Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Top End Musings

Today, after refocusing, a brief call to mom to check on the bank situation, and some brekky, I was off to explore Darwin. Heading out, I wasn't too confident that I would enjoy the experience or find anything to my liking. I had booked a modest Kakadu tour this morning for the weekend, seeing as that was the main reason for making this trek to Darwin, but my interest in the city itself was quickly deteriorating. I set out in the same direction I had gone for groceries last night (it's really the only direction that contains anything, actually), armed with a tiny map I had gotten for free from reception, not really knowing where I was headed, but just walking, when I spotted, just at the horizon in the distance, water! Seeing as it's hard to mess up a harbor, I figured the area had to be nice and changed my route.

I was right. It was a lovely area, called Bicentennial Park, and it stretched for the length of the city, so I was able to walk through the park while still covering ground though Darwin. It was hot as hades with no breeze and about 80% humidity, so I stopped often to hang out in the shade and enjoy the scenery. I made it to the other end of The Esplanade, then began walking into the city. I came upon the visitor's information center and went in, more for AC than for information. An Arctic breeze washed over me as the doors parted and I knew I had made a genius decision. The problem was, I didn't want to go back out. I eventually, once all my sweat had dried, made my way back through the simmering city, walking this time through the center to see the actual city. I did find what I guessed was the stretch of the city that is all the bars people refer to when they reference the nightlife here. I grabbed some cold coke zeros, because the prospect of drinking more warm water with lunch was unbearable. I made a sandwich with my supplies and sat outside for a bit. I spoke to the housekeeping lady a while. She was talking about how horrible the heat was. She also talked about the intense storm they had yesterday afternoon. "Do you think there will be another today?" I asked, hoping I would get to witness a Darwin thunderstorm. "Oh, yes," she said. She asked where I was from, then asked what day it was there. "It's about 10:30pm on Wednesday," I told her. She looked pleased.

After reading a little from Sunburned Country this afternoon, I can't help but wonder if reading Bryson's book about 5 times between receiving it as a gift at graduation and departing for this trip has sent me subliminal messages about how to feel about Darwin or if Bryson and I just demand the same caliber of class from cities and it's people. An excerpt from his book that I think might capture Darwin perfectly:

"Darwin is in the steamy heart of the tropics, which in my mind imposes certain stylistic requirements- white buildings with verandas, louvered windows, potted palms, lazy ceiling fans, cool drinks in tall glasses presented by obsequious houseboys, men in white suits and panama hats, women in floral-print cotton dresses, a little mah-jongg to pass the sultry afternoons, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in evidence somewhere looking hot and shifty. Anything that falls short of these simple ideals will always leave me disappointed, and Darwin failed in every respect...Nearly every person on the streets was bearded and tattooed and scuffed along with a wino shuffle, as if some very large mission had just turned everyone out for the day. Here and there, too, were scatterings of Aborigines, shadowy and furtive, sitting quietly on the margins of sunny plazas as if in a waiting room."

I did see some seedy looking characters, accurately described by the passage, on my walk for groceries yesterday, hence the taxi home. Not to say it's a rough place, I roll in the mean streets of Durham, but it's just not what one expects from a tropical climate. It could be a sister to the paradise I left just yesterday. But instead, it fails to live up to what the climate demands. It's funny that Bryson also had several run ins with rude hotel attendants. As I said, the guy that checked me in yesterday is most certainly the bottom of the list in friendly hotel clerks I have encountered on the trip. Although I did have a good interaction today with a young lady that was working reception today. She got me a fan to use tonight since the AC will probably still be embroiled in the German tug-of-war. She seemed shocked when I explained one of my roomies doesn't like the AC, so she wouldn't let it run. The Germans noticed the fan and said it was a good idea, like it was for them. As if. We will see whose head it will be fanning in the morning when we wake up.

I've booked Kakadu for tomorrow, and Sunday I plan on going to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. There is to be a Christmas Craft fair on the grounds, which will be blowing my mind in the 90+ degree heat, but I might look for some gifts for people, and I will see the free museum as well. Bryson speaks highly of it, so I am looking forward to it.

I do want to see a nice Darwin thunderstorm before I leave. I hear they are epic. Buckets and buckets of water, lightening like you've never seen in your life.

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