happnin' The Outback - 6am - 6pm horizontal

Yolanda’s bit
The flight Bali-Darwin was one of those awful night flights not long enough to let you sleep but long enough to leave you exhausted.
The long white socks and shorts friendly shuttle bus driver left us in the wrong part of town. 6am and we had 6h. to kill till the too antiseptic Christian style hostel woman let us in.
Falling over the breakfast table, on the park by the sea benches, falling asleep in front of the hostel TV.

It was a welcoming town for travelers. Running across the middle was the street with everything us demanding travelers need plus more. Australia IS HUGE and expensive in comparison to Asia -as we would immediately notice- and Darwin is the best spot to arrange traveling alternatives if not much more.
Buying-selling cars, sharing lifts, renting vans, in all modes to choose. Strange to have friendly native English-speaking servants, enjoy normal food, drink tap water!, not being harassed by touts, not being cheated on prices, but then again, since day one I started panicking about money. It's going so fast now! The whole concept of money and value of things changes radically as soon as you leave Asia and always to your disadvantage and shock.

One day sleeping, next day looking for lifts. Not having driven for fifteen years and not having a clue about mechanics we didn't venture buying a vehicle. There were a few ads with lifts offered around hostels. Being a couple seemed to be a handicap. One of the ads said at the end "sorry, no couples", another one which suited our plans told us on the phone "I don't take couples". Fair enough. We finally found Mikki "I'm an Israeli guy going to Cairns via Kakadu National Park. Leaving ASAP". After a five minutes meeting we agreed on leaving the next day.

We did some shopping: a tent and some basic food. It was going to be a few days on the road. At night, making a few really cheap phone calls to the UK we found a flight ticket on the street booth. It was a round the world ticket, the guy was English and not far into his trip yet. His next flight to the States was next morning at 6am. We sympathized with the guy and acted midnight heroes for a while. We looked for him, told the bars and hostels around, told the night guard (who didn't give a damn), called Qantas Airlines and left a note on the phone booth. I expect our boy wouldn't sleep that night but would have caught his flight eventually.

9am. The Blue Falcon parks at the entrance of the hostel with Mikki and Nathan inside. Nathan has been traveling through Asia for a few months and is now on his way home -Sidney. No rush though. Mikki has been all over the place for ages and there's more to come. Three years' military service done and money from the government to spend.
He did all the driving, finding the good spots to sleep, the cooking, the fire and he loved it. Or better, he couldn't help doing it. He was a man of action and few words but if you knew how to get him started he was very friendly and sweet.

On that first day Nathan didn't make a great impression on me. He was looking really rough, had a last-night scar on his face and was talking lots of crap non stop. He had a huge hangover and told us about his previous night.
Pub games. He was absolutely drunk and played the tube game. There's an elastic fabric long big tube held by someone at each end. There's a group at each side of the tube. In turns, a bloke and a girl enter the tube from both ends and exchange t-shirts in the middle. Then they came out.
There was some other game he played in which someone swings you round and round holding you from your feet- only. On one of the swings his head hit the wall and that's the scar on his face. I didn't quite get the purpose of this game.

We were driving 180kph average. Empty straight roads through the desert. We were in the outback. Land of nothing and so much. Bush, cacti, termite red towers, barren terrain, huge red rocks. We entered the vast area of Kakadu National Park after midday.
After having a look at the visitors' center with the exhibition of what's there to see and its history we went in search of the first crocodile watching spot.

The dry heat was unbelievable, it automatically made you move in space in really slow motion. There was an old man with his prismatics who assured us he was seeing a crocodile in the distance. We tried and tried but didn't see a thing. He kept telling us about its feeding habits and the next move it would make.

That night we found one of the Park's designated camping spots in the middle of the forest. As we were setting our tent up -Nathan his hammock, where he would sleep for the whole trip-, thousands of fiery mosquitoes came up out of nowhere and started biting blindly while we run for our mosquitoes repellent. They were faster.
A friendly ranger woman came by to collect a small fee and to warn us about the few different animals around -dingoes, snakes, etc. Mikki cooked the first meal -noodle soup. We were dinning on a wooden platform to avoid insects and that's where some red ants with a swollen green bottom ate my butt. They would give me the most horrific itch in the next few days.

There was a slide show on about the park put up by the rangers and we joined the rest of the campers like in a school class. The teacher was nervous and excited about the subject and told us about crocodiles, aborigines and the land. Someone admitted crocodile meat was very nice and tasty. And there was an old woman who kept asking annoying questions. Just like at school.

During the night in the tent it was cold and quite uncomfortable without sleeping bags or mats. I heard lots of strange noises like people walking very near us and very silently. Then some animal noises, it sounded like a battle. I wondered if Nathan was still alive in his hammock and precarious mozzy net. Next morning he explained how lots of dingoes came in the night and wanted to fight with him but he barked them away and then they started to eat some towel that was hanging from a bush. That was MY super absorbent super compact traveling towel.

The next few days we spent driving along Kakadu immense park and stopping in the interesting spots. Always under beyond-cooking sun we climbed amazing viewing spots, huge rocky bits with aboriginal art and remains in the middle of the desert, unbelievably beautiful waterfalls in different levels where you could swim far from the crocodiles, made a boat trip in the Yellow Waters where we did see a few crocodiles (though they didn't do much), strange birds and exotic flowers. We didn't see kangaroos but we saw a Wallaby.

We camped in nice spots allocated by the Park's organization, cooked, telephoned for free with Mikki's straw trick, told stories; Nathan brought his tiny Vietnamese kind of guitar out and he entertained us day and night with his songs, and his jokes. He was very good at it. And we looked at the upside down starry nights making that strange equidistant circle of light (anybody get sick yet?) And then back on the never-ending straight road heading to Cairns.

Hours of nothingness, bush desert world, strange high fluffy white clouds, lizards on the road and Nathan screaming songs against the wind on the front seat, Mikki driving very seriously and really fast. We stopped anywhere by the road to sleep when the sun went down.
Nights were getting colder and colder and by then we'd bought sleeping bags and used cardboard boxes as mats. Mikki was fine inside the Blue Falcon but we were still expecting to find Nathan stiff frozen in his hammock any morning. We made fires, got drunk and Nathan sang his heart out. Ten days had passed since we left Darwin when we got to Cairns.

It had been a beautiful experience, a completely different way of traveling, lots of fun, the sight lost in the desert. It was time to part.

Miles’s bit
The flight was a bit of a killer, after leaving just after midnight it got us in to Darwin just in time for sunrise. As usual I hadn't slept on the plane and was on the verge of collapse. We dithered at the airport over where we should stay, phoned and booked somewhere then got a shuttle bus to the wrong part of town.

After a good breakfast (fresh pasteurized milk - the first in months!) we tried again and found a hostel that had a room (Darwin is popular with the backpackers and finding vacant accommodation in Australia was a problem that would persist. We found somewhere with a room but they couldn't let us in until midday, so we staggered off to a park to pass the time trying not to fall asleep on the benches.

Darwin turned out to be much like the rest of Australia: big, wide open and spread out. It was great to be out of Asia after so many months and we welcomed simple pleasures such as toilet seats and supermarkets with familiar products but at a cost that soon started to eat into our pockets.

To get about in Australia you really need your own transport or failing that then someone else's. The backpacker trail is fairly well established in Australia and we soon managed to pick up a long distance shared lift (you share the cost of the petrol) and this turned out to be one of the most fun things we did. On board with us was Nathan from Sydney (on his way home from traveling in Asia) and Mikki (an Israeli guy who'd been almost everywhere). We roughly arranged a route and schedule (err, as long as it takes man!), did a quick bit of shopping for essentials (cheap tent and food) then we hit the road.

We soon settled into a fun life in the outback. Mikki did all the driving while Nathan entertained with songs on his 20US$ guitar that he'd bought in Vietnam. The scenery zoomed past. We would drive all day, occasionally making stops at places of interest (waterholes, historical Aboriginal sites, petrol stations) and would camp at night - Mikki in his car, Nathan in his hammock and us in our tent.

The first couple of days from Darwin we were in Kakadu National park. One of the main attractions were the Rock Paintings. As we headed between the sights I got a real feeling of the scale of the landscape. Heading south we passed through some wetlands and took a boat trip out on the water - we saw a number of salt water crocodiles.

Outside of the Park as we headed south and then east, at night we would camp on the sides of the road, cooking up meals on a small gas stove and telling tales of our travels to each other. We started to notice the cold as well. In Darwin it had been tropical hot, something we were quite used to but slowly as each day passed and we moved in latitude we noticed it becoming colder, it was after all approaching winter for the southern hemisphere. After a couple more days we stopped in a town and went in search of sleeping bags for the nights cold.

And then suddenly we were there in Cairns, and ten days had passed. It had been a great journey but it was over.