Saturday 31 December 2011

NYE 2011 - Bulls and Babes

Ahhh. New Years Eve 2011.
Being relatively new to Darwin I do not have a huge social life yet and did not have many options for New Years Eve. Plenty of pubs up here and various parties including masquerade balls but the idea of turning up to one of these alone was not highly appealing. I also had an offer for a private night at home cooking dinner with a new found friend. This was a lovely genuine offer but it is not a friendship that I want to encourage too much. Also there is always the option of staying home alone.
I settled on a Rodeo that was not a Rodeo. I think that is because there were no horses involved. It was promoted as the Bulls and Babes Spectacular. We were promised 50 Bull rides and a bevy of beauties. I justified this "spectacular" on the grounds of broadening my horizons and experiencing a bit of the local culture. It would be sad indeed in a few years time to look back on my life and say gee I never got to a Bull Riding show. I have seen plenty of babes so that bit was not so important.
The venue was a pavilion at the Darwin Show grounds. On arrival there was a bunch of what I took to be backpackers in a Camper van changing. It turned out this was the band and one or two of their friends.
Paying my entry fee ($30) I made my way into the venue and wandered around. Drinks were served from temporary bar areas, beer, soft drinks and premix spirits in cans all cooled in bins full of ice. You could have any choice of spirits as long as it was bourbon and coke. It was required that you bought tickets for the drinks from a different location set of tables.
The bull ring took pride of place and consisted of temporary fencing with a sand floor. Gates at the rear contained the bulls while they were being saddled and chutes allowed new bulls into the gated area. A stage for the band was to the right of the ring and tables and stools set up around the whole venue including an upper mezzanine level where I found a spare seat at a table.
Music was playing, a mix of light and medium heavy rock and pop. Think of Queen, We will Rock You, Metallica, Enter Sandman, Pat Benetar, All Fired Up. You get the picture.
The lights were low and Varilights and spotlights roamed the crowd and ring. A smoke machine filled the ring with smoke and a man commenced a spiel that was piped around the arena. It was almost unintelligable, a combination of poor amplification and speakers conflicting with each other. The crowd roared however and seemed to be having fun.
The event started with a herd of bulls running around the ring and then the Bull Riding really got underway. A succession of bulls released from the gates with riders on top. Few survived long and came off with various degrees of control. One rider rode his bull until it gave up, many ended up on the floor where upon the bull generally had an attempt to gore the rider with its horns. On these occasions helpers ran out to try and distract the bull enabling the rider to escape over the fence. Often the bull would give up easily and leave the arena on its own accord. On a few occasions the bulls proved uncooperative and refused to leave. They held their ground and attacked the helpers. Generally at this stage they released another bull and the two would generally leave together. One in particular, a mammoth beast, held its ground for about 15 minutes before finally being coaxed out. The crowd was cheering the bull.
But the riders did not always win. Two were carried off by ambulance having been on the wrong end of the horns. One of the helpers was attacked from behind when he foolishly turned his back on an open gate. A few riders were bruised and limping by the end of the night.
It was a pretty friendly crowd and I saw no evidence of excessive drinking or obnoxious behaviour. A lot of Cowboy hats, some genuine daily headwear but some in such good condition that I wasn't sure whether some of these belonged to urban cowboys or were their best going out hat.
Some of the bulls were obviously crowd favourites as were some of the riders. It was easy to get into the excitement and adrenaline of seeing a rider doing well on a particularly vicious bull.
Oh I almost forgot the babes.
Periodically a  competition was held which basically involved the babes appearing in bikinis and parading around the outside of the ring. All very amateur but appreciated by the crowd. Even the women seemed to be getting into it and I saw several women with cameras taking pictures. Yes they were babes, all slim, all with legs, all with breasts and all very very young, late teens I would guess. Sorry guys no pictures to show. These ladies were "judged" and I have no idea what the criteria was but one was awarded a cash prize.
Overall a fun night, the Bludger has spent worse New years Eves'.

Friday 30 December 2011

Darwin Tourism - Nightcliff Pool

Nightcliff pool is my local swimming pool and I pass it regularly on morning walks. I had never ventured into the pool itself so decided to do so.
The entry fee was reasonable Adults $3.70, with concessions for seniors and children and a number of passes for regular visitors. I took in a portable reclining chair and settled down on a grassy section under the shade of a palm tree.
The pool had 8 swimming lanes, most had lane ropes up for the serious exercisers so that they can plough back and forth without accident. One side was left as an open area for the non exercisers. Huge shade cloths stretch over most of the pool and protect from the sun. One area is left exposed. I guess the pool is about 40 metres long, I didn't bring a tape measure.
The water was surprisingly cool, in comparison to the ambient temperature. It was refreshing after the heat of the day. An attendant told me it was about 29 degrees C. You won't get frost bite in this pool and boys will not be able to claim shrinkage.
I spent a pleasant couple of hours there alternating between the pool and the lounge chair. The weather eventually ended my day as a storm blew in. These storms are very intense but short lived.
The Bludger sheltered from the storm in the nearby Beachfront Hotel with a pint of cold Cider.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Darwin Tourism: Mandorah Beach

Being a little bit quiet over Christmas I have attempted a bit of tourism. It is wet season so a lot of the national parks are washed out. In fact Cyclone Grant cut the road south, and the railway line. The Stuart Highway has now reopened but the railway is going to need a new bridge. That has left the supermarket shelves a bit empty but no one is concerned too much. Well apart from the Supermarkets who have reduced quantities to sell.
This means that tourism needs to be close to home and have options to avoid storms that are common at this time of year.
Mandorah Beach Resort.
Darwin has a huge natural harbour and Mandorah is a short ferry ride across the Harbour. It is on Cox Peninsula and is part of the mainland. Getting there by road is a 190Km drive, around the harbour and estuaries and rivers. A good couple of hours. Getting there by passenger ferry is barely 15 minutes. I and my companion had decided to take the ferry.
I called the day before to check that the resort was open, that they were serving meals and that day trippers could use the pool. A very friendly yes to all three questions. The only unknown was the weather so final decision was deferred until the next day.
The day was typical for this time of the year, mainly overcast, but occasional patches of sunshine. Hot and humid.
Arriving at the ferry terminal early we took a stroll around the marina. Coming to an open bit we could see a storm coming in so returned to the shelter of the terminal. The ferry was now open so we boarded just in time to avoid a drenching.
We were on the ferry run by Sea Cat ferries. This was one of their last days of operation as a new operator takes over from January 1. The staff were friendly and helpful, assisting people with prams and and elderly man with mobility problems and generally making the trip enjoyable. The trip was short and before the trip had ended the rain was gone and we were back to the heat and humidity.
Being almost low tide there was a rather long climb from the boat to the jetty, which is set high above any potential tides and storm waves. Not a difficult climb. From there we walked a few hundred metres to the resort.
The Ferry with Darwin CBD in the background
The term resort had set an expectation in my mind. I was thinking of reclining by a pool on a banana lounge or similar under some shade with a drink by my side, a book in hand and some music on the iPod. The reality was a bit different. There was a pool. A very traditional Australian rectangular shape. Not a skerrick of shade to be seen, a couple of deck chairs for seating or a nicely maintained grassy surround. It was hot and sunny, not at all a pleasant prospect. Forsaking the pool we continued to the shelter of the pub.
The pub wasn't all that bad. It is an open bar consisting of a large outdoor area under shelter. Overhead fans churn the air for a semblance of cooling. Music - aussie pub rock - was playing but at a level not to be intrusive or prevent conversation. Tables and chairs to seat a fair crowd and a nice view of the harbour if you selected your seating carefully.
We settled in and had a drink. Then another. I ordered lunch next to a sign that proudly proclaimed that it was the only place that didn't serve greasy chips with every meal. In fact they didn't seem to serve chips at all. I settled on a "freshly made" hamburger. Dissapointing. A frozen bun that had been grilled to dryness, not burnt, just desiccated. A meat patty that looked like the frozen ones that you get in supermarkets in brightly coloured boxes at premium price. You know from experience that the patty is tasteless and the meat so finely ground that it has no texture. It was all of that. Drowning it in tomato sauce and washing down with beer was the only option to make it palatable.
Overall though I like the pub and could easily kick back there with a few beers and friends and enjoy a quiet session.
View of Mandorah Beach and Resort from the Jetty
I didn't feel  up to a swim so we made our way back to the ferry terminal. On arrival we learnt that the ferry had a small mechanical breakdown and was delayed. We waited on the beach which was probably a silly thing to do as it was murderously hot. By the time the ferry did arrive I was feeling light headed and close to suffering heat stroke (sun stroke), despite drinking water and pouring it over myself to keep cool. A cold shower and lie down ended the day for me.
The Bludger was pleased with the day out and recommends it to visitors.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Cyclone Warning - Sort of.

This is the view from Darwin East Point Reserve looking out to the NNE towards the Low pressure system that is expected to develop into a Cyclone. There isn't a lot to see to be honest, just a dark band of clouds on the horizon. The eye of the storm is about 190 KM away, the band of clouds is probably only 20-30km due to the curvature of the earth. It is not surprising that there is not a lot to see.
The Low is stooging around to the north and east of Melville Island. Those guys are going to be in for some gale forcewinds over the next 48 hours.
So what's happening in Darwin at the moment? It is Christmas Eve, a Saturday. It's an odd feeling as people are out shopping and doing their bits and pieces. The markets are open and preparations are under way for tomorrow's Christmas feast. Lots of last minute shopping, no obvious signs of panic buying or Cyclone shopping. The shopping trolleys that I saw are full of Christmas food not Cyclone survival food.
The weather here is definitely cooler than normal. I slept with the windows and doors open last night to let the cool air in. I haven't done that in 5 months. It is windy. Not what you may call windy, only about 10-15 knots, but compared to the normal still air, it is a definate change. It has been wet, but it is the wet season, hard to tell if this is unusual.
View to the NNE from East Point Reserve.
What do I expect to happen? It seems that a Cyclone will definately form, but I expect that it will be short lived as it will probably hit land shortly after forming. The Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin, will be in for a battering. I expect Darwin itself will get some strong winds and rain, but miss the full force of the Cyclone.
Happy Christmas from The Bludger
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Sunday 18 December 2011

Territory Wildlife Park & Berry Springs

A day trip to Berry Springs and the Territory Wildlife Park.
Add this to your agenda if you visit Darwin and the Northern Territory.
The weather forecast was not good, showers and an afternoon storm. But my new friend and I decided to chance it anyway. A day trip. A chance to get out of the city with company. Female company what's more.
Berry Springs is about a 50 minute drive south of Darwin on good sealed roads. When we left it was hot, humid and about 40% cloud cover. No immediate threat of rain.
Arriving at Berry Springs we had been talking so much that we had missed all road signs. So we popped into the Sunday morning Market for directions. We wandered around the stalls and I bought a jar of honey. (What? You wanted something more substantial than that? Bad luck.)
Berry Springs Pool. No Swimming today, but is that a mermaid?
We then proceeded to the Berry Springs Nature Park. The significance of this park is that it contains a pool of water fed by an underground reservoir. At the right time of the year it is a lovely place to swim, relax and cool off. Unfortunately this is not the right time of year. This is the beginning of the wet season and the recent rains had turned the water a bit milky. The pool is full of debris even the approaches were boggy. Also there is no longer a guarantee that the waters are Crocodile free.
So no swimming. It is a pretty spot however.
Tangled roots
From there we headed to the Territory Wildlife Park. My companion, Lei, was a bit reticent. On a previous trip she had been there in the wet season and most of the park was closed. Quite honestly she found it boring. However she went along.
Fortunately she had free entry. This is an offer extended to all visitors. A single entry allows repeat visits for the next 12 months, as long as you register. I paid my dues and registered for further visits.
Quite simply we had a lovely time. The entire park was open. The staff were very helpful. Arriving just before 11am we were encouraged to go to the "Flight Deck" and see the Birds of Prey show as our first item on the Agenda.
A bird of prey. An eagle from memory
The show consisted of a choreographed series of animals, mostly birds, performing for the audience. This is open air, and the birds could have simply flown off if they so desired. But they didn't. Instead they flew patterns around and over the visitors, plucked food out of the air and pond, flew to strategic locations for photographs and generally entertained. Yes it was choreographed but it showed a high level of training of the birds by the handlers. Most impressive.
One of my favourites a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo
From there we made our way to the Nocturnal House. This held an array of night creatures including Owls, Possums, rat like thingys, mice and snakes that were viewed under dim lighting conditions. During our night they live under spotlights and believing it is daytime go to sleep. This makes them active during visitor hours, when the spotlights are turned off.
From there we made our way to the Billabong. This has a walkway and viewing platforms but the Billabong itself is fenced off with a warning sign about an aggressive fresh water crocodile.
We took time out for lunch here. Mostly we could only see Pelicans, a few were getting a little bit amorous. A pretty spot.
If you name this correctly I will pat you on the head.
As we sat eating our lunch we could hear what sounded like thunder. I was worried about a storm coming. However moving on from the Billabong we came to the "Monsoon Forest Walk". This is a walk that takes in several walk-in aviaries, some enclosures with different landforms and therefore wildlife and a final large aviary that offers a treetops walk through the rainforest. This was lovely. The thunder that we had heard was part of the display, which was a simulated thunderstorm and rainstorm. A bit of fun. Very loud. Quite realistic. Having experienced a real thunderstorm the evening before I was impressed with the realism.
A bird. In the tree tops. Type: forgotten. Big(ish)
Next stop was an aquarium. This had various tanks in a very natural setting that showcased many of the local wetland aquatic life. This included large barramundi, turtles, crocodiles and various fish. It also included some salt water tanks that held corals, stingrays, sawfish and a GINORMOUS salt water crocodile.
A big bitey thing. Best avoided.

The crocodiles seen this way are quite scary. They float almost totally submerged, with only their eyes above the water line, difficult to spot. However their powerful hind legs are resting on the bottom, ready at a moments notice to thrust the body forward and out of the water. A croc in this position is not relying on being able to swim fast, it is like a sprinter in the traps ready to leap forward. Having seen this I do not want a closer encounter with a croc, I was happy to have a layer of thick glass between me and it.
Incidentally, apparently, there are more crocs in the NT than people. Oh joy.
By this time Lei had expressed her delight at how much better the park was than her previous visit and was a convert to it being a good place. I was happy about that to know that she was not bored.
There are several attractions that we bypassed. Leave these for another visit. Our final place to visit was Goose Lagoon. This is a place where wild water birds visit. It has a large hide and an impressive pictorial display of what we may encounter. Unfortunately at this time of year we were treated to an almost empty lake. Our total "bag" was 2 ducks of some sort and possibly a Jabiru hidden in the trees.
The wildlife at Goose Lagoon.
We called it quits after that and caught the open air transport bus, which they call a train, back to the main reception. After a quick refreshment we left and headed home.
A lovely day, the weather held off, it wasn't too hot due to cloud cover and plenty to see.
The Bludger recommends visiting the Territory Wildlife Park when in Darwin.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Wrapping up. - Not marrying a Vietnamese Person

It is now about 2 weeks since any plans to marry my Vietnamese girlfriend had turned to custard. I am back in Australia and well removed physically. Untouchable.
Pretty much as soon as I left Lac Quoi communications dropped off to such a low level that even a blind man could tell the relationship was over. When I got back to Australia and had access to my translation tools I sent a series of messages trying to explain that I was angry about the demands for money. I don't know if they were understood. I guess that I was trying to explain myself. The responses back were short and showed disinterest.
I also met up with my Vietnamese teacher, Mai. She had spoken to Phuc, before my final trip, acting as an interpreter for me. Now that things were over, Mai, confessed that she had doubts about Phuc but did not want to relay them to me. In her view Phuc had seemed too focussed on money and not enough on the realities of living in Australia. Also the eye problem had been discussed and the operation had been described as not very expensive. In comparison the $500USD that I had been asked for was expensive. Mai agreed that in stopping the relationship I had done the right thing.
Also I have been remembering conversations with others on Phu Quoc island. I have identified at least one person who appeared to be in on the scam as she was also urging me to give Phuc the money for the eye operation.
I formally ended any relationship with an SMS Text message. That may sound harsh or weak, but it was our best communication medium. We both used it a lot, sometimes when sitting together we would write out a text and show it to the other. It removed some communication difficulties.
In response to that message I had a reply "Would it help if I learnt English?" I responded that Language was not the problem. I have not heard from her again. (Update: I had a brief message shortly after writing that sentence. "I miss you honey". I have ignored it as I think it was a test to see if I would respond.)
Phuc chose this over what I could offer.
I am not feeling hurt or burnt or depressed or upset in any way. Maybe a slight singe on the edges? I went into this romance with a hope and desire to make things work, but always in the back of my head that there was a risk. The risk turned out to be true. Overall I think that I have come out of this relatively unscathed and on balance a winner.
On the downside is the costs of 2 unexpected trips to Vietnam, disruption to my employer, and about $1,300 that has been scammed from me. Putting that in perspective, if I was dating a lady in Australia, I could have spent almost that much on dinners, weekends away, gifts and other attempts to woo her.
On the upside was 2 unexpected trips to Vietnam, holidays that I had not intended. A unique experience to learn a little bit about Vietnamese culture through the eyes of a Vietnamese family. I spent almost a week in the Mekong Delta, with a personal guide, living with a family, partaking in their daily life and seeing some local sights that few foreigners have access to. A travel agent would charge more than $1300 to put that package together.
I certainly don't feel that I have suffered a huge loss.
I am disappointed in the actions of Phuc, I wonder why she did it, I wonder what is going through her mind. I will never know. Was it a scam from the first night we met? Or did that come later?
Is she a professional and I am just another in a long line of fleeced tourists. I like to think not. She made a lot of mistakes in the first meeting that indicates she had not done this before. She didn't know about the strict hotel rules about foreigners not being allowed locals into their rooms for example. She was very honest about money that first time. However she was easy to get into bed, so I suspect that while she would not consider herself a prostitute, she was willing to hop into bed with a foreigner for money if the opportunity arose.
My guess is that sometime around my second visit, the thought occurred to her that she could siphon money from me. I was a target, I had been and gone, now I had come back and my level of interest was such that she could exploit that. Maybe someone got in her ear. That second trip we had some genuinely nice times that would be difficult to pull off unless you were an accomplished actress.
Maybe it was a honey trap all along. I will never know. But if it was the honey was sweet.
The sun has set on a relationship and an adventure.
 So back to being single. Just as in life, when you trip over, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving.
Maybe I will visit Thailand in 2012 and make the same mistakes all over again.
The Bludger is undaunted.