Bhutan in the winter energizes the hunger for discovery that's resident in children lucky enough to be young. It would take a dark closet for decades to produce this contrast anywhere else, the specialness clear with every sip of cold mountain air or gentle exchange. I can't say this is what travel should always be, because it's only through their unique set of occurrences that yielded such an outcome. But what they have set up, from my effortless post, has a wonderful effect. Wool is nowhere near our eyes, and we are learning individual lessons from the backgrounds we brought.Read More
I didn't know where Table Mountain was (nor that it existed) until I pulled up to Cape Town harbor and saw her silhouette. That first sight of her was the kind that solidifies a mystical attachment and constant amazement that becomes evident in random dreams days and years later. And since that first sighting I've wanted to climb her extreme slopes and see her supposedly divine views. Many of my friends were granted the pleasure, but I never had the time while there. I was glad to hear Carly's enthusiasm for the hike this time around because it meant quenching an overdue thirst. So Table Mountain is 1000 some odd meters and only about a third of its original size. It used to stand along with its neighboring peaks as the only land while Cape Town was still underwater. People have found fossils and seashells on her slopes, but we weren't so lucky...or observant. We decided not to go with a guide, whom would have filled us in on more than just this information we got from some driver. But we weren't looking forward to an educational walk with nature.
The three of us began walking up the road towards the path turnoff and entertained ourselves while trotting higher in altitude. Virtually every step on the path was a rock stairstep, making the climb easier for more age groups and killer on the glutes. And one of my favorite parts about scaling nature is the constantly improving views, so just about ever chance we took, we shot some footage of Cape Town, the looming tower of rock before us, and ourselves in this picturesque scene.
Summiting Table Mountain isn't the most difficult thing in the mountaineering world. It's a moderate, 3 hour climb for anyone who can ably scale a long staircase. And if you're like us, you'll want to stagger your ascents between dancing sessions, photo shoots, travel games, and waterfall basking. There is a cable car that can bring you up to the summit in minutes, but as with anything you earn, the top is much more fulfilling if you intimately know every step it took to get there.
And since we were winded upon reaching the Table "top", we treated ourselves to some beers...and candy...and more beers...and a little debauchery. It was a perfect way to spend a perfect weather day in Cape Town. It's something that cannot be done anywhere else, because obviously there's only one flat-top mountain overlooking a harbor called Table. Even before doing this, I would have recommended the activity to anyone traveling to Cape Town, but now that I've finally got some first-hand experience under my belt, I can scream it.
CLIMB THAT TABLE!
Our penultimate Oz experience was nothing short of a red rock smorgasbord. King's Canyon had a steep start and a smooth finish as we hiked around this fault line in the Earth's oldest crust. Nature and rock are gorgeous themselves, but for some reason, we felt it necessary to complement the experience with our own humorous interpretations of the red rock. Chris made it very clear he knew absolutely nothing about the terrain, and I had a ball feeding him lines like "This looks like Grandma's Elbow Red Rock" or "This should be entitled Teenager's Complexion Red Rock." We're so global and mature.
Descending the canyon, our fingers swelled from the blood flow and feet ached from stomping around six kilometers of hard rock. We happily boarded our luxury overlanding vehicle to sleep and relax for the five hour drive back to Alice Springs. Upon parting with our tour and very cool guide, we had two objectives for the evening: to buy mad loads of internet minutes and to eat the most uncommon meat we could find. In between our feverish bouts of work all night long, we took the much needed break to have dinner at Bojangles, the local famous saloon that served the meat lover's platter with our names on it.
We chewed around some kangaroo, crunched into a crocodile spring roll, sawed into an emu sausage, and topped it all off with two pitchers of beer we mistakenly ordered. Who knew "lost in translation" moments could happen in countries that speak your native tongue! Two beers please. Two pitchers?! Well, okay, that will have to do!
We made the long walk back to our hostel (the fourth time I made this jaunt that evening since I forgot my ID and needed it to get into the ever-so classy and popular saloon) and passed some shadowy characters in the night. Someone on our Fiji tour announced to us that Alice Springs wasn't the safest of destinations, and I think we figured out why this was the case. Unfortunately, the stats on Aborigines in local society do not describe great birth rates, high literacy, or many things positive at all, and considering the fact that Australia only formally apologized to the original Oz inhabitants only LAST YEAR for their horrible treatment for centuries, it's understandable that they are hurting as a group.
And then began the process of sleeplessly uploading our many, many blogs, photos, and videos from both Fiji and the most recent tour. We froze outside near the only wireless hotspot, trying to meet our deadlines, but ended up getting slap-happy and playing games of "Slap the Bag" with the boxed wine our tour guide gave us. What professionals we are. We boarded a bus the next day at 11:45am, which started our 27 hour transit period between the smack-dab center of Australia and the steamy capital of India. For 2 hours, we were bumping and cramped, sleepy and hungry, disoriented by time and location, and increasingly concerned for Chris' swelling ankle. That thing got massive, and he developed a disturbing limp.
But that all didn't matter. We were heading back to a country both of us have not only experienced but grown to love. We were destined for the Subcontinent. Hindu country. India. Oh, and on the way...we saw Mt. Everest.
My favorite time of day is without a doubt the pre-dawn hour. Observing a blackened sky that slowly rotates toward the sun gives me the feeling that I can watch the Earth move. And the colors of light in the pure atmosphere, refracting off lush mist, bring to mind Monet paintings, along with others who understood the power and beauty of the pastel. Unfortunately, my body finds the early morning repulsive and demands rest when the world is waking. However, give this lifeless corpse of mine an activity amidst natural wonder, and I become alive with the spirit of the dawn. My feet scrambled up the rocky paths to Kata Tjuta. The sun's first peek set the massive rocks on fire. This was my time of day, my type of setting, and my ideal way to spend my hours on this Earth: hiking among natural wonders.
A short geological explanation (the details of which I can't seem to recall, sadly) of why these 36 rock domes occur in the middle of a flat desert plain made me briefly contemplate the ground I stand on. How can the World be so old that over the course of its existence, all this land we see was underwater, slathered and molded by the tides, squeezed and pushed by other tectonic plates, and still continues to move and shift before our very eyes (ever-so slowly, of course)? We gotta stop complaining about being too old to stay up late or remember what we did yesterday. We're babies on this planet, babies I tell ya!
And so, as we wandered in between these massive monoliths, the breeze whistling through each hump and affirming the name Valley of the Winds, I gazed as the rising winter sun of the Australian Outback, looking through layers of atmosphere, mist, and space. Along with my extreme awareness of each [potentially] ankle-rolling step, I felt incredibly connected to the home planet. And with our sighting of a wild camel pack moments later, I felt even more like a primordial animal wandering for purpose and necessities across the crust.
The Outback: its trippy.
After coming off a trip all about connections with people, I will admit I found it hard to enthusiastically jump on board a tour of rocks. What used to be one of the most remote locations on planet Earth, Alice Springs in Australia, was an easy plane ride for us into the dry interior. And the luxury overlanding vehicle we rode in took every harsh aspect of the impossible terrain out of our minds. It was understandably easy to at first under-appreciate the wonders and experiences that were soon to be ours.
Australia’s Outback is probably the hardest place for anyone or thing to survive, and to completely comprehend the age of this place is virtually impossible for the human mind. You know Pangaea? Yeah, this place is older than our former single continent. And to realize how minute and insignificant your presence at these multi-million year-oldies is could surely cause some severe existential issues.
Humbling. But that’s not why I like coming to these places.
When it comes to connecting with a location, an environment, something inanimate, here’s what I do. I coexist with it, make an experience never able to be recreated, invite that thing into a moment with myself. Does it sound like I’m talking a lotta crap? Ney.
At Ayer’s Rock, I decided to wander her periphery and experience the awe and grandeur from below. I popped in my earbuds and started dancing around the place like no one could see me. Every new song brought me to a new part of the rock that looked dramatically different than the last vista, and I snapped my shutter like a photo-crazed fool. What resulted was an experience no one else was having.
For that one moment in her long, LONG life, Ayer’s Rock and I were dancing partners.
Even though I’ve hiked through Yeti country and bush camped in East Africa among wild buffalo and hyenas, never have I been so afraid to walk around a country as I was when I got to Australia. This place could hard core kill ya. What a statement to encourage tourism in Oz!
But really, I say this because of the research I did on this country/continent. Bill Bryson, in his book In A Sunburned Country, mentions that the top ten most venomous, dangerous, poisonous creatures on the planet all live on, or in the waters surrounding, this massive island. If the crocs in the mangroves don’t snatch you off the pier, then maybe the box jellyfish will whip you with the World’s deadliest sting while swimming at the reef. Or maybe you could just be that unfortunate one that sits down on a toilet seat where a poisonous spider has made its home.
Gives ya the heebie jeebies, huh?
The reality, as it is in most countries, is that you’re more likely to simply get hit by a car crossing the street than you are to encounter the trigger-happy animal kingdom. But the fact that Australia has such hard core creatures (and terrain!) has certainly altered their mentalities. They live fast. They live like they’re still young. They travel. They do ballsy things. They seize life by the huevos and cheers to it with their incredible beer drinking abilities. They’re fun-loving, adventure seeking people who know that nature and fate have the ability to take what’s theirs at any time, making them the kind of people that live enviable lives.
Oz is where the young and young at heart can write their big life stories. I’ll take a page from their book and work my youth like it’s my job…which it is, right? ;)
I rose, as I would continue to every subsequent morning, to the sounds of repeating Fijian radio commercials. Bui and I played some billiards, at which she klobbered me, and frolicked in the mist that surrounded the mountain village. Moji, being the stellar village rep that he is, wanted to show Chris and I where Nakavika residents used to live down by the river; in other words, take us on a spectacular hike through the Namosi Highlands for a muddy good time. Every other step sunk me ankle-deep into clay-like slush that at one point conquered my shoe clear off my foot. Many a slapstick slips occurred, and by the time we reached any sort of clearing or stopping point, my shoes were no longer recognizable and our bodies drenched with sweat and dew.
After forging a river about a half dozen times, we arrived at some houses where mothers and children were washing their clothes on the river rocks. This was the village of Bara. We chucked our defeated shoes and socks to dry in the sun and went in a house perfectly equipped for multi-hour lounging.
Padded with hay and woven fern mats, open to the breezes of the mountains, the Fiji juice and pancakes that were delivered to us put the final touch on a supreme afternoon in paradise. Joining us were a few of the men from Bara, including a jovial old man named Phillip who had about three teeth with which he nibbled at a wee core (fruit similar to an apple). We drank a little kava with the fellas before adorning our nasty shoes once more for a river crossing and slippery jungle climb.
Every so often, Moji would point out a plant that was brought here by the many colonizers and foreign influences, one of which was the giant bamboo shoots that loomed overhead while we took a quick breather. The sounds made by these shifting columns were like that of an incredibly old house with rapidly settling furniture. I kept looking above thinking a “timber” moment was in the works, but that’s just the way it is in a bamboo forest. The massive plants seemed prehistoric, and I had a little “wow” moment sitting there under their creaks.
I was utterly exhausted by the time we ascended the last wet trail and meandered through Nakavika’s back end. I could have fallen asleep face down in my dinner but managed to keep it together for a little rugby viewing at sunset. Sitting with some of the ladies and kids, I watched the finely trained men sprint through mud puddles, enjoyed a cloud transformation from gold to purple, and found poetic beauty in the clothesline of flapping clothing stretched across the entire skyline.
When I returned to my house, Bui and I napped so deeply, it took Moji calling my name about twenty times before I rose from a lovely slumber. The brothers all congregated at our house for the day’s final meal. All cheeks puffed out from large bits of taro and noodles. I watched with a grin as the lamp flickered on all our content faces.