Kaka-du-du-du push pineapple, shake the tree
Trip Start Jun 05, 2006
58Trip End May 03, 2007
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We were told by J - remember him? - that our pick-up was at 6am. So like the dutiful schoolchildren we were, we filed in line for our bus at 5.55am. But lo and behold we were met by Sergeant Bevan (our new guide) out the front. Down and give me 20!
Now call me a Daily Mail-reading right winger, but turns out you can't trust anyone with dreadlocks to convey a simple message. J's brain had been so addled by organic beer and pot that he managed to give us the wrong pick-up time. Bevan was meant to be meeting us at 5.45am. So 15 minutes behind schedule we were bundled into the back of an irate Bevan's truck and whisked through the streets of Darwin. There was just one thing we'd forgotten. Our golden sandal-wearing little Dutch girl. (She was in my dorm at the hostel and had retired to bed at about 3am. We'd already woken her but she needed at least a lungful of cigarette smoke to get going in the morning.)
Dre - faithful to the end - did his best to convince our Nazi kidnapper that Mandy was on her way and we should hang on for a couple of minutes, but Bevan was having none of it. Mandy's name wasn't even down on his list so we were off! We all sat there in a stunned silence. I had done my best to try and explain the cock-up from the previous night to Bevan, but Jo Davis (Diplomat) was out of luck.
A few minutes later we were dropped at the Adventure Tours office and asked to register for the tour. We were told that if Mandy called, then we could go back and get her. Luckily she did. I was feeling quite attached to her by this stage...being away from home can do funny things to you! Five minutes later she appeared at the office in fashionably late diva style a la Mariah. She was given a lift by the other group consisting of Team Ireland/Germany whose pick-up time was a few minutes later.
And although we immediately disliked Bevan, we kind of liked his prison van (the Adventure Tours version of a 4x4). And it sure did feel like a prison van - we were caged behind these metal grill things. But the best thing was that we had loads more leg room and even had little foot rests. That was the kind of place we were in these days - a foot rest was a real luxury! We started off with a crocodile cruise (yep, been there done that before) as we made our way to Kakadu. I had one of those weird moments when we reached the departure point for the crocodile cruise because I spotted a couple of guys from Holland whom I'd previously met on the Ghan. Interesting how everyone mixes in the same circles!
I was a bit unsure about the crocodile cruise. Just how ethical is it to lure crocs out of the water with big blocks of meat attached to fishing rods? Hmmm....unless the crocodiles enjoy jumping like performing seals? But anyway, that was the concept of the cruise. You can sit downstairs and stare at the fascinating underside of a croc while it jumps 10 foot in the air, or you can sit upstairs and look it in the eye as it goes for the meat.
Anyway, Rachel enjoyed it and managed to make a fascinating David Attenborough type documentary with her faithful friend the camcorder. After hitting the road for another three or so hours and travelling north east, we soon arrived on the outskirts of Kakadu. Bevan was a bit happier by this stage because he's managed to persuade a girl from Guernsey (who looked about 12 - think her name was Leonie) and Laura from Cornwall and another girl from Germany to sit up front.
We kept Riki (from Sydney) in the back with us and enjoyed a bit more cruisiness as we wandered round the Kakadu Visitors Information Centre and drank ice tea. After that we went for a bit of a hike to learn about Aboriginal artwork. Viewing it in its most raw, untainted form was very humbling. To think that the Aboriginal people were the first humans to even see a kangaroo - and we were seeing one of the first interpretations of that - well, that was amazing. We were also very amused to see a painting of one of the Aboriginal Gods who had a rather large member and spent most of his time clubbing women over the head with yams (as you do). Bevan was even becoming less of an ogre now and seemed to become animated when he started talking about the paintings.
This was all very lovely and interesting except for the fact that we seemed to have arrived in the middle of a 'Feeding Time at the Mozzie Zoo' session. And we were the main course. Now, I'd had plenty of experience with the little critters in Queensland, but this was the first time I'd felt compelled to get my 'heavy duty' 20 deet-strength mozzie repellent out of my rucksack. Bloody hell, I wish I hadn't. I was standing there desperately trying to learn about well-endowed vegetable-throwing men and my skin felt like it was being burnt off. The whole principle behind the repellent was appeared to be that it supercedes the pain of mosquito bites by leaving you in need a skin graft.
But I must have been praying quite hard to the God of Yams at that stage as the heavens opened. The paintstripper repellent I'd slathered all over myself was at last being washed off. And the mozzies seemed to disappear off into their little mozzie homes to go and inflict pain and misery upon each other instead of us. So when the rain came it was kind of like one of those rare moments when you just stand there revelling in the wetness as it was so darn muggy. And Kakadu was just one of those places where you could hear every drop of rain pounding onto the parched earth as there was just nobody around for miles.
After we got back in the prison van (and my hair frizzed to epic proportions), we headed over to our campsite. My last (and probably my favourite) night of camping. It was one of the standard lugging everything across from the truck jobbies before racing over to the shower block to try and feel human again. But this time the stakes had been upped. We weren't dealing with creepy crawlies in the shower block. We were dealing with frigging amphibians.
The ironic thing was that the toilet block were actually pretty decent as far as campsite toilet blocks go. It was just a shame they were inhabited with small green tree frogs. Ordinarily cute creatures, but not so much so when you're naked, covered in soap and one starts hopping around you.
And so our descent into helpless horror movie victims went. We were happily washing our hair, when Mandy (cubicle to my left) emits this girly, high-pitched shriek (unusual for her).
"There's a frog in my shower!" she informs me. To me, this was akin to knowing that Michael Myers (the Halloween guy, not Austin Powers) was in the next cubicle. And I was next on the hitlist. My heart sank as I realised the depressing inevitability of the froggie getting bored of ogling at a naked Mandy and hopping on over to look at my mozzie bite-ravaged butt.
"MandyMandyMandyMANDY!! You HAVE to warn me when it comes over to me," I politely informed her, with the same kind of urgency one normally reserves for nuclear holocausts. And whatdya know, the Mandy frog made an appearance in my shower within five seconds. By this time Rachel (cubicle to my right) was aware of the gravitas of the situation and had started whimpering.
It's a strange situation when you're trying to perform normal shower tasks in the company of a small, green frog. You don't want to step on it because that would be icky, but you really don't want to encourage it to leap anywhere on your body. Or to take your eye off it for one second. Because you just don't know where it will end up.
The next thing we knew, Rachel had her very own pet frog in with her. (The 'Mandy' frog's croaks were obviously summoning most of the amphibian sector of the animal kingdom, who'd been made aware there was fun to be had. Running water and shrieking girlies. Sounds like a fine time!) Anyway, in an attempt to trick herself into believing the creature was friend and not foe, Rach decided to call her frog Mr Jack. We decided that Mr Jack was the name of an animal who wouldn't do harm to anyone. (Although I think she was muttering something about fear of anal rapage at the time.)
Eventually Mandy (frog version) and Mr Jack got close enough to each other to exchange froggy phone numbers above mine and Rachel's showers. I vividly recall each of us remaining on 'frog duty' and watching Mandy and Mr J like hawks, just in case the two of them were so busy getting jiggy that they might lose their grip and tumble into our freshly conditioned hair.
But we made it through that shower experience. Once we came out we very helpfully tried to warn some Irish girls about the frog mating in the showers. But they just shot us a look of utter disdain as though to say: "Frogs in showers? Yeah, they're ten-a-penny in Ireland." To be sure. To be sure.
We were clearly in need of imbibement by this stage. Next stop, the bar! Yeah, that's usually where the frogs go to hook up. We were rather disappointed to discover that the bar shut at 8.30pm, but discovered that a take away bottle of wine drunk while fooling around in a floodlit swimming pool was rather fun. At this stage we were feeling slightly morose as Jerse, Rach, Dre and I knew that our time together was running out. But it was fun lying out on the rocks by the swimming pool talking crap to each other as usual.
And BONUS! There was still another wonderful Mandy moment to be had. We passed her at about midnight on our way back to the camp, and there she was, sitting out on one of the picnic benches and smoking a cigarette. Her smoking hand was visibly shaking. And not because the nicotine hadn't kicked in yet. Apparently she'd seen a dingo. We offered to accompany her back to her tent, but nope. She wanted to stay out there writing her journal. She was too spooked to sleep.
Stupid O'Clock the next day: we hit the road to do a 10km hike in Kakadu. I was looking forward to this one as we were going to walk to Jim Jim Falls - one of the park's must-sees, and so good they named it twice. Sadly though, after the close shave with the dingo the previous night, the day should really have been ringed on our mental calendars with the word DISASTER etched in indelible red marker pen.
It started off with Dre and Jerse finding a huntsman spider in their tent when they woke up. That's always scary. Especially when it's identified by Bevan after looking at Jersey's camera screen and telling them: "you boys are lucky fellas."
But at least they made it onto the road with us. A blessing. Or so we thought so. One thing that's apparent when travelling around Kakadu is that the roads really aren't that good. Hence the postcards with the crappy, illegible writing on them, written as we bumped along. (Even more illegible than usual - apologies to all recipients). And because of the heat a lot of the road surface has cracked. Even our shiny new Adventure Tours prison van was no match for that bitch of a road. So it didn't take long for us to get stuck in a crack. We revved, revved and revved, but we spluttered, ground up a load of dust and didn't really get anywhere. My first Australian drama!! I was all about the drama by this stage.
So I bounded out of the prison truck and became a willing member of the chain gang like everyone else. We had to gather rocks and chuck them into the crack (which was really more like a gaping hole) so the truck wheels had some traction to get moving. Unfortunately I abandoned my journalistic instincts and forgot to take pictures of all these fun and games - I was so caught up in the moment. About 15 minutes later our He-Man Bevan had us all out of that fine mess he'd gotten us into and on our way to the falls. We even had time to stop off and be photographed by a giant termites' nest on the side of the road. We also stopped off and examined what we thought was a living snake, but sadly it was an ex-snake as it had been squished by another vehicle on the highway.
We were lucky to set out on our walk before the real heat kicked in. That's the kind of Northern Territory heat that makes you want to peel off your own skin like a mad, crazy dog and makes you name little green tree frogs who appear in shower cubicles. We were relieved to find that the walk was very flat. Jim Jim Falls itself was so huge that no picture could really do it justice. After a lot of painful rock scrambling we arrived at a huge clearing where a sheer rock face just seems to lead as far up into the sky as the eye can see. And then, tumbling down is this torrent of water that's so strong and powerful it seems more like white snow falling from the sky.
Bevan - remembering all that paperwork we signed - very helpfully informed anyone who wished to go swimming that there are crocodiles who live in Kakadu waters. And they will kill you. I'd already decided I wasn't going in this time, but he did instil a small amount of fear in the eyes of those intrepid bathers. I couldn't help but think back to reading about a woman who was part of a tour group and was killed by a croc while swimming in Kakadu, but I really didn't want to put a dampener on everyone's jolly mood. And hey, I had Rach's camcorder. If anything was to happen, then I was the one making a mint from their misfortune. (The killer journalist instinct had kicked back in!)
But of course I was glad that everyone was perfectly safe and had a fun time with Mandy on the rocks filming some footage for Rach's folks back in Noooiiii Yowkkkk. There's probably even some elderly Jewish relation in Westchester who's yet to recover from the hearing aid feedback caused by my 'unusual' rendition of Mandy.
It was a long ride back to Darwin but one during which we had heaps of fun deciding what we were going to get up to in the big city. We had a couple of days there together before we all went our separate ways.
But first there was a chance for Rachel and I to have our pictures taken with a real movie star. With neither of us having seen Crocodile Dundee (criminal, I know), we missed our opportunity to be photographed with the bull from the flick in favour of drinking iced tea and lolling in whatever square foot of shade we could find. But then, what do you know? There we were back at the same service station we stopped at with J, and the bull - it was stuffed! - was surprisingly still there.
I'm a believer in fate. And in looking like a big tit by having your picture taken with a stuffed bull.