Saturday, March 31, 2012

Road trip to Alice

Some of you may be wondering what became of me during my two month absence from this blog. The most remarkable thing I did during that time was go on an impromptu road trip from Melbourne to Alice Springs. Here’s how it happened.

1. It all started with a massage. I felt I needed a bit of nurturing so I booked in for an hour’s massage with Kaylan Rha. She’s based in Leura, in the Blue Mountains. On the phone, she let me know that it might take a bit longer than an hour, because since I was a new client, she’d like to take some time to talk to me and explain her approach to healing. I was with her for three hours. No exaggeration. She only charged me for an hour, and gave me a discount because it was my first treatment with her. Not only this, but it was the most powerful massage experience I’ve ever had. Before she got me on the table, Kaylan asked me to set an intention. She suggested that I take three breaths and let something come up, rather than impose an idea. The thought that emerged was “opening.”

2. Before I had the massage, I had already decided to flee the rain and mist of Katoomba, and take a little trip to Melbourne. I texted my new Melbourne friend, Antonia (previously introduced to you as the yoga goddess/fashionista), to ask about the dates of a retreat she was going on around this time. I wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t be in meditative silence the whole time I was in the city. She texted back saying that there was one space left on the retreat and she’d booked it for me. It turned out that the retreat was a yoga retreat, and she was leading it. Post-massage, I was open to that.

3. I was hoping to catch up with Antonia before the retreat started, but she was busy. I remembered that last time I’d been in Melbourne, a similar situation had resulted in my going out to dinner with her flat-mate, a German doctor called Arne. I got in touch with him. This time he took me to a fancy tapas bar. It was very Melbourne - stylish and delicious. Particularly the oysters. I found out that Arne was about to move to Alice Springs, and would be driving there in about a week’s time.

4. After the yoga retreat, Arne sent me a text which included a memorable reference to ‘desert flowers.’

5. I had dinner at Lentil As Anything with some good friends of mine in Melbourne who happened to have been to Alice Springs last year. They strongly encouraged me to pursue an idea that had hatched, or budded, shall we say, in the by now very open field of my mind.

6. I met Arne for lunch, and asked him if he would let me come on the road trip with him. He looked astonished. He said he’d sleep on it.

7. He called the next day to ask when I was coming over. We left for Alice Springs that afternoon.

The trip was wonderful. We drove in an enormous land cruiser that Arne had purchased for his time in Alice. Before we left Melbourne, we stopped at a shop that sold stuff for enormous land cruisers and similar vehicles. It was an exclusively and seriously masculine environment. By the time we drove away with an extremely heavy car jack, I had come to see my role as a kind of fluffy accessory that came with the car. Arne had acquired about as alpha male a vehicle as a civilian man could, so it seemed no surprise that a girl (me) had turned up to hang out in it with him. I couldn’t stop laughing about this for several kilometers.

Pretty soon we were out of Melbourne, and the landscape distracted me from my role as land cruiser Barbie (well all right, not entirely, but there’s no need to go into that). Watching the country gradually change from rural land to desert as we made our way across Victoria to close to Adelaide, and then straight up the middle of Australia, was a wonderful experience. The colours were mesmerising – often subtle – and very varied and beautiful.

Once we got into the desert, there was a rhythm to the landscape, too, rising very gently and falling again, like long, slow waves. Often I had the impression that we were about to come over a rise and find the sea glittering in front of us. But of course, we were moving further and further from the ocean. Somewhere near Coober Pedy, I felt slightly panicked at the thought of this, and wondered if it would feel oppressive to stay in a place like Alice Springs, so far from the sea. But when we finally drove into Alice, we discovered a whole new landscape.

The town is ringed by beautiful ranges of ochre-coloured rock, and divided by a wide, pale yellow river bed full of magnificent gum trees. After a bit of rain, grass springs up in soft, unlikely abundance everywhere. The light is warm – and although the sea is far away, there are ridges like cresting waves in the rock formations. You could imagine that you’re bathing in an ocean of light in this place. (Honey-coloured light and oceanic feelings are not all there is to Alice Springs – there’s also an intensity of suffering, and a rawness here that can be very confronting. But that’s another blogpost.)

The fact that we’d driven here, to the centre of Australia, in just over three days, made this country seem much more intimate and accessible to me. I’d always thought of Australia as incredibly vast, a whole continent, practically impossible to traverse. Yet all it had taken to get me to the centre of this great land was an open heart and mind, a friend with a land cruiser (and a generous spirit of adventure to go with it), and a few wonderfully free days.

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