Lost in Noodles

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Sunday January 11th
World Survivor, Day 1

It's one thing to look at the Outback through the window of a train, but it's something altogether different to drive and camp in it for a week. My sense on adventure once again got the better of me and I signed up for a seven day Adventure Tour to Alice Springs, taking in all the sights along the way.

I was picked up at 6am from my hostel and was soon joined by 15 other intrepid travellers and our guide, Mat. Let me correct that: there were 13 other intrepid travellers and a couple of Germans. Most of us were picked up at hostels carrying rucksacks; these two were at the Hilton with suitcases. When we were told we had to downsize our bags due to size and weight restrictions they refused (I suppose that they are only used to upsizing: just ask Poland). Eventually they decided not to join us which worked out fine as it gave the rest of us a bit more room in the 4WD truck - not to mention a bit more food.

The remaining 14 who had to coexist in close proximity for the next week consisted of (I'll try to be nice as I know some of them are going to read this): deux French couples (un old et un young), four Brits (myself plus three gap year students from London who I had actually met on the train from Perth and had generously given some of my Kalgoorlie pizza to), zwei Austrians who laughed more than any of us when the Germans left, the daughter of a non-ABBA Swedish rockstar, a Swiss girl with a fly problem, a running, cycling, swimming, tree-hugging girl from Sydney, and finally - drum roll please - an American chick from Florida! World Survivor had begun - and the Germans were already out!
After passing through several country towns in the South Australian wheat belt and stopping to see some ancient Aboriginal cave art (although it looked to me as though they had been touched up last Tuesday), our first night's camp was at Wilpena Pound in the Souther Flinders Ranges.

Wilpena is a circle of rocky outcrops surrounding farmland, although transportation costs have made farming unviable today. Our first major activity was a 4km round trip hike up Mt Ohlssen Bagge. It was pretty steep and hard-going - not to mention a wee bit hot - but after 1.5 hours of increasing pain I managed to get my stubby little legs up to the top.
Once my ticker had calmed down and I had gulped down some (by now) lukewarm water, I was rewarded with a magnificent vista of the Pound below and the surrounding Flinders Range. Relief was short lived when we realised we had to get back down, but we did so safely, spotting a family of roos along the way. After a nice big camp dinner (I mean it was dinner at camp; we weren't eating quiche or anything like that) it was time to roll out the swags and sleep under the gazillion stars trying not to think about the things that might bite in the night.

Day 1 World Survivor Eviction Nominee: the Germans, who ended up evicting themselves before we had the chance.

Monday January 12th
World Survivor, Day 2

Like the other people on the trip - those remaining, at least - I had signed up for the tour because I wanted to experience a bit of the real Outback: remote towns, roo carcasses on the side of unmade roads, bush camping and hikes into nowhere. Today we definitely got to do that!

En route to our campsite at Arkaroola we stopped off at a dried up creek with the magnificent Aboriginal name of Nooldoonooldoona. Mat led us a little way down before giving us directions to meet him at a waterhole about 45 minutes away while he went to get the truck. I wasn't really listening as I was too busy looking for yellow-tailed rock wallabies on the cliffs. It turned out that nobody else was listening either...

Off we went, skipping over rocks, through shrubs and beside the dried up river. For well over an hour we clambered sweatily along and there was still no sign of the waterhole, let alone Mat and the truck. It was obvious we had gone wrong somewhere but nobody knew where. I tried to contact him on the walkie talkie but the cliffs were too high for the signal to get through. The Adventurous Travel Dudes had suddenly become Stupid Tourist Muppets: Lost in the Outback.

I was convinced that we had gone too far and that we should go back the way we came. Some agreed, but others wanted to carry on. There was no point arguing and we couldn't split up so we carried on a bit more with the Austrians leading the way. Yasmin from Switzerland scrambled up the cliffs like Heidi on crack to try and see where we were supposed to be going but it was all to no avail. With a couple of hours of daylight left - and not much water - we at last decided to turn around and head back the way we came. A couple of people had started to get a bit worried about having to spend the night outside, but I didn't think that was going to happen. Having said that, I'm glad we turned round when we did!

Probably an hour and a half later we were back on the road where we had left the truck. I had long since finished my water and my throat was a bit dry, but fortunately we didn't have to wait long to see a car approaching. There were cheers of delight as one of the six search parties sent out from the Arkaroola campsite had found us. We squeezed on to the back of the pick-up with palpable relief, just as something buzzed above our heads. A spotter plane had been scrambled and Mat was up there looking for us!

Back at camp all the locals (by all I mean 8) were laughing and joking with us. They tend to have to do a search and rescue of Stupid Tourist Muppets about once a month, and we were their first of 2004. Mat eventually showed up looking very relieved (after all, how would you explain losing 14 people to your boss?). We quizzed him as to find out just where the hell exactly we were supposed to go, at which point he told us that he had sent us in the wrong direction! It wasn't our fault at all. We immediatley elevated ourselves to Very Adventurous Travel Dudes Indeed, simultaneously making Mat a Stupid Tourguide Muppet.

Day 2 World Survivor Eviction Nominee: the Austrians, who insisted we kept walking.

Tuesday January 13th
World Survivor, Day 3

Woke up at Arkaroola beside a nice fresh pile of roo poo, but to tell you the truth I was just happy to be there. I was glad to learn that there would be no hiking today as we would be spending most of the day driving on the unmade road called the Oodnadatta Track to William Creek. I sat in the front and so was in charge of the music. The previous two days we were subjected to Mat's pitiful minidisc selection, but now MC Pom was in da house with his MP3 playa, and we were soon rockin' through the towns of Maree and Leigh Creek.
The Oonadatta Track follows the northern route of early European explorers and Aboriginal trade routes, primarily because of the existence of several springs and waterholes along the way. We stopped at the incredibaly hot and dry Lake Eyre which consists of nothing but miles and miles of salt flats when there is no water, which is pretty much always.

Our camp for the night was at the 'town' of William Creek (pop: 5). Other than the campsite, a phonebox and pieces of rockets that have fallen from space, the only other thing at William Creek is a pub with a delapidated pool table. Before a night in the pub, however, we had to set up camp and cook dinner.

Think of Australian wildlife and the obvious ones come to mind: kangaroos, koalas, emus, etc. The poor common bush fly is often overlooked. Tonight there were absolutely millions of them, getting in eyes, ears, noses and mouths. This makes for a very annoying time when trying to breathe, let alone cooking and eating. To make things a bit more enjoyable I decided to set up a sweepstake: for A$1 bet everybody guessed how many flies would drown in a bowl of tomato sauce in 45 minutes. It was all getting very tense at the end, with some people urging more flies towards a sticky red death, while those who bet low encouraged flies already drowning to flap their wings a little harder to escape. After a messy yet meticulous counting process Jami the Yank was pronounced the winner after guessing 24.

Once the sun had set and the flies had gone to wherever flies go when they're not making us swear, it was time to hit the pub. Since the 1880s when the old railway passed by William Creek has been a popular spot for travellers to rest and drink. The walls are covered with thousands of business and ID cards left by visitors over the years, and after making a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service I stapled my NWA (that's NorthWest Airlines, not the other NWA) frequent flyer membership card to the wall. Check it out if you ever stop by.

Day 3 World Survivor Eviction Nominee: Jami the Yank, for winning my Dead Fly Pool.
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