Today I am not leaving the blasting air-conditioning of my hostel room, even if it means having to tolerate the rancid smell of old running shoes. Seems unlikely that they belong to pretty German girls, but smelly shoes happen to everyone in 80% humidity.
I have made it through the desert and am now at the top end of Australia, in Darwin. Although I haven’t found Darwin to be a particularly interesting place to be (it can be that I’m just tired and sick of the heat), there are very interesting things about it. Darwin has been destroyed twice- once in 1942 by Japanese bombs and then again in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy. I braved the heat and public bus system yesterday to go to the museum to see a fantastic and scary exhibit about the cyclone. I saw photos and movies of the devastation it caused (80% of Darwin was gone by Christmas morning) and stepped into a terrifying sound booth to hear what the cyclone sounded like.
Because Darwin really revolves around mining, the population is young and, when the mines are open and work is abundant, the male to female ratio can be up to 6 to 1. Darwin is also the city that consumes the most beer per capita. Apparently it evens out to 6 beers per person per day. With all those guys, so few girls, and all that beer, it might not surprise you that Darwin has the most broken jaws every year in Australia.
I am here waiting for my flight to Bali. I am happy to be leaving Australia and discover different places where different languages are spoken and delicious food is eaten. I’ve enjoyed my time here, but it’s time to step to more challenging places (baby steps to start- Bali isn’t exactly unchartered territory, just ask the thousands of Australians where they go to party each year).
The last few weeks have been particularly eye-opening. I feel like I’ve had a glimpse into the real Australia. Outback Australia with its potentially harmful emptiness and heat, beautiful red sand, aboriginal culture and landmarks, weird pubs… the Australia of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
From The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Rather reluctantly, I booked a bus tour from Alice Springs to Darwin. It ended up cheaper than doing it all myself. And it felt safer, what with the thousands of kilometers of nothingness and stories of murdered backpackers. And I’d get to sleep in the infamous Australian swag under the thousand desert stars. I got on the full Wayoutback mini-bus and joined the tour to Uluru (Ayers Rock). I of course never dreamed of being a cock in a frock on a rock like Guy Pearce, but it was stunning.
Uluru at sunset.
Sunset (Uluru is behind me)
Stunningly red, big, and hot. We walked around a bit, almost fainted, and were told stories that would be told to aboriginal children as cautionary tales. We got to watch the sunset hit the rock and witness the magical changing of its colour.
Our guide had good timing and was really good at taking jumping pictures.
So happy and unsuspecting in her swag and animal pillow case! Little did she know, inconsiderate chatterboxes would make this a less than pleasant night in the great outdoors.
Trees at sunrise the next day.
We slept a short night under the stars. The moon was so bright it work me up when it rose. We got up in the dark to go see the sunrise on Uluru and Kata Tjuta, another rock formation whose European name is the Olgas. We went for a stinking-hot walk on the red rocks. Beautiful and strange. I felt like I’d had a full day by 10 am. My favourite walk was the next day in King’s Canyon. Was it because it was a bit shadier and breezier? Perhaps.
In Priscilla’s Crack. Vulgar but awesome. King’s Canyon.
After a day in Alice Springs where I had a coffee and fruit salad in a breezy cafe and did not much else, the bus picked us up for our 3-day drive up to Darwin. A lot of kilometers and not much to fill them with.
We stopped at every servo (gas station) and I ended up buying many ice-cream bars. I think that other than clean public bathrooms, the thing I will miss most about Australia is Weiss’ mango bars. It’s like eating a frozen mango! At one place, they had had a power outage so their ice-cream was all deformed and only $1. Oh happy day.
As we drove and drove and drove north, the landscape started to change from arid, red desert, to slightly greener grounds.
Trees started to appear.
Once in a while, there was something amazing, like the rock formations (something to do with a magma bubble cooling and breaking into pieces that were then smoothed into boulders by the elements) known as the Devil’s Marbles. Surprisingly, we were the only ones there and it felt a bit eerie.
Just doing the tourist thing at the Devil’s Marbles.
Our campsite had a little zoo in it and, break my heart, a little kangaroo whose mother had been killed by a truck. He was so cute and tame and light and snuggly.
Redman, a 6-month-old red kangaroo orphan, has stolen my heart away. Here he can be seen with his adoptive mother, a true Aussie outback man.
Ready for a baby kangaroo.
I had been warned not to go to the Top End during the wet season. A few roads were shut so that we didn’t have access to some amazing waterfalls, but we still got to go to Kakadu National Park, see some stunning rock art and scenery. And barely any other tourists, which was awesome.
Some rock art is estimated to be over 50,000 years old.
Crocodile Dundee territory.
We got to hear entertaining stories about people who didn’t know anything about driving through rivers and going on treks without water and almost being eaten by crocodiles.
Driving in the wet season in Kakadu National Park. We did not need air-lifting or any saving of any kind.
We still got to check out the amazingly vast and beautiful wetlands and see some crocodiles and worry a bit that we might die. There was a crocodile risk in the parking lot. That kind of thing.
Big male crocodile. Very close. Slightly unnerving.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to see massive termite mounds. And now I have! This is in Litchfield National Park.
And now I’m in Darwin, taking advantage of the air-conditioning, the fact that my computer fixed itself (maybe it was just a bit of heat exhaustion and not sizzling death after all), and a bit of quiet before I jump into my next adventure.