Melbourne, Australia.

We are at an internet/cafe and they are playing that Travis song (the one about the rain) and it reminds me of a James song (sort of the jangly guitars and the singer’s voice); and, of course, James songs always remind me of England.

We have checked out of the Kingsgate Hotel and will roam the city today until our 10 pm train ride to Adelaide.We have decided to spend a few days in one spot in order to celebrate Christmas and have picked Adelaide as the Chosen City; after hanging out in the STA office yesterday for two hours, we were finally able to book some accommodations and transport. Unfortunately, right now is the busy travel-tourist season in this part of the world; they all go away for “Chrissy” (what’s with the baby talk?) and spend the holiday in some (preferrably) beachy location. Sooo, we had a bit of trouble trying to find something reasonably priced for OUR holiday, since they (us vs. them) all book months in advance. Finally we found a self-catering studio apartment that cost more than we wanted to spend but has four stars and a/c (necessary!). It was a toss-up between Adelaide and the Sydney area, but Sydney has more beaches (and a well-known poisonous spider) so we thought that it might be more crowded and harder to find a place to stay. Also, Adelaide is located only an hour from the Barossa wine-growing region and has beaches and is enroute to Coober Pedy (an underground city; too hot to live above ground! Mmm,sounds like heaven) and Alice Springs. And it doesn’t have a notorious well-known spider waiting to attack my foot as I slip under the bed covers at night. Yea Adelaide!!

Well, I am here today to write about our glacier experience. “What?” you ask.”Glaciers in Australia?!” No, none here (that I know about). We had our glacier experience way back in lush and temperate old New Zealand but have been too lazy to write about it (also a bit busy preparing for our flight to AU). So…

After we left Queenstown we headed for the West Coast and the small town of Franz Josef. Frans Josef wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the nearby glacier of the same name. There is also the Fox Glacier just a few miles south, but we chose the FJ because we had read in the guidebooks that you can get much closer to that glacier when you take the guided tour walks. We signed up for a half-day tour with the Guiding Company; there are two companies that offer tours of the glacier and we chose this one for no other reason than their brochure was easier to understand. We met the tour group at 8:15 am and were told to wait until they called us. They had a nice cafe and internet access so we hung out for a few minutes while the rest of our group arrived. We were called upstairs to get our boots and water-proof jackets; the boots were heavy hiking shoes that ended just above the ankles and had sharp metal sticking out of the bottom of them (to grip the ice). After about half an hour of taking care of business and waiting for the latecomers to get their act together, we were herded onto a rickety old school bus that smelled of old shoes and stinky feet. We drove for about ten minutes and then stopped at the Franz Josef Park; at that point we were divided up into groups of ten and given one guide per group. Casey and I had a loud-mouthed red-headed woman with a stud in her eyebrow and a long hippy braid. It sounds like I didn’t like her (by my description), but I actually liked her energy (at first); later on she got to be kind of annoying since her enthusiasm and out-spoken character also included the inability to be sympathetic toward her inexperience charges (us!). We hiked about ten minutes on the pathway towards the glacier, and then,in full view of the ice mountain, walked another thirty minutes on the valley floor. At one point we had to cross a river that had no bridge or other means of getting across it without getting our shoes wet. (We weren’t wearing our boots at this time as they had those metals spikes in them and were unsuitable for climbing and scaling the slippery rocks.) Everyone in our group was trying to find a better way to get across than the one she showed us; our guide, in her waterproof rain boots, barked out: “Okay people, if you don’t think that you’re going to get wet during this trip then you’d better turn back. I don’t understand people who don’t think they’re going to get wet.” She stood there, in all her professional hiking gear, shaking her head….Well, you know, the Guiding Company didn’t tell us that we should wear waterproof shoes;in fact the brochure said that boots were provided (which would make me think that I could wear sandals if I had wanted to).Casey wasn’t happy that his tennies were soaked. Finally we stopped and changed into our boots and stored out wet shoes in the rubber bags provided. Our guide told us to set heavy rocks on top of our belongings to keep the Kea from picking through them.

Climbing the ice was a bit scary at times since there was the constant threat of slipping. Fortunately, we were never too far off the ground; as we climbed higher and higfher, we would turn corners and climb into mini valleys in the rock and ice. If any one of us had slipped, the most we would have fallen would have been maybe ten feet. But, the ice was sharp and the rocks very jagged, so I don’t think that we would have survived the fall without serious injuries.

When we finally got to the end of our climb, we were no where near to the top of the glacier. Of course, this was expected;if we had wanted to even see the top, we would have had to have signed up for a full day and had done some heavy-duty vertical rope climbing (no way, Jose!). But, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with the amount of glacier that we actually could see; I could have stayed on the valley floor and seen what I saw without hauling a– up the rocks for an hour and a half! (And saved NZ $45.) On the other hand, I was glad to have gone through the climb since I had to overcome my fear of heights and the unknown, and I had proved to myself that I could do it. It’s not at all like walking in snow since the ground is a mixture of ice and frozen rock and very slippery. I also gained a sense of what it’s like to climb in ice and bad weather conditions (it started raining and snowing on our way down) and I have a deeper understanding of the difficulty the mountain explorers (such as those who climb Mt. Everest and Annapurna) face. When I read “Annapurna–A Woman’s Place” I could only imagine what they went through; now that I have a better understanding, I think that they have lots of courage and strength (both mental and physical) and determination. Because, really, climbing the ice sucks.