Paradise, at last
It is now day six, Wednesday, and I am in Singapore. My last day in Darwin, I again took advantage of the fact that I had a rental car: for the third time, I set off down that road with the evocative destination of Alice Springs. This time, it was to check out Lichfield National Park, to the south west of Darwin. More bush driving, in fact it was hard to distinguish between the park and its neighbours, in terms of land usage. If there hadn't been a sign, I'd have never known the difference. The reason people go to Litchfield is that there are a number of waterfalls, an interesting rock arrangement called the Lost Town (not accessible to Toyota Corollas) and the Magnetic Ant/Termite Mounds. I was a bit dubious about these, as I'd seen lots as I drove around anyway, close enough to the road that you could go touch them, if you wanted. They kind of look like quarter walnuts, in a dusty brown colour, but getting to be quite a bit taller than the average walnut - maybe ten or a dozen feet high. The only thing special about the ones in the park were that there were quite a lot in one place and they were possibly made out of darker soil than others I had seen. I also went and saw the Fairy Falls and rock pools; of course, it is still dry there at the moment, so they'd be a lot more spectacular in the Wet. Coming back, I detoured to Adelaide River, had a couple of beers (light) and a Barra'n'chips. The Light beer wasn't by choice: the pub had all the Australian beers I like, but only in low alcohol versions. When I asked the bartender for advice on alternatives, he astonished me: he has not had a beer since he was a kid, so couldn't tell me anything helpful.
All in all, I didn't come away from Darwin thinking it was particularly special, or that its surroundings were, and I know there are plenty who rate them very highly. It was a nice enough town, and I think it had a spectacular Parliament, one I hope to photograph when I go back there, and I enjoyed driving around the place, but it didn't "speak" to me. You can't fall in love with everywhere you see when you travel, and there are still heaps of places in Australia I really do like, and others I am anxious to get to (Tasmania, for example).
Leaving Darwin, I had a nice surprise. I knew that one of my workmates was following a similar path to my own, on her way to India: we had carefully compared notes and found we'd be hitting the same spots as each other all the way from Dunedin to Darwin and back again, but not actually on the same flights. So, it was a surprise when she turned up on my plane: a family emergency had meant a shift in her plans. Thanks to the non-allocated seating Tiger Air uses, she was able to sit with me. Travelling with her was very interesting: unlike me, she actively engages those around her in conversation, so she got into a long chat with the other bloke in our row. Once in Singapore, another passenger she had chatted to somewhere along the way latched onto her and the three of us found ourselves in a taxi, heading for breakfast in the city. Of course, my friend started talking away to the taxi driver, and I was a little surprised he didn't come to breakfast and all. I envy that ability to just start talking with whoever is around; it must add a whole extra dimension to her life.
Anyway, my first impressions of Singapore have been rather a shock. It was just a place I was flying into, pretty much anyone I had talked to had said that 2 or 3 days would be enough, but for me it is a kind of paradise - I'm loving it. I could imagine doing what I did in Katmandhu, establishing a little pattern and not moving on for weeks. I'd simply wake up, read in the peace of my hotel for a bit, until it was time to forage for lunch, flip a coin to determine direction and go wandering, stopping every so often for a beer. Sometimes, I might have a particular thing to see, to give texture to my wandering. Or I might go shopping: there is no end of that here!
What with the overnight flight and difficulties in contorting myself into a sleeping position and failing to take down any information as to how to get to my hotel (the New Seventh Storey Hotel, which is odd because it is one of the oldest buildings in the area and has nine stories) and inability to find the internet to retrieve the details, I didn't really do a hell of a lot yesterday. Today, however, was Orchard Road day - on the way, I geeked out and went to the National Library of Singapore, which is a fantastic 15 storey ultra modern building next to my hotel. It is mostly a research library, so I didn't really go examine its collection, but it provided great views of Singapore. Orchard Road was exactly as billed - heaven for the consumerist. I got to the point I was sufering sensory overload, and since I can't exactly buy anything as it would mean carrying it all over SE Asia, I decided to find the railway station.
Of course, Singapore doesn't have a rail network, so doesn't need a railway station: it is actually the terminus of the Malaysian railway system. It is a grand old building, very much like a lot of stations I saw in India, with the same sort of admin structure, railway refreshment rooms and an onsite hotel (closed down, unfortunately) - a product of the shared legacy arising from British colonial efforts. By the time I had wandered around, had a meal in the refreshment room, looked at some trains and watched the world go by, it was too dark to take photos, but I will. The funny thing is, I walked for miles to get there so that I could book my train, only to find out that the train which best meets my needs doesn't take bookings. So, there goes my reason to leave Singapore on Friday.