“Oops, the rabbits are looking at me naked” announces Azur as he sneaks into our bed for a morning cuddle. A large rectangular bed, where the feet can protrude at the end if you slip, with a high ceiling, perfect for the gallivanting, and space all around to lie down or get out of it easily.
And indeed, in the living room, a pair of dwarf rabbits are under our care, while our host is away in Sydney for the weekend. After several months on the boat, what a joy to be in a house for a few days!
We met Sofia last Friday at a picnic organised by Darwin’s rueda (salsa) dancing community in Nightcliff. She stood out, not only because of her height (6’2″ by the looks of it), her beauty (we later learned that she had been a supermodel), and her bubbly energy. We chatted for a while, and when she learned that we lived on a boat, she exclaimed that the universe had put us in her path, since that very morning her three-year-old daughter Lulu was asking her to go on a boat. So she loaded us into her car at nightfall (just in time as we were looking for a lift), and after a brief stopover at her house to meet her rabbits and pick up a bottle of wine, we headed for Obelix. Sofia was dizzy from the motion of the boat, so we lay on the deck and looked at the stars, including our new favourite constellation: the scorpion, with its lovely spiral tail.
On Sunday evening we met up with Sofia at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, where she was singing at the Festival of Colours, and we planned a trip to Litchfield Park for the following week.
We were supposed to be camping there but fate had other plans. We were at Buley Rockhole, our last stop of the day before pitching a tent at Florence falls campsite, demonstrating dives and somersaults for the other tourists who were floating peacefully on their plastic noodles, when the show turned into a horror movie with Thomas emerging with a bloody face, he had cut his face open against the rocks with the momentum of his three-metre dive. A nurse with her first aid kit quickly took him under her wing, wrapped him in a compression bandage and off we went to Palmerston Emergency. The result: twenty-three stitches in four wounds on the forehead, eyebrows and nose, plus some scratches on the lip.
Lesson #1: Always survey the area and assess the risks before diving into a water hole to show off.
While he was being treated by some very nice doctors, one of whom had studied in Lyon and was glad to practice his French, I was looking for a place to stay for the night as going back to the park to camp was out of the question. So we landed a stone’s throw from the hospital in a family cabin at the Darwin Free Spirit resort. We were so tired that in the morning we extended our stay by one more night to enjoy the clean, soft white sheets, air conditioning, showers, pool and bouncy castle.
This didn’t stop us from going back to Litchfield Park and meeting up with Sofia, who had also had an eventful day the day before. The Florence falls were packed, but the thunderstorm and rain in the afternoon had scared off almost everyone at the Wangi falls and we had this heavenly spot to ourselves. One thing led to another and Sofia offered to let us use her house and car for the weekend, which was good because Azur was worried about who was going to feed the rabbits while she was away.
Before returning to Darwin, from our resort we detoured to a short cruise on the Adelaide River to get a closer look at crocodiles, black kites and whistling kites, and on the way back even spotted a small goanna waddling along the riverbank. During this very instructive excursion, we learned that the life of a crocodile is far from enviable, and that their reptilian brain does not make them very smart. Young crocodiles under 2 metres in length have only one chance in a hundred of becoming an adult, as for all the others they represent fresh food in their larder. Similarly, when mating, males can forget what they are doing and what starts out as a romp can end up as a female crocodile feast. On the other hand, each stretch of river is the territory of a dominant male who defends it to the point of losing limbs, as in the case of Stumpy, one of the crocodiles that approached the boat and had only one leg left. As soon as they reach adulthood, the young males are excluded from the clan and have to find their own territory, dethroning an “elder” who has become too old and too weak. If they fail to do so, they may find themselves thrown back into the estuary, hence the ubiquitous warning signs on the seashore, and captured to stock the crocodile farms.
Our stay ashore has already been beneficial as we have been able to rest (I think Thomas is the first to be surprised at the impact of his accident on his need for sleep), get the kids to work on their Te Kura programme, wash all our dirty clothes, go shopping, buy new cockpit foam and explore the surrounding area without struggling to find a taxi or hire electric scooters that stop unexpectedly when we leave the authorised area (Lake Alexander and wallabies at East Point for example). Zephyr also learned to play the demo melody on the synthesizer (right hand) and I went out three nights in a row to dance salsa, bachata, kizomba and even tango last night, watching with envy the swing dancers as the DJ alternated between all of these dance styles in honour of Nina, the organizer, whose birthday it was, and who danced them all. Not to mention that it saved us multiple trips to the beach and back in our 2-HP powered dinghy, a journey of at least half an hour given the amplitude of the tides (6m) which made us anchor Obelix far far away in Fannie Bay.
What a gift to have met Sofia so early in our stay!
Lesson #2: When arriving in a new place, make friends as soon as possible, the best way to enjoy it to the fullest.
A little word about Darwin to finish, apart from the fact that this city survives only by the grace of air con and that it reigns there a post-apocalyptic atmosphere between 10 am and 4 pm because of the overwhelming heat which forces everyone to stay at home, go to the swimming pool, or go shopping – all air-conditioned, one feels in a zoo where the doors would have been left open, with ibises and peacocks walking in front of the house, parrots and cockatoos flying freely filling the air with their shrill cries, flying foxes hanging from the trees, wallabies grazing in the parks at dusk, geckos and other lizards littering the walls and pavements, and the careful crocodile signs planted on all the natural beaches (an artificial beach has been built in the centre of town to say it’s still safe to swim in the sea in Darwin). In three weeks time, the rainy season will start and turn this desert into a tropical green oasis, accompanied by floods, hard to believe when all the streams we met on the road were dry…
Now we are waiting for Thomas to recover and for the weather to be favourable before crossing to Indonesia.