Friday, 4 July 2014

Waiting it Out - Darwin

The flight to Darwin went smoothly, with Oli and I eating and drinking all that we were offered, despite the ungodly hour. After a mere hour in the air we touched down in Darwin, and shuffled off towards immigration. We immediately piqued the suspicions of the officials, as when asked where we were staying we realised that we had no idea what our host's surname was, nor the slightest hint of his address. Hence, when they asked where we would be residing all we could offer was the name “Dave”. Add to this the fact that we were cradling our hand luggage in a plastic bag, and I suppose the minor interrogation about our income (combined with a strict reminder that we had no right to work on our tourist visas) was inevitable.

Miraculously they decided to let us into the country anyway, as despite the questions, the official was a friendly and accommodating sort. We made our way to the exit, and were swiftly picked up by the aforementioned Dave. Much to our relief he had responded to our desperate message on the HUBB (over lander's forum) and very kindly offered us a place to stay. With a mere bed in a dorm costing over £20 in Darwin, we were insanely grateful. As an extra bonus Dave's house turned out to be beautiful; a tastefully decorated place set on the edge of the bush with five acres of land. Beats a grubby hostel full of drunk backpackers any day.

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After a quick rest and a morning beer, it was time to go to the supermarket. This is where the real culture shock began for Oli and I. Over the past few months we had become used to rather more limited stock. The range of products available seemed infinite and faintly bewildering, especially when compared to the usual roadside Indonesian offerings of shampoo sachets, biscuits and dusty cans of coke. We staggered around open mouthed for a while, just about successfully resisting the urge to fill the trolley with only cheese and breakfast cereal. These were the two food items I had really missed whilst travelling, and we still couldn't quite believe they were so easily available.

Back at Dave's, we were joined by a gang of five German backpackers with their three camper vans. The house is going on the market, so they were here to help out with some sprucing and final touches. They were a lovely bunch and a lot of fun, so were excellent company. They got to work on the painting the next day. Oli and I felt a bit lazy, so helped out wherever we could. Later on in our stay we were also joined by Thierry, a Swiss over-lander who has been on the road for an impressive six years, and an all-round nice guy.

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The wait for the bike is a rite of passage for anyone doing our route, and we have actually been very lucky to get it back after just three weeks. Happily for us, what could potentially have been a dull and expensive wait in Darwin ended up being an incredibly pleasant experience. Barbecues, beer, sunshine and good chats are hard to get bored of. As a further plus, Darwin is actually a rather nice city, with plenty of small businesses and quirky evening markets to keep it interesting.

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Tuesday was the big day. After having known the bike was sat in the port for almost a week, we were finally given the go-ahead to collect it. Worryingly, we had to pass the quarantine inspection before we were allowed to drive it away. We had spent eight days cleaning in Dili, but were still nervous. Australia has some of the strictest quarantine rules in the world, and the inspector would be looking for specks of soil and the tiniest bits of dirt with an eagle eye. We were pretty sure we had covered everything, but with some of the stories we had heard from other travellers, we knew that if there was anything to find it would surely be spotted.

In the event, our inspection was actually a breeze. The official just ran a white gloved hand under the bike and had the briefest of looks through our luggage. The whole thing was over and done with in about ten minutes. They didn't even check the air-box or the radiators, which are apparently usually thoroughly gone over. Whilst we were glad to get it over and done with, it would have been nice if they had looked a little closer, seeing as Oli spent almost two days cleaning each radiator fin individually with a pin. Oli did debate lying and saying we hadn't cleaned it, just to get better value from the inspection. Luckily he thought better of it, thanked the inspector, and got out of there.

We now have a couple of days sorting out the bike and our luggage before starting to make our way towards the East coast. It has been a great few weeks in Darwin, and we were incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful place to stay. We will both miss the super-cold beers, colourful bird life and pick-up truck forays into the bush. We will also miss the baby possum that has been hanging about and become a sort of mascot, and of course our host Dave. Oli is also going to mourn the amazing garage, which incidentally is bigger than the house I grew up in. Still, an exciting few weeks lie ahead of us. After all this time we still can't quite believe we have made it to the final country of the trip. We fully intend to make the most of it.

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