Big Question Marks

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Enjoying some Broome Time...

Ah, Broome. Anyone who's been here gets all nostalgic and dreamy about the place when it's mentioned, which we never really got 'til we arrived. It's pretty much the most northern town on Australia's west coast (accessible settlement, that is). After days of driving west through more emptiness -- though surprisingly quite green, as it is in the Wet season-- and wishing we had a 4WD to cross the Kimberley's unsealed and rocky Gibb River Road instead of the main highway (Oz's great "last frontier"-- about as remote as it gets, and gorgeous!). The main highway's remote as it is though-- cattle crossing the two-lane road anywhere they want, and those bottle-shaped boab trees started showing up everywhere. We were happy to see road crews building lots of high bridges, as the highway is known to get flooded and impassable at a moment's notice (it was right around New Year's, we heard)-- kind of takes the fun out of things though. We spent a night camping high up on a cliff and managed to roast some marshmallows as we watched a distant lightning storm... the Outback's lovely at night when the flies go to sleep.

But back to Broome-- perhaps it's all of that land you have to cross to get here that makes it that much more rewarding; but there's something about the town itself-- set on unbelievably turquoise bays on the Indian Ocean, sandy beaches, swaying palm trees-- that just grabs you and won't let go. The vibe here is incredibly laid-back, the Wet season (at least since we've been here) has proved more humid than rainy and the restaurants fantastic (just don't try to find dinner after 9:30!). It's a little sad we can't swim in the ocean right now-- it's 'stinger season', when the deadly box jellyfish breed in the mangroves... something we know all too well from our days in Port Douglas (ah, but the water's still so pretty to look at). Maybe what sets it apart from any other resort town is its history-- formerly a rough pearling town, full of brothels, opium dens, and basically human slavery (many Aborigines died while being forced to dive for pearls for the Japanese-run pearling ships, not that many years ago at all). There's still a working prison, right near the centre of town, and the place does have a bit of an outlaw feel at night, mixed with some posh-feeling bars with a clientele in shorts and flip-flops. But we've never been ones for sparkly-clean Club-Med-style tourist resorts now, have we?
But other than our campsite directly facing the waters of Roebuck Bay (ie. there's us, then a strip of grass and then there's the beach!), we've fallen in love with more than a few things in Broome. First there was Sun Pictures, an outdoor cinema and the world's oldest picture gardens (running since 1916). Basically, you sit in a deck chair under the stars and watch a film on the big screen nestled among trees, and enjoy the tropical evening. It takes a bit of getting used to, to not pay attention to the geckos perched on the screen, and occasionally a bat or a plane swoops overhead and scares the daylights out of you (the airport's a block or two away), but it's awesome. We went to see The Day The Earth Stood Still (yay Keanu!) on Friday and to see Australia yesterday (which, if you haven't seen it, you should! It was fantastic. The adorable kid who plays Nullah is actually from Broome, and it's all been filmed in places we've just travelled to. At one point a plane swooped down and we thought the war scenes were beginning earlier than we figured...).

Our other favourite Broome moment was taking a sunset camel ride down Cable Beach, a gorgeous stretch of sand in town. They're such mellow animals (adorable too!) and we figured it's a warm-up for one day doing a multi-day desert safari somewhere in the world. Dayle's camel, Kabul, had dreadlocks and was 27 years old-- he'd walked all the way from Byron Bay on the east coast when some rich Sydney guy decided he needed some adventure. Adrian's, Noahpad, was 26 years old and a real sweetheart who made a big camel yell when we left him at the end of the trek. We also learned that (a) camels don't spit, (b) they do not carry water in their humps, and (c) they don't really make you seasick at all. (No camel spiders either!)
So... we're not really sure when we'll actually leave Broome (we're on day 4... if we had more time left on our visas we'd probably be looking for jobs here soon!), but we hope it's a sign of how good the west coast of Australia will be!

[PS. We're sorry to say photos and video will have to wait... it seems the internet connections are the laid-back sort as well... not much luck here uploading, but we'll try again to post soon!]

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year from the Top End!

Hey all! Hope it's been a great New Years for you-- we rang in 2009 in tropical Darwin, at the north tip of Oz. Definitely great to be able to wear anything we want for the festivities, not worrying about winter coats and such, and partying it up outside under palm trees on the patios! The tropical weather's nice at night, but during the day-- as we discovered today-- it's pretty unbearable. We went for a short walk along the oceanside and were sweating buckets. We were pretty much running for shade from tree to tree, and most likely had our tongues hanging out, panting, as we stumbled towards the area with the ice cream shops (we found beer first, ooh tragedy!). You must get used to it, but coming from our air-conditioned refuge at the Comfort Inn (yep, we've given up camping for a day or two again) it was pretty tough.

Our trip has been whizzing by-- we're already nearly 40 days into it-- and we barely got a chance to write about the Outback before we zoomed out of it a few days ago. There's an imaginary line, quite a few hours north of Uluru (Ayers Rock), where the climate is no longer arid desert, where the land gets only a dry season and a wet season-- and we're in the heart of the Wet here in Darwin (which usually means humid days and heavy rains in the afternoon or evening). Along the highway, you could almost spot the line where the sunny skies stopped and the downpours began. The day we passed through this boundary we saw fierce clouds and dodged winds that whipped trees and dust and nearly pushed Daisy off the road. We've been hearing from a few people that even the main highway westward has been flooded by huge rains (the aftermath of passing Cyclone Billy) and rivers are blocking the roads. We're hoping this won't be the case in a few days, when we'll have to start heading west. But the weather here is so powerful, and lately it seems our biggest obstacle has been water... ironic in one of the world's driest countries...
(Read on for the rest of the update... going back to the Outback days)