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Australia, here we go again!

The return to the Land Down Under, first stage of crossing Australia from north to south: Darwin and Kakadu National Park

OK, here I am back to Australia. Here WE are back to Australia...

…back to Darwin and back to house of Amanda from CouchSurfing, where part of my baggage was patiently waiting for me while I was in Indonesia. As we arrived late and Amanda lives in suburbs near from airport (which is void of public transport to those places) we had to take a taxi and we both started to laugh (but it was horror induced laughter) as soon as it started, and we both almost popped our eyes from the horror witnessed. The taxi moved 5m and the first 10 cents above the minimal fare were added, next 10m and another 10 cents. We just looked at ourselves and said “FUUUUUUCK” with our eyes, because it seemed that within the limit which we determined before jumping into the taxi – 20 AUD and then we walk – the taxi would take us maybe to the exit from the airport and not a meter further. Luckily it soon turned out that Darwin taxis run by time and not by distance and the charge was 10 cents for 3 seconds or so, so once we left the parking lot (more than 2 AUD already added to the minimal fare by then) and the car moved faster things got a bit less scary and finally we arrived to Amanda’s house for exactly those 20 dollars which were our limit. Yeah, welcome to Australia. 5 minutes taxi drive cost us the same amount of money as an 8 hour transfer from Lombok to Bali.

The CouchSurfing house we stayed at is an interesting place with loads of other CouchSurfing guests always hanging around, but it was kind of cold, with almost no interaction with Amanda herself (who was at home this time; when I had been here in July she had been out of town). As the funky bed in the space below the house on the stilts was taken by another CouchSurfer we simply slept on comfy mats that Amanda gave us on the floor under the house (remember the house is on stilt). In Darwin’s tropical climate this was not bad option at all. Luckily no poisonous spiders or other sons of bitches visited us during the nights and no mosquito apocalypse happened either.

We spent 3 nights and days in Darwin, mostly trying to figure out what do we do, how we get across Australia to Adelaide. We were considering buying an old, cheap and crappy car, but then we gave it up, because buying car in one state (Northern Territory) and selling it in another (New South Wales, where we will probably end up) is complicated, painful and expensive, as each state has a different registration rules and roadworthy tests. Finally we joined some people who were looking for more people to travel with them from Darwin to Kakadu National Park and to Uluru. In Australia there’s always plenty of people (usually European backpackers) looking for more people to join them on their trips, to share the cost of petrol and food and so it’s very common to travel like this. So we joined Lucie, Brice and Franziska in Lucie’s campervan and headed into the outback.

Darwin. What to say about Darwin? Nothing. Some might call it relaxed, I call it dead. I was expecting something tropically cool, but there’s nothing about Darwin to love, unless city in coma is your thing. The surrounding ocean is full of jellyfish, crocodiles and sharks, so no one, absolutely no one swims in it, downtown is as plain and dull as it gets, and the whole city is basically desperately isolated island, being thousands of kilometers from next normal city, such as Cairns or Adelaide. Yes it is very relaxed and weather is warm all year round, but that’s about it. And if I would live in a city surrounded by the ocean where you cannot swim in (or surf in), I would rather move to a city without the ocean at all. It’s like looking at sexy woman through bulletproof glassed window all day long. Well, now I remember that there was one nice thing, and that was a night market, when thousands of people come to feed on enormous variety of food supplied by hundreds of stall, everything from Vietnamese to Indian and European. People bring their camping chairs and tables and eat out on grassy areas, creating atmosphere somewhere between a campground and huge open air restaurant. That was nice, Aussie outdoorsy lifestyle at its best.

“Few” words about Aborigines:
Naturally I was very excited when coming to Australia about seeing Aboriginal culture, although after my experience from USA where I was also hoping to see something from culture of Native Americans, I wasn’t expecting that I would see too much. This is 21st century and obviously there are no Indians riding horses in prairie, just as there are no Aborigines hunting kangaroos by boomerang, they are living in modern world just like everybody else. Unfortunately, I have to say that the situation of Aborigines in Australia is much, much worse than situation of Native Americans in USA. Let’s get right down to the point: I have never ever seen so many alcoholics in my entire life. And even worse, as horrible as it sounds, I have to say that I have seen really very few sober Aborigines. Streets of towns in outback Northern Territory and Queensland are jammed by hopelessly drunk Aborigines. I don’t want to get here into discussion about the reasons for this about to what extend is it is a fault of the Australian government and all the bloody and disgusting history of taking Australia from the Aborigines who were not considered as humans by constitution here in Australia until few decades ago, but the eye striking result is plain: it’s a sad sad sight. It’s probably not surprising to see this result when you realize that the Aborigines had to jump from stone age into “modern world” in just few decades and all of their traditions were uprooted and land taken. From all that I have seen in museums and heard from the people, the history of “whitefella” and “blackfella” here in Australia is particularly didn’t horrible. But what is even worse is to see how racism and open segregation are still a norm here. In the buses Aborigines sit in the back and the whites in the front. Only an official mark saying “blacks here, whites there” is missing to make it more racist. No white person speaks to the Aborigines and the Aborigines don’t talk to white people except then asking for money or alcohol. The daily real life segregation is scarily present and obvious, the Aborigines are pushed almost out of edge of society here. Due to extremely wide spread alcoholism, alcohol was prohibited in many communities and there are strict alcohol sale rules (such as one bottle per person per day, alcohol sold only from 14:00 to 16:00 etc.) and so many Aborigines switched to sniffing petrol and as a result in many areas of Northern Territory normal petrol was replaced by “Opal - low aromatic petrol”, which is a substitute version of petrol void of narcotic substances, subsidized by Australian government to keep its price at the same level of normal petrol. We felt really very sorry for the indigenous people and where were they pushed to in this country, at least in places visible for us. Maybe communities out of reach of sissy tourists like us, peeping from their cars while thundering down the main highways, are more viable, but we can only speculate about that, cause all we had seen were just cities and settlements along the main outback-crossing “highways” (BTW highway in Australia means a normal narrow country road).
I did not expect meeting any hunters-gatherers here, but I was still hoping to see at least some people selling hand produced traditional stuff aka souvenirs, or showing their traditions even if only as street performers, but none of that exists here. Most Aboriginal souvenirs are made in Indonesia, in every national park there are signs saying “We respect traditional owners of this land” put up by the Australian government, but unfortunately the traditional owners are drunk and zombie-ing through the streets of cities, unemployed, living from the money that the “caring and respectful” government gives them. It’s gonna be a looong way out of this situation here in Australia. USA seems to be one century ahead of Australia when it comes to fighting racism.

Lucie and other people from the campervan picked us up from Darwin and we started our common journey across Northern Territory: from Darwin to Kakadu National Park, Alice Springs, Uluru/Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon.
Thanks god for being with Irene, otherwise I would go nuts. Thanks to her I survived :-) her presence in my life is like a soothing medicine. This trip was yet another proof that any group of people larger than 3 is hopelessly inefficient without a designated leader. Breakfast takes 2 hours, cigarette break 40 minutes, everything is done sequentially and time just flies and flies and nothing happens. Being breastfed on consulting and project management I suffered deeply. It’s not that the people wouldn’t be nice, it’s just a simple and plain truth: a group without leader is showcase of how inefficiency comes to existence. Surely we were not on a military exercise and there was no need to be super efficient, but sometimes I was really boiling inside. Good for me, thank you universe, it was a great lesson in patience and tolerance. I need to improve significantly in those areas.

First stop was at Adelaide river where few local operators run “jumping crocodiles show”. The river is infested by crocodiles and tourists hop on small boats, on which the boatman and crocodile-jumper in one person seeks out the crocs in the river and then using piece of meat on something like a fishing pole makes the crocs jump from the water in attempt to catch that juice piece of meat. The crocs live in the river, but they are all salt-water crocodiles, typical for this area, mighty and aggressive largest reptiles on the planet. Thanks to the “efficiency” mentioned above, after 24 hours after we left Amanda’s place in Darwin we were still 90km from Darwin. Lucie remembered that she wanted to see the jumping crocs 50km after we passed Adelaide river, when we returned it was already getting dark. We agreed to wake up early to catch the first river cruise at 9:00 which we of course missed, had to wait for the second one at 11:00 and till we got back to the point where we had turned around the day before, it was 24 hours after leaving Amanda’s house.
The jumping crocs were quite cool, it’s amazing how jump can those creatures jump. Yes it’s a set up tourist attraction and not really anything amazingly natural or spontaneous, but still seeing those beasties jump from the murky waters of Adelaide river was cool.

From Adelaide river we continued to Kakadu National Park, supposedly a highlight of this part of Australia. During tropical wet seasons the whole area becomes wetlands, teeming with birds, crocs and other wildlife, during summer everything dries and is accessible by car and on foot. There’s plenty of waterfalls in the area, but as it is end of dry season by now, most of them were reduced to tiny trickles of water running down the cliffs. But the true headliners of the national park are ages old Aboriginal paintings. Some of them as old as 40 000 years! We spent 3 days in the national park, visited one waterfall, two sites with Aboriginal rock art, few walks, saw about 10 crocodiles swimming in the rivers. Thanks to the great money-saving ideas of some members of our crew we ran out of petrol when we arrived to a campground situated 40km from the main road, but luckily the campground (accessible by unsealed road, so those 40km took us more than 2,5 hours to drive) was very busy and so someone sold us petrol so that we could get out of there. The waterfalls near that place (Gunlum waterfalls) were quite stunning and we could even swim in the rock pools up at the top of the waterfalls, because crocodiles who would live there would have to be cliff hangers.

The Aboriginal paintings were very impressive and some of them are older than the oldest rock paintings in Europe. This is a culture with the longest living history in the world. Disappointingly, but in line with Australian white domination, all the rangers where white people. So instead of an Aborigine explaining Aboriginal paintings there is white chick from Queensland giving us speech on Aboriginal traditions, while the Aborigines are wasted somewhere in the cities because they are jobless. Good job management of Australian national parks, this makes sense!

Oh, I almost forgot. There is one thing you need to know about Northern Territory. In the outback areas, it’s absolutely plagued by mosquitos and flies. Thousands of flies. Millions. Billions. Zillions!!!! They sit all over you, get into your eyes, ears, nose and mouth all the time. You go to pee and at least 6 of them will be sitting on your wiener in 5 seconds. Indescribably annoying those mother fuckers!

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak