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Albania – Europe’s former recluse

They say that Einstein said that the sign of an idiot was doing the same thing twice (actually I think the word was repeatedly) and expecting a different outcome. This is the thesis of the Idiot Traveller. I am a world expert, while travelling, in repeating mistakes.

I command that you stop misquoting me…

I am also happy to go on accrediting the saying (in reality it was “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results“) to Einstein, although there is no evidence he ever said it.

So having done little travelling in the last year it was important to follow the the creed of the Idiot Traveller. You start with booking your car, for pick up on arrival in Tirana, on the wrong day. Cost: an extra €30. You compound this by booking it for return two days after you leave, cost €60 (wasted). How does one do this? Buggered if I know.

Then based on these mistakes you book your car in Podgorica a day late and at the airport. Which isn’t useful when you are arriving by bus. Cost €20 (taxi fare) and €30 (extra days rental).

Then of course there is the small issue of leaving bits of my DNA everywhere. No, not in that sense. Two pairs of sunglasses, adaptor, hat, keys (requiring me to be rescued via a new set of keys sent by taxi). The list goes on. You’d think that after 55 years of travelling (yes I was first stuck unaccompanied on a plane at 8) that you’d learn to check twice before moving.

Arrival

So, our first job was to persuade the rental company to find a car a day early. This might have been easier if I hadn’t decided to try and entertain the rental car person with my witty repartee about drivers in Turkey and Georgia; asking him if Albanian drivers drove like Turks or Georgians (the thesis being that Turks are good drivers and Georgians are simply people in cars with a death wish).

That’s right. Jokes don’t work well in second languages. He looks at me strangely and replies “No they drive like Albanians. Here we are Albanians”

Panda 2 (right): cheaper to run and prettier

On finding we have a Fiat Panda and him asking if a Panda is ok for us. I tell him it’s fine. Cheap to run. Just find a patch of bamboo. That joke doesn’t work either. At which point Kaylee tells me I’m an idiot (traveller) and the car guy thinks so too.

Solitary confinement creates trauma..

Albania, was until 1991 Europe’s equivalent of North Korea. An entirely closed and paranoid society. Its long time leader, Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hodgeha) believed Albania was the only true communist society on earth and refused to even associate with Russia or China after they fell out.

Enver Hoxha – no longer able to poke his nose into other people’s business

No one was allowed to leave Albania and few people, if any, entered. The society was a police state with everyone subject to strict controls and surveillance. Any breach of the rules and everyone in your family paid the price.

If Albania were a person (Al Bania) he would be a very disturbed individual and this, perhaps, explains Albania’s many idiosyncrasies.

The House of Leaves

Albania’s trauma is well documented in a great little museum called the “House of Leaves” located in central Tirana just across from the orthodox cathedral.

Albania was, for fifty years, the archetypal police state. Every aspect of public and private life was controlled via the state security apparatus.

Tens of thousands of Albanians were recruited as state spies to eavesdrop and spy on their fellow citizens. Virtually no one was allowed to enter or leave the country. The society was completely closed. Everything was rationed. In 1991 there were a mere 3000 cars in the entire country (heaven!!)

The House of Leaves Museum tells the story of the ubiquitous state security apparatus. The walls list the thousands executed, imprisoned or persecuted by the state under the leadership of Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hodgeha).

Mercedes for everyone

One of the first things one notices about Albania are the German cars, especially the Mercedes. For a poorish European country it has a remarkable number of expensive cars. That, in itself would not be an issue except that there is a German car gene that emerges in Albanians driving German cars…it’s a sort of arsehole gene which convinces them that they can drive as they want regardless of road rules, safety or manners.

If you drive a Mercedes you may overtake where you want, when you want. You may drive at whatever speed you feel like but, most importantly, it is compulsory to treat every other car driver as a second class citizen, cutting them off , cutting in, abusing them and generally. No level of psychopathy is too extreme for Mercedes owners.

This specific problem (call it the Mercedes syndrome) is compounded by an odd Albanian trait which essentially persuades all Albanians that it permissible to simply stop wherever they want, for whatever reason. Need to grab a coffee. No worries! Simply stop in the middle of the road, blocking all traffic, and nick in for take away. Feel like a park? Don’t worry about finding a parking place. Just stop. Need to pick your nose? Look at your phone? Think about the meaning of life? Just stop where you are. No worries.

Mercedes, yes, religion and communism, No!!

One of the side effects of 50 years of totalitarian communism (a sort of oxymoron) apart from a love of symbols of outrageous consumerism (eg Mercedes, BMWs and Audis) is that all the most obvious remaining signs of the era have been systematically erased, except perhaps in Albanians commitment to secularism (it is the least religious society on earth some say).

The giant statues of Stalin, Lenin and Enver Hoxha now hang out discreetly behind the museum, hidden from the everyday of Albanians, waiting, one day perhaps, to be restored as a part of history rather than as the open wound of the recent past, as they might currently be seen. We visited Stalin, Lenin and Hoxha, where they were hanging out, as part of the city walking tour (highly recommended) which also included Enver Hoxha’s house – also closed for now as part of the same concept of keeping the recent past hidden.

Ironically, directly across from Hoxha’s erstwhile house is a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet (apparently Albania’s first fast food outlet – as yet Albania has no McDonalds) the sign of which reflects nicely in Hoxha’s living room window – a symbol, so our guide tells us of the victory of capitalism.

The remnants of the recent past are everywhere. In the park on the corner are one of the 270 bunkers built all over Tirana/Albania from which the valiant Albanians would repel the perfidious Americans, Russians, Chinese etc. And in the middle of the park a piece of the Berlin wall sent to commemorate the fall of communism. It sits next to a replica of the entrance to the chrome mines where political prisoners were sent to mine and die.

The abandonment of the past is not restricted to images but to buildings also. On our tour we pass the Pyramid, constructed after Hoxha’s death and intended to be a massive memorial to his memory. Today, after several uses over the years, including as a Telecom building it lies empty.

The “Pyramid” now lies empty.

Despite the irreligious attitudes of Albanians, the wasteful symbols of formal religion abound. A new and, as yet, unfinished mosque donated by Turkey (a miniature version of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul) – costing billions because the Turks need to waste their spare billions on something – and a cathedral incorporated in 2014 and incorporating an impressive ceiling with the largest mosaic in the Balkans.

Speed limits and speed humps (aka sleeping policemen to the Poms)

In theory there are speed limits in Albania but everyone ignores them. There is a good reason for this as Albanian speed limits are totally idiosyncratic. You can be speeding down a freeway at 80-100 kph and next minute there is a 30k speed limit. The reason? An intersection. Never mind that only one tractor and a passing camel have emerged from that intersection since Christ was a boy. And it’s like that at every intersection. So everyone just ignores them.

Similarly most stretches of superhighway have 30, 40 or 50 k limits for no apparent reason other than either (a) a peculiar Albanian sense of perverse humour (let’s really give drivers the shits) or (b) let’s collect lots of traffic fines by imposing weird and ridiculous speed limits.

If this were not enough, Albanians have an obsessive love for speed humps. Everywhere. And often. And in the weirdest places.

That is bad enough in itself but for whatever reason the accepted speed to traverse a speed hump is apparently 0.1 kph. So everyone slows to a virtual stop even though most of the humps could be comfortably crossed at 50 kph. The reason for this excessive caution is not clear but maybe goes back to when there were only 3000 cars in the country and a car cost you the equivalent of 10 years wages.

Having said this, most of the speed humps are entirely unnecessary since traffic in Tirana makes traffic in Istanbul or Sydney look like a paragon of fast flowing traffic. The city is one large traffic jam – but nevertheless it has many redeeming features from a plethora of tree lined pedestrian streets, good markets, to great night life, good food (especially the boreks) and lots of friendly, helpful people.

Meeting the Deputy Minister for Justice

You know how it is? You rock up in your AirBnB in Divjake after going out for dinner and go to tell your host (who speaks no English) that you will be leaving very early in the morning so will not need breakfast. Not to worry. she indicates that her daughter, Fjoralda, speaks good English. So we sit on the lounge chatting about life, death, Albania etc…Eventually I ask Fjoralda about her work and life and it turns out that Fjoralda Caka is the Albania Deputy Minister for Justice. You never know who you will meet on the lounge in Divjake.

A pleasant evening with the Deputy Minister for Justice, Fjoralda Caka and her Mother

A day at the beach and in the mountains

This was the archetypal Australian at the beach experience. Arriving in Divjake – which unlike many of the ugly beachside towns find throughout the Mediterranean (see eg most of Spain, most of the Albanian and Montenegrin coastal architecture) – has made a real effort with its buildings and streetscapes.

It’s a hot day and we head for the beach – which turns out to be a wasteland of eroded dune systems – systematically vandalised by thousands of cars – dirty looking water in a lagoon etc. We dutifully pay our beach entry fee anyway and head out on the long ricketty boardwalk which had been built over the lagoon out to the ocean proper…

The boardwalk ends at a bar on the beach which, at least serves good gin and tonic and plays some good blues…while we contemplate the miles of cars and umbrellas on the beach and long for a proper Australian beach.

If you can criticise Albanian beaches (or at least the ones we saw because we heard Himare and other places are much better) – you can’t criticise the mountains which are spectacular and a welcome escape from the heat and crowds of the coast. if you are a walker or mountain lover – Albania’s alps are beautiful and rugged.

Skanderbeg and Krujë

Then there is the famous Skanderbeg. Now you may never have heard of Skanderbeg but every Albanian has. There is a statue on every second street corner in Albania. There are Skanderbeg streets, Skanderbeg parks and a giant Skanderbeg museum to be found in Krujë just outside Tirana.

But there is more. Not content with populating the country with more Skanderbeg statues than there are Albanian citizens, they are busy erecting Skanderbeg statues in every other country in the world. No Skanderbeg in your country? Don’t worry one is coming soon.

Skanderbeg mania and idolatry not withstanding, Krujë is well worth a visit. The old citadel incorporates not just the aforementioned museum, but the ethnographic museum, a great old church now converted to a mosque and incorporating some nice frescoes, among other things such as great views, the Skanderbeg olive tree….

See the full set of images on Flickr below click links):

97 Days Adrift in Europe (Part 10 – Berlin)

Ah, Berlin the beautiful, the bold, the brutal, the bizarre….

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The Oberbaumbrucke, the famous bridge on the Spree.

Everyone told me that Berlin was a great city to visit and they weren’t wrong. If only Australian cities were more like Berlin (or indeed other cities in Europe). Bike paths everywhere, masses of green open space, street art, rivers and canals, great museums, car drivers that are courteous and watchful, great public transport.

Of course, not everything is great and Australian cities have some parts of all of these things, quite apart from infinitely better weather. The Germans are maddeningly, annoyingly law abiding and conformist (though not so much in Berlin). Even the countryside is neat and well ordered, such that even the cows have specially assigned spaces in which they may sit down, neatly numbered and with clear instructions (in several languages) forbidding them to sit in any other space.

Germans don’t have as many ridiculous laws as Australians but the ones they do have they obey as if they are tablets from heaven. In my humble opinion there is few things (Peter Dutton, Joe Hockey etc aside) so ridiculous as two large groups of automatons poised expectantly at either side of an entirely empty road waiting for a little green electronic man to tell them they may cross the road. It gave me great delight to blithely cross against every possible red light, knowing that this would annoy the assembled automatons no end.

I arrive in Berlin late on a Friday afternoon, from Amsterdam. The train ride takes 6 hours and arrives neither a minute early, nor late. I am yet again travelling first class, courtesy of Eurail which, apparently, believes that anyone either rich or old, or both, is unable to endure the discomfort of second class or, alternatively, needs to return some of the ill-gotten gains of the baby boomers to the poor of Europe via first class rail fares. I shall raid my Panama account again. I am staying with Bill Hare, partner Ursula Fuentes and family having decided to grace them with my presence some 15 years after I last saw Bill, in Amsterdam.

I have picked up some annoying French lurgi which I am, no doubt, giving to everyone with whom I come in contact. It works a bit like the French bureaucracy; it’s incredibly annoying, makes the host body very inefficient but is not deadly enough to actually stop it functioning. Hence I continue to drag myself around, occasionally feeling better and then doing just sufficiently too much to feel completely crap the next day. This means I am unable to do anything but either sleep or sit in cafés drinking coffee and reading a book. I think I shall call it the enforced relaxation lurgi, the one drawback being that it creates a host of little spiders in my scalp who alternately pull it tight and/or hit it with miniature hammers and when they get bored with that they squeeze my left eyeball.

Berlin, is in some senses, the personification (if a city can be a person) of the history of the last 150 years. It is here that many of the great events of Europe, at least, are written in the flesh of the city. Intuitively, if you have studied history, you know that, but visiting Berlin makes it much clearer.

That history is encapsulated in the short walk from the Brandenburg gate, celebrating Prussia’s victory over France in 1870 – and itself a symbol of the dominance of the military in that part of German history – which led to both WW1 and WW2, to the the Reichstag building where the German Bundestag (Parliament) sits.

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The TV tower in East Berlin – built as a symbol of East Germany’s technology. West Berliners argued the cross visible on the side was the West’s revenge

The latter you can view as a symbol of the reunification of Berlin and Germany, and the creation of a relatively unified Europe, symbolised, more than anything by the giant EU flag flying over the now reconstructed Reichstag. The reconstructed Reichstag building, itself a symbol of German power , lay abandoned and empty from 1945 until 1990 when reconstruction started after reunification. It’s somewhat ironic that the giant glass dome was a designed by British architect, Lord Norman Foster, and sits just a few hundred metres from the embassy of the Brexits.

I have decided my entire trip around Europe shall be by train, in between cities, and largely on foot within cities. This poses somewhat of a challenge, since apart from the French Lurgi (which in my mind has now become a proper noun), my body has adopted a policy of rotational notification of early degeneration and approaching death. When my ski damaged right knee is working properly, my right ankle is not. Or my left. And when all three of those problematic joints decide to have a day off from giving me the complete shits, some other random part of the body decides that it will annoy the crap out of me.

Nevertheless being descended from good Welsh mining stock (or at least those bits of Welsh mining stock that worked in offices) I ignore these travails in order to make certain that I die fully informed on European history.

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Street art and semi derelict buildings; everywhere in Berlin

I’ve arrived on a weekend so there is time to socialise with my hosts. As befits all well balanced individuals this includes a mixture of cultural activities from the low brow – jazz in a small well-hidden enclave off the backstreets, where our fellow audience members are a cross between residual unreconstructed hippies, bikies, hipsters and a minority of baby boomers who appear to have accidentally stumbled on somewhere they don’t really belong. Following this we go upmarket for the quarter-final of the Euros (soccer) between Germany and Italy. This takes place in one of the unreconstructed remnants of East Germany, where you can sit on a deck chair and peer around the pole blocking ones view of anything other than the outside quarter of the screen.

On Sunday Bill and Ursula take me on a guided tour around Berlin following the route of the Berlin Wall. It’s four of us, including son, Max (actually probably not Max but I can’t remember), since Elsa is otherwise engaged. The Hare/Fuentes clan live close to the centre of Berlin and it’s just a short ride to the East Side Gallery the longest preserved part of the wall. Beyond this the wall is marked randomly and irregularly by twin lines of cobblestones in the road.

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The route of the Berlin Wall; in Berlin style it often disappears

The wall is hard to follow in places disappearing, as it does, under footpaths and buildings and only sporadically signposted. “That’s Berlin for you” my cycling companions comment. That attitude is fairly widespread in Germany, even in Berlin, and reflects a view that Berlin is poor (well everything is relative), somewhat inefficient and haphazard. It’s a bit the same attitude that many Romans and other Italians have about Rome. This apparently explains the fact that the Spree which flows through Berlin, is more like a a sewer line with a bit of added water than the other way around. Ursula explains that there have been plans to clean the Spree for years but Berlin has never had the money.

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Berlin Wall; the kiss (Brezhnev and Honecker)

The enormous exertions of the weekend, 45 kilometres around Berlin lead to the “Return of the Lurgi, Part 3” and I spend Monday morning lying in bed squeezing that part of my head that feels like an over-tensioned steel drum. By lunchtime aided by Mother’s little Helper I creep out of my bed and head for the Berlin Wall. My visit was intended to let me look at the art work on Eastside Gallery which is a 1.3 kilometre long gallery of art panels relating to the wall and contemporary German and world history (see images here). But while the artwork on the wall is sometimes startling and always interesting, the back of the wall was the bit that absorbed my attention.

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Victims of the Syrian War

Here photographer, Kai Wiedenhöfer, assembled an exhibition called “WARonWALL“. The exhibition focuses on the legacy of the war for the individuals maimed by it. As Wiedenhöfer says “It is a paradox of war that the injury of a single person makes the biggest impression on us; the one whose face we can see, the one whose name and fate we can actually recall. The bigger the number of the victims the less we are touched emotionally. Instead of increasing our consternation, large numbers somehow numb the reality of it. Numbers are abstract – people are not.”

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The destruction of Kobane

The exhibition documents the story of families and individuals whose lives have been uprooted by the war and the complete and utter destruction of towns such as Kobane that are now little more than rubble. You can see some of Wiedenhöfer’s images here including the accompanying stories and here you can see some images of Kobane before, during and after the siege.

The reality in Berlin, is that everywhere you look the city is touched by the history of conflict, the Wall, the still deserted empty spaces either wide of the wall known as “No Man’s Land”, which escapees had to cross to get into West Berlin, the still abandoned buildings and factories, the Jewish Museum, the recreated Checkpoint Charlie, the memorials to those who died trying to escape, the Russian War Memorial, the museum of the former home of the SS, documented in the Museum, The Topography of Terror.

The following morning I take another run past the East Side Gallery into downtown Berlin. I pass the Springer Building where Die Bild is published, Germany’s somewhat feeble attempt to imitate “The Australian”. It is right wing, broadsheet in size but tabloid in size and content. Just like the Australian, in fact.  Bild has been described as “notorious for its mix of gossip, inflammatory language, and sensationalism” and as having a huge influence on German politicians.

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Jewish War Memorial

The scream
Munch’s The Scream

From here I pass onto the Jewish museum. I find the Museum somewhat disappointing except for a startling installation which features thousands of faces cut out from steel plate and lying on the floor. Walking on these thousands of faces the sightless eyes stare up like something out of Munch’s “The Scream“. Eerie and evocative.

On my way back my unplanned cycle trip takes me back along one of Berlin’s surprise canals which pop up where you least expect them and onto Museum Island where there are five of Berlin’s major museums. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Berlin is the 190 kilometres of canals which one can stumble across in the most unexpected places and by following them get yourself completely bushwacked. Still no problem; as you push your bike through someone’s backyard and they give you a strange look, you just make certain that it appears that you always intended to go that way, smile nicely and move on.

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SpreePark, the extinction of the dinosaurs

One of Berlin’s abandoned places is SpreePark the former East German amusement park which lies just across the river from Bill and Ursula’s place. Today it stands shuttered, fenced and theoretically protected by guards and dogs. Every two metres a sign warns of the risks of entering, “Danger of Death”. It’s one of those must-see destinations, screened and warned off, it is like a beacon. So armed with camera, backpack and water I make my way there. Aside from a fascinating history of fraud, escape, opening, closure, fire and fun it, like most deserted places it has a magnetism emanating from the way nature reclaims the derelict spaces of humans, the ability to have such places entirely to oneself, the risk and the fact that entry is illegal. I crawl under the fence around 11 am having parked my bike by the river.

Entry involves sticking ones head under the fence and then levering ones body underneath by pulling on the fence above. Usually at this point I would manage to injure something, tear my clothes or have my wallet slip, un-noticed into the dirt. But for once I escape my own incompetence. Once in your pull your pack behind you. To all intents and purposes the park is completely deserted. There is no sound except the wind and the odd door moving in the wind. And the quietly revolving Ferris Wheel which spins on and on, with a grinding, whimpering sound, empty and forlorn, awaiting its next passenger. Today little remains of the park which has been progressively emptied of its sights, damaged by fire, and vandalised.

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Abandoned water ride, SpreePark

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SpreePark, ferris wheel

The Government has increased security to ensure no repeats of the scandalous incident from summer 2013, when a 90-year-old woman broke into SpreePark and had to be rescued from the Ferris wheel after the wind carried her up but not back down again. “It used to be so nice here,” she said. “I simply wanted another go.”

If you stayed off the main tracks and kept your eyes open you could stay for hours in the haven of the park, poking around. For me, my tenure ended after an hour when, expecting security to be on foot, I was taken by surprise by fast arriving men on mountain bikes. A quick-fire interrogation took place. Where was I from? Hadn’t I seen the signs? Every two metres? How could I miss them? Signs in English too!!

Now comes the point of double bluff. “Have you taken any photos? You must cut them”.  He knows he has no authority to demand I do this. But I don’t want to antagonise him. This demand is repeated three times. I go the double-feint. “Why don’t you just let people in and give tours. The Government could make money.”  Sure enough that             distraction is enough and he launches into a dissertation of dangers; drowning in the water train, falling off the ferris wheel etc  I.D is demanded. I produce my Australian passport. “Australian? We capture many Australians here but you are the first that carries a passport. My passport is taken away to have its details transcribed. Then: “How did you get in?”.  I indicate the direction. “The big hole?”. Yes that one. “You come under the fence? Are you a dog?” I’m not quite sure of the corollary between the two statements but figure that non-smartassery is the order of the day.

“What happens now?” I ask “We send your details to the Police”. Hmm. “And then?” I ask. “They do nothing because they are too busy…now we go”. I’m escorted to the main gate. The two of them shake my hand; “Have a nice holiday in Berlin.”

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The weeping woman at the Russian War Memorial

On my way back I visit the Russian War Memorial. Before the Soviet Union built the Stalingrad memorial this was the world’s

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Russian War Memorial, Berlin

largest Russian memorial. It’s massive and very Russian and masculine in its glorification of heroic figures and with the single weeping woman. But impressive also. 80,000 Russians died during the Battle for Berlin and 2000 are buried there. My day is run. My French lurgi has returned to cast me back to bed.

The Russian memorial turns out to be my last bit of Berlin other than dinner with the Hare/Fuentes. My final day is also laid waste by French lurgi and I abandon ideas of extensive tours of unseen bits of the city. Dinner is however worth waiting for and disproves a theory that anyone who once drank cask wine cannot appreciate good wine. Visiting Jonathan West, once, in Canberra, he refused to serve me anything better than a mediocre wine on the basis that if I was prepared to drink cask wine then offering anything more than a mediocre wine was like casting pearls before swine.

Berlin passes…at 9 am, next morning, I am on my way to Prague

This is Part 10 of the blog series “97 Days Adrift in Europe”. Links to other episodes and related content can be found below:

  1. Part 6 – Travelling South

Images from this post can be found on the Flickr archive as follows:

  1. Berlin Spreepark
  2. Berlin Wall – art
  3. Russian War Memorial
  4. Berlin Wall – Syrian War exhibition
  5. Berlin Jewish Museum
  6. Berlin General

 

 

97 Days Adrift in Europe (Part 9 – France, Annecy)

I decide to go to Annecy after Aix and Nimes; it’s a suitably random decision a bit like the answer to the question about why you climbed Everest….”Because it was there”.

The best form of travel follows no logical pattern, is ideally not pre-planned; it follows no timetable. This mode of travel is increasingly hard to do since following this system inevitably involves significantly higher costs, the likelihood that you will end up sleeping on the streets, at worst, and that you will spend in excess of half of your holiday standing in lines to see things for which, had you pre-booked or pre-planned, you could have bought tickets for in advance.

Gallic shrug, hands upturned, pursed lips
I know nothing; purse the lips, Gallic shrug, upturned hands

There is a solution, however, to the nightmare of tourist queues and that is to either (a) ignore all the famous places and just look at them from the outside or (b) climb under, through or over any relevant fence or wall; something which has the added benefit that, if you do it early in the morning or evening, you get to spend the best time of day in places completely free of the teeming hordes.

The downside of the illegal entry is getting caught by security. But, if you do get caught the solution is easy.  You adopt the French technique: shrug, put out your hands, palm upwards, purse your lips and declare yourself unable to speak anything other than simply English. Above all, plead ignorance. If the security guard points to the large sign in English saying “Forbidden to xxxx”, you shrug again, shake your cane with its white tip, put back on your dark glasses and shuffle off tapping the ground.

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Preparing the drone

But first I must actually get to Annecy…the trains and buses are expensive and long-winded. So I decide on Bla Bla car. This is not some form of talking, self-driving car but the French car sharing system in which, for about a quarter what you might otherwise pay, you go from A to B. The downside to cheap car-sharing is the risk of sharing a car with a suicidal maniac, a person who has bad body odour or breath, believes that the best way to fill in every spare second is to talk non-stop.

You can, of course, ignore the avid talker with a stony silence but usually when he/she gets no reply the tend to nod or prod you thus disturbing your imminent decline into sleep. Failing all of the above you run the risk of spending the entire trip listening to the virtues of Marie Le Pen and how all blacks should go back to Algeria, Senegal or wherever else they came from. That is the price of car-sharing socialism.

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Flying the drone

But my trip turns out to be the archetype of almost all my French experiences. The driver is friendly and drives normally and my fellow passenger is a very tall Frenchman who, despite being more than 10-15 centimetres taller than me, insists on sitting in the back so that I can get the view better of the passing countryside.

He is a photographer and, leaving aside the pleasures of the passing scenery, one of the highlights of the trip is flying his drone during our lunch break. This is where all the latent boy genes come to the fore….high tech toys which are super noisy and allow one to behave something like a formula one driver. Perfect and with the added benefit of annoying the shit out of everyone passing or just relaxing nearby. The aerial equivalent of jet skis.

We arrive in Annecy in the late afternoon. It’s hot, we are late, the traffic is like Victoria Road, Sydney on a bad day and I have pissed off my host by not letting him know soon enough that we would be late. Hence he came home from work especially to let me in only to find out it was a wasted trip. The end result, when I do get there, is that I am super-heated by the 35° day, super-stressed by my lateness and with a brain made mushy by the long day and combination of heat and stress.

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The chateau

So Cedric’s attempts to explain the door intercom turn into a form of comic opera, where he explains, I don’t really listen and just keep on doing what is clearly not working. His response to my lack of comprehension is to speak louder (standard formula – if the person you are speaking too in a foreign language does not understand make sure to shout the same words – this will make all the difference). Meanwhile I continue adhering to the Idiots Formula: that being that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Finally at just the moment I am at risk of drowning in the sweat pouring off me, I decide to let my female chromosomes have a look in and I actually listen to what Cedric is saying. Five seconds later I am in through the door.

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The colours of Annecy

Annecy is one of those perfect destinations and places to live. An old city mellowing in its perfect colours, sitting on a perfect blue lake which is the cleanest large lake in France, surrounded by a vista of stunning mountains, encapsulated by picture perfect sunrises and sunsets. All this just an hour from the ski resorts and with great cycling, para gliding and a host of water sports all thrown in.

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The chateau dominates the lake and town

The old city sits on a mini labyrinth of canals leading off from the lake and is dominated by the bulk of the old chateau. Wandering the narrow laneways one feels as if some artist, for a tad of recreation, decided to try and create a perfect tableau of water, natural colours and painted buildings. Then they sprinkled the town with a plethora of markets, traditional shops, cafés and a smidgeon of antiquity. With all that you have the essence of France encapsulated in an area about three quarters of a kilometre square.

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Sylvie Rossignol at work

As is common when travelling alone, I have fallen into the metaphorical embrace of the citizens of Annecy, mainly Sylvie Rossignol, a local artist whom I met in Sablet during the gathering for the opening of Anne Froger’s workshop. I am given a guided tour of Annecy, loaned a bike, introduced to family and friends, taken to the mountains and pushed off a cliff to go paragliding. In between I am offered picnics and group swims in the lake and generally made to feel welcome.

The fortuitous nature of these events is entirely to do with my having little guilt or shame – thus allowing me to ask for help and assistance where others might hesitate to be so forward, and, generally, an undeservedly large helping of good fortune.

This lack of shame and good fortune allows me to (a) assume that death will not come as a result of following strangers down back streets in bad parts of remote cities in the third world and as a result enjoying the experiences that come with such risks and (b) always assume that people will simply say “no” if they don’t want to help; if you assume this then you never feel guilty asking. As for the good luck I remember my good friend Bob Burton saying after some stroke of outrageous fortune that if the end of the world happened only the cockroaches and I would survive. I felt this was somewhat a backhanded compliment and that being stranded alone with several billion cockroaches was not something to be entirely desired.

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On yer (Dutch) bike

I mount my loaned Dutch style bike and take myself off to explore Annecy. It’s worth noting, at this point, that the people who say “Oh but I love my Dutch bike” are much like people who say “Oh give me a good whipping, nothing better”. They may claim to enjoy old Dutch bikes but to most everyone the bikes are a form of purgatory.

Generally they are old, have brakes and gears (if they have any) that don’t work properly. They are heavy, everything squeaks, the basket falls off at the critical moment tipping your camera, phone, passports and everything else of value in front of an oncoming 30 tonne truck and they steer like the proverbial drunken Irishman – noting that this is not a racist comment but simply a statement of fact. If you are Irish, and offended, you may substitute, Pole, Australian, Briton, Russian etc. for Irishman.

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Enjoying French police humour

Despite the obstacles posed by my bike, I nevertheless succeed in circumnavigating half the lake even when restricted by top speed of 15 kms an hour. Most of the lake is surrounded by bike path. In Australia, to find an entire lake surrounded by bike path would be the equivalent of returning from Europe after 3 months and finding that someone had finished the high speed rail from Melbourne to Sydney. A pure miracle. The exception, in Australia, is Canberra, of course, since it consumes half of Australia’s entire road funding simply to ensure that the denizens of parliament house enjoy a smooth trip wherever they go in the city.

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One kilometre from Annecy, a million miles from the crowds

There is one way in which Annecy does not differ from anywhere else in the world. I call this phenomenon the “traveller’s blessing”. The “travellers blessing” is the reality that 99% of the world’s population are too lazy to walk or cycle more than about 500 metres. Hence, apparently, all 100,000 visitors to Annecy are crowded on a single beach just outside the town.

Here, at the main beach, you can share the beauty of Lake Annecy with a veritable plague of sweating, farting, noisy, and indubitably annoying people. Or you can go expend a small modicum of the excess calories you consumed with your extra-large holiday breakfast and no more than 500 metres down the road share a beautiful spot with two ducks, a swan and about four other people in perfect peace and quiet.

The biggest drawback of Lake Annecy is, allegedly, the Lake Annecy flea which, if one has sensitive skin gives one an annoying and itchy allergy.

The following day, Sylvie, takes me up to the mountains. This is one of the world’s top paragliding spots. Kaylee Mackenzie has persuaded me that I should take a tandem flight, in Annecy, and eventually at Sylvie’s urging I overcome the inertia which is caused by the overcast weather and the fact I didn’t bring any money with me.

I launch into the stratosphere over Lake Annecy. My pilot is Vincent Genest from Airmax Parapente who, apart from being a tad crazy, appears to be a really good pilot and gives me an exhilarating and enjoyable 45 minute flight over the lake. This is true despite the appearance given by almost all the pictures he takes, in which I appear to be in fear of my life. A highly recommended experience.

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Views over Lake Annecy from the paraglider

On my final two nights I have to move accommodation having been unable to find someone for the entire period of my stay. In my new abode I am entertained by Dominique, who in common with many of my AirBnB hosts is great company. Apart from being on crutches, the result of some bizarre accident, she is also a prime mover behind La Ripaille à Sons, a great local group of performers based around brass instruments. So once again, as I have been many times, I am entertained by guitar, brass and song while relaxing in my abode.

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The lunchtime view

My final day before I head back to Paris and on to Amsterdam, is spent exploring the byways of Annecy town before Sylvie takes me to lunch with friends up in the hills behind Annecy. From here one can enjoy million dollar views while firmly embracing the good wine, cheese and company. A perfect ending to four days in the mountains.

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Lunch with friends in the hills behind Annecy

 

 

 

 

 

This is Part 9 of the blog series “97 Days Adrift in Europe”. Links to other episodes and related content can be found below:

  1. Part 6 – Travelling South

The full archive of images from this post can be found on Flickr here:

Annecy General; Annecy Paragliding

 

97 Days Adrift in Europe (Part 5, Paris)

Passing by Paris; Brexit, soccer and other lies

I’m on my way to Sablet for a mixture of a wake and a celebration; a wake, of sorts, for the death of Lincoln Siliakus who died almost a year ago this month – and a celebration of a life well lived. And also a celebration of the opening of a new studio by his lifetime partner, Anne Froger – one in which she will develop dyeing with natural plant dyes.

Regrettably, for those of us in our late 50s and early 60s we have reached the time of life when people we have known most of our lives have started dying or getting ill. I shared many good times with Lincoln, the Franklin campaign, a shared house in Hobart for a year or so (along with Jill Hickie), times lobbying together in Paris, dealing with Gough Whitlam, as ambassador to UNESCO, walking the back lanes of the Cote du Rhone vineries, all washed down with copious quantities of good wine and bread.

Lunch with Lincoln at Gigondas

Sometimes, too late, we realise that we have missed the opportunity to see those friends again, to reminisce – telling increasingly untrue stories as the night lengthens, and to spend time sharing the things we like to share.

But first I must overnight in Paris. That means passing through the Gare du Nord, which is where the Eurostar arrives from the UK. Passing through Gare du Nord after travelling on the Eurostar is a bit like stepping out of a Rolls Royce into a mess of dog shit.

You are borne along in air-conditioned comfort on an almost silent train at 300 plus kilometres an hour and arrive in a railway station where there is nowhere to sit, nowhere decent to eat, no decent signage, a help desk that is closed, and a ticket office where you need to take lunch and dinner with you into the queue in order not to starve before arriving at the ticket counter.

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Gare du Nord, at its best

Usually there there is a crowd larger than that found in the average football stadium milling around in the middle of the station obstructing any possibility of moving around the station. Everyone is forced to stand poised like a vulture over there luggage to prevent theft.  This is, primarily, because there is nowhere to sit and even if you can find somewhere to sit it’s almost impossible to know what is going on with train departures without going back to the centre of the station. To get anywhere in the station you need to have a better sidestep than the world’s best rugby winger and more go forward than Smokin’ Joe Frazier.

Currently the situation is exacerbated by the decision to renovate the station at the height of the tourist season thus reducing the available space by about 40 per cent.

It’s almost of as if the French spent years building a railway and forgot that it needed to arrive somewhere. At which point they shrugged and said “..Well it is mainly ‘Les Rosbifs’ (Britons) so who cares. At the other end of the tunnel is Britain’s newly renovated Pancras Station which has seats, shops, cafes, a modicum of space and light. Give credit where due, it may be the only useful thing that the British have done in a 100 years.

I’m staying with an old friend from Greenpeace days, Stephanie Lacomblez who worked for Enercoop in the adjacent office; finding places to stay in Paris is problematic because most people either live by themselves in places no bigger than the average dog box or they share and have no spare rooms. Stephanie’s flatmate is away so I hit the jackpot, this time.

It’s just a couple of stops from Gare du Nord, where the Eurostar arrives, to Stalingrad (no not that one), where I shall pick up the key to Stephanie’s flat from Jon Sofier, who works for Enercoop. Jon is an UK expat who has lived in France for more than 15 years, speaks fluent French but somehow remains convincingly British in style, demeanour, if not attitudes. Somehow he is the exemplar of those you might say “you can take him out of Britain but you can’t take….”

I am abandoned in the Enercoop office while Jon goes to pick up his new girlfriend. Enercoop is the new face of France – a company selling 100% renewable energy to French businesses and households. The Paris office has around 60 staff, up from only 7 years ago. That according to my somewhat useless maths is a 1200% growth in that time.

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Flammanville – years late, billions over budget

Seven years ago nuclear was still an article of faith in France, now increasingly it is seen as yesterday’s energy. Too expensive (the new plants are years late and billions over budget and, if they were to sell their energy unsubsidised it’s doubtful they would sell any), too unreliable (the majority of plants are 30 years old or more) and reliant for cooling on water than is frequently not available. At one stage in 2008 around fifty per cent of the entire nuclear fleet was offline for this reason.

La Belle Equipe

It’s my first night in Paris in several years and we head off for drinks and dinner. It is only a matter of weeks since the bombing of the Bataclan, Le Petit Cambodge, Le Carillon and the Belle Equipe, among other places. Despite this, at least superficially, the city appears little changed with crowds of people sitting outside every tiny bar, little sign of security except near police stations and railway stations and, even then, it’s spasmodic. Stephanie patronises La Belle Equipe and it is sobering to think that that it is only luck that prevents people you know being caught up in these events.

Beyond that Paris seems a little poorer, more frayed around the edges, dirtier with more homeless people and bigger groups of apparently indigent people standing around on street corners, even in the areas I know well.

The tiny bar we go into, just 200 metres from La Belle Equipe, another of the bars bombed on the night of November 13, is full of Parisians having a Friday night out and a group of English soccer supporters politely and pleasantly enjoying an evening in the ambiance of a typical French wine bar. The night descends into a mixture of repartee, insults and the sort of amicable European fraternity that the average Brexiter seems not to understand.

On my way back from dinner, I pass a local bar and, glancing at the TV, note that England are losing 2-1 to Iceland. The bar being far from the throngs of football tourists is only half full but, nevertheless, I discover that there are people from Ireland, France, Australia and Spain in the bar. All are busily barracking for the Icelanders. I feel this is too good an opportunity to be missed particularly in the light of Australia having just lost two rugby tests to the perfidious English (or Perfide Albion, as an ex-colleague insisted on calling them – Albion being an ancient name for the UK).

One of the immutable iron-laws of sport and almost anything else is that if England are playing any nation at any sport, you may have 160 nationalities in the bar including some English people and 159 of those nationalities will be supporting England’s opponents. I recounted, for the English soccer fans, earlier in the evening, the tale of being in a Paris bar where we counted around 20 nationalities and only one was supporting England. He was English – and even he wasn’t certain he wasn’t making a mistake.

Golden temple massacre – British troops opened fire of a peaceful crowd

This rule is written in stone because of 200 years of British imperialism and the irredeemable English arrogance that went with it, as reinforced, recently, by a correspondent of mine on Facebook. This correspondent noted that with Brexit, Britain would get the chance to be “great again” as they were during 1000 years of empire. He was unpleased when I noted that (a) the British Empire endured for around 100 years not 1000 (b) It did not make Britain great but, rather, a scandalous example of exploitation, racism and genocide, (c) So far as I was aware the year was 2016 not 1816; and (d) the Great in Great Britain did not refer to any sense of virtue but merely to a Great Britain which included Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland rather than a diminished Britain without those parts.

On this particular occasion, leaving aside, the natural support for Iceland as underdog and the fact that the entire Icelandic footballing budget including travel and wages was approximately equal to the cost of one of Wayne Rooney’s boots, this was a matter of a few days after the disastrous and, to most Europeans, entirely bemusing Brexit decision. As several of the people in the bar noted, if nothing else, it was an appropriate revenge for Brexit.

This is Part 5 of the blog series “97 Days Adrift in Europe”. Links to other episodes and related content can be found below:

97 Days Adrift in Europe (Part 3, Travelling Crazy; Lost & Found)

Back to France…

Back to France. This involves traveling and, despite having spent my entire life seeking to ensure the planet runs out of jet fuel, petrol/diesel and whatever they power trains with – thus giving me unrivalled travel experience ….my traveling system guarantees that no peaceful day shall pass untroubled.

I have a travel system designed to ensure that no day shall be free of stress for either myself or others.

The process is, first, to ensure that you have as many places as possible in which you can put any item of value. This includes of course, your main bag with 4 pockets, your day pack with 7 pockets, trousers, shirt, jacket with, together a minimum of 8 pockets. Essentially, however, this total, with only 19 places in which to put any one item is a poor effort. For maximum effect you should have a minimum of 30 possible places in which to place any item of value.

Too many pockets are barely enough

Next, ensure that, at all times, no item of value, such as passport, tickets, wallet, credit cards, train passes, is ever placed in the same place more than once. In this way it’s possible to guarantee not only the maximum possible delay in finding anything but, with good planning, sufficient stress to ensure that any beneficial effects of a holiday are nullified.

How not to catch your train
How not to catch your train

How to look for your ticket
How to look for your ticket in busy railway stations

Effective pre-planning, such as sitting around in cafes posting nonsense to Facebook, means that starting to locate ones ticket and/or passport only takes places seconds before the train/plane/bus departs. This should occur, preferably, in the middle of a public thoroughfare through which hundreds of people are passing each minute. The ensuing frantic search requires one to empty out onto the ground every item of clothing, clean or dirty, books, electrical cables, cameras, computers, phones, half eaten bananas and anything else inhabiting the nether regions of ones luggage.

Ideally the most important and valuable items should be strewn the furthest away from ones gaze and within easy reach of the passing pickpockets and other unsavoury denizens of the Gare du Nord, Gare de Lyon or wherever else one happens to be. This further increases the stress level as you seek to rummage with one hand and eye while guarding your laptop and phone with the other eye and hand. As the proximity of departure increases, the intensity of search exponentially increases. By now one has ones head in the bag, convinced that somewhere in that empty bag is a black hole that has eaten the required ticket.

By this time you have broken into a lather of sweat such that every passing person is also stressed. They assume that you are (a) either the male equivalent of the proverbial bag-lady who, for some unknown reason has decided to camp in the middle of the the busiest part of one of Paris’s busiest stations or (b) you are searching for the detonator on your suicide vest which you have misplaced. This latter thought, fortunately, has the effect of finally scaring off the lurking thieves who are eagerly waiting for you to remove your good eye from your laptop.

….But I found my headphones…

If favoured by fortune, one usually finds the missing ticket/passport on the third search of the first pocket, in which you boy-looked, giving you just sufficient time to jam everything randomly back into your bags and board the train. A victory of sorts since you have neither lost any item of value, nor have you forfeited your ticket. You are now, however, confined to standing in the corridor, since the lather of sweat into which you have worked yourself makes you smell as if you have run a couple of marathons over two days without taking a shower – giving you the choice of either isolating yourself in the corridor or enduring 3 hours of people trying to edge away from you as they whisper to their companions about the unfortunate situation in which they find themselves.

With good judgement, and some luck, one can repeat this scenario on an almost daily basis with some important item of luggage or other item; for example, standing outside your AirBnB at 1 am, in the rain, wondering in which of several shops, bars, museums, cafes etc you left your keys.

No they’re in perfect condition

You, realise, just momentarily before you get hypothermia, that the unpleasant itching in your groin is not some STI (which you can’t workout how you got, since the only intimate relationship you have had in weeks is with your mobile phone), but your keys. These have managed to drop through the shirt pocket, in which you never put anything because you know that pocket has a hole, and have worked their way down inside your shirt and into your elastic-less 12 year old jocks which your partner has been trying to persuade you to throw out for the last ten years.

There are several versions of the “where did I put it” panic, all equally effective for creating stress and annoyance for others.

This scenario: You drive, with the instant Gallic fervour which only comes with being in France, down the auto-route and approach the toll payment point. Pulling up you instantly realise that none of the wallet, credit card, or the ticket you got when you entered to toll road, are in the place in which you resolved to place them. You search every possible location in the car as the line of vehicles behind you lengthens and the friendly drivers commence to assist your calm search with prolonged activity on their “klaxons”. Finally as your stress level rises to ‘take another blood pressure tablet soon’ level, you feel a lump beneath your arse and realise that your wallet, toll route ticket and can of orange juice are all beneath you – which largely explains the pain you have been experiencing for some time.

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When all else fails break window to pay

You now go to open the window to pay but realise that, not having had to open the windows of your borrowed car due to it being air conditioned, you have no idea how to do this. The knob for the electronic windows is in precisely none of the places in which you’d expect it to be. Finally then, as you descend into a state of near hysteria, you attempt open the car door so that you can climb out and pay.

Due, however to your skilful judgement in manoeuvring the car within inches of the pay point it’s actually impossible to get out so, summoning up your yoga skills, you twist yourself around the car door and pay, while at the same time realising that the vasectomy you had some years earlier would have been unnecessary had you only performed this payment manoeuvre at that time.

It’s ok I’ll find my credit card soon

In the event that none of these events are sufficient to ruin your holiday or increase your stress levels enough to require a repatriation under your over-priced insurance policy, you can always try the classic “Let’s borrow my friends brand new car and crash it”. This is a rolled gold guarantee for stress for most – a 9 on most scales (regrettably only a 2, for me, since my holidays are such a long sequence of inconceivable disasters that I have got to the “Ah, well, what the fuck stage” when almost anything happens).

In this particular case I have borrowed Nadine’s brand new Fiat. As I leave, the last words I hear are “But don’t damage my new car”. No stress then. All is well until I decide to re-fuel. Should I do what most normal people do and leave the petrol station, proceed to the roundabout, and do a 360 at the roundabout in order to return in the direction I should be going?

No, I shall be a smart arse and prove that my driving judgement is second to none. Sure, of course I can get a Fiat through a gap only just large enough for a motorbike. No problem. A grinding sound alerts me to the fact that not all is well. Never mind, no doubt just a flesh wound. I reverse. More grinding.

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Not the new Fiat

At this point I notice that a second bollard, that was secretly concealed underground when I last looked, has emerged to deliberately damage Nadine’s car, unseen by me. Some sort of revenge for Australia’s role in helping stop French nuclear testing, no doubt. I drive on convinced that this will just be a minor scratch

Revelations 2.4 states “And it was revealed that the minor scratch was in fact a giant dent all along the underside of the car….and, lo, it cost EU1000 to fix”. Lucky Nadine had insurance then. Final cost EU80, profuse apologies, damaged pride and a reminder that hubris is always a bad thing.

This is Part 3 of the blog series “97 Days Adrift in Europe”. Links to other episodes and related content can be found below:

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 23 – Cape Leveque)

North to Cape Leveque

After our brief stay at James Price Point we head north to Cape Leveque. The plan is to take a couple of nights on route to sample the delights of the Dampier Peninsula. More than anything, the Cape is an area both rich with a living Aboriginal society and culture and with one of the most beautiful coastal environments anywhere in Australia. Soaring red rock cliffs, huge tidal races, endless beaches; it is one of those environments where if you move more than a few metres from the camp you can have solitude and space which is an increasingly rare commodity, especially near the beach.

Pender Bay Beach
Pender Bay Beach

Whale Song Shower
Whale Song Shower

 

Full Moon Whale Song WA
Full Moon Whale Song WA

First stop is Whale Song Café, on Pender Bay. Pender Bay is a Humpback whale nursery and resting area. This hidden gem with a small café (run by Jacinta) which, among other things makes mango smoothies. The campground, with only six sites, is a couple of kilometres off the main road. Perched on the cliffs overlooking a spectacular and deserted beach, surrounded by rock pools and sandbars it’s a fantastic spot to while a way a few days. We were fortunate enough to be there at full moon and the light over the waves managed to create a iridescent tableau which can only be experienced and not described.

Pender Bay (Whale Song) at Sunrise
Pender Bay (Whale Song) at Sunrise

Pender Bay
Pender Bay

Add to this the birds, the café and one of the world’s most funky showers and you have one of a holiday’s most special experiences.

It’s at this point in our story that the author will finally admit to some degree of licence with the truth, every previous word having been gospel. However, due to delayed memory ejaculation with the passing of time, and inadequate note taking, from here on in the story may either be thin on the ground, be invented, or there may be little relationship between the specific anecdote and the actual trip.

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Full Moon at Pender Bay (Whale Song)

The Daily Plait
The Daily Plait

En route north we pass and stop into two Aboriginal settlements, Beagle Bay and Lombardina. The Beagle Bay community was established by Trappist monks around 1890 and features the famous Sacred Heart church with an altar made from pearl shells. It also has a shop which sells ice creams, which on a Kimberley trip register about a 9 on the trip priorities scale (coffee and tea each also being a 9 or 10, depending who is counting).

 

We don’t stop for long since we need to find a campsite for the night and are, in any case, returning later but we were required to pause for coffee and cake; in the “remote wilds’ of the Kimberley no opportunity was to be missed for the rituals of civilisation. On departure, after some poking around, we eventually stumble on Gumbarnam, not far past Cape Leveque. The two main features of Gumbarnam were the fantastic sea-scape, including a fringing reef and a small tidal race between the mainland and adjoining islands, and a wind that made James Price Point feel like a light breeze.

Pender Bay at night
Pender Bay at night

Sunrise Whale Song
Sunrise Whale Song

Not understanding that the strong wind we experienced, on arrival, would increase to near hurricane force, we picked a nice spot in the open with a view of the ocean. The rest of the day, after putting up camp, was taken up with visits to the Trochus Shell farm at One Arm Point and to the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.

The former is run by the local Bardi people from the Ardyaloon Aboriginal community, from which a couple of young Aboriginal women gave us the full run down on the venture and its success including the re-seeding of the reef with Trochus. The latter is run by the Brown Family and is Australia’s oldest pearl farm. More importantly, is was the proud owner of an espresso machine and the provider of a passable latte and a good lunch. One Arm Point is named after an unfortunate pearler who had an accident with dynamite whilst attempting to catch fish using explosives in the bay.

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Roger and Jill praying for better traveling companions

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Lombardini Church

 

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Lombardini

 

Following the success of our exploratory expedition to Cygnet Bay, that tracked the only good latter north of Broome, we returned to the Cape for the afternoon for a quick squiz.

At this point we have no information on what activities Jill and Roger may have engaged in, but Kaylee and I walked on past the lighthouse to the beach the other side where we squatted in one of the beach shelters for lunch and then checked out the luxury camping units at the top of the hill. These are, to the average two-person tent, what Versailles Palace is to the average bush donga. Carefully supervising Kaylee due to her light-fingered tendencies to make off with every piece of commercial soap, shampoo, cream etc. ever provided any accommodation complex, we sneaked into give them a once over and decided that this was the perfect location to come with our rich Beechworth friends, Jenny O’Connor and Michael Bink. They can rent the chalet and entertain us for dinner every night and we can rent the cheap beach shacks and entertain them for free swimming.

Gumbarnam
Gumbarnam

Gumbarnam brain coral
Gumbarnam brain coral

We find on returning to Gumbarnam for the night that the wind has decided to see if it can escape the limitation of the Beaufort scale.

Gumbarnam Giant clam
Gumbarnam Giant clam

It is unlikely that we would actually have been lost to human kind due to the entire truck being blown out to sea, as a result of the near hurricane force winds. Nevertheless trying to sleep, or rest, in the vehicle was to experience the type of motion that made it seem like the entire Indian nation were engaged in trying out every position in the Kama Sutra simultaneously. A move was in order.

 Come late evening we had made a last minute retreat to a more sheltered spot, sans view. This was fortunate for many reasons but none more so that it appeared to reduce the inflow of grit into Roger’s teeth. As it was there was enough whinging and sufficient grit that it appeared we had the entire British nation around the fire, as well as sufficient sand supplies to re-build Dresden.

Gumbarnam sunset
Gumbarnam sunset

Gumbarnam sunset
Gumbarnam sunset

 

Gumbarnam coral
Gumbarnam coral

The following morning we de-camp to go to Middle Lagoon, on our way to Cape Leveque. This is yet another gorgeous coastal spot but is fisherperson central (mainly fishermen). Judging by the number of four wheel drives, giant fridges, eskis and generators it’s a veritable fish slaughterhouse.

Gumbaram fringing reef
Gumbaram fringing reef

We get to Cape Leveque at lunchtime. Seeing as Roger and I had our boys own adventure to Horizontal Falls to get excited about, Jill and Kaylee decided that they needed something to get vaguely excited about, so Roger and I were treated to long discussion about the charms of the cute pilot at Cape Leveque. Here I note, as exhibit A, that there was no interest whatever in his potential intelligence, emotional or otherwise, or his ethics or morals, or even of his potential income generating potential, but only and solely his physical charms and whether this would translate into acceptable child making activity.

It seems that this was a to be a pattern repeated, since my notes indicate that at some unknown point Jill and Kaylee also got excited about a bunch of male diners during a lunch in Broome. This led to a long discussion about their role in life, given that all of them had biceps, each one of which, had roughly the same muscle mass that both Roger or I possessed in our entire bodies. Not being able to decide on whether they were oil rig workers, male prostitutes, gym owners or some other paragon of the male species, I was forced to go and ask, and explain the source of the interest, much to the embarrassment of our female dining companions.

Sadly it seems that Roger and I were and, presumably remain, a very poor second in the muscle and machismo race

Full Sets of images here:

Whale Song Cafe/Pender Bay

Lombardini

Gambaram

 

 

 

 

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Pt. 21 – Broome)

Disclaimer: My fellow travellers have indicated that they feel there is an element of hyperbole in my description of Broome. For those from Broome who feel that their town is misrepresented please bear in mind that this blog only has the accuracy of the average Murdoch rag.

 

Also Kaylee would like it known that I refused to enter the water, initially, at Cable Beach, due to stingers (according to her three harmless brown jellyfish) and she feels that this demonstrated an almost unbelievable level of wussiness. But why anyone would go in the water with stingers when there is no surf, beats me?

 

Broome provided some of the more interesting behaviour patterns by our small group of travellers.

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Our campground was about 5 kilometres out of Broome but on the main town bus run. This allowed us not only to avoid having the collapse the roof tents every time we wanted to go somewhere but also for Kaylee and I and Roger and Jill to all operate fairly independently of each other.

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It also provided one of the more interesting examples of strange behaviour. Kaylee and I went to town for shopping and coffee. I required more reading glasses, a new camera filter, new sandals and shorts as I am now on my fifth pair of reading glasses for the trip and stocks are rapidly depleting.

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We decide to go the evening showing at the local cinema and propose to meet Roger and Jill there. We call them and they tell us they are in town and are also going. So Kaylee and I jump on the bus to go back to camp to shower and get warmer clothes. On boarding, we are surprised to encounter Roger and Jill who have clearly decided to spend their entire to visit to Broome sitting on a bus, as exiting the bus involves a 1% chance of Jill encountering a sandfly. As a result they have been doing blockies of Broome by bus and are on their fifth circuit of Broome by air-conditioned bus and thus entirely sand-fly free. Jill later tells me she is allergic to sand-flies and then a single sand-fly bite could be fatal.

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Bus rides are somewhat unusual in Broome in that that the drivers can be quite eccentric. Ours not only kept up a running conversation simultaneously with all five locals that he knew on the bus but interspersed it with various pithy comments and asides about Broome such as the ‘fact’ that the only croc farm still contains four old crocs over 5 metres. He claims that they lost the occasional tourist who decided to camp in the abandoned grounds but that no one minds since it saves on croc food. It’s best not to take his bus too often however since he is, apparently, on repeat rather than shuffle.

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It’s not only the buses that are a bit off the norm in Broome. According to Jill and Roger the taxis are also unusual as they act as a de facto delivery service for pizzas, alcohol, lost dogs and any other short term need that the average punter might need at short notice in Broome. Their taxi driver’s most bizarre evening was repeated condom deliveries to one customer. It’s unclear if it was an orgy in process or if the customer and partner were using up the condoms faster than the driver could deliver them.

 

20140807_174640Something in the Broome air also seems to have gone to Roger’s head. Alternatively it is the fact that we must spend four days in town so that he can do a job interview on the following Monday. At any rate we are all seated in the kitchen when Roger arrives. Proceeding briskly to other side of the camp kitchen he faces the microwave and proceeds to commence worshipping the it. Standing directly in front he commences genuflecting, raising and lowering his head in some form of ritual, repeating the exercise on numerous occasions. The entire kitchen stops to observe. Roger later claims his phone was on charge next to the microwave and he was merely looking at the phone but we know better.

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Being marooned in Broome for four days we need to find thing to fill our days. Both Kaylee and I decide a haircut is in order. Mine takes 15 minutes and costs $20 and Kaylee’s takes 90 minutes and costs $120. It is quite min-boggling for this average male that it could conceivably take 90 minutes to cut a few strands of keratin. What is it about the female psychology that allows them to accept being ripped off by the retail industry to such an absurd extent. It occurs with hairdressing, clothes, manicures, cosmetics and a myriad other things which, if you are male, that cost a fraction of the price, than that charged to women.

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Broome is not far from the end of our trip and we are rapidly managing to destroy the majority of items that started on the trip. Aside from cups, the chairs are deteriorating, the chair covers are ripped in numerous places, the kitchen implements are now operating in separate pieces, such the potato masher that fell apart in mid-operation. The coffee perc was destroyed by Kaylee in a fit of strength and is now handle-less (resulting in numerous burns). The stove has been dropped and is an advanced state of deterioration, the aerial is in two pieces, the kitchen boxes are mostly in two or more pieces, the bonnet has dents, the tent covers have holes and zips that don’t work properly, the external light has a switch that only operates when it’s in a good mood and there are numerous burn marks in every plastic surface due to my tendency to place the coffee pot down in a hurry. We hope that Nathan has good insurance/depreciation schedule

IMG_2406Broome is, possibly, the most over-rated tourist destination on earth. It’s hot, it’s windy, it’s flat, it’s architecture is so boring the Gold Coast seems inspired. Its tourist description should be “Boring Broome, come just so that you can bugger off to somewhere more interesting”. Sure it has Cable Beach but all that has is some nice white sand. It hasn’t seen decent surf since Jesus was a boy and even in winter they have ugly brown blob jelly fish which sting you. If Jesus turned up it’d be, in Australian vernacular “Jesus, can’t you do something about this place…?”. “No, my son, your trick with the loaves and fishes was easy, this would be impossible!”

 

You can’t even get decent coffee and you need to see the bank manager before you can afford it anyway. Either than or you need a job in the average WA iron ore mine. Ditto toasted sandwiches which have the world’s highest markup. Kaylee managed to purchase two bits of white bread, a bit of highly processed ham and ditto cheese, all very lightly toasted (why waste energy?) for $10. Total cost of ingredients about 65 cents, electricity 5c, overheads 5c, labour three minutes at $20 hour = $1, total cost $1.75, mark-up $8.25. Good money if you can get it.

 

What else? Dinosaur footprints you can only see every two years when the tide is low enough. A spot of whale watching; but then whales are so common these days it’s more interesting watching the planes land at Sydney airport. 200 a day passing Byron. It’s like plane, white plane, silver plane, spy plane. Just fat things that swim up the coast.

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What can they do? Jump, flap their tales and spy hop. They need to add to their repertoire. Someone should invite the Japanese over to do some research. “Excuse me sir, why or you watching whales? Don’t you have anything interesting to do?” Or perhaps they can ask the whales since they are supposed to be so intelligent “Do you have anything interesting you can do?”. While the Japanese are about it they can do some scientific investigations of Australian politicians and see if they can find out why 95% are complete morons. It’s likely that even the whales have lost their way. When they spy hop near Broome, it’ll be “What the fuck is this place? Oh shit did you turn right when we meant to turn left, we’re supposed to be at Byron”

 

And the caravan parks? Given they have squashed 30,000 people into a town built for 10,000, you are so squashed together you can even hear your neighbour thinking.

 

Broome does, however, have one of the world’s best cinemas, called the Sun Pictures. It advertises itself as the world’s operating garden theatre. This fantastic outdoor cinema shows film as it should be; surrounded by film paraphernalia from the 1920s onwards, you sit on extraordinarily uncomfortable chairs but nothing detracts from the setting and a good cushion more than compensates for the chair discomfort. The cinema also has the rather dubious but bizarre added bonus of being right at the end of Broome runway so that, while watching some sequence of film form the 1890’s you wonder why the director has put in sound of a 737 landing until suddenly the plane appears, just skimming the cinema screen on its final approach.

 

The relationship of the cinema and planes landing does have the added amusement that Jill is probably the only person in known history to miss almost the entire film due to running outside every 20 minutes or so to try and take a picture of a plane almost landing on the cinema. While there is no evidence that the plane was white and therefore especially exciting to Jill, it can nevertheless be marked against the special Jill Everett strange behaviour catalogue that I am running.

 

In fact there is a good argument in favour of NSW, ACT and Victoria (and potentially SA) seceding from the rest of Australia. That way all the Queenslanders that are making Byron crowded can be sent to Broome instead. They’ll never notice the difference. Because Broome is a bit like Brisbane really, flat, no surf, they both begin with Br….and for all the Bryon residents who register their cars in Queensland to save $40, tough. That’ll teach them to be tight arses. And the WA citizens who have been whingeing about paying too many taxes to easterners can try and survive once the mining boom dissipates and there are no eastern states to subsidise them as happened for the 120 odd years prior to the mining boom.

 

So it goes….

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 20 – Derby)

Our visit to Derby is to be a quick one. Generally, we are dubious that it justifies a visit at all, but we eventually decide that since we are nearby we should take a quick squiz. There isn’t much to Derby these days but it has an interesting and black history, in both literal and metaphorical sense.

We visit the old Boab tree which was used as a prison for Aboriginal people en route to Derby along with the longest cattle trough in the southern hemisphere. 7-IMG_1932 One of the astonishing idiosyncrasies of travelling in Australia is what totally boring structures we will visit as tourists. Not only that but Australian towns, cities and states have an insatiable appetite for promoting the totally mundane and nondescript as some form of towering heritage site or artwork. Inevitably they are also the biggest, longest, flattest, tallest, oldest, or whatever, in the world or the southern hemisphere. Or failing that the 5th largest in WA or the Kimberley or the west Kimberley or Derby or on the east side of School Road, downstream of the cross street drain and directly across from the general store.

No matter what we can manage to turn some insignificant Australiana into a world attraction of astounding proportions. Perhaps that accounts for our view of Broome (see more later). 6-IMG_1931 One of the celebrated tourist destinations near Derby is Frosty’s pool which apparently was used by soldiers during WW2 to cool off. This magnificent and unmissable attraction is a concrete pool about metre deep, 3 metres long and two metres wide, made of concrete and just a few metres off the main road. Magnifique!! (1292) 9-10 Frosty's Pool - Derby

First stop, however, is the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art Centre which has a good collection of Aboriginal artwork and provides a history of Aboriginal dispossession and frequent relocation, which ended with many of the east Kimberley people living at Mowanjum.

 

Lunch at Derby is at the cafe on the jetty. Derby sits on the Fitzroy River estuary and it’s location gives it the second highest tides in the southern hemisphere at around 11 metres on a king spring tide. As a 9-IMG_1934result the coast around Derby is a mud bath caused by the constant scouring and suspension of the fine Fitzroy River mud particles in the water.

We stroll along the jetty and read of Derby’s history before heading off to shop prior to leaving for Broome.   Shopping is one of the more problematic exercises of our joint trip, second only to parking the vehicle, so it seems. This time proves no exception.

We have purchased both food and essential alcohol supplies and Kaylee takes them back to the vehicle while I, futilely, go in search of more reading glasses having managed to lose, sit on or otherwise damage all my reading glasses. I have purchased a seemingly endless supply of reading glasses over the last few weeks but am down to my last pair.   I return to the vehicle reading glass-less. I can only surmise that (a) few people read, in Derby which, maybe, is not surprising when you observe the population; or (b) they are all blind and require a magnification of 6.5; or (c) the population of Derby is an outlier that has also perfect sight requiring only magnification of 1. But no reading glasses between 1 and 3.5, are available at any rate.

My return is just in time to witness the end of a shopping dispute. Kaylee has been putting the shopping in the back of the car; Roger on the other hand doesn’t agree that it should be in the back of the car and insists on removing everything Kaylee has carefully loaded in the back to the front.

In doing so he absolutely refuses to listen to any of Kaylee’s protestations that all will fit easily and securely. Apparently Kaylee is unable to understand Roger’s view that the gin or tonic will automatically self-destruct in the spots she has picked for them and so Roger has taken over. There is much under breath muttering occurring.

We leave Derby for Broome in the late afternoon having decided to camp along the way. Our choice was a section of the Fitzroy River on a pastoral property, about 60 kilometres south-west of Derby. We pass through a couple of gates and eventually end up on a beautiful stretch of the Fitzroy River not far upstream from its estuary.

Having parked, a celebration is in order since we have broken our collective record for parking having selected a parking spot and direction of vehicle within 30 seconds. 3-IMG_1937 This is definitely saltwater crocodile country and Jill has saltwater croc paranoia to world-champion levels, to add to some of the other concerns that appear to keep her in a perpetual state of elevated stress.

I’m sure if we had a gun we would be required to keep an armed guard permanently on watch all night. This is even though Jill has retreated to the safety of the rooftop tent for the night. Even the lonely cow calling in the night is transformed into a croc grunting. 4-IMG_1938

Croc fears aside, it is a beautiful, peaceful camp spot with only three other camping groups most of whom seem to be at this spot for the fishing. We pass a relaxed evening around the fire. 6-IMG_1940

As a part of the evening festivities Jill performs a ceremonial burning of the Ngurr burr she has found. This is a local noxious weed and the burning is part of our small contribution to maintaining the local environment but I am unconvinced it will play a significant role in the eradiction of the Ngurr burr.

I guess if everyone did the same, it would. Given the direction the Abbott Government is going, the Government could think about recycling some old Chinese policies such as the one child policy which would help with education and medical costs and could direct that everyone kill one cat, one cane toad and one Ngurr burr/salvinia plant/mimose plant (pick your noxious weed of choice) each day.   This would quickly bring the trade deficit, the budget and the feral week/animal problem under control in one easy set of policies.

The morning brings more precedents for our travelling circus. I wait until Roger is not looking and spray the zip of the tent housing with WD40. Roger doesn’t agree that this will work due to the propensity for WD40 to attract dust. So I need to wait until Roger is not looking so that, if he is right, I can pretend I never used it and if he is wrong I can loudly proclaim his clear lack of understanding of the maintenance and the workings of WD40.

We also have our first incidence of vandalism when Kaylee launches her expensive plastic tea cup from the tent to avoid the stress of having to carry it down the steps from her bed. As a result the cup loses its handle and is therefore designated, by her, as my cup rather than hers.   7-IMG_1941We are packed and ready to head to Broome by 8.30. Kaylee is concerned about her lack of fitness for her coming 1000 kilometre walk, so sets off to walk a few kilometres before we catch up with her. I observe her 1.5 km is probably not sufficient preparation for a 1000km walk with a 20 kg pack. This leads to me being in the doghouse again since, it seems, I am insufficiently supportive, despite the accuracy of my observation being bleedingly obvious.   Broome seems a good option at this point.

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 18 – Windjana)

W62-IMG_1850indjana is our last proper stop on our Gibb River trip. Once we turn off for the gorge we will not be heading further down the Gibb but will press on through to Fitzroy Crossing and Geikie Gorge.

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The drive from Bell Gorge to Windjana takes about three hours. As you approach the turn-off to Windjana the landscape takes on a different dimension comprising massive sandstone escarpments, limestone reefs and what appear to be volcanic plugs. It is spectacular country laced and riven by massive rivers.

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Just to ensure that we are not lulled into a false sense of security by the absence of anything having fallen off the vehicle for several days we get our second puncture of the trip. This time we have a tear in the sidewall, so it farewell to that tyre.

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We stop for lunch at a free camping spot just metres from the Windjana turn-off where the Lennard River crosses the main highway. Like many of the free camping sites it is nicer than the paid camping spots and they are often less crowded as well. One just has to deal with the morons who are too lazy to dig a toilet hole and think that wads or streams of toilet paper decorated white and brown are a good adornment of any campsite. Kaylee takes the time to get find some ochre rocks and gets into a bit of local rock art. The next civilisation that comes along once ours has disappeared will be confused.

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We arrive at Windjana in late afternoon. Kaylee is suffering from a sore neck from having nightmares the previous night. Following Roger’s nightmare, Kaylee has been psychologically disturbed by a dream about being unable to finish her shopping in the IGA among other things. In order to hide from guests who were to be fed by the food but are now starving, she was forced to hide her legs between her head and this has given her a cricked neck.

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Fortuitously she has managed to arrange it so that we are camped directly next to Jerome, a masseur from Victoria, who is travelling with his partner in a blue Kombi and who is able to restore the neck to something approaching operational status. I had already tried to fix Kaylee’s neck in the morning but after Jerome’s massage my status as masseur is significantly downgraded. Were I a film, it would be “I give it one star, David.”

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Like many of the other campgrounds the facilities are good but it is hot and dusty and we put off going to the gorge until tomorrow. In lieu of being completely lazy we all take some short walks around the bush adjacent to the gorge.

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Windjana gorge is created by the Lennard river cutting through the Napier Range which is a part of a massive and ancient coral reef that was shipwrecked here by the retreating oceans as the planet cooled 450 million years ago. The Napier range is part of a Devonian reef complex that extends for some 350 km along the northern margin of the Canning Basin. It skirts all around the Kimberley to join with similar reefs in the Ningbing Range, near Kununurra and also includes Tunnel Greek and Geikie Gorge.

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We follow the outer walls of the reef which stands 100 metres high and is red but stained black by oxidation and/or minerals. The sun is setting behind us and away from the wall the temperature is dropping but as one closes in on the wall the black rock acts like a giant radiator giving off masses of heat. As the sun drops the walls light up in a gold red glow punctuated by the silhouettes of boabs. It is one of those moments of light and colour that come rarely in a lifetime.

51-IMG_1838We retire to camp to cook dinner and relax. The big news of the night is that Jill is happy with the toilets and showers. We are required to receive a Jill-dunny report at each campground we visit. This urge to dunny analysis has been created by her trauma at having to live for 20 odd years without an en suite at her house. Consequently we get a star rating analysis of the dunny situation as part of the normal travel arrangements. The state of the dunny is in fact more important than whether the car has oil and only marginally less important that a non-stop supply of tea.

 

The camp manager comes around to check on fees and Jill questions her about the lights in the distance. She tells us it is a diamond mine and has a communications contract with Optus. Consequently Windjana is the only place in the Kimberley one can get Optus reception. Optus advertises that it covers 95% of Australians but doesn’t tell you that they all live in about 5% of Australia (the coast and major regional centres) and that it has no reception anywhere else.

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The news on the mine is received with some relief by Roger who up until this point has refused to stand up for the last hour. It appears that somewhere in his childhood he was traumatised by the possibility of being kidnapped by aliens and the presence of unknown lights has reactivated this trauma. Worse still this trauma is compounded by the fact that, according to Roger, in all the alien films he has seen, the aliens all torture/carry out the equivalent of scientific whaling by penetrating their human captives with anal probes.  Roger’s fear of being anally probed by the nearby aliens that he has remained seated  for hours and now has constipation, so over the next days the toilet stops are extended. Perhaps alien probes are the solution.

 

50-IMG_1836Aside from freedom from concerns about alien captivity, the other result of the Optus information there is a mad scramble to re-fit Optus sim cards to phones. We have lost Roger since he is now marooned on top of the vehicle for the entire night trying to get the one bar of Optus reception. Periodically, when he is not actually talking on the phone, he sticks his head over the side of the roof and we feed him a spoon of dinner. Roger’s sacrifice is not in vain and every five minutes we get updates via Roger, from son Arlen, on the Super 15 rugby union final and the ultimate one point victory of the Waratahs. Roger is so happy he almost falls off the vehicle roof.

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Kaylee also gets into the act and we press Jill’s ear-ring into action once again. Kaylee has an iPhone which is one of these antiquated which were widely used for mobile communication prior to the invention of android phones. In order to get the sim card out, one needs a pin and Jill has the only one available.The constant insertion and removal of the ear-ring must by now be wearing a large track in her ear.

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Our other near neighbours are a father and daughter combination who have driven out in the daughter’s old commodore station wagon. Emily has retired early to a luxurious sleep in the back of the station wagon leaving her Dad stuck alone in the campground and destined to pass a long uncomfortable night in the front seat. So we invite him over for drinks and it turns out that he works for the WA Water authority. Among their concerns is keeping CSG drilling and extraction out of their catchments but, as with most Australian state governments, it seems the almighty dollar is all which interests them and they are losing the battle to protect water catchments in the face of massive pressure from the mining industry.

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In the morning we head of early to the gorge. Aside from being physically impressive it is incredibly interesting geologically and the limestone abounds with fossilised marine creatures of all shapes and sizes, such as fossilised giant crocodile some thirty metres above the current river level in a cave. There are also more freshwater crocs than one can poke a stick at and we count 40 altogether on our walk. The track abounds with bird life and we add to our twitcher score with some more varieties of fig bird and honeyeaters. The track is only 2.5 kilometres long but by the time we have scoured every corner of the gorge and stopped to look at about 50 birds it is already lunch-time and the gorge walls are already pumping out heat from their blacks surfaces. It’s something of a relief to exit and return to camp.
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Roger and Jill set off before Kaylee and I and are already back. They have retreated to the sanctuary of their tent which is covered by sarongs pegged on by our entire supply of pegs. As a result every time we do the washing another item of our clothing makes a getaway never to be seen again. The landscape is littered with clean jocks and socks everywhere from Mornington onwards. As a result of the construction it is alternatively referred to as the sarong sanctuary or the senile sanctuary depending on the recent memory performance of the occupants.

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Despite the wear and tear of packing and unpacking we are frequently rescued from difficult situations by the ubiquitous Australia Post. This box has now traveled across the entire continent and continues to be pressed into service for multifarious uses such as yoga mat, pot stand etc. As a result we have now rewarded it with its own chair on which it watches sunrise and sunset with the rest of us.

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We start pulling the tent down for our departure for Tunnel Gorge and then on to Fitzroy Crossing. The packing up has taken on a new dimension since, effectively, Roger and Jill must now pack up two tents. The process involves opening up their tent on the roof, removing the mattress and other contents, then putting up their own ground based tent, inserting the contents from the roof tent and then finally folding up the roof tent again. To leave the reverse process must be followed.

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Once this is done the final stage is packing the magic pudding as Jill’s and Roger’s case is known. This involves completely opening the case and stuffing as much in it as possible. Once done, there is a pile of clothing poking out of the case roughly three times its height. Either Roger or Jill then kneels on the pile and attempts to stuff errant items down the side while the other party attempts to close the lid. This is a bit like watching a porn star with an erection try and close his fly (not that any of us will ever have seen that).

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Despite the obstacles to departure we are out of the camp ground by around 11 am. We head off for Tunnel Gorge via a quick stop at the ruins of the police station which was used during the war against local Bunaba people. The most famous of the resistance leaders was Jandamarra who started as a police tracker and later led the resistance against the local police and settlers.

(see: http://www.jandamarra.com.au/jandamarratheman.html).

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Tunnel Creek was one of his main hideouts and we arrive for a walk through the gorge that has been cut underground through the ancient reef. We arrive to be greeted by three giant Brahmin bulls that are clearly Buddhist as they are entirely docile. We are fortunate to have the place to ourselves other than two of the resident freshwater crocs as we are wading through. The absence of other people in the gorge allows one to sense how it might have been when Jandamarra and his resistance fighters were using the tunnel.85-IMG_1884

 

The cave system that comprises the tunnel are massive and we walk under enormous ceilings of stalagmites and other limestone formations. The tunnel is pitted with other caves that go off far beyond the walls of the tunnel and the creek is fed by a spring that emerges from the walls part way down. It is an impressive end to our gorge walking.

 

We leave Tunnel Creek and take the road south to Fitzroy Crossing but night starts falling before we arrive. So we pull up at an old quarry site which is mentioned in the bush camping guide which Kaylee has purchased. It’s a beautiful site with views over the entire surrounding areas of bush but the swimming hole, sadly, is not inviting.

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