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.