Friday, April 12, 2024

Off the grid

It's not every day that I write about a movie I have not yet finished watching, but then again, these have been an unusual past ten days. 

I have not been off the grid that whole time, but I have indeed been to some of the most remote parts of Australia, where there was definitely no internet, as well as a non-zero chance that I might die.

Kind of like the characters in The Maze Runner, or so I would assume, since that's the movie I have not yet finished watching. 

I started it on our final night in Kakadu National Park, staying in a caravan park where I watched the previous movie I wrote about, a full week ago now: Billy Crystal's Here Today. I was there today, and internet gone tomorrow -- but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Maze Runner was one of three movies I quickly downloaded during a short period of WiFi access at a visitor's centre -- forgive me for using the Australian spelling -- and I watched about half of it before going to bed last Saturday night. I usually try to power through a movie nowadays, even if I'm too sleepy, knowing that the experience of breaking it up over multiple days is never really satisfying. 

I figured to polish it off during the first night of our stay at Davidson's Arnhemland Safari Lodge, a truly off-the-map location north of Kakadu that we had to fly into using its own airstrip because some roads are still washed out from the wet season. If this were a different kind of blog, I'd tell you all about this experience, rather than just making a few mentions here and there of the sort of things we did. (See crocodiles? Yep. Go swimming in a swimming hole where there were no crocodiles? Yep. Catch and release giant barramundi? Yep. See amazing indigenous rock art? Yep. Die? Nope, thankfully, but I was keenly aware that some of the interactions with the crocodiles could have gone in another direction if the circumstances had not been favorable to us.)

But let's not get sidetracked from what this blog is actually about, which is movies.

Because of an inordinate amount of walking in unimaginable heat on our first day, I only had the energy for 20 more minutes of The Maze Runner that night before sleep did me in. (We never went to bed after 9:30, which is about two-and-a-half hours earlier than I usually go to sleep.) 

I tried to watch the last 30 minutes on Monday night, but guess what? Netflix had expired it on me. Yes, this is a good time to question why Netflix bothers expiring downloads of material that is free to me as a subscriber after 48 hours -- actually, it had to be less than that because it was already expired on the third night, even though I'd started watching it later than that time on the first night. If I didn't have too much else to tell you about, I could devote the whole post to this silly choice. 

Just watch the rest of it streaming, right?

Nope. Davidson's Safari Lodge does not have WiFi, or rather, it does, but the signal is so weak that they do not give out the password to guests. Apparently, if two people are on it at the same time, it takes down the whole thing, and they need it to run their booking system and, you know, contact the outside world if there is a major emergency. (I tried about 20 guesses to get the WiFi password, then gave up.)

This was the real off the grid part of the trip. For 72 hours I had no internet, which is not a thing I can remember happening since my honeymoon 16 years ago, though I'm sure it has happened. It was very weird being out there, isolated, not knowing if someone had assassinated the president or anything else that could happen when you are away from the news for three days. The thing I was most annoyed about was not being able to set my fantasy baseball lineups, but again, it's not that sort of blog.

When we finally returned to reality, we had about a day of internet, during which I caught up on all my baseball but not The Maze Runner. It was a busy 24 hours as we were also saying goodbye to the other two-thirds of our party, which included three grandparents, three others from my generation and two other kids, who were all off for different parts of Australia than we were.

Us? We were off to Uluru, once known as Ayer's Rock, a giant rock in the middle of the continent that is a sacred spot to indigenous people. That's where we are now as I write this. (Not actually at the rock. It would be very dark and the dingos would get us. We're at a resort about 15 kilometers away.)

To get here, we had to go off the grid again -- way off.

Due to a logistics mishap by my wife -- who does all the logistics for our family, so I do not blame her one bit when there is a logistics mishap -- we were flying into Alice Springs, which is about 450 kilometers from Uluru, and not the airport that is actually at Uluru. (Not at Uluru. That would also be strange for a sacred site. Some 20 kilometers away.)

When we finally realized this -- which would have been earlier if we were not off the grid for 72 hours at the eco resort -- we knew we had to change our flight to an earlier flight, because our current flight had us coming in around 7 p.m. to Alice Springs. If this had been a 7 p.m. flight into Uluru, the resort would have picked us up at the airport for free. But they did not have a free service to Alice Springs, some 4.5 hours away by car, and that's not a drive you start a 7 p.m., because there is mobile service for precisely 1.7 percent of that trip. You hit a kangaroo in the middle of nowhere, you are not getting to a hospital, and no one is going to save you from the guy in Wolf's Creek as he drives the roads looking for potential victims.

We didn't actually see any vehicles on the road that I thought looked like they might be driven by that guy, but he probably doesn't come out until after dark. We did not get to the resort by daylight, even arriving at around 1:30 on our earlier flight rather than 7 p.m. After faffing about at the airport for a while, trying to reach Qantas on the phone to resolve a conflict about our duplicate flight, and also trying to find a rental car we could drive only one direction and leave at Uluru (without success), we finally left around 2:30, which meant we would arrive at the resort around 7.

The sun sets before 7, but perhaps worse than that, for the time the sun is setting, you are driving directly into it. That means terrible visibility of the kangaroos who are most likely to come out in the gloaming, but also a need to maintain some semblance of your previous speed in order to get there at a reasonable hour. 

So yes, there was a white knuckle phase of about 45 minutes in which I was counting down the remaining time and kilometers before our arrival, calculating what distance I could walk for help should we need it, all the while scanning the roadside in the fading light as my wife drove. (I had driven the earlier part of the trip and thought I'd be taking over again. Maybe she didn't trust me not to hit a kangaroo.)

Since I am writing this, you can probably guess we did not hit a kangaroo. In fact, we did not even see a kangaroo, though there was one point where some random loose cattle were trying to cross the road right as we were reaching the spot where they were. Fortunately, my wife saw this in plenty of time.

So we arrived safe and sound and had multiple drinks over dinner to celebrate. After which I finished watching the new Netflix movie Scoop, which I downloaded while we were still in Darwin before flying out, all but 15 minutes of which I had watched on the flight from Darwin to Alice Springs.

At this point I am not sure exactly when I will finish The Maze Runner.

It's an appropriate movie, though, because -- as you probably know -- it features a number of young men trapped in the center of a maze, very much off the grid, without any memory of their lives before they were sent there, remembering only their names. Just like me for a couple harrowing days in two different remote parts of Australia, they have no contact with the outside world, and are just hoping everything will turn out well.

If this is my last ever post on this blog, it may be because we hit a kangaroo on our way out. Because we can't drop our rental car here, we also have to return to Alice Springs on Sunday for our flight back to Melbourne. The thing is, that flight is at 12:30. At a small airport like Alice Springs, you really only need to get there an hour early, maybe not even that. But that still means leaving the resort by 6:30 if we want to give ourselves a half-hour buffer for potential problems.

And at 6:30, the sun won't be up yet, meaning the roos may still be out and bouncing around the side of the road, unaware that there is even a thing called a car that could kill them and leave everybody inside that car dead as well.

Let's just hope they're winding down for the night by that point.

No comments: