Poem-Hunting in Far-Away Lands

In search of a poem, a line to
Form those more-perfect words that
I can just barely find on
Hillsides in the sun and
A tall, lone tree that stands there
By itself, glimmering…

Like those words I come back to on
Distant days in far
Flung lands where I walk under a
Bridge and smell sweet
Roasting chestnuts in a July
Christmas market. Toys and gifts.

That perfect metaphor, or
A quiet line that spills through to
Bright days in a desert. Such red
Soil, like the blood of
Ancients. Seeping and becoming one
With a pale blue sky that I

Reach and reach off to but
Cannot grasp. It is

Too far away so I
Stay here and think of
That little cryptic word
Wriggling around in

The sinews of a time
In winter gardens and the
Bright blue of deep songs
In dark distant and still
Summer skies.

Quick Stanzas on Travels Past

III.

Gone are nights in
Antique beds by open
Windows that look out to
Water and waves and

People jogging by
While I eat boiled eggs
Coffee, and cream.

V.

The chill nights in red
Lands. Quietness and views
And thoughts of rugged holes
In rocks that we cannot take
Pictures of but see…

Out there in the distance by
Stumps of time that twist
Back on bushes that blow
In winter winds.

Exploring Kata Tjuta

Today was an enjoyable day, mainly because it was slower, and I didn’t have to leave at sunrise. That’s the way it is around here. You either leave with the sun, or you leave in the early afternoon to catch the sunset against Uluru later in the day. It’s nice and all, but can be tiring.

Kata Tjuta is the next big sight in this area, and, like Uluru, it is a remarkable rock formation. Instead of just one great rock like at Uluru, though, Kata Tjuta is a collection of rocks (that’s what “Kata Tjuta” means, “many heads”). It is a beautiful, stunning area and I went on a 4 hour hike that takes in the best views, the Valley of the Winds hike.

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Here’s Kata Tjuta. It’s maybe 30 minutes away from Uluru.

When you really get going on the Valley of the Winds hike, you realize how Kata Tjuta is a lot different from Uluru. Uluru feels pretty solid. A giant piece of rock. Kata Tjuta, though, is far more a collection of rocks all smashed together. It’s a conglomerate. Like a bunch of rocks were just randomly formed into one. Because of this, the place feels more fragile somehow. The rocks feel like they’re just barely hanging together.

It is extremely beautiful, though. And extremely quiet and peaceful. With crystal clear running water, and shadows that hang against the rock canyon walls above.

And like at Uluru, you have water trails down the rocks, and great caves way up in the walls.

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The Valley of the Winds trail winds around in the rocks, and at one point opens up to great views out into the distance. Those open views stretch on and on until you pretty much hit the Indian Ocean out in Western Australia.

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The entire hike isn’t too strenuous, and afterwards we headed to see the sunset over Uluru. Check out how the colors change… this is just over the course of 5 minutes.

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These photos say it all…

Walking Around Uluru

Today I set out bright and early for Uluru. It was cold and windy, but the desert was beautiful, with low-hanging and clumpy clouds. I was dropped off at one end of the great rock, and decided to make my way around all of Uluru. In the end, with a lot of stops, it took around 4 hours. Here is my walk…

These are morning views of the desert before I actually started my walk. I find the desert so beautiful and peaceful here. It honestly feels and looks like a dream-world, another planet. So quiet. This path led to the beginning point of my walk, the Mala segment.

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This Mala portion of the walk was awesome because it finally put me front and center, right by Uluru. So close you could touch it. It also made the contours and pot-holes and scars of Uluru that those distant pictures just don’t capture very obvious. Like these great black streaks like paint down the rock left by thousands of years of water moving slowly down the surface, coloring it black.

I also was starting to understand at this point the importance of Uluru as I kept on walking, and how it is basically the book of the Anangu, the original inhabitants of this area. All of the markings on the rock are like words, are stories about the myths that define them. Like these pictures…

These caves are their history. The picture on top is said to be elders of the Anangu (they do have white beards!) frozen in the face of the rock. And many places on Uluru have caves adorned with paintings that served as lessons for the young, teaching them about the area, its plants, animals, and how to survive. This cave is like an ancient schoolroom!

This is the North side of Uluru. Very cold and very windy here.

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I just think this is a beautiful photo. The sun suddenly broke through, and you can just see it above the cave.

Now I’m rounding the Eastern tip of Uluru. It’s taken about 1 hour and a half to cover the Northern side.

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I thought this side, the Southern side, was by far the prettiest. More contours and details in the rock. Look:

One area had been recently burned, and still the great stream lines coloring the rock.

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Uluru just goes up and up! You almost become dizzy when you look straight up these cliff-faces.

Yes! More hands! This reminds me of the hand-prints I saw painted on the wall in Altamira in Spain… it just goes to show that humans, across space and time, have always felt the need to paint their hands. To say, “I was here!” The other marking is for a waterhole, which makes sense because this was right by:

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Have you ever seen anything more beautiful in your entire life? I mean honestly, just look at that! This is the Mutijulu Waterhole. Spectacular! I just stood and stared and stared…

These are also right by the Waterhole, and the markings again tell a story. Uluru as a giant book.

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And… back to where I started from. 4 hours in. You can see in this one the hand-rail you can hold on to if you’re insane enough to try and climb Uluru. Today it was closed because of high winds at the summit. I would do this if I wanted to die in a cool place… hah-hah!

Off to Uluru

There are a lot of places in the world I never really thought I would ever get to see, whether because of timing, distance, or political unrest. For a long time, in fact for probably the bulk of my life, I never dreamed I would make it to Uluru. It just always seemed too remote, too far, too much of everything. Like it was on another planet. Lost somewhere in the distance.

But, today I saw it.

It still surprises me, considering all of the odd and strange and beautiful places I have been to, how that thrill still gets to me. That greatest of natural highs. An almost uncontainable happiness and personal satisfaction. That feeling that you did it, the world be damned. My other great joy about being in places like this is also perhaps more vain. I love being the first one in my family to have ever been here. The place is mine in a sense. My own in my family, and every foot-print a step forward into uncharted family waters. It’s a great feeling.

This is, though, just the start. I’m here for the next 3 days, and am going to take it slow. Seeing Uluru up close tomorrow, and Kata Tjuta the day after, followed by another, final day in the area. Hey, why not? It seems foolish to come all the way out here just to pick up and leave in a day. I want to settle in, and really get to know the place. Tomorrow I start…

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The view from my deck!!! I’m staying at Sails in the Desert, a swanky place right by the Rock.

It’s truly called the Red Center for a reason, although right now it is very cold outside. The soil is truly deep red in places, and beautiful purple desert flowers are in bloom. Very, very beautiful. A stark beauty.

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A nice view of Uluru from a lookout.

I came back to the lookout to see the sunset. Such marvelous colors.

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Tomorrow morning I’ll see the sunrise in the Park, right up against Uluru.

Into the Blue Mountains

Today was an interesting and fun day, mainly because it was very un-planned. I opted for an organized tour, which is something I really never do… since I prefer the greater freedom of doing it yourself. But, I think I’m starting to come around. Or maybe I just had a great tour guide…

I set off for Blue Mountains National Park, which is about an hour or so outside of Sydney. I went with a very small group, and probably one of the funniest tour guides around. This guy just had such a dry sense of humor, and there were little moments during the day where I couldn’t tell if I should be afraid, or just laugh. I say this because it was a very rainy, windy, and downright cold day in the Blue Mountains, and there were times when we’d be driving, and he’d be going into great detail and depth about a story, even moving his arms around in the air, but most of the windows would be fogged over, and I swear he didn’t have his hands on the actual steering wheel. But… I guess if you have to go down, this is as good a place as any! In the end, I just laughed anyway. At least I couldn’t see a car coming right at us, if one was coming. Hah-hah.

So, dealing with this cold and rain, we ventured down into a great Grand Canyon-like Park to see an ancient forest. Some of the trees in this area are millions of years old! And this age combined with the seclusion of the valley and the rain dropping on the canopy of leaves above, made for an unforgettable experience. It smelled so fresh and pure. Deep breaths of rain.

Other highlights of the day included lunch in the picture-perfect town of Leura, taking pictures on a sheer, windswept cliff, an Aboriginal rock carving of a kangaroo, and taking a boat back to Sydney on the Parramatta River right where the Olympics had been held. I think at least it was a good final day in Sydney. See for yourself…

It rained and then it stopped all day. The picture on the right shows the famous Three Sisters rock formation in the Park. We went down into the valley below.

Some more photos, and then the giant cable down and down. At the bottom is the ancient forest.

It was just a great quiet forest full of ferns, turpentine, and different types of gum

trees. A lot of this type of vegetation is what the dinosaurs walked around in! Still, far above us, is was raining…

We then took a stop for lunch in the quaint little town of Leura, where I had an excellent chicken meat pie, before continuing to Wentworth Falls, which we had to hike down to. The view was worth it though:

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And then the Falls.

After this it was getting late in the day, and we quickly stopped at a look-out over the Valley. The guide (I wasn’t sure if he was joking?!) said someone was nearly blown off a day back. Well, at least the view was nice.

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The day then officially ended with some rock art, and the cruise back. It was great to go under the Bridge and see the Opera House lit up in the dark!

See the Kangaroo?

Exploring Taronga Zoo

Today I set off on an early ferry from Circular Quay, and made the short trip across the harbor to Taronga Zoo. It was a beautiful morning, cool and crisp, and a slight haze hung over the bridge. The ferry docked, and a bus took me up to the main entrance.

What I really liked about all of this was that you never knew what was coming. Everything is so well-covered by massive green trees and leaves. So much so in fact that from the ferry terminal Taronga more so looks like just an empty cliff, with nothing really behind it. But once you walk through the gate, I think you are hit with probably one of the coolest zoos out there. Taronga is an awesome place.

I say this because it’s one of those places full of such small, interesting details. Like pathways that twist off into the trees. Houses. And then suddenly animals everywhere. Free birds that wander around in the trees. And how it all sits so delicately on hill sides that slowly bring you back down to the ferry. Take a look:

The first animals I came upon were the koalas. It was still early morning, and it looked like they were still slowly waking up. Just down the way from here you hit one of the zoos most famous sights…

Look at the view the giraffes have! That’s one of the cool things about Taronga. It has one of the best views of Sydney. Although I personally think these guys have the better view…

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Taronga also has some of Australia’s great native animals, like the Tasmanian Devil and Kangaroos.

I had never seen a Devil before, and was surprised by how small they were! The Kangaroos and the Emus were in a bushwalk type of exhibit, where there weren’t any fences. You could truly get up close and personal. And all the Kangaroos were sprawled out like the one above.

I then stumbled upon a gorilla feeding before being struck by a spectacular view back to the city. See the Opera House in the distance?

Continuing my descent back to the ferry, I came upon tons of people, but still some great animals. I caught the cat below as it was jumping! This is a Fishing Cat… yes, it literally fishes. The one on the end is a Red Panda, who I happened to come upon perched on the end of a tree.

From here, I set back off across the harbor, admiring the view, and the late-day sun.

 

“She’ll be right” in Sydney

Today, while I was enjoying an afternoon coffee by the Opera House, I was reading about the history of Australia, and I came across a phrase that’s been stuck in my head ever since. Apparently, a common phrase to say is, “She’ll be right,” which means, basically, that everything is going to be alright. Don’t worry. Things might be bad right now, but look on the bright side. Be optimistic. Don’t let anything get you down. “She’ll be right.”

I bring this up because what I think is a remarkable thing about Australians is their general attitude. They all just seem so relaxed and happy and upbeat and optimistic. Like nothing can really get them down. That everything is going to be fine in the end. I honestly can’t recall a place I’ve been where most everyone does seem to be this way… so I’ve of course started to think this is truly pretty unique and remarkable about this place, especially in winter! But, the more I get to know Sydney, the more I realize why I would also start saying the same exact thing if I happened to live here.

Why? Because it was at last pretty much sunny most of the day! And I explored the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the neighborhood I’m staying in (the Rocks), all before going on a nice long afternoon walk through downtown to see what I could see. I wound up at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, which was a great find, and really highlighted and celebrated the convict history of Australia’s European settlement. From here I then dipped back into the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and went through the Botanic Gardens to walk back by the Opera House. This place just pulls at you, the Opera House, like a magnet. You just want to see it and be by it.

Throughout all of this, I can only describe the sights and the smells as “She’ll be right,” even if that doesn’t make any sense. Or maybe I should say that about my attitude. That I’m better by having seen and smelled that awesome Rocks Market, where I had some shrimp and kangaroo for lunch. Or the beautiful view of the harbor as I walked across the Bridge. Or the way the light falls in this part of the world. How gentle it is.

Or… it could be right now, and the fact that music is again and always playing from the bar downstairs, and people love to sing along. You could probably guess, if you asked these people, that they’d all say after the music faded off, “She’ll be right.”

Who wouldn’t be, right?

Sydney Opera House and Around

I’m starting to appreciate wintertime in Sydney. It rains, and then it drizzles, and then it just barely clears up… and you see the sun coming through. But then the best thing of all is how this leaves behind a smell in the air that I can’t quite place. It’s very sweet and tropical, and honestly reminds me of a perfume on a passing lady. I’ve actually caught myself thinking this is what I’m smelling, perfume coming off a person. And I look, but no one is there. This lingers in the air all day.

Walking in these daily rains, I first set off for the Sydney Opera House, which is just down from my hotel. I got there early, and pretty much had the place to myself. And what struck me about the Opera House is that it definitely fits the mold of those magical places you visit, but then in all honesty you can’t quite say what makes the place so magical in the first place. It more so just has a feel, and even a smell. I was reminded of an old bookstore type of smell, and for some reason the interior felt like a jump back to the 60s, with its orange carpeting, and deep woodwork. I even had a chance to sit in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, where they were changing sets for a Mozart opera that’s opening soon.

But the real magic is on the outside, where you can literally walk around the entire Opera House. It’s here where you can really appreciate the odd and interesting angles of the building, and realize up close that the Opera House isn’t actually completely white. When you get right up close to it you see that the building is covered in white and yellow tiles. Very cool. The appearance of it being white is just an illusion.

After making my way around the Opera House, I set off into the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens right next door. These head south, and as you walk you come upon views of the Opera House and Bridge, and small details, like flowers in bloom, birds yelling overhead, and the strange and annoying crush of tourists streaming off their identical white buses and taking the same pictures with the same looks by the same views. It’s only once you break free from all of this, and just walk in the rain that you start to discover new things. Like the beautiful red flowers blooming below some rock stairs that once you get up to you discover that it has a perfect view of the Opera House.

All of this led to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has some great paintings hanging on its walls. I spent an hour or two here before I got tired, wandered through downtown, until having a nice coffee by my hotel in the Rocks. Just finished the day now with some rock oysters from just down the way at a restaurant near the harbor. And it’s still raining outside.

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Getting to Australia

Where am I? How long have I been gone? Or… a better question, what season is it? What’s the time???

It is such a blur, flying through time zones, across an ocean, into a new hemisphere, and into a new season. It’s just cold here, nippy and rainy. I haven’t shivered like this since December. But… I’m now in Sydney. And it’s winter. Outside right now it’s raining, and I have my heater on in my room upstairs.

I didn’t just magically appear here, though, and these last 18 or so hours have been fun and brutal and crazy and oddly inspiring and beautiful all at once. I was rushed around the tarmac at LAX in a speeding bus, waiting for planes as they coasted by the window, at around mid-night. I thought it was really cool when I crossed the International Date Line in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific, and felt like I was cruising in a hotel up in the plush and awesome Dreamliner. Then the sudden shock of landing in winter in New Zealand, and walking the tarmac to find the bus to take me to the International Terminal. New Zealand, even just through the windows of the terminal, looked so stark and cold. And you could just feel like you were in the middle of nowhere… like you were somehow at the end of the world. Or at least removed from what you’re used to.

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This is the New Zealand landscape from the airport…

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Here’s another view of New Zealand…

And then Sydney itself was such a surprise, meaning that it almost seems small, or even other-worldly, if that makes sense. Or isolated. Distant and faraway. Like it’s somehow in a snow-globe, those sights you make-up in your mind. The Sydney Opera House felt like one. And the Sydney Harbor Bridge. But, maybe my perception is skewed, looking out at them from across the harbor.

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This is the Russell Hotel, where I’m staying. It’s right next to the Harbor.

Tomorrow, when I’m rested, I’ll see them closer up, all of these sights. Starting with the Opera House…

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Here’s a view of Sydney’s downtown, right by the harbor.

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A glimpse of the Opera House behind a massive cruise ship!

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The Sydney Harbor Bridge, from the roof of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is pretty much next door to my hotel.