Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Trapped In The Outback of Australia
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We just finished up with almost three weeks in Australia and "it was kind of a bust. But as far as busts go it wasn't a bad bust" (Troy's quote of the day). Diving was ok but not the best, it rained everywhere we went, roads were closed (and there are not a lot of roads here), cyclones circled nearby, we got stranded, beer is not very good, but we did meet some great people, saw some beautiful rain forest, did not see any snakes within six feet of us, did not get bitten by anything poisonous and became very familiar with some of the quirks of the Australian locals. We did manage to keep ourselves entertained by taking photos of me pointing at big things along the road: big fish, big peanut men, big crabs, big mangos...Australians love big things!
Just a few observations about Australia and the people:
Only in Australia: While driving down the road listening to the radio, we heard a story about a man who died after being shot by his dog! Evidently when letting the dog out of the truck to go get the goose the hunter had just shot, the dog stepped on the trigger of the gun that was in the back of the truck with him, causing the gun to fire and kill the owner. Actually, to be fair, this type of thing probably happens all the time in Kentucky or Tennessee.
Speaking of stupid things we heard on the news...In Australia the game of Cricket is huge. I think...um... England plays it and......er..... Pakistan.....and um... India plays it..... and no one else! Anyways there was a huge controversy the other day where the game - or test as they call it - was delayed and a player suspended because he called another player a bastard!!!!!! He then also called him a monkey!!!!!!!!!!!!! How insanely stupid is this? It was also one of the top sports stories for days. Troy and I died laughing thinking if these sissy Cricket players heard how American Football and basketball players talked to each other their ears would shrivel up and fall off the side of their heads.
Ok, about our trip now. The first part of our time was on a diving liveaboard to the outer Great Barrier Reef. To get to the boat, we took a low-level flight on a 16 seat plane to a northern town called Cooktown. When I say low-level, I really mean low-level. The wings were barely skimming the top of trees. Our rogue pilot would fly within a few hundred feet of a tall, skinny rock pinnacle, getting so close that all you could see out the window was rock, not the whole pinnacle. We knew things in Australia were dangerous but we didn't think that included pilots and their flying skills!
Upon arrival to our boat and after getting settled in, we were given our dive briefing. This is basically what it consisted of:
"Australia has some of the most poisonous animals on the land and in the sea. While you're diving please keep in mind if it's ugly it will kill you; if it's pretty it will kill you; if it moves slow it will kill you; if it moves fast it will kill you; if it sits still it will kill you; if it swims it will kill you!" You get the idea. During all of our diving over the last several months Troy has only worn a t-shirt and shorts. But upon hearing these warnings he opted for the full length wetsuit. While diving I'll sometimes touch things that I know are harmless such as sea cucumbers or clams. But here I wouldn't dare touch anything. One time I accidentally brushed up against a sea fan and the hypochondriac in me came out. "What was that? What did I just touch? Is that a tingling in my fingers? Am I going blind in my right eye? Aaaagh, I'm about to die a horrible, excruciating death!"
But it was mostly good diving. Because of the season we didn't have the best visibility but we did some wall dives that had some of the best coral we have ever seen. Not to mention the wall just dropping perfectly straight down to the ocean floor, 100's of feet below. The guides also did a shark feeding - they call it a shark "attract" since they don't actually personally feed the sharks because that is not allowed - for the group which consisted of a crate full of fish being dropped down that was then fed to the White Tip and Grey Reef sharks. It's more fun rather then exhilarating - unless you have never done this before, then it can be very exciting - because the white tip sharks are just these little annoying puppy dogs that don't know a dead fish from their ass. So as a result they bump into each other, the crate, the reef, us. I personally thought the most exciting thing happened when we got back on the boat and had a go at Shark Wrangling. This is where you take a fish head and poke it's eyes out - you can only participate if you poke the eyes out - and then thread a rope through the eye holes so it becomes a large piece of bait. You then throw the rope out into the water to try to catch a shark. Once the shark grabs hold of the bait you quickly pull on the rope and wrangle the shark in to see how close you can get it to the boat. It was all fun and games for me until this Grey Reef shark almost pulled my ass into the water with it!
For the next part of our adventure: rain, fried food, bad motel rooms, rain, flooded roads, leeches and a little tiny rent-a-matchbox-car. We should have known we were in for a rough ride when we first left Cairns and it was raining so hard there were waterfalls falling onto the road. Not into drainage ditches or trenches but right onto the road. We had nine days with our matchbox car so our plan was to do a driving route through the outback. Everyone who we told of our plan either told us we were crazy and would get stranded for weeks - not hours - or looked at our little car and sadly shook their head. It seems the road we wanted to take is prone to being inundated with floods since it is the rainy season. Oh, and the Australians have an aversion to building bridges so instead of roads being clear all year, three months of the year they are only passable to 18 wheelers and trucks with a snorkel. Our car was neither an 18 wheeler or had a snorkel. But to defend ourselves, we kept hearing conflicting stores "It will be fine... it hasn't been raining for months... in that car, sure!" Plus, how can someone get stranded for weeks? But so we were not entirely stupid we made sure we had plenty of water and some snacks. So off we went.
For the first few days, things were awesome! Beautiful and powerful waterfalls (from all the rain...hmmm) gorgeous rain forest, green and luscious fields (from all the rain, again). We even didn't mind getting soaked walking to a few of the waterfalls until upon return to our car we realized we both had several leeches attached to our legs! That was just disgusting.
Our first sign of real trouble was when we started heading toward the outback and we pulled into this tiny town of Mt. Surprise to get gas and lunch. As I step from the car to go pay, the lovely local older gentlemen in his insanely short shorts says to me "You going that way?" Pointing in the direction that we are heading.
"Well then you better go! Don't stop just go! The Ensleigh River is rising. This morning she was at a 4 now she's at a 5. You better go now!"
"Do we have time for lunch?" I meekly ask.
As he frantically waves his arms around "Good God no! Just go! The Einsleigh is rising. If you stop now, you'll get stuck and won't have a meal for months! Go!"
So we took his advice and off we went. We stopped in the next little town of Georgetown for lunch and continued on and things were going smoothly until we came across a car stopped in front of a flooded flood way. Hmmm... maybe this is what everyone was telling us about. So this Australian couple - notice how they're locals, not foreigners - is standing there gauging if the water is rising or falling. We step out of our car and proceed to do the same. We all walked through the water to see how deep it was and then discussed how to get our cars across. A local came across from the other direction and told us this was the worst crossing. There were several more up the road but they were not as bad as this. So the four of us thought, "lets go for it." The first car went and got several inches of water in his car. We went, stalled and had to push our car the rest of the way but at least we didn't get any water in it. We get to the other side, hop in our cars, and off we go. A few miles later we come upon the next floodway. To our astonishment and utter horror, the guy was wrong. This crossing was much deeper by several inches and we found out the ones farther down the road were just as bad. So we waited around for about an hour to see if the water was going up or down. It was going nowhere. The thing about Australia is it is flat, flat, flat. This water was sitting with no place to go. So by this point Troy and I have given up on our Outback adventure and have decided to figure somewhere else to go. But first we have to turn around.
We turn around and go back to the first floodway with the supreme confidence that we will cross it with no problem and with in an hour we will have a cold beer in our hands, being kept chilled by it's coozie. Guess what? The water is not any higher but is now running faster and there is the very real possibility of it being strong enough to push our car down river. So this is what people meant when they said we could be stranded for weeks on a island highway. So we wait and wait and wait to see if the water is going up or down. To our delight it is going down but not quick enough. And it is getting dark and in the land of poisonous animals, Troy and I were not too anxious to be out in the middle of nowhere. But to make a long story short, we braved it out and got our little car across. Troy was not happy, to put it mildly, but our only choice was to stay the night out on the highway. So we made it back to the happenin' town of Croydon - population of 200 - where we had a shitty room for the night and greasy fried food for dinner. Have you ever been to a town with a population of 200? They don't even have a post office. They have a guy who works at the gas station with dirty fingernails who not only sells you stamps but will lasciviously lick them and place them on your postcard for you.
The next day we woke with a new plan in mind and headed out on the road with gusto, eager to see new places. So we're driving down the road, got the windows open, enjoying the fresh air, we actually got a station on our radio, there are no kangaroos jumping out at us, when we come around the corner and come to a screeching halt. A river that we had crossed so easily the day before - no, not the Ensleigh, this is the Gilbert - is in the process of massively overflowing the 1000' long bridge. And it's not just a sluggish flow. It's carrying large logs, farm animals and homes. Ok, so there were no farm animals and homes, but we expected to see that at any minute it was flowing so fast. The couple who we had met the day before at the other floodway pulled up behind us. We then did what we had become really good at - standing, watching, wondering if the water was going up or down. After an hour Troy and I decided to go back to Croydon, hang out have an early lunch then go back in a few hours to see if there was much change and hope for the best.
So three hours later we return and guess what? The water was higher, much, much higher then before - not even 18 wheelers or trucks with snorkels are crossing. Before people could walk across it without the fear of getting swept off. But not anymore. At this point we didn't know what to do other then laugh and say "We can't say we weren't warned!" So we decided to wait. To make this short, we - and many other people - waited all day and around 6pm the water started dropping rapidly. We finally made it across at 10pm and got a hotel for the night. We then decided to "play it safe" and head back to the east coast and go down south to the Whitsunday Islands. The next night we stay in a larger town called Charters Towers. We didn't get stuck and made it out safely the next morning but late in the day we heard on the news that a cyclone struck the town and the dam burst from too much water. To say we made it out of the town just in time is an understatement.
Onto the Whitsunday Islands and Airlie Beach where it rain and rained and rained. It actually rained 14 inches in 24 hours causing Airlie Beach - where we were staying - to be considered a natural disaster area. Once again roads surrounding this area were flooded so no one, including us could leave. So we stayed. The big problem about Australia is the roads to get places are few and far between . There are a lot of undeveloped and dirt roads but nothing suitable for our matchbox car. So we didn't have a lot of choice to move about.
We finally made it back to Cairns to catch our flight to New Zealand. It was close though. As we were leaving Airlie Beach we still came across a major road that was closed from flooding. But within an hour it opened and it was smooth sailing all the way back. We wish we could have had better luck but our luck has held out so far on our travels that it was bound to happen sooner or later. And like we have become fond of saying "It makes a great story!" That is as long as we survive to tell the story!
Hey guys, good to hear your story of the outback...that's why all the 4x4's in Cairns had snorkles! thanks for the pictures and we will wait for your next adventure. Hope to see you in the states.
By 6:43 PM, at
Thank you very much for the great information.
By 12:07 PM, at