3) Coober Pedy, Australia
How does one even begin to talk about this small moon base in the middle of the Australian outback? It’s the Opal Capital of the World, as it grandly bills itself, and it has suffered the boom and bust cycle that is so common of extractive economies. But what is most interesting, besides its surreal desert landscape, is that 40 percent of its people live underground in “dug-outs”, many of them quite modern and spacious. Going down into one is like going down into a bomb shelter of the 1950s, or perhaps the underground lair of a Bond villain, as Bill Bryson wrote in his book. There were a number of underground hotels, but we pitched up at a caravan park, Riba’s, on the outskirts of town. It allowed underground camping, but I didn’t like it. It was too creepy, too claustrophobic and too hot. It was cooler outside — and I had cellular signal. I offered Julia my spot in the underground camp site, but we couldn’t peg the tent, so she declined.
The town was, as someplace like it should be, full of “characters.” By far my favorite — other than creepy Barbara, at Riba’s, who seemed deaf and totally lacking in social skills — was Terry Kuss, who was married in the outback. He says he was mentioned by Time magazine in a 1990 story on Rev Malcolm Thomas, who traveled Australia as an itinerant preacher. I looked for the article, but haven’t been able to verify his claim to publicity.