Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Sep 15, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Monday, April 4, 2011

On the first day of our Groovy Grape Rock Patrol tour, we drove a grueling 955km straight to Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world.  I think the guide mentioned that 80% of the world's supply of opal is found in this tiny town.  Interestingly enough, there are 55 nationalities represented amongst the 3500 inhabitants.  Everyone who lives in this town is here for one reason only: to strike it rich!  However, discovering opal underground is purely based on luck.  Anyone is eligible to apply for a mining license (no experience required!), buy the rights to a specified piece of land, rent equipment to dig through the ground, and hopefully find the good stuff.  Also, they are not legally required to fill in the holes after they have searched through the area so there are just mounds of dirt everywhere around town.  Startup costs are very high (at least $100,000) and you could potentially spend your lifetime searching for opal and end up with nothing. 

The temperatures in this town range from -7 degrees to 50 degrees depending on the season so half the people actually live 6-8 metres underground where the temperature consistently stays in the low 20s.  We took a tour through an opal mine and we got to explore a typical underground home.  The only disadvantage is that you have no idea what time it is unless you rely on a bit of technology.  When the lights are switched off, the place is literally pitch black.  Our hostel was also underground and it was comfortably cool as advertised.

After 2 nights in Coober Pedy, we drove 700km to Uluru.  On our way there, we stopped by a car that had flipped over on its side.  Apparently, this highway is one of the most dangerous highways in Australia due to drivers misjudging the shoulder of the road.  Our guide had witnessed a couple of deaths before.  Luckily, the only injury was a broken arm but it could have been much worse.  After the major delay, we rushed to a super secret location where we could watch the sunset at Uluru.  It was absolutely stunning with the red glow of the rock and the best part was that we didn't have to share it with thousands of other tourists.  We made our way to our campground at Ayers Rock Resort.  Oprah stayed at this $2000 a night resort while she filmed her Ultimate Australian Adventure series.  We were on a BUDGET tour so we our accomodations consisted of sleeping in swags (heavy duty sleeping bag with an air mattress built in) on the ground under the stars for the next 2 nights.  At first, I thought that there would be bugs crawling through all my orifices.  I had my mosquito net around my head for protection the first night but it wasn't necessary at all.  The next morning, we were woken up at 5am so that we could drive to Uluru to watch the sunrise.  Again, it was an absolute treat to witness the sun coming out from behind the rock.  The pictures don't do it justice.  You gotta see it for yourself.

We drove to Kata Tjuta to hike the Valley of the Winds walk, a 7.4km circuit which offers complimentary swarms of flies to accompany your visit.  My mosquito net purchase in Adelaide definitely came in handy!  After lunch, we snuck into the resort pool for a dip.  We staggered our entrances and pretended that we didn't know each other but when 22 random people show up to a pool where old rich folk are quietly reading their books and sunbathing, it is rather difficult to be discreet.  We all changed our identities and I was volunteered to be M's adopted sister from China.  We had a fantastic time laughing ourselves silly and daring each other to pee in the pool when L announced that she already did the deed when she first got into the pool.  We also had an impromptu talent show that evening at the campsite and it was one of the funniest nights ever!  My talents consisted of a leprechaun dance, demonstrating how to be more environmental by eating cereal out of a bowl without a spoon, and teaching random Chinese words (again, I was the only Asian on tour).

We got to sleep in the next morning till 7am and I watched the sunrise from my swag.  Absolutely gorgeous!  We drove to Uluru for a 10.6km walk around the base of the rock and visited the cultural centre to learn more about the Aboriginese.  These people consider Uluru to be a sacred site so they ask visitors not to remove any rocks or sand from the area or else you will encounter bad luck until you return the specimen to the exact location.  There have been numerous people who mail stolen rocks back to Uluru in hopes of breaking the supposed bad spell.  At the cultural centre, there's a "sorry book" with a catalog of letters from people who have apologized for their actions.  We then drove to King's Canyon to set up camp at an operating cattle station for the night.  We had a great campfire and I had to teach some people how to properly roast marshmallows (brings back good memories in Africa!).  Note:  do not buy marshmallows in Australia.  They're way too sweet!

We packed up the next morning and drove to our final hike of the tour.  The 6.5km walk around the canyon was one of the best walks I've done in Australia.  We drove to Alice Springs and enjoyed our final dinner with the gang @ The Rock Bar and then proceeded to Bojangles next door for some more alcohol.  I didn't think I would be doing tequila shots because I hate that stuff but I had to celebrate my fake brother's fake birthday.  All in all, a great trip through the Australian Outback and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to see the REAL Australia.  I'm flying to Sydney tomorrow and then taking the train to Newcastle to relax for a couple of days before heading up the coast to Byron Bay.  More fun to come!
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your Ling-Tseh on

miss you Clod! looks like you are continuing to have the time of your life! Stay well, keep up the smiling, and see you soon! ^_^

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