Desert troubles

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Kings Canyon and Alice Springs, 17th - 19th October


17th October

After our 17 hour day yesterday, filled with so much emotion and excitement, today we start off exhausted. The night in a windy and dusty campsite definitely didn’t balance out the lack of sleep either. But that doesn’t mean the day isn’t still full of plans and places to visit. Who are we to have the right of slowing down?


Our end goal is to return to Alice Springs and to continue North to Darwin. But in order not to repeat the road we were on to Uluru we are driving on a different one to the North of it which will offer us two new stops - Kings Canyon and Mount Ziel. Let’s see …


I nap for about an hour until we reach the first stop - Kings Canyon. We are welcomed by a designer canopy with truly cold water in the drinking fountains. A video is playing on a loop on a screen in this unattended wilderness with warnings and guidance about the walking paths. Funny Australian pigeons with quiffs are waiting for a drink of water. It takes me a while to get into gear and wake up for the upcoming hike. It is so difficult that I am considering not going anywhere. But that is not one of the three options listed on the sign - routes of one, two and four hours (or 48 but that one is quickly written off). We know that the timings are inflated everywhere and yet we don’t fancy walking for 3-4 hours and if we do the short one we will most definitely not go on a second one. So the middle option it is - 2 hours.


What beauty! Intense red, rusty earth is surrounding us in all directions. The erosion has been passionate and creative here too. Natural steps form everything around us - tall or short, flat or domed. The territory is huge - you see the unique creations as far as your eye can reach; as far as it can focus. The greenery consists of dry bushes. Colourful arrows mark the path and direction.


There is no shade - there are plenty of flies. It is hot!


We reach the canyon itself. The signs everywhere are warning us not to get too close to the edge but I decide to test the boundaries nevertheless. I will probably not be coming here again; how could I miss out on the views? I have never been in such a deep cut canyon. The cliffs on both sides are vertical and smooth. Split up like frozen butter breaks up under a sharp knife. The colours of the vertical surface merge and mix - rust, soot and sand. The great gap is filled up by a green forest. The camera can not display reality. Splendour!


Not even the heat or the flies can stop us from enjoying these views. Though in a combination with hunger they help us get down quicker. After a quick lunch we set off towards Mount Ziel. The road to it is on many kilometres of Australian red gravel. We catch up with a convoy of three white four-wheel-drives and the entire scene is like in an advert for off-road tyres (remember this reference) - dust, gravel and four white 4x4s meandering under the scorching sun. At one point they all pulled over and we logically overtake them which we now thank the Universe for. Had we stayed behind them, we are not sure how the next events of the day would have gone down …


After about 20 minutes there’s a new light comes on the dashboard - a red radiator right next to the thermometer. Well, that’s not good! We pull over and consult the car’s handbook. The actual temperature never went up so we aren’t all that worried but at the same time there is no phone service here. The booklet informs us that this is an indicator for low levels of cooling liquid. If it is on then it needs to be topped up on a cold engine and if that isn’t possible for it to be left to cool down as long as possible (at least 10 minutes).


And there, my husband goes outside to fight Bertie. He releases carefully the tank pressure and in less than 5 minutes decides it is all good now and completely takes off the cap. What happens? A huge yellow fountain of cooling liquid erupts. And hitting the hot car it starts to evaporate looking like smoke. I run out immediately seeing the “smoke”; taking any valuables I can see in front of me - the phone and the camera. But also running off in socks as my shoes have been taken off a long time ago. Well, now we’re done for!


Just as we’re about to start worrying, the convoy from before catches up with us. They stop having seen our bonnet up. They ask what had gone wrong just as I realise the booklet said the liquid shouldn’t touch the skin and Nic’s arm is covered in it. So I rush to pour the last of our water all over him.


The passengers in the three cars are all English living in Australia - from Doncaster, Middlesbrough and Leeds. Driving around the outback with their wives and children. A manly discussion is held on the subject and it is decided that the situation isn’t all that bad. We just need to top up the tank with water and keep an eye on the thermometer. All the men do the work and then suggest we should join them so they can react if we end up needing help again. We head the convoy and set off.


Not even two minutes have passed and we pull over again. Nic feels as if we’ve got a flat tyre. Unfortunately, he is right - front left. Oh, what luck we have today! There’s no time to deliberate on it. I start emptying the boot so we can get to the spare after which I leave the men to do the work.


The other three are quite burley so the tyre is quickly changed. It doesn’t take a long time before some ice-cold beer is given to everyone but Nic. Sorry, Nic but after everything that just went down, I can use a sip or two or the entire bottle. One of the Brits doesn’t miss out the opportunity to remark that misfortunes usually come in threes so we should be careful. Thank you, for the warning!


We climb back into the cars and finally manage to calm down the emotions and have a think about what just happened. First, if you don’t puncture a tyre in the Australian Outback, where would you? Have you even been there if you don’t leave it with the spare on? Second, we would have been in big trouble if the convoy hadn’t shown up. We would have managed to change the tyre but the cooling liquid incident wouldn't have ended positively. Third, what are the odds of having other Englishmen rescue us? Forth, hindsight is a horrible thing - we should not have touched the cooling liquid tank whatsoever. Fifth, now we’re part of a convoy which was Nic’s initial idea weeks ago about travelling through the Outback. Never mind, we didn’t quite picture it like this. Our feelings are very mixed between feeling stupid because of our mistakes and calm as it all ended well. We are okay!


Unfortunately, we will not be seeing any of Mount Ziel as we need to get to Alice Springs sooner rather than later. Then why did we have to end up on this road? I guess so we’re not left without a flat. And the canyon was worth it too.


About fifteen minutes after the puncture the gravel road ended and we were finally back on tarmac. Which for our new English friends means developing wild speed. Do you remember one of them said: “bad things come in three”? Well, now he truly regrets his words as he ends up number three with a smoking, stinky tire - a blowout. We’ve been such a great tyre advert, haven’t we!?


We stop, of course, to help - we’re part of their team now. Ten minutes later the men are still taking turns trying to figure out how to get off the spare tyre but unfortunately they never figure it out. We realise that the two of us will not be able to help and we are encouraged by our rescuers to set off, alone on the road again. We want to reach Alice on time in order to get settled into the campsite and to be at the garage early in the morning.


Only about an hour and a half is left from the drive and with words of encouragement Bertie manages. We go back to the campsite from two days ago and get on to sorting the chaos caused by this crazy afternoon. We rearranged everything we found, leaving a huge pile of laundry for tomorrow. We hope that we will be able to manage with fixing the tyre quickly enough in the morning that we will be able to drive North and sleep in Tennant Creek. But let’s see first how the day starts.


I am so proud of Nic - my hero! I know he got some help but nevertheless Bertie was his responsibility and he did so well with the whole situation. We are both exhausted and despite today’s trouble, we feel it was a good day.


18th October

I had the feeling since yesterday that we will not be leaving Alice today. But let’s start from the beginning:


Early in the morning Nic quickly discovers that the convoy from yesterday have set up relatively close to us in the campsite. The three cars parked with their rooftop tent entrances facing each other like a little mini English village. We stop to catch up and quickly find out what a good idea it was not staying with them last night. They were on the side of the road for 4 hours and didn’t get to Alice until 11 pm which doesn’t surprise me because we definitely didn’t see them come in last night before going to bed. But they are a big enough group to keep the spirits high and don’t look like they suffered from their experiences last night. If anything it is just a cool story to tell.


We say goodbye again and set off for the cheapest tyre-repair place in Alice. We quickly explain our problems but they have no availability to help today - they are way too busy. They helpfully suggest a different place. That one is no less busy but they promise to fit us in. The hole in our tyre is too big to be fixed so we will have to get a new one. Here, they don’t have any of the cheaper tyres we want so they will buy a tyre from the first place we went to and then fit it. The Australian friendliness again! Well, now it is clear that tonight we will be sleeping at the same campsite again. At least the wheel is already off so we can leave just that and continue driving around town in Bertie.


We first return to our coffee place to get some things done. It is wonderful in here - small but so positive and recharging; the people are cool, the coffee and the food good and it’s a lovely spot for working. I finally send out the emails with wedding pictures to all our guests as it has been too long already. The rest of the time I spend filling in the diary for our day at Uluru while Nic is programming. I did not expect that day at the Red Centre to take up this much time, effort and ink. But it was the fullest day of our trip. We can still feel the wonderful trembles we experienced there.


We continue the plan for the day in an Asian restaurant with a completely vegan menu - unbelievably good lunch! After that, we return to the campsite to put on a wash or two. We use the day for administrative activities. To zero the list of tasks and start new.


Five minutes before the tyre garage closes we ring them as we haven’t heard from them yet. Oops, we might have given them the wrong number and they couldn’t reach us. The tyre is ready and waiting. I stay in the campsite to wait for the washing machine to finish as a good wife and Nic goes to pick it up. I think this might be the first time we have been so far from each other since the wedding. Not bad!


Nic returns and the new tyre is still in the back of the car. The garage closed when he got there so they couldn't help put it on. We, on the other hand, have lost a part of the car jack in the dust of the desert and it is currently impossible to use it. We breathe deep and ask our tent neighbours for theirs. They, of course, help out immediately. As I rest with my legs up Nic sweats up a bucket … and it’s done. The tyre is in its new place. It is so pristine that I don’t even want to torture it on the desert roads. Well, it shouldn’t have become a tyre …


Proud from the day we finish it off accordingly - with a beer by the pool. The temperature of the air is bearable and allows us to wind down and relax. And for tomorrow morning there are no plans to rush.


19th October

As planned we start the day off slowly. We are in no rush whatsoever. There are a few things to also do before we start driving to the Wild again. We shop, fuel up, wash the windscreen covered in dead flies, pump up the tyres and set on a wild goose chase - we are looking for a replacement of the car jack we lost in shops, car scrap yards, everywhere... It would be very irresponsible of us to go through the desert without a functional jack. It turns out to be incredibly difficult - this part is one of the first things to disappear from scrap cars. I guess we are not the only ones to have lost it. We stop at 5 places until we finally find somebody to help and dig out the lever we are after. And after that, we look for somebody else to cut it down a bit to fit into our existing jack. What an endless story for a lever! But now we are fully equipped for the next time. (No, mum, there will not be a next time!)


And we are once again on the same Stuart Highway that we were on to get to Alice in the first place. This time going straight North to Darwin. The views are still just as painfully familiar and boring. But this time a means to an end as we will soon be back on the coast. And there will be a break from the flies. The campsite tonight is behind one of the fuel stations - in the dust and the heat. Our experience is coming across some difficulties. Yet again we need to bin another bag of vegetables gone bad - I can still not get used to the lack of a fridge. At the same time I have never known how bad gone off potatoes smell - and imagine that closed off in the tiny space of a car. But we will manage that as well somehow!


Currently, we find it difficult to be positive. Things have started piling up. But there is so much more to come - we can’t despair now!


Stay Vivid,

Vassya (and Nic)



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