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Australian Travels

on October 18, 2012

I was asked to write an article for the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering magazine about my trip to Australia as part of the Nanyang Venture 5 solar car team. It was quite a crazy time with lots of other things happening (but then when are thing not happening in NTU?) and my first thought was “Really?! A 10 day trip in 2 pages?!”. It was not helped by the fact that one prof walked up to me and said he wanted all the “juicy gossip” that happened on the trip! Right. ‘Cz that’s easy in Singapore! So well, I sat down to write and it was then that i realised that I would always remember the time we started the race, the way we pampered the car along the way and the time we crossed the finish line and had the city cheering for us (or so it felt). What would be lost with time would be small things that kept us laughing the whole night or made an another wise normal and routine day bright and memorable and all those things that kept us going through some really difficult times. So here’s what I finally wrote:

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE OUTBACK, STAYS IN THE OUTBACK… 

No way! It gets special coverage in the MAE Yearbook. *evil grin. Nanyang Venture V – the solar car of NTU stood 12th among 38 Universities in the World Solar Challenge 2011 at Australia. As the team responsible for the car, we learnt a lot of engineering practices and concepts. But we also learnt the following:

Eight Hours is a long Time

Spending 8 hours at Perth Airport isn’t easy. For one thing, it’s a cold 80C outside and the chill hits you in the face like a million pinpricks. So after acting brave for 5 minutes in the chill, you run back into the relative comfort of the airport. All plans to visit the city are dashed to pieces by this one single notice and the fear of missing the connecting flight. A meal at the airport is really expensive so you deicide to settle for a Coke – till you realise that even a Coke can costs AUD 4. That’s when the formerly royal sounding daily food allowance you were getting starts sounding meager. That’s when you realise your journey across the Australian Outback has already begun.

The kind tip on the notice

The kind tip on the notice

Appreciate what your mom cooks – starting with the menu.

Twelve people. Eight days. Tight budget. We took half a day to work out what to eat once we start our journey across the outback. It has to be healthy,filling, non-perishable, long lasting, easy to cook (preferably not need any cooking at all) and easy to store. And it should be tasty. And oh! Do keep in mind the Australian no-fruit fly zone and other limitations! Sitting under the hot Australian sun with a pen and a thermocole sheet (for some reason no one could locate any paper), we listed out recipes we thought we could make, took a general vote and drove to the nearest Coles.When we walked out, I honestly thought we had bought enough food for the population of some mini-city but turns out twelve people can eat a lot. Mid way through the trip, we were left hunting for another super market to stock up more food.

Getting Lost in very Easy

The first day, we missed our very own solar car as it zoomed by on the highway. Our job was to locate the car as it passed on the highway and follow it from there. We waited for nearly four hours before deciding that the car had definitely gone by and we had to track it down. That day we drove for nearly seven hours at a speed of 110kmph. We drove past a dozen or more solar cars feeling good about the fact that our  car was ahead of all those cars. By evening however, we were dying to see our car. We didn’t care how many cars were behind it, we just wanted to see our car and know we were not lost.

What?! No Sun?!

Of the six days of the race, we had sun for only two days- the first and last. Day two saw huge bush fires running wild across the Northern Territory. So, as a control stop of the race burned down and smoke engulfed the highway, the police closed it down and we were made to wait while the fire died down. The results: we spent half a day sprinkling water on the cells to cool them just because we had nothing else to do, spent the next night walking and sleeping over a thick layer of ash which coloured our feet black and designed our own sun dance to ‘please the sun god’ and make it peek through the heavy blanket of smoke clouds.

Raging Bush Fires

Raging Bush Fires

Never Take things for Granted.

So, the car broke down. Not the solar car but one of the support vehicles. We had to stop by at an inn, wait for the whole day while the company sent a replacement car. Having nothing to do, we spent the day Australian style – chilling out with a mug of beer, talking about everything and nothing. At night, we set out to find our team mates driving under the brilliant southern night sky at 140kmph with the windows down and music blasting. We did have the time of our lives.

Meanwhile, our team mates were left without their sleeping bags and tents and huddled up in the car or on the trailer under jackets trying to get some sleep in the chilly night. Life isnt fair, is it ?

Late Night Photography while searching for lost team mates

Late Night Photography while searching for lost team mates

It doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you are fine.

Every night, we had to cook under the singular beam of an LED. Unfortunately, our LED had the knack of attracting all the wildlife around which would buzz and hum around our food and in our plates. We spent one night trying to drive all of them out of the cars and broke a car port on another night while running away from a praying mantis. Then we resigned ourselves to eating with them and maybe, a few of them.

Make Shift Kitchen

Make Shift Kitchen

Flying Pillows isn’t a good thing.

You’d think after days of tying and untying luggage on the overhead carrier of the car, one would become a pro. Then comes this one day when you see pillows flying from the overhead carrier and landing plop in the middle of the highway. You turn back to collect them and make a mental note not to put your precious bag in the carrier but to cram it on your lap – even for a ten hour drive.

An Emu is more scared of you than you are of it.

It’s something to see a kangaroo hop across the road. You slow down the car, stop and frantically try to capture it on your camera. It is something entirely different to bang into one. This frantic emu ran out of the bush and across the road  before we even had a chance to slow down. Result: The poor bird’s head went boink! on the side of the car and it panicked and dashed away even faster. There was pin drop silence in the car for a minute. Then the hilarity of the boink! replays in your head and you burst out laughing. But no, that’s not a nice thing to happen and you really don’t want to end up killing one on the road.

A car cannot outrun a rain Cloud.

So you are in the middle of the desert and you see this huge black mass in the sky. After much discussion, you start wondering if they are rain clouds. But come on! In the middle of the desert with sunny weather forecasts?! Nah! That’s when huge drops of water fall on your wind shield and leave you speechless. You push the accelerator till the no more drops are falling on your wind shield, realise you are driving over the speed limit, slow down and see the damn rain drops again and cursing, throw caution to the speed limit. But well, you eventually end up in the downpour and start missing the hot scalding Sun.

Eleven People isn’t a Crowd.

Our tents were rendered useless as it poured outside and we set out to find rooms for eleven people. The only one we found was one queen size room meant for 5 people. We took it and eleven people had their most luxurious sleep that night. The ‘room’ comprised of two rooms with a separate pantry. After sleeping on rock and ash for a week, that was luxury and paying no heed to ‘evacuation rules’ and all, the team of eleven spent the night in a room for five, had a rare shower and the best sleep in days.

Always Have back up, Then back up your Back Up.

On the last day, all the cars get to drive in at the finish line in style- with the team around the car and people cheering you on. For this special ending, we bought two champagne bottles. We drank none. Our first bottle broke at the feet of a photographer trying to get a better angle for his pictures. The second bottle popped open in the shuttle bus spraying everyone with celebratory champagne a bit too early.

v

The Champagne

To describe the trip in short: It was legen..wait for it.. dary! *wink!

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