Sydney

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 23

 

We have booked an airport bus to pick us up after breakfast.  The small minibus arrives and we hurtle around Sydney picking up luggage and other passengers and when we are full to bursting point head out to the airport.  There are different terminals and the bus driver drops us at the wrong one.

I go into the terminal, show my ticket, and the girl directs me upstairs.  I check with the girl at the desk upstairs and she, very rudely, tells me I am in the wrong terminal. We have to get a trolley and push it through the car parks to the next terminal.

The plane for Ayer Rock is the scruffiest plane we have seen.  The seats are tatty and none too clean.  The air hostesses have lots of make-up but their clothes are messy and untidy.

We fly over Botany Bay and then turn north. The first settlers found a lack of fresh water at Botany Bay and they set to see again and discovered Sydney Harbour which had plenty of fresh water.

It is a three hour flight to Ayers Rock and we lose half an hour in the time difference.

There is nothing to see after we fly over Sydney and the Blue Mountains.  Australia is just mile after mile of red oxide earth.  Most of the population live within a few miles of the coast as the interior is so inhospitable.

We are collected in the searing heat at airport by coach and driven the short distance to the main accommodation areas which are about fifteen minutes’ drive from the Rock itself.  All accommodation is low level, and we only have a short time to dump our bags, grab a sandwich and then wait with others at reception.  Our next coach collects us at 3 pm and we set off for Ayers Rock.

First of all we go to the Mumbles and there is a walk through to a ravine.  It it is snowing flies and even though we have out netted hats on, it is miserable. I start to climb the hill to the ravine but give it up as it is too hot and I am wasting so much energy waving flies away.

We wait, with others unable to make the trek, under some shade until the rest of our group returns from their walk.  Whilst we are waiting, Dave the driver, lifts a dragon lizard in the palm of his hand.  The creature is so perfectly formed, with a series of mottled triangular spikes rising from his spine and reaching down to his tail.  He scuttles into the bush as soon as he is set free.   We are take to different photographic stops.  It’s a very flat reddish landscape with two rock formations on the horizon which look like two septic boils..  There is more greenery than we had expected.  It had rained last week, the first time since October.  The dust is as bad as we expected.

Dave, our driver, is very pleasant and gives us lots of information whilst we are in his care.

He warns us to stay rigidly to the desert code.  Do not go walkabout without informing someone where you are going and when you will return.  Take one litre of water for every hour you walk and two litres for every hour you walk in the middle of the day.

He tells us that the Australian government returned the lands at Ayers Rock to the Aborigines several years ago and then leased them straight back.  Everyone entering what the government call the “National Park” has to pay 15 dollars toll to the government on top of whatever the tour company has already charged.

Dave also tells us he had climbed Ayers Rock seven times when he was young and ignorant, but will never climb it again.   The Aborigines consider Ayers Rock a holy place and all tour guides are now honour bound to tell the tourists that the Aborigines have requested that the Rock is treated as a sacred place and ask that tourists stop climbing it.  The Aborigines are also fearful as the Rock is eroding.  We can clearly see in the distance the lighter coloured red soil that highlights the path taken to the top of the Rock.  Added to this is the fact that thirty-seven people have had heart attacks whilst climbing the Rock since the start of the year. (It is only March).

For Maureen and I this decision is not a problem.  We are not fit to climb the Rock but in view of what we have just heard, even if we were fit enough, we would not climb it in respect of the Aborigines’ wishes.  For us it will mean a long lie tomorrow. The rest of our party who are climbing tomorrow morning leave at 5 am to view the sunrise and then start their climb.

We are promised a “good sunset” and Dave pulls the coach into the coach car park.  He hands out folding chairs and sets out glasses, wine and nibbles.  We sit to wait out the half hour or so until sunset.   Many other coaches arrive and I count at least twenty.  Maureen and I are sitting quite comfortably when a coach deposits its load of American tourists who proceed to set up camp directly in front of us and spoil our view.  The driver is quite embarrassed by their behaviour and spends the rest of the viewing time talking to us.  We drink white wine whilst the Americans drink champagne.

The Rock changes colour rapidly as dusk descends. The waves of crimson and purple fan over the crevices in the Rock, but for me the most startling event is what is happening to the west of the Rock.  I can see flurries of ever deepening shadows which looks like fine black dust thrown up from the heels of a thousand horses racing.  I ask the Americans’ coach driver, “What’s that over there?”

”You’re seeing the earth spinning into darkness,” he replies.

As I watch this I am aware of seeing the earth’s movement for the first time, that the earth is round and that it is travelling through space.  It’s a mind-numbing sensation and I feel as if something magical has touch my soul and start to shiver as night blankets the Rock and the drivers collect the drained glasses.

We eat in the restaurant at our hotel.  It is self-service and we pay a flat rate of 35 dollars each for our meal.  This is the most expensive meal we have had yet in Australia.

It is very disappointing as there is no bread, little meat and no tomatoes left in the salad.  We do not complain until an Australian does. He loses his temper and is shouting at the staff saying they are cheating the tourists.  We are refunded most of our money but we complain at the main reception desk so they know what is happening in their restaurant. They ask us to book for breakfast but we decline.

 

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 20

We set off a 7,30 am.  Our first stop is Port Macquairie, to the Koala Hospital.  Port Maquairie is set above an idyllic bay.  Again beautiful sandy beaches, flowers and trees.  The streets are wide and tree-lined and most of the housing is one level.  The Koala Hospital project was set up by an Englishman 26 years ago and is run totally by volunteers.  They receive no government funding and all monies donated go to the care and well being of the koalas.  Several of our party adopt Koalas and we all give cash donations as well as buying photographs and cards.  We are supplied with tea and biscuits which they have no permission to charge for so we drop money in a tin. We meet a party of schoolchildren visiting the Hospital as part of a school outing.

The hospital’s biggest need is antibiotics as Koalas suffer rampantly from VD.  The staff treat the Koalas and get them free from disease then they could have a visitor come in overnight and the Koalas will be infected again.  We saw many Koalas up in the trees although they were mostly sleep.

The coach takes us through Port Maquairie but we are told it is mainly a retirement area and there is not much work.

We travel on to Raymond Terrace which is the main shopping town for the area.  We have lunch with Breeda in the mall.  It is now very hot and we have photographs taken with Breeda before we board the coach.

Breeda is dropped off outside a restaurant to await the arrival of her aunt.

We travel through high mountains that have been cut through to get road access.  The valleys are very green and lush,

We drop Milene and her husband, the only Canadians on the trip, off at North Sydney to await the arrival of their family.

The traffic is becoming denser and as we swing around one corner we see a group of children playing cricket in the school playground.

Most of the rest of our party are dropped in Central Sydney adjacent to Hyde Park.

Maureen and I are dropped off with Colette and Bernie at the Bayside Hotel.  We are disappointed with the hotel after the standard we have been used to but the view of Rushcutters’ Bay is superb.

I phone Trudi and she arranges, with her friend Kay,  for us to be collected around 8pm.  The Bayside is at completely the other end of Sydney from where they both live.

Trudi and Kay pick us up and take us to dinner in the Rugby Football Club.  The food is great and reasonably priced,  The Club has three floors and a band is play 60s rock and roll music on the level we are on.  There are gaming machines on all floors and roulette tables and other horse racing games tables.  We each lose a dollar on the one arm bandits.  We watch members use the ATM machines set on each floor and return to the gaming machine to lose more money.

We set off out into the night and find Sydney is much like London at night as it is still as alive as during the day.  The girls give us a whirlwind tour around the city which is well spread out, lush and green with many one way streets.

My great disappointment is the stick insect thinness of Trudi.  Her large eyes are almost luminous.  Her cheek bones and nose are prominent and there seems to be no flesh on her at all.  She is sick.  I feel like Desperate Dan beside her.

348 miles

Path Finder

I ventured out on my own steam for the first time last week.  The others were crashed out after a journey to visit a sick relative who had been admitted to a hospital up country.

It was the day there was to be no builders and they weren’t gone half an hour when the plumbers arrived.

The Pelawatta house is in a very nice area and quite close to a busy main intersection, although you can’t hear the traffic from the house.  If  you cross over the intersection and walk about a mile in one direction you reach the parliament grounds.  They are spacious and flat and ideal for walking.

Turn right at the intersection traffic lights and you have every kind of shop you can imagine.   I can’t remember ever living where I was so close to the shops before or had such a variety on the doorstep.

I have a reputation for shopping and when Maureen and I were on our great tour in 1999 we managed to shop at every stop on our six-week itinerary, even in the outback where there was nothing to see at first glance.   Like bloodhounds seeking their prey, we could home in on any shop in the vicinity.  In fact, we had shopped so much by the time we reached Sydney we had to dump a lot of the clothes we had brought out from the UK in aid of a dog and cat animal rescue group my school friend was running.  I had seen Sally only briefly once in the thirty-six years since we were mad teenagers together in Edinburgh, but had corresponded regularly over the years.

Animals were her first love and her home housed one beautiful dog and an incalculable number of cats.  Maureen and I tried surreptitiously to count the cats and reached the late teens but were never sure if we had missed any or counted the same cat twice.  Today Sally lives in the country at the back of the Blue Mountains with an even greater number of animals including horses, most rescued, some removed from people she believed were cruel to them and that she could do a better job!

With everyone asleep, last week I made the decision to find my way out of the garden estate and to the shops.   The estate is a rabbit-warren of houses, no two are identical and they are all close together.  This house is detached but neighbours in any direction are only a yard or so away.  Saying that you would never know as there is far less noise, if any, than there was in Ja Ela.

The houses are mainly gated and garages are alongside the gates.  I went along our little lane and turned right.  When we drive in we drive up a steep hill turn right and then drive down to access our driveway.  I thought it would be too steep for me to manage.

It was around 5 pm and with dusk approaching I turned right and right again. The roads are narrow with passing places for vehicles and the surface of the roads in some cases are perfectly finished and in others, of compacted red sand, or loose gravel and I came across some traffic bumps to slow down passing cars.

There was a right turn leading to a fairly steep hill which I tried to avoid and went straight ahead but discovered it was a dead end leading into someone’s home.  So I retraced my steps and tackled the steep hill.  It was only yards long and as I got to the top and turned left, to my dismay two dogs came barking towards me.

I froze but to my relief a lovely lady, the owner of one of the dogs, came out of her bottle green door and called her dog back.   The other dog ran off.  The lady had long dark hair and wore a deep purple kaftan.  ‘He’s only saying hello,’ she explained.   I returned a tentative ‘hello’ apologetically and went on my way without looking back.

At the end of this road I turned left and had reached a main road which led on to the large intersection.    The traffic was increasing on the road as well as on the pavement.  Men and boys in neat shirts and trousers, many holding rolled-up umbrellas, were purposefully walking in the opposite direction to me.

There are military bases in the direction they were heading so maybe the teenage boys were the sons of officers at the base.

I passed the Dialog phone shop where you can add credit to your mobile, a café selling butter cakes and breads, then a vegetable shop.  The dialog and vegetable shop were open to the street although I expect they must have some kind of shutter when they close up for the night.

A man was selling something cooked at the corner of the road and people bought paper pokes of the food and ate it with their fingers as they continued on their way home.  I couldn’t see what they were eating and didn’t want to ask in case I was expected to buy.

I needed my hair cut and a pedicure but passed by the first hairdressers as they advertise full bridal packages, facials and specialise in traditional wedding head dresses.

Only a few yards further up the road there’s a men’s hairdressers on the ground floor and a ladies’ salon to its left, up a steep flight of stairs.   The stairs are tiled and there is no handrail but I got there and at the top opened a glass door and dropped down a step to an immaculate salon.  There was only one wash basin and there were two customers, one with a hair colour applied and her hair pasted stiff in the air.  The other customer was seated in a chair in front of a large mirror and the only hairdresser I could see was styling her hair.

The hairdresser has lovely dark eyes and her black hair was neatly woven into a plait which hung down her back.  She was dressed in a black top and trousers and smiled warmly and pleasantly as she enquired how could she help me.  I explained and we agreed I would return the following morning at 9 am.    I descended warily down the white tiled stairs holding on to the wall.

I wanted to cross the road to the supermarket but the traffic was wild and furious.   I looked round at the traffic lights and wondered where the pedestrian walking sign was but in the growing darkness  couldn’t find it.

I decided I had ventured far enough on my own for one day and would see how far I could get the next day after the hairdressers.