The tour was scheduled for Monday morning at 8:00. Our meeting point was the Strathfield train station, which is a half-hour train ride from Sydney. I was a bit anxious about arriving on time because first I had to get from my flat to Sydney’s Central Train Station in order to catch the train to Strathfield. My plan was to arrive at Strathfield around 7:00, grab some breakfast at a nearby cafe, and be ready to meet the tour group before 8:00. I got up extra early, took an Uber to Central Station, and boarded the correct train.
So far, so good. The train was comfortable and I settled into my seat to do a little writing. Announcements were made, but the voice was so garbled I couldn’t understand what was being said.
The train stopped at the first station out of Sydney, and a man with an orange bicycle got on board. The train continued its journey, stopping several more times to pick up and drop off riders. Half an hour passed and I looked at my watch, thinking it was about time to arrive in Strathfield. The train stopped at North Strathfield. I asked the man with the orange bicycle if this was my stop. He said no, we passed Strathfield and it was two stops back.
I jumped off the train. A tiny bit of panic set in. How do I get back to where I need to go? How long until the next train arrives? How do I get across the tracks and which platform is the correct one? The man with the orange bicycle gave me a few tips, then the train doors closed and he was whisked away.
Luckily the North Strathfield station was small, with limited options. One set of tracks was for east-bound trains, and one set was for west-bound. I needed to head back east. I ran up the stairs to the bridge, crossed over the tracks, and hurried down to the east-bound platform. A schedule indicated the next train would arrive in 7 minutes. I relaxed. But the excitement wasn’t over yet.
The next train took me back to Strathfield, where I disembarked. It was 7:15. As planned, I went to a nearby cafe for breakfast and wait for the rest of the tour group. The tour guide had mentioned the Monkey House Cafe was a good place to eat, but I didn’t see it. I found a cafe that was open and bought some food. I had plenty of time.
After breakfast, at 7:40, I went outside and stood closer to the station to be more visible. We were supposed to meet at the benches. I went over to a bench and asked a woman if she was part of our tour group. She wasn’t. I looked around for someone who matched the photo of our guide. No luck. Soon it was 7:55 and there was still no sign of our group. I called and left a voicemail for the guide, letting him know I was there and was looking for him and to please not leave without me.
I was becoming anxious again. I absolutely didn’t want to miss the tour! I didn’t have a wifi signal, so I wasn’t able to search for the right cafe. I walked up to a concessions counter outside the train station and asked if anyone knew where the Monkey House Cafe was located. A tiny Asian woman behind the counter had never heard of it. She asked a co-worker if he knew anything about it. He did. The cafe was located on the other side of the station.
It was now 8:00, the tour was supposed to leave on time, and I was panicking. I didn’t know how to get to the other side of the station because it was walled off. I asked the first person I saw and was told to go down into the station, back through the gates, and follow the hall to the opposite exit.
I hustled through the station but had sinking expectations. The guide had not returned my call, and I assumed they left without me. I was angry because I had been there, waiting. I was frustrated because I didn’t know which exit to take out of the station to get to the meeting point. I called the guide again and left another message letting him know I was upset.
By this time I was fuming. If you know me, you know that’s completely out of character. Typically I’m calm during difficult situations. But this was my one chance to see the Blue Mountains. I’d dedicated an entire day for this tour, and now it appeared that I’d missed out. I slumped down on a bench, very unhappy, and considered my options. I was in disbelief that my careful planning had gone so wrong.
Then I heard my name called. Startled, I looked up to see a man walking toward me. He looked like the tour guide. He was the tour guide! It was almost 8:15 and he was still at the station! Peter introduced himself to me and took me to his car where the other three other members of the group were waiting. They were late, too, because their car broke down and they needed an Uber to rescue them.
Now that we were ready to go, our cumulative stress evaporated. Luckily for me, Peter’s voicemail wasn’t working so he hadn’t received my terse message. After trading stories about our morning fiascoes, we all piled happily into Peter’s car and headed off for a grand adventure in the mountains.
And a grand adventure it was. Peter was a native of the area, and we were taken to special places that other tourists (and tour buses) didn’t know about. We hiked through forests, saw magnificent vistas of the Blue Mountains, and admired waterfalls that dropped hundreds of feet over sheer cliffs. Peter chauffeured us to a village where we ordered late lunch at a quaint cafe. We hopped back into the car, carried our lunches up a steep rocky slope, and ate together in a beautiful cave carved out by wind.
I made it back to the city just in time to join a Latin dance workshop I’d registered for. Even though I’d hiked miles that day, I was excited to dance. Because there’s no such thing as having too much fun!
Blue Mountain Grandeur
Dream Time Story
An ancient aboriginal legend tells the tale of three sisters Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo. These three enchanting girls lived in the heart of the Jamison Valley as part of the Katoomba tribe. The girls were young and their hearts were captured by three brothers from a neighboring tribe. However the law of the land forbid the girls from following their desires and marrying outside their own people.
The brothers decided to capture the girls and carry them away to be wed. A major battle ensued as the two tribes clashed and the blood ran thick. An elderly witchdoctor from the Katoomba tribe feared for the safety of the beautiful sisters and cast a spell to turn them to stone to keep them safe from harm. Yet during the raging battle the witchdoctor was killed and the spell couldn’t be reversed.
The sisters stand mournfully, high above the Jamison Valley, doused in glory, bewitching in their enchantment but never able to return to the human form. Even for those who don’t believe the legend, it still makes for a heart-wrenching sight to gaze up at the powerful rocks carved from the earth and to remember the tragic tale.
The Other Story
This “aboriginal legend” is a fabrication created by a non-aboriginal Katoomba local, presumably to add interest to the landmark. The story originated in the late 1920s or early 1930s.
I loved the Dream Time Story. Loved the mountains. Go there, you'll be happy you did.