From Moz to Oz

DSCN1548Mozambique | Singapore | Australia |

Guludo Beach Lodge in the Quirimbas National Park in northern Mozambique is the kind of place where you throw the windows and doors of your beach bungalow open to the sun, sand and sea and don’t shut them again until you leave.   It’s also the kind of place where you quickly develop a lazy rhythm.  Mine became to watch the sun rise at 5.30am, wave goodmorning to the fisherman as I chose a direction to run along the 12km beach, swim, watch the neon-blue balled monkeys, shower in my outdoor bathroom, breakfast, lunch on seafood caught that morning, drinks at the bar at 5.30pm, dine on more fresh seafood straight from the ocean and then bed by 9.00pm.

Guludo was created with the concept of assisting the local community and has won many prestigious responsible tourism awards so some of my days included village visits to see some of their projects.   Other days involved picnics on white sand deserted islands, tours of historical Portuguese colonial towns, dhow sailing and, the purpose of my visit – diving.   I hadn’t dived for over 15 years so the goal was to get my confidence and skills back.  Some interesting weather conditions such as surf-size waves and a roaring current made it a little more of an adventure than expected but it was great to be back underwater and I’m looking forward to doing more soon.

I also had an unexpected diving partner with the surprise late night arrival of my university friend, Craigh (who I haven’t seen for years).   Knowing he was also traveling around southern Africa, I had invited him to come diving with me but we weren’t able to connect and I assumed he wasn’t coming.  Given that Guludo is not the kind of place where one just turns up –  fly to a regional airport 2500km north of the capital, then drive four hours onto some unsignposted sandy tracks through remote villages – his arrival caused quite a stir with the staff and it’s seems I’ll be known at Guludo forever as “the guest who had that crazy unexpected friend turn up in the middle of the night”.   Thanks for making the trip Craigh!

Arriving in Singapore after many months in Africa was like time traveling to the future.   I honestly spent the first couple of days thinking I was in an episode of the Jetsons, marveling in awe at the sleek shining efficiency of the place.   On my first morning, frustrated that I had no bottled water, it took many minutes before I had the “a-ha” moment that I could actually drink the tap water.  Other parts of my re-entry were a little easier, given that both friends that I stayed with (thanks Steph and Chris, Ahna and Avi!) had luxury poolside apartments and I was treated to poolside BBQ’s and lazing, sunset boat cruises, private deck-top movie screenings (while in the pool with wine – go Pengwine!), houseboat shopping and delicious Singaporean food (love roti prata and pepper crab).   Not to mention all the great food and company at various lunch rendezvous with other friends.

Australia began with a whirlwind Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane trip to visit friends.   A big thanks to Alana and Jamie, Natell and Anthony, Sam and Tom, Margot and Marcus, Kate and Mick and Bec and Jonte (and all their beautiful kids) who hosted me so graciously.    And to all my other friends for great catch-ups over lunch, coffee and dinner.   Beach-side Perth cafe’s for brunch, recreated weddings at Melbourne beach-side café’s, teepees and books, Sydney fire-side chats, Brisbane beautiful wine fridges and watching the Wallabies (Australia’s rugby team) fight a valiant game against the Lions were just some of the highlights.    Not to mention foraging for mushrooms for our lunch followed by a private barrel tasting of the great Bress wines and full Bress hospitality by winemaker friend Adam.  Highly recommend a day trip up to Bress for those of you in the Melbourne area.

My friends found it somewhat ironic that after traipsing happily all over Africa, I became completely flummoxed trying to get from Brisbane to Inverell, my home town in rural New South Wales.   After failing to find any sensible method of public transport to get there, I eventually put my mother on the job and she finally delivered a solution involving two bus rides and a 2 hour car ride (thanks mum!).  As my friend Natell said “If you were doing that in Africa, you’d call it adventure”.  In Australia, I just call it isolated.  But it was good to be back and see my family and friends (thanks for coming in Kermie and thanks for the lattice biscuits mum!!)

But Inverell is positively in the heart of it all compared to my next journey.  I had agreed, foolishly I suspected, to drive with my sister, brother-in-law and their three kids to Darwin and Kakadu National Park, a mere five days drive away.  This is outback driving – the kind where a 650km day is considered a short one, a turn in the road merits a comment and you wave at every vehicle that passes you – a languorous finger lifted off the steering wheel type of wave but still a wave.   Luckily, there are some classic Aussie bush pubs along the way, some of them conveniently offering camping so Mark (the brother-in-law) and I decided we were actually just on a very long distance pub crawl.  We even had a stubbie or two (Australian beer bottle) at the pub where Crocodile Dundee was filmed.

But the real pleasure of the journey came in the spotting of emus, kangaroos, dingos, wild camels and wild brumby’s (horses) along the wayside, the sweep of clouds in endless skies and sleeping in my swag (a sleeping bag/bivvy bag) under star-studded skies to wake to a wallaby (small kangaroo) at the foot of my bed.    I also took great pleasure in early morning runs in the bush – amidst the red rock and ghost gums with a cacophony of bird song and the bounding of wallabies for the music track.

But this journey was more than a nature drive, it was also a tour down memory lane.   Over 30 years ago my sister and I had made the same trip with our parents when we moved to Kakadu National Park for 18 months.      My first job was during this time – helping my uncle on his tourist boat cruise where we would dangle hunks of meat on a stick over the rail and have huge saltwalter crocodiles jump out of the water to eat it.   This time I relived the experience as a paying tourist.  It’s still seriously impressive.  But to make sure I got my fair share of crocodile time, Mark and I decided to jump into the “cage of death” and swim with the monsters instead.   It’s quite an experience to be in the water with snarling crocodile jaws (the power of a two-ton truck) just centimeters from you through a clear Perspex cage.

Crocodiles aside, this is a majestic land – all big sky, big rock and big water.   From the towering ochre cliffs of Katherine Gorge  (note to self:  bring kayak next time) to the waterfall fed rock pools of Litchfield National Park to the escarpment vistas, rock art and billabongs of Kakadu, you can’t help feeling you’re in the real heart of nature.   And you know this is nothing compared to the connection the Aboriginals have with the land they’ve inhabited and lived off for the past 60,000 years.   It’s humbling and inspiring at the same time.

In fact this whole trip was inspiring – not just the landscape but also re-connecting with friends and family.   Contrary to my expectations, Jake, Emma and Zoe (my nieces and nephew) were real troopers on the car journey – “yes…we can play I Spy again” – and are now experienced camp setter-upperers.   I loved hanging out with you guys – and there was definitely more laughter than tears (at least until we got to Darwin!).    Thanks to Kellie and Mark for making me feel part of the family.  And to Narnie for two sanity pub nights – one in Inverell and one in Darwin.

More adventures in the Southern Hemisphere in the next update..

– Nikki

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