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Road Trip Day 1 and 2: To Ayers Rock...And Back

...or The Calm Before The Great Red Bumpy Storm

sunny 17 °C
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I'm writing this from the MacDonnell Ranges Caravan Park in Alice Springs, the night before the real road trip begins, and I had every intention of posting this - I sprung for the $5/45min Internet card here, but the damned thing doesn't work with iPads apparently. But I'm getting ahead of myself - let's back up a bit, shall we?

2 nights earlier...

The Crowne Plaza Alice Springs is an interesting place. The room is one of the most comfortable I've ever stayed in, but this comfort is offset by the gotchas elsewhere. For example: there is only wifi available in the lower lobby area, and it costs $10 for 2 hours (if you are going to charge, why not have it available in the rooms?); the hotel restaurant requires reservations...and has a dress code. Luckily I was able to find some food in the lobby bar. $50 for dinner. No joke. For food from the bar (it was pretty good food mind you). Then $30 for breakfast. All in all, a wonderful place - I'll never go again. Not even to get my travel adapters back (details to follow).

My Greatest Challenge (number 1): gearing myself up to drive on the opposite side of the road was a nerve-racking experience. The woman at the Britz rental office could clearly see the sweat pouring down my face (embarrassing). She asked if I was hot. When I informed her I was merely worried about, in the best case, making a complete ass of myself the moment I pulled out of the parking lot, a local at the other counter laughed and said "no worries, here in Alice everyone ahead of you is making an ass of themselves". I'd like to say that helped. But really, the whole experience was sort of like working yourself up for hours or days (in my case, months) about going on your first major roller-coaster - once you've done it, it is really no big deal. In fact the hardest part of driving on the left: your coffee is now on your left...that isn't easy to adjust to, and it delays your coffee intake by valuable seconds as you smack your hand into the driver's door and wonder where the hell you left your damned coffee. OK, I made that last part up. Anyway, I'd like to say I was instantly flawless, but alas it seems every time I go to pass someone I inevitably activate the windshield wipers instead of the turn signals. I call this the "North American in Australia Road Salute".

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Soundtrack: Hymn / Kirlian Camera...randomly chosen by the iPod, but was perfect somehow.

Driving through the Outback is everything you may have read (if you haven't, well read about it). It is endless upon endless miles (well, kilometers) of flat expanse - ground shrub, maybe desert oak, and in many places hills of red soil. Imagine we terra-formed Mars...then slapped a long straight stretch of inexcusably poor quality wrinkled and narrow pavement ("bitumen") through it and called it a highway. Outback - right there.

Driving south then west from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock.

Wildlife count: one dead dingo, another dead dingo being eaten by what appeared to be a vulture (are there vultures here? if not, it was the world's ugliest hawk), a dead kangaroo, another dead kangaroo, a huge hawk and countless other birds eating - yup, a dead kangaroo, a dead wallaby (maybe a baby kangaroo, but let's be positive-thinking), and finally an emu (not yet deceased) and a wild camel - yes, a camel.

I pulled into the Ayers Rock Resort for my first night of camping, and decided to pull into the lodge for a bottle of wine (the only place to get "take-away" wine here). The only thing I remember seeing on the menu is "Jacob's Creek Cabernet Shiraz: $39" (actual retail value: $8.99 in most places, including Canada). I had instant coffee that night.

The only last thing to say about Road Trip Day 1: you may have gone camping to some remote places and seen some incredible stars...but you have nothing on me. I have never seen anything like this: so many damned stars the sky almost seems lit up with track lighting, the milky-way clearly sprawling across the sky. I would have loved to take some pictures, but nothing turns out with cheap digital cameras. Oh well.

Onto day 2...

6:10am wake-up. It' probably 0 degrees celsius outside. No way I'm getting out of bed.
7:10am: Jesus Steve, did you come to Australia to lounge around in a rented sleeping bag in a tiny camper? It's probably 5 degrees celsius outside. Oh well. I was able to see most of the last part of the sunrise from the campsite, it was absolutely breathtaking. Or was that the cold doing the taking of the breath?

Ayers Rock is somewhat paradoxical: it doesn't take any bad pictures, yet no pictures do it justice. I can see why the Aboriginals consider this a sacred place - or at least I can pretend I do. It made the homesickness disappear (oh yeah, by the way, got struck with really bad homesickness on the way from the resort to the rock - I am human you know!). I had no intention of climbing it, but the climb was closed anyway due to high winds at the summit. I walked around a small area of the base, as I didn't have much time before I needed to head back to Alice (another thing about Outback traveling that you'll read that is 100% accurate: distances are way farther than they appear on a map. The drive in from Alice took 5 hours for a 440Km drive, and for some reason when driving the minutes seem to go faster than the kilometers...even though that isn't really accurate). I wanted to get back to Alice in plenty of time before sunset, as I had learned that this tiny campervan is a bit tricky to navigate (e.g. cook and wash dishes) in the dark. I digress - Ayers Rock: adjectives to describe it: awe-inspiring, breath-taking (it had warmed up, so I know it wasn't the cold this time), big, surreal, stoic, peaceful, spiritual, and red. All along the base were several alcoves that apparently had purpose for the Aboriginals: there was the "Men's Cave" (no women allowed, please), the "Kitchen Cave", the "Learning Cave", etc. Basically the biggest, ancient condo you'll ever see. I made it as far as Kantju Gorge, where a permanent water hole was (this time of year, a permanent puddle really: I laughed at the "No Swimming" sign) - the feature of this grove is this is where the Aboriginals would go to "think" - meditate, whatever you want to call it, because it is so quiet. The really eerie thing is, the grove really is that quiet: no wind noise (despite the desert winds blowing by everywhere else), no animal noises, you couldn't even hear the road from there. The only thing you could hear is people - specifically tourists. I wanted to stay longer and "think" but I had to find the "Toilet Cave", which was thankfully not attached to the rock.

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A quick stop in town and then the long drive back to Alice. And that is where I am sitting now in the rapidly dropping temperature in a very nice caravan park...that charged me $35 for an overflow site crammed between the camp kitchen, the playground, and the toilets. Oh well.

From here on in, things will really start to get interesting.

Soundtrack: A Strange Device / Emilie Autumn.

I forgot to mention: the rental company gave me permission to travel to all my intended places, so this means that tomorrow I start on My Greatest Challenge (number 2, and probably my biggest): driving the length of the Tanami Track. Why is it such a challenge? One: almost 1000 of dirt road, some of it quite rough and if not driving carefully, treacherous (especially on your tires...sorry "tyres"); two: no accommodations, I'll need to bush camp along the way (this also means 3 days without a shower...I wonder what the hookers in King's Cross will think of me then?); three: timing the fuel stops, I have a long range tank that gets me about 1000Km, and I'll be fueling up at the last major stop about 300Km in so I should be fine there. So the real challenge is managing the stress level. Which, admittedly, started to spike the moment I made it back to Alice.

Minor Crisis (number 1): burned my hand by spilling a fresh hot long black (Americano) coffee all over it. Not major, but made washing dishes pretty miserable.
Minor Crisis (number 2): it's Friday, and the RV parks were all mostly full. I was able to get squeezed into an overflow spot, but only after they made me sweat while they checked it out to make sure they had one available.
Minor Crisis (number 3): I have discovered that I have left my travel plug adapters at the Crowne Plaza. Not a huge issue, but this means I will have no music to listen to while stuff charges through the cigarette lighter plug while I drive tomorrow. So maybe this is a major crisis?...
Minor Crisis (number 4): if I expect to get to the fuel stop while it is open (because it will be Saturday here), I need to leave this park by about 6am tomorrow. It doesn't matter if it is -50 celsius, I need to get up, shower, eat and leave by 6am. I'd probably be ok leaving a bit later, but see the bit above about managing the stress level.

So that's it - now I really do go dark for three days...because if you hear from me sooner, something went horribly wrong. See you all in Broome!

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Posted by stevecrow 06:05 Archived in Australia Tagged outback ayers_rock Comments (1)

Road Trip Day 3 and 4: The Tanami Road...

...And A Fortunate Change Of Events

sunny 23 °C
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(This is a long one folks - as was the trip described herein, so grab a drink...)

I just had the best shower of my life! Ok...that is a totally overblown statement, it was not the best shower of my life. That was probably the shower at the Radisson in Syndey following the 14 hour flight...so this was probably the second best shower I've ever had. And I only made it 2 full days - I am *such* a pussy. Yes, only 2 days - you see, not all went according to plan. But again, let me back up and explain...

2 days ago...Day 3.

My plan was already botched when I woke up at 5:30am...to realize that the sun doesn't actually rise in this area for another 1.5 hours. It is important to note that one of the rental conditions of the camper is that I cannot, under any circumstances, drive at night. You see, in this area of Australia (meaning pretty much any part of Australia that doesn't have tall buildings and a Pie Face chain outlet on every corner), all the critters hide from the sun during the day - and then come out at night when it is cooler. So all that road-kill I mentioned earlier? Probably all night-time collisions. Any damage done to my camper as a result of driving at night makes me responsible for any and all costs. So no driving at night. Got that? Remember this for later...

So I managed to brave the freezing (e.g. frost on the ground) cold and get myself all ready to go, and the moment the sun started cresting, I was on my way. I hit the turn-off to the Tanami Road at around 7:30am. And off I went, telling myself - yes, this is happening - with both good and apprehensive connotations in these thoughts.

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Soundtrack: none, the video camera is charging because I lost the damned travel adapters. Grumble grumble.

The road starts interestingly enough - a single lane strip of bitumen (learn the terms, folks) with wide, red gravel shoulders to allow passing.

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So I'm cruising along at a decent clip - even passing a few folks (mostly towing trailers, so I figured that's why they are going below the speed limit...I tell myself this to convince myself I'm not being an asshole tourist). This goes along like this for about, I think, 200Km? I'll look it up later. In any case, even though I knew it was coming...the bitumen suddenly ended.

BAM!!! I was expecting a bad road, but let's face it - I'm a sheltered product of suburbia Canada - I haven't the slightest idea what "bad road" means. To me, a bad road is one with pot holes...or broken or grooved pavement...or too many old people driving slow. No, no, and no. Only now do I finally understand.

Imagine driving on a corrugated sheet metal roof (yes, the corrugations go side-ways). Now throw in the odd cheap shot to the face by some angry dwarf that you can't get rid of (don't ask me why a dwarf, it just seems to conjure the right metaphor) each time you hit a pot hole or rut. Sprinkle in the odd brief moment of utter panic as you are sure your entire vehicle is being pushed over by an vengeful and merciless god (out here in the Tanami Desert, it is not hard to imagine that there are probably a few around). Now multiply that by 800Kms...and you have the Tanami Road.

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As I crawled along at 40Km/h, getting brain aneurisms left right and center, all I could think to myself is: 800Km of this? Are you fucking kidding me? And as I meander along like a tool, I watch as all those folks I passed on the bitumen soar by me, probably laughing their asses off. I would be. Not to be easily defeated (because I left myself absolutely no choice but to follow this road) I did what I have done in other situations in Oz: I watched and learned. Some of these people were in cars for Pete's sake, and they must have been going, like 100Km/h. How? I veered around to different places on the road to see if there was some "secret" area that was better to drive on...but that was like trying to find a decent wine from, say, Minnesota. It simply doesn't exist. So I tried the only option that was left: I sped up. And holy shit, turns out that the sweet spot to drive over most of these corrugations is somewhere between 80Km/h and 110Km/h. Honestly, that just doesn't seem right, and in retrospect maybe it wasn't the 'correct course of action'. I was reminded of this in a few areas where the cross-wind made it feel like trying to pilot a sail boat with the sails out against the wind with a shitty 5hp outboard motor. It was pretty scary, but it seemed to be working - provided I kept both hands firmly on the wheel and both eyes firmly on the road.

Enough about my hang-ups: what about the scenery? The best I can come up with: imagine driving through Hell if Hell was absolutely beautiful. I don't know why that works, but it does. The landscape went from treed to barren to virtual forests of termite mounds (that was cool). Later on, just desert scrub, grass-lands, abandoned ruins, rocky outcroppings, and lots and lots and lots of dust.

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And lots and lots and lots of road-kill. I'm fairly positive there were some dead animals out there that haven't even been fucking discovered yet. I saw some animal that looked like a mole the size of a human being (what was that? Probably a kangaroo that came from an unfortunate gene pool.) There were also lots and lots and lots of destroyed, burned-out vehicles that were a constant reminder of what would happen if I made one wrong move.

The camper-van seems to have infinitely better milage traveling on this dirt road than it does traveling on the highway for some reason. Oh, and by the way, I've named my bush-camper Cass. A long story which I won't tell, because I'm inundating you with enough of those as it is. Anyway, I pulled off for fuel at a place called Yuendumu - an Aboriginal community about 300Kms into the drive.

What I found was eye-opening. A seemingly very poor community with run down houses, garbage everywhere...I even passed a recently deceased full-sized doberman laying on the road, and at first I felt a bit out of place (that may be the stupidest thing I've ever said) but after that, where I bet you dimes to dollars many white tourists in the same situation would instinctively roll up their windows, lock their doors, and possibly even turn around, I was actually a bit angry. I'm not sure at what exactly, but let's look at the facts: people do not want or choose to live like this, but some chain of events over the course of generations have led them here. And these events always seem to lead back to stupid, mean, inhumane things that white people have done for their own benefit along the way. I can't pretend to know the exact history of the Aboriginal people here in Australia, but you can be sure I'll be looking it up. Anyway, even coming from British Columbia which has a deep, insidious past of marginalizing it's indigenous people, I was still pretty taken aback. I'm not sure if these people are looking for sympathy but I'll tell you this: Yuendumu was one of the friendliest places I've been. I had a nice conversation with the gentlemen running the fuel stop, and on the way out of town several of the locals waved hi. So: don't judge a book by it's cover, and don't put that damned cover on the book in the first place.

Soundtrack: Various Lewis C.K. stand-up routines...though I should have been enjoying the isolation and solitude I wussed out and listened to a few of these along the way so I could hear another human's voice. It helped.

Not only was I getting good milage, I was making good time. Too good as it turns out. By the time I passed Rabbit Flat, a now defunct roadhouse, it was only early afternoon. This drive should take about two days, meaning I would need to stop somewhere along the side of the road...but at this pace, could I make it to Wolfe Creek Crater by nightfall? It was kind of starting to look that way.

I passed into Western Australia around 4:30pm NT time, which means it should now only be 3pm WA time. So I decide I'm going to make a run for it. Maybe not one of my wiser decisions, but one I made anyway. You see, just because I crossed a time zone and gained an hour and a half, that doesn't mean the sun was looking down at me thinking "oh, he crossed a time zone, I better back up". No, as my GPS was quick to inform me shortly after I committed to this plan, it simply meant that the sun set that much earlier by the new clock time. Shit: it's winter here, Steve you asshole, just because the sun is intense like a summer day in Canada doesn't mean it will last as long. Remember the bit about not driving at night? And could I possibly be in a worse place in all of Australia to make this dumb-ass move? Maybe a few, but not many.

Then I got stuck behind a road train. I've been encountering these all day, but I waited to explain them until now - you see, imagine a typical load-bearing semi on the Trans-Canada - then add three more cars to it. Now put that thing in front of you, on a *dirt road*, with the sun going down directly in front of you, and you are still over 100Km from your destination. This takes my stupidity to another level, and due to the massive dust cloud I was following in pretty much blind it took a while for this guy to see me, take pity on my puny tourist intellect, and allow me to pass. I can only imagine what he was thinking.

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Soundtrack: my rapidly beating heart and me counting down the Kms to Wolfe Creek out loud. Seriously: out loud.

The sun disappeared as I passed the last fuel stop on the Tanami, about 60 Km from the turn off to Wolfe Creek Crater. I'm now in twilight - I can still see OK, but I'm pretty sure that won't cut it if something happened. As the twilight began to fade, I started to drive slower as I figured I had already made the (moronic) decision to get to Wolfe Creek at this point - I may as well take as much time as I need to. Good thing too, as it was at this point I *finally* saw my first live kangaroo (a pretty big deal to a Canadian like myself). You see, although I found several restaurants in Sydney that served kangaroo, I promised my son that I would wait until I saw a live one before I tried eating one. Well, had I been going any faster I probably could have packed this one up in the cooler for lunch. I see something in the middle of the road that looks like a sign post, because it is reflecting light. I geared down thankfully, because there is this mid-sized (I believe it to be a Red) kangaroo staring back at me. As I approach it hops away - in the opposite direction thankfully. I thank my lucky fortune, and gear down some more. I call this "learning".

I make the turn-off to Wolfe Creek, and it is pitch black. I am now indisputably in violation of my rental agreement. But it is only 20Km into the park, I can just crawl the whole way, right? I turn off the Tanami...and come face to face with a gated road. First thought: holy shit, is it closed? It didn't have hours posted on the sign...I think. There is a small, narrow track running back to the south beside the fence, but clearly that can't be it...can it? I have this weird uncharacteristic moment of calm as I think "maybe I'm camping right here". But instead I grabbed my flashlight ("torch") and checked out the fence. It was a cattle fence - not locked, only chained shut. OK, I read about these - so I take the chance, open the gate, drive through it, and close it after me...and hope to hell I'm going the right way. The sign said 20Km - I'll drive that far and if I don't find anything, then maybe I'll panic.

It took little time for me to be convinced I was going the right way. I had read about how bad this road was (see the bit about what a Canadian thinks is a bad road). This road made the Tanami to this point look like a stroll around Darling Harbour: the corrugations were the worst I had seen, and of course I can't speed up past 40 or 50Km/h, because then I would probably smash into Kanga and Roo, and then Tigger and the gang (and Britz) would be out for my ass. So I toughed it out for the full 20Km. My head still hurts.

All in all, I drove for a little over 12 hours and 900Km. Not my finest moment.

But I made it, pulled into the Wolfe Creek National Park bush camping area, found a site, and parked for the night. And remember when I said the bit about how you had nothing on me for seeing an impressive display of stars? Well, now *I* have nothing on me, because somehow the stars here were clearer, brighter, and more abundant than at Ayers Rock. It was almost unreal - like I had driven into a Truman-Show-like night-globe. And it was warm out unlike the areas to the south, so I sat out under the stars and just stared - and thanked the heavens (of which there were plenty above) I made it safe.

Wolfe Creek has bugs. And I mean these tiny, fruit-fly like bugs that managed to get into the camper no matter what I did to stop them. Now, they weren't bothersome or anything, but by the time I was ready to go to bed there were so many of them gathered around the the door inside, you could hear the little bastards flying into the ceiling, and it sounded like eggs frying. So I did the only thing I could - I took paper towel and made bug paste. I now have a new hobby for the rest of the trip - cleaning the ceiling of the camper.

Day 4.

Wolfe Creek Crater is another one of those places that photos just don't properly describe. A massive crater created by a meteorite hundreds of thousand of years ago, only second in the world in size. At the center of the crater, a unique ecology has developed, like a small country of its own. Absolutely spectacular! Of course you are not supposed to climb down there, and I didn't, but you could clearly see a trail where many before have completely ignored this directive and probably irreversibly fucked things up below. I spent some time at the rim pondering, thinking about how much my son Rowan would have just loved this, fought back another bought of homesickness and then I made my way down and started on my next journey.

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I had only about 100Km left of the Tanami Road left, but it was by far the worst of the entire stretch. Not so much in corrugations, but massive fields of little razor-sharp rocks that wanted nothing more than to shred my tyres - I could almost see them wait for me, then jump in front of the camper trying to line up with my tracks. You see, what I was supposed to do was deflate my tyres somewhat to safeguard myself against this, but midway through the Tanami the day before I opened up the compressor that I had rented ("hired") from Britz, to find that even after reading the instructions, I had absolutely no idea how to use. So my tyres were still almost fully inflated - they had sagged a bit from use thankfully. I simply continued to play the game that I had played pretty much the whole length of the Tanami - I call it "See and Avoid". If I could see it, I tried to avoid it - rocks, animal carcasses, car parts, pot holes, people, vengeful and merciless gods, etc. But I'll tell you, this last stretch of the Tanami was probably the longest of the whole trip.

I finally made it to the Quarantine Bin (look it up - you cannot transport fresh fruits or vegetables across some Australian state borders, especially the Western Australia border). I had already bagged all my produce like a good little tourist, so I dumped my stuff and got onto the Great Northern Highway. I had successfully completed the Tanami Track! And although I made it, I'm pretty sure I'll have nightmares about it - and all the things that could have gone horribly wrong - for days to come. Do I regret it? Not a chance. Would I do it again? Ask me in 6 months after the therapy.

Despite the fact that Western Australia may be even more awe-inspiring in its scenery and ecology than anything I've seen yet, there isn't much to say about today - I just drove along the highway, enjoying the spectacular landscape. It was awesome...

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So, I've made it to a place called Fitzroy Crossing, and this puts me about 400Km from Broome - an entire day ahead of schedule. And here's the kicker - now that I have figured out what time the sun sets and how much day light I actually have, there is absolutely *no way* I could have made the drive from Wolfe Creek to Broome in daylight. By my math, I would have lost the sun about 3 hours away from Broome at daytime speeds, which would have been a complete and utter disaster - imagine driving for 300Km at night at 40 - 50Km/h on a major highway because you are completely and totally (and probably justifiably) scared shitless you are going to hit a kangaroo or stray cow or an Australian Sasquatch or something? So although pushing through to Wolfe Creek wasn't the wisest of choices, sticking to the original plan (one night on the Tanami and the second at Wolfe Creek) would have been a worse choice.

Soundtrack: Don't Dream (It's Over) / Crowded House...because it's playing on the radio here in the bar at the caravan park I'm staying at. I think they have like 3 songs on auto-repeat, because this is the 3rd time I've heard it.

I'm off now to brush the hell out of my teeth, because they are two days overdue and they kind of hate me for it. I'm going to try to make Geike Gorge tomorrow (an added bonus of the "extra" but ultimately required day) before heading to Broome. I'll be spending two nights there in (what I hope to be) a nice resort hotel before heading off on the second, and probably the most significant, leg of the road trip - the Gibb River Road. Thanks for reading - miss you all. But not that much. But no, I do. Kind of.

Posted by stevecrow 06:52 Archived in Australia Tagged tanami_road wolfe_creek_crater fitzroy_crossing Comments (1)

Road Trip Day 5 and Day 6: Broome and Cable Beach

...or "How To Make An Ass Of Yourself (or Worse: Show It) 13,000Km From Home"

sunny 30 °C
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I am now as far away from home as I will get on this excursion, and possibly even as far as I'll ever get in my life, who knows.

Day 5.

We begin as I pulled away from the caravan park in Fitzroy Crossing, where I had met a nice elderly couple who were also aiming for the Gibb River Road. The gentleman attempted to help me figure out my air compressor (I shamelessly asked him if he knew how to run it, as I am just a useless tourist and new to the whole 4wd road trip phenomena). I felt better that he could also not figure it out and eventually advised me to simply ram the pin of the bike-pump attachment into the inflation tube of the tire. Very scientific. I'm doomed.

Since I was early going and ahead of (or on, depending on how you look at it) schedule I detoured about 20Km from the highway to see Geike Gorge, which is kind of like an appetizer for what I'm going to (hopefully) be seeing as I travel back east through the Kimberley on the Gibb. It was very impressive - lots of amazing rock formations, beautiful water...and the constant BEEP BEEP BEEP of a dump truck backing up somewhere along the river bank. I'm not sure if they were trying to make the gorge wider...or fill it in, or what, but the obnoxious sound made me feel better about keeping my visit here to a short 1 hour, as I wanted to get heading towards Broome. Along the access road I did see what I think to be my first wallaby...or maybe just a small kangaroo, but regardless it under much better circumstances than the first one. On the way in, this wallaby/small kangaroo was at the side of the road, saw me coming, and hopped away into the bush. Cute! However on the way back out, another - possibly even the same - wallaby/small kangaroo at the side of the road saw me coming, then proceeded to hop along beside the truck. I slowed down as I waited for the sickening thud of this crazy thing committing kangacide on itself by launching itself in front of me, but luckily the creature flipped a coin in its head and chose to hop right instead of left. I'm starting to get why Australians almost consider kangaroos a pest. Their either kind of jerks...or stupid beyond comprehension.

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Also along this road I did my first creek crossing! It must have been, oh, 1.5cm deep. You have to start somewhere.

Soundtrack: The Electric Head Part 2: The Ecstasy / White Zombie...just to be clear, the iPod picked this song randomly, and the only way it could possibly be appropriate for for the scenery as I cruise through beautiful Western Australia is if this is some prelude, some opening scene if you will, of a tale that eventually sees me hunted down and massacred by some crazy bushman or evil witch-spirit or vengeful and merciless god. Lucky for me, the only way that would be true is if I had two other best pals, two hot girls, and a bag of pot in the truck with me. I have none of these things. My life is so boring...

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Anyone who knows me knows that I love to drive. I'll drive anywhere, anytime, I just love the experience of going new places and driving. I'll drive anywhere...well maybe not through Saskatchewan or Manitoba. Anyway, by the time I was within 100Km of Broome, I was actually sick of driving. The endless road I followed that had me crest the horizon like 20 gigillion times began to look more taunting than inviting. But it was all worth it.

The Frangipani Resort is in Cable Beach, a small resort/tourist community just north of Broome on the Indian Ocean. It's what is called 'self-contained accommodations', meaning it is a small (very swank and cosmopolitan) apartment with all the amenities I need: a dark wood and stainless-steel kitchen and open-floor living space with dark stone tile floor throughout...

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...a super-comfortable bed with mahogany bed posts...

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...my own private veranda with a BBQ and lounge-bed...

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...and...an outdoor shower.

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Yup, the shower is in a little walled-off alcove in the back behind the bedroom - totally private (um....well I'll get to that in a second) so that you can enjoy your shower in the beautiful, tropical...hot, humid, sticky Broome weather. Yes, even in "winter", it is bloody hot and humid here - it's apparently 27 degrees celsius here now, but with the humidity it must be like 35 or 80 or something.

I checked in, and had about an hour before sunset - the one thing I wanted to do here in Cable Beach is watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean. Ok, so let's give this shower a spin. I get everything set up outside in my stall, and apprehensively strip down and start to shower. This is pretty cool I start to think, my own outdoor private OH MY GOD I DIDN'T CLOSE THE BEDROOM DOOR! There was a clear view right from my shower all the way through the apartment, past the veranda, and onto the resort road. I frantically drew the shower blinds, and thankfully I think only 30 seconds had passed - hopefully not enough time for anyone to walk by, staring into other people's apartments. I suppose if they had...well they are ones who will need help going forward, not me. Again, not one of my finer moments.

I kind of emotionally recovered, made my way down to Cable Beach, and walked into the Indian Ocean as the sun set - just in time. The water is clear, blue, and warm like a heated pool. It is also full of box jelly fish and Irukandji (another type of 'deadly' jellyfish). The signpost proudly displayed that the last reported sting was exactly one week ago. What are the chances it happens weekly? With my luck..well, I didn't press it, I only waded in ankle deep.

I will never forget this sunset for the rest of my life - words could never describe it. I say that a lot. Eventually you will begin to realize that this is simply me being lazy. Anyway, I stood there in the water and watched the sun set until it was just me alone with a dark sky and my thoughts...oh, and the hundreds of other people around me.

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Day 6.

After treating myself to an uber-calorie bacon and eggs breakfast I cooked on the BBQ I finally managed to find the ambition to leave the 'apartment'. I really didn't want to, I just wanted to lay inside with the AC on all day. I'm starting to feel really worn at this point, the drive probably took more out of me than I thought (it was about 1900Km after all, not including the 900 round-trip to Ayers). I drove down to the cliffs on the point and took a bunch of pictures.

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Then I carried on to the port and walked out onto the wharf (well the part I was allowed on, that place is seriously locked down) and I took a bunch of pictures.

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After that, I moved onto the town beach where I, yup, took a bunch of pictures.

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See a pattern? Specifically the lack of originality? Oh well, theoretically I had done what I came here to do - touched the Indian Ocean, which is pretty significant for me. Not only did I touch the freaking Indian Ocean, I have also now touched the ocean on both sides - kitty-corner actually - of this continent. I think that warrants some measure of accomplishment.

Profile: Common Cable Beach Guy: you are skinny, possibly even fairly well built. You are definitely tanned, and are wearing longish shorts. You have no shirt, in fact you probably don't own any shirts, and when you see someone wearing a shirt you wonder what is wrong with their chest. What you do own is a surf board, because you are awesome. If you don't own a surfboard, they you are playing soccer on the beach to distract everyone from the fact that you do not have a surfboard. You hairstyle varies because you don't want to conform, but it is probably either short and dark, long wavy and dark, or in an odd mohawk-like thing. You do not wear shoes, no matter what you are doing or where you are - forget that shit. And seriously, you *are* awesome - no sarcasm. I kind of wish I could be you...well at least the part of you that is 15 years younger than me.

Profile: Common Cable Beach Girl: you are delicate but sun-weathered, your cheeks are permanently rouged. Your hair is likely dark, long and wavy or tied back; you may be blonde, but if so you just stand out a bit more. Your eyes are also dark. You are wearing a beautiful floral sun-dress, and you may even have a flower in your hair. You do not wear shoes no matter what you are doing or where you are. And many of you are the woman of my dreams. Sorry for that.

After another uber-calorie lunch of deep-fried Barrumundi and Chips, I started on my preparations for tomorrow. Gassed up the truck, bought a box of wine (no, not one of those shitty bag-in-a-box wines, I mean a box with bottles in it - I'm not getting stuck with that whole $40 a bottle thing at some roadhouse on the Gibb because they had to fly over and drop the booze in with little parachutes). Then onto grocery shopping. Yep, I can get 13,000Km from home and I still need to go grocery shopping.

After getting back from that horrid grocery trip (I've actually removed a huge long section of blog that delved into my psyche and rambled on about, well, god knows what. I took it out - I'll post it whenever I release the "Director's Cut" of the blog), I went back down to the ocean and again watched the sun set. It was somehow better than the night before - probably because there is a bit of a rainfall on the way apparently. And I'm standing there shin-deep in the Indian Ocean (haven't been stung yet) with two kinds of shitty feelings, the first being, well that whole "wish-you-were-here", with "you" being pretty much anyone I know (my wife would be a really good start), but thankfully the stronger shitty feeling was: damn, I don't want to leave. So again, stupid personal hang-ups ruin everything, but I know that somewhere between those two feelings is simple elation for where I am, what I've accomplished, and the knowledge that I can see this thing through to the end, and I bet there are not many other people (at least that I know) that might have the brass globes to do this the way I've been doing it. Or is it a brass lack of any common sense or self-preservation?

I'm listening to the ocean from back at my apartment. I'm going to pack up, make a steak (with no seasoning, so the Australians better be right about how good their beef is...actually I've already had a couple steaks here in Oz, and they are pretty damned good), and hopefully get a good night's sleep, because I plan on hitting the road fairly early tomorrow - obviously I'm most comfortable always on the move to my next destination, and there is no sense in fighting that now, I simply may as well enjoy it.

You will not be hearing from me for a long time this time. I will be on the Gibb River Road for 6 nights, and then another 2 will be spent barreling back towards Darwin for the 21st (I guess 20th for most of you). Best case scenario is I'm able to post my blatherings - which I will continue to keep writing drafts of - in Darwin. And I promise to leave out the Maury-Povich-psychoanalysis bullshit going forward (will keep for the "Director's Cut").

Nah, actually I don't promise anything...ever.

Soundtrack: Dreamin' Man / Neko Case

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Posted by stevecrow 07:52 Archived in Australia Tagged broome cable_beach geike_gorge Comments (3)

Road Trip Day 7, 8: Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek

...or "Blinded By The Light"

sunny 32 °C
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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.

Day 7.

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.

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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...

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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.

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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.

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Day 8.

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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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Posted by stevecrow 03:13 Archived in Australia Tagged gibb_river_road windjana_gorge tunnel_creek Comments (1)

Road Trip Day 9 and 10: Bell, Manning, and Galvin's Gorges

...or "Engorging Myself"

sunny 30 °C
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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.

Day 9.

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.

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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?)

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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?

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Day 10.

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.

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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.

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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).

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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...

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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!)

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Posted by stevecrow 20:42 Archived in Australia Tagged gibb_river_road bell_gorge manning_gorge galvin's_gorge Comments (0)

Road Trip Day 11 and 12: Ellenbrae Homestead and El Questro

...or "Brown Dip, Green Dip, Yellow Dip...blech."

sunny 30 °C
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Day 11.

After treating myself to an abysmally cold shower and bidding farewell to Alan and Leanne, I headed off on my next leg of the Gibb. All I really had on the schedule today was the drive to Ellenbrae Homestead, so I stopped at the Mt. Barnett roadhouse on the way out and called home. Turns out that this Telstra 'phone-away' card that I bought off the ranger in Silent Grove for $10 doesn't deduct anything from the balance as long as I'm dialing up my own long distance plan from back home. So basically this card lets me call home for free any time I want. Good discovery.

8:30am, and I'm off. I had only about 180Km to cover but I heard the road onward gets pretty ugly. And yes, it was true: there is about a 30Km stretch leading east of the roadhouse that is by far the worst stretch of rock-fields I've come across the whole trip. I started watching out for snipers. But after that rough patch, the road went back to being pretty much silky-smooth - fairly corrugated at the worst, but those stretches weren't all that bad (let me show you my Tanami merit badge), and not very predominant. And the scenery? Holy shit, it rocks (yes, that is what my descriptions have come down to).

Soundtrack: Peace, isolation, harmony. I'm charging stuff pretty much all the time now, but that is OK. This land needs no music, it sings on it's own (that was really cheesy, even for me).

No matter how hard I try to go slow (kind of pissing off folks that overtake me in their hurry to whip through this beautiful place...(?)...god forbid they slow down to enjoy it) I still end up getting to the turn off to Ellenbrae Homestead by noon. So...I'm kind of early. Do I stop here, or push on to Home Valley another 100Km or so up the road? I decide to stick to the plan and pull off here.

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Ellenbrae Homestead is...exactly that, a homestead that has graciously laid out the welcome mat for visitors. The homestead itself is a little oasis amongst the dry Kimberley terrain, lush with green lawns, trees, gardens, and lots of all kind of birds. The schtick here is to stop for scones and tea at the very least, but I went ahead and paid for a campsite anyway. Sure enough, when I pulled into their humble little campground up the road from the homestead (which features a really unique ablution block built out of rocks with a single toilet and a shower and bathtub whose hot water is supplied via a wood-stove heater that one of the folks from the homestead lights up at certain times of the day...all built around a massive boab tree), I found I was the only one here. I picked out the best spot I could and settled in for lunch and an unexpected but welcome slice of total solitude.

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That's when I found the bread had gone moldy. Ok, so I think my supplies are probably on the downward spiral now, to be expected. I scarfed down some soup and then headed back to the homestead for a nice cup of coffee and a scone with cream and jam, which I thoroughly enjoyed out on their veranda by all the bird feeders. It was really nice and quaint - not my usual haunt, but after the long solitary road trip it was really welcomed.

Back to *my* campground. Yup, still alone. Cool, I can do *anything* I want. So I read. I pull out the guitar and play loudly, and sing, because - well - I can. I kind of realize now that this is probably what I robbed myself of (thankfully if you will recall) by not stopping at the side of the road on the Tanami.

It takes an hour before the boredom and restlessness sets in. A whole goddamned hour. It probably comes to me sooner than normal because, as it turns out, this place has quite a few mosquitos and since there is no one else around to munch on, they have all come over to my site for a bite. I doused myself in Bushman's Insect Repellent (supposed to be the best here in Oz) but even if they aren't biting me (which I think they aren't), they sure are a big distraction to what would otherwise be a perfect afternoon. So then I spent the next several hours just wandering around the campsite, sitting down and reading a bit (until the mozzies found me again) and then getting up and going to the toilet. Even if I didn't have to go, I did it anyway to have something to do. There was a single back-and-forth trail of my sandal prints on the ground from my site to the ablution block. A dust stairway to heaven. The dirt expressway to flushing meadows. Take-away: I suck by myself sometimes. I'm doing it wrong.

Dinner time (well not quite but close enough) rolls around, and a few other people have rolled in. Not many though, and of course we're all really spread out so it is still very much just me. I enjoy a quick shower - since they came a lit the stove I may as well take advantage - re-douse myself in Bushman's, cook my dinner - yes, the same shitty meal as the night before - and now I'm sitting in the early evening dark, being dive-bombed by all kind of insects that want to have a love affair with the iPad screen. I think the mosquitos have all gone to bed, or died or something, or swarmed the sites closer to the creek, so I don't mind the various I-don't-know-whats crawling all around me.

I'm running low on LPG. I have no bread (recall: sandwiches are my staple-diet). I'm into my last bottle of wine. I'm almost finished all the books I brought. The AA batteries in my mini-mag light that doubles as a lantern just died. And the pan won't really come clean anymore unless I buy it dinner and take it to a movie first. Oh well, at least I have my peace and quiet all alone.

I still have to waste another two hours before I'll start to get tired.

I'm doing it wrong.

Day 12.

Despite everything I said about the night before, I kind of didn't want to leave. I did my damnest to drag my ass as casually as I could, slowly eating breakfast and reading a while. After everyone else had left (except some truck that was having real troubles with something mechanical and well beyond my scope of knowledge) I strolled over to the shower. I had waited to see if they would come light the heater, but even though I had given up on them at this point there was still fairly warm water left in the tank from the previous evening. And these are trivial details you probably don't care about but it gives you a feeling for how slow the morning went.

Another quick stop at the homestead for another coffee and scone (these things cannot be good for you they are so good) and a take-away sandwich since I no longer have bread, and I was off again, around 9:30am.

Soundtrack: Running To The Edge Of The World / Marilyn Manson...this just seems to...work.

My first really big river crossing - the Durack. It turned out to not be that deep or wide, so I slowly punched through it in low 4WD and added another checkmark to my accomplishments.

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The Really Bad Road returned; I crawled along horrid rock fields like a clueless tourist (but note I have not had to change a tyre yet: I am determined to make the length of the road without having to do it). But I was eventually rewarded with some unforgettable views of the Pentecost River Valley. This is what I came to Australia for.

A quick stop at Home Valley Station, just to check it out. Definitely nice and established, but the campground didn't look all that hot (actually, it looked really hot and open) and it was pretty busy, so I think I had made the right decision to stay at Ellenbrae.

I wound a bit south, anxiously knowing I had only a few kilometers left to the Pentecost crossing...the Pentecost mountains on the other side of the river looming ever closer.

Soundtrack: Kinetic / Omega Lithium...ok, now this is kind of amazing, and I'm telling you this story. When I first realized that I was, in fact, coming to Australia a little over a year ago and would be taking a self-drive tour of the Kimberley and the Outback, I googled for some images. The first ones I came up with were the Pentecost Mountains and river crossing; and this was the song that I was listening to when I was doing this, so I have always associated this song with my future Australian excursion. And this is the song the iPod randomly chose as I pulled up to the river crossing. True story.

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My Greatest Challenge (number 3)...didn't turn out to be much of a challenge. Not that I'm complaining; I suppose the alternative of getting stuck or bogged in a rental vehicle in a river full of man-eating salt-water crocodiles is a bit more stressful than merely pushing through it with no significant problems. Just a bit. I crossed the river, sighed, and headed on my way. Checkmark.

Several stops to take pictures of the mountains later I had made it to the turn-off to El Questro, a rather large (if you call a million acres 'large') cattle-ranch-cum-tourist-destination. I followed the access road in and grabbed a campsite (along with a 7-day wilderness pass that I unfortunately will not use, but it was required).

El Questro is huge. It is actually a large wilderness park that I will be unable to take advantage of, as I'm using it rather as a (kind of expensive) one-night stop. But...it has a bar and a restaurant. This is worth the price of admission since I am both more-or-less out of food, and more-or-less out of wine.

I booked a reservation at the restaurant for dinner (required) and sat around my campsite for a few hours - which is really a nice campground next to the Pentecost. Not very private, but my brief excursion into semi-bush camping has left me totally cool with being around people. I took a long shower, shaved, and dressed in nice clothes (well, the nicest and cleanest I had) and had a civilized dinner.

And now an excerpt I like to call "Steve: Food Critic".

I wandered into the restaurant ("The Steakhouse". Original.) and took my seat on the candle-lantern lit patio. Very romantic. The restaurant is BYO, which means no booze is served there but you can bring your own. I had water.

I ordered a starter of Turkish Bread with "Today's Selection of Dips". $14. The bread came (which is basically like a thinly-sliced ciabatta) with a little dish with three (3) square compartments, each filled with a dip. From right to left (because it's Turkish bread): a "yellow" dip, a "green" dip, and a "brown, maybe reddish can't tell in this light" dip. Ok, so let's give this a try - because if I don't know what it is, I can't not like it without trying it. So, from right to left (because this is Turkish bread) I start by trying a small sample of the "yellow" dip. Hmmm...kind of flavorless, so far. Try the "green" dip...mmm, pretty good, familiar tasting, cream-cheese base for sure, but not sure what the flavour is...Try the "brown-maybe-red" dip. Bloody salty...to the point of almost burning, and fragrant as well, not in a good way. Ok, back to the "yellow" dip and try more. Ok, maybe not flavourless...but not good either. Tastes...suspicious. More "green" dip. Good, I like it, but what is it? Try the "brown, maybe red dip" again. Nope, didn't get better, I'm leaving this one alone. Back to the "green" dip. Jesus, what is that? I seem to remember it...from I think pasta. Yes, pasta, that's it. I finally settle on the idea that the taste is allspice. I could be wrong, but at this point the bread is gone. And no, I never ask what the dips were. I prefer not to know.

The main course - a strip loin (rare) with broccolini, garlic mashed, and red wine reduction comes. $38. And sorry Alberta, I'm officially convinced that Australian beef is substantially better than Canadian beef. I admit it now. And the red wine reduction absolutely stomped serious butt. I don't even finish. Probably due to the Turkish bread and "green" (I-don't-know-what) dip.

Look for my 'foody' column in the Maple Ridge News. With their standards, I'm sure they'd publish it - somewhere between the column about church and the column about how to replace your radiator hose.

After dinner I stepped up the the bar to peruse their selection of take-away wine. The one thing I recall seeing: Rosemount Sangiovese, $32 (actual retail value in most places, including Canada: $15.99). I pay it.

Tomorrow I have a mere 33Km left of the fabulous Gibb River Road (not including the 16Km back up the access road). After that, I race towards Darwin to drop off Cass (a bit of sadness at the thought) and fly back to Sydney. This amazing journey is starting to come to an end. Part of me is not ready to go home, I've missed so much, barely scratched the surface of this enigmatic country. Even now, as I sit around a communal campfire...but by myself (probably creeping people out as usual), I somehow feel kind of 'attached' to Australia now. Like it's calling to me. Maybe because I still have some money left. I don't know.

But I have to start heading home now. It's time.

Soundtrack: My Spirit / Lacuna Coil...two phrases stick out: "...the gates of Hell are waiting, let them wait a little more"; and the chorus: "...where will I go? My spirit is free; I'm coming home."

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Posted by stevecrow 21:06 Archived in Australia Tagged gibb_river_road durack_river pentecost_river ellenbrae_homestead el_questro Comments (1)

Road Trip Day 13 and 14: Emma Gorge, Victoria River, Darwin

...or "Killing Two Birds with One Campervan"

sunny 31 °C
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I don't want to leave the Kimberley. I really don't. I say that a lot. But original thoughts are becoming harder and harder to harvest.

Day 13.

After a somewhat restless sleep I cleaned up and went back to the El Questro "Steakhouse" for breakfast. A pleasant Eggs Benedict with Spinach (adding it up, I left a lot of money at El Questo...and by the way, I have sunglasses now. $30.), and two (2) proper coffees (I will regret these) later I packed up and moseyed on my way. I do not want to leave. I think I've made that clear.

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One the way back I stop by the Zibbadee Hot Springs (because damnit, I paid for this 'wilderness pass', I'm going to use it); a short walk up a beautiful tropical path takes you to a creek that spawns from a hot spring coming from the mountain that is about 32 degrees celsius. That is what the sign said. I take it for it's word, because I simply do not have time to try it out for myself.

I head back up the road and start up the last stretch of the Gibb River Road. I'm really kind of bummed out, I feel like I've barely tapped the potential here. I pass the turn-off to Emma Gorge (part of El Questro, and covered by my 7 day pass), which apparently is one of the most photographed scenes on the Gibb. Sigh...if only I had time. About 2Km from the turn-off, I decide that yes, I have time (I don't have time, not really) and turn around and decide to take in one last hike, to hell with the consequences (there were some consequences).

The hike was cumbersome; it starts easy enough, but progressively gets tougher, crossing the creek multiple times, clambering over rocks, and eventually winding steeply up and over one side of the canyon...but it's ok, I'm in good shape (...I'm not, and had rolled my left ankle...twice...the night before in the same stupid place at the El Questro campground, so I'm really just asking for it) so I do my usual speed-walk (odd that on the road I crawl along at a snail's pace, having endless cars and trucks overtake me, cursing to themselves...then on foot I race along gorge trails while other folks take it easy, enjoying the scenery and look at me funny as I pass them). I make it to the gorge, and it was all worth it: a huge cavern, the type normally seen only by us folks back home in movies or on travel brochures, with a large deep pool, a monumentally tall cascading waterfall, and a strange duck-like bird drying itself off on the rocks. If patterns persist, this strange duck-like bird may turn out to be what they call a 'duck' in these parts.

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I enjoy this as long as I can - maybe 20 minutes - before I resume my obnoxious speed walk back to the car park. The walk each way, at my pace, is about 40 minutes. I trip only once (not the same ankle fortunately, and no one around to laugh thankfully), get back to the resort and call home, and start to head out - realizing I had erased a least 2 and 1/2 hours from my schedule. So my 900Km race to Darwin has now officially been inhibited.

Soundtrack: Remember Me / The Birthday Massacre.

What they don't tell you about corrugated roads in Australia is that...well...they make you have to pee. A lot. It doesn't matter what you've been drinking (but in northern Australia chances are you drinking a lot of water. Add this to the two (2) long black coffees at breakfast...)

Another 25Km or so (and one 'adopting the highway' later...see paragraph above), and I am at the east end of the Gibb. And I made it without destroying any tyres! I win this one. Unofficial Greatest Challenge (number 4). Checkmark.

I stop and re-inflate my tyres, unlock the 4WD hubs, and enter the highway. Now it is just a marathon run; how far can I get before the sun goes down (noting I will lose 1.5 hours in a little under 100Km) before I am again in danger of slaying exotic wildlife and getting in serious trouble with Britz?

I stop briefly in Kununurra (which is an amazing looking place...unfortunately for me on a schedule) for bread, fresh fruit (I can take it back into the Northern Territory, just not the other way...thank god) and diesel, and then I get the campervan going as fast as I feel is reasonable. It is now about 3:00pm NT time (I know because I couldn't stock up on wine in Kununurra as you cannot buy alcohol before 2pm on weekdays...oh well, instant coffee for me tonight...). So 3 hours before sunset, NT time (roughly). The speed limit is 130Km/h (Canada, take note, you slow-pokes) but at 130Km/h, honestly Cass does not handle very well at that speed; being a high-top she sways hard with every turn or slight gust of wind. Visions of me crippled and bleeding out in a single-vehicle roll-over flash before me with every corner. But my goal is the Victoria River Roadhouse, some 300Km from Kununurra. Will I make it before making wallaby+gravel stew?

Soundtrack: more Louis C.K. Comedy routines are wonderful for staving off loneliness.

I'm about half an hour from my goal when the first casualty is realized. A bunch of birds, probably really pretty ones with families and such, are on the road investigating...whatever it is they find interesting. They take off just as my campervan blows through their little pow-wow, but too late. I hear the definite 'THUD.........THUD.....' of at least two of them being mortally crippled as Cass slams into them with her high-top roof. For the record, there is no blood or matted feathers and bones stuck to Cass' roof; I can only hope those birds either were only stunned (not likely) or died quickly (more likely).

Getting to my goal before darkness is close; it doesn't help that the highway goes through some seriously awesome picturesque places, which I need to slow down and take pictures of. Damn you, nature! I keep pressing on, and manage to land at the Victoria River Roadhouse just as the sun is going down behind the amazing mountains and cliffs around the Victoria River valley.

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$10 per person (I am only one in my vehicle) for a powered campsite at the roadhouse? Hell yes. I can charge the iPad and video camera.

A gentleman at Fitzroy Crossing (the same gent who could not help me figure out my air compressor) had suggested this place as a good place to stop. I'm glad I followed his advice; not only are the rates cheap (the 'campground' is kind of open and lame, but who cares, the sun has gone down anyway) but the roadhouse is open until 8pm. So I get a real Australian roadhouse experience - again, kind of a big deal for a Canuck like myself.

Quick shower and then back to the roadhouse for dinner - at this point, if I don't have to cook (with some uncertain amount of LPG left) I'm not going to. And during a veggie burger and fries (veggie burger...at a roadhouse in rural Australia; only drawing more attention to myself, really) at the bar I honestly get a bit trashed on cheap red wine (since I couldn't stock up in Kununurra in time) and just soak in the experience. So, sorry for any spelling or grammatical flaws (or stupid ideas) in this segment.

This place has a story somewhere - the sign advertises "under new ownership", but the the word "ownership" has been pasted over with a red decal proudly displaying the word "wife" instead. And inside I find the roadhouse being run by: a gentleman who looks like a short(er) Australian version of Robert DeNiro, two younger blonde (maybe German? I'm not good with European accents) girls, an darker-haired (also maybe German? Dutch?) lady, and a cute punky/inked girl in the kitchen. I'm careful to keep my eyes wandering because I'm not certain for sure who is the owner, and who is the "new wife". :) Maybe none of them, but it makes an interesting story.

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Tomorrow: Darwin or bust (what does that mean anyway? I don't think I want to find out). I'm aiming for a caravan park just outside the city in a place called Howard Springs. And then it is just the the 4 nights left in this soul-capturing country. I really don't want to go. But kind of. But not really.

Soundtrack: cheap-wine snoring.

Day 14.

There isn't much left to tell about the road-trip. I left the roadhouse and made good time along my ~500Km trek to the outskirts of Darwin. The road remained scenic until I turned north at Katherine, after which the most interesting thing was watching the landscape change from drier and brown to slightly wetter and green, with more palm trees. And lots of patches of controlled burning by the roadside...some of it still burning. Actually, it kind of looked like a Cambodia war-zone (and I ask, how in the hell would I know this?) - maybe it was the hazy tropical scenery and countless WWII airstrips along the highway obscured by the smoke from burning undergrowth.

I'm now in Howard Springs, about 20 minutes from where I drop off Cass tomorrow. I celebrated getting here the only way I could - by doing laundry, washing dishes, and trying to wipe out some of the limitless red Tanami + Gibb dust from every nook and cranny in Cass' interior. After that, dinner - soup and an awesome double-decker grilled cheddar + chicken + ham + spinach sandwich, or what I like to call "double-decker-whatever-is-left-in-the-fridge-put-it-on-the-damn-sandwich" sandwich.

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And since there isn't much left to tell...I won't bother telling it. The road-trip is over. There are still a couple of days potential left for me to screw something else up and make an ass of myself, but that tale is for another day. Good night.

Soundtrack: A Star-Crossed Wasteland / In This Moment...good 'credits rolling' music...the type where you know damn well there is already a sequel in the works.

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Posted by stevecrow 00:26 Archived in Australia Tagged gibb_river_road el_questro victoria_river_road_house howard_springs Comments (0)

Darwin, Northern Territory

...or "The Beginning of the End"

sunny 29 °C
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Everything is coming apart now. But not really. But kind of.

The roadtrip is now officially over. After spending some of the morning doing the last touches on cleaning up Cass' insides, I headed off to Britz, just outside of Darwin. Of course, I still had to actually wash her on the outside, as she had taken on a predominantly red and brown colour (note: Britz campervans start out white when you pick them up). I waited for what seemed an eternity to ask the simple question "is there anywhere nearby that I can wash the vehicle?" The response I got was "that's a good question". It is? Am I really the first one to ask where I can wash up the rented campervan, when one of the rental stipulations is to return it clean? Really?

I was sent off a few Km down the road where I spent a pleasant hour scrubbing up Cass and giving her some dignity back.

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Campervan now washed and dropped off (I will really miss her...) I taxied into Darwin city. What to say about Darwin? It's like a small Australian version of Los Angeles...at least in terms of climate, the palm trees, the still grayish haze that hovers over the city, and the fact that you can't swim in the ocean here. Except, here the reason is that you will be eaten by crocodiles instead of contracting some horrible disease from fecal matter. So a little bit different. Actually, if I was to be a bit more accurate, it's more like if you were to slice Santa Monica off of LA and glue it to northern Australia, and then fill it with...Australians. The attire and image and rather loud nightlife of the locals matches though.

I'm way too early to officially check into the hotel, so I spend the early afternoon wandering aimlessly up and down the pedestrian mall, looking and feeling completely lost. There are countless shops and restaurants and gift stores and jewelry stores and yada, yada, yada, I don't really fucking care anymore, I'm done touristing. I buy a crappy used copy of 'Hannibal' and sit on the bench with a coffee like an asshole and read.

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I wander back to the hotel and check in, making sure to pay the $11 for wifi so I can spend some time posting blogs, checking email, and finding a good place for dinner. Loneliness is easily combatted by eating, thinking about eating, or planning on eating. Speaking of which, I don't know why Australians can look as good as they do sometimes - it seems as if almost everything here is deep fried or some kind of sausage. Or it's pure, thick beef. I've definitely gained weight - no scale needed to know this.

It's about now that I find: a) the wifi doesn't cooperate with iPads (again). I spend a bunch of time trying to connect, and to the hotel's credit they try me on a couple of repeater routers before they kindly inform me "you can use the restaurant to do your work" (restaurant meaning their empty, hot boring breakfast room, because it is the only place I can connect to their shitty network - and still, I could barely accomplish anything without tearing out my own eyes in frustration - hence this is probably being posted long after I get home). I have also found that b) my cell phone - meaning the spare unlocked phone I use in other countries, Australia being one of them, has totally packed it in, having been possessed by some vengeful and merciless god; c) the toilet seems to never finish filling so I have to live with the constant sound of running water (I tell myself it's one of those meditation fountains); and d) the hotel is 1/2 a block from a really loud nightclub. And by 1/2 a block I mean I could hit it with a rock or mid-sized frilled lizard from where I'm sitting now.

I give a bad impression of the hotel - it is actually quite nice (and as I said the staff bent over backwards to help me with my wifi problems...well, half backwards at least); I have my own veranda attached to a little 'villa', almost like a nice urban cabin with air-conditioning.

So I do what is the only thing to do when faced with adversity - go to the 'bottle shop' (liquor store), get a nice cabernet sauvignon, have a few glasses, dress nice (it is really, really satisfying to put my boots on again after two weeks) and then go out and blow one-hundred-and-two ($102) dollars on dinner. Wasn't hard to do - I found the nicest place I could, ordered an appetizer (beef spring rolls with ginger), a rare steak (I've eaten more beef in Australia in the last 2.5 weeks that I have in six months prior) with a side of truffled potatoes, veggies, and two glasses of nice wine. $102 (this will be my souvenir for the trip - I'll just carry it in my colon, that's all). And I don't leave a tip...and still even now feel really weird about it.

Well there is a long description of really nothing - when you put it against some of the amazing things I've seen on my road trip. I'm packed and ready for the flight back to Sydney tomorrow - who knows, maybe Coogee Beach will end up being the highlight of the trip. Not likely though, which is ok because Clarice Starling and I have some catching up to do. Even though I know I've left part of me back in the Kimberley somewhere (and god know what else I forgot there...along with the bunch of money at El Questro) I long for home...and a reliable internet connection. And a bit less beef. But not really.

Soundtrack: THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP...The Deck Nightclub across the street.

I spent the morning fighting with the Internet connection over a $20 all-you-can-eat-really-crappy-breakfast buffet in order to post a single blog (the one about Windjana). After which I finished packing, and checked out by the mandatory 10am. I left the hotel with my bags while I took in what I could in the 3 hours before the airport shuttle showed up. I went down to the Darwin 'waterfront', which is, despite what it is, really quite beautiful. Since the crocs are just chomping at the bit for human meat, the city has a walled-off ocean lagoon and public wave pool so that the ocean can be enjoyed whilst keeping all limbs intact. It really is quite nice, they've done an excellent job.

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I relax, read, and wander. After a couple hours, back to the city for lunch, and then back to the hotel to change back into 'normal clothes' (normal for me is dark jeans, shirt, and boots - no more shorts, sandals, 'duh-I'm-a-tourist' attire, etc.) because I know it will be colder in Sydney. Skip to the flight from Darwin: I take my window seat (30 minutes later than scheduled) and a few minutes later, a pretty dark-haired woman, maybe only a few years younger than me, takes her seat next to me. Just before we take off, she goes and has a conversation with the stewardess, and then takes her seat. Not being one for engaging conversation, the best I could come up with was asking her if she preferred the window shade up or down (this is about 40 minutes after we take off. I know, I rock). She thanks me, but it really doesn't matter. I notice at this point she's coughing and has the sniffles. Moments later the stewardess comes to her, tells her something, and at this point she collects her things and leaves to some other seat somewhere. I never see her again. So...at first, my mind immediately goes to: I couldn't possibly be that creepy, could I?...Could I? But then some small amount of reason takes over and I figure it must have something to do with the illness she was exhibiting. I hope. So: the good news is that for most of the 4.5 hour flight, I had my aisle all to myself (only 2 seats along the outside on this plane). The bad news: I probably have SARS or something now.

Land, long waiting line for a cab (which took me on a very interesting and scenic, but short and direct and ultimately what I determined to 'impatient' route to Coogee Beach) and now I'm here with my partial ocean (dark 10pm) view of the ocean. With no wifi to feed my iPad and facilitate posting blogs. Yay. Can I go home now? Not really though, there must be some potential here. I did manage to find my way to *the* local watering hole for a couple glasses of wine and an awesome BBQ sausage + onion bun from a food kiosk set up in the outdoor beer garden. 'Dinner' (part 2; part 1 was the flash-reheated stir-fry on the plane), check. *Obviously* I have to wade through all the locals in line to meet me so I could make my way back for a nice sleep before my last (full) day in Australia. Yes. Sarcasm. Learn it. (That was also sarcasm.)

I look through the hotel guide, and I would like to quote what I found: "Tipping: ...waiters and waitresses in Australia do not rely on tips for their income; therefore tips are an incentive to perform, as poor service usually results in no tip". I receive absolutely *fabulous* service at the restaurant in Darwin where I dropped $102...without a tip. I now feel like a complete tool...more so than usual. Maybe I should mail the 'Char House' in Darwin $30?

Posted by stevecrow 01:21 Archived in Australia Tagged darwin coogoo_beach Comments (0)

The End

...or "The Last Day and The Shortest Night"

sunny 20 °C
View Sydney and the Outback on stevecrow's travel map.

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Morning rolls around and I have a choice: no one (I think) would blame me for holing up in this room for the day - clearly exhausted from the epic trip I've been on - or I could make something of it. I know I would regret if I went with the former plan of attack, so after locating breakfast I packed up and decided to take the 'coastal walk' to Bondi Beach, some...I don't know how many Km (because I have no Internet) away. Now, I have taken some good walks on my trip here in Oz, through mountains and vales and forests, but damnit, this was a hell of a walk.

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Soundtrack: the iPhone is completely in synch with me: Seasons of the World / Kirlian Camera, Breaking the Girl / Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kitchenware and Candybars / Stone Temple Pilots, Kill the Light / Lacuna Coil, Say That You'll Haunt Me / Stone Sour, Nobody Loves You / Garbage, Sister of Night / Depeche Mode, Apart (Renholder Remix from Underworld) / The Cure...this has got to be the most depressing song I've ever heard, why am I listening to it? Skip...Reverie / Lacuna Coil. Etc.

It winds along the Sydney coast, from beach, to beach, to beach, (insert really huge, really awesome graveyard here),

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...to, yup, more beaches...the whole coast kind of has this southern European / Monaco feel to it (again, I ask - how the hell would I know this?)

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...until finally, Bondi Beach comes into view after about 90 minutes (and unfortunately my regular camera is out of space, I have only video now)...and what the hell, is that a blister? Are you telling me after tromping through the Kimberley for almost two weeks in these shoes, only now I get a stupid blister? Ok, yes, I put on totally the wrong socks. Thankfully, the 'discount' pharmacies (e.g. 'chemists'...which means something *completely* different in British Columbia) here sell singles of bandages. Brilliant.

It's in Bondi that I find a cafe that has wifi available for paying customers - and I'm not talking some shitty I-paid-$11-for-it wifi, I'm talking a really good 'free' connection, which is where I posted two more blogs - hastily edited and marked up with pics, so sorry for any grammatical errors or if accidentally posted the wrong pictures. I also made sure to *tip* for lunch...especially for the wifi connection :)

Bondi was epic and magnificent, but after a couple hours I got what I needed out of it and slowly half-limped back to Coogee, showered, and spent some time just playing guitar on the beach, where it went from "you call this cold? Bitches, please! (I'm from Canada)" to "Jesus, it's cold! I can't feel my heart!" in a matter of 30 minutes.

After returning to the hotel - to put on a jacket (feeling defeated) - I went back to the beach where I found a busker playing. She had an miked up acoustic guitar, and a microphone all set up. And god (or insert other diety-or-belief-symbol-here) as my witness, she had an absolutely beautiful voice. I sat there, as the sun completely disappeared behind me, just watching the beach and listening to this woman sing and play for about 40 minutes, with the ocean waves as her back up singer. Her music was the perfect conduit for my reflection on everything I saw here in Australia, everything I had done, everywhere I had gone, and maybe even some things I had left to do - not just here and now, but maybe from now on until I'm only an aged photo in my grandchildren's photo album.

When she was done and was packing up, I went and thanked her, gave her $10 (I should have given her more), and told her she had a beautiful voice. And then I walked away, feeling somehow content with everything.

Only one last thing to really report on - dinner. I won't bore you with the details, but ultimately I finally - on the waitress' recommendation - ordered a kangaroo plate ("it's like a steak, but better because it doesn't have the fat"...but imagine that spoken in the typical sexy Australian accent); so it's red meat. Of course it is - this is Australia. It comes medium rare, served on a bed of spinach and caramelized onions, covered in some kind of wonton-like thing (probably what they call 'wontons' in these parts)...and sided with a pumpkin pie - no, not the dessert type, the type that is a meat pie but filled with pure pumpkin. I eat everything but the pie (as I had started with a side of 'jumbo' prawns, and I'm going to laugh from now on when I see that term on a North American menu, because these jumbo prawns were whole - and about 6 to 8 inches long), and *holy shit* - kangaroo seriously kicks ass on steak! I wish now I had creamed that one on the Tanami and BBQed the fucker.

I made sure to leave a tip.

This may be it. Really, what left is there to tell? Tomorrow I have a rushed morning, airport shuttle ride at 9:15am, and a long, long flight back to LAX. I suppose if anything interesting happens I may add a bit of an addendum, but for the most part I think it's all done now. There is lots left to reflect on, yes, but these things are matters that I think are a result of me taking this trip, not about the trip itself; they will probably bore you to tears so I'd rather go out in style whilst still having your attention. I truly appreciate you all reading my blogs and following along. It really has been a bit like having you here with me...but as really quiet (and hence boring) conversationalists. But that is OK. I had to take this trip alone, there was no other way to do it, and I don't regret it for a second. Well, maybe the part where I left the hotel room curtains open while taking a shower (not as much as anyone who might have looked in would regret it)...but everything else I'd do again in a heartbeat.

Thanks for traveling through Australia with me.

Soundtrack: Fox Confessor Brings The Flood / Neko Case...("...I flooded my sleeves as I drove home again.")

Epilogue.

I pack up and catch the airport shuttle back to Sydney Airport. I'll revise my previous statement - it is actually a really beautiful airport, at least on the departures level. Skip ahead to the dreaded long flight - which felt shorter somehow (thankfully) than the trip over, but because my body clock is adjusted thoroughly now to Australia time, I think I spent most of the flight awake. I tried to sleep - I may have nodded off once or twice, or simply forgotten most of the flight, but because we were flying against the path of the sun the actual 'nighttime' definitely seemed shorter than it should have.

After landing, collecting my bags and making my way back to the domestic Alaska Air terminal, I feel really, really gross (e.g. in the personal hygiene department). But here's a hint for anyone taking a long haul flight - pack a clean pair of socks in your carry-on, and just before you board, change into them - and the moment you get on the plane kick off your shoes (not embarrassing yourself with smelly socks...because you are so damn smart); it makes the trip so much more comfortable. Of course you may not be able to get your shoes on properly at the end of the flight because at this point your feet have become olympic-sized swimming pools for blood. Oh well, the swelling will go down during the long walk to US Customs.

Skip ahead: I fly back to Seattle on a short hopper flight. I don't remember most of it.
Skip ahead: my suitcase has been partially destroyed by baggage 'handling'. Alaska Air simply replaces the bag and credits me a few thousand air miles for the now missing iPad charger due to the aforementioned torn-up front pouch of my now previous suitcase.
Skip ahead: I'm driving home now, not needing to adjust much to driving on the right side of the road. I do engage my windshield wipers instead of my turn signals frequently though, and probably will for a few days to come.
Skip ahead: Christ, I haven't really slept in more than 24 hours - should I really be driving?
Skip ahead: funny that I never thought I could get good food from Denny's (in Bellingham) as I waited out some of the ridiculously long border line-ups. But I had a gift card. And the food was actually really good. Maybe I am delirious?
Skip ahead: I stop in Mission and buy the nicest bottle of BC VQA wine I can get on a Sunday evening (in Mission)...I miss it tremendously. Oh yeah, I miss my family too. Mmmm...BC wine...

Skip ahead: I have hugged my family with every ounce of love I have in my heart. I miss Australia, but I belong here now - I'm home, and it has never felt so good.

Soundtrack: my youngest telling me about his 'Star Wars / Minecraft' mural, now proudly displayed on our entrance hallway wall. And my eldest showing me the awesome Father's Day (oh yeah, that happened, didn't it?) card he made. On Minecraft.

Skip ahead: I just had the best shower I've ever had in my life. Ok, that's not's really true...

The End.

(Thanks for reading!!!)

Posted by stevecrow 01:44 Archived in Australia Tagged home seatac lax coogee_beach sydney_coastal_walk Comments (2)

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