You can travel anywhere in the world the question is “how badly do you want it and are you willing to sacrifice parts of your life to get it?”Read More
Hospet has been defined by Lonely Planet as; “Hospet is a dusty, unattractive town with not much going on” 15th Edition, Pp. 903.
Here are a few things on why Lonely Planet is delirious…
I thought that having spent adequate time in Kathmandu would prepare me so much so I would be accustomed to the streets of India, I was wrong. The funny thing is that i hadn’t even touched the surface of India’s chaotic street scenes until I came across the unsuspecting Hosapete. My ears were left ringing for days and my head was in a daze…
Karnataka is one of 29 states in India and remains to be the 6th largest by size and home to 65 million people. India has a population of over 1.1 billion people and that seriously blows my mind but what blows my mind even more is some of India’s smaller towns like Hospet, a small city acting as a junction to a series of highways in central Karnataka. Hosapete or Hospet has a population of 200,000 which would make it the 12th largest city in Australia and for size and in India, its population would rank it 230th…enough comparing for now.
Bengaluru, Hampi and Vijayapura are great but it quite didn’t cut it when it came to showing me what India is all about, I was looking for something more than just the extraordinary and Hospet was the place that delivered the goods and it all happened on my last day in India.
I had done zero research into Karnataka and the itinerary that I would be on and purposely so. I wanted to experience everything without knowing a thing and when you don’t spend hours on the internet searching for the best things to do or most Instagramable spots you’re guaranteed to have so much more fun!
OK so we may have asked the hotel manager how to get to the local markets but we couldn’t take the most simplest of directions…take a left, right, left and you’ll be at the markets, instead we took a right, left, right and ended up down a residential street with hundreds of kids yelling HI, HI, HI with the occasional kid asking for 100 rupees.
Hospet’s weather wasn’t at all flash with a storm moving in from the south forcing us to momentarily shelter underneath someone’s awning. Ari however couldn’t escape the hordes of kids wanting to have their photo taken. Time was ticking and my night train to Bengaluru was getting closer and closer so we left the residential street when the group decided that it would be ideal for me to get a haircut. In the past I have had good experiences with haircuts in Nepal where the hairdresser would give me a snip, head massage and a nose trim followed by an eyebrow cut but this haircut was as rough as guts. The hardest part was explaining to the guy what sort of haircut I wanted and with no photos or internet to show the guy what I wanted, a group of kids hesitant to walk into the hairdressers shop stood wary at the door. A young kid, maybe 6 years old had a snazzy haircut so I pointed to him and said I wanted that one…I’m confident the guy had no idea what I meant.
I tend to wait until I am in Asia before I get my haircut as they generally do a pretty neat cut and it’s seriously cheap but not everyone knows how to ace the scissors.10 minutes later and the guy were finishing with a few last touches including using hair clippers to buzz away at the stubble on my chin. 50 rupees was all it cost plus a few razor cuts and hair tugs. Right now I have a fringe straighter than a ruler.
Hospet’s weather began to clear as the crowds began to gather. A large circular some 20 metres in diameter, with around 300 onlookers wondering what was going on. In the middle of the circle, a young man lay on the ground as a cylindrical stone probably weighing 200 kilograms sat above him waiting to be rolled over his body. The man running the show presented whatever was going on like a TV commercial cross a circus theatrical but the key focus bare on a tiny bottle of coffee-brown tonic. Despite not seeing the 4 men roll the hefty stone across the young man’s body, I have a feeling the tonic is no shield of Captain America.
My Hindi is almost non-existent but I got the feeling this guy was trying to sell this “super-strength tonic” to the people watching. The young man waited and waited for the heavy stone to be pulled across his chest but it kept being put off and off so we ended up leaving only to be chased down by a muscly young man wanting us to rejoin the circle. I was confident that my new haircut would give me all the strength I’d ever need.
Soon we realised that it we would need more than a cheap haircut and a concoction of who knows what to survive Hospet at its peak.
It was now clear that we should have taken a left and not a right as we entered the heart of Hospet, a bustling jam of traffic seemingly moving inches at a time. To make things worse, a tractor came to a halt as scooters and taxis became stuck. In between the vehicles, humans would fill up the gaps making it all but impossible to move. After sometime, we were soon to navigate our way out of the madness and straight into more madness.
Markets in India pretty much cover all things that you use on a daily basis from vegetables, fruits, rice and spices to the not so everyday items like multi-coloured balloons and pink fairy floss. If you have 200,000 people that all sell the same thing, it’s going to get very hectic very quickly. For a stall holder or vendor to get the attention of a customer, they will usually yell out a few words to sway them to their store or spot on the ground but you won’t need much persuasion for street food vendors as exotic smells swirl in waves, immediately catching the attention of anyone walking by.
With a festival dedicated to Ganesh due to begin the next day, Hospet was raging with frantic buyers looking to snap up miniature statues of Ganesh most of which were spray painted with pinks, greens and yellows as trucks carried human sized statues of Ganesh supported from tipping by 6 or so men. Vast lengths of marigolds were coiled amid the dusty grounds of Hospet in the hope that someone would buy them to give as offerings to the life sized Ganesh. The only part of the grounds that weren’t occupied by stalls and vendors was the middle of the roads and even then, a man would push his food cart over the potholed street tapping on his pots and pans seeking attention for his items.
The best way to describe what it’s like to walk into Indian market is a bit like in the movie Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter in Diagon Alley. One moment you are leisurely making way down a street with nothing more than a few park rickshaws as the drivers nap on the back seats and the next a whirl of sound, sights and colour swirl before your eyes.
A traditional dress for women in India is a sari which is defined as; a garment consisting of cotton or silk that is draped around a body. I knew I had to catch a train that night to Bengaluru and had anticipated on buying one for either my mother or sister only to find out that you can buy the materials for the sari but making the headpiece is a whole other thing…good attempt anyway.
The first time I came across Pani Puri was in Nepal a few years back while wandering around the stairs of Swayambhunath. Pani Puri is a simple street food dish that consists of a round, deep fried crisp which is hollow in the middle so onion, chickpeas, chaat masala and potato can be added with a soup mix (generally green) is added on before consumption. When eating, it’s best that you eat it in one bite! Pani Puri is delish and will set you back 10 rupees for six pieces and I’ve gotta say, Karnataka you do a fine job when it comes to Pani Puri.
Kids in India love foreigners and maybe a little bit too much. We had already spent enough time taking selfies with a group of kids in the opposite direction to the markets but when we had entered the realm of chaos, the kids had changed and ran riot like they were in gangs and these kids were only 7 to 10 years old. A group of kids walked up to my friends and I as we looked at materials for sari’s, danced and danced then proceeded to stick up their middle fingers at us with cheeky grins acting like they were doing a good thing.
One of the crew had been lost in universe of Hospet while the rest of us just managed to stick together. Hospet had begun to draw out my energy as there was so much going on. There wasn’t a moment in my mind or a corner which I could fall back onto for a slice of quite.
Scooter horns echoed.
Bulls carted loads of chopped sugarcane through the confined streets.
Vendors screeched for sales.
Gangs of kids yelled.
‘Strength’ tonic been rubbed into an onlookers skin.
The sound of scissors slicing hair.
Locals clicked away for selfies.
The cracking of Pani Puri’s.
Rustling of Fairy Floss bags.
Dogs growled as they protect their territory.
Auto Rickshaws revved for a sale.
Scales screeched as vegetables were weighed.
Chai, Chai, Chai Masala! Yelled from a young Chai Walla.
Ringing of temple bells.
The lighting of incense sticks.
Monkeys shaking wires as they traverse from being chased.
Prayers echoing from a busy mosque.
Slurping of India’s no.1 beer
Train doors whisp open with a struggle.
Whisped onto a train and out of sight.
Hospet had my head buzzing.
With my departure to Hospet Station and onto Bengaluru getting ever so closer, we took a last walk to our hotel and things for the night were just getting started as our hotel manager thought it would be a good idea to show off his brand new karaoke room and his singing skills, unfortunately his glow in the dark seats weren’t working but he progressed to finely deliver a few Indian classics.
30 minutes before my train was set to leave, I took my last gulps of Kingfisher beer and said my goodbyes to the loveliest of groups and made haste to Hospet Station only for my taxi driver to go the wrong way and pull of an insane 5 point turn in a place you wouldn’t even consider turning a car.
I stood on the platform of Hospet Station and waited for the delayed arrival of an Indian Railways train which gave me some time to reflect on my visit to Karnataka. Moments before I boarded the train to Bengaluru, a pair of stray dogs came up to me, ears pricked, listening and full of energy. Each of the dogs were very similar in looks, one bigger than the other but so happy despite the fact they lived amongst the chaos of commuter trains and freight trains that would honk their horns each time they passed through the station. The dogs got a bit aggressive when another stray rocked up to their territory but that was a sign of them showing them that this is their place and they are so proud of it.
The next moment I find myself in the wake of an Indian Railways Train as a rush of people make way for the narrow train doors, creaking as they open. With it being my first time on a train in India, I am pointed to where I will be for the next 9.5 hours. I throw my camera bag along with my takeaway paneer, mutton and rice to the top bunk and wait for the train to depart Hospet it’s more than clear my time in Hospet was over.
Hospet is far from a “dusty, unattractive town with not much going on” in fact it was one of the most vibrant corners of India. One of the first things we are taught as children is to not judge if you do not understand.
For the past 26 years I have lived on a farm surrounded by rugged mountainscapes, cows and winding dirt roads. I have witnessed droughts, floods and bushfires all to which is so familiar to living a life on the land.
I have never been a fan of the city in fact I can’t stand been stuck in one. If I have to travel interstate or go overseas, I generally travel from Sydney and the time that I spend in Sydney is time I wish I had somewhere else…like a country town and that’s what I want to get into!
Over the past couple of years I have been lucky enough to travel to some unique and often quirky country towns some of which are tiny with populations in the 10’s. Here are 10 of my favourite remote country towns and cities located throughout the Northern Territory, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland.
Wanna get remote? Go visit these places! (you’ll want to pack spare tires, water, fuel and cold beers)
The Northern Territory is known for having a vast amount of roadhouses and given their remote locations they often have a population of people living on site to run the facilities at hand. Erldunda battles it out for the busiest roadhouses alongside Daly Waters in the Northern Territory.
Over the past few years I have driven through Erldunda on my way to Yulara or Alice Springs and the place is constantly abuzz with people and their caravans, roadtrains and four wheel drives that are returning from The Simpson Desert. Erldunda is situated on the corner of the Lasseter Highway and Stuart Highway with Darwin 19 hours to the north and Adelaide 14 hours to the south.
Erldunda has everything from fuel bowsers, campground, swimming pool, tavern and a yard of wandering emu’s! One of the reasons I love Erldunda is that it’s the gateway to a whole stack of Australian deserts; for example if you head west along the Lasseter Highway you’ll come across Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park and Watarrka Kings Canyon. If you head east you’ll come across Finke and The Simpson Desert. If you head north, Alice Springs and the West MacDonnell’s are at your helm. If you head south, Coober Pedy and the Oodnadatta Track are ever so close.
So would I be right to say Erldunda is the centre of the universe or Australia at least?
Condobolin is really known as Condobolin as in Australia we love to cut most words in half. Condo has a population of 3,500 and is the birth place of Shannon Noll and no I am not going to break into song and tell you more about this bloke, that’s for another day.
Condo is bloody great and bloody remote situated in the Central West of New South Wales roughly 7 hours west of Sydney. So why has Condo made my list? I really don’t know to be honest there’s just something about the tight knit community bonding over a game of rugby union especially when rivals West Wyalong role into town or the talk that gets going amongst locals about sheep shearing and goat hunting and often a hot topic is the drought that not only Condo is going through but most of New South Wales.
Condo is the gateway to Outback New South Wales even South Australia if you go far enough so if your ever visiting Parkes or Dubbo make sure to put those extra miles on your cars wheels and go see what this small but mighty town is all about.
3) Broken Hill
Broken Hill is the 2nd biggest town I have on this list with a population of 18,000 so much so that Broken Hill is actually classed as a city. Broken Hill might be the strangest and most remote country cities I have ever visited in Australia and everything about the city is normal with shopping centres, pubs, butchers to hotels and caravan parks but the one thing that had me stumped was the fact that 18,000 people are living in the middle of the bloody desert.
One of my biggest fears would be going out on a Friday night with pals and drinking way too much then deciding that it would be a swell idea to go on an “adventure”; go too far north, south, east or west and you’ll be lost in the desert forever or an emu will peck out your brains!
New South Wales Far West is a beautiful place and the reason for Broken Hill’s existence is silver ore which has been mined for the last 100 years or so.
Fancy a visit to Broken Hill? Sydney to Broken Hill takes 13 hours by car or 17 hours by train or if you want to go for a night out in Sydney and wander into the desert, that will set you back 212 hours…just remember to carry water not beer.
Dorrigo is the closest town to me and for some people; Dorrigo would be considered as remote given that the town is completely surrounded by cattle farms, Gondwana era rainforests and creeks of crystal clear water.
Dorrigo has a population of about 1,100 people most of which run cattle farms or have moved up onto the Great Dividing Range to retire. Dorrigo is one of the quietest towns in New South Wales apart from the torrent of water cascading from Dangar Falls and Crystal Showers.
Situated 500 kilometres from both Sydney and Brisbane, Dorrigo is the first “real” country towns you will come across if driving west and maybe one of the last towns that will have grass lawns in front of houses.
Ebor is a bit of a gem on this list and if you’re looking for a list of things to do in Ebor, you are probably not going to find more than 1 page of writing on this place.
Ebor has a solid population 170 people and one big waterfall known as Ebor Falls which is a two-tier mumma of a waterfall. Ebor has one street but is technically a highway leading towards Armidale and Tamworth or east to Coffs Harbour.
During the winter, Ebor is at its best with the occasional dumping of snow especially at nearby Point Lookout and maybe not idyllic for snowboarding, it’s quite something to see. Another reason to visit Ebor is to visit Cathedral Rocks National Park (technically not Ebor) which is a series of boulders scattered throughout dating back some 270 million years.
6) William Creek
Topping the list for the smallest population is William Creek at a hefty 10 people. William Creek is literally the most remote place you will go, maybe ever!
William Creek well doesn’t really have a flowing creek in fact I don’t even know where the actual dried up creek is however the one thing that doesn’t dry up in William Creek is the supply of beer at William Creek Hotel. William Creek Hotel looks dull from the outside but inside is walls upon walls of writing, business cards and peoples driver’s licenses. To earn your name on the wall, you’ll need to donate a dollar or two to a local charity.
There’s really not that much to do in William Creek Hotel other than drink yourself senseless or squat hordes of flies. Out of all the places in South Australia’s Outback, William Creek is home to Wrightsair, a locally run scenic flight company that takes you over places such as Lake Eyre, Birdsville, Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges, Coober Pedy and more.
If your game, you can even sit in the middle of the Oodnadatta Track and enjoy a cold beer.
Mutijulu is one of the hardest communities to access and you’ll need special permission to enter. Mutijulu has an up and down population of about 300 Anangu people situated on the southern side of the famous Uluru.
I was fortunate enough to visit Mutijulu this year and see what it was like within a remote aboriginal community and frankly I wasn’t shocked but surprised to see that tourism at Ayers Rock Resort and Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park doesn’t one bit contribute to the communities health.
However, Mutijulu has quite a bit going on especially when it comes to AFL (Aussie Football Rules) The Mutijulu Cats are kings of the oval and after seeing a game between Mutijulu and Yulara, it was clear that AFL is a passion for a lot of the locals at Mutijulu.
I was lucky enough to go on country with Maruku Arts and a few Anangu women over the course of a few days. The anangu are passionate people when it comes to their culture and they like me are extremely excited to see the climb being closed on Uluru this coming October.
8) Alice Springs
Alice Springs tops the list as the biggest city and most remote city in Australia with a population over 26,000. After visiting the city in the middle of nowhere on varying occasions I somewhat get drawn to the town’s quirkiness each time I go.
Speckled with aboriginal art galleries, a dried up Todd River and a stunning view of the Heavitree Gap, Alice Springs is a thriving community that I have no idea how it survives within the extreme conditions that it’s based within.
One of the funniest things I often here is tourists either driving or flying to Alice Springs and asking whereabouts is Uluru only to be told it’s 500 kilometre away!
Alice Springs is so damn remote and here’s why –
Sydney to Alice Springs = 2,500km
Brisbane to Alice Springs = 2,500km
Perth to Alice Springs = 2,400km
Melbourne to Alice Springs = 2,200km
Hobart to Alice Springs = 2,900km
Yep she’s pretty far off the beaten track.
I questioned myself a few times by having Rathdowney on this list but it’s a strange place of sorts about 45 minutes’ drive across the New South Wales/ Queensland Border on the Mount Lindesay Highway.
The only real reason you’d go to Rathdowney is for supplies if heading to adventure or climb at Mount Barney National Park or if thirsty take down a XXXX beer at the local pub. Rathdowney is one of those places where not much goes on and all the farmers head down to the local after a hard day on the farm for a yarn.
Rathdowney is only 2 hours’ drive from Brisbane but you wouldn’t even know Brisbane is over the hill as Rathdowney is a whole other world. Brisbane has a staggering 2 million people while 2 hours south, Rathdowney tops out at 450.
Where the bloody hell is Beltana?
That’s a good question. Beltana Station is a cattle property 500kms north of Adelaide enroute to Lake Eyre and Coober Pedy. Beltana Station is quite small in size compared to other stations in South Australia however it’s 1,547 square kilometres and to put that in perspective, Beltana Station is larger than 51 countries on earth including Hong Kong, Bahrain and Singapore.
Further north of Beltana Station is Anna Creek Station, a 23,677 square kilometre station bigger than 82 countries on earth including Israel, Slovenia and Fiji…we breed them big in Oz.
Go Get Outback!
Why visit remote towns? For me big cities like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are overrated and when I hear people saying that they have set foot in Australia and I ask where, the common answer is the 3 big cities. That’s not fucking Australia.
Australia is damn huge but when you visit make sure you get out of the big cities and into the countries. The likelihood of you coming across any of these 10 towns or cities is unlikely on your trip but Australia has tens of thousands of remote towns just like these ones and they need your help more than ever. Every time I go to Sydney and say “hey” to someone they will rarely reply, you go to a country town and say “hey” you’ll be spinning yarns (talking) for hours.
Big business in Australia doesn’t need your money, they can feed themselves but there are communities out there that need your help. Don’t be afraid to wander past Australia’s cities and into the outback, it will change the way you look at Australia.
Shit adventures can often be the best ones ever and the time I was in the Langtang Valley when things went sour, it turned out to be one of the best trips of my life.Read More
I just wanted the nights to come along; I didn’t want to do anything throughout the days as these are the times when things can go wrong especially given the current situation in our valley. The night is a sense of security as the fire place emits a calming heat topped with a glass of red wine; I never wanted the night to end.
3 or 4 glasses of red wine and a can or 2 of beers later was consumed as my family and I enjoyed the company of our good friends, my phone was buzzing and up popped the name Brando Yelavich and I knew immediately why he was calling me. Brando was calling me from a compound in Warburton, a small aboriginal community not far from the Northern Territory border.
Brando had been spending a few days in Warburton surrounded by a fence that was somewhat keeping the locals out of this particular area or keeping Brando from getting out and this reflected on me almost instantly. I felt as if I was the one been kept in by my worries, held back from the outside world and it was at this time I was really feeling the pain upon my mind.
Brando had asked if I would want to join him on his cycle across Australia from Yulara near Uluru, I barely gave it a second thought and said yes. Now I am not sure if this was alcohol influenced or the fact that this was a once in a life time opportunity but it was all happening. I honestly was a bit tipsy when I said yes and the next thing I know, I was sitting at my laptop with a freshly cracked tin of beer while scouring the internet for a flight to the Red Centre.
That night I barely slept and I’m not sure if it was from the preservatives in the wine or the fact that I just booked myself into one of the gnarliest expeditions with the Wildboy himself. Having just got back from Nepal with a fresh dose of diarrhoea and a mountain cough, physically I wasn’t ready for what was coming while mentally I knew I had to fix things so I could enjoy my time in the Red Centre with Brando.
With 10 days before my flight departed from Coffs Harbour, I was adamant that it was too late to start training and I thought why bother, it wouldn’t do me any good with such short notice. As usual I just wanted the nights to come as quickly as possible so I could lie in front of the fire and gaze into the buzz of the TV, my motivation was at an all-time low.
When the departure day came around, I got more excited about what was to come but still my fitness was severely lacking but couldn’t do much about that. Upon arriving in Sydney just 12 hours before I would set off to Yulara, I ran a few errands for Brando picking up pieces for the expedition then checking into what would be my last comfy bed for the period I’d be out in the Red Centre.
At 0300am the next morning, I got a message from my airline saying that I’d be now on a direct flight to Yulara instead of going via Melbourne which was a bonus. The next thing I know, I was retracing my steps from 4 years ago and it was all déjà vu. I used to be a tour guide at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in 2015 and coming back to this sacred country was seriously exciting but somewhat nerve-racking which probably came down to anxiety.
As I exited the plane through the front door, Uluru in its iron rich coat stood proudly across the tarmac. I was back.
With no real idea of what to expect with Brando’s expedition and where it was heading, the first stop was to a small mechanics shed attached to the resorts industrial laundry and this is where I find Brando as sparks fly across the room. Brando’s bike was getting fixed as the frame had snapped due to the corrugations it had encountered over the course of 2,700km. Seeing the bike in such condition had me thinking how the hell it was going to make it another 2,000km to Byron Bay and whether or not my bike would have the same fate.
Being back in Yulara was like I had never left and one of the things to change was the price of food, it had seemingly skyrocketed over the period of 4 years. Vegemite was now $15.42 for a standard size jar while a box of cereal came to $8.92 and it was hard to believe that the people who work in Yulara have to live off these prices, the next closest shop was 500kms away. Yulara had somewhat of a sad vibe going around and that was mainly due to the influx of tourists ascending on these sacred lands in order to climb Uluru before it is closed for good in late October, there seemed to be little or any respect for these lands.
I had the thought we’d be in Yulara for 2 or 3 days but with ongoing bike and trailer problems, that was soon pushed out to 7 days. Once you’ve been to Yulara, there isn’t exactly that much to do and if you have a big bank account then well you will settle in just fine. Luckily my sisters good friend Cara was around and working with an aboriginal arts company, Maruku Arts based out of Mutijulu. Cara’s new job sees her translate for the Anangu people from Pitjantjatjara to English for tourists taking dot painting workshops and cultural walks.
While Brando was off fixing the bikes and doing various blogs for his sponsors, I took the time to hang around Cara and a few Anangu women who were painting near the towns centre. I would just sit and watch for hours on end the intricate detail put on canvas while the women ate a cooked chicken soaking up the harsh desert sun and as I learnt, the Anangu women had guts of steel.
I talked to one Anangu women, Tilly who has been in Mutijulu her whole life. We got talking about the climb on Uluru and what she thought; ‘Minga’ was her response and that translates to ‘white ant’. When the Anangu see people climbing Uluru, they don’t think of them as humans instead little ants crawling up and down Uluru and from a distance that’s exactly what it looks like. Soon after this, the conversation turned to the bike ride and once again Tilly had one word for me and that was ‘ramra’ translating to crazy or silly and Tilly certainly wasn’t wrong.
Each afternoon as the sun would set; the desert air would sharply decrease. If you don’t know, the stars from Yulara are incredible and there was no better way to see them than to sit around a fire, fuelled by dried mulga wood and pass yarns over a vegetable stew.
Something I never had the chance to do while in Yulara was travel to Mutijulu, an Anangu community in the shadow of Uluru. By chance, Cara’s friend was driving out to the community with an Anangu woman after a dot painting workshop and next minute I am in the back of a troopie ‘troop carrier’ enroute to this hard to reach place. Tilly was in the front passenger seat and points to the minga climbing Uluru, Tilly shakes her head but it is something she has come accustomed to.
On arrival to Mutijulu, I wasn’t in shock but hearing that Ayers Rock Resort or Voyages contributes very little to the welfare of the people of Mutijulu. Houses are derelict, packs of dogs run astray and cars appear torn from wheel to window. Cara’s friend and I stopped at Tilly’s house where they both got a photo as it would be Leah’s last day in Mutijulu. Tilly’s house was severely run down and piles of rubbish everywhere which is a complete contrast to Ayers Rock Resort somewhat void of rubbish, pristine grass lawns to fresh oysters and prawns been served at 5 star hotels.
For the first time in the last few months, my mind was not wandering or worrying but for some reason when I connected with the Anangu, I had a free mind and it was great while it lasted. I think all the bike preparations for the upcoming ride had my anxiety up but I was grounded by simply watching the Anangu paint on canvas.
One thing I am not is rebellious but that all changed when I suggested to Brando that we should sneak into the Field of Lights art installation, 50,000 ever-changing lights spread throughout a spinifex plain. So to be all stealth and sneak in, we took everything off the bikes to be light and rode under the cover of the night sky till we found a few young Honey Grevillea plants to hide our bikes. A path illuminated its way to the top of a popular sand dune but this would too risky for Brando and me to take. We had tip-toed through sharp spinifex grass which pierced my shoes and socks with ease but remained silent in order to avoid detection. Suddenly a light came towards us and we dove into the dunes behind a type of Acacia plant and within moments the guard had come and gone. We had soon figured out that the people we need avoid had florescent lights in their hands.
We had made it to the edge of a spectacular array of lights, changing every 3 to 5 seconds. With stealth mode still activated, Brando and I merged with a group somewhat lost tourist who struggled to find their way among the lights. We were completely taken away by how beautiful the lights were and the thought that everything was good considering we had made our way in without being detected, getting out was a whole other thing. For some time, I took Brando’s LUMIX and tripod to capture exposure pictures of the lights and stars and not knowing that tripods were banned, I would soon be told by a guy known as the ‘watchman’; the person in charge of the event. I had snapped some incredible images of the full moon as it rose over the horizon of ever-changing lights.
It was at this point, Brando and I found ourselves in a spot of trouble, and we had somehow organised a private tour with the watchman to the top of the sand dune we had just come from. Brando being Brando had asked the guy how they deal with people who just walk into the lights without paying and that resulted in a fine or the police are called. After a good talk with the watchman, Brando and I were escorted back to the buses and this is where things got sketchy. Our names weren’t on the list to catch the bus and we couldn’t exactly do a runner otherwise we’d be caught and thankfully a bus load of tourists turned up right when needed. One of the AAT Kings guides called out to us but we swiftly merged into the 50 odd groups of people, took off our beanies and switched bags to look like someone new.
Knowing that each group had two guards at the front and back of the line, Brando and I stopped to take a photo after seeing an exit path to the dune were the watchmen had previously taken us…and BOOM, we sprinted up and over the dune and back to the Honey Grevillea plant to collect the bikes.
We felt like we’d just done a Mission Impossible task and we were on top of the world!
With our time coming to an end in Yulara, the trailers and bikes were all packed up and ready to roll out onto the Lasseter Highway. I hate to sit and wait for things to come so I was stoked to be finally on the road for Expedition Dust.
Hauling 95 kilograms, my bike had enough food for 60 meals, 10 litres of water, repair kits, camera gear, tent gear and other stuff that would be of use. The Lasseter Highway is a long one with huge cattle stations taking up most of the land. The kilometres rolled on, averaging 15 kilometres per hour and with a late start to the ride, getting to Curtain Springs before dark would be a push.
As it was my first day on the bike, I could already feel my knees creaking in pain with a repetitive movement. The Lasseter Highway isn’t the widest highway in the world and with an influx of caravans and 4WD’s, I found things to be pretty hectic in terms of the overtaking and passing part. 95% of the time, vehicles would give you plenty of space and the other 5% of the time, I was centimetres from been a goner.
All day I had been waiting to see Atila or Mount Conner, a flat top mesa also known as Fool-Uru. Near Mount Conner is Curtin Springs, a quirky roadhouse with a bird aviary and the world’s dustiest campsite. My first day on the bike deserved a beer and packet of chips from the bar which had to be consumed under a thatched roof building. Riding a bike consumes a lot of calories and carbs and when food is free, it’s a smorgasbord and tonight, a loaf of bread with barbecue sauce was my entree. Each table had bread free for the taking so Brando and I made easy work of the necessary carbs.
The next day, we packed up the dusty tent and hustled out into the frosty morning air, enroute to Mount Ebenezer 115kms away. I always thought the 2nd day on any expedition would be the hardest but I was finding it pretty easy going with flat stretches of road and a chilly morning air making my legs want to move quicker and quicker to warm up.
There was no denying but my right knee had a sharp pain from the repetitive movements while my neck was fairing too well either as a numbing sensation spread over the left-side. For the first few hours, Mount Conner stuck to our peripheral views and slowly but surely disappeared site. Salt pans became the next thing worthy of stopping about 40 kilometres out of Curtin Springs. With Brando’s love for the off road, he and his bike trailed up a small dirt hill so he could fly the drone for panoramic shots and as for myself, I hadn’t the same energy that Brando was producing day in day out.
Brando had once again caught up to me despite a droning session. As soon as my tail was reached, Brando navigated his way through mulga and spinifex to a salt pan a few hundred metres off the Lasseter Highway.
Lunch wasn’t far away, and roughly 60 kilometres into the day, a rest stop proved idyllic for an average lunch of trail mix, peanut butter and dates. Brando and I had met an elderly kiwi couple who had cycled their way from Perth across the Nullabor, up the Stuart Highway and were making way to Uluru before returning to Alice Springs and riding to Three Ways. When you are offered a Cherry Ripe and a cuppa tea, you don’t say no. After a few hours more on the road we stopped for another break at a roadside rest stop, an opportunity to chow down on more glorious trail mix, a slight change from Skittles and Bhuja mix. Water out here is precious and every opportunity to refill my water bottles I took but it was at this place a young couple thought it would be ideal to wash their cutlery and plates…I was fuming at this as the tank is last resort for when a person runs out of water not to clean fucking dishes in the middle of the desert.
Pushing on, we still had 50 kilometres to go before Mount Ebenezer. With favourable conditions and flat roads, we cruised on quickly as the sun set behind us. With 15 kilometres to go and fading light, the Belt of Venus set over us in a spectacular way. Brando’s light wasn’t working so I switched on my as we rode a 5 kilometre stretch of downhill road to an abandoned Mount Ebenezer. Having driven through this once vibrant town, Mount Ebenezer was anything but with an abandoned motel, tin sheds and fuel pumps, slowly taken over by the desert.
Rolling into Mount Ebenezer at night after peddling a solid 115 kilometres was a pretty damn good moment, never in my life had I cycled that far. At lunch when we got chatting to the elderly couple riding their bikes to Yulara from Perth mentioned that they pitched their tent under a tin shed next to a fallen fence. Brando was somewhat sceptical that we did it so we didn’t want to draw any attention to the fact we’d be trespassing on private land. In order to hide the bikes we’d have to make some serious noise as the 95 kilogram bikes were wheeled over the fallen tin fence, loud enough to wake the dead. The tin shed actually looked quite cozy and Brando was straight onto renovation ideas. As much as possible, Brando didn’t want to set up the tent and luckily enough, Mount Ebenezer was run down and had a motel with 2 or 3 queen size mattresses and all we had to do was take them from the room to the tin shed, simple really.
We took the top part of the bed over but Brando didn’t want to get the mattress dirty and insisted that we get the bottom half which was double the weight and covered in cob webs and red dirt. With one last walk over the tin fence, we had a queen bed under the stars.
Fuck I was hungry and tired at the same time and Brando wanted to take some astrophotos before I went to sleep and Brando is a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to getting the right pic. After a freeze dried meal which once again I didn’t put enough water in, we got photographing on the shed we would live under for the night and damn the stars were beautiful as galaxies spiralled overhead and the centre of the Milky Way galaxy beamed right above us and with that I was out to it.
It was so damn cold this morning despite sleeping on a filthy mattress. To surely wake my soul, a road train rocketed past, one by one as they made way to Western Australia.
Another freeze dried meal for breakfast, I assumed we’d be on the road shortly and that wasn’t to be as Brando got chatting to a bloke who only bought a brand new motorbike 2 weeks earlier and decided to escape from his current life in Perth and ride to Townsville in 8 days. After a solid hour chat, I gave Brando the nod and we set off for what I hope would be an epic day on the Lasseter…I was so wrong.
Our initial aim was to ride 80 kilometres per day as road conditions were perfect but today changed all of that. A cyclist’s worst nightmare is a gnarly headwind and when you’re hauling 95 kilograms, shit gets hard, real quick.
From Mount Ebenezer on wards to the Stuart Highway was hell with narrow roads, steaming grey nomads and their caravans and an influx of road trains creating swirling winds combined with nature’s gusts smacking us straight in the face. The roads all seemed to go up in the most progressive manner possible. All of this put so much strain on my neck and knee and knowing that Birdsville was well over 1,000 kilometres away I had to tell Brando that it wasn’t realistic for me.
20 kilometres from Erldunda, we road our fat tired bikes under 2 of the most green trees anywhere on the Lasseter and pulled out our usual snacks of dates, peanut butter and trail mix but the bonus for me was a red apple a couple graciously handed us the day prior, fresh fruit was a bonus in the middle of fucking nowhere. I had to tell Brando that I wasn’t going to cross the Simpson Desert with him and despite my intent to, I couldn’t commit to it with the pain my body was going through and the lack of training that I put into this expedition. As I lay under the sway limbs of the tree, I told Brando that crossing the Simpson wasn’t my mission and it never was.
I had somewhat lifted a weight from my shoulders. Kicking with pain, we wanted to reach Erldunda by sundown and it was the most painful 2 hours of my biking career. Each kilometre slowly rolled over and with a deceiving set of signs indicating Erldunda Roadhouse was 5 kilometres away, 5 kilometres ago, we had made it and how fucking knackered I was.
Erldunda in the past had been a place I would stop at during my previous desert adventures and oh boy it’s like coming across an oasis but instead of a watering hole and palm trees it was a pub and service station full of junk food; a serious win for Brando and I.
2 sausage rolls and 2 hydralyte drinks later, I my hunger and thirst was briefly satisfied as I laid on the narrow bench watching caravans fuel up followed by an convoy of rigs returning from the Big Red Bash in Birdsville.
Apparently happy hour at the pub was so to happen and with that fantastic news, our tent was quickly erected and we hastily made way to where the cold beers flow. A few beers later, I watched a couple picking at their meal and I thought how amazing it would be to have a plate just like theirs but fuck paying $30 for one single meal. When you ask the Universe, it will provide and it certainly did. The couple got up and left, cutlery crossed indicating they were done with their meal. Before you say anything, remember that this bike ride is some serious shit and the amount of calories and energy Brando and I would burn gave an immense hunger to anything, even half-eaten plates of food. It was the best steak schnitzel I’d ever had while Brando went one step further and chewed off bits of meat from a T-bone steak and to wash it all down, Guinness trickled down a treat.
The next day, I was stoked to know the Lasseter Highway was behind us and with my past experience on the Stuart Highway, the scenery would be so much nicer with a catch; road trains would zoom past us at least once every few minutes. Stuart’s Well was over 110 kilometres away and we had a very slim chance of reaching there before sun down so today was all about cruising along and ending up wherever, a quite nomadic way to go.
The Stuart Highway was a treat with compact and smooth asphalt, a real treat for the bikes but where ever there is ease, there are hills. My knee was been a bitch but it didn’t bother me as much as road trains clearly going over 130 kilometres per hour, the legal speed limit in the Northern Territory. One of the things that got on my nerve was the fact that a car heading from Erldunda to Alice Springs going to the legal speed limit would arrive at its destination within 2 hours as for Brando and I that would take another 3 x 12 hour days of riding.
One thing that is a guarantee when riding in the Red Centre is that all the roads are straighter than a ruler and seemingly disappear into the distance. You would finish cycling one section of road, cruise over a crest and another road with no end would appear, one after the bloody other. I would always get excited when finishing one section of road but my excitement was short lived. As the day pressed on, the Stuart Highway delivered a drastic change in landscape with iron-rich mountain ranges, dried up rivers with thirsty Eucalyptus trees eagerly waiting for the next rains to come and bridges, yep bridges were always a treat to ride over which seems stupid but after riding roads that have looked the same for the past 4 days this was nice while it lasted.
With the sun almost set, camping at Stuart’s Well was way out of the picture today but we had made it as far as the Ernest Giles Road turnoff which takes a 4WD track to Kings Creek Canyon. A few hundred metres past the turnoff, Brando decided the day was done and camp needed to be set up so in true Brando style, we made unknowingly on top of an ants nest and next to a cattle station airplane runway which we didn’t find out until the next day. A few weeks ago, ants invaded Brando’s by eating a hole in the material and soon spread throughout his temporary house…tonight Brando would put duct tape over the ants entry way.
I was god damn starving, so to add to my freeze dried meal Brando whipped up a couple small dampers with the addition of pumpkin soup from a packet which would have been a world first. Soon after devouring my meal, I hit the sack.
Brando wasn’t keen one bit to get out of the tent mainly because he hadn’t finished writing his blog for the previous day so for the next 1.5 hours, Brando typed away while I wrote up a summary of how I was feeling and it was kind of like this (direct from my diary) ”Met an elderly couple, Lea and Malcolm who came over to us in the Erldunda Campground to tell us about their son Cory who they lost a few years ago to mental health issues and it was very raw to see. Lea wanted to pay it back, something that their son Cory would do to almost anyone. Lea was in tears telling her story to Brando and myself and I was moved by her openness to talk about such a tragedy so I gave her a warming hug. As Lea and Malcolm departed they gave Brando some money towards his expedition, enough to have his bikes fixed in Alice Springs”.
After packing up the tent and loading the trailers back up, I got an instant flat tire and I was like fuck, how that would happen! I’d moved the bike on a few centimetres and realized I must have parked the back tire over a sharp stick during the night. Luckily with airless tires, the puncture pretty much fixes itself with some sort of special liquid…I’m no bike mechanic but this was wizard style magic.
We were soon back on the Stuart Highway enroute to Stuart’s Well but we didn’t get far as a Wedged Tail Eagle had been hit and left on the side of the chaotic outback highway. It wasn’t alive and I was glad I didn’t have to do anything to it as it is a protected species and a true wonder of the sky. People in the outback just don’t give a shit when it comes to slowing down for native animals like kangaroo’s or eagles, like who in their fucking right mind would hit a Wedged Tail Eagle or a Big Red?
For the next hour or so, Brando wanted to talk about the traditional owners of this land and that’s something I am passionate about so I got a bit defensive about our aboriginal people and invited Brando to come and spend some time with the Gumbaynggirr people of my own country to see it from their perspective.
We closed in on Stuart’s Well, the last roadhouse before Alice Springs. Once again, a freeze dried meal wasn’t going to cut it but a big-ass burger, chips and a cold beer would do the trick. Tonight would be Brando and mine last night under the stars so I thought it would only be appropriate to buy a bottle of red wine for drinks around the camp fire.
Pushing on from Stuart’s Well we’d got significantly closer to Alice Springs until Brando decided we had spent enough time on the Stuart Highway and it was time to go off road. We were only 64 kilometres from Alice Springs and I calculated I’d just have enough water for the next day but things changed, we took a 4WD track that leads through Lawrence Gorge and out to Larapinta Drive, an extra 50 kilometres of cycling. I felt sick.
This was my first real taste of what these bikes could do, so without hesitation, we both let down the air pressure in the tires so they could cope with the corrugated tracks. For the first 10 kilometres I was on Struggle Street and it just kept getting worse and worse for me as my energy slowly drained. We’d come across steep hills which Brando easily powered up but I had no chance with my bung knee. At the top of one of the hills, Brando asked how much water I had left…2.7 litres to be exact and with 80 kilometres to Alice Springs and the potential that we would find water until then, I was gutted.
Brando was stoked to be back on the dusty roads, weaving and winding along the tracks while I stuck to a straight line conserving as much energy as possible. I was so fucking thirsty and Brando mentioned that I shouldn’t drink anymore today as I’d need it for tomorrows ride to Alice. We checked out Haunted Tree Bore to see if it was still operational to no luck. The sun had started setting and gave off its last few rays of gold onto the water thirsty gums crowding the river banks.
We had ridden past the designated camping area in true Brando style and had ended up at Owen Springs Homestead which is Australia’s oldest homestead built in 1872 and nope, it had not a drop of liquid. Brando called it a day and we parked the bikes next to a reception hotspot which is a satellite dish designed to amplify the reception of a cell phone in the area. I undid one of the straps on my food bags, opened a pack of sea salt chips and indulged, not generally something you do when you are dehydrated and are lacking in water but fuck it; I’d get to Alice the next day regardless.
I set up the tent for one last time while Brando got a fire going, struggling to light it with the howling desert winds. After my last freeze dried meal, I cracked the bottle of red wine and took a big swig. Drinking alcohol doesn’t hydrate the body all too well and that was something I had to be cautious about, so I gave Brando the bottle. It was going to be a freezing night so I chucked on all my thermals and jumpers and slipped into my sleeping bag. I was out.
The next morning, Brando rose and was somewhat drunk. He had finished the contents of the cheap red wine after I had handed it over to him; he wasn’t pleased at my dismal performance one bit. The worst of all, Brando was super hungover and thirsty. We still had 67 kilometres to go before Alice.
Once we got out of Lawrence Gorge, the roads were mainly downhill but the corrugations remained. If we didn’t find water at the Rangers Station, I’d take Brando out to Standley Chasm; a place guaranteed to have water as it was a place my sister Caitlin and I stayed last year during our hike on the Larapinta Trail.
We rolled on for 13 kilometres until we reached a somewhat humanless building and seeing the blades of the windmill spinning, it gave me some hope that water would be in one of the tanks or cattle troughs. With no one around, we gathered our empty bottles and bladders to fill up at an empty tractor shed and thank fuck there was water remaining in the lines as the pumps and electricity had been switched off. I’d managed to get 3 litres from the lines and I was beyond stoked, I’d just won the water lottery.
My spirit was peaking and with 4 kilometres till the Larapinta Drive and the end of the corrugations, you could basically say I was sitting at the pub in Alice Springs with a beer and pizza but as we both found out, the day was just unfolding or getting flatter.
Brando’s back tire wasn’t holding air and the sealant wasn’t working like it was supposed to. Brando would inflate the tire and within 5 kilometres, it was flat again. So inflated it once again and the same thing happened. It was buggered. We had just arrived at the turn off to Standley Chasm where we could assess the problem adequately. The rear tire was bulging and was clear on its way out so there was no other option than to do a tire change but changing a tubeless tire was one of the easiest things to do especially when Brando or I had never done one before.
As we got the process of changing the tires going, a man in a fluro green vest and rather sharp looking bike came zipping around the corner from Standley Chasm. Brando had met this guy at the Yulara IGA and apparently Brando told me about this dude but I have a tendency to not here all things directed at me. Benjamin was his name, an Australian born guy currently residing in Vienna, Austria. Benjamin had just come off the Mereenie Loop and was enroute to Alice Springs when he came across us, struggling to change the tire.
Over the course of the next half hour, Benjamin and Brando worked together to inflate the new tire by using some bike magic stuff to which I still have no idea what is. On Brando’s first ever tubeless tire change, it worked perfectly and thank flip for that. Benjamin rode off to Alice Springs and we’d be sure to catch up for a beer in the coming days.
We still had 41 kilometres till Alice Springs and I was done. The Larapinta Drive is beautiful as it runs parallel to the West MacDonnell Ranges, a place I have been lucky enough to explore in the past year. To make my bike lighter for the last leg home, I ate as much trail mix and skittles as humanly possible while drowning myself in the water I had just acquired at the Ranger Station. My knee wasn’t in great shape nor was my Achilles but knowing I’d be soon sipping on a cold one, things were looking good.
The last 5 kilometres into Alice Springs I knew that I had made it and I was so fucking proud of what I had achieved. I put myself on cruise mode, unstrapped my helmet and gave the air a fist bump. Somewhere along the Lasseter Highway, Brando had seen a sign from KFC with a picture of the Colonel quoting “Alice Springs, worth the detour” and that’s exactly where the trip had ended, in Australia’s most central Kentucky Fried Chicken.
After filling up on one of the worlds unhealthiest meals, restoring calories as I call it, Brando and I for the last time hopped on our bikes and set off for our accommodation which would be at a man’s place on the outskirts of town. John and his wife Sue welcomed us to their home and without having to worry about setting up the tent and getting the fire going we were treated to a 6 pack of Coronas, a steaming hot shower and a leg of lamb and mash potato. Life was good.
500 kilometres had gone on by but not quickly or not pain-free, every damn peddle hurt, every drop of water than I consumed hydrated my overworked body, every ounce of trail mix fueled the next few kilometres, everything I did to some degree ensured that I got over the line and yeah I could barely walk at the end of it but it was worth every degree of hurt and that’s something you need to put yourself through when going through anxiety as sitting around and dwelling on shit that makes you worried certainly isn’t going to fix it.
The night that Brando called me and asked if I wanted to come out to the Red Centre to be a part of this expedition, a cage surrounded Brando, a compound stopping him from getting to the outside world and this seemed like the thing that was keeping me down. The last words I told Brando before ending the call were;
“Fuck it, we only get one life so why not, no point sitting around and waiting for shit to happen”