Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Day 503 - At home in Darwin

Well life in Darwin has been pretty relaxed, I have chilled out a little, had a look around the town, done a few odd jobs that have needed to be done and learnt a little bit about life here in Australia.

Staying with Mick has been just wonderful, just what I needed. I have thought for a while that I just need to stop somewhere and do nothing. Normally when I stop there are still things to do, look around the place, sort out visa, searching for things I need to buy etc, etc, but I have never just stopped for a break. But Darwin and Mick have provided the perfect place for doing just that. For the first time in 16 months I am staying in a place that feels like home, you just don't get that feeling when you are staying in a hotel or hostel, but from my first day here it has felt like home. It feels very strange to head out, then return 'home', to know what is there, to feel totally relaxed, to be able to sit around in the evening and just enjoy a conversation, in a language that I can understand, to have a proper conversation rather than struggling with the basics all the time. But whilst here, you don't have to be polite and make conversation, you can do your own thing, cook your own dinner, come and go when you please. Such is the hospitality here that you are free to use anything, the internet, the washing machine, Mick even let us use the car if we need it. It's been a time to remember what 'normal' life is really like, a break from the traveling and I am sure I will leave refreshed and ready for the tough ride ahead.

I have now got hold of the maps I need to take me across to the east coast of Queensland and south to New South Wales. The map marks rest areas, some with facilities, whatever that means, some with camping areas, but it all looks very, very remote. Once I leave here it will take me 2 or 3 days to reach Katherine, the last town of any size, and from there onwards another 7 days to Three Ways just north of Tennant's Creek, about 2/3 of the way to Alice Springs, then I turn east taking about another 2 weeks to reach the coast at Townsville. Most of the time I will be using the tent, that will be bliss, stopping by some remote creek, setting up camp, having a dip in the creek for a 'shower' and just enjoying the peace and tranquility, just me and the odd bit of wildlife.

The wildlife here is instantly so different. The other night I was looking at a wonderful Green Tree Frog, I have seen pictures of them in the past, they are common here, but it's always great to see something like that for the first time. It's such a vivid green with enormous pads on it's feet to enable it to climb trees. They also have green ants, they have a large green abdoman and it is common knowledge that if you hold it by it's head and lick it's backside it tastes of lime! Hmm, I wonder who discovered that and more to the point, why?

The wet season has just arrived, though it has only rained very briefly a couple of times. How is it that always seem to arrive at places as the wet is just starting? They have just had a spell of 197 days without rain, yet there are no water restrictions, something they are very proud of. There are even roadside water prinklers for the grass verges. The temperature remains pretty constant the year round in Darwin, about 35 degrees, but it's very humid.

When I returned home on Wednesday evening there was an unfamiliar face sat in one of the chairs outside. She was Inga from Hamburg, the latest addition to the house party. To make things seems even more homely I popped into Palmerston town centre on Thursday lunchtime where I bumped into Christina, so not only does this place feel like home, but I can already go out and bump into friends. Early evening Inga and I caught the bus into Darwin, we had to change buses at Palmerston bus station and who should be see there but Irene, it's a small world. Inga and I were heading for Mindil Beach market, we missed our connecting bus by about 30 seconds so had a wait of 45 minutes. The market sold local craft and a whole heap of Asian food, but by heck it was crowded. I didn't feel hungry, but I did manage an icecream, it was a big one too despite asking for the smallest, but it was also the worlds fasting melting icecream, I needed a shower afterwards, but thankfully managed to find a tap to wash under. I found a really nice neck thing made from Kangeroo leather, in the colours of the German flag as Inga pointed out, but I am still too tight, the $17 price tag being too much for me.

Friday night Isa, Irene and Christina were somewhat excited that a weeks work was over, especially as they were going into Darwin for a meal with workmates. Inga and I were asked if we wanted to meet at the Octoberfest in Darwin later, so we all went into Darwin together with the doors of the car open as the windows and air-con don't work and it tends to be a tad hot. We met at Octoberfest at around 11, but somehow we all seemed to miss it and end up in the Casino just behind. Irene and Isa were clearly enjoying their evening aided and abetted by a wee drop, Irene successfully losing a guys money for him as he encouraged her on, then Isa was asked, or rather told, to leave due to a slight indiscretion. We tried at 2pm to take them home, but their night was still young, so we dropped them off at a nightclub, Irene giving us a running commentary as she tried to stand still, "Oooo, that was a big one, 4 steps backwards", oh to be young and carefree!

Over the weekend Mick took Inga and I for a bit of rifle shooting. We practiced with 4 different rifles before having a little competition over 300m, Inga scoring 22.2 then 14 with a total of 10 rounds and I scored 21 and 17. I thought we were pretty impressive, despite the fact that at that range I had no idea if I had even hit the target until we drove back up to it. We had a couple of beers afterwards, a very enjoyable and sociable day. Due to the concerntration involved in sighting up we had no idea that Mick was taking little movies of us and the reactions after the first shot of the big target rifle, it made for a good laugh when we got home.

When I cycle at home with other people we always maintain that you only get puncture when you talk about them, but I can now confirm that you can get them just by writing about them as the day after I made the last post I found I had a slow puncture when I came to use the bike the following day. I gave the bike a thorough clean, always good to see if there are any problems. This time it proved very expensive as I ended up replacing the big ring at the front, the chain, cassette and jockey wheels, but I think it is for the best as I wont see another cycle shop before the east coast another 2500km away.

So I head off tomorrow or Thursday, it just depends on how much I get done today. I want to be in Katherine by Friday evening 300km away, so if I leave Thursday I will have to cover 150km each day, though thankfully it is going to be pretty flat and I should even have a tailwind to help me. The biggest problem is going to be the heat, it's very humid, just doing nothing you sweat here and added to that there is no shade anywhere. There's no point stopping early, all there is to do is set the tent up and sit in the sun, slowly cooking! There are tough days ahead.


Tony said...

Hi John. Your being "at home" in Australia is producing a feeling of being on holiday back here too! Thanks for an idea of how big it is. And how hot. Glad you are still wearing out big chainrings!

aoiffe said...

All you need to remember is that crocs are very sensitive about their eyes...

dad said...

You cheerfully tell us that it will be good using your tent again and then show a ruddy great pplacard which says "Croc takes camper" If one gets you send me a text before you submerge. You only need say "goodbye". However,it's your 48th birthday on Sunday 12th so enjoy it with a double water...neat!

John Harwood said...

Forgot to mention that when I leave Darwin tomorrow, Thursday, it may be 3 weeks or more before I post again. I will try earlier if possible, but I don't suppose there are many internet cafes in the outback. So if you don't hear from me it doesn't necessarily mean I have become a crocs lunch, but I may have!

jac said...

Happy walkabout! Or should I say cycle-about? Camping your way through the outback - bliss! I'm jealous.
Just don't camp too near those croc infested rivers!!! Hope your tent is well sealed against creepy crawlies, and remember to check your shoes for spiders in the morning.
You know, it's funny, I'm not jealous anymore! ;-)