To Townsville

We had another chat with Judy before leaving for breakfast at Joey’s in Mission Beach. We enjoyed a walk on the beach hoping to see one or two sky-divers coming in to land, but there weren’t any about while we were there. Inevitably there’s a warning sign. If the plants and animals aren’t out to get you, falling humans will have a go.

Parachute warning sign

Yes, I was tempted, a little, to do another parachute jump myself, it would be a great experience over the Great Barrier Reef, but time wasn’t really on our side. Next time, maybe.

Mission Beach

There was some interesting wildlife on the beach. Nothing big, so I drew a crocodile in the sand. Millions of small crabs each with their own little hole surrounded by lots of balls of sand from below. Plus one single caterpillar.

Crab and caterpillar, the Ant and Dec of the beach

On the way back to the car, we found what may have been the caterpillar’s mother, who knows?

Butterfly

On the way out of town, we passed by more of those banana trees with the fruit now ensconced in plastic bags. We wondered whether they were to deter cassowaries rather than insects?

Bananas in pyjamas, er…

Judy had said not to bother stopping at Cardwell because there are crocodiles on the beach. So we had to stop at Cardwell to see for ourselves. Not one croc. Not even the slightest indentation in the sand that might have been a croc’s footprint.

Cardwell Beach

We passed under several of these ‘fauna rope bridges’ which I’m sure are a great idea, but we’re not sure how the animals know where the crossings are, nor how to use them. From our sedentary position in a fast-moving vehicle, it was very hard to work it out.

Animal rope bridges

Near Rungoo, we stopped at a lookout to look at the rather large Hinchinbrook Island, almost a holiday destination in its own right. In fact, we met a couple who had been there and we directed them to a better viewpoint, the lower one being ruined by intervening power lines.

Hinchinbrooke Island over there

I heard Liesel say “I have forgotten my teeth” so I queried that statement. She claims she actually said “I have food caught in my teeth”.

Hmm, I thought, that looks good, pies with my name on.

Mick’s Pies

Four kilometres later, we turned right at the traffic lights to find that the place was closed. C’est la vie.

Onwards to Ingham where we took some time out to do some laundry. Luckily, the laundrette was open, very few other shops were. I went for a walk, and I found one coffee shop open.

There’s a pub here that doesn’t sell beer, but that doesn’t matter because we didn’t go. It was probably closed anyway.

Pub with no beer

By contrast, there were some unexpectedly good photo opps here. Unexpected in the sense that we weren’t really looking out for interesting flora and fauna, it was purely about clothes: wash Ingham and dry Ingham.

They like big trees here: grow Ingham
They like ti trees here: plant Ingham
Swallow or swiftlet: it’s hard distinguish Ingham
Grasshopper with his legs: rub Ingham

If the plants don’t get you and the animals don’t get you and the humans don’t fall out of the sky on top of you, then the buildings will definitely have a go.

Warning: asbestos

Having had coffees and drink Ingham, we didn’t need a Driver Reviver, but what a great idea: free coffee.

Driver Reviver

We passed an RAAF base where one of their latest fighter planes had come to stop just in time before hitting the highway.

RAAF old plane

As I told Liesel, the last time I was in Townsville, a third of a century ago, we were driven in, sharing the front seat of a tow truck with the driver. Our campervan had broken down. We didn’t see much of the town on that occasion. But we arrived here today in the sunshine, and headed straight for the Strand.

We saw a dolphin!

Jolly dolphin

Not a real one: it would be cruel, sticking a real dolphin to your garden wall.

It’s election time so be sure to place your cross between two trees.

The Strand, Townsville

We thought we’d walk to the end of the pier, which we did, only to find it occupied by people fishing and, at the far end, filletting fish. Not the typical seaside pier, really.

It was good to see so many cyclists, roller skaters, roller bladers and runners using the path above the beach. But we’ve never seen so many dog walkers. All the dogs were on leads, we saw no dog mess, we heard no signs of aggression from any of those dogs.

90 minutes before sunset

The Sun was incredibly bright but with a bit of jiggery-pokery, I captured this image. It looks like a nice beach too, although we didn’t walk along it this time. There’s a small swimming area, with a jellyfish net around, but very few people in the sea.

The beach at Townsville
Where’s Liesel?

We dined at a Laos/Thai restaurant and again, I couldn’t finish my meal. I think my stomach must have shrunk or something. We found our Airbnb: we’re sharing with a lovely couple, two dogs and a cat. The neighbours have about 43 dogs between them by the sounds of it! They’re taking it in turns to start a Mexican wave of barking.

To Port Douglas… and beyond

Goodbye to all the lovely ladies in The Territory: Katherine Gorge, Mary and Adelaide River, Edith Falls and Fannie Bay, Apologies to Alice Springs, we’ll catch up with you next time.

I felt sad to leave NT, almost homesick, which surprised me. Plus, Liesel wasn’t feeling 100% either. We returned to The Fannie Bay Coolspot for one final NT breakfast before jetting off to Cairns. The most entertaining part of the drive to the airport was listening to the Google Maps lady telling us to turn right into Dick Ward Drive. We went round the block several times just to hear her strange pronunciation.

Inside Cairns Airport, there’s a bicycle with a bamboo frame.

Bike with bamboo frame

This bike is much more interesting than our new rental car. New? It’s so old, it’s been driven around the world 5¼ times and it has no Bluetooth connection, just a USB port.

So, hello, Queensland, just a little cooler, we thought, for the drive north to our first port of call, Port Douglas. We didn’t stop, we just wanted to get there, eat and rest, but I did take a few pictures on the way and maybe we’ll get better ones on the return journey.

Just north of Cairns, looking west
Somewhere near Kuranda, looking north-ish

Nicola met us at her house and after she left, we went into town for dinner. We had a bit of a walk before settling down at a bistro near the marina. Queensland teased us with a sunset of weird, spooky and eerie colours.

Sunset over the Marina

I couldn’t see the lorikeets in Batchelor well enough to take a picture, but these Port Douglas residents made up for it. Probably thousands altogether, trees full of them and their chattering.

Rainbow lorikeets in a tree

Ooh, here’s a bonus sunset pic.

Sunset and a yacht

After a good night’s sleep, we rose early to drive even further north. Early, he said, hahaha.

Driving by all the sugar cane fields plus seeing old wooden houses in Cairns plus some of the place names on signs, all conspired to remind me of my very first trip to Australia, in 1986.

Sugar cane field and mountains

There’s an awful lot of sugar in Queensland. We passed a sign to a Tea Plantation and all we needed now was a source of milk. Would you believe it, we actually passed a few cows too. The group of three having a chat about the mechanical digger in their field would make a good photo/cartoon.

The sign told us (as if we didn’t already know and as if this wasn’t one of the main reasons for being here) that this was cassowary country.

Cassowary country

The road was winding so we had to drive slowly anyway, but the frequent road humps, with embedded rocks and a speed limit of 20 kph, forced us to crawl.

We half expected to see cane toads too, either live or squashed, but we didn’t. We did see a couple of birds of prey, one hovering above a field.

When we saw a man crossing the road in front of us, we thought he could have at least worn a cassowary outfit, then us visitors could leave thinking we’d actually seen one.

Looking upstream from the Daintree ferry

So, ferry ‘cross the Daintree ’cause this land’s the place I love. The road became narrower if that’s possible, we really were in the place where the rain forest meets the road.

Daintree Road, take me home

The road took us right next to the coastline occasionally, but there were very few opportunities to pull over for a proper look. Oh and here’s a surprise: a cassowary wearing Father Brown’s hat.

Caution: Cassowary wearing a hat

Daintree National Park is a rain forest, and it does extend right down to the beach. In fact, our first proper stop for a walk was at Cape Tribulation Beach. Lt James Cook had grounding issues with his ship in the area, hence the name.

There were some turkeys: not as exciting as a cassowary would have been! And butterflies, loads of them, all full of energy and determined not to trouble my camera at all. And just when you think it’s safe to walk on the beach…

Warning: crocodiles

…and…

Warning: box jellyfish

But what a lovely beach. Hard, compacted sand, very few people, the water looked inviting, apart from the possibility of box jellyfish, the rain forest behind absolutely stunning too.

Cape Tribulation Beach
Where’s Liesel?

“The only place in the world where two World Heritage listed areas, Daintree Rainforest and The Grest Barrier Reef, exist side by side.”

Selfie of the day

Very few people but surprisingly only one bird. He was very patiently fishing, caught a couple while we were watching.

Cormorant or darter or something else but not a chicken

A bit further along the road, we went for a walk along Dubuji Boardwalk, through the forest but one path also took us down to the next beach, Myall. This was a fantastic walk: fascinating in its own right, but also because we were much cooler than we’ve been for a while and it was mostly in the shade.

We heard noises from birds and animals, but other than butterflies, some shrub fowl and a few fish in the mangroves, we saw nothing but trees, bushes, climbers.

Thick-leaved raphidophora vine wraps around tree trunks
Fig tree climbing up another tree

Myall Beach was as fabulous as Cape Trib Beach (we’re friends now) but a little smaller.

Myall Beach where the rain forest meets the reef
Looking up through the umbrellas

The contrast between the brightness on the beach and the darkness in the rain forest was amazing. And hard to believe crocodiles live here.

Bright sea, dark jungle

On the drive back south, we stopped at Thornton Beach for a quick snack. Blimey, their portions were huge: I think this is the first time I’ve been unable to finish a bowl of salad and chips. We were pestered by a swarm of very small flies.

Pretty fly

No, they weren’t pretty flies, that was the next song played on the radio in the car. Oh yeah, I forgot to say: it won’t even play music from my phone with the USB cable connected. So, Triple M it was. With its fascinating and innovative new programme format. Get a couple of blokes who are funny, or who think they’re funny, and get a girl in to laugh at their every word. It’s a surefire winner. Between that and the election adverts, I think it’s fair to say, we’ll be glad to get back to the music on my phone!

One thing we did learn from Triple M was that the current batch of $50 notes have a misspelling in the micro text: ‘responsilty’ three times. That’s an absolute outrage so I will be returning all ours to the bank and demanding my money back.

Someone should take responsibilty for this

Thornton Beach is another where we could have stayed and walked for much longer, but we weren’t 100% sure when the last ferry would carry us back over the Daintree River.

Little island off Thornton Beach
Thornton Beach

Back on the road again, I was watching the sea on my side and watching the road still looking out for… [expletive deleted] said Liesel as she braked and she was right: there was a cassowary crossing the road right in front of us. Fumble fingers messed up the photo but ooh, how exciting, we actually saw a real, live cassowary out in the wild and we could not have been more excited!

There were a couple of waterfalls too but, well, they’re a lot easier to come by than actual cassowaries.

We stopped at Walu Wugirriga, or Mount Alexandra Lookout, from where we could look over the Daintree Valley towards Port Douglas.

Looking south over the Daintree estuary

Luckily, I got my pictures just in time, before a bus full of tourists turned up. We also set off before them, we didn’t want to be following a bus all the way to the ferry. I know, we’re such snobs.

Looking downstream from the Daintree ferry

Back in Port Douglas, Liesel went indoors while I went into town for a few bits at Coles. On entering, I was delighted to hear the strains of Tasmin’s Sleeping Satellite over the PA and I thought, what a wonderful shop. Then they played something modern and I thought, maybe not. I know, I’m such a music snob!

I’m glad I went into town, because I felt bad about not taking a picture of the cows chatting earlier so I made up for it by snapping a cow on roller skates. No, I was not hallucinating.

Cow on wheels

Tonight’s, early sunset wasn’t as colourful nor as interesting as last night’s but what a fabulous first day in Queensland. A cassowary!

Overnight, we heard some strange animal noises from outside while in the comfort of our room: birds, possoms, squirrels, bats, monkeys, teenagers, I don’t know if we’ll ever know.

Nitmiluk: Katherine Gorge

The nighttime shenanigans will be dealt with later. Getting up at dark O’hundred seemed such a good idea when we made the plans but the practical side of dragging our carcasses out of bed so early always raises doubt about our sanity.

We drove towards the sunrise and saw beautiful, bright Venus leading the way. Then, just before the Sun appeared, we saw a very thin crescent Moon.

Hello Venus

The sky was partially cloudy, but it looked like we were going to have a wonderful day.

All kinds of animals should be stirring at dawn, we thought. There were a couple of kangaroos ‘having a rest’, but our excitement was piqued by the sight of some snakes warming up by the side of the road. No way was I going to get out of the car, but the photo taken from the passenger seat is pretty damn good.

“Snakes”

I thought about selling this picture to National Geographic or something, but that would just be money for old rope. I’m sure we’re not the only visitors to fall for this jape.

Blue-headed honey-eater

We arrived at Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk, Visitor Centre, with plenty of time to spare and we joined 12 other people for a cruise along the river, through the gorge. Nitmiluk means cicada country.

The birds didn’t come too close but the blue-headed honey-eater is very pretty. His song was drowned out by the sound from many, many bats though.

There are 13 gorges on the Katherine River, numbered 1 to 13 and we were going to see the first two, accounting for about a third of the total length. Each gorge is separated from the next by rocks and rapids, so we had to board another boat for Gorge No 2.

On Katherine River

The water was calm, a couple of fish jumping, a few birds flying by, but mostly we just gaped in awe at the immensity of the rock formations.

So many rock formations

On a previous cruise, someone had asked the guide if this bird was a penguin?

Little pied cormorant

Well, it’s black and white and hiding behind a branch, so an easy mistake to make.

The rocks are sandstone, fragmented and cracked, and eroded by water over millions of years. The trees are fascinating, sometimes growing in the most ridiculous places.

Tenacious trees and sweeping sandstone

Crayfish are caught in a yabbie trap. Usually, only freshwater crocodiles inhabit this river, and they’re fairly harmless. They only eat things they can swallow whole, such as fish and birds, so we’re quite safe. Unless we annoy them by stomping on their tail, or something. Which we didn’t.

But, after the Wet, and the floods, sometimes gingas, saltwater crocs, can make an appearance.

Yabbie trap

Evidence of their presence includes badly mangled yabbie traps. The river isn’t opened to the public for recreational canoeing until the rangers are certain that there are no gingas.

Another method of detection is to leave some red, blood-soaked polystyrene balls on the surface. A curious croc will take a bite, decide it’s not really food, and move on. The tooth prints will indicate whether it’s a saltie or a freshie.

The red-ball croc detection system

We did see one, small, freshwater crocodile today, a long way from the boat, by the shore, and as soon as he saw us, he swam into the caverns behind.

Freshwater crocodile

It was fairly obvious when we’d reached the end of Gorge No 1. Many rocks across the river, and some rough water just upstream.

Rocks at the top of Gorge number 1

We disembarked and walked about 400m to the next boat. The boats higher upstream are brought in when the river’s in flood, and left there for the season. No heavy lifting required.

The walk itself was interesting: we saw some small frogs in a puddle and some 10,000-year old Aboriginal rock paintings, including underneath where a big chunk of rock had fallen off, many thousands of years ago.

Aboriginal rock painting

The local, Jawoyn, clan can read these paintings like a book. The information board didn’t tell us which book, though.

Some of the trees are growing right down at water level. They’re so lush, even the water looks green in places.

Trees with snake-necked darter

Because of the way the rocks fractured, some of the bends in the river are very nearly right angles.

A very sharp bend in the river

In places, you can see where a fracture on one side continues through the rockface on the other side. Again, my geological knowledge is limited but I would be fascinated to learn more about these structures.

This apparently is the view everyone wants:

Katherine Canyon

Due to eddies and currents and erosion, the water at this point is about 20m deep. This is where the Rainbow Serpent is resting and it’s Jawoyn law that nobody’s allowed to swim here, in case they wake the Serpent up.

We were told about some films that have been made in this area. Jedda, or Jedda the Uncivilised, was released in 1955 and was the first to star two Aboriginal actors. We passed by Jedda’s Rock. An imminent release is Top End Wedding which we’ll look out for. The best recommendation was Rogue, about a crocodile that chases tour boats. Our tour guide (spoiler alert) said that it did have a happy ending though: the tour guide survived.

Selfie of the day

The water is typically about 6m deep in this area. During the floods of 1998, the water rose 20m, engulfing the higher of these two holes in the wall, although you don’t really get the scale from the picture.

Erosion occurs in all directions

At the height of the flood, enough water flowed through the Katherine to fill Sydney Harbour evey nine hours. That is a staggering statistic.

Water from the recent, disappointing, Wet Season, is still making its way through the channels. We saw a couple of cascades today, but many more black stained rocks indicating the presence of waterfalls at other times.

A light waterfall

There are plenty of inviting sandy beaches too. But this is where the crocs lay their eggs, so very soon, signs will appear telling people to stay off. After laying the eggs, the mums aren’t interested and there are enough predators around, without people compacting the sand and making it difficult for hatchlings to emerge.

Nice sandy beach

We returned to our starting point, transferring back to the first boat, feeling exhilarated but tired, and not really up for the hike we’d considered.

Lots of noisy bats in the trees

Some birds and a lizard watched us make our way back to the car park, and we picked up some coffee to take away. The noisy construction will result in a brand new Visitors’ Centre, so we’ll have to come back and see that, one day.

The drive back to base was punctuated by several stops.

Beware, your hat might fly off
An old abandoned car

We saw a bright green and red parrot-like bird. Actually, it probably was a parrot, it was too big to be a lorikeet. We saw some large birds poking at and trying to wake up the resting kangaroos mentioned earlier, to no avail.

Some of the side roads looked interesting, but we didn’t explore. Some said they were Private Property, some didn’t say but they probably are too.

Long straight track to nowhere

Liesel took her first flying lesson today, but I don’t think they’ll be asking her back.

Crashed areoplane

We took a chance and parked our hire car in front of a barn decorated with very many old car number plates.

Lots of regos

I was too slow to take a picture of the dingo that ran across the road in front of us. And similarly not fast enough to snap the pig snuffling by the side of the road. Then it looked up, with its pink collar and its doggie head. The back end still looked like a pig though.

The powerlines are supported by metal posts. I suspect between termites and annual deluges, wooden posts wouldn’t last very long.

Metal post

Other sightings included somebody’s trousers in the middle of the road, some cows, goats, horses and some houses on stilts, although I expected to see more of those.

Back home, we had tea, toast and a nap then I played with the butterflies in the garden. We went back to Woolworths for some shopping and decided against a proper, long walk today.

Here’s an early warning for squeamish visitors. I’m about to relate an incident from last night. This is the Northern Territory and Things Live Here that we don’t normally like to see indoors. Maybe in an outhouse, but not in the main, clean, tiled, inhabited part of a house.

If you’re still with me, I apologise in advance.

As regular visitors may recall, I have reason to visit the lavatory once or twice every night, sometimes more often. And if I can’t sleep for some reason, there can be several nocturnal hikes. Such was the case last night. I couldn’t sleep because I knew we had to get up early and so I ended up losing sleep at both ends of the night.

The first time I went into the bathroom, as soon as I sat down, I felt something scratch my arm. Now, the last time I felt something scratch my arm like that was when a mouse ran out of a mail bag at work, up my arm, and into the prep frame. So obviously, I deduced that this too must be a mouse, in my middle-of-the-night torpor. To investigate, I turned the bathroom light on, something I don’t usually do because it wakes me up too much. I was relieved to see that what hit my arm was a bottle of moisturiser that had fallen off the top of the shower screen when I slightly nudged it.

On the other hand, I was shocked, horrified, surprised and not at all delighted to see a cockroach sitting on the bathroom sink. Not as large as the big red one I saw at Jabiru but worse, because it was indoors. Waving its feelers in my direction. Sorry, but I have to admit, I washed it down the plughole when I washed my hands, and put the plug in the sink. I took some slow, deep breaths to calm myself down, hoping I’d get back to sleep very quickly.

I needed to go to the loo a second time but by now, it was 5:15am and very nearly time to get up anyway. So I turned the bathroom light on only to see the cockroach sitting on the floor. Laughing at me. How the heck did it escape? The plug was still in place. It must have come up through the overflow. I was taking my ease when it started moving towards me. I was quite philosophical when it was running about on the floor. But when it started its fast little jog up the outside of the toilet bowl, I screamed to myself, grabbed it with loo paper, and flushed it away. I don’t know what the ‘going to the toilet’ equivalent of coitus interruptus is, but that’s what happened.

No time to continue so I washed my hands. I released the sink plug and immediately, out popped the original cockroach, looking around like an Alien. Giving me the finger. Swear words echoed around but only inside my head as Liesel wasn’t quite awake yet. I grabbed it with loo paper and flushed it away to join its twin.

I have no idea how many cockroaches we’re sharing the house with but I hope none of them stow away in our bags when we leave.

Not a big problem really. This is the Northern Territory, where every conceivable environmental niche is probably inhabited by bugs of one kind or another. That’s what makes it such a fascinating place. Not just the bugs themselves, but the bigger animals that prey on them.

All together now: Good night, sleep well, don ‘t have nightmares.

To Katherine

The next day was spent mainly in the Lodge area, or Resort. We didn’t make it to either of the open air pools, despite assurances that there are no crocodiles lurking there.

A late afternoon walk saw me heading towards the river.

Road to the river

As I walked further along the road, I realised that if I kept going, I’d be able to walk right into trouble. This was the boat launch road. I scrambled up the rocks to reach the path supposed to be used by pedestrians such as myself. I couldn’t walk onto the jetty at the end as the gate was locked.

No boats

Interestingly, this sign tells us we can’t use boats in this protected part of the South Alligator River. So instead, I just took some photos of all the interesting wildlife I could find. Which amounted to some green ants.

Ants

Nothing else was stirring apart from a few remote birds. And the crew unloading some scaffolding from a lorry.

Another day on the road and some of the dead straight highway was a bit monotonous. Yes, we were looking out for wildlife all the time, but it was the trees that attracted most of our attention.

We did see some galahs on the road, but they didn’t want to come and say hello. Galahs? Well, we think so, but darker pink and darker grey than we usually see.

Bobo, galah in flight

A dingo also disappeared as soon as we slowed down and showed interest in it. This one wasn’t as well fed as the one we saw a couple of days ago.

Bobo, dingo in retreat

There were plenty of sea eagles and kites flying by too.

Kite

The landscape is fascinating: we both regret not pursuing geology more assiduously in the past. Liesel took a unit as her science at school, and I didn’t follow up on the Open University course all those years ago. Btw, this fabulous institution has just celebrated its 50th anniversary, so, happy birthday to you, OU.

Looking up, behind the trees and the birds, the clouds are a constantly changing, ever entertaining white-on-blue Rorschach test.

Strange clouds

Down below, blackened leaf and plant litter hinted at recent fires. There were miles of ashes, some still smouldering. In places, very small, presumably new, termite mounds were under construction.

Smouldering and blackened

We assume that if the authorities aren’t concerned about us driving by such hot spots, then we shouldn’t be, either. Some trees were singed, but most seemed to be totally unharmed.

There were piles of boulders here and there too, and the road seemed to wind between them. Maybe they are part of the Aboriginal story: they certainly do use rocks to mark the passing of a loved one.

We witnessed a kite playing chicken.

Why did the kite cross the road?

We won: it flew off into the safety of the canopy, well above the smoke and soot.

More fire damage

We missed out on a couple of diversions because the roads were closed. The termite mounds still astound us and they seem to be a darker colour here, south of Cooinda, approaching Pine Creek.

More termite mounds

The marsh grass is unusually high: normally, during the ‘knock ’em down’ monsoon season, it’s flattened. The tree density varied a lot too. Sometimes, the trees were very densely packed on one side of the road while on the other, they each had a lot more space. We couldn’t work out why that should be, there was no evidence of logging in this area. We were still, just, inside Kakadu National Park.

Thud! A stone thrown up by a passing campervan made us jump but, thank goodness, it didn’t crack the windscreen.

Termites aren’t the only makers of mounds. We saw other mounds on the road itself. Big, big mounds. We decided it could only be buffalo scat. And so much of it.

Rental car eclipsed by a buffalo turd

And so we drove out of the National Park. Bobo, Kakadu: this strange word means ‘see ya later’ in the local Jawoyn language. And yes, we do hope to come back.

A quick pit-stop at Mary River Roadhouse for coffee and bickies. I was headed for the dunny outside when the man cleaning the windows said I should use the nice one inside, this one’s for bus parties.

Shut the door!

Yes, I made sure the door was closed when I’d finished. I was tempted to buy some new protective footwear but they didn’t have my size.

Territory safety boots

Soon after this roadhouse, we saw signs for a golf course. In the middle of nowhere. I would have played a round but the irons were too hot to handle and the woods had been nibbled by termites.

We followed the mile markers most of the way to Pine Creek. PC 90. PC 80 etc. I was hoping to see the one with 31 km to go, because then I could take a photo and sing “PC 31 said ‘we’ve caught a dirty one'”, but they only counted down in tens. And now of course I can’t get Maxwell’s Silver Hammer out of my head, do-doo do-doo do.

I tried to help this butterfly off the hot road surface, but it really didn’t want to leave.

Why did the butterfly keep returning to the road?

We drove parallel to the Ghan railway line for a long time and we talked about it, one of the great train journeys of the world. We’d not booked tickets on the grounds of cost, but again we wondered if that was the right decision?

I’d ridden on The Ghan from Alice Springs to Adelaide over 16 years ago and it was OK, but I’d gone cheap, no sleeper compartment for me. So I slept in my seat and I still remember the disappointment at sunrise when the landscape looked exactly the same as it had before sunset the night before.That, plus they didn’t have any proper food on offer. I believe the service is much better now, but you pay a lot for it too.

We pulled off the road into a ‘picnic area’. We watched galahs and a couple of other, magpie-like birds but mainly, we had just parked on a ginormous anthill.

I walked around for a while and saw evidence of large animals having walked through the long grass. When I realised I was just a few feet away from the creek, I made a hasty retreat.

Flattened, bent grass
The perfect spot for crocodiles to lie in wait for a buffalo

And still no kangaroos or wallabies! But at least the trees aren’t going anywhere and some of them really are archetypal Northern Territory and beautiful.

NT tree not an ent

Today, we did see our first road-train. And the second close behind. By the end of our trip today, we’d seen several. Three trailers is impressive enough, but the drivers with three tankers in tow are amazing.

Just before Katherine, The Ghan train passed us by on the left and then crossed under our road.

The Ghan overtaking us

There was no way we could catch it up, but I thought we could go to the railway station and look at it there.

It’s a weekly service from Darwin to Adelaide, the journey takes 54 hours with a long break in Alice Springs. Weekly. So how lucky were we to see this train? It almost made up for the fact that we’d seen no marsupials on the road!

The Ghan at the station

We caught up with it at the station just as it was departing, so we had no opportunity for a proper close-up look.

Katherine Information Centre provided us with some information. Woolworths provided us with some food. We drove to our new Airbnb, settled in and Liesel did some laundry while I caught up with online stuff because, yippee, we have 4G and wifi as well. Well, partly yippee, but partly, what a pity!

We call it Highway 1 but some signs name it A1.

A1 sign

And it’s just like the A1 at home except… it’s totally different,

We have a microwave so we had a delicious warm meal, thanks, Liesel.

Our host, Toni, is a photographer and a writer. I’ve downloaded her first book, A Sunburnt Childhood, onto my Kindle. She was raised on Killarney Station, which is bigger than Luxembourg. Almost a year ago, we were in Ireland, visiting the original Killarney. That seems a long time ago now!

It’s been a while since the last music update, in which we share the music we’ve been listening to on the road. If you’re not interested in the soundtrack to our travels, then you’ll miss nothing if you stop reading… now.

Connecting my phone to the Bluetooth in the hire car from Darwin was so much more straightforward than in a couple of other vehicles we’ve had. To recap, we’re playing all the tracks on my phone, in alphabetical order by song title. This is beacuse the so-called random shuffle isn’t random: it has its favourites and it refuses to ever play some songs or indeed any songs by some artistes.

We picked up from where we left off: Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd, the full 18 minute version.

It took a week to reach the end of songs beginning with S, but there were some wonderful juxtapositions on the way.

There are a couple of albums where many of the tracks were yet to appear, even this late in the alphabet. 5 out of the 6 tracks on “Station to Station” by David Bowie for instance. 5 out of the 11 tracks on “Great Expectations” by Tasmin Archer are still further along the alphabet. (Hello, Tasmin!)

We heard three versions of Sound and Vision by David Bowie, all different. There are two versions of Space Oddity, neither by David Bowie, in this, the song’s 50th anniversary year. Space Oddity is the same age as the Open University: wow!

We heard seven songs with ‘Song’ as the first word of the title.

Sleeping in Paris by Rosanne Cash was followed by Tasmin’s Sleeping Satellite.

Something Awesome, Something Good and Something Good to Show You were a fascinating trilogy.

In general, we noticed just how many of David Bowie’s songs start with an S. I think we had four in a row at one point, not necessarily all performed by him.

Neil Diamond and Ian Dury are an unlikely pairing, but where else would you hear Sweet Caroline followed by Sweet Gene Vincent, except on my phone?

And if that’s not enough sweetness, how about Sweet Memories by Rosanne then Sweet Sweet Memories by Paul McCartney?

A big cheer was cheered as the Ts, finally, began, a whole week after we’d picked up the car. Take me Home, Country Roads and Take my Hand, Precious Lord are totally different songs even if the titles have the same rhythm. That’s Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and Ladysmith Black Mambazo respectively.

The Bloke Who Serves the Beer followed The Bewlay Brothers: Slim Dusty followed David Bowie.

And there are many more songs whose title begins with the definite article. I hope you’ve been taking notes because I may ask questions later. That’s all for now, folks!

Darwin

Liesel managed to sleep on the flight to Darwin, but I just couldn’t get comfortable enough. It was a shorter flight than anticipated though: I’d forgotten about the 90 minute time difference between here and Singapore. Bonus! Ah, but arriving at 5am isn’t so good. We’d booked a hire care for 8am, that being the earliest available on the online booking form dropdown list, but a member of staff arrived soon after 6.30, so we weren’t hanging around for too long. Double bonus!! Passing time, walking around the airport, I did find a coffee shop and so I was able to caffeine myself up a bit. Triple bonus!!!

Mick’s earworm today is courtesy of one of his old Biology teachers. Martin Hyman was trying to explain the origin of species by natural selection. I’m sure it was interesting, but the only thing that stuck was his frequent recital of ‘♫ Charlie is my Darwin, my Darwin, my Darwin♪’.

We weren’t able to check in to our Airbnb until 2pm and we both just wanted to sleeeep. Instead, we drove to East Point, away from the city centre.

Crocodile danger

This is crocodile country and we were on full alert. As I told Liesel, if we encounter a croc in the wild, as with bears in Alaska, you don’t have to run faster than the predator, you just have to run faster than your companion!

Hello wallaby

The wallabies were cute but very wary of people, and quite right too. I tried to creep a little closer, but 100 feet seems to be the limit of their comfort zone.

I said hello to the horses as well, but they walked away in a huff as I had no food for them.

What a big bug
Probably a different big bug, to be honest

There were big bugs flying around, really big, and interesting but very reluctant to sit still while I studied them. We later decided they were dragonflies: big, fat, Aussie dragonflies.

The Darwin Military Museum is here too, we walked by some of the buildings. I had a quick look at the beach, but didn’t venture down on this occasion. The one fisherman seemed to be having a good time. But this is saltwater crocodile country. You wouldn’t catch me out there with only a thin, flexible stick as a weapon. By which, I mean, that even if I enjoyed fishing, that is one place I wouldn’t do it from.

Gone fishin’

It was good to see so many people using the off-road track too, walking, running or cycling. I exchanged a few ‘hello’s and ‘g’day’s. I spent too long making sure those apostrophes are in the right place.

Very pretty but like most Aussie things, probably out to get ya
A gorgeous, gnarly, old, white gum tree

What a lovely spot, such a contrast to the h&b of Singapore.

Possibly a termite mound, maybe a hoax

There were a few of these, too. In the publicity photos from Northern Territory Tourist Board, the termite mounds are all about eight feet tall. This might be a small one, but I didn’t want to poke it and have hundreds of angry termites gnashing at my be-sandalled feet.

The water pipeline here in Darwin is much more visually appealing than the oil pipeline in Alaska.

Big water pipe

A message came through: we could go to our Airbnb early if we coughed up some cash for the airconditioner being turned on. That’s a deal! And what a welcome!

Welcome, Liesel and Mick, with your antics

After a quick nap, we went shopping. Let me rephrase that. Liesel went shopping while I went for a walk around town. It was hot, yes, but nowhere near as humid as we’ve become accustomed to. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

The Bicentennial Park area was cordoned off as they are implementing a Smart Lighting Upgrade. But I did find the site of the ANZAC Day Dawn Service, by the War Memorial.

ANZAC Centenary Memorial Garden Polar Sundial 2015
Lest we forget
Ibis aka bin chicken

The sky is blue, really, gorgeous, cerulean, azure, aquamarine blue. It’s been painted by a child, you can tell by the fluffy white clouds.

Blue sky, wide sky

Darwin Memorial Uniting Church was decorated from the same palette of colours.

Darwin Memorial Uniting Church

For our first home-cooked meal in quite a while, Liesel provided veggie burgers. Very nice, very tasty, thank you! At the end of a long day, an early night in bed was called for and I was in the land of nod before reading a whole sentence in my book.

The Dawn Service would have been lovely, and moving, to attend, but we missed it. Sadly, we missed the Parade too but later on, we did see many sailors and other military personnel in town. I was saluted by a passer-by who mistook my sunhat and Hawaiian shirt for a naval uniform. Or, maybe she was just drunk.

Crocosaurus Cove seemed like a good place to visit: we’d be able to see real crocs and not have to run for our lives.

The middle section of a crocodile

We walked under a glass canopy and suddenly realised we were looking up at a crocodile. Well, a bit of a crocodile. It was huge. We knew they can be big but this one was ginormous, we couldn’t see either end, from below.

This hand belongs to a real, normal-size grown-up human. The croc’s claw is bigger than that.

A bit more croc and a human for scale

We still feel amphibious about animals being kept in captivity. All of the crocs here have a story, though. Some were injured, and some were just in the wrong place for too long and would probably have been killed for taking too many cattle or something. William, aka Houdini and Kate, aka Bess, have been a successfully mating couple for 20 years, which is unusual in reptilian circles, apparently. Since meeting Bess, Houdini has been happy here and has stopped trying to escape, the trait that gave him his first name. Yes, I mistakenly used the word ‘amphibious’ instead of ‘ambivalent’ just now, but I left it to see if anybody else notices.

A whole crocodile

A human has a bite force of 380 newtons, enough to bite through an apple, appropriately. Tyrannosaurus rex had a bite force of 18,200 newtons, probably enough to bite through an apple tree. A saltie, a saltwater crocodile has a bite force of 33,800 newtons. A demonstration of this force featured a large lump of ice being snapped by a mechanical crocodile jaw. Very loud and very violent.

Bite Force, big crunch
Lots of smaller crocs in this pool

For a fee, you can get in the water with a crocodile. Yes, you have to pay them, not the other way around. Too scary for Liesel and me, but we did enjoy watching one victim for a while. And, to be fair, she seemed to be enjoying the experience, being separated from the croc by a whole inch of toughened plastic.

Crocodile with girl in a plastic cylinder

On the other hand…

Beware Trespassers

During the day, there are several demonstrations by knowledgable staff. While one person feeds a crocodile from the other end of a long pole, a second person watches closely for signs of anger or antagonism from the animal. Growls, ear flaps opening, all are signs that it’s time to beat a hasty retreat.

Feeding a crocodile

The food seems to be mainly chickens with their feathers still attached. Loose feathers floating about: this is the real reason why Liesel and I didn’t want to get in the water.

There are other animals here too, fishes, stingrays, snakes, other lizards, some lifelike models. You can handle a blue-tongued lizard, although this one had a pink tongue. You can handle snakes too.

Black-headed python

Again, it was great to see these creatures here and while it would be exciting to see them out in the wild, we don’t really want to. Or do we? What a conundrum.

Fierce snake not being fierce

The fierce snake, inland or western taipan is the most venomous snake in the world. The advice? Don’t get bitten!

Keep an Aussie reptile as a pet
Send more tourists!

We drove to Mindil Beach: we can’t hide from the Sun all day. It was time for a brisk walk on the beach and then to enjoy the sunset. We were delighted to encounter the Thursday night market here too, so much food to choose from, lots of arts and crafts to admire. And while it’s good to see any market being popular, we found it hard to cope with so many people here on this occasion.

Road Kill – for the carnivores
Lucky Cow – for the vegetarians

The good news is, the big dragonflies were in abundance here too, and a bit more cooperative this time.

Elusive dragonfly

An hour and a half until sunset and of course we had to try for a selfie. The bright Sun would be good in the background. Or its reflection in the water.

Selfie of the day

We walked to one end of the beach and I walked all the way to the other end while Liesel went back to the market. The blurb says this beach is 500m long: I think it’s longer than that, it certainly took more than ten minutes to walk its length, and I wasn’t slacking. The Sun was bright and hot, but I toasted both sides of my body nicely so I’m not asymmetrical.

Looking north along Mindil Beach
Looking south along Mindil Beach

The countdown to sunset was on. With about half an hour to go, hundreds of people descended on to the beach.

Half an hour before sunset

Liesel sat down near the top of the beach while I went down nearly to the water’s edge, hoping for the best photo opportunity.

Where’s Liesel?

The sunset was gorgeous, as you’d expect, looking west, with no clouds on the horizon. There were a couple of small boats on the water: one of them would be a nice silhouette against the face of the Sun.

Yes, I adjusted the settings on the camera, and the pictures have been cropped but otherwise, there is no trickery here.

What a big audience
The boat’s so close…

Show’s over for another day

If you enjoyed seeing these pictures and spontaneously broke into a round of applause, you are not alone. The crowd on the beach clapped the Sun as it disappeared below the horizon and if I weren’t so British and restrained and refined, I may well have joined in.

Our final full day in Darwin wasn’t as active. We took advantage of a rest day, as we’ll be on the road for the next few weeks.

Another quick walk at East Point and in the city centre was very pleasant. Not so much wildlife this time, in either venue.

East Point beach, hot, deserty, deserted
Poster designed by René Magritte on a recent trip
Rainbow crosswalk in Darwin

For a brief few moments in the 1990s, Sarah and I were related to Charles Darwin. Sarah directly and me by marriage. Still, quite exciting news. Which was immediately followed up with “Oh no, not Charles Darwin, it was Charles somebody else”.

As I write, it’s the anniversary of my Mum’s departure from this beautiful Earth. One lazy Sunday afternoon in the mid to late 1960s, my sister Pauline, Mum and I were watching a grainy old black and white TV set. Dad was in bed having his regular Sunday afternoon nap. There was a programme on about pineapple growers in Darwin. Mum and Pauline decided that that’s what they were going to do: move to Darwin and grow pineapples. “Can I come, too?” I remember asking. Neither Pauline nor I can remember the response. I was reminded of this incident when we saw pineapples being sold at the sunset market yesterday.

Pineapples from Darwin, for Darwin

I’m just sorry Mum never had the chance to visit Darwin. Never mind the pineapples, she would have loved the cuddly dragonflies.

Cute dragonfly on the fridge

Kota Bharu (Part 2)

Admin is a fact of life, even in exotic locations. We took a couple of days out, messing about with the phone, booking flights and accommodation for later on, processing a pile of paperwork and discarding most of it. This post completes our stay in Kota Bharu but the next one may be delayed: we have limited wifi, restricted 4G, dodgy electric supply and who knows what other resources may be lacking? But that’s in the future, here is the recent past.

The State Museum’s new exhibit is now open. It’s a time tunnel comparing Kota Bharu old and new, then and now. Unusually for a museum exhibit, this one had more photographs than actual items to look at.

Billion Shopping Mall, then and now

One thing I did like was the old, well-used typewriter, with a very wide carriage.

Very old typewriter

This painting adorned one wall but there was no descriptive label.

An old Malay karaoke, I’m guessing

A couple of men were walking around the museum with a handful of labels but they’d either forgotten the sticky tape, or they really didn’t know which label belonged to which item. I could have told them, obviously, but not while keeping a straight face.

The ploughing equipment was all made from wood. The plough itself, also wood, is pulled by a buffalo.

Ploughing implements

Believe it or not, this small cave is a mock-up of the real Gua Cha, the site of a 10,000 year old settlement. We didn’t know if we were allowed in, but as I approached, the lights came on, and we were totally awed by the 10,000 year old technology.

Gua Cha

We’d missed out on seeing a local, wayang, shadow puppet show, so it was interesting to see examples of the puppets here.

Wayang shadow puppets

Very simple design, you don’t need much detail if you’re just projecting shadows onto the screen.

We walked to a local market and stopped for a coffee in Muhiba Restoran and Kafe. The temperature was 34° but it felt like 41° according to the weather app. I think we’d have guessed a higher number, just comparing it to what we experienced at Uluru.

The market was huge. We liked the fabrics that were on display, all very colourful.

Beautiful designs

We weren’t so keen on the food stalls. The fruit and veg was a bit smelly, the fish stalls a bit stinky. We turned a corner and walked into a wall of stench. We saw the meat being hacked and cut up and I’ve never seen so much blood. We reversed PDQ trying not to let our abject disgust show on our now even more pasty white faces. We didn’t need to walk in and witness an abattoir. Definitely a lowlight of our travels.

But the hanging cloth was pretty, hiding a grubby little alleyway.

Hanging cloths

We walked back to the hotel, still expressing disbelief at each other: how can people even eat meat? How can people bear to work in that sort of place? And a hundred and one other variations on “yuck, that was horrible”.

Very grateful that we didn’t have nightmares.

I woke up early but feeling lethargic and yet itchy for exercise. We had breakfast just in time, before they closed up shop at 10.30. The Kelentan River isn’t that far away and I decided to go for a quick walk in that direction. The temperature was lower than yesterday, and it was overcast, so, slightly less uncomfortable.

Crossing the roads is a fine art. You learn to select the narrower ones, with only two lanes instead of four. One-way streets should be easy, but motorcyclists use the footpaths willy-nilly, so they’re not bothered about going the wrong way up a one-way street either. You still have to look in both directions before crossing your fingers, closing your eyes and running across.

The trouble is, when you open your eyes again, you see this sort of rubbish. Literally.

Rubbish

Plastic drinks bottles are all over the place. It’s very sad to see but as Stephen said the other day, the Malays and the Chinese just don’t care about nature or the environment.

Sorry to say, Kota Bharu isn’t as interesting a town to wander around as some others, at least, not the area close to our hotel. The other day when we drove across the bridge, the river looked like melted milk chocolate. Today, it was more the colour of Caramac, and I can say now that it tasted of neither.

Kelantan River

I looked around and spotted a BBC. No, I am not referring to the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation. There was a big black cloud over there so I took the hint, and began traipsing back to the hotel.

Royal Pier Clock Tower

Some of the street art is fabulous. Here is a depiction of the local martial art, silat, some top spinners and a dragon being trained.

Street art

There’s not a lot of greenery here in Kota Bharu. The small patch of grass I did find to walk on was, let’s say, scratchy. It was like walking on upturned wire brushes. Thank goodness at least I had my sandals on. But I did smile at the attempt to replicate the Batman logo on this decorative arch.

Not really Batman
Clock Tower on Clock Tower Roundabout
Our hotel from beyond the football field

On my return to the hotel, I went to the gym. No, that’s not a typo. I used the hotel’s gym, aiming to complete my 10,000 steps on the treadmill. 2 km, 23 minutes later, mission accomplished. My heart rate increased of course, but never to the point of discomfort: that sense of breathlessness that sometimes occurs at the slightest hint of exercise. I felt I could have carried on all day, but walking on a treadmill is a bit boring, to be honest.

From the treadmill, I could see what we think are the only other two white people in residence right now. He was wearing a one-piece swinsuit, she was wearing a very teeny bikini. Even I know it’s not appropriate in this particular place to flash that much flesh.

The shower was very welcome and I feel much better now, thanks. It’s still warm, even with the AC on in the room, but hopefully the sense of lethargy and weariness has been hit on the head, for now.

We’ve realised that another thing that makes it hard to wander round this town is seeing the poverty. The Grab cab fares are ridiculously low by our standards, and restaurant prices are too. I’ve been tipping, but I’m not sure that’s common here in Malaysia. I hope I’m not giving off vibes, flaunting my wealth: but the alternative is to not tip when I’m expected to, then I’m a stingy westerner.

In the afternoon, we went to the Community Centre for some local entertainment. Our friend Roselan was the MC. In the audience was a young German couple and that’s about it. But the entertainment was very good.

The drumming was fun and they even let Liesel have a go. She’s got rhythm, that girl.

Big drums, big sound

When I first heard the oboe, I thought the player must have a bag of wind, similar to bagpipes, but it seems he was circular breathing, like didgeridoo players do. There was never a pause in the flow of music.

Oboeplayerneverpauses

The local, Kelantanese martial art, silat, is similar to tai chi. During the display, the two players move slowly and with purpose, but as time went on and the music became faster and more insistent, they engaged in combat. It made us jump back when they moved in our direction.

Silat display

A long, long time ago, Sarah and I acquired a board game and I’d forgotten its name. The wooden board had several holes in it, a large one at each end and a series of six or seven smaller ones along each of the long sides. We had small sea-shells as playing pieces. Unfortunately, the instructions weren’t explicit enough, and we could never make up a good game. So how exciting to, finally, be able to play the game called congkak here in Malaysia. I think our (long gone) game was called Sungka, from the Philippines.

A couple of young muslim women showed us how to play, then invited the German girl to take over and later on, I started playing. We used marbles rather than sea-shells but at last, I think I know what I’m doing!

Congkak game

Top spinning is something I thought I’d find easy. Not these tops. They’re wooden, the rope is wound tight, looped round your wrist and you fling the top, it spins for a long time. Hah.

Someone good at spinning tops

Once a top is spinning in the correct area, a second player tries to knock it over with his own top. Hence the name, Striking Tops. I had several attempts but never succeeded in spinning a top, but it was good fun trying.

Someone no good at spinning tops

More fun than the other activity I was invited to join. Dancing. I can’t dance. I can pick up a rhythm, tap my foot, drum on a table, but I can not dance. The video is embarrassing. Everyone else is totally out of step with me.

Mick can’t dance, either

It was a fun afternoon. We looked at the artists painting lovely flowers, but we resisted the temptation to buy.

We managed to see and speak to Martha on this, her third birthday. The theme this year is Unicorns. She is fascinated by them and we can’t wait to see her in real life, dressed up as a unicorn, cuddling a toy unicorn, having riding lessons on a real unicorn.

We made one more trip to the Aeon shopping mall, to buy some supplies for next week. I would have picked eight discs, but we don’t have a record player and the island we’re going to isn’t a desert island. We dined in Vivo. Next, we’ll eat out of petri dishes, in Vitro.

Breakfast at the hotel has been good. I’ve avoided some items because I don’t know what they are. There’s a rice dish, nasi kerabu, which is a gorgeous colour blue. But I didn’t know if it was blueberries (OK) or squid ink (not OK) giving it that colour. So we looked it up.

Nasi kerabu is a Malay rice dish, a type of nasi ulam, in which blue-coloured rice is eaten with dried fish or fried chicken, crackers, pickles and other salads. The blue color of the rice comes from the petals of …. whaaaattt? Who knew such a plant existed. And how lucky that it was found in the first place.

Sky High in KL

We’re staying in a complex here in Kuala Lumpur that includes a Creativity Hub. It could be a shopping mall but good for them, there are several ‘shops’ where people display their artistic wares and crafts instead. In the foyer, we found a diorama, a detailed model of somewhere south of Melaka, I think.

Model Malaysia

The sky is a lovely shade of blue which adds to the authenticity.

KL Forest Eco Park gave us an opportunity to walk about outside for a bit. I lost count of the number of stairs. Come to think of it, I even lost count of the number of flights of stairs we had to climb in order to reach the canopy walk itself.

Boat lily (I think)

High up in the canopy, the heat was just as intense, despite the shade, but the noise from the city was slightly dampened. I can’t work out why it seems so loud in this city, more motorbikes, yes, but traffic is traffic.

Canopy walk and one of its towers
Typical cityscape seen from the canopy

After climbing all those stairs, it was a delight to discover that we didn’t have to backtrack and climb down. And neither did we we have to climb down at the other end. We exited the eco park at just the right place, very close to the Kuala Lumpur Tower.

KL Tower seen from the canopy

What a shame we won’t be here on April 21st. Every year, there’s a running race up KL Tower’s 2058 stairs. I’d be up for that. I conquered BT Tower’s 1000 steps a couple of years ago, no problem. (In the end, there were only 870, sorry but thanks if you sponsored me: we were all short-changed!)

A challenge that we’ll miss

We bought tickets for the highest possible observation deck, the Sky Deck. In a world first, Liesel got a senior ticket. By mistake, I hasten to add.

As an aside, usually in restaurants, the waiters take a moment to understand that we both want to order the same item. I don’t know if we have funny accents, or their English is nearly as bad as ours, or if it’s really unusual in Malaysia for two people in a party of two to both order the same thing. Lots of questioning, checking, double takes. We get what we ordered, but the ordering process is unnecessarily troublesome. Here, at KL Tower, surpringly, “one adult and one senior” was interpreted as “two seniors”. Much to Liesel’s chagrin and my delight!

There are four lifts in KL Tower, one of which was out of order, so we waited a while before being transported up 300 metres to the Sky Deck. In a lift with 21 other people. After the 54 seconds ascent, it was a relief to be able to breathe again.

The view over the city was good, just a bit hazy so hard to see the hills in the distance.

Petronas Twin Towers

I was surprised to see that the Petronas Twin Towers appeared to be just a little taller than the KL Tower itself.

Our tickets also included a Sky Box. I don’t know why they thought we needed a device to receive digital television broadcasts from the Astra satellite at 28.2°E, but that was just a misunderstanding. Here, the Sky Box is a glass box that overhangs the observation deck. You can walk on it, sit on it and have your photo taken on it. Nope. Palms are sweaty enough already, thanks very much.

Eeeek Sky Box

Another surprise as we walked around the Sky Deck, edging past not one but two Sky Boxes, was spotting another pair of Petronas Towers. Who knew?

Petronas Towers

Palms sweaty enough already, did I say? Imagine staying at Platinum, going for a swim, and getting out of the wrong side of the pool.

The palm-sweatingly placed Platinum pool

Back down on planet Earth, we found our way to St Mary’s Cathedral. It started off as a cute little wooden church, and it is still expanding. It’s not big nor highly decorated but we were entertained by the organist for a while, in the cool. I recognised the tune he was playing, but couldn’t quite remember who wrote it. Bach? Maybe. Definitely not Vengaboys, thanks, Shazam! The pipe organ was built for the church in 1895 by Henry Willis who also made the organ for St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the original Grand Organ of the Royal Albert Hall.

St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral

It was a short walk to Dataran Merdeka, Independence Square. We didn’t see it at its best, due to building works. But next to the square is an early example of Moghul architecture in Malaysia. Known as Sultan Abdul Samad Building, it now houses a couple of government ministries. But just along the road is the National Textile Museum and this was our next respite from the heat outside.

The magnificent Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Nicely decorated lampposts

We would love to be able to go for a long walk around the city, but we are, let’s be honest, wimps, and the heat is just too much. Added to which, every time you survive crossing the road is a bonus, just ridiculously stressful. But we enjoy museums, and this one especially is right up Liesel’s street.

Examples of Batik

We discovered how batik is done: there are many more stages than we thought. Not something you can easily knock up at home.

There was some lovely jewellery here too. Here’s a preview of Liesel’s birthday present.

Ear studs

Round gold earrings with a central star design and studded with roughly-cut colourless stones. They were worn by Malay and Nyonya women in Melaka during the 1940s.

Not convinced by the Malaysian remake of Doctor Who

The Grab app to grab a cab works really well and the drivers are all very skilled at negotiating the traffic, the motorbikes, the jay-walking visitors, ahem. But there’s a competition to see who can have the most impaired view through the windscreen.

Are we there yet? How would I know, I can’t see a thing!

Stickers plus religious artefacts plus mobile phone plus everyday dirt all add to the adventure.

The National Museum of Malaysia repeats a lot of the history we’ve seen elsewhere. I feel so proud that the British came along to save the locals from the clutches of Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch invaders. Independence Day in 1965 is still a cause for great celebration. Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

Grand entrance to the National Museum

What a lot of stairs to climb up to enter the museum. You think that’s bad enough? Wait until you see the stairs you have to walk up to access the disabled toilet!

Grand entrance to the disabled toilets

Pengkalan Kempas is near Port Dickson and is the source of these monoliths: carved granite, known as “sword” and “rudder”, found near the grave of a sheik who died in 1467.

Two carved granite monoliths

There were more royal seals here, and to pretend they’re older than they really are, the dates are given using the Islamic calendar. This is the seal of Sultan Omar Ibni Sultan Ahmed, 1286 AH.

Seal of authenticity

1286 AH is 1869 AD, more or less.

Kris handle from Bali

The 100-year old Balinese Kris is a dagger, a weapon, but the workmanship of the handle is stunning. The hilt is in the form of a squatting Hindu deity with a decorative copper ring at the base.

The ceramic plate has a colourful geometric design, definitely Islamic influence here.

Just like our Sunday best dinner service at home

Would I like a new pair of slippers for Christmas? Yes, if they’re as cute as these ones.

Comfy slippers

There’s a lot of history here in Malaysia, and as we discussed, Liesel and me, we’re so disappointed that none of this was taught us at school. Certainly my history lessons mainly involved the lives of the kings and queens of England. The East India Company was mentioned but only as a Great, British enterprise to be proud of. We were totally oblivious to other cultures, overseas, at that time.

So when we’re reading descriptions of the items on display, and reading stories, there are always references to people and places that are meaningless to us. The overall impression we have though, is that Chinese, Indians, Malays, all the various peoples in the region traded with each other, and all got along pretty well. Some people converted to Islam, some didn’t, there was no big falling out. Until the Europeans came along, maybe just to trade at first, but then to take over, to invade, to conquer.

It’s interesting to see how successfully Malaysia is managing, in its multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual ways. I’m sure there is an element of racism in some places, but it’s not as overt as it is in little England right now. Here’s funny thing: you have to read it.

Ancestral Origins of the Rulers of Melaka

So, Bat came from a cow’s vomit? I thought that was just Nigel Farage!

It’s time for Conundrum of the Day. The universal sign for a restaurant or a café seems to be an icon depicting a knife and fork.

Signs of the times

But in Malaysia, in a restaurant, you’re usually given a spoon and fork to eat with. I use the spoon as if it were a knife, to cut and to push the food. We sometimes do get a knife and fork, but rarely. And there was that one time when I was given a fork and fork by mistake. Strangely, we’ve never been offered chopsticks, not even in Chinese places. Explain that!

The Mid Valley Megamall is as big and as bad as it sounds. It’s a short distance from the museum but the cab took ages to fight its way through the traffic.

While inside the mall, we missed the rainstorm. But we did walk up and down, miles and miles of shops, even though we had no intention of buying anything. Nice to see a ToysЯUs and a Mothercare, even though supposedly, both have gone out of business.

I did look in the bookshop for a Slitherlink Puzzle book, to no avail. Meanwhile, Liesel was walking around the furniture shoppe testing out the chairs (quite right too).

Every now and then, we detected the slight stench of durian, not very strong, but we were surprised they were allowed to sell such things in a mega mall. Liesel wondered why I was taking so many photos inside a shopping arcade. Well, this portrait was specially requested, even though M&S Foodhall didn’t have anything we required.

Liesel and Marks & Spencer

But the other pictures can provide plenty of fuel the next time your favourite radio presenter asks you to build a person out of shops’ names.

The Body Parts Shoppes

Yes, I did make one of them up!

And then, very nearly a disaster. I received a message from the service provider telling me that I’d nearly used up all my allocation of data! Not only that, my phone was down to less than 20% charge. There was a very real possibility that I might not be able to Grab a cab to get home. Luckily, I squeezed out enough bandwidth and energy, and we didn’t have to walk all the way back to our residence.

But we did walk home from the vegetarian restaurant where we had a nice meal, apart from the mushrooms that were made from leather so not totally vegetarian at all.

There must be something strange in the food here. If you’re not bovvered by other people’s dreams, you are permitted to leave the room here and now.

I was thinking about riding my bike to school. I remembered doing so before (I never did in real life) avoiding the main road, the A3100, but riding a road parallel to it. (There isn’t one IRL.) But as I was about to set off, I realised that I would never get up Holloway Hill in Godalming on the old 3-speed postman’s bike. (Holloway Hill is long and steep and they’ve now installed handrails on the steepest part, IRL.) This was on a Thursday and I knew that Friday would be my last day of school so I parked the postman’s bike by the house over the road (from my childhood home) and caught the bus to school as usual.

The sense of relief on waking up almost brought tears to my eyes. No school, no postman’s bike, phew.