Day 337: Getting Sick In A Vast Desert

After checking out of our underground motel in Coober Pedy, Brittany and I hit the road at 7:45 am and headed towards Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock). On the way out of town, we saw giant tires that were painted in bright colors.

The flat, two-lane highway had hardly any traffic. The landscape was dry and barren. We didn’t see any trees for several hours. There were bushes scattered throughout, but that was about it.   

Along the side of the road, there was often a burned-out vehicle. I couldn’t figure out why there were so many of these damaged vehicles. Did they crash? Did the car catch on fire after overheating? Why were they burnt? Why were there so many scattered throughout the desert?

I asked someone later and was told that aboriginal people often buy a new vehicle with the money they receive from the government, but they weren’t told how to take care of it (like changing the oil). The car dies in the outback. To ensure nobody else steals the vehicle, they burn it. I’m not sure how true that is, but there were a lot of burned-out vehicles. 

Brittany and I talked during the drive, and then she introduced me to an audio-book that she downloaded on her phone. It was about a woman who trekked 1,700 miles through the outback with camels decades ago. I don’t usually listen to audio-books, but this was an excellent time to try it. There wasn’t much to see on the 754-kilometer (469-mile) drive.

We arrived at the Northern Territory and stopped to take a picture of the sign. There were toilets, which was awesome because it was almost impossible to find them in the outback. There are many dirt lots for people to take a nap to avoid driver fatigue, but there are no “rest areas” like you’d see in the U.S. and Canada. It’s just a dirt lot. Even in the far north of North America, some outhouses were compostable and solar-powered. In the Australian outback, we had to find a rock and go. 

We kept driving and stopped at a gas station. The gas prices in Adelaide were around $1.45/liter ($5.48/gallon). As we got farther into the outback, the gas increased from $1.65/liter to $1.99/liter ($7.50/gallon). The most I ever paid was in the “red center,” and it was $2.11/liter ($7.97/gallon). I was blissfully unaware of the price until I finally converted from liters to gallons and just about had a heart attack. I was glad that I chose a Subaru Outback that is more fuel-efficient than many of the typical outback vehicles. 

Next to the gas station was an old, abandoned motel. I walked over, and it was what you’d imagine a creepy abandoned motel in the outback would look like. Doors were busted open, and almost everything had been stolen or broken. Drywall and windows were smashed. The roof was missing above one of the bathrooms. Trash was left on the floors. I’m fascinated by abandoned places because it reminds me of what it might look like to live in the apocalypse.

It was an eerie place. A fire alarm was going off every three minutes, making it feel like I was in a horror movie. Out of nowhere, a man pulled up and said he was looking for the owner. I couldn’t help him, so I walked away. 

For lunch, Brittany and I stopped in a dirt lot and made sandwiches. Brittany was starting to feel sick, but we both hoped it would go away soon. As we got closer to Uluru, I could tell that she was feeling worse by the minute. 

We arrived at Uluru in the early evening and had planned to camp. Uluru has a small town-like center with a few hotels, restaurants, shops, and a gas station. It’s in the middle of nowhere, so options are extremely minimal. Brittany was progressively feeling worse, so I stopped at the first hotel to see if they had a room available and how much it would cost. 

I talked with a woman at the front desk, and she explained that they did not have any rooms available. It was a Saturday and happened to be their busiest weekend of the year because they had camel races going on. The few hotels all have access to each other’s system, and she said the only room available was at the five-star hotel for $436 a night. The woman told us to check out the hostel that had dorm-style bunk beds. 

I couldn’t afford that hotel, so Brittany and I drove to the campsite. It cost $40 a night if we just needed tent space. After paying, we drove around and found a few spots left. The grass areas for tents were open spaces, and there wasn’t a lot of room available. 

I parked the car, and we set the tent up and then threw in our sleeping bags. Brittany attempted to lay down to rest, but quickly got up and ran away. I was in the car, getting more supplies, and she ran past me looking for a restroom. She looked awful. As Brittany searched for a restroom, she suddenly threw up in front of someone’s cabin. The people were outside and asked if she was drunk. Frustrated, she asked where the restroom was located. The poor girl was heaving. 

Brittany came back to our campsite and said she couldn’t stay in a tent. It was hot outside, and she needed a bed. We drove to the hostel in hopes of getting some help. While Brittany waited in the car, I talked with a guy at the front desk. He told me that they only had two beds left in co-ed rooms, but they were in different rooms. I pleaded with him to see if there was anything he could do. I explained that my friend was sick and didn’t want to spend the night with three strangers in a room with bunk beds. 

The manager came out and said he could give us a private room that had a double bed and a bunk bed, but it would cost $210. Their property had several buildings with different room set-ups, and the bathrooms were shared. We’d have to walk outside and down a sidewalk for several minutes to reach them. The room was the cheapest he could do, and it was the only private room available. I agreed to the room and got the key. We drove back to get our tent and sleeping bags packed up. 

Then, we drove back to the hostel and brought our bags to the room. I turned on the air conditioning, and Brittany laid down in the double bed. It was 6:45 pm, and I needed dinner, so I asked if it was ok for me to leave her for a bit. She just wanted to sleep, so I let her be. I walked to the outdoor area that had tables and food. 

I ordered some food at the window, and the girl handed me raw chicken. I was confused, so she pointed to the grills and said I had to cook the food myself. I cooked my chicken and sat alone to eat. Nicely-dressed people packed the place because they were there for the races, and this was their evening out. I sat there with no makeup on, feeling awkward. There was live music, which was nice. 

I went back to the room and gave Brittany some crackers and water that we had in the car. She had cold sweats as she tossed and turned in pain. I slept on the bunk bed and hoped she started feeling better soon. We were in the middle of the outback, and I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to find help for her if she got worse. 

That night, I had a crazy dream that involved my ex-husband, his mother, and his grandma. It was really vivid. I couldn’t figure out why I had the dream because I wasn’t even thinking about him. Then I realized it was our wedding anniversary. It’s crazy how our subconscious minds work. 

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Published by Christy

I quit my corporate job and sold my house in Los Angeles so I can travel and write. I grew up in St. Louis, MO and moved to the Los Angeles area after college. I worked in the business world for 15 years. Follow along to see pictures and hear stories of people I've met along my journey so far - driving to Alaska.

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