Tuesday, June 10, 2008

DAY 224: Day off Merl (Ubirr)

Weds 4th June 2008

Sunny, 28 deg C

Elevation of destination 26m

Distance to date 13705 km (8566 miles)

Everyone was inside by 9 last night; probably escaping from the mozzies, out in their thousands. There were some weird screechings in a tree nearby at around midnight - possibly a bat? The dingoes were also vociferous again earlier on. When I went to the loo in the early hours I saw a very big spider between the tent inner and outer, probably a Huntsman, which are harmless, but I couldn’t be sure. When you shine a torch at spiders their eyes light up like diamonds - when I was sleeping in the bush recently I saw these ‘diamonds’ and had to go and investigate in case they really were - only to find a spider; luckily I didn't reach down and touch!

I started the day by cycling around the 2km Mangarre walk, which was deserted. The vegetation is very dense around there, known as Monsoon Rainforest. The walk partly borders the muddy and tidal East Alligator River, which represents the border between Arnhem Land and Kakadu. The former is entirely owned by the Aboriginal community, and an expensive ($220) permit is required for a visit. I looked for crocs to no avail; some very big ones have been seen here, and it is very much their environment with plenty of fish available, although I would have thought that there was too much human influence what with quite a few boats and anglers. Fish is by far the mainstay of their die, and as i understand it most attacks on humans have been a result of someone swimming in their domain and so acting as a territorial threat. I spotted a lone sentinel in a tree on the riverbank, the Brahmini Kite, itself watching for fish, plus a pair of Jabiru took off and passed right over me - they are big, impressive birds close up.

Next I hid the bike and walked around the interesting Bardedjildji Walk, which again partly takes in the river but also passes through some weird rock formations and a little gorge.

For lunch I had a Barraburger that I had been told were commonly served up here - a piece of batterred Barramundi on a roll with salad - delicious!

I had booked on the 1500 ‘indigenous’ cruise down the river, and spent a nice couple of hours listening to how the bush can provide all ones food needs - and we tried a few ‘new’ wild fruits - and were showed how animals are hunted with home-made spears and other devices. The more I hear this stuff the more I realise just how much essential survival knowledge has been gained over the millenia by this ancient race.

Lastly I went to see the main claim for fame for Ubirr, the many Aboriginal rock art sites. Some of the drawings are hundreds or thousands of years old, yet remain legible. Many are painted in ochre, fruit and vegetable dyes, or animal blood. Kakadu guides gave short talks on various aspects of the area, for example the main ‘gallery’ comprises a 60m-long collection of drawings of the various foods that sustained the community at that time, and the guide points out what the significance of the elements of the work are. There’s a massive rock overhanging these drawings that would have made a perfect dwelling place for scores of people, and it’s weird to think that where I was standing this function probably held for thousands of years and scores if generations. I joined a hundred or so others and walked up to the viewpoint - a 100m high hill that overlooks the surrounding land in every direction - to watch the setting sun, but it had been cloudy for most of the day and this didn’t change. I chatted again to the same German guy I met today and quizzed him about his recent crossing of the Gibb River Road, which he says is in very good condition just now.

A very full and exciting day then, and it was a quick cooking of rice and tuna and into the tent to escape the mozzies. I had left the pannier with my food in under the picnic table in the shade, but it was full of tiny ants when I opened it, and I had to take everything out to get rid of them; they were all over my last muffin so I had to throw that out. It’s tricky when you only have a tent, knowing what to do with your stuff.....

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