australian-highway-outback

It was starting to get dark and I was in  the middle of nowhere. Australia is a big country and there’s a whole lot of nothing in the middle or in Western Australia where I was headed. It was my first big backpack trip and I was on a budget of almost nothing. I had never hitchhiked in my life but after about 3 weeks of it, I was getting pretty well seasoned. My original trip had been booked to spend 2 weeks in the country, but somewhere along the way I had changed my ticket to 6 months.  I had an ambitious plan of traversing a loop around the entire country. What I hadn’t figured on was that there are not a whole lot of people in some of the areas that I was traveling in. It had been pretty easy in New South Wales and around Melbourne, but once I got to Coober Pedy, the desert town where Mad Max 3 was filmed, cars were few and far between. People who were willing to stop in the middle of nowhere for someone they didn’t know were also becoming rarer.

I had been pretty lucky the last few days. I had met an Australian forest ranger whose sole job was to visit aborigine villages in the outback and make sure that they were taking care of what few eucalyptus trees and other plant life they had. Some of the towns had no vegetation at all, just red dirt and giant termite mounds, which made the forest ranger’s job pretty pointless. We had spent several days together traveling and I was lucky enough to visit some great little aboriginal territories that normal people aren’t allowed to go to. After he’d done his business, my new friend headed back south and left me somewhere north of where he’d found me.. Getting to Darwin in the north was pretty easy, but once I started thumbing through Western Australia, the rides dried up like an Australian desert riverbed. I walked for miles with my green army duffle bag with my possessions and tried to look as sweet and clean cut as possible.

Several cars passed me during my long walk, but statistics were not in my favor and no one stopped. As it started to get dark, I started to get nervous. There were no towns and the last thing that I wanted to do was to sleep in the desert with giant lizards, dingoes and man-eating kangaroos. When it became obvious that I was almost out of potential rides, I got right in the middle of the road and MADE someone stop. It was either run over me or stop. Surprisingly, once they realized I was a non-threatening American with bright blue parachute pants, they let me get in the back of the station wagon and ride to the next town called Kununnura. There wasn’t much chit chat since they felt like I had hijacked their car, so when we finally arrived in the city limits, they dropped me off in the center of town and sped off with a hurried goodbye. Kununnura is an aborigine town but much more civilized than the little villages I had visited in the outback.  It was getting late so I started making a plan on where I might sleep.

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There were 2 hotels and both were priced way out of my budget. Most of my lodging had been staying with people I met, youth hostels, caravan parks and occasionally if the weather was nice, under the stars. Once I realized I couldn’t do a hotel and there were no hostels or caravan parks, I headed for the city park. I was fairly certain that I could find a park bench and roll out my sleeping bag. The park was dark, overgrown and not very inviting, but that wasn’t the worst part. No sooner had I started to set up my bed, a truck full of drunk aboriginals started circling the park and yelling things at me. I don’t know how dangerous drunk aboriginals can be, but I decided that I couldn’t take the chance of nodding off and having a visit in the middle of the night. There’s very little to do in the town of Kununnura and I was sure that I didn’t want to be the entertainment on a Friday night.

I started walking again and ducked around a few buildings until the aborigines lost interest or could no longer see me. I was looking for anyplace where I wouldn’t be seen from the road. Like the Hotel California, there it stood, a beacon in the night: an old wooden church. My first thought was to sleep on the porch of the building but then wondered if maybe someone might have been in a hurry and forgot to lock the door. No such luck. As a final thought, I checked the window….Bingo! I was inside! I couldn’t see very well but didn’t want to turn on any lights. I wondered what I’d do if I got caught in the church after hours. I thought of several excuses I would use if someone discovered me: Maybe I was having a midnight confession, or maybe I’d fallen asleep Sunday and just finally woke up. I hoped that since it was a church ,that they might go easy on me if I was detected. I put my bag on the floor, laid out my sleeping bag and took off my shirt. It was hot as hell, ironically enough, so the shirt came off.

I was so tired that I almost immediately dozed off. Suddenly I was awaken by a strange noise coming from my backpack. It could hear the sound of  little scurrying creatures in a plastic bag where I had kept my peanut butter and a couple of cans of  emergency travel food. I got my flashlight out so that I could use to see what was making the noise. When  I flicked it on, to my horror I saw a small herd of roaches attacking my food bag.The food was wrapped and not very accessible but somehow the creatures had discovered the plastic wrapper within minutes and were doing everything in their power to get my peanut butter. Not only were they shamelessly running around in my backpack , but they had already laid eggs everywhere within minutes. There are not a lot of things that really disgust me out like roaches do. There were big ones and little ones, a cornucopia of sizes and I swear they have a smell to them that I would recognize anywhere. I frightened them away the best I could, resealed everything and laid back down. As I started to drift off again, suddenly I felt squirming little antennae and prickly little legs on my body. I was sweating and I could feel an army of bugs under my arms and running across my chest. I just about lost it. I was trying to be quiet in the church so no one would discover me, but I was being violated by scores of insects….I stood up, flinging any bugs off my body, stepping on them and sending them off to the depths of hell or wherever roaches go when they die.

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For a few minutes I was the executioner of these vile arthropods, racking up more fatalities than a Chuck Norris movie. When I felt that there were none left, I calmed myself and laid back down on my sleeping bag. I could still hear them running around in the plastic bag but felt that I had dispatched most of them. Just to make absolutely sure, I flipped on the flashlight one more time. The bugs had sent reinforcements. A whole new army was quietly approaching.For a moment, it appeared that they actually might have some sort of military strategy. I started thinking that maybe I might be better off with drunk aborigines chasing me than these disgusting little creatures battling me all night. Suddenly it occurred to me that maybe I might have better luck sleeping on a pew. I shook off my sleeping bag, relocated to a long bench and guess what? Maybe the wood was holy or maybe I was out of the roach zone, because the attack immediately ceased. Once I realized that there were no more ambushes, I fell into a deep sleep. The next morning I got up at sunrise and climbed out of the window before I was accused of vagrancy. I discovered a nearby petrol station where I could brush my teeth and wash up in the sink. As I walked across the field to the main road, I discovered a boomerang lying on the ground; Not the souvenir kind, but the ones the natives make from ironwood. This weapon wasn’t designed for sport, but to hunt kangaroos and emus for food. As I put my find in my knapsack and  caught my next ride, I wondered who might have dropped it. Maybe an aborigine had been attacked by the mutant roaches and dropped his weapon?

Experts say roaches are the only creatures on earth that will survive a nuclear attack. But you know what they can’t survive? A can of Texas Whoop Ass!

boomerang