Life on Mars
Coober Pedy Travel Blog› entry 100 of 113 › view all entries
March 28th, 2009 – by: afredrix
We met over coffee to do the the initial gut check and ask the two necessary questions one must ask when roadtripping with a stranger: 1) Do you have any interest in killing me? and 2) What kind of music do you like? Satisfied with both answers, we made plans to leave early Saturday morning. I was placed in charge of CD mixes and car snacks, and filled the little white Getz with both.
With the exception of an unfortunate (and expensive) speeding ticket by a cop that obviously had nothing better to do in the sticks of South Australia, the drive was a smooth one. Two hours into the trip, I saw my first kangaroo. Two seconds down the road, I saw the rest of him. 18 hours of Aussie bush and my only glimpses of the country's unique wildlife were the flattened specimens on the side of the road.
On the plus side, this led to adrenaline-filled hours of fun with a (excuse the irony) lively game of "Roadkill." The rules were simple, really. The first person to spot and yell "Roadkill!" gets the point. Correctly identifying the mangled carcass is extra credit.
However, my disappointment in the lack of live 'roos was difficult to overcome and I was starting to believe their existence was about as real as the notorious "drop bear." A farce created by the Australian government to lure tourists to the far side of the world and excite the minds of curious young children around the globe. I mean, now that I think of it, it is a pretty ridiculous animal. Hopping around on two legs, carrying babies in a pouch. A pouch? Seriously? If you're going to go around creating new species and playing them off as your national mascot, Australia, couldn't you at least put a little more effort into making them realistic? Come on.
The route through the great Outback is pretty straightforward. The directions from Adelaide to Alice go something like, "Get on Stuart Highway and head north.
The highway is named after one of those crazy men who had it in his crazy head that it would be a good idea to do this trek back in the day there were no roads, road signs or air-conditioned camels. Even with the luxury of all three at our current disposal (Well, with cars in the place of camels, of course. I believe air-conditioned camels went out in the 60s), I still took one look at the unbroken desolation closing in on the car and questioned our sanity.
The seriousness of the monotony is illustrated by all of the warnings against it. Apparently there have been a large number of fatal accidents on these lonely roads.
Along with red dirt and gum trees, the drive was dotted with the occasional point of interest, worthy of hopping out of the car to snap a photo. We passed Lake Hart. One of many salt lakes that, in the dry season, is left looking like a lost patch of snow that took a wrong turn somewhere in the Indian Ocean and accidentally stumbled into the desert. There were sporadic towns, consisting of little more than a petrol station and bar (sometimes one in the same), a clump of wedge-tailed eagles picking at some of the roadkill that was, by this point, all too familiar.
Sometime in the early evening, with wind-blown hair, happy hearts and window tans on opposing arms, we arrived in Coober Pedy and stepped out onto Mars. The redness of the dirt intensified as we approached the town, and the patchy green of the bush had since been traded in for conical mountains of earth as far as the eye could see. Beside each mound was its inverted counterpart. A jilted, dried up cavity. Combed through and cast aside when it could no longer bear the fruit of its promise: Opals.
CP is a mining town. Settled by hopeful, adventurous types of all nationalities, out to make their fortune in opals. To escape the heat of the Outback, some miners built their houses into the side of the hills, keeping them at a cool, consistent temperature. Following that tradition, the Desert Cave Hotel boasts 19 underground rooms of its own. We saved a few bucks by staying above ground, but soaked up the subterranean experience with a few drinks and games of air hockey in the hotel's underground bar and a walk through the onsite Opal Education Tour.
The town's bizarre setting was the perfect backdrop for Australia's post-apocalyptic Mad Max movies, and pieces of the "Beyond the Thunderdome" set are still strewn about town. Around the corner and up the hill from the movie's leftovers, lies one of the town's main attractions, The Big Winch.
Next to the Big Winch, however, is a site worthy of the long, dusty drive to this peculiar town. I'm told the house is owned by some washed-up German hippy. Perhaps also settling here in the hopes of striking it rich on opals, or maybe just the opportunity to freely express himself artistically. The yard of this junky little house on the hill has become a showground for his craft.
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