Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Quick Post from a Farflung Outpost

Having been to one of the coldest places on Earth, I now find myself in one of the hottest. Right now I am writing in Coober Pedy, the Opal Capital of the World and it is hot, though Ayers Rock and Alice Springs, both in the 40's lie ahead.

I'll try to write more on this whole trip once I get to Alice. Internet access was available so I took the opportunity to give an update.

Friday I was up at 6.00 anf picked up at 7. I was the last person to be picked up and all in all there are 12 of us, including Anthony the driver, driving in the minibus towards Alice Springs. There are three English lads from Cumbria, a girl from America, a guy and three girls from Switzerland, one guy from France, and a Dutch girl. The English guys and the Dutch girl leave us today; they couldn't get a flight back to Sydney any later than Wednesday.

We are travelling into the Red Centre of Australia and it gets hotter everyday. I thank God for air conditioning though I kind of wonder what He was thinking when He came up with flies. Insect repellent doesn't work on them. Yesterday I tried 97% deet and still they kept landing on me.

The landscape is incredible; desolate, dry, deadly, but incredible. Wildlife-wise we have seen kangeroos, emus, pink cockatoos and white, lizards, a mouse spider, a small snake that could have been a brown snake, and wedge-tailed eagles.

The first day we went to some Aborigine caves to see some paintings, stopped off in some tiny towns for lunch etc. and ended up in a hostel-type resort which we had to ourselves. Buying far too little alcohol, we ended up playing drinking games until near 12. The next morning we were up at 6.30 for some bike riding. We had been told it was mostly downhill. Someone lied. I didn't really get to grips with the gears either and ended the trail pretty close to that big tunnel with the white light at the end. I didn't go into the light, needless to say, and recovered soon on the bus.

Just outside Lyndhurst, we visited the local eccentric, Talc Alf, who tried to explain the origin of all languages from some truly daft ideas on word construction. Basically everything comes from A = Man, B= Woman, Ra = Sun and bits of French, Chinese and German as and when he needed them. Entertaining though and his heart is in the right place. His artwork is fairly impressive too.

That afternoon we had a swim, or rather we stood in a crowded 6 foot by 6 foot spa. Given the weather, this was delightful. Lizards crawled our clothes while we soaked and nearby a flock of white cockatoos sreamed their disapproval. Cockatoos, for the uninitiated, sound like a strangled child back from the dead for revenge. Horrible sound.

We had been looking forward all day to the pub we had been promised at William's Creek. Unfortunately we got there on the big social night of the year for the area's eight locals, their Christmas party. The pub would be closed. Learning from our mistake the previous night, we bought probably far too much drink this night, though we made a fair stab at it. Close to four I crawled into my swag, that is a large, rainproof sleeping bag affair that allows you to sleep beneath the stars. The stars needless to say are stunning in these unclouded skies.

It only took us three hours this morning to get to Coober Pedy. The people here live in burrows (Coober Pedy is Aboriginal for White People's Burrows), or rather underground, though a seven bedroom house will set you back a very affordable 130000 Australian dollars. Some places, such as the tourist centre, have been adapted from old opal mines (mining is forbidden in the town since the 70's). It's all a matter of whether you'd live here though. As a community, it's bigger than most of what we've seen so far, but that's not saying much. Usually we are talking about towns such as Marra which has two stores, a hotel, a tennis court and a lot of rusting train engines left behind when the Ghan, the train that goes from Adelaide to Darwin, moved its tracks. Here they have a swimming pool and a grass playing field! These are two things that were particularly pointed out on a tour we made of the town with a local guide. Although mining is forbidden, extending your home is not, and that is what many people here do, some homes having up to 21 rooms! In that last case the owner found nearly a quarter of a million dollars worth of opals in the process.

A little bit of trivia: Coober Pedy has been used as a location for many sci-fi movies including 'Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome' and 'Pitch Black'. The spaceship that crashes in 'Pitch Black' is still there. Just like in the movie, the monsters in Coober Pedy only come out of their burrows at night. In a town of three thousand, there are ten policemen and two detectives. Violence apparently is commonplace, though we have seen none.

Tonight it's pizza and pints, then tomorrow onwards to Uluru.


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