November 14th: A total eclipse in Cairns.

Emīls writes:
This morning began very early. I’ve slept for some two hours because me and Agnese decided to join Couch Surfers at their beach party. So we spent a few hours at the fireplace near the ocean and talked a lot about astronomy at the same time looking high in the sky. There were clouds but there were some stars as well. At the beach we could see the low tide – the water was more than a hundred meters away. Maybe even two hundreds – it was hard to tell in the dark. When we went in the water and started splashing, we could see strange lights. I think it was luminescence of plankton. It was the first time I see something like this.

In the morning at 5 AM we went to the reserved place on the beach where we planned to observe the eclipse. There were not so many people as I thought there would because the sky was quite cloudy. We observed the sunrise at the horizon, bet when the Moon started to eclipse the Sun 10 minutes after the sunrise, the clouds came over. So we saw the eclipsed Sun only when the Moon had covered almost half of the Sun. I managed to get nice pictures although there were many clouds blocking the Sun for certain moments. Only a few minutes before the full phase we started to notice that the light becomes strange, clouds in the sky started to become pink, sky at the horizon became orange, just like after sunset. When the full eclipse began, many people started to shout, clap their hands and so on. In a moment the clouds separated and we could see the eclipsed Sun with its corona shining beautifully around it. All photographers grabbed their cameras and started to take pictures, some people filmed the event. In two minutes the full phase ended, producing a spectacular diamond ring – an effect when the Moon reveals the first bright-shining part of the Sun (Sun’s photosphere). Maybe the view from other places in Cairns wouldn’t be so good because of the clouds. But we got really lucky. At the end of the eclipse we noticed some interesting shadows on the ground and on buildings – leaves from trees produced many images of the crescent Sun.

Straight after the eclipse ended we went home, took our bags and went to the south of Cairns. We visited one waterfall that was on our way, but it didn’t put a big impression on me. We spent the rest of the day driving in cars. On our way we stopped to buy some delicious bananas, watermelon. In the supped we had mashed potatoes with canned meat. We felt quite tired because of the long way and many hours spent in the cars. Even this night was clear with skies full of stars, I didn’t have much energy left to look for some unknown constellations. So I went to sleep quite soon.

November 6th – From Uluru through storm and rainbows to Alice Springs

Agnese writes:
The sunrise is expected at 5:50, but we are many kilometers from Uluru, so we need to get up early to be on time. The stars are still visible at 4:30am and Venus is shining above the fires near horizon. Those are smaller than last night. No breakfast yet – we will eat it later near Uluru after the sunrise.

The closer we come to the national park, the more clouds there are above. We are a bit late, but we don’t miss anything – there’s a long band of clouds stretching over sky with one side right in that place where the Sun should be. When we are heading to the viewing platforms, crowds of disappointed people are already leaving.

We don’t have any rush. The guided walk which we’re going to join starts at 8am, so almost 2 hours time. Toilets are good and after refreshing ourselves we start to prepare breakfast. Emīls is the man today – he’s preparing scrambled eggs. Tasty! By this time the Sun has appeared and gradually starts shining on Uluru as well. Beautiful!
We also need to make some sandwiches for the lunch, so I give a cutting board with a piece of salami to Anders so he can cut it in slices at some moment. Guna finds him few minutes later with a cup of coffee in one hand, cutting board and sausage in the other, peacefully contemplating at the colour changes on Uluru.

At 8am we meet our guide for Mala walk – he is a ranger in this national park and knows lots of facts about Aborigenal people. The 2 hour walk flies by very fast. It maybe seemed like 30 minutes – so interesting were his stories. The Aborigenal peoples’ ways of gathering food are incredible. They got honey by cutting of the belly of honey ant and they knew how to find the places where to dig for these ants. They use the tiny (less than 1mm in diameter) seeds of grass to make flour, they grind them with stones. The bowls where to put all the gathered food are oval and brought on the heads. They are supported by a ring of grass and human hair that is put between the bowl and the head. Sometimes babies are carried in them as well.

We also got a surprising information about burning the desert – apparently Aborigens have created a system on artificial burning over thousands of years. Around 50ties in last century the government had taken the land from them and didn’t listen to them, and no artificial burning was happening. In 70ties a huge fire burned around 80% of the desert and Australia lost 3 creature species. A bit later the land was given back to Aborigens and now it is managed together with Aborigen elders.
In the rain season Uluru gets some showers and then the water is flowing down as many waterfalls. Even though it rained yesterday, that was only half-a-milimeter. Before that they hadn’t had any rain since March.

Last sights of the pale orange Uluru and we leave for Alice Springs. On our way – Henbury meteorite craters. Those are accessible by a 15km gravel road. Our cars are not supposed to go on unsealed roads and I don’t want to risk with both cars, so one car will be going twice. Not far from the turn to the craters a heavy rain starts. By the time we arrive to the junction, the rain has diminished, but not stopped. The road doesn’t look very bad, so we decide to try. The surface is slippery but bearable, however, just for first 4km. It looks really bad after, so we decide to turn back. In case we really want to, we can come back in 2 days while the conditioner and electricity for the other car is being fixed.

The surroundings get more interesting as we are approaching Alice Springs. Some hills, some winds on the road. At one point rain gets very strong and hale follows soon after. A bit scary, so we reduce the speed, but no issues. Once we are through the hale and the heavy rain, a very bright rainbow appears on the right side. The purple colour is well visible. After a while the 2nd rainbow appears above it with reversed colours. The rainbows follow as the road winds through the hills, at some moments we can see the start of the main one – right in front of our car. Beautiful! We also stop to take some pictures.

I have told the hostel that we’ll arrive around 8pm when the reception is closed already, so they are surprised when I call and announce our arrival at around 6pm. The hostel – Alice’s secret – is better than I expected. We have booked 5 and 3 people dorms, but get 6 person one instead of 5. Very nice – more space and air. Guna, Gunta and Evija will be sleeping in the 3 bed one, the rest in the other.

Shower after the 3 nights in tents are very welcomed. We decide to go to the town after. Guys have put clothes in washing machine. While we are waiting for the laundry to be finished, heavy rain starts. No, in such rain we will eat dinner in the hostel. Couscous with sausages for dinner and then time to sleep – at least for those who don’t try to get the stories in the online blog. The speed of internet upload is so slow that I cannot upload anything between the connection resets. (Next morning is much better.) The rain stops only after midnight when almost everyone is sound asleep.