Swimming in the desert (Red Centre – Melbourne)

Around a month ago I left the stinger infested coastal waters of the East Coast of Australia for the Red Centre. This initially involved a 3 day bus ride from Cairns to Alice Springs stopping off at the odd site of interest including Australia’s smallest bar (onto which you’d struggle to squeeze a round of XXXX’s) and Crocodile Dundee’s ‘Walkabout Creek Hotel’. Not the greatest 3 days of my travels to be honest, although the driver did his best to make it all seem exciting, like waking us up to announce that if we look very closely we may notice a slight change in the landscape over the course of the next hour… more sand, fewer trees etc. I took his word for it…

One quick night’s sleep in Alice and I was off on a tour into the centre of the outback. We slept outside in Swag bags each night – basically big canvas sleeping bags. On the first night the guide kindly informed us that he’d be dragging us out of bed at 4:30 each morning so we decided to get out heads down around 10pm. I awoke at around midnight to a hissing sound coming worrying close to me ears… In the dim light I managed to make out a black object crawling across the neck of my Swag! I managed to wriggle out and discovered that my soon to be bedmate was an enourmous beetle (a Rhinocerous Beetle my tour guide reckons…)! Feck! I hastily batted the critter away (although I could still hear the bastard hissing at me!) and somehow managed to get a few hours kip.

After scooping out all manner of ridiculously oversized insects from my swag in the morning we set off to King’s Canyon where we saw a good sunrise (the only sunrise/sunset of the trip it would turn out) and took a dip in a great pool in the middle of the canyon. On the road for another few hours and then we saw it… Uluru/Ayers Rock. Even from a great distance it is very impressive. Apart from Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) there is literally nothing else on the landscape. We drove up to it and, accompanied by a few billion flies, took a wander around part of the base.

The following morning we once again set off at comedy o’clock this time bound for The Olgas. I found the Olgas less impressive than Uluru and King’s Canyon, but appreciated the guide pointing out that from the right angle they look like Homer Simpson on his back. True.

Up to this point we’d had a fair few light showers, but nothing compared to what was in store for us that late afternoon. We were once again off to ‘The Rock’ for more base walking when the heavens opened. The following couple of hours I will never forget – we simply drove around in the pouring rain staring in amazement as hundreds of waterfalls appeared on the Rock. At one point I saw a lightning bolt hit the top of it. I simply can’t describe how incredible it all was. After a while we pulled up and and a few of us ran to a small permanent waterhole at the base of the Rock. The entire area was overflowing with water. The guide, despite previously telling us that we were not to swim here as it is a sacred Aboriginal site, couldn’t resist and jumped in. We followed. After a while the others left to go back to the bus leaving me there alone in the pool to just look around and take it all in… swimming at the base of Uluru, in the middle of the desert as a waterfall poured down next to me. Absolutely amazing! I will never forget that moment. Then a German tour group arrived and was told in no uncertain terms to exit the pool…! So no definitive Uluru sunsets/sunrises, but that more than made up for it.

So back to Alice Springs where I spent a couple of days listening to drunken insults from Aboriginals… Such a shame after learning so many remarkable things about their culture in the outback to come back to this. Alice Springs is not a place i’m desperate to go back to.

Next was another slog across the desert to Adelaide, stopping overnight at a strange opal mining town called Cooper Pedy, where most of the locals actually live underground due to the extreme temperatures. And indeed we ourselves spent the night in an underground hostel!

Adelaide was a real surprise for me. I’d heard it was a dull, boring place where you’d struggle to find more than a days worth of activities. Instead I found it to be a beautiful little city with plenty to offer. Fortunately my visit happened to coincide with the Adelaide Fringe Festival (the biggest independent arts festival in the world outside Edinburgh). I couldn’t walk down a main street without coming across a street show. The beautiful parks around the perimeter of Adelaide’s CBD were also alive with entertainment.

On the first night I was there myself and a lad from the Alice – Adelaide tour realised it was freshers week at the University (excellent…!) and so latched onto one of the bar crawls in search of a gool ‘ol fashioned uni piss-up! We certainly got that and later on were tipped off that the Triple J radio station (basically Australia’s equivalent of Radio 1 in the UK) breakfast show was being held live from the University grounds at 5:30 in the morning. So we wandered the streets of Adelaide until it began. We probably shouldn’t have bothered! The DJ seemed to have only 2 ‘jokes’; “Who’s got goon?” and “Look – our sound producer looks like Daniel Vettori (mop-topped, kiwi cricket spinmeister)”. Maybe I was just tired…!

I did yet another tour from Adelaide to Melbourne taking in the Great Ocean Road. The 12 Apostles and Loch Ard gorge were the highlights for me although the tour felt a bit rushed at times. It was almost a case of “No time to actually look at the scenery – just get a couple of photos and let’s get the fuck outta here!” Overall though the Great Ocean Road is very spectacular.

And so to Melbourne where I find myself now. With my funds running dangerously low I was relieved to hear that there was some work going that actually started the same day. Now, you may think that working as an elf-type person at Santa’s Kingdom I couldn’t really sink any lower, but I may have achieved it here. Carnival was in town so… for 4 days I was a carnie! I was working on a ‘toss the ball in the bucket’ scam…er … I mean game. It was very nearly impossible to win – we had maybe one winner out of every few hundred punters. And considering they were paying 5 bucks to go for a cuddly toy imported from China for 30 cents it was almost criminally scandalous. I wasn’t too fussed about taking away 40 year old blokes’ hard-earned (who should have caught on by now anyway), but I can’t say I enjoyed relieving small kids of their weeks pocket money to play a game they had sod all chance of winning. My carnie boss didn’t seem to have the same moral problems however and you could almost see his face light up when a bunch a gullible nippers approached!

Not only was I working as a carnie, but I was also living as one. Myself and another English lad didn’t see the point in paying 20 odd bucks a night to sleep in a hostel and so with the permission of our carnie boss decided to kip behind our stall for 3 nights! I had some surprisingly good nights sleep. Our alarm clock was the huge generator that began roaring away at 8am each morning.


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