Oh, Australia

Can you talk like an Australian? What are sunnies, Eskies, helies, pollies. (Sunglasses, Eskimo coolers, helicopters, politicians.)

Got it? So then, what is sosh, or goss, or satched, or mackers? (Social, gossip, saturated, McDonalds hamburgers.)

No worries, mate. You’re all right. Which means, “You’re welcome.” Roight.

Australia offered us the very best vacation we’ve had in a long time. I’ve only just recovered from 9 flights in 16 days. Incidentally, I will never have anything to great to say about Qantas airlines. There’s no alternative but to take them across the country. It’s this monopoly, I think, that makes the service so cavalier. The agent at the check-in desk insists that we’ll have to speak to customer service if my husband and I prefer to sit together. This after having had reservations for 3 months. The customer rep instantly finds us adjoining seats. “She didn’t spend too much time looking, did she?” he commiserates.

Checking in at the Melbourne airport, the woman at the counter points us to new QuickCheck in machines. The machine directs us to the service representative. We go back to her. She points to another counter with the wand from her lip gloss. She says with irritation, “That’s what happens when you have old tickets.” A roving floor manager eventually directs us back to the same woman who makes her feeble apologies.

I’m not right behind my husband when we are checking in at the departure gate because I turned to apologize to an older woman for cutting in front of her. The agent taking our tickets, his face ferociously furrowed and condescending, spits out cold and hard as an angry cop: “Stay close. Stay close!”

Perhaps we’re just used to a gentler customer service in Northern California?

At the Alice Springs Desert Park the ticket taker is absent from the window. We can see her attending to a woman who’s gotten off our van and has pushed through the turnstile into the gift shop. We push through to get our tickets taken too, and get scolded for not first dinging the retro service bell.

When we stop off for lunch at the Apollo Bay Hotel on the Great Ocean Road, we don’t get our food for 20 minutes. People from on our Grayline tour have all eaten and are leaving. My husband goes up and asks if our food will be coming soon. The sour cashier says she’ll check. She doesn’t report back. Five minutes later he goes again to get an update. She tells him he’s annoying and to go sit down. When he demurs, she says she’s going to get the manager. Please do, he tells her, losing his native sweetness. Apologies all round. But, God Almighty. The customer as enemy?

Tired of my whining yet? Let me rant a little more, though. I need to.

We are in the elevator at the top of the Sydney Tower. Five laughing British teenagers, rowdy, hopped-up on group mentality and testosterone turn to me. One of them, guffawing, asks if he could take my photo. They’ve mistaken me for an Aboriginal woman. Their manner changes the instant I tell them I’m also a tourist from America.

The Aboriginal people. It’s a sad story, really. We see more of them in Alice Springs than we’d seen previously in our trip. As with all indigenous peoples, they suffer from poverty, disease, alcoholism, illiteracy, malaise. They seem to hold fast to ancient ways. Because of their very pronounced sense of family, we see them walking in groups, in their unhurried way; we see them sitting placid on the ground everywhere, not even plucking at the blades of grass. They just stare out as if they’re waiting for something they know will not be coming any time soon.

My sense is that the population around them treats them like children. Sees them as wallpaper. Or some ancient, irrelevant tribe. The hotel clerk at the Alice Springs Resort looks away from me as if I might singe her eyes. Aboriginal fatigue, perhaps. We arrive before check-in time, as is always the case. Unlike other many-starred hotels, we wait, and wait, and wait, for our room to be ready; we have lunch before we force the issue and ask her if she knows when a room will be available. She goes and consults with her supervisor, and, oh, miracle des miracles, we are checked in immediately.

But you can run into bad and prickly service anywhere. Right? Right?

Navigating this photo gallery may be confusing. See “Help,” if you need it, at the bottom right hand corner. Toggle F11 for a bigger screen.

[tags] Qantas, Apollo Bay Hotel, Aboriginal, Alice Springs Resort, Australia, Photo Gallery[/tags]

The Olgas & Uluru

The Outback. Here we fancily stay at “Sails In The Desert,” a hotel that sprawls over some acreage. It’s a gorgeous place where the staff is young, fervent, effervescent, wonderful. They are, literally, a sweet oasis in the usual nippy Australian service we’d become almost accustomed to.

The shot below is of a stand of Ghost Gum trees in the hotel’s courtyard. What’s interesting here is that the barks of these trees are covered with a fine dusting of white powder. According to the guide, the Aboriginal people used this white resin as a sunscreen.

[Click on photos to enlarge]

Ghost Gum Trees

Now. Why Aboriginal people would need sunscreen on their dark faces, I’m sure I do not know.

But, to continue. The Outback is high desert, of course, and operatic. It’s hot as the gates of Hades by day, and cold as Satan’s heart at night. The tourist industry has manufactured a “town centre,” which is a cluster of hotels, a restaurant, a cute shopping center with shuttle service that you will never need to get around.

And, here, at night when the cloudless blue desert sky turns black, the sky is littered wiith stars. They take their bold stage turns in the absence of city lights. Unbelievable as it is, to me, we see the milky way with our naked eyes. By telescope we see stars powdering stars.

Nevertheless, the absolute star of the show, and the whole point of being here, is to see, Kata Tjuta, a/k/a “The Olgas” and Uluru a/k/a “Ayers Rock.” We are happy that in private we scoffed at the driver in Melbourne who told us that if he were a travel agent, he’d never even mention Ayers Rock: “It’s just big rock in the desert.”

First View of Uluru

Is it any stretch of the imagination to understand why the Aboriginal people regard this great, red monolith as sacred, really? I mean, just look at the changing colors in my point-‘n-shoot photos. But first, some instructions: Navigating the photo gallery may be confusing. See “Help,” if you need it, at the bottom right hand corner. Toggle F11 for a bigger screen.

We were only two of the hordes of people pulled up on Grayline Tour buses to toast, with champagne, wine and finger food, sunset at “The Rock.” To be sure, the changes were so subtle, so gradual, that people didn’t applaud as they do the last sizzle of sunset on Ocean Beach in SF, for instance.

I’m telling you, these changing colors are why fools, like me, set the alarm for 5 am — on vacation — and stand hungry and freezing our bits to see exactly what color sunrise would paint Uluru. Madness. But I dare you to find the rare tourist without Red Rock fever!

[tag] Australia, The Outback, “Sails in the Desert”, Ghost Gum Trees, Melbourne, Aboriginal people, Kata Tjuta, Uluru, The Rock, Ayers Rock, The Olgas, Photo Gallery [/tag]

Cairns – Not “Keerns;” It’s “CANS,” Mate!

If you’re anything like me, here’s what 25 straight hours of traveling and the complete disappearance of a whole day, will do for you:

    1. You will ask yourself, so what in hell is fun about vacations anyway?
    2. Your body will have a deep-bone fatigue in which you think your legs could not ache any more if they were being amputated.
    3. Your husband will suggest a ride in a helicopter and you will think: yes, my husband needs another, more intrepid wife.
    4. You will tell yourself that it is better to die with your beloved in a helicopter crash than to be a surviving spouse.
    5. You will see yourself from all angles in a multi-faceted hotel mirror and you will think: this is how I look to other people. And you will want to die in a helicopter crash.
    6. You will sleep for 10 hours. You will wake up singing. You will sit out on the balcony overlooking the blue-steel ocean, you will amble through the rainforest of the hotel grounds, you will have an enormous breakfast, and the excitement of being in Australia will totally overwhelm you. Depressed? Who? Me? Nah.

It’s winter in Cairns, Australia. Sunset comes early. But it is wildly tropical—as tropical as Hawaii, or Singapore. It’s perhaps 70 degrees and stunning. It is, of course, the jumping-off point to visit the Great Barrier reefs. It’s also a good place to take a day trip to Green Island with it’s lush rainforest, or Fitzroy Island where you can see fish swimming over the coral reef. See photos here.

From Cairns you can also hop the Kuranda Rail and Skyrail tour. You take this very pleasant antique train ride to Kuranda, stop off at Barron Falls, la, la, la, get off all happy like a fool. You visit Birdland, have a little lunch. And then it’s time to take the skyrail. Now, I’ve done this before in Singapore, and not without event. Yet, here we are again. Again riding a fool cable car high, more than high, 90-minute, panic-high over the rainforest where I and the other two women I’ve only just met, pretend to be brave and end up singing “Whistle a Happy Tune,” to calm ourselves. We might well have been in that helicopter. We end up at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Park which, if we’d gone by car, would’ve been a 10-minute drive. All that tsouris for nothing. Well, Jesus H.

So, here in Northern Australia, you’ve got your basic tropical flora:

[Click on photos to enlarge]

Banyan, er, Fig Tree Waist-High Scarlet Salvias

Sweetsops! – “Custard Apples” Tropicana From the Hotel

Then there’s the beautiful, curved, newish Esplanade. A great, wonderful, safe, recreational treat for both locals and tourists. For here you can:

Make Like a Matador Near Sunset Swim in the Huge, Shallow Pool
Crab a Yard from the Shore BBQ at a Free, Gas Barbie
Form a Human Pyramid at Dusk Or Just Sit. And Watch

Or Sit. And commune with:

Twilight Blue Evening in Cairns

[tag]Cairns, Esplanade, Birdland, Kuranda, Tjapukai Aboriginal Park, Banyan [/tag]