The piercing howl of a dingo erupted in the dark of night as I roasted marshmallows over the camp fire at Devil’s Marbles with Ben and Petra, a Dutch couple I befriended at the camp site. They had never experienced marshmallows on a fire.
The howl was too close for comfort and I made sure my flashlight was on at all times. It seemed I was surrounded by howls. Just that morning in Alice Springs howling winds awoke me at 07:42 just as Paul was returning from the bathroom.
“We’ll be heading off in five minutes,” he said. I awoke Cookie and we hugged our ‘goodbyes’ with our newly made life-long friends that helped make Uluru and Kings Canyon an unforgettable trip.
After Cookie and I repacked the car and filled up oil, we headed into town just past nine in the morning. Our first stop was the Coles supermarket in the shopping precinct where we stocked up on pasta, canned tuna, fresh produce and bread. The second-hand store was just in the corner of the precinct.
“All my guitars are in storage as I don’t have any guitar hooks to hang them by,” said the impatient owner.
“Uh-huh,” I grunted, eying a guitar case at the far end of the store. “What’s in the case?”
“It’s empty,” he said, sounding like a flat line on a life-support machine.
He did, however, direct me to another second-hand shop on Gap Rd. “You can’t miss it. There’s a 12-foot hand out the front of it,” he called out as I left.
Of course there is.
And like all big things in Australia, I assumed its claim to fame was it being the biggest hand in the Southern Hemisphere.
Cookie spotted it first.
“Looks more like 8-foot,” I measured.
I walked in and called out for attention.
“Yes?” An elderly woman appeared from a back room.
“Do you have any guitars?” I asked with high hope.
“No, but there is a store called the Roxy Music Shop that does repairs and sells guitars,” she showed me on a map.
I drove to the other side of Alice Springs and saw the large guitar-shaped sign of the Roxy Music Shop. My heart was a flutter even though the shop looked suspiciously closed. I parked and walked up to the door and read the, ‘Sorry, we’re closed’, sign.
You’ve got to be shitting me.
I read the explanation on the sign next to the door that, ‘Due to family health issues, the shop will be closed on Tuesday, May 21. Sorry for any inconvenience’.
I looked at the date on my phone.
You’ve got to be fucking shitting me.
I sat back in the car.
“What’s wrong?” asked Cookie.
I threw the gear into reverse. “Out of all the fucking days that I’m in fucking Alice, the one fucking shop that I needed is fucking closed on the fucking 21st of May.”
Cookie laughed as I launched us out of Alice and back onto the A87 towards our next stop, Devil’s Marbles.
We fuelled up at Wycliffe Wells, the UFO capital of Australia.
A few hours later we pulled into the tiny town that welcomed us with a sign that read, ‘Caution! UFO landing site’. I fueled up at the pump, the building that was the service station painted black with stars and UFO related images.
There was, what I presumed to be, a life-sized model of a UFO complete with green men out the front of it.
“Where’s the UFO Centre?” Cookie inquired inside.
“In the diner,” informed a worker.
We walked in and besides the green covered table tops, the only thing that provided any information about UFO landings were the tabloid newspaper clippings pasted along the walls.
“This is it?” I said to no one in particular as I realised that the whole UFO thing was a gimmick to get people to stop in.
496 K’s later we pulled into the Devil’s Marbles Conservation Park, a sacred Aboriginal site called Karlu Karlu . It comprises huge granite rocks that look like someone had stacked them on top of each other. But this was 1700 million years in the making when the area was surrounded by large granite solid rock forms. They broke down due to wind and rain – called weathering – creating the formations seen today (in a few thousand years it’ll all be sand so get in quick to see it).
The formations were balancing precariously like in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Others were split down the middle, still more were perfectly round in shape.
At the free camping ground (complete with a compost toilet) at the base of the largest formations we pitched a tent between the caravans.
Cookie had retired to bed by 19:00 after cooking us a dinner of pasta with tomatoes (which she peeled), onions and carrots. It was here that I met Ben and Petra. They loved the gooey form the marshmallows became over the fire. They also provided me a VB beer and a hookah waterpipe.
“Coca cola flavour,” said Ben, a semi-pro indoor soccer player when I asked the tobacco flavour.
Petra had her own camera store back in Holland.
I looked up and stared in disbelief at the ¾ moon that was lighting the Outback. A perfect cloud ring in a diameter of what I could only presume to be a few hundred metres had encased it.
“I guess that’s the UFO’s they meant,” I suggested as we all looked up in awe.
It was when we discussed worldly travels that the blood curling howl erupted not 20 metres next to us, among the nearest pile of rocks.
“Dingo,” I confirmed.
But it wasn’t the sound of a howling dingo that annoyed me. Hell, they were only the size of a German Shepherd. It was the sound of the TV blasting out from our neighbouring caravan, whose satellite dish I had noticed earlier.
After the Dutch couple retired to bed and I had scrapped gravel over the remains of the fire just after 21:33, I walked over to the caravan.
“Excuse me,” I politely tapped on the screen door and waited as the Mrs opened it. “Was wondering, if it’s possible, could you turn it down a bit?” I smiled my Sunday best at her.
“Bit low is it?” said the woman in a Scottish accent.
“Sorry, what?” I leaned in.
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“Lo-ud,” she emphasised (the ‘dags’ scene from ‘Snatch’ hitting me in the head).
“Ah, yes,” I said.
I hit the sack, the TV still loud in the background and as soon as head touched pillow rain came down like a waterfall. I guessed it was about 3 AM when I awoke to a noise that sounded like some animal sniffing at the tent. I stared into the darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust. I couldn’t see a shadow but something was making sniffing noises right up against the tent.
I slapped my hand on the tent and the noise stopped. I didn’t hear any paw-steps and made a mental note to check for footprints in the morning. A late night howl echoed out before I could settle back to sleep.
In the morning I woke up at about 7 AM, just as the rain stopped. But that’s not what woke me up. It was the morning show the Scottish woman was blasting from her TV in the caravan.