...or "Engorging Myself"
15.06.2012 - 17.06.2012 30 °C
For the record, I have *not* been keeping that pun to myself for the entire trip, waiting for the right time to use it. It just came to me now. Honestly.
Also for the record, it turns out that I will not have sunglasses again until at least Kununarra, about 50Km after I've left the Gibb (no roadhouses along this route sell sunglasses. I smell a business opportunity...). So Solarcifer and I will be battling it out for the rest of the length of this amazing dirt-road journey.
I was awoken by those damned cockatoos around 5am. I now hate them.
After all is said and done, the Silent Grove campground really was nice, and I was kind of sad to leave it. I did the normal morning things, and said goodbye to the nice folks beside me - and by the way, I feel like I've earned a merit badge or something because the gentlemen commended me for making it across the Tanami; pretty good for a foreigner he told me. I'll take that as a serious compliment. I've noticed something along the trip to this point: I have not come across one other North American...anywhere...since leaving Sydney (and even then, the only ones I came across were a couple of (sorry - obnoxious) 20-something girls yammering on loudly at a bar in the Circular Quay). And judging from the slight reaction I get from everyone as I greet them, neither have they. I don't really know how to greet people; I can't try to say "g'day", because if I say it in my dry Canadian accent, I'll sound like a moron - and like I'm making fun of everyone, which may result in me being justifiably beaten up. But by greeting everyone with a "good morning / good afternoon / good evening / how'ya doin', eh? / howdy, hoser", I just feel like I'm needlessly trying to call attention to myself. Such are my challenges.
Had my first real 'encounter' with an Australian spider. If you can call it an encounter. I believe it was a huntsman spider that had found its way into the camper and was just sitting on the floor of the passenger side in the cab. I think it was a huntsman because: a) the front legs were quite a bit longer than the back, which matches all the pictures I had seen; b) it was a little bit smaller than some of the biggest house spiders we have back home in our basements; c) I read everywhere I was going to have at least one run in with a huntsman during my time here; and d) it just struck me as being a really stupid creature, which also matches the internet description (I could be totally wrong though, I'm no hugespiderologist). I casually shooed it out of the truck - much to its chagrin - and continued to pack up.
I headed off to Bell Gorge - slowly along the crappy access road - and hiked down to the falls. How to describe it? Imagine the most soul-fulfilling place where you can just sit for hours, alone in your thoughts, contemplating life, finding god, curing cancer - you name it. Then add dozens of other people - hooping, hollering, and jumping into the water from the rocks. At 8:30am. The hike to Bell Gorge takes you to the top of the water fall, which is nice enough as it is...but anyone wanting to really experience it will continue the path across the creek, along the cliff, and down to the huge - and I mean huge - pool below the falls. It is here at the base of the falls, amongst the red cliffs some 30 to 40 meters high where you sit, swim, ponder, take endless photos and videos, etc. In fact, just sitting there by the falls, I figured I could now just die...just jump from the cliff, smash my head on the way down, and drown in the beautiful green pool below...or maybe body surf down the falls, which would have the same effect - because does it get better than this? But alas, I think I still have some meaning in life, some things left to do and see, oh and a family relying on me back home. So instead I just dunked my head, chuckled like an idiot at the tiny frogs hopping around the somewhat smelly cave beside the pool, and lounged around for a while. (Note to self: when life is done and I'm just withering away of some disease later in life, come here and body surf off the falls...what's the worst that could happen?)
Still on a stupid schedule, I only spent an hour enjoying this paradise before I had to make my way back, hop into the truck, and start (slowly) back down the road towards the Gibb. A quick stop at the Telstra satellite phone booth to let my family know I was still alive (I don't think they had started selling all my stuff off...yet) and I was on my way.
Soundtrack: just me mumbling incomprehensibly to myself. Charging the video camera.
Not much else to say about the drive...except the scenery (what I could see between keeping my eyes firmly on the road and my new-found sun-blindness...damn you, Solarcifer!) just kept finding ways to amaze me. Also, the road kept finding ways to get worse...in fact it seems that, like the landscape getting better and better as I go, the roads seem to get worse and worse as I go. If it keeps up this pattern at this pace, by the time I'm coming to the end of the Gibb I'll be driving straight up at a 90 degree angle, over flaming razor wire, with snipers taking pot-shots at my tyres - but I'll be traveling through freaking Nirvana at that point, without even having to body-surf off Bell Gorge falls first.
I've set up at the campground at Manning Gorge, and I just spent the afternoon (trying desperately) to just relax and do nothing - read a book, play guitar, watch the clouds in the sky, and silently curse the loud cockatoos (kind of remind me of those girls in Circular Quay...god, I'm getting old!). The campground isn't nearly as nice as the government ones - it's kind of dirty (the bathroom) and cramped, has no hot water (the afternoon shower was...enlightening), and has generators running everywhere...but it should do for a couple nights. I'll head off to Manning Gorge in the morning, which will be an adventure in and of itself (I'll describe it later) and then try to figure out my next dilemma - how to keep the auxiliary battery charged for the fridge, because apparently it only has a standing time of about 15 hours at most - and did I hire the solar panel for battery charging? Nah, why would I need that?
Since there is no hot water anyway (the solar powered hot water heaters above the 'ablution block' were removed today, likely for repairs...how does a 'solar-powered' mechanism stop working in northern Australia?) I skipped the shower, knowing what was to come anyway. After breakfast, I packed up and headed down to the start of the Manning Gorge trail. The trail starts rather uniquely - you need to swim across the river. The campground has left styrofoam containers to allow you to float your stuff across. Way too cool. I stripped down to my swimsuit and floated my backpack (with all vital electronics safely sealed in Ziplock freezer bags, just in case my renowned motor skills get the better of me) across the river. Then for extra karma points - because I figure I can't have too many of those - I swam back to the other side and brought a couple containers back for the folks waiting to start their trek. The water was amazingly warm, even for 7:50am.
I've heard the walk to Manning Gorge described as both "beautiful and scenic" as well as "long and hot". It is in fact very much both. No real shade for the 2+Km walk but after cresting the first hill you have an amazing view of the valley.
The walk takes about 30 minutes if you are speed-walking - which I always do for whatever reason (some of the folks I passed along the way were laughing, sure that they would find me collapsed from heat exhaustion at the bottom of the trail. It came close). But the walk is so worth it - the gorge is huge, with magnificent waterfalls and a gigantic, very deep, water hole for swimming (note to self: body-surfing off this one would be far more damaging. Consider revising end-of-life plan).
For the record, trying to swim under a huge waterfall wearing contact lenses is hard.
I spent at least 90 whole minutes here, just swimming, drying off, and then swimming again - sometimes climbing the rocks and standing under the falls for a while. It was kind of like a morning shower, sans soap (which they the quick to inform you on the sign to the trail you could not use in the river - I guess some folks were using the river as a substitute for a proper shower). This is what I came to Australia for - I say that a lot, but maybe I keep changing my mind, ok?
I sadly packed my things and walked back around 10:30am. The walk seems shorter on the way back for whatever reason. I got back to the campsite to find: a) the fridge was still working (Karma points paying off!) and b) I had no idea what to do with myself.
So figuring that running Cass for a while to charge the auxiliary battery would never be a bad thing, I packed up and backtracked along the Gibb about 15Km to Galvin's Gorge. This one is a relatively short walk from the car park on the road to yet another little slice of paradise; a cool, clean pool at the base of a majestic waterfall. I didn't swim this one, because I had left my stuff drying back at the camp. I just hung out under the palm trees and admired the scenery - probably creeping out the young couple lounging at the base of the falls that I had seen earlier at Manning Gorge. Was I following them? That weird North American in the black Barmah hat trying to look Australian? Creepy...
On the way back to camp I stopped at the side of the road and collected firewood, as yet another older couple had pulled into the site next to me just before I left and were quick to make sure that we could share the fire ring. So I wanted to do my part by bringing some fuel for the fire. (By the way, on the way back down the access road to the camp site, I got bogged in the creek crossing!...Ok, I didn't really get bogged - turns out I hadn't properly engaged the 4WD and had the second shifter in neutral, which had me - well - going no where, giving me the impression I was bogged - but in actual fact, the wheels simply were not turning. Dumb-ass.) After I got back, I sat around the campsite reading, doing nothing, and for the first time really feeling like I was ready to go home (peace and quiet is always quickly taken over with boredom and restlessness with me). Of course, this is just tough shit because even if I wanted to, there is no way to do this road trip any quicker than I had planned it.
Not being particularly hungry, I decided to cook dinner while there was still daylight - a little camping cuisine I like to call "rented-stainless-steel-pan-ruining-half-cooked-stirfried-shredded-potatoes-and-hopefully-if-god-has-any mercy-on-me-thoroughly-cooked-turkey-sausages". With BBQ sauce. My favourite.
Chatting with the kind folks next to me, I mentioned how I was certain I would probably soon not be eating cooked foods as there is no place - I mean no place at all - on the Gibb that can refill my propane canister. The gentleman was quick to grab a 'billy' - a kettle to heat water over the fire (if I got that right...or maybe his kettle was named 'Billy'). This allowed me to wash dishes without using my precious LPG (liquid propane gas) to heat water.
I shared the fire with the folks (introducing myself finally for once - they were Alan and Leanne), and had a wonderful, long, friendly conversation about the Gibb, our various travels, Australia, Canada, Australian-Rules-Football, Hockey, teachers, nurses, and a whole lot of politics. Although one of the rules of conversations with people you don't know is to never, ever, bring up politics (the other being religion) it came up anyway. For the record it appears Australia is almost exactly like Canada in every way, shape, and form - we (Canada) are far more like Australia than we are like the US - immigration, 'public' health care (they have a hybrid system though), education (OK, not entirely true, it would seem Australia has way more respect for their teachers than British Columbia. But that isn't saying much.), demographic, can't-believe-them-politicians (according to Alan) and the fact that at least half of our countries are flat, barren wastes that could bore you to sleep with a postcard. Honestly though I think Canada has the edge here (have you seen Saskatchewan?)
Tomorrow I pack up an head east on the Gibb - and really now my Kimberley adventures are kind of at an end - no more gorges, hikes, swims, etc. From here on in, it's just "drive until you get there, sleep, get up, and do it again". Kind of sad, but at the same time, Darwin and the hotel room waiting for me is a pretty inviting enticement. I'm sure they have hot water there.
Should sign off and go to bed now. But how does one sleep with these deafening crickets? It's like an endless nocturnal sound-check for AC/DC in the middle of no where. Oh well, beats the fucking cockatoos - or what I call the 'seagulls of the Kimberley'. Good night all (or for you back home, good morning!)