|We left Singapore late at night and amidst the usual whirlwind of social activity we'd grown accustomed to at Aunty Uma's. It was a teary goodbye to the family and most of all the cute dog, Sugar, but we were excited at the prospect of a new continent.
It was a 6 hour flight to Darwin, our longest flight in 6 months and so we attempted to sleep as much as possible in anticipation of our early arrival. However, it was still only 4am when we were drowsily traipsing off the plane and towards immigration. People stood in the long queue, trying to continue their sleep standing up, moving this way and that when prodded by a customs official. We were all instructed to stand in a single line against one side of the ropes so that a sniffer dog could walk past, sniffing anything in sight...bags, people, what did it matter?!
Suddenly the dog decided to stop by Neha. It sniffed her up and down and would not leave. Cute as it was, at least Neha knew better than to play with the dog. (Anyone seen Bridget Jones recently?). Nothing was said at this point and we thought all was well as we answered the many questions at the customs desk...no we didn't plan to work in Australia and no we didn't have anywhere to stay as yet as we were backpacking, etc, etc. As a nation of backpackers, you wouldn't think this would be such a problem. Evidently it was as we were pulled aside by a second customs officer who was equally as stunned that we didn't have accommodation booked. She took the questioning one step further, asking repeatedly if we had been using or carrying drugs as she wrote "PAD" on Neha's boarding card. After declaring no to the questions for the umpteenth time, it was finally established that the dog might have taken a liking to Neha due to Sugar's smell on her clothes!!
However, the ordeal was far from over as 3 officers inspected our luggage closely through the scanner. Not quite the wake up call that we would have liked!
We couldn't even understand the shock factor at the lack of booked accommodation, as there was a booking desk within the airport that happily helped us.
The strange start to our visit in Darwin was a sign of things to come. After 6 months in Asia, we experienced a reverse cultural shock as we looked at the prices. This combined with the fact that The Top End is one of the most expensive regions in Australia meant that we had to change our plans and leave for Alice Springs earlier than expected.
We did look into the costs of visiting Kakadu National park, the reason we'd come to Darwin in the first place, but it was costing us 7 days of our budget for a 2 night camping trip which involved sleeping in the open. Not such a good idea in what is termed the "rainy season"!
Flights changed, we allowed ourselves 1 day to explore the small town that is Darwin. We attempted to find the museum but gave up after walking around for less than an hour in the extreme heat (40 degrees Celsius). Asking a local for directions resulted in her laughing at us as she exclaimed that it was the worst season to visit Darwin in! This was just the reaffirmation we needed to spend the rest of the day in an air-conditioned pub.
Although our visit to Darwin was shorter than planned, we will remember it for many reasons:
1) Kiran tasting many beers and settling upon Coopers Pale Ale
2) Neha eating her first Skippy steak...tasted kinda like lamb
3) The scorching heat
4) The cost of accommodation, food, Kakadu, everything!
5) A town resembling Hicksville, Mid-America, with small town mentality on display everywhere.
Next stop is Alice Springs from where we are hoping to see Uluru / Ayers Rock. This time we are expecting high prices and so hopefully shouldn't be scared off as easily.
Oh and don't worry, we're sure to make up for the lack of photos here in the next entry!