Friday, November 19, 2010

Walkabout in Kakadu

I slept peacefully, serenely, soundly last night with my fan at my head and my earplugs in (I was counting on either waking up before my alarm or hearing it through earplugs I guess?), even though my bunk buddy angrily (I think it's her only emotion, actually) jumped down around 4:45 am and turned the AC on. She had nothing to be angry about, she was the one who shut it off going to bed. Anyway, the amazing roommate I am, I had already laid out everything I needed, so without making noise, turning on lights or disturbing the three other sleeping people in the room in any way, I grabbed my stuff and crept out. I got ready in the bathroom and only went back into the room to get a yogurt and my water bottle out of the fridge. I stood outside in the driveway, waiting for my Kakadu bus to pick me up. I watched as enormous bats one after another took flight over my head, getting out of dodge before the sun came up. These were like no bats I'd ever seen before in the wild. They were huge, like Dracula or something. I half expected one to swoop down and suck my blood. Or if he was a more modern vampire, become involved in some complicated romance.

My bus arrived, and I boarded to a quiet group. They were mostly couples, between 35-55. There was another lone traveler, a German, of course, but I wasn't feeling friendly and was frankly a little turned off by Germans for a while, so I sat quietly like everyone else and watched pre-dawn Darwin pass by and become Humpty-Doo (yes, that is a real place). We visited first an Aboriginal cultural center, where we learned a little about Dreamtime, didgeridoos, and woven bags. I was most impressed by the technique of the bag weaving. So much time and effort!

Next we made our long trek to Kakadu. We walked up to see rock paintings from thousands of years ago. Standing in front of it, it was really hard to imagine that they were thousands of years old. Most were very well preserved and looked like they could have been painted today. Each painting had plaques explaining the meanings, or at least partial meanings, of the painting to Aboriginal culture. No one knows the full meanings but the Aboriginal elders.

After lunch, we went on a cruise of the Yellow Water Billabong. We spotted 3 crocodiles throughout the course of the afternoon. We also saw plenty of birds and beautiful vegetation. The funniest thing about our boat was the fact that it was equipped with life jackets. Drowning would really be the least of my worries if I found myself in that water!

We learned so much throughout the day, it's hard to keep it all in my head! Some facts to note:
-Alligators are not in Australia, despite the fact that they have rivers called West Alligator, North Alligator, etc. They were incorrectly identified long ago and the river names have never been changed.
-Salt water and fresh water crocs are what they have in Australia
-Salt water crocs are the mean, aggressive ones, but you should probably just avoid all crocs.
-Barramundi are the most populated fish in the area, and fishers are allowed to catch 5 per day, but only using artificial lures as to not attract other wildlife that might be protected or endangered.
-Aborigines have a tradition that when a person dies, you cannot speak their name until you do a "smoke 'um out" ritual where you burn their clothing. Sometimes this takes 21 years, as was the case with one of our teachers today. He had to be called Junior for a good part of his life because he was named after an uncle who later died.
-Aborigines have a tradition where once marriage has occurred, the husband and the mother in law no longer have any contact whatsoever. If they see each other out in the community, they cannot greet one another, they turn and go the other way. Cue the mother in law jokes.
-The leaf of the plant they use for bag weaving can be male or female. Male plants have trunks that have a pattern that runs up the length of the trunk to the right. Females it goes to the left.
-There are birds that will fly toward forest fires. They take the opportunity to pick of the rodents or snakes fleeing the flames. Aborigines call them Fire Birds or Bully Birds, because they have also been known to gang up on other birds.

We made our way back to Darwin as the sun was setting. It was really a nice sunset. I think I might have been to hard on Darwin. Kakadu is lovely, although I don't think Darwin can take any credit for that. But I am just going to make the best of the time I have here.

I lose two of my roommates to a 3 day Kakadu tour tomorrow, and my last roommate won't be here because she is camping overnight, so unless some new arrival shuffles in, I will be blissfully ALONE!

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