The Australian tropics have two main seasons: wet and dry. During "the wet," the flat lands of Kakadu become like a temporary Everglades, flooding and filling with plant and animal life. During "the dry," the swamps evaporate into smaller and smaller billabongs and rivers, concentrating the wildlife into tiny areas and drying out the rest. April is the cusp season, when the wet ends and the dry begins. Kakadu is at its greenest, but it remains largely inaccessible other than by air and boat.
Some of the campers on Lady Musgrave Island insisted that I spend the cash to go on a wetland cruise, specifically the one that departs before sunrise. We braved the mosquitoes to float across billabong, a river, and a floodplain as the sky grew light. We were rewarded with the sight of hundreds of birds and the subtle, but beautiful, blossoming of the wetlands under a cloudy dawn.
|Lotus leaves, some the size of trash-can lids|
|You don't have to tell me twice.|
There were less lovely bugs as well. My first night in camp, I was in the vehicle getting ready for bed when I kept hearing mosquitoes. I'd turn on all the interior lights, hold very still, and search around the van. Nothing. The whining kept going, no matter what.
Eventually I realized that the whining wasn't coming from inside the truck. It was coming from every window, all around the vehicle. I was surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes, like something out of a nightmare. I couldn't imagine how I would get from the car to my tent. Eventually, I had to put on a hoodie, long pants, and socks in the sweltering humidity, just to sprint 10 yards. Once inside my tent, the cloud gathered around and hovered there all night. It was like falling asleep to an infuriating Phillip Glass composition.
Even after the heat of the day set in, the mosquitoes would, like, roost in any shady spot they could find. Shady spots included the toilets, on my hanging bath towel, and on every surface inside Princess. Disturb them, and end up with a swarm in your hair and nostrils.
The only upside to the mosquitoes was that they attracted scads of tiny, tiny frogs.
|Approach them, and they leap from floor to walls to ceiling like gravity has no meaning.|
Kakadu is also has an incredible concentration of Aboriginal rock art. I imagined Aborigines in Australia would be like Native Americans in the states: basically invisible, except in isolated pockets. But Aborigines have a much larger population--and play a much larger role--in Australian society than Indians do in American society. Parts of Kakadu are fully tribal-owned, and require separate permits to visit. There are also sacred rock-art sites that visitors are never allowed access to. The visitor's centers do an excellent job of introducing the landscape and culture from a first-person Aboriginal point of view. Despite this, the true meaning of any individual rock art remains unrevealed.