Hot, harsh, and hauntingly beautiful!
That's the best way I can think to describe Outback Australia, and particularly the places I visited: tiny White Cliffs, struggling Wilcannia, and artsy Broken Hill.
I was born and raised in a big city but there's always been something alluring about wide open spaces. And as the Dixie Chicks would say: Room to make my big mistakes.
I've lived on the plains of rural North Dakota, and survived two winters in Alaska, so I've experienced the beauty of the less inhabited parts of the US. So to me, the Outback - way off that path beaten down by most backpackers - was a must see.
I went to the Outback in January, the dead of summer. I was warned it's going to be hot, dry, and dusty. Oh, and hot, really really hot. Although I'll take arid heat over sweltering humidity any day.
My first, and best advice for surviving and enjoying the Outback is simply, to go with an open mind. In fact, that's honestly my best advice for going anywhere: don't try to mold it into something it's not, something you're used to.
Here's what I mean: In my experience, country people are generally wonderful. They're quirky, caring and real. They're also fiercely proud of where they come from, which are usually some of the most unpopulated and unpopular places around. They either love the lifestyle it brings, or they've really never known any different.
Be friendly. Talk. Ask questions. And when driving, wave at everyone, even ïf you don't know them. I'm not talking about an overly exuberant, eager-to-please wave, just a wave to say, I'm friendly and I acknowledge you.
In White Cliffs, there were about 200 people in town, so I felt like I met everyone. Most were friendly, just some took time to warm up to me. Once they did, many opened their hearts and their lives.
Don't complain. Yes, it's hot. Really, really hot. It's upwards of 40 degrees Celsius or more, which is over the 100 degree Fahrenheit mark. I knew that when I signed up for it. Plus it's dusty too, and dry, with flies and mozzies (mosquitoes) everywhere. There are so many bugs flying around, the locals pretty much quit swatting them off after awhile.
On the other hand, my arms were flailing around my head and face most of the time, but I didn't complain.
there's no need for convenience, because no one is in a hurry. This means no drive thrus, no traffic, and no strict schedules. People seem to be on "country time," which is slow and easy.
For example, If the shop window says it opens at 9 am, maybe it will really open around 10, or it could be 8:30, or maybe it just won't open today.
The weather is unpredictable. I was bracing for the heat, and I ended up experiencing the most rain some people in town could remember in their lifetime. It rained for days and days, and the red earth turned green, the rivers overflowed and the road washed away, making it questionable if I'd ever be able to leave at all.
I even watched a dust storm moving towards the house, only to be intercepted by a rain cloud, that quickly turned the dust into a deluge.
So once you get past the heat, the flies, and you turn off your blackberry, you're left with the haunting beauty of the desolate Outback, the freedom that comes with open space, the most incredible sunsets and sunrises imaginable, a night sky lit up like a Christmas tree with twinkling white lights, and kids who run around barefoot taking the simplest pleasures in adding to their insect collection, digging in the dirt, or playing in the mud.
There's certainly no room for girly girls in the Outback. It's a place for hard workers, hard lives, home cooking, and happy children.
Where the people are real: real tough, real simple, and real proud of being the real deal.
Written and contributed by Girls Gone Wandering