Australia 99 p5

Getting bogged in Maize

Monday, September 20

One of the most unforgettable days of my life. We prepared for a long drive, as Anne wanted to show me Cobdogla ("land of plenty"), a far away site where she and her friends were planning on camping for the New Year. Cobdogla is located in the Riverland, so called because the Murray, the longest river in Australia, runs through it.

After almost two hours of driving, we saw a sign that looked promising, and so we decided to make a little detour through Waikerie ("many wings") and Maize National Park, that Anne had never seen before. It soon became obvious that there were no roads, only tracks in the bush, and no signs to help us find our way around it. We drove slowly along the river. One lonely camper was the only human presence in the whole park.

Eventually, we not only got lost: we got bogged in the soft sand. All our efforts to get the car out were vain: it only sank deeper. There we were stuck many kilometers away from the nearest highway, let alone settlement, with no phone!

I remembered the camper: fortunately we weren't too far from him. We followed our tracks back to the spot where he was quietly fishing. As we walked I wished we could just hike around the place, as it was so peaceful and pleasant despite its hostile appearance. The fisherman's name was Wayne and he most gracefully put himself and his truck at our disposal. We drove back to the car and after a great deal of effort, Wayne pulled it out of the sand.

We sat down for a chat by the river where Wayne was camping, and he offered us oranges. He had been here for two months, picking oranges in a nearby plantation. The more we talked, the more astonished we were – it was like meeting Crocodile Dundee. His camping site was truly magnificent, and he was enjoying it immensely. He told us of the cormorants and pelicans fishing with him, the visits of possums, kangaroos and foxes in the morning, the kookabooras greeting the sun...

The Murray

My opals

Suddenly he asked me: "Would you like to take an apple back to Lebanon, Alpaca?" Apple was the word I thought I heard, and I looked at him puzzled, but he continued: "More precious than diamond, more precious than gold!" He disappeared into his tent and came back with a little bag that he turned over in his hand. Opals! He told us to pick two each, and on top of that he gave me a shell that had been opalized during the fossilizing process. He had mined these opals himself, and once more he launched into the narration of his adventures. He explained that the stones were phosphorescent, and that to find them in the mines they lit up the wells and then turned off all lights, locating them by their shimmer in the dark.

We finally parted with a message to transmit to friends of his in Adelaide (he wanted them to know he was still alive.) On the way out of Maize we encountered a blue-tongue lizard. These little babies will grab your finger with a grip that nothing can break, so I kept a respectful distance. I got a splendid sight of the blue tongue they stick out as a warning but naturally, when my camera wasn't ready. Conures, these funny lizards that look like they dipped their head in a pot of blue paint, scrambled up trees everywhere around us. A bunch of hawks with black-tipped wings were gliding above us ever since we got bogged.

My bluetongue with its tongue safely hidden from the camera!
 We finally reached Cobdogla, which was another (but safer) enchanting journey in the bush. The landscape was surreal, unlike anything I had ever seen. There were cockatoos and egrets around us, and more hawks.

An otherworldly sight in Cobdogla
 We briefly stopped at Berri, a town that gets its name from Bery Bery ("bend in the river"). For lunch, Anne took me to the Big Orange. Since this was Orange Country, some playful mind had designed this exhibition/souvenir shop/cafeteria that sits over the highway like a giant toy.

The view from the Big Orange observation deck