Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Battles, Bali & Borders

I have good timing. Just last week Monday I was flying out of East Timor's capital Dili. The next day it seems there are running gun battles through the city. If I had of stayed any longer I could have become an impromptu war correspondent.

But as it turned out I only discovered the news a few days later in Bali that there was any trouble at all in the city. And even then when I was being told about it, it was like "um, no way, that is not true, surely not". There was absolutely no sign when I was there that any trouble was brewing. Life seemed normal. Pity it is so true. East Timor was just getting on its feet.

Check your weapon
Check your weapon at Dili airport

Anyway we ended up spending 3 days in Bali. A bizarre place. It was my first time there, and I will go back. But away from the beach, bars and bogans. When we flew in it was straight out to the tourist village of Ubud, only about 25km away from Kuta but a long drive all the same. The streets and roads are narrow and clogged with motorbikes, taxis, buses, cars and the odd cart being pushed along. Everyone tries to get where they're going as quickly as possible. A major change from Dili, where the taxis are lucky to get past 40km/hr.

Ubud was fantastic and the accommodation sooo cheap (around Au$8 for a double room and en-suite). But it seems some other tourists had got there before we had. The streets were lined with home stays, bungalows, resorts, shops and services, catering for masses of tourists. Luckily it seems most of them are not going anymore, so we could pick and choose, unluckily it also meant that anywhere you walked some tout was calling out to you to see if you wanted "taxi, transport, yes?" (coupled with a two-handed steering wheel mime).

We escaped into the surrounding countryside one afternoon for a hot walk around and through the paddy fields. Along the way we caught a glimpse of some of the real Bali life, while watching people work in the fields and women taking offerings to Hindu temples. One of the main things I noticed in Bali was how seriously Hinduism is practiced. Maybe I am a tad naive but I had never realised it before. Temples, shrines and offerings dot the streets. You have to be careful not to kick any of the little banana leaf, rice and incense offerings that are put out every morning in front of the shops and homes.

Kuta was another story. We had one afternoon and evening to fill in there before our flight out east late at night and the place was not really my cup of tea. It is filled with surfie and bogan types, a lifestyle I just don't subscribe to. The beach was an eyeopener, locals offering everything from massages to pineapples to the sun baking few. The scene that typified the clash of cultures the most was a bronzed girl flashing her norks to the world on a banana lounge while having a pineapple cut up in front of her by a local woman covered head to toe with clothing and a hat.

Beach & bogans
Kuta beach

It was good to move on from Kuta, but also a bit sad that I couldn't have seen more of the island and escaped to littler known places. We flew off to Jayapura, West Papua at 2:30am and got in there early in the morning. I had heard that it was now possible to go straight to the border and get your visa exit stamp there instead of the previous saga of having to go to immigration in Jayapura town itself. This it seems was the case last month. Those Indonesians like to change their bloody minds.

Over an hour in a taxi and quite a few hundred thousands of Rupiah and we were dropped off, just a short stroll from Papua New Guinea. When we discovered that the policy had now changed and stamping was now taking place back in Jayapura. We weren't going to budge. This would mean quite a considerable outlay in cash and also would take most of the afternoon. We wanted to get into PNG and organise some tickets to get further into the country. So it was a Mexican standoff. Neither side giving way. Our passports were pored over. Every previous country stamp I have been to looked at and the visas as well. We stayed for over an hour like this. Eventually with the border guards telling us to wait for the bigman to yay or nay if we could exit without getting the stamp.

In the end they became pretty friendly, offering us food to eat and bizarrely chatting away to us in Pidgin. They talked amongst themselves and we sat down and waited. Eventually they pulled out some homebrew or something a rather and drank that. There were no other people crossing the border apart from the locals and some dodgy looking Malaysian guy.

The big man came and our moment arrived. He chatted away back to base on the two-way radio and we waited anxiously. I was certain that we would have to go back. Surprisingly he passed our passports back and said we could go. Victory for us and jubilation. We set off very happy with our packs on our backs and greeted the PNG immigration officers like they were old friends. No problems getting into PNG and we were out trying to get to Vanimo. This turned out to be a bit of a small drama in itself and some creative thinking allowed us to slyly slip a hire car guy a small amount of money to get dropped off in town instead of the ludicrous amount they originally told us it would cost .. K180 (Au$70).

So I am currently back in PNG. I just can't escape this place it seems. I have been catching up with friends with more catching up yet to do. And things .. well things it seems are exactly the same as when I left it. This I like. I know how things work.

Town park
Vanimo town park

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Timor Leste Life - Part 2

.. and we're back.

So I was saying, we were on a bus to Baucau, the second city, or more like town, of East Timor. The bus was a brightly painted and colourful variety with some great reclining seats. Comfort. Luckily I didn't have to stand in the door like a guy near me did. The whole way the door was open and a few guys were hanging out it. Even after we had off loaded a couple of people they still insisted on standing. The trip was for 3 hours.

We were dropped off in the new town of the city and we wanted to get to the old town, so we hailed a passing Microlet (minivan). There was no grabbing at bags anymore and everyone was happy to help point us in the right direction. In fact even when they were bag grabbing back in Dili they were doing it with smiles. I was just too shitty to notice.

Baucau it seems has seen better days. Like most of the country it was ransacked in 99 by the Indonesians. They were a bit pissed off at the time at being told they were not wanted by the East Timorese, so they went on a rampage and destroyed three quarters of the buildings and a fair chunk of the infrastructure as well. Oh and then there was the mass slaughter they carried out on the locals as well. So the scars are well and truly evident. In Baucau this was seen in the old Portuguese Mercado or main market. The thing is slowly crumbling while kids climb on the roof for fun.

Baucau Mercado
Baucau Mercado

Two nights in the town were enough, possibly even too long, before we had dried up on things to see, so we braved another bus experience to keep going east. We had been told about a magical fishing village called Com, with beautiful beaches at the farthest the road goes, so we were determined to get there. Maybe a little too determined to get there in the end.

The bus we were on went to another town, Los Palos. Com was on a turn off about 20km before Los Palos. We asked others on the bus if we could get off at the turnoff and catch a microlet to Com. They all said yes. So we jumped off at Lautem, the point where the road splits. At a small market nearby we asked the same question regarding the microlet and got a laugh. It seems they only run early in the morning if at all. So we decided to just walk up the road to Com and hail a passing car, after all the village was only 20km away and we had all afternoon to get there. We could always walk the whole way.

Which is what we did. There was absolutely no cars for the entire 20km passing in our direction. We hiked in the middle of the road and only saw a couple of motorbikes for 5 hours. It wasn't all bad we did get to walk past small villages, and smile and say "boatardi" (afternoon) numerous times to greet everyone we saw. And this was returned with a "boatardi" and a big smile back. We also passed, wallowing buffaloes, countless goats, long stretches of beaches and a small green snake according to R. Then there were the pied piper moments when about 20 kids followed us as they headed off to collect water from a water tank. I am sure we were the most interesting thing, with our packs and sweaty look, they had seen all year.

Com was worth it. A guesthouse on the beach, with an attendant who almost became too overbearing and we recovered from our large hike over two nights. Swims at the beach and a few cold beers at the nearby "resort" (a village style one at least) to make us feel relaxed. The food was also some of best I have eaten, especially in E Timor, fantastic fish and nasi goreng. We also determined that we could get a microlet out of town, so we organised it. It just happened to run at 6 in the morning.

So we were off again after the recovery and headed to Los Palos in the hope we could bus from there straight back to Dili. This proved impossible as we just happened to pick the countries Independence Day. Major events were in the works. We were stuck in Los Palos. Wandering through town and looking at some of the average guesthouses, and we stumbled upon a couple of Australians. Volunteers no less. Saviours. We quickly established that volunteer secret code, special handshake and all that, and we were taken under their wings. We were also invited to witness an independence day flag raising ceremony.

Village Food Stop
Bus lunch stop

Off we went. To sit in the VIP tent. Me scruffy looking. 10 day old beard growth, sandals, dirty T-shirt. It was a laugh. So was the scene performed. A stilted march past with the flag accompanied by some music that seemed ominous and Stanley Kubrik like to being with and then became almost Benny Hill-ish. It was hard not to laugh. I whipped out the big camera and looked like a foreign journalist and got some extra kudos.

Next day we back off to Dili. This time a 5 hour bus ride and another pre-dawn rise. The journey was ordinary apart from some incidents near Dili that caused some alarm. A few rocks thrown on the roof, a guy lying face-down in the road. Later this could have meant an ambush and robbery could have occurred. Not so much unlike PNG after all.

One last night in Dili and then it was off to the airport. We weren't going through the UN check through but instead to the Merpati, counter to check-in for the Bali flight. Which is where I currently am. And what a contrast to East Timor this is. But that is another tale.

p.s. It seems we left just in time. A few problems have now re-erupted over there.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Timor Leste Life - Part 1

And so the traveller moves on, through new lands and to a very new country. I have just spent the last eight days in Timor Leste, also known as East Timor .. the newest country on the planet. And it was a trip that was well .. to steal a tour company's name (and one that we also kept bumping into) .. was intrepid .. but also really great. I like the place. It has potential with a capital P. It just needs to get back on the path.

The trip was also one that had a few anxious moments. Not least before I had even stepped into the country. There was a heightened level of tension that was around in the weeks before going. Images of riots in the capital Dili, were splashed across media sources. The family was worried. I was .. to be honest .. a tad nervous. The unexpected always does that. Government travel advisories were telling people they should reconsider their travel. I reconsidered for a moment before committing myself. It can't be that bad, can it. After all I lived in a land of inherent violence for 2 years. Let's see how this compares.

Also I had an ace up my sleeve. The volunteer network. There are more AVIs in East Timor than PNG I was to find out. And luckily I was in contact with them. Things it seemed were not so bad on the ground as what some news grabs can make out. Isn't it always the case.

So I met up with my travel mate, R, in Darwin, and we got up ridiculously early to get out to the airport for our flight. Check-in, wait around, spy on the other passengers (gun runner, CIA, journalist, NGO officer?) and then out onto the tarmac for the safety demonstration by the pilot and into his little plane, bend over at right angles to get to the seat, and we were off. Nearly two hours later the twin prop thing touched down in Dili and we were walking to the terminal.

First step was to get our visa. This was a site shed. Inside a counter and a couple of officers. US$30 was handed over with the passport and a visa was issued, no photos or forms, just a big rubber stamp into a page. One of the easiest visas I have ever got. Next step was to meet up with some of the volunteers I had been contact with. A taxi into town, through dusty streets and past motorcycles and ramshackle and sometimes burnt out buildings (legacy from the Indonesian rampage back in '99) and to a beachside hotel for breakfast. Rhoslyn was the main point of contact I had and she turned out to be an organisational queen. Over breakfast she gave me a SIM card for my phone, a map, marking out places of interest, other hints, and organised a cheap room and even hailed us a taxi to get there. This travel thing couldn't have been more easier.

First impressions are always weird. For Dili, after walking around the first afternoon, they sort of go like this. A goat tied up underneath the peace park sign, a dog carcass completely mummified on the street (why hadn't it been removed?), lovely white vehicles with big UN letters on the side, taxis roaming past honking to see if you want to hire it (no I am happy walking thanks), a giant Jesus at one end on the harbour and beautiful beach side cafes catering for UN staff. And above all it was safe. You could roam around quite happily and there was no razor wire or worries. I wanted to volunteer here. Not a bad gig at all. And there was a selection of beer from all over.

Peace Goat

We spent two nights in the capital before we decided to head east on a bus. This is where the travel turned intrepid and adventurous. So far it was easy. We got up early to get a taxi on the road out of town to the bus terminal. And when we got there the fun started.

Kids swamped the taxi, all of them from different buses. Doors were flung open. The boot popped and my pack taken out. My day pack grabbed at. And this is all before we had paid the driver. The driver asked for $5, way too expensive, but I just gave him a note and jumped out. My bag had disappeared and I was pissed. The bag in R's arms was being grabbed and tugged at her by a bunch of kids. I yelled "hey, hey, hey" loudly and they all stopped. Then I shouted "where is my bag", any thought of using Tetun, the national language, was forgotten. Some of the kids knew what I meant and pointed to the nearest bus. Inside the empty thing I found my bag perched proudly up on a seat. I boarded grabbed it and we stormed up to the front of the bus queue, where there was an almost full bus, ignoring the pleas of the kids to jump on theirs. Not long later our chosen bus started and we were off to Baucau, sharing the ride with prize cock-fighting roosters.

Cock Fighter

To be continued ..

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Back Backpacking

So I was in Alice Springs not so long ago. It was a cool (and hot) little town. Time does fly though when you are backpacker. Alice seems ages ago now that I have made it to Darwin.

Back in Alice I had a few days to spare after my hike. I organised a bit of personalised sightseeing around the town by hiring a bike to visit some far flung reaches (I have discovered that you definitely use different muscles when riding a bike as to walking .. methinks i'll stick to the walking for a while). So I went back to the Old Telegraph Station. Went off to the "Cultural Precinct" to see some old planes and a couple Albert Namatjira works, among others. And cycled to the top of ANZAC hill to get a view of the lie of the land. In the end of my rounds I came to the conclusion that Alice is not such a bad old place .. but I couldn't live there. Hot and dusty and miles from nowhere. The nearest beach would have to be 1500km away.

So I caught the train out. I didn't do this because it was cheaper, or quicker, but because there is no one I know who has caught a train to Darwin, and I like the thought of I did it first. It was also really because I have never caught a long distance overnight train in Australia (except to Brisbane but we won't count that) and so I was keen to compare to the ones I have ventured on in Europe and China. And besides, I like trains, it is my favourite way to travel.

In the end, after a 24 hour journey, from the centre o the country to the very top, I came to the conclusion that we just don't do the long distance train business as well as the Europeans. The Ghan was more about the tourists than the travel. It was full up with the blue rinse brigade and there is nothing wrong with that, but it dampens my view of it. I guess I have been spoilt by riding the trans-siberian and real working train with the tourists a secondary thought. And I guess it was probably because the cheap seats was all I could afford. So instead of the comfortable four berths in the middle of Russia, I was cramped up with a stiff neck on the bloody day-nighter seats. It was worse than any long distance flight I could remember. And cold too. But luckily once the day rolled around and it was possible to go to the lounge car (and lounge around) things were not so bad.

Ghan 1

A four hour stop over at Katherine was made and we caught a shuttle into town to just wander around it. By this stage I was getting to know some of the other travellers on the train, sharing stories and the like. So as you tend to do, you band together with them and head off. We were all too skint to go and have a look at the Katherine gorge though. And in hindsight I wish I just put up the cash and gone along with the grannies instead of trying to do it independently with the collective band of backpackers. But such is life. I missed Kings Canyon as well .. so I figure it is a good reason to come back through this way one day.

In the afternoon following Katherine we rolled along through the top end and looked out the windows trying to spot crocs and instead having to make do with looking at the massive termite mounds and the grass fires burning trackside. Before evening we came into Darwin .. or at least about 18km from Darwin in some freight terminal. Seems they forgot to build the track into town. Probably because of the expense. Shame I think.

A bus into town and a check in at a hostel before it was priorities and out in the beautiful evening warmth and off to a pub to cash in some $1 meal tickets we got.

The collective band of backpackers was now well and truly formed. The plan was to make the most of our time and make tracks to see some of the local countryside. So we hired a 12 seater mini-van (which my NSW drivers licence managed to cover), went and got some grub, hired some camping equipment and loaded up and headed for Litchfield NP. Kakadu was thought of but it turns out a lot of the main attractions are still closed there following the cyclone and besides it is a fair hike to get there.

Litchfield was absolutely magical though. We gandered and then swam in waterfalls. Visited massive termite mounds and famous magnetic variety. Did some more swimming in rock pools. And took obligatory photos of standing in front of crocodile warning signs. One of the waterfalls was actually closed because of the potential threat.

Termite Mound

Rockpool 1

After the camp out and drive back, we tried to get to see the famous jumping crocs at Adelaide River Crossing, but were a tad too late. So instead we just gandered at the big beasts in captivity at a croc farm.

Since that little cheap escape (turned out it cost us just $60 per person .. instead of a two day tour that would have cost $200), I have been hanging around Darwin town. This town I like. I like the tropics, with an evening that you can wander around in shorts and shirts and build up a thirst. The locals are not pretentious and very friendly. No wanker attitudes, just a laid back mode. And it is nicely laid out with all things central. I went to the Mindel Beach market at sunset and got some more of the vibe there. And did a touristy but surprisingly fun feed the fish at a thing called Aquascene. Catfish and mullets swimming between your legs and going bananas over a few buns in the water.

All good things must come to an end. And tomorrow I am out of here to uncharted waters. Back from backpacker mode and into adventure mode. We shall see how it fairs.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Larapinta Madness

I think I am slightly mad. Who else in their right mind would trek for 3 days and 3 nights .. out in the widerness .. by themselves .. and only seeing a handful of other people in the whole time. Lets just say I can handle my own company.

The Larapinta Trail is something I had never heard of until a couple of weeks ago. I was flicking through a newly purchased Lonely Planet to the Top End and was wondering how I was going to fill in a few spare days in Alice Springs before the weekly train came through. And then I saw the top ten best bushwalking section and Larapinta was at number one. Where the hell was this? I flicked to the page to check it out. It just so happens it is a serious 240km track that runs from the Old Telegraph Station in Alice Westward through the West MacDonnell Ranges, linking up some established tourist attrations like Standley Chasm and Simpsons Gap over 13 sections. My problem was solved I would do the first 3 sections in reverse order. (check out this page for more info).

So I jumped on a local tour bus as they were on their way out to Standley Chasm last Wednesday afternoon. We picked up people from the local resort and headed out. We all jumped out at the chasm and they wandered off to see the thing while I got prepared. I decided that instead of camping at the chasm I may as well put in a few hours of walk and get to a campsite along the track.

All the others on the bus thought I was slightly mad as I came up to the chasm for a gander. Here I was standing with my pack on and loaded up like a packhorse with what must have been over 20 kilos in weight, more than I am really used to, but that was due to carrying a ton of water and food for three days. They asked me where I was going and I told them, Alice Springs. They waddled back to the bus .. wishing me luck.

Larapinta 1

The first section it turned out was some of the toughest that I would be walking over. And it was also some of the roughest and rugged track I have ever crossed. This was serious. One slip and it could have been an early exit. A few hundred metres climb up and then down and then up and then I got a bit lost as the track disappeared and I had to backtrack to find it again. I was sweating like pre-pork. But it was brilliant. There was no one around and I had the whole track to myself.

I found my campsite, which turned out to be no more than a patch of flat dirt about 4 metres wide in amongst some scrub. This would have to be it. First thing was to collect some wood. Unlike some other neighbouring countries we can light open fires here. I was in my boy scout mode and loving it. And the best thing was that it was the easiest fire I have ever got going. This stuffed burned like no tomorrow. Some paper to start was laughed at. Just poof on the dry twigs and hey presto.

I was wondering if I should get out my tent fly that I had bought along as a shelter, but thought bugger it. The sky was brilliantly clear and there was no chance of rain out here. I unrolled my sleeping bag on a ground sheet and had the entire universe as my ceiling. And I got intimate with it. Watched the planets rise and cross the sky. Saw the stars circle through the night. Watched the satellites wizz over as well as the odd plane. It was unbelievable. I didn't get much sleep but I didn't mind I was enjoying myself knowing there was no one for miles and this view was mine.

Next day was the best bit of hiking I have ever done. I got going early and climbed up a ridge line for dawn. You could see in every direction and I was impressed and snapped quite a few photos off. Down the ridge and I met the first of only two other guided groups I would see on the entire 62km trek. I was impressed by these guys though, they were off to do the entire thing. Good luck to them.

Before lunch I had the chance to stop at a waterhole. I was not missing a chance to clean up and wash off the sweat and besides it was hot as well. I got all my gear off and got in .. I wasn't worried about seeing anyone else, they would have had to have been camping with the group and they said they were it. The sun dried me and it was lunch time. And then I was off again. I had over 10kms to knock off by the end of the day. Luckily and unluckily it was flat. Lucky cause it made it quick .. unluckily because it was quite boring and tedious.

Camped by myself again. No shelter again. Got more sleep, but I discovered something that I didn't encounter the previous night. Dew. I woke up before dawn with the outside of my bag wet. Bloody thing. So I took my time to get going as I dried off my bag in the early sun. Thankfully that didn't take long. It was going to be a long day as I had 24ks to complete and I was keen to go.

I clocked up the speed and got to Simpsons Gap at around lunchtime and then had a good break but was slightly freaked out by all the tourists and their campervans. I had not seen another soul for over 24 overs.

The afternoon was very hot and I had 10ks to make to get to my scheduled campsite. I was looking at the map and hoping some of the sights along the way would work out to cool me down. First up was Fairy Springs and I felt confident that this would be a good spot. But alas there was no spring and certainly no fairies. All I got was a dry hole and some wallaby carcases and this is after I wasted time and energy walking 400mtr off the track. Then next up was Scorpian Hole. With a bad name like that it had to be good. But same scenario as before but worse, with more bones scattered around the place, so it was off to the campsite.

Larapinta 3

I made it before sunset. But was bemused to find a troupe of Scouts hanging out camping and abseiling and the like. This was slightly overloading and I didn't want to seem rude to them but I really did not want to spend the night with these brats. I know what they are like I used to be one. The leaders had the idea before me though and kindly told me that I should go a little bit up the track where there was a good spot. So I did.

After camp was set up, with shelter this time, I set off back to get water which was a 5 minute walk away. Once completed I headed back in the twilight and surprised some dingos heading from the direction of my camp. I scared them off by making some noise but then hurried back to make sure a dingo hadn't stolen my campsite. All was fine though.

Best night sleep of the 3 and a very early start again saw me making tracks for 14kms back to Alice. Good views from a ridge line in the early light again and then I was closing the gap on the ups and down. The track this stage was well worn. Much more use than the first section I tackled. No chance to losing it like I did a few times up dry creek beds the previous days. Crossed the train line heading to Darwin and took photos of the tracks I will be going over in the next few days and then I saw the other guided group. They were off to Simpsons Gap but overnighting on the way.

Larapinta 6

Like all end to tracks I just wanted it to finish for the last few kilometres. I was counting them down. Finally at around noon with hot sweaty feet that had made my socks soaked through and slipping in my boots I made it into the Old Telegraph Station without fanfare. No one to greet me. I checked to see how far it was to town and was disheartened to find it a 4 km walk. I wimped out and called a cab. I had done enough walking. You can give me that can't you?

Rocking Around Some Rocks

Greetings from Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia. Visiting the dead centre of the country for the first time. Just finished a slightly serious hike .. well 62kms at least .. through desert like country .. over a few mountains .. 3 nights sleeping under the stars .. by myself .. but more on that later (or when I can fix up a story on it). Anyway so as to what I have being doing before that.

It started off with the flight to Yulara, the resort town near Uluru (Ayres Rock). Using the Qantas quick check-in I tried to work out what side I should sit on to get a view from the air of the big rock. Of course I chose wrongly and managed to get views of the red-herring of Mt Conner. So as we came into land I was wistfully looking out the window at the flat expanses before I thought I would take a gander across the plane through the other windows. And there it was. A huge bloody big rock. They say you remember the first time you see it. And I will vouch for that. It filled up that little port hole and the one next to it. Hah I was impressed and was eager to get out to it.

Shuttle bus to backpackers. Check-in. Transport to the national park arranged. With-in an hour of landing I was heading out there with some French tourists interspersing their words with "magnific" as we gazed at the sight before us.

And so I got dropped at the base of the climb. And my moment of should I or should I not climb came. After reading the sign and seeing plenty of others go up. I hesitated, re-read the plea from the Aborigines, my leftie side fighting my adventurous side, and then I decided bugger it, I am going up, if it is not illegal .. I want to do it. I also figure if they really don't want people to climb it, why don't they just close the thing off. And I think they should .. not just for their spiritual reason, but because of the damage climbers are doing .. there is a well worn path up there now and you can spot it from a mile away. Besides I don't mind if they close it off now .. because I got to the top.

The climb is surprisingly hard. And I can see why people have died. The first steep ascent with the chain is something else. A trip and a stumble and you would end up at the bottom as a sack of crushed bone and tenderised meat. I took it easy although not as easy as some and I was soon overtaking some climbing. After the chain section the walk was quite easy although the upward does take it out of you. When I got to the top I had the whole place to myself for 20 minutes. I checked to see if my phone had mobile coverage and was surprise to see it did. And so I made a couple of calls to say I was standing on top of Ayres Rock .. a slightly surreal experience.

After the pics and phone calls down I carefully went. Which as usual I think is harder than going up. The old knees don't like this one bit. But I made it without become a broken sack. I kept checking my watch. I had until 5:40 before I was going to be picked up for the sunset viewing. That meant I had just over two and half hours to walk around the base. They say it takes 3-4 hours for the 9.4km distance. So I was off, there was no time to spare.

The base walk got made with half an hour to spare and the shuttle bus arrived and I was off to see the famed sunset .. with the rest of the country it seems. There is this huge car park filled with campervans and cars .. and then there is a completely separate park just for the tour buses. Bloody hell. As to the sunset .. hmm nice, apart from all the idiots I had to share it with. Do I sound cynical in my old age.

Next day I was off to the only other real attraction for miles around. Kata Tjuta or The Olgas. It was an early rise to get picked up at 6:15. Their theory is that the early you get going the better to wander around the Valley of the Winds walk before the hoards. Good point and as it turned out it was a great one. I walked with a couple from the US and I got them excited when we crept up on a couple of little bush roos having their brekkie.

Kata Tjuta

After that was completed I tried to stitch up a tour to get myself to Kings Canyon. As it seems to be the only way possible to get there. All the tour buses come from Alice in a circuit and see that first and then the rock, etc and then head back. So I was out of luck. Next choice was to jump on a Greyhound to Alice. Which I did. And where I still am. Kings C will have to wait. I am hanging here and seeing the sights now until my train arrives on Monday to take me north.

Now for that other story.