That Gum You Like

Road trip vol. 2

Posted in Road Trip by Dave on December 13, 2009

Hey hey hey–

Since I last checked in, I’ve driven about 2000 kilometers, and I’m now crashing at the Ayers Rock resort, tourist trap extraordinaire. They’ve got backpacker accommodations (what the rest of the world would refer to as a hostel) for about 30 bucks a night, which really isn’t so bad, and is certainly the cheapest thing I’ll find outside of sleeping in my car.

So, right. Since I checked in last I’ve stayed firm in my decision to crash in hostels rather than my car. It’s become much less about not wanting to get murdered, and much more about the fact that my car is basically unsleepable. Forget the fact that it’s small, although that’s certainly a problem. The big issue here is that it’s hot. Hot like I’ve never dealt with in my life. The sun is insanely powerful. Sitting in the car with the A/C blasting–my natural state out here– is perfectly comfortable, but if your skin is under direct sunlight, you know it. Walking around outside is a joke, after a minute you can feel your skin enter its death throes. I’m not a big sunscreen guy (sorry moms) and I’m fairly sure I’ll be returning to the US a genuine redneck.

So given the fact that sun rises well before I’m capable of functioning, sleeping in the car has proven to be more annoyance than it’s worth. Hostels are generally cheap enough, and getting a good nights sleep, a shower (although I must admit I’ve been drying myself with old shirts, they never provide towels), and usually something for breakfast is worth the 25 bucks it typically costs.

After Adelaide I crashed in Port Augusta. The last water access as you move north, it’s not desert yet. The town, to be honest here, has more or less nothing going for it. It’s the biggest thing between Adelaide and Alice Springs (a bustling 19,000), but you’d never guess. God knows what the primary industry here is, I saw almost zero locals outside of the high school dance I accidentally crashed looking for a bar, and unlike nearby Port Pirie, there was no enormous, mysterious plant looming over the downtown. I watched the sun go down over some scrubby mountains and crashed early.

The next day took me into the beginnings of the Outback, and to the most bizarre place I’ve come across in my travels here, Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy (pop. 4000) is the opal capital of the world, responsible for nearly 80% of the world’s opal supply. In an attempt to escape the oppressive heat, and taking advantage of the preponderance of explosives and empty mine-shafts, most locals live underground. I actually stayed in an underground hostel, which was pretty awesome. No need for A/C, it stays a temperate 23 degrees centigrade regardless of what madness is going on topside. It’s also by far the most popular stopping place between Adelaide and Alice Springs, bringing through dozens of tourists like myself each day in the off season, and hundreds a week in the peak of the year (may-sept.). I arrived in town in the late afternoon, and quickly signed on to stay two nights. I decided I needed a full day to even begin to figure this place out.

I would be lying if I said I had a handle on the way the place works, but I left Coober Pedy with at least a marginal understanding of the town. And to tell the truth, it’s a pretty sad place. 80% of the worlds opals doesn’t come without some significant landscape altering, and the area around town is surrounded for miles with enormous piles of dirt. It takes a particular kind of person to decide they’re going to pull up stakes and gamble their whole lives on mining for opal: ballsy and desperate are two words that come to mind. As far as I can tell, most people fail; a quick walk around town revealed dozens of abandoned shops and boarded up houses. All the miners I met were holding down day jobs in the various tourist traps, running mine tours or selling pretty awful jewelry and opal-encrusted boomerangs (for real). Having said all that, I ended my second day sitting on the porch with the owner of the hostel, watching the sun set over the desert and we agreed that, mining aside, it wasn’t a bad place to sit and drink beer in the evenings.

This morning I blew out of town around 10, and made the trek up to Yulara. A pretty sizable drive, I pulled into town around 6, a few hours after crossing the border into the Northern Territory. Ayer’s Rock is in a national park, and just outside is the town of Yulara, which exists exclusively to give people looking at the rock a place to stay. It’s insanely overpriced, but that’s what you get for putting this enormous rock way in the middle of the goddamn desert. Oh right. The border between South Australia and the Northern Territory is marked by a change in geography from what you thought was desert to okay, holy shit, this is actually just sand and tumbleweeds, this is the desert.

I’m gonna be here for a few days, so I’ll update again once I have a better feel for this whole rock thing. Be well, y’all.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of pix. The internet that I can manage to scrounge is far too slow (and costly) to upload. I’ll do a huge photo post when I’m back in the land of real internet.

Road Trip, Vol. 1

Posted in Adelaide, Road Trip by Dave on December 10, 2009

hey kiddos–

So I left Melbourne on Tuesday at about 7pm. The late exit because I didn’t end up getting the car until about 4pm, and took three hours to frantically get an iPod connector and pack all my stuff. I had been planning to stay in a campground in Little Desert National park, and really it looked very nice. But it was a lot further away than I thought it was, and by the time I reached Keniva, the town you access the park from, it was about midnight. Also, I couldn’t find the campground, so I suppose it wasn’t so much the midnight as the fact that I had no earthly idea where I was going. It’s called planning folks.

So my plan for the trip as a whole had been to sleep in my car for the most of it, as a money saving technique and a surefire hilarious-story bonus detail. So I arrive in Keniva, can’t find the campground, and decide, well, may as well start now. I pulled into a parking lot conveniently located right by the police station, whipped out my blanket and pillow, reclined the seat, and tried to sleep.

Mine is red.

The picture does this beast far too much justice in the size department. Cramped is an understatement. After I couldn’t work it in the drivers seat, I tried lying across the back seat. After a few minutes getting intimate with my knees, I decided it just wasn’t going to work.

Okay, I imagine some of you at this point are thinking, “C’mon dave, I’ve seen you fall asleep sitting up at the dinner table in the middle of a conversation, and you’re telling me you couldn’t sleep in a car because it was too small?”. And you’re right. That’s not the whole story. The other half of the story is I got spooked, and bailed. A few things in my defense–it was midnight. this town was a straight transplant from rural Alabama. Before leaving Melbourne, I watched Wolf Creek, a horror flick about backpackers getting murdered in rural Australia. And the king of all reasons–both times I stopped for gas en route, the conversations I had with the various truckers went something like this:

“Where ya headed mate?”
“Uh, Keniva. Little Desert National Park.”
“Ah, American, are yas?”
“Yeah, east coast.”
“Ah. Well, good luck to ya, and y’know….be careful.”
**nervous laugh** “Of what, in particular?”
“Just be careful, mate”
**increasingly nervous laugh “Yeah, okay, thanks…”
“Some people out here don’t much care for tourists, that’s all.”

At this point I typically choked out a thanks and got back in my car. I’m almost certain they were joking, but as it got darker and the traces of civilization got further and further away, the joke stopped being funny.

Okay, so, yeah. The truth is, whatever the reason, I knew I wasn’t sleeping in that car. So I drove the rest of the way to Adelaide, and got in at about 3 in the morning. After it became clear that every hostel in town was closed and that the only open hotel was the surely very expensive (at least compared to the $24 hilton, it was 5 in the morning and I figured I may as well just stay awake until it got light. So I cruised around and saw some of the city, walked through the park, and as it got light, drove through the adelaide hills and watched the sunrise over some mountains. It was pretty awesome actually.

The rest of my day was spent cruising around Adelaide and trying not to fall asleep in bookstores and art galleries. I found an absolutely incredible bookstore in a tiny gallery called the Experimental Art Foundation. I’ve never seen a less commercially viable place of business in my life. The biggest sections were Philosophy and Experimental Lit. followed closely by Art and Literary Theory. All of the marginal sections in any reasonable bookstore, if they have them at all, were highlighted here. It was a dream come true for a snob like me, but it blew my mind how anti-profit the design and selection was. I have a lot of respect for the guy who runs it, who talked to me for quite a bit as I nosed through the store. As he explains it, because the gallery is supported by the government, he doesn’t pay taxes, and can survive as long as he doesn’t actually lose money. Which is enough of a challenge, as I discovered. He claimed that he got far more customers like me, just passing through town, than from the local community, despite the fact that he’s on the campus of the University of South Australia, which reportedly has a robust art program.

And quite a good one, to judge by their museum. I spent nearly an hour in their Sydney Ball exhibit, which was pretty great.

Shapes, guys. I love 'em.

After nerding it up in the museums, I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Botanical Gardens reading comics. [Garth Ennis’s Preacher and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. Amazing and disappointing, respectively. Preacher highly recc’d if you like: absurd violence, foul language, books that make you feel gross for reading them, and the Golden Compass]. Around six I checked into a hostel. Okay hostels are ludicrous and I felt like an alien, but I don’t have the time to do the subject justice. I’ll probably end up staying in quite a few more, so I’ll write more about them as I get a better sense of what’s crazy and what’s not.

After a few beers at the local Pub, the fantastic Grace Emily, I crashed mega early. Like, 8pm early. 32 hours awake was enough for me.

Today I’m headed off to Port Augusta, the reported “Crossroads of Australia”. I think this is where the Outback starts, so I’ll be looking for a steakhouse.