Sunday, 21 March 2010

Alice Springs (or Ireland 2.0 the resurrection)

Karl (31, Irish, Construction worker) handling the pet crocodile we had in our pool for a night. There was a moment of fear when it ran off and we didn't know where it was, but it hadn't gone far.

Okay, so I have finally been bullied into getting up a blog entry about Alice Springs so you can see where I live and whom I hang out with. Don’t get me wrong, I have wanted to tell you, but I just don’t know where to start.

Grasshoppers are abundant, especially after a bout of rain, and they have absolutely no control over where they jump so they tend to jump right into you when they try to get away. And as you can see by the cup they are also rather big.

Alice Springs is a lovely little town in the middle of the Australian outback and is essentially a place in growth, which is why there are loads of jobs here. It is in addition a stopover destination for tourists going to Uluru and other rocks nearby. This has also been our first real meeting with Aboriginals. The Aboriginals are paid by the Australian government for the wicked things done to them and their land in the past, which practically means they walk around doing nothing and drink their money away. There are loads of extra restrictions on alcohol here compared to the rest of Australia because Aboriginals can’t hold their liquor really well and quickly get aggressive and/or otherwise annoying. For example the other day we saw two women about sixty years old dragging each other’s hair out, screaming and hitting each other. We didn’t quite know where to look. They are everywhere, in the street, in the parks, outside Coles (grocery shops), and they smell really bad (from lack of hygienic habits, you smell them before you see them) but like loads of other things you get used to them and they become part of the landscape of Alice. I have to say that hands down this is the place in the world I have been where the racism is tangible. The resentment from both sides is undeniable and I believe that in the current state of mind here in Alice, it would be a difficult problem to resolve.

But in the midst of all these sociological problems, we still have come to love this place or for the most part I would say we love the people.

At the moment, I still live in the Haven house, a house with three bedrooms, one bathroom, kitchen and living room shared with 7 other people. Henriette used to live here with me, but moved out when she took a two-week holiday back to Byron Bay and subsequently moved in with Shina and Wong, two friendly and hilarious Koreans. Once you get a couple of beers in Koreans and they start speaking English as opposed to Korean (they seem to be too self-conscious about English sober) they have loads of interesting and funny things to say. E.g. did you know that in Korea you get born as a one-year old, so Wong for instance is 31 in Korea, but 30 in western calculations?!?

Frøydis (19, Norwegian, Bartender) making a ginger bread moose in our kitchen.

I have managed to sneak myself into a two-bedroom room after spending the first month or so in the four-bedroom room. I am currently sharing it with Frøydis, a 19 year-old Norwegian from Rendalen i Hedmark. We have loads of fun when she is not working at Rock Bar in town. For instance one day we made ginger bread cookies just because none of us had had any for Christmas, and we also go to the cinema on the one day she has off a week. It has become a tradition.

We also made a ginger bread kangaroo :D

We only had green food colouring after St. Patrick's day, but it turned out rather nice. Nikki (20, French, painter) was very excited when he got to participate in the decorating part.

Other than Frøydis, I live with Adam, a 31 year-old Australian who works in construction and Nikki, 20 year-old French who paints houses. They have lived here as long as I have lived here and we have become very good friends. Conversation is always interesting with Adam and Nikki knows how to entertain, even when he isn’t trying.

Adam (31, Australian, construction) giving my camera evil eyes.

Nikki (20, French, painter) on St. Patrick's day.

There is a big changeover in the house cause people tend to pass through Alice within a couple of months, but for the bulk of my time I also lived with an Irish couple, Karl (31) and Bernie (27).

Bernie (27, Northern Ireland, Subway) and Karl (31, Irish, construction) made this pose when I asked them to pose like a couple. Have to add that they didn't even look at each other before doing it so they are ridiculously synchronized.

They are in Fiji at the moment, but are coming back to stay in Alice for another two years since Karl has been sponsored by his construction company. Through these two Irish people we have gotten to know the entire Irish population of Alice, which is significant. Ireland has been hit badly by the recession and as a consequence my friends tell me there are hardly any young Irish people left in Ireland. They have all gone abroad to seek work; especially if they have trade like plumbing, construction or electrician. In fact, 90 % of the guys I know here work in a trade, which is refreshing from Norway where everyone I know has or is working on a University degree. I have too say, meaning no offence to any men with University degrees, that these guys have the appearance of being proper men, that is the old fashioned, traditional man, which is surprisingly refreshing and doesn’t at all feel oppressive and annoying. They act more like proper gentlemen, which is sometimes lost of Norwegians.

Anika (28, Germany, Housekeeping) on our camping trip to Jessie Gap.

Another good friend I got in the house, who has travelled on, is Anika (28) from Germany. She took especially good care of me when I was on crutches (tell you more about that in a second) and I could talk to her about anything and everything. She made especially sure that I never stayed behind during the weekend when people go out on the town and was very patient when I was really slow.

At the moment, in addition to me, Frøydis, Nikki and Adam, we have a couple of Canadian girls, Kim (24) and Robin (24) who are good fun and laidback and just recently Dave (Dutch, 32) and Ryan (Irish, 27) moved in. It is a multinational hub, which creates interesting conversations with varying viewpoints and fresh arguments. Ryan especially has given loads of interesting views on Northern Ireland (where he is from) since he is a catholic and one of his closest friends here in Alice, Graham, is protestant and also from Northern Ireland. It’s like a mini version of the world.

The one shot there is of me with a cast. The purple thing is my useless foot. This is on the morning after we went out camping.

As you all probably know by now, I had the misfortune of deciding to be healthy and going to the gym, which resulted in a 95% torn Achilles tendon. Although I appreciate the experience of having surgery, staying a night in hospital and walking around on crutches for six weeks, the injury left me unable to do my work as waitress in Red Ochre Grill. In essence I have done nothing for 11 weeks. Although when I say nothing, for the first weeks everything I did, like cooking food, grocery shopping etc. was a chore cause it had to be done on one foot, so I didn’t have a lot of energy left. I have also been doing some writing, photo manipulation (example of work below)...

Nilsi asked me to make some fun stuff for his Fish Health (or aquatic medicine if you like) course after the girls put their heads on the Chippendales. Now here is Nilsi as Edward surrounded by the Fish Health girls and the caption reads: "the salmo saga - when you constantly have to swim upstream, do you ever just want to stop). I think it would make a great series ;)

Inspired by Nilsi's request and at Bernie's insistance, I put the heads of the guys here on bodybuilders. Won't be as funny for you as for us, but I would like to share it anyway.
From the left it's Phil (22, Irish, security cameras), Adam, Gary (24, Irish, electrician), Nikki, Karl and Dion (27, Irish, plumber).

...and obviously reading and watching movies (which all you media students will know is essentially research so qualifies as work;). Adam was also nice enough to buy me an A3 drawing pad, which has been used vigorously to visualize some of the ideas that are in my head. I want to point out that during the whole experience I have hardly been in any paint, other than a couple of days after my surgery. I just can’t use my foot. At the moment I can walk around on it fairly freely as I am slowly strengthening and lengthening the muscle. It is tediously slow, but it is getting slowly stronger.

Fire when we went camping.

Living in a house with seven other people is probably what has prevented me from succumbing to depression and boredom. There is seldom a moment of the day where I am alone in the house and, like I have already mentioned, they always drag me along when they are going out. They even took me with them when they wanted to go camping right outside Alice.

Jessie Gap. This is quite luscious and wet for this part of the world. The others had a little dip in the water (was sporting a cast so annoyingly I couldn't join in). When it is actually raining this gets filled up and over the riverbend with water for as long as the water keeps falling.

Phil (22, Irish, security cameras) sleeping in a swag. I believe this is the first picture I have given of this Australian invention. Other than being huge and impractical to carry, they are excellent to sleep in if you are driving a car during the day.

Living with loads of Irish people also resulted in an absolutely amazing St. Patrick’s Day where everyone had to wear green, we listened to Irish folk music and put green food colouring in the beer. I will take this moment to mention that the Irish know how to throw a good party. :D

Bernie in full St. Patrick's gear outside our house where we normally hang out (it's usually so nice and warm you can sit outside till midnight and still not be cold.)

Frøydis with a beer containing green food colouring so that it gave the proper Irish atmosphere to the day.

Bojangles. The only dance floor in Alice Springs. To the right of it is Rock Bar where Frøydis works.

One day we went ice skating in the Alice Springs convention center. It was good fun and a slightly surreal experience to go skating in the middle of the desert, but it was worth it to see the Irish struggling on the ice. The skates were absolutely horrible, a cross between slalom boots and something made to torture people. None of our feet could last the full two hours that we had paid for.

Ahhh... the times I had two feet ;)

Karen (24, Irish, hairdresser), Dion (27, Irish, plumber) and myself chillaxing inbetween skating sessions. Karl (roommate) knows Dion from back home in Ireland. They have now gone to work on a farm for a while so that they can get their second year visa and stay in Australia.

Our plans at the moment are to stay here in Alice till the end of May and on the 30th of May we have booked a seven-day trip to Fiji before we stay a couple of days in Brisbane and then head home to Europe and Norway on the 10th of June (bar any volcano ash getting in our way).

I am also going for a long-weekend to Melbourne on the 6th of May to meet up with Lauren and Teresa (fellow CMP students from England). Lauren is coming all the way from UK and Teresa is currently trying to find work in Melbourne I believe.

I will update with another blog after I have been to Melbourne. Till then, hope you are all perfect wherever in the world you may be.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

A Whole Lot of Nothing (and more rocks)

Top left: Nilsi, Trine, Christina (Germany), Max/Makoto (Japan)

Bottom left: Niobe (the Netherlands), Francesco, Johann (Germany), Felix (Germany), Henriette

Our Desert Patrol trip was a seven-day, six night adventure where we scoured the outback area between Adelaide and Alice Springs, one of the most remote areas in the world. The first stage of the trip, still hosted by Groovy Grapes, took us to the Flinders Ranges, which works as a kind of natural barrier between the coastal land and the outback. We dove through an amazing gap in the ranges, showed us the history of the different kind of rock that are layered there (if you are a geologist this would have been amazing;) and it was also an area teeming with kangaroos, and fairly huge ones as well, resting underneath random trees along the way. We stayed over at a little lodge where the only thing that existed was a shop that, among other things, rented out mountain bikes (pictured below).

the shop

These were good circumstances to get to know our new tour mates. We were now traveling with a Dutch girl called Niobe, three Germans called Felix, Johann and Christina, and the first openly drunk Japanese person we have met, Max. Johann has the funniest German accent imaginable. It is like someone has written down the characteristics of a fake German accent and taught him to speak that way. Basically he reminds us all of Herr Flick from “Allo Allo”, which definitely puts a smile on my face every time he opens his mouth. Words cannot describe the good times I had listening to him speak.

Trine, Christina and Johann after a mountain bike ride
(the photographer, Nilsi, was also in on the fun)

The next day was, as our tour guide Tucker described it, the infamous day of nothing. We would be driving all day through one of the most remote areas in the world where there is literally nothing to the left and nothing to the right while we look at a big hole of nothing (coal quarry, pictured below)...

the big hole of nothing

Nilsi and big crane

...and a big sea of nothing (a salt lake, pictured below). The big sea of nothing (but salt), called Lake Eyre, actually has its own yacht club, because every so often (which is about six times in the last hundred years) the lake fills up enough to put boats on it. It is then the largest lake in Australia, and must be an amazing sight.

the white stuff is salt, we tasted it to make sure ;)

When our guide said that there was only nothing, he left out the fact that in the middle of all this nothing lives the quirky character Talc Alf. He lives out here, now on his own, although he has a family as well, and makes artwork out of talc in addition to developing a different understanding or idea around the creation of the alphabet, which was joyously rejected by Nilsi the realist and fondly accepted by Henriette and Trine who are cool and open minded ;).

Talc Alf giving us his wisdom

His understanding of the alphabet, however ridiculous his reasoning sometimes sounded, was based on the fact that the letters must have been created out of things humans could se around them, so a P would be a person (pictured above) and a D would be a sunrise and things like this. However laughable and badly grounded some of his examples were, I still appreciated the basic logic behind his understanding of the alphabet and of how words are created.

Talc Alf explaining why the boomerang is formed like a kangaroo's hind leg.

His understanding of the alphabet, however ridiculous his reasoning sometimes sounded, was based on the fact that the letters must have been created out of things humans could se around them, so a P would be a person and a D would be a sunrise and things like this. However laughable and badly grounded some of his examples were, I still appreciated the basic logic behind his understanding of the alphabet and of how words are created.

It says "Earth Dream", in case you couldn't tell. ;)

Amongst all this nothing there was also a huge area where hippies put up various works of art created from waste material (pictured above and below).

Our destination this day was Williams Creek, a little town of perhaps 12 people, considered the smallest town in South Australia. The town actually sports a little pub (pictured below) where people have left behind little tokens on the walls for decades. The walls are literally over run by ID cards, flags, different currencies and loads of other knickknacks. It is amazing how a pub in a town of twelve people can open with profit, but it is most likely purely because of the tourist buses coming through.

the famous pub

We stayed in a camping site for the night and this was truly a night of trials. Before the sun went down we had the unfortunate experience of the flies in the outback. We thought flies on the Great Ocean Road were annoying, but NOOOOO. These flies have absolutely no respect for person space or any regard for the consequences of a slap of a hand. They will walk on the inside of your sunnies (sunglasses), on your mouth and in your ear and nose, and if you are not careful you will swallow a couple when you take a sharp intake of breath. I swear we have all gained some extra protein from swallowing the pestering devils. Also if you slap them, they won’t fly away but will die an honorable death. This might give you the impression that it is easy to get rid of them, but if you have only one hand and there are a million flies on you and a million waiting to take over, you are faced with a real mission impossible. Naturally we were praying for the sun to go down so that we could get rid of the lot.

Sunrise or sunset in William's Creek. I have forgotten. Probably a rise.

Sadly, low and behold, sun goes down, flies disappear yes, but out come the mosquitoes. Oh how we were praying to get the flies back. Because I am not talking about the cute, sweet, European mosquitoes that will fly around you quietly and leave you with some itchy bites here and there in the morning. No, I am talking about the devil’s spawn mosquitoes that buzz like airplanes around your ears and attack you like little pointy dart arrows and keep you awake all night. We were sleeping in swags outdoors, so you can see why this was a huge problem. Hardly anyone got a any sleep.

The painted mountain plane

The next morning (and I mean before the sun had risen early morning), Nilsi and me took advantage of an amazing offer to go see the Painted Mountains (pictured below), a range of newly discovered mountains about an hours plane ride from William’s Creek. The tour was then obviously done by plane (pictured above). The mountains are out of bounds to hikers, cars and buses, and are thus as good as untouched by humans. The mountains are given their name because of the many different colours the soil reflects when it irrigates. It comes in all different shades of red and brown all the way to purple in some areas.

The Painted Mountains

Nilsi in plane

Oh yes, I am sporting aviators, I am too cool

Flying over the area is an experience we don’t regret indulging ourselves in, especially since the very funny pilot treated us to a zero gravity experience which was very much appreciated by the adrenaline junkies that we are.

Nilsi trapped by the dog fence.
It is the world's longest fence and was created to keep dingos out of the south-east of Australia to protect the sheep. Dingos are as good as exterminated on that side of the fence.

After this, we all packed up and promptly fixed our tired bodies and souls towards the town of Cooper Pedy, which is the opal capital of the world. The opal comes in loads of different colours, but is most valuable when it has a wide variety of internal colours glittering at you (pictured below). As I never thought much about what an opal would look like, I was pleasantly surprised when we had the tour through the opal mines (pictured below) and then to the shop, to discover how beautiful they really are.

Abandoned Opal mines in the museum.

What opals look like in the rock.

Nilsi looking very Indiana Jonesy

Because Cooper Pedy is situated in an extremely hot area, the local thing to do (traditionally) is to sleep underground. Now this doesn’t mean vertically straight down into the ground, but rather dug into the sides of little mounds, like a hobbit hole for those who have seen “Lord of the Rings”. Cooper Pedy is known for this and has pubs and hotels featured in this style as a tourist attraction, even our hostel (pictured below) was built underground, and after our meeting with the mosquitoes in the swags, we were more than happy to sleep inside in the cool air that comes with living underground.

Spot Felix, Francesco and Nilsi in our underground hostel.

Here in Cooper Pedy we merged our group with about ten more people who would join us to the more famous outback destinations. There was naturally a little division at first as we had already been together for three nights while the new ones had just come straight from Adelaide, and in a bus made for twenty people, we had been rather spoiled with space, but eventually we all mingled happily together.

The Breakaways.
Frequently used in movies whenever someone is pretending to be on Mars. One example is the Australian film Mad Max from 1979 with Mel Gibson.

Trine at the Breakaways.
It was annoyingly green when we were there because it had been raining some weeks before we came. Normally it is completely dry.

We now followed Stuart Highway, which cuts through the Australian outback, into the Northern Territory to see the famous Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the slightly less famous Kata Tjuda (the Olgas). We had been warned on numerous occasions that traveling into the outback in the summer months was near suicide and that we would die from heat and it would all be horrible. Since Nilsi was coming at this time of year, we really had no option to move this trip to a later date, and defying every Australian from the east coast, we were doing the trip in the middle of low season. Imagine our surprise when we drive up to the Uluru – Kata Tjuda National Park and it is raining.

I kid you not.

Felix and Johann sporting bin bags and fly nets. Funny Germans.

In the middle of the freaking desert it was raining. None of us Europeans on the tour could comprehend how much bad luck we could possibly have. It approximately rains one out of 365 days of the year in Uluru. What were the chances of us hitting that one day, IN THE SUMMER MONTHS!?!
It turned out to be a great experience though.

Niobe sporting a poncho by the Uluru waterfall.

The famous red soil in the not so characteristic rain.

The water created astonishing waterfalls on the rock and the next day the traces of water looked like brush strokes of silver painting on the otherwise red/orange rock.
Like silver paint

The Base Walk

Because we stayed for two nights in the area, we got to experience Uluru in rain as well as sun, and when we did the base walk, an approximately 2-3 hour trip (Norwegians read an hour and a half) around the rock, we all praised the gods that there were clouds in the sky because it would have made the walk so much harder.

Nilsi, Trine and Niobe doing the base walk.

The Climb up to the top of Uluru.
It is a difficult climb and the walk is almost always closed because it too hot, too wet or too windy. On the top it is 10 degrees hotter than on the ground so you can imagine how hot it can get. The aborigines are seeking to close the climb because to them it is culturally disrespectful. To them the top of Uluru is holy ground.

One of the caves round the side of Uluru.

I climbed it a little bit. Not a camera trick at all ;)

When it comes to impressions, Uluru was definitely a bit of a let down. Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazingly colourful rock smack in the middle of nowhere and it had an amazing cultural significance to the aboriginals and the rock side has loads of formations and caves which creates a haunting look. The aboriginals use these rock formations to explain certain natural phenomenon and give moral and ethical guidance. We are allowed to hear the stories, called dream time, that are meant for children, but the stories reserved for grown-ups are strictly reserved for the aboriginal people and also rigorously divided between the sexes. Consequently there are areas of the rock where we are not allowed to take photographs because a male could inadvertently see a photograph of a rock formation that is confidently female and thus disrespect them and their knowledge (and vise versa).

Everyone gathered for the sunset view of Uluru.

Ben (England) setting up the shot for the sunset.
Frank (Ireland) enjoying a beer with the sunset.

The rain brought out some rather interesting wildlife, so to add to our extreme bug experience, we now had a plague of moths in the bathrooms (they only live for 24 hours so the next day they were lying dead everywhere) and massive colourful centipedes who wanted to eat said moths. Because of the rain, our tour group had infested the laundry room in the camping area to sleep there. This quickly got infested by loads of things while us hard core people (who understood that twenty people inside a teeny tiny room is not a good idea regardless of the rain) meaning, Niobe, Nilsi and myself slept soundly outside under the dinner table.

Big Centipede

Loads of dead moth in the bathroom

And yes there was a sunrise photo opportunity.

Trine and Niobe in Valley of the Winds

The reason why Uluru was a let down, is probably because the other rocks/mountains we saw were a lot more beautiful and gave us better hiking opportunities. While the walk around Uluru was just straight forward, the walk through the Valley of the Winds in Kata Tjuda gave us some real exercise and our next stop, King’s Canyon, had a steep climb to start off with which locals have named “Heart attack Hill”, which actually was a real test of ones stamina.

Nilsi in Kata Tjuda (the Olgas)

All the flies like Nilsi's shirt.

Nilsi and Johann at the top of King's Canyon.

King’s Canyon was definitely the best trip with a good climb, an amazing view and a waterhole called the Garden of Eden where we could have a swim. This is where the recent rainfall gave us something good. The night spent on a camping ground in King’s Canyon was not without its share of fauna. We were by now all hardcore professionals when it came to dealing with bugs, but this night we had to deal with finding scorpions and snakes around the area where we were going to sleep in our swags. It was all very exotic and slightly scary, but we are all still alive.

Our tour guide Tucker doing a famous pose from the Australian hit film
"The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" (1994).

Trine at King's Canyon.

Everyone swimming in the Garden of Eden.

Max, Alina (Germany) and Nilsi at King's Canyon.

On our final day we drove into Alice Springs, a lovely city in the middle of nowhere, in which Henriette and me still live. I will get back to you on all the lovely and quirky things about this city (which with two shopping centres AND a Mac Donald’s, is definitely bigger than Byron Bay) in my next blog.

Desert Patrol Gang in Annie's Place. I think we are shouting "Uluru".

With the Desert Patrol gang we had an awesome night out in Annie’s Place (a hostel) and we all realized how much we were going to miss each other, mostly cause what are the chances we will actually see each other again (this does not count for you Francesco, you can't get away from us even if you wanted to, we are coming to Italy to bug you;). With the dramatic bug and wild life episodes, the rain and all the other experiences we had shared, we had quickly created a bond between all of us. I am sure that if I ever meet any of these people again, that bond will still be there.

Nilsi and Honey, the olive python.

Before Nilsi took of too a night in an actual hotel in Melbourne (if you haven’t lived in a hostel for a prolonged period of time, you will never truly appreciate the amazing thing that is an actual hotel room) before his long and arduous journey back to Europe, we took a peak in the reptile centre, where we got to hold and pet different lizards and an olive python called “Honey”. Arguably one of the best wildlife experiences I have had, perhaps apart from the kangaroos (and the lion cubs in South Africa).

Alina and Honey

Horatio climbing on Henriette.

Horatio and Trine

Nilsi in a staring competition with a blue tongued lizard.

This horny thing (excuse my excellent memory of the specific names of lizards) is teeny tiny in real life, but looks quite scary in this shot.

Now you will have to wait in excitement till the next installment where I will relate the fantastic thing that is our lives in Alice Springs, this tiny city in the middle of the desert, that we have come to love. Until then, have fun in the cold rain and snow (did I mention that Alice Springs has a permanent 35 degrees and sunny attached to its weather forecast? No? Well now I did ;)