Monday, October 6, 2008

Oh am I gonna miss this...

After a fun, but mostly restful week spent with a friend in Melbourne, I flew into Sydney on Sunday and my friend Dom picked me up from the airport and deposited me straight onto his boat. It was a beautiful day… made even more beautiful by the fact that 8 of us were jetting through Sydney harbor drunk on wine and full of delicious dips and sandwiches. I was reminded of my first few weeks in Sydney when Dom took us to a party in the middle of Sydney harbor and I was pretty sure I’d died and gone to heaven. (Of course back then, I was tanner, skinner, and financially solvent). About 20 min into our trip, we met up with another boat load of people, tied the two boats together, and spent the next few hours toasting in the sun. Sigh.

At around 4:00, the weather changed pretty dramatically and it got quite cold, so a bunch of us headed back to Dom’s parent’s place to warm up in the hot tub. After 6 hours of drinking, we were all sufficiently loose and some silliness ensued. People kept showing up and some didn’t have bathing suits so they just got in their clothes… some got in without.

We were probably in the hot tub for 2 hours straight and once our skin had absorbed as much water as was humanly possible, we took off to continue the party over at fight club. At the time, I thought fight club was an actual club, but in reality, it’s a mansion where a bunch of Dom’s friends live. It’s called fight club because, well, aside from looking very much like the house in the movie for which it is named, you just don’t talk about what happens in fight club.

Many an insane party has been thrown at this mansion. I will refrain from breaking the code of silence, but let’s just say that you can imagine what you get when you mix a huge pool, a hot tub, a sauna, and 10 crazy drunk people. And I’m informed that that’s par for the course and nothing compared to the bigger parties. Well, it was a good introduction nonetheless. The following night we went to a relatively tame and civilized dinner party there and had a few laughs about the pics taken the previous night. I think running for public office is now officially out of the question for me.

I caught up with some friends over then next 2 days, and on Thurs, Dom and I were off again, as he’d invited me to be his guest on a helicopter trip down to the Grand Prix in Melbourne. Dom is a pilot and he and his friend would be spending the week bouncing around Melbourne. Well, I had just come from Melbourne, but could not turn down a free, private helicopter tour of said city. The flight was amazing… so beautiful that I kept clicking pictures with the one hand not occupied by the clutching of an air sick bag to my face (which was pretty much as green as the meadows over which we were flying). We ended up having to take a break at a beautiful little spot halfway through the flight so I could regain my bearings.

We spent the next few days hanging out with Dom’s friends, one of whom I had actually met randomly the week before. I had been staying with a friend of my cousin’s in Melbourne, and his best friend (whom I’d met at a party) happened to be good friends with Dom. Small world this is…or maybe Dom just knows everybody.

We spent 4 event-filled days in Melbourne and I had a great time despite persistent back pain and a pretty nasty cold. On our first day in town, we went to lunch with the 6-time Motor Cross champion of Australia. I know nothing about motorcycle racing, but people kept stopping him to get his autograph, so that was a bit surreal. The next day, we met up with another of Dom’s friends for lunch and ended up presiding at a marketing meeting for Saurina Tuna. How do you spell random? It was pretty fun though… I found myself totally in my element giving art direction advice on a new line of gourmet tuna labels. Oh, to once again let the word “Helvetica” roll off my tongue…dare I say it actually made me miss work! That night, 5 of us went out for dinner and we gorged ourselves on chocolate to the point that we could barely function. By midnight we were totally spent… this of course after making idiots of ourselves on a crazy sugar high before the inevitable crash.

Anyway, I flew back to Sydney on Sunday as I didn’t want to cram all my traveling into one day. I was planning a big night out for my last night in Australia, but everything in my body was saying hell no. MY back was on fire, I was coughing up a lung, and for once, I had to draw the line. I’m disappointed I didn’t get one last crazy night out, but I think I’ve had enough over-the-top nights to make up for it… plus it’s clearly time to face reality and take care of my much-abused body.

So this is it for now folks. I leave you now to begin another adventure… that of readjusting to “normal” life back at home. I can’t believe how fast these 9+ months have gone and that this segment of my life is over. If I do decide to pick up and venture back out to paradise, I will most certainly keep you posted on whatever it is I manage to get myself into. Bye for now!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

From the Desert to the Sea

After 5 event-filled days on the road. I think I may finally be all road-tripped out. Oskar (an aussie guy who offered me a lift to Adelaide) and I left Alice Springs on Thurs and began our long trek down to South Australia. On the way to our first big stop, we pulled off the road to take a look at the breakaways, a starkly beautiful and vast desert plain. It was very different than the rest of the outback terrain I’d seen thus far which was surprisingly covered with foliage.

We also passed a huge and surreal salt lake which looked like a snow field in the middle of the desert.

It took us two full days from Alice Springs to make it to an opal mining town called Coober Pedy… translated from the Aboriginal as “white man’s hole in the ground.” The aboriginals do not mince words. Coober Pedy’s climate is so inhospitable that most of the town’s residents live in underground homes carved out of the rock in the dusty hills. There are about 10 opal stores for every person. While we were walking through the town (actually shuffling due to the intense heat), a local named Elias offered to give us a lift to one of the underground churches we wanted to check out. He had some time to spare, so he drove us to his home to give us a grand tour. Pretty cool place, and the best part about it was that there was no need for heating or air conditioning, as the temperature in the cave dwelling stays comfortably cool all year round. Elias was an interesting guy…he is a yoga instructor/miner who spends all his days digging in the hope of hitting a large deposit of opal. He mostly comes out empty-handed, but has a pretty positive attitude about his chances at striking it rich. After letting us pick out a few pieces of opal for ourselves, he dropped us off at our destination, which was really not all that exciting. But Coober Pedy is a pretty unique place and I’m glad we got to see it through a local’s eyes.

We left Coober Pedy early the next day to head on down to Adelaide. For some reason, I thought Adelaide was a LOT closer to Alice Springs than it was. It’s far, fuel is very expensive, and it took us 8 hours of solid driving before we reached the city. Did I mention I don’t drive stick? Poor Oskar had to drive almost the whole way, though I tried my hand at the driving and actually did ok as I’d had a quick lesson from the horse farmer before my unfortunate accident. I’d say I drove for about an hour in all. Exhausted and freezing, we stayed at a dingy hostel that night and woke up very early as we’d decided to check out Kangaroo Island the next day. Kangaroo Island is a beautiful, wind-swept, pristine island off the coast of Adelaide and its charms include large numbers of kangaroos and seal colonies. We made it to the ferry thinking that it departed every hour. Turned out that we’d missed the 12:00 ferry and that the next one was leaving at 6:00. We also discovered that getting Oskar’s van to the island would cost us twice as much as we’d thought. The info we’d read was very misleading, and so there we were, sans ferry tickets and down an extra hundred dollars each. Ouch. Well, we debated going back to Adelaide, but I had gotten my heart set on checking out the island (it was that or spend the next 2 days bumming around the city) so we just sucked up the extra cost and managed to board the 6 pm ferry. (We were actually very lucky as there was only one car space left when we bought the tickets.) Killing time before boarding the ferry, I was able to get a few cool shots of a wind farm on a hillside near the ferry terminal.

The ferry ride was very rough…the seas were NOT calm and as soon as the boat started moving, so did the contents of my stomach. I passed out for the hour-long ride and we arrived at the island after dark and called it an early night so that we could make the most of the one full day we had. The day started off cloudy and cold, but eventually the sun came out and we got to see just how spectacular the island really was. We were pretty underwhelmed by the first half of what we saw, but when we made it to the west end of the island, we understood what all the hype was about. It was stunning. The coasts were wild and tons of seals could be seen frolicking about in the rock pools and on the beaches. They are total cuddle bugs.

The highlight of the trip was a bizarre rock formation called the Remarkables. They were aptly named…

You can’t get a good sense of scale, but when you’re standing under the undulating rock faces you can’t help but think they were created by a sculptor. The forms were just so unique and the lines were an artist’s dream.

After visiting the Remarkables, we drove the full 2 hours back the ferry and made it back to Adelaide that night at about 10pm. It was an exhausting and expensive endeavor, but I’m glad we did it. I mean, did you see those seal’s faces? That alone made the trip worthwhile.

So now I’m headed to Melbourne for a few days and then it’s off to Sydney where I will be basically doing nothing except for soaking in a hot tub until I leave. My much-abused back will appreciate the rest, as I haven’t exactly been taking it easy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Rock

Oy. I spent about 6 hours today at the hospital trying to work out the logistics of getting my back X-rayed. The doctor I saw in Darwin had filled out a form requesting an X-ray of my neck when I had clearly specified that it was my back that was hurting. The doctors here in Alice Springs wouldn’t do the back X-ray without a written request from the original GP, so I spent a good part of my day sitting, waiting, and contemplating the even sadder state of the aboriginal population I witnessed shuffling barefoot though the hospital doors. At about 3pm I was finally taken in for my X-ray and was trying to remain optimistic despite the dull, but relentless ache in my spine. The radiologist came back in and informed me that I indeed had a compression fracture; but that it was a very minor one and that there was no apparent serious damage. I can’t tell you how relieved I was, especially when he told me he’d had two of those very same injuries (albeit much worse than mine) and that he recovered fully in about 10 weeks. The “recovered fully” was the part that lifted me out of my deepening gloom my condition was inducing. So there you have it. We’ll see how things go, but I can safely say there will be no extreme sports for me for the remainder of my trip (I got them out of the way already).

Never one for listening to sound advice, and despite the pain, I did end up going on my camping trip. Luckily the 4-hour walks we did during the days were somewhat mild compared to some of the more arduous hikes I’ve done on this trip, and the exercise felt great. The trip got off to a slow and disappointing start. I realized that the extra money I forked over for this particular tour meant that it catered to a more sophisticated clientele. And by sophisticated, I mean retired. So there was me, my friend Fracture, another 2 German girls my age, 4 old ladies, an old man who mumbled, and a middle-aged German couple. Later on in the day, we stopped at the airport to pick up 3 more passengers; two 20-something Swedish sisters and their mom. The mom and daughters trio made me miss my family so much and just added to my feeling of woe. As we drove the 5 hours it took to get to our first stop, Uluru (previously known as Ayer’s rock), the clouds began to roll in. This was a dense, grey, and none-too appealing development. We got to the rock and although it was pretty spectacular, I was getting anxious about the cloud situation. Was there to be no sunset? No glowing red rock? We did a walk around the rock and I do have to say that despite the weather, it was impressive in a way I hadn’t anticipated. People have told me it’s just a big rock. But my God, is it big. And it stands utterly alone in a flat, orange landscape. No one had to tell me it was considered a sacred place…I felt it as soon as I saw it. It absolutely exuded something mystical, and you’d have to be a pretty harsh cynic to deny it.

Anyway, we did the walk and I was encouraged by a distant crack of light on the horizon where I knew the sun would be setting. As the winds picked up, the clearing grew until I was pretty sure that be would indeed have a colorful sunset. This bolstered my spirits, and having gotten to talking with the Swedes, I was happy to discover they were pretty cool chicks (I found out subsequently that one of them had sustained a nasty back injury after falling off a horse when she was younger, and that after 8 years of agonizing pain, she had to get surgery. That sure brightened my mood!). After the walk, we made our way to the sunset spot and I started getting excited. Things were looking promising.

Steve, our guide, instructed us to make sure not to miss the 30 seconds right before the sun sets, as that’s the magic hour. We were not disappointed. As the sun inched towards the horizon, the rock began to glow red, and the full moon glowed even whiter against a peach and grey sky. I practically creamed my pants (sorry, but only a crude expression will do in this case).

I didn’t even know which way to look… I mean there was the rock lit up by the sun, but there was also the sunset behind that to take into account. I probably made my back that much worse in my frenzy to whip around and capture everything, but I didn’t care. It was the kind of beauty that just hurts. So that was the rock. So much more than I thought it would be. I’d have been happy it the trip ended there, but alas, we had two more days of beautiful things to see. Sigh. That night, we ate a delicious meal and slept in swags under the stars. I slept like a baby wrapped up in 3 blankets against the cold and clean desert air. The next morning, at 4 am, after a leisurely breakfast we made our way to the Olgas. The Olgas are even more impressive in size and scope than Uluru, but much less advertised. The aboriginals consider this formation to be vastly more sacred than Uluru and they don’t share any of their folklore regarding its significance. Most tour groups do sunset and sunrise at the rock, but Steve took us to watch an incredible sunrise over the Olgas instead. From that vantage point, you can watch the sun rise over Uluru while also taking in the first hits of rosy light on the slopes of the Olgas. Once again, I was torn between the two sights, and to make matters more complicated, my fellow campers had the most beautiful expressions on their faces as the sun rose so I tried to capture some of those as well.

After the sun rose, we headed into the Olgas to do a 4 hour walk. They were beautiful and the walk though was pleasant… and very hot. After the Olgas, we were all totally exhausted as we made our way to the campsite for the night (which was guarded by a camel skull on a stick). We arrived at a totally secluded, serene spot where we were free to watch the sunset over the red canyon walls. I was awestruck at the desert sunset…there’s nothing quite like it. The colors are so vibrant and pure and they work together in a way that seems almost purposeful.

So we ate dinner that night, and dinner included kangaroo tail. We literally put the tails of kangaroos, compete with skin and FUR, into the fire, and then when they were done, we broke them into pieces and ate. Primal, yes. Messy, you bet'cha. Tasty, indeed. Well, now I can say I tried roo tail…add that to my resume. I retired extremely early that night (about 8:30pm). Thank the neurofen with codine for that one! Once again, we awoke bright and early so we could complete our hike though Kings Canyon before it got too hot. Kings Canyon is a truly special place…it’s a desert oasis with lots of micro climates and it resembles a mini grand canyon. From the colors of the rock to the abundant plant and animal life, this place took my breath away. The rock formations are wild, and with the finely textured rock giving way to huge dome-like structures, you can literally see how everything was formed. I got a bit carried away taking pictures of my traveling companions, but I was getting bored taking pictures of red rock/blue sky after a while, and other things were more interesting to me (like hands, legs, a mop of dreads, and a beautiful little girl as into photography as I am).

After Kings Canyon, we spent an hour off-roading along a short cut back to Alice Springs. OUCH. I spent the whole ride clutching my seat and praying… that was the only time I was truly scared about my back and I had no control over the bumps and jolts of the truck. It would have been fun had I not had a broken back, but I think I eroded the top layer of my tooth enamel grinding my teeth so hard. This was the road:

Thankfully the ride ended after an hour and though I was definitely hurting, I didn’t think any more damage. After the ride from hell, we stopped at a station where a man named Jim will sometimes bring out his singing Dingo, Dinky. If you’ve never seen a singing Dingo, you haven’t really lived. This dog, upon hearing a piano play, begins to howl. Not only does he howl, but he likes to join in playing the piano as well. It was absolutely hilarious. As this dingo has achieved legendary status in Australia and doesn’t always perform, I’d say we were pretty lucky to witness the spectacle.

This is hilarious and definitely worth a listen (if you can hear the dog howling over my laughter).

After that, we pulled over to go on a witchety grub hunt. Basically, you dig up the roots of the Acacia tree and look for tubers where the fat, white worms are nesting. Then you crack open the root, pull out the protien-packed worm, and eat it. Apparently they taste like a mixture of eggs and almonds. I must confess, I was relieved that there were no witchety grubs to be found that day because I would have had to try one (and I wasn't too keen on it).

That night, a bunch of us were supposed to meet up for dinner, but I was so beat that I couldn’t physically do it. I really wanted to, but the fatigue of my body was too overwhelming and I feared I wouldn’t even be able to hold up a conversation (plus my mouth was still all cut up on the inside so eating has not been a joy). So I missed my final farewells, but all in all it was a fabulous trip and I’m SO glad I did it. I wouldn’t have known it, but had I missed Uluru, I’d have missed out on a lot.

So what’s next? I scored a ride to Adelaide and I have no idea what’s in Adelaide or what I will do when I get there. Par for the course at this point. All I know is that it’s gonna be coooold there. After 8 months of summer, I may just have to go into hibernation...much like the witchety grub.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hot to Trot

When I was a little girl, I used to obsess over horses. I drew them, dreamed about them, drooled over them—they were the embodiment of freedom, grace, and strength and I loved everything about them. Now that I’m a little older (and less coordinated, it seems), my sentiments have changed. As it now stands, I will be happy if I never get up a horse again…well, at least until I get myself some real medial insurance.

This really, really hurts. And if you can believe it, this mess of a face you see before you is not nearly the worst of my troubles (and this is already way better than it looked yesterday…my eye was totally swollen shut). When Dolly, the horse I was riding, decided for no apparent reason to stop short at a full canter and throw me off her back, I was pitched face first into the hard, red dusty road. My neck made a highly disconcerting crunching noise as my body followed my face, and I was pretty sure it was all over for me at that point. Somehow, I managed to roll over as quickly as possible to avoid being trampled under the highly agitated Dolly, and mercifully, the horse backed away. I stood up and was more shocked that I felt so little pain than at the fact that something warm and sticky was gushing down my face. My teeth, amazingly, were all in place, and though they had punctured the insides of my lips, it seemed that I had only superficial injuries and scratches. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. John, the owner of the farm took me over to a sprinkler to wash the blood off my face before letting me take a gander at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Everyone was telling me it wasn’t that bad, which of course, meant that it was pretty bad. Later on that evening, while pressing a packet of frozen brussels sprouts against my rapidly swelling eye and mouth, I managed to have a few laughs about the whole episode with the crew. I mean, I was alive, apparently not terribly hurt, and given the way in which I hit the ground, impossibly lucky. But as I watched my face continue to swell over the course of the night and noticed a marked tightening in my neck and especially in the center of my back, the laughter turned to tears. John gave me a massage and some painkillers to ease my growing discomfort, but I think all that served to do was intensify the swelling in my face.

Just to give a little background about John (the guy who owns the farm), two years ago, he and his girlfriend at the time rode from the west coast to the east coast of Australia on horseback (Broome to Cairns). After catching 6 wild outback horses called Brumbys and training them (they needed horses well-suited and accustomed to the terrain), they rode them through the outback and it took them 5 months to complete the ride, not to mention the 5 years of planning that went into it. They were the first people ever to make that arduous trek, and though one functional eye that night, I watched the documentary that was made about their voyage (Dolly, that little shit, was even featured in the footage). The documentary hasn’t officially come out yet, but it’s really well done and engaging. It’s one of those deeply human stories that is just so inspiring… and he’s planning to do similar treks all over the world. I’ll definitely be watching his progress.

So anyway, where was I? Well, my experience in Darwin has been….how shall I put this… one series of unfortunate events after another. Everything was fine when we arrived in town from our road trip. I met up with my friend Dom from Sydney and he took us all over Darwin. One day, we went on a crocodile cruise in a small aluminum boat where we came into very close contact with crocs 6 meters long. This unfortunate creature had its arm bitten off by a shark. Australia is a perilous place if even crocs aren’t safe.

You have no idea how big a 6 meter croc is until you get up close and personal with it. Wild. Over the course of a few days, we went to a really nice swimming hole, saw a few movies, went to dinner at the wharf, and saw some gorgeous sunsets.

We also went to the Mindil Beach night market where we had the pleasure of watching one of the best didgeridoo players in Australia perform.

After the first fun-filled week however, everything started to unravel. Dom had offered to put me on a free company flight down to Melbourne whenever I wanted, and jumping at the opportunity to save some money, I decided against traveling to the west coast and opted instead to take him up on his flight offer to Alice Springs. I’d been wanting to visit Ayer’s Rock and the Olgas and was disappointed that we hadn’t made it there on our road-trip, so I figured now would be a great opportunity to check out all that I’d missed. But a last week, while walking down the steps to the outdoor cinema, Dom broke his hand while trying to demonstrate to us his ability (or lack thereof) to balance on the handrails. I had recently shown him this “motivational” poster and he jokingly brought it up again as he lay writhing in pain.

But all joking aside, the fracture put him out of commission and made it next to impossible to secure my flight on the following Monday. Had I taken the Monday flight, I would have been in the clear and would not now be the subject of pitiable stares. Or, had I simply gone west, I’d have been in the clear. I’m kicking myself for my decision to go south instead of doing the west coast as everything is now in total disarray. But I won’t kick myself that hard as I feel I have taken enough abuse.

So I can’t say all that much about Darwin other than it’s unbelievably hot and seems to have a vendetta against me and my friends. I’m currently on a 24-hour train down to Alice Springs and my bruised and battered face bought me an upgrade to a sleeper car (that’s over $400 worth of pity). I can’t tell you how lovely it’s been to lay in my own private little room (complete with a sink and towels!) and just sleep without the constant banging of doors, shouting, etc. It also gave me a chance to develop without interruption an idea I’ve been pondering for a new series of paintings I’m pretty excited about. Who knows, maybe if I hadn’t been put out of commission I wouldn’t have given it so much time and thought. I feel so much better now that I’ve had a good night’s sleep and that I’ve been mildly productive to boot. I’m praying that the pain in my back is temporary and that it will not be a lasting injury… and it would be a bonus if I could get out of this without any scarring on my face. I’m growing a bit tired of people taking one look at me and going, “Holy shit! What happened to your face?” I’ve been tempted to make up stories, saying things like, “yeah if you think this is bad, you should see the other guy.” But in truth, I’m way more concerned about the inside of me than the external cuts and bruises. What a downer…I’m just hoping I feel well enough to do my camping trip on Sat. I think I’ll be ok.