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Five seconds after stepping out of the Darwin airport terminal’s air conditioning and into the open air, the sweat began to drip from every pore. Reading about it here won’t adequately convey how sudden was the transition. It wasn’t just overcast . . . low clouds drifted slowly across the landscape, colliding with dense patches of ground fog, then billowing up in slow-motion.
As I strolled along a grassy area in front of the hotel, small arrow-shaped signs pointed to what appeared to be the beginning of a narrow concrete walkway almost entirely concealed by thick tropical plants. The signs said “BEACH” which, of course, is all it takes for someone from Hawaii. We check out beaches. It’s what we do.
I started down the concrete path and within seconds was soaking wet from brushing against moisture laden plants. It wasn’t raining, but everything was soaking wet. Patches of wet dead leaves made the footing treacherous. Finally, there it was: the beach. Let’s just say ours are better.
Other items of interest are (1) to note that Darwin was savagely attacked by the Japanese with at least one bombing raid early in World War Two, and (2) although it was prominently featured on the hotel’s dinner menu, I declined the opportunity to dine on “croc” and settled for a burger instead.
The following morning it’s still raining—what seems to be a lot of very small drops creating a kind of fog with water oozing up out of the saturated ground. Nevertheless, we are taken by bus to the train station which, contrary to the almost universal norm, is several miles out of town, well beyond the airport.
Our first stop is at the town of Katherine, which has not one, but two points of interest. The first is a school with a student body scattered over many hundreds of thousands of square miles . . . almost 300 children whose parent live and work in the Outback. Classes are conducted by way of the internet. I asked one of the teachers if the vast distances made teaching extra difficult. “Only in Choir, she said. (You’ll have to think about that for a bit.)
Katherine is also where the famous Flying Doctors first flew off into the Outback to treat a sick farmer or perhaps a stockman (cowboy) injured on the job. This is one of the original planes, lovingly preserved and no doubt still ready to fly.
(to be continued)
This article first appeared on www.trainsandtravel.com
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