(The Three Sisters - the best recognised site in the Blue Mountains. It's the blue haze rising up from the gum trees in the background that gives the Blue Mountains their name.)
In a bid to provide some consistency and predictability, I've pledged to update the site at least weekly now. Could be a difficult commitment to keep to... but at least this gives me a big incentive to 'do things' so that I at least have something interesting to write about each week.
That shouldn't be a problem from next month when I leave Australia and start travelling round exotic parts of the world again. Not that there aren't exotic parts of Australia...
...like the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains are part of the 'Great Dividing Range' and were a huge geological obstacle for earlier white settlers in Australia. Effectively, the high cliffs and deep treacherous canyons on the Blue Mountains kept the first visitors to Australia 'trapped' in the coastal area around Sydney for around the first 30 to 40 years after Cook's arrival.
These days crossing the Blue Mountains is a whole lot easier, either by car or by train which takes just two hours to run the scenic route from the centre of Sydney to the heart of the Bluies. I took the train to Katoomba on Tuesday morning, returning the next evening. The hugely relaxing effect of the visit was out of all proportion to its short length.
(The bird-life in the Blue Mountains is a bit of a shock if you haven't been before. It's more like an aviary than a world heritage site. Multicoloured parrots, lorikeets and cockatoos are everywhere. If you can't always see them, you can certainly hear them...)
I got some great photos walking through the eucalypts on the first day. This was an enjoyable trek, though with the tracks so well marked out and with metal and wooden steps preventing any mishaps, it felt like I was missing the true wilderness adventure. So, on the second day, I got up at the crack of dawn for an abseiling and canyoning trip which I felt sure would in some way recapture the spirit of the original nineteenth-century explorers.
Abseiling is a bit like parachuting. What I mean is that (and I say this with profound apologies to my skydiving friend Robert) parachuting isn't a particularly challenging sport to learn... in comparison with surfing, for example. I could spend four hours of every day for the rest of my life bobbing about in the surf without mastering surfing. But a day or so on an airstrip and anyone can learn how to parachute - it's as easy as falling out of a door and hitting the ground, something I mastered within a few months of discovering the university union bar as a teenager. What does make parachuting 'difficult' is the fear factor. You have to overcome millions of years of evolution to jump out of a plane. There is a deep-seated and quite understandable voice in your head which will persistently tell you that what you are doing is suicidal. (It helps to be crazy to do skydiving - apologies again Robert).
(Above - we start off with a fairly modest descent! Below - but we soon progress to more pant-wetting challenges.)
And that's where abseiling is similar - it's not difficult to learn how to let the rope out or how to move your feet down the cliff, it's just a major challenge getting over the top of the cliff and letting yourself dangle 100ft above the rocky valley-floor below.
Anyway, that's my take on abseiling. And of course, it's the fear-factor that makes it so attractive anyway. As the day wore on we tackled higher and higher cliffs until in the late afternoon, after scrambling and swimming down through one of the more inaccessible canyons, we reached the ultimate challenge - a 30m abseil down the face of a waterfall.
What a buzz! All confidence and abseiling technique goes out the window when you have several tonnes of water pouring over your head every minute.
So that was a top pocket mid-week adventure. Today I'm back at work as the regular Opportunity International Staff are now back from their away-day and the office is open again. So just today and tomorrow at work and then I'm off sailing.