Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Escape to the Top End

After three months of living and working in the Brisbane area it was time to travel again. My youngest sister Erin and her friend Robyn had flown into Brisbane (both freshly graduated from university) and Kirsten was returning from her job in Eidsvold, a small town in rural Queensland. Our last night in Brisbane was spent at the Manly Pub for a few drinks.

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Chris and I at the Manly pub

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Robbie and Sue

The next day we visited the Manly waterfront. It was Erin and Robyn’s first glimpse at the Australian coast.

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Kirsten, Alicia, Erin and Robyn at Manly Harbour

Then we were off on the Virgin Blue flight to Darwin. In front of us, as we walked out onto the runway to board the plane we spotted a mysterious character. This young man, perhaps in his late 20s, was dressed sharply in dark pants and a white collared shirt however upon closer inspection his clothes were dirty and torn He limped slowly across the tarmac and as I approached him a terrible stench emanating from his body overwhelmed me. I had never before encountered someone in such conditions boarding an airplane. My curiosity about this man’s peculiar condition plagued me throughout the flight. When we arrived in Darwin I watched as an older couple met the man and welcomed him home. It made me happy to know that no matter what turmoil this man had endured he had a home to which to return.

The Lonely Planet had described Darwin as Australia’s most cosmopolitan city but other than the massive MGM Grand I saw little signs of sophistication. Sadly what we did encounter were dozens of Aboriginal people wandering aimlessly throughout the streets. Although I had been in Australia for nearly a year this was the only type of experience I would ever have with an Aboriginal person. I knew that there was so much more to their cultural but I had not had the opportunity to learn much about it. I was hoping that this time in the Northern Territory, a place held deeply sacred for the Aboriginal people would enlighten me on their fascinating cultural.

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Just really liked these painted flowers

A couple of hours wandering the streets of Darwin gave us a gist of the city’s history. Stories of the repeated attacks endured during World War II and the disastrous Cyclone Tracy which flattened the city in 1974 were pounded into our heads ad naseum. It was time to return for a pleasant veg out session at the hostel pool.

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Did you ever hear the one about the Canadian girl who found a thong?

We picked up our rental car, quickly dubbed the REAK (Robyn, Erin, Alicia, Kirsten) mobile. We lucked out at the rental shop when gathering our camping gear and the nice smelling very cute attendant through in plenty of extras. Then we were on our way to Litchfield National Park. On the way into the park we passed by hundreds of termite mounds. I was disconcerted to know that these massive piles were made by thousands of tiny termites scavenging the countryside for building materials.

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Kirsten and I pose briefly near the scary termite mounds

We camped at a no frills spot near the Buley Falls. The water from the taps was brown and undrinkable but the location was serene. Our site looked out across a luscious valley over which the next morning we watched the sun rise in a brilliant fiery red ball from the comfort of our tent.

The Buley water hole was a great place to spend our first afternoon. We sprawled out on the rocks and relaxed. Luckily the warning from the signs did not need to be heeded.

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Kirsten, Erin and Robyn relaxing in the pools

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Sound advice

The next morning we hiked from the Buley water hole to Florence Falls where we challenged one another to battle the current and reach the rock face beneath the falls.

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Beautiful Florence Falls

The swimming spots were lovely and peaceful but the threat of crocodiles is always a serious threat in the Northern Territory. Saltwater crocodiles are the most dangerous sort and are ominously nicknamed the ‘maneating’ crocodile. However just like shark attacks in Australia their reputation is highly exaggerated. I read once that more people are killed by vending machines than crocodiles each year. Yet even though the risk is exceptionally low at Litchfield this time of year the occasional scary image still managed to flash its way into my head.

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Ominous signs found throughout the top end of Australia

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