Sweat and fear in the bush
Trip Start Aug 24, 2005
26Trip End Dec 23, 2005
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We used Darwin in the way many visiting tourists do: as our own jumping stone to surrounding national parks. We had booked a 5-day camping tour to Kakadu National Park and north through the Aboriginal land known as Arnhemland on the way to the Cobourg Peninsula. It was going to be a taste of life in the bush--a real Australian safari experience. Upon pickup, we realized that like the early settlers, we were in for an isolated experience, for we were the only two passengers on the tour. Just the two of us and our strong-charactered guide in the bush! Our tour operator undoubtedly ran the tour at a loss, but probably did not cancel because of our early booking in March. Instead of feeling priviledged for this personal tour, we soon longed for human contact, even had it been with dirty backpackers--anyone!
We spent one day and night in Kakadu National Park, catching glimpses of enormous wetlands wildlife. On our way to Cobourg Peninsula, we stopped at an Aboriginal community (sort of like an American Indian Reservation) in Arnhem Land, when we were entrusted to a local guide for the afternoon. In Kakadu, we also lost the "sealed road," meaning that the better part of our trip was bumpy and dirty beyond belief. We greatly depreciated the vehicle life of our snorkel-equipped Toyota 4x4, scratching the paint with scraggly bush and tree limbs and wearing down the shocks. Amazingly, we had a whole trailer of food in tow for just the two of us. The tour operator packed enough food for 6 to 8.
The real experience (Cheryl would tend to call it Hades) was situated in the middle of nowhere.
One early morning on our small camp cliff overlooking the bays below, we spotted a large saltwater crocodile navigating within 200 feet of the beach towards a nearby stream. "That's great," Cheryl said, "I'm going to brush my teeth." Indeed, the uniqueness of this vast wilderness was special to behold, but the pleasures of contending with spartan amenities was a bitter matter of debate
To cope with our isolation, we took several day trips. One day, we took a small boat across the bay to the ruins of Victoria Settlement, the third unsuccessful settlement attempt in the Northern Territory. It's hard to believe that this remote site, accessible today only by boat, was once conceived as the next Singapore. With some more freshwater sources and persevereance, the city of Darwin may have even taken root at this site had it proven successful. While Aboriginees found all sorts of sustenance, tools, and medicine in this forrest terrain, they were hunter-gatherers and never agricultural cultivators. Western agricultural techniques never did succeed in these hinterlands, so the settlers abandoned after 11 years in mid-19th century, and instead of suburbs on the shores of our camp, we had nothing but nature in its rawest form
We did not rely on the forest for sustenance either; we had our meels-on-wheels trailer full of food. We weren't allowed to penetrate the coolers beacuse of the guide's concern of "cross-contamination." So every day copious amounts of snacks and expensive foods were prepared for us and later tossed if we didn't finish the large family-sized portions. The most traumatic experience of the whole trip, we both agree, was while driving back to Darwin at then end of our 5-day adventure, we witnessed our tour guide throw out all the perishables we had not consumed. Whole jars of barely touched jams and condiments, steaks, fish fillets, salami and lunch meats, entire cheeses, juices and fresh fruit were thrown in a rubbish bin in accordance with end-of-trip tour guide policy. It was more painful to witness than anything we endured in the bush!
Glad to be back to civilization... on to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.