I’m being ultra lazy as all good students are and posting fragments from a letter I sent my Mum after our 2009 trip up the middle of Australia on The Ghan. Yes really. Question: Is it plagiarism if you are re-hashing your own work that your Mother has already seen fit to copy and disseminate across the length and breadth of Britain three years ago to various friends and rellies, without so much as a bye or leave, or request for permission– discuss.
DISCLAIMER: If you’re from Adelaide you’re going to get all uppity and defensive about your festival city when you get to part two so just don’t bother reading any further. For the rest of you, here is the sort of travel review that rarely appears in the Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor but may fall somewhere in between in a liminal space influenced heavily by my favourite travel writer Bill Bryson.
Some interesting ‘Ghan’ factoids: The Ghan is the nickname of the actual route used by Afghan Camel riders on the first European explorations and forays from Adelaide to Darwin. There are several trains servicing the route so you don’t have the same one when you reboard at Alice. They are all approximately 673 metres long. At no point during our trip, even at a distance on the coach transfers, did I see all of the train in one go. Up at the front there is an open section with two levels of cars for passengers who are also taking their vehicles on holiday with them. For someone who had been instructed to decant half of one overweight suitcase into one of those tres un-chic nasty nylon laundry bags in the departure hall……sorting through my smalls in front of hundreds of other travellers thank you very muchly…….I found it excessively extravagant for some guests to be allowed to check in the odd 6 litre Landrover with their luggage. Honestly, some people.
The Ghan has a nostalgic romance, reminiscent of say, Murder on the Orient Express, with a beautiful lounge car, wood panelling, etched glass booths, white table cloths, lamps and wait staff, and a lounge/bar carriage. In addition to this though, there is the added frisson of excitement at ‘getting your sea legs’ whilst upright, and depending on where your cabin is located on the train, and the length and complexity of the route you need to take to be fed and watered three times daily.
The Big Fella managed admirably in the corridor sections owing mainly to the fact that he is naturally endowed in the shoulder width department to glide through with no sideway sway action. Nowhere in the glossy brochure did it prepare me for traversing the coupling sections which at times were fairly alarming to say the least; gusts of breeze, automatic doors and non-automatic doors, which appeared to be put there to impede onward movement and trap one in a kind of limbo between carriages; flexible sections underfoot that swayed and gyrated to a rhythm all of their own and not at all in synch with the rest of the train, and the white knuckled grip of James Bond hanging upside down from the undercarriage to escape having to sit with the interminably boring couple from Tasmania at the next lunch sitting…….I made that last bit up of course.
Also, as a passenger in Gold Class (as opposed to say, cattle/kangaroo class) I wasn’t quite prepared for the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ arrangement of the ensuite/toilet facilities. Having travelled on North Sea ferries I thought this was going to be a straightforward affair………not so………think of the average wardrobe space, half it, install an overhead shower, water proof towel cupboard, shower rail, and wait for it……a folding wash basin AND fold down/up TOILET combo…….and you will have some idea of what daily ablutions for me and the big fella were like.
The sleeping arrangements were necessarily compact also, though I have to say that I just loved having the beds folded out and made up on return from evening meal and put away again whilst we had brekky. It was all so seamless and unobserved that I began to believe that there was a phantom on the payroll. We were woken with coffee and the fabulous Australian sunsets and generally slept well apart from some mysterious stops in the night that left one straining for sounds of movement again.
There is only one track and a few passing points in-between, this means a long wait if a freight train has already passed the next point 2-3 hours ahead and all the Ghan drivers can do is pull over at the next available point. Incidentally, there are two drivers (in case one falls asleep….but what if they both do????!! Well…..they have to push a button every 90 seconds or the train automatically stops….whether or not the whole of the Outback de-magnetises, a polar bear appears, or Locke has another incomprehensible flash back like in the TV series of “Lost” is another question entirely).
So that gives you a bit of a feeling for the actual train parts of the journey, to recount the holiday itself we have to, regrettably, go back to Adelaide (metaphorically speaking of course as I have vowed never to return there again unless I am already dead). The prior evening was spent finishing off the packing and arguing with the Big Fella about something I thought I’d read in the holiday literature about not putting all your joint luggage allowance in one case………
Part Two to follow shortly – it was a long trip!