After a few days of driving in central Australia the miles passed and the countryside began to blur in one endless stream of red-earth desert, trees and hills. The conversation on the bus varied as travelers from around the world shared travel experiences and talked of home and friends. Every half hour or so I would lean over and look down the aisle and out the front window; the road disappeared over the horizon and rarely I would see a car or truck coming in the opposite direction. I filled out a post card, did a little typing into my computer, nodded off for a nap and then chatted with my Slovak neighbor who had aspirations to come to America on a working visa and stay for a year.
Reg began talking on the loudspeaker and talked about Aboriginal culture, religion and then talked about how Uluru was on an invisible energy line. He explained that these energy lines ran across the earth like lines of longitude or latitude and they all (miraculously) ran under the worlds religious sites: Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal (even though it isn’t a religious site), the Egyptian Pyramids, the Vatican and Ankor Wat in Cambodia. I try to keep from rolling my eyes into the back of my head. I hear a few other travelers comment that they will sabotage the loudspeaker system at the next stop. One of the Italians behind me asks, “Hey Scott, is it true that Osama bin Laden wasn’t really killed and now the CIA has him in captivity?” I answer, “Well, it is true that he was captured alive but when he learned that his punishment was to be locked in a room listening to Reg for the next 20 years he pleaded for a bullet to the head.” The murmured quiet of the back of the bus erupts into spontaneous laughter and I feel a sense of satisfaction at my successful joke.
At just the right time Reg announced a stop; we were going to pull over at a large red sand dune for a photo of two nearby landmarks. We all piled out of the bus and looked left and right before crossing the road. I looked left to the horizon and then to the right and there were no other cars – we were the only people out here. I asked one of the other travelers to take a photo of me and then decided on a pose that wouldn’t be safe in most places in the world (top photo).
We climbed the big red sand dune and instantly I felt the fine red dust pour into the tops of my trainers. That evening when I take a hot shower the water will run bright red like blood. For now I climb through the thick dust to reach the summit for a view of Mount Connor and the dry bed of Lake Amadeus.
Atop of the sand dune I can see Lake Amadeus to the west. It stretches out for the length of the horizon on this side of the dune and it looks as if it has been dry for some time. To the east I can see Mount Connor with its flat top – it reminds me of many of the mesa bluffs in Arizona.
I look around and see that there is nothing out here aside from us tourists. A lone SUV pulling a camper van appears on the horizon and in a few minutes it pulls over at this photo stop to check out the view. I wonder if 24 tourists climbing on top of a red sand dune creates extra appeal for this stop. A family gets out and work their way up the dune.
The stops are infrequent and everyone piles off at every stop. There is usually a line at the lavatory and many go for a snack or soft drink. I survive another round of sticker shock as I look at the prices of beer, about $4 per bottle. I see that a case can be had for about $50 and I lobby the other travelers to go in together on a case. 8 of us split the cost and get 3 beers each for about $6.25, or about $2 apiece – a nice break from $4. We get back on the road and arrive at our new campsite just before dusk. We come upon some other travelers who have become stuck in the sand and we all pitch in to push them out. They were quite thankful that we came along; without us they may have been stuck for days.
After a nice sunset (while sipping a beer of course) we dined on some healthy spaghetti cooked Australian style complete with plenty of veggies and beans to supplement the beef and noodles. After the dishes were washed we built a grand fire and enjoyed a fireside chat as we sipped cold beer and looked for shooting stars. Zoe had never seen a shooting star before and watched and watched and when she could wait no more she went to the bathroom and as soon as she left a huge shooting star streaked across the sky leaving a trail of sparkling dust behind it. We all cheered and she was quite disappointed when she returned.
Spotting shooting stars and satellites was easy in this dark and remote wilderness. A few of us that had SLR cameras took turns on the tripod to see if we could capture a good shot of the Milky Way. I was very excited to see the Southern Cross as I’d never seen it before. The fifth star in the kite shape looked red in color to my eye and I tried to center it in my photo.
I can only remember a few times in my life when the sky was so bright. Out here in (quite literally) the middle of nowhere, no light from nearby cities and clear air, the Milky Way stood out like a bright ribbon of light across the sky. I looked up and saw different star patterns than I’d ever seen before; for the first time I saw not only the Southern Cross but also Scorpio with his big tail of stars. Directly to the north the Big Dipper was just above the horizon and upside down. Throughout the evening the big dipper would continue to turn on its axis of Polaris that was well below the horizon, by late at night the Big Dipper will be standing vertical in the northern sky. Following the Sun over the western horizon, Orion sits sideways in the twilight sky. A few hours into the night and it disappears over the horizon.
My attention turns back to my fellow travelers; Zoe has spotted her first shooting star and we all share in her excitement. The shooting stars are many and we laugh late into the night before we finally retire to our sleeping bags and tents.
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