November 11, 2002

Notes from Down Under, part the fourth (and final)

Sydney, Australia: Remembrance Day

All good trips must come to an end. And so in a few short hours I will fly from springtime in Sydney to the brooding gloom of London.


(At this point the author pauses for a brief interlude of uncontrollable weeping, wailing, kicking, screaming, gnashing of teeth, wearing of sackcloth and ashes, and a Richter 9.5 fists-beating-on-the-floor tantrum.)

Ahem. As I was saying. Right. Leaving Australia. Going to England.

(Repeat above interlude. Calm is only restored by a tag-team combination of trauma counsellors, Zen masters, and powerful antidepressants.)

At least I'm leaving on a high note. Yesterday I went out for a day of canyoning in the Blue Mountains, which was all kinds of fun. The day kicked off with a fifty-foot cliffjump into water, followed by donning a wetsuit and going crosscountry down a steep river ravine so narrow it nearly turned into a spelunking expedition. The water was absolutely freezing, but the sun was warm. A little light rock-climbing out of the canyon was followed by an afternoon of swimming and rappelling (aka abseiling for some of you) down cliffs. I cruised back to town on an endorphin wave.

But let's get chronological. Since my last report, in Cairns, I spent a couple of days pottering around the coast doing a little sea kayaking and such, and then decided to embark on a cross-country expedition from Cairns to Alice Springs, across the so-called Dead Heart, to get a sense of the size of the country.

Unsurprising answer: big. Slightly more surprising corollary; extremely weird. We're talking middle of nowhere here. We're talking towns with a population of 1 (human) and 6,000,000,000 (flies), 200 km away from anywhere else. We're talking local yokels straight out of an Aussie DELIVERANCE. Twenty-foot-high termite mounds. Cattle ranches the size of Wales. Pet emus. And life-size plaster dinosaurs. Lots of them, all over the place. What can I say? The outback is a strange place.

After a brief stopover in the civilized oasis of Alice Springs, I spent another few days roving through canyons, bushfires, camel ranches, and finally to The Rock. I speak of neither the People's Champion nor the bad Nicolas Cage movie, but of Uluru, aka Ayers Rock. And wow.

The rest of the rocks and canyons are a bit anticlimactic to anyone who's been to the American Southwest, but Uluru really is something else. And not just because it's a cool big red monolith. There's something majestic about it. I could have spent all day just walking around it, watching.

I had dialed my cultural insensitivity up to maximum and was fully prepared to climb up the rock, but it was closed due to high winds. Instead I went for a run around the 10k trail that circumnavigates it. This turns out to be a) one of the world's most spectacular runs, b) an excellent way to add to one's collection of very strange looks and half-heard mutters of "bloody stupid madman" from pedestrians one passes en route.

From the Red Centre, Qantas flew me through the smoke of a dozen bushfires back to Sydney, where I've been lazing, chilling, gorging, and watching a strange and mesmerisingly slow game named 'cricket' for the last couple of days. As far as I can tell, this particular game has not yet ended, and is not expected to end until sometime next week, if ever. And the Australians are thrashing the English. That part, at least, is not so strange.

I must go; only a couple of hours to H-Hour, when I begin the long journey to the land of the soon-to-be-defeated Brits. I go with a whole heap of regret. It's a good country, this. I'll be back.