I was watching
with one eye on the other side
I had fifteen people telling me to move
I got moving on my mind
I found shelter
In some thoughts turning wheels around
I said 39 times that I love you
to the beauty I had found
- White Strips, Hotel Yorba, White Blood Cells, 2001

Day One Hundred and Seventy Six December 11th

There’s not a lot to do in Darwin.  You can walk all of downtown in about twenty minutes.  The main site is the Museum we saw yesterday, a Woolworths were they sell food and all the rest is just filler.  That’s OK though since we are leaving today to fly to the middle of the Red Centre.  We are all glad to be moving on and hopefully out of the rain and humidity.  It is still really hot.

We are flying to Alice Springs, The Middle of Nowhere Australia.  It is hard to believe the airlines have flight service in and out of here, but then again the drive is over 1,400K so they need an alternative for the tourist trade.  And the tourist trade needs to get to Alice Springs as it is the only springboard to Ayers Rock or Uluru. 

We get up fairly early for us these days to re-pack our clean laundry and head to the airport for our flight.  It’s pouring rain on and off: good to be leaving with the storms threatening the way they are.  At check out we learn the Internet service is based on the amount of data we use as well as the amount of time we are logged on.  Surprise! So a $1.99 episode on iTunes actually costs another $30 to download.  Someone is making a fortune on this Internet access thing.  

We have another box that we need to send back home so we stop by the post office thinking Australia is a solid option for mail and that it is probably a good bet that a box will make the trip in one piece.  $80 to mail the box.  It’s a small box mind you and we don’t care when it actually arrives (as long as it does) and the cheapest option is still $80.  $80! For a box (small).  Someone out there needs to create a company that can disintermediate the shipping value chain. A fortune is sitting there for a reliable, low-cost provider.  This is a global problem, I mean opportunity, and ripe for the picking.  

At the airport a nice couple takes one look at us and promptly hands us a $30 travel voucher that they are not using so we can feed the kids.  We are a bit thin these days.  Excellent, play it forward, naturally we load up on coffee and water pre-flight.  This is all a good thing since we are cash strapped at the moment waiting for accounts to clear.  Moving money electronically has been great but you need to remember to top off the tank now and again.  Already Australia is much more expensive than we thought it would be.  

We are flying Qantas, so I keep snickering since all I can think of is Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.  The flight is very nice and surprisingly full.  Must be the Oprah effect.  It is amazing to look out the plane window for an hour and see no signs of life below.  And to think some nutty people make the drive just for the experience of all that nothingness.  It looks insane from 30,000 feet.

When we land it is well over a thousand degrees.  The walk from the plane to the terminal all but zaps the life out of us.   It is a slog to get our bags and find the rental car counter.  

The guidebooks said that the “Red Centre” is hot but nothing really prepares you for this.  With all the red dirt, blue sky and intense sunshine it all looks so inviting but as soon as you step foot outside the heat just overpowers you.  For the first time I have a real sense of how people can die out here from the heat.  It’s beyond Africa and Jordan.  Actually, this is way beyond anything we have ever experienced. 

The people are very friendly.  Our rental car lady checks us in for half and hour chatting away about this and that, suggesting places to go and things to do in town.  One of “the guys” comes back after leaving for the day to track down a booster seat for Vince and then hand delivers it to us in the parking lot.  That’s not happening in LA I assure you. Her last piece of advice and a rule of the rental car companies actually is not driving after dusk.  “That’s when the really big stuff comes out to lie on the roads seeking warmth” Big stuff? “Oh, mostly roos and lizards, that kind of thing, no worries though.”  Lizards?  “Bigger than the car.  Do all kinds of damage.  Best to wrap up by sundown.” No worries.

Our apartment is in town and part of a complex that appears to be a mix of short term and long-term rentals.  It is perfect for us with two big bedrooms, a nice kitchen and sitting area all with glorious air conditioning.  It is a self-cater set up so we grab some food at the local Woolworth, dine in and call it a night.  

In the evening it cools down to nine hundred and ninety nine degrees before bedtime.

Day One Hundred and Seventy Seven December 12th

Alice Springs is a stop over point between everywhere else and Uluru so you don’t really expect much of the place.  We have a day here to see what there is to see and check out life in the Red Centre.  It is hotter than yesterday to add some perspective.

There is a living desert museum here, The Alice Springs Desert Park, with an outdoor exhibit of three climate zones common out in the middle of nowhere.  How exciting does that sound? We pretty much have the place to ourselves.

It turns out to be a great stop.  It is a living museum in the sense that each region has plants and animals found in the given zone.  Some are just growing wild while others are set in large enclosed areas.  It is amazing to see how everything adapts to the two things you must have out here (1) water and (2) a way to deal with the heat.

The highlight is a Ranger talk by a local guide descended from the Aboriginal tribes that live in the area.  He discusses tribal life and the differences between “men’s” and “women’s” business.  There are spears and shields and cooking items and food sources.  The items are passed around to give you a sense of weight and feel.   This hour spent and the understanding we get about the area and the people make all of the travel to Alice Springs worthwhile.  

The Aboriginal people have been here for 30-40,000 years.  It is the oldest continual line of people/culture in the world.  We learn all sorts of things about the way they pass down information between generations.  That the young never ask why of an Elder: because the Elders speak for all that have come before them.  That marriages are set up between distant clans to preserve bloodlines and make sure the gene pool is solid.  That the maximum number of people per living section of land is known and strictly adhered to in order to preserve food and water sources.  It is all  fascinating.  

Today, the Aborigines are having a tough go of things.  The parallels to the American Indians are uncanny.  Pushed off the native land, corralled into cramped, unnatural space.  They are lost and feeling the effects in every way.  Interestingly, our guide is very hopeful and he firmly believes that in two or three generation they will figure out how to be survive in the new world and once again thrive in the new environment.   The fact that he is taking a “two of three generation” view of it all speaks volumes.

 One of best exhibits in the Museum is a big building they have out in the middle of the park with a night exhibit.  As you walk in from the blaring sun and oppressive heat, the areas gets gradually darker and cooler until you are under the night sky.  All of the animals are exhibited in darkness so that the night creatures are comfortable being active.  It’s wild.  All kinds of things are wandering around after dark.  Trust me if you come to the Red Centre stay inside when the sun goes down.  Here, what you don’t know can definitely kill you.

A quick note about the people that live here: they all look hung over.  Pretty much everyone is a bit bleary.  I can only imagine how bad the drinking problem is here.  When Teri bought a bottle of wine she noticed that there are restrictions on how much alcohol you can by in a 24-hour period and it seem it’s with good reason.  

The Aborigines look completely lost and out of place.  There is no connection between people what so ever and no attempt is made to interact.  There is no eye contact.  No one is smiling.  And they all look hung over too.  

There is a really sense of survival about the place but its mixed with enough creature comfort to deaden the senses.  Here is seems the modern world is not necessarily a good thing. 

Day One Hundred and Seventy Eight December 13th  

Uluru is three hundred miles from Alice Springs.  This is a “short” drive here in Australia.  We would agree except that Teri kept telling us all it was three hundred kilometers and we are all geared up for a two hour drive that turns into four and change.  Plus, the heat is just ridicules.

Over three hundred miles we pass: ten trucks (all train trucks three cars long), twenty-four cars, one bike and twenty-seven hawks circling above.  That is over three hundred miles and includes coming out of Alice Springs and coming into Uluru.  The place is empty and fascinating.

At one point we stop for gas and the guy in the store tells me this is a cool day.  That a hot day is in the low fifties and flies cover you head to toe.  The “fifties” are anywhere from 122 to 140 degrees in our world.  This could be one of the most intense environments on the planet.  Thank goodness they have cold Diet Coke!

The drive is odd in that it is unremarkable in most ways but the solitude is hard to grasp and shake.  You begin to get just a small taste of what life beyond the small towns is really like out here.  A lot of it is still uncharted, undiscovered.  They keep finding new things here: animals, plants, stuff from space, all kinds of things.  Imagine finding anything new in the States; probably not going to happen.  Here it seems that something like eighty percent of the place is uninhabited and still open for discovery and interpretation.  It is appealing in an add sort of way.

The town, I use town loosely here, of Uluru is set up for tourists coming to see the rock.   There are five hotels ranging from camping on the low end to a plush hotel on the very high end, all built around a circular drive with the rest of the infrastructure tucked in between them.  There is a gas station, a guide shop, and the small square where you can buy stuff, a grocery store, a few restaurants and a manageable number of cars and people.  

We are staying mid-range at the Lost Camel Resort.  It is very nice and has a pool so all is well.  We drop our bags. Grab a quick bite and then head over to the Visitors Center to get our bearings for our less than twenty-four hour stay.

As soon as you see the rock it sort of pulls you in.  Nothing else matters: it dominates the horizon.  The thing is huge.  I thought it would be smooth for some reason but its not.  It has pockmarks and indentations and stains down the sides from rainfall.  It definitely has an impact.

There is not much at the Cultural Center.  We use it as a background check and a warm up for tomorrow.  There are a few exhibitions and some information about the management board made up of both natives and Australians.  You get the impression all is working well between them but it is hard to tell.  The best news is that they have a suitable Ranger walk at 8a that we can aim for.

The kids are cranked up so on the way back to the hotel we stop and have them run around the parking lot at one of the sunset overlooks. When I suggest they do laps Vince dutifully takes off with Adele on his heels.  It is a crazy and hilarious scene.  If only the heat and sun would wear them down! 

When we get back to the hotel everyone is tense from the long travel day in the heat.  Since the energy levels are still running high we opt for our last hope to cool down and relax.  When all else fails, go for a swim. This turns out to be a good fit.  We spend and hour or so after dinner at the pool regrouping from the long day.  The sun sets and leaves a burnt orange glow over everything.   From the pool you can float on your back and watch the colors change on the trees.

Vince and I are in the Chico room and Teri and Adele share one for the Chicas. As soon as heads hit pillows we are all out like lights.

Lost Camel Resort room note left on the bed: “Due to unseasonal rain and flooding which appears to have dramatically altered the lifecycle of much of the desert flora and fauna, insects are in plague proportions.  We apologize for any inconvenience.”

They actually say “plague”…

Day One Hundred and Seventy Nine December 14th 

We start the day with an 8a hike from the base of the rock with one of the guides from the Park Ranger Service.  Once again we get someone that truly loves their job.  I overhear him telling some young kids with the group that he has been training to do this all his life and can think of nothing else he would rather be doing.  It shows in his work.  The two-hour walk is one of the best we have had in a National Park.

He is full of stories and information about the rock and the Aboriginal tribes that have lived here.  The big take away for me is just how interconnected everything is here and how in tune the people are with the land.  Clearly there is something going on and it is happening on more levels than I can understand.  It makes you feel completely out of touch with what ever it is yet at some base level very much at home and a part of something all around you.  I have no idea how to describe it: I am not sure what it is exactly.  But it is something and it is meaningful.  Maybe it’s the heat.

By noon we are checked out of the hotel and are bound for the airport.  We decided to fly out of here instead of driving back to Alice Springs (a great decision in retrospect) so we are due to drop off the car and catch a 1:30p flight to Perth.   Logistics are easy and the flight painless.  As we climb off the desert floor, seeing Uluru from the air, it standing there all alone, in the vast emptiness, is really something.  

Landing in Perth is like coming back to the real world.  The airport is big and bustling.  People are moving to and fro and moving in all directions. It feels odd to be with so many people again after being so isolated in Darwin and Uluru.  

I will say again that I feel totally comfortable here in Australia.  I like everything about it.  The people seem positive and upbeat and there is a palpable energy in the air. It feels alive.  

For the next two weeks we have arranged for a home exchange with our house in Malibu. This means we stay here and the family we are exchanging with stays in our place, though in this case they are not coming until the summer or 2012.  Fortunately they have a few homes and we get to do one week down on the beach in a small town in the southwest corner and another up in the city of Perth.  Unfortunately, we still have a 300K drive to Yallingup.

 So, about Yallingup.  It is a tiny town (not really, its more like a community) on the ocean about three hours south of Perth.  It easily has one of the best beaches in the world.  It must be one of the best surf spots on the coast with breaks coming in left, right and center.  The reef stretches along the beach to break the really big waves though they are still on the high side by our standards.  

It feels like the Hamptons when I was a kid.  At night everyone goes to sleep and you can’t see any lights.  During the day you notice when people drive by.  We walk down to the water.  There is a small playground and a place to shower up after a swim.  At the base by the parking lot is a camping spot for a dozen of so luck campers. 

Our house sits just up the hill, set back a bit from the road and high enough for full on ocean views from the decks. There is one big room downstairs, bedrooms up top and an office out back.  The family has small kids so there are three big toy chests and a bunch of kids stuff.  It is perfect for a week of rest and relaxation.  

We arrive late.  On the way into the house we stop by for take out Thai food and some basic supplies.  Then we find our way and begin to settle in.  All in all today was a long travel day but the bookends of the early morning hike and the late night arrival at the beach make it all worthwhile.    

Day One Hundred and Eighty December 15th 

Up to a glorious day.  The sun is shining and the beach is calling.  We spend the entire day there, in the morning I head down with Vince to play in the surf and sand.  Then we head back to the house for lunch and then return with Adele for more of the same all afternoon.  It is fantastic.

Day One Hundred and Eighty One December 16th

Up to a glorious day, again!  You can get used to this kind of lifestyle.  The sky is a deep blue and the sun is shining, the salt air crisp and clean.

Today we decide to journey down to Margaret River.  This is the central town on the wine circuit and billed as the place to be in this neck of the woods.  I guess it is if you like that kind of thing.  To us it seems like any other small town.  It is a bit odd to see a Target here on the other side of the world but other than that is a sleepy, somewhat downscale version of the Cape.

Vince isn’t feeling well today.  He has been off lately and today it seems to finally be taking its toll on him.  Since the temperature is really high in the sun and the main street doesn’t really have that much to offer we do one quick loop, stop by a pharmacy for some meds and call it an afternoon.  

Though not before buying two boogie boards and checking out the surf shops for my eco-friendly board short project.  It seems the big surf wear houses are offering some form of RPET poly shorts but not up to par with what we intend to do with VinniVooms.  To further test the concept and pick up Vin’s spirits we get matching board shorts to celebrate the pending launch of the new company.  The world needs eco-friendly board shorts for fathers and sons! At least this world does.

We need gas so we pull into a BP station.  One of the things about the Australians is that they love to tell jokes and they don’t seem to care what they say in front of children.  The gas station guy leans into the car and says, “This guy walks into a psychiatrist stark naked, wrapped in plastic wrap and asks, Doc what’s wrong with me? And the psychiatrist says, well sir I can see you nuts!”  Ok, so it’s funny.  Which prompts Adele to say, “What’s so funny?” And Vince so start yelling, “Nuts, that guy said nuts!” in his Tylenol induced delirium.   Ah, what happened to the chicken crossing the road?  Got to love these Australians.

Day One Hundred and Eighty Two December 17th

Yet another glorious day.  These skies have possibly the most beautiful and bluest hue we have seen to date.  They look fake.  Actually, it is hard not to be shocked each time you walk out the door into the sunshine.  And it’s hot.  Really, really hot.  Again.

It is Adele’s turn to be under the weather today.  She wakes up with the same thing Vince has been fighting for the past few days.  It was a tough night with both kids down for the count.  Not a lot of sleep for the parents.

We decide to lay low and recoup as we celebrate our halfway point in our years long journey.  This is day one hundred and eighty two, the mid-year point in terms of days.  If you had asked me a year ago where I would be today I would have been hard pressed to say Perth Australia.  It has been one incredible ride.

And to think we are only half way there…

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolabah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"
-Banjo Paterson, 1895 

Day One Hundred and Sixty Nine to Seventy Two December 4-7th

These four days are at the tail end of our week in Langkawi, Malaysia.  As I said in the last post these days pretty much blended together into one long glorious week of rest and relaxation.  The setting was so amazing that we did not leave the hotel grounds except for a short trip by Teri into town for supplies and a bit of a break.

We are at the Andaman hotel.  The property is set in the jungle, cascading down a hillside, looking out onto a beautiful protected cove.  The white sand beach is filled with shells and coral and gentle rolling waves. 

We are just down from the big resorts in Thailand and sitting off the coast of Malaysia.  It feels like we are in some undiscovered paradise: like we somehow stumbled upon a well-kept secret known only in this part of the world.  Forget Phuket: come to Langkawi.

A few highlights from the week:

Monkeys.  There are two types of monkeys here: (1) the black tailed ones that are harmless and go about their business of chasing each other around the three tops, and (2) the brown tailed ones that cause trouble.  What kinds of monkey business can they get into?  

When I arrive back at the room from an afternoon swim Teri is next door yelling and screaming with our neighbor.  I can hear them as I come down the hallway and approach the room.  When I arrive our door is door ajar and the kids are huddled on the bed, wide eyed and talking non-stop.   Excitement and fear are thick in the air.
There is a sign on the doors leading out to our balcony that says you should always, that means ALWAYS, lock both the top, bottom and side locks to keep out unwanted visitors.  You never really take these things seriously, I mean how much damage can a monkey do anyway?  Plenty.  

The room next door is trashed.  Apparently the monkeys found a way in even though two of the three locks were fastened.  They raided the mini bar, went through all of the suitcases, closets and draws, general trashed everything and escaped with a big can of Pringles and perhaps some jewelry though it is hard to tell with all of the drama and hysterics (understandable of coarse).  They could teach a rock star a few lessons on room trashing.

This is Vincent’s worst fear come true.  He has been dreaming about “bad monkeys” now of weeks.  He wakes up in cold sweats from nightmares talking about them: we have no idea why or where it is coming from but this turn of events certainly does not sit well with the big guy.   He is down right terrified; you can see it in his eyes.  

For the rest of our time here Vince hides all of the food and anything he considers valuable under the bed so the monkeys don’t see it.  He also stays within half a step of us at all times: any rustling trees sends him into a tizzy.  
Sand dollars and seashells.  When was the last time you saw real sand dollars washed up on the beach?  They have them here if you look carefully.  We found several whole ones, washed up at the tide line with perfect five point patterns.  And seashells?  There is a perfect collection here for making bracelets and necklaces.  We spend an hour or so each day walking the tide line and scouting around for the perfect shells. 

Jingle Bells.  There are three guys with guitars that roam around the dinner tables down at the beach taking requests.  When they come our way we get “Puff the Magic Dragon” on the first day.  Why do they call him puff Adele wants to know?  All I can think of is Robert Di Nero’s character in Meet the Parents.  

Then Vince puts in a request for Jingle Bells.  They pause at Jingle Bells, suggesting that they may need some help with the words.  I am standing off to the side with Adele and mention to her that I thought everyone knows the words to Jingle Bells.  Adele, always thinking and every insightful, rolls her eyes and says, “Dad, this is a Muslim country!” Lot’s of brainpower under those blond curls.  I can’t tell you have great it feels as a parent to hear all of the travel lessons coming back to you at the most unexpected times.    

Swimming beyond the break.  Anyone can wade at the shoreline.  The real fun starts out beyond the break.  For the first time Adele is able to swim in the ocean, and I mean really swim.  She can do the crawl with bilateral breathing!  She will run down the beach, dive into the surf, come up on the other side of the waves and then swim out beyond the chop.  It’s fun to watch her confidence and comfort levels soar.  

Vince, the ever-watchful little brother, follows her every move.  He runs down the beach after Adele and jumps in belly first, splashing and rolling in the waves.  His face is in the water and he will come out and float some if we promise to catch him and hold him tight.  I give him another few weeks of beach time and then expect he will be out here with the rest of us. 

Bugs.  The bugs are very loud here in the jungle.  Not “Oh, listen to those nice bugs” loud, but more like a  “CAN SOMEONE TURN OFF THE BUGS!” loud.  They are DEAFENING.  My ears HURT.  What? Then all of a sudden you stop noticing them. They seem to be gone!  It is odd but after a few hours they blend in to the blur of background noise.  In fact, you notice when they are not there.  It is a constant buzzing sound; like the engines are gearing up to lift off and you are all about to fly away.

Beachfront.  When you wake up from a “short” nap by rolling off your beach chair as it slopes to one side due to the waves eroding the sand beneath, you know you are in paradise.   You can sit for hours under the shade of enormous trees and have the waves wash up around you feet.  The bay is picture perfect: like living in some sort of surf movie.  Plus, they will bring you Diet Cokes whenever you raise your hand.

Storms.  It rained last night.  Hard.  I mean very hard.  So hard it woke me up.  With the rain pounding into the windows and the surf crashing onto the shoreline it felt like the end of the world.  When you are staying a few yards, essentially sleeping right next to the ocean, on an island that has a history with big waves, and it is very late at night or maybe very early in the morning, and it is raining, pouring, your thoughts naturally go where they should not, to a tsunami.

Lying in the darkness you can get a bit freaked if you dwell on it.  Are the warning buoys in place? How much time do we have? Can we scramble to the stairs fast enough?  Is the top floor high enough?  The rain rages on and the waves sound bigger and bigger with each set.  They crash with thunderous booms.  Maybe best to stay awake for a while to make sure everything is OK.  I get up and peer out the window into total darkness and a driving down pour.  All right then, no choice but to stay awake for a while, at least until the waves stop, just in case.

The Spa.  Teri goes for a “treatment.” Apparently it must be quite something.  She comes back totally relaxed, mellow as can be, mumbling something about the “treatment” rooms perched on the mountainside with outdoor showers and sitting areas and bathrobes worth buying and flowers and incense and fresh juice and herbal teas.  Phew, and to think all she had was a facial.  

Langkawi.  Come here for a while when you need a break.  Stay at the Andaman; don’t bother to leave the property.  Be careful or ten years may slip away before you know it.  

Day One Hundred and Seventy Three December 8th 

Boy it is hard to leave this place.  We celebrate with our last buffet breakfast and grab a cab back to the airport for our 9:30a flight to KL.  This is a big travel day, not so much in terms of distance but in terms of time.  We leave the hotel in Langkawi at 8a and get into the hotel in Darwin and 4a.  That is a lot of travel time, even by our standards.

Not much happens along the way. At least not much to us, our bags however seem to have their own separate adventure.  You can’t trust those bags to fly solo. Give them and inch and they will hop off in Singapore for a night of revelry.  At least that is their last known whereabouts.
We get stamped out of Malaysia by passport control and stop down in Singapore to pick up another flight to Darwin Australia.  When we checked in they tagged the bags to Singapore and mumbled something about getting them between flights and transferring them ourselves or then again maybe it was checking in with someone else that may say don’t worry them, blah, blah, blah.  It was all a bit confusing.  It’s a five-hour lay over so we have plenty of time to sort it all out.

When we do stop by a JetStar desk in Singapore the lady tells us not to worry, no need to fret that they bags are only tagged to here, JetStar will pick them up and send them on our flight to Darwin.  She looked legit and was wearing a uniform, standing behind a little JetStar desk.  Mind you this JetStar think is sketchy at best.  It is some kind of low cost charter and they use other airlines counters and put paper JetStar signs up so you know it is them.  

Are we going to Darwin?   Not with out Visas.  Visas? We need Visas for Australia?  Did I mention that we are Americans! How much?  Book and pay online? Really, are you sure? Bags? What bags?  Oh, no need to worry about the bags? Excellent.

When we get off the plane in Darwin at 3a security is tight.  They search us with sniffing dogs.  They almost take the kids away because Vince had a banana and the smell is driving the sniffing beagle nuts and they think maybe we have another one somewhere, and the kids are fruit smugglers or something.  They would have searched our bags but it seems that they forgot to get on the plane.  Easy enough to forget with all the distractions, just like I forgot to enter my middle name on the Visa application.  Apparently they want to know why I forgot my middle name so now I get held back while the rest of the family clears through.  Explain that to two exhausted children, why daddy needs to stay behind with the policewomen and he cannot come into Australia just yet.  This is all happening at 3a mind you, now it’s almost 4a.

Eventually we hail a cab.  They drive on the wrong side of the road here.  When I point that out to our Indian cab driver he looks a bit nervous and eyes me like I am certifiably insane, which I may be at this point, after almost twenty hours of travel, sans luggage.  I did not mean to upset the man: he seems to be having enough trouble driving without being nervous about some crazy American with family in his cab. He must be new, maybe a bit of small talk will calm him down, “Sorry, we drive on the right side back home in the States, so, where are all the kangaroos?” No answer, he laughs nervously.  “I thought they would be hopping all over the place.  You know, boing, boing, boing, so, do they sleep at night?”  He is totally confused, “Five minutes Mister, five minutes to the Novotel, very fast!”  He speeds up. That’s five minutes Australian time: a half hour later we arrive at our hotel.

Day One Hundred and Seventy Four December 9th

Why bother to get out of bed when your bags are MIA and it is about a thousand degrees outside?  Because we are finally in Australia!  At long last we are actually here, finally on what may be, at least we hope it to be, more seemingly familiar soil.  Darwin is on the Northern tip of this great land and today is the start of our months long journey to explore some nooks and crannies.

First up is breakfast/lunch, food of some sort, any sort, preferable from a place called Duck Nuts. I like is here already.  They call “one of the best places to eat” in all of Darwin, Duck Nuts.  I have no idea what it all means but sign me up.  It’s a dark bar playing bad 80s music, somehow I seem to know every word, much to the amazement of the kids, Hey Mickey, He’s so fine, Go Go’s circa 1980 something, Hey Mickey, Hey Mickey! 

One of the first things you notice when you leave the air-conditioned hotel is just how hot and oppressive it is here.   The temp reading says 33 degrees and beyond humid.  Not that 33 means much to us.  All we know is that it is hot.  And we just came from the jungle so we know hot.  

The humidity does break on occasion with short bursts of torrential downpours that no one seems to notice.  In fact we are the only ones sitting inside for lunch, the locals seem to think it is down right balmy and they are all sitting outside enjoying the “fine day”.  They are all giddy with the “cool” front.  The funny thing about the rain is that they just seem to ignore it and walk around wet and soggy.  Probably with good reason since you dry out in no time and it is way to hot to ever get a chill. It is a good life lesson. 

We are all pretty excited to be here, after all Adele has been planning every detail of this part of the trip for months and at long last we have touched down.  Our first stop after lunch is the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.  Before we head in we make a quick fly by the bay to check out the Indian Ocean in this neck of the woods.

The tide is out.  Way, way, way out.  There is a paved boat launch that runs down towards the sea but never reaches the water.  We walk down a good long ways before we get anywhere close to the waterline.  At the end we meet a guy and I think maybe his daughter, hard to tell, with cameras mounted and pointed at a storm a brewing out over the bay.  The cameras click automatically wherever there are lightening flashes.

These guys are real storm chasers, like the ones on the Weather Channel.  To be honest I am not sure what to think.  Is the brewing storm really going to become a cyclone?  The rumors are everywhere in town and a warning is posted starting the day we fly out to Alice Springs.  Sure, that will be a nice smooth take off.  If these people are passing an afternoon at the off chance of snapping the perfect storm photo shouldn’t we be nervous?  Talking to them doesn’t really calm the fears.  They seem genuinely excited at the prospect of another big one.  

We end up talking with them for twenty minutes or so and they are the nicest people you will ever meet.  Turns out they come out here a lot to stand around and take pictures.  Not a lot to do here in Darwin.  The constant camera clicks are driven by a high tech light sensor that is attached to the tripod that automatically trips the shutter whenever there is any sign of change in light.  Very cool.  They tell us the tide is always this extreme, that the salty crocs are around but not to worry since they have twenty eight traps set out around the bay, that the box jellies really are something to fear and generally give the impression that there is not reason whatsoever to go anywhere near the water.  Not that we are nervous mind you.

We retreat to the museum and it is excellent.  They have an interesting display by contemporary Aboriginal artists, lots of history on the wildlife both land and sea and an unbelievable exhibit on Cyclone Tracy.  The timing is good: we are in the midst of a cyclone warning as we speak.

In 1974 Cyclone Tracy hit land on Christmas Eve and literally destroyed Darwin.  I had no idea.  When I say destroyed I mean it wiped out an entire city of forty five thousand people.  The damage was so bad that only a quarter of them stayed on, the rest fled never to return. That would be like total and utter destruction of a city the size of Annapolis back home.  Can  you imagine?

The winds were so strong that they broke the measurement instruments.  Lots of people died and almost every house and building was blown away.  The photos of the devastation are hard to take in.  

In the back of the exhibit they have a little room sealed behind a heavy door.  On it hangs a sign that lets you know it is raw audio of the storm recorded first hand by one of the survivors.  The sign warns people that may have lived through the event that going in and listening may be too much for them to handle.  Heed the warning.  It is so loud and disturbing that I cannot get fully inside.  

I am afraid to enter.  The recorded winds were overwhelming, so incredibly loud and sound so powerful.  You could here pieces of buildings flying by and scraping the ground around you.  The room is totally black so you cannot see anything, just like the night the storm hit.  My thoughts ran back to the clean up efforts I did in New Orleans after Katrina.  I was the same sort of feeling, the same kind of devastation.  It is a lesson well taken, never, ever underestimate the powerful force of nature.

On the way back to the hotel we do a quick shop so we can dine in.  The hotel has a kitchenette and we are way too tired to sit out and eat.  I pull the short stick and do the shop.  There is a guy in the beer store that is a typical outgoing Aussie:

Guy in the beer store:  Where you from mate?
Me: California
Guy in the beer store: Aw excellent mate, been to Seattle and Virginia once in the early 80s.
Me:  Next time come to Cali.
Guy in the beer store:  Love to mate, but I can’t, bit of a record now you know, minor thing, nobody was hurt, well not really, anyway mate, they want me to stay in country, its been years and all, you know how it is.
Me:  OK, so, well, cheers then.
Guy in the beer store: Right at you mate, cheers, good on ya!

Still recovering from that conversation I head into the pharmacy to pick up some saline solution.

Women behind the counter: American then?
Me: Yes, California
Women behind the counter, in a hushed whisper, leaning across so no one else can hear: ARE YOU WITH OPRAH?  
Everyone in the place sneaks a glance in my direction and leans into listen.
Me:  Who?
Women behind the counter: OPRAH, RUMOR HAS IT SHE IS HERE IN DARWIN!
Me (hysterical):  You have got to be kidding me.

No joke.  Oprah.  You miss something when you don’t watch the news.  Apparently Oprah is in Australia tapping her last shows and she is travelling around the country to take in the sights with three hundred fans.  Can the world get any stranger?

After dinner we decide that I need to go discuss the bag situation with the JetStar people in person so I trek back up to the airport to interview the seventeen-year old baggage clerk on the whereabouts of all of our worldly possessions.  He has no idea and takes no responsibility.  Excuse me? I move on to the nineteen-year old supervisor.  She is even worse as she adds in a twinge of sarcasm to our discussion.  I leave before I get arrested.  

Sans bags for another day. 

Day One Hundred and Seventy Five December 10th

New day, same clothes, no bags.  This bag thing may become an issue if they do not arrive in the next few hours.  Luckily we get word that they are in the house and ready for pick up at the airport anytime.  We stop by on the way out of town to change in the parking lot.

Today we are off to a wildlife park to look for kangaroos.  You never really think about it back home but Australia has pretty much been an island unto itself forever.  The result is an astonishing range of wildlife, much of it deadly, and almost all of it unique to the territories they live in.  The same goes for the trees and plants.

This wildlife park is a great way to get introduced to it all.  It’s raining again, pouring actually and we are the only ones here.  Thus far Australia is empty.  It is supposed to be high season but we seem to be the only ones out and about.  If this is crowded I can’t imagine what empty is like.  They only have something like 20 million people total, about the size of Cairo, in a country the size of the States.  For comparison, we have almost 300 million people.  

I guess that is how you can end up being the only ones at the wildlife park.  For some perspective, Darwin is a major city, something like fourth in size so this is like showing up and being all alone at the LA Zoo. 

They have a really big sign warning you about crocs.  Basically it says stay VERY far away at all times, they will kill you.   Nice welcome note.  We stick to the paths.  

At one stop they have a simulated rainstorm with thunder and lightening and a spider that may be real or may not be, doesn’t matter, it freaks out the kids (and the parents as well to be honest about it).  We run in the other direction.  All the spiders here can kill you and this one is huge.

Wallabies look like giant rats.  While we sit inside eating a snack one comes hopping into the building only to be picked up by the tail and removed by a ranger.  They are nutty.  We get a chance to see them up close and feed them carrots and veggies.  They are like hopping dogs and a strange site to the uninitiated.  

The heavy rains are kicking in so we lay low for the afternoon, do some laundry and call it an early night.  It is so nice to have our bags back! 

And to be in a land where everything seems familiar but is actually different than what you perceive it to be…