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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Have Campervan, Will Travel Free Spirits Caravan Park, Darwin, NT, Australia, Monday, 13 June 2011 1:50am

Woke up fairly refreshed. My earplug/headphones and Kate Bush did a wonderful job of shutting out the street/bar noise from below. I bought a few of the items I've been missing (notably scissors, one of my TSA-era local staples). I bought an Australian SIM for my phone, but I can't recharge the prepaid credit with my American credit card, so I'm reserving it for emergencies.

The cab driver who drove me to the camper van rental shop had some good tips for me, both for Australia and for Bali, which he visits regularly.

I was all set to learn to drive manual on this trip. Mona let me practice with her car (the fourth time I'd driven stick), and I'd reserved a manual van both because it was much cheaper and because the van was physically smaller than any of the automatic models. The fact that I'd have also been driving on the wrong side of the road and shifting with my left hand instead of my right was all part of the challenge. But it is not to be. They didn't have the model that I reserved, and I've been upgraded to an automatic model that sleeps four adults and has a microwave and fridge. They tell me it's only a few inches larger in each direction. Oh well, next time...

I drove over to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and parked the van for the first time... parallel! All of the spots in the parking lot were full, so I had to park on the street. The van is surprisingly nimble, considering its size.

The museum has a lot of contemporary pieces, which helped to remind me that the aboriginal painting tradition, though it is thousands of years old is a living one. One of the ochre styles displayed wasn't developed until the 1980s. There was also some watercolor work from a landscape school that started in the 1950s, a survey of portraiture from Australia's entire history showing a clear progression through artistic movements, and a gallery of recent works of artists from local art schools.

There was also an exhibition covering the cyclone that destroyed Darwin in 1974, with a room where they were playing a recording of the sound of the storm. The storm ripped the metal roofs and sidings off of many of the buildings and then changed direction, hitting the town again with that flying metal. The sound of that metal scraping and crashing is quite chilling.

The largest room in the museum holds a collection of boats that have plied local waters, including dugout canoes, various southeast asian sailing boats and a few motorized fishing vessels. It's neat to see the variety.

I called ahead to a camper van park and they warned me that for safety reasons, they couldn't let me arrive after dark, so I had to cut short my day in Darwin. The one site on my list that didn't involve driving back into the city center and then back out was Crocodylus Park.

Crocodylus Park is a combination zoo, crocodile farm, and research station. They do a lot of educational work informing people about the economic value of the crocodiles, and also selective breeding for various salable traits. Their hope is that if the people of Australia see the crocs as a resource, rather than a threat, they'll help to protect them. I arrived in time for the 2:00 feeding. The sound of a croc's jaws slamming shut is another one that I hope I'll never hear in the wrong circumstances. It's a hollow thunk that sounds a little like a car door closing. Or like a thrown hatchet embedding itself solidly in a board.

They have some other animals in the zoo as well. One of the emus was following people as they walked past its pen. The fence was low enough that he could have reached over it. I wonder if he occasionally nips at unwary passers-by.

I checked in to the caravan park and then made a quick trip to a grocery store to get some odd staples (ginger beer, arrowroot biscuits, apples, pastrami sandwich fixings) before parking. I parked backwards, it turns out. My door doesn't face my concrete platform. It wasn't worth the trouble of reorienting, just something to think about next time.

I also had trouble with the power hookup. Apparently I didn't seat the plug quite firmly enough on the van the first time and when I fixed the problem it tripped the circuit breaker at the power box. I ran through every part of the system, not realizing that one of the first ones I checked had changed. I didn't find the problem until calling the van company and having them suggest as a last resort (after checking the fuses, unplugging every appliance but one, rebooting while holding down shift, &c) trying a different plug.

It also took me a while to set up the bed. It turns out that this van has two tabletops, only one of which is the right size to form the center of the bed. It's set up now, at least, so I don't have to resort to sleeping in the loft, which seems like it might be a bit cramped. Maybe if it's cold enough down south that'll be worth a try. The height and the smaller airspace might make a difference.

The park wanted $20 for access to the wifi, so I just used one of their Internet terminals for $5 instead. I'll have to upload more entries when I find a more reasonable connection. Maybe that won't be until Bali. Everything here is wildly more expensive even than at home. Prices may actually be worse than when I was in Tokyo!

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