Post 5 of a series detailing our Australian adventure. Access the full series here.
I awake slowly to the pleasant rhythm of the train rumbling noisily beneath me, shaking and creaking as it rolls along the old tracks at a fast pace. As I lift my eye mask, the splinter of soft light skirting my vision stretches out into the tail-end of a beautiful sunrise shining gently through the large opposite window. Scattered trees, made up of so many thin and straggling branches culminating in bushy green haloes at their ends, rush past as black sillhouettes against the sky, fading upwards from yellow to blue. Below them crowds of round spiny bushes, covering most of the red earth.
This beautiful, wild scene combines with the rollicking movement and clanking rumble of the train to create an almost hypnotic effect and I continue to lie there, sleepily enjoying the sensations until the sun is high in the sky. I discover that while there are far better places to sleep than in a Red Class seat on the Indian Pacific, there is no better place to wake up.
At 7.30am we went to get breakfast from the dining car – a ‘Great Australian Breakfast’ for Steve (inclusive of scrambled egg that was surprisingly nice and freshly made) and tea and toast for me. Then began a long morning of reading, blog writing, photo editing and playing Go Fish. It was Steve’s first time playing it, and surprisingly fun once we both learned to play strategically!
The environment outside our windows transformed into the Nullarbor – meaning ‘no trees’. And it’s an accurate name. For hours we rattled along through an endlessly flat and barren landscape – nothing but tufts of spiny grey-green grass, scattered grey rocks and sandy red earth as far as the eye could see. It was captivating in its monotony.
At around midday it was announced that we would soon be arriving in Cook: an ex-mining village with just four residents. We were warned not to enter any of the abandoned buildings, which had been condemned as unsafe. We were also told that the temperature was 42 degrees Celsius. Steve and I, neither of which had experienced such heat before, took that as a ‘slap on suncream’ klaxon and immediately got to work. Fifteen minutes later, slathered up and very excited (though I was a little nervous of keeling over in the heat) we followed the other passengers off the train.
The heat in Cook was immense and enveloping. I felt like I was cooking (ha!) from the moment I stepped off the train and into the intense sunlight. The surrounding scene was just as surreal: a barren expanse of sand and rock, bordered by a line of small boxy, rickety buildings worn by years of sand blasting. Many were enclosed by wire fences and fitted with ‘no trespassing’ signs. I walked around in awe of this ghost town, all the while feeling my skin sizzling. This unique and surreal experience was drawn to an end by the sounding of the town’s fire siren, calling us all back onto the train.
Once we were off again, an announcement requested that we should turn our clocks forward a further hour and a half, bringing us up to half past three. Everyone in our carriage headed to the dining car for lunch, where there were ‘build your own’ rolls offered, with your choice of meat and salad. Steve asked for one with every kind of meat and the server, taken aback, tried his best to squeeze it all in! We afterwards played Othello while the laptop charged alongside (our continental adaptor would only fit in the dining car plug). We returned there later for dinner – veggie lasagne and chicken curry – shortly before the lights were turned out without warning at 10pm.
It was another fumble in the dark to get ready and comfortable. I found myself questioning, for the first time of many, why I found it extremely easy – too easy in fact – to sleep during the day, sat bolt upright with my head lolling in a noisy, brightly lit carriage – but almost impossible to sleep at night in the quiet, dark cosiness. I still have no idea.
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2014.