My aim is to travel from the UK to Brisbane for one of my best friends' wedding. Plane travel is so environmentally damaging so I am looking for another way. I also think that by travelling over land and sea I will be able to understand our world better as I will connect with the people and landscapes and not just look at the departure board in the airport. Any tips gratefully received!! Departure date 1st September.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Decisions Decisions

There are many rational and irrational ways to look at my decision and I can tell you I have been through them all. I am sure any of you who are bothered enough to read this will have your own opinion on my decision and also know what you would have done yourself. There is so much to say regarding this decision and for those who want to know, this is how I decided.
I really have looked into all the options for non-plane transport and I think it makes for interesting questions regarding the lack of infrastructure. There are no ferries, no cruise ships (until maybe July), no cargo ships will take me (insurance issues mainly), the yachties don't start again until April, I didn't even approach the fishermen I was too scared! I can't swim that far (not without getting eaten by a shark) and the canoe is still not an option. After freaking out a bit more, I had to look at the options rationally (thanks Paunch and Jaded!)
I whittled them down to five which were; 1) Wait until April for a yacht; 2) Go back down south and wait for a cargo boat, probably June; 3) Go east and join the Greenpeace ship and work for them till I reached another country (May) 4) Fly to Kupang, West Timor and 5) Fly to Bali. I decided on a system which took in the following factors (in this order of importance). Environment, Safety, Sanity (v. important at the moment!) Adventure, Time and Money. I gave each option a value (skewed for the level of importance i.e more for bad environment than bad money. The worst offender in each section got a bad bonus bad score too. I don't know if this makes sense, not a lot does this week. I have been literally tearing my hair out (well actually I just chopped off a few inches in a moment of hot frustration! Anyway it looks pretty cool and curly and funky Bali surf chick! - (joke) Anyway, I just gave the game away. The result were....1) Fly to Bali, 2) Fly to Kupang, 3) Join Greenpeace, 4) Wait for a yacht and 5) Go for the cargo ship. Considering 3, 4 and 5 are still only possibilities and I don't really want to wait another 6 months to get home, it was only 1 or 2 really.
There are no ways to justify my decision so I won't try but I am only human and unfortunately have had to break my own commitment (no one else placed it on me) and take a small flight.
This flight will produce 0.4 tonnes of CO2 ( which I take full responsibility for - and still keeps me below my limit of 2.5 tonnes a year (now 2007) and less than the 4.43 tonnes if I flew home (Darwin to Cardiff via Singapore). Obviously there is the issue of encouraging the industry and also there is still more travel to come as well as the fact I will produce/contribute to the production of CO2 in many other ways, but as I have said before I am trying to minimise these all the time. This brings me once more to the issue of offsetting.
For those of you who are interested in the issues check out this new website set up by some friends of mine I know that once the CO2 is in the atmosphere it cannot be taken away. All I can do is hope to make a true reduction in the equal amount of CO2 being produced elsewhere. This is something I had always planned to do for this trip anyway when I returned. Does anyone want to buy some low energy lightbulbs to get me started? One other small way I hope to compensate for this flight is to cycle at least the same distance in the final stage of my journey home. This means cycling from the south of France to Wales. If anyone has any advice or tips, lives along the way or would like to join me/put me up along the way then please let me know.
I am gutted it has come to this and that I haven't got the energy to see this challenge through any longer.
On a more positive note I have met some lovely people in Darwin, Julie from the 5W - Women Welcome Women Worldwide (!) network, Michael my angel who scooped me out of the yacht club trauma and all the lovely folk at the Banyan View Lodge, if you want to stay in Darwin, stay there, it is chilled and friendly and lovely.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The bridesmaid's dilemma - What would you decide?

So here is the great dilemma. Ever since I got to Australia (well quite a long time before actually) I started looking at how I was going to return. I have searched high and low for shipping companies, fishermen, sailors, anyone who I could get a lift with. Without paying lots of money to get a cargo ship in reverse I decided my best bet was to head to Darwin, the nearest place to any other country and check it out. Unfortunately due to timing I arrive here in the middle of the wet season, cyclones are a risk and no one is going anywhere fast on a sailing or fishing boat. Apparently there are lots of pirates on these seas too and so some people are wary of making the journey. There is a huge sailing rally in July when many people go from Darwin to Kupang (West Timor) and Bali and people are always looking for crew and there is safety in numbers. My visa runs out in April though! I took my 'Sailing CV' down to the harbour anyway but the lady in the yacht club just told me 'no chance at this time of year' and helpfully buggered off! All the yachts were out of the water. None of the cargo ships seem to accept passengers and there are no cruise liners at the moment. The (un) helpful people in all the travel agents just look at you with a 'why would you want to do that?' withering look and just say 'no' without even trying to look outside their box. Even the nearest flight to West Timor is only 1 hour (485km) and emits 0.24 tonnes of CO2 - relatively small and would allow me to stay within my quota for the year. Every time I suggest this to anyone, they mostly think it is a mad idea and put me off, although I did meet some others who took this option recently. Recently a fairly mad guy tried to canoe over and did pretty well but ended up getting rescued from a remote island - not my best idea, but I have to check out everything! I really don't know what to do. Another possible option is to go all the way back to Adelaide! and get a cargo ship from there to Italy, although I am not sure when the next boat is. It would cost me lots more and I wouldn't get to see Indonesia but even back-tracking would be much less CO2 emissions. It would be nearly 30 days on board, could I do that? I feel like this trip is bigger than me now and bigger than the wedding I came to. When I think back to that day and my time with Helen and my pals, it was so worth this stress but I wish I could go back to that date and not have to worry about this decision now! I nearly went for a plane the other day as I had lost all hope of finding another way, I am running out of cash and I miss my friends and family and home. I was all packed up but then I just couldn't do it and burst into tears with tiredness from it all. This is not about me and whether I am happy it is about the planet. I really can't encourage these companies that flying is such a good thing. Dilemma, Dilemma. I know some people think I am wierd and why don't I just fly and get over it, but I also know others who say 'don't do it, stick to your beliefs'. I know I am an adult and have to make my own decisions but....any thoughts or advice gratefully received!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Another Unique Aussie Experience

Far Out! the only way to describe my recent adventures! After trying to get a lift from Alice Springs to Darwin for a week I decide to give up and take the Greyhound bus option (cheapest). Just as I am boarding news comes in of a cyanide spill on the Stuart Highway just after Tennant Creek (1/3 of the way to Darwin). The road is closed and I am advised to go back to my hostel. After chatting to the driver I decide to get on the bus anyway as I really need to be going forwards and who knows what might happen when we get to Tennant Creek. We arrive at 2am and there is no change so my options are....1) Go back to Alice Springs and stay at the bus driver's house!! 2) Get a hostel in Tennant Creek and wait - apparently it is not that safe though and tomorrow is Thirsty Thursday....3) The bus driver asks a truckie at the bus stop/petrol station if he can take me on from here.... So all of a sudden I am standing in the middle of the road making a split second decision and I decide to go forwards 25km to the road closure with Arthur the truckie! We arrive at Threeways Roadhouse at about 3am and I try to sleep a bit but fail. Adrenaline, anxiety and sleeping sitting up in a random truckies cab don't equal happy snoozing! Up at 7am to check on the news and there are various stories but it is sure to be a while. I get brekky and meet some of the other stranded folk. Lots of truckies and people trying to get home as well as a couple of tourists. The spill is 100km north of here and it is sodium cyanide which is ok until it gets wet when it produces cyanide gas and instant death! We hear it has fallen into a creek and there is rain coming so it is not looking good. I try to sleep in the shade of a tree - it is 40 degrees c here but I get munched by ants. I then discover there is a pool (thank the lord for the pool!) but it is only so long before I get bored and wrinkly and get out. By mid-afternoon it is clear no one is going anywhere tonight and most people have started drinking at the bar. I decide to join in (it may help me sleep) for a while and everyone is a good laugh and there is a great community spirit. Nearly everyone commented on how sorry they felt for me sleeping under the tree (I must have looked like a hobo) and I had various offers of spare beds/truck bunks for the night. I declined them all in the end! After a few winning rounds of poker I try to sleep again back in my upright position. No joy and now my ankles are swollen too - I wish I was a camel as they have special pumps in their legs to pump the blood back up - I recently discovered! Up early again to hear no more news. Everyone is pretty bored, very hot and totally fed up now. I am starting to lose the plot with tiredness, hunger, the heat and the surrealness of the situation. By 3pm I am sitting in the toilet bawling my eyes out at the situation and the world in general (more on this later...) At 3.30pm the police come and say we can probably go through tonight. At 5.30pm they come back and say we can go now...Yay! The convoy sets off, 27 trucks with 61 trailers of freight and god knows how many cars. As the cyanide contamination readings are still high we have to go slow and wait 3 minute intervals between trucks and 1 minute intervals between cars. We spend another 5 hours waiting on the road with humourous chit chat from the truckies on the radio as entertainment and to cap it all off, a bush fire to the west and a lightening storm to the east! Finally we get under way at 10.30pm and spend a few delirious hours driving into a crazy lightening storm listening to German and Nordic heavy metal/opera music! Finally my body gives in and I manage to snooze on and off the last 900km to Darwin, via dropping some meat off in Katherine in the middle of the night during more rain storms! I arrive in a zombie like state and somehow find a bus to the city and collapse at the lovely, quiet Banyan View Lodge hostel.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Uluru, Kata Tjutas and Kings Canyon trip

I decided soon after arriving in Australia that as I was only ever going to visit once, I had better make the most of it. Although it was a bit out of the way, I knew I had to visit Uluru (Ayer's Rock) and try to learn more about Aboriginal culture. After debating the options, I decided to take a 3 day trip. On day one we visited Kings Canyon and took a pretty hot walk around in the heat of the day. It was stunningly beautiful and it was very interesting to learn about the Mulga tree - toxic but a multitude of uses for tools. Also the Corkwood tree which can be used to soothe teething babies. My favourite was the Ghost Gum tree which has sunscreen in it! We also saw some amazing rock formations, lots of lizards and some pygmy koalas !!(don't ask, it is like the drop-bears, a bit of warped Aussie humour!) That night we drove towards our camp spot but we were so tired and hungry we didn't make it and stopped early by the side of the road. We soon discovered we were in an ocean of ants as we tried to eat without being bitten. I think I took some with me when I went to bed in my swag and so hopped around for ages trying to find a spot with no ants and ended up making everyone laugh and sleeping on the table. An early start and onwards to Uluru and Kata Tjutas National Park. After driving past a big mountain (fooluru) we finally glimpse the red rock in the distance. It seemed to keep moving as we got closer and we are left in anticipation a while longer as we take a brief detour to the Olgas (Kata Tjutas) and the Valley of the Winds. I soon realise that this trip is very tight on time and also as we walk out to the panoramic view no one else is interested in quiet contemplation, just rushing around, photographing and chatting. This is fine but I feel like I need some time and space so I manage to get left alone at one spot for a while. I try to feel and understand the place and the history and get all poetic. I also realised that I should be thankful to the indigineous owners or Anangu, as they prefer to be known. I write a thankyou note and a poem which I later passed on to one of the local elders via the cultural centre. After lunch and a swim we take a trip to the cultural centre. It is very interesting to learn more about the local culture and how the fate of Uluru as a tourist attraction has been reconciled. We learn more about the symbols in the artwork and their meaning and also about some of the mens and womens tools used. Our last mission for the day was to watch the sunset at Uluru. I anticipate the worst and am quite well pleased. Hundreds of tourist buses and cameras and people chatting and sipping champagne. I get quite angry as no one seems to be understanding anything about this place. The view is beautiful though and I enjoy it enough. I think sunset watching can be a bit cheesy anyway! I am excited about tomorrow when we get closer. An early rise in the dark so we can watch the sun rise from behind Uluru. It is very beautiful and thankfully less tourists. We then go to walk the base walk. We arrive at 7am and I am saddened to see the thousands of 'ants on shit' as the Anangu call them! climbing the rock. It is disrespectful to the Anangu who ask people not to walk as it is only for men during certain spiritual ceremonies. I manage to walk the pleasant 9km base walk alone. The weather is not too hot (although by 9.30am when I finish thay have closed the climb as it is already 36 degrees c!) I am surprised by the number of trees and vegetation nearby and think it must have been a pretty good place to have lived. I am intrigued by all the closed off and non-photographable sacred sites, but I will never know what they are about. Then our trip is all but over. Back on the bus and back to Alice Springs. Time goes quickly, partly as we are forced to play some silly games, do a quiz about what we learned (which was quite a lot it seems!) and also to sing a song from our country. For some reason me and three others from the UK end up singing Vera Lynn's 'We'll meet again' A brief stop at the camel farm and another collapse in Alice Springs.

To Coober Pedy and Alice Springs

About 3 weeks later than expected, I finally depart Adelaide for Alice Springs, (isn't slow travel great!) I take a Groovy Grape bus which takes us via a night in Coober Pedy, the famous, remote, opal mining town where many people live in underground 'caves'. Our first day's drive takes us past lots of salt lakes and some surprisingly green desert (due to recent rains and floods.) Our driver Tash is good fun and it is great to share travelling stories with her. She is very into her wildlife and helps to point out a load of wedge tail eagles and as we search for her favourite thorny devil lizard we see Lizardus Plasticus! After a very hot day in the bus we arrive at Coober Pedy just before sunset and get to see the end of another day in this strange place. Piles of excavated rock everywhere and with its drive-in cinema there are many similarities between this place and a 1950's small country US town. It is not very beautiful and quite industrial. Our home for the night is in a disappointing 'cave' half dugout hostel. The one impressive feature is the 24 degrees c constant temperature, but like many buildings here they are functional, not beautiful, and with their dust protective glaze, look on the inside very much like fake, stone fire surrounds from gas fires circa 1970! After dinner we venture out and finally find the miners bar. After a bizarre chat with local miner David, I realise it is safest to go to bed. In the morning we get a free tour of the opal museum! It is actually very interesting and I discover amongst other things that they have only had their sewage system for 4 years and it has been designed to flow through their school field, which is extremely and beautifully green! So the idea here is you dig a mine to look for opals and on the way you can make yourself a house, which needs no air conditioning! Only 60 dollars a year for 50mx50m plot but you have to be there fairly regularly to mine it. Onwards and northwards and another long, hot day in the bus staring at the endless desert. When we finally arrive in Alice Springs I have lost all sense of humour I ever had with the heat (can't even put my feet down on the floor of the bus as it is burning!). I have food with the friendly folk from the bus and pass out cold 2123km progress further home made!!