<!-- May 31, 2003 -->
Sitting in the YHA Blue Mountains foyer, waiting for my Fantastic Aussie Tours tour guide to pick me up. It's a lovely sunny day in the mountains. Everyone tells me I'm lucky, as the past week has been miserable and the only views were of thick walls of mist. Sounds much like my last trip here.
It's very windy, though. I'm glad for my fleece vest that I bought at the Salvos (Salvation Army) for $4 on Thursday. According to the posted weather board here in the foyer, it's supposed to get up to 13 degrees celcius today. Sunny all day. Thank god.
Although, today I'm off to the Jenolan Caves, so it probably wouldn't matter if it rained a little.
Yesterday was a long day. Up at 6:45am to finish packing and get ready for my trip. Popped into the Coffee Roaster for a free flattie (flat white, or "coffee with milk" as we call it at home). Then on to the Stray office on Pitt St. Inside, there were three girls and two guys sitting vacantly on the benches.
"Are you guys waiting for the Stray guide for the Blue Mountains tour?"
Yes, they were. Nods. Quiet "ya"s. Silence.
I sat on a nearby stool. I turned to the nearest guy to ask the classic traveller's opener.
"So where are you from?"
More questions. More answers. They start loosening up. The first guy I talked to was Ben. I also met Julie from Trois Rivieres and a girl from Atlanta (with no accent). Then there was Dan and Michelle from Brighton, England. Finally, we met Richard, our guide for the day.
A couple minutes later (9am), we were on the CityRail train to Katoomba (the main town in the mountains). Richard is pretty well0-travelled. He's been pretty much everywhere. We chatted about India at length, as the charm of the place (rather, lack thereof) is quite lost on me. Dirty, underhanded, poor, everyone in your face, busy, unsafe. Well. Sounds like luxury to me!
I chatted with the two North American girls about languages and travel. We agreed that, at home, we're considered by our friends to be extensively well-travelled. But once we go out and meet other travellers, we realize we're shamefully under-travelled.
The group of us discussed the deep-seated rivalry between England and Australia in the realm of sports. As Bill Bryson notes, the English are quite indignant that the AUssia have beat them at their OWN sports (rugby,cricket and footy). Aussies are just so infuriatingly good at every atheletic pursuit they take up.
The Stray tour told me mostly things that I already new. Like how the forest life has adapted to the environmental conditions such that it actually depends on and encourages fire for survival. But it was nice to have someone guide me around, do all the research and make all the decisions about where we were going and how to get there for me. It was also nice to have people to talk to.
Upon arrival in Katoomba, we get on the Blue Mountains Explorer bus. It's a hop-on-hop-off bus system that we use all day to get around to our various destinations.
The first place we get off is Stop #10: Katoomba Falls. we walk down to Witches Leap, where Richard tells us how to find the profile of the witch (nose, mouth, hat brim) amidst the trickle water they call a waterfall. One must stretch their imagination to see it.
We see Katoomba Falls several times along the trail: a long, multi-layered falls with very little water. We descend the Furber Steps - built by convicts, which seems to be an important distinction here. The walk takes about 1.5 hours, through lovely green eucalypt forest, and we end up at the Scenic Railway.
The Scenic Railway was originally what they used to haul coal up to the top of the cliffs. People who hiked down the valley used to bribe coal-miners to give them a lift up. It was converted to a tourist ride in the 70s, after the coal mining ended.
I didn't expect to be impressed by the tourist attraction, which they boast is the steepest train in the world. But I was in fact quite astonished by the steep angle of ascension. 53 degrees, I think Richard said. It was like being drawn up backwards on the Bat at Canada's Wonderland. The English boys oooh'd and aaaah'd.
At the top we ate a magnificent meal of sausages, bread and salad at Scenic World, the visitor's centre. Lovely meal. Interesting argument about the merits and difference between tomato sauce and ketchup.
Back on the Explorer Bus, we did the Cliff To pand Valleys Tour, including stops at Eagle Hawk and Cahill Lookout, overlooking Megalong Valley, Narrow Neck Point and The Great Dividing Range in the far distance.
We continued on to the Three Sisters lookout at Echo Point, which I've already experienced with the Plains.There, Richard tells the story of the Three Sisters. In Dreamtime, a witchdoctor turns his daughters into stones in order to save them from the dangerous Bunyip. Then, having turned himself into a Lyrebird, he loses his magic bone and is dommed to foever scratch in the dirt, searching for his bone so he can turn himslef and his daughters back into human form.
We take the Explorer Bus to Bridal Veil Falls and Leura Falls - a small but beautiful set of falls. A couple hours later we rejoin the Explorer Bus to the village of Leura and explore there. The candy store is a particular treat, with sweets from all over the world.
I walk the rest of the group to the Leura train station and say my g'byes before turning back to check out the rest of Leura. It's a cute village with an abundance of bakeries (with lovely lemon tarts, I might add) and galleries.
I have to leave earlier than I'd like to catch the last Explorer Bus back to Katoomba at 5:10pm. On the bus, I meet a great lady from Adelaide who's here for some alternative therapies speaker. She invites me to call her when I get to Adelaide. Aussies are like this, I find. She told me she'd spent $3000 on her five-day trip. (I spend only $300 at most.)
I walk back to the YHA feeling somewhat anticlimatctic. The YHA is beautiful. Brand new, clean, with a gas fireplace always burning and thus warm, bright, spacious, friendly. A reading room, TV/video room, pool tables, tourist info room... everything a heart could desire.
I climb the stairs to room 336, put my stuff down and in walks my roommate. Andrea and I immediately get on fabulously. A german girl travelling on her own, I'm interested to learn that shes been in the Blue Mountains for two weeks and has done almost every walk in the region.
She saws me her digital photos of her walks as well as of Canberra, where she'd been just previously. While I do want to go to Canberra, I don't think I'll be spending as much time there as she did. I might spend three days, at most.
My next stop is Coles to buy water and treats (coconut slices and muesli bars) for dinner and breakfast. I get sidetracked in the tourist info room, eating my coconut slices and reading about the various activities I can do on my last day in the Blue Mountains.
By the time I get back to the room, Andrea has left and I meet my new Aussie roommate (finally, an Aussie!). She ended up in Katoomba by accident. She was supposed to be on a camping trip with her friends (near Orange) but missed her train. We chat before she suggests going to a pub. I agree but I'm already exhausted. We end up at the Carrington bar, where a musician is playing. He's quite good, but not when you're really just interested in talking.
We have a great conversation about the difference between Canadian and Aussie men and relationships. Apparently, Canadian men like aggressive women much more. Aussie men enjoy this game whereby you pretend you're not interested until they break down and ask you out. Odd. Maybe that's what I'm doing wrong.
By 11:30, I'm ready for bed. At least bed is warm and cozy. Much more so than home, even! My ear plugs work well and I sleep like a log.
Which leads me to waiting in the lobby, where I started the whole story...
Up at 8:30am, I was able to take my time getting ready and even go grab a "flattie" at the Elephant Bean down the street before I was meant to be picked at the YHA. Lovely coffee.
Was picked up by Richard, the lovely older man of about late 50s. Said he's spent many years on Canada in the early 70s. Has a daughter my age, he said, living in NY. He was so sweet to me. We'd met the day before on the Explorer Bus and I thought maybe he felt sorry for me because I was travelling on my own.
on the ride to the Jenolan Caves, we stopped at Govett's Leap, a lovely waterfall but Richard assured me it was nothing compared to Wentworth Falls and suggested I go there with my last 1/2 day on my tour. He promised he'd try to get me there if he could. The Explorer buses only run at certain times, so he'd have to see what he could do about getting me there and back in time before the buses stop running. Whata sweetheart.
On the tour, I met Kim, a girl on exhcnage from UBC. She and some of her friends (including a girl from Calgary) were on an overnight trip to the mountains. She's planning on staying for another six months, however, and we talked about jobs and permanent accomodations. Really nice girl.
Of course, we both fell asleep on the bus ride out to the caves. I always fall asleep on buses.
We got to the caves at noon. I told Richard I'd like to do some walks so he sent me on 2 beautiful ones: Carlotta's Arch, Devil's Coach House and the Blue Lake walk. I finished them all in the the hour, alhtough I didn't have time to stop and go platypus spotting at the Blue Lake. There's supposed to be one living in the toothpaste-blue water there.
I had tried to change my cave booking for the Orient Cave rather than do the Lucas cave... unfortunately, the Orient was overbooked so I had to stick with the Lucas. Sadly, there were about 70-80 people on the tour. That alone was enough to ruin the trip. Even though the monotone tour guide, Phyllis, told us MANY times clearly not to touch the limestone caves as it would damage them, many people continued to touch them at every opportunity. Stupid Blonde English Girl literally put her hand around stalagtites or other formations and rubbed them. Several children who were old enough to know better and were with their parents touched the limstone as much as possible and dared their parents to say anything about it.
Then there were the rude people who thought if they pushed me or ducked and charged in front of me, they were certainly to win the prize for most eager and would ultimately see more than anyone else. People like that are just asking for a punch in the face.
So, while the cave was quite pretty, I was thoroughly stressed out and frustrated by the end (and by the middle, incidentally).
At 3:15pm we emerged, most of them non-the-wiser that they'd degenerated grossly in my opinion of them and their level of intelligence. (Example of an actual question asked: "How much does the earth move?")
But we were back on the bus again and I was chatting with the mother/daughter from Brisbane who were equally dissatisfied with their cave tour. And they also had mjuch advice for me about visiting Queensland, which they say is far more casual (thongs and bathings suits are de riguer) and much less hectic. "More slow," the girl said with wide eyes. She seemed overwelmed by the big city.
Although I inevitably dozed off, Richard was sure to wake me so I could see the kangaroos off in the distance as we passed a huge field lined with forest: perfect roo territory. There were probably 10 or more of them just munching away on the grass. And there there was the gorgeous sunset as we mounted Narrow Neck Ridge.
Finally, Richard dropped me off at the YHA, telling me I'm a "lovely girl" and he was so happy to meet me. What a sweetheart.
Back in the hostel, I again met with Andrea who'd had a difficult walk to the Ruined Castle with the other Canadian girl, Sarah.
I set off to get take-away fish n chips ($5.70). Andrea and I ate together and chatted. We then had tea and cookies (she shared hers with me) and sat in the overstuffed arm chairs in the lounge and discussed the media, how we got to where we are (our past lives back home) and our plans. Then it was time for bed and she had to clean the kitchen (for her accomodation). I read some of my book before crashing at 11pm.
Had another lovely warm sleep. Contented sigh.
13-15 degrees, sunny and windy
In a Sunburned Country