Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Tropical times

May 13th, 2011

Rockingham. Last town before finally parting company with the tropics. Tropic of Capricorn a few miles to the south. Close now on one third of my way along Australia’s east coast. But still a long way to go to Melbourne.

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The tropics had been a challenge, doubly so in the wet season. Exhausting humidity. Cyclone Yasi. Flooded roads. Plethora of unfamiliar fauna. Crocodiles. Suicidal wallabies. I’d joked it was a laugh a minute. But secretly I was pleased. Mastered the environment. Sad to leave.

In truth, there’d been a marked improvement in the weather over the last few hundred miles. South of Mackay the rainfall had tapered off. You still got wet. But not as often. Stifling humidity replaced by headwinds coming up from the south. Continuing to cool. Pleasant. Australian autumn. Bit like an English summer.

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Certain charm

March 29th, 2011

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I’d joked about floods, cyclones, crocodiles, Dengue Fever, intense ultra violet, monsoon rains, venomous critters, stifling humidity. Offered a certain charm, I’d said. Truth was. Well that was it. True. Once mastered, an environment that more than amply rewarded you for your efforts. Not least, the satisfaction of having mastered it.

Granted it does take time to properly acclimatise. Quite a bit longer than I’d imagined. At first quite perplexed why anyone would want to live here. Some take months, maybe a few years to be truly comfortable. Others never succeed. Fundamentally a hostile environment. To be treated with respect.

Never, ever venture out without sunbloc. Nothing below Factor 30. Wear shades. Even on overcast days. When the UV is often at its most intense. Frequently rated Extreme. Burns in minutes. Don’t forget the DEET. No malaria but enough Dengue Fever around to make contraction a realistic prospect for the unwary. Laugh a minute.

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Venturing into the rainforest

February 11th, 2011

 

Venturing into the rainforest from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Venturing into the rainforest. Cairns, northern Queensland.

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Plant life

February 3rd, 2011

Plant life from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Cairns Botanical Gardens. Some eye catching plants. Including Queensland’s notorious stinger tree – brush against it and you’ll need more than dock leaves to relieve the pain. And Titan Alum – a carnivorous insect eating plant – inspiration for the fictitious Triffid?

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Salient lesson

January 23rd, 2011

Kicking myself. Actually I wasn’t. No need. Enough discomfort without resorting to that. I’d made it across two whole continents. Across the blazing Kazakh Steppe. Through the Gobi desert. Liberal use of sunblock. Swapping helmet for wide brimmed floppy hat. Light tan. Nothing more.

But just forty five minutes swimming in an outdoor pool. Mid-morning. Few hours later. Reddened back. Surprised – stunned even – just how quickly you can burn. I’d sensed the damage a few hours later. Nothing serious. But sufficient to make me think. Realising that, for the all sophistication of Cairns, this is the Tropics. Much of the town built on reclaimed mangrove swamps. Dense rainforest enveloping the surrounding hills.

By late afternoon I’d some heavy duty water resistent sunblock. Approved, it said, by the Australian Cancer Council. Dug out my floppy hat. Toying with acquiring a cheap golfing umbrella to shelter from the sun. Something I’d often seen the mainland Chinese do.

A chat with Rowan, the hostel’s manager, yielded some other local hints and tips. Long sleeved shirts. Liberal application of lotion each morning. Making it as much a part of your daily routine as cleaning your teeth. A salient lesson learnt.

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Tropical times ahead…

January 21st, 2011

Cheese toasties and ice cold Aussie beer. After forty hours on the move, no finer welcome. I’d finally made it to a small hostel in Cairns, Northern Queensland. Few hours to spare before the New Year. Greeted by Rowan and Yuki. Shortly before landing at the nearby airport, the pilot had quipped it was raining. Smirks from the locals. For this was the wet season. The town up in the tropics. Very humid. Only the unwise wander out without an umbrella. Torrential downpours frequent.

Emma, my trusty steed, and I had come to Cairns, far up on Australia’s eastern seaboard, ready to ride south back towards Sydney. Chosen on the advice of Australians Brian and Savannah we’d stayed with back in Azerbaijan. A much better idea, they’d suggested, than Darwin I’d been toying with. Crossing the continent north to south.

I’m assuming that, unlike Central Asia or China, most people are at least familiar with the basic shape of Australia. Working on the assumption that if you’re struggling with that, you’ve yet to discover the internet and read this. And you probably do think Fooknose really is a town in China. Despite seeming to crop up quite a bit when asking for directions. So no hand-drawn maps. For the moment.

My route straightforward, conceptually at least. South along the east coast towards Sydney and Melbourne. City of Brisbane roughly half-way along. Tropical in the north. Just plain hot in the south. The latter familiar territory after the Kazak Steppe and the deserts of Western China. The former presenting new challenges. Hot, humid climate. Snakes. Poisonous spiders. Mosquitos. Dengue Fever. And not forgetting the old favourite. Crocodiles. Luckily they’re not venomous, so their bite need not be fatal…

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A stoic nation

January 12th, 2011

Tropical downpour from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Queensland. I’d always known I’d be here in the wet season. But this year the rainfall has reached levels not seen for decades. Towns and villages flooded. Some several times in just a few weeks. Even, Brisbane, the State Capital not immune. Tens of thousands of homes expected to be submerged shortly.

The scale of devastation is difficult to comprehend. And, with much of population living along the east coast, the impact on people likely to be far greater than the geographic extent of the flooding might suggest. This isn’t a few rivers bursting their banks. This is de facto a national emergency. Three quarters of Queensland declared a Natural Disaster Zone.

The extent of the damage, to property, to the lives of individuals, is truly moving. Watch just a little of the saturation news coverage and you’d be hard pressed not to have a tear in your eye. And yet the people remain truly stoic. Ordered evacuations, precious few reports of panic buying, even less of looting. Perfect strangers helping residents rescue possessions. That the emergency services are able to cope as impressive. This isn’t New Orleans.

And no let up in sight. Ground saturated. An otherwise ordinary downpour a few days ago resulting in a devastating flash flood. Ripping through the town of Grantham. At least ten dead. The final death toll likely to be much higher. Flooding starting to shift south into the neighbouring State of New South Wales. And Cairns itself not immune. Flash flood warning in force earlier.

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