SEPTEMBER 29TH - OCTOBER 6TH
SOUTH AUSTRALIA AND THE RED CENTER WAY
FROZEN TO THE CORE
I have said it before (desert-born, raised in the South, migrated further south) I am not built for the cold. While this problem will eventually be solved, I have yet to find the proper combination of layers to get me through a long winter without the bone-deep chill that always finds me; my marrow crawls into itself. And once it does reach that point, the point where every inch of my body creaks and aches, that is when it is time for me to go in search of the sun. At this particular time of the year in Australia, one heads for the Red Center -- exactly what we intended to do. One way or another, we would leave Winter in our wake.
WISE CRONE OF FABRIC
On our way up and out of SA, we came to the town of Clare. I'm sure that this town has many things about it which are far more notable than that which I will mention. But for he and I, Clare is all about the fabric store. As I mentioned in the Week 5 post, I had left us curtain-less and on the road. We made a few attempts to create our own teepee inspired privacy using a spare sheet and some bungee cords but the result, after heated discussion, was lovingly applied and terribly insufficient. Thusly, we found ourselves shopping for fabric in Clare. After a solid hour of wandering about, having a browse, and making what we hoped were good decisions, we were visited by a crafty angel of mercy. She managed to find for us exactly what we needed at a manageable price (read significantly cheaper and more efficient than what we had chosen) and sent us on our way mere moments before a severe storm hit. In retrospect, we should have been less cavalier with our time as we witnessed storefront after storefront on Clare's main commercial street stacking sandbag upon sandbag. Driving towards our potential home for the night under heavy rain and winds that literally blew branches off trees, we were still curtain-less and exposed but we were much closer to solving that self-made problem. I offer this note of appreciation to the fabric-maven who made our lives simpler.
Lovely fabric store attendant,
I never did learn your name, or perhaps I did and have since forgotten. Thank you for being patient with us as we dithered back and forth between fabric choices, the gray or the darker gray. Thank you for having a better mind for this project and understanding that I could do what I wanted in half the yardage that I asked for. Thank you for reaching into the discount bin and pulling forth the most perfect fabric with it’s subtle undulant pattern so reminiscent of woodgrains. Thank you for helping me fix my mistakes.
Maiden of the Little Green Van
A FOWL WIND DOTH BLOW
Wikicamps informed us there was a hotel in the satellite town of Farrell Flat that offered an overnight parking space with the purchase of a meal or a drink. We've found this sort of arrangement quite popular during our travels, but at the time it was a foreign concept. As the nasty storm unleashed upon Delphine and her fresh coat of paint, we made our way towards the hotel with haste and arrived just in time. We opened the door to find that the electricity had long since gone out. It was Boss, in the parking lot, who greeted us first. Boss being a tiny longhaired Chihuahua who, it turns out, had four children and two paramours in the rooms just beyond the front hall. The majority of the bar floor was taken up by a large motorcycle belonging to the heavily bearded gentleman standing behind the counter, a man named Sasha who called himself Chef. We ordered a round of beers for ourselves and sat down to feel out the situation. We took in the dark interior, the grisly appearance of the proprietor, the barking of an unknown quantity of canines in a distant room, and had all but decided to move on when it started to hail. Hail in Australia, what a novel surprise. Stones of ice in varying sizes and shapes were smashing themselves into anything that came between them and the ground. With b-film horror movie aspirations, the front door swung open with the wind to reveal that the view beyond it, our way out, was that of stormy desolation. We knew we weren't going anywhere. Chef, much to his credit, immediately offered us the use of some of the hotel rooms if we wished. All we needed to do was stay the next day and put in some work around the hotel as payment. He would even throw in our meals and a few beers for the trouble.
We passed the evening drinking stubbies of James Boag and trading stories. The hotel logo depicts two elephants, mother and child. When we asked him about the reason behind the Pachyderm theme, he told us an admittedly morbid tale. A traveling circus did not know their elephant was pregnant and separated mother and child upon the latter's unexpected birth while the circus was stopped in Farrell Flat. Sadly, the cruelty of a traveling circus of yesteryear is stranger than fiction; having cared for one elephant, they must have known the full weight of their deadly decision. Considering the long gestation of elephants and their lifelong familial instincts, this must have been devastating to both creatures -- we know that it certainly was for us. As the story was told, upon its abandonment, the baby elephant soon died and now its skull sits in a museum somewhere in Adelaide, far from the bones of its mother.
At some point or another, the door crashed open once more to reveal a large hulking figure shrouded in a thick tradesman's coat. He scanned the bar with a scowl and shoved past us to pull beers from the cooler. He then disappeared into the back. Chef informed us this beast of intimidation was his step-son who slept two doors from where we would spend the night. He barreled in periodically over the course of the evening bringing with him a wall of silence that we had no interest in breaching. The power wouldn't come back on for another day. The power-grid for all of SA had crashed including all cell towers. The roads were closed and we were incapable of communicating with the outside world. Chef and step-goon engaged in an unseen screaming match, promises of one or the other being gutted were made in raised voices. The storm raged on and off all that night and well into the next day.
That first night, Jorge fell violently ill. Having never seen him in such a state I immediately suspected foul play à la -- insert any and every horror film title here where unassuming travelers are subjected to all manner of terror via the local eccentric -- and snuck out to the van to grab his bush knife which I slipped under my pillow. I slept lightly with my hand on the handle, in case I needed to protect us both. A foolish notion, I know, but rather be foolish than caught unaware. In the morning, he found the blade under my pillow as he stretched in waking and sleepily expressed his approval. He, too, had been troubled by the quick onset of his illness but did not say anything. As if evil is only present if one speaks it into existence. We spent the day doing the odd cleaning here and there. Given the lack of power and the tendency of the chimney to spew soot across the dining room floor moments after each sweeping session, we soon gave up and moved on to other pursuits, namely sewing curtains for the van and eating ice cream cones before they melted and their innards flooded the powerless cooler.
It was while we were preoccupied with this that Chef finally reappeared from his quarters and expressed a troubling statement while fiddling with his mobile. "Ah, no cell reception, not even SOS, I could try'n kill you two and you wouldn't be able to call for help." Jorge and I stood stock still recalling the moment not long before when that same thought had crossed our minds. We knew he was just being a little strange. The idiosyncratic thought patterns of a misanthropic man who runs a hotel on the edge of civilization. We were unnerved; that said, our concealed bush knife found no reason to unsheathe. The power came on that night and we were gone the following morning. Thankful though we were for the shelter in our time of need, we were quite happy to be back on the road for a variety of reasons.
UNEXPECTED ROAD CLOSURES
Though the storm had let up enough for us to move on, the weather remained tumultuous for a few days more. We traveled under a bruised and beaten sky until we were rerouted by state police. Apparently, one of the major roads was completely washed out. At first, we were distraught by the news as we had no idea where to go from there. Eventually, we decided to head in the direction of Mt. Remarkable National Park and Kookaburra Retreat which had been recommended to us by our friends in Greenock. Luckily the highway leading to Kookaburra was still open to the public. We nearly missed the tiny sign indicating the turn off for the retreat. We made a sharp right and drove straight into the Australian bush.
The road into Kookaburra can hardly claim the name. It is more of a well-trodden trail that 4WD vehicles and pedestrians alike can enjoy. Delphine, our sweet 2WD beastie, bumped and rattled her way across fallen branches, exposed rocks, barely there streams, and mud holes. Anything not tied down via one means or another was thrown about with abandon. Any regrets or desires to back out slowly and return to the main road were quickly dispelled as the terrain did not allow for backtracking of any kind.
This general bouncing about continued for a few more kilometers. All the while we were wondering when we would be released from this corrugated hell. Eventually, the track widened and revealed the retreat; our juddering seized. It was worth the drive in. We rambled up to the main house and met Melita and Jo who directed us towards a campsite and told us to enjoy ourselves.
We spent the weekend relaxing and walking their hand-cut trails. Having not been in a situation that allowed for proper base-camping, we were excited to settle in and stretch out. We put out the awning in earnest for the first time, something that we still struggle with, set out our table and chairs, and allowed ourselves to take up a little more space than we were used to doing. It was wonderful. The storm broke and swept away the last remnants of cold weather with it. The sun came out. The days were warm. The fly epidemic of Australia coyly revealed itself to us. We hiked the grounds and let spring bless us with her heat. When the time came we were hesitant to leave the retreat behind, but the desert beckoned and we were happy to follow the summons.
THE ROAD FROM HERE TO THERE
There is something that strikes you on a long journey. There are places that you pass without thought. Towns, cities, out-posts, what-have-you. From the outside, it is almost impossible to conceive that these places function. A part of you feels for the people that live there now while another part of you mourns what could have been had the original occupants been allowed to remain. You weigh the thoughts in your mind and turn to the present. So far from everything else how does commerce subsist, how do these people survive?
The highway to the Red Center is comprised almost exclusively of such places. It’s the long road to somewhere through nowhere and we all know it. This particular through-fare is one of the most important tracks in Australia. Road-trains dominate the pavement and these are the bread and butter for the towns-between, they along with the rest of us travelers. We who so insolently look past the way-stations to something in the distance beyond them. Pimba is one of these stations.
The dim night lights politely announce the existence of this whisper of a township that lies at the junction of the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs and the road to elsewhere. Spud's Roadhouse stands back behind a huge dirt lot where any and all transient vehicle dwellers are welcome to take their rest. The meals offered are traditional in the Australian sense and reasonably priced, as too is the gas. If it weren’t for places like Pimba, we would be incapable of crossing through the desert. We would find ourselves stranded without hope of fuel or food or rest. This sort of existence is not exclusive to Australia; driving across the US you will find towns that have the same feel to them. Abandoned sheds and buildings next to a run-down gas station that offers the only fuel for the next 200 miles. These places were once vibrant, life trickled into them via one mining industry or another but like most things on the road from here to there, the road of progress, they've been left behind. We need them, these people who are so willing to sacrifice the easy life found in population centers for the isolation of the in-between spaces. Hats off to you all.
THE DESERT HOLDS THE HEAT I SEEK.
We end this week in the desert.
We are no longer cold.
Alone, on a track of rich red earth, we give ourselves over to the sun.