A day in Katherine

Here’s another one of those days that took a while to get us moving. The Sun rose on time, I’m sure, and the birds welcomed it with their song. But that was hours in the past by the time Liesel and I stirred our stumps. Tea and toast for breakfast followed by a drive to Cutta-Cutta Caves.

Welcome to Cutta-Cutta Cave

The first European to discover this cave was a stockman, Mr Smith, so for a while, it was known as Smith’s Cave. He’d noticed some of his cattle had gone missing, and he found them by the cave. They’d probably smelt the water.

There are five species of bats living here, and we saw a couple fly by very quickly: probably too early in the day for them, too.

It’s full of stars

Some of the calcium carbonate glistens giving the impression of stars, which gives the cave its name Cutta-Cutta. At sunset, the bats take these star out of the cave and place them in the sky so thay can more easily find their food. Then, as the Sun rises, they take the stars back into the cave. A lovely Dreamtime story from our guide.

We saw stalactites and stalagmites, columns and other formations.

Stalactites and column

During World War 2, many local servicemen came into the cave and shot up the structures that had taken millions of years to grow. The guns were so loud, they deafened themselves, thus qualifying for medical discharge. Some of the newer stalactites have only been growing for about 70 years so they’re very delicate right now.

Baby 70-year old ‘tites

Along with the whole of the Katherine region, this cave was flooded in 1998. The water caused a lot of damage but most of the formations survived. This structure on the ground, ‘oyster shell’, is very delicate and is likely to be destroyed the next time water comes flooding through.

Very delicate structure

A couple of people told us that the recent Wet season was relatively dry: a cyclone took all the water away, so the story goes.

There are tree snakes in the cave too, although we saw only a clutch of recently laid eggs. We saw spiders’ webs and some of the other guests saw spiders, but we didn’t.

A rock wallaby lives in the entrance to the cave, and it’s a sub-species with feet specially adapted to be able to cope with the slippery limestone floor. Hmmm, another mistruth for the visitor?

Tree roots can be seen hanging from the roof – even roots of trees that have been burned above ground level. These roots will eventually petrify, become calcified, and be the starting point for new stalactites, perhaps.

Tree root absorbing moisture

It was a much shorter walk in the cave than some of the others we’ve visited, but, being a Tropical Cave, it was much warmer inside too. No sheltering from the heat here.

Afterwards, Liesel and I went on a short bush walk, admiring the trees and the rocks and the gravel and the termite mound with some twigs sticking out. And for a few minutes, we watched an ant struggling with a piece of grass five times its own length, trying to carry up the sheer cliff face of a step. An ant friend tried to help, but without success.

Hard-working ant defeated by a sheer wall

From ants to termites. I stopped to take a picture of a big termite mound city. Instead on one enormous mound, there are scores of smaller ones, but maybe in years to come, each one will be a magnificent eight-footer.

Termite City, NT

Katherine Museum closed at 4pm so we only had about 90 minutes left to explore it.

Nice buns, Mick

The town has a fascinating history and it seems a shame, in retrospect, that we spent a third of the 90 minutes watching an old TV programme about the infamous floods of 1998. Everybody lost just about everything as the Katherine River flooded up to a record-breaking twenty metres.

Dr Clyde Fenton was the local flying doctor, and his plane, Gypsy Moth, is on display at the Museum.

Gypsy Moth with ‘security detail’

We read about the ‘stolen generations’, the ‘half-caste’ children taken form their parents and brought up mainly by churches, Catholic, Methodist, they all had a hand in this travesty.

Ironically, one of the oldest-looking artefacts at this venue was the sign outside.

The battered Katherine Museum sign

Liesel drove back home while I walked along a path that took me pretty much to our front door. Not that Google Maps knew that, of course, it kept telling me to re-join and walk along the main road.

The community gardens were pleasant and I saw some ibises there doing whatever they like to do with their long, curved bills. I do like the Australian sense of humour, it doesn’t even stop at the gates of a cemetery.

Of course I love you. Now get me a beer.

I thought it important to make a pilgrimage to the actual river, thinking I’d be safe, there are no crocodiles in this neck of the woods.

Another croc warning

Was I wrong! Not one but two kinds of crocodile live in this area. I tiptoed back and up the steps to what I hoped was a safe distance.

From the old railway bridge, I could see the river in all its glory. It looked peaceful enough from this height.

Katherine River

There were some other passers-by on the path too, some very colourful specimens.

Purple hair burning rubber

The old steam engine was well decorated, not sure how official this artwork is. Still, better than boring old tags.

A 100-year old steam engine

Can you imagine what it must be like if you live with a stutter and you’re trying to tell a taxi driver that this is where you live?

Stutterd St

I arrived back at base literally dripping with sweat, from the heat and the exertion. But people of a squeamish nature should look away now because here comes today’s…

“Things I Didn’t Want Or Need To See, Thank You Very Much”

On the walk back from the museum, I passed a playing field which was fenced in all round. That’s not unusual, but the barbed wire along the top was, maybe. From a distance, I thought: oh no, even here, people hang their little black bags of dog mess on other people’s fences, that’s disgusting. But as I approached, the awful truth revealed itself.

Bats.

Dead bats.

Dead bats in various stages of decomposition. One corpse had a zillion flies buzzing round. At the other extreme, there was just the bare skeleton of what I think was a fruit bat, since the middle corpse still had some reddish fur. My guess is that they landed on the fence, got stuck in the barbs, and couldn’t get away.

Yucky bats. The sky’s pretty, though.

Good night. Sleep well. Don’t have nightmares.

Nourlangie and Yellow Water

It was a short stay in Jabiru but our next abode wasn’t too far down the road. We drove via Jabiru Town Centre, or Plaza, where we refuelled the car. The bakery shop was probably very good in its day, but it’s now closed down.

The Post Office proved useful. It’s late, but we posted the rest of Martha’s birthday present. We could get used to this slow, unhurried, leisurely pace of customer service, stopping to chat to all the local customers, trying to extract confidential information about an on-going case from the local cop, telling someone obviously known to the counter clerk that she couldn’t take away someone else’s packet without formal id. We bought a newspaper too and read it from cover to cover while waiting for the paperwork to be completed. Well, slight exaggeration. Then, to cap it all, the machine didn’t like my payment card.

As we drove along the road, we were on the lookout for wildlife of course. Our score? One kangaroo and two black cockatoos. Yes, we’re 99% sure they were black cockies but they flew away as soon as the car stopped.

Our first proper stop was for a walk to Nawurlandja Lookout. This harsh, rugged, rocky landscape was typical Northern Territory. Bare rocks but with lush vegetation breaking the monotony. Although ‘monotony’ isn’t the right word, really, the whole place is just fascinating.

Nawurlandja Lookout

The rocks reveal the course of flood water cascades during the Wet. Black algae grows where the water flows, then it dries out and leaves what looks like sooty stains when it’s dry.

Water was here

We admired the tenacity of one lone tree, surviving at all, and keeping lookout over the plains of Kakadu, towards Anbangbang Billabong.

The lone tree

The escarpment way over there would be a challenging climb, but not for us, not today. We proceeded up as far as we were allowed to go on this Lookout, the breeze cooling us down as we gained altitude. It felt more humid today than it has for a while, and this was confirmed by a local, later in the day.

Nourlangie Escarpment (I think)

Big. That’s the word. Big environment, big place, big country.

Where’s Liesel?

And it’s not just the landscape that is too big to comprehend. Some big rocks are standing and there is no obvious explanation for how they arrived where they are.

A standing stone

Rocks, green grass and other plants and again, just the rare, odd splash of red.

A dash of red

We were going to walk to Anbangbang Billabong but the path was closed. Probably flood water or maybe a muddy path, we surmised.

Seasonal closure

A shame to miss it but there was plenty more to see. You can add Kakadu to the list of places where we’ll never spend enough time.

And if there wasn’t enough to worry about, snakes, spiders, crocodiles, floods, mosquitoes, we also have to take care to avoid Heat Illness.

Heat Illness

One litre of water per person per hour while exercising outside is recommended, but that’s a lot of water to carry around, so this limited the distance of any hikes we planned to do. But, if we come back…

My new favourite place name is Nourlangie. It, like the word ‘favourite’ itself, contains all five vowels. We went for a short hike here, to see more rock art.

Kangaroo

The escarpment was much closer now, but still, too much of a climb for us.

There’s no escaping the escarpment

A lot of the artwork was painted on walls underneath overhanging rocks, so sheltered a bit from the elements. When an overhanging rock looks dangerous, they prop it up with the thinnest tree trunk they can find.

Holding up well

Or maybe that was just put there for comedic effect, a lie to tell tourists.

I feel so proud of the Europeans that came here and tried to civilise the natives.

Hooray, we gave guns to the Aboriginal people

I wonder if, like the Maori, the Aboriginal clans were given firearms if they converted to Christianity? Or, at least, pretended to?

Dancing is a big part of ceremonial occasions, and is depicted in many paintings.

John, I’m only dancing
Now there’s a story

Some paintings have been altered, against Aborginal conventions, probably for whitepellas’ sensibilities. But the old stories are still being told. Namarndjolg eventually became Ginga, the estuarine or saltwater crocodile.

Today, the Gunwarrdehwarrdeh Lookout walk was a more practical option for us than the 12 km Barrk Walk, fabulous though that would undoubtedly be.

It’s a Lookout, the clue is in its name, so why am I still surprised by a stunning view?

Narmandjolg’s Feather

Namanjolg’s Feather is a small rock perched high up. It’s the feather that his sister took from his headdress after they had broken the incest laws. She placed it here to show what she had done. Later, she became the Rainbow Serpent. Even on the sign depicting the story, the poor fella’s name is spelt two different ways. As if he wasn’t suffering enough already by having a boulder in his hat, euphemistically referred to as a feather.

Selfie of the day

Later on, we passed a gorgeous little billabong, and Liesel requested this photo, taken from a low angle, presumably so that the croc wouldn’t have to jump so high to eat me.

Reflective, peaceful billabong

Other than a few insects, we saw no animals here, but I did hear what I thought was a frog, possibly a bullfrog, as its croak was so deep.

We spent some time at Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. There were many stories, some passed down through the generations, and some modern people telling their own stories. Some were very sad, about how the country has changed, and been taken over by other people.

We decided not to visit Yellow Water Billabong right now, which is just as well because the road was closed due to seasonal conditions. Probably mud or floods or something, again.

Our new place is not an Airbnb, it’s a Lodge. Cooinda Lodge if you believe the booking form, or Gagudju Lodge, Cooinda if you prefer the sign outside. Home of Yellow Water, as the sign says.

There are boat trips onto Yellow Water, and we booked one straightaway for this evening, ending at around sunset. So we only had a short time in our room to recharge ourselves and recharge the phone battery before joining over 20 other visitors in two buses to the jetty.

The driver opened the gate that had prevented our earlier visit and closed it after the bus passed through. As the bus went down the track towards the jetty, the water became deeper and deeper, and produced quite a wash.

The bus needed a wash

This is why the place was closed to casual visitors like us, we thought. But no. The real reason is that a 4-metre long crocodile had taken up residence in the flooded part of the car park. Everybody breathed in sharply at this news. We were very carefully shepherded from the bus to the jetty which was enclosed in very thick metal fencing, and then onto the boat.

Our croc-proof boat, not sure about ice-bergs

The boat looked strong enough, the sides were very strong metal mesh and there was no way we could pester the crocodiles through that.

It was a very pleasant two hours out on the water, mainly in Yellow Water, the billabong, itself but also venturing into the East Alligator River.

How did Yellow Water get its name? I recalled the book titles we made up at school ‘Vegetarian Breakfast’ by Egbert Nobacon for instance. Or ‘Yellow Waters’ by I P Daly. Well, from experience, when I’m dehydrated, I produce a lot of yellow water and I’m sure that’s quite common in these hot and humid places. But that’s not the origin of this placename. Buffalo were introduced here about two hundred years ago and they had the habit of eating the marsh grass, then walking around and compacting the clay so it was impossible for anything else to grow. When the rains came, they washed the clay away, turning the water yellow.

First East, now South Alligator River: how come, when it’s crocodiles that live here? Unfortunately, the guy that gave three rivers the Alligator name just got it wrong when he saw hundreds of crocs. He probably didn’t want to get too close to them, either.

Shark!

There was almost a cheer when we saw the first croc before even setting off from the jetty. I was impressed at how quiet the engine was and it made me wonder why many boat engines are so loud.

Our first decent crocodile picture
White egret

We were really lucky with the amount of wildlife we saw, in its natural habitat. As Damo, Damien, the pilot and guide said, they’re probably all used to the boats now and know we mean them no harm.

Side by side
On her own

We’d brought water with us but we had to refill our bottles a couple of times from the boat’s own supply. I thought walking around such a small vessel might affect the balance, but it was only genuinely of concern when everyone went to the same side to take pictures.

Bugs and clouds

It was a cloudy sky and Damo suggested this might enhance the sunset. Lots of bugs came by. The dragonflies are ok but we soon got fed up with the mosquitoes, so we applied bug dope.

One guy had a huge video camera and another had a very long zoom lens. I’m sure they have some terrific pictures and film, but I’m quite happy with my little phone camera. Next time, however…

Crocodile and sky

We saw about four or five different crocodiles, mostly female, and the only thing that could have been better is seeing a whole family or group having a siesta on the bank.

Sea eagle

We’re over 100 km inland, yet we saw a few sea eagles. They’re very graceful in flight, and happy to pose on a tree, but not if you get too close.

Whistling ducks gathered on the bank, and whistled a merry, if warning, tune as we sailed on by. Their only fault is in being the same colour as the sand, so quite hard to spot.

Whistling ducks

After seeing the warning sign yeserday about the presence of buffalo, we knew we wanted to see one. And our wish came true. Damo spotted one hiding behind a tree, having a rest, chilling out, eating grass.

Buffalo behind the tree

He wasn’t bothered by the boat, just looked up in a nonchalant manner. He may have been bored with this group of whistling ducks though, with their tuneless and insistent whistling.

More whistling ducks

As the Sun slowly sank, it occasionally peeked through the clouds, taunting us with the possibilities of a glorious sunset.

Still water, gorgeous tree

Cormorants go fishing here as do snake-necked darters. They too like standing there, drying their wings out.

Darter drying his wings

We saw more crocodiles, some of which stayed on the surface and some of which dived when the boat approached too closely. I think everyone who spotted a croc was torn between announcing it to the whole boat or keeping it to themselves for better photos without strangers breathing down their neck. Oh, just me then!

Cloudy sky

The East Alligator River is the only river system in the world wholly enclosed in a World Heritage Site National Park. So, in theory, it has the cleanest water. Unfortunately, some fishing people don’t care, and beer cans have been seen floating by. But the main problem now is with salvinia, a fast growing weed that is in danger of blocking the waterway. It was once sold as decoration for domestic aquariums and it’s thought that someone just poured the whole lot down the drain one day. They’re trying to combat it with a weevil imported from South America that eats salvinia, and only salvinia. I would have thought that after the cane toad episode, Aussies would be very reluctant to import another biological form of pest control. Salvinia fights the lotus lilies for resources, but I think we all agree which looks better.

Salvinia v waterlilies

We saw a family of jacana, little birds with long legs, again, hard to spot because they’re so well camouflaged.

Spot the jacana (spot the subtle clue)

For a brief few seconds, it looked as though the Sun might deliver, but the moment passed, and we went back to looking out for animals.

On the way back, we passed a black-necked stork, a jabiru. Neither name is correct, they’re trying to introduce the Aboriginal name for it, which Damo couldn’t recall in the heat of the moment. The name ‘jabiru’ is taken from a South American bird which it was mistaken for on the day it was named. And its neck isn’t black, it’s more of a dark iridescent blue.

Quick pic of the stork before it flies off

But the consensus is still that it is Australia’s only stork. And I still think storks look prehistoric. The boat drifted by slowly but it was very patient with us.

The stork posed for us

Even if the sunset was doomed, which in general, it seemed to be, there were odd moments of sheer beauty. The Sun has the power to set trees alight.

The tree catches the light

We passed by the buffalo again, and now he was standing up, and in a much easier place to see.

Buffalo out in the open

He was big. Mahusive. Probably the size of a rhinoceros, much more massive than a moose, if a little shorter in height.

Sunset arrived and as anticipated, it wasn’t as glorious as it often is. This silhouette of a darter in a naked tree in the foreground isn’t too shabby.

Sunset at Yellow Water

Damo had to get us onto the buses quickly: it was dark within minutes and as he said, those crocs could be hiding anywhere.

Back at the Lodge, we had a meal outside while being eaten by mosquitoes. They’re not normal, these things. Most mosquitoes come along, sit down, rub their hands together and then sink their teeth in. These ones just come at you nose first, straight into the skin. No warning tickle of a hair being touched, no high-pitched whine, just straight in. They kept going for my right arm and ignoring the left, for no reason obvious to me. I applied more bug dope and that helped a bit.

I also anaesthetised myself very slightly by drinking my first beer in many weeks. Fair to say, I’m not a fan of kamikaze Aussie mozzies.

It felt strange going to bed without checking up on all the social media and emails. There is no wifi here and Liesel and I aren’t on Telstra, so there’s no 4G for us either. Totally cut off. It’s surprising how often I quickly look something up online each day. Not today, though. I can’t listen to the radio, I can’t download books or even newspaper articles.

But as the sign here says, without wifi, you have a better connection with Kakadu. And that’s very precious.

Ubirr

One of the places we really wanted to visit was Ubirr, to look at the ancient Aboriginal rock paintings. As we drove along the road, again we passed many Floodway signs. We came across our first flooded road and drove through easily enough, the water wasn’t too deep.

The second flood was much wider. On close inpection, I could see the double white lines in the middle of the road as far as at least half way across the puddle. Puddle? Almost a lake. The car rental man had warned us about some roads only being suitable for 4WD vehicles, and told us that we weren’t insured to drive between sunset and sunrise. He hadn’t said anything about flooded roads.

But, if we hadn’t continued, we would never see Ubirr. There was comfort in seeing other vehicles at the car park, and they definitely weren’t all 4-wheel drive. Certainly not the campervans! So, if we became stranded, at least we had company!

East Alligator River at Cahill’s Crossing

Helen had told us that crocodiles can be seen at Cahill’s Crossing when the tide changes. We were here at low tide, and the water was low enough to be able to cross over into Arnhem Land, if we wanted to, and if we had the permit. But, no crocs in sight. Just a couple of fishermen and a few fish jumping in the fast flowing water. Actually, fishermen jumping in the water would be quite entertaining. High tide wouldn’t happen for another twelve hours, which is a shame.

Buffalo in area

As we drove into the car park, we saw a black snake slither sinuously across the road in front of us. It was very fast, totally black as far as I could tell. Yes, it was good to see from the safety of our vehicle.

We also saw our first dingo, out in the wild. Jenny sent a video warning. “What do dingos do, Martha?” “They bite our bottoms!” This advice, given to Jenny on Hamilton Island some years ago, will now be passed on down the generations. And has been passed back up to us ancients.

Dingo
Another warning sign

Some of the tracks were closed, probably overgrown vegetation or a landslide or something, we surmised. But, knowing the dangers in this area, well, in Australia generally, we didn’t venture beyond the sign.

Even so, we saw plenty of fascinating geological artefacts. Rocks stacked up as if by human intervention, large cliff-like escarpments, things last seen in a TV documentary, or even in a Geography text book at school.

Rocks and boulders

Termites know no limits and their skyscrapers provide magificent lookout posts for lizards.

A skink on a termite mound

No luck with crocodiles, but this fallen palm frond has some very impressive sharp teeth.

Palm frond

From Cahill’s Crossing to Ubirr was a short drive, and we joined many other people as we walked around the trail, admiring the rock art. Some was easily identifiable, but fortunately, the information boards helped with some interpretation.

Ancestral art
Fish supper
Local wildlife

From Ubirr too, we could admire the rock structures, including the overhanging rocks that provide shelter, and a place for the paintings to be preserved, sometimes for tens of thousands of years.

Pride Rock

Although an Aboriginal artist is not supposed to touch up or improve on someone else’s work, after a time, a painting can be overwritten with a new one, a palimpsest. Experts can tell the various ages, and see how the ancients’ lifestyles changed over time.

We climbed, or clambered, up the rocks and were both taken aback by the view, in all directions. It really is a big country, almost overwhelming.

Marsh grass forever
Hot rocks and blue skies

The colours here are incredibly bright, as if the intensity has been turned up to 11. The green grass, the blue sky, the white clouds.

Selfie of the day
Rainbow Serpent

At first glance, this picture could be an elephant, but it is the Rainbow Serpent, a character that features in many Aboriginal stories, some not very nice. And some stories are really warnings , without happy endings.

The Rainbow Serpent usually lives peacefully in waterways but can be upset by some noises, especially children crying.

One day, the Rainbow Serpent heard the constant cries of a child coming from an Ulbu camp. The child was crying for sweet lily root but when night fell, the child was given sour lily root by mistake. The cries became even louder and could still be heard in the morning.

Suddenly, cold gusts of wind sprang up – a sure sign that the Rainbow is near. The Rainbow Serpent ran into the camp, trapped everybody with its huge circular body and swallowed the child and most of the people.

Just one chapter in the journey of the Rainbow Serpent, passed down through the generations.

Some Aboriginal sites are deemed sacred because they can be the source of a horrible disease. The swollen joints of Miyamiya are depicted in an old painting.

Miyamiya swollen joints

It’s been a mystery during our travels in Asia and Australia: just where do geckos go during the daytime? I now have the conclusive answer.

Gecko in a baby changing unit

I visited the public lavatory before leaving Ubirr, and when I opened the baby changing table, I revealed not one but two geckos having a rest. Not the sort of thing you need to see unexpectedly if you have a baby in one hand and a nappy in the other.

And another first: we saw a goanna run into the bush at the side of the road as we drove away. I didn’t even catch the tip of its tail in the photo!

We reached the flooded road again and at least now, we knew it wasn’t too deep.

The flood

I waded through the water, hoping there were no crocs, nor even leeches, but I was surprised to see little fishes in the water above the road surface. All that, just so I could take a picture of the boat we’d rented in Darwin.

Our rental boat

Next stop was the Bowali Visitor Centre, near Jabiru, the Headquarters of Kakadu National Park. Amongst other fascinating exhibits, we saw this notice. It’s a few days out of date but we were glad we hadn’t seen it before the morning excursion!

Road conditions: floods

It goes without saying that I had a cup of coffee, so I won’t say it. We watched some wildlife through the window. Window? There was no glass, just a hole in the wall.

Orange-footed scrubfowl

We read a lot about how the original peoples here live with the environment, look after it for future generations and it’s a philosophy we could all adopt.

This Ground and This Earth…

Yes, I am aware of my own contribution to the destruction of the planet by flying all over the place for the last nine months. And when I can think of one, I’ll add a ‘but…’. The displays in this visitor centre certainly makes you think about things in a non-white, non-European, non-western manner.

Ner ner ner ner, ner ner ner ner, ner ner ner ner, ner ner ner ner, Bat Fan
Look up, there might be a snake in that tree

I’m sure we’ve seen these trees without realising. An-binik trees grow in the rock country of Kakadu and nowhere else in the world. They’re typically thirty metres tall or more, and provide shade for smaller monsoon forest plants. A relic rainforest species with links to ancient Gondwana. Every time I think the breadth and depth of the history of this place is within my grasp, something else even older, bigger comes along. In another quirk of fate, our Jabiru accommodation shares its name with this ancient tree.

We haven’t seen a warning sign for a while, so what a delight to see this one.

Another warning sign

This is Aboriginal country but that doesn’t stop mainly white prospectors from wanting to mine for the uranium here. That would be terrible for the local environment, no matter how much they bribe the local officials, if that’s what it comes to.

Kakadu is one of the few places in Australia where there has been limited or no extinctions of plants or animals during the last 150 years. It hosts more than 200 ant species, more than 1000 species of flies, most of them buzzing around my face at any given moment, more than 100 species of reptile, more than 64 species of mammal and about 280 species of birds, over a third of those known in the whole of Australia.

Like the song says: Since they built the uranium mine, what’s just left now is just toxic slime.

Jabiru Lake

One final stop today, at Jabiru Lake. We were going to walk around it, but it is much bigger than anticipated. And yes, there were croc warnings. People have had plans to keep the crocodiles out and let the lake be used for leisure activities, such as swimming. One expert says that to do that, you’d have to build a 20-feet high fence all around. Twenty feet? The implication is that crocodiles could, if they wanted, get over a 19-feet high fence. The mind boggles.

So we sat by the picnic table and watched birds for a while, instead of walking.

Three cockatoos in flight, just like our living room wall in the 1960s

We saw cockatoos, wagtails, magpie geese (in the distance, natch) and other water birds. And another first: actual termites outside, looking busy.

Termites

Later, as we were eating in the communal kitchen, Liesel asked if what she’d just seen was a snake. Where? There, up by the ceiling. The only way I could check was by holding the phone out at an awkward angle and taking a picture. Glad to report, it was just a plain ordinary gecko. What I didn’t really need to see was the cockroach outside the communal bathroom. All showy with its antennae as long as its body. And you just know, if there’s one, there’s a million.

La cucaracha

Good night, sleep well, don’t have nightmares.

Darwin to Jabiru

We’re back in the land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder. Specifically, we’re now on a road trip in the Northern Territory. We’ll see sights unique to Australia, enjoy experiences unique to The Territory and potentially learn words from about forty different local Aboriginal languages.

The first port of call as we left Darwin is a common place here in Aus but no longer seen in the UK. Woolworths provided some vittles for the next few days as well as a short, sharp kitchen knife, something missing from otherwise well-appointed Airbnbs.

I also bought Darwin’s only flynet, for Liesel, just in case. It took some tracking down and the bad news is, it’s attached to a baseball cap. But beggars can’t be fashionistas, as they say.

As I walked to the ATM, a man asked me where the post office is. I apologised for being only a visitor and then remembered that actually, we had some stuff to post too. Oh well, it’s all in the bowels of one of our bags, now. It can wait a few more days.

The one disappointing sight in Darwin was this.

Homeless folks not welcome here

A row of three former flower beds by the looks of it, but now devoid of plants, just some rocks embedded on the otherwise flat surface. I think this is to deter homeless people from kipping there. It’s sited at the back of the Uniting Church which had so much else on offer to the community. Very sad.

As we drove out of the smallest Aussie capital, we passed by numerous termite mounds of various sizes. There seems to be no pattern to their location, out in the open, right up against trees, some in shade.

We enjoyed watching the birds of prey hovering and swooping: there must be some tasty titbits around. We couldn’t identify the birds sharing a carcass on the road, but they were like very large overgrown crows.

Humpty Doo is a lovely placename but we had no reason to stop there, with such a long drive ahead of us.

We turned off the Stuart Highway onto Highway 36. At least one sign said ‘A36’. And it was exactly the same as the A36 at home apart from there was much less traffic, there were no potholes, the sky was blue and there were termite mounds at the side of the road.

Highway 36

We stopped for a quick coffee at Allora Garden Nursery. Did I say quick? Make yourself a coffee and sit back, it’s a long story.

Probably not a real stuffed dragonfly

We entered the nursery, passing by some very kitschy garden ornaments and sat down in Estelle’s Café. There was nobody behind the counter so I gently rang the bell for service.

A young man arrived, let’s called him Bruce. What do we want? Two coffees please. I’ll have to get someone to make the coffee.

A couple of minutes later, a young lady arrived. I’ll call her Sheila. Can I help? Yes, we’d like two lattés please. She went behind the counter and looked at the coffee machine.

We then heard an announcment over the PA asking Estelle to come to the café. She arrived and made us our coffees. Very nice. We looked around at the various garden ornaments, including tigers and giraffes. There were some actual plants to admire too.

When we’d finished our beverages, I went up to the counter to pay. Oh no, we don’t have a cash register here, you’ll have to pay at the front desk.

At the front desk, we ended up behind an Australian lady who had fallen in love with a concrete dog and she just had to buy it. Bruce was there, politely wrapping it in several layers of bubble-wrap. Oh, but she did love this dog, as soon as she saw it, she knew she had to have it.

Another lady, Doris, cooee’d me to the other cash register. I’d like to pay for my two lattés please. Two lattés? Yes. Bruce, how much does a latté cost? I have no idea, sorry.

Doris then walked all the way back to the café presumably to ask Estelle or Sheila how much a latté cost. I don’t know if there was a correct answer because on her return, Doris suggested, $5 each, is that alright? Yes, just let me out of this place, I said as I threw the money at her and pounded on the counter. No, not really.

A big, 8-foot tall termite mound

The car told us it was 35° outside and we could believe it although we were much cooler in the vehicle.

We made a slight detour to go for a hike, a tramp, despite the temperature. We’re here to see nature, and that’s easier to do outside the car.

We never did find out whether Bird Billabong was so named because of the ornithological delights here or because it was discovered by a Mr or Ms Bird, thousands of years after the Aborigines first found it.

It was so quiet. When the birds and insects briefly ceased their singing and buzzing and chirruping, there was no sound. Nothing. Not even the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. The faint thumping sound was blood pulsing through our ears.

The gentle path to Bird Billabong

The path was well-defined and we made good use of the sparse shade. We also stayed in the middle of the path because… snakes. We stomped to warn them of our presence but the side-effect of this was that we scared the insects away too. The sad thing is: we’ll never know how many snakes we’ve deterred because they’ve legged it after sensing our vibrations. Legged it? Hmm, yeah, that’ll do.

This was a great walk for entomologists, so many butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and other flies. If only there were a Shazam for insect identification. We heard but didn’t see grasshoppers.

A pretty and populous dragonfly

As I brushed something off my arm Liesel asked if we’d just walked through a spider’s web. It certainly felt like it, I agreed. We accelerated very slightly but neither of us turned round to see what gigantic, lethal spider we’d potentially upset.

There’s the billabong

One interesting thing we noticed was different kinds of scat. We told ourselves, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, but definitely not crocodile, oh no, no, no, never.

Probably wallaby poo

The quiet, the sky, the solitude, all wonderful. Yet for some reason, while I was really pleased and excited to be here, it didn’t send the same shivers up the spine as my first visit to Uluru or Henbury did, all those decades ago. But there is something almost electric in the air, something very special, a connection with the first people here, perhaps, and with nature.

Odd splashes of colour emphasised just how green and lush the landscape was, after what was apparently a relatively dry Wet Season.

A butterfly enjoying some raspberry coulis

The flash of sky was too fast for my shutter finger. The bright blue dragonfly wasn’t going to be caught on camera that easily. But blue flowers certainly appealed to the orange butterflies.

Two butterflies sharing

It was terrific seeing so many butterflies here, and so many different kinds too. We lost something really special at home by using all those pesticides for so many years.

One more butterfly

The view over Bird Billabong from the lookout point was stunning. We sought out frogs sitting on lily leaves but suspect it was the wrong time of day for them. We stayed still and some birds did come a little closer but they know about the crocodiles that live here and were on full alert. I think we both hoped to see a pair of nostrils and a pair of eyes on the surface of the water, but sadly no such luck today.

Picture of lilies

Despite what the Lonely Planet Guide said, this was not a circular walk, so we retraced our steps back to the car park.

Ooh, just caught a glimpse of blue

We noticed other tracks. Certainly at least a couple of motor vehicles had driven along this trail. But there were also horse hoofprints. Unless of course the local crocs have taken to wearing horse shoes.

Out of the blue, a kangaroo hopped across the path in front of us, closely followed by a second. Well, that made the whole exercise worthwhile!

Then we saw a couple of small, beige birds up in the trees. Bugs are great, but birds and mammals, especially marsupials are greater. Sorry, bugs. The magpie geese were numerous, we saw them from a distance but they weren’t going to hang around for us. The rubbish, blurry black and white photos are now nothing but a memory.

Soon after rejoining the main highway, we saw an emu cross the road in front of us. Wow, a actual emu! And then another. We couldn’t believe our luck. This is when you need a dashboard camera on 24/7, to catch the things that I’m too slow for.

There was a kangaroo by the side of the road, eating grass, not necessarily waiting to cross.

Then another. Then another pair. And for the next couple of miles, we lost count of the roadside kangaroos. We knew that slowing down or stopping would be their cue to hop off into the bush, so we just kept moving.

They all looked up as we passed, but none of them waved at us. In fact, even the other drivers didn’t wave back at us. In the old days, driving in the Aussie outback, all drivers acknowledged each other with a wave. Not the Aussie wave of a fly being swatted away from in front of your face. It was more raising the forefinger of the right hand as you approached and passed by an oncoming vehicle.

Welcome to Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is a name that resonates. It’s real outback Australia, old, old, Aboriginal history, rugged, Crocodile Dundee country. And here we are!

The speed limit in Northern Territory is 110 kph except where otherwise stated. We assumed this meant that any exceptions would be slower. No. We passed signs indicating a limit of 130 kph, that’s 81 mph in English money. No, we didn’t. The highway was dead straight, perfect surface, no potholes, no side roads but still, we’d seen animals cross the road. Yes, we let some other vehicles overtake us, but we were in no hurry. The road surface was quite loud, we realised. It has to withstand very high temperatures all year plus flooding for possibly months at a time. It’s probably a much more resilient and harder material than the cheap stuff British roads are made of.

There are many signs telling us we’re about to cross a Floodway with depth meters close by. This whole area must totally change at the height of the Wet Season, and would be interesting to see.

Most if not all of the creeks and rivers that we crossed warned us of the presence of crocodiles, and suggesting it’s best not to swim. But it’s so hot, I can see why people might be tempted to jump in the water.

We decided not to join a cruise to see jumping crocodiles. We know they jump naturally if they fancy chomping on a bird, but to encourage them to jump for visitors seems a bit risky. As Liesel said, one of the only advantages we have when running away from a croc is being able to climb a tree. You don’t want something like that jumping up after you!

Small bug close by or big bug a long way off?

Although we didn’t come across any flooded roads today, we did pass several areas of wetlands, just off the side of the road. I’m sure there are crocs lurking there too, so no, not really tempting.

Welcome to Jabiru

We were welcomed to Jabiru by a jabiru, a black-necked stork: in fact, Australia’s only stork, and we soon found our new place. We looked at the Bush Bungalow, the so-called ‘Love Shack’ that we’d booked online, the one without aircon, and we looked at another room, which did have aircon. Yes, we chose the latter. We needed some decent sleep.

We’re in one room in a block of six, and the receptionist, with her gorgeous east European Aussie accent, told us that we’d probably have the place to ourselves anyway. If not, we’d have to share the bathroom.

Our next-door neighbour was very friendly, and very nearly answered to the name Skippy.

What’s that, Skip?

We had a nice, simple salad and some nice crusty rolls to eat. And yes, we had a good night’s sleep, despite the AC unit being the loudest we’d so far encountered!

But we agreed that our decision not to rent a campervan on this trip was a good move. It’s fab country and the heat makes the place what it is, but neither of us sleep well if we’re too hot, and that just makes both of us cranky. Yes it does.

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

Return to Singapore

Our lovely hostess drove us to the airport after breakfast which we ate outdoors, trying to ignore the smell and the haze caused by at least one bonfire.

Eggs, bread and more curry puffs
A wave of haze

Sadly, I think the ubiquitous rubbish-burning fires of Malaysia will be amongst our longest-lasting memories.

Two flights and a taxi ride later, we arrived at our next Singaporean apartment, in the heart of the city. As we passed by some now familiar landmarks, there was a sense of ‘coming home’. Even though this has never been home. Maybe it’s just more ‘comfortable’ than Malaysia. A strange sensation, nonetheless. No Morality Police here.

Street art just along the road

I went for a walk but what I didn’t tell Liesel was where I was really going, in case my plan went wrong.

Our place looks better from the outside
Welcome back, Mick, said Buddha

On my return, Liesel did ask “Who are you? And what have you done with my husband?” Yes, I’d been to a barbershop, had a trim and a shave. I’d retained the face fungus for a few days longer than usual to help combat sunburn to the south of the face while on the island.

It was a delight being able to cross the roads safely. Yes, I’ll have a whinge about the pedestrain crossing lights taking too long to change and then not giving people enough time to cross the road. But at least, there are pedestrian crossings here.

Balloon dog taking a dump (sculpture), Cathay Hotel

For the first time in over a week, we were able to wash our clothes. The shirts could stand up on their own after several days wear and tear, but we managed to origami them into the washing machine.

It’s funny how history repeats itself. Last time we arrived in Singapore, one of our first ports of call was the Apple Store, where Jyoti purchased a brand new iPhone. We had to go there this time too: Liesel’s USB-Lightning cable is no longer working reliably and there’s a definite kink in it. The new cable works very well.

We spent much of the day walking around shops, streets, malls, keeping to the shade where possible, making use of shops’ airconditioning especially where it spills out onto the streets. Liesel’s research led us to a place called Wild Honey where we ate well and appreciated the Troggs’ philosophy printed on the napkins.

Wild Thing
Aubergine bacon and scrambled eggs

Yes, it looks like bacon and they even call it ‘bacon’, but it’s very thin slices of aubergine and is, to me, much nicer than actual pig’s bum!

The AC is great but it does mean that every time we go back outside, our glasses mist up. Interestingly, we’ve not seen anyone else suffering this fate, so maybe there’s a local anti-misting coating you can buy for spectacles.

We still enjoy looking at the architecture here, a nice mix of old and new. Many buildings have these French doors on the first floor, some white, like these, and some very colourful ones.

Information
Professional photobombers: invisible until you look at the picture later on
A front door just like ours at home
Singaporeans are no good at Curling because they’ve got no handles on their stones
Had to buy this snack, obvs

As I slowly dragged myself up from the depths and weirdness of cheese-induced dreams, I thought the airconditioner in the bedroom was too loud and about to explode. But no, the noise was from outside: torrential rain. We had planned to go out for lunch, not least because this place gets cleaned twice a week and today was one of those days. The cleaner knocked on the door and we asked her to wait for another ten minutes, while we made ourselves presentable.

Glorious peacock (sculpture)

We walked to Fifth Dimension, an Indian-Chinese fusion restaurant, back in Little India, where we’d been with Jyoti a few weeks ago.

On the way there, we saw a peacock (above) and a cow riding a bicycle. Hah, that grabbed your attention, didn’t it!

Cow riding a bicycle

The meal was great, all three members of staff were very friendly, tending to all our needs, mainly because we were the only customers.

Very nice, very tasty

We wandered slowly back by many Indian shops, food, clothes, all looking very neat and tidy – unlike the alleyways that run behind the shops, definitely not for the squeamish. There were a couple of cows sitting up on the roof of the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple.

Cows sitting on the roof
More street art
Tiger, tiger

On our way to the National Library, we were pleased to read that Banana is now back home, but poor old Milky is still missing. I think more people should provide updates on their ‘missing pets’ notices.

Banana is back home

It would be nice to give this happy Buddha a new home, but we’d never fit him and his earlobes into our bags.

Laughing Buddha
Free bicycle parking for very tall people

Again, we stayed in the shade as much as possible, and this sort of decoration makes it doubly worthwhile.

Art in the street
Let’s all learn to dance in the rain

In the Design Centre, Liesel declined my challenge of a game of ping-pong on the hexagonal table, so I think that means I win by default.

Hexagonal table tennis table
Very pleased to see Blur have a new record out
Freedom for Pooping!

In the Library, we found a couple of books to read out loud for our grandchildren, but it was much harder to find a quiet spot in which to do so.

Children’s play area in the National Library

The children were having a wonderfully noisy time in their play area while over in a separate room, it was Tamil story time with singing and dancing!

There’s an exhibition of photographs depicting Old Singapore. In one picture, there’s a cow pulling an ice cream wagon.

Some old bloke on an old photo
Always been a busy, hustling and bustling place

One thing I think we missed in Malaysia because it was just so hard to wander around was seeing strange and unusual works of art. There’s all sorts of strange things here in Singapore, though. Big balloon dogs. Stainless steel birds in the Carlton Hotel, a home from home. A big, 5-metre tall naked red man. A cyclist made from PVC pipes (not straws) giving the appearance of motion. More birds.

Birds on a Tree, 2011, Lucida October Contemporary Art
Red Memory – Smile, by Chen Wen Ling
If this smile doesn’t lift your spirits…
Disguise 3, by Kang Duk Bong
A flock of birds

After visiting yet another shopping mall (there’s a lot to choose from), we walked back via Fort Canning Park. That was a shock to the system.

Singapore is flat, mainly. But in the park, on a hill, we walked up scores of steps. We were hoping to see the sea, but there are just too many trees and tall buildings in the way. At the top of the hill, there is not only a fort but also a lighthouse. I wondered if it can still be seen from mariners out at sea? No, it can’t. It was closed in 1958 and a much brighter light placed on top of the tall Fullerton Building, now a hotel.

Heritage tree
Fort Canning Lighthouse

After walking around and through the park, we set off home. There’s a long, long stairway to climb, but that’s OK, we’re in no hurry. What we didn’t realise until we got there, though, was that these steps belonged to an exclusive and very posh community of ex-pats. We followed some in-mates in when they opened the gate to the compound and proceeded to follow the steps, in a generally upwards direction.

A couple of the paths were dead-ends, just leading to individual houses or apartments. The people playing in the pools took no notice of us as we nonchalantly ambled by, so presumably the panic we felt, at the possibility of not being able to find a way out, didn’t show.

We went inside one of the buildings, and the sign by the lift indicated a car park a few floors below. I suspect we wouldn’t have been able to operate the lift without a special keycard, so we walked down the fire escape stairs until we found the car park. Yes, I’m sure we feature on plenty of CCTV security footage but we just wanted to get out and get home!

As suspected, we were able to walk up the ramp to exit the car park and we didn’t even have to duck under the barrier: the gap was big enough to walk by and back onto the road. The security guy in his little hut was totally oblivious, didn’t even realise we were there. And, best of all, we’d come out just over the road from our own apartment. Phew, I think we got away with it! Security at that place isn’t that hot. On foot, you need a keycard to open the gates. In a car, you have to use a card or at least get the guard to lift the barrier. But if you want to get in illegitimately, just walk past the exit barrier to the car park, walk down the ramp, then climb the fire escape stairs. Not that I’m advocating anything illegal, but there really is a big hole in their security arrangements.

Again, we had a simple supper and didn’t venture out after dark.

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.

Penang

Somebody who shall remain nameless had booked a really early flight from Singapore. Much as we love Changi Airport, we wouldn’t normally choose to rise at 5am, well before the Sun, and well before the birds. In a daze, we took a taxi, checked in, flew for 90 minutes or so and arrived in Penang. Welcome to Malaysia.

Jyoti’s first sighting of Penang, from the plane

Another taxi took us to our new Airbnb on floor 13A. There is no floor 14. There are 14 stripes on the national flag, but I’m not aware of any other significance to this number.

The plan was to walk around George Town to see the sights but we took a wrong turn more or less straightaway, so we just busked it from then on!

St George’s Church

St George’s is the oldest Anglican church in southeast Asia, now 201 years old and with two restorations under its ecclesiastical belt.

Liesel and Jyoti blocking the cycle path in George Town

George Town, what a busy, bustling place, lots of colours, smells, cultures, people.

Joss sticks, incense
Sri Mahamariamman Temple

The Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang, now 186 years old.

Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling

The Kapitan Keling Mosque is the oldest in George Town, now 218 years old.

We stumbled upon another Little India and if we thought George Town wasn’t busy enough already, this neighbourhood certainly turned everything up to 11. Indian music came from many shops, there was virtually no distinction between where pedestrians and cars went, yet there was no honking from the drivers.

Little India? Well, it had to be a delicious thali for lunch.

We browsed several shops, looking at the jewellery and other little trinkets. I think Martha might be getting something nice for her birthday, wink, wink.

The clothes, batik or otherwise, are gorgeous.

A feast of colour

And if the colourful clothing doesn’t do it for you, just look at the tiles on the floor. So ornate, it’s almost criminal to walk on them.

This design probably started out as a doodle

Lots of shops, lots of items and yes, in the end, we did buy some more stuff! An artist was selling her wares in a small shop, and even selling things made by her 83-year old mother. Each item is accompanied by this note:

Remember who we are
Very pretty pin cushions

Penang Science Cluster was fascinating, with little wooden models made by the students. There’s even an aeroplane in the room, next to a flight simulator. We had a quick snack here, while pondering this little machine.

Possibly a Rubik’s Cube solving machine

Has it been programmed to solve a Rubik’s Cube? It was in a glass cabinet, so we don’t really know, but I hope so.

We continued walking where we could, but found that many pavements just stopped in the middle of nowhere, and road crossings are few and far between. Learning a lesson from Suva, we just latch on to a local, and cross where we can. Taking the fine art of jay-walking to a whole new level.

Looking towards the mainland, Malayan peninsula

Pavements just stop in the middle of nowhere? Not only that, there are ditches by the side, easy to slip into if you’re not careful. And where the kerb’s too high, just put an extra step there!

A step up to the pavement, over the ditch

In the evening, J&L had a meaty meal at a Korean barbecue restaurant while I went walkabout and found a nice veggie-friendly place. Deep fried lychees are strange but I’ll try anything once.

A plant that thinks it’s a chicken

There were quite a few loose, feral dogs, running between the people and the traffic, not bothering anybody, just doing what they do.

Liesel was feeling a bit under the weather, a bit of a cold, a cough, headache, just bleurgh really, so she missed a fun day up on Penang Hill with Jyoti and me.

Our transport of choice here on Penang is cabs, bookable via an app. They’re quite cheap, and much faster than the buses would be. We took two cabs to the bottom end of the Penang Hill Funicular Railway. No, not one each: we stopped at a place called Let’s Meat for breakfast. I had a nice, meat-free, meal, my first ‘western’ breakfast for a few days.

The funicular train was packed so we had to stand. The sign advised us to sit on a seat if possible. But we weren’t allowed to smoke, vape, eat, drink, carry pets, push, spit or carry durians. So restrictive.

Looking up the Funicular

The resort of Penang Hill reaches 833 metres above sea level and it’s much cooler way up there. Just as humid though.

Looking down at George Town and Jelutong, where we’re staying, I think the haze surprised us both. If it’s water vapour, humidity, that’s not so bad, but if it’s pollution, that’s a different story.

George Town through the haze

There’s a lot to see and do on Penang Hill. The first thing you need to do is fight off all the people who want to take your picture with a nice view in the background. It’s a very pleasant walk, with lots of signs telling us about all the animals we were unlikely to encounter: snakes, yes, snakes again, lizards, frogs, dusky leaf monkeys, flying squirrels, sunda colugo, spring hill turtle, lesser mousedeer, common tree shrew. We saw a few butterflies and other insects, some birds, but I think there were just too many people walking on the paths and talking loudly: any interesting animal with a bit of common sense would have stayed well clear.

We followed a sign off the main path to see some orchids. Well, it wasn’t a big display today, but the one we saw was very pretty.

Pretty in pink

There were lots of other pretty flowers too, and at times like this, I wish I’d paid more attention in my botany classes. Very small flowers and very big leaves. This seems to be quite common here in the jungle.

Orange flowers

Yes, it did feel like a proper jungle, up here in the tropical rain forest. Disregard the artificial, manmade paths, close your eyes, listen to the birds, insects and other remote animals, enjoy the humidity, appreciate the lack of leeches, imagine you’re wearing a safari hat rather than a sun hat, fantastic, and then, the soothing voice of Sir David Attenborough will slowly materialise in your head.

One of the main attractions is the Tree Top Walk, but there is also a Canopy Walk.

The Tree Top Walk itself proved quite elusive. We followed the signs, but the main entrance was blocked off. Go back to the Police Station, the sign said. A nice police officer pointed us in the direction of a makeshift ticket stall. We bought tickets and rode the free shuttle up the narrow path, saving us a long walk.

Both walks are high up in the trees, so it should be easier to spot the tree-dwelling animals. Well, if you’re a long way behind a quartet of loud and lairy Aussies, you just know they’ll have scared anything interesting away.

Canopy Walk

We saw branches and some leaves move near the top of a tree and we did catch a glimpse of a couple of squirrels. I’ve scrutinised my hasty photos with an industrial strength magnifying glass but no good, unfortunately. There is something on one of my videos but blink and you miss it!

Tree Top Walk

It seems a tomato vine had gone totally berserk and grown up one of the taller trees. If not tomatoes, we don’t know what this fruit is, it was certainly out of place! And the fact that some had been nibbled proved our first notion, that these were left-over Christmas baubles, to be utter nonsense.

Possibly tomatoes

We needed some liquid refreshment, rehydration, before returning to the furnace nearer sea level.

Emergency assembly point

It’s common here to see that, in an emergency, you have to gather in groups of four to sing Bohemian Rhapsody.

The ride back down was exciting: we sat on the back of a pickup truck, no seatbelts, with a family consisting of a miserable Dad, two excited children and their lovely, infinitely patient nanny.

On the train back down, Jyoti and I managed to sit right at the front, in the driver’s seat, so you can now ride down the Funicular with us.

In the evening, we all three went to what should be called Little Armenia. The cab sped through quite fast so there wasn’t an opportunity to take pictures of the fabulous street art. There are some wonderful murals in this area. The floor tiles here were very pretty too.

More floor tiles

Down the road from our little family-run (but not Armenian) restaurant is of course a Chinese temple. I suspect it’s the oldest in <pick a suitably narrowed-down area> but I could find no supporting evidence.

Chinese temple at sunset

Liesel was feeling well enough to go out, following her rest day, and, from the cab, being totally totally on the ball, she spotted a Marks and Spencer and a huge Tesco on our first ride of the day. A couple of Starbucks too. Yes, I was shaking my head in dismay as I wrote that.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the humidity here. But on disembarkation after a forty-minute ride in the air-conditioned cab, my spectacles misted up instantly. Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies glow. Not here: everyone just drips.

I accompanied the two spice girls on a pleasant walk around the Tropical Spice Garden. The aromatics were drowned out a bit because we were encouraged to apply citronella, to deter the mosquitoes. Well, we never even saw any of those pesky things. I suspect it also deterred butterflies from settling on our hot and sweaty bodies, which is a shame, so many photo opps lost.

The dragonflies here are bright red, they almost glow.

Very ornate stone path

The patterns on the path were pretty and very well done. Jyoti and I had a go at walking on the reflexology path in bare feet.

Joke reflexology path designed to torture tourists

Four paces was all I could take, those stones are hard, man. I can stand for a while but I can’t put all my weight on one foot, which makes walking incredibly uncomfortable. No, painful.

The Garden had a lot of shade, which helped keep us cool, and at the top of the hill, we had a nice cup of tea from the urn.

Nice cup of tea

It was indeed a refreshing brew but I was unable to translate the explanatory note. From the taste, though, I think the ingredients include pandanus, stevia, citrates and graminaceae.

So after finishing the tea, smacking my lips, rinsing the cup under flowing fresh water, I turned round to see this sign:

Welcome to The Poison Garden

Oh well, we gulped, as we walked up the steps to see what poisons were available. Skin irritants, digestive system destroyers, coma-inducers, they were all here. We trod carefully so as not to even brush against something that, to be honest, looks just like a weed that might grow in your garden.

My lunch was very nice, at the Tree Monkey restaurant, while J&L ate at a smaller, meaty place over the road, before joining me for dessert.

From where I sat, I could watch the sea, and see the beach, and I was impressed by the dreadlock tree.

Dreads

I’m sure it has a proper name, but I missed out on my arborology classes too.

We booked a cab to take us to a batik shop but when we arrived, it turned out to be an unoccupied building up for sale. Proof that Google doesn’t know everything.

So we took a bus to George Town in order to visit an alternative batik shop. Luckily, none of us had bought any durian fruit, as you’re not allowed to take them on buses! The bus journey passed quickly for me as I was engaged in conversation with a man from British Columbia who’s been here for four months, away from his wife, and he asked for an update on the news. Which, of course, I have scant knowledge of as I try to avoid it as much as possible.

From the bus, it was just a five minute walk to the batik shop but when we arrived, it turned out to be a furniture shop. Proof that Google still doesn’t know everything.

We gave up on batik shops. In fact, we gave up on shops altogether, went over the road to a hotel for which we were suitably underdressed, and took refreshments.

Selfie of the day

The cab ride back home was exciting. The roads are full of mopeds and motor bikes and dogs and pedestrians. Most bike riders wear helmets, which is good, but some don’t. For example, with Dad on the front and Mum on the back holding a child, the child won’t usually have a helmet.

Most riders wear flip-flops too, and a good number put a shirt on backwards, presumably to keep the worst of the wind off their bodies.

The chickens in crates on the back must enjoy their final ever journey, on such busy roads. From the cab driver’s point of view, road markings are merely suggestions and if you want to join a line of traffic, just go for it. The concept of “health and safety” doesn’t exist here in quite the same way. Need to dig a hole in the middle of the road? Just go for it. Put a couple of bollards there, have one man waving the traffic by while the work is carried out by a couple of others wearing their faded hi-vis vests.

Once back in our 13Ath storey apartment, we all rested, took a siesta, and none of us ventured out again for the rest of the day.

Singapore (Part 1)

We landed at Changi Airport and, for the first time ever, we were going to venture out into the wider city/state. Not the first time for Jyoti though: she’d lived here for a while as a youngster.

Sunset over Singapore, seen from the plane

The taxi took us to our new Airbnb and for such a small island, it seemed to take a really long time. Singapore is just a small red dot of an island off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. Surely is should only take five minutes to reach anywhere on the island? But, it’s nearly twice the size of the Isle of Wight and that can takes a while to traverse too. I think we (I) were (was) tired from the flight with no sleep, desperate to be horizontal, push up some zzzz.

We finally arrived at our new luxuriously spacious studio apartment. Shirley, our host, met us at the door, and showed us round.

At last, all ready for bed, teeth cleaned, lights out, and what’s this?

Too many lights

It’s like Houston Mission Control over there, all the lights and LEDs from the TV, the wifi router and all the other electronic gallimaufry.

Jyoti makes no bones about the fact that she is here primarily for the food. Liesel goes bananas at the mention of food too. Finding somewhere to eat is as easy as pie. Our first breakfast was Indian: dosa masala. Huge. And a mango lassi. For breakfast.

Jyoti needed to visit the Apple Store in Orchard Road (there’s a long story here).

Jyoti back at Orchard Road

This is one area that she knows well from many years ago. The journey by train was easy enough and a good way to do some quick sight-seeing.

Singapore World Water Day Month
Coffee design: hope it’s not something offensive in Chinese

Following the purchase of probably the most expensive phone in this sector of the galaxy, we went for a walk, shops, lunch, and on to the National Museum of Singapore.

Lunch? For me, the most disappointing meal ever. The picture and description made it look good. Kaya toast is a local favourite. The toast and coconut jam was ok. The boiled eggs were yucky, runny whites, and the tea was too sweet, probably made with condensed milk. The picture on the menu still looks like two halves of a hard-boiled egg to me. The official description is ‘half-boiled’. Just serve up raw eggs and be open about it!

I consoled myself with a pineapple and sour plum smoothie. And later, an apple.

Information Office: leading edge technology here

The Museum was fascinating (and cool), the whole history of Singapura through British colonisation to full independence in 1965 and remarkable economic and cultural success since then.

One of the first maps depicting Cincapura
Rickshaw and old colonial house

In the evening, we went for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. We’re just one degree north of the equator here and I’m not sure the seasons match what we’re used to. The gardens were lovely, but there were very few flowers, not what you would call a colourful place.

Gymnastic acrobat in the bushes

The path was well-made and the only one that had cobbles and bumpy stones was named the “Reflexology Path” and I thought, what a clever bit of marketing.

We entered the area comprising the Singapore Botanic Gardens UNESCO World Heritage Site. I don’t know what’s wrong with the rest of the gardens: it’s not like they’re all weeds or something.

The Evolutuion area was interesting: ammonites embedded in the path, petrified trees and a small homage to Stonehenge.

Fossils on the footpath
Small Stonehenge and tall tree

There’s an area dedicated to plants used for medicinal purposes, another with aromatic plants, and a whole lot more that we didn’t have time, nor legs, to visit.

As we turned one corner, we saw a bird run across the path into the bushes. It wasn’t going to be a kiwi this time, obviously, but we thought it might be something exotic and interesting. As I watched, in the shadow under the bush, I realised the bird was feeding three chicks, clearing back the leaf litter, letting the little ones peck at their own food. Only when she emerged from the shadows did we realise how exciting our find wasn’t.

Chicken (a real one)

I know Jyoti’s only little, but look at the size of these leaves. we know where to go should we need an umbrella.

Small Jyoti, big leaves

I was sad to learn only recently that Dean Ford, the lead singer with Marmalade had died at the end of last year. I think their best song was Reflections of my Life. The lyrics include the following:

The world is a bad place

A bad place, a terrible place to live

Oh, but I don’t wanna die.

Yes, the world can be a pretty scary place. On our travels, we’ve seen signs warning us of earthquakes, tsunamis, snakes, sharks and now, today, this:

Beware of lightning and falling branches

We should have donned our hard hats for this garden, not our flimsy sun hats.

A very bright leaf

Back in the city centre (actually, the whole country seems to be city centre), we visited one of Jyoti’s favourite restaurants from 1947, Komala Vilas.

Komala Vilas

It was very popular, very busy and we had to wait a short while for a table. Dosa for breakfast, and now, dosa for supper. Huge things.

Dosas too big for the table and for the photo

We shared the three but, needless to say, none of us could finish. Trying to eat one-handed is a challenge: you’re not supposed to use your left hand while eating. Unless you’re using a fork, which is a handy get-out clause. I would have liked a knife too, I am British, don’tcha know, but a second implement, if available at all, always seems to be a spoon. The lady at the table next to ours was entertained by us, but in the end, we made eye contact and she smiled. Her husband, though, adept at one-handed eating as he was, was a messy pig. No, not pig, that’s inappropriate. He was a very messy eater.

We were in an area named Little India so it was no surprise to pass by a Chinese Theatre performance on the way back to the station.

Live action Chinese theatre

We returned to our luxuriously spacious studio apartment where we cooled down in the shower and retired to bed. You think my description of the place is exaggerated? Nope.

Luxuriously Spacious Studio Apartment – Official

We’d walked over ten miles today, far too much for Liesel, so we agreed to take it easy the next day.