Sensitive Topics

On day seven of the adventure tour, there were many conversations about conflict resolution, religion, and politics. The attraction and the push/pull with the guide continued.

Day 404

We were awake at 5:00 am and on the road by 5:30 am on day seven of the Adventure Tour through the Kimberly region. One woman from Switzerland wasn’t feeling well, so she decided to stay at camp and rest. When I got to the truck, two seats open: one next to Damien up front and one in the very back middle seat. I climbed into the truck, and Brock said, “You’re in the front. Unless you want this middle seat.” I chose the front seat next to Damien, the tour guide. 

We headed to the Bungle Bungles, which was just a 30-minute drive. As Damien got into the truck, he plugged in his phone, looked at the stereo, and shook his head. I playfully said, “I did not break it.” He smiled and said, “I will tell people, ‘this American chick broke my stereo.’” I replied, “Well, you’ll be telling a lie.”

Damien and I got on the topic of metric vs. the imperial system. I told him that I need to convert everything (like kilometers to miles and Celsius to Fahrenheit) because it’s how I grew up. He said, “You know why the U.S. ended up with the imperial system don’t you? Because they wanted to do everything the exact opposite of how England did things.” I explained, “Yeah, well, when England was dominating all over the world, the U.S. broke free. So maybe we just wanted to be a little different.” 

Damien explained how the metric system all fits together perfectly and how easy it is to remember that things freeze at 0 °C (not at 32 °F). He asked, “What temperature does water boil?” After thinking about it, I said, “I don’t know the degree, whenever the water boils.” Damien said, “100 °C because that makes more sense (than 212 °F).” While traveling around the world, it has been frustrating that the U.S. is on the imperial system when everyone else is on the metric system. But I wasn’t going to admit that to Damien. 

The sun was rising over the Bungle Bungles range, which was stunning. Damien pulled the truck over and dropped us off. He told us to walk 20 minutes to the parking lot. The landscape was unbelievable, and I was happy we got to see it at sunrise. The giant red rocks appeared to be glowing in the sunlight. Nobody else was up yet, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. 

We gathered at the parking lot, and Damien pointed to the sign showing us the three trails we would hike. The first trail was called the Loop. On the way to our first site, Damien led the group and stopped at a large termite mound on the side of the rock. He told us how the termites eat the dead wood, so they’re helpful to the environment. There is one queen, and they create these huge mounds that can be seen all over the outback. Each mound has a specific smell, and if a termite goes into another mound, he’ll get eaten because he doesn’t belong. 

Shortly after, we stopped again, and Damien pointed out some red handprints on the rock from Aboriginal people. He told us that the site was where aboriginal boys “became men” by performing a cutting ceremony. Damien explained that women become women when they go through childbirth, so this was a way for a man to feel pain and become a man. In our modern times, he said people are waiting to have children (or not have them), and men don’t have these rituals. He said, “So now it’s like you never know, ‘Am I man now? How about now?’” 

Do you see the hand?

We continued down the trail and spread out a little bit. Suzanne asked for my advice on how to address Phillip on a few issues. She was annoyed with him because she felt he wasn’t helping out at camp, threw some cigarettes on the ground, and wasn’t switching seats on the bus. Suzanne is much more forward than I am. I told her I would soften the message because he likely doesn’t know he is upsetting her. We still had several days together on the tour, and I preferred peace. Suzanne re-crafted her speech and added a few softening phrases. 

Suzanne talked to Phillip shortly after, and the conversation went well. He didn’t realize he was doing things wrong, apologized, and thanked her. She told me that she felt relieved and thanked me for my advice. It felt so good to help walk someone through an issue. I used to help people at my job all the time with conflict-resolution, and I missed it. 

We arrived at what was called The Cathedral. Damien told us to find a spot and spend 30 minutes soaking it in. The space was a vast circular area with the gorge surrounding it. Some parts felt like a cave. There were a few other tourists, but the place was large enough to have plenty of alone time. It was quiet, and I sat there looking around the gorge and reflecting. 

I was enjoying the quiet time when Linda sat next to me. Because it’s called the Cathedral, she asked about God, religions, and what it all means. She told me that she is an only child, and her parents didn’t raise her with any religion, so she was curious. I whispered in an attempt not to disturb others and told her what Christianity is about and how it is different from some other religions. I explained that we believe that Jesus is God and that He died for all of our sins. 

Linda was curious and asked about going to church. She felt that sometimes she is socially awkward and wondered if maybe getting involved in a church group would help her. She longed for a community. Linda wasn’t sure how to go about finding and attending a church. I explained that any Christian church should welcome her with open arms, and if they don’t, they aren’t a healthy church. 

Linda and I were having a great conversation in a beautiful setting. I told her how I have seen God active in my life and why I choose to believe He exists. After about 20 minutes, Damien walked over to a corner and put a speaker down. He played some music, which echoed off the walls. It was a beautiful enhancement to the environment. Ten minutes later, we all started walking out of the gorge. 

On the way out, Oliver and Damien were in front of Linda and I. Oliver asked Damien why the gorge was called The Cathedral and asked if Aboriginal people used it as a church. Damien explained it is called the Cathedral because of how it looks, but they did not use it for religion. Then Damien went on to describe his disgust for religion. He couldn’t fathom a world where people believed in a God. I’m pretty sure he overheard some of my conversation with Linda because he very much voiced his disdain for all religions. Damien said he was always shocked when he met an intelligent person who believed in God because it meant they were “intelligent, and yet stupid.” 

Damien described Australia as being without much religion because of how they were founded – mostly by convicts. He said, “When we meet a family who we think attends church, we think they’re strange. We’ll whisper, ‘I think they attend church.’” Then he gave a look of disgust. 

Oliver asked him if he followed more of a Buddhist belief system, and Damien said, “No. When I was in my early 20s, I researched and looked into Buddhism. But then I found that it is just like all the other religions out there.” Oliver explained to Damien that in The Netherlands, most people don’t attend church every week, but they have many churches. People still respect the faith and those who attend. Linda looked at me like, “What are the odds Damien would be having this conversation right after our conversation?” 

The gorge opened up, which allowed us to spread out a little bit. Someone started asking Damien questions, so I took the opportunity to talk with Oliver. Oliver told me that his mom was Catholic, so he grew up learning the core values, but wasn’t confirmed. I explained to him that in the U.S., a lot of people do attend church, myself included. Most people who don’t attend still usually respect those who choose to attend, regardless of their religion. 

During one of the hikes a couple of days earlier, Glen talked to me about religion. He is from Sydney and explained that he’s an atheist, like most of Australia. Glen described the differences in the U.S. being founded by people who were fleeing religious persecution vs. Australia’s founding of convicts (or people who came here for the gold rush). Glen also seemed disgusted by people who believed in God. He looked down on those beliefs and kept trying to get me to understand the problems with religions. It was frustrating because I have friends with all sorts of religious beliefs and some who are atheists. Most of them don’t have disgust towards people who chose to believe in a higher power. I tried to explain to Glen that it’s not about following a religion for me; it’s about a personal relationship with God. 

As Oliver and I talked about the history of the churches in The Netherlands and how his mom still goes to a Catholic church occasionally, Damien turned back and said, “I’m done hiking and…talking.” Then he walked back to the truck. Linda asked me, “What are the odds that Damien would say all of that after our conversation?” I explained, “Because he heard me.” 

I continued hiking to the next lookout point. I told myself this was another reason I shouldn’t be interested in Damien. Not only do we differ in our beliefs in God, but he also has disgust towards people who believe. His lack of tolerance for those he disagreed with was a turn-off. 

After hiking almost ten kilometers, we drove back to camp. I relaxed under a shade tree on top of my swag. It was scorching outside with no breeze, and as the sun moved, I was no longer in the shade. Sweat pooled on my legs, so I eventually got up and moved my swag towards Suzanne under another tree. Suzanne asked me if the afternoon hike involved swimming, and I said, “No, Damien said we weren’t swimming today. We don’t need our swimsuits.” 

After five minutes, Suzanne was restless and kept saying she wanted to ask Damien. Then, I saw Damien nearby at the back of the truck. I know he heard me telling Suzanne we didn’t need our suits, but just to confirm, I said, “Damien, are we swimming today?” He replied, “Yes.” I whined, “But you said we didn’t need our swimsuits!” Damien was frustrated, “Then why did you ask me?” I turned towards Suzanne, “Because Suzanne made me question it!” Suzanne and I laughed. 

We ate our standard salad for lunch, and I was ready to go for another hike. I was tired of sitting around waiting. Right before we got back in the truck, I was standing near the table when Armelle started asking me about President Trump and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. She was insistent that the Facebook data manipulation turned the 2016 election to Trump because “Facebook knows you better than anyone, including your family.” I tried to explain to her it wouldn’t have swung the entire election and the people I know who voted for Trump voted for him because they liked his policies.

I could tell people were listening to me, and somehow I was the representative for the U.S. I explained to Armelle that our media is openly biased, so the “scandal” isn’t big in my eyes. Every news outlet is trying to manipulate people. Damien couldn’t help but jump in, supporting my stance. He quickly backed off and said we needed to get into the truck. 

I was still sitting in the front seat, and as we drove away, Damien said, “Those conversations frustrate me. When will they accept defeat?” I agreed with Damien. It had been almost three years of constant Trump, Trump hatred, and people trying so hard to understand what happened. I was tired of having that conversation. I told Damien I liked Ben Shapiro, and he liked him too, except for his views on abortion. We had a good discussion about the topic, which confused me even more. I enjoyed talking with him because he was honest. We could openly talk about issues – maybe he was somewhat open-minded?

We arrived at the next gorge, and Damien described where we needed to go. He was going to move the truck to another parking lot, where we’d meet him. The first trail consisted of a lot of loose rocks in a dry riverbed. The end was narrow, and it felt like walking through a maze. 

Kayla and Linda

The next trail was a flat path around the rock-mountains. It was very similar to the Red Center, where Uluru is located. On the hike, I talked with Suzanne. She wanted to address someone about always contradicting everything she said. Suzanne was frustrated because she felt this person asked her opinion on things and then said the opposite. I told Suzanne maybe she could just try to avoid the person and not get stuck in those conversations.

Suzanne asked me why she shouldn’t just confront the person. I said, “Well, because I don’t like conflict.” Suzanne said that is the American way. She said when she was in the U.S., people kept bumping into her, and they’d say sorry. She didn’t believe they were really sorry, and she kept thinking, “Why don’t you just stop stepping on me?!” I laughed, “Why are people always stepping on you? Maybe they don’t see you?” Suzanne wasn’t buying it, “No, they see me. And they step on me and then make this fake apology.” I told Suzanne the next time she comes to the U.S., I’ll protect her and won’t let anybody step on her. I also told her to see other cities other than New York and LA, and she’ll experience some friendlier faces.

Getting back to the issue at hand, Suzanne said, “I am French, and she is French and French people are direct. Why can’t I just tell her she’s ruining my vacation?” Suzanne had a point. I told her we should compromise. I asked her to sleep on it and see how things went that evening. If the person was still bothering her, Suzanne could address her the next day. Suzanne agreed. The next day, Suzanne told me she was happy that she slept on it because she felt better the next day, and things between her and the person had improved. I try to learn from Suzanne from that moment. Americans do tend to be fake to each other in the name of “politeness” instead of just addressing the issue. 

Brock decided to hike in his underwear

The final hike was through a steep gorge. It was beautiful with bright green trees and large palm trees growing in the boulders, but it was hot. I was sweating a lot and running low on energy. I was close to giving up, but I’m happy that I made it to the end. By the end of the day, we hiked almost 20 kilometers (12.4 miles). 

That’s the trail
Suzanne – my bestie

Damien joined us on the last section back to the truck. I was walking with Suzanne while Damien was several feet behind us talking to Glen. He was purposely loud enough for me to hear him as he told Glen, “Women are treacherous. They don’t realize just how treacherous they can be.” I turned around and he was looking at me.

Suzanne started talking to me, and I said, “Hold on. Damien is purposely talking so I can hear him.” Damien continued, “Men are also afraid of women. I don’t think women realize just how afraid men are of them.” I shook my head and kept walking, getting further away from Damien. Glen started talking to Damien about the human race theories – we’re all just microbes who have developed a body and a desire to reproduce, so their life continues or something like that. He was now talking at an average volume, so I couldn’t hear him. 

On the drive back to camp, the sun started to set, which was beautiful as always. Damien and I talked about my health issues. I briefly told him how my body inside is aging rapidly, and the doctors are still trying to figure it out. He said, “You need to go to a retreat for six months and follow a strict diet while they figure it out.” I tried to explain to him that I’ve seen every type of doctor around, and it hasn’t helped, so I’ve sort of given up. It would be another four months before I finally figured out what is wrong with me. 

It was dark when we arrived back at camp. I helped to cook some meat and veggies. Things were going well, and I was getting along with Damien. I washed up at the water spout again, and it was time for bed, so I got in my swag near Suzanne. As I started to fall asleep, there was a screeching sound in the tree branches almost directly above us. We both sat up, “What was that?!” I asked. Suzanne responded, “I think it was a bat. A very loud, very large bat!” We heard a few people rumbling at the screech, but there was nothing we could do. I tried my best to fall asleep, and I was grateful it was our last night in the bush. 

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Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

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2 Responses

  1. So many interesting conversations on this tour. And interesting people! I wonder how all of the Australians are handling the lockdowns. Have you stayed in touch with any of them?

    1. Yup! I’ve stayed in touch with several of them! I believe Victoria (where melbourne is) is pretty bad and under a strict lockdown. But Western Australia is not as bad. It’s sad though, because a lot of the outback relies on tourism.

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Throughout her wild 3-week journey backpacking 220+ miles in the California Sierra Mountains, Christy encountered freezing temperatures, pelting hail storms, and losing her way, but found trail family, incredible views, and experiences that would change her life forever. Hiking up and over ten different mountain passes gave Christy a lot of time to think about why her nine-year marriage was falling apart, gave her the chance to truly embody her individualism, time to make new friends, and the strength she would need on and off the trail. Her life could never again be the same.
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