The guy who runs the hostel one day a week so the rest of the staff can have a day off signed us in and hung about as we unloaded the bikes, curious about his unusually scruffy guests. He had a crazy story to tell. Way back when he used to be a private investigator. Some rich lady hired him to find dirt on her husband to facilitate a profitable divorce. She paid the investigator so much that he couldn’t spend it all, doing crazy things like staying with his girlfriend in the honeymoon suite of a five star hotel for months at a time. This was the life! But then nasty things started happening to him. He didn’t go into the details but they were the kind of things that made him and his girlfriend believe someone was out to kill them. One day his girlfriend observed that he’s not that important.
It finally transpired that the husband was part of the mafia and was trying to get our investigator to stop digging into his business. So in the end he disappeared and changed his life. But he seems happy now telling us: “Oh well, I got the pretty girl and I’m probably a much nicer person too!” He was definitely nice enough, having found that room for us so we could arrive a day early. But he was also mad in a chaotic and fun kind of way.
Darwin turned out to be a rather boring city. I’d expected tropical jungle and beach life. Instead there were lots of closed down businesses and no one on the beach going for a swim. Strict alcohol laws forbade beach bars and there was a strict no alcohol or glass bottles policy in the hostel. Unofficially staff close both eyes so everyone drinks beer or wine from tea mugs. Remember that place in Kochi in India? Somehow we felt like we were missing something. Surely city life must be going on somewhere here. We found the backpacker area and the bars, but it didn’t amount to much. Unless you wanted to buy a dead crocodile.
We went to Mindil Beach one afternoon and fund it deserted. The life guards had erected flags to indicate where it was safe to swim so we jumped in, quite glad to have the beach almost to ourselves. Well, we shared it with a bunch of hermit crabs.
It was Sunday so by half past five the night market was in full swing. There were lots of clothes, jewelry and crafts and I found heaps of desirable stuff I wanted to spend my money on. But then…. I could go traveling for that money instead! There were motorcycle luggage bags, hats, belts and even bracelets and necklaces made from old inner tire tubes. And more bags and belts made from old lorry canvas.
Of course there was lots of crap too, like giant insects made from plastic beads. Someone really had too much time on their hands. We spent a while watching this fella struggle to recite songs and texts from his scraps of paper. He was just adorable, even if we didn’t understand much. And we tucked into all the yummy international street food delights. There was gyros from a Greek family, coconut-yoghurt-honey shakes from some Asian ladies and candied almonds like they sell at German Christmas Markets.
One evening we popped into Nirvana Bar where they serve gory cocktails like the Zombie and home brew kept in science lab glasses. Having craved some proper Indian food we treated ourselves to dinner at a superb north Indian restaurant afterwards. We spent the evening sitting outside in the mild summer breeze with a view over the water and some boats, reminiscing about our mad experiences in India.
In keeping with the subject we watched Crows Egg at the Deckchair Cinema a couple of evenings later. The movie reminds of Slumdog Millionaire and isn’t particularly amazing. But having been to India we had lots of fun with all the jokes and ironies as they only happen in India.
We’d run out of things to do and hadn’t been able to get hold of our friends on Skype so we were happy to set off on Tuesday morning. Because Mr. investigator had upgraded us to a different room, it all ended up in a confused misunderstanding that had us pay lots more for one night less. When Aidan went back to clarify, they said to come back Tuesday and speak to management. Hm… we decided not to bother. As it was, this wasn’t too much of a train smash.
The hostel had been rather unpleasant and noisy with a few shady, fifty-something, under-educated characters sitting on the veranda outside our room smoking, coughing up phlegm, spitting it onto the floor day in day out. They’d get drunk and start fights among each other and no one paid any heed to people wanting to sleep at night. By Tuesday we were rather sleep deprived and keen to leave.
We’d gotten to the stage where the bikes wanted some thing or other repairing almost every day and I’d spent some time working on Lea. I was still waiting for a new chain and sprocket. (Yes, already! The last ones I’d put on in Alice Springs were crap and the chain ad stretched so much, I couldn’t adjust it much more.) The chain had arrived in the post but the sprocket hadn’t. So we’d have to wait near Darwin.
WikiCamps mentions a spot on the beach in Fog Bay one hundred odd km away so that’s where we headed. Another camper had taken the prime spot on the cliff so we followed a sandy track in search of some privacy. The bikes struggled in the deep sand and Aidan actually unloaded some stuff and carried in by hand. Then Pippa followed willingly.
We were worried the bikes wouldn’t make it back up so we left them on top of the dune (with a view… we’re not that mean).
Now this was paradise! The perfect rock to keep us dry at high tide with a tree for shade. And as ever with the best things in life it was totally free. A white bird of prey kept circling above and swallows were swooping about doing their best to reduce the mozzie population. Once unloaded I rode Lea back up the beach to fetch some drinks in Dundee. We dug a hole into the shady side of the dune, put the beers and vodka in, then covered it with a wet mat we found. This was the perfect fridge, keeping the drinks cold till the next evening.
We made a little bonfire to cook dinner and bake chapattis while skunk kept watch, pretending to be a unicorn.
That evening we were treated to the most amazing sunset.
We woke to a giant smoke cloud rising above the dunes. The smoke started blocking the sun and a grey mist and pieces of charred palm tree descended on our paradise. The wind had changed direction and was coming from inland where the burn offs were threatening to flare up out of control. I was hoping they wouldn’t come much closer. We’d be ok on the beach but they might cut us off from civilization and further beer (and drinking water) supplies. We’d have to bring the bikes down too. Aidan wasn’t worried though.
Sure enough the smoke soon died down, long before we saw any actual flames approaching. Today was busy. First some aborigines and later some guys on quads and even a dune buggy pulling a boat went past on the sand track they were collecting crabs, having put crab baskets in the nearby estuary. A camper went past too. Then a 4WD turned up, a young French couple spilling out, heading for the rocks to smash something on. Turns out they’d found a coconut which they came over to share.
We sat chatting swapping beer, vodka and coconut till the sun got too toasty. We were sure the box jellyfish season was over but there could be saltwater crocodiles. And salties are the aggressive kind, known to attack humans. I went down to the water. Just as I was about to jump in, I spotted some fins. Keen surfers, our French friends had been talking about sharks, so I was suspicious and ran back to the others. They’d seen them too. In fact they were dolphins! We watched them catch smaller fish among the rocks by the shore before disappearing to deeper waters.
The French guys and I did jump into the water in the end, scaring each other with imaginary crocodiles that turned out to be more rocks. But we didn’t stay long, just in case. Aidan followed but was soon limping back with bleeding feet. No, it wasn’t a crocodile. He’d just managed to lose a fight with some rocks under the water. His bloody footprints in the sand would lead any hungry crocodiles right back to our tent.
The camper that had zoomed past came over to warn us of the crocodiles that live in the nearby estuary. Apparently the older ones push the younger ones out. These then live along the shores where we were swimming! And they learn your habits. So never wash the dishes or swim in the same place twice. I’m glad he told us after we’d cooled off in the refreshing waves! The French guys went for a stroll along the beach later and saw one of the crocks! It was three metres long but refused to hang around for a closer look.
We spent the afternoon lazing, fetching fire wood, reading, sunbathing till we were red as a lobster and writing our diaries.
Later they went to sneak a free shower at Dundee Resort and to fetch some beers. Meanwhile Aidan and I cooked dinner on the fire. Just as the others got back, a huge stingray jumped out of the water in front of the pink and red setting sun. It was breathtaking! Aidan missed it all, pointing his arse at it doing the washing up on the rocks. The others joined us at the fire and we chatted away late into the night.