A Mountain of Blue

Trip Start Aug 28, 2009
Trip End Feb 25, 2011

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Where I stayed
Glebe Village Hostel

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Saturday, January 23, 2010

WOOOHOOOO!! I'm back with a bang folks!! I'm a mushroom cloud layin mutha f*cka, mutha f*ckas! I'm the guns of the Navarone!

Since I threw off the shackles of FEAR, conversations have opened up with many people at the hostel. The world instantly responded to my change of heart!

DAY 24: 

Today I went on a tour of the Blue Mountains. The day trip cost $55, which I thought was reasonable, and involved a bus journey to a number of picturesque stops.

The bus driver doubled as a tour guide, and in this role he was phenominal. He spent almost the entire 90 minute journey talking about everything that we passed, and many things that we didn't. When asked a question, he would answer about nine, quickly, accurately and without waffle. He answered questions on all parts of Australia in such detail that he encouraged more questions like sh*t encourages flies. He answered questions on other parts of the world. He answered questions before they were even asked. "You're from Denmark? Did you know that in 1872 Denmark....". Some of the questions that flew at him were from a range of subjects that had me thinking "What the f*ck has that got to do with anything? Why would he know that?", and every time he would answer them as if he was wired in to an enormous database of world history.
At one point we had to wait for a chap to return to the bus, and the tour guide decided to fill the time with an incredibly detailed account of the Aboriginal history behind the three sisters rocks. I almost felt like an Aborigine for a moment. During the return journey he was still pointing and talking like a man possessed and explaining things in ridiculous detail. Even when we drove through a suburban housing estate this guy had stuff to say, like "See the window on that house? That is an example of traditional Australian architecture, and dates back about 120 years." So impressive. He did keep calling me Johnny though. Stupid b*stard.

I did my best to take notes of the more noteworthy parts (like the fact that the man who designed the Anac bridge has vertigo, and for a laugh the Aussie construction team kidnapped him and took him to the top!), but my pen began to melt. Still, I got some juicy info. Hmm maybe I should put some of it in the "F*ckun Syddo, mate" entry.

The Blue Mountains is an enormous range, starting about 50 kilometres west of Sydney and spanning over 5,000 square miles. It is so puckered with undulations and dissected with gorges that a lot of it is still undiscovered. I could spend the rest of my 12 month visa here and not really touch it. Get lost out there and you'd be in a world of hurt. Go the wrong way for example, and you could be walking for over 1000 KMs of savage hilly forest before you come across any civilisation. Yeah, massive. To put these mountains into some perspective:

Not long after the first fleet of British (convict) settlers landed in Sydney in 1788, it was agreed that the biggest problem was food, as nobody had any idea what these new animals and plants were, and the soil was deemed to poor to grow crops. And what crops they planted all died because they had the seasons all mixed up. So they needed to explore the place. Around that time, nobody knew what was west of the Blue Mountains, and they hadn't figured out that Australia was one big island yet, as they arrived from the east. Some people thought that the land west of the Blue Mountains might lead to China! So, after several failed attempts to cross the Blue Mountains, two men eventually succeeded in about 1807. Ten years later, another route was found to the North.

In the 183 years since, nobody has ever found a third route to cross the Blue Mountains!

As they discovered farmable land on the other side of the mountains, a supply road was built along the first route over them. This 88KM road was built by a mere thirty men, by hand (as they had not shipped over industrial tools yet), and was completed in just 8 months. That is an incredible feat of engineering - indeed we British believed that it just could not be done. This road has obviously been modernised since, but the road over the Blue Mountains is still the oldest highway in Australia. So it probably will be for...err quite some....time...

The Blue Mountains is/are a special place/s...there are 132 plant species here that are found nowhere else in the world, including a type of pine that was believed to have died out in the Dinosaur Age, until found here. The 'Blue' part of the Blue Mountains comes from the Eucalyptus trees, which are f*ckun everywhere and release oil that, when combined with dust and water vapour, produces a blue spectrum of light. 

These trees are amazing feats of nature. Not only are they immune to fire, but they use it for theor own benefit. In some parts the moisture levels are so low that decaying material cannot...err...decay properly, and so the fire burns out the rot and recycles nutrients. The way the trees deal with fire demands respect (indeed any living being that can handle being on fire for a considerable period surely does), and it varies with each of them (by the way there are 900 different kinds of Eucalyptus trees in the world!). Some trees shed their bark just after a fire (they look white). Other trees are like "naah, f*ck it, I'm keepin me flamin' baaaark", although granted - they may not have an Australian accent. The leaves burn and die of course, but the trees have a wicked emergency backup system to handle this. They have a set of protected leaves that hide inside the bark, and after a fire these tiny leaves shoot out through the bark, and make the tree look furry. So they can carry on munching light very soon after the hot stuff has visited, until they grow back the main leaves. Cool, huh? Also many of them wait for the fire before they chuck their seeds, cos they know that is when the ground is at its most fertile. Clever buggers!

After seeing a Kangaroo (my first) and a snake (my first) in the wild, and then finding some kangaroo sh*t (my first) we headed for Wentworth Falls, which offered some spectacular views (see photos). It was a clear and scorching hot day, which was ideal for being so high (it was 40 degrees in the city, and 30 degrees up in the Blue Mountains). I could feel my feet burning the second I walked out from shadow - I could close my eyes and instantly detect areas of skin that were exposed to sunlight. It made me put repeat doses of suncream on some areas, like my neck. We wandered about on some of the trails, but had to be careful as there were 40 hours of trails in the immediate area!

Next was the viewpoint overlooking the three sisters rock formation. According to an Aboriginal Dreamtime story, the three huge rocks were once three beautiful sisters from the Katoomba tribe. The three sisters fell in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe but their tribal laws forbade their marriage. The three brothers would not accept this law and tried to capture the three sisters. This caused a major tribal battle and the lives of the three sisters were thus threatened. A witchdoctor decided to turn the sisters into rocks in order to protect them, and planned to reverse the spell after the battle. However, he was killed in the battle and the three sisters remained as the enormous rock formations.
Another story has it that the witch doctor, after casting the spell, was cursed as a human, and so he turned himself into a Lyre bird and flew away. Hoping to reverse the spell, he has tried for many years to mimic the sounds of a human, so that he can one day reverse the spell and turn the rocks back into the three sisters. I like that story better, but it was probaby made up to sell more sh*t trinkets at the nearby tourist shop.

I am interested by Aboriginal culture - new evidence suggests that it may in fact be the oldest tribe still in existence on the planet - indeed the oldest sign of any known humanity. Debates rage in the region of 40,000 to 125,000 years ago (which is way older than broad consensus of mankinds exstence, at about 40,000-50,000 years). I also read about evidence which seems to point to the Aboriginals as being the first ever boat builders in mankinds history, contrary to popular scientific opinion. But their history is shrouded in such mystery (largely because of the way they have been treated by the white man, sadly), and I would like to know more about a people who managed to survive at least 40,000 years in a country with such murderous weather conditions

Anyway, the three sisters viewpoint was a very tasty sight indeed. See pictures.

Finally we travelled around the corner to the Katoomba Scenic World, which as the name suggests is in Katoomba and rather scenic, but is not as the name suggests an entire world. Tickets had to be purchased for a variety of modes of travel around the place, and as I only live once I went for the whole shebang with a ride in a gondola (with transparent floor), a ride on the world's steepest railway (which at 52 degrees is closer to vertical than horizontal), and finally a ride in a cable car back to the top - $25 for the lot. I would have rode the rollercoaster too, but it has been under construction for 26 years and is still not finished. Do they have a one-armed 108 year old crack addict building it or something?

Beautiful day out. Much needed.

DAY 25:

Today I uploaded some photos in the library (thats the only thing I use free internet for, cos its heavy on my data allowance otherwise). The sky was cloudy, which scuppered my plan to visit Manly beach. When I left the air-conditioned library however, I was hit with a blast of 40 degree heat. Walking down the street was surreal - the wind blew nuclear air into my face. The weird thing was that the sun wasn't out for almost the entire day (unlike yesterday, which had 90% sun but was not so hot). It was like the heat sneaked up on us all. Where did so much heat come from? At about 2 o'clock in the afternoon it was hotter than I have ever felt before. Still bearable though, because it was a dryer heat, and I was expecting to ignite and die the moment I set foot in Australia anyway, so for me the heat is niiiiice.

Except at night. At night it takes me around 90-120 minutes to fall asleep. I am hoping that my body adapts to the heat. Sooner or later it will have to because I will become truly exhausted through lack of sleep! Ironically, due to the heat denying me sleep I have become run down, and have picked up a cold!

So I got back to the hostel in the blasting heat outside the library. I ate, and when I left the hostel 30 minutes later the temperature had suddenly dropped considerably. I walked to the supermarket (20 minutes), and when I came outside again the temperature had dropped hugely. Then the rain came - hard beating rain, then thunder. The rain eased up a little and the storm passed as quickly as it had arrived. Still, I decided to get a bus back to the guest house, and the driver explained that the temperature reading on the bus gauge had dropped twenty degrees in a single hour!! What the hell is causing such crazy weather on a cloudy day?

At night I chatted to a Swedish girl called 'Moa' (which in Laos means 'cow' - so when she was there the natives were asking "Why do your friends call you cow?" hehe). Nice girl - she had one of those faces that is on the edge of laughter all the time, which made me want to push! And she had a giggle that made me want to turn her into a teddy bear and pull the string at night so she would giggle on cue...ahem.

In my room I met an Aussie guy who had been a pearl diver in Western Australia 20 years ago - a person who collects pearls from the ocean floor. This sounded like an interesting job. A trawler boat drags you along on a rope and another line is attached to a compressor which supplies you with air. You scan the ocean floor looking for pearl shells (pearl meat can be $80 per kilo), and have to quickly collect the shells and stick them in a basket around your neck. Dangers occurred both above and below the waterline - those below included sea snakes which like to try and eat your fingers, but the dangers above were far more of a concern. These involved two or three guys on the boat who drank an average of seven beers per night, and as a result were constantly inebriated. During the morning dives they had the concentration of a deceased newt, and would sometimes forget to turn the compressor on, for example, causing four pearl divers to zip to the surface in a red-faced panic. The boat would be in the water for 3 weeks at a time, and then it would dock for a single day, and a large palette of beer would be loaded on to the boat with one of those cranes normally used for food aid, ready for the next three weeks. Such was the high priority of the beer that the supplies would often destabilise the boat, and have to be moved below deck. At times there would be cans of beer rolling around the deck, and can covered in seawater and mouldy cardboard below! The boss would actually fork out considerable thousands of dollars for it. "There you go lads, that will improve your work!"

Still, stuck on a boat with six other chaps for three weeks must encourage boozing, eh? I might go for that job when I'm in the west - sounds like fun!!

It is time to move on. Been in Sydney long enough now! My next stop is Shepparton, hopeully working on a farm for three months. I have spoken to an ex farmer in the area who says that there will be loads of work there for anyone who turns up in the next two weeks. I do not have a job there yet, but I'm hopeful. Likewise, I do not have a place to stay (I only found one hostel listed on the internet, and its full), but I am hopeful.

DAY 26:

The ex pearl diver has a job in a casino in Canberra, but he has to undergo four weeks of training without pay. It's a gamble...And he has no money, so he's selling his amazing camera with two very expensive lenses. Pearly boy is onboard for the Shepparton journey, and is coming to work for a week before he heads to Canberra. Got some company for the ride then. 

I booked a ticket for the Greyhound bus (cheapest way to get there) for tomorrow. It leaves Sydney Central Station at 3:30 p.m and arrives in Shepparton at 04:30 a.m. DOH!

Fruit picking - everyone goes on about how it's hard work, like I have never done hard work before. Hearing it gets a little tiring. I am sure that it is hard work, but its not like most work is easy!

DAY 27:

I was hoping to get a decent nights sleep, as the air had cooled a little, but it was not to be. Very tired now! I munched the rest of my food and packed for the journey to Shepparton, saying my farewell to Iain and Vic for the final time. At 3:20p.m. myself and Pearlman were standing by the bus when an Aussie in her mid forties came over and started chatting to us. I went to grab some food for the 13 hour bus ride, and Pearly Gates carried on chatting to the woman. She asked him his name, and then we all got on the bus. The cheeky b*tch tried to use his surname to blag a free ride on the bus, while she was sitting next to him!!

Bloody cheeky Sheila!
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Met some British lads in Darwin who worked on the pearl boat for a month. They said it was weird sending so long at sea without seeing land. They earned mega bucks though. Broome also has a large pearl industry. Don't know how they get any pearling done what with "Broome time" though...

Good luck in Shep. About the hard work comment - I've NEVER worked harder in my life than I worked in Shep - and that was after three other jobs in Australia that made me say "I've never worked so hard in my life" - it's good though, afterwards it gives you this huge confidence that you CAN do it if required. And it's still probably less hard than the blokes who built the road over the Blue Mountains or that death railway in Thailand.

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