I have officially left Asia now! I'm in Australia, up in the North Territory in Darwin. Darwin is known as the gateway to Asia as it's only a 2.5 hour flight to Bali so, understandably, a lot of Australians head over there for holidays! The Aussies we met over there were all a bit befuddled by how “exotic” we thought Asia was: for them Asia is the equivalent of us popping over to Spain or Portugal!
Let me tell you about my hilariously rubbish journey from Bali to Darwin…it was a catalogue of errors and, although stressful at the time, is kind of funy in hindsight! I had seen how long the queue was to get through to check in at Depensar airport when I'd dropped Alex off there so, in preparation, I made sure I left ample time to get there and sorted…..and thank goodness I did because, as I reached the front of the queue, there was an airport-wide blackout! Everything apart from one emergency floodlight and, oddly enough, the check in computers gave up the ghost! So the rest of us passengers were checked in and directed to security…which was totally dark….nothing worked….so we all ended up sitting on the floor, waiting, as searchlights scanned across the outside of the building. When they finally got the power back on, we headed through security and migration towards the gates as directed on our boarding cards where I settled myself into waiting until the gate opened. Luckily, I am a nosey Parker and was eavesdropping around me and noticed that a man who was on the same flight as me was told by another passenger that the gate had changed to number 9 instead of 1b….! So, despite there being no screens functioning on which to check your gate information nor any announcements, I managed to get myself to the right gate (the other end of the airport) in time! I had to prompt the staff to put out an announcement as there still hadn't been one by 20 mins before takeoff!
You'd think it'd get better by the time I reached Aussie soil…but you'd be wrong! As I'd been up characteristically lax, I had failed to apply for my e-visa until the day before I flew so, of course, when I landed the customs officials viewed me as suspicious and went through every last item in both my checked luggage and my hand luggage! I'll tell you what: an hour of interrogation while they go through your belongings, at 3am is not very pleasant! However, once they ascertained that I wasn't a terrorist or smuggler, the main official turned from a fierce law enforcer to a smiley-eyed fella! When they let me go, I hopped into a taxi to my motel….when we arrived, at 4am, I found out that the doors were locked and there'd be no reception staff until 8am! So, I had a lovely 4 hour wait on the bench outside and let me tell you, there's all sorts of wildlife in Australia!! Birds that resemble (and sound like dinosaurs), bugs that resemble dinosaurs (and sound like Concorde going past your ear!)! I have not felt so grateful for a soft bed (when I got in at approximately 8.05am!) in a looooong time!
I've not done a lot since I've been here as I've been mainly planning the rest of my Australia tour…there's a lot of logistics in getting across such a massive continent in such a short time! However, I have wandered around the area (which honestly looks like a scene out of Neighbours!), I've gone to the museum and met Sweetheart the 5.1m croc, taken an open top bus tour of the town and will shortly head to Crocosaurus Cove for more croctastic times!
This might sound a bit strange but something that has been really interesting for me is learning that Darwin has one of the largest Aboriginal populations. I had been told by Aussies that I had met that the Aboriginal community tends to keep themselves intentionally segregated from the white community which, having lived all my life in the multicultural melting pot that is London, is an uncomfortable thing to experience. It is definitely noticeable as I have yet to be in a cafe/restaurant/shop where there is a mix of both races….it makes me feel like I appear to be segregating myself, which couldn't be further from the truth. I would love to speak to someone about the aboriginal culture (without going on a tourist tour which seems voyeuristic and exploitative) but, as of yet, I've not had the opportunity to engage in casual conversation with anyone who also happens to be of an aboriginal background. It's one thing to go to the museum, as I did, and read about what went before…it's another to speak to the people now. Hopefully I will be presented with the opportunity at some point during my time in Australia.
Travelling the world, as a British, privileged, middle class, white person is a very interesting experience. It is uncomfortable at times as most of the history we have read about in the countries we have visited so far include the words “Britain invaded” or “Britain colonised” and many countries are fiercely proud of gaining independence from Britain. There is a certain level of inherited guilt that I certainly feel for being the progeny of the bullies who claimed land that wasn't theirs. I certainly feel that way when I look at a restaurant filled with white families while the aboriginal families I have seen have always been on the outside.
I'm flying to Cairns tonight and, from there, I'll embark on a day trip to see the national park and then start my greyhound bus experience which will eventually see me arriving in Sydney, in time to drive with Lucy (Alex's cousin-in-law) to Melbourne for Christmas!