Tuesday, 29 January 2008


Diving, that is. I dived twice during my Whitsundays trip, and I loved it, loved it, loved it.

It's so much fun, and so much easier than I expected. Here go the basics:
1. Keep breathing. Remember Darth Vader*? If you sound just like him, you're doing it right.
2. When your ears are in pain, pinch your nose and blow air into them.
3. If you don't move, you sink.
4. Keep your legs straight when you swim. Pedaling doesn't get you anywhere.

And that's it, you're ready to go down there, to fly over the corals, through the caves, if the throngs of colorful fish let you through.

A few of the things I saw:

Yes, it was great. But going in with a group is, still, a pain in the arse. More so when the other members of your group are clumsier than a koala on roller skates and have the same swimming ability as a 300kg block of lard. Diving certification goes on my to-do list.

* Star Wars. Dude in black, oversized helmet, shortage of facial expression. Can't miss him.

Friday, 25 January 2008


After the recent weather and events, I was expecting to label this post either "Shitsundays" of "Wetsundays". But against all forecast, I had great weather almost all the time.

So I sailed. And I ab-so-lute-ly loved it. All through this trip I've been rediscovering that I love being at sea, and this has been the final confirmation. I didn't get seasick (though one night I did get goon-sick*) and I loved the bobbing, the waves and the wind.

And so I dived. And I ab-so-lute-ly loved it. More on diving in a future post. And I snorkeled, and I swam, and I hiked in the forest and walked the white sands.

And I stood on deck, while I cruised over the waves, through the wind, under the burning sun, watching the rugged green hills rise from a sea of colours.

I keep saying "I", but all this time, of course, I was not alone. That was perhaps the worst part of the trip: the company. Mostly couples, and a few Paddies* who drank all day and spoke with the heaviest accent I've ever heard. Except for two of them who were nice guys, I spent most of the trip in undesirable company. I don't mind being alone, I'm fine with that, but I hate being alone with people around me. And it's difficult to get away on a boat, you can't get farther than a very few meters.

In a nutshell, I love the sea, I hate organized trips, I want my own boat.

* goon=Cheapest alcoholic beverage in Australia. Apparently a sort of box wine, with fish and eggs somehere in the manufacturing process. Guaranteed to get you badly pissed in no time, and to give you a serious headache and hangover the next morning.
* Paddy=person from Ireland

Thursday, 24 January 2008

I made it

On my last night on Magnetic Island, by pure chance and at the very convenient* time of 7pm, I learned that the roads leading South along the coast were closed due to flooding. That in itself wouldn't have meant anything in other circumstances, but in this particular situation I needed to get to Airlie Beach the following day, for my boat was sailing in the morning.

That marked the beginning of some frenetic hours of useless phone calls, quick internet research and heavy thinking under pressure. I was stressed as ever, but it was great fun. I learned that both the Greyhound and the Premier had cancelled their services, that the trains weren't running either, and there was no direct or indirect flight from Townsville to the Whitsundays.

I felt a bit like Phileas Fogg, stranded and running against time. Short of riding an elephant through the jungle and flying in a baloon, I did think of:

1. Hitchiking. Some guy must have been bold slash crazy enough to drive through the water. I had heard that 4WDs with snorkels had made it through, which gave me hope.
2. Sailing. Someone must have been headed in that direction, or would have been happy to take me there for a heavy sum. It was 270km over water, possibly sailable on the same day, even on a rough sea.
3. Renting a car. Same as #1, with me in the role of the bold slash crazy guy. Same as #2, though, I needed someone to share the costs.

The next morning I woke up early to the sound of the gale blowing and breaking branches. Made some more useless phone calls from a payphone and ended up completely soaked in the process. Left the island through the storm, with zero visibility, on a ferry that doubled as a rollercoaster, jumping two meters in the air with every crashing wave.

Once on shore, I teamed up with six other castaways, camped in front of the Greyhound counter to make pressure on them, and meanwhile tried to rent a couple of cars. After much research and many phone calls, the only guys who had cars available decided at the last moment that they wouldn't allow us to drive to Airlie Beach because it was "cut off". Just when I was about to set off, first to try my luck at the Marina, then to get a taxi to the highway and stick out my thumb, the woman at Greyhound came to us and announced that they would charter a bus just for us.

We celebrated. No confetti or crazy party tweeters, but the same feeling pumping into our hearts.

The journey was quite uneventful, except for two spots where the flooding was more serious. And even there, the water on the road reached 25cm at its highest, which is ridiculous. Admittedly, a few overturned trucks and some stranded cars in the middle of a sugar cane plantation hinted that, at some previous point, the flooding was severe.

The bottom line is, I made it. I wasn't able to put into practice any of my fancy schemes, but it was fun fantasizing anyhow. Next time I know my range of options will be broader from start.

*Completely inconvenient. There was no way to contact anyone, everything was closed.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


Magnetic Island, that is. Great place for diving certification, apparently, as well as wreck diving, with the SS Yongala nearby. That's what most people go to Maggie for, anyway.

Not me. I came here looking for an island paradise like Rottnest. Well, it isn't. It does have nature to spare, and it is still quite a small island, but it's nowhere as nice. Less than a third of the island is accesible by any kind of road, even dirt track. Cycling is masochism, the hills are brutal. Most of the island is uninhabited, but there's no way of getting to those parts, short of a boat.

The place is teeming with life, though. Every day I would walk to my cabin, by the wading birds and stresed possums, brushing off butterflies, kicking frogs out of the way, trying not to step on the scarabs, open the door, turn on the light to see the geckos scurrying away, then try to get my place free of ants and termites for the night. In the morning the wallabies and the birds would be at the door.

I walked most of what's walkable, most of it through water falling from the sky. It was beautiful and rewarding, but I couldn't brush off the feeling that something was wrong. According to my Let's Go Australia guide, Maggie averages 320 sunny days per year. Bloody freakishly awesome timing of mine, coming right in the remaining 45 days of pissing wetness.

When I headed South from Cairns, I thought I was leaving the bloody Wet behind once and for all, but, alas, it's following me. And not only that. It's also ahead of me, behind me, over me, all around me, and all the way down the coast. Also, this is apparently the wettest Wet in a long, long time. Lucky me, I could say.


I had fun in Cairns*, though mostly of the indoors, beerful variety. Difficult to have any other under the bloody rain.

I quite liked Cairns, for the very reason most people wouldn't. It's touristy. Big big time. Every section of a building that could conceivably be a shop, is a shop. And every shop caters for tourists (and especially backpackers) in some way. Either it's a souvenir shop, a travel agency/dive tour operator, a restaurant or a bottle shop. I love that. It makes me feel that I'm in a theme park. Which is, in a way, correct. Cairns is the Great Barrier Reef Theme Park. All the expensive snorkelling/diving daytrips you never wanted are just a few hundreds of dollars away. I would have thought about it, had the weather behaved more correctly.

Most of what I did was hang around with some great folks. Folks, you know who you are. Tobias loves to see his name written down, so hello Tobias! Hay goin' mate? Goodonya! Por la republica!

We spent what I now recall as one endless night of beer drinking at The Woolshed, but it must have surely spanned several days. Free meals, free drinks, lots of people to meet and a wet t-shirt contest. Everything but the sex, all in one place.

Taking advantage of a short daylight pause in the endless Woolshed Night, I jumped on board Sebastian's 4WD "Pajero" on a day trip to Daintree National Park. Saw it, loved it. Didn't go to Cape Tribulation though, which is a pity, but I must say we were tired and it was not the best weather for it.

I also missed Kuranda. I would have liked to take the "scenic railway", but in the end, all I could think of was that it would feel so good to be out of the rain. So I booked a crammed up package of adventure down the coast for the next 2 weeks, had a fair dinkum* Aussie barbie* with the mates on the last day, said goodbye to Cairns and jumped on my early morning bus with a feeling of expectation for the new horizons.

* Cairns is, against all logic and common sense, pronounced "cans". As in, "cairns" of beer.
* Fair dinkum=true, 100%, completely
* Barbie = barbecue

Scenic flight

The Great Barrier Reef from the air.

Thank you for your cooperation

Indeed. My most sincere and deepest thanks go to all those of you who leave your comments here. You provide me with that extra bit of motivation that I need so many times.

Keep in mind that without your comments, this blog would be nothing. Ok, it's nothing much anyway, but it would be nothing at all. So thank you all again.

And now, all you who read this and never leave a comment, please do. I know you're out there anyway (I've been watching you, muhahaha) but it would be nice to also know who you are and what you think. It doesn't have to be literature, long, juicy or spicy. Don't think this is a private club. Everybody's welcome (well, most people anyway). So come on in! Just say hello, here I am. That will make me happier and this blog less boring. C'mon, let this be that extra bit of motivation you need.


Being stranded in Litchfield left me one day short for my intended itinerary, so I had to shoot through Kakadu like a stray bullet. I couldn't see much, for I was in a hurry and most of the park was flooded anyway. But what I saw, I liked.

I loved the night, watching the lightning make a display of fireworks in the clouds over the horizon and the fireflies flashing on the ground, as if echoing the message of the twinkling stars in the sky.

I liked the swamps of the wetlands and the swarms of birds flying over the sunset. It all looked so much like a documentary on the BBC that I found I missed David Attenborough speaking in the background.

It was brief and limited, but well worth the 500km drive(even if just for the photos).

Croc country

Estuarine crocodiles, known in these lands as saltwater crocs or "salties", are one of the main highlights of the Top End. I couldn't miss seeing them in the wild, so I jumped on board one of the myriad of "jumping croc" cruises on the Adelaide river. This is what I saw:

Something about Darwin

I have so little to say about Darwin that I would just play the lazy card and post some pictures. It happens, however, that I couldn't get a single worthy pic either, so I'll have to tell a small adventure story.

I arrived in Darwin on the 1st of January of 2008. I was disgustingly ill and low on spirits. I had a nasty infection in my ear/throat that barely allowed me to speak and made any attempt at swallowing pure torture. I got it, I guess, while "sleeping under the stars" and "swimming in a billabong" in the Red Centre.

I made my way to my far away and, as it turns out, lousy hostel, then dropped my bags and went to the Hospital. Took a slow bus there (it's far away from the centre) and when I arrived I discovered that just seeing a doctor would cost me $140. I needed one though, for I knew I needed antibiotics and there's no other way of getting them. I also knew that my travel insurance would most probably pay for that, but just in case I preferred to pay as little as possible and skip the 4hr queue at the Hospital. So I walked the half hour back to Casuarina under the rain, and tried my luck at buying antibiotics over the counter with a negative outcome.
After a bit of musing in the rain, I abandoned the mission and as there were no more buses, with some trying I managed to hitch a ride back to the hostel, where I had a lousy night and survived on paracetamol and ibuprofen. The next day I found a doctor, paid $65 for a murky piece of paper and lots more for the pills.

But oh, was I happy.

Oh, and about Darwin... it's nice. Not big, not flashy, not beautiful, not impressive, not anything much. Just nice.

Missing In Action

And lots of action. The last you heard/read of me was 12 days ago, and there is good reason for that.

These 12 days I've been blazing down the East Coast, packing my days and hours with as much action as I could. I've literally had no time to stop for a wee. Magnetic Island, Airlie Beach, Whitsundays, Rainbow Beach, Fraser Island, all in one go.

This is just to say, I have eaten the plums that were in the iceb... I mean, this is just to say I'm alive and well, and no lazier than usual, but indeed really really busy.

And tomorrow I'm supposed to get a bus to Brisbane, jump off the bus onto the train, and off the train onto the plane, destination Christchurch, New Zealand.

So please bear with me while I try to live, travel and blog at the same time.

The Rocks

Words fail me, so I'll make two brief lists and let the photos speak for themselves.

I liked:
- Kata Tjuta, Uluru and King's Canyon, in this order
- The colours, the shapes, the shades, the wrinkles of Uluru
- The desert on a starry night
- The nice company

I disliked:
- Going with an organized trip. It was a great trip though, but I still hated the come-on-move-on-take-your-pictures-lets-go-hurry-upishness.
- The abo crap you get shoveled into your face from every plaque, poster and signpost. More on this in a future rant.

Friday, 11 January 2008

I survived cyclone Helen

Once I was positive that staying in Darwin any longer would not add much substance to my trip, I rented a car with the idea of attacking Kakadu & Litchfield National Parks. I learned about incoming cyclone Helen just as I was leaving.

An overheard conversation:
A guy: "Helen? Why do they always give them girls' names?"
A girl: "Because we're bitches!"

I had good provisions of food and water for 4 days, so I said "no worries" to all those who were worried, and set off. Drove to Litchfield through the thick rain, saw as much of the park as I could, stopped at Florence Falls at nightfall. All the while I had the radio on, and in between songs, all they talked about was the cyclone. Warning, warning, a cyclone is approaching, blablabla, stay indoors, blablabla.

Then Helen came. Nothing much, I guess. The gale blowing, hectolitres in freefall, uprooted trees, branches flying about, gusts shaking the car. This is all a reconstruction of events, for at the time I couldn't see a thing. The sounds filtering through my earplugs hinted at what was going on around, though. I slept like a baby all through it.

At the break of dawn, I awoke, stretched and yawned, and found myself in the middle of the crime scene. I also found that the battery was drained, so the car wouldn't start. Good on me to have foreseen this event and parked just by the "Emergency Call Device". I struggled with the walkie and managed to call the rangers. They took their time to get where I was. This very nice guy gave me a hand with the car and informed me that, just as it appeared, I was the only guy in the park at that time. He also hinted that they were not exactly happy about me being there.

Follow me, he said. I followed him. He certainly floored the gas. It was a fun drive, zigzagging between the fallen trees blocking the road, crushing branches and raising clouds of green leaves. It was, however, somewhat short. We soon arrived at "Aida creek", a place where the road was flooded to a depth of 60cm. My ute wouldn't pass over water higher than 40 cm, Nathan explained. I didn't know that, of course. That's when two heavy coins fell into my pay phone. The first one said clink, if I hadn't run out of battery I would have probably also been stuck, but in the middle of the river in water up to my waist. The second one said clink, now I understand why the snorkel. Lucky of me, I could say.

But that still left me stranded in Litchfield for an indeterminate and unforeseeable amount of time, with some 30 km of road to move in, cut off at both sides. So I idled, and went to the one attraction that was open, the Magnetic Termite Mounds.

I was mostly "Alone in the Park" the whole day, except for a very few lucky owners of big 4WDs with snorkels. Two guys passing by in a monster-truck ute gave me a deja-vu. They seemed jolly good chaps, but I couldn't help thinking of the passenger as Cletus The Slack-Jawed Yonkel from The Simpsons, and the driver as Butthead, both on a night out. I instantly knew that if this was USA, a confederate flag would have decorated the back of the truck. They stopped and we sort of chatted a brief while. It looked so much like a scene from one of so many identical Hollywood movies that a big smile came to my lips while I was unsuccessfully trying to decipher their impossible Territorian dialect. Eventually Cletus and Butthead drove off, which left me in my own good company for the rest of the day.

Everybody opens big eyes when they learn I was alone in Litchfield when Helen said hello. I suppose that in times of danger, the usual, and thus supposedly sensible, thing to do is to seek the company of your fellow hominids. I say that's cattle instinct. In this situation I was much safer and happier away from hanging power lines, wobbly buildings and opportunistic thieves.

So, to sum up, I survived cyclone Helen. Admittedly, so did everyone else, but I had more fun.

The Wet

In Darwin and the Top End of OZ, only two seasons are generally recognized: "the Dry", with plenty of sun and no rain, and "the Wet", when the area is flooded by the tropical monsoons.

Against all common sense and general practice, I've come during the Wet.

Now, whatever you might be thinking, I can assure you that during the monsoons, it does not rain. No, seriously.

Rain is a meticulously organized, finely crafted, well tuned, orderly process, involving proportions, quantities and statistics. The process that gently gets those tiny droplets that form a cloud to the ground safely and efficiently is nothing like what you experience in the Wet. This is not rain. It's just water falling from the sky. Spontaneous vertical waterfalls. Bulk water, in industrial quantities. Bucketfuls of soggy moisty goo just splashing chaotically about.

The water's all right. But at some point, the gale kicks in and starts blowing punches erratically, sweeping it all with jets of water, and giving the impression that the God of Rain in this parts uses a particularly big hose and, like a lazy gardener, just shakes it about. He uses a particularly big hairdryer, too.

The good thing is that during the Wet, you never get wet. Never ever. You are, of course, constantly humid and moisty and sticky and smelly, and, well, now and then you're terminally soaked to your bones. But you're never wet. Being wet requires a difference in temperature, and the water falling from the sky here is just as hot as your skin. And then again, it's sill 30º outside, so being soggy lasts next to nothing. You sort of dry instantly, but never completely, so it's back to the natural state of constant uncomfortable humidity.

It doesn't sound like the best climate on Earth, but I can't say I dislike it especially. Temperatures very rarely drop below 20º, be it sunny or rainy, day or night, which is a big plus for me. It does make you swear under your breath when you hang your clothes to dry and after a while they're soggier than before. But apart from that, and a general feeling of unpleasantness at times, it's all right. I could handle this for a while, no worries.

Friday, 4 January 2008


Happy New Year, and all the best for 2008, to all you who read this.

I don’t have much to say, just an image on my mind. Let me share it with you.

These were the last colours of 2007, as the sun sank beneath the horizons of the great central Australian desert.

In a place called Alice Springs

It took Einstein quite a while, one might think, to postulate his theory that time is relative. But then, he never set foot in Alice Springs. Had he done so, he would've known from start.

In Alice Springs, days don't pass. Instead, they either drag along lazily, like an overfed blue-tongued lizard, or buzz by like a fat drone through a golden wheatfield. Sometimes they surreptitiously morph and merge and pleasurably become another day, without anyone noticing. It is not unheard of the sun rising twice in the same day, or the stars lazily twinkling while lunch is served.

You hear all sorts of stories about Alice Springs. All sorts of stories of the bad sort, that is. Someone recently told me: "you'll hate Alice, but you'll love the hostel". He was half right. I did love the hostel (Annie's Place), and so does everyone else. But I didn't find much to hate about Alice.

The user's guide for Alice Springs is one sentence long and it goes like this:

"Drop your stuff, climb ANZAC Hill, get into a pub and don't get out until you leave town". Sounds like sound advice. Alice is, quite surprisingly, full of amazing people from all over the world, who prove to be great company for as many beers as the bar will serve. Alice is in the middle of Nowhere, and as such, it's just on the way to Anywhere. So everybody is, of course, just passing by. But some stay for a longer while, some weeks say, to make some money while they enjoy a gentle bobbing on the soft and soothing waves of Alice Springs time.

Most residents of Alice are apparently quite wealthy, but still, it's the travelers that make for good company, not the local yobbos. I might be biased, for I've met just a few of the locals, and even fewer of the locals. When you pronounce the italics, "locals" means aborigines, "abos" for short. They account for roughly a fifth of the population of Alice, but for over 60 percent of all people you see on the street. They certainly give the town a special feel and... ehm... "fragrance".

Maybe that's what those who dislike Alice dislike. I can't say I like it myself, but I find it adds some spice. In case the orange McDonnell Ranges in the near distance, the scorched red sand under your feet and the dry riverbed of the Todd are not reminders enough, that presence recalls that this is a border land, a frontier world, a small outpost of civilization forced into the timeless desert. It reminds you that the real, authentic, wild, untameable, ungraspable Outback is just out there, all around you, burning and buzzing, just a 15 minutes walk away in any direction, if minutes had any meaning here.

In what concerns me, I can say that all my time in Alice was pure joy and bliss. Maybe I was just lucky enough, got the best without the rest, and left just in time. But still, wherever I may go from now on, I know part of me will, in some way, always be in Alice Springs.

The Last Continent

When it was so late at night in Ankh-Morpork that it was early in the morning, elsewhere it was......

but there were no hours here. There was dawn and dusk, morning and afternoon, and presumably there was midnight and midday, but mainly there was heat. And redness. Something as artificial and human as an hour wouldn't last five minutes here. It would be dried out and shrivelled up in seconds.Above all, there was silence. It was not the chilly, bleak silence of endless space, but the burning organic silence you get when, across a thousand miles of shimmering red horizons, everything is too tired to make a sound.

Rincewind's journal went:

Probably Tuesday: hot, flies. Dinner: honey ants. Attacked by honey ants. Fell into waterhole.

Wednesday, with any luck: hot, flies. Dinner: either bush raisins or kangaroo droppings. Chased by hunters, don't know why. Fell into waterhole.

Thursday (could be): hot, flies. Dinner: blue-tongued lizard. Savaged by blue-tongued lizard. Chased by different hunters. Fell off cliff, bounced into tree, pissed on by small grey incontinent teddy bear, landed in a waterhole.

Friday: hot, flies. Dinner: some kind of roots which tasted like sick. This saved time.

Saturday: hotter than yesterday, extra flies. V. thirsty.

Sunday: hot. Delirious with thirst and flies. Nothing but nothing as far as the eye can see, with bushes in it. Decided to die, collapsed, fell down sand dune into waterhole.

He wrote very carefully and as small as possible:
'Monday: hot, flies. Dinner: moth grubs.'

He stared at the writing. It said it all, really.

-- shamelessly copied without permission from Discworld 22 - The Last Continent, by Terry Pratchett. This says all I want to say, only he does it much, much better.

The Ghan

A dream come true.


Adelaide is... nothing much. Mind you, I'm not saying it's bad, it's just... nothing much. There is not much to see or do, and the little there is is... nothing much.

The Adelaide Hills are nice to see and set foot on, I'll grant you that. You get a good view of the city from Mount Lofty, but then again, there's nothing much to see. The city is as flat as a city can be, lazily sprawling on a flat plain between the low hills and the calm sea. No recognizable landmarks, nothing flashy or particularly interesting.

Actually, I think of Adelaide as the most European of all Australian cities so far. Flat, squat, old-looking and with churches in it, even a recently-built old-looking cathedral. European-esque? Yes. Boring? Absolutely.

It does have beaches, for sure, Glenelg being the most touristic and trendy destination, and also being... nothing much. It's nice, but I've seen much nicer.

So, what is there to Adelaide that drags tourists there? Probably it's just "in the way". It's (very approximately) the midpoint of the journey from Sydney to Perth, and all Great Australian Rails stop there: the Indian Pacific (Sydney-Adelaide-Perth, got that one halfway), the Ghan (Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin, got that one too) and the Overland (Melbourne-Adelaide, missed this one). Then there's the wineries. The region is big on wines, wine-tasting and wine-drinking. That's not my cup of tea, or, as it were, wine, so I'll skip it. The other Big Thing: it's the main headquarters for those attacking Kangaroo Island. KI is supposed to be an island paradise of hopping wildlife, unspoilt nature... and farms.

I haven't been there myself, for a host of reasons, mainly to do with money and fire. Money is self-explanatory: all tours are a rip-off. The other one means the island was burning while I was there. This would have normally made me more enthusiastic to go, but in this case it meant half the island was closed, including both of the main National Parks. So the main thing to do in Adelaide, I didn't do. However, for what I gathered from others who did go, it's... nothing much either.

What else? Victor Harbor. Didn't go, looked like the typical tourist trap, and it was expensive. Next: Hahndorf, the "German village" in the hills. Sure. The only things German about that tiny town are the name and the throngs of German tourists walking the streets. There are a few other things travel agencies try to sell you as touristic, but they're... nothing much either.

What I did do and enjoyed was going to the Botanical Gardens (every city in OZ seems to have them), cycling through the city in good company (bike rental is free, and the parks are very bikeable), visiting the Aboriginal Exhibition at the SA Museum, buying really cheap food at the Central Market, eating for next to nothing at the Food Plaza in Chinatown and having lots and lots of beers with some amazing guys.

In a nutshell, the best thing to do in Adelaide is to get into one of the nice pubs in the center and ingest unreasonable amounts of Cooper's* in the company of the great people that your fellow travellers are.

* Cooper's=the local beer of Adelaide. To my taste, the best beer in Australia, and probably ever.

This said, I did take many nice pics during my stay. Here go a few: