Sleeping in a Swag in the Outback

We woke up to more rain this morning. Though it is supposed to be the dry season here, it has been rainy and overcast the entire time we have been in Alice Springs. In fact, this is true for most of the desert area of the Outback. Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), which is our grand finale to this leg of the trip, was flooded out yesterday and the national park was closed. We were starting to get worried we wouldn’t be able to go into the park, which would put a damper on the trip. Our tour guide kept a positive attitude and lined up a plan b, c, and d for us, if the park was closed.

I am keeping positive thoughts, no matter what!

We got up early, packed our overnight bag for camping, ate breakfast and headed out for the day at 7 am. When we were talking about what we were looking forward to most at the beginning of the trip, I said what was going to happen tonight: camping outdoors in swags. It’s a very Aussie thing to do, plus we would be deep in the Outback, so I wanted to see all the stars. Because of the rain, we wouldn’t be able to do a ATV ride around the campsite and might not be able to camp outside…I was a little disappointed.

Our first stop of the day was on the outskirts of Alice Springs to learn about Aboriginal culture. On the way there, we passed the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service, which helps assist people in remote areas. It was established a while ago by a famous Australian who even made it onto the paper money.

When we pulled up to the shelter where we would meet our guide, it started raining even harder. We ran under shelter. One thing I have noticed is that no one but me brought a rain jacket. Our tour manager said that Americans and Canadians seemed to always have the best rain gear. I love my Gore-Tex rain jacket, which has been incredibly useful here. Trying to bring back the rain jacket trend!

Our guide was very knowledgeable about aboriginal people, so I was looking forward to hearing his thoughts. In particular, I was interested in comparing how the US has worked with Native Americans and the Australians and Aboriginal people. From what I could tell in my travels so far, there was a bad unemployment problem. There was also some health issues and quite possibly alcoholism.

Besides learning about the culture, we would also be able to try Bushtucker, which is food from the bush that aboriginal people would eat. There were some normal fruits and vegetables, but also some insects we might be able to try…

The guides started off by talking about how the aboriginal people got here and survived in the bush. They came over from Shri Lanka a while ago and have survived in Australia for over 40,000 years. They slowly moved from the Northern Territory to lower down in the continent. They moved in small tribes and kept their numbers small, allowing for more adaptablility. They had survival rules like sharing their food with everyone or there would be serve punishment and if someone was gravely injured, they would be left behind.

They had some very interesting marriage traditions as well. Apparently, a long time ago there was an inbreeding problem that they wanted to avoid, so they created strict rules about who could marry who. You could only marry people who were 4 families removed. How you would know which lines someone came from was their name. In fact, there were only 8 names in their culture. You would receive your name from your great grandmother or great grandfather. That meant that if you had a sister, you both would have the same name, since you both has the same grandmother.

The girls were married off at around the age of puberty, so around age 12. This was because of the harsh conditions, many of the women did not receive the nourishment to have enough body fat to have a menstrual cycle, so having a baby at a young age was really your best bet for reproducing. The man who the girl would marry, however, was in his early to mid twenties. The boys would need to go through initiation with their fathers and uncles to learn how to provide for his future family, which took time.

The mother was the one who picked out the husband for her daughter, choosing the best to provider. After the daughter married to the husband however, the mother-in-law and son-in-law did not interact. This was because of the closeness in ages. If you married at 11, had your first child at 12 and then married off your 12 year old child when you were 24 to a 24 year old man, then the husband was closer to your age. There would be issues with attraction, so this rule was put into place.

We got the chance to try some bush tea and bush bread, which was delicious. It honestly was just like black tea and scones.

We then got into the learn about the bushtucker. We got to look at vegetables, fruits and seeds that indigenous people found in the bush.

We then got to learn about the whittchity grub, a caterpillar like insect found inside trees. One of our group mates was the one to try it..

We then also got to try kangaroo tail. It was like a really fatty piece of beef or pork.

From there, we went over to see some of the art that aboringal women had created. I even bought a piece that would go nicely in a kitchen or dining room.

Finally we went to learn about the weapons that they used, including spears, shields and boomerangs.

I even got to try my hand at throwing a boomerang, and realized I would not have survived in those days.

We then drove off to our next destination, kings creek station, to camp under the stars.

On the way, we stopped at an emu farm.

When we finally got to Kings Creek Station, there was a noticeable difference in the climate, which was much drier.

It was an absolute beautiful sight, with red sand everywhere. The sunset was gorgeous at nighttime.

We got to sleep in swags outside, under the beautiful stars, which was awesome. We had been so worried about missing this opportunity. A Swag, for those who don’t know, is a canvas covering for your sleeping bag, so that you don’t have to use a tent.

We listened to some guitar, watched all the bugs dance close to the light and just gazed at the stars. Being so far away from a city, I saw the most spectacular sight of stars I had ever seen. We saw the Milky Way and just stared in awe. We even got to see the southern cross, which is on the Australian flag. There is not picture because it is very hard to capture the stars without a proper camera.

We fell asleep outside in hot weather, with nature all around us. And, I’m here to say, on the other side, that I survived!

Gorgeous Katherine Gorge

It’s Christmas Eve and it is about 80 degree Fahrenheit here, along with humidity. No white Christmas here!

We woke up at 6 am to get breakfast at 6:30. The night before, as I expressed my love for tim-tams, one of the aussies told me about a trick with Tim-tams and coffee.

The trick is to bite off diagonal corners, then place one of the bitten off corners into the coffee. Then you need to suck through the other bitten off corner to get coffee and make the cookie smooshie! Yum, so delish!

We then got on the bus with all our stuff and headed out of Kakadu National Park, where we had spent the last 2 nights. Our first stop was the Kakadu entrance sign to get a picture or two.

Then we headed off to a cafe to get lunch that we would take with us to Edith Falls just down the road. When we got to Edith Falls, we were not allowed near the water, since there may be a few crocs in there. We are our lunch in the grass near by with a view of the Falls. The flies were insufferable though. I guess that is the outback for you!

We then quickly changed into bathing suits for our next adventure.

We then arrived in the town of Katherine about 2 hours later. We stopped at Woolworths for some water and other necessities. Finally heading off to our next adventure, we passed the Katherine School of the Air. Because of how remote this area is, they used to have children gather in a school house and listen to the radio to learn. It just helped me understand how remote the area we were in was, before modern technology. But, even then, I was still having trouble getting wifi now.

The coach pulled up to a dock, where we all loaded into the boat for a Katherine Gorge tour. The gorge was huge and went on for over 100 km. It had a reddish tint to it from exposure to the elements. It actually reminded me of what I imagine the Grand Canyon would look like in person.

We got a certain point in the Gorge where we wouldn’t be able to cross by boat, so we got out and crossed to the next boat on foot. We got a photo or two there.

On the next boat, we saw the iconic Katherine Gorge photo. It was beautiful to see the water running through the reddish rocks, with a little green here and there, a blue sky with a smattering of clouds. Picture perfect!

We then docked the boat again, this time to find a waterfall within the Gorge.

We started on the path, which clearly was not well laid out. There was a lot of climbing on rocks that were slippery with sand and no clear place to put your foot next. A few of the girls only had on thong sandals which broke on the way there. I was behind them and got a little annoyed at the situation, since I had my tevas with me. I really wanted to see this waterfall, so I was getting impatient.

We did get to the waterfall with plenty of time to enjoy the water and the experience.

I brought my GoPro in with me, which was great because the footage is awesome!

The two Aussie sibilings climbed up a rock formation nearby the waterfall and were jumping off the ledge. It looks like fun, so I decided to climb up (again thankful for my tevas) to the top.

Once at the top, about 12 feet from the water, it was a little nerve racking to think about jumping. But, of course there was no other way down and I really wanted to do it.

I jumped and it of course was exhilarating! I came up smiling and laughing. Just a fun way play in the waterfall pool. And, I love that kind of stuff!

Feeling more alive, I swam to shore to get my outer clothes back on and head back to the boat. We got back on the boat, headed back to the dock, got on the coach and headed to our accommodations for the night.

Given that it was Christmas Eve, there were not many restaurants open. So, we ordered pizza and sat by the pool. We got to try an Australian dessert called “lamington.” It’s a yellow cake with a chocolate and coconut frosting and a whipped cream top. Really good!

We swam for a while, before heading to bed for another early morning. This time it would be Christmas!

Exploring Kakadu!

We woke up at 6 am, got breakfast at the restaurant. I made sure to avoid the vegemite! We left the accommodation at 7 pm, to drop off some people who were signed up for a scenic flight of the park.

Kakadu is a massive national park. In fact it is half the size of Switzerland and the size of Maryland. There are over 10,000 different species of insects, which was quite obvious by looking around. There are lots of wild animals as well, like wallabies, crocodiles, dingos, board, wild horses and more.

While some did the scenic flight, the rest of us headed over to the Bowali cultural center to learn more about the indigenous people. We saw their calendar on a stone. It was not by months, but by seasons, which makes more sense to me. I don’t get the point of month’s of December 21st is when winter starts. Just had an extententional crisis wondering about why we had months on our calendar.

We then headed to an area where there was an indigenous rock art walk. We loaded up on bug spray and sunblock before heading in.

There are ants with green butts running around everywhere. Our tour guide mentioned that if you ate the green butt part, you would get a shot of vitamin C. A few of us tried it and it was actually pretty great. It just tasted like citrus.

There were large rock formations, almost wall like, where we could see the paintings. Because most of the culture is held closely by elders, many of the larger meanings of the stories are not known by people outside of the culture. However, we could glean some basics from the drawings. We saw a wallaby on one, another was about fertility, another about celebration and so many more.

From there, we did a quick hike up to see the larger rock formation from a distance. Mark told us about the small rock on the edge of the cliff. Apparently, within the indigenous culture, you are not supposed to mate with a sibiling. But, a chief did and he symbolically placed a feather up there. Now, there is a rock to symbolize it and remind others not to do what he did.

Here is me at the top!

We headed over towards the yellow water, to have lunch. We had a baguette with some cold cuts. Relaxed for a while and just enjoyed the air conditioning.

We then headed down to the yellow river for our cruise. We were on the billabong river in kakdu, getting a wetlands cruise. Our guide was straightforward and funny. He knew a lot about the waters and the animals inside. Though we couldn’t see any crocodiles. There were definitely a few hundred in there!

They are able to hold their breath for up to 6 hours and slow their heart beat down to one to two beats per hour. In dry season, they layout in the sun to keep warm. But, since it was very hot out, they were mostly sitting at the bottom of the river. We were instructed to try not to fall overboard. But, if we did, we had about a minute before a croc would be after us. Comforting, huh?

There were lots of other wildlife in the river as well. We saw “Jesus birds” who look like they are walking on water, but really they are walking on Lilly pads. We saw some beautiful flowers from a specific type of Lilly pad. This one the indigenous women would harvest for their stems. Not before doing a prayer to keep the crocs from eating them. If they did get eaten, the elders would say they didn’t do the prayer right…

After a long day in 80 degree weather, we headed back to the accommodations to hangout in the pool. A girl from LA bought some yellow tail wine and red solo cups. We enjoyed some laughs over that. We hung out in the pool for a couple hours before heading to dinner.

After dinner, we just hung out around the table and talked about the differences in culture. I love hearing from the aussies on the trip because though they don’t know this part of their country, they know about most everything else. We talked about cricket, politics, differences in candies, stores, restaurants and more. It was funny to hear they even have the bachelor in australia. It is the Australian version, of course. I thought I might actually watch that one! Ha!

We headed off the bed because we once again had to wake up early.