a blog about seeing the world

Archive for June, 2011

A note from the editor

I imagine some of you may be wondering now: where are the videos?  Didn’t you spend half of your travel savings on a fancy new camera before you left? Weren’t we promised Southeast Asia: Part 2? Have you given up your one humble attempt at a productive activity and succumbed to a 24/7 vacation lifestyle?

On the contrary. We are still shooting video alongside all these blog photos, quite a lot actually. Hard drives are filling up, and Steph has started to ignore requests like, “go back and walk that part over again” and, “hey, climb up there and jump into the water one more time.” But, yes, it is true that we haven’t posted a video in a long time, and I’ve prepared two excuses:

Excuse #1: We got lazy.  Upon arriving in El Nido in late April, we were ready for a break. We’d been shooting, editing, and traveling in the developing world for three months and thoughts of accomplishing anything quickly went out the window upon sighting Las Cabanas beach. We ate mangos. We swam. We sat. We bought large bottles of  rum for US$1.50 and drank them. We did everything but edit Southeast Asia: Part 2.  So there you have it.

Excuse #2:  We live in a tent.  It turns out technological endeavors and camping do not mix. Essential things like electricity and comfy chairs do not exist. Thoughts of staying up late and editing with an ample supply of electronic music are replaced with thoughts like, “is there anything to eat besides pasta?” It is impossible to capture, convert, log, edit, and upload footage with our current lifestyle, and these tasks will have to wait.

If all goes well, in three months we will be in New Zealand with a semi-permanent roof over our heads and some steady work. Eventually, we’re hoping to post two or three Australia videos which will be a bit different from ones past but equally entertaining.  And, of course, some New Zealand adventures.  Southeast Asia:Part 2 may come along as well, though we may end up saving some for an end-of-trip, extra artsy, grand finale short film.  We’ll see.  For now, enjoy the photos.

…our latest love/hate backpacking trip from the Northern Territory is coming soon.

your video editor,

Nathan


Australia’s biggest icon

Two hundred fifty kilometers down a lonely stretch of road, an isolated hunk of sandstone looms in stark contrast to the vast and featureless plains of central Australia.

The remote but world-renowned Uluru is one of the most recognizable and iconic images of Australia. We’ve all seen photos of it a million times, and just about everyone can equate “that big red rock” with Australia. It’s the sort of thing you go see almost more out of obligation than desire: it just doesn’t seem right to travel to Australia and not see The Rock. Thus, we turned off the Stuart Highway along with countless trundling caravans full of traveling retirees for the 500 km out and back detour.

As it turns out, it’s awesome. And big. From the moment it looms on the horizon through the walk up to its base, you find yourself gaping upward and frequently muttering things like, “now that’s a big rock.”

Uluru rises 348 meters (1,148 feet) into the air — more of a mountain than a rock — and you can’t help but wonder how it got there. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is always supremely boring and usually revolves around the solidifying of sand layers and deathly slow wind and water erosion.

The local Anangu people have lived in the area an exceptionally long time and have some creation stories of their own which are infinitely more satisfying. Most of them involve ancestor animals battling and dying gruesomely on or around the rock, leaving scars in the earth behind. Cool. Some of these sites are sacred, and signs ask you not to take pictures on one whole side of the rock.

The Anangu officially own the land and lease the park back to the Australia government. Ownership details aside, it was unclear who exactly was raking in the 12.5 million dollars in park entrance fees ($25 per adult) that Uluru generates per year, but it sort of makes you wish you had a really big rock in your backyard doesn’t it?

A 9.5km trail winds its way around the base of the rock, which is not the bland, featureless oval that we expected, but a jagged spearhead shape with huge gorges, countless insets, caves, boulder outcroppings and odd formations. Two waterholes surrounded by leafy eucalypts sit peacefully, fed by rivulets cascading down the rock whenever it rains. Gazing up from the base, the massive red walls rise high above, until they curve out of sight against the bright blue sky. It was instantly and immensely impressive. Why had we never seen photos of it up close?

 

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Inland and upward

Before Australia’s coastal hills flatten out into the interminable Outback, a worthy collection of the craggy, cliff-laced mountains that are typical of this country rise from Flinders Ranges National Park.

The park is best known for Wilpena Pound, a curiously circular valley surrounded by impassable red cliffs and deep, dry gorges. Once used to hold herds of sheep in the 1800s — and for Aboriginal gatherings long before Europeans arrived— it is now home to kangaroos grazing peacefully in the grasses and low bushes. A lot of them. We also spotted the odd group of mountain goats, introduced to the area long ago, which rangers are now apparently trying to stomp out. Australia has huge problems with their animal populations. There are tons of species that are not supposed to be here (foxes, goats, rabbits, toads, camels), and too many of the ones that are (kangaroos), as we would discover later.

These guys are supposed to be here: an emu.

We opted for a 23-kilometer overnight hike, which led us through the floor of the Pound, over the ring of mountains, and back along a forested trail.

After a night in the Pound (and the robbery of half of our dinner by some unwelcome crows) we hiked up to St. Mary Peak, dodging the enormous webs of some large and deeply unsettling spiders that enjoyed hanging just above eye level. The view from the top was well worth it. Rocky, rolling mountain ranges snaked into the distance, melding into the flat, unbroken plains beyond. No doubt there was interesting geology at work here.

This orb weaver spider was as long as my index finger.

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Stepping up in society

After a laughably low-class week harvesting citrus, it was time to blow some of our hard-earned cash in one of South Australia’s famed wine regions.

McLaren Vale lies just an hour south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Row upon row of grapes stretch from rolling hillsides and across yellow-green plains until they meet the ocean. Narrow, tree-lined roads thread the countless tasting rooms together, and simply driving around town is a worthy afternoon activity in itself. It is just as pleasant as it sounds.

Dressed in our finest clothes (which for Nathan, meant the jeans he worked in all week), we headed for picturesque Coriole Vineyards. Despite our efforts, the employees seemed to realize we weren’t going to order a case of wine—probably from my lack of fancy handbag and leather boots— and didn’t spend much time on us. Oh, well.  The wine was very, very good.

We took a bottle of Sangiovese and headed to a table surrounded by blooming gardens, shaded by an old tree, and frequented by the resident cat— a green-eyed and extremely soft fellow who thankfully spent a fair amount of time hanging out with us. From there we sipped wine, nibbled on cheese and crackers, and laughed at the overly fancy crowd in cable-knit sweaters and designer sunglasses swirling their wine and commenting on the elegance of the vintage. It was pretty hilarious, and quite a contrast from the orange picking crowd.

Notice Steph's scarf... a bold attempt at fitting in.

Sitting there soaking up the last of the winter sunshine, we realized we lacked only four things for a perfect stay in McLaren Vale: time, money, friends, and bicycles. It was easy to imagine an excellent long weekend of riding bike paths and back roads from vineyard to vineyard with some good company.

Early the next morning, we drove south to Victor Harbor in the hope of spotting some of the many southern right whales that swim into the bay in the winter. Sadly, we were apparently a week or two early, but a walk around the surprisingly lovely Granite Island more than made up for it.

Not to mention some hot, fresh, very unhealthy cinnamon doughnuts.

It was a short but satisfying goodbye to the ocean. The next few days took us straight inland— towards the Outback, Uluru, and the dry, empty country that to many means Australia.


In a sea of citrus

The best part about picking oranges is the smell. From the moment you rustle the dark green leaves and pluck the first fruit, a light, fresh citrus scent fills the air.

As it turned out, that was probably the highlight of our highly unglamorous week picking citrus in the never-ending groves of Renmark, South Australia. A swath of country here, called the Riverland region, is entirely made up of rows upon rows of citrus and grapes, and it seems that half the population is transient pickers. Once again, a quick glance at the National Harvest Guide and an appearance at the employment office was all it took to land a job. In fact, our recruiter informed us that we could pick citrus seven days a week for the next seven months if we wanted. Thanks, but no thanks.

Renmark in all its glory, taken from the town's scenic lookout.

Oranges.

Oranges.

And more oranges.

It took the better part of the first day to master the twisting and snapping motion required to cleanly part an orange from its stem. After a few hours we were filling bins in 45 minutes and left feeling quite optimistic about our earning potential for the week.  But it was not meant to be.  On Tuesday, everyone was lead out to Patch 41, where we were instructed to strip the tall, thorny, under-pruned trees of their remaining oranges.  The trees had been select picked earlier in the week, meaning all of their large, plump, eye-level fruit was gone, leaving us to reach through thorns and deadwood to harvest the stragglers. It was terrible, and we before long hated Patch 41 with our whole hearts.

By the second day, we had yet to learn any of our picking compatriots’ names, as it’s hard to make friends when you have your head in an orange tree. However, we did already have clever nicknames for most of them:

–       Three jolly and well-traveled Belgians (The Belgian Troupe).

–       A rambling, rough looking fellow (The Crusticle, Ol’ Crusters, or Crusty for short) who turned out to be quite harmless. In fact, we grew a little fond of the guy.

–       A funny stout/tall and skinny duo (Boggis & Bean), who were laughably slow pickers and unfortunately lacked a short friend whom we could have dubbed Bunce.

–       An Aboriginal guy (The Zen Master) who told tall tales of fruit picking heroics and looked like he could fill bins faster than us in his sleep.

–       Our favorite was some sort of farm manager/supervisor who we never came up with a name for but looked a bit like this:

Others included a lone Irishman, a rude German who fortunately quit, and a guy from China who picked mandarins as fast of the both of us together. Countless more appeared and disappeared over the course of the week, as it seems the average turnover time for orange pickers is around 48 hours.

All this was overseen by a mob of Indian contractors. When we asked a questions (like, “how are we getting paid?”) one person would go to another, who would ask yet another, who would usually ask a surly man in Hindi, and the info would then be translated back to us. Needless to say, we took everything we were told with skepticism. By Friday we estimated a $200 range that our wages could fall into, depending on tax withholdings and getting scammed by various amounts.

Midway through the week, we abandoned our post at our manicured caravan park and moved down to a local campsite called Plush’s Bend. The whole area had been flooded recently and was scattered with dead trees, giving it the look of an abandoned hazardous waste dump. But, it was free, and we set up our tent in a dirt patch where we could wave at Ol’ Crusters in his semi-permanent campsite across a stagnant backwater. Home sweet home! (more…)


Under gum trees and waterfalls

Just a couple hours outside Sydney, rivers in Blue Mountains National Park have carved enormous canyons into a lofty sandstone plateau, rimmed with red cliffs and carpeted with eucalyptus trees.

Though we’d planned an overnight hike through the valley, landslide damage had closed a good portion of our intended loop. Instead, we opted for two day hikes in different parts of the park.

The first day, we descended to the floor of the Grose Valley, picking our way carefully along ridiculously steep and narrow stone steps. At the bottom, the trail followed the river, winding through a towering blue gum forest, arid desert-like terrain and a lush, mossy woodland before leading to the bottom of Govetts Leap Waterfall.

This section of the forest reminded us of home.

Govetts Leap waterfall plummets 180 meters to the valley floor.

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