Territory

The road off the highway was red-brown dirt and bereft of signs. The driver steered the mini-bus, sixteen of us on board, through the scrubby bush that lined both sides. Sticks and leaves hit the windows, and rocks clunked off the chassis. We entered a Darwin backwater.

Our host, Patrick, stood in a broad opening, waiting for us to disembark and gather near him. He was wearing Hard Yakka gear: faded navy shirt and drill shorts; ripped Akubra. A gun in a holster and knife in a sheaf, sat on his right hip. His heels were as cracked as drought-dry earth; his toenails as grey as ash, just like his long beard.

When we were silent before him, he greeted us sternly. ‘You’re here by invitation. Do what I say, and you’ll be safe. You’ll learn a lot about crocodiles. Up close. These crocodiles are wild and it’s not like a wildlife park or TV show, which is just entertainment.’

Patrick marched us up to the mangroves. ‘Never look for crocodiles,’ he instructed, checking our eyes were on him, ‘because if you don’t see any, you’ll think they aren’t there, and then you’re in danger.’

We crossed the gang plank, under order, two or three at a time, ‘in case something happens,’ and climbed onto the rectangular, aluminium boat. We sat, peering out through steel mesh which fenced us in. We were shown the holes where we could hold our camera phones. ‘Don’t stick any part of you outside the boat; not a finger!’

Ten minutes down river, we were chugging over to the muddy shore, Patrick having noticed a ‘small’ croc in the water. It followed us, knowing there was a chicken carcass linked to that chugg. ‘I know all the crocs in this area! This is a female,’ said Patrick. Her skin was the colour of rotting autumn leaves: beige and brown and grey; quite beautiful. She thrilled us as she launched herself from the water up to the flying carcass, dangled from cotton thread and a bamboo pole. Our cameras and fingers stayed behind the mesh as we were awed by the insides of her mouth and the number of teeth. Snap. The sound was sharp and definite. ‘She’s got reflexes five times faster than any human,’ said Patrick in his stern voice. ‘Two point four metric tonnes per square inch is her jaw closing pressure; that’s two thousand four hundred kilos per square inch!’ he drawled. Clearly, an inch was a preferred measurement for Patrick. Abruptly, our girl turned and scampered onto the mud.

An enormous male was heading our way and since crocodiles can’t tell the sex of one another in the water, she had to get on shore to lift her head and open her mouth to show her feminine submissiveness. If he’d met her in the water, he would have assumed her to be male and fought her off his territory.

As he took over the chicken carcasses, and the show, she hung back in the shallows. Patrick commented on them both being a bit distracted, and he looked up river. ‘This’ll be interesting,’ he said.

The small female thrust herself into the water, swimming quickly toward an approaching crocodile. Patrick chuckled as the newcomer twisted back and raced in the opposite direction, both crocodiles scooting on top of the water. The big male croc looked back at the boat, more interested in chicken. Patrick answered our questions. ‘He doesn’t care; she’s scaring it off her territory, which is around one hundred metres. It’s probably a female. He’s got anywhere between twenty and fifty females in his area,’ he said, smiling. ‘She’ll ward off small males too; she only wants the alpha around.’

As we watched, the first female disappeared under the water, and just like a cartoon, the surface one sped up. They both emerged, as if stopped by an invisible fence, and engaged in mouth-to-mouth combat. ‘That’s the border line of the girls’ territory, a bit of a no-man’s land,’ Patrick informed us.

We moved further along the river, coming to another bank, this one sandy and edged with thick scrub. Another female, lolling in the water, took to the chicken, and gave us another chance to see deep inside her mouth as she jumped up to meet the unpredictable, flying carcass. Suddenly, she aquaplaned onto the bank, the same male having followed us. The females obviously felt fear, despite Patrick’s comment that crocodiles had no emotions. ‘They might know the sound of the boat and associate it with the chicken, but if I fell in the water, I wouldn’t be spared. There’s no attachment, no love. If they bite the propeller it’s because they’re testing it for eatability. They let it go. Anything organic, they eat it; your bones, your teeth, but not your knee replacements or your fillings.’

Good to know! Crocodiles are only interested in territory, feeding and mating. There’s no happy, no sad; just pissed off, hungry or horny! Any similarity to man is coincidental, and if you know a man like this, unfortunate!

 

Have you ever met any pre-civilised creatures who fight over territory, mates or tucker? Be careful who you smile at!

 

Am I a Product of Childhood TV?

Browsing Facebook the other day I came across a Post, shared by a friend of similar age, that showed a compilation of the many things that the Skippy, Aussie star of Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo, could do. https://www.facebook.com/abcnews.au/videos/298065574306482/

This fantastic collection of show snippets had me laughing out loud and led to a lot of reminiscing of all the shows that I had watched as a child. I realised that they were all about talented animals, magic and adventure, and I wondered what sort of effect this had had on me.

Am I a product of my formative years’ TV watching?

The first TV show I remember is The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. I have a memory of the star, a handsome German Shepherd, who was very clever and often saved the day. I think he belonged to the boy and they loved each other. Rinty did courageous and clever things to help the US Cavalry keep things in order. I’m guessing I was about three when I saw this re-run in Australia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_nclUG-0SQ  I went on to be an ardent dog lover and as a child had three German Shepherds: Rommel, Kaiser and Max. Rommel was my fearless fun friend and protector and would entertain the kids at my birthday parties with tricks like climbing the super-tall slippery dip ladder and sliding down. He would have given Rin Tin Tin a bit of competition.

Around this time, I also watched The Mickey Mouse Club but I only remember the spelling of Mickey Mouse and the opening song, with Donald Duck. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4C_lUy58Rw Animals that talked and wore clothes, even animated ones, gave me the sense that it was okay to anthropomorphise all my stuffed toys, and I still do!

My first real television watching was Skippy. Every Australian child who had a television must have watched Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo. She was as adept as any human in understanding instructions, opening doors, passing tools and undoing ropes. She was also great at jumping on villains and finding Sonny, the Head Ranger of Waratah National Park’s son. A real hero. I love watching the roos in my yard, especially when they play-box. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hByob-5pPEs

SI with Nola Sep17 (3)

Then, of course, there was Flipper, the friendly dolphin who went out of her way to assist the boys, the other main characters, with their tasks and adventures. She had a talent for communication, could pull boats and play tricks. I still get excited to see a pod of dolphins catching waves with the surfers.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azEOeTX1LqM

All the human lead-characters in these shows were male which didn’t register with me at the time. I related to them just as well as if they’d been female. But I wonder if the example set, that the boys took the lead, were more important and had the fun, affected the way I saw myself in relation to boys. I like to think of myself as adventurous, but I have always relied on a strong male, or a protective dog! I’ve used licence here to call Skippy and Flipper, female, for a bit of balance.

Lost in Space was pure fantasy to me. I never was one to dream of space travel and wasn’t science oriented, but I loved the robot and Dr Smith’s performance. Strangely, I only now realise that the robot’s sidekick was a boy too! Damn!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJrw6imp7f8

Mr Ed, the Talking Horse was funny because, he was a horse, of course! He had a jaunty attitude and a ridiculous dialogue with his keeper, Wilbur. Ed was beautiful, a palomino, and I didn’t stop to wonder what was making his lips move. I just assumed he was talking. Why not? Maybe horses are smarter than dogs and dolphins and kangaroos!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkksL5KYC_c

Finally, I Dream of Jeannie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eAwLoHInLk and Bewitched https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9jbX8GX83E took over as I got a little older. Both highly attractive women could create magic, be perfectly groomed and achieve anything while being sweet. Sounds just like me!

I fancy that I can communicate with any animal (or stuffed toy), have adventures as exciting as any boy, spell well, detect Danger in alien environments, and look like a domestic goddess while juggling critical tasks and averting catastrophes.

I’d say I am a product of the magic of these childhood TV shows. And I wouldn’t have it any other way! How about you?

 

 

My favourite childhood reading was Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven. The series had plenty of adventure, girls and dogs. But that’s another blog. https://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/secret-seven.php

 

 

 

Get Out There

The benefits of facing your fears and pushing yourself to go outside your comfort zone, are exponentially rewarding. Each time you achieve something on your own, you buoy up your confidence and your ego, and that means you can go on to to do even more adventurous things.

Visiting a foreign country on your own seems to be something most people are afraid of, or maybe it’s just women. But as I’ve said before, the advantages, like being adopted by strangers and following your own interests and timetable, outweigh the disadvantages. Once you’ve done it, it gets easier. I’d recommend going somewhere similar to home first then stepping up the ante. I started with domestic travel in Australia, then moved on to Ireland, and now it’s India.

Exploring on your own, day or night, seems scary to some, as well. I know I’ve talked about this before but I want to reinforce that it’s worthwhile. I want to share some examples I experienced in India to convince you.

Catching the train from Mumbai to Goa, nine hours on my own, was far easier than I anticipated. I did need help finding the platform but that wasn’t bad. I brought my packed lunch and mini-thermos of masala chai, and found that tea, snacks and lunch were provided! Mind you, I wouldn’t eat it, but that’s pretty convenient.

Hiring a driver is essential for safe and time-efficient site-seeing in a place like India but it’s not necessary for short trips with a purpose. I could have opted for hotel transport to and from the Jaipur Writers Festival but choosing to take the auto rickshaw was fun and gave me some of my best photos. And a real taste of being a local. Apart from motorbikes, this is one of the key ways for locals to get around. They’re really cheap and give you an authentic experience.

On my first night in Varanasi, I went along the promenade of the Ganga to survey the area before dinner. Being sensibly cautious I first asked the hotel staff if it was safe to do so, since it was dark. Their answer was absolutely. There were so many people going about their business: chatting, bathing in the holy river or sending candles off in little foil trays with a prayer. A young man started walking alongside me asking, where are you from? The usual conversation starter! Did I feel threatened? Not at all. Was I wary? Of course! When he asked if I’d like to see the cremation site, I said yes, but it wasn’t like I was following him up a back alley. I was in plain view of everyone and he offered pieces of information which were helpful. When he offered to guide me the next day, I firmly told him that I already had a guide, gave him 100 rupees (AUS$2) to make him happy, and left. It was a positive start to the trip.

The next night, I attended a religious festival, which happened to coincide with my being there. There was a huge number of people and a lot of noise. As a single, I could climb over people that were seated at the front to perch myself in a tiny spot. I squeezed in to cross my legs next to a dark, sari-clad lady who smiled, made a bit more room, then helped me put red paste on my forehead. She even shared flower petals with me. I was delighted and I think she was too. Returning to the hotel, a kilometre walk along the Ganga bank, I got even closer to the cremation site than the night before. About five pyres burned, flames reaching metres high and smoke billowing, stinging my eyes while my ears and chest vibrated with the loud beating of drums. I finished off the evening with feeding a mother dog and her four puppies, and three cows, my left over dinner of naan bread and vegetable kebabs. (I’d asked the restaurant to pack it in a takeaway bag for my lunch!) This whole experience, which I wouldn’t have had if I’d been too anxious about going out, will always stay with me as a highlight.

Finally, in Kolkata, I left my lovely hotel, a cocoon of peace and safety (but also rather un-thrilling for dinner for one), and discovered a buzzing hive of brightly-lit activity, just outside the gate. Night markets were right there and as I stepped through the crowd of buyers and sellers, I watched as locals examined the clothes, stainless steel pots and embroidered tablecloths. I even bought a couple of things myself. Young people gathered around food stalls and stood eating dishes that I now recognised. The aromas of sweet spices and garlic made me hungry so I pressed on to the rooftop bar and restaurant recommended to me by my guide earlier in the day. I was thrilled that the atmosphere was both vibrant, enhanced by contemporary (Bollywood-style) music, and comfortable, with white cane chairs, orange cushions and marble table tops. And the food was tasty and inexpensive. It was another authentic experience that I wouldn’t have had if I stayed in the hotel.

I want you to understand that these moments not only enhance my travel experience but also help me grow as a strong and curious person. These are the building blocks for developing a joyous and purposeful life and I hope I can encourage you to take the first step towards doing this for yourself. We can all do it if we start with baby steps. It’s taking a leap of faith, even if it’s off the bottom step first.

“Be brave. Without bravery, you will never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, your life will remain small – far smaller than you probably wanted your life to be.”
Elizabeth Gilbert.

PS Adventures don’t always run smoothly. Things do go wrong and they can hurt. But whether they’re negative experiences or learning experiences is how you view it. I’ve had worse but I’ll tell you this tale because I see it as funny!

On my last day in Varanasi, I decided to see an Ayurvedic doctor, as much for the experience as a curiosity about advice he would give me. I followed a hand-drawn map scribbled on a napkin by my guide the previous day. This was challenging and fun, a bit like orienteering. I had to catch a boat first, a ride of 30 minutes, and get off at Assi Ghat. Then I turned left at the steps and right at the chai shop and past the ATM and up to a big house on the right. On the way, I was stopped by a thin woman carrying a toddler and an empty baby bottle. ‘No money,’ she said. ‘Baby formula, milk!’ And she waved the bottle at me. ‘No money, milk for the baby,’ she begged again. Well, what could I do? I asked, ‘Where do I get the formula?’ ‘The shop, follow!’ she said, beckoning me with a wave of her hand. I followed her to a shop twenty metres away and she requested the formula from the shop owner. ‘Two,’ she suddenly appealed, touching my arm and leading my gaze to the toddler. So again what could I do? Okay, two! I was surprised at the cost and exclaimed it. The shop owner showed me the box and the price was printed on the packaging. ‘Okay!’ I nodded, reaching into my purse, mumbling to myself, No wonder she can’t afford it! The baby pinched my arm, a little painfully, in gratitude. He was quite strong!! I took their photo, which was reverse begging really. I love my people photos.

So….I went to the doctor. I stepped past the lazing cows and into his house foyer. He spoke English, was kind and intelligent and basically told me I was going to be fine. Ayurvedic doctors are free so of course I believe him. This was a truly positive experience.

Back to the lady and toddler. I sent a message to my guide saying how helpful he’d been in his recommendation of the doctor and map drawing. I said something brief about the lady and buying milk. He replied that I’d been ripped off, that she would take it back to the shop and get a refund. 600 Rupees (AUS$12) it cost me! I sent the photo and he sent back, ‘Ya, I know dis bloody leady.’ This made me laugh at myself so hard, I may have looked crazy. Really, did it hurt? No! Did I learn something about life in a hard world. Yes. About myself. Yes! So end of story. Another great experience!