I’m sprinting in the night with my travel companions as fast as our legs will carry us, gathering speed down the hill and into the cavernous buildings. “This way” a Park Ranger points out the quickest path. “I don’t know if we’re going to make it” we cry. Passengers have boarded and the engine’s running. So are we, as we race to the pier, all eight of us are waving our arms profusely like our lives depend on it. The ship’s horn sounds. We do not want to stay another second let alone hour on the island. This is how I escaped from Alcatraz.
Delving into my suitcase, I place layer upon layer of clothing on until my body resembles a Christmas tree. When I’m done, I reach for my companion’s suitcase and help myself to a windbreaker for luck. It has the desired effect when I step onto the pier and face a moody San Francisco evening amid dark clouds and an unseasonably bone-chilling wind. We leave the vivid city lights and the great Golden Gate in our wake and sail towards Alcatraz. Darkness creeps upon us and a lighthouse protrudes above the rock, casting a shadow in its wake.
This eerie place comprises more than the remnants of a prison; Alcatraz is also a national park. The ‘Devil’s Island’ is made up of a dock, guardhouse and sally port, Post Exchange, military chapel, barracks, a warden’s house, lighthouse, and the well-renowned cell house. The island was first used by the military to defend San Francisco shores and its first prisoners were soldiers. Alcatraz became a federal penitentiary from 1934 until 1963. It housed the likes of Al Capone and Alvin Karpis. Before becoming a tourist destination and national park, there was a 19-month occupation of Native Americans protesting in 1969.
My first steps on ‘The Rock’ are a little wobbly, partly because of the boat ride and partly because it is getting dark. I’ve heard the legendary tales of Alcatraz enough to be more than a little apprehensive. It’s time to see where the ‘baddest of the bad ‘once lived.
“You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege” Number 5, Alcatraz Prison Rules and Regulations, 1934. Inside jail I listen to the ex-guards and ex-cons both tell of how this mini-civilisation operated. In the shower block with ceilings two stories high, I touch the mint-green paint on the icy stone walls and a chill runs through me. A couple of bars of soap and towels are placed on the ledge. Cells are stacked up in a line as far as the eye can see. Some have ex-con’s possessions still in them. You don’t just imagine life here, you live it.
I find myself standing in a dark and dingy isolation cell. My tourist snap shot doubles as a mug shot. After only a moment, the powers of the isolation cell take a firm grip on my emotions. This really is hell. Our very own escape from Alcatraz is something to tell the grandkids about one day.
We took an Alcatraz Cruises Night Tour which departed from San Francisco by boat. Tours operate daily. For more information, click here.
Just a quick note to say that I loved the sessions I went to at The Emerging Writers’ Festival 2014 in Victoria. The festival was on from 27 May to 6 June 2014 and apparently they had the best attendance yet. Thanks to the organisers, they did a great job. My favourite was the Travel Writing Workshop, it gave me some great ideas for this blog and some writing projects. Any writers or aspiring writers in the area should check it out next year.
Fear rises through my body and transcends into a spine-tingling shiver. Images of scaly feet, sharp claws and strong bites flash to mind. I shudder. Down the expanse of dirt road, my feet lead the rest of my hesitant body. Domineering eucalyptus trees line the path, trailing up into the hills. The sky is an expanse of azure and the emerald sea is almost within arm’s reach.
Friends rush ahead and start fossicking on the ground for seeds. And then they come. One swoops low, head-height and I duck instinctively. My companions extend the seed in each of their hands and soon they’re flocking towards us. Flashes of green, red and yellow zoom overhead.
We came for Koalas originally. Cruising down Great Ocean Road on a gloomy spring day, we pulled up in Lorne. Lunch at the local burger bar hit the spot and we encountered some rowdy locals in the process. Two noisy Cockatoo’s knew where the good grub was. They weren’t shy about overseeing our meal either. In fact, it invoked a bit of a scrap as they grabbed the best possie to commandeer stray chips. Our table must have been a pre-arranged hangout. One of the birds received female company and he even scored a kiss.
A trip to the Lorne Visitor Centre revealed our suspicions to be correct. Koalas can be seen in the wild, just down the road in fact. Kennett River Holiday Park is well-positioned off the Great Ocean Road, next to Otway National Park. It’s a pleasant two and a half hour drive from Melbourne. This is where they choose to rest their cute furry grey heads.
Koalas must be close now. We find a few subtle clues: a giant Koala mural and a signpost pointing towards a row of eucalyptus trees. A few fluffy grey tails are firmly parked on branches amongst eucalyptus. These native Aussies certainly do not share our enthusiasm towards the encounter. Frankly, I think they’re less than impressed with our ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and camera snaps.
Then they descend upon us. No, not the Koalas, their feathered friends: the King Parrots. That’s the second time birds have stolen the show today. King, it’s a rather appropriate title for such a bird. From our visit today, it’s clear where we stand. The Parrots have the crown and we, mere mortals, are their moving thrones.
Keen to dispel my apprehension towards bird life, I decide to participate. They’re all too busy playing with their new parrot pals to notice my discomfort. I gingerly place seed in my hand. A cheeky King Parrot swoops and perches atop my head. I freeze. A Koala lazily gazes in my direction. “Tourists” he thinks.
King Parrots and Koalas can be found at Kennett River Holiday Park, which is a two and a half hour drive from Melbourne. For more information, click here.