on the run, on my own: back to backpacking
I had a lot of time to think about things while I was bouncing down dirt tracks on my way back to Alice Springs after a month-long jaunt in the Outback. My thoughts were mostly, ‘I hope those cows on the side of the road aren’t going to suddenly launch themselves in front of this truck’ and ‘Mmm, this kangaroo I’m eating is delicious’ (true story) but they also wandered onto more serious subjects.
Like how nervous I was to go back to backpacking.
It may sound stupid. Actually, I know it sounds stupid but when you’ve been in the same place for a long time and you’ve made friends, you get into a routine and you fall out of the backpacker mindset.
I had a month of conversations that didn’t start with, ‘So where’ve you been?/where are you going?/how long are you going to be here?’ and I’d stayed in the same room for all those nights. My own room. I even had my own bathroom. And a wardrobe!
What if I had gotten so out of the swing of things? What if I didn’t remember how to pack my bag properly without having my Lonely Planet sticking into my spine? What if no one in my hostels liked me? What if I had forgotten how to put make up on?
I didn’t have long to worry about it because as soon as I landed back in Alice (at 11.30pm and waking up all my fellow dormmates. There was no diesel on the station so we had to wait and it’s a loooong story), I didn’t stop for 72 hours.
At five o’clock the next morning, I was standing shivering outside my hostel waiting for my coach to take me to Uluru. And even though I was knackered and still slightly emotional after saying goodbye to my friends on the station, I was excited. Ever since I was little, Uluru was the one thing in Australia that I was desperate to see and, seriously, it didn’t disappoint.
I would have loved to spend more time there, to really explore the whole Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, but I was on a bit of a tight schedule. The tour (Emu Run Uluru Back in a Day Tour) was excellent and packed to fit pretty much everything in (a walk at Kata Tjuta, two walks around Uluru and then a BBQ and bubbly while watching the sunset) without rushing you.
It was tiring but definitely worth it.
And the next day, I caught The Ghan to Darwin. Much to my dad’s disgust, I’d never heard of The Ghan before I came to Australia. All I wanted was a way to get from Alice Springs to Darwin and I didn’t really want to fly because even though it’s a million times quicker, you don’t really get to see anything, do you?
I have to admit, when I saw the train in the station, it did look impressive and there was a buzz in the air at the terminal as lots of elderly couples posed next to the train and walked to their Gold and Platinum cabins. It felt like I was boarding Australia’s version of the Orient Express… hopefully without the murder.
Of course I wasn’t in Platinum or Gold. I was on a red seat but, to be honest, I couldn’t have been happier. In a carriage kitted out for about 50 people, there were probably twenty five of us so we all had two seats to spread out and the seats reclined, giving us plenty of room to sprawl.
But there was something that didn’t agree with me on The Ghan because when we got back on the train after a fleeting glimpse of Katherine, I started feeling a little queasy. And without going into too much detail, it didn’t get better. And I still had six hours to go.
I’m not sure what it was: a combination of tiredness, stress, the sunburn, or 24 hours on a train with the coldest air conditioning ever, but whatever it was, it was not shifting. Instead of arriving in Darwin full of excitement and ready for new adventures, I arrived sweating, pale and cursing the old dears who took forever to sort their stuff out on the bus before I threw up in their souvenir Ghan hat.
My ankles have been gnawed on by midges, I have sunburnt boobs, I still can’t keep anything down and Darwin is HUMID. And this is the Dry season.
I’m hoping that whatever I’ve got makes a hasty exit sometime soon because Darwin seems like a really great city and I’m not going to be here for long so I’d like to make the most of it.
If not, I guess there’s no better way to get back into backpacking than lying in a hostel for a few days. Silver linings and all, right?