Wednesday, February 25

Day 181-???

Have you ever stood below the departure board at the airport and imagined how it would be to just choose some exotic locale, slap down the plastic and be on your way? I certainly have, but must admit, although I am on the trip of a lifetime, I could not bring myself to be so spontaneous. I did however, spend an afternoon a few weeks back reflecting on some serious gaps in my travels. For example, the girl I met and lost from Croatia, I know I could find her if I went back to Split. Also, I have been haunted since leaving Turkey by having missed out on visiting Egypt when I was just that close. Then there is southern India, I missed all of that, and the sticky visa situation prevented me from easily entering China. And where the hell is Uruguay anyway? Or perhaps it is time to hit the road in the West US and start the climbing season. Point is-no one knows where I am right now!

Over the months I have enjoyed telling my simple little stories, none too dramatic, and I have appreciated those who followed along, few though they be. But it has certainly been a one-sided affair, hardly interactive. So now its your turn, switch on your travel brains and use the following clues to determine where in the world is gomelmogel!

1. the sum of latitude and longitude is somewhere between 80 and 100
2. or it could be that the longitude minus the latitude is somewhere between 80 and 100
3. life in this capital city is a breEZE!

You may need to break out the atlas, but you will find the answer quite easily I think. Either way, I will be posting soon from some of the world´s most dramatic locales. I hope I can keep your interest a little longer, I can´t bear the thought of this trip coming to an end!

Monday, February 23

Day 179-Hamilton

2500 kilometers of bitumen now lie behind me and for the many days I have traveled this country, I have been blessed by changable but quite enjoyable weather. While off to the south they are being pelted by torrential rains, I sit today in eternal summer, the air cool and very clean, every green thing and barnyard animal sitting fat and happy. It is supremely idyllic. And so it seems my time in Oceania has been marked by extremes, the restrictive wet of the Top End, the deep summer heat of the Red Center, the flamboyant gaiety of Sydney, now hosting the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. In New Zealand I have witness an extreme of isolation due to my chosen mode of travel, but more importantly I will remember it for the sheer pleasantness of this place. Given enough money and time, the right partner and the right gear, I could enjoy a lifetime of sport down here.

Enjoy an afternoon of viewing "The Lord of the Rings" and you will get a sense of how incredible this landscape is, much of it was filmed here. Today I wandered the slopes of Mordor, vast bogs of tall wispy grasses, wild thyme and various wetland plants, hemmed in by thick forest of mountain beech and umbrella ferns, all watched over by demonic towers of broken basalt. As I traversed the delightfully haunting landscape, quiet under the unpredictable gray skies, I pondered my time in Oceania.

Countries: 2 Days spent: 28
Distance traveled: 7050mi $/day: 108
Unesco sites: 4 Other sites: 18
Most Southern point: Balclutha, 46.2deg south
Unremarkable I think except for the great distance and cost.

So tomorrow is the big day, time to make the long flight across the big pond. For the many hours I will spend in the air, I have plenty to fondly recall, the stately romance of old Europe, the deep history of Turkey, the sheer incredulity of India, the hidden charms of Southeast Asia, and the primordial bizarrity that is Australia. Please don't leave me yet, dear reader, come back and visit, that I might post some final thoughts. This trip is not over yet!

Friday, February 20

Day 176-Richmond

I am perched on the edge of my seat as I negotiate the endless twist and turns of this mountain road. I pass through a bowery of tall and knarled beech trees, themselves and every neighboring bush and fern dripping with moss and moisture. It is raining quite hard and the splash-up from the passing lumber trucks blinds me for vital seconds at a time. I dread that the whole day might continue like this, but soon the forest opens into a tawny fieldscape of harvested rye grass, stately evergreen hedgerows, and the ubiquitous flocks of sheep, now quite dreary, drenched and apparently smelly. A fierce wind blast out of every open canyon mouth, dashing for the sea from the high, shrouded ice-blue glaciers. A few kilometers on, and a view of the tumultuous sea opens before me, the waves wind-lashed, the twisted pines crawling out of the dunes grow at odd angles, having been assaulted by the gales since sprouthood.

But just yesterday, I was enjoying the intense sunlight lakeside, listening to the gentle lap of the waves on a slate-gray pebbly shore, marveling at the clarity of the aquamarine waters, wishing I could submerge myself and forever drink in the refreshing coolness. I climbed a steep trail, hindered by rocks and roots, through the dappled tree ferns and oak, until, drenched with the sweat of effort and humidity, I arrived at a high glacial lake, sharp forbidding peaks all around. New Zealand is a land of many faces, many changes, and one need travel only a few hours or a few kilometers to witness a procession of splendor.

But I have been traveling already 6 days and a couple thousand kilometers, and so have seen much of this land. More striking however, is my march through my internal landscape. Since leaving the Outback of Australia almost two weeks ago, I have had virtually no conversations with anyone. The style of travel here, that is, everyone in their own vehicle, lends itself to isolation. At night, at the caravan parks, each couple proceeds with their chores, as if they are camping in a world without others, happily ignoring the battle for bathroom or kitchen space. I am not uncomfortable in this game, and play my part as the quiet, invisible, odd solo traveler. What has become very notable to me, as I drive and walk hour after hour in silence, is that, in the absence of another, it becomes impossible to tell a lie. And so it has been a very interesting time for me, facing the truth of what I have become, of what steps have lead me here. I feel I am ready and able to withstand the twist and turns and tumults of whatever road lies ahead.

Tuesday, February 17

Day 173-Fiordlands N.P.

I felt damn lucky to get out of Sydney. My flight was inexplicably canceled, and they held me in line for two hours just to grace me with the fact that they would fly me out at 7 pm, which was not acceptable with a 1 am arrival in Christchurch. Annoyed, I dashed off to talk to other airlines and was eager to buy another ticket with Emirates, but when he asked to see proof of onward flight from New Zealand, my hopes diminished. I had booked an e-ticket east a couple of weeks earlier but I had no paper evidence of this. A mad dash upstairs to the airline office (surprisingly open on a Sunday morning) resulted in the necessary printout, and by the time I got back to the desk, there was just one seat left, which I gladly snatched. At 80% of the original price, with premier lunch service and entertainment system, I could say with conviction "Alls well that ends well".

Now I am happily in New Zealand, and happily on the road in a beater Toyota rental. With already 800 kilometers behind me I am perched on the Southwest side of the South Island, prepared to take a walk tomorrow in this Unesco listed National Park. Getting here brought me through some dramatic countryside, rolling hills and farms dotted with more sheep than one could count in a lifetime of sleepless nights. It is altogether very reminiscent of the parklands of central Colorado. On the other side of the hiway, ocean looms large, the angry rollers come crashing to shore, after a long and icy ride up from Antartica. Huge beds of kelp slosh about in the shallows, and walking about the beachside stones and boulders, I was so enchanted that I failed to notice a big bull sea lion waddling for the safety of the surf, with me in the way. Fortunately they move quite slowly and I had plenty of time to wake up, take a pic, and clear out. Still I cannot be sure I am out of danger, for I must constantly remind myself to stay alert and on the left side of the road as I continue my auto tour of through this magical landscape.

Saturday, February 14

Day 170-Sydney

I will not deny that the last few days have been a wee depressing. I awake each morning, not so well rested, since I am in dollar saving mode and spending the night in shared dorm rooms. It has been raining here on the southeast coast ever since I left the Blue Mountains, and though it is sporadic and light, the grey skies hampers my enthusiam. My new shoes hurt abit as I break them in and that takes the joy out of walking. On top of that, it is Valentines Day, and I am so very far from being in a participant in that event, I can't remember the last holiday that I spent in the company of someone I know. Its all beginning to wear on me a bit.

Despite the torments of my inner psyche, I must make note of what a lovely city Sydney is. Though it has been years since I have been to Seattle, I consider them to be sister cities, both surrounding the ocean bay, broken by hills into discreet and pleasant neighborhoods, both home to liberal thought and alternative lifestyles. I have enjoyed the day walking the harbour, delighting in the unique architecture of the Harbour Bridge and of course that building from an alien planet, the Sydney Opera House. Wending my way back through the excellent botanical gardens, awash in the pleasing odors of rain, wisteria, and rose, I stopped now and then to take in the sight of the futuristic skyscrapers lording over the hundred year old fig trees, gums of every sort, and wollemi pines If ever I was inclined to put down a root and attempt to become ex-pat, for a number of reasons, it would be here.

But I am not putting down a root, instead tomorrow I board a plane for yet another step eastward. On to the otherworldly landscape of New Zealand, where I will enjoy the freedom and solitude of travel by rental car, stopping when and where I wish, basking in sunshine, warm temperatures and sylvan quietude. After the last few days spent in the hostels, surrounded by hordes of 20something backpackers, I cannot get enough of that.

Wednesday, February 11

Day 167-Katoomba

Sometimes things just fall in place. Way back in Darwin I had decided to skip the Outback extension from Alice Springs to Adelaide, in favor of a quick flight to Sydney. That turned out to be a great decision, as residents of that town are suffering from the worst fires in history, with thousands of homes destroyed and hundreds dead. In addition, Sydney has turned out to be yet another in a long line of world's greatest cities, but I will write more about it in a future post.

Leaving Sydney this morning required that I negotiate its rather complex and complete railway system, but once done, I was merrily rolling up the tracks to the Central Highlands of New South Wales. Here are found many of the Unesco listed National Parks, among them Blue Mountain, which gets its name from the blue haze that hangs over the hills, a by-product of the millions of eucalypt trees that carpet the hills. I arrived to find this rain forest completely shrouded in mist, and the prospect of hiking along the rim of the 200 meter high sandstone escarpment was, for lack of view, not too promising. Instead I wandered town, found a great deal on some new shoes, as well as some other necessary gear, then walked over to the Imax theatre to view "The Edge", a documentary about this park.

I learned that Australia is very unique on this planet, not only for its extreme climate, but also for its geologic age. The surrounding hills had already been shaped while the Grand Canyon was just a gleam in God's eye. The geology has been stable for 100 million years, and this leads to a very sterile soil, which along with eons of physical separation from the other continents, creates a diversity of plant and animal life unrivaled on all the planet. Knowing this, I was not able to sit still any longer, and headed to the end of town to access the park. Minutes after my arrival at the first overlook, the skies opened to reveal the majestic view of the distant hills, the escarpment, and the rollling valley below. Walking the 5 km along the rim was a sensory paradise, every green thing dripping fresh rain from its odd shaped leaves, the air rich with the scent of new oxygen, wet earth, and most notably, eucalyptus oil! Powerful medicine for the nasally challenged, and in my free-breathing euphoria I was grateful for every step that had lead me to this place.

Now about them shoes. Today is Feb 11th. My original plan had me flying into Salt Lake City on this date. Clearly that is not going to happen, and in celebration of my exceeding my own expectations, I decided to replace my well-worn Merrills. I reckon I have a few more tracks to make before this journey is over.

Sunday, February 8

Day 164-The Outback

My Survivor Outback Adventure began in Alice Springs, where myself and 13 tribe members packed into a minivan led by our laid-back Aussie guide, Paul. From the start, we told that it would be quite hot, quite fly infested, and quite interesting. On no account were we disappointed. A longs days drive, through the searing and sandy acacia plains, culminated at the base of Ayers Rock. I first became aware of this very special stone, the heart of Australia, back in my younger climber daze. It is the second largest largest monolithic, unbroken stone in the world, and measures some 350 meters high by 3.6 kilometers long by 2.4 kilometers wide. That's one big stone, but then consider that only 1/3 of it rises above the desert plains. It has recently been returned to the Aboriginal people who still hold ceremony amoung the hidden crevices and pockets, and is now known as Uluru National Park.

As we left the comfort of the air-conditioned van, we were immediately accosted by hordes of black flys and temperatures in the shade of 106. The rock, of course, becomes much hotter, and there was no hope of climbing this behemoth in these conditions. Even the short walk along the base, exploring a few of the waterholes and overhanging crevices, was taxing. Having experienced such conditions in the south of Utah in summer, I was well prepared with full brim hat, complete with fly net, long pants and water-soaked long sleeves. I was surprised to find some of our tribe braving the blaze in shorts, tank top, and sun screen, but I was out to school anyone in the way of the wild.

The next day, after a rather sparse open air sleep in the desert( I awoke in substantial pain, convinced that an ant had crawled down my throat and bit me!) we drove off to a neighbooring park known as Kata Tjuta (Many Heads). We stopped to enjoy breakfast amidst swarms of flies, watched the changing colors of sunrise, and then proceeded to embark upon a 8 km walk through the thousand foot high hummocks of crimson conglomerate stone. My tribemates, again scantily clad, started off strong, but by half-way the fright showed in their flushed faces, their heavy breath powering their heavy legs. Along the way we were regaled with tales of bush tradition, the severe punishments doled out to law breakers, and the abandonment of those too weak to continue. I took this attitude to heart, and as others lagged and dragged, I just kept moving on at my own pace, feeling protected, comfortable and somewhat superior. Despite my tendency to separate myself, however, nights back at camp found all forgiven and we enjoyed beers and tales of bravado around the campfire. There would be no Tribal Council tonight, and because the Outback is big enough for all to enjoy, we all would continue the adventure.

Thursday, February 5

Day 161-Alice Springs

My little foray in to the bush country of the Top End might have cost me dearly. I did well enough with the unrelenting heat, the intermittent rains, the evening time mosquitos, but what nearly did me in was some yahoo in a parking lot dinging the door of the rent a car. I noticed it a couple of days before return and interestingly it was not visible in the rain, only in bright sunlight. I had purchased full insurance yes, but I was still liable for up to 300 bucks and to repair even the smallest scratch would easily cost that. I toyed with the idea of not mentioning it, to see if the counter guy was doing his job, but in the end, I am my mother's son, and I felt compelled to 'fess up. My honesty paid off. He searched hard to find it, and when he did said "no worrys mate", kind of annoyed that I had wasted his time.

Inspired then to keep pushing my luck, I boarded the world famous Ghan railway, which would take me from Darwin 1500 kilometers into the Red Center, the very heart and soul of this country, the Outback. Along the way, stopping in Katherine for a rather lengthy 4 hour break, we were encouraged to take a 12 dollar bus ride into town to see the sights. What they failed to mention is the only sight there is to see in this scrubby town, which lies at the junction of the four directions, is a surfeit of wandering, shoeless, semi-enebriated Aboriginals. From all corners they collect here to receive government stipend and services, do some shopping, hang out with friends, and for some at least, get liquored up. It was so strange to walk the small town and encounter group after group, gathered under a tree, under the bridge, outside the Woolworths, or in front of the bus station.

They don't appear, at first glance, to be a highly spirited people. The don't seem to talk alot, or smile, or move with great conviction, at least in these disheartening circumstances. They, as a group, are overweight, with huge bellies and breasts, and stick-thin arms and legs. There facial features are remarkably heavy, thick brows over deep set eyes, broad round noses shelter their protruding lips. Even the young have a look of aged weariness about them. For my lack of knowledge of this people and culture, I can not say whether this is the face of the natural first inhabitant of this land, or if like much of the the Native population of our own country, they have been misshapen and injured by a diet of sugar, bad fats, and alcohol. If things go as planned for me, I will be meeting a few of them in their element, in the Outback, and hope to deepen my understanding of this fascinating and troubled people.

Sunday, February 1


Each day now Kengaroo travels, each day tired, needs rest. He meet Iguana, she tells him "go to Morning Camp, camping good there". So he go. At at Morning Camp, two Ravens, loud, scream at him, "Kenga, go away, this camp not good, you do not belong here". Kenga stays, thinks "this is ok, the world loves me, I belong here", but he wonders. Out walking he comes by family of Man, faces dark as night, proud wide nose. They don't look at him, they don't speak, Kenga thinks, "ok, they welcome me, I belong here", but he wonders.
Night falls and all creatures say goodnight. Make loud shriek and roar and cry. Kenga is little scared, but he knows he belongs. He finds sleep in the black hot night.
Dark midnight, everything still, everything is peace. But no! From out of the dark comes mad screaming demon, eyes like fire. It wakes Kenga, circles his camp, throws sand at him. Up ahead it stops, shining bright angry eyes at Kenga. His animal heart know this is bad. Less than one hundred heartbeats, he gathers his medicine, makes ready to flee. From the dark forest he hears eery singing "if you love me get down on your knees, if you no love me, then you better leave!"
Kenga breaks from the bush at a mad run. His animal mind remembers the maze of tracks he must take to get out. He recalls a camp not too far, maybe he can find others, be safe.
He finds other camp ok, but it is late. Noone there, everybody sleeping. Kenga hunkers down in the moonlight, hopes for morning to come. But no! crazy lights coming, seeking for him. He hides lower to the ground, remembers "the world loves me". Before long a knock comes, he turns to find Man But White, saying, "ok mate, camp here, out back, no worries, morning come, you go your way". Kenga thinks "ok i can do this", but still he wonders. The rain begins to fall, Kenga sits and wonders, "who rode this demon horse". Was it Man, or Man But White, or maybe some new devil beast risen from the billabong? He slips into quiet sleep.

I start awake from a fitful slumber, completely drenched in a foul sweat. My neck is kinked from cramming myself into the back seat of this rent a car. The rain is beating down hard, a tribal tattoo on the metal roof, the floodwater rising against the tires. Four o'clock, just a couple more hours and daylight comes, I can go back, collect my abandoned tent, and continue my journey.