Sunday, August 31, 2008

The life

The life is about to rebegin. But my feet are still on Australian soil. The Cape York Peninsula Developmental Road is embedded in my soles.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

prove my point

Guaranteed snake-free. Of course it would be nice if we could actually walk on it. All this grass belongs to someone, and... it's not me!

If some of the terrain looks slanted that is not because it is actually mountainous here, it is because I had some trouble always holding my balance. But I never let go of my stubbies.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The grass is greener on this side.

It really is. The grass. It is greener on this side. Very green, and soft too. Juicy green grass, on mushy black soil. Very strange once you've gotten used to the hard constipated yellow and red Australian earth. It has been raining here, torrents. The ground water level is almost zero minus now. Grass looks amazing. The pastures are heavy with it and the leaves are planted close together gazillions of them hiding the earth in a thick green hairy blanket, each grass leaf thin and fragile as though it might melt away with a little bit of sunlight. But looks are deceiving, besides there is not too much danger of sun happening here any time soon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

winning time and losing luggage - walkabouts 10

On the return flight we lost three bags between the four of us. They will probably turn up tomorrow. The flight from Cairns on Saturday afternoon was delayed due to the chaos typhoon Nuri left behind in Hong Kong on Friday. We missed our connection and had to take the next flight home, 24 hours after the original one. Naturally our baggage was not complete on arrival. Miraculously the items we most cared about were there. Alex got his didge. The odd-sized luggage had all made it through and one of my bags was there as well, three others are MIA. Of the things that are not here, the item I miss most is my house key. It was in a bag that I used as carry-on luggage before and stupidly I forgot all about it untill I got home and the bag did not. Fortunately I have given copies of my house key to a number of people and was eventually able to enter without having to break in, which was quite a relief. Especially with regards to the number of booby-traps and burglar prevention measures that I had taken before leaving here six weeks ago. Home now, very tired.

The delay in Cairns actually felt like winning time instead of losing, because we spent it in the company of friends and had a last dinner together. The long stop in Hong Kong was harder to get over, but it was beautiful to see that the storm had not damaged the Hong Kong skyline at all, and after the initial shock of finding ourselves qeued up at the transfer desk with the couple of hundred other passengers from the plane and having to wait for hours, the way people helped each other was an inspiration. Except there was one business class passenger who made a scene because the hotel he was given was not chique enough. Hell, he got a hotel room! All we were given was bottles of water and a voucher for 40 HK dollars (4 Euro's) each to get lunch.

Waiting is not one of my talents. An 18 hour wait for me is a lot, although in the grander scheme of things I know I was lucky. There was another batch of passengers from Bali who were already waiting 24 hours and of whom only a couple of newly-weds were lucky enough to get seats on our plane. We crashed near a gate and watched planes come and leave again after filling up with passengers. Initially I intended to spend the time by taking photographs of the sequence of planes, all with the same mountain sky line as background, but after dozing off and missing a few I gave up and went in search of something more fun, such as a shower. In the afternoon we bought ourselves five hours in a lounge and got the shower and free food and some drinks (mainly chinese tea), access to power points, free internet, etc. but no beds. When we finally boarded the plane I was so wiped out I thought I could sleep anywhere. But sleeping in economy class is not as simple as it was in the days when planes used to have empty seats sometimes, especially the planes leaving Australia. Both first and second time I went to Australia I had a row to myself on the return flight, to stretch out and sleep. And as if fuel prices and typhoons weren't enough to dim the chances of empty seats, they just had to have the Olympics in China, which just had to end this weekend. The plane was bombed. I managed to curl up and catch two winks but that was it. There was hardly room to turn, let alone stretch. There very probably simply wasn't enough room for our bags any more and that is why they were lost. I bet there were passengers stowed in the luggage compartment. I wonder if they had an easier time sleeping than I did.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bathroom ball - walkabouts 09

We had a party yesterday to celebrate the bathroom. The new bathroom is truly worthy of a celebration. It has a new bath and the vanity was custom built by the father of the guy who did the bath and the tiles. My sister provided a slab of wood for the top, the tilers father built the cabinet underneath and the tiler put the whole creation on water resistant stainless steel legs and fitted the porcelain basin in. The result is a miracle of harmony and natural beauty.

Everyone involved was invited. The bore-man was here (the person who found the water and drilled the bore), the tiler/bathroom-engineer/architect, the painter (myself), the owner (my sister - throwing the party) and lots of friends and neighbours and family and friends of friends and neighbours who all brought delicious dishes of food so that at the end of the evening we were left with three times more than we started with although everybody ate untill they almost burst. I especially liked the cream and fruit deserts, with or without chocolates...

The frog was probably here too, although he remained out of sight the whole evening.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Home Rule Rulez - walkabouts 08

Drove out 50k to Home Rule. Rainforest country. Climbed waterfall all to the top. Shared the kitchen with a group of Tafe schoolers doing a ranger course to maintain traditional aboriginal owned land. turned out two were nannies to my niece and nephew, one auntie and one a cousin.

Creek is good to swim but we didn't. Very cold this time of year, besides there's big snakes. Although they áre harmless. The more dangerous the snake, the more scared it is of people. Or maybe it is the other way round. In any case, the agressive ones will stay out of your way, and the non-agressive ones won't bite as long as you don't mess with them. Still, takes too much getting used to the idea and we're only here for a short time. Getting to like this country more and more though.

Look at those flowers, aren't they unreal? No, in fact.. they are real!

This is one view you just have got to love.

Home Rule including this fresh water basin which collects the water from the waterfall is built in this beautiful country by a couple from Rhodesia and their five hard-working sons and daughters.

Monday, August 11, 2008

paranoying wildlife - walkabouts 07

My nephew doesn't like it when his mother tickles him. He finds it paranoying.

He really is a great little guy and I am glad to have gotten to know him a little better on this trip. He and his brother and sister are high ranked amongst my favourite species of Australian wildlife. Which is saying something, because wildlife we have encountered plenty again this year. The fruit of just two days:

One gorgeous blue King Fisher that entered the house by mistake and knocked itself half unconscious on what it thought was the way out

Two sunbirds, probably a couple, one male (here with blue chest) and one female - followed each other into the house and got entangled in the curtains for us to rescue

One dwarf tree frog in a pawpaw tree jumped on my hand

One giant green frog cooling its buttocks in a bucket of water

One spider - according to the book a grey huntsman: "timid biter, probably mild local pain" - which was indeed manifestly timid and I didn't feel the urge to provoke it to not bite, which it accordingly probably would not have. Huntsmen are cool.

No snakes. no scorpions. No crocs, not even on our night under the open stars out in the bush. The others caught two huge ugly iguanas on camera but I am sort of happy to have been spared their stinky presence. I am just fine with my sunbirds.

Nothing else but the mozzies which are a tiny bit paranoying.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

art rock - walkabouts 06

We went to Jowabinna to give my sister some slack. She's homeschooling her kids and doing a great job with it, but last week after she had informed the school that due to her family being over from Europe the kids school work would come in a little later, she received a letter from the school saying this was not A-ok. Although later it turned out that the teachers of the two older kids don't have any problems with her decisions and, it was only the teacher of the youngest who is not satisfied and this being a bit of a joke since this year said youngest is in school for the first time and loving it, doing second year work. Still the rest of our party do realize education is important and decided to go on a holiday.

To Jowabinna. After calling first to make sure the 4WD recommended road was suitable for that small RAV4 (having learned our lesson) and a young lady telling us that it should be ok as long as we bring it in slowly, last week someone brought in a 2WD, we set off.

We made it to Laura with an average 100 km/h on wide and smooth newly grated dirt and fresh gravel. There we tackled the bush path to Jowabinna. A couple of creeks looked a bit tough but weren't really and all in all it was a pretty smooth drive. Arriving at the camp and referring to the said 2WD we learned that "the 2WD got stuck though". This set me off in a pathetic giggle, which caused the camp manager to lift an eyebrow at my callous sense of humour.

There was a self guided walk with "a bit of rock art on top". The climb was rough but in spite of the heat I found two "bits of rock art" and came away pretty satisfied with myself and of course with the Bama people that made the drawings. I have been on a guided tour by Willy Gordon three years ago and from that tour I know the places to look for the drawings - under overhanging rock, with smooth surface to draw on, and the sandy floor underneath smooth and comfortable for people to sit.

The camp offers guided tours and rock art viewing. But all the nine guides whose faces are in the booklet are white. After the Willy Gordon tour (Guurrbi tour), any tour conducted by a white guide must be a disappointment. When the camp manager generously offered to collect my money in exchange for his petty white-guided tour I politely declined, pretending I wasn't sure I could do it on my flipflops. Throwing a pitying glance on my faithful tevas, which have climbed mountains with me and carried me on many a rocky path, unceasingly shielding the soles of my feet from the sharp stones and thorny stumps, he pretended to understand and did not push the matter. It was crap of course. My tevas rock. Besides, Aboriginal people did these tracks barefooted.

Instead of the tour we drove ourseves to Split Rock and did another self guided walk.

On the way back we stopped at the Quinkan cultural history center and got the man to give us a complimentary video by talking to him for 30 minutes and buying a book about the history of the Lamalama people. I learned something from the book: these termite hills that we took pictures of on our way into Jowabinna, are called magnetic termite hills. They are oriented North-South. In the morning the wide east side is warmed by the sun, in the afternoon the wide west side is warmed by the sun. At noon the hot sun falls on the thin top peak. They are built by white ants. I felt so enlightened reading this bit of knowledge, that only now the question strikes me: why are not all termite hills oriented this way?

Almost back in Cooktown: Archers point. Another question arises - why on earth did we need to go away so far to camp, when one of the most beautiful spots in Australia is right here on the doorstep? Unfortunately it is a no swimming area, seriously mind the crocs. And it is a bit windy here. This is where the wind farm is going to be.

Today: Took the bicycle to Cooktown. Was threatened with serious financial loss by two policemen and consequently donned the helmet. Got offered a job and was kissed by a stranger...

Resigned to not buy some nice Emu leather accessories and silk scarves, I bought a cheap rainbow coloured sarong instead and walked to the supermarket with my bike on one hand. I was reminiscing a bit on the worth of money and the need to make it last, on how my sister has made her life here and is building a place that is gradually becoming better and better and will be really beautiful when she gets old, which hopefully will be a long time yet. Just when I was feeling my worries about my own future overtaking my admiraton for the way she is running her life, a car approached me and the driver addressed me. Was I looking for a job. I wasn't, but sheer surprise at the fact that someone appeared to be reading my mind stopped me from saying more than "not really, on vacation, only staying another ten days". Because they "cattle station, only got a nineteen year old girl there, didn't know how to cook, will pay you, free beer". The free beer was exceptionally inviting. If I so wished, us girls could even sleep apart from the men. It was all good.

My suspicious nature got the better of me though, when he didn't seem to be sure whether the station was 40 miles or 40k out from Cooktown and after writing down his number and marking his name as "John" shook my hand and introduced himself as "Les". He concluded the handshake with a kiss on the back of my hand which struck me as a strange Australian custom indeed. Apart from the slightly over-ingratiating handshake, I really do like my men to know their own name and where they live. He didn't actually look like a dangerous murdering serial rapist and I do sort of feel for the poor fellow and can not stop wondering what the nineteen year old girl that can't cook is doing there, but I am not in the mood to play Miss Marple and ring that number. Should I?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Gone sight seeing to the mouth of McIvor - walkabouts 05

.. was the note my sister left on top of the computer when we started out. We were going to drive to the mouth of the McIvor river "where she found love". K. myself and three kids. In a generous gesture I offered that we should take my rental, a little RAV4 instead of her Toyota Hilux. Little did I know then... that the route would be so long and oh... so very sandy!

In good honest Australian: We got bogged.

After a long, winding and bumpy road, after stopping because of a loud scraping noise from under the car and noticing the hard plastic protective cover under the engine had torn, most likely after hitting a tree stump whilst crossing a creek...

After retracing our way and taking directions from someone local passing by, who told us a better path that would not ruin our car, and not to continue on too long over the beach or we'd be all the way at Cape Flattery when the tide came in and would need to spend the night... after laughing it off and saying we did not bring our camping gear and staying the night was not what we were planning to do... after having him shake a warning finger at us and seeing us off on the right path...

After meeting another car going in the other direction, after thanking them because they went into the bush to let us pass, after taking a right turn at a little sign that at one time must have said McIvor but now was too rusty to read, after tackling a series of creeks and puddles and each time miraculously resurfacing at the other side...

We went down a sandhill.

Going down was easy.

After the sandhill there was the beach. It was, as beaches in this part of Australia are, very flat, very pale yellow, with a very shallow tide, and actually, there wasn't much to see. My phone found no network there. The GPS worked, it was 2 km to the mouth of McIvor river, which we checked out. No crocs.

I shot some ocean creatures in the driftwood. A preview of things to come: this driftwood we later used to build a fire that helped us through the night, because yes, we did get to spend the night.

Two land creatures arrived shortly after us. (Look at those legs!) They were in the car that had chivalrously ducked into the bush to make way for us earlier. As it happens they were looking for a road out to the beach but were not from the area so they had wondered where we were going and if we knew our way around any better than they did and had followed us. This road we had led them is the only way out to Cape Flattery, about 18km more north over the beach. They went there to spend the night. The incoming tide was going to cut them off from the return route but they did not mind that. We were differently inclined and did return quickly after they had left. We had some sandwiches looking out over the shallow ocean sitting on the white trunks of cleared mangrove and driftwood. I was a little bit worried about scaling that sandhill in the up direction.

I was right. We got bogged. I hate to be right, sometimes. It wasn't a very difficult accomplishment. We obviously were not the only ones who ever got bogged there, the place was littered with tyres and long felt-like mats that were probably supposed to keep the track together. We ended up using some of that stuff to get us out again.

Long story short: we used the jack to lift the car, one wheel at a time, and put bits of wood and strips of palm leaves under. That way we got enough grip to roll the car off the low sandy track onto the higher firmer path. Spent four hours that afternoon untill it got dark. We were forced to wait untill sunrise. K. and I slept by the fire and the kids slept in the car. At sunrise I had not slept a lot because every time the fire cooled down I got cold and woke up out of my half-sleep to rake it up some more. The car with the three kids had steamed up windows, they'd obviously not suffered any cold! From dawn to around nine we were at it again and in two goes we moved the the car up on the higher path. It was a helluva lot of work.

We had the long felt mats laid out in front of the wheels right when the men camping at Cape Flattery made their return. The tide was out again, making their passage over the beach possible. From then on, getting the car out was easy. One of them helped us letting some air out of the tyres, then got behind the wheel and in one go just drove up that hill easy as sand cake. We thanked him gratefully and earnestly but I really think we deserve a bit of the credit for our own rescue by positioning the car for the expert to deal the final blow.

I didn't take photo's of the car, I was too busy. But K. got a few of the sunrise.

On the road back we met up with K's new beau and my ex who had been looking in all the wrong places we might have got stuck with no phone coverage, and who, while they were in the rescuing spirit that night had rescued a German couple out travelling in a new Toyota Hilux. Their Hilux had had a wheel fall off, because of a set of loose bolts. The guy had been lying in the dust under the car for hours, trying to get a bolt from another location and fix the wheel again. He almost begged our search party for help, which he duly received. These two people must have been very happy that we got bogged that night...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

red crocodile creek - walkabouts 04

Went for a walk. Saw lots of trees, dry branches, leaves, dry ones too. Was attacked by green ants. Shook them off. Got joined by the dogs.

Took the dogs over to the creek. Kimber has quickly become my good friend, but Iggy maintains a distance. At the creek Kimber followed me, hesitating along down the bank, but Iggy ran rown straight away and jumped in the little water there was. Then he scrambled out and stood yelping for a bit, I think he was waiting for Kimber and me to follow his example. According to him the water was really lovely and we didn't know what we were missing out on. Kimber really felt the water didn't match the colour of her fur but she followed and politely dipped her paws in the red mud just halfway to oblige her mate. Then she and I climbed up the bank again and Iggy tried to follow, but the paws on his stocky frame are a bit shorter than ours and he kept sliding down.

Iggy yelped a bit but was gone before I could reach him. And of course being the big and strong oldest male he wasn't going to listen to me, a stranger, to come and let me help him up. He ran down the creek and disappeared round the bend. Just there, rounding the bend, he then must have encountered something terrible, by the sound of it there was a huge crocodile waiting for him, because we heard a terriffic noise of barking and growling at that moment, and just when Kimber had decided he probably needed some assistance and started along after him, he reappeared triumphantly carrying a large piece of trophy in his mouth. From afar it looked just like a big chunk of wood and bark, but it might also very well have been a piece of crocodile, which is actually more likely judging by the air with which he was carrying it. He deposited his trophy at the barrier of branches and trees in the creek bed and took another refreshing dip in the red puddle. He then made a big show of not being able to climb the sandy bank once more and disappeared again, this time in the other direction. After a minute of calling after him without any response I heard shuffling noises in the leaves on top of the bank, and there he was.

Just before we re-entered the vicinity of the house Iggy stopped, looking around in an embarrassed manner and made a little effort to clean himself up a bit before rounding the corner and entering in view of the house. There within eye-shot of the house he promptly sat down in on his bum, with his ears guiltily folded backwards. He was probably thinking he deserved a scolding from the all-seeing mistress for coming home all muddy and dirty. But his mistress never scolds him for being dirty, besides she isn't home right now and he isn't fooling me one second with his demonstrations of regret, I know he would do it all over again, and with very much pleasure.

PS. Iggies mistress told us later when she got home that Iggy always does the routine attacking the sticks, and that he wasn't really talking to us when he was telling us to get in the water, but he was talking to the sticks. Which of course she has got totally wrong. It is incredible how some dogs and masters continue to live together in such complete and utter misunderstanding and one-sided relationships.

Also she said that in summer there are big crocs at that dam, but this never stops Iggy from taking a swim there and pretending not to be able to get out. One time he had been gone for several hours, and when she finally went searching for him she found him in that puddle, leasurely swimming in circles. Hunting for crocs, I reckon.

I still haven't seen a single croc but in the night another bit of wildlife jumped on my hand as I was getting my phone out of the pawpaw tree by the house (where I hang it during the day because it is the only location where it can find a network).

Baby froglet climbing on his way back into the pawpaw tree.

Friday, August 1, 2008

the lost rail bridge - walkabouts 03

My GPS told me it had found a shorter route to town. The normal way is to take the first right on the dirt road, which is a gravel road. Take a left where the gravel road ends. That one is new bitumen and leads right up to the Cooktown developmental road, which has been there for a couple of years. From there is is still about 12 kilometers winding down into Cooktown, going against the ever-present wind (did I mention I was taking the pushbike?) with the sun on your bare head. You might protect your head with one of those silly egg-shaped multi-purpose shopping baskets Australians always carry around when they transport themselves on a bicycle.. oh, they are not shopping baskets? They are helmets you say? Ah.. that explains a lot. Although I am not sure a little helmet would protect me if I was hit by a car but it might do some good against the sun, grant you that. But I am not used to cycling with a helmet on and untill I will have been ordered to do so by a police person under violent threat of financial loss I will carry on bare-headed.

Now I have lost my thread.

Instead of over 12 kilometers bitumen and 2.5 kilometers dirt and gravel, according to my TomTom there should be another way only a total of 12.5 kilometers long. I soon discovered this route would probably be all dirt road. After 3 kilometers it turned into a sand road, closely following the river. The road narrowed into a path. I was enjoying the ride very much and did not mind occasionally having to step down because the sand was too soft in places. Then the path turned rocky. Then it stopped.

I had found the old disused rail bridge. There used to be a railroad going all the way up to Laura, but it was never used and these are the tragic remains.