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.”
“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.