Opal & "Weirdos"
14.11.2009 25 °C
Once Flinders Ranges was behind and before entering the real Outback, we made a stop for one night at Port Augusta. It's the ugliest place in Australia we've seen so far, effortlessly dodgy and creepy. It was the first time we saw aboriginal people, as until then we only met the "white" Australians, and from their appearance, they can look scary. However, we shouldn't forget they have been treated really badly until not so long ago, and despite the intention of merging both sides of the population, they still live in their ghettos, a bit isolated from the world. If we had known Port Augusta was so ugly we would have slept somewhere else, but it was the perfect hub to drive up to Coober Pedy.
We drove approximately 500 km to reach the famous city of Coober Pedy, where Europeans moved with the hopes of finding gold and spend the rest of their days in a fancy bungalow in the Caribbean drinking mojitos all day long...but the only thing they found was Opal. Again, the landscape had changed...we were in the Australian desert. Sand, sand and more sand...one lane highways, hardly any traffic, so the drive was pretty easy, except when it was time to overtake one of the famous road trains, lorries with up to 4 wagons so heavy that everytime we saw one coming from the opposite direction we would drive as much as we could on the left side to avoid feeling the pull towards it. The speed limit was 110 km/h and these puppies were driving at the limit...so they were no joke. We also drove through the famous "Prohibited Area", where Americans buried radioactive missiles and stretched our legs in Woomera, land of uranium waste! Woohoo! But, if you ever go to Australia and are planning to visit Uluru, a mandatory stop should be Coober Pedy, there's nothing more peculiar. Often used as a set in movies (especially for scenes in space and on the moon), 70% of the homes are underground to escape the heat (it is said only the Greek and Aboriginal communities live above ground) that can overpass 50 °C during the Summer months. The city looks like an immense excavation, a place under construction with its special mining machinery and hundreds of pipes popping out from the ground, surrounded by hills of sand and never-ending desert. So...who the hell would actually live forever in Coober Pedy? It couldn´t be more out of the way, in the middle of nowhere! Well, we met some strange fellas here...
We first checked in our caravan park, named Stuart after one of the most admired Australian explorers in history. That night we were up for a little treat and went to have dinner at the finest hotel of the city, ready to eat some true Australian dishes. We ordered their special meat combo; veal, camel, emu and kangaroo. The emu was definitely the worst, (what a strange piece of meat), but the camel and kangaroo were quite delicious and we left with satisfied bellies. The following morning we woke up to explore the unique sites of the city; we started by visiting one of the underground homes. In fact we saw the first underground home, that was excavated by hand by three women throughout 10 years during the 60s. It was bigger than what we expected, a full-on house with dining room, kitchen, living room, various bedrooms and an area above ground with indoor swimming pool! After Faye's we went to an underground Serbian Church we had heard about and to an Opal Mine to learn how everything works. The mine was run by a Scottish man and his helper, a German woman, everything but a lady and properly referred by us as Gestapo (without meaning to offend, but she looked stronger and scarier than many men). She left Germany in the early 80s to come mining in Australia and has lived ever since in Coober Pedy. Her sister lives somewhere around the east coast and Gestapo still can't understand why she prefers the sea when you can live in the desert (excuse me?), plus one of her hobbies is shooting cans when she's bored (that's what we call real fun!). The Scottish man gave us a tour around his mine, taught us some of the mysteries of opal mining, from finding it to making bombs (now we're the threat), and was extremely funny. Of course by the end of the tour they tried to sell us some opal which unfortunately we couldn't afford, it is said it also brings a lot of luck. We also visited the lookout and a couple shops where Ugo finally bought some opal. After our mining experience we were so confident about opal we even discussed the different types you can buy. Evidently the shop owner tried to cover his back by stating that what the Scottish man had taught us was bullshit (he used that word several times) and he also owns a mine and therefore knows better...whatever, there are always two versions to the same story right?
After two days and two nights in Coober Pedy we had to move on, but still this city has remained in our conversations throughout the whole trip.