November 8th -The trip to meteorite craters

Emīls writes:
The morning begun very early – at 5 AM. Because we wanted to go to Henbury meteorite craters and we shouldn’t delay our teammates who stayed at hostel and should be ready at ~10 AM for leaving the city. Two boiled eggs and a yoghurt for breakfast. I had a lazanja from yesterday that I bought at Alice Spring’s supermarket, so I decided to eat it first since it was more delicious than just an ordinary egg with salt.

We are almost there at the craters. This time road is much better than before – no mud, no floods. Ilgonis is at the wheel. Just when I got out of the car I noticed we have a flat tire. Very flat. It could have been because of the gravel road which had quite big rocks on it. So the only thing we could do is change our tire with the one we had under our car. It was smaller and not fully pumped but it was the only way to get back to Alice Springs. After Ilgonis and Rūdolfs did that, we went to explore meteorite craters. They didn’t give me the impression that I was hoping for, but still it was interesting to see a place where a big rock from the space was fallen many thousand years ago. At the bottom of the craters there were trees and bushes, and water as well. Probably there are animals that come here to drink water. Just then we saw two kangaroos who were jumping away from us. I suppose we disturbed them. Later on the gravel road we saw two more kangaroos. So it’s more than in the whole trip together till now.

When we returned to Alice Springs, we went straight to the auto service. There we found out that the tire needs to be entirely replaced because the hole in it is too big. Additional expenses – 160 AUD.

Later that day we went in Tennant Creek’s direction. We decided not to go to Devils Marbles because of the approaching storm. We saw dark clouds, and in a moment it started to rain. Of course, there was also a fire in the desert as it should be traditionally – because we are looking for a place to camp. But we didn’t get alarmed, we just cooked supper – delicious pasta with bolognese sauce – and went to sleep. No stars tonight – it’s cloudy. Strange, but most of the nights we have spent in the middle of Australia’s desert were cloudy. There were only two nights till now when we were able to learn how to find southern constellations. Yet the Moon is approaching the Sun. 6 days till the total eclipse.

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.

November 5th – to Uluru

Guna writes:
The alarm goes of at 5.30am, but since we had a very restless night and it’s still quite dark, I continue sleeping wondering how are our friends doing in the tent as the wind is still howling, as the storm has seemingly moved on. Luckily the rain has stopped and lightning can be seen only far away near horizon. After half an hour consciousness kicks in and I get up, wake up Gunta and Evija and after a while also Agnese and the others.

At first we decide to make fried eggs but as we all get to assess the situation outside, we opt against any cooking as the wind is so strong that it would classify as storm in Latvia. So the breakfast turn out to be exclusive yoghurt, musli, banana and rock melon. Still the food is flying straight into Emils’ mouth when facing the wind.

Despite the late start we manage to leave our campsite at 8am and a little bit later cross the SA/NA border where the time zone is +9.30 so we have even saved an extra hour.
We decided against going to Kings canyon so that at least one day could be spent in a more leisurely manner. And we were right :)
Finally the day has come when we manage to see real, close-up emus… in a petrol station, in captive…. still some baby emus and grown-ups. Very beautiful and majestic birds though I don’t quite get it, why they are kept there.

We turn to Uluru and after some 240km, false sightings and spotting of the Ayer’s rock… twice… we arrive at the national park, which belongs to the Anangu people. By the way one of the false Uluru mountains is supposed to be the most photographed mountain in Australia after Uluru. Exactly for the same reason. Unfortunately we were not exception and got excited as soon as we saw it. The real Uluru hides behind the national park border. The entrance fee is for whole 3 days which might justify its price – 25$.
First stop in the national park is Mt Olgas [Kata Tjuta] where despite the heat we manage to eat some lunch at the same time as getting 360 degrees view on the mountains.
It’s hot, some 39 degrees in the sun. So it’s cooler than the day before.

We hope the heat would stop as a walk into the Olgas would be quite hot. But we get lucky because the nearby and never ceasing storm is getting nearer and the day becomes pleasantly cloudy.
The mountains and gorge is of course spectacular and enormous (approx 500m high). However probably the best experience is on our leaving when finally a kangaroo (probably the big red one) crosses our way. We’re lucky and everybody is only happily surprised.

The weather worsens and clouds are impenetrable with occasional rain droplets when we arrive at Uluru. We have abandoned any hopes to see Uluru in sunset and settle for information center and drive around the rock. However the weather surprises us again and presents us with almost wonderful sunset which we watch reflected against the Ayer’s red rock.
We are ready to leave the national park and planning to return tomorrow and witness also the sunrise.

Our camp site again is located some place on the way back in the middle of no where but as we approach the place the sky on the horizon is weirdly sunset colors but the direction is wrong. There is again another fire, a much bigger from the looks of it and directly towards the place we need to camp.

We decide to stay on a side of the road but and watch out for the fire. The site is much nicer than the last one with some water proved.
Beef steak with pasta and salads is arranged as very satisfying dinner and at 10 pm we’re ready to go to sleep in order to get up early and see the sunrise over Uluru.

November 4th: around Coober Pedy

Gunta writes:
Waking up at 5:30, the morning is calm. Sunrise at 6:22, the guys are preparing breakfast. The porridge made by Ilgonis is tasty, just one pot gets burnt a bit. Two crows are chatting to each other, looks great, maybe they are discussing pans for the day. Breakfast. Leaving at 7:50, destination for today – Agnes’ creek. The first stop – at a stand with information about railway building from Port Augusta to Alice Springs. Along the road desert plants, the scenery changes from dried grasslands to bush in red soil. Salt bushes and eucalypti are growing here. On the sides of road it looks like there are thrown out some kind of yellow balls in piles. Later we find out that the yellow fruits are camel melons which are poisonous for humans.

We arrive at Coober Pedy. It is very hot. We visit the underground Orthodox church. Then entrance is for donations and some of us are paying. Guna and I put a candle for the living souls. Then we go further to see the Big Winch. The one displayed is a replica because the old one was twisted and broken during a storm. The houses are mostly underground. Next we go to the Old Timer’s Mine opal museum and shop. The exposition is big. The temperature in shade is 39 degrees Celsius. The local shopkeeper says such temperature is usually in February (i.e. in spring). The normal temperature in November is around 20 degrees Celsius or a little bit more.
There are no people outside, only us. Some of us buy some opal jewelry. We eat our lunch in shade. The wind in sun almost burns our feet. We watch the demonstration of rock blower machine and have the opportunity to try it out ourselves – the force is so strong that one can see its skin rippling.
Coober Pedy is small town or a big village with many houses. Everything is sandy and dusty.

Afterwards with one car because of dirt road 4km long we are going to Crocodile Harry. The dwelling looks like a cave at the basis of the mountain, the entrance is at the ground level. There are many rooms – living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and a small library. Women’s underwear hangs everywhere. The walls are covered with greetings from all over the world, also from Latvia. We find a photo album with a photo taken in Dundaga [town in Latvia] and the little Harry on a donkey in Culture and Leisure park. Next to it is a photo of Harry – all grown up in Coober Pedy – big bearded, long haired man. It is a strange feeling and it evokes thoughts about time and Harry’s destiny.

We are going to the camp site. There’s lightning all the time near horizon. The lightning strikes straight into the ground. Emīls is waiting rain for it to wash the car. Some raindrops occasionally fall on the windshield. There are no kangaroos on the road, not counting the dead ones.

We stop at Marla and some run to the sprinkler to freshen up. We meet travelers from England who are renting campers from the same Spaceship company. So we exchange DVDs, suggestions and impressions with them.
Later on the way we encounter strong wind but not so strong rain, dry spinifex (desert grass) balls are rolling over the road.
A radio conversation occurs between the two cars – [Optimus Prime (the girls’ car)]: how many kilometers are left? [Hawk (the guys’ car)]: we don’t know. [OP]: But you have GPS! [H]: just a minute, we’ll turn it on.

At camp site we prepare dinner – a kangaroo steak and potatoes, plus salads. Very tasty. There’s a bush fire in the distance. Our scouts come back with some good and bad news. The good news is that the fire is not very big, and the bad news is that it is only approximately 2 km away. So we decide to go to the next camp site 35km further. There is also an emergency phone. On the way we find that the bushfire is bigger and also further – around 15 km away.

We stay in our new campsite.There’s storm during night. Rain comes down in huge drops but the average rainfall is small. The car sways and it feels like it will be lifted up by the strong winds. We think how the ones sleeping in tents are feeling and whether they also won’t be blown away into desert.

Greetings to all reading my entry!

Agnese: I should add here that on this day we noticed that the conditioner of the OP car is not working properly. In Coober Pedy we sent an e-mail to Spaceships office and asked to organize us someone to see to that in Alice Springs besides the failed cigarette lighter/electricity pug with a hope that we’ll still be alive by then. Occasionally we are switching the cars so that the others get the coolness of Hawk as well. But I don’t switch – I still have the cough that I got in London, and I don’t want to get cold.