Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Messages From Myanmar #16

Messages From Myanmar #16
Australian Vacation Special - Part 1 of 6
07 September 2016

Hello there, Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:

It is DoS SOP for diplomats assigned to certain overseas posts to receive at least one R&R (“Rest & Recuperation”) during their tour. It’s a pretty good deal; State picks up the tab for airfares (economy, of course), and you’re on your own for the rest. Most folks choose to go back to the States, but since A.J. had only recently returned from a conference in DC, we decided to split the difference and go to Australia. I had never visited the place (she was there thirty years ago), so this was a grand opportunity. It was an epic trip.

[Tourist Pro Tip - Since there were a lot of moving parts to coordinate, we engaged the services of an Australian travel agent to pull it all together. He did a great job and saved us a boatload of stress.]

Ready? Alrighty, then…

Day 1 - Mon., 08/15

Flew from Yangon to Darwin via the excellent Singapore Changi Airport…

Day 2 - Tues., 08/16 - Darwin

…arriving in Darwin at 03:00. Got a surly taxi driver and overpaid in USD, but made it to the hotel in good order. After a bit of sleep, we went for a swim and then headed out in search of seafood. Coming out of the hotel, I made the mistake of trying to do two things at once and side-stepped a curb, twisting my right ankle 90 degrees and crashing to the pavement. I’ve been through this kind of dumbass pain before, and so, ascertaining that nothing was broken, I elected to walk it off. And the barramundi (Asian sea bass) was delicious.

While waiting for a taxi from the waterfront back to the hotel, I engaged in a conversation with one of the locals. It was the first of many, most of which went something like this:

Aussie: Where you from?
Yank: The States.
Aussie: How do you like Australia?
Yank: Very much indeed.
Aussie: What about Donald Trump?
Yank: On behalf of America, we apologize. But he’s an idiot and is not going to win the election.
Aussie: Hope not. Right, mate; have a great trip.

Day 3 - Weds., 08/17 - The Ghan

The Ghan Expedition is a train operated by Great Southern Rail. It plies a route from Darwin to Adelaide, some 2979 km (1851 mi), with passengers spending three nights onboard. Over half a mile long, 2 locomotives, 38 cars, 40 crew, 300+ passengers… this is a major league operation and, pardon the lapse into cliché, “a trip of a lifetime.”

The train was packed, primarily with retired Australians, and after a period of the staff herding old cats, we settled in our stateroom. Think of a walk-in closet with an adjoining closet bathroom/shower. Very functional and very cozy.

The Ghan pulled out from Darwin, rolling past a landscape of scrub brush, small trees, and a zillion termite mounds. We made a tourist stop in the Nitmiluk National Park and did a bit of sightseeing in the Katherine Gorge from a boat on the Katherine River. This included a short walk (the ankle was most grateful) to see ancient Jawoyn paintings on the rock face. Regrettably, none of my photoz of these turned out well.

[Cultural Sensitivity Note - I know not much about Australian Aboriginal culture and freely acknowledge that, being a gringo, I cannot help but view Australia to some extent through the lens of my particular preconceptions. But Europeans, wherever they have immigrated, have treated indigenous people heinously, and I think it’s important to hold that thought.]

To be continued...


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