Road Trip the Second: The Nakeding
Trip Start Dec 03, 2004
85Trip End Nov 31, 2005
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We passed a sign saying we had gone across the 26th parallel and were entering the North West of Australia, the first time I'd ever seen a road sign that needed to indicate where you were with lines of latitude rather than "nearest city" markers. That's how big the area is. "26th Parallel: next stop, the 25th!"
I fell asleep after a few rousing rounds of 20 Questions and was woken by a paper ball hitting my forehead
The backpackers was very nice: a palm-lined pool, ping-pong, a shaded pool table, a giant BBQ area, three-bed rooms clustered by threes around their own kitchens and bathrooms, like a real hotel instead of the communal craziness of most backpackers. Ian and I spotted a little catamaran sailboat resting in the drive beside the hostel and went into the office to ask if we could borrow it, perhaps. No go: it was broken, some guy had run it into the jetty the week before and snapped the mast. But the motel next door had some for hire if we liked. We wandered over to check that out and upon finding out that we were staying at the backpackers, the motel landlady said, "Oh, yeah, sure, just take it out, no cost, no worries." So Australian: she'd never seen us before in our lives, we left nothing as a deposit, we gave no proof of who we were, and yeah, fine, take out this lovely little sailboat, doesn't matter that you don't know what to do with it.
It took a bit of doing to figure out the system of steering once we'd got it into the water but soon we had it zipping about the bay at a pretty good clip. Ian went first with the steering, determining the manner in which you used a combination of the rudder and pulling on the rope attached to the sail to catch the wind and turn it about. After some instruction, I took over and to my own surprise (and his), got it to go along nicely, without feeling sick in the least
At 8:00 we piled with our beers and our bathers into the 4WD and I noted that, strangely, other than Ian, all the backpackers that were going were girls. John and his two local mates, Jamie and Danny, had come along as well. We took off out of town and turned off onto a dirt track. I cracked myself in the teeth with a beer bottle as we slammed over a huge hump. It was a little like a rollercoaster ride. After fifteen minutes we hit a windy beach and piled out, the girls readying themselves to drag the net out, as that was supposedly the women's job, with the men bringing it back in.
"Hey, Jamie, where's the net?" John said.
"On top of your car."
"No, it's in the back of yours."
"No, it's with you."
Everyone paused and stared at them
"Everyone back in the vehicle! Forget the fishing, we're going to a hot springs."
So we piled back in and twisted down another dirt track to a spot in the middle of the desert. It didn't look much like a hotsprings. Something like a large fire hydrant was pointed at a small indent in the sand. John turned the handle and a ferocious blast of water shot out, quickly filling the indent. I poked a foot into it: very, very warm. But about ankle deep, certainly not good for soaking in.
"No, look, we just stand in the spray from the hydrant," he explained. The spray had a wide enough arc to spray over all ten of us at once, so that didn't seem too strange. Then Jamie's girlfriend started to strip down out of her bathing suit.
"Hot springs rule: get naked!" she shrieked, and ran in. In some sort of mass hysteria induced by the scent of sulphur from the water that permeated the air, within two minutes everyone had run naked into the water spray and were drinking their beers under the spray. It was warm under the spray and crisp in the wind when you stepped out for a break, and the view of endless green clumps of bush and red sand under a huge full moon was awe-inspiring. There was even a big aurora, a huge white circle in the sky caused by the moon. The only downside was the amount of sulphur water that spilled into the beer bottles, rendering most of them undrinkable. It was an amusing effort trying to chat with all these people that we'd just met while everyone was nude. There was a lot of polite eye contact going on.
After an hour or so everyone tired of the water and gathered around a little bonfire by the trucks to dry off, and finally at midnight we stumbled back to the hostel to bed, having already decided that we needed to stay for another day to truly appreciate Denham. (Actually John had informed Ian and I that there was another trip planned the next night that would be even better).
The next morning at 8:00 Donna got on the shuttle bus for Monkey Mia to see the dolphins and Ian and I got in a truck with Danny to go on a working tour of a pearl farm. This basically meant that we got boated out to a big pontoon at sea and got ourselves messy with oysters for the rest of the day. We cleaned crap off them, tied them up, hung them in nets, drove them about on the ocean, dropped them down lines, pulled them off lines, and watched the expert impart her secret knowledge about how, exactly, you get an oyster to produce a pearl. It turns out that it doesn't involve grains of sand at all, but rather nuclei made of other shells that are inserted into the oyster's gonads along with a bit of a donor oyster and somehow, by the miracle of science, a calcium coating is excreted onto this nuclei, producing a pearl. By the end of it all we stunk of fish and I was very glad it was a cool, windy day, keeping down any motion sickness I might have felt on the slightly rocky pontoon. We, too, managed to see a bunch of dolphins swimming about the pontoon at lunchtime, so we didn't miss out on the dolphins in the area entirely.
That evening's trip turned out to be to a natural spa (which is what Australians call hot tubs, basically) in the middle of a national park. It's strange, what they put in national parks over here. About twelve of us this time piled into the gigantic tub that had been built to accomodate the natural well of hot water and, sure enough, it was a nude party. (I swear, you cannot go to Australia and come home with body image problems. It's all about letting it all out). Ian got dared to climb a nearby windmill naked. He managed it while I shrieked at the bottom that he was going to fall off and kill himself. Instead he just managed to get entirely covered in a thick black coating of windmill grease. Everyone took a short jaunt into another nearby pool, this one full of thick mud and not quite as warm.
"This is the emu pool," John said. Why, he would not say, so there was some flinging of mud and creating of body paint. Then we went back into the spa and John said, "Oh, right. It's the emu pool because it's full of emu shit." Imagine the sudden attempts of everyone to clean themselves as thoroughly as possible, as quickly as possible. My hair smelled bad for two days afterwards and I'm sure it's still stuck in my toenails.
We were sad the next morning to have to get up early and say goodbye to the lovely area of Denham. I went for a quick jog with Ian on the beach and then we drove off, stopping on the way at the Shell Beach (knee-deep for almost a kilometre out; covered in white shells; painful on the feet) and at the stromatolites, 3.5 billion year old fossils (look like black rocks; boring; boring; boring). Then we turned onto the road for Carnarvon and headed north for the next part of our road trip . . .