June 17, 2003
The rain came in big splashy drops, quickly turning into a downpour. Our group rushed back down the hill to the van, but our efforts were in vain. By the time we all piled in we were drenched - but laughing. A good sign that our group was finally bonding. While everyone was friendly enough when we met, we hadn't been making a lot of headway in the bonding department - that is, until the sky opened up. It's funny how a little bit of shared adversity bonds a group together. It's just as if the rain were meant to come - to loosen everyone up for the adventure that lay ahead.
The day after our train arrived in Adelaide, Alex and I left on a ten-day outback camping trip called "Heading Bush." Ten days of 4WD off-road driving from Adelaide to Alice Springs, camping in swags along the way and traveling with 9 strangers through some of the most remote country Australia had to offer to those willing to go off the beaten path. In my travels to date I had never been on a tour that had lasted for more than 4 days, so 10 days trapped (er, traveling) with 10 other people was new territory for me - and I was a little bit apprehensive.
Our group was an international mix of three Germans, one Swiss, one Irish, one Belgian, an Israeli couple and an Australian tour guide and ranged from one teenager to one 40-something with a mixture of 20 and 30-somethings in between. With the exception of Alex and I and the Israeli couple, everyone else was traveling solo. On the afternoon of the first day I looked around with the sudden realization that that fate of my trip rested on these 10 strangers. And I wondered, would we all get along?
Traveling is not just about where you go. In fact, I would say that where you go only accounts for about 50% of your trip. The other 50% of your trip is the experience you have while you are there - and that is almost always dependent, to some extent, on the people you interact with while you are there. I have incredibly fond memories of rather unremarkable cities - simply because of the wonderful people I met while I was there. Similarly, I have horrible memories of otherwise lovely cities - again, because of the people I met while I was there.
Luckily, both halves of the equation with regards to this tour were excellent - a great tour with great people. But that wasn't a given - getting along with a group of strangers thrown together for 10 days of eating, sleeping, and traveling takes some work and some compromise. In addition to different ages, we were dealing with different personalities and different nationalities - more than half of which were speaking in a language that was not their native tongue. And, we were dealing with less than ideal conditions - long, hard road travel, exposure to the elements, bug attacks, lack of regular showers, and 11 people sleeping in the same space for nine nights. Not to mention different ideas about humor and sharing and responsibility. And yet, somehow it all worked out - well.
From Adelaide to Alice Springs we drove through some amazing areas. We stopped in towns like Williams Creek, with a permanent population of just 6 people, and Coober Pedy a city where 3/4 of the people live underground to escape the heat of the desert. We saw natural wonders like Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and Uluru (Ayres Rock), saw amazing sunrises and sunsets over desert landscape, and woke up to the sound of dingoes and galahs. We learned how to bake bread in a camp fire, shared traditions from different countries and cultures, told jokes, played games, passed around pictures, and generally got to know each other. I'm convinced that 90% of all the worlds issues could be solved if world leaders were forced to get to know each other a similar environment - without their handlers, press agents and speech writers.
I recently returned from another tour - one that did not work out so well. In fact, I am willing to bet any amount of money that the tour guide from this tour will use our tour group as her "tour from hell" story for at least the next 6 months. I know I will. While only a five day tour, and this time with all native English speakers, it just didn't work. But that is a story for another time. :)
So, while a big thanks goes out to Mother Nature for all the natural beauty we saw (especially the amazing desert sunrises and sunsets) I want to sent out a special thanks to the people - to Avi and Idan from Israel, to Bart from Belgium, to Suzanna and Tine and Lilly from Germany, to Peter from Switzerland, to Sara from Ireland, to Alex, and to our tour guide Simon - for an excellent tour.