Darwin

Wednesday, 9 June 2010, a bit after 9:00 PM (ACST)

Hopefully, yesterday’s dispatch wasn’t too incoherent, although I fear it was a bit rambling. I didn’t have enough change to feed the meter another time. So, there wasn’t a chance to proofread or make edits. And I was kind of tired. Even though it was only late afternoon, the jetlag was catching up to me. Last night was better; I was actually able to fall asleep again after spending about a half hour with Frankie Valli’s insistent singing, which started around 5:00 this morning.

Right now, we’re in Darwin, which it seems is a backpacker mecca. There are backpacker “hotels.” Loads of noisy bars. Spaniards lying about in the park practicing on their digiridoos. Plenty of shops to buy said digiridoos, along with every other kind of touristy thing. We couldn’t tell if the main drag had any legit Aboriginal art shops or not; but the park along the Esplinade sure is nice. (It’s also the first place we’ve been with any significant number of Aborigines.)

We won’t be in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, for too long. We flew in this afternoon from Sydney along with a lot of other holiday makers, including some trust-fund kids from the States on their ’round the world grand tours. (“Yeah, going through immigrations I got singled out because I was in Peru last week,” one young woman said. Her traveling companions agreed that was a total bummer.) We all went through security, but (I presume) none of us had to show ID. It was the damnedest thing.

It was a rather long flight — a bit more than five hours — which gives a sense of the distances involved. “It’s a four day drive from Sydney,” one of the shared van pool attendants told Lisa while I was in paying our fare. “While you’re in New South Wales and southern Queensland it’s not too bad. But then once you head into the Outback the towns get really far apart.”

So we saved ourselves some time by flying, but I think the news about the distances between towns might have touched on the “We’re all going to die!” nerve that I mentioned yesterday. Don’t get me wrong; we are determined to have a good time. (And we’re most assuredly not really worried about impending doom.) Lisa is game for a lot of things; this adventure is just more “adventurous” than some of them that we’ve done recently.

On a side note, Lisa is reading Shipwrecks: Australia’s Greatest Maritime Disasters. She’s a funny girl. She bought it today at the airport after I (unknowingly) teased her too much about the book she first picked up Vlad, a vampire fantasy romance.* Who knew she was (almost) into that sort of thing?

I picked up Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World. Some say the mammal is “mythic,” a true Australian icon. I say they’re a true Aussie snipe. Twice we’ve been to places claiming to have them in captivity. Twice I’ve been duped into looking into dimly lit tanks to search for them. Twice I’ve gone away thinking, “No, Jeff, it’s your fault that you can’t see these iconic beaver-ducks with venomous talons.” But it’s not my fault, because they don’t actually exist.

Tomorrow we get the RV and head out into the wilderness outback for about a week. I doubt we’ll have access to the Internets out in the wilds, though we may be able to pick up some in the dinky towns of Katherine and Tenant Creek. So, assume that we’re having a great time, and that I’ll be a natural at driving on the left side of the road. I have been telling myself that once we get into the Northern Territory the craziness of Sydney’s traffic — which is only terrifying because it comes at you from unexpected directions — will be a thing of the past. Darwin has about the same population of Des Moines, Iowa — around 100,000 people — and it’s where the majority of the population lives in the 200,000 square miles of the Northern Territory. So driving should be easier, right?

By the way, the sun being in the north instead of the south is a seriously disorienting thing. But that shouldn’t impact my driving too much. Just keep the sun at my back, stick to the sealed roads, and listen to my navigator.

Something occurred to me this morning about this “land down under.” It’s just different enough to be totally disorienting. Such is not the case with Canada or England. Australia is all kinds of mixed up.

When you go from the US to Canada, it’s more like you leave one state and enter another than if one traveled to a different country. Sure they use the metric system pervasively, and they have $1 and $2 coins. And there’s a bit of French when you go to Quebec, but after you get through border inspection and start looking at the little numbers on the speedometer dial, it’s like you’ve only entered a different region of the US. (Sorry, Canada. I love you more than you will ever know, but it’s the sad truth: Our two nations are just too similar in too many ways. We’re joined along the world’s longest undefended border because we’re two parts of a split personality. You’re the good one, the caring one, the nurturing one, the one that likes the cold and flannel and beards and curling and Asian people. We’re the confident one, the moody one, the one that’s great at parties until we’ve drunk too much and gotten out our gun and challenged everyone to reenact scenes from “The Deer Hunter”and “Why don’t you say that again to my face?” and “Can’t we all just get along?” and . . . Oops, where was I?)

England — well, I’m really only familiar with London, so I’m going to wildly extrapolate — is rather more different than the US**. In the UK, you know you’re in a different country; simple as that. Parliament. Magna carta. Unwritten constitution. Palaces. Lord Nelson. Elizabeth Regina. Where fries are chips, and chips are crisps. McDonalds is there wherever you go in the world, but everything else might as well be from another place or time.

Australia occupies some sort of middle ground. It’s too different to be Canada but too similar to be the UK. Sydney has the rush and bustle of any big East Coast American city and many of the brands are the same: Coca Cola, Subway, the Anglican and Catholic Churches, the dollar. You can turn on the television in the evening and watch American television on American networks (like Fox) that only aired in the US a few weeks ago. But then so many things are different, if only through evolution. Hungry Jack’s has borrowed the Burger King logo, and they both sell the Whopper. The ugly birds have beautiful songs, and the small birds sound like they swallowed squeaky toys. Young women dress nicely. Everything is so cutesy: the national soccer team calls itself the “Socceroos,” and there’s a “footie” (Aussie Rules football) rugby team called the “Rabittohs.” Peppers are called “capsicoms.” There’s a “Sanitarium” brand of breakfast foods. Etc. Etc.

It’s a nice country. It’s just . . . weird.

Pictures hopefully to follow soon.


* — Lisa tells me that it was not, in fact, a vampire fantasy novel. Rather it was a “fictional retelling of the true story of Vlad the Impaler.” Vlad the impaler, a.k.a. that guy known as Dracula. I stand corrected and ashamed at my mischaracterization.

** — Though certainly not as different as, say, Paris is different.

This entry was posted in Australia, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Darwin

  1. mary says:

    socceroos! knowing that makes me feel much less bad about including “bart vs. australia” among my favorite simpsons episodes. the episode insinuates that australia is a land of cutesy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>