Ride Overland With Kanchan & Nick

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August 5, 2012

Australia: Australia at last but bittersweet…

Touching down in Darwin, Australia was bittersweet.  Being in Australiameant that we had finished our first leg of our trip, and we would be back to a somewhat US-like environment.  But that also meant being done with Asia.  I wouldn’t call it being back in “civilization” because that’s just degrading.  It really gets under our skin when other people say that.  All the Asian countries we went to there were decent people, rules, and people with morals and traditions.  When did ‘third world’ mean uncivilized? I guess Westernized translates to ‘civilized’ right?  We touched down in a Westernized country, but already felt pangs of desire to go back to Asia.  It was like a culture shock!  Darwinis a small city and there’s not much of a weather change from Timor, so it was still hot and humid.  The bike had left ahead of us and had reached Darwinbut we had to wait 3 days for quarantine.  We had booked our rooms ahead of time from Dili for Darwin.  We took an airport shuttle to take us to the guest house and when we arrived we were super disappointed.  The only beds available (due to high season) were dorm beds and it turned out to be a mess of a place.  There were loads of beer cans and nasty mess everywhere, in the common area, kitchen and when we opened our dorm room…it was just an explosion of skanky-ness.  Two dudes looking pretty unfriendly looked like they had been living in the room for months.  The rest of the men sitting around outside gave us weird looks and some even gave dirty-ass stare downs.  I suspect they didn’t like the fact there were brown people around.  It just didn’t feel like a safe place to leave anything or sleep for days.
We stayed the night and I talked to the Vietnamese guy who was employed to take care of the place that we needed our money back for the next few days, he understood and returned it to us.  But it was unfortunate.  It seemed like he was too nice.  In the evening he had come around while everyone was smoking and drinking, he picked up people’s bottles.  This is not a bar or restaurant…people have to clean up after themselves and pick up their own sh*t!  We were disgusted and upon leaving we told the guy that he needs to complain to the owners…just because he’s needy doesn’t mean he’s someone’s slave.  In all ofAsia, we have never felt that unsafe or disgusted, what is going on???  Anyways…!  We found another guest house that had a private double bed (shared bath of course) for a gross amount of money.  We knew we just had to suck it up forDarwin.  In the meantime, we got info about what to see, read about camping sites, got a SIM card sorted out etc etc.  We also had to go grocery shopping (to my delight!) since the restaurants were too expensive.  It was weird…we leftAsia for this?  We promised ourselves not to get down at the beginning…it must just beDarwin!

Fortunately getting the bike out of customs and quarantine was a breeze!  We walked to the customs office and arranged an appointment for the inspection and had the carnet stamped in.  We were in touch with Toll the whole time, so on the day of the appointment we rolled up there and met up the customs and quarantine officers. The quarantine guy came with little mirrors and a flashlight to check more seriously which made us nervous.  He inspected the front mud guard pretty thoroughly, underneath the fuel tank, between the engine and skid plate, and even asked us to take out the air filter.  Shit…this was driving us crazy…the officer seemed in the mood to pick out something.  He had us open all bags and empty out our panniers.  A customs officer had also come because we had written that we had a first aid kit on our customs forms and they wanted to see the medications.  We had some antibiotics for tummy virus etc and so he questioned me on that (thankfully I still remember my pharmacy stuff haha…used some big words to confuse him).  At the end, it was all good, they said this was the cleanest bike they’ve ever seen!  Son of a Gun, high gloss polish!  We love you!!!!  After that we asked one of the Toll guys if we could spray some water on the bike…they looked at us a bit confused but we needed to get off some of that gloss…or once we turned it on, it’d be smoking!  When we got the bike, we felt free!

Our first destination was going to beLitchfieldNational Park.  We bought some basics from the grocery store and we took a corrugated dirt road through the back end of the park.  We got our first taste of fine, red, Outback dirt.  There’s two ways to ride on the corrugated roads…really fast or really slow.  We chose slow because we couldn’t see a damn thing because the campervans were going too fast and throwing dirt everywhere!  We noticed real quick that riding aroundAustraliawas going to be an issue, if you’re not a truck, they don’t see you!  But anyways, on our left side we saw a clearing with gray, tombstone looking structures.  Turned out these are termite mounds.  It’s kinda spooky, but basically they’re all built by the termites to be oriented in the same direction, north to south.  Amazing!  We had seen some termite mounds here and there in Indonesia but absolutely nothing on this level!  Most of the free or cheap camping areas in the park were full since it was the Darwin high-season.   We decided on a privately owned camping site since we really had no other alternative.  There we met a sweet, older couple that we shared wine with.  The next day we visited Wangi Falls, Florence Falls, and a few other sites.  The falls were gorgeous and swimming was allowed so it was just amazing!

The next day we headed off to Kakadu National Park which is a huuuge park with days worth of bush walking tracks, hiking, and lots of learning about Aboriginal culture.  The highlight of our trip there was the rock paintings at Ubirr.   The paintings are made with different colors of ochre and animal blood and layered one on top of the other, some of the paintings are almost 2000 some years old!  The rock paintings were made as a way to teach life lessons and convey stories to others and the younger generation.  It’s really remarkable!  The dry grasses and burnt trees spread for miles and miles on the reddish-brown dirt with eroded rocks stacked up, littered throughout the land.  You really feel how old the land is.  You can imagine being the only person for miles with only the sound of a kookaburra shattering the silence.  Later we went to the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre where we were able to learn about the culture, traditions, and daily life activities of the Aboriginal people in the area.  It was a really well presented and nicely put together museum and I think it is worth it to see the place to get a better understanding of the Aboriginal people.  The night before when we camped right outside Kakadu, we were kept up for the majority of the night because a couple of people who happened to be Aboriginal.  They were hollering the same thing at each other the entire night.  Obviously there is an alcohol problem, and I look at it as a similar problem to what the Native Americans have in the US.  The issues are complex when it comes to the ‘tribal’ cultures assimilating into modern society.  Both sides are guilty of things, those who are willing to help themselves should be given help.  But who handed them the bottle anyways?  The fact that their lands have been bought for a bottle of liquor and a crate of blankets is ridiculous.

Our plan was to head down south, so eventually we got to Katherine which is a decent sized town (for the NT anyways!) where it started to get a bit more chilly.  We rode out to Katherine Gorge which was very pretty and reminded us of Texas.  So far the NT was totally reminding us of Austin and the central Texas area because of the rocky dryness.  Over the course of the next few days we traveled through miles and miles of dry flatness. Most of the terrain was pretty dried out and had been burnt, probably the ‘cool burn’ where the land is purposely burned to either encourage germination, reviving native flora and fauna, or to maintain wildfires.  Along the way we met bikers on all kinds of bikes including many Beemers.  Eventually we got to Daly Waters which is really just made up of a pub.  The Daly Waters Pub is supposed to be the oldest pub in Australia (holding a liquor license from the 1800s) and packed with the eccentric.  The place is wall to wall with stickers, patches, bras and panties and full of characters!  We planned to camp outside of the pub but before we could do that we were met with a couple of (drunk) dudes riding standing wearing only a sock (I’ll let you figure that one out).  Wow, welcome.  It was a rowdy night, we kinda kept it quiet but met some of the other guys including a couple riding with their Ural with side car around Australia.  There are tons of rivers, springs, and awesome rock formations to see throughout the NT and Outback Queensland areas.  The sunrises, sunsets and the night sky seem endless and are some of the most amazing you’ll see.  I’ve never seen such a sweet golden sunset, hundreds of different streaks of colors, or even galaxies in the night sky! There are too many little places here and there that we visited, but to name a couple…Bitter Springs was cool as well as Porcupine Gorge.  Tennant Creek (past Three Ways) was a random town that turned out to be quite nice where we could stock up on supplies.  We randomly met a Punjabi couple that was working there and they were so sweet, they gave us fresh sabzi and proper parshadas!  We also got the chance to go to the Undara National Park where we camped close to the start of the trails and did a couple of the bush walks.  We didn’t actually go to see the lava tubes because it was simply too expensive but we did go to Kalkani, one of the super old volcanoes.  Okay, now it’s nothing like Indonesia, I mean you can’t really tell it was even a volcano because there’s no height and the tiny hill is covered with trees.  It looked more like umm…a sunken meadow.  But again, it reminds you of how old Australia’s earth is.

We’ll admit, it was getting a bit boring riding around.  The distances were endless with nothing , for hundreds of Kms.  So as soon as we hit the Atherton Tablelands, Nick was beside himself!  The area is a super-lush green place once inhabited by active volcanos but now full of lakes, waterfalls, grazing cows and bountiful crops.  They have a drive through the hills which is absolutely beautiful, every corner offers a vibrant shot.  Our destination was Cairns so we passed through Gordonsvale when to our surprise there was a huge gurudwara on the highway.  We decided to go in since it had been a while and since we made it to Australia (finishing our first leg of the trip) we hadn’t gone to give thanks.   We met the Bhai Sahib  who treated us to some great chai, burfi, and mathis and then explained the history of the local Sikhs to us.  Turns out that many had been there for generations working and then eventually owning their own banana plantations.  It’s interesting for us to see how other Sikhs live in the world!  That night we got to Cairns, found a place to stay and decided to rest…it had been almost 3 weeks of continuous riding and moving.  We needed a break!!

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