Thursday, 29 March 2012

Ghana and The Hope Orphanage March 2012

Ghana and The Hope Orphanage Journal

Sunday 4th March 2012
I had a good flight to Accra – six and half hours.  I sat next to a very strange English man who never spoke to me except on the odd occasion and when I had headphones on watching a film!  Anyway, I was pleased to have made contact with him, because.......
On arrival at Accra there were HUGE queues for passport control and I had visions of being there for well over an hour when a local in a yellow day-glo jacket came up to me and said - 'this way please' pointing to a side door.  I was a bit freaked out and wondered what on earth was going on but he was insistent – ‘please come, please come’.  My mind was racing with things like abduction, ransom etc etc. Luckily in the queue I found my self standing behind my travelling 'companion' and asked him to come with me, which he did.  It turned out that Mandy's Pastor friend had arranged a VIP arrival for me so this local guy led us past all the enormous queues of people and we got through Passport Control in minutes.  I bet my travelling companion was really pleased he had made my acquaintance because he got through quickly too.  I never saw him afterwards as I, with a local porter, went off to the carousel for my luggage and he, I think, had no luggage and went off to meet his son.  So that was my VIP welcome to Ghana.
Mandy and 'Daniel' met me - Daniel is the Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church’s driver and the sound-man at the Church.  He drove us to the hotel that Mandy had booked us in to.  It was very nice and clean, but basic.  We had a large room with two double beds and en suite.  The shower came out tepid but in the heat that it did not matter.
It was very hot - I had a fan blowing on me all night as well as the air conditioner working.  The humidity is worse than the heat.
Monday 5th March
Today 'Peter', another Pastor, took us out in his car.  Our first stop was Dr. Kwame Nkrumah's Mausoleum.  He was the leader of Ghana and its predecessor state, the Gold Coast, from 1952 to 1966. We spent some time there looking around the museum and the huge monument.  From there we went to the Art and Craft Market.  It was very colourful and atmospheric and both Mandy and I bought a couple of things.  The whole market was a mish-mash of make-shift stalls cobbled together with wood, corrugated iron and anything else that could be used to make some sort of covered building – and all on dirt and stony ground.  We had lunch nearby and after that we were both pretty tired so we were driven back to the hotel.  The heat and humidity is exhausting.  Travelling around Accra takes time due to both the huge amount of traffic and the poor state of the roads.
Tuesday 6th March
Today was Independence Day so we joined thousands of others in the oppressive heat to watch the parade in Independence Square.  We got there for 7.45am, just in time to get two seats together in one of the many concrete stands.  The Square is enormous – far bigger than Horseguards Parade and is surrounded football stadium-like stands.  The Parade consisted of representatives of all the services – Army, Air Force, Navy, Fire and Police Departments plus goodness knows who else.  What impressed me were the platoons of children from local High Schools.  They were as well drilled as the Army and they stood very still on parade and their marching was faultless.  The President and his entourage arrived at 8.30am and he duly inspected his troops in an open topped vehicle and that was followed by all the platoons marching past in turn.  When the troops had finished there was a parade of Army vehicles, tanks and fire and police vehicles etc.  It was a bit like Trooping the Colour – but with a difference.  Some of the uniforms were very colourful, as well as the school uniforms.  There was a fly past and a gun salute too (I lost count of how many).  A very interesting morning.
From there we took a taxi to Labadi Beach, one of the most popular beaches in Accra.  Being a public holiday the atmosphere was fantastic.  Huge Atlantic rollers were crashing in and the sandy beach was heaving with thousands of Ghanaians enjoying their public holiday.  Music was playing quite loudly and adults and children alike were having a good time in the sea or kicking a ball around on the beach.  Decorated horses were giving people rides, rather like donkeys on beaches here.  We had a table and chairs under a large umbrella and had lunch watching all that was going on around us.  The tide was coming in and some of the waves rushed up under our table and chairs.  Luckily all our belongings were on a spare chair.  We left at around 3.30pm as Mandy had to meet someone from the University where she is giving a lecture next week.
After that meeting – at a very nice, rather upmarket, restaurant (we regretted having lunch at the beach when we got there) - we went back to the hotel.  Afternoon naps are very welcome here due to the heat.
I had an early night and Mandy went out until the early hours.
During the night I felt a spider on my face – I brushed it off and tried to forget it and get back to sleep again but felt it a few minutes later on my arm.  By that time I was a bit freaked out and put the light on – only to see a huge cockroach crawling along the edge of the room – so it must have been that on my face.  It was almost 2 inches in length. Yuk!  I could not rest until I trapped it under a glass but still had difficulty getting back to sleep in case its friend came looking for it!
Wednesday 7th March
This morning at 0700 we were collected by Daniel (the Pastor’s driver who collected me from the airport on Sunday evening) who drove us to the orphanage.  It seemed a long drive although it is only about 95 miles. It took ages getting out of Accra, which is a huge urban sprawl and the suburbs seemed to go on forever.  The roads are bad and are choked with traffic, which is very disorganised.  There seem to be no ‘rules of the road’ although if there are, no one sticks to them.  Overtaking is done either side and pulling out from the kerb is done seemingly without looking in the rear mirror.  Horns are honking all the time, mostly to tell someone that they are about to be overtaken.  Daniel was a very good driver and, although he seemed as mad a driver as everyone else, I felt safe with him.  We were in a newish Toyota mini-bus so I felt well protected.  The roads are in a bad condition too, some just red dirt and stones.  It is very dusty everywhere.  Some of the taxis we used were wrecks and I sometimes wondered if we would get to our destination.  They didn’t have aircon either so we had to have the windows open meaning we were breathing in, and getting covered with, dust.
After about 4 hours of driving we stopped at Kakum National Park where we walked on a ropewalk over the rainforest.  There were seven ‘bridges’ in all and they were very shaky.  The place was absolutely heaving with school children as this day was also a day off for schools as well as Independence Day.  The queues were long and disorganised.  Unsure of what to do, we found a guide who was great – he got our tickets for us and guided us past the queues to get to the front.  A few people in the queue complained – not about us white people getting preferential treatment but about the guide saying he was only doing it to get a hefty tip from us – he did get a tip but not a hefty one!  It was a good place to stop and the walk was interesting.  We saw little monkeys in the trees.  All in all we saw very little wildlife or birds the whole week (apart from aforementioned cockroach!) which seemed surprising.
Another hour or so’s drive and we arrived at The Hope Orphanage in a village called Ayensudo just outside Cape Coast.  The orphanage consists of two houses, each supervised by a Pastor and wife.  In House 1 where we stayed there were 3 helpers – or ‘mummies’ – as well as the Pastor’s wife.  10 children are in that house aged from around 12 months to 5 years old.  There are 7 children in House 2 ranging from 16 months to 12 years old.  Another Pastor and his wife run that house and they have one ‘mummy’. 
The houses are newish – about 3 years old.  Very basic, no air conditioning – just ceiling fans.  Mandy and I shared a bedroom with an en suite shower room/toilet.  Very basic, the shower was a ceramic square in the floor, no curtain and no hot water, but in the heat the tepid shower was welcome, hot water was not really needed.  But at least there was water and a decent flush toilet.  Water is delivered by tanker and is stored in a huge tank outside, hence the shower being tepid rather than cold as the tank is in full sun.  The main room is very large with only a table with 6 chairs and two sofas and one armchair so there is plenty of room for the children to play and run around.  There are two cots there for the babies to sleep in and they are bathed in that room too in a plastic bath and two buckets.
The children are unbelievably well behaved and know the routine well.  At mealtimes they collect their own plastic chairs from the kitchen and one of the 5 year old boys carries the plastic table in.  They all sit quietly and eat all their food without any fuss.  Bowls are eaten clean and when finished, each child returns the bowl to the kitchen.  Nothing is left.  They then put away the table and chairs and even brush the floor.  And ... these children are only 3-4 years old.   The two 5 year olds eat at the bigger table and the 2 year olds and two babies are fed by the mummies.  Everything is so organised.
The daily routine seems to be up at around 5.45 and have breakfast.  After breakfast they go to their communal bathroom for a wash.  They are then dressed in their smart little school uniforms and sit quietly until they are driven to school.  The 3 year olds go to the local village school and the 4-5 year olds go to a bigger school further away at Cape Coast.  They return at around 2.30pm and they then shower.  They all go in together and seem to wash themselves – amazing considering their age.  They are then dressed in ‘mufti’ and play until they have their evening meal.  After the meal they play until bedtime – which is on the dot of 7pm.  They undress themselves and go to their rooms when told and nothing more is heard from them.  I didn’t get to see their bedrooms so I don’t know how many sleep in a room.  I am not sure how many bedrooms there were.  About 5 I think.  We had one and the two babies each slept with a mummy, so I am not at all sure how many children shared a room.
The 3 mummies and the Pastor’s wife share duties via a roster, each take it in turn to do kitchen duties, bathroom duty etc.  While we were there the Pastor’s wife seemed to do the cooking, and very tasty the food was too!  All African food and very spicy.  We had three good meals a day.
There are two other buildings on the orphanage site.  One is the Compassion Centre, part of Compassion International which is a Christian child sponsorship organization dedicated to the long-term development of children living in poverty around the world.  Every Saturday around 200 children from the surrounding area, and who do not go to school, go there for the day for basic education and the parents can attend too, to learn basic skills and education.   It is a wonderful organisation.  The other building is a school, which is not open yet.  It is planned to open in September 2012 and all the orphanage children will attend together with other children from around the area.
Thursday 8th March
Today Steven, the orphanage driver took us into Cape Coast for Mandy to pay a visit to the large Central Regional Hospital and me to visit Cape Coast Castle.  I opted out of the hospital visit as we had no idea what it would be like and, anyway, I am a bit squeamish!   Mandy’s report of her visit afterwards made me glad I didn’t go.
My visit to Cape Coast Castle, accompanied by the Pastor and his wife, was most interesting, and horrible in many ways.  Cape Castle dungeons were one of the gathering places of 1000’s of slaves before being shipped to the Americas. .  The men’s dungeon consisted of 4 adjoining rooms, each room housing 250 men with no drainage and the only light coming in through a couple of small high windows.  I knew something of the slave trade before this visit, but seeing the conditions under which these poor people were imprisoned made me feel somewhat ashamed to be ‘white’.  How any human being can treat another in such an inhuman way beggars belief.  The men were kept there, shackled, for up to 3 months before being shipped out, living in their own human waste which gathered on the floor.  There are marks on the walls showing how deep this solidified ‘waste’ was – up to 3 feet.  The stench must have been unbearable.  They must have wanted to die than to live in such conditions.  The women’s dungeon was similar but smaller.
The door leading outside to where he slave ship docked was called The Door of No Return.  These days it leads out to a beach of sorts with dozens of fishing boats.
It was a very humbling experience.
The afternoon and evening was spent at the Orphanage.  On most days ‘evenings’ did not exist as we were so tired due to the very early starts and the heat that we went to bed around 8pm.
Friday 9th March
This morning we went out at 7.30am with the four younger children to spend time at the local village school.  What an eye-opener.  An open sided long corrugated hut housed 5 or 6 classrooms with dirt floor, basic old wooden desks and chairs and a blackboard on one wall.  The other two long buildings were sturdier and had walls up to the roof but it was still very old and shabby.  Older children occupy that building.  There were, I seem to remember, 3 classrooms in each of those buildings.
Children are at that school from kindergarten to around 12 although there are some are older teenagers too as not all children start at kindergarten age.  Some may not start school until they are older, depending on family duties at home, ie helping out on the farm, and they start school at kindergarten level.   Again we were staggered by the discipline and excellent behaviour of the children.  Some teachers arrived late due to the appalling traffic and the children just sat quietly and waited for them.  Imagine the mayhem in an English school – there would be books and pencils flying everywhere and utter chaos!  The children all seemed eager to learn and the teachers are doing a great job.  We took a lot of books, posters, pencils etc with us and they were very gratefully received.
We intended to spend the whole morning there but Mandy became unwell.  I was fine.  We had mainly eaten the same food so we think she may have picked up a germ from the hospital.   So we went back to the orphanage and Mandy slept for the rest of the day.  I spent time with the children in both houses, or reading.
Saturday 10th March
We were collected by Daniel at around 10.30 for our return to Accra.  We were very sad to leave the children, and ‘Little John’ in House 2 was crying when I left.  Two year old Little John and I really bonded.  He and his 4 year old brother arrived at the orphanage about 6 weeks ago after a really tragic beginning to their lives.  Their mother deserted them and the father was a drunkard who kept them locked up with no food.  Whenever they could escape they went out begging.  They were in very poor health, underweight and in a very poor condition.  Little John was clearly very traumatised but he loved being cuddled and I did manage to make him smile occasionally.  His brother, Alex, looked a very unhappy little boy and it will take a while for them both to settle in.
All children there have had trauma in their young lives due to either being deserted or their parents dying, probably of AIDS/HIV.  But they are in the best possible place and they will be cared for and educated until they are 18.
I had to hold back the tears when I left.  We were made so welcome there and our visit, and all the donated clothes and toys we took with us, were really appreciated by all.  I am sure I will visit again one day.
It took about 3 hours to drive back to Accra and, after living basic African style for a few days, I felt like a bit of luxury so we booked into The Holiday Inn.  OK, not the most luxurious of hotels, but there are very few of them in Accra, but to be there sitting by a lovely pool drinking a cocktail was luxurious enough for me.  A hot shower and the use of decent towels seemed a great treat.
Sunday 11th March
We were collected at 7am by Daniel (good old Daniel!) to go to church.  Ghana is a very Christian country, although there are many Muslims there too, and almost everyone goes to church on Sundays and they really dress up and make an effort.  The church we went to was Trinity Baptist Church, an offshoot from a church of the same name in South Norwood, London.  The church in Accra has room for 1200 congregation and it was practically full.  It was a fantastic atmosphere.  Mandy is known there from previous visits and we were made very welcome and had to sit in the front row.  The service lasted for almost 4 hours with lots of singing, praising and a very interesting sermon from a visiting Pastor.  The choir was fantastic, as was the band (if that is the correct term).  The service started at 8am and was due to end at 10.20am but it overran one and a half hours!  I do confess to occasionally looking at my watch for the last hour or so!
From there we went to Mandy’s friend’s house, Richard – a wealthy and somewhat portly Ghanaian – who gave us a lovely traditional lunch.  Mandy ate Ghana style using only her right hand and no cutlery but I did use a knife and fork.  We returned to the hotel around 4pm for a swim and relaxation around the pool.  I had to leave at 9.30pm for my 11.30pm flight back to Heathrow, the hotel being only 5 minutes away from the airport.  Mandy stayed at the hotel on Sunday night and moved on to another, more central, hotel on Monday.  She is in Accra for another week.
It was a wonderful week.  I did have mixed feelings about going – not knowing what to expect and thought I would be an emotional wreck at the orphanage.  But everything turned out really well.  We had lots of fun and laughs and the orphanage was such a happy place that the only tears shed were those of laughter – except when I had to leave.

Monday, 5 December 2011

15th-16th May

I have just looked at this blog and realised I did not completely finish it. (It is now December!)

As far as I remember, the last complete day with Jack and Norma was spent quietly, with me sadly sorting out my packing in preparation for returning home.

I left Cairns airport on Sunday morning 15th May for Singapore where I was to change planes for Heathrow. I knew we had to drop down into Darwin on the way, but didn't know beforehand that we had around 3 hours there. So I was stuck in a small transit lounge with lots of other people. There was only a small cafe/bar and one small souvenir shop. A complete waste of time as I was just anxious to get on with my long journey. Anyway, the flight to Singapore was fine. An hour or so there before continuing on to London.

It had been a fantastic trip. The comprehensive tour around South Island, New Zealand, with Terry was just amazing and I had my first ever visit to Australia. My stay with Jack and Norma in Cairns was really good. As a house swap had been previously arranged with them for 3 weeks in July/August it was a great opportunity to find out about the house and local surroundings beforehand.

So - another long trip ends. Bring on the next one ....

Friday, 13 May 2011

12th - 13th May. Two good days

Friday 13th May Jack and Norma drove me about an hour north to Port Douglas. The coast road was stunning with rainforest meeting the sea at beautiful beaches and headlands

We stopped at various bays along the way, and a particular favourite was Oaks Bay, so deserted and unspoiled

On arrival at Port Douglas we went to the Yacht Club for lunch but were disappointed to discover they now only open at lunchtime over weekends. So, at my suggestion as I wanted to buy Jack and Norma a nice meal to thank them for their kindness, we went to the upmarket Sheraton Mirage.

Wow! What a lovely hotel, more a resort really. 5 acres of lagoon swimming pools with other amazing facilities.

And the hotel resort is alongside the beautiful 'Four Mile Beach'

After a long and leisurely lunch we had a stroll around the hotel grounds and along the beach, then made our way into the pretty town. There is a beautiful old church there, now multi-demoninational and is used for weddings. What a lovely place to get married

On the way home we stopped for a drink at Yorkeys Knob Boating Club, allegedly the best Marina in the southern hemisphere.
We were there at sunset which was lovely.

Thursday 12th May was another 'wow' day. I spent the day on the Great Barrier Reef. What an amazing experience. I, and around 100 others, boarded the Ocean Spirit, a huge twin hulled sailing ship for the Michaelmas Cay Cruise.

Michaelmas Cay is a small reef sand island which hosts thousands of seabirds and is surrounded by the amazing coral reef.

The birds on the island at this time were mainly Black Noddies and Sooty Terns with their chicks.

I snorkelled for probably over an hour and loved it. I joined the 'snorkelling tour' which allowed newbies like myself to snorkel with a marine naturalist who pointed out the many different sorts of coral and colourful tropical fish. We were transported from the Ocean Spirit to the beach by the 'beach buggy'

and it ran a 15 minute service throughout the day to and from the beach. I returned to the cruiser for their amazing all-inclusive buffet lunch then in the afternoon took a ride in the 'semi-submersible' - a vessel where passengers are seated underwater to view the coral and fish.

Very good but I did find it a bit claustrophobic

It was quite windy all day, especially the return voyage when it was difficult to walk around the ship.
All in all a fabulous day and something else to cross off my 'bucket list'. I was exhausted at the end of the day and fell into bed at 8.30pm!

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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

11th May - Rainforest

First and most importantly - Happy Birthday Aimee. 10 today. Where have the last ten years gone?

I have had a fabulous day today. I took the 10.00am Kuranda Scenic Railway from Freshwater station (just around the corner from where I am staying) up to the rainforest village of Kuranda.
The journey took one and a half hours to slowly climb 327 metres to the mountain top village, including a photo stop,

Due to the number of people (and screaming kids!) waiting on the platform, I upgraded my ticket to 'Gold'. So I peacefully travelled in style and comfort in an armchair with unlimited drinks - hot, cold or alcoholic - and an endless supply of lovely food. My style of travel! The railway is very historic and is over 100 years old and the website is definitely worth a browse
Kuranda village is full of markets and cafes, and is somewhat 'touristy', but is interesting to wander around. I visited the small zoo where I just had to cuddle a koala!

And I also saw kangaroos with little joeys in their pockets as well as wallabies, and many exotic birds in 'Birdworld'. Kuranda was a great place to visit.
But the icing on the cake was the journey down. I took the 'Skyrail' - a 7.5km cable car high over the top of the rainforest canopy.
It was truly a wonderful ride and lasted an hour. I had a cable car to myself which was lovely, but a bit freaky whenever the system stopped briefly, as it occasionally did!

We passed over the Barron Falls

and the cable car stopped at a couple of stations for us to get out and have a walk through the rainforest on a boardwalk and to take some photos

It was a wonderful experience and the views were just spectacular

As usual, there are loads more photos on Picasaweb

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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

9th - 10th May. Cairns continued

Tuesday 10th May. Today is Jack's **th birthday. Happy Birthday Jack.
As is the custom in the Perrett family, as many of the clan as possible gather for a birthday breakfast at the Shangri La Hotel at the Cairns Marina. Being a weekday son-in-law Martin nor the two grandsons could be there.
Breakfast is buffet style - eat as much as you can for 24 bucks. I sure did get my money's worth! The food was very good, the coffee great and sitting outside on the boardwalk looking out at the million dollar boats in the warm sunshine was a lovely experience. Thank you Perrett's for allowing me to join you.

We made a detour on the way home via the Lake Placid Recreation Area on the Barron River. In Feb 1999 the river height was up to the White marker
on the tree

And then to the Barron Gorge where there is a big power station. It was lovely there

The day ended with a short drive to one of the several lovely beaches in the area - Palm Cove where a sea eagle was being a bit friendly

Another enjoyable day in this lovely part of the world.

Monday 9th May. This morning Jack and Norma took me into Cairns so I could familiarise myself with the area for when I return with Jacky and Aimee in July.
We spent time around the Marina and I booked a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef for Thursday and for the Crocodile Explorer for this afternoon
We had lunch (great value) in a Club that Jack and Norma belong to and then they took me back to the wharf for me to go see the crocs!
It was a great cruise along the beautiful tidal Trinity Inlet, for an hour and

a half with a most informative and interesting commentary. We did see 2 large crocs on the way to the crocodile farm. This one was about 4m long.

On arrival at the crocodile farm we were met by a coach and driven slowly around, with plenty of stops to look and take photographs. There are 200+ breeding crocs

and over 20,000 farm crocs being raised for their skin and

meat. All the skins are sent to Italy for the upmarket leather trade. This photo shows just one of many tanks.
During the evening I attended, as an onlooker, a house group that Jack and Norma host every Monday. They are committed Christians who belong to the New Frontier Worldwide mission

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Monday, 9 May 2011

6th - 8th May. In and around Cairns

When I arrived at Cairns airport on 5th May, the lovely Jack Perrett came to meet me. He and Norma only live 15 minutes from the airport. It is lovely catch up with them after so long. They are ex-Woking folk and I met them through Send A.D.S. many years ago.

So, to keep this in it's usual date order (latest date first): yesterday 8th May was Mother's Day here in Australia and the day started with a breakfast BBQ at Catana Wetlands, organised by Martin, Jack and Norma's son-in-law. Their daughter, Nicola and their two grandsons Samuel and Joshua

were there too. Martin laid on a lovely breakfast and I supplied the Bucks Fizz. Loverly!!
I was lucky enough to see a couple of large birds there which I had never seen before. A Jabiru (black-necked stork)

and several spur-winged plovers (masked lapwing)

Apart from a brief visit to the local shopping mall on the way home, the rest of the day was spent in usual Sunday fashion .... not doing very much. We did go for a late afternoon dip in their pool where I had a snorkelling lesson in preparation for my planned Great Barrier Reef trip later this week.

Saturday 7th May saw us heading up to the Atherton Tablelands to Herberton Historic Village where there are buildings, vehicles and machinery dating from 1870. It was most interesting. Many local people were dressed in fashions of the day which added to the atmosphere.

It was a lovely drive through tropical rain forest and we passed lots of huge termite mounds

On the way back we had a stop to meet some friends at Halloran's Hill lookout - wonderful views.

Sunday 6th May. My first full day in Cairns. Well, not exactly Cairns but Caravonica about 20 minutes north. Jack and Norma are making me very welcome in their lovely home.
Today we visited Cairns Botanical Gardens - very tropical and all the lovely plants and trees seemed huge. This very strange tree creeper looked almost as though someone had pasted it on as wallpaper

We later drove up through the rainforest to Lake Morris and Copperlode Dam. The road up (and down) was very steep with many hairpin bends and the views from the top were tremendous. Norma packed a picnic lunch.

A lovely first full day in North Queensland.

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Sunday, 8 May 2011

4th - 5th May. Uluru/ Kata Tjuta

On 4th May we departed Alice Springs for Yulara (aka Ayers Rock Resort). It was a 6 hour coach journey including a couple of stops. The scenery was just like we saw from The Ghan - desert, eucalypts and the occasional mountain range.
In the early 1970's the pressure of unstructured tourism near the base of Uluru was having detrimental effects on the environment surrounding Uluru and Kata Tjuta. So a new tourist town (Yulara/Ayers Rock Resort) was built 14 kilometres away and completed in 1984. It can hardly be called a town as it is a group of 4, maybe 5, really large hotels. There is a small shopping mall but I didn't get to see it - not enough time.
I was really excited about this part of the Australian adventure as Uluru has been on my 'bucket list' for as long as I can remember.
On arrival at the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge we had just enough time for a bag of fries for lunch before our first trip of the area. We headed for Kata Tjuta (aka The Olgas) with it's 36 domes.

I went for a long walk into the Walpa Gorge between Mt Olga and Mt Walpa. (Tom stayed in the coach as he couldn't tolerate the flies).

It was about half an hour of uneven walking but I made it to the end:

It was a fabulous walk.
We left Kata Tjuta around 5pm in order to be at Uluru for sunset .... we needn't have bothered - there wasn't one due to too much cloud cover. Sunset at Uluru is an organised circus:

All coach operators lay on wine or soft drinks and nibbles for all. It was a great atmosphere even though the sunset let us down.
Thursday 5th May was a REALLY early start. We were collected at 0550 in order to be at Uluru for sunrise due at 0615. Again the sun let us down as the famous rock didn't glow red at all

But we did see the most amazing sunrise

We were then taken on a one-hour cultural walk around the base of the rock when our guide pointed out many natural features of the rock, sacred sites which we were not allowed to photograph, aboriginal paintings and he told us traditional stories relating to this sacred site. I took many, many photographs and here are a couple. If you want to see more go to my Picasaweb site where I have uploaded them all.

It was just amazing. An unforgettable and somewhat spiritual experience. I loved it.
I flew out of Ayers Rock Airport for Cairns at 2.30pm and was delighted that I was able to see both Uluru and the resort from the air.

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1st - 3rd May. The Red Centre

Wednesday 3rd May was a full day of sightseeing.  The morning was taken up with a trip out to the West MacDonnell Ranges to visit Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm.  Gaps and Chasms (and bigger 'Gorges') are passes through the mountains - a chasm is bigger than a gap.  Simpsons Gap was a beautiful place, much revered by the Aboriginees.

From there we travelled a few kilometers further to Standley Chasm, a deep red cleft crowded in on either side by craggy slopes that rise 80 meters or so.

The 20 minute or so walk to the chasm from the coach park follows a creek where spring fed pools attract a great variety of wildlife and we saw many amazing trees and plants. The walk was quite a difficult one, as we had to negotiate many rocks and large 'puddles'
The afternoon trip was a 'city tour'. Whereas I loved the surrounding areas, I was not too fond of Alice Springs itself. I was expecting something older and more historic (although there are lots of historic buildings there).
Our first stop was at the Reptile House where I actually plucked up the courage to handle a large python - another 'first' for me
From there we visited the historic Telegraph Station. Connecting Australia with England by means of a single wire in 1872, the overland telegraph line was a huge achievement, making contact with 'the mother England' much simpler and quicker (before the telegraph, messages could take up to 3 months by ship).

We then visited the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum and information centre. I hadn't realised before what an important part of outback life (and other medical emergencies) the RDFS played. The Royal Flying Doctor Service was established in 1928 by Reverend John Flynn. His vision was to provide a 'mantle of safety' for the isolated communities of inland Australia. Using air links and radio, the service provided medical aid to people living, working and travelling in the outback. Today it operates 21 bases and covers more than 7,150,000 square kilometres. The Alice Springs base was opened in 1939 to provide emergency and preventative medicine to outlying communities and stations throughout Central Australia.
Our final stop for the day was to the top of Anzac Hill where we had a 360 degree view of Alice and surrounds.

Alice Springs was an interesting place to visit but I would not hurry back there, although I loved the surrounding countryside and mountains

On Sunday 1st May we left Adelaide for Alice Springs.  This time we boarded 'The Ghan' - the iconic train which runs from Adelaide, up through the centre of Australia, to Darwin in the north.
We travelled as far as Alice Springs, about half way, but even that took over 24 hours. The train departed at 12.20 and we were called to lunch soon after departure. Kangaroo steak was on the menu so I had to have that. It was nice, not too different to a beef steak. Life on this train was very similar to the Indian Pacific and our compartment was just the same. It was just the scenery outside that was different. We travelled through the desert and I thought I would be seeing miles and miles of nothing but red sand, but after all the rain that has been experienced in Australia over the recent months there was far more green than I expected:

There was even some water in the Finke River:

We arrived in Alice Springs on time on 2nd May and were taken to the Crowne Plaza hotel.  We were some way out of town and later in the afternoon we wandered in to get something to eat.  There was not much choice as it was a public holiday, so we found a pizzeria which was open.  I was not too comfortable sitting outside eating as there were a lot of aboriginal women wandering around that I didn't like the look of too much.  I am sure they were all harmless, but I clung on to my bag evenso!