Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Heysen Trail Mk 2

The less-than-brilliant Adelaide testing system spreads finals out over two weeks, and yet three of us had all three to four finals each clumped in the first and last two days of the span. Which meant that we had a very large span of time in the middle with absolutely no scheduled engagements. So did we spend that time studying for our finals? Heck no, we went hiking!


Our second backpacking expedition was more ambitious than the first. It was also planned and prepared in about a tenth of the time of the first one. This time it was just Katherine, Cassie, and me, since Kyle had a conflicting final. We hiked across the Fleurieu Peninsula, once again following the Heysen Trail (the same trail we used on the first trip), for a total distance of 60km in a little under three days of walking and three nights camping. Here's a map of the peninsula in relation to Adelaide, with our start and end points (Cape Jervis and Victor Harbor, respectively) marked in purple.

On Saturday we spent the whole afternoon packing, then caught a coach bus down to Cape Jervis, our starting point. Incidentally, we had been through Cape Jervis once before, as it's the mooring point for the ferry to Kangaroo Island. It seemed fitting that we were to begin our final South Australian adventure in the same place we had begun our very first one.

The first section of trail followed the coastline, providing us with all sorts of beautiful views, including a very nice sunset. Unfortunately, that sunset also meant that it wasn't going to stay light for very long. We were hoping to make it into the first conservation park, which had an official campsite. Fate wasn't with us on this one, and some very dark stormclouds showed up, blotting out the last of the light and making angry thunder sounds. After climbing down a hill that slanted at a crazy angle and losing the trail to a washed-out creek bed, we realized that we were still a long way from our hoped-for destination, so we set up our tent next to the trail (not easy in the intense winds), ate some soup quickly and hid in the tent. The storm that we were afraid of never really materialized, but the wind was relentless, and kept us awake a lot of the night by making it sound like our tent was going to blow away (even more of a concern since we hadn't been able to stake it down very well in the rock-hard ground).

The next morning provided more beautiful coastline views, and at one point we hit a picturesque little beach where we took our shoes off and frolicked in the waves and sand. Then we turned inland towards Deep Creek Conservation Park. This section of the trail was incredibly steep. I don't remember the exact figures since I don't have the map any more, but we did something like three quarters of the total vertical meters for the whole trip in that one day. The trail in this section was also a bit more... 'untamed' than we had been expecting. The trail was really just a tiny winding dirt path, in some places completely overgrown by plants (a few of which had thorns and gave us some nice scratches all over our arms and legs). Other places had us scrambling over and up steep rock-strewn hills. This area of the Heysen must not get much traffic, because it didn't look like there had been any maintenance work done on it in the past several years or so. By the time we made it to the campsite (well before dark, thankfully), we were all exhausted and sore, Katherine's heels were bleeding, and Cassie's toes were battling for supremacy by gouging pieces out of each other. I don't want to make it sound like half the day was horrible - there were some very nice parts, like a waterfall hidden away in the bottom of one of the valleys, and a family of kangaroos (an enormous one, a medium one, and a frisky little baby) as we were nearing our campsite, and all in all it was still great scenery and everything. But I can safely say we were all very relieved when our campsite finally came into view.

The next day the trail left the conservation park and returned to the coast. That morning took us down three different beaches with stints of climbing in between. As you can see in the photos, we were literally walking right down these deserted, picturesque beaches, which was pretty neat. The first was a rocky one with enormous waves crashing against the outcrops. The second, Tunkalilla beach, was sandy and also had enormous waves. The guidebook warned that while it might look inviting (it did), it was full of dangerous currents and, I quote, "shark infested." Washed up on the beach we found a can of air freshener that had obviously been floating for a very long time, and a full oil drum. No kidding. We could make out a Shell logo on the side, along with a tattered label that had part of a tracking number, and the drum felt full and seemed to still be sealed. When we got back to civilization, I phoned it in to the environmental agency, but the tide must have come in and washed it back out because they couldn't find it. Anyways, the third beach was also sandy and inviting, and since it's apparently popular with surfers, presumably less shark infested. If it had been warmer, we might have been tempted to go for a swim.

Leaving the coast again, the trail immediately climbed an insanely steep hill, not even providing a dirt path, just an arrow pointing up. The afternoon was spent crossing mostly sheep and cow pastures. The gentle rolling hills were a welcomed change from the previous day's adventures. As evening approached, the kangaroos came out, and we saw a ton of them. We even saw two on a hillside that were boxing! Awesome!

The next and final day, we were on a schedule, since if we didn't make it to Victor Harbor by about 3pm, we would miss the last coach to Adelaide and might find ourselves camping an extra night in a park or field, not something we really wanted to happen. The trail returned to the coast for another conservation park, which meant more stunning views of the ocean and coastal cliffs and stuff. We also saw an echidna! He ran away from us, but it was pretty exciting, as none of us had seen one in the wild yet. We made it to Victor Harbor with plenty of time to spare, so we ate lunch, and then sat in a little park across from the bus stop for a couple hours since none of us felt like walking anywhere else. We caught the coach back to Adelaide, and immediately started studying for finals.

Compared to our first excursion along the Heysen trail, this one was a bit more demanding, but also more rewarding. We didn't have as many opportunities to dawdle and relax, since we needed to cover a set distance in the time we had, but we also got to see some amazing scenery and visit areas that almost no one sees (at least judging by how not-well-traveled the trail was). It certainly was a lot more fun than sitting around studying.

Botanic Gardens

Ok, I swear I'm going to start updating again! Well, at least for a little while, until we leave for Bend for a week >.<

I'm going to begin at the beginning, or more accurately, where I stopped updating, that is, somewhere in the middle of exam time. For starters we've got a quickie:

Just before things really got hectic in the last couple weeks of school, we walked to the Adelaide Botanic Gardens one day. Every major city in Australia seems to have a Royal Botanic Garden, but Adelaide's was one of the nicest I saw (probably only outdone by those in Sydney). I'm not going to write much, because mostly what we did was walk around, look at plants, and enjoy the fact that it was a beautiful day. You want photos, so I'm going to stop talking and give you what you want. A highlight is the extended section in the middle that consists of pictures of Katherine as she tried to wrestle the camera away from me.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Frisbee stuffs

Another minor but exciting thing:

The Adelaide frisbee team that Katherine and I played on won our Wednesday night league division playoffs. Here's the exciting part: we got trophies! With a frisbee player on them! I didn't even know these things existed. Here's a picture of our team holding our trophies.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Aussie Slang

I started this one a while ago and never finished, so I'm just gonna fill it in and stick it up here.

The single greatest culture difference here in Australia is definitely the slang. Australians have so much slang, and it's usually slang that isn't found anywhere else in the world. Combined with their accents, it's led to me giving a lot of blank looks.

There's slang for different types of people: guys are blokes, girls are sheilas, white trash are bogans, Brits are poms, outlaws are bushrangers, Americans are yanks, someone from New Zealand is a kiwi, and so on.

Then there's the near-inexplicable ones: afternoon becomes arvo, house flies are blowies, a teapot is a billy, an outhouse is a dunny, whining or complaining is whinging or "having a whinge", raisins are sultanas... I just don't know how they came up with this stuff.

The biggest and most ridiculous trend in Australian slang, though, is shortening words and adding a long E sound to the end. At first it seems okay: there's barbie (barbeque), brekkie (breakfast), esky (a cooler), lollies (any variety of candy or other sweet), and sunnies (sunglasses). Then you realize that "Aussie" and "Tassie" both work as adjectives describing something Australian or Tasmanian respectively, but when used as nouns, Aussie means an Australian person, while Tassie is the country of Tasmania. And they really take the whole trend way too far. The final straw was stores advertising Chrissy ornaments for sale. Once that one sunk in, I decided Australians are totally absurd.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Very Brief Update

Update (Dec 10th): Well, still alive, but stuck in the Phoenix airport. I may be running off to Grinnell for a few days (assuming I someday make it home), so I may put off the promised updating flood for a few more days. It will happen sooner or later, I swear.

As requested, an update to let you all know that I'm still alive. I'm in Hobart, Tasmania at the moment. I'm here until the 7th, when I fly back to Sydney, and then home on the 10th. I'm having a lot of fun, and I assure you all I will have plenty to write about once I'm back home and have unlimited internet time and nothing to do with myself.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I'm in Melbourne!

No time to be verbose because I'm about to run out of internet credit, but I am in fact still alive. And in Melbourne. Many more updates later.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tentative itinerary between now and December 10th

  • Tomorrow: Finally go to the beach (weather permitting)
  • Saturday-Tuesday: Another backpacking trip along the Heysen Trail, this time along the Fleurieu Peninsula south of here.
  • Wednesday-Friday: Study for and take my last final (I took the other three earlier this week).
  • Saturday the 18th: Pack up, fly to Melbourne.
  • 21st: Take a train to Sydney.
  • 24th: Fly to Cairns.
  • 30th: Fly to Hobart (Tasmania)
  • Sometime after that: Fly back to Sydney.
  • Dec 10th: Fly home.
Needless to say, I'm pretty excited, but also a little nervous, as it's my first time traveling extensively without parents to plan everything. Kyle (our new friend from William Jewell) is going to be in Melbourne with us, and Katherine is traveling with me until the 30th, when she'll go home and I continue on to Tasmania alone (everyone else is going home soon after school ends). That's all I can think of for now. I'm going to get back to trying to find places to stay and go.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Wonderful Fauna

I've mentioned the dazzling array of deadly animals in this great country several times in my previous posts, but since I'm short on material (it's hard when I can't just show travel photos), I'm going to put up something I wrote to a couple friends a while ago.

"For those of you jealous about the koala and kangaroo pictures, here's something to make you feel better. Notice how there's one section for deadly Australian snakes, and one section for everywhere else. Also notice how the most venomous non-Australian snake comes in at 11th or 12th amongst the Australian ones. I swear everything in this country is either fuzzy and adorable or incredibly dangerous. The snake responsible for the most deaths is the Common Brown Snake. Excuse me? This thing kills people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they call it the Common Brown Snake? Only Australians would be so nonchalant about it that they would think that is a suitable name. More aptly christened is the Death Adder. Yeah, you know what's in store if you tangle with that bad boy. However, notice that the list refers to it as the Common Death Adder. Once again, excuse me? Just your normal, run-of-the-mill Death Adder. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to, say, get worried about."

In closing, I'd also like to link you to a wonderful little song that encapsulates the Australian experience flawlessly. It's by the Scared Weird Little Guys, an Australian comedy group who are very, very funny. Enjoy.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Study in Study Abroad

I haven't really posted anything about what I'm actually doing in terms of school yet, so I thought I would do that.

My hardest class, the one that's been consuming a ton of my free time, especially this past week, is Software Engineering. It's designed to give realistic experience working as part of a team on a large-scale software project, so the whole class is project based (we work in teams of 6, randomly assigned). The project this semester was to design a control system for a robot that would travel around a factory floor (simulated on smaller robots about the size of canteloupes [or 'rockmelons' as they're called here]). Our robot takes commands from a user who has the map represented on their computer screen. The user tells the robot where on the map to travel to and optionally which sections to avoid, and it goes there, following black lines on the floor to stay on track. In real life it's about as impressive as it sounds, but it took a ton of work and we're all sort of proud of it (in a I-will-crush-you-if-you-make-one-more-wrong-turn sort of way). Besides all the coding, we also have hundreds of pages of documentation to show for it as well.

My other Comp Sci class is Operating Systems. It hasn't been nearly as much work, but it's still been fairly interesting. Earlier in the semester I wrote code to simulate several different process scheduling algorithms, and right now I'm simulating page replacement algorithms and then writing a report on them. Don't worry, I don't expect most of you to understand that last sentence.

Moving away from the sciences, I'm taking Film Studies, which has been quite fun. My big project in there was a paper exploring the use of cinematic techniques in Fight Club's treatment of masculinity.

My fourth class, 20th Century Australian History, has also been pretty interesting. I know a lot more now about Australian history than I did before (not really that hard, since before I knew absolutely zilch). Earlier in the semester I wrote a paper about the eugenics movement in Australia between WWI and WWII, focusing especially on the influence of Australian modernist artists like Max Dupain (photographer of the famous Sunbaker).

Rather than writing more about homework, I'm going to get back to doing it now.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Heysen Trail

I want to start off this post with an awesome message we found in the logbook of a campsite we passed on the trail:
"Tim, where are you? Are you lost? Are you lazy and at home? It's 1pm. We're leaving after eating lunch. Hope you're not lost, it'll be a pain in the arse getting someone to move into your room.

PS if anyone sees a skeleton in red lycra it's Tim. Can you bag him up and send his remains to his mum in Coffs Harbour."

Anyways, this is the rundown on the three-day hiking trip we took along the Heysen Trail, which runs near Adelaide.


We left on the second Wednesday of break (having had a couple days to recuperate from the outback trip). We took tents, sleeping bags, food, and everything else with us in backpacks. Four of us went: me, Katherine, Cassie, and Kyle (a friend we made here - an exchange student from William Jewell College). The trip lasted three days.

On the first day, we took a bus out to the Morialta Conservation park, where we picked up the trail. Morialta was beautiful, rewarding us for a steep climb with views of the city of Adelaide, the wooded hills surrounding us, and the gorge with waterfalls that ran through the park. After that, the trail followed a remote vehicle track that serviced the properties in the Adelaide hills area for a while. After a brief stint alongside a paved road, we turned off onto a path that went down a very, very steep hill. I'm talking steep. According to measurements I made from our map, the hill had an average grade of 31.6%, and some sections were even steeper than that. At the bottom we were rewarded with a very picturesque creek where we refilled all our water and spent a while just playing on the shore and such. Also Katherine made friends with some sheep. She named them 'Fluffykins', 'Brown Butt', and 'Dinner'.

After following the creek for a ways, we turned off into another conservation park. The afternoon involved a lot of climbing (300 vertical meters of it). By the time we made it to our campsite for the night, we were pretty tired. My rough measurements from the map estimate that we walked about 19km that day and did close to 600m of upward elevation change. Our campsite was just a flat grassy area that had been designated as a site. No toilet, water, fire grate, or anything like that. We had brought in frozen beef, so we grilled hamburgers over our little camp stoves, sat around the campfire for a while, and went to bed.

Since we had three days in which to go out and back, we stayed at the same campsite both nights, meaning that on the second day we could leave most of our stuff at the site rather than carry it with us, making it more like a day hike. We walked through more hills, which were all covered in eucalypt forests. Near lunchtime we started passing places that raised sheep and cattle. Just in time for lunch, we reached a "town", which was really just a paved road and a restaurant/gas station/convenience store. Still, we all felt like it was quite luxurious. We bought a plate of chips (french fries), used their bathrooms (with running water!), and asked for plastic forks as we had forgotten to bring cutlery on our trip. We sat in the courtyard (which had a beautiful view of the nearby hills), eating our chips and lunch we had brought with us. Then we turned around and walked back the way we had come, after first stopping for Cassie and Katherine to befriend some horses at the farm across the street.

The third day was pretty much the first day in reverse. Remember the hill I talked about? We had to climb back up that. Fun. We took a different route through the Morialta conservation park which took us past a couple nice waterfalls and such. We made it back by late afternoon and caught a bus back home in time for dinner.

Since I had done most of the planning, I was relieved that the trip had gone off without anything going seriously wrong. Even better, I had a very good time, and I think everyone else did too.

One of the coolest parts about the trip was that we got to see a lot of Australian animals actually in the wild. Among those we saw were:
  • Koalas (including a baby koala!!)
  • Kangaroos
  • Parrots
  • A fox
  • Skinks
  • tiny lizards (possibly Tawny Dragons)
  • SNAKE! SNAKE! Ohhh, it's a snake!
That last one was especially fun. For all the worrying about the many varieties of snakes that live in Australia, none of us had seen one in the wild until this trip. Early on the second day, we were walking along a grassy part of the trail when Kyle jumped at least one foot up and two feet sideways, simultaneously making a noise which I definitely can't transcribe accurately. I looked over in time to see it slither quickly off into the bushes. We don't know what kind it was (it looked black), but don't worry, it's overwhelmingly likely that it was horribly venemous. That was the only one we saw, but for the rest of the trip, every time we came across a skink (they seemed to like sunning themselves on the trail), Kyle would do the same jumping-in-the-air thing, which in turn made the rest of us very twitchy.

Also fun was the terrifying sounds around our campsite at night. We think it may have been wombats, but we don't really know. All we know is that once it was pitch dark, something would start making unnatural noises at regular intervals very near our campsite. The noises were unlike anything I've ever heard. I can't describe them very well, but imagine an eight hundred pound bulldog, and then imagine that it's purring loudly, and then imagine that punctuated by loud snorting/grunting noises. The sound would last for five seconds or so, and would happen probably every ten to thirty minutes. Sometimes the noises would circle our campsite. Other times, there wouldn't be any noise for a while, and then it would happen unexpectedly (like when Kyle went off into the dark to pee and suddenly the noise happened very, very close to where he was standing). We never saw anything, but apparently wombats make very strange noises, and we don't know what else would have been big enough to be that loud. So yeah, good times.

Alright, that's all I can think of to write. One more thing: I can't promise regular updates again now, since I'm back to the school routine and soon it's going to be finals time, which means I may not have a lot of time, and then I'll be traveling and who knows if I'll have much access to internet. I'll try to put up something once a week or so, but no promises.

Edit: Just remembered that we saw a fox too (even though they poison foxes here). More posts coming soon.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Outback Trip: Getting Home

A couple photos...

Once the trip ended in Alice Springs, we were free to go our own ways. A fair number of people flew from Alice up to Darwin or Cairns to sightsee (since we had a whole second week of break free). Since we were heading back to Adelaide, we chose the cheap option of riding back with the tour bus. We took a more direct route back, but it still took us the rest of Day 7 and most of the next. We were pretty sick of being on the bus, but the trip home turned out to be pretty tolerable. Since over half the group didn't come back on the bus, we each got our own pair of seats and could stretch out and stuff. All of the loud annoying girls were gone, so things were a lot more peaceful. And having a smaller group and no schedule to meet meant things were a little more relaxed.

We stopped for the night a little bit before Coober Pedy. We literally just turned off the road, drove into the bush a little ways, and set up camp. It's pretty strange to be able to do that without worrying about getting in trouble for using someone's land, but in the middle of the outback it's really not a problem. We had a nice campfire, and all sat around and talked. Bill, our guide, showed us a couple campfire games. It wasn't eventful, but it was still one of my favorite evenings of the trip. The next day we drove almost nonstop, and made it back to Lincoln in time for very long showers before dinner.

So there you have it. After a couple days recuperation, we went on a hiking trip, which I will tell you about in my next post. For now, I need to get some homework done.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Outback Trip: Days Seven and Eight

Photos! Well, actually only one photo. Sorry, there just wasn't much that called for photo-taking.

We spent the morning driving to Alice Springs. Around lunchtime we stopped to look around the historic Hermannsburg Mission. The mission was one of the first of its kind, and was pretty successful in taking in displaced Aborigines in the area. It also produced one of Australia's most famous Aborigines, Albert Namatjira. Most of the old buildings were still intact, and they had lots of old photos taken on the mission. For a tangent about Aboriginal issues, see below the main update.

After tea and scones at the visitor center, we traveled on to Alice Springs. It was the first time we had seen much in the way of civilization since Coober Pedy. We had some time to wander around the outdoor mall area of Alice, and then we headed to the nearby campground where we were spending our last night. The campground even had a pool, albeit small, salty, and populated with several unsettling water-creature-bug-things.

The next morning we visited the famous School of the Air, Australia's largest school (or is it the world's largest? I forget...). Created so that young children at remote stations in the outback could get schooling without leaving home, all classes were originally conducted over radios. These days they've switched to computers with a satellite linkup. We got to watch and listen to a teacher conducting a second grade class (learning about dinosaurs). After that, we ate a delicious brunch at a cafe, and that was it. The trip was over. Except getting back to Adelaide. More about that in the next post...

For now, here's a tangent:

The area around the Hermannsburg Mission at the present day is a lot of public housing for Aborigines. It was kind of a shock driving into the residential area. I mentioned a while ago how clean Australia is - even in Adelaide there's never any litter on the streets. Entering Hermannsburg, all of the sudden the sides of the road are strewn with all kinds of trash. The gas station we stopped at sold gas specially formulated so it couldn't be huffed. The whole place had a destitute air about it. It's pretty easy to tell that Aboriginal issues are still, as Bill Bryson puts it, "Australia's biggest social failing." I was reminded a lot of the Native American projects near our house in Minneapolis. It seems like these cultures are so incompatible with Western life that indigenous people are exceptionally vulnerable to all the corrupting aspects of Western culture.

Up through the first half of the twentieth century, almost everyone (even those sympathetic to the Aborigines) subscribed to the belief that they were a dying race, not likely to make it past this century. Given what they observed happening to Aboriginal communities, it's not really that outrageous of a conclusion to draw. Every time Westerners came into contact with a group of Aborigines, the tribe would almost immediately start showing signs of "degeneration." Western diseases wreaked havoc on them, Western vices like alcohol gripped them especially hard, and Western ideas like land ownership interfered with their traditional way of life. Seeing this cultural implosion, it's not that surprising that anthropologists thought Aborigines would fall completely under the onslaught.

To end on a brighter note, I feel like Australia is at least headed in the right direction. Don't get me wrong, there are still some serious, serious, issues that must be confronted, like the enormous gaps in education, health, family cohesion, and so on. But the progress Australia has made so far makes me hopeful that they will be able to tackle the big problems eventually. There's been an official government apology for what was done to Aborigines in the past. Some tribes have successfully claimed rights to their traditional land (Uluru is a notable example of that). Even just simple things, like the way places are referred to by their Aboriginal names rather than the names the settlers gave them, are a good way to get the general populace supporting the cause. I don't know of anything comparable that the US has done for Native Americans, at least in the Midwest. It seems like Australians have really figured out that this 40,000 year old culture is an amazing thing, and they're doing something to protect it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Outback Trip: Day Six


In the morning it was back on the bus for more driving, this time to the Watarrka (King's Canyon) area. After lunch we hiked into the canyon. The canyon offered lots of stunning views and neat rock formations (trust me, all the landscape photos I uploaded are only a fraction of the ones I took). Some parts took us right alongside the edge of the cliff, where we could peek over. Australia seems to so far be unafflicted by the stupidity syndrome that pervades American tourist areas. Here they don't put up ten-foot safety railings, they just tell you that it's dangerous and trust that you'll be intelligent enough to keep yourself safe. Quite refreshing, really. It makes the experiences seem much more authentic.

Halfway through the hike we reached a permanent waterhole deep in the canyon, where stopped for a swim. Most of the outback is so dry that opportunities like this seemed like real luxuries. After that we drove back to King's Creek Station for the night.

It just occurred to me that I should talk about how we spent our evenings. We would build a fire (which we used for a lot of our cooking). The meals were on a rotating schedule, so whoever was on meal duty would go prepare supper while the rest of us unpacked the bus or just relaxed. After dinner we usually sat around the fire for a while. Bill, our tour guide, brought a guitar, so sometimes he would teach us songs, or give it to another guy in the group who played as well. We usually went to bed pretty early, the result of it getting dark early plus getting up early in the morning.

Outback Trip: Day Five


Day five was Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock). We spent an hour or so browsing the nearby cultural center, which explained the significance of Uluru in Aboriginal culture, as well as more general aspects of the culture of the tribes living in the area. The whole exhibit was very well made, and gave the impression that Aborigines were actually involved in the planning and creation of it.

Next we had a tour led by three guides, one white and the other two Aborigines. The Aborigines, Richard and Wayne, spoke Pitjantjatjara, their native language, while the third guide (whose name I forget) translated. They showed us traditional Aboriginal tools and customs, and the guys got to try our hand at using a spear thrower. The girls didn't get to try because it's a cultural taboo for women to use men's tools (and vice versa). After that, Richard told us a traditional story, illustrating by drawing in the sand. The tribes near Uluru have a number of stories they tell that involve Uluru, and often explain physical features of the rock. For example, in the story he told us, one of the characters (a lizard) stole some meat and hid in a cave high up on Uluru. The hunter he had stolen from built a fire to smoke him out, and he fell out of the cave, leaving bits of skin on the rock as he rolled down. Part of the rock near that cave is stained green, which they say is the lizard's skin.

Tourists like to climb Uluru, which is allowed, but the Aborigines prefer that people do not. Interestingly, it's not as much because Uluru is sacred to them (though that is one reason) as just that they would prefer people stay on the ground and learn about why Uluru is important to them. Richard told us, "Up there, it's just rock. There's nothing up there. The stories, the life, it's all down here. Why would you go up there just to see the same ground?" They also worry about people hurting themselves on the climb, a very real danger. Almost 40 people have died on Uluru, either from falling or heart attacks and the like from exertion. Our guides explained that it was okay if we chose to climb it, but they wanted us to think about it first. Whether it was what they said or the fact that the temperature was in the mid 30s (which translates to Fahrenheit as 'very hot'), everyone in our group chose not to climb it.

After lunch we hiked partway around the base of Uluru. I took tons of pictures trying to convey the immensity of the thing, but of course none of them really do it justice. I'll just say this: Uluru is huge. Breathtakingly huge. Its size is accentuated by the flatness of the land all around it (even right up to its base). It's one of those landmarks that should really be seen in person.

We stayed for a sunset on Uluru, viewed from a trail some distance away. Something about the atmosphere kept the sunset from producing all those gorgeous reds you see in pictures of Uluru, but the sunset itself was quite nice, and we could see Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas) off in the distance. We drove back to the same bush camp near Mt Conner for the night.

What struck me about Uluru is how well the owners have balanced different interests. Instead of becoming a trashy, overrun tourist trap (which is most definitely a danger), they've managed to accommodate the floods of sightseers while still preserving the cultural links of the native Aborigines. The land is administered jointly by a board of park rangers and Aborigines. The nearby resort (Ylara), instead of being glittering and huge, is actually so well built into the landscape that it's barely visible from the road. And instead of selling cheap imitation trinkets, the cultural center offers tours like the one we had and sells art by local Aboriginal artists. It felt like they were doing a lot to change the focus from sightseeing to education, which in my opinion is exactly what they should be doing. There are still a lot of unresolved social issues surrounding Aborigines (more on that in day 7), but it's nice to see that at least in some places Australians are doing a rather inspired job of accommodating both cultures.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Outback Trip: Day Four


In the morning we got a tour of an opal mine by the owner of the campground in Coober Pedy. Like almost everyone else in the town, he spends part of his time mining for opal. He took us through an old opal mine, showed us how opal forms, how one goes about prospecting for it, staking a claim, and mining for it. He showed us the explosives they use for blasting and let us try divining rods, which apparently work for likely opal deposits as well as water. And they actually work! I never thought there was any science behind those things, but it turns out they really work. No pictures from this part, sorry.

We spent most of the day after that driving. Our destination for the night was a bush camp on the Mt. Conner cattle station. Cattle raising in Australia is profitable because many of the plants have very high protein levels, so cattle raised on them is healthier or tastier or something. Of course, at other times the cyanide levels in those same plants gets too high, killing the cattle that eat them. Not to mention all the other ways cattle can die in the outback. Cattle stations in the outback are usually enormous. The biggest Australian cattle station, Anna Creek, is six million acres - bigger than Belgium and four times as large as the biggest cattle ranch in the U.S.

At the bush camp we met our host, Ian, the owner of the cattle station. He was a very cool guy (must run with the name). He was the quintessential hardy outback type, friendly but soft spoken and a man of few words, knowledgeable and tough enough to enjoy living out where life is still very hard. Around the campfire he obliged us by telling us all about the different ways one could die in the outback. Besides the usual venomous snakes and spiders, other highlights included a type of wood that will give you gangrene within 12 hours from a splinter, and bullet ants, enormous (I mean enormous) ants with the most painful sting of any insect in the world. Oh good. His wife told us about the time a Common Brown Snake (euphemistically named, as it is horribly venomous) slithered into the outhouse she was using, and she had to sit there with the snake wrapped around her ankles until it decided to leave. They also told us about the various rescue operations they had been involved in, including a Checkoslovakian couple who were never found ("Yeah, they're still out there somewhere," chuckling) and a hiker Ian singlehandedly tracked and rescued ("I'm not sure he was all there in the head").

The next morning (okay, technically day five, but it fits better in here), Ian took us out on a walk to see the sun rise on Mount Conner, which was very pretty. He also showed us a lot of different plants and other features of the landscape (Ian: "This here is a bullet ant nest. They're all still inside the nest at this time of morning, but I'll poke it with this stick so some of them will come out." Everyone else: "Uhhh...."). You could tell from the way he talked that Ian truly enjoyed the land and his work.

Side note: For a good time, read about the Schmidt Pain Index for insect stings (on which bullet ants receive the highest rating). The descriptions are fantastic, and the story of the index's origin is pretty funny too. Entomologists are a strange breed.

Outback Trip: Day Three


When we stopped at the bush camp in Muloorina, the bus sank almost to its front axles in soft sand. So the next morning, before we could drive anywhere, we had to get it out. We dug out the back wheels and stuck boards under them to get some grip, then everyone got behind the bus and pushed it out. The morning's drive was more of the Oodnadatta track. Along the way, we saw a strange sculpture garden in the middle of the outback, the dog fence (the longest fence in the world), and Lake Eyre. The name "lake" is a bit misleading, because at least from our vantage point there was no water to be seen, but there was a vast expanse of salt flats. The lake only floods after periods of heavy rainfall in Queensland, which means it is mostly dry for years at a time (the last time it was actually "full" was some time in the 1970s), and the extremely salty water leaves behind salt deposits when it recedes, resulting in a huge expanse of salt. Side note: Lake Eyre also has its own yacht club. Australians have sort of an odd sense of humor...

At lunchtime we stopped at William Creek, a town of population 6. Besides a fun little park of relics (old machines and a couple spent test rockets someone had picked up out of the outback), the other thing bringing us to William Creek was flights over the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert is a pristine area of land full of beautiful mineral deposits and rock formations. Only the locals know the exact location of the area, and they aren't interested in telling anyone else. "Letting people tramp all over it would just ruin it," said our pilot. "It's better we just leave it untouched." About half the residents of William Creek run a small airfield, and they will fly people over the Painted Desert in light aircraft, which is what we did. They put us in the backseat of a small little plane, and our pilot flew us out to and around the Painted Desert. It was a beautiful area, and the plane flight was a new experience for all of us.

That afternoon we drove to Coober Pedy, the opal mining capital of the world. The town of a few thousand produces around 70% of the world's opal. Most people in Coober Pedy live underground, since that's the best way to stay cool in an area that can get very, very hot. We stayed at an underground campground for the night. Sound strange? Yeah, we thought so too. It was a campground that had probably started as someone's opal mine, and at some point had been expanded into a series of big rooms cut into the ground, where we could set up our swags and camp just as if we were anywhere else. Also that night we got a presentation from a local on the night sky. As you can imagine, the stars in the outback are stunning. He showed us a bunch of constellations (including the beloved Southern Cross) and told us some interesting astronomy facts.

Outback Trip: Days One and Two

There's photos from the entire trip in that set, but you're cheating if you look ahead. And don't think I don't know about those of you who have already gotten into them. Inquisitive scoundrels, I'll find you...

Day one was quite uneventful. After classes on Friday, we packed up our stuff and got right on the bus. We drove straight through most of the evening, heading north through Port Augusta, stopping at a truck stop/grocery store/restaurant for a pizza dinner, and then continuing on to the campground at Wilpena Pound where we were spending the night. It was dark when we got there, so we set out our swags and pretty much just went to sleep.

The next morning, we got up nice and early, and after a quick breakfast, we hiked up Mt. Ohlsson Bagge. It was a steep hike and the sun was relentless, but the views of the surrounding area were fantastic. From the top of the "Bagge" we could see all of Wilpena Pound. The area is a flat plain encircled by a rim of hills (see an aerial photo here), so it made for some very impressive scenery. If you don't mind the large file size, there's a hastily stitched panorama I took here.

After hiking back down, we ate lunch and got back on the bus for more driving. A lot of the afternoon driving took us along the Oodnadatta track. A "track" in Australia means an unpaved road, usually privately maintained, and often of questionable quality. The Oodnadatta is one of the more well-used tracks, but it was still a rather rough ride at times. At one point they sent a student out to tramp through a flooded section of track to see how deep it ran before we tried to drive through it.

Later in the afternoon we stopped briefly in Farina, a ghost town. Built around the railroad, the town died when the railroad line closed down. Now all that's left are slowly collapsing ruins. It was pretty eerie, especially set in the vast emptiness of the outback. Later we passed through Maree, the home of the Maree Man (we didn't stop, though). Camping that night was ostensibly a bush camp in Muloorina, the only indications of an actual camp were a road sign and a couple "long drop" toilets (lovely descriptive name, isn't it?) that we had to walk about 600m to get to.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Outback Trip: Overview

Hi all,
Sorry for the radio silence for a while now. I didn't have anything new and exciting to post for a bit, and then I got very, very busy with schoolwork and planning an upcoming backpacking excursion, and didn't have time to put anything up before we left for our grand trip to the outback.

We left last Friday and got back this Saturday. The trip was organized by IES, the program hosting us (Kangaroo Island was organized by them as well). We traveled on a bus from Adelaide all the way up to Alice Springs, making lots of stops along the way. Our guide, Bill, estimated that we covered a little over 2300 km one way. In the evenings, we slept outside in "swags," which are sort of a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent all rolled up one. They were surprisingly comfortable, and plenty warm (it did get quite cold at night). We cooked all our food, usually over campfires. Ironically, we ate much better that week than we do here at Lincoln.

One of the advantages of traveling by bus was that we got a very good idea of just how big Australia is. You can travel for hours without seeing a single sign of habitation, a lake, or a paved road. At the same time, it's a beautiful country. Despite the sparse plant life and general flatness, the ground is deep shades of red, the sky is always bright blue, the sunsets are amazing, and there's a general feeling of serenity that's hard not to love.

It would have been nice to have more time to explore some of the areas we passed through, but that's a sacrifice that had to be made to travel that much ground in a week. All in all, it was a fantastic time, although I am glad to be back here and clean finally.

For the details of the trip, because there's so much to report, I think I'm going to put out reports one or two days at a time, so keep checking back here for the next week or so, as I'm going to keep pushing stuff out. I'm in the process of organizing all my photos, so I probably won't get anything more written up tonight, but expect more soon!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Homework? I have to do homework?

The semester is getting into full swing, so I'm starting to get fairly busy with schoolwork. Here almost your entire grade in most classes is based on a few large assessments, like one major paper and one major test per semester. Everything in between is left up to the student. It's certainly a bit of a change from the American system, which leans more towards too much control.

A couple Americans here had friends come and visit them, so we took the new people out to yet another wildlife refuge. This one was a bit more structured, but also a bit more complete. We go to see some new animals, most notably wombats, dingoes, and an echidna (the other strangely evolved creature in the same family tree as a platypus). Pictures here. Look for the pictures of baby dingoes. They are possibly the cutest things I have ever seen.

Also, some cool frisbee news: I played in another hat tournament last weekend, and not only did my team win the championship (out of six teams), but I got voted MVP of the tournament! Needless to say, I was pretty flattered.

Edit: I fixed the commenting so you don't have to be a registered member to comment any more.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A few more photos and a tangent

There's a few more photos up, mostly ones that I stole from other people. You can find them here.

I mentioned before that Adelaide is a very clean city, but I didn't really elaborate. It is incredibly clean. There just isn't any litter. None. I don't think anyone here litters at all. Australians seem to be very environmentally aware in general as well. Maybe the destruction of so much of their environment at the hands of invasive species has made them more aware of what they have left. Maybe they're just a little more in touch with nature than we are. I'm not sure. I talked to an environmental activist passing out leaflets on campus the other day, who was telling me about how new the idea of lobbying and lobbyists is to Australian politics. At one point she said something along the lines of "We're doing pretty badly with the environment right now." I was amazed. I'm not denying that Australia has some very serious ongoing environmental issues. But there's parks all over the city, huge tracts of land are reserved as wilderness areas, and most of all, John Q. Public is actually worried about what impact he is having on things, and that's doing badly?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A little background...

...for those of you who aren't actually sure where I am. I'm in the city of Adelaide, where I'm attending the University of Adelaide.

See that, down in the southeast corner, near Melbourne? That's Adelaide. It's a pretty big city, but a very nice one. There seem to be parks everywhere you turn, there's a lot of very nice architecture, and it is the cleanest city I have ever seen. There's no litter anywhere, everything is in good repair, there's lots of pedestrian areas... it's incredible. The weather here has been quite lovely. It ranges from the low 50s to the 70s most days. It's been much cooler than I had planned for, so I didn't really bring enough warm clothes. It is the middle of winter here, so I probably should have figured this out sooner. Still, I certainly can't complain, especially after hearing from those of you in the Midwest.

The university is much bigger than what I'm used to, obviously. We have lecture sessions with hundreds of people per class. Most classes also provide a 'tutorial' component, which is a smaller breakout group of less than 20 people. These provide more of the discussion parts and personal interaction with the professors and other students. There's usually one hour of tutorial and two hours of lecture each week.

I'm staying with a residential 'college', which is a sort of dorm setup. Since most Australian students continue to live with their parents while they attend uni, the unis don't provide dorms. So students from rural Australia or other countries either rent an apartment or stay in one of the colleges. Lincoln College, where I'm staying, has about 300 or so students. There are three main dorm buildings, a dining hall, a modest library and gym, and buildings for various other administrative stuff. The food is lousy, but the people here are quite nice. There's a lot of college activities, like a weekly pub night (the drinking age here is 18), sports competitions against other colleges, debates between dorms, and occasional large events (fancy dinners, 'balls,' and so on).

Ok, that's it for now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A couple more tidbits

First, here's a picture of the rock archway I stitched together. Hopefully this will give you some idea of the scale of this sucker. We walked across that top part, then onto the wooden stairs which took us around and underneath.

Second, I forgot to mention that a baby seal running is probably the cutest thing ever. Sadly, my ineptitude with the video function on my camera resulted in me capturing only one tiny clip, found here. Still, awwwww! Adorable.

Edit: Gawww!


For those of you that care, it looks like I will indeed be playing frisbee here in Adelaide. I went to a hat tournament this past Sunday, which was a lot of fun. The theme was heroes and villains, so each team was supplied colored bibs and matching capes. These guys sure know how to run a hat tournament. My team ended up coming in second place (out of six), and I got invited to play for two different clubs for the semester, so I must have been doing something right. It was kind of cool to actually be in demand for once. I'm thinking I'm probably going to play with the Adelaide club team, so expect to hear more when we compete in the South Australian University Games later in the fall (September, I think).

Oh, and I almost converted a handblock on the guy I was marking into a layout callahan, which would have been the coolest thing I've ever done. Sadly, I was about three inches short.

Monday, July 24, 2006

KI Pictures

Here they are!

You can read the post below for some background, or just jump right into the pictures. Doesn't matter. Most of these are from the KI trip, with a few tacked on to the end from a daytrip we took to Victor Harbor, another tourist destination, later in the week.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

First Post and Kangaroo Island

I started this sucker up as a way to keep everyone updated on my travels in Australia. Originally, I was just going to send out massive emails, but this seems like a better solution all around. Anyways, on to the interesting stuff.

After something like 20 hours in planes and airports, I finally arrived in Adelaide last Friday. The next day we left for a trip organized by IES, the program that coordinates our study abroad deal. We went to Kangaroo Island, an island south of the mainland. Since it's separated by a sizeable (and choppy, as we learned on the ferry) body of water, KI has been spared many of the environmental disasters that have befallen the rest of Australia from imported animals overrunning native species. It's spotted with sites of ecological interest, and is reasonably popular among Australians as a vacation spot.

Our host for the trip was Don, a long-time resident who has converted part of his farm into accomodations, and runs a tour company for groups like us. He took us all over the island, and was remarkably knowledgeable about all areas of island affairs. He made a strong first impression when he met us coming off the ferry and proceeded to tell us a lengthy story, in a thick Aussie accent, about how he had found a young bat sleeping in the pocket of his coat, and then pulled the bat out of his pocket to show to us. Apparently he had been carrying it around all morning in his pocket. And then as he was showing it to us, the bat flew out of his hand and started flapping around the bus (he recaptured it, but it later crawled out of his pocket at the KI Vistor Center and flew up to a rafter, so he had to leave it there).

Some of the highlights of the trip included:
  • A visit to the only remaining human-accessible refuge for Australian sea lions, and another visit to a giant rock arch that sheltered fur seals in the shallows around it. I took a lot of pictures. I mean a lot. Trust me, I'm sparing you the bulk of them.
  • A barbeque at Don's ranch, where he cooked us, among other things, kangaroo meat (quite tasty).
  • A caving trip that had us climbing down cliffs and wriggling through tiny passageways on our stomachs. Besides a lot of really nice mineral formations, we also got to see piles of bones from animals that had fallen into the caves and been unable to escape, including the femur of a now-extinct species of emu found only on KI. Sadly, there's no pictures from this outing.
  • Lots of gorgeous views of the ocean and coastlines. I took a lot of these pictures too.
  • An animal refuge, which takes in injured animals and nurses them back to health. Sort of half zoo, half nature park. Highlights included hugging a koala, petting kangaroos, and a bird that not only said "Hello" when we walked up, but said it with an Australian accent.
  • Lots of local color and stories from Don as he drove us around.
After the trip we returned to Adelaide, happy but ready for a good shower. We spent the rest of the week doing activities and seminars run by the international student orientation, learning our way around the city, meeting new people, and generally acclimating to Australian life.

Classes are starting this week. Not much to report there since I haven't been to most of them yet, but I can give you my class list: Software Design, Australian History, Introductory Linguistics, and Film Studies.