|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
Australia, Country 26, Diary entry 30th Oct – 11th Nov 2006, Total distance in Australia: Unknown, Distance to date: 9061KM
A HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all!
Once settled in our seats and flying high, we began to feel ourselves relax a little. The airplane was the smallest I’d been on in a fair while, just able to carry 30 people. All seats were full and there was a vibe of happiness in the air as we soared through the sky. The flight was just over an hour and a half and the one air hostess on board duly served up a selection of hot and cold drinks, which ever took our fancy. I had a diet coke. I was just settling into writing my diary when the air hostess returned down the aisle once more and asked if I’d like a packet of crisps – thanks very much, don’t mind if I do. Diet coke and a pack of crisps I was sorted for the trip.
But this wasn’t the end. This little lady obviously liked to keep herself busy, for she returned yet again, this time with an offer of cookies. I declined – didn’t want her to think I was a pig! She obviously thought I needed fattening up as the next round was a choice of nuts….oh, go on then, just this once. She continued…… the final round (we were after all only on a short flight and we were near our destination by now), chocolate. Now, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a decent bit of chocolate, so when she saw our faces light up and in a conundrum over which bar to choose – there was a huge range, although the gentleman in front on me had just taken the last Mars bar – after choosing the little Freddo froggie chocolate, she urged me to treat myself and have another! Ooh, the excessiveness of such a sin, I promptly picked up a Boost.
For some good reason whilst we were sorting the car out, we had decided to pack in our luggage some of the wooden souvenirs which we’d bought in various countries. I guess it was the heat, exhaustion and stress that made us think it was a good idea at the time, as I was now sitting with a customs and quarantine form in front of me, pondering on whether I should tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question, ‘do you have any wooden artefacts, plant matter and whatever else it is they don’t want you to bring into the country’. Ohh, if I tick the ‘yes’ box they’re bound the take them from me (I’d been listening to a lot of horror stories from other travellers in Dili), but if I tick ‘no’ and they find the stuff I’m going to get into a lot of trouble; we’re out of the ‘sorry, I only speak English, I don’t understand you’ excuse. I’d taken quite a while to work myself up into a bit of a tizz, when Alex told me to just tick ‘yes’ to all that applied and be done with it. I did just that.
As I looked out of the small window next to me, I could see the cobalt blue of the deep ocean beneath us. I watched with fascination for a while as the colours changed with varying depths and then I saw it, out of the corner of the window, the dry, dusty orange landmass – I had my first glimpse of Australia. Suddenly, from nowhere, huge emotions were awoken inside me. Australia is always considered the far off country, it is indeed a long way from the UK, but then so is Indonesia and we’d spent the last two months there without considering how far away it was from home. As the plane began its descent, the knots in my stomach tightened; suddenly realising we have driven a bloody long way! I never really look at the whole picture of the trip now, only little chunks as we arrive in each country. I had the sudden dawn of realisation how far away from family and friends I have come. It was an exciting but sombre thought.
Having lived in Adelaide for a year of studying, 12 years ago, I was keen to return to Australia. I loved the place when I last lived here, with such friendly people everywhere you go it’s a country I felt very at home in. Forget the fact that Australia is home to something like 10 of the 15 most venomous snakes in the world, the infamous redback spider, as well as crocs galore, it’s not really a case of ‘does it kill you’, but ‘how quickly’! However, all of this pales into insignificance – we were returning to the home of the didgeridoo playing, sheet of metal wobbling, Rolf Harris!
As we stepped off the plane we were hit with a blast of warm air, as if opening an over door. We routinely queued for immigration and a friendly, dare I say, even chatty officer (you don’t get many of them) greeted us and asked for our passports. Once he realised we were here on a 1 year tourist visa, another plain clothed officer said he’d like a chat with us. Once we were stamped into the country, we were taken to one side and asked all the same questions which we answered on the application form for the visa (not sure how he was going to check all the information), he then thanked us for our time and allowed us to go and pick up our bags.
Slightly different from the international travel I’m used to, the baggage room empty, the carousel stationary and our lonely bags were the last to be collected. As we had declared goods, we were taken to the side, rather than our bags put through the x-ray machine. We pulled out the bits and bobs we needed to show, a cursory glance was given by the quarantine officer and then they were wrapped back up and returned. Thankfully mum-in-law’s homemade pear chutney was given the OK. Why was I so worried? Alex did the same with most of his stuff and the same routine applied. Not sure whether the bags would then be scrutinized by x-ray, we remembered one last item we’d packed in the depths of the bag and passed it over.
You may recall we bought a blow pipe in Malaysia in one of the remote villages while we were passing through. Well, the quiver which held the darts was made of bamboo and we’d also (in our moment of wisdom) decided to bring this through rather than leave it in the car. Not even considering the darts were inside, we just worried about bringing wood into the country. The officer took off the lid, pulled out the wool at the top and emptied all sorts of little bits from it. He didn’t seem to mind the mess which has just been expelled from the top, but said he needed to check with customs about the actual darts – oh yes, they’re long, sharps spikes of wood that could do you a bit of harm if applied correctly. I hadn’t considered that!
Two customs officers came over, extremely friendly chaps and asked a couple of questions; “Are these darts from a blow pipe?” In our politest voices we responded, “Yes they are.” “And where is the blow pipe now? Have you brought it through with you?” The absence of said long piece of bamboo with hole in the middle kind of gave it away a little, “erm, no.” Being the kind of people we are, we decided to be helpful and continued with, “it’s in our car which is being shipped from East Timor”. “And when does the car arrive in Australia?” “Well, probably in time for Christmas 2008, knowing the incompetence of everyone we met in Dili” I was longing to say, but replied with, “hopefully in a week or so.” “Well, I’m afraid we’re going to have to confiscate it when the car gets in. It’s classified as a lethal weapon under section XX (can’t quite remember what was sited!) and you’re not allowed to bring it into the country.” Hmm, we hadn’t planned this. Taking stuff we’ve actually shown them yes, but not one tucked away in Tinfish still in East Timor. Begging and pleading and telling them that we definitely wouldn’t use it (I really thought that one would work) they pulled a face to show they sympathised with us but rules were rules. They took Alex’s passport to put all his details in the computer and then let us go. We only had to return once to pick up the passport we’d left with them – we wouldn’t have got far without that. We were grateful for the fact they let us keep the actual quiver the darts came in.
We entered a packed airport in search of information on accommodation in town. Flabbergasted at prices for dorm rooms (like Alex said our tent is for free and we had no idea of relative costs), we settled for the Wilderness lodge and booked ourselves in for a week. We knew it unfortunately wouldn’t be a quick stay.
We bought two tickets on the express shuttle bus into town and jumped on the one just leaving. It was a strange site. Ordered traffic, no people wandering in the middle of the road, an absence of cows sleeping on the verge and traffic lights; traffic lights that people stopped at. All familiar but from a long distant past. We alighted at our destination and dragged our sorry souls to the reception. We were greeted by a really nice girl, who checked us in, gave us our sheets and the key for the 8 bed dorm we had booked ourselves in to. Entering the dingy cell we were amazed at the mess of peoples belongings spread everywhere. It was clear that this wasn’t just travellers passing through but people staying for the long run. We both felt it a little bizarre to come away travelling then settle for the long term in a place like this, all very different to how we’ve become travelling nomads. It was going to be a steep acclimatising curve.
Not really sure what to do with ourselves, we dumped our bags in the room and went for a walk in town. We idled around the streets for a while and once we had checked out the internet, made a beeline for the supermarket. Sad as it is to say, it was great just wandering around Woolworths (Woolworths here are very different to the junk shop Woolworths in the UK). Firstly it was air-conditioned which made a big difference from the late 30’s temperature outside and secondly we saw foods we hadn’t seen in a long while. Drooling at all the foods we could now eat without rationing, for when it was finished that was the end of it, we spent well over an hour there! Of course we didn’t buy anything, we had probably at least 10 days in this joint, and we didn’t want to rush all our exciting activities in one day!
The evening perked up a little, with free flowing beer from a few guys who gathered on our balcony with a case of VB. One guy, called Brownie provided the entertainment for the evening, by chatting incessantly, pretty much to himself, as none of us could understand the ‘Aussie lingo’. As the beer flowed, the funnier it got.
The next day’s activities tended to mirror the day before, this time with us visiting Coles (the other supermarket in town) for a recce. There’s really not much to do in Darwin! We saw an ad in an internet café for a room to rent, so decided we’d have a nosey as it might be a better option than our 8 bed dorm. Venturing over to one of the suburbs just outside the city centre, we met Martin who showed us around. The room was more like a tent. If you picture a port-a-cabin on stilts, this is what most houses in Darwin look like. Not the prettiest. What Martin had done, was convert (in the loosest possible terms) the underneath of the house to a room to rent out. It was better than the 8 bed dorm we’d suffered for a night, however having already paid a weeks ‘rent’ we weren’t sure we’d get our money back.
We ventured to the Wharf with Martin and his friend for a fish and chips dinner. Barra (barramundi) for me, prawns for Alex - all delish, before racing back to the backpackers to find reception closed. We’d have to check the rent situation in the morning. We walked over to the cinema for ‘cheap Tuesday’ and finished the night with The Departed. Lots of action but a crappy ending.
It’s widely believed fishermen tell little white lies. Today I became a fisherman. Venturing up to the lovely two girls at reception, I (feeling very naughty) told them that our car had turned up early (yeah right!) and we were keen to get back on the road. They were very understanding, making me feel even more guilty and said as a one off – they don’t normally give refunds – they’d make an exception and we could refund 5 nights. As part of our penance for the small white lie we’d told, we strolled to customs house to begin the fun of making sure the paperwork was all in order for when the boat did finally turn up.
Having spent hours on the internet researching what was needed to get the car into Australia without a carnet, along with talking to customs ‘help’, we had one piece of paper to our name. Strong in the belief we had exactly what we needed, we confidently entered customs house. Greeted by a nice guy called Paul, we explained our situation and handed over the document which was to allow Tinfish to enter Australia. After a scratch of a head, Paul called over his superior, Jeffrey (a mini Kiefer Sutherland – and quite a cutie girls!). We did not have the correct paperwork!
Distraught with the fact we had literally spent hours checking and double checking with customs ‘help’, we called the guy I’d been emailing to find out what we actually needed. Reeling out ANOTHER 3 forms needed to be completed, along with ‘probably having to pay some sort of security bond’, we returned to customs house feeling more than a little deflated. Paul and Kiefer were waiting for us and after interpreting the value of the car in Aussie dollars and not UK sterling, they ended up calculating a rather lower bond than we initially expected. Preferring a cheque or bank guarantee as form of compensation rather than cash we also planned a visit to ANZ to see if this could be done. Our day was suddenly getting busy! We began to fill in other forms, but reached stalemate when we needed more info about the boat Tinfish was sailing in on.
During this 4-5 hour period, we’d also found another ad for a cheaper room than Martin’s and conveniently closer to town, so after a quick look, returned to the backpackers for our bags and paid up for a week. A room for just two of us was much nicer than an 8 bed dorm, even though the promise of an A/C didn’t materialise. Frenchy, the owner of the house initially came across as your typical ‘friendly Territorian’, but the wet season room rates were worth it.
The next few days we wallowed away watching crap movies and suffering the high 30’s heat and humidity by swimming in the pool. Each day had a highlight of visiting the cosmopolitan metropolis of Darwin, to shop, do internet or revisit our friendly customs officers. Now, the majority of people we had had close contact with so far were a friendly bunch, exactly how I remembered Australians to be. However, I did learn through conversation that none were from around these parts, they’d ventured to Darwin, Northern Territory (NT) for reasons unknown.
Over the days we’d made calls to Perkins to try and find out an ETA for Tinfish. This was our first taster of the personalities of ‘Territorians’. Helpful to the point of one word answers, we had to squeeze every answer out through carefully thought out questions in the hope we dragged out all of the information we needed. We eventually had an arrival date, but were not allowed to obtain the car until 4 days after, due to unloading and quarantine inspections on the containers. Having the answers we needed for Mr. Customs, we returned once more to complete the paperwork and inform them that our investigations into a bank guarantee were unsuccessful, due to it ‘being too much work for the amount needed’ to bother! Unperturbed by our lack of funding, Kiefer kindly said he would waive the bond, along with taking any flak if need be and signed off the customs papers, warning “we will find you if you sell the car”. No Siree. At last it was sorted. Only took a week!
It was then we made our call to quarantine to book an inspection. Asking where the car was coming from, the guy laughed and said “we don’t normally pass cars first time from East Timor”. What a great vote of confidence. Knowing Martin had failed first time, we knew he probably wasn’t joking. We now just had to wait till D-day.
While all our research into the car paperwork was going on, Alex had become increasing unwell over the days that followed our fish and chip supper on the wharf. With all our drugs still in Tinfish and rejecting ideas of visiting a doctor, he was a Martyr to the end, or rather a ‘full astern’ Martyr. He suffered in silence, while I had the water, dinner and films ready at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately, rather than get better over the days, he grew worse. It was only after day 5 when he was literally rolling on the bed in agony that I insisted on taking him to the hospital. A fight to the end (persuasion by promise of A/C at the hospital), I eventually managed to get Alex in the car and Frenchy drove. Worried from the amount of pain it might have been appendicitis, it took nearly 20 minutes to reach A&E. I checked Alex in while he sat bent double in the waiting area.
Looking round, Alex had disappeared, so I assumed he must have gone to the loo. Only after the walls began trembling and flecks of dust fell from the ceiling, I began to panic thinking we were about to experience our fourth earthquake of the trip. A quick recollection from my geography ‘A’ level indicated that we weren’t in a zone of activity, it was then I saw a smiling Alex re-emerging from the loo. Trapped wind seemed to be a main part of Alex‘s pain and he returned feeling a whole lot better!
He was admitted to the treatment area and instantly given a drip, as he wasn’t able to rehydrate himself quick enough in the NT heat, even from want of trying. 2 litres of nice cold saline later and a few prods and pokes from the doctor, a diagnosis of ‘abdominal pain’ was given and we were allowed to go. We eventually got home at midnight.
Apart from Alex’s little dance with death, one night we were also treated to an evenings entertainment from Frenchy. A man who must be as close to a typical ‘Bruce’ as you can imagine, supposedly only drank one night a week, but when he did, boy did you know about it. Once in the delirium of a few scooners of choice, he was in full swing and the didgeridoo seemed to become another appendage for the night. “Didgeridoo playing is a man’s instrument. You girls can clap and sing along if you like.” It was his mantra for the night, and we were treated to a display of ‘techno’ didgeridooing as he ululated the night away along to the latest techno trance music blaring from the CD player. An experience which you would hope is less than a weekly occurrence.
Once the didgeridoo portion of the night was behind us, the delirium became more deep set and once he finished entertaining the troops in the vicinity, he entertained himself by having chats – about nothing and everything in particular – for the rest of the evening. On this occasion he started early, so we finished off the nights entertainment with another ‘cheap Tuesday’ film showing. This time it was ‘Flags of Our Fathers’. A poignant and enjoyable film about Iwo Jima – a story of the bloody battle for control of the Japanese island during World War Two, told from the perspective of Japanese soldiers. We returned to the house to find Frenchy still in full swing of conversation with himself, so we left him to it and went to bed only to be woken up periodically by the didgeridoo and his incessant conversation!
A final visit to customs house was in order to pay for the first thirty minutes of the inspection (they charge like they’re winning the lotto), when Paul casually announced, “oh you guys are the ones with the blow pipe aren’t you?” After all this time, I really thought that the computer systems might not sync up. No such luck! Customs would be down to seize the goods during the inspection the next day. Later in the afternoon, we received a call from Michaela saying they were actually going to seize the blow pipe the following morning and therefore needed our keys. Trying to explain that it wasn’t actually possible to remove it without taking out the whole car, she replied that they would give it a go, but not to worry as they wouldn’t break anything. If it wasn’t possible, they’d leave it till the afternoon. It was now late afternoon and they needed the car keys by close of business. In the middle of internet, we said it was a little difficult to come over, to a casual response of ‘well we can always just cut off all the padlocks if you can’t get the keys over to us’. They had the keys by close of business.
D-day had arrived and having arranged for the keys to be left at either Perkins or returned to customs house for us to pick up in plenty of time for our 1pm appointment with quarantine, we were becoming a little concerned when we’d not heard from Michaela. After a non-informative conversation with the ever helpful NT in Perkins, we returned to customs house once more (our legs steered themselves we had been so often) to find out the situation. We became even more confused when Paul told us that they weren’t at the docks. Enquiring further as to where the car actually was, he said they had actually removed the car from the docks (container and all) and had been impounded at a special customs holding house while they ‘inspected’ the car! What, all for a blow pipe? Rather than just take the blow pipe, customs had actually wanted the keys as they had decided to carry out a full search on the car. Concerned that we knew nothing about it, time was ticking towards our long awaited quarantine inspection, of which we now didn’t actually have a car to be inspected.
After a quick call to Michaela, we were informed that quarantine were actually also present and having a look. The situation suddenly felt very out of our control. We went into town feeling a little lost. We soon received a call from Michaela asking what the black box by the back seat was. A safe with a broken laptop in it and a purse with a couple of credit cards. No worries, it was when she followed on with, “and what about the white box in the back of the car?” that was when we knew they had stripped the car of everything as this safe is well hidden. The situation became trickier when they said they wanted to look inside it. We still had the key for the black safe and the key to the white safe was actually inside the black safe, under a combination lock. We had no means of transport to get the key to them and they weren’t allowed to come and pick us up in a government car – something to do with insurance!?
Having visions of them deciding to take matters into their own hands with ‘locksmithing’ we remembered we had hidden a spare key, so told them how to find it. It was incredibly stressful not knowing what was happening and we felt violated knowing they were going through all our possessions without us there. They called to tell us they were packing everything back and the container would be back in the docks by 12.30pm ready for our 1pm inspection. Keys would be returned to customs house. They had seized the blow pipe along with 19 codeine tablets; it is illegal to bring them into the country. Something I had never considered.
We returned to customs house for 12.30 prompt as it was a good 20 or so minute walk to the docks. It was then we were told that customs had actually moved our appointment with quarantine to 3pm as they weren’t sure they’d get the container back in time. This screwed our plans nicely. We were assuming we’d fail (we’d practically already been told so) and had hoped that we’d have the afternoon to re-clean the car in the hope we could get a retest for Friday morning. A quick call to quarantine to see if there was any chance we could make it a little earlier, we were told it was 3pm and if we did fail, the next appointment wasn’t until Monday morning. Becoming more forlorn as the day dragged on, we left customs once more.
While we paced the street of Darwin, our fairy godmother was working her magic with the airwaves once more. Chrissie (also the bag carrying fairy god mother) had invited us over to Sydney for a respite from Darwin, as once we finally got Tinfish into Australia, she needed some serious work doing before she was going anywhere. Not only is Chrissie our fairy god mum, but she is also an air mile zillion heiress and had kindly booked us two flights to come and see her. The complex timing being we’d booked for Friday night! Thankfully, we didn’t have to confirm until Friday afternoon, but with the present scenario becoming more like a scene from a comedy movie, we weren’t sure how our plans would even turn out at this stage in time and we were desperate to leave Darwin!
Early for our appointment decked out in our cleaning clobber, our quarantine officer Mark was already at the docks. Neither of us had closed toe shoes (all being cleaned and packed away in the car!), which is a safety rule, so they made an exception for Alex but made me stay in the office. One of the Perkins dock workers, Rick, escorted Alex to the container. Now, Rick is normally short for Richard, of which can also be shortened to Dick. This man seemed to live up to the latter name incredibly well and so I have renamed him. Customs had restored the vehicle in the container as they had found it, so had chocked it again and tied up the rope. With time ticking, the ever helpful ‘Dick’ had promoted himself to ‘quarantine officer in the making’, pressuring Alex that his time was nearly up. After untying the rope, Alex drove over the chocks to try and speed up the process. Mark however didn’t seem in the slightest bit concerned and once Tinfish was out of the container gave a two minute look under the car before saying his job was done. The ever helpful Dick however began pointing out places which looked dirty to try and secure this new role he had bestowed upon himself, but thankfully Mark ignored him.
Tinfish had passed her biggest test yet, but it was all a bit of an anti-climax as the docks shut at 3.30pm and therefore all the workers had hung up their hard helmets and fluorescent yellow jackets for the day and gone home – we had to leave her for another night. In the rush, Alex had left all the top boxes out of the container and scattered around the dock, but our ever helpful NT office girl wouldn’t allow him to return to lock them away for night. Back at opening hours Friday morning, we paid our dues and rescued Tinfish from the coffin she’d been in for the last 2 weeks.
I returned to the house while Alex drove straight over to the Motor Vehicle Registry to make her legal with a quick stop en-route to get the new wheels we’d bought fitted as ours kept cracking. Whilst the wheels were off Alex also managed to quickly change the front brake pads which were within a whisker of damaging the discs once more. The first task in hand was an inspection, of which she promptly failed on the handbrake (that we’ve never used) and the little blue ‘bling’ lights which we’d put on the bonnet. The handbrake we already knew about and would be fixed when Tinfish went to the garage and the bling lights were easily disconnected.
The next step was paperwork. Having not entered on a carnet, they were unsure what to do. Rego here includes third party insurance and it was only this we needed. After a bout of scratching heads, rubbing arses, Alex handwriting a letter to say pretty please and photocopying every document imaginable, they mentioned that the last person that came in had a little round disc thing. What, the tax disc? We still had it on the car, so Alex took it in. “Yes, that’s the one….oh, it’s expired! If this was valid it would be fine to process the insurance as that’s your UK insurance.” NO, that’s our UK road tax, only useful for driving on roads in the UK and hence no longer valid as we’ve been out of the UK for over 16 months..!! No it’s your rego.. No it’s useless outside of the UK! And so on!
After going round in circles for a couple of hours, getting themselves into a tighter spin, they were still no further forward in knowing what to do. Suggestions of fully registering the car in the NT with full NT licence plates, seemed to be the last suggestion of the day, but to do this we needed to be a resident here with approved proof of residency. It seemed only Alex could see the ‘catch 22’!
In the end, Alex left with an illegal Tinfish caught in the second catch 22 that they couldn’t issue rego but we also needed to get Tinfish to the garage for repairs to pass the inspection and get rego, all safe in the knowledge that the big boss was to call once it had all been sorted out. Yeah right, no one ever returns calls these days. Time was ticking and with our flights to Sydney confirmed we still had lots to do. Exhausted he returned to the house where we began to put Tinfish back together. Much more than an afternoon’s job and with Toyota needing the car by 4pm so she could be taken for a road test, it was all too much.
We wanted to make sure everything was locked away in the back as we were leaving the keys with the garage, so in the end we filled two cupboards with our stuff at Frenchy’s house so the back seat stayed empty. Alex got to Toyota in the nick of time while I packed for Sydney and stored all our other gear. Yet another stressful day, at the end of a rather stressful week. Once Alex returned from Toyota we had some tea before finalising our packing. We had always intended to ship some ‘bits and bobs’ to Chrissies for safe storage once in Australia, as Tinfish was literally bursting at the seams - what a perfect opportunity to get them to her. We packed two rucksacks and another large bag and we were ready for the airport.
Wondering just how much we were over our baggage allowance, the scales groaned as we put the bags on. Not bad, only 20kg over! Carrying just two hand bags each, the attendant didn’t bat an eyelid at the excess and wished us a safe flight. We passed through security and after a pair of scissors were confiscated from our wash bag, we settled in to the airport lounge. Pilot – Take me to Sydney!
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