Friday, April 23, 2010

What Is There Not To Love?

This week's PhotoHunter theme is addiction.

Since moving to Glenelg I have become addicted to watching the sunset!  Each and every evening a new  picture is painted in front of my eyes.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Here We Go Loopty Loop

Now that we had found the perfect campsite it was time to hit the trails.  We pulled out our much used Northern Grampians Outdoor Recreation Guide to see if there were any bushwalks nearby.  We discovered that not far away was an area with a couple of short hiking trails to Aboriginal Art Sites.  Unfortunately, we knew that these trails would be packed with people.  However, it was also possible to combine three local dirt tracks to create a 16km loop hike.  We decided to go for it and headed over to the Buandik Picnic Area. 
Our hike consisted of two tracks, Goat Track and Victoria Track, which were open to 4wd vehicles.  We knew that the dirt roads would be fairly easy terrain to hike.  The third track, Hut Creek, was a maintenance track that was closed to 4wd use.  We could only hope that this track would be maintained or at least passable.
Since it was well past noon, we ate a quick lunch in the picnic ground and hit the road.  We followed the route clockwise, which meant the closed road would be last.  This was a bit of a risk because we had no idea what condition it would be in, but we figured if worse came to worse we could always turn back.  
The Goat Track lead us quickly away from the canyon bottom.  About 20 minutes into the hike there is a wonderful lookout over the plains that surround the Grampians--it would have been the perfect lunch spot if we hadn't already eaten our lunch. 
As the trail continues to gradual climb it passes through forests of woodland banksias, eucalyptus, and native pines.  As we gained altitude the pine forests became thicker.  Their sap dripping trunks and branches filled the air with their rich aroma, a smell that momentarily transported me to the southern mountains of New Mexico.   However, I was quickly brought back to the present when I spied a wallaby enjoying an afternoon nibbly of some of the fragrant resin. 
About 45 minutes into our hike we merged with the Victoria Track.  Here we began to follow a ridge that passes through some of the magnificent rock formations for which the Grampians are famous.   The carved boulders and sheer cliffs of the area are perfect examples of the relentless impact of erosion on the soft sandstone rock.  The red tors and scraggly peaks that stood in the distance beckoned us, but unfortunately we would not be visiting them on this trip.
The second track was a bit longer than we thought and we began to worry about the condition of the next track.  It was getting late enough that if we had to turn around we would be hiking in the dark.  At about 2 1/2 hours in we finally hit the junction.  To our relief there was a couple who had just come up the route, so we knew that it was passable.
The locked gate stated management vehicles only, but it was obvious that it had been a long time since anything on wheels had passed through the area.  The track became narrow and in areas it is overgrown with vegetation.  Had it had not been for the couple who had exited, just as we entered, I am not sure we would have continued--or at least not so confidently.  In addition to the upward bound tracks, we were able to use the semi-dry creek bed as a guide.  The meandering trail slowly took us to the valley bottom where we merged with final dirt road that would return us to our car.

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Earth Shaking Memory

On Friday night there was a small earthquake here in Adelaide.  It was the first time that the earth moved here since 1954, and even though the quake only measured 3.5 it was the topic of discussion on Saturday.  I slept through the excitement, but the following stories brought back memories of some time I spent in Mexico City.
In 1995 I found myself floundering and jobless.  I had recently returned from teaching English in Spain, and wasn't sure what to do next.  My Aunt had a connection in Mexico City, who just happened to be looking for someone to teach English at her school.  I decided that I had nothing to loose and jumped at the opportunity.
In exchange for my working at the school, the family would provide me with a place to live and all meals.  This worked well for me since, even though I had lived alone in a foreign country, I was intimidated by the size of Mexico City.
My accommodations included a shared room with the family's daughter.  Annie and I, both in our mid 20's, hit it off well enough.  However, when I saw our room, I couldn't help but feel I had been transported back to my teenage days.  The walls were covered with posters of Pop Star Pretty Boys.  Hmmm, I would have preferred a more sophisticated decor, perhaps more in line with the rest of the house.
My new home was centrally located in Polanco, right across from Chapultapec Park.  For those of you unfamiliar with Mexico Cities neighborhoods, Polanco is on the ritzy side.  Our building may have been dull and grey on the outside, but looks can be deceiving.  I was reminded of that each time I entered the apartment from the elevator (yep, the elevator opened right into the apartment) to be faced with an original 1930's David Siqueiros painting--no posters here!
The flat reflected the rest of the life that I was to live in Mexico: maids, chauffeurs, doormen, nannies, and all of the other people that make it possible for a "household to keep running."
As much as I tried, I had a hard time adapting and assimilating to my new found riches.  I couldn't help but cringe when at dinner I was consistently reminded that Mexico has no poverty.  It was as though the people I was living with had encapsulated themselves in a glass bubble and were unable to see the world around them.  The protective barriers that had been placed around me began to suffocate me.  My only escape from my prison was when I would have the driver "take me to Church." In reality I would slip him a few bills to allow me to wander the streets of the magnificent, though poverty ridden, city.  Each time I returned from one of my secret excursions I would thank the Virgen de Guadalupe, not for delivering me safely, but for allowing me to use her as an escape.
After a probationary two months I had to make a decision.  Would I continue to live in the oppressive confinements of Mexico City, or perhaps I should say of the glass house, or was it time to leave?  I had the weekend to make my decision.  On Saturday night, I decided to stay at home and weigh my options.  Except for the maid, I was alone in the condo.  I sat on the bed listing pros and cons, when Mother Nature abruptly provided some input.  The 10 story building started to sway back and forth.  The plate glass windows began to vibrate and rumble.  A paper mache clown riding a high wheel bicycle on a trapeze strung across the room, swayed spastically from side to side.   I froze in fear as visions of the collapsed buildings of 1985 filled my eyes.  There had been a lot of recent coverage of that tragic event  since the city was currently "celebrating" the 10 year anniversary of the "big one." The visions were fresh in my memory.  I was brought back to the present as the maid ran into my room and dropped to the floor on her knees, screaming and frantically crossing herself.  I'm sure that rather than visions, she was recalling vivid memories.  When the rocking ceased, I picked up the phone and booked a plane ticket home.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Under Cover Of The Light

This week's PhotoHunt theme is covered.

In late February the Northern Lights arrived in Adelaide.  For 38 nights, the city's historic architectural icons on North Terrace were "covered" with light.  Each evening for 4 hours, the sandstone buildings were turned into an electric canvas.   The light installation was the largest of its type ever displayed in Australia.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Damn Dam

As we walked the dirt track I came across a rubber moccasin, clam shell and the tip of an anchor--each half buried under dry leaves, twigs and dirt. They seemed so out of place on the valley floor among the fields of dry cattails and the hundreds of lifeless trees that lined the horizon. However, the previous night's events allowed these mementos to envision a time when the area had a much different aspect.  
We had returned to our campsite to find it as empty as we had left it that morning.  We  were relieved that our new-found paradise remained undiscovered.  However, as we sat playing cards and enjoying a Sol, it looked like there was change on the horizon.  Out of the blue, a red Holden Ute came speeding down the dirt road toward our campsite.  It didn't bother to stop or slow down as it entered the campground, and it made a B-line for us.  We were a bit surprised since we weren't visible from the road.  It was obvious that whoever was driving knew that we were there.  Mark and I were sitting at our card table as we watched the truck barrel toward us, visions of Deliverance flashed in our imaginations.  When it was less than 10 meters away, we both prepared to dive into the bush, but we were saved as the vehicle pulled to the left, just meters from where we sat.  As I looked through the open window at the man dressed in the dark blue and orange floro shirt all I could think was "Shit, he is gonna tell us that we are trespassing."  Instead, we got a smile and a tip of an open stubbie.  It turns out the driver, a local, had been out cutting wood earlier when he saw our tent.  It had been ages since anyone had camped in the area and he just had to come and check us out.  After getting the scoop, I'm not sure if he was more baffled by the fact that there were two Yanks in his backyard, or that we weren't bushies.  I guess city folk bring everything including the kitchen sink with them when they camp, yet we just had our $25 dollar tent.
As the sun set slowly on the horizon, our conversation turned from questions about us and our camping gear to the history of the area.  
We learned that in the late 1800's a network of weirs, storages and channels, were built throughout the North-Western Victoria.  The Rocklands, which was completed in 1953, was the largest reservoir in this network, and it distributed water to 51 towns and 22,000 farms.   Unfortunately, evaporation and seepage losses proved to be too great for the man-made creation, and the reservoir eventually went dry.
The history lesson was soon replaced by our new mate's memories who, a bit pissed on the grog, began to tell us yarns about waterskiing, swimming and fishing.  It was his memories that I turned to the next afternoon as we walked the reservoir bottom, and I could almost hear the splash of water.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Plan B

Mark placed the open map on the dashboard and he tried to raise my spirits by showing me that just to the east of the Grampians lay the Black Range State Park.  He then pulled out some information that he had printed off the internet.  The description of the Black Range claimed that the park was a relatively quiet and remote area.  The only problem we could foresee was that it was located on a reservoir, and during peak tourist season water usually means hoards of people.  However, we also knew from experience that just because a map indicates a lake or a reservoir it doesn't always mean there is water especially in this part of the country where, after nearly a decade of droughts, many large bodies of water have decreased in size and in many cases become non-existent.  
We decided to give Black Range State Park a chance and took the 40 minute drive to the south-east.  The park boasts six camping areas, and we picked the one without facilities--we figured this would mean fewer people.  Our map indicated that we were to turn off of the North Grampians Highway onto Brooks Road.  Good thing we had a map, since there was nothing indicating that there was a campground at the end of the track.  We were a bit concerned by the lack of signage, but it was obvious that the dirt road had recently been used.  Ten minutes down the road we found an open bush camping area.  A sign indicated that we could camp wherever, as long as we stayed 10 meters above the water line.  Not that we had to worry about that since, as we had predicted, the reservoir was dry.  To my relief the entire area was vacant and we had found the solitude that we longed for.  Now the only question was, would it remain this way?  It was only 11:00 in the morning and the "campground" could easily fill up as the day progressed.  However, the area was large, and even if the crowds arrived, it would be easy to find a quiet corner.  Rather than setting up camp, we decided that we would go and hike just down the road and find the perfect spot when we returned.  That way we would be sure not to have any immediate neighbors.

Dry Reservoir

Five hours later when we returned we found the campground as empty as when we had left it.  That night a near full moon served as our nightlight and a few grazing kangaroos were our only companions.

Solitary Bush Campground

Early the next morning, just before the sun peeked over the horizon, we were awakened by a cacophony of sound.  With over 100 bird species recorded in the park the variety of chirps, cries, hoots, laughs, peeps, shrieks, trills, tweets, warbles, and whistles was amazing.  The symphony that came from the tree to canopy was unlike anything I have ever heard.  I couldn't help but wonder if it was this music that kept the early explorers marching as they pressed on looking for that great inland sea.  Did they believe that for there to be so much life there had to be a huge source of water?  Or was there the disbelief that brightly colored, exotic parrots, rosellas, lorikeets, and cockatoos could not exist in a desert, that there had to be something else? We considered that, perhaps, instead of the songs of the wild giving them hope--the laugh of the kookaburra that drove them mad?

Over breakfast, we decided that we had discovered a mini-bush paradise and that we would use our current location to continue to explore the area.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


We may have paid no heed to the Teacher Exchange Program's advice not to swap houses, but we did draw the line at exchanging cars.  It wasn't so much that we were concerned about what could happen--though I am sure Mark had run through all types of scenarios in his head--but more because we did not want to drive while we were in Spain.  Neither of us like to drive, and part of the draw of living in Europe was the accessibility of public transportation.
At first we thought that since we would not exchange vehicles that the swap might not happen, especially, since Lily would pretty much need a car to make the 8 mile commute to the school where I taught.  There was the possibility of taking a public bus, but that involved several transfers and leaving the house at 6 am.  We pointed this out, but Lily had a bit of a lackadaisical attitude.  I don't think she any idea of how spread out everything is in New Mexico.  Fortunately, some of my co-workers agreed to give hear a ride to and from work--which was my main concern.  Eventually, someone leant her an old beater that would get her around town--this  kindness was repaid with several hundred dollars of unpaid parking tickets.
So with Lily's transportation solved, I just had to worry about myself.  This proved to be a bit difficult because I would be working in a small pueblo about 50 minutes outside of Murcia where Lily's house was located.  It was possible to take a bus, but that would mean a 30 minute walk to the bus station.  Like Lily, luck was on my side and the people with whom Lily carpooled agreed to take me along.  This was a bit of a burden for them, since normally each participant would drive one week out of the month.  Being car-less, I was not included in the rotation.  Instead, I would contribute money for gas and expenses.
Of course, I was never provided with the phone numbers for the people in the carpool.  I was told to wait for them outside of the apartment, on the 1st of September, the first day we were to report to school.  The pickup was supposed to occur at 8:00, and I headed downstairs early.  At 8:30 I was still standing and waiting.  As we didn't have students for the first couple of weeks  I wasn't too stressed.  At 9:00, I finally went back upstairs to call the School Director.    While he had me on the land line, he called up the others who were in the carpool.  It turns out since the 1st was on a Friday, they had decided not to report to school until Monday.  So It would be a long weekend before I was to meet the people with whom I would be spending about 10 hours a week over the next 9 months.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Well Preserved

This week's PhotoHunter theme is "vertical".

This hole measures 1.8m x 1.2m and drops vertically over 58 meters (200 feet) into the ground.  The original timber-lined shaft was built in the 1870's.  It is located in the 270,000 hectare Ngarkat Conservation Park in South Australia.  It is the last surviving well, a relic of local pastoral history, in the Pinnaroo district.  

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Don't Plan On It

Our plan of spending the long Easter weekend on the historic Birdsville Track was destroyed by recent storms.  Not only had the dirt road been washed out, but much of the area was still under water.   The track isn't scheduled to fully re-open until the end of June.  So we were faced with what to do with a 4 day weekend and a 4wd.  
As we tried to make a plan, we discovered that many campsites--especially those on the coast or in the mountains--required reservations.  Of course, as we began to make phone calls, we found that everything had been booked out months ago.  We switched our focus to some of the more isolated inland State Parks.  We found two parks near the South Australia/Victoria border that didn't require reservations.  We figured that the large parks, which had plenty of dirt and scrub but lacked in water and facilities, wouldn't be  coveted vacation spots.  Each park boasted several longer bush hiking trails and we figured we could keep busy for a couple of days. Unfortunately, the treking would consist of crossing sandy, flat ground.  
After hours of pouring over regional maps, it was determined that we could throw in a bit of a challenge by stopping off at the northern edge of the Grampians--a mountain range famous for its rugged rock outcrops--to hike Mt. Zero.  We planned to take the longer trail from the Stapylton campground.  We figured if we arrived early enough on Friday morning, the first day of school holidays, we wouldn't have a problem securing a camping spot.  Also, this campground offered no facilities, which from our previous experience made a campground non-popular with families.
Our journey began Wednesday at noon.  Our first stop was the Little Desert Campground.  We were encouraged when we landed a riverside campsite.  There was only one other large group in the campground.  We kept our fingers crossed that our luck would continue as we set out early the next morning.  As we pulled into the  Stapylton Campground we realized that in our planning we had forgot one important fact, where there are rocky cliffs there are rock climbers.  Every Uni student from the state of Victoria and South Australia had converged in this one campground.  Colorful tents filled the area like sardines packed in a tin can.  If we had wanted we could have found a spot to squeeze in our tent, but when in the bush I like to listen to the  wildlife rooting around, not to my neighbors root.
At this point, sensing a melt down,  Mark pulled the RAV over in the day use parking area.  As he pulled out the map he calmly announced that he had a Plan B.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Here Comes Peter Bilby

Last week there were a lot of these little guys around Australia. If you look closely at the picture you will see that this is not your typical Easter Bunny. Rabbits are not native here in Australia, and they have been very destructive to the natural habitat.  However, we do have the bilby.  Many local companies have chosen to use this nearly extinct animal as the new Easter Mascot.  
The bilby, which can weigh up to 2.5 km, is the largest member of the family of marsupials called bandicoots.  Its silk soft fur is blue-grey in color, and it has a black tail that dons a white tip. It has a long pink snout.  The diet of the bilby consists of seeds, spiders, insects, larvae, fruit and small animals.  It receives all of the water it needs from the food that it eats
The bilby and rabbit are similar in that they both have large ears and live in burrows.  However, the bilby's ears are very flexible and they can be rotated, placed flat against or perpendicular to the body, and even folded in half.  Also, the bilby is a truly nocturnal animal and it only comes out an hour after dusk and it returns to its underground home at least an hour before dawn. Its home being one of a dozen--2 meter deep-- burrows that it has built with its strong forelimbs and long claws
 Before the arrival of the Europeans in Australia the bilby could be found across 70% of the Australian continent.   Presently they are found in a small area in south-west Queensland and in isolated colonies spread across Western Australia and the Northern Territory.  Their extinction in the other mainland states has been attributed to loss of habitat, hunting, competition from introduced species, and predation from introduced species.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Rough Start

So far my first week in Burra had been a bit of a struggle.  The majority of my classes were with older students.  I knew that would be the case when I accepted the position in the Teacher Exchange Program, but I was confident that I could adapt my teaching to suit my students' needs.  However, it was turning out to be more of a struggle than I had anticipated.  I knew it would take time.  But now I was about to enter the class that I had been waiting to meet all week--a group of 6 and 7 year olds.  Teaching first and second grade was where I had the most experience and I was about to walk into my comfort zone.
I knocked on the door and was greeted by a raspy "entra."  As I entered the room, Mary was slowly rising from her desk.  With a cigarette in hand she began to sashay towards me.  She stopped at my side and introduced me to the class as the English teacher.  She then took one final puff, and while blowing the smoke in my face she let out a chuckle and wished me luck.  I was a bit taken aback, but as the door slammed shut my attention was drawn to the class that sat in front of me.
21 pairs of eyes quietly watched me as I began a more formal introduction.  Like with all young children and foreign language classes, the start was a bit slow.  However with patience and props we were off to a good start.  Suddenly, a little girl stood up and started yelling at me that I needed to speak in Spanish.  Within seconds the blonde haired, blue eyed, ring leader had the entire class chanting "En Español" while banging their pencil cup on the desk.  Now I may have been a newbie in this school and country, but I had had years of experience with many difficult classes.  I had gone through a very progressive teacher training program where I had been provided with a "toolbox" of a variety of discipline strategies.  I quickly began rummaging through that box, but I couldn't manage to find the appropriate tool to fix the problem.  In fact, the students had turned from chanting and pounding to throwing things across the room.  As I began to panic, I switched to Spanish and continued my struggle to get the group under control.  Unfortunately the situation continued to get worse and, before I knew it, I had students on tables, under table and running around the room screaming.  With over 40 minutes left in the class period I had no idea what I would do.  Just then there was a knock on the door and to my horror the Director poked his head in.  All I could do was say, "Don Beschit, I think we have a problem."
I then stood in horror as I watched him pull students ears, slap knuckles and yell at the top of his lungs--all tools I wouldn't have found in the remotest corners of my tool box.   With order restored and under the watchful eye of Don Beschit I was able to successfully finish my lesson.  However, I couldn't help but wonder how on earth I was going to survive the school year.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In A Glass Of Its Own

This weeks PhotoHunter theme is "sweet."

Last year while on a wine tour in Western Australia I was able to try some wonderful Ports--a sweet red wine.  Even though they weren't authentic Port, since they aren't from Portugal--they were still tasty.  
At one winery they served the strong, fortified wine in a unique glass.  You sip the spirits through a small spout.  The narrow opening of the glass and the fact that the liquid is sucked from the bottom of the glass reduces the oxidation of the beverage. The glasses were also designed so that your hand warms the spirits as you slowly enjoy your drink.  

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jueves Santo

Every year in February, the late night "marcha" of Southern Spain takes on a different tune.  Dozens of young men take to the streets to practice carrying large wooden tables throughout the streets.  These tables, or pasos, will carry ornately decorated religious icons through the streets during the Holy Week of Easter.  When fully adorned, the pasos can weigh over 2,000 kilograms, and are carried on the backs of 20 to 30 costaleros.  Due to a skirt that surrounds the base of the paso, the costaleros are unable to see where they are going.  Thus, they take to the streets several months before Semana Santa to practice the basic maneuvers of lifting the table, moving forward, turning, stopping and setting the down the paso all in response to instructions given through the beating of a stick.  Practice is often accompanied by a small section of  church marching bands or a single trumpet.  During the late months of winter, it is not uncommon to hear the lone call of a trumpet announcing the imminent arrival of the Easter Celebrations.
Little did I know that February of 2008 would be the last time I would have the privilege of  the seasonal experience of stumbling across the costaleros practicing their perfectly coordinated moves through the narrow winding streets, and that I was about to experience my final Easter in Utrera.