Monday, March 2, 2009

Ayers Rock Redux, Australia

As a traveler, I am hostage to the vagaries of human nature. Most times I am well fed, treated kindly and released unharmed as soon my hotel bill is paid. But sometimes that blind faith gets bundled off in the boot of a car and vanishes without a trace.

During my visit to Ayers Rock, I have struggled to photograph the night sky here. This requires one small part technical wizardry (put camera on tripod, press shutter for exceedingly long time), but also a bit of ethical flexibility when it comes to park rules. There’s a big of strategic fence hopping involved, along with the whole question of the park’s nightly closure. Finally, you have to hope that no one stumbles upon said thousands of dollars of unattended hardware and makes it their own.

Having scurried 200 feet into the brush to hide one camera, I felt safe in leaving it unattended as it automatically took a picture every 40 seconds, and I wandered off to shoot the sunset. I didn’t return until nightfall to change batteries and bid the camera a successful evening. With no one in sight, I hopped the fence. In the darkness, I heard no clicking, saw no tripod. Everything was gone.

My mind raced. Did a dingo snatch my baby? I only remembered one car parked nearby when I left, but who would just wander off into the bush following the sound of a clicking camera. Must have been the dingo.

After a sleepless night conjuring implausible explanations for my insurance adjuster, I went out to half-heartedly shoot the dawn and keep an eye out for that car. Which I found parked and unattended at a crowded trailhead. I sat down and waited for an hour in the flies and heat for someone to show. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say, but I saw a lot of different possibilities, all of them bad, Angry denials followed by a thrashing.
No stolen gear after all leading to legal unpleasantness and deportation hearings. Screeching tires, a high speed police pursuit, a ranger shoot out. .

Maybe I watch too much television.

As it was, three young hikers emerged from their lap around the Rock. All wore headnets against the flies, and a hatchet-faced young woman sat down in the shade to light a smoke and take a long drag through the mesh. With an hour of preparation and rehersal behind me, I still couldn't think of anything better than, “Did you guys happen to see a camera and tripod last...”

“You’ll have to ask my husband about that,” she snapped.

So I did.

“Aw, right. So that was yours then.”

“Well. Yeah.”

“We reckoned someone had left it.”

“Really....hidden in the brush...while it was still taking pictures....”

“Crikey mate. Japanese tourists, you wouldn’t believe the stuff they do. Sheila, where’d you put that stuff?”

It eventually came back to him, and he retrieved my camera from the bottom of his duffel bag in its protective wrapping of dirty underwear, dug my carbon fiber tripod out of another bag, and rummaged somewhere else entirely to unearth the finder and timer cable.

“We were gonna' drop it off with the rangers...”

Normally, I would chirp in something helpful here to break the tension, about not wanting to bother anyone, thanks for keeping an eye on it. But for once, I just kept my mouth shut as he handed over my gear, piece by piece.

There really wasn’t anything to be said at all, at least nothing that wasn’t going to lead to a beating by a large man in a bug net. I took my gear, walked back to the car and drove off, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.


Chuck Pefley said...

Oh, yeah. Usually you either have a good experience or you get a good story. Not suggesting this was pleasant, but the outcome was really a bit of both. Glad your 10 fingers and toes are all intact. -:)

Josie Thrift said...

Maybe you can invest in a fake scorpion or fake snake to sit on your camera and hold down the fort when you're not around...

HandE Graphix said...

Wow. Great story, terrible feeling. I wouldn't know what to do if my gear was taken, or how I would approach those I thought removed it. I think the fear of losing the gear would make me say something, or be extra cautious. Either way, things worked out. What kind of camera did you have sitting in there? Obviously a canon of some sort, but with the carbon fiber tripod, I'm guessing it was a sweet setup.

Be glad they didnt format the card or blow it up.

Paul Souders said...

I really like the scorpion idea. There must be a specialty store somewhere. A smarter person would have avoided using the most expensive camera they own (Canon 1Ds III with 35mm f/1.4) too.

Mortal said...

That's a great story, Paul. Great that you hung around, that you remembered the car in the first place, great that you got the gear back, and great that you didn't try to comfort them with banal comments that would have left you looking weak. Good on yer, mate!

E & P Nichol said...

Paul you forgot to mention the great Canadian couple you left the camera equipment with at Ularu when you ventured off again. The story goes that the camera was safe and sound and still operating when you got back from your "walk about". It was great meeting you and we will stay tuned for more of your misadventures. Best of Luck.