Around the World in 13 days – 8 Uluru Sunset

DAY 8 – Sydney to Uluru

Sydney. Sunday morning.

Woke to that horrible sound of my phone insisting it was time to wake up. Jumped out of bed and completed packing and made a cup of tea. Could die for a bottle of Shepshed milk from a real cow! Packed suitcase to stay in Sydney and stuffed an overnight bag for Ayers Rock. Checked out and the lady on reception hailed a taxi for me. $18 to the airport (£8 I think). Taxi driver said nothing. I thought Aussies were meant to be sociable.

As it turned out I was very early. Browsed some shops and decided I will buy a hat and boomerang later. Bought a neat little camera case instead for $19. Grabbed a coffee and orange muffin for breakfast. At Sydney domestic (terminal 3). Now – as previously advertised – am sitting on another 737. Had hoped so much to sit next to some friendly, chatty woman. Had woken this morning feeling quite homesick. I must also be very tired. My alarm clock this morning had been like a gun to my head. However, – as luck would have it – I am next to an older couple and I am next to the chap. Theys eem to be American. And he is Mr Silent. I made a couple of comments which he laughed at but didn’t follow through.

Worse still, in front of me is Mr Big Fat loud American man with his seat in full recline. He is virtually sat on my lap and I can almost smell his bald head. Suppressing a growing feeling of panic and claustrophobia (alleviated only by the fact I am in an aisle seat) and a desire to place my teacup on his head upside down and flatten it. Had a cramped lunch at 10.30am. Decent if flabby salad and cup of tea. My back is sore – not sure why. Maybe its all those flying hours. This is flight #4. After this, I am officially on the return journey!

Watched film about two guys – Dan and Carter. Carter is 26 and highly strung and full of corporate nonsense. Dan is 51 sensible family man. A film with a message. Carter is, of course, my ex-boss Angelo as a youth! Descending now into Ayers Rock. We put our watches back 30 mins – the first place I have moved my watch other than by whole hours. So now a mere 8.5 hours ahead of the UK.

Still not talking to anyone – and feel in need of a quality conversation. Sunny out there – glad I didn’t pack my fleece after all. It is safely in my suitcase in Sydney, I hope. along with my laptop and half a meal in plastic containers from last night. My dad would be proud of me. I think he would also be responsible for my wanderlust and thirst for knowledge. Apparently Ayers Rock is down there but I can’t see from this seat. Still, I guess it will still be there after we land, it seems to be a pretty resilient inanimate object.

I just got a view of it out of the left hand window. Wow! Very formidable and unpretentious at the same time. Just like the writer then (ha!) Also a lovely terracotta colour, as in the desert. Lots of individual plants/trees covering the landscape. The airport is also red where the sand blows across the tarmac.

We landed with a jolt or two but I guess over-running the runway would not be a great problem. Ironically, as we landed, I struck up a conversation with my two neighbours from Seattle. Told them what I was doing and they were genuinely interested. They asked if I was here on business. So I assume there are conferences here. Talked about Vegas. The location of Vegas in a desert is comparable.

Walked off the 737 down the steps and into a warm breeze (again, like Nevada in many ways). Straight through the airport (no luggage for me). Quite a lot of Americans and older people, but one or two younger folk on their own. Asked at information and was directed to the Lost Camel coach outside. Bus driver is Craig. Drove through to the resort on roads with commentary. Has a feel of a holiday camp (upmarket).

Into the Desert

Dropped off at the Lost Camel. Very smart and an excellent reception. Room 109! (my old street number and another 9). Room is exactly as the photo with bed stuck in the middle of the room and toilet/shower at the back. Unpacked in about 2 mins and went for a wander round the shops. Bought aborigine vase, boomerang, drinks cooler (for Phil) and books/postcards and a t-shirt. Dropped these off and then went for a walk round the town and out to one of the lookouts. A good 45 mins in the heat.

All the ground is red sand. There is a lot of vegetation sprinkled in the sand – shrubs and trees. No sign of those snakes I’m no longer scared of at all (ha,ha) but felt pretty brave about it all. Took various pictures of Ayers Rock (Ulura). Flies irritating, especially when taking photos. No-one else around at all, just the odd vehicle driving past. Kept to the paths and road. Back via the info. centre and main central lookout. Is there a new angle on Ayers Rock photos? We shall see! 4.30 now – just eaten an ice-cream, visited by tame yellow-breasted birds. Shooooo.

Checked my morning tour with Lost Camel reception and found that my booking was on the wrong date. Dashed round to AAT King who fixed it for me – phew! and then dashed to the supermarket to buy some breakfast for tomorrow (yoghurt and choc bics were the impulse buy). Suddenly I was in a dash to get to the hotel reception and all ready by 5.15.

Coach was late anyway. Most people were dressed up – but one or two scruffs like me (jeans and casual shirt). Nearly all couples or groups. In fact, I didn’t see another single person. Two coaches full, but only one came back so I think we had one bus load on our tour (Sherlock Holmes hey?) 10 minutes drive up the same way I had walked earlier and then up a desert track – very rough ride for a luxury coach. I was sat on the back seat in the corner. But despite being a single man just decided to enjoy it whatever and try to strike up conversation. Again an interesting situation – a single person surrounded by couples.

Disembarked and walked up a short red sandy path to viewing point from where we could see Uluru (Ayers Rock) in one direction and Kata Tjuta (Olgas) in the other – towards the setting sun.

Didgeradoos, Honeymooners, Kangaroos, Crocodiles . . . sunset in the desert, and the southern stars

There is a man playing a didgeridoo (couldn’t quite catch the tune, but quite haunting). In a gesture to western civilisation in the heart of aborigine culture we partook of champagne and canapés – latter gave me my first bite of kangaroo. Similar to beef I guess, bit chewy. Took photos and asked a girl to take mine. Chatted to an older American woman from Missouri. Again a lot of Americans here. Then overheard an English voice – a young couple, it turned out, from Caversham (Mike and Charlotte) who I immediately hit it off with. Ended up sat on a table next to them, as we moved to our dining area.

Sat opposite me were a couple from San Diego – he was very talkative but very likeable, as was she. To my right an Italian couple from Milan. All three couples were on their honeymoon and we all laughed as I offered free marriage consultancy! Had a really brilliant time talking and laughing. Endless supply of red wine. All my fears about being a miserable single man were swept away and I realised what a good conversationalist I can be when I want to.

Mike had been to Santiago (Chile) and Charlotte to Vegas so we compared notes. All were amazed at my 13 day world tour. Went up for our buffet after an excellent soup. Had crocodile – a whitish, tangy, chewy meat. Had to use ‘get me some crocodile and make it snappy’ joke of course. Eeeh. So bit into the crocodile, also more kangaroo and an excellent salad.

Now it is dark. Only lights aree the stars and the lighted path to the aurora of the unisex toilets. Which I went to – water frea toilets and didn’t even THINK about snakes sliding in from the darkness! (If I keep telling myself I’m cured, maybe I will be). The MC spoke up and they turned off the lights, read a short poem and then turned on the silence (this was the Sounds of Silence tour). All we could hear were the sounds of the desert creatures in glorious stereo.

Then we had a show by the astronomer lady with her light beam, pointing out the Southern Cross and Jupiter. Not crispy clear but good enough to see them. We were all getting gently sozzled by now. Later I had a chance to see through her telescope and saw a twin star and Jupiter with her two lines across and her moons (?). I talked to her about her telescope (x81 mag, couple of thousand pounds).

Finally after another loo break, and a quick gullop of deserts (crumble thing and chocolate sludge) we climbed back on the coach. I sat on back row with American couple from dinner. As they got off shook their hands and wished them all the best, and also with Mike and Charlotte. Staggered back rather to my room and fell asleep in my chair (about 10.30pm)

Around the World in 13 Days – 7 Sydney

DAY 7 Brisbane to Sydney

Woke to my mobile alarm saying it was 8am Saturday. Halfway (almost) round my journey. This time next week (UK time) I will be home. Brisbane has been a good pit stop and much more laid back than HK. Will be good to be back in the city centre. Angelo phoned me back after I’d left a message yesterday. Will be good to have him to talk to. Sunny and fresh again. On balance though I’d rather live in England with our history and character. Here it is clean, calm and seems quite affluent, and houses are bigger but a place needs personality as well as function.

13.10 Brisbane, sat in aisle seat D17 for an hour’s journey to Sydney. Bit of a bus – departing from domestic terminal. Busy and crammed and leaving late (still boarding and due to fly at 13.10). Bought new pen (ta da!) and Aussie newspaper so I can analyse the election results; “The Age” which resembles “The Times”. I guess ‘age’ is synonymous with ‘times’, without getting over-analytical….which can be a tendency of a lone traveller such as I! (hello my imaginary friend….how are you? Oh sorry, you cannot answer). This is my shortcut flight QF529. Delay in flight due to flight getting in late. Runway 19, 1hr 8mins. Tried to pay for my coffee earlier with a Hong Kong $5! Will fly at 30,000ft.

Slightly slumming it on these short hops. Lunch was a credible sandwich and a very small Australian apple and tea. No personal TV or alcohol. But a comfortable flight. No-one next to me. If this becomes a trend I will become increasingly paranoid and lose the ability to hold up a conversation beyond questions and answers with retail and airline staff! Still Mr. Grasso (former boss) awaits me at Sydney with his toothy smile and hopefully relaxed conversation! Deb told me a number of people at home were enquiring after me as I had been offline and not submitting pictures for a day or so. I shall rectify ASAP, but lovely to have the support interest and prayers of friends at home. To be loved is a precious grace.

Mr Grasso, I presume

Arrived Sydney pretty much on time 2.30 ish. Had a blank seat to my right and a young lady near the window. 737 – smaller aircraft with two rows of 3 seats. I was an aisle seat right hand side. Quite relaxed and calm. Just realised I was repeating myself! (writing this Sunday, am about to fly to m Ayers Rock). Domestic flight to Sydney so quickly through to baggage. Child having a tantrum irritating me – tsk tsk! Suddenly Angelo was here shaking my hand. Walked to his car. Conversation jumping around my trip, our jobs and AAH. But coming back to AAH like a magnet. Angelo very obsessed with understanding what he could have done differently. He had some crisis of confidence but I’m not sure he would understand as his whole issue is his block on inter-personal understanding and appreciating that different people are indeed different and complex. He categorises people in very black and white terms (taking off for Ayers Rock…bumpy runway, smooth skiesssssssssssss). Anyway, back to Grasso Man. He gave me a bit of a tour guide to Sydney – facts and figures and drove me into town. Parked up right near the Opera House. Sydney has more personality than some cities. A feel of Boston or even a compact London but without any really old buildings. Opera House was straight off the postcards. A wedding shoot was taking place. Nice wallpaper. Ambled round to peer under the bridge which was very impressive and very big!” And solid. Saw some people doing the bridge climb. Wandered along the harbour. Greyish evening but still definitely short sleeves weather. Took a couple of classic photos. Then we drove on to find my hotel, which we achieved circuitously. Angelo still has a propensity to preach and feel he is right about people. Kept coming back to AAH board and Mr James £300k salary 2/3 bonused. Found hotel and he parked up. Checked in and wandered out to Chinatown right next to the hotel. Found a ‘pub’ and had a pint of beer stood up. talked about Boots. I think he is puzzled or disappointed by my lack of ambition, and travel! How little he understands me still! Oh well. Walked up and through shopping centre – AG looking for someone to get his new phone unlocked.

Another hotel room

Back to hotel about 5pm and he shot off (having just had a nudge from his wife!) I wandered back to my room 829 and felt quite alone suddenly. Got online on a subscriber wifi service – bought 15 mins, 30, 15—all trying to send Phil the latest web pages and photos. Excruciatingly slow! Emails from Elise, Deb xx2, Simon, J and V, mum and dad-in-law and Liisa in USA. All good to read. I seem to have very good and supportive friends and family. Getting quite late so opted for room service. Ordered 2 dishes which was a mistake. Too much and burned my mouth. Drank my bottle of wine which I’d smuggled in from Brisbane. Watched some more TV and climbed into bed early. Skipped online for another 45 mins and caught James on MSN. Lovely. He had a chat and put mum on and I asked her to call. Had lovely little chat at about 1am. Oldham WINNING 2-1 as we were on the phone – 4.45pm in the UK. Felt better having spoken and fell asleep. Room is a suite with a bedroom, sitting area, kitchenette and en suite. Very clean and plush. Slept solidly! Did not wake at 3am. Yay!!

Around the World in 13 Days – 5 & 6 Brisbane and the Beach

DAY 5 – Landing in Australia

Flying over land now – AUSTRALIA! Beautiful, rugged and self-confident landscape. Earthy green with brilliant yellow sun reflecting off the whispy rolling clouds. Heading south towards Rockhampton (aptly named). One hour to go and 515 miles. Some great river systems. If Buzz Aldred (Geography teacher, Oldham Hulme) was here, I’d tell him there was more to Australian geography than sheep farming and artesian wells. So much of the land is unchartered and untamed. Yet warm and habitable, unlike Newfoundland which was like the moon.

Around the World in 13 days – 3 & 4 Hong Kong

Up the Peak

Woke at 5am and again at 9am. Lovely bed and sheets with thin crispy quilt. Wow – 9 hours sleep and right on schedule. Tidied room ready for cleaner. I had seen a sign for complimentary coffee and pastries last night in the lobby area, but by the time I emerged, showered and dressed, it was no longer on offer. Story of my life.

There

In a corner of a secret garden
where the viscaria and and honeysuckle
once bathed their beautiful, delicate flowers
in the summer breeze,

Cut Here

Cut here

Along the dotted lines

Of emptiness

Loneliness

Deep hurt

Deep into my child

Cut it out

And tear it into little pieces

Before the anti-matter

Strangles me

Asphyxiates me

Swallows me into nothingness