Saturday, March 31, 2018

30 March 2018 - Day 27 - Cloncurry to Townsville

I had to force myself to sleep. The sight of the waters in Normanton kept playing back and forth in my mind. Would these waters spike my drive? I had done so much and there was just another 4000 km to go. However, even while beating the hasty retreat from Normanton to Cloncurry, instead of being upset, I kept telling myself that an adventure meant all this, and maybe more. The mistake I made was not to ascertain the route condition from Normanton to Cairns. Even Google Maps would have showed up the road closure. I took it for granted that such an eventuality would not be there. It was a lesson learnt at the cost of motoring an extra 800 km and almost getting marooned.

Therefore, after checking and cross checking the road conditions to Townsville I booked accommodation there. The room in Cloncurry had been comfortable, but, in all these small towns the accommodation is over-priced – a matter of supply and demand, I presume. As the reception of the hotel wasn’t yet open I decided to leave the key in the room. As I got out of the room I was greeted by that omnipresent Australian, the fly! They are everywhere; it is said that flies are present wherever there is rotten stuff – it was either the country or me! I recalled the chat I had with the young Manager of the hotel. I shared with him my observation that an overwhelming number of Australians are left handed.  Very quick was his response - it is because the right hand is busy with thwacking flies!!

The fuel station in Cloncurry was overflowing with cars and people, out for the long weekend. Boats of all shapes and sizes, cycles, pets and giggling children signaled the holiday mood. And there was a fair bit of traffic heading in the direction of Townsville, and that further settled my mind about the road condition. There are markers on the road side at intermittent intervals indicating if the road ahead is clear or otherwise. I drove 400 km through in one stretch to Hughendon. It was a pleasant drive with greenery all around and small hills. The early settlers in Queensland came here for farming. I understand that people from Punjab own vast tracts of land in Queensland, which they use for farming.

Yesterday I had reserved my hotel in Townsville through, where I had specifically requested for free parking. Very soon I had a call from the hotel mentioning that the hotel parking slots are charged at AUD 10 per night, but free parking slots are available in places nearby to the hotel after 5 pm. The lady chuckled when I asked her if overnight street parking is safe. I didn’t understand what that chuckle meant, but was reassured when she said, “See you tomorrow”.

In the short time that I would be in the city I had to be choosy about what to do. One of the must do things that kept popping up in the searches for Townsville is a visit to the Reef HQ. The timing of the center suited me fine as it would be open up to 5 pm, which meant that I would be eligible for free street parking after that. I reached the Reef HQ at a half past 3 and took the AUD 28 ticket. The lady at the counter asked me if I am eligible for any concession. I told her that I am not as old as I look, to which her repartee was, “I wanted to know if you have a Student Concession”!

The Reef HQ is a fantastic effort. I understood that it was the vision and effort of one man, Dr Greame Kelleher the former Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, whose primary objective was to bring the wonderful marine life on to land, make it more visible to a larger number and sensitise people about the ecosystem. The center was opened in 1987 and is the largest living coral reef aquarium anywhere in the world. The humongous aquarium holds 2.5 lakh liters of water and has over 130 coral species and 120 fish species. A pneumatic wave machine creates water motion inside the aquarium and much of it is open to the outside weather, thereby receiving sunlight, moonlight, precipitation just like the normal coral reefs do. I was absolutely bowled over. The beautiful colors of the fish, living corals and anemones kept me captivated. Large groupers, sharks, tiny fish – all lived together in harmony; something that humans are unable to manage. We have a lot to learn from these environments. Poignant messages were everywhere about global warming and what it did to the reefs.

The Madison Plaza Hotel is almost in the heart of the city; just a km away from the Reef HQ. A young girl was at the reception. Once the formalities were completed I asked her where free parking could be found. She pointed to a few streets nearby as well as the police station opposite the hotel. When this was going on a lady, who apparently worked in the hotel, came over and told me that she has parked her car on the same street as the hotel and said that she was vacating that right then. I reversed the car and occupied that slot. That was so very convenient; the slot was opposite the police station and hopefully the officers will keep watch!

The room was very comfortable and I settled in quickly. Once all that was taken care of and the sun had gone down a bit I ventured out for a short walk. The streets were deserted. Edwin and Shyju had told me in Darwin that even restaurants and bars would be closed in Australia on Good Friday. They hastened to add that it had nothing to do with religion; it was just that they chilled out for the busy weekend ahead. That was absolutely true. I hardly saw ten people in the one hour walk and most of them were in an Indian restaurant, “The Jewel of India”, which was one of the few restaurants open in the city. I walked down the main street, Flinders St – name is everywhere – where a few buildings that dated back to the second half of the 19th century were in excellent state of preservation. The Marina was gorgeous; the city’s skyline and the mountain in the background gives the place a postcard appearance. The Strand is another feature of the city, which affords good views of the Port and the Magnetic Island.
Back in the room I was only on to one thing - plan for the next day. Mercifully, I found that the road closure on Bruce Highway had been lifted. This meant that I had only 350 km to Cairns; the diversion would have meant over 300 km. I also got a got deal in Caravella Backpackers located in the Esplanade of the city. After all the work was done I ‘feasted’ on baked beans and croissant and washed it down with a can of Bundaberg Rum and Cola. Just a few days more for the expedition to end in Sydney on 5th of April.

29 March 2018 - Day 26 - Camooweal to Normanton and Conclurry

I have been obsessed about weather conditions in Queensland ever since my cousin warned that the coast is in for a battering. And news that some areas were flooded near Cairns and its northern and western suburbs over the past weekend made me more cautious. I checked on weather conditions in Normanton last evening and found that rain is forecast later in the day today. Moreover, a sixth sense got me out of bed and ready early. The Roadhouse was still not open when I left at 5 am sharp. It was pitch dark and the first streaks of light did not appear till well after 6 am. Mt Isa was the first major town on the way. Honey Joseph had made a few suggestions of places to see in that town. It was only about 7 am and I decided not to stop. In hindsight, that decision turned out to be the work of the ‘unseen hand’.

When I was in Broome, Mark of Kimberley Travellers' Lodge had told me that I should fuel up in Cloncurry, as his maps did not show any fuel station between Cloncurry and Normanton. In fact, he had even suggested that I go to Cairns via Townsville instead of Normanton. For me, the detour through Normanton was to get back to Highway 1, which was closed between Borroloola and Burketown. I went to Cloncurry town and tanked up for the drive to Normanton. A short while after I had turned on to the road to Normanton, I noticed that both sides of the road were ‘littered’ with millions of termite mounds. I stopped at a place where there was a recess in the road to take a few photographs. I was swarmed by flies. This country has a major problem with this, I find. In between swatting flies and ensuring that they do not intrude into any orifices I took a few pictures. When I was doing that I noticed thick black smoke billowing in the background and it was barreling. It didn’t look like a bush fire. I didn’t give it much thought further as self-preservation was the first objective; getting away from the flies and making sure that those that gatecrashed into the car were given an opportunity to leave.

My eyes were getting heavier by the minute and the roadhouse in Burke&Wiliams was a most welcome break. While having a cup of coffee I got access to fast internet and that updated the current weather in Normanton, which seemed to hold. However, on way to Normanton I noticed water on the road, road damage and water rising in certain places. The Flinders River was muddied and currents were swift. A few people were fishing there too. Apart from that there was hardly any traffic in the region. At about half past one I reached the Normanton Tourist Park, where I had booked my accommodation. Shane had been my contact over the Net and I met him there. As I was checking in I asked Shane, casually, about the road condition to Cairns and got the shock of my life. He told me that the roads to Karumba, Cairns and Burketown have been closed for a few days and the one to Cairns is not likely to be open for at least five days. He showed me a traffic update and all I could see were quietly flowing flood waters. I was alarmed.  Shane said that I could have saved myself the trip from Cloncurry if I had phoned him up. I kicked myself for not having done that.

I had no option but to head back to Cloncurry – another 380 km; had already done 690! The considerate Shane told me that I could leave immediately and not worry about the cancellation. He had handled many such in the past few days. Now my concern was to get through the vulnerable stretches on the road to Cloncurry, where I had seen water spilling over on to the road. With the intention of fueling before leaving Normanton I took a short ‘tour’ of the town and came to the road to Karumba. Traffic warnings flashed about the road been closed and fines for driving beyond that point. I stopped the car well in advance and walked to see a ‘river’ flowing over what was the road to Karumba. A traffic person told me that the road to Croyden (Cairns) was worse. I understood the situation better then. I made haste towards Conclurry because it had started raining and I didn’t want this road to be cut off too. I took a few liberties with the speed limits and did the Normanton-Cloncurry segment in about three and half hours – a distance of 380 km. In some places the rain belted down heavily and the car showed signs of skidding.

As I was turning on to the road to Cloncurry town from that to Normanton I saw a huge pile up of trucks and a few other vehicles. They seemed to have been there for long. On the drive from Normanton I had sourced a hotel in Cloncurry, where I went to. At the Leichhardt Hotel I was told that they have just one room left because of the road closure. The road to Mt Isa had been blocked since morning due to a petroleum truck crash, and that was the billowing thick smoke I had seen in the morning. If I had stopped at Mt Isa for sightseeing I would have been stuck on the other side of the road! That’s the work of the ‘unseen hand’ of the Almighty.

The Chinaman Creek Dam was completed in 2014 by the Shire Council as an infrastructure project to handle the drought situation due to successive years of drought. I noticed many appeals to use water responsibly as I drove into the town. The Dam seems to have improved the availability of water in the area and has also become a popular tourist attraction and camping area. There have been crocodile sightings on the banks of the Dam! There is a boat ramp near the camping site from where I saw a boat with tourists being launched. When I was returning to the hotel, the road to Mt Isa was still blocked. Later, I watched on TV that the police were still investigating the accident.

The other news that occupied prime TV time was the tearful press conference of Steve Smith at Sydney airport. He talked and cried about the shame and hurt he had caused his family and said that he would live with this for the rest of his life. A sad interlude in a brilliant career. As is said, it’s not the winning, but the taking part that’s important. However, crass commercial interests make people do strange things. Winning, at all costs, must be banned too, as a value system. Then we can, maybe, get drugs out of the system too.

It had been a long day with nearly 13 hours behind the wheel and 1100 km. It was local draught beer and a huge meal of traditional Parmi chicken. Over the beer, when you are most clear headed, I rerouted with the help of inputs from Honey Joseph. The final leg would be Cloncurry to Townsville, thereon to Cairns the next day; if the Bruce Highway is still closed a detour is available. The third day would be Cairns to Mackay and onwards to Brisbane and Sydney. Time to sleep over it.

28 March 2018 - Day 25 - Daly Waters to Camooweal

With nearly 850 km for the day an early start was on the cards and I had set the alarm for 4.30 am. As it turned out I could not sleep beyond a quarter past 3 am; all attempts to continue till the alarm went off was in vain. After a hot cup of coffee I got ready and set off on the lonely roads by 4.15 am. In the first two hours all I encountered on the road were four Road Trains – that’s all. The sky remained dark till it was nearly 6 am. I was worried for stray cattle and kangaroos. Even though the speed limit was 130 kph I coasted along between 110 and 120 kph. I was averaging 100 kph when I started feeling sleepy and my eyes were really tired. Closer to 7 am I stopped for fueling at Renner Springs Desert Inn – I do not know why it is called a Desert Inn – and slept for a half hour in the car thereafter.

When I woke up I noticed that I still had close to 600 km to go for the day. The next stop was at Barkly Homestead after almost 300 plus km. The progress was, once again, at 100 kph. I was well in time as I had only 260 km to go after this. The Homestead is a cosy place with very friendly staff and free Wi-Fi. I sat around and relaxed for half an hour, while browsing and uploading. It had started raining after Three Ways and the clouds were quite heavy. The forecast for weather in Queensland was not very encouraging from the information I gathered on the Net. Cairns, Mackay and the Gold Coast seemed to be in trouble and more was to follow. The Townsville-Cairns stretch seemed to be in a lot of trouble. I wondered what my strategy should be. Not knowing what to do at the moment I thought it prudent to see how the day panned out and get more information at Camooweal.

About 10 km to the Camooweal Roadhouse is the border between Northern Territory and Queensland. The landmark is sign-posted in advance. My stay at the border was irritably cut short by a swarm of flies that even started ‘exploring’ my ears and nose. I had to purse my lips to ensure they didn’t kiss me. They were so many in number that I felt truly threatened. If I had stayed some more the flies would have summoned a few more of their ilk and carried me away. In such circumstances, I am certain that my 90 plus kgs work to my advantage, because it would take a lot more flies to carry me away than if I were a fit, 70 kg, six pack, vain macho!

I had booked the accommodations in Australia in October 2017 and the one in Camooweal Roadhouse was part of that. As I drove into Camooweal I saw a billboard of the Roadhouse but Google Maps showed the location to be another 15 km away. When I drove there I found just wilderness and nothing else. Fortunately, I had the telephone to the Roadhouse and ascertained that I had over-carried myself. I trudged back to the town and presented myself at the reception of the Roadhouse. Most Roadhouses are attached to a fuel station and this was no exception.

Victor, from Rajasthan, handled my check in. He suggested that I upgrade my occupancy to an en suite for a reduced price of AUD 100. He said that that the budget accommodations are normally used by the local toughs and cowboys and I may not like the environment. I decided to go by his suggestion. I had to wait a while for my room to be ready. The small room with en suite facilities was quite comfortable with ample parking facilities in the complex. Since Wi-Fi facility did not extend to the accommodations I decided to take some rest before returning to the reception/restaurant later in the evening.

The owner of the Roadhouse told me that options to visit the neighborhood are limited because of the wet season. I took the opportunity to spend some time with Victor, the chef. He told me that he is Ashok Kumar aka Victor from Ganganagar, Rajasthan. He was living on the brink at home despite the IT education he had; a salary of Rs. 15,000 a month was not even sufficient to pay back his loans. Nine years ago he came to Brisbane and struggled for two years to get through a course in Hospitality and Cookery. He mentioned how things were made difficult by the lack of help from fellow Indians. Between 2005 and 2012, he said, it was easy to make one’s way to Australia, study, get a job and obtain PR. Post then, rules have been tightened, conditions have been made stiffer and the gloss had gone out of the initial ‘feel good’. He told me that there is a very large community in Australia now from Ganganagar because the early arrivals helped others to come over, stay free and obtain jobs. His current job in Camooweal looks like a fairy tale story. He works for a brother-sister entrepreneurship at the Roadhouse. Besides, a handsome salary he gets a three month paid vacation. Victor was able to get two more into jobs at the Roadhouse; one from his own home town and the other from Haryana.

Pankaj from Kurukshetra, Haryana climbed the rungs quickly from chef to Manager. The smart youngster with a gift of the gab came over and had a chat with me. He suggested that I should look for accommodation in Caravan Parks to reduce cost. The downside is that one has to sleep in the car if one does not have a campervan or caravan. He said that they are totally safe and the common facilities of toilet and shower could be used too.

The weather updates on TV were gloomy. The Easter weekend had forecast more rains and flooding. I rang up the Caravella Backpackers to understand if they would consider waiving the cancellation policy in case I am stuck because of the weather. The response from the other end was not at all reassuring. She said that they would have to charge me for a day in case the cancellation was done within 24 hours of the proposed occupation. I looked up the Net for last minute accommodation deals and found that, possibly because of the weather, I would be better off deciding accommodation beyond Normanton as I went along. With this in mind I cancelled the bookings I had made in Cairns and Mackay.

Victor helped me microwave Phad Thai Chicken, the last of my Heat&Eat items. Back in the room I had a couple of cans of Highland Whisky in Cola and ‘feasted’ on the Phad Thai Chicken; the rice items are better. The next few days would be extremely critical. I hope and pray that the cyclone forecast get tempered down and I am able to complete the balance 4200 km as scheduled.

Friday, March 30, 2018

27 March 2018 - Day 24 - Darwin to Daly Waters

To hand over the car for servicing I had taken out all the bags from the car. Most of them I put back in late yesterday evening. There were still a few more things to be settled in and hence, after the morning ablution I decided to attend to that. It was still a half hour to 5 am. The car park is reached through a door connecting the residential segment. I opened the door and went out to my car slot and got busy arranging the food stuff and the rest for the day’s travel. When I was finished with it I came back to the door and found it locked. Then I saw the notice on the door which said that the car park would be closed between 11 pm and 5 am every day and that one should go to the reception in case one had to take out the car during that time. But my problem was to get into my room, not to take the car out. There was a card reader at the door, but despite all my desperate attempts it didn’t work. I started banging on the door and still, there was no response at all. At five minutes past five the cleaning guy found me and used his key to let me in. I went to the reception to report that the card reader didn’t work. The guy at the reception matter-of-factly told me that the card reader doesn’t work. I shuddered at that moment to think what my fate would have been had I gone out earlier to the car park than I did! And I didn’t have my mobile phone with me. A wonderful start to the day.
The 20 minute ‘lockout’ eventually did not have much knock-on effect, other than the 20 minute later start from YHA Darwin. The stay had been comfortable. More than half the road for the day I was already familiar with as I had driven on it on the way from Katherine. The 590 km route to Daly Waters went through Katherine. The condition of the road was uniformly good, but the surprise package in the entire Northern Territory visit has been the 130 kph speed limit on its main highways like the Victoria and Stuart Highways. And they are single carriageways almost all through with overtaking lanes at intermittent intervals. All through this expedition I have found excellent parking and 24 hour stopping (where you can rest or camp overnight) facilities provided to ensure that drivers are refreshed and do not drive under fatigued conditions. These places have garbage disposal bins and the 24 hour stopping locations have toilet and shower facilities too.
On the route to Katherine from Darwin there are many airstrips that were used during WWII. These are still preserved and many of them are adjacent to the existing highway. Adelaide River is a historical town between Darwin and Katherine that was settled at the time of the laying of the overland telegraph line and the gold rush in Pine Creek in 1882. After Katherine I passed through the interesting town of Mataranka. What caught my attention is the welcome to the town, which is known as the “Capital Of The Never Never”. Later I came to know that the town was the setting of an autobiographical novel by Jeannie Gunn by the name, “We of the Never, Never”. Mataranka has also another claim to fame. It has the largest manmade termite mound in the world. Travelling in Northern Territory, termite mounds become commonplace as they dot the landscape on either sides of the road. Many of them, reportedly, are man-made.
I reached Hi-Way Inn in Daly Waters before noon. I have a decent room; as in most remote locations, the room tariff is on the higher side. The restaurant had a lot of guests for lunch as the next decent roadhouse is over 150 km away from here. As I was ruminating over the two days in Darwin I recalled the mystery phone call from a private number yesterday. A very Indian sounding voice told me that he was waiting at my door in Sydney with a parcel from my brother, Kevinstone Palmer! He continued to badger me to open the door saying that he had an important parcel. When I told him that I neither stay in Sydney nor do I have a brother called Kevinstone Palmer, the caller asked if my name is Shaun. When I told him that is not my name, he wanted to know my name. I told him that that was none of his business. And I disconnected the call. Weird.

26 March 2018 - Day 23 - In Darwin

The washing machine and dryer at Level 2 required one dollar coins to operate them – three each. Detergent is dispensed for 2 dollars. Reception changed bills to coins for me. I had seven days’ laundry to take care of. The cycle I had chosen would take about 40 minutes. I made myself a cup of coffee and caught up on social media news when the washing was being done. The dryer did its work in about 15 minutes. Some of the clothes were still a bit wet and I had to hang them up in the room to dry them further. The rest were folded and placed in the bag.
Last evening I had bought croissants from Coles. That with Strawberry jam would be breakfast. When I was on the second one Shyju Abraham, the contact given by Honey Joseph in Adelaide, called to say that he would be free the whole day. He offered to come around in a short time and take me wherever I wanted to go. In the meanwhile, I got ready and hopped across to the Hertz car rental diagonally opposite the YHA. There I met Prashanth from Kottayam, Kerala. He had recently relocated from Dubai and felt that Australia is an excellent alternative to Dubai, be it professional or personal. I explained to him that I was wanting to get the Hertz rental car serviced as it was very close to its service mileage of 45,000 km. I had contacted Customer Service while in Perth. Their response came a day too late for the service to be done in Perth. Finally, after a series of mails with VP, Customer Relations it was decided that service would be arranged in Darwin this day. And, I was given a number to contact. The calls went through to voice messages and that’s how I happened to be in Prashanth’s office.
Prashanth said that his office only dealt with rentals; however, he would check with his Manager and revert, he said. In the meanwhile Shyju landed up at the YHA. While I was about to get into Shyju’s car Prashanth called to say that his Manager had suggested that I take the car to Action Automobiles, where the servicing of Hertz cars were done. Shyju knew the general direction of the service station. I followed Shyju in the car and reached the place after a small ‘search’. The service station had many cars in various stages of repair and disrepair. I was a bit concerned when I saw that the entire facility was manned by just one person. When I told him what I wanted he took the key and asked me to come back in a couple of hours. When I asked him if I have any paperwork to complete he said that he would do that online with Hertz! Wasn’t I amazed?
Shyju had worked in UK as a nurse for a few years before migrating to Australia in 2011. While he works in the only hospital in Darwin, the Royal Darwin Hospital, his wife works in the same noble profession privately, which gives her more flexibility and better pay. After handing over the car we dropped by at a boating club in the Fannie Bay area. From there we went to pick up Shyju’s friend, Edwin, who he said is an interesting person and politically active – he recently contested the council elections and worked as an Assistant to an MP. We spend some time at his PG accommodation breaking the ice. Originally from Kanyakumari, he became an office bearer in one of the Malayalee clubs due to his grasp of the language and initiative.
We first went to the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory and spent considerable time there going through displays, exhibitions and a poignant recollection of Cyclone Tracy. In the two days I was in Darwin I could make out that the indelible scars of the Territory are the 1942 WWII bombings of the city by the Japanese and the devastation wrought by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. The Museum gave an excellent round up of reptilian life, birds, minerals, indigenes and their life and art in Northern Territory. Famous among the exhibits is the body of Sweetheart, a crocodile notorious for attacking boats. It was a very informative time spent in the Museum.

The Darwin Skycity is the only Casino in Darwin. The ownership of the Casino has changed hands many times. It has over a hundred rooms, many of them overlooking the sea, and a specialty restaurant. While we were visiting here Edwin gave me a fantastic account of the aboriginals and their life and times. Often, to the outside world, the aboriginals seem like vagrants and potential troublemakers. When you look at their plight from their point of view you will see their lifestyle in a different perspective. Originally, sustenance seekers with very little needs and traditional beliefs, customs and practices, they were thrown out of their own lands by the white explorers and settlers, starting with Captain Cook. The era of white settlement coincided with the cultural denudation of the indigenes, alienation of their lands and susceptibility to newer diseases. They became outcasts in their own land. Till 1974 they were not even citizens with equal rights in their country.  The scheme of development envisaged by the white man did not take into account, initially, the preservation of the aboriginals’ life and culture. They are now given a fortnightly ‘dole’, which is mostly spent on liquor and tobacco. To curtail the increasing trend of alcoholism certain restrictions on purchase and consumption of liquor have been introduced in the Northern Territory.
Edwin, having extensive experience in the working of the political system and his familiarity with the Parliament House, was an invaluable guide on a quick tour of the Parliament House. The main gate of the Parliament House is opened only when the Administrator comes to the House. Security at the entrance is limited to two persons scanning personal items and bags and another two using handheld scanners, when required. No declarations, no paperwork and one is free to walk about. The modern building is fitted out with proper surveillance equipment and access control. Thus, visitors can go only where access control does not restrict their access. We went to the visitors’ gallery and had a bird’s eye-view of the legislative assembly seating and the manner in which business would be conducted there. The NT Parliament consists of 25 elected representatives, of which one is nominated as the Speaker to preside over the functioning of the House. NT has only 1% of the population of Australia, with half of that population being in Darwin. This Assembly is overwhelmingly Labour Party and Independent. When we visited the Supreme Court, Court 5 was in session and we had the opportunity to take a sneak peak of the proceedings. The pleadings were before a 15 member jury with the lawyers and the judge wearing wigs in traditional British style.
It was time for lunch and we had a marvelous chicken and fries feast at Nandoos in the city. Edwin kept on supplying nuggets of information that shed light on the life in Australia and its political system. He had fixed up an appointment to meet Kate Worden, the MLA who represented Sanderson. The down to earth member came out of her office to greet us and welcome us to her room. The office itself was so unpretentious and showed that work mattered more than the trappings of office. Edwin told me that unnecessary use of the perks of office never went down well with the electorate. We discussed, in the short time we spent with her, the issues facing the constituency, the often intractable issues regarding mainstreaming the aboriginals and the latest issue facing the legislators – fracking. During this week they will have to consider the report of an expert committee that had been set up to study the impact of the technology and take a stand on the matter. From the manner in which Kate discussed it, to me, it seemed a very emotive issue.
It was decided that we would do a BBQ dinner at East Point Reserve by about 6 pm. Edwin and Shyju shopped at Woolworths for this and then I went with Shyju to his house where I had parked my car after retrieving from service. There I met up with Shyju’s wife and daughter, Analina, whose extra-curricular interest was dancing. Alan, their son had recently started graduate school and we met very briefly. I also had the good fortune to meet Abhilash, who worked in the Hilton and commuted to work daily by cycle, a round trip of about 25 km.

We got together at Lake Alexander in East Point Reserve after a short visit to St Mary’s Church, near the YHA; also met Fr Tom, the parish priest. At the BBQ I met Antony, a landscape architect, and his precocious son, Augustine.  Edwin joined in a short while and the party came alive. Most parks have electric BBQ facility provided by the council, which can be made use of for free. Antony got busy with making sausages with onion, which became delicious hot dogs in a short time. Beer and soft drinks accompanied the food. There was Kappa and fish curry too; yummy and a Shyju special. During the interaction I understood that Antony is a master chef and a man of many parts. I have promised to return someday to Darwin to partake of a meal prepared by him. The lovely evening eventually wound to a close, but it was tough taking leave of these new friends. They had become close and it was as if I had known them for a long time. That is what travel is all about – meeting fellow souls who travel with you through time and space.

12 June - Whistler to Victoria - Day 39 of TCE

The room in the Pinnacle Hotel had been extremely comfortable. Last evening I was told that the 84 rooms that the property has are almost...