...or "Blinded By The Light"
13.06.2012 - 14.06.2012 32 °C
I now have a new mortal enemy. I call him "Solarcifer", or who you all know to be otherwise known as the sun. Not because he's hot here - though yes, by Solarcifer, it is bloody hot here in the Kimberley; it's probably easily 30 degree in the shade, which there is not much. No, he is my enemy because he's really really bright. Unlike me.
I pulled out of Broome a bit late, 8:30am Western Australia time, and made my way to the entrance of the Gibb River Road, some 200Km away. The trip was so uneventful, even this sentence to tell you how uneventful it was is a complete waste of both my time and yours (it was gorgeous though).
Soundtrack: Afterhours / Ego Likeness...and in case you've never heard it (and you probably haven't) the only way it could possibly be appropriate for the awesome panorama around me is if this is the lead up to some horrible vampire or demon utterly eradicating me and everything I hold dear. Thankfully, the only way that would be possible is if I had a really weird / borderline sociopath comic-book-guy friend, a quirky and geeky but ultimately hot frat girl, and a bag of pot in the truck with me. See how lazy I am? Already recycling the same lame gags.
The turn-off to the Gibb is pretty much like any other, save for the obligatory 'Open/Closed/Warning-Turn-Back-For-God's-Sake' sign, similar to the Tanami. And like the Tanami, it starts off as narrow bitumen with wide gravel shoulders for passing or hiding from road trains, of which there are plenty on this end of the road. And when the bitumen ended about 60Km in, this time I was ready and just so "I'm totally used to this now". The gravel portion starts off way better than any portion of the Tanami, so I clipped along at a decent speed until I arrived at the turn-off to Windjana Gorge. I turned south-east and headed into towards the park. This road was substantially poorer, again riddled with large fields of sharp rocks and other stress-inducing features (noting I have still neither engaged the 4WD nor lowered the pressure in my tyres - I hope Britz is not reading this). I took it slow and arrived at the campground, which is basically a free-for-all field where people have simply snuggled their rigs, caravans, and campers up to the various trees in the hopes of securing shade. I arrived around 1:30pm thinking I should be able to have my run of the place, as I guess I still have kind of a British Columbia mentality, whereby our campgrounds have very strict check-in and check-out times. This is completely not the case here, and I'm realizing now that if I want any hope of a decent 'spot' I will need to arrive at campgrounds as early as possible. The field was already pretty much full.
Some of these outback camping set-ups are really impressive - some folks have portable almost-houses made of canvass, huge fold-out kitchens, solar panels for hot water and battery-charging - you name it. I have a small-by-comparison campervan that thankfully doesn't take up much space so I was able to find a nice spot under a few trees.
I lunched-up (already getting sick of instant noodles and sandwiches but they are quick and easy to clean up) and headed off to the Windjana Gorge, which is a short walk from the campground. What I found there is everything I ever wanted to see in Australia - after clambering through a small rock crevasse, I was welcomed by a gigantic gorge full of emerald green water, spectacular black and red cliffs, huge sand bars...
and crocodiles. Lots of crocodiles - fresh-water types just lounging around on the beach, looking kind of dead. The laziest creatures I think I've ever seen - so lazy they aren't really dangerous unless you try to tickle them or some other stupid thing. I was able to get within about 6 feet of a couple to take some great pictures.
I know they weren't dead because I watched a few of them ooze their useless arses off the sand bar into the water...but they kind of smelled dead. Turns out that zoos really smell that way because the animals really smell that way in real life. Here I thought it was some kind of pheromone that zoos sprayed into the air for that 'authentic' smell.
Yes - Windjana Gorge is where I found everything I wanted to see in Australia. It is also where I left something I need in Australia. You see, like the dumb-ass I am, I propped my sun-glasses up onto the top of my hat, as I had seen some other outback travelers do - and obviously they are the bible for how this is all done, right? So as soon as I was under the shade of the forest I propped them up on my hat so I could spot better pictures.
The good news is that I saw a good portion of Windjana Gorge...4 times...as I hunted up and down, looking everywhere for my sunglasses. The bad news is that they were never found. This puts me in kind of a bad spot, because the sun is bloody bright here. I just made driving that much more treacherous; because it obviously wasn't anxiety-nurturing enough before, I had to one-up the corrugations, sharp rocks, and god-knows what else by permanently reducing my vision...which isn't exactly up to NASA specs in the first place.
Back at the campground I met some wonderful people who parked right next to me - the campground gets cozy due to the traffic - and they gave me all kinds of helpful advice, on driving and tyre pressure (I figured out the compressor and how to deflate the tyres by the way. There was a button on the pressure gauge. And buttons do things...so I plugged it in to the tyre and pressed it, and presto! Smelly tyre air is released!), they also gave me tips on where to go next time I'm in Australia (because not one place they mentioned is within a 3000Km radius from where I am) as well as confirming (or at least corroborating) my observations of Sydney City and the busy and kind of cold city folk therein. According to them, if I want to encounter 'real' Australian hospitality, I pretty much want to be where I am now.
Also for the record, apparently in Australia you don't tip. This sheds light on some of the awkwardness I experienced in restaurants in Sydney.
Even at night it is still really hot - it may have still been close to 20 degrees by bed time, after I spent the evening under the stars strumming on my guitar and nodding off in the chair with it still in my hands.
Well, fuck the sunglasses, who needs them anyway? Answer? Me. But I digress.
Breakfast, shower (solar-powered hot water heater - brilliant) and off to Tunnel Creek, another 35 agonizing Km along the road that lead to Windjana. The whole 'gotta-get-to-the-campground-early' really feeds my ever-present need to dwell on what could possibly go wrong, but I came all this way - I need to see Tunnel Creek. Good thing too, this was an absolutely 'insert-synonymn-for-amazing-that-I-haven't-used-yet-here' experience. A creek has burrowed a huge 750m long tunnel through the mountain, and to traverse it you need to - yup - wade through the creek in the pitch black. Pretty agonizing at first, not knowing how deep the water is (the sign tells you 'sometimes deep' but I had read that it never gets above your thighs...unless you are an angry dwarf), what was in the water (isn't everything in Australia dangerous, especially tiny cave-dwelling fish?), etc. But once you simply breathe in, tell yourself you are doing this, light your torch and start walking, the experience takes over. A massive limestone cavern, cool water, and even a couple of limestone waterfalls. Wow. Just wow. I got to the other side, and congratulated myself by deciding that I simply was not going to make it back - I had to find a place to make my own creek, sans-tunnel. I wandered up the path a bit to find a nice private area by the rock wall and...prepared...for the walk back. As I climbed back to the tunnel entrance I came across a couple gentlemen who asked if I had seen the ancient Aboriginal paintings on the rock walls up the path from where I came. Pardon? Yep...I guess I just urinated somewhere on some old sacred Aboriginal site. Fantastic. I'm doomed.
On the way back I was very happy to run across several other tourist folks who enquired about the tunnel - how far, how deep, etc. You could hear the same apprehension in their voice that would have been in mine when I started out - had I had anyone with me to speak to. I realize it wasn't much, but it felt good to be the person helping someone else out a bit instead of being the clueless foreigner looking dumb and asking (in my crazy Canadian accent) someone how to deflate a truck tyre.
Soundtrack: Incantation / Delerium.
I somehow managed to time my drive such that the sun was either beside me, or mostly above me. This alleviated the whole sun-blindness thing somewhat, though even now my eyes are tired. I got back to the Gibb and headed on my way to Silent Grove. The road deteriorated quite a bit...lucky I had deflated my tyres and locked the 4WD hubs, and took it as slow as my perma-angst would allow. Glad I did, because otherwise I would have missed some of the best scenery I have seen yet (say that a lot, too...I guess Australia just keeps getting better and better).
The drive through the King Leopold mountains was incomprehensibly, well, spectacular (note to self for next trip - pack thesaurus). I turned off towards Bell Gorge and Silent Grove to find an even more hideous road that was more definitely out to get me - it was like a mine field of razor rock. I decided that no matter how many people may be headed to the campground, I'm not going over 50Km/h. Just overtake me asshole, I'm not speeding up. In fact, on the way I saw another Britz 4WD campervan coming the other way slow down and stop...a bunch of younger people piled out to observe the shredded rear tyre. First thought: hah, amateurs, probably speeding with fully inflated tyres! Second thought: what if they weren't? I slowed down to 40Km/h.
Went through my first 'real' creek crossings; they were kind of deep, and I used my low 4WD gears just to be safe. These are all just warm-ups for the real challenge that should happen on my second-to-last-day on the Gibb - the Pentecost River crossing. I'll fill you in when I get there, but you can look it up if you want.
The Silent Grove campground is similar to Windjana, but has quite a few more trees so I was able to get a better spot. I'm camped next to another nice older couple that are more than happy to offer advice and information - including the fact that the flocks of obnoxiously-loud large, white, cockatoo-looking-like birds are what they refer to in these parts as 'cockatoos'. Fascinating! (That sounds sarcastic against them, but honestly I had no idea these cockatoo-like birds were, in fact, cockatoos).
So that's it for now; tomorrow I head down to Bell Gorge for an hour or two, and then head back to the Gibb and target Manning Gorge, where I will (hopefully) spend two nights...because just once I would like to stay in the same place for a while. I promised to leave the emotional melodrama out, but I will mention that I am getting weary and almost ready for home. I have started counting down the days to when I drop off Cass, and I miss my family tremendously. And I still have no sunglasses. And I just accidentally got Bushman's insect repellent in my mouth. Deet tastes really bad.
Homesickness: mildly de-habilitating. For everything else (including mildly de-habilitating homesickness) there's Wolf Blass Shiraz (for $9.99 each when you buy a box).
From a disposable plastic cup. And it's warm. This is roughing it.