Written and photographed by Francesca. All rights reserved.
We set off for the mountains having grown tired of city life even though Sydney had treated us well and was as exciting as we had always hoped it would be. We checked out of Eva’s, which was comfortable and a little more ‘our cup of tea’ shall we say than the Jolly Swagman, a little earlier than usual whilst grabbing a quick bowl of Kelloggs we heaved our way back to King’s Cross Station. The short walk was now well known to us having spent two enjoyable lunches at Joe’s cafe in Victoria Road. I was not sad to be moving on and the commuter train only reminded me of the life we had so diligently planned to move on from. We made it to Central in plenty of time and so grabbed a naughty Krispy Kreme and watered J with his morning coffee. Coffee in hostels is not made of the right stuff to kick-start the day.
We piled onto the train packing four seats with our packs and ourselves. I was excited to have time to sit and read my Canon 40D manual and J was quickly tapping away on the laptop to keep ahead. The train was a double-decker (as I fondly remembered from my Amsterdam days) with a window seat I was happy. Our journey was exactly two hours which whizzed by as my pages turned my shutter clicked. At each stop the smell of the brakes filtered into the carriage which was quite pungent.
We arrived to a beautiful blue sky at around midday and found our new abode down the steep high street and decamped again. The YHA was large with an ‘en mass’ or family scale to it. We were introduced to our first ‘twin-double’ room, which was a double bed with a single bunk above. The room was sparse, as slowly the luxuries of an en-suite, fridge, microwave, basin or safe that we had enjoyed had gone. We decided to make the most of the fine weather and go for a walk along Prince’s Henry’s Cliff path to the famous ‘Three Sisters’. We took half a hour to nourish ourselves in a wonderful if not quirky eatery across the road. We think if was run by Mormons as the men were all sporting beards and the women looked very wholesome. The pumpkin soup was delicious and J even agreed despite his dislike of soup in general.
The walk began from an almost hidden path at the corner of the road. There was a breathtaking view even before we had begun of the tree covered landscape. The walk was both easy and enjoyable and I for one was glad of the freedom to roam with barely a sole to disturb us. As I practiced my new found knowledge of the 40D, this walk was challenge indeed. Parrots in the trees, shade and dappled light along the path broke out into enormous vistas across the Blue Mountains. Our walk was littered with romantic outlooks in this breathtaking landscape where generous tourists offered to take our picture together, but somehow made them look as though we were superimposed on a studio background!
We got to the ‘Three Sisters’ shortly before sundown which was a beautiful light and I was enjoying the moment to show what this camera can do. Sadly I made a schoolgirl error and had the camera set to portrait rather than landscape. A small thing you may think, but it made a great deal of difference to the vibrancy of the blue colour. I discovered this only in the last few moments there and managed to shoot a few face-saving shots to come away with, phew! The Three Sisters were something to behold, even though the trappings of tourism were all around us, the scale of this view before you is difficult to fathom. We saw the skyway (that Uncle Richard had mentioned) controllable plummet down the face to the mountain rock to the bottom, as the cable car straddled from one side to the other.
We moved on, happy to share our day with only ourselves and not be drained of our dollars or to be surrounded by moneyed tourists out to do everything on the Blue Mountains must do list. The walk took us all the way to the Katoomba Falls, which by the time we reached them the sun had fallen behind the blanket of trees for another day. We headed back to the hostel proud of our accomplishment and mused that if Daddy had been with us he would perhaps have been back and in the pub already with drink in hand! Day fell to night and after a supper of fish-fingers, rice and peas we discussed and booked our next day’s excursion and quickly ventured to bed.
We were up early, but with a specific purpose in mind. We had to sort out a packed lunch for an Aboriginal Walkabout! We went out to Coles (the local supermarket) in the fresh morning mountain air and stocked up on high energy food and rolls for lunch. Porridge and soya milk set us up for the morning as we made our way to the 9:25am train to Faulkenbridge. There we met our walking group and Evan our guide. Our group was of four ‘Ozzie’ girls (of which one was of German origin and the other Chinese) and a couple from San Francisco. Evan asked that we introduce ourselves by name, nationality, favourite animal, reason why, and by name again. He explained his origination and association with Aboriginal culture and assured us of his authenticity. The privilege was ours as to step into these lands without an aboriginal guide would be impossible.
Our walkabout initially took us to a cave where we were enlightened on how the aboriginals used eucalyptus leaves rolled and placed into your nostrils to sooth cold symptoms. Modern life still swirled in our minds and raced through our veins as we listened to the slow rhythm of Evan’s voice. We were lead safely into a meditative state, known as ‘Dreamtime’ to get rid of our ‘bad spirit trouble’. We shared our experiences together. For me I realised that I do have the capacity to put my stresses of modern life aside and stop thinking when I’m in a tranquil place. For years I had spoken of wanting to just “sit in a field” to be able to let go and be at peace with myself again, this came close. Once free from our ‘bad spirit trouble’ we were invited by Evan to visit a sacred Aboriginal sight. We saw here a carving in the rock of a wallaby, roo killed by a spear by ‘D’ and the ‘Rainbow serpent’ and the beginning of the walkabout.
Our walk was very enlightening. We were shown how aboriginals looked at life through stories, both spoken and carved into giant rocks on the forest floor. The spent their days perfecting what is called ‘dreamtime’, a heightened sense of awareness achieved by getting rid of ‘bad spirit trouble’ through meditation and through creativity in art, dance and singing. Children lived with the women until puberty when they lived and learned from with their own sex. Men were trained to be hunters and women nurturers and protectors (including dealing with snakes). Maturity was acknowledged in stages and achieved by completing tests set by the elders. Aboriginals knew the law of nature and how to use this resource to survive. They would settle for only a couple of week before moving on and would listen to the forest to tell them what to do. They would easily walk four time the distance we did in one day!
The walk for me however was done at the perfect pace, but was also challenging. There was a large amount of rock climbing and using of our hands, which saw my camera quickly squirreled away for protection. We saw only limited wildlife (mainly small birds) as the winter was a chance for the snakes and spiders to hibernate, thankfully. The flora was mainly ferns, but there were also small delicate white, purple and yellow flowers dotted around. We saw and used eucalyptus, tea-tree and turpentine leaves and use coloured rocks (okra, black, white, yellow, brown) to make Aboriginal paintings. As the sun moved through the trees the dappled light was beautiful and welcoming, just how forests should be. We dipped in the dark damp depths of the valleys to see waterfalls and sunned ourselves in cave-like outcrops above the tree canopy. You could really imagine how life was for these people; as fit for purpose, highly skilled and inspirational human beings. It was sad to remember what eventually happened to these people and how white man influenced their fate.
Over lunch we discussed native people and nationality. The Australians remarked on their national identity crisis saying “We are neither European nor Aboriginal, so we have yet to identify what it is to be a white Australian” Our American friends talked about how the American Indians suffered a similar fate. We, as the English contingent really had no comparison with our culture. Our identity crisis is more closely linked to mass immigration and our promotion, protection and acceptance of other cultures before our own. Educationally we hark back to stone, bronze, iron age archaeology and royalty. Rabbit-proof fence is my only real understanding of the torture put upon these people by their invaders. And there were many moments when ‘Last of the Mohicans’ played on my mind.
Ultimately our day was magical one and it was real privilege to be able to be shown this most secret of cultures.
And abruptly our walkabout ended as the concrete world enveloped us again. Evan lead us to a pub I expect he frequents daily during the summer months. We gathered and chatted about the day and our lives further afield. The girls had all done a tour-guiding course and had ideas to be open for business from Sydney to Jamaica. We drank Guinness and ate bar snacks until our muscles relaxed into a more familiar position. The girls left for their train only to return shortly afterwards, having watched the train to Sydney leave the station for the next hour. We enjoyed their company and it was good to share time with new and interesting people, something I think is such a wonderful part of travelling. More please…
Kelly and Bob, the San Fran contingent had decided to stay at Katoomba for the night and so travelled with us back there. Lucky from them that we did as on our arrival the heavens opened and with the already biting wind added to the drama. James gave Kelly his disposable poncho and I used mine to cover my day sack as my camera was priority number one. We trudged our way via the ATM to the YHA and said our goodbyes. Supper was simple and repetitive of the night before, but hit the spot.
Our cheeks were rosy and that was good enough for me. Sleep took us quickly.
Re-hydration was the name of the game and luckily was had decided to have today off so to speak. We checked out at 10am and spent until 5pm on the Wifi sorting accommodation for that night in Sydney and 3 nights in the Hunter Valley for some wine tasting. I finally made time to edit my photos ready for upload onto Flickr, but the broadband was playing games and so as yet this has not be possible. I hope we can sort this on Sunday in Newcastle.
James and I are learning how we travel together and are learning to accommodate each other’s needs. We’ve realised I’m more particular on where we stay and J is particular on having the following night booked. So I’m going to look for the accommodation and J is going to book it, sorted. We lunched at ‘Fresh’ a lovely organic cafe that did delicious looking and tasting Moroccan chicken flatbread sandwiches. We made our first withdrawal at the ATM of AUD$300 which should last us 2.5days. Now we are also online with a local OZ sim that J has got working, though texts seem to not be sending yet.
Finally we had to make a run for the train, before the weather came in again. So at 5:20pm we were back on the train to Kings Cross, Sydney. The journey was a little rough as the carriage door would not shut and put a constant draft through the train. On this journey that we both saw a revelation in train travel. Nearing the end of our journey a passenger took hold of the hand on the side of the seat across from us, and moved the seat back to the front of the seat, changing its direction and creating a four seat area from a two. James and I watched in amazement our jaws hit the floor. It was just like we had been shown a whole new world!
And as quickly as we had left the city, we were back again. We stopped here on our way to the Hunter Valley as the Rover Coach from Sydney Central at 8:30am is the easiest route there.
It was strange to me that we seemed to know our way around Sydney after such a short period of time, but we did. Original Backpacker’s on Victoria Road was to be our stop for the night. It was a means to an end and the first room where we felt the need to do a spider check and keep our shoes off the floor. I’m sure it was the wooden floor boards that gave us this vibe, but none the less I’m glad it was for only one night and the Hunter Valley waits.