Friday, June 13, 2008

DAY 232: Day 3 off in Darwin


12th June 2008

39 km @ 16.0 km/hr

Sunny, 32 deg C

Elevation of destination 37 m

Distance to date 14149 km (8843 miles)

I’m starting to get used to these lie-ins, governed only by the sun hitting the tent at 0830 and threatening to boil me alive. I did some bike maintenance; checking soundness of inner tubes and fitting new bar bag mainly, then headed off on Bagot Road for a tour around the northern suburbs, taking in Nightcliff, Alawa and Tiwi (for example), ending in the Casuarina Coastal Reserve. This is a well-preserved area alongside a beautiful white sandy coastline, unsurprisingly fringed with Casuarina (She-Oak) trees, ending in a nudist beach. I fancied an hours’ sunbathing to even out my tan so duly joined the dozen or so well-spaced out over 40’s and quickly threw off the 2 pieces of clothing I had on. The sea is very shallow here and very clear, so any crocs would show up rather easily (one was reported near here the other day), and I’m certain the risk of deadly Box Jellyfish is minimal this time of year. Anyway, I didn’t present the available 100% of my (contrasting brown and white) skin for more than a few minutes, just in case, and that was enough to become deliciously cool for a while under the blazing sun.

I lingered thus for nearly 2 hours and as my white parts are now all pink, guess that was enough for 1 day, anyway I was HUNGRY. I had arrived here completely on good cycleways, and from the Reserve on this was to continue. The 2-way, 4 metre-wide track was in excellent condition and it was sheer pleasure to glide along through rows of shady palms, wind assisted and hardly pedalling. It winds around the coast for some 7 or 8 km through pleasant residential avenues without ever crossing a road, before turning inland for a while at Nightcliff’s Dick Ward Road, to avoid the swampy mangrove no-go area north of the city. Darwin is great for cyclists, and traffic is pretty considerate too. I stopped at Fannie Bay, where there’s a superb bakery with all kinds of unusual cakes beautiful to starving cyclists, and I tried 2 thereof whilst talking with a middle-aged Aboriginal guy, well, I wasn’t sure of everything he said, but did my best to respond half-intelligently.

From here I popped into the Art Gallery again for the loo (not having seen one for several hours, unusually), and remembered that there is a meeting here tonight about NT’s response to Australia’s climate change proposals - in fact starting in half an hour’s time - and although I was wanting also to drop in at the famous Thursday night Mindil Beach Market just down the road, the latter was on until 10 so I’d still have time for that.

I was handed a large volume detailing NT’s position on CC and joined 20 other locals for a good and lively discussion. I was interested to learn that NT is, Per Capita, the worst of the Australian States regarding carbon footprint; moreover Australia is Per Capita the worst-performing country in the world! The reason for NT’s poor record appears to be mainly due to the high numbers of (windy) cattle in the state, plus the high usage of air-conditioning in the home. Unfortunately after Cyclone Tracey devastated Darwin in 1974 the city was rebuilt very solidly using concrete techniques, abandoning the previous airy but structurally vulnerable buildings. Little natural ventilation = hotter homes and more need for cooling; the temperature rarely falls below 30 deg C here all the year round.

I left the meeting around 7 as it was starting to get a bit drawn out by the usual sceptics, and was surprised to see caterers laying out a spread of food for the attendees after the meeting. I couldn’t resist a nibble here and there before departing....

......for Mindil Beach, where thousands of people were bumping into each other as they scoured the scores of food stalls for the tastiest treat - and there were plenty! I eventually settled for garlic battered squid and a King Prawn satay, washed down by a tropical smoothie. To be honest it was heavy going fighting your way about, and although there were plenty of craft stalls to look at, I’d mostly seen it all before. I was also twitchy about leaving the bike alone for long even though it was near a few police cars, and had to keep checking it. I was recognised whilst walking around by the couple I met at the rest area on the Arnhem Highway a few days ago - the guy was originally from Perth - which was pretty observant of him given the size of the milling mob.

I left soon after 8 and although I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to get back to the Leprechaun Caravan Park, it’s testament to my intense exploration of Darwin and it's relatively small size that within 5 minutes I was in familiar territory on the Stuart Highway, and ‘home’ 10 muntes after that.

I wore the new Netti baggy cycling shorts today, having dumped the 2 pairs of lycra shorts this morning, and first experience is that they’re not quite as comfy, but it’s early to be sure yet - how will they stand up to 5 or 6 hours in the saddle? We’ll see.

DAY 231: Day 2 off in Darwin

11th June 2008

29 km @ 15.0 km/hr

Sunny, 32 deg C

Elevation of destination 37 m

Distance to date 14110 km (8819 miles)

Another peaceful night, although very warm again - night minimum temperature is around 23 at the moment, slightly more than the average winter minimum here. It’s hard for me to get to sleep, feeling so warm, and I usually resort to sleeping naked and rubbing myself down with a wet flannel a few times.

I was on another shopping quest this morning and was fairly successful, actually managing to get an identical replacement for my Topeak bar bag with broken zip - all the more pleasing since it took a lot of shopping around when planning the trip to get a bag that fit between the inboard bar ends I’ve fitted, and few other models would have done. This was bought at K9 Bikes in Coconut Grove, where I also found a pair of Netti baggy shorts with decent-quality insert; this to replace the shredded Assos shorts, and now also the ‘new’ Santini padded shorts I bought in Warnambool only 5 months ago, which are starting to shred too - poor value for the $90 I paid methinks - I wouldn’t but Santini again. Since I would be down to 1 pair of cycling shorts I also bought a pair of padded ‘knicks’ that I can wear under the non-cycling baggy shorts I already have. So that was $200 blown rather quickly, however I did get a discount without asking. I was also eying a pair of Lake touring shoes to replace the Shimano sandals which are looking the worse for wear, and although I was offered 25% discount I am concerned these closed-in shoes won’t have the ventilation that the sandals have, so I’m thinking about it.

Just up the road I finally found a camping shop, where I bought 2 new Sea to Summit 4 litre water bags to replace the leaking ones. Something sharp appears to have stuck in these and punctured them.

That’s my gear requirements more or less met, and I hauled these back to camp before riding out again to Fannie Bay and the Darwin Museum. I needed a coffee and cake and tried the restaurant there but they didn’t seem to have much to choose from and it all looked a bit formal, so I delayed sustenance for a while. The museum is very interesting, with sections on the 1974 cyclone which flattened the town; a large collection of hand-built wooden boats from Australia and surrounding Oceanic countries, indigenous art and artefacts, geological records etc. The latter spelt out how humans first arrived in Australia some 60,000 years ago i.e. from SE Asia at a time when sea levels were much lower and many land bridges were evident. Going even further back, I read that humans in the form of Homo Erectus probably initially left Africa 140,000 years ago and gradually migrated this way. OK, lesson over....

....and to more mundane but nevertheless essential issues, eating. I was spoilt for choice with all the cafes in Darwin, but McDonald’s have a nice terrace to sit and watch the world go by at, so was my choice. I plunged for a chicken cutlet with salsa sauce and went large with fries and coke - and it was very nice for $9 or so. As were the beautiful slim women of this town ambling past (or are they tourists?) - like me, suitably scantily clad on this hot afternoon lol. I deliberately didn’t have pudding at M’s, and after a little more shopping went to the next street where Baskin-Robbin’s served me with the biggest and most luscious Triple-Scoop Sundae smothered with cream and thick chocolate sauce ever! The hard part was choosing which 3 flavours of ice cream to have from the 30 or so available, but typically chocalate, caramel and crunchy honeycomb won the day.

So 3000 calories on I went gently exploring again, spending a little time in and around the modern and airy Lady of the Sea Catholic Cathedral before ambling back to camp along the wonderful tree-lined cycle path that borders the Stuart Highway. After just 2 days I feel I’m getting to know Darwin very well - it’s not that big and I must have been up most principal roads by now.

Unsurprisingly I wasn’t that hungry tonight so just snacked a little and read the Telegraph Weekly. Poor Gordon; what a rough time he’s having! This CP is right next to the Darwin Airport / RAF Base, and there’s been much noise from military aircraft again tonight, however this has been stopping before 10 (to allow crew to catch the last hour in the bar).

DAY 230: Day 1 off in Darwin

10th June 2008

25 km @ 14.5 km/hr

Sunny intervals, 30 deg C

Elevation of destination 37 m

Distance to date 14081 km (8801 miles)

Last night was good and quiet once the jets stopped taking off from the RAAF base next door eventually, so I had a good sleep, but still lay in luxuriously until 0830. First job was to do some washing, then 2 hours in the internet place (the Book Exchange, only $2.80/hr - cheapest ever apart from library freebies.). The owner told me he had a Dutch couple in last week who had just cycled around Australia, which sounded like the same couple I met in Dunsborough, Western Australia, last October, and indeed his name was Egbert so it was them! We appear to have been within a few days of each other for the past few months (depending on routes taken) but never met again. I knew they started and were due to finish in Darwin, and it seems they finished early and decided to go to Bali or somewhere similar for a while. I’ll get their website address next time I’m in the internet place since the owner has it. Anyway I had to post 8 days diary in that session; there has been no opportunity to update for the past week. Northern Australia is a bit of an internet desert I'm afraid.

Afterwards I headed into the city along a good cycle track, and had lunch at an open-air cafe in The Mall - the best lunch I’ve had for ages; chicken, bacon, avocado and lettuce on a fresh rustic toasted roll - mmmmm! It was large and pretty filling, but I still managed a large equally fresh chocolate chip muffin afterwards.

For the rest of the afternoon I did some shopping and explored as far as Fannie Bay and Mindil Beach, getting back to camp just as it was getting dark. I like the feel of this place - not too big, not too small.