Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Hat Story

About a month ago in Adelaide, as I was about the set off across the Nullarbor Plain, I decided my New York Times Digital baseball cap wasn’t going to protect me from the harsh Australia sun. Every tour brochure advises that you bring a wide-brimmed hat to protect your ears and neck. I didn’t want a Crocodile Dundee leather hat, or something made of straw. What I was looking for is something an old man would take on a fishing trip – cotton, floppy and easy to wash and wear.

I found the perfect hat in a camping store off the Rundle Mall. Made by an Australian company, Colin Usher & Co., and named after one of Australia’s deadly spiders, the Funnel Web, I quickly fell in love with my new chapeau. An added bonus was an embroidered patch of a funnel web affixed to side that I would position above my left temple. More than once on tour someone would jump, do a double take and tell me they thought there was a spider on my head. Good fun.

The hat was my constant companion on the Nullarbor, in Perth, up the coast of Western Australia, through the gorges of Karijini National Park and across the empty Outback.

We pulled into the campground at Ayers Rock Resort after three long days in the desert without showers or clean clothes. Though we were still camping, everyone on tour was relieved to have hot showers and flush toilets again. I also too the time to hand wash my clothes, including my beloved hat. I threw the clothes in a drier, and hung the hat on the back of our orange trailer to air dry.

We had a free afternoon and were scheduled to drive to the culture center at Uluru in the afternoon. I took the opportunity to walk across the campground (stopping along the way to admire another view of Uluru – always breathtaking – and the five-star hotel Sails in the Desert – I’ve seen better) to do a little shopping in the resort’s dinky shopping center. I met Simon, our guide there, and he told me he could pick me up on the way to the cultural center, which he ended up doing.

After the cultural center, we returned to the campground, where I was horrified to discover my hat was missing. I looked high and low, in every corner of the campground, on top of the trailer, in the back of the truck, everywhere. I asked everyone if they’d seen my hat and made all manner of inappropriate faces showing my disappointment at losing my funnel web. No luck. I assumed it had been left on the trailer and was now laying somewhere in the desert, perhaps being trampled on by perenties and thorny devils.

The next day we hiked the 10-kilometer perimeter of Uluru, my face shaded by my NYTD baseball cap and neck protected by a long sleeve shirt. But it wasn’t the same. We returned to the campground, where I again looked for my hat. No dice, mister.

In the late afternoon we gathered again for the drive back to Uluru to watch the sunset. As we drove into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Simon suddenly slowed down, made a U-Turn, jumped out of the truck and picked something off the pavement. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t see what was going on, but heard the words “Matt” and “hat” and couldn’t believe it. Simon jumped back into the truck and tossed my hat back at me.

There was much joy in the back of the truck. I jammed the hat on my head and Annick grabbed my camera from my lap and took a few pictures in quick succession. I think the pictures convey the joy of the moment more than anything I could write.

Sonja looks pretty pleased as well.

I initially assumed the hat had flown off the trailer the day before and had been sitting in the middle of the road for 24 hours. I told everyone this and they believed it too, despite the lack of tire marks or dirt (it had been cleaned one day before).

I commented that I had thanked Uluru for allowing me to walk around its base and Simon said the return of the hat was the work of Kuniya, a serpent integral to an Aboriginal dreamtime legend. Could be, who knows? (For more on strange events surrounding sacred Aboriginal sites, see the Cocklebiddy Cave story)

Simon told me later that he saw something fly off the trailer, so he turned around and fetched the hat. I think it became jammed in the wheel well of the spare tire on the roof of the trailer. Whatever happened, I’m happy to have it back.



Blogger K Collins said...

Magic hat!

6:20 AM  

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