Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Keeping our cool

Wednesday 16th November, 2011 – 10.45am
Termite Mounds Tourist site, Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia 
Total distance: 168km

At around 2 o'clock yesterday we set off again towards the park. The sun was still hot, but not as debilitating as it had been earlier. Behind us, to the north, storm clouds were bubbling up and moving towards us. We have never so sincerely wanted to be rained upon.

Kangaroos made
regular appearances
The park entrance was somewhat lacking in amenities. It was in fact a sign and a bill board by the side of the road. There was no water there. Occasionally we rode past creeks that babbled away invitingly, and we have water purification tablets so we could have drunk it, but we also have meat on us that crocodiles might enjoy, so we stayed well clear of them.

Once we were in the park though the ride became much more interesting. Troops of kangaroos hopped about in the bush around us, occasionally making dashes across the road, one nearly slipping over as he did so. Through the trees we saw an emu, a great prehistoric looking thing, sauntering by. Green parrots flapped between trees, cockatoos screeched, and large dragonflies hovered alongside us, seeming to take stock of us before veering away back into the shade.

Storm clouds churned up
in the late afternoon
At around 3.30pm the rain broke, just a spattering at first, and then hard. Although the rain was warm it was an immeasurable relief. We rode through it to make the most of its effects, and enjoying the cool breeze that our speed generated.

The rain only lasted half an hour or so, but when it subsided we came to a college off the side of the rode where we could fill our bottles and drom bags completely. 20 litres feels like a lot (especially when you're carting it around on a bike) but it's amazing how quickly it goes when you're in heat like this. Although we weren't at any risk of perishing along the road – there were as I say pools and streams here and there, and we were passed by vehicles a couple of times an hour – it was a worry at times to find the next source before we started dehydrating. The route we have taken down here is, as someone mentioned to us later, not a well used one. People don't travel down it unless they want to visit the Mundorah hotel or the rubbish tip, presumably.

As we were filling up our water one of the volunteers working at the school walked over to us to see what we were up to. Two bicycles loaded with heavy bags isn't something you see everyday, and it regularly leads to conversations with curious and friendly Australians. We told him about our hellish day in the hot sun, and he told us that the cafe marked on the map a little further down was no longer there because it burnt down, but that there should be one at Wangi Falls campsite – about another 10km down the road. We were dying for a cold can of coke, or something. Anything cold. The guy paused a moment and then said “Come with me, I'll get you a coke.” We followed him excitedly to a large tin work shop and he plucked two ice cold cans of coke from the fridge, and let us top up our water bottles from his water cooler. We gulped them down, said a very big thank you and headed off on our way.

The rest of the day's ride was fairly easy, and we arrived at Wangi Falls at around 5.30pm – an hour before it got dark. The cafe at the campsite, that was marked on the various maps of the area had been gone for a number of years, apparently, so we contented ourselves with a dip in the designated swimming area beside a mighty double waterfall. Not that bad really, I suppose.

The termite mounds often took on the appearance
 of the ruins of some ancient 
That day really took it out of the two of us. Distracted by the savage temperature we hadn't eaten nearly as well as we have done on previous trips, and we had sweated out a lot of salt. I found myself drinking from my soy sauce tub as I prepared dinner, craving the sodium in it. Liv joined in too, and then we drank some rehydration salts, a berocca, and sat down to a healthy portion of rice and boil in a bag Indian. We scoffed it all down very quickly, and then collapsed into bed.

Need I say it was hot in the tent last night? We woke at 4.30am – deciding that the best way to deal with the weather was to leave early and knock off several hours before 10am, then wait out the heat of the day and finish up our ride later in the afternoon. This morning's ride was luxuriously cool, relatively speaking, and the few steep ascents we hit rewarded us with some nice downhill freewheeling and some high speeds.

We reached our half way mark, Termite Mounds tourist site, at around 9.40am, just as the sun was picking up. This tourist site is fairly basic; just a carpark, an information hut the size of a shed, and a small walkway around a field of magnetic termite mounds. It's good that the government manage these sites as they do – reducing the impact of bus loads of visitors, and having informative displays, but I think it is a bit unnecessary to have a sign that tells you “Here is a great place to take a photograph”.

Avoiding the worst of the midday heat.

We have spent the last few hours relaxing on the edge of the car park while the tour buses arrive, linger a while, then depart, and we are being pestered by a league of little flies.

Here is Robin typing this very blog post. Oooh.
These flies, while I mentioned them in passing yesterday, deserve a special mention now as we swat at them fruitlessly and swear. From sunrise to sunset a certain kind of fly appears that looks a lot like a common house fly, but only half the size. It doesn't bite you, like many other things around here, but it flies around you, lands on you, and apparently drinks your sweat. Or your eye juice. Or bogeys apparently. Because they just keep coming, buzzing around my ears, landing on my cheek, tickling as they walk over it– I slap myself hard in the face, miss it – it lands beneath my eye, I calm down and let it take what it wants, it buzzes, gets in my eye, I shake my head, it flies off. Another appears immediately. Repeat. All day. Often several times at once – especially when we slow down as we hit any steep ascents. Insect repellent, diplomacy or foul language doesn't seem to deter them in the slightest. We're either going to go insane by the end of this trip, or we'll become Zen masters.

Ants have infiltrated the bread.

I think it's time we got going again. We have another 35km to Bachelor, an (apparently) major town on the eastern edge of the park where we can (apparently) buy a meal and stock up on food. Here's hoping.

View Larger Map

It could've been worse, we supposed after reading this account of one of the early European prospectors.

No comments:

Post a Comment