Today is the Big Day. We get to travel on ze train, Boss, ze train! Yes,
Rob and I have boarded the Ghan. Billed as the Last Transcontinental Railroad, it goes all the way across the continent from Civilized South Australia to the Untamed Northern Territory. Basically, from the land of koalas to the land of crocodiles. We board at 12:15 and have lunch at 1:30. They have a private dining room for those of us in Gold Class and all of our meals and drinks are included. Rob had the safe option (the steak - and a mighty good steak it was) while I was trying to be adventurous (silly me) and ordered the "sampler plate." You might have been fine with the calamari, goat cheese, and mushrooms, but I ended up eating mostly bread and butter.
Rob's ear infection is much better and he no longer resembles a character from The Walking Dead, but he was MOST distressed to find out that there is no wifi on the train. I was sure they would have it too, heck, even the busses have it here and we certainly paid enough but, when I look at the composition of the passengers, I can see why. Grey hair, hearing aids, walkers and canes abound. Our fellow guests shuffle by with a glass of champagne in the hand and a foot in the grave. At my newly arrived age of 53, I feel juvenile. Rob is positively primeval. One kindly woman lowered her bifocals to gaze at Rob: "He'll find no chickens to keep him company here," she cackled, "only a lot of old chooks!" The railway must be well aware of who travels in their Gold Class cabins, as the handbook in our cabin instructs: "We encourage all passengers to move about the train in order to avoid blood clots. Sharpe containers are available from your hospitality agent.”
|Rob And Geezers|
|Cozy Sleeper Bunk|
Younger passengers, perhaps, are in Red Class - where you get only your seat and bring your food or buy it from the snack bar. In Gold Class, we have our own sleeper car, complete with tiny toilet, sink, and even a shower, so long as you don't mind sitting on said toilet to do it. Our sleeper car is long enough for us both to recline and will make up into 2 bunk beds tonight. As I type, I've watched the farmlands of Adelaide give way to African appearing grasslands - flat as a pancake and lacking only zebras and giraffes to fit right into the Lion King, to a tiny railway town called Port Augusta, where we see the ocean, and it's inland sea. All in all, it's way more fun being a bourgeoisie swine-pig than traveling with the plebes.
Seating mixes around at meals and in the lounge car. As nearly as I can tell, 99% of the train passenger list is made up of retired Aussies traveling on the Ghan as part of a bucket list trip. I tell Rob he should be delighted we're doing this because, by the time he has children, this train will probably not exist. All the long famous trains, like the Orient Express, are closing. This train is a remnant of a bygone era. Rob listens, mourning the loss of wifi, unimpressed by my eloquence.
I begin to wonder if Rob will survive the trip, not because of his ear infection, which seems to be waning, but because he has been rudely yanked away from his umbilical cord to modern life, his life's blood draining from his body, he suffers through the last stages of internetlessness. No Pandora, no snapchat, no videos streaming from some Korean boy he's never met playing League of Legends. Oh, the humanity!
With nothing to do but look out the window at the passing countryside or, worse, talk to his mother, the telltale signs emerge. His thumbs twitch at random intervals, his eyelids quiver when they are assaulted by the unfamiliar unfiltered daylight, he flinches in pain as music from several decades ago is piped in from unseen speakers. "On the day that you were born the angels got together, and decided to create a dream come true..." the singers croon. I prepare to catch him if he swoons.
While we eat dinner, an attendant comes in to turn our lounge into a sleeper car. Sleeping as the train rocks along reminds me of curling up in the back of the old VW Squareback as a child on our way to Grandma's house for Christmas and I fall into contented slumber. At 6 am, the attendant knocks on our door. The train has stopped so that we may all go out and watch the sun rise over the Outback. I close my eyes for a few more minutes and there is another imperious knock. I throw on a sweatshirt and shoes, then decide there's time to wash my face and brush my teeth. How fast can these old people move, anyway? As Rob snores on, I emerge from our cabin to find... No one. I walk through 1,2,3,4,5 cars. The place is silent as the grave. I begin to wonder if this is like that Twilight Zone episode where there has been an accident and everybody on the train is dead, only they don't know it. Seven cars up I find the exit. Outside there are herds of seniors milling around several fires and being served coffee and breakfast sandwiches and busily clicking away at the lightening sky. I take a few pictures over the next 30 minutes or so, then it's time to roll onwards.
|Geezers and Fire as the sky lightens|
|My first Outback Sunrise!!|
|Still a little early for this Vacation Girl|
This afternoon our whistle stop tour is in Alice Springs. Rob and I are going for a camel ride in the desert! The only 2 other people who have chosen this tour are a couple of adventurous old ladies from Adelaide. They have to be boosted into our jeep to be transported out to our beasties. I am interested to see that we sit behind the camel's hump. The hump feels turgid and quite unlike the rest of the animal. They pad docilely through the red dirt with a very unhorselike sway. Sadly, I am unable to talk the camel driver into a faster pace, so I still don't know what it's like to ride a running camel. Oh well. When we return, the camels kneel to let us off, then flatten their heads against the sand for a snooze.
|Not precisely like the Grand Canyon Mules, eh, Rob??|
|Weirdest. Ride. Ever.|
|And, We are done.|
The second night, they serve kangaroo steak with a crocodile pâté. Rob loves the roo but not the croc. I have a vegetarian quinoa option but have to admit the bite I try of Rob's steak is very tender and tasty.
|It does NOT taste like chicken.|
The morning of the third day, our whistle stop tour is in Kathryn. We take a short cruise through the gorge to see 35,000 year old stone paintings; I'd rather be riding a camel. <YAWN>
|Ancient Aboriginal Art|
|Rob Pondering...Something. Probably looking for a router.|
At 5:00 pm, we will arrive in Darwin for the next to last part of our adventure. I have loved these few days riding the rails. This was a great way to really SEE the land change as we travel from one end of the continent to the other. I've taken a few 5 second video clips as we've moved through different terrains. Rob has had it with gourmet food and real scenery. He wants a hamburger and fries, preferably while downloading a video.
** Spencer Chronicles **
|Spencer considering flagellate upgrade|
|Spencer Goofing off in the Ghan Shower|
|Spencer Claiming Train bunk|
|Spencer's first look at the Outback. He needed a soda.|