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Darwin - Kakadu - Yellow Waters - Nourlangie - Jabirou

This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.

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View Around the World for our Silver Wedding 2002 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Today it’s another early start with a 06:05 pick-up. Whilst the rest of this mammoth trip has been tailor made, here in Darwin we are joining a group tour. In the last few days, David and I have both expressed apprehension about the size of the group, and when a 50-seater coach turns up, our worst fears are confirmed. However, it actually turns out that there are only eight people on the trip today, half of which are returning to Darwin tonight on another coach, so tomorrow there will only be four of us. What a pleasant surprise, and being able to spread out in the bus does have its advantages.

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The road out of Darwin is straight, with boring countryside alongside it; mainly palms and tree plantations. Although I love learning about trivia concerning the places we pass, I find Barry’s voice so droning and comforting that I give up the struggle to keep awake. I am beginning to feel travel weary, and thinking that perhaps we should have included a couple of rest days in between all these travel days. We haven’t had any relaxation since Easter Islands, which is nearly two weeks ago. The chest infection is making me feel very low and run down, and I have severe diarrhoea. It doesn’t help that this is the hottest season here in Darwin with relentless discomfort from the exceptionally high humidity. At present the temperature is well into the 40 °C’s with 86% humidity. Everything feels too much trouble today; I would sooner curl up and sleep than see the sights.

Today's lack of photographs is a direct result of me feeling so rubbish. Anything and everything is too much trouble! Including taking photos.

At the breakfast stop I drag myself out of the bus but feel enlivened by a delicious muffin. The restaurant is rustic in the extreme, with bench seats of logs and hides and lots of timber and tree trunks and other outback paraphernalia. I return to the coach to continue my slumber until we arrive at the Warridjan Cultural Centre. We find many similarities with the PNG culture in the Aborigine customs, such as pidgin style English, ancestral worship and the ‘pay back’ traditions. If a member of one clan has injured or killed a person from another clan, the wronged person’s family will insist on retribution in the form of money, gifts and sometimes violent reprisals.

At the centre we overhear two English girls discussing their forthcoming swim in the nearby Sandy Billabong. Barry is horrified and tells us about a German tourist on an Overland style truck who also went swimming in the billabong recently after being reassured by her guide that it was perfectly safe: ‘the aborigines have been swimming here for years’. Unfortunately she was grabbed by a crocodile and despite efforts to save her, she died from her injuries. This area is known for its killer crocs – I don’t think I would go swimming anywhere around here! I even heard a story about a crocodile that somehow found its way to the public pool in Jabirou, the only sizable town around here.

Barry has talked a lot about bush tucker, he even showed a video in the bus about it, and now is our chance to try some. The trees around the centre are crawling with ants, and these are particularly delicious ones. We pick up an ant, hold him by his little head and bite his bum off. Tasty. I never thought I’d be eating live ants on this trip! They taste of lime and the flavour lingers for a long time afterwards. Apparently the locals drop them in their gin and tonic for added zest.

For the Yellow Waters Wetlands Cruise there are only the eight of us so we can spread out on the boat.

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With the moving vessel the flies are not quite as troublesome, although every time we slow down they are back with a vengeance. I’m glad I brought my head net along, but even that gets in the way when I want to take photographs or a sip of water.

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There are hundreds of birds along the side of the river, mainly magpie geese. They are congregating awaiting migration north, hence the great numbers.

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We also see eagles, ibis, darters, pelicans, storks as well as jacanas walking on the water lilies.

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Crocodiles abound in this area and we do see several, mostly just with their eyes emerging above the water. I decide I want to photograph Miles with the ubiquitous croc in the background and perch him on the railing of the boat. He has had dozens of great photo opportunities on this trip, I’m sure the Bebbingtons will be pleased with his collection when we return. They wanted pictures to display in their shop and they’ve got plenty to choose from now. As I compose the picture, a gust of wind grabs Miles and tosses him overboard. I watch helplessly as he floats off down the river towards the crocodile. Reaching down and retrieving him is totally out of the question, the crocodile would have my arm before I had a chance to realise what was happening. I am totally devastated; Miles has been such a great travelling companion and a terrific ice-breaker in groups. How am I going to tell the Bebbingtons? The incident plays on my mind all the rest of the boat trip and I find I am not enjoying myself as much as I would otherwise have done. I feel so guilty for not looking after him properly. Was I careless? Would I have paid more attention if I had been feeling OK? I will never forgive myself for this lapse of concentration and its dire consequences. I have put a final ending to the whole concept of Miles’ world travels.

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We lunch in Cooinda at another rustic visitors centre complete with a camp site. It’s very Australian. The salad buffet is first-rate, but my stomach certainly isn’t. I take a large mouthful of what I assume is hummous, but to my horror it turns out to be mustard. Yuk. I’m sure that does not help my tummy trouble one little bit. At least I can have a siesta in the coach after lunch, while the video shows a film about the making and playing of a didgeridoo. That’s enough to send anyone to sleep.

The temperature appears hotter than ever by the time we reach Nourlangie. It’s hot, damn hot! The flies also seem to be more aggressive and numerous, the head net is an absolute must here. Nourlangie is a sacred Aborigine site full of ancient rock paintings, and there is a pleasant little decked path along the side of the rock.

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David and a couple of others decide to hike to the top of the rock for the view, but I decline the offer and amble back to the bus along the flat and easy trail. The paintings are under a cliff overhang and so protected from the elements. That partly describes how they have retained their colour and form for 46,000 years, the other explanation is that the stratum emits a chemical when it rains which acts as a varnish over the paint. The rock itself is very colourful with stripes of orange, white and black and it looms mysteriously from the surrounding plain.

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The paintings depict skeletal human figures such as Namarrgon, the lightning man, as well as kangaroos and other animals. Under the board walk a wallaby with a joey are sheltering from the blazing sun. I don’t blame them; it really is unbelievably uncomfortably hot.

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It’s a short drive to Jabirou and our hotel for the night, the Gagudju Crocodile Hotel. Reported to be the world’s only crocodile-shaped hotel, it looks better from the air in the post cards than it does from the ground.

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David with a friend in the hotel lobby

It’s part of the Holiday Inn chain and although comfortable enough, is rather boring. Our room is by the croc’s rear right leg and from the room we have a good view of the hotel’s swimming pool which is situated in the ‘belly’ of the animal.

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I feel so dreadfully unwell with terrible tummy cramps as well as the ongoing chest infection that I am unable to benefit from the hotel’s facilities. As soon as we have settled into the room, I just collapse in bed leaving David to watch Australian TV channels. I stay in bed, snoozing listlessly until the next morning.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:05 Archived in Australia

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