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ReportsThursday, 27 June 2002
Darwin --> Victoria River, Travelabout Tour day 1, Australia In case you wonder where I was the previous six days, I was still in Darwin where I stayed six whole days with at the Turner Residence. Wayne Turner is the big man behind AussieOverlanders and his brother Ed, who is also a geologist and explored for gold in Western Australia, joined in the company a few years ago. They both live in one big house in Darwin, which is mainly used for the start and finish points of their tours, misused by other tour guides as a hotel and very regularly people who have been on their tours end up staying another few days and use the place as a free hostel. So that gives you some idea why I decided to hang around with them. What a bunch a people are there!
Wayne Turner is quite a character as I learned when I was there. Just like his brother Ed, who actually invited me to stay there, Wayne has been around the world in earlier elements of his life, but also has his credits. He personally guided "Outback Australia with Ian Wright" for Lonely Planet as seen on the Discovery Channel, and guided an expedition into southern Arnhem Land with Australian Channel 9. This latest cooperation helped him covering The Bulletin Magazine in 1998 revealing a "National Treasure".
Not only I had to recover from the last three days safari through the Kakadu National Park (and try to get my dirty clothes clean again), I also had a problem with my laptop. I seemed to be attacked by a couple of viruses, a worm and some other softwary alien rivals. I contacted a local repair man and together we spent at least two full nights sitting behind this computer thing, swearing and all of course, to do whatever we thought was good. Don't tell me I should use an Anti-Virus program, because I already do use one and there are viruses out there that simply turn of your anti-virus software and there you go.
I spent the nights sleeping in a sleeping bag in a swag and mostly just outside in their garden. Their own bed rooms where all taken, tours start in the early morning in the office every day and the rest of the house is a so-called Men's House (women mostly understand a comment like this). And I loved it there. It wasn't cold and several nights I was amazed that I could read a good book under the bright light of the full moon above me!
I could stay the full six days after that three days tour at the Turners and they offered me plenty of meals and drinks (read: beer) and even cleaned their kitchen (a few times). But after these six days, I had to go again.
When I arrived in Darwin after my trip from the Outback town Cloncurry, I had absolutely no idea how I was ever going to leave Darwin and where I would be heading. I could go south to Alice Springs, or along the west coast to Perth. Both were very long distances to cross and I don't have any invite in between. I was a bit stuck, you know ;-)
But through messages in my mailbox I discovered that the Western Australian, a state-wide newspaper in the state Western Australia, already announced my upcoming arrival in the west. Boy, that sure is proof that people can read the future! And between these emails was a message from the travel adventure company Travelabout. "Hey Ramon, wanna jump on a tour with us?" I was like, hell yes! "We have have a 24-days adventure tour that travels from Darwin all the way down to Perth, departing on Thursday the 27th of June." Now that was my call, of course I got on that tour!
My way out of Darwin was arranged.
Today, Thursday 27th of June, I got on that tour. After having a quick bite in the morning, Ed Turner dropped me off at the YHA hostel in Darwin where I was collected by Dave ("please never call me David, only my mother calls me that and I find that horrible," he said) the driver for the first eleven days. "I am not a driver, I am not a tour guide, I am a tour operator," he explained when all the total of six passengers had boarded and we hit the road down south.
I was on this tour with five other passengers and as I will be spending a while with them I will introduce them a little bit:
First there is the Swiss girl Daniela, who has recently done a one-month English study in Perth and who loves to study the bird life and plants. Age guess: 21.
Next are two ladies from Melbourne. They originate from Scotland, but moved Down Under seven years ago. I guess their ages are above the 65.
The other two was a couple that flew all the way from Great Brittain to get on this tour, as it seemed to me. I guess their ages are around 50.
We took off for our first destination, some 500km south of Darwin at the Victoria River (that's a town) Roadhouse.
In between we had a stop at the Katherine Gorge where we had a 15-minute walk to a lookout. It was bright sunny and hot and the oldies arrived on top of the lookout completely out of breath. Which was a bit funny of course.
We had our first lunch at the green grassed park near the [url=www.australia.travelmall.com/travelmall/attraction/Darwin,%20Kakadu%20and%20Katherine%20(NT)/ Katherine%20Gorg]Katherine Gorge[/url] and I had to get used to a few things that were unfamiliar to me (even after the three days safari through the Kakadu): The first was the washing-our-hands-parts. From now on when we would eat (camp style) we had to wash our hands with two buckets of water and some soap.
Dave pulled out all the required things for the lunch out of the trailer behind the 4WD-truck and I noticed that all the British preferred to eat the Aussie sandwich rather on a plate with knifes and fork, in the shade. Just see it as an age difference (I guess) and I might have some camping experience now, but I kind of felt very free to just chunk several things between two slices of bread, find a sunny spot on the grass and enjoy this lunch with two bare hands and an open mouth. Hmmpphff.
It's maybe the fact that I haven't been in the company with real tourists, as most of the British were wearing those let's-cover-our-entire-body-hats, that made it sometimes occur to me as if I was watching an old British black and white movie. I have been out of contact with aged tourist that I don't know what the current fashion is!
Around sunset we arrived in Victoria River where we set up our campsite on the caravan park behind the roadhouse. When the tents were set up and the kitchen (table, gas stove and ingredients for tonight's dinner) was installed next to the truck, we enjoyed the sun set behind the orange-coloured surging mountains.
From my paper notebook:
6pm: I am not really enjoying myself and I keep thinking how more relaxing it was on the Greyhound bus and how much more adventurous and entertaining AussieOverlanders was. As I see it like this now, it will be an old-folks trip to Perth. Sitting in the truck one of the British ladies screamed "Can you turn that down" to the driver. Pointing at the small speaker in the ceiling and to her ears. The music on the radio, I can barely hear it, seems to be to loud and I suffer brief deafness from her scream. I look out of the window of the truck and enjoy whatever I see along the road. It's beautiful out here. My other passengers are already disappointed. They read the Lonely Planet Australia guide and expected 1,000 million kangaroos jumping around and at least 26 koalas in every single tree. It is not like that around here and they just found out. It's dry season and things look a bit dry. There isn't much else out there than dry bush. I have a sigh…
We are camping on the grounds of a roadhouse and next to our campsite is streaming water, toilets, showers and electricity. So far for the adventure…"
We had Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner as we sat in a half circle on these camping seats. When a few volunteered for tonight's dishwashing at the water facilities at the camping, Dave told me some of his best and worst experiences since being a tour operator.
He has been doing this job for over six years now and still loves it. "I sometime meet other tour people and they are amazed by my six years. They say they won't be able to do it that long, but than there should be something wrong with them, I guess," he said. "I do it because I love doing it."
Before everybody headed into their tents we gathered around another while and got to know each other a bit better. Some of the great stories were told and I listened fascinating. I got annoyed when I could conclude that lot of the other conversations were becoming ongoing comparisons with Great Brittain - all the time. I am not in Great Brittain, I am in Australia, I think.
The darkness of the night had surrounded as and I was fascinated by the clear view I had here at the stars above. Together with Daniela I received some astronomy lessons as he pointed out the stars with a flash light and draw lines of stars on the dirt gravel road.
This was day one and I felt uncomfortable, as you might have noticed in the writing above. Maybe there are some good reasons for that, perhaps I just have a bad mood day myself.
Good night Victoria River!