Monday, July 18, 2016

Back to Darwin for More Adventures

Great dinner here in Darwin.
There were two more national parks to see in this region of Australia: Kakadu and Litchfield. So we flew back to Darwin for our base for these day tours. It was good to have another day to relax before getting back to the 6 AM bus rides!

The largest prawns I have ever had in my life! Yummy!
On the first tour we went to Kakadu National Park. The highlight here was the fantastic cave drawings. Dreamtime legends and images of daily life are seen at Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock. It was hard to get my head around the idea that these paintings were 500 to 50,000 years old and the rocks on which they were painted were 1.5 billion years old!

The scenery was spectacular. The heat and humidity was oppressive! It made it difficult to enjoy the day. Kakadu National Park covers 19,804 square kilometers and is listed as a World Heritage site.

It is about 250 kilometers east of Darwin adjacent to the land of the Arnhem people. The name Kakadu comes from the Gagudju language, one of three spoken in the park today. The Aboriginal people have lived in this area for 50,000 years.

The park has over 1,600 plant species, 275 bird species, 75 reptile species, 25 species of frogs and somewhere around 10,000 species of insects! We were there at the end of the wet season so everything was fresh and green. The canals and rivers were brimming with water as were the water lily-covered billabongs, which are the pools or dead water places where the flowing waters end.

We took a peaceful Guluyambi Cultural Cruise through the canals and into the Alligator River to see the plants and listen to the birds. We saw a number of different species.

On the Lilly pads, there was a father bird and four little babies. Apparently, once the eggs are laid, mom blows the nest and the rest is up to dad! I had never heard of that.

The area has both fresh water and salt water crocodiles so we were warned to keep our limbs inside the boat. It was rather humorous when they showed how to put on a life vest. I guess if you are floating in a yellow vest, it is easier for the crocs to find you!

This crocodile was just hiding in the roots of the trees.

The one salty (saltwater crocodile) we saw did not look like he was warm and fuzzy! The guide shared information about the cultural mythology of the area, the river's abundant food chain and bush survival traditions using native plants and animals.

It is hard to see the tiny birds out for a walk on the
lily pads with dad. They literally walk on water!

On the way to see more cave paintings at Ubirr, we stopped at the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. It features cultural information through interactive displays as interpreted by the Bininj/Mungguy Aboriginal people.

Unfortunately we only had 20 minutes which was not enough time to even read all of the exhibits. That is the downside of tours, but having the transportation to important sites makes up for it. It would have been nice to have stayed a little longer.

The indentations in the rock are the holes where they
ground their pigments for paint.

This is a giant termite mound!

There are entry fees for all of these national parks, but 100% revenue is reinvested into the parks. Part of the reinvestment goes to the native people for sharing their land with the public. This allows them to have a better (?) standard of living than in the older times.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Town Called Alice

Now for a break! We headed back to Alice Springs to rest. Having been up and on tour buses very early every morning and finishing with a late dinner, we needed a chance to unwind and rest the body. Two nights at a nice resort would do wonders for us!

It was Easter Weekend and not much was open. So what did we do? We went on another hike through a nature park! I am beginning to feel great pain in my right hip. Not sure it is the sciatic issue. Unfortunately all of the walking and treking hasn't resulted in any weight loss because we are eating out three times a day! I was actually longing for my little galley and my style of cooking.

As a very pleasant surprise, the Alice Springs Nature Park was a well laid out stroll through the different types of environmental areas with living displays of birds, animals and flora. Even the soil charged with each environment.

They had a bird program in the amphitheater with the birds flying right into the audience. I am not a bird lover! I like them from a distance, but don't get too close to me, thank you very much. A couple of birds came a little too close for my comfort. I thought of how Daphne, our future daughter-in-law would have enjoyed the show as she works with birds in Oregon.

The best part of the day was finally seeing a kangaroo! I have been in Australia five months and had not seen a kangaroo. I still haven't seen one in the wild, but at least I have seen some now. Actually, you walk into their pen and take photos while they look at you as if to say, “Smile, here comes another tourist."

These are termite mounds. They are everywhere!
Unfortunately, these Commonwealth countries all celebrate the day after a holiday, so nothing was open on Easter Monday. We went into town for lunch and to wander, but there was not much to see in the sleepy place. We had had an overnight there before flying out to Yalara, so we had visited the shops and Aboriginal art galleries then. We had planned to return to one gallery to buy a painting, but it was closed.

Our good fortune was that several of the Aboriginal artists were selling their artwork on the street. We bought two pieces - one each from two different artists. They were a fraction of the gallery prices which was nice for us.  But even better for the artists as the got all of the money.

One told us that she only gets $10-15 from the gallery, but we saw nothing for less than $250 and some up in the thousands. We were happy to pay her the asking price and a little more.
Of course, like art everywhere there is different qualities and artist have different status standings. We enjoyed buying direct and telling them to keep the change. They both lit up! Unfortunately, we didn't remember to ask for a photo of the artist with her work! Delta, Alpha, Mike, November! Now I will have find a way to decorate around these two paintings. But first I will need to find a place to live! It's complicated.

We learned about the Aboriginal art - both historical and contemporary. Historically, they painted on the cave walls to pass information from one generation to another. Since the indigenous people are now being educated and live in houses instead of caves, the concept of painting their stories on canvas or other objects has been encouraged.

Each of our artists told us the story in the paintings we purchased. There are a number of symbols used by all to tell the stories. These are the symbols representing the creatures and events they believe created the world. After a while one can begin to "read" the story by understanding the meaning of the various symbols.

A little too close for my comfort!

One of our paintings.

I will have to work these colors in somewhere!
Maybe a powder room?
The technique used to paint in the Red Center area is basically Pointillism. They use acrylic paints and dab dots in pattern to create a picture. They have been taught this technique as a replacement for the cave paintings that were etched into stone in three basic colors: ochre, yellow and white. Sometimes charcoal was used, but it does not weather well. I loved the work of one artist and would have paid his hefty price if I had had a place for it. Right now I have too much art and no walls!

Anyway, I have learned over the years that art that looks great in its original environment often doesn't work well in a different residential setting. It often looks out of place with the rest of the decor. So I left the big one behind. Will I regret it? Maybe.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Now For A Big Walk-About

Whew! I made it to the top! I later learned what it cost me!
Hiking is not my favorite thing to do. Climbing rocks is my least favorite thing to do. But sometimes one has to grin and bear it in order to see the sites in nature!

The next adventure was a trek around the rim of Kings Canyon. There was an easier walk at the base, but everyone said the rim walk at sunrise was spectacular. So once again we were on a bus at 5 AM! Not much sleep on this vacation. But these sites close in the afternoon due to the extreme heat. It was well into the high nineties most days. Of course, they say "but it is dry heat." To me, heat is heat! And I am not a fan of it.

The guide said the toughest part of this tour was the first 500 steps. They went straight up the canyon wall - no switchback paths. Just straight up on the rocks. No handrails. No trees to grab. It was challenging with my sciatic nerve issue. If it had not been for Dennis and a Canadian we met, I would not have made it!

And according to Mike's GPS pedometer gizmo, it was 900 steps up! Don't always believe the guide who makes the trek several times a week. In fact, Mike sent me these statistics:

Distance 6.3 km (up and around the rim, then down)

Average speed 2.4 km per hour (I am sure I was the drag!)

Max elevation 758 m

Ascent 282 m, or we averaged it to about 900 steps (who said it was only 500?)

Was it worth the climb? Once I regained my breath and got my legs to stop shaking, I was able to look around in awe! With the sun rising on the red and golden rocks, it was amazing! It is our new favorite sight to remember here. The rock formations were spectacular. As was the patterns and textures of Mother Nature.

There is not much commentary for this trek as it was just the breathtaking views. Enjoy the photos:

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Majestic Kata Tjuta

While not very attractive, the fly net is essential here. The
little buggers were even heavy early in the morning!
One again we were up very early for a sunrise trip to see Uluru in morning light. This time a breakfast was served at the site. It was interesting watching the sun come up behind us and change the color of Uluru as it rose higher and higher in the sky. We could also see the moon in the western sky above Uluru. There have been a number of mornings where we have had the pleasure of seeing both the sun and the moon in the sky at the same time.

The morning sky behind us.
After breakfast, we took a hike at the base of Uluru to see some of the ancient cave paintings. During our drive around the base, we could see the area where you are allowed to climb the face of the rock. Due to high winds and heat, the climb was closed. Actually, the Aboriginal people do not like people climbing this rock as it has significant spiritual meaning to them and is a very sacred place.

After a short hike to see the sites at the base of Uluru, we continued on in the coach to the nearby Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) rock formations. Actually, they are 30 km away, but it was a nice ride. The air conditioned coach was a nice escape from the heat!
Uluru in the early morning

Cave paintings at Uluru

Our young guide explained how the
Aborigines find food out here.
Kata Tjuta is the Aboriginal name, which means "many heads" because the rock actually is comprised of 36 domed heads of red land. The tallest dome is about 546 meters high, making it 198 meters higher then Uluru.

One of the hikes was in the Valley of the Winds which is often closed due to too much wind or high temperatures. While we were they it was closed in the afternoons so we did the sunrise excursion.

Even though we were warned that "the Australian outback is teaming with wonderfully unique and diverse wildlife," we still never saw a kangaroo in the wild! We saw one Dingo, some wild horses, wild camels at a distance, but nothing else besides some birds. Actually, I am glad I didn't see too many creepy crawly things!
Interesting rock formations of Kata Tjuta.

Another view of Kata Tjuta.

The holes and markings are sacred.

While Uluru is a special place, we found Kata Tjuta even more so. This rock formation is also known as The Olgas. It seems that white man thought he discover these places and named them after kings, queens, governors, etc. 

The indigenous people have always had their own names and they are finally being used by the rest of the world. In the past few years, more land has been given back to the indigenous people and the government leases it from them for the national parks.

The benches in the park are natural wood from the area.
Kata Tjuta has even more very sacred sites deep in the caves and out of our view. We found it more interesting in both the Aboriginal stories and its physical characteristics. Kata Tjuta consists of 36 domes with the highest rising to 546 meters above the plain which is 198 meters higher than Uluru.

A beautiful reflective pool deep in the rock.
It was interesting to learn about the underground water source and how the natives knew where to dig with a stick to find it just below the surface. We also learn about the controlled burns they have used for centuries to control growth and nourish the soil to improve their next "harvests “of native plants. Just how did they figure that out?

The cave paintings were amazing. To think that some of them have been scientifically dated to 5,000 years and the rocks themselves dated to 1.5 billion years old! We visited one area that would be considered the “family room.” It is a cave where ancient paintings teach the stories of good and evil to the children. These are usually taught by grandparents. 

The indigenous people have no written language so everything is shared through stories. They are also identified by their language group as there are still over 200 different languages today. And the various groups do not understand each other's language, but the cave drawings provide a common way of communicating. This way they could get information from one another when passing through another group's area. At one time there were over 800 different languages! 

We were luck to have a relatively cool sunny morning so we could hike up to the Valley of the Winds before it was closed for the rest of the day.


Kata Tjuta at sunset.
Aboriginals also have a very special way of selecting a marriage partner based on maternal and paternal traits. In this way, they find a mate from another group that fits the match system so there is not a genetic issue of inbreeding. It is fascinating to learn about all of different cultures and how they figured out things we consider "scientific" today! They really are not primitive! They just have a different lifestyle.

The sunlight setting oan Kata Tjuta was stunning. Once again we had Sundowners and snacks while we watched the changing colors. Mother Nature is sooooo cool!

Dennis found a German speaking "girl friend."