I woke up just past 07:00 and joined Greg, Lyn, and the German motorcyclist in the communal kitchen preparing breakfast. I invited them all to try my coffee (which they loved) and after ‘goodbyes’ I left Jabiru with an air of excitement: Darwin was closer than it had ever been and I could feel that phase one of my journey was about to come to an end with phase two just a kickstart away.
I drove out to the Bowali Culture Center to learn more about the local clans, animals and to ask about further swimming places.
“There aren’t any places to swim,” said the woman behind the counter.
“Not even at Twin Falls?” I asked.
“The road is closed,” she replied.
“Nooo!” I said without hiding my disappointment. “Really?”
“And so are all of these roads,” she pointed at every track in the northern part of the park.
I stared blankly at the map. “So, essentially, you’re saying there’s not much to do between here and Darwin.”
She shook her head. “We have the wetlands and heaps of birds that migrate here if that’s your thing.”
It wasn’t. I mean, I like birds, I admire them – especially birds of prey like the wedge-tailed eagle, the white-bellied sea eagle and the black kite (which were in abundance like the pigeons of New York – especially in Mataranka. Watching them circle over the roads made me wonder if they even bother to learn to hunt anymore as they’re always munching on some roadkill) but other than that, I wasn’t really a birdman. I figured I’d check out the display and decide what I’ll do next.
I walked around reading about how I can check out more information about the local clans at the Warradjan Culture Center. This center focused more on the animals with life-sized models, pictures and stories and a croc skeleton. An interesting section was the part where you felt as though you were walking through a billabong – underwater – with the typical animals that reside there (oddly enough, not one mention of the abundance of mosquitoes).
There was a 4-meter crocodile hanging from the ceiling so you could see what it was like from the depths of their watery world.
An hour later I stepped back into the sun and headed towards Darwin. I stopped at the Anbangbang wetland with its bird lookout. I crept up to the platform that hung over the water and searched (while swiping away flies and mozzies) for a croc. Anything that was remotely dark in shadow became a croc [and I would never know if it were just a shadow, log or rock (most of them turned out to be blackbirds)].
Just past noon, my stomach began to growl. I reached the Aurora Kakadu Hotel where I fueled up and decided to walk around the billabong. It was a 3.8 K trek round trip that began by the camping grounds.
I walked through a thick wooded track, arousing butterflies that dodged me at the last-minute, raising the alarm for mosquitoes to buzz me (the butterfly effect). I shuddered and wiped off every cobweb that I encountered (I mistook a curl of my hair for a leg of a spider and froze mid-stride). I slapped at every fly that landed on me and scared off a red kangaroo. I skipped over a Huntsman spider (which looked dead but I didn’t stick around to find out) which lay right in the middle of the walking track. I hopped over ants nests and when I reached the water I stopped at the sign that read: ‘Crocodiles have been sighted close to the walking tracks. Use extreme caution’.
Of course, I was the only human around (if a croc attacks in a billabong and there’s no one around to hear it, do you still make a sound?) so I switched to stealth mode and walked quietly by the water, watching everything.
The amount of mosquitoes and flies had me beeline for the metal chain gangway that went out over the lily-covered water. I searched long and hard and could not find a crocodile although the eerie sense that something was definitely out there did not surpass (I was probably just paranoid but still).
I realized that my search to find and see a saltwater crocodile in its wild element would not happen for me in Australia.
Might find one of y’all when I hit Africa, I thought to myself.
I made it out safely and found my way through the camping grounds to my car. I drove off to find the nearest park with shade and picnic tables. I found what I wanted at Mary’s River Park where I boiled up a couple of sweet corn cobs to add to my tuna salad.
Feeling sleepy I tried to nap (which the flies were completely against) so I brewed up a cup of strong coffee that kept me going to Darwin.
As I hit the city’s light traffic I began to smile which widened into a grin as the past 17 days flashed in my head like a powerpoint slideshow: The drive from Melbourne, all the amazing people that I had met and befriended, all the natural wonders I hiked through, swam through, relaxed in, the 5,000 kilometers of road that my little car endured and didn’t once complain.
I was laughing by the time I reached my friends’ place where I was fed my first home-cooked meal of chicken tacos and slept in the first proper bed since the Millards had so wonderfully hosted Cookie and I way back south in Kulpara.