Archive | May 2004

179 dead kangaroos and counting

So I took off from Darwin the next day, and headed towards Kakadu with my new travel companion, Carolin. We drove and drove and and eventually made it to Kakadu national park and checked out some of the lookouts and snapped some pictures of some incredible wetland environments, which was the first time I had seen stuff like that on this trip. We camped at Ubirr which is where they have all these aboriginal rock carvings and paintings and watched the sunset over the wetlands from a huge cliff. We had the perfect vantage point for watching kangaroos munch of plants below. It was absolutely fantastic. We camped at a cheap camp site and the next day, went to another rock carving place, did some hikes and checked out the aboriginal culture center. The humidity was as unbearable as ever, so we stayed at a resort place that has camping and hung out at the pool for the rest of the day. I met a cool 9 year old aboriginal kid named Philip who I could barely understand because he kept mixing his native language with English and talking really fast and getting frustrated with me for not keeping up with him. He kept forgetting my name and re-asking it, it was pretty funny. That night, we went back to the pool and were greeted by millions of bugs everywhere. Swarming around the lights, on the chairs, in the bathrooms (crawling on the walls, toilets, floors) and just about everywhere else. I’ve never seen so many in my life – It was out of CONTROL. The next day, we had a boat trip through a crocodile river at sunrise and saw lots of birds and crocs and plant life. It was pretty amazing and was a really cool way to see everything.

And with that, our Kakadu adventure was just about over. I figured I could get to the next town on the LPG (its true gas, like propane or natural gas – which is what my car runs on in conjunction with petrol). But it turned out that the next station didn’t have gas and to make a long story short, my car can’t go slow on petrol, only gas because the tubes are screwed up or something, so if I am out of gas, I have to keep just enough to start the car and get going so I can flip into petrol. But I ran out of gas and ended up coasting without an engine into the next petrol station. The guy came out and commented on my luck. I agreed, I was lucky to make it. Then he proceeded to tell me that he was out of LPG.

“It wont be here till tomorrow afternoon. Wanna wait?”

So I begged him to try to see if he had some remaining LPG in the tank and he tried and got me 8 litres.

More than enough so I was on the road again. We filled up at the next town and drove all day and camped at a campsite back towards the center of Australia (you have to backtrack a little to get to Cairns). In the morning, I noticed that my exhaust system was about to fall off (“so that’s what that banging noise is…”) so I tracked down some wire and tied it back on. We continued on and ended up camping at a rest stop with the hardest ground in the world. We couldn’t hammer the stakes in and ended up just putting rocks in the tent. The next day, we drove some more (of course) and drove up the “scenic route” which entailed paved roads just big enough for one car so when someone came the other way (like a huge tractor trailer) you have to pull over in the dirt or drive on the shoulder. LPG was at an all time high and about 1000K into the route, I found out that not only did this town in the middle of nowhere not have LPG, they didn’t have leaded petrol and the only way I could get anywhere was to fill up with unleaded and add some crap into the tank to replace the lead. So I did that and we made it a bit further where we camped on the side of the road behind some trees so no one would see (camping at a place other than a rest stop is illegal, but we had to do it, seeing as there were tons of kangaroos everywhere and I would have hit one eventually). The stars were stunning here and I spent quite a while just staring up at them. It’s rare, even here, that you can see the milky way like a huge cloud splashed across the sky. A road train (a tractor trailer with about 4 trailers on it) hit a kangaroo at about 3am and stopped to inspect the damage which kept us awake for a while. The next morning, we finished the trip to Cairns and started seeing LPG stations again, which was a relief. We arrived in Cairns, tracked Simon and Kat (the English couple I traveled with in New Zealand and Bolivia/Peru) and went out for drinks after finding a hostel. Yesterday, we all went out on a diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef and I was able to go scuba diving with an instructor even though I’ve never dove in my life. They set you up with all the gear and the instructor makes sure you don’t die and you go under and he shows you all the animals and plants and stuff and it’s pretty incredible. I then spent another two hours snorkeling over the reef and watching the world below me. The reef was incredibly interesting and it was great fun just to watch all the fish, plants, giant clams and stuff go about their business. Last night, we all went back to Simon and Kat’s apartment with a box of wine and some beers and got completely hammered. This morning, I woke up without a voice and with a half shaven leg. Interesting. I haven’t been able to drink much since arriving in Australia and New Zealand because it’s so expensive and it was great having some drinks with Simon and Kat again. Diving was fun and it’s a shame I don’t have more money or time to do some more here.

On the way from Darwin, I think my transmission screwed up and basically, the car is worth about 20 bucks. I don’t know if it will make it down the coast, but even if it could, I couldn’t afford the fuel or the hostels on the way. There is so much to see on the coast and zooming down in a few days wouldn’t do it much justice. So I’ll leave it for the future when I can come back and check out Frasier Island and the Whitsundays. I have seen what I came to see here in OZ and have had a great time. Seeing such dramatic differences in the scenery as I drove around was fascinating (including 179 dead kangaroos, hit by cars on the road since Adelaide). At one point, it went from Eucalyptus trees and grasslands to green rolling hills just like New Zealand. It was incredible. All this after traveling through the red desert and the wetlands. It’s been quite an adventure and I think I’m just going to leave the car here and fly down to Sydney where I will stay with friends and not spend any money. I’m anxious to catch up with Martin, Mat and Katrina, Lucy, Rob and everyone else I’ve met that’s there right now. It should be pretty cool. Then it’s off to China! Speaking of which, I need to buy my ticket right now. Until Sydney, later on.

Croiky!

A new city, a new day, a new part of my trip: nearly completed. I’ve seen nearly all of northern Australia that I’m going to see (except for Kakadu National Park, which I will see tomorrow) and have spent a few days traveling up the highway and resting in towns and campsites along the way.

So I left Alice Alice springs after checking out a pretty impressive animal/nature park on Australia’s animals and plants and stuff. It has an aboriginal theme and Rob (an Irish guy I met) and I sat in on a talk by an aboriginal guy on how the natives survived in the wild. It was really interesting and I actually learned quite a bit. From there we went to the museum and checked out some art and stuff and eventually headed back to the hostel. The next day, I took a trip to the East MacDonnell Ranges and did a few short spectacular mountain walks and then headed North to the Devil’s Marbles, well on the highway to my next destination: Darwin. It was here that I noticed that my car had virtually no oil in it. Fuck. I put a lot in. Maybe it was because of the oil cap. My quick fix of flipping the rubber piece was going bust since the rubber was breaking. I went to the auto place and got a new cap. I also got some transmission oil and topped that off. It was low and I am assuming it hadn’t been topped off in a while.

And with that I was on the road! After a few hours of driving, I made it to the Devil’s Marbles and was blown away. They are these really cool rocks which after years of erosion look like perfect balls or eggs stacked on top of each other and laying on the ground.

It’s really cool and I spent several hours wandering around and looking at all the cool formations. I ended up just putting up my tent there and camping and in the morning packed up and headed off to a town called Katherine (after topping off my oil again). I could see where the oil was dripping out to the bottom of the engine. But I couldn’t do anything then, so I drove the 7 hours up the Katherine, stopping for lunch along the way and then checked into my hostel when I got there. I took a dip in the pool, got some food at the supermarket and chatted with some Irish people and a Japanese guy for the evening. In the morning, I headed up to Litchfield National Park, stopping at mechanic’s shops along the way to get their opinion on my oil problem. It was likely a seal that was going bad in the transmission/engine. It would cost about 400 bucks to fix, but it could be indicative of a bigger problem: I need a new engine. Hah! Oh well, a litre of oil every few days is no big deal. And a lot cheaper than replacing the engine, don’t you think? It seems to only spit oil out if I go over 120KPH, so I’ll just stay under that. No worries mate.

So I cruised through Litchfield, stopping at waterfalls and sights along the way, I ran into the Japanese guy from the night before and met this guy who got bitten by a “fish” (which I think was probably a freshwater crock) on the leg while swimming in a water hole. It was a big cut. They were on a tour bus trip all across Australia and looked pretty jealous when I hopped in my car to go my own way. I saw these crazy 3 foot long lizards walking around and it was pretty cool. I also saw these huge termite mounts (some over 9 feet tall) and snapped a few pics. They say the mass of termites in Australia matches all livestock, sheep, etc… above. Incredible. They build these mounds at a certain axis so they get heated by the sun. It’s really amazing. So then I headed up to Darwin and I’ve been here ever since (well…only a day). I checked into my hostel, had dinner and sweated a lot. It’s really really hot and humid here and is reminding me a lot of my days in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Today I checked out this crocodile farm, the art gallery, the museum, library, parliament house, hung out at the beach, saw this cool aquarium place with all these coral duplication environments and a museum on the pearling industry. It was quite an action packed day. After a quick dip in the pool to cool off, I had dinner and am now planning tomorrow. I met a girl in the hostel who had a post on the board for a ride to Cairns and we are gonna split gas costs there via Kakadu tomorrow.

I’m loving having my own car. It’s the only way to go in Australia. I drove all around town today seeing all the sights and it would have been nearly impossible had I not had the car. It’s perfect. It just needs oil. Yup…lots of oil.

ROCKing and rolling

So what have I been up to since I bought my new (really old) car? I’ve set off – into new and isolated territory: I’ve set off on adventure. And it’s been a blast. I did have some problems in Adelaide with my car though. She was making quite a bit of noise as I rolled into town and the next day, I took it to the shop and the me and the mechanic ended up putting in a new engine mount and bolting down the engine. It was just kind of flopping around (it being the engine) and as I’m sure you can imagine, “flopping” isn’t something you want your engine to do. We also changed the oil and filter and then I got some new front tires. You don’t want those things popping in the middle of the outback.

So I got all that taken care of and headed off towards the “red center” and ended up calling it a day at Port Agusta. I met a girl from New York there who’s car had blown up and was stuck there. She was collecting frogs in the outback for research and we talked all night and marveled at one of the weirdest nights I’ve ever had in a hostel.

“I reckon’ I could do it. I don’t know, but I reckon’ I could kill viruses with prism’s.”, the kiwi guy announced at the dinner table.

Beckie and I looked at him surprised. We had been talking and he had interrupted.

“How are you going to kill the cell membrane of the virus without killing the human cell?”

“Prisms.”

The guy was regurgitating terms he learned from college before dropping out and doing a lot of drugs. He was hell bent of making sure everyone noticed him and loved being the center of attention. He talked about prisms and viruses all night. He even drew on napkins. It was incredible. A true nut case with a real inferiority complex. Interesting though.

I met a guy from Basque Country the next morning and we split fuel costs on the way up to the Flinders Ranges. We camped out in the national park and did some hiking at Wilpena Pound. There were wallabies hopping all throughout the park and it was really cool and I was able to get back into speaking Spanish after a break. Two solid days of it was a good refresher. The car was doing really well.

After we got back, I dropped off Ingo (the Basque guy) and headed off to a town called Coober Pedy about 500 kilometers North. After arriving, I went on a tour of the city. It’s quite interesting really. The town’s only claim to fame is the fact that it’s right on top of a huge opal reserve and everyone goes there hoping to make it rich. There are huge piles of dirt all around the town and massive holes and mines everywhere. All the houses are also built right into the ground. I actually stayed in an underground hostel, which was really cool. Apparently when someone wants a house, they buy a hill and get this machine to cut into it and make all the rooms. Then the live it in. Some of the houses are pretty posh and really comfortable. No A/C required either. The tour took us to a really colorful part of the desert called the breakaways which were incredible and I learned quite a bit. It was such a weird little town.

I had learned on the way up there, though, that my car was rocketing oil out of the oil cap if I went above 120 KPH (about 72 MPH). Not good. I had to keep putting oil in it and I had to go really slow.

I eventually figured out the problem and it’s all fixed. The last person to mess with it put the gasket on backwards. It runs like a top now.

So from Coober Pedy, I headed up to Uluru and camped out at the campsite a few kilometers from the rock the first night. I ended up being in the same site as an Irish guy I had met in Coober Pedy and I met a few other people and we had a great time. We messed around with this HUGE spider that threw it’s front legs up in the air when we walked by and stayed that way for 10 minutes. It also spit venom at us (I’m pretty sure, although it was dark). I moved it away with this huge stick (it did a bit of break dancing whenever you touched it) and we spent the rest of the night waiting for it to crawl up one of our legs. In the morning, I went to Ayers Rock (a really cool rock in the outback which has great spiritual significance for the Aboriginals and gets brilliant red at sunrise and sunset) in the morning and watched the sunrise over the rock, which was absolutely incredible. I hung out all day at the rock, went to the cultural center, took a free guided walk with the ranger around part of the base of the rock and then walked around the whole thing by myself (running into people from the camp along the way). It is a huge monolith, the biggest in the world, and has some really incredible features. I waited around till sunset and watched the rock again. It’s the biggest tourist attraction and you have to park and stand in this certain area with all the other tourists as everyone snaps pictures. It was worth it though (take a look at the pictures).

That night I went back to camp, chatted the night away and in the morning, got up early again and checked out the sunset over the Olgas (some other really cool rock formations). I walked throughout them in the morning and then took off to King’s Canyon, about 450 K’s away. I arrived in the evening exhausted and relaxed by the pool and read and then in the morning went to the canyon. It was pretty incredible, despite the rain and the rock formations blow you away. You walk around the rim of the canyon and then through it and it’s absolutely phenomenal.

From there, I drove up to Alice Springs and ran into the same people again (there is only one road here so this kind of thing happens) and we hung out at the pub and relaxed last night. Today I’m gonna go explore Alice Springs and head up the mountains and then towards these cool rocks called the Devil’s Marbles tomorrow.

So how has the trip up the center been so far? Absolutely incredible. The desert is beautiful and it’s really interesting to see the changes in the nature as you drive up. The desert is really really red here due to Iron Oxide in the soil and sometimes you see scrub and small trees, sometimes just rocks, sometimes hills, sometimes nothing but dirt. And lots of dead kangaroos on the side of the road. I counted 18 in two days. You also see wild emus running around and these HUGE Hawks (they must come up to my waist in height) eating all the dead animals. When you are driving, it’s just you and the road and it’s very relaxing. I kept hearing stories about how horrible it was to drive for so long in the “boring” desert but I’ve been having a blast and it gives you a lot of time to think and observe.

Ayers Rock was incredible and I loved it. I’ve talked to a lot of people who told me it was just a “stupid boring rock” and hated it, which is a shame. People just rush through this place and don’t take the time to appreciate it, I think. They take these tours and hurry them through and they never get to spend any real time anywhere. The car is great because I can just go where and when I want and the freedom does make quite a difference. I think having your own car is the best option here, albeit a bit more expensive because of high fuel prices. The benefits of stretching out, stopping to look at stuff, and not having to look out of the side of one window the whole time make it worth it though.

Next I head up to Darwin and the Kakadu National Park which promises to be even neater. I really can’t wait.

Scratch that…

In the last post, I talked about borrowing Mikael’s car and taking it out on the road. Scratch that. Took it to the shop and there is a lot of stuff wrong with it and we can’t afford to fix it so I just went in a few internet cafes and looked for posts on the boards there (that’s where people stick fliers for cars for sale, or people looking for rides or people to share fuel costs) and found a guy who was selling a nice car (relatively) for about $2200 AU (about $1650 US). I arranged a meeting and got the scoop. He’s a backpacker from Switzerland who took it around OZ for about 10 months and is leaving soon. Included in the price are two tents, a stove, all the cooking stuff, disk man, car setup and some other stuff and is also registered until September which includes liability insurance (so I’m all safe and sound). The car also runs on either natural gas or gasoline so that saves money on fuel (you guys think you have it bad…here it’s close to 5 bucks a gallon). We took it for a spin and I negotiated him down to $1700 AU ($1275 US) and then called the government to make sure everything was legit. All we have to do is write a paper saying we transfer ownership and when I get to Sydney I have to register it in my name (and then sell it shortly thereafter). I figure I can sell it for what I bought it for, but even if I can’t, I have still saved money on bus costs. To do the trip I want to do here, it would cost me about $1500 bucks in transportation costs. I can’t lose! I just hope it doesn’t blow up, but it seems like a decent car and he told me all the stuff he had to do to it. Life is all about risks.

So anyways, I’m gonna buy the car in about 30 minutes and set off tomorrow for Adelaide. It ought to be pretty cool. I also got my CHINESE VISA today!

Right on. It takes up a whole page in my passport which is kind of concerning seeing as I am running out of pages (what a problem to have). ALSO, I found out about my boots that I left in New Zealand. They are going to mail me brand new replacement boots! Can this get any better! I’ll have them ship them to the American Express office in Sydney and they will be waiting for me when I arrive.

So anyways, I’ll post some more when more cool stuff happens. Mikael is giving me this huge water tank for driving through the outback. That way if I break down I’ll be okay. Like they say here, no worries mate.

Roo’ chasin’

The woman next to me in the tram smelled like processed garlic salami. The kind you get in the big tube and cut for your crackers and cheese. I quickly moved. I have this theory about smells. If the smell makes sense, I.E. the woman next to me was eating processed salami and I could see it, it might actually smell good. It might even make me hungry. But the fact that she didn’t have any salami on her, and she was old and weird looking, made it not make sense. And then the same smell that could smell good in certain situations smelled ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING.

So anyways, I’m back in Melbourne. What have I been up to these past few days? Well, you may remember Mikael, the Swedish guy I met who worked for the hostel I’m staying at. He has a car, and wanted to do the same trip I did up the coast. So we threw some stuff in his car (he has a tent and stuff) and took off up the coast. We got pretty far the first day and made it to the 12 Apostles and the next day, headed up to The Grampians national park where we saw some really cool Australian country side and wild life. There were kangaroos all over the camp site and tons of other animals and birds all over the place. It was really awesome and the sunsets were incredible. There is something just so Australian about red desert dotted with Eucalyptus trees and just a few clouds in the horizon as the sun lays itself down. Absolutely incredible. Mikael and I got along great, and had a great time traveling together. It’s really cool when you travel with someone and everything works out well. Swedish people are cool.

So anyways, Mike and I concocted a plan. He has a car but can’t go with me on my tour of Australia. But he won’t need his car for about a month so I am going to get it certified for him (you have to get it certified before you can sell it) then borrow it for about a month. When I get back, he will be able to sell it because it will be certified. So my plan is to go to Adelaide, find some people willing to share gas costs and then head up the center of Australia, through the outback, to Ayres Rock, then Darwin, then head back down the East Coast. It should take me about 35 days or so, assuming, of course, the car doesn’t blow up (in which case, under our agreement, I have to fix it up and somehow get it back to Melbourne). You gotta love adventure. When I got to Australia, the customs lady asked me a few questions.

“So how long are you in Australia?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe a month and a half.”

“Do you have your plane ticket leaving Australia?”

“Nope. But I printed out my bank balance to show that I have sufficient funds.”

She looked it over and nodded in approval.
“Where are you going to stay?”

“I’m not sure yet, I’ll just find a hostel somewhere.”

“What are you going to do in Australia?”

“I don’t really know. Just kind of feel my way around.”

“……so you really have absolutely nothing planned, do you?”, she asked with a look of confusion.

“Nope”, I replied with a smile.

And she let me pass.

So today, I just got done applying for my visa to China. I was reading up on it and it looked like a daunting task.

Do it 3 months before you leave your home country.
Have a printed itinerary from your travel agent.
Type a letter of intent.
Americans must fill out two applications with two passport photos attached.
You must wait four working days (which I didn’t have).

I did it all. I made an itinerary based on hostels and sights from my lonely planet, made a letter of intent, had some passport photos made and filled out the applications. I took the tram (where the salami woman was) to the embassy and stood in line for an hour. They took one of my applications. They didn’t ask for anything else. And for $20 bucks more, it will be ready tomorrow (bringing the total up to $100 bucks for the 90 day, double entry visa)! Right on. I’m all set, just gotta go pick it up. I then stopped in at a travel agent and found out that my ticket to Beijing was only going to cost about $700 bucks. Right on! Everything is going perfectly. In a few days, I’ll have my own wheels (assuming the car inspection goes well) and have Australia all to myself for a month, then head down to China for the experience of a lifetime (yeah, I know. As if what I’ve done so far hasn’t been).

This is cool.

Me: Australian for “yank”

Well, after wandering around Christchurch taking care of loose ends (mailing stuff ahead of me to China, sending postcards, buying some stuff I needed, cleaning out the backpack and throwing some stuff away) I woke up at 2:00AM this morning, had breakfast, chatted with an old drunk homeless guy in the front of the hostel for a little bit and was picked up by a shuttle to the airport. When I arrived and tried to check in, I was informed that I didn’t have a visa to Australia and needed one.

“But they always took care of that for me at the airport.”

“Nope, you need to apply. Here’s a web address. You can go over to the internet terminal and apply online. It’s instant”.

One credit card charge of $20 dollars later, I was instantly approved for a visa (hmm…ripped off maybe? Sounds like a very complicated and intense qualification process).

“WILL CASEY COBB PLEASE COME PICK UP HIS BAG. CASEY COBB. PLEASE PICK UP YOUR BAG”, I heard over the loud speaker. I had left my bag at the front desk – after all, I’m in New Zealand.

I walked back sheepishly. The security guy looked pissed. Ease up buddy, at least it put a little excitement in your life. Being a security guard in the New Zealand airport would be like being the sheriff of a small town. Nothing ever happens. Ever. Except sometimes some drunk stumbles into somewhere he’s not supposed to. Then there’s BIG trouble.

So anyways, I got checked in, sat around for a while then checked in. The next thing I knew, I was in Australia. I had smartly printed out my bank account balances before hand so as to avoid any hassle for not having an exit ticket out of Australia, so the whole process went down without a hitch. After using the bathroom to freshen up and pondering the “Deposit used syringes here” sign (Australia tackles drug problems with facilitation and treatment which reduces AIDS/infection disease rates rather than ignore the problem like my homeland), I called a hostel I picked out of my guidebook with a free airport shuttle service and was informed that the shuttle was waiting not 20 feet from me. I then got my name on the list and met Michael, a guy from Sweden, who was the shuttle driver. He helped me out with brochures and advice while we were waiting for others and then took me to the hostel with two other English chicks. I checked into the hostel, had some lunch, and here I am. I’m getting really good at this.

I’m really tired but don’t have much time here so I have to get as much as I can out of the little time I have. I am planning on only being here for about a month (with 15 days fudge factor) so I’ll be running around quite a bit.

It’s just a matter of keeping up with myself.