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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for October, 2007

Litchfield vs Kakadu

The relative pros of Litchfield vs the cons of Kakadu National Parks seems to be an ongoing discussion between travellers to the Top End of Australia, with the oft quoted “Litchfield do, Kaka-don’t”. I’m not sure where this stems from, and now that I have visited both of the national parks, I feel inclined to add my own humble(!) opinions.

Firstly, I think that the two parks, although close to each other, are too different to compare in terms of the scenery that they have to offer - Kakadu has some amazing rock formations, some very interesting aboriginal rock art and a variety of different ecosystems - from sand dunes to waterfalls to forests (we didn’t have a 4WD so didn’t get to the main waterfall attractions), oh and lots of crocodiles (and flies, lots of flies)

On the other hand, Litchfield seems to be most popular for its waterfalls and pools that offer (mainly) croc-free cooling swims. Unfortunately we wished we’d paid more heed to the guide book when it said to avoid Litchfield at weekends - it was heaving with beer drinking, loud music playing Darwinians, hmmm not really our cup of tea. We managed to get in a couple of early swims on the Sunday morning before the crowds arrived though, phew!

We enjoyed both places, for the different reasons listed and found the main distinguishing features between them to be the quality of the campsites - Litchfield is more expensive, yet lower quality - no hot water (not that it’s really needed), no lighting, and in some cases no showers at all - only toilets, yet you still have to pay $6.60 EACH (~3 pounds), as opposed to free (if there’s only toilets) or $5.40 in Kakadu. Hrmph. In Katherine, where we are at the moment, it is even more expensive, and with even less quality facilities - I don’t understand these disparities, why can’t we just camp for free? In fact that is our next mission - to find a place we can stay for nothing - we have our lovely solar shower and a trowel, what more do we need?!

You know it’s hot when…

You burn you hand on a foil crisp packet.

Ouch!

Customer service in Australia

Our adventures began on a Qantas flight from LA to Brisbane. Qantas stewards are nothing like the camp folk on BA - they are burly Aussies, that reminded me of Eric Idle in the Python ‘Bruce’ sketch.

Everyone here is lovely. No-one has been surly, unpleasant or unhelpful as we have come to expect in Britain of late. However we did meet a couple of not very chatty people in the middle of the forest (but I think they were probably working through some issues).

I was slightly disappointed that I had to meet 20 or so people before anyone said “G’day” to me. The standard greeting seems to be “How ya goin?”. I’m not sure whether one is intened to respond to this or not. Does anyone know?

Australia

After a couple of long flights and several chapters of Harry Potter (yes, I have finally got hold of it, and no, I haven’t finished it yet, so no spoilers!), we finally touched down in Brisbane, Australia.

We spent our first day sorting our lives out in the big city (although still no hair cuts), and cuddling koala bears at Lone Pine Koala sanctuary - very cute. We also got to feed some Kangaroos and Wallabies.

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Our next stop was Binna Burra lodge in Lammington National Park south of Brisbane where we spent a lovely two and a half days bushwalking and learning the joys of BBQs. Chris saw lots of new birds, and even I took to a bit of bird watching. We stayed in a ‘Safari tent’ - a tent with double bed in it - a great idea!

The forest was lovely and there was a fantastic network of paths built so that you never have to walk up a steep gradient. It was cool (~14 degrees) - a very agreeable temperature - in the morning and evening we unpacked our hats and gloves for the first time! At night whilst we were barbecuing our tea, possums and bandicoots came and said hello.

We are now in the Top End of Australia - in Darwin. Tomorrow we pick up a camper van and head off to the middle of the country, so over the next few weeks we may only be occasionally in touch….

Farewell Central America…

We are in Mexico City and have been for a few days. We apologise for our tardyness in reporting to you, however as unlikely as it may seem, we have been enjoying a mild social life.

We’ve enjoyed many dinners with Ameera, one of the Opwall doctors, and her travelling pals; we’ve enjoyed the company of an amusing Austrian called Monica; and we even bumped into our German horseriding pals last night.

We vistited a bar with a band and dancing. The highlight for me was a small middle aged man, with a remarkable resemblance to Bill Oddie (slimmed down and with a hispanic look), throwing and twirling his much larger lady around with the greatest of ease and supreme elegance. Marvellous.

We’ve also been to more ruins - pyramids this time, have been to art galleries and palaces, and have enjoyed just wandering the streets of the city. On one such wander we accidentally bumped into a Renault Formula One demonstration. I had no idea F1 cars were so small. There was the small display of old Renaults on display in a side street with a pristine Renault 4. Amazingly, as many people were admiring it as the Renault Alpines! (Sorry Groz, there were no R5’s).

Our Central American adventures are very nearly over. We fly to Australia via Los Angeles this evening. Fe is looking forward to acquiring the new Harry Potter book in LAX.

Our affinity with animals

I´ve never seen such a big grasshopper:

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I´ve seen bigger horses though.

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Posh buses and chicken pants

Indulge me a small grouse, if you will.

In all our travelling around Central America on numerous chicken buses and boats no one has interfered with our luggage, despite them being frequently abandoned out of our sight for the duration of the journey.

Last night we got a very posh bus from San Cristobal to Oaxaca (interestingly pronounced Wahaca) with a company called ADO. It took 12 hours. This bus was so posh that you check in your bags and they are loaded on the bus for you.

When I got my bag off the bus this morning I discovered that someone had cut the cable tie securing the zip and had been nosing around inside. Now, the US Homeland Security gents do this all the time, but they always have the decency to leave me a little note explaining why.

Unfortunately for my potential thieves at ADO I had packed my unwashed chicken boxer shorts and assorted other filthy clothing just at the top. Apparently this was enough to put off my - they didn´t even steal my natty knacks!

Sad news

Before we get back to the frivolous stories of our travels, I would just like to acknowledge the sad news that my friend Patsy from Oxford died last week. She was a wonderful person and I will miss her a lot - Oxford won´t be the same without her.

Horses, home-made fireworks and the Catholic church

We had a lovely day today. We went to the village of San Juan Chamula on horses. Initially we thought our steeds to be lovers as they were utterly inseparable (we found out later they were mother and son - oops!).

We plodded along roads, tracks and paths, through forest and farmland, happy in the knowledge that we were in absolutely no control of our beasts - they just did what they wanted and knew mostly where to go. Mine had a slightly erratic start by electing to go 90° to all the other horses; of course Fiona´s followed.

The village was the most amazing place; it was like we had been transported into another world. All the men and women were dressed up in fluffy soft-toy fabric. The prominent feature of the massive central square was the Catholic church.

Being Sunday there was a buzz of activity in and around it. We had arrived just before the main event - lots of people were crammed inside the pewless church variously sitting on the pine-needle carpeted floor, or standing quietly. Others stood chatting or randomly strummed or thumped instruments. Incense and burning pine wood filled the air and the tables at the sides of the church were covered in hundreds of candles. A semblance of proceedings started to assemble itself so we retreated back to the square before we were kicked out.

Back in the square I went to the loo. It was the strangest of urinating experiences. I peed into a ankle high square trough shoulder to shoulder with other fluffy bodied, sombrero wearing men, all crammed in doing the same thing.

People crammed into the church until they exploded out like a bottle of fizzy pop. They proceeded to parade around the square on a carpet of pine needles (poor trees - the catholic church has a lot to answer for). There was lots more incense waving and small pyre being walked around. Completely random musicians played jazz like music that seemed utterly unsuited to the occasion. Women carried odd looking effigies of women on chairs that I couldn´t identify.

Meanwhile, the in the middle of the square thousands of home made fireworks and bangers were being set off. With all the smoke from the pyres and incense, coupled with the banging it was rather more like a war zone than a religious ceremony and was without doubt one of the highlights of our travels.

On our return journey I formed a strong bond with my horse. I had command over its direction and speed, within certain tolerances, and we led the pack for quite a way. Fiona´s bottom was suffering slightly so I got shouted at when I encouraged my steed to accelerate - hers always followed suit. Ouch.

Fiona is sitting next to me in moderate agony. My finely toned buttocks are fine.

Where´s me jumper?

In keeping with our alternate day visits to Mayan ruins we visited the site of Palenque - this is probably one of the best ruins we have been too - it is surrounded by jungle and unlike all the huge towering temple of Tikal and others, there was more evidence of places where people actually lived - it seemed easier to imagine it as a city. There was also a lot of it that as yet has not been reconstructed and so more easily meets the vision of what you might imagine as ruins as the moss covered stones blend in with the trees that have grown through the buildings. All very pretty.

After a disappointing night in the town of Palenque, we decided to catch the next bus out of town and head for San Cristobal de Las Casas, 5 hours away. Luckily chicken buses have been replaced by posh coaches in Mexico and we were treated to the most comfortable seats we have had for the past four months, they were reclining and everything. The air conditioning was a pleasant relief from the heat of Palenque, although after a couple of hours, we began to get a bit chilly and were looking forward to the warmth that would hit as we stepped off the bus at our destination. We somewhat surprised when we arrived to find little difference in temperature between the bus and the evening air (which was possibly slightly colder) - at an altitude of 2140m San Cristobal is actually rather cold at night and in the mornings (although still hot when the sun appears). Luckily the walk with our big bags in search of a hotel warmed us up.

San Cristobal has turned out to be a lovely place - its centre consists of colonial spanish buildings which are very pretty and it has a very European, coffee culture feel - very relaxing, until you get hassled by small children selling pottery animals that is. We are also treating ourselves to a rather posh hotel (although it´s still only 11 pounds a night). Lovely.

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