Stop:Alice Springs, Australia by Elliott Hester
on photos for more images of Australia
came at me relentlessly, buzzing past my ears like tiny propeller
planes that would eventually land on my forehead and taxi across
the tarmac of my face. They crawled into my ears, eyes, tried to
gain access to both nostrils. Whenever I opened my mouth I feared
that one of them might dive in, Kamikaze style, and offer itself
as a meal. Flies! No visitor to the Australian outback can escape
them. During a recent 3-day excursion to Kata Tjuta National Park,
I was attacked, in broiling 110-degree heat, by hordes of the airborne
buggers. But it was Madonna who ultimately made me lose my cool.
departed Alice Springs at daybreak. In addition to David, our tour
guide from Way Out Back Desert Safaris, there were 8 in our group:
a newlywed Spanish couple; a pot-bellied 60-year-old Swiss businessman
traveling with his adult son; two Germans (brother and sister);
a Canadian who operates a Zamboni at a hockey rink in Alberta; and
me, an American in the midst of an around-the-world trip. One by
one we piled into the modified Toyota Land Cruiser, introduced ourselves,
took seats in the cramped air-conditioned cabin and settled in for
an outback adventure.
the 4-hour highway jaunt to our desert campsite, I would have been
happy to stare at the arid landscape or converse with fellow travelers
all of whom seemed to lead interesting lives. But David insisted
on playing music constantly, and at high volume. He bombarded us
with a cacophony of forgotten tunes by the likes of Meatloaf and
Pat Benatar. We suffered in silence. But after an hour or so, the
Canadian Zamboni operator could no longer withhold his objection.
He actually had to scream over the music so that David could hear.
This set off a chain reaction of complaints that gave rise to "Madonna's
Greatest Hits," which played over and over at a deafening volume
for the next 3 hours.
arrived at the campsite, ears ringing from Material Girl monotony,
and were immediately set upon by flies. They hovered around our
heads as we offloaded provisions to a makeshift kitchen. More flies
swarmed the picnic table as we laid out bread, ham, cheese, lettuce
and sliced tomatoes with which to make sandwiches. We swatted at
our outback smorgasbord, trying in vain to remove the undulating
black blanket that covered it. Lunch, it seemed, became an insectivore's
endured these annoyances in order to see a big rock. Uluru is, after
all, a 1,100-foot sandstone monolith with a circumference of more
than 6 miles. It sits incongruously atop the flat desert plain of
Kata Tjuta National park, which the Australian government leased
for 99 years after returning the sacred land to Aborigines in 1985.
Our plan was to tread across a section of the surrounding walking
track and then retreat to a viewing area. From there we would watch
Uluru change colors in the fading sunlight.
a ferocious white-hot sun we walked for nearly an hour, swiping
at flies all the way. I marveled at the aboriginal wall paintings
that grace Uluru's basal caves. But soon I could think of nothing
but the insufferable heat. It was like walking through the world's
largest convection oven. With each labored breath I felt as if my
lungs might ignite. By the time we reached the parking lot and escaped
in the Land Cruiser, the Swiss businessman had developed sweat stains
across his belly. Then the air conditioner petered out.
drove in hot and sweaty misery to the viewing area and watched the
tourism nightmare begin. Huge buses roared into the parking lot,
spilling 1,500 to 2,000 oglers who, like us, came to watch the sunset
play upon Uluruís northwestern face. Tuxedoed waiters appeared as
if by magic, pouring champagne into the glass flutes of affluent
tourists who sat affably on portable chairs. Others swarmed behind
the ropes of the viewing area, pointing their cameras like weapons.
the sun began to set, perhaps 1,000 camera shutters clicked in unison.
Beneath a rich blue sky, Uluru bathed in a magnificent nexus of
hues amber, orange, reddish brown, burgundy. The mountainous
rock then faded in twilight.
the campsite the next morning, I was awakened abruptly. Not by sunlight
or hunger, but by more freaking flies. I leapt from my sleeping
bag, swatting frantically as a squadron of critters flew sorties
past my face.
packed our gear and jumped into the Land Cruiser with flies in hot
pursuit. After slamming the doors, a dozen or more became trapped
inside. But because the widows had been permanently sealed to prevent
outback dust from entering the vehicle, we were forced to drive
onward in fly-ridden agony.
next two days were as exhilarating as they were difficult to endure.
We hiked through Kata Tjuta (aboriginal for "place of many
heads"), a group of monolithic rocks west of Uluru. We camped
in the open spaces of Kings Creek Cattle Station, where a doorless
"bush toilet" allowed me to answer nature's call and watch
the sunset simultaneously. And on day 3, after a sweltering hike
through Kings Canyon, we returned to the Land Cruiser to find Madonna
screaming "Like a Virgin" again.
please, please turn that *!@# OFF!" I said this to David in
a sun-stroked act of frustration. Madonna finally fell silent. But
within the superheated confines of the vehicle which had
begun to stink of sweat and toe jam from 8 pairs of sore, shoeless
feet the flies buzzed with glee.
here for more images of Australia
stop: Bandar Seri Begawan,
TO TOP OF PAGE
RETURN TO HOME PAGE