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Reports

Friday, 8 March 2002
Sydney --> Katoomba, Australia

Last night when Yvette took me along to the Coogee Bay nightlife, we came to talk about hitchhiking. Hitchhiking is prohibited in most states in Australia (ha, watch me!) and hitchhiking doesn’t really have a good name in this country.
We might all remember the horrorstories about that couple that was kidnapped and killed in Australia a few years ago. Other stories are about hitchhikers who ‘bothered’ the drivers.

Hitchhiking is never entirely safe in any country in the world. Every hitcher takes a small but potential risk. The northeastern state Queensland is infamous for attacks on women travellers.

I think if I will stick to the basic rules of hitchhiking, things will work out well for me.
1) Stand on a position where cars can easily stop safely
2) Appearance, threadbare but clean
3) Knowing when to say no (saying no to a carload of drunks is pretty obvious)


Yvette has seen any hitchhikers in the past years, but for me that doesn’t mean a reason that nobody hitches anymore. Maybe hitchers get picked up very easily too!?

This morning Yvette woke me at 6.30am. After a shower and a cereal breakfast, I packed my bags again. It had become time to get going again and say goodbye to Yvette. I thanked her for the two days stay at her place and for showing me Coogee Bay.

Today I am put in a ‘scoop-protection-program’ and I will be going on the Wonderbus. The Wonderbus takes young travellers on tours and includes places-to-stay and other excursions in one package, for one day, or a few days.

Just so I won’t talk to other media in Australia and to let Channel 9 broadcast their item about my project before someone else does; they totally sponsor the coming three days. All expenses paid.

Some say, I shouldn’t do this and I should stay with ‘normal’ people who have invited me to stay for a day. But here is the catch: I don’t have many places to stay in Australia yet – and what would you say if you got a 3-nights stay in a hostel, including some tours, for free? Exactly.

Yvette brought me off at the local McDonalds’ at the Coogee Beach and left herself to her job in the hospital. The Wonderbus departed on 7.30am and picked up some others along the way through Sydney until the minivan was almost full.

Todays trip was going to take us to the Blue Mountains!

The Blue Mountains, part of the Great Dividing Range, were an impenetrable barrier to the expansion from Sydney. Despite many attemps to find a route through – and a bizarre belief among many early convicts that China, and freedom, was just on the other side – it took 25 years before Europeans made a successful crossing. Some parts of the park have still not been explored at all.

My both thumbs are up for the driver of the van, Jim the tourguide Taylor, who really managed to create an vibe in the bus and got everybody’s attention with his great stories. Jim has travelled most part of the world when he was young. He worked and played some music along the way. And his hippy-style facial expressions and haircut remember us all to it.

Jim educated us about the early settlers, English prisoners, the Australian food (“Has anybody ever eaten fish?”) and we passed the site where the Olympic Games where held in 2000.

It only takes a couple of hours from Sydney to reach the Blue Mountains and it is the biggest National Park in Australia, only covering some 11,000 (!) square kilometres. I wonder why everybody wants to live packed together in a big city, while the spacious nature is around the corner.

The Blue Mountains National Park has some truly fantastic scenery, excellent bushwalks and all the gorges, gum trees and cliffs. Jim made short stops and pullovers to show things in details and tell everything about it.

He even took us through the burned area of the bush, which has been in the news last December. The world media almost portraited that half Australia is burned down because of bushfires, but nothing like that is true.

Fire is as necessary for a bush as water. It’s in fact natural to have a (natural) bushfire every 4 years. I already learned that during my stay at the Reserve in South Africa. For some people on the bus another world opened up. Some native plants only reproduce when there is a fire! And now, a few months after the fires, the soil is fertile again and new small plants are gasping for air.

Big eucalyptus trees also caught fire. But only the leaves and the bark burn. But after a fire, the tree simply looses the burned bark and starts again. It just looks so normal.

Unfortunately a bushfire becomes worldnews when camera-crews can shoot nice footage of villas with big flames behind it and people running out of their homes. Look how terrible! But the people living in the bush know what their risks are. It can happen to anybody.

A fire is the best thing that could happen with a park as it basically cleans up and makes everything regenerate and revegetate again.

“This is the proof that the Blue Mountains are not destructed by bushfires that have been so exaggerated in the media. The whole world media was lying and only destructed the tourism,” explains Jim.

On the bus I chatted with some other travellers, Irish and English, about the latest scores in the Soccer Champions League.

At the Windwood Falls area we were standing on a high lookout-point and white mist was passing by. Some were disappointed, but Jim tried –successfully- to impress everybody with what we can see. “Just look around you!” Teaching us, the flatland-city-email-culture about weather conditions, indiginous plants, exotic birds, evaporation, etcetera. Some of the disappointed faces really lit up after hearing all those facts. Fascinating.

The Blue Mountains are called blue because of the evaporation of the oils in the leaves of the eucalyptus trees, which turns the atmosphere blue.

And with the mist surrounding us, it was marvellous to just smell the eucalyptus everywhere around me. It was like walking through a Vicks VapoRub-forest!

Ten minutes later the eyesight had become only 10 metres. We were lucky we saw at least something at the lookout.

An English guy on the Wonderbus: “I have actually seen another guy doing the same thing you are doing. That was in England last year.”
“Oh really?” I said.
“Yes, he was wearing the same jacket with the same logo on his back.”
“Gosh!”

Another stop later we suddenly walked into a small canyon and miraculously found a little rainforest. We walked along small caves and stumbled upon a clear water creek. The Vicks-smell was stirring my stomach.

Standing there I could totally understand why rainforests are sacred for the Aboriginals. This is where the wildlife hides in case of danger. It was as silent as in a cathedral. The only sounds were of waterdrops falling down. Really mystifying.

At the Katoomba Falls we went down a rainforest again. It was amazing how the damp of the mist made all the millions of spiderwebs appear. So unreal. After the 1,000 steps down, we all got an excellent view on the Katoomba waterfalls.

To avoid walking back up again, a little scenic railway had been made. Only detail: it was immediately the steepest railway in the world. And of course I was that smart to sit in the back of the train (actually you lay down in it) and when the train started moving up, I looked straight through my knees into the valley below me. Whaah, that’s high!

At 5.30pm the Wonderbus dropped me off in Katoomba.

Katoomba[/url= is one of the tourist hubs of the Blue Mountains. Despite the high number of tourists and its closeness to Sydney, this place has a mysterious character of another time and place. Maybe the Art Nouveau cafés and guesthouses on Katoomba Street emphasize that. Thick mist seems to be very casual here.

The coming nights I will be staying at the
Katoomba YHA (Youth Hostel Australia). The YHA is located in an old guesthouse on near the old town centre of Katoomba. It looks like it has been totally reconstructed lately and offers a great dining room and a spacious living room. Someway architects have been very busy with this feng shui setting.

It was quite a surprise to me, as I was only used the small backpackers lodges in South Africa. This place could lodge almost 200 people!

To help me out through the weekend, Channel 9 gave me sufficient Australian dollars so I could make some dinner in the self-catering kitchen of the hostel. It was basically enough to get something from the local take-away too and eat it in the dining area, haha.

And there I was with my laptop on the table, eating slices of pizza and typing through the night.

Sometimes life is sooo friendly…

Good night Katoomba!

Ramon.