Friday, January 21, 2011

Adventure in the Outback!

G’day mate!  I have arrived ‘Down Under’ and I’m currently in the Outback of Australia.  I am having the time of my life and am so grateful to have the opportunity to visit this amazing country!  It’s a LONG plane ride, but so worth it!  I am L-O-V-I-N-G this!!
My mom and I are on an 18 day trip in Australia as part of a 44 person tour group with Collette Vacations and I’m one of four people under the age of 40, but I love it!  Everyone in the group is so friendly, they’re such interesting people, we’re laughing all the time and we have a fabulous tour director!  We have seen and learned the most amazing things over the past 5 days. 

I love the Australian accent and could listen to an Australian talk all day long!  Just as I did in Montreal I’m starting to adopt the sayings and have started to think and write in my travel journal in Australian.  I have caught myself saying “straight away” and “we'll give it a go”.  I’ve also noticed differences in food between Australia and the states.  When you order a strawberry milkshake, there’s no shake about it, it’s just strawberry milk.  Beef tastes completely different than it does in America, as I suppose it does just as if you were in different parts of the United States.  One night we were served steak and it tasted disgusting and I was sure that after we ate it someone was going to tell us, “Surprise, you just ate camel!”
The Outback is an amazing landscape that covers the majority of Australia, primarily the Northern Territory and Western Australia.  It’s called the bush as well and is a desert but one of the most lush deserts I’ve ever seen.  All the Australians say that haven’t had weather this perfect in years.  The desert is filled with green trees, shrubs and grass scattered amongst the rusty red sand.  This set against the bright blue back drop is quite a beautiful sight.  We had dinner in the middle of the bush one night completely in the middle of nowhere.  All that was there was a shelter made of straw and wood.  Our meal was complete with an Australian folk singer, a cooking lesson for making Spotted Dog (a dense bread that Australians eat all the time), astronomy lesson on the stars of the Southern Hemisphere (the constellation Orion looks like it’s standing on its head because everything is opposite here) and Billy tea from a can cooked over a campfire.

The Aboriginal people, the native Australians, are still very prevalent all over Australia, but especially in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.  There are over 500 tribes that have been able to maintain their traditions, language and culture even when their land which has been so sacred to them is being modernized and built upon.  In the town of Alice Springs there are two small malls and a downtown, a spectacular wide dry river bed and lots of open land.  The Aborigines still do what they’ve always done and find a place to sit on the land in their family groups and tell stories and socialize all day long.  They don’t care that there’s a mall in the way, they just sit in the mall or in the town or wherever it is important to them to be.  Further out in the bush there are tons of sacred sites that you can’t take pictures of, Aborigine communities you can’t go near, and there is story after story to explain the natural phenomena.  It really is fascinating.  They do not allow you to take pictures of them because when an Aboriginal person dies they are to be forgotten, never thought of again and all pictures or reminders of them are to be destroyed.  If we take pictures of them they cannot ensure that they are destroyed.  The Aborigines have no written language so the only exception to the picture rule is that when you buy a painting from an artist, the only way they can authenticate that piece of art is with a photo of them holding their artwork with the buyer.  My mom bought a painting from Audrey, the Aboriginal woman in the picture below.  You think you know so much about life and the world, but then you get to somewhere like Alice Springs where the Aboriginal people live and you realize you know don’t really know as much as you thought and you have so much to learn.  There is no better word to describe this culture than fascinating! 
In the very center of Australia is a small town called Yulara which is a town created solely for tourists who come to see one of the natural wonders of the world, Ayers Rock.  This massive rock is an amazing sight as it changes colors about 5 times a day depending on where the sun is.  It is, of course, a sacred site of the Aboriginal people who live in the bush in the surrounding areas.   Ayers Rock, or Uluru (the Aboriginal word), is in a national park which can only be occupied by the Aborigines, can be shut down for days at a time by the Aborigines for ceremonies, and has certain sacred sites that cannot be photographed.  We had a champagne toast as we watched the sun set over Ayers Rock!

On the same day that I saw probably a hundred wild camels in the middle of the Outback, I rode a tame camel at a camel farm at sunrise.  I had to rise at 4:15am (what?? I thought this was vacation!) but it was so worth it!  We rode in twos (Mom sat this one out, so I sat with Melissa, a woman in our tour group who also quit her job to travel and has been at it for 6 months already!!) and the mounting process, actually the rising of the camel, was quite an ordeal.  You have to lean back in the saddle as the camel gets up because you go through a process that feels like a roller coaster ride.  First you’re jerked backwards is it stands up on its front legs, then you sit there for a minute like that, then you’re thrust forward and backwards and all around while it gets its hind legs up.  It took a bit to get used to and I had to pry my hands off the handlebar in order to take pictures.  But after all that it was amazing!!  The camel is extremely tame and calm – I rode Lazy Dazy; when I heard that name I knew we’d get along great!  We wound our way through the bush and witnessed a gorgeous sunrise over Ayers Rock! 
We visited an interesting school called the School of the Air.  Because Australia is so large and so remote that kids would have to travel hundreds of miles to get to a school, they have created the School of the Air which teaches children over the internet with the help of a home tutor.  It’s really an amazing system that reaches all these children.  It started in 1951 as a radio transmission system and has evolved to what it is today.  We went to the studio in Alice Springs where teachers teach their classes everyday and communicate with their children by internet.  Each student is provided a computer, scanner, printer, fax machine and internet for their whole family to use.  Imagine if we had to go through all that to get an education.
Some other random Australian facts: The bugs in the bush are ridiculous and we had to wear bug nets on our heads so they wouldn’t go up our noses and in our mouths and ears, and I tried a tiny piece of kangaroo and hated it.

Tomorrow we’re off to the rainforest!

“Don’t put off living to next week, next month, next year or next decade.  The only time you’re ever living is in the moment!”


  1. What a fabulous adventure. You're certainly packing lots in. Love the stories about the culture. Absolutely fascinating.I'm curious that Audrey gave you a photograph to "sign" her artwork. Did she tell you to get rid of it when she died? And did you ever figure out what animal that awful steak came from?

  2. I was wondering about that too because it seems so contradictory to voluntarily have these pictures taken for authenticity sake, but then there is such a strong part of their culture that forbids it. I didn't really understand that and I wish I would have asked about it. I'll just have to come back and ask next time I'm here! :) And our tour manager swore up and down that the steak was beef, but I still don't know if I believe him