Australian Carpet Python, Herberton.
We narrowly avoided turning this guy to roadkill. Head the size of your fist, body the width of your arm... the biggest one we've ever seen. Having said that legend has it they can get twice that big!
To Camp, or Not To Camp? That is the question.
And really, when you think about it, it’s something of a no-brainer:
Not To Camp.
After all, since way back when man first climbed out of the trees and found caves kept the rain off much better we’ve been building ever more elaborate homes in which to reside. These days some folks’ caves come replete with Jacuzzis, coffee-machines and home-cinemas, the kind of creature-comforts our tree-dwelling forebears could never have imagined in their wildest dreams. Just as well, as they almost certainly wouldn’t have been included on the extraordinarily short list of creatures permitted to enjoy these comforts; basically it’s us, the cat, and maybe the dog as long as he doesn’t smell too bad. Everyone else is politely shown the door by Rentokil.
So what kind of idiot would choose to ditch aeons of progress and quit their pad to doss back down outside with the centipedes and slugs? To leave the cast-iron comfort of your cozy bed and crash in a cloth contraption about as flimsy as your underpants, where the only entertainment is guessing just how wet you’ll get when The
Cassowary, Etty Bay.
Well, in short, this kind of idiot.
For reasons I can’t begin to explain, I just bloody love it.
A chance to strip away the largely ludicrous accoutrements of modern living and get back to some bare-bones basics. Okay, let’s not get carried away here; I’m not about to get naked, immerse myself head-to-toe in mud or indulge in a bout of Primal Screaming (well, not while you lot are watching, anyway!); but I’m all for a bit of chilling round the campfire toasting the odd marshmallow.
It’s a guy thing, I suppose. You’re not a real man if you’re not at your happiest ripping engines to bits, watching the footy or getting truly grubby in the outdoors.
And as I’m not much of a mechanic, and live in a country that hasn’t yet settled on which sport ‘the footy’ actually is, unless I’m about to start painting my nails pink and subscribing to Cleo, it’s camping for me.
Luckily after years of subtle training, I’ve just about managed to instill in Debbie some appreciation of this particular aspect of Man-Culture. Formula 1, black-puddings and malt-whisky are still very much works in
Oh, no, it's a Golden Orb!
The Sanctuary, Mission Beach
progress, but, when the wind blows in the right direction, the stars are aligned and the horoscopes give us the nod, she’s a better bloke to go camping with than any other I know.
Of course it helps to live in a climate that even in winter is distinctly balmy. So rather than jet-off to some far-flung land, we decided that if all the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players, this time we’d tread the boards closer to home, packing the car to strut our stuff in the great-outdoors round our way. ACT 1, Scene 1 : Interior, The Sanctuary, Mission Beach.
First night and we’ve piked out already, choosing to indulge in a spot of Permanent Camping at the Sanctuary Rainforest Retreat rather than waste time pitching up a tent of our own.
And okay, I admit; Permanent Camping is not quite the real-deal.
Its Camping-Lite, a low-carb 99% fat-free version which is all very nice, but kind-of misses the point. It’s the sort of camping David Beckham might indulge in, a far cry from the full-on Man
vs Wild drink-your-own-wee-for-the-cameras version (I still haven’t got Debbie trained that
Basically you take conventional camping, remove all the hassle and discomfort, bung-in a proper bed, champagne & canapés and Bob’s your uncle. A free ticket to charge cashed-up idiots a small fortune, fool ‘em into thinking they’re getting properly back to nature while relieving them of a hefty chunk of their hard-earned.
Having said that The Sanctuary at Mission Beach is definitely at the hardcore end of Permanent Camping, more Dennis Rodman than David Beckham, edgy, quirky, hip, but just that little bit nuts.
It’s Permanent Camping with huge creepy-crawlies on a forty-five degree jungle slope, and can at times make I’m A Celebrity look like some namby-pamby third-rate cakewalk.
As such it forms the ideal location for
Classic Camping Quibble No 1: Bugs in the Tent.
In a nutshell, on the Top Ten list of ‘Stuff Chicks Don’t Dig About Camping’, this is right up there near the very top. Debbie has enough on her plate sharing a bed with one hairy
beast, let alone a cast of thousands. In fact, at The Sanctuary you could probably make that millions, a deafening chorus of squeaks, chirrups and rustles your constant companion throughout the moonlit hours. Several fitful sleeps over the years have led us to raid tactics straight from the US Army, adopting a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. After a gorgeous meal at the Longhouse it’s straight to bed without even flicking the switch to reveal what might have joined you in your absence. If you do happen to spy the enemy lurking on walls or roof you keep it strictly to yourself, a ploy that works surprisingly well, right up to the point around 3am when a multi-legged critter falls upon Debbie’s head, whereupon its time for the start of Scene 2: …a blood-curdling scream. Act 2: National Park Campsite, Wallaman Falls : A Winter’s Tale.
Now this is more like it!
Sat in a secluded forest, the highest single-drop waterfall in Australia faintly roaring in the distance, the rustle of bandicoots in the bushes, possums stalking
the branches high above and the odd hoot of a winged predator to keep you on your toes; to our right spartan cooking facilities, to our left the ablutions block, complete with composting toilets and cold-water basins. What more could a girl ask for?
Well, maybe central heating for a start. Turns out that winter in Far North Queensland may be all shorts and T-shirt on the coast, but up here in the hills it gets decidedly nippy. Post-sunset banter was distinctly brief as we chucked down a couple of beers and headed for the safety of our sleeping bags, setting us up nicely for
Classic Camping Quibble No 2: Going For A Wee In The Night
Now was the winter of our discontent.
Well before midnight, by now snug as a bug in your cotton cocoon, your bladder reminds you that all that beer was not a smart move. Round here it’s not just a matter of padding five-feet to the en-suite. The next few hours will see an internal row of your body-parts, your feet, fingers and forehead fearing the frosty outdoors
while your bladder bellows belligerently that it’s about to bloody burst. For a bloke going solo, of course, it’s Much Ado About Nothing; the obvious solution is Bill Bryson’s wonderful ‘Toity Jar’, stashing a suitable receptacle to fill at your leisure, a sort of low-tech do-it-yourself hot-water bottle. While this may kill two birds with one stone, it’s the remaining bird, whose bladder is even smaller than your own, that you’ve got to worry about. She’s not slow to remind you just whose this idea was in the bloody first place, nor about to green-light anyone filling jars with anything whilst she’s in this damn pickle. Should you know a fix for this feminine conundrum, answers on a postcard, please. Till then it’s hold on tight till you’re fit to explode, then sprint semi-clad to moonlit salvation: All’s Well That Ends Well after all.
Act 3 :Bingil Bay Beachfront Campsite.
Having pushed the boundaries with Juliet last night, this Romeo thought he’d better search for something more romantic, and what could be better than a night on the beach, supping wine at sunset as the moon rises
over the silky-smooth waters. The levels of luxury even extended to a proper flush-toilet and that holy-of-holies, gushing hot-water. This set us up nicely for
Classic Campsite Quibble No 3 : Leaving your Shampoo in the Shower.
This one's almost as much of a guy thing as camping itself. Debbie never fails to return from her ablutions with each and every one of the creams, lotions and potions it takes to keep a woman in full working order for a day. For my part though, despite being armed with but a single bottle, it’s never to be found on my return. Actually, more accurately it’s never to be found when were already thirty-odd clicks down the road, the time it takes for my beloved to remember her hubby has the brain of a mollusc.
“Now, you did remember to bring the shampoo back this time, didn’t you?”
Course I did. Do you take me for a complete fool?
“And where is it exactly?” I
don’t know do I… in the back there somewhere with all the other stuff.
Find it later.
I’ve lost count over the years of the litres abandoned in this manner, but let's face it, I’m not the only one. Fact is, when you self-consciously shuffle shampoo-less into the shower at the next place, you’ll find a nice new bottle awaiting you, left by some other incompetent half-wit.
And this, inevitably, leads to one of the great moral dilemmas of our times.
The way I see it you’re faced with four basic options:
a) Leave well alone. Don’t touch it. Don’t open it. Hell, don’t even look at it. It’s not yours. Stealing, that’s what it is! Poor guy’ll be back in five minutes to pick it up. Besides, god knows what manner of man-germs might be lurking all over it… b)
You left yours at the last place, someone’s left theirs here. Like ships in the night he’s standing right there right now perusing your bottle and wondering what to do. And as it stands, both of you are somewhat stuffed soap-wise. Wouldn’t hurt to just take a bit, surely? If anything it’s the Christian thing to do, share & share alike, and all that. It’s kind of like time-share shampoo: you
buy your own, but rather than have to stick to the same old scent you get to sample everyone else’s too, a different fruit fragrance for each and every day. Friends, Romans, Countrymen… lend me your exfoliant scrub. As you lather up contentedly you smile in the knowledge you’ve done your own little bit for the brotherhood of man. c)
Basically the same as b), but to banish lingering guilt you then visit each and every site in turn to enquire if anyone has misplaced their valuable hair-product? Thing is, though, taking this squeaky-clean route is unlikely to gel with your fellow campers, who’ll either write you off as some religious nut or else see through it as a flimsy pretense to chat up their daughters. Or both. And who knows, in the case of those few who choose option c), they might just be right. d)
Strip off, indulge in the fastest shower in recorded history, and high-tail it out of there with bottle safely stashed in your towel. Not stealing at all, no siree!! More like finders-keepers. Just happened to be your good fortune – you stumbled upon it and now it’s yours. If anything you’ve
Meet the Missus
Brave little male Golden-Orb.
In the spider world, 'killer chat up lines' take on a whole new meaning!
done the right
thing… that shampoo was facing an uncertain future, most likely headed for the waste-bin. Now you’ve saved it, like getting a kitten from the rescue centre. It’s more like recycling really, environmentally friendly, decreasing your carbon-footprint and all that. But definitely not stealing. No Way, José.
Jeez, I'll bet this is just the sort of vexing global issue that keeps Obama up nights.
Act Four : Free Campsite, Archer Creek, Ravenshoe.
The course of true love never did run smooth. Particularly when you inform Lady Macbeth that you will be spending the next night at what is basically a glorified truck-stop. Due to the extended inter-town distances, these egalitarian establishments are relatively commonplace in Oz. The official line is that you should DRIVE, STOP & SURVIVE, though given the general belief that they are inhabited by more than their fair share of murderers and rapists, this is not entirely a given.
Fortunately to allay m’lady’s fears I’d arranged the ultimate campsite distraction: The Campfire.
Campfires are the very essence of what camping is all
about, somewhat ironic given that they’re banned in most campsites these days. Back home in our apartment I can control my ambient temperature with just a flick of the remote control, which makes me wonder why I bother to watch the weather at all. In there it’s 25 degrees, all day, every day.
How much more satisfying to risk death by snakebite collecting firewood, before freezing yourself half-to-death of an evening while trying in vain to light the bastard.
Catch that lucky strike, though, and boy does she go!
Not quite the warming glow you were hoping for perhaps; more akin to having half your face seared off sitting next to an industrial smelter. Luckily the initial conflagration soon burns down and within minutes you’re both sat happily round your very own bowl of warmth. Cub-scout songs firmly repressed, you try to avoid the not-so-thin wisp of smoke that is liberally scenting you head-to-toe, rendering your life-long anti-smoking stance somewhat redundant. Luckily this being a natural campfire rather than any filthy Marlboro-muck it is no more likely to help you shuffle of this mortal coil than, say, bathing in a tub of asbestos or sleeping for a
year on a sunbed. These healing powers are proved by the sheer numbers of tiny critters who decide to join you in enjoying the warmth. The moths are the kings of the scene, frequently deciding the very best way to get the full health-giving benefits is to fly directly into the heart of the flames with a satisfying sizzle. Not sure I’ve mentioned before Debbie’s phobia of moths. She’s also none-too-keen on spiders, a number of whom decided to crawl out of the undergrowth and bask in the fire’s glow, a particularly large huntsman strolling directly between her outstretched ankles to do so. What a lucky girl she is to have me!
By now 'twas the very witching hour of the night.
Spuds were long ago wrapped, roasted and devoured, and having got over my failure to bring mallows of marsh (neither soft and white nor pink and squidgy) Deb decided she may as well take her leave and slope off grumpily to bed. She left me hypnotically gazing at the burning embers, the only distraction (other than the aforementioned spiders) being the noisy group in the corner who appeared to have taken it as their mission to
keep everyone else awake. One last Classic Camping Quibble
: no matter how many gather quietly in the moonlight under the stars, it only takes one bunch of morons to ruin it. And maddeningly, there always is one bunch. I spent the rest of the evening grumbling grouchily into my beer, imagining ever more elaborate plots with which to extract my pound of flesh. By now reeking of smoke and booze, I finally crawled into bed in the wee small hours, where Deb left me in no doubt that even the briefest of cuddles was not on the cards.
But the lady doth protest too much, methinks.
She knew fine well that this was to be our last night of camping, and that tomorrow (and tomorrow, and tomorrow) we would switch to a holiday much more to her liking. Camping may well be the best break ever, but can one have too much of a good thing? Certainly for Debbie the answer is a resounding Yes, particularly when the alternative is a spot of 5-star living at our original honeymoon retreat. Act 5 Crater Lakes Rainforest Cottages, Yungaburra
Crater Lakes is in many ways just like camping, set as it is in a gorgeous outdoor setting. It’s just that your ‘tent’ comes in the form of a cozy fully-appointed luxury cabin:
Spa-bath – tick
King-size bed – tick
Comfy cushion-covered sofa – tick
Port and chocolates – tick.
As You Like It, ma’am.
As I settled in between the crisp cotton sheets that night the wood-burning stove transformed winter to warmth, and I’d not long to wait before the close of my lids and onset of slumbers.
To sleep, perchance to dream…
And dream I did, A Midsummer Night’s Dream of camping like I never had before, from the plains of Africa to the slopes of Everest, from the wilds of Yellowstone to the forests of deepest darkest Peru, where oddly the shampoo tastes of honey. And maybe, just maybe, I might deign to admit that camping from the comfort of my king-sized bed was even more fun than the real thing. At least until next time…
And on that note I’ll end my witterings till when we three shall meet again.
T'has been a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
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