Idle thoughts from an idle man…

Written by . Posted at 7:58 pm on April 22nd, 2005

Warning: Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, I gotta write big old honk’n emails

The original plan was to swing up to Singapore or Hong Kong for midterm break. But things never go as planned (it’s US$200 cheaper to fly Portland-Hong Kong than Darwin-Hong Kong, even though Darwin is a fraction of the distance), so I took off for Darwin and Perth. The 1flights were a little long and a little spendy, but worth it. I flew Sydney to Darwin, then Darwin-Sydney-Perth, then Perth-Sydney, crossing the continent three times in total. A bit like flying LA to Dallas, Dallas-LA-NYC, then NYC-LA. It wasn’t pretty.

I only had 9 days of traveling, though, so I had to make ’em count. And I found myself metamorphosing into a true backpacker. The whole house went off traveling and before we all left I found myself doing terrible things (like handing out unsolicited advice) and saying things like “10 days? You’d be crazy to bring more than two shirts.” I mean, I’ll check into hostels and see these tourists – I refuse to call them backpackers – check in with an overstuffed backpack and two overflowing duffel bags and man, that’s just irresponsible, you know? But enough of my whinging, though. I had a blast and I was able to fit a lot of living into those 9 days.

Darwin and the NT is the thinnest chapter in the guidebook, and for good reason. The first thing to know about Darwin is that it’s hot. I’ve been to Florida and that was hot. But we’re talking surface of the sun broiling. And it’s humid, so you can’t really do anything between noon and 4PM. I tried once, after I’d had enough ‘sitting in the air conditioned library and catching up on some light reading’. I walked out the door at 3 and was back inside the library by 3:10. It’s that hot.

The second thing to know about Darwin is its 25% aboriginal. Every other city is pretty much 0.001% aborigine, so it was good to see some of the 400,000 year locals. Granted the aboriginal situation is one of very very few taboo topics in the GDU so I was only able to appreciate the situation internally.

It’s an interesting place, though. Permitted independent government in 1978, Darwin is more an outpost than anything else. A cyclone literally ripped the entire town down in ’74, so it’s all fairly new buildings. There’s no industry really industry or anything. The most efficient way to get products from one part of the NT to another is big old road-trains. Basically they take a super-powered semi, hook three or four trailers to the back of it, and go hauling off into the Bush. I saw a few, and they honestly scare me – there are stories of Kangaroos (which are about the size and structure of a human) getting hit by Road Trains and I won’t say more than that ‘cuz it’s not a happy ending.

But the upside to all the heat is that nobody gets uptight because it’s just too hot to really worry about anything. And it’s tiny, the Ozquivalent of Kirksville, I walked across it in a half hour. Of course, you have to pick the right half hour. Josh the idiot tried to do his little “urban walkabout” during the wrong half hour and almost passed out. A litre of water gone, just like that. When I got to the nearest bus stop, I found three other backpackers waiting to pay $2.40 for ride back downtown, having done the exact same thing I did. We’re funny blokes, we are.

But the NT is pretty much unspoiled by human interaction, so day trips are amazing. I took off for Lichfield, which isn’t as famous as Kakadu, but just as cool. We went on a Jumping Crocodile tour where they bait crocs with meat on a stick, then jerked it out of the water so the Crocs had to jump to catch it. And they did this about two feet away from me. I took 30-odd pics and my last three turned out okay. We also saw some big ‘ol Termite mounds and we went hiking and swimming in some really groovy waterfall pools. A bit of funny dialogue:

Tour Guide: “yup, no crocs here. It’s safe to swim”
Seasoned Aussie: “famous last words”
Rest of the Group: “what?” (followed by absolute silence)

True story: two tourists were eaten last year when a tour guide made a mistake. Speaking of killer crocodiles, the NT Museum had a pretty sweet exhibit on Sweetheart, a 17foot croc that didn’t like outboard motors. For about two years, any boat going down the Sweetheart River would get its motor chomped off – the croc would literally destroy the motor but leave the boat (and the tasty people inside the boat) alone. So the authorities killed it and stuffed it and put in a museum.

Fat Pizza is the funniest thing to happen to Australia since the 1960s when Chicago gangster’s tried (and failed) to muscle their way into the fledging Aussie underground. See the film Dirty Deeds for more info, but basically the mob couldn’t intimate the way-tough Aussies. Back on track, though: Fat Pizza is a sort of sketch comedy TV show (they also made a movie) revolving around a pizzeria and the delivery guys. Two of the main characters, Paulie and Bibo, were doing a bit of stand-up at a Darwin nightclub, but my flight flew out too early and I didn’t get to see them. I figured they might show up early and I might get to cash that karmic check I racked up last trip, but no dice. Bummer for sure. But I did sleep in matresssed beds every night this trip, which should be enough for any man.

So, after my horrible Darwin-Sydney-Perth flights, I was picked up for $0 by my pre-booked hostel. Two hilarious middle-aged sisters picked me up (one worked part time at the hostel for grins). They had pretty wicked back-and-forth: “take Williams street, not 2nd” “noooo, Elizabeth will take us right around” “Love, they’re widening the overpass at Elizabeth. You can’t take it.” “ooh, I hate it when they do construction.” I’m not sure if I can fully express the humor of the situation, but it put a grin on my face.

My first impression of Perth was that it is, indeed, the city of millionaires. They flock to Perth because it basically gives them a third of a continent to themselves. And man o man, you can breathe the air and tell you’re in a city with twice the budget it should have. The trains are newer, the cops fitter, the sidewalks cleaner and there are plenty of little Paris Hiltons running around. And plenty of not-so-little Paris Hiltons, too, if you catch my meaning.

There’s something very rugged and manly about realizing that you’ve only rinsed and re-worn (not changed) you shirt in three days and that you’re in Perth, the most isolated city in the world and you’re on a train for Fremantle to the Freo markets for some cheap foods and a tasty drink and that you’re on the far side of the world, thousands of miles away from even the friends you’ve made in your short time in Oz and tens of thousands of miles from anyone you’ve known more than three months. I liked Perth. Of course, it’s even more rugged and manly when you take out your dorky traveler’s journal (which is really no more than a misused comp book) out of your nerdy day pack to jot thoughts like that down.

Freo was pretty rocking. I walked to the Roadhouse, which is the only civilized place in Australia that you can catch the sun as it sets into the ocean. Of course, when I went to see the sunset it was overcast and there was a bunch of construction equipment in the way. But I got the necessary picture.

I shared my hostel with a few frogs, finally. I don’t want to stereotype anyone (lord knows my American accent gets a few groans), but these Frenchies would turn the room light on at 2AM and talk Paris-talk with full voices across the room to each other really early in the morning like. I didn’t want to hate them, but it’s hard not to. Not to mention their English sucked. I mean sure, my French sucks, but I have been able to wow a few Germans by saying things like Fruhstuck.

I’d like to point out that, while I’ve torn up Australia, I know that I haven’t been out of this first world country and never more than a half hour helicopter flight from a major hospital. Having put that in perspective, I really do feel like Oz has broadened my horizons. Both in little things (Oz culture is incredibly more willing to answer stranger’s questions) and big things (the drinking mentality is a totally 180 degree change; we’re waaay too discouraging, they’re waaay too encouraging). More importantly, though, I’ve traveled and hosteled with the Irish, Israeli, German, Japanese, Finnish, South African, Brazilian, you name it. And it’s not just developed-country people, either. I’m in classes with Papa New Guineans and Ethiopians. Just interacting with them has changed my opinions on some things. It’s been a worthwhile experience.

Switching topics completely, I don’t follow the teachings of Joseph Smith. Or Jesus Christ, for that matter. But a lot of my family does, including my grandpa’s grandpa, Thomas Nelson Fenton. My grandparent’s were kind enough to dig out the records and it turns out old Thom served his mission here back in 1906. So I caught a bus to the nearest LDS church and asked around, realizing too late that my Batman shirt might not have been the best choice of apparel. But I was greeted warmly (far more warmly than expected) and I was able to find traces of Elder Fenton, back when he saw roughly the same thing I saw, 99 years ago. I also ran into some missionaries from good old Portland. Retired, they both taught at schools I swam against, thought not often (Milwaukee and Clackamas). It’s such a small world, but we did the only thing left to do: take a picture.

I also caught a bus to Jutland, the most expensive real estate in Australia. If Perth is the city of millionaires, Jutland is the street of billionaires. I got pictures as close as I could without setting off the alarms (I’d read somewhere about cyberneticly enhanced guard-wombats with razor claws).

And I ate at Fast Eddy’s, a pure 50’s American burger joint. The hamburger was delicious, as were the fires. The shake gets an A for effort, but it would’ve been poured down the drain in any American American dinner worth the name. In conclusion, it was good, but Fast Eddy’s won’t make my top 10 list.

I went to the Casino, too, another famous landmark. I gambled $20 and won $10 on my last bet, so I basically made the rich $10 richer. And I rejoiced, because capitalism still works.

Saving the best for last, Top Guns (that’s me referring to myself in third person, it’s a nickname my Aussie housemate gave me ‘cuz of all the pictures I take in my birthday sunglasses) also went scuba diving. That was great. I couldn’t take any pictures for obvious reasons, but it was just like all those discovery channel specials and resort advertisements. It wasn’t the Great Barrier Reef, because that’s technically only from Cairns to Brissy (on other side of The Lucky Country), but it was a carbon-copy of it. And I didn’t get to swim with Whale sharks, because that’s Nigaloo reed, which is about a 600 miles up the coast from Perth and way out of my means.

But I had a great time. It was in the Indian Ocean, so I could point to different patches of water and pretend to make out the outlines of the coasts of Africa, India, and Antarctica. I keep saying I had a great time, but I guess I have to put that in perspective for you: when I certified and got my scuba license, it was in December, in the hood canal. Nobody knows where that is, so just think ‘Canada.’ Very cold. So cold that, as I walked out of the beach to swap tanks, the local hooligan kids threw snowballs at me. After that, I swore I’d never dive in anything cold enough to warrant a wetsuit.

I did wear a wetsuit, though. Not because it was too cold, but because Australia has more things that can kill you than anywhere else and there are these damnable jellyfish that will ruin your whole week. So I slipped into a 3 mm wetsuit to ensure I remained in my rightful spot at the top of the food chain.

After the dive (which was awesome), my dive buddy invited us all back to her and her husband’s place. I can never say no to an Aussie Barbie, so I found myself having a great time in the Northern Suburbs, eating fresh Lobster (they caught it on the dive) and just shooting the bull with the locals.

So that was my trip, in a nutshell.
(two pretty much back-to-back 10-day solo trips is enough to make any man seem a little strange; a few of these pics reflect that)


PS – This should be my last massive, way-to-long sendout – I’m el finsh’d with traveling, except for a trip to Brissy and one to Alice Springs, and those are just weekend trips. I might go to NZ to ski, but maybe not.

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