Around the world in 188 days travel blog

March 7

Marianne: After hanging around Sydney for 2 extra days, we finally took off in our new vehicle. It was a long slow exit from town. First the car was not ready when promised (natch), and then we had to brave the urban traffic gauntlet. For miles and hours we crept thru clogged streets, before finally gaining the highway. If you are not rich enough to live in one of those swanky houses on the harbor in the city, Sydney may not be such a pleasant place to deal with. Steve: I know that endless suburban freeways are supposed to be responsible for the urban sprawl plaguing many American cities, but Sydney has precious few freeways, and is still one of the most spread-out examples of urban sprawl I've ever seen (or had the misfortune of driving through). We were so desperate to get out of the traffic that we stopped for lunch at a Subway that we saw along the side of the road.

Marianne: As we left town we were still trying to figure out where we were going! Somewhere not wet, and within a day's drive of Sydney, in case our car turned out to be a lemon. We finally decided on the Jenolan caves, which were labeled on the map as "spectacular." And if it started to rain again, we would be out of it!

On the way there, we passed through the Blue Mtns., so-called because the vapors given off by the eucalyptus trees give the atmosphere a bluish tinge. We drove up and up, but saw no mountains. There were signs everywhere pointing to scenic overlooks, so we checked one out. And wow – we were on top of the mountains! But they were worn away to high plateaus, ending in huge red cliffs, gorges, and waterfalls. There were crowds of tourists, both foreign and Aussie, gawking at the views, which reminded me of the Grand Canyon, but with greenery. Steve: Not nearly as deep or dramatic as the Grand Canyon! The cliffs were impressively tall, and there were a few nice rock formations that reminded me of small "excerpts" from places like Bryce or Zion. And we really didn't know we were in the center of the Blue Mountains until we rounded a bend and saw a view of these giant cliffs looming through the trees – that's how gradual the rise from the coast was. Marianne: There were markers pointing out the various "mountains" in the distance, one being the tallest "peak" in New South Wales. They were all barely discernable bumps, very old and eroded, like most of Australia. The opposite of its neighbor, NZ.

Since the weather was looking good, and lodging was not, we decided to try out our new camping equipment at a campground. We then discovered that our Chinese-made tent, which claimed to shelter 6, might shelter 6 starved Oriental people but was about big enough for 2 Americans. Lying in it, you could look up through the stitching holes and see the stars. A good thing it did not rain! Steve: Until the next morning! We awoke to mist and drizzle, and were eating our breakfast in a barbie shelter, when it started to rain, and we had to take the tent down quickly before everything got completely soaked. (For those who've not seen one before, a barbie is basically a gas-heated flat metal surface on which to grill meat. When we were here in 2003, the ones we saw were mostly encrusted with bits of old, greasy food, and the possums loved to slide their bums all over them in search of midnight snacks. Yum!). Marianne: And, I froze in the sleeping bag I got at a 2nd hand store (I had nobly given Steve the warmer one). Steve: Either out of incredibly self-sacrificing consideration, or to persuade me to go camping again. Marianne: This was bad news for me, though good news for Steve, as it makes camping a much less attractive proposition!

Steve: The next day, we drove through the rain and fog down some hairpin turns into Jenolan valley. Rounding a bend, we were astonished to see the road disappear into a gigantic hole in a cliff wall – it was literally swallowed by a cave. On the other side, we signed up for something called the "Temple of Baal" tour just as it started pouring; a good day for a cave tour! The tour (led by a guide with a nicely acerbic Aussie sense of humor) took us around what was basically a very large chamber, but it was beautifully lit, and dripping with formations (including an ominous rock formation at the top of the huge chamber, that is supposed to represent Baal looming over the proceedings). Marianne: These caves are supposedly 300 million years old.

Upon emerging from the caves, we found that it was still raining, and decided to head southeast, as far away from the bad weather as we could get. And it worked. As we drove south, the weather began to clear, and by the time we reached Eden on the south-eastern-most part of New South Wales coast (after staying the night in Goulburn), it was warm and sunny.

For pictures related to this entry, click here.

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