To answer Sonrisa’s question, we are en route. We flew out of Sea Tac Airport in Seattle, Washington, enjoyed Chowdah and sourdough during a three hour layover in San Francisco, then we hopped a fourteen hour flight to Sydney, Australia. We wanted to explore Sydney, but we’ve been away from Sonrisa so long, that we needed to focus. We need to get our new Indonesian Social Visas squared away.
We climb aboard one more jet, and settle into a window seat. We are heading to Darwin, Australia - also known to the locals as The Northern Territory, The Outback, or quite simply: “The Up Top.” As we leave Sydney behind us, we look down on colorful patterns of the Australian flood plain.
A puff of smoke twirls next to our window as the rear wheels touch down in Darwin. The airplane roars to a stop like a dragon breathing fire backward. We are on land, on the other side of the world. 21 hours of flying, 5 more hours of layover, I feel the familiar travel buzz beginning behind my eyes: a mix of exhilaration and the sense of being a little off kilter.
Standing in line at the luggage carousel, the ghost of my maternal grandfather (lovingly known as Grandpa Kenny) joins me and waits for his luggage, too. My mother says he had always wanted to go to Australia, and as I look back on my childhood, I recall a continuous willingness - nay, enthusiasm - to drive down to Albertsons and rent a copy of Crocodile Dundee and watch it with me for the umpteenth time. We should have just bought a copy. I’ve been wanting to take him, in spirit, to Australia since we started our journey West.
I bump into a man who looks like a friend of Crocodile Dundee: brimmed, leather adventure hat, leather boots, jeans, a t-shirt, and three day scruff.
“Oh, excuse me, sorry.” I say.
He tips his head. “G’day,” he says.
I laugh as we head out to the taxi line, Grandpa trailing me a wisp of ghost smoke. “He said G’day! They really say G’day up here!” I say to Andrew. We’ve met a number of Australians in our travels, none of them look like Crocodile Dundee and none of them say “G’day.” In the elevator, two more Aussies greet Andrew with “G’day, Mate.” And, I’m relieved to find that in the Up Top, both stereotypes are alive and well.
We find our hotel, and it is across the street from a bustling night market that has popped up with tents filled with food. Live music swirls among the flat facades of tall buildings, and helium balloons lit with tiny LED lights bounce in little girls’ hands. This seems a perfect spot for dinner.
The Spanish Paella stand with enormous cast iron pans seems a clear choice. We enjoy a raspberry rose sangria and rice with chicken and seafood. We pull up a seat on the grass and listen to a one man band playing his own original compositions with a combination of 6 string guitar, harmonica, didgeridoo/yidaki, percussion (foot tapping a wooden block and/or a tambourine with the other foot), and vocals. It’s our jam. We buy both of his albums, and thereafter become Adam Scriven groupies. We follow the echo of his yidaki through the streets to find him playing other gigs as the week wears on. You can buy his album on iTunes: Adam Scriven, “Paved in Gold” and you should! (P.S. This is not a paid advertisement. Adam Scriven has no idea who we are and did not ask us to say anything on this blog about it.)
We spend three days driving to the National parks and exploring the tiny towns inland. My Grandfather whistles his tunes from the backseat as we all watch the Australian Bush roll by in a blur. Outback vehicles are as stereotypical and rugged as it's people, each donning snorkels, spare tires, roof wracks with camping gear and the like. “I’m happiest behind a steering wheel,” Andrew tells me.
The dry season has just begun, so tall grasses at the base of Eucalyptus trees are just turning golden. Flowers blossom on trees completely barren of leaves, prepared for the long season without water. Bark peels off the trunks of the trees, leaving bare fresh wood beneath. Termites build huge mounds of dirt, some shaped in complex spires by “Cathedral Termites” others shaped like a blade, consistently facing North and South built by Magnetic Termites whose internal compass helps them build homes that will be warm in the morning and cool in the afternoon. A neighborhood of Magnetic Termite mounds set off a graveyard effect.
We hike from waterfall to waterfall, swimming in beautiful little swimming holes, the spray of fresh water bouncing from the surface of the pond and laying a mist on our upturned faces.
Oops, one is closed because a little fresh water croc has been spotted in the area.
We also learn that a Billibong is essentially a mud puddle, left over when a river changes course. Careful! A croc could be in here, too.
We stop in a town called Humpty Doo, to enjoy beers, sunshine, chicken wings and live music at the official town tavern. We meet a giant boxing crocodile in the gas station parking lot and decide a trip to the land down under would not be complete without seeing a live, salt water crocodile. Thus, our course was set for our next adventure.
Australia, to be continued....