards. I think they were either on drugs or mentally retarded. The driver though is pretty entertaining, but a bit manic.

We took a walk around Katja Tjuta (the Olgas), a group of rocks that are smaller than Uluru but still spectacular. They were amazing and here are some photos.

Then we went to Uluru to see it during sunset.

This Is What You Want

This Is What You Get

At night, many people chose to sleep under the stars in swag. Remembering what happened to Azaria Chamberlain, however, - who knows if dingos/ Lindy might be around - I elected to sleep in a cabin.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Alice Springs

This place is a bit of a shock to the senses. Wretched-looking Aboriginal people are wandering aimlessly about, often drunk. I’d heard there were problems but I didn’t know Australian society had failed so miserably in its treatment of the indigenous population. The white people here carry on like nothing is the matter. I can sense the racial tension and it feels like a powderkeg waiting to explode.

The Ghan part 1

This famous train trip runs between Adelaide and Darwin. I’ve done the first part of it from Adelaide to Alice Springs. I’m staying in Alice for a week that includes a three-day tour of Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) and some other sites and then I will get back aboard the Ghan to go to Darwin. Incidentally, its good to be heading north again, which is my intended direction. Since Brisbane, I’ve been heading south-westerly which is not really the way to England!

The first part of the train trip took about 25 hours and it was great to see some of the outback landscape. Apparently it has had much more rain than usual and so is more green than usual, but I still saw a lot of red desert-like earth. The Ghan railway line was first conceived in 1877 but much of the line was washed away by rain several times over the years. they finally figured out by 2004 where to put the line so that it would last. Its named after the Afghan cameleers who were early explorers of the centre of Australia.

The poster above isn’t actually for the Ghan but I just liked it. Below is some of what I saw.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Placid Koala

Went for a walk in Cleland Park in Adelaide and saw this fella in a tree very low to the ground.

Old Adelaide Gaol

This prison, founded in 1840 and used right up until 1988, is grim and imposing. I like how they’ve kept it pretty much the same as it was. There are a few collections of artifacts and some information boards, but generally you feel like you’re walking around in an old prison. The cells are tiny and windowless.

Over the decades, 45 criminals were executed here, including the only woman in South Australia ever given the death penalty. Her name was Elizabeth Woolcock and was found guilty of poisoning her husband Thomas. The museum here speculates that she may not have been guilty. His autopsy found that he died of mercury poisoning and the evidence was that Elizabeth had sent her son to buy mercury on several occasions. She claimed this was for her headaches but the jury didn’t take long to pronounce her guilt. Shortly before her execution on 30 December 1873, she wrote some memoirs in which she described her unpleasant upbringing and gave something of a confession, writing that ‘she had given in to temptation’ after harsh treatment from her husband.

All those who were executed at the gaol were buried there and someone had recently left flowers at Elizabeth’s gravesite.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Melbourne to Adelaide

This three-day trip with a group tour started promisingly: when I boarded the bus on Friday morning I noticed the group had much more women than men, 16 to 6 as it turned out. ‘Brilliant’, I thought, ‘I’m going to enjoy this.’ It soon became clear, however, that I was a slight misfit here. Everyone else was younger than me. I’m in my late thirties and they were mainly in their early twenties. That might not sound like much of a difference, and maybe it usually isn’t, but after trying to talk with a few of them, two things were apparent: (1) they had nothing of interest to say, and (2) they were not interested in anything I had to say. When both those conditions hold, conversations I’m sure you will agree are somewhat difficult.

Only a few hours into the trip, after having some magnificent views along Great Ocean Road, one woman from England whom I will call Whingeing Pom 1 announced ‘this trip is fucking boring.’ Her friend, Whingeing Pom 2, concurred. These two, friends traveling together, were most unpleasant. They seemed to think they had a right to the front two seats on the bus. When on the third day they did not get these seats in the morning, they waited until our first stop, then made sure they were the first to get back aboard the bus, and promptly removed the personal belongings of the others who had sat in those seats and annexed the seats. I also heard Whingeing Pom 1 at one point call everyone else ‘sheep’ because they had followed each other out of the bus.

The tour itself consisted in driving along, stopping briefly at very crowded tourist spots, darting out of the bus to take a photo and then darting back again to continue on the road. In fact, this was the practice of all the tourists I saw along the way who were also traveling in similar groups. Why can’t people actually take the time to pause and LOOK at some beautiful scenery or a historical site? I’m sure they would enjoy it. Instead, however, they joylessly photograph everything and probably never look at the pictures again.

The tour guide’s name was Brian and he looked and talked very much like the Australian actor who plays Kel in ‘Kath and Kim.’ That actor also once starred in a tv series playing a spoof version of the typical Aussie outback bloke, a Crocodile Dundee/ Steve Irwin type. As a result, at first I had to stifle my laughs when he would tell us about the sights and sites, especially when he talked about The Big Tree and its nearby neighbouring trees which were ‘not as big but biggish.’ (They’re called Otway Messmates.)

The first afternoon and evening was spent looking at the Twelve Apostles which are towers of rock sticking out of the ocean close to the coast. There are actually only seven left due to the others falling down over time but as the cliffs become eroded, more might come into existence. The highlights of the second day were MacKenzie Falls and the kangaroos at Grampians National Park. On the third day we climbed Hollow Mountain (also in the Grampians) for an amazing view of the surrounding countryside of Victoria.

The Canadians on board the bus - and one in particular - took it upon themselves to be in charge of the music that was played. Their choices weren’t all bad, but I am staggered that people can so confidently take over in this way without checking with the other passengers that the music choices were acceptable. I guess some people are just certain of their own infallibility. One of them also told a story about how she had been the only person in a crowded bar who did not know that a Boeing 737 was an airplane, and also expressed surprise upon discovering that ‘gesundheit’, said after someone sneezes, was a German word. Ignorant and unashamed of it.

They weren’t all bad though. I made friends with Mariu from Spain and Luciano from Italy. Luciano kept saying I was a genius and I’m not going to argue with that. Julia from England, who has studied classics and philosophy, was also lovely. Next time however, I'm going to make sure before booking any group tour that it is not all young people.

Endurance Rating: 7. Pretty hard-going. At times, I'd rather have been walking the Saharan desert.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I've just been in Tasmania for four days. I went to Launceston and stayed with my cousin and his wife which was great. It was a nice change from the big cities ('Lonnie' has a population of 100,000). Didn't make it to Hobart or some of the more well known tourist spots (except for Bay of Fires, ranked by some as one of the best beaches in the world) but did enjoy a boat cruise and a visit to a beautiful forest. I went there and back on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry, which takes about nine hours each way, chickenfeed compared to my MSC Basel trip.

Endurance Rating for the Spirit of Tasmania: 5. Pretty easy really, though a bit crowded.