Sunday, October 19, 2008

Back (temporarily) to civilisation

Well, we’re finally back in mobile and interweb range. And I have to say the benefits have been short lived and I’m already looking forward to getting back off the bitumen and back to some proper bush camping. My podcasts have updated and it does give us a chance to literally recharge our batteries and stock up on some vitals but other than that it’s amazing how quickly you can drop out of and feel a bit alient to the rest of civilization. Vitals included some nuts and bolts to replace ones that had been shaken off on the corrugations, including the ones holding on the back rego plate. More worrying to us is whether the whole engine will fall out. I wiggle the hoses and check the clips etc under the engine each day but if we’re losing things off the tent and the wheel carrier we must be dropping stuff from the engine too I’d imagine.

Since we left Oodnadatta we’ve stayed at some simply amazing sites, two nights completely on our own and the middle night we caught up with some people we’d met in Birdsville who’d come across the Simpson rather than coming round it like we had.

The road conditions from Oodnadatta once we turned off the big track were appalling and it was over four hours of driving over rocks with the whole car shaking. We couldn’t even talk to each other it was so loud. We stopped for a swim at the natural hot springs at Dalhousie (more later) before Nessa convinced me to get back into the car for another two hours of hell on the French line out into the Simpson desert to a place called Purni Bore. To be honest the last forty minutes or so were pretty good fun driving over sand dunes about 10 metres high but was I pretty nervous about getting stuck as the sand was really soft and the troopie is really heavy even without me in it and we’d not seen a car for hours (and didn’t until the middle of the next day).

Purni Bore is so far my favourite site. The bore was driven in the 1960s by a French oil company and has created some wetlands about 70kms into the real desert. It is just completely out of place with over 60 different types of bird and also dingoes and wild camels. It was also a full moon which came up an hour or so after dark so we also got our first proper look at the stars without any moon. We’d also brought some firewood with us from outside the national park so we had a beaut little fire going and Ness turned out another bush cooking miracle. It was just the perfect night and I reckon if I’d been looking after my personal hygiene a little better I might have been up for some.
We ummed and arred about whether to stay for a second night at Purni, but as with many places once the sun is up the plagues of flies are of biblical proportions and being by water there were mosquitoes which are rather partial to a bit of Nessa.

So we headed back to Dalhousie for some more spa swimming. The spring water comes out of the ground at boiling point and the oasis is around 38 degrees which was about as hot as the air temperature but the swimming was really refreshing. The birdlife at Dalhousie was very varied and plentiful and seemed to operate on a shift system. Cockies during the heat of the day, Flaming Galahs at dawn and dusk and Brolgas somewhere in between with swifts darting over the surface all day snapping up mosquitoes. Another top camp spot. Highly recommended.

Yesterday we set off for Alice Springs via Mount Dare and then Binns Track (Old Andado on our maps). We checked road conditions at Mount Dare and in typical Aussie understatement we were advised things were a bit tricky in spots with a bit of bull dust around. The map had a warning that said the Finke river crossing could be a little soft at times. All was well until we crossed into the Northern Territory and the road was absolutely beautiful following the Finke River flood plain with beautiful trees overhanging the single lane road (with grass growing between the tracks, becoming a bit of a feature of our route). Ness was driving when we hit the first bull dust and she struggled across each time to get on the ‘chicken runs’ – side tracks that are supposed to take you around the worst of it but really there is nothing between them and the old station tracks so you don’t really know where you’ll end up. Bull dust is quite good at hiding itself, particularly when there is no traffic to disturb it, so you’re driving along and suddenly you lose power and you’re driving on the finest powder and sink if you lose momentum. It’s great fun in hindsight but you’re always relieved to get through it. I had some stretches this morning that must have gone on for 200-300 meters and you drop down into second and the engine is working really hard and you’re just crawling along praying you don’t stop and sink!

We camped by the side of the track around 170kms south east of Alice Springs for an another beautiful camp . We’re not far from the Ross River and Ness was feeling a bit shitty from all the mosquito bites she has (dozens over her back, legs and arms and she seems to be mildly allergic to whatever it is they’re injecting her with) so I went for a climb up a nearby hill to take in the late afternoon sun and the wonderful view and to give her a bit of a rest. It was a good climb up but tricky coming down what with me having my best Aussie climbing boots on. Every time I put my hand down to steady myself I picked up several bindis of a type I was not previously familiar with. When you pull them out of your hand they leave at least one burr in your hand and one in the thumb and forefinger of the hand you used to pull them out with, it seems ad infinitum.

Anyhow, not to worry, it was worth the pain and we had another top night. I’m really quite relaxed at the moment I have to say!

After nearly three weeks on the road it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge my appreciation of the Engels for their well designed fridges that have kept our XXXX Gold so good and cold. I'm not sure if they're related to Karl Marx's mate but they certainly know refrigeration and how to keep my opium (being an atheist) at a refreshing temperature.

Oh, and finally as of yesterday I am officially no longer married. While the ex-wife has agreed (but not signed off legally) to a financial settlement, the way things are going with house prices on Dangar Island and my whole Aussie equities superannuation portfolio I'm thinking that by Christmas she might be owing me money ...

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