Tuesday, June 09, 2009

All Aboard the Indian Pacific—Please Remain Calm

We liked Sydney a lot, and could easily have spent more time there. We never got to the Tim Tam factory, for example. I’d also hoped to get to a second location of an excellent music store called Red Eye Records, although I bought so much music at the branch that I did get to that I’m not sure how much more I could have brought home.

I also could have snacked at Max Brenner a half-dozen more times, but as with the music situation, it’s probably best that I didn’t get to indulge myself further. So as much as we enjoyed Sydney, I think we were both ready for the next leg of our adventure, which was the three-night journey to Perth on the Indian Pacific train.

This train takes its name from the fact that you will, if you stay on the train for the whole 65-hour, 4,352-kilometer, trans-continental journey, glimpse both the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. Along the way, you pass through three Australian states, change time zones twice, and cruise along the longest stretch of perfectly straight track in the world—297 miles without a bend, and precious little change in elevation, either.

One of the first things I noticed as I settled into our cabin was a sign on the wall (actually an emergency safety notice) saying “Don’t Panic.” And I could see where Indian-Pacific passengers might be a little on edge: The economy-class sleeper compartments are small. Really small. By day there are two seats facing each other with a folding table between them, a comically narrow closet, a luggage rack high overhead, and a sort of a Murphy sink that folds out of the wall like the bed in an old-fashioned studio apartment.

I also noticed a bunk bed suspended about 15 inches from the ceiling, and my palms got clammy imagining sleeping in such a tiny space. By night, though, the bunk is lowered several feet, and a bottom bunk, perhaps inspired by the sink, flips down out of the wall. Full linens and towels are provided. There are single-sex toilets at one end of each carriage, and, remarkably, two showers at the other end. A red-service dining car served bland but perfectly adequate hot food. It was snug, but there was enough space under the seats and in the closet to keep our bags out of the way and our diversions close at hand. I confess that I did have a moment of panic when I first saw the tiny space where we would spend the next three days, but once we’d left suburban Sydney and spotted our first-ever wild kangaroos, I decided I was up for the outback adventure.

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