16: La Bella Vita
12 August 2002
By now, Gloria and I have become long-time travel buddies and I’ve received the full Italian influence. We disagree on a lot of things but always seem to be laughing and enjoying making other people’s lives difficult around us, either separately or together – we have no preference. Between Alice Springs and Darwin it was Chris’ turn.
Being 36 and a divorcee, Chris was not a man to be messed with, and so Gloria and I tried to behave ourselves for a few days. But together we managed to find a mutual appreciation for “La Bella Vita” – a beautiful life. After a short drive from Katherine to Darwin we actively immersed ourselves in the act of “
” – directly translated it is ‘sweet doing nothing’ – in my words ‘the big loll’.
On my first evening in Darwin I took a walk around town and to a park overlooking the calm seas of the north shore. In that short space of time I managed to mingle with some awfully colourful locals along the way.
At first Kumar caught my eye. His turbaned head and smiling eyes wandered over and he launched into conversation. He dumped his bags and plonked down next to me on the park bench and, as you would expect, I did the recoil and folded arms thing of a weary lone traveller. But he was about as harmless as a gnat it turned out, although a couple of wings short of full flight if you know what I mean. But he did seem to have a firm grasp on very little burden and a lot of laughter. He seemed happier than the majority of people I meet; maybe 15 years of travelling away from his homeland, Sri Lanka, is what did it.
The conversation got more and more convoluted, and I sat wondering if I was just dim or if he was just forever to be “the misunderstood”. When the conversation turned to the computer chip implanted in his skull and how he could predict the plot of the next Harry Potter movie, I made a move to go. But before I left he stopped me and drew a couple of doodles on a page, equivalent to art class in primary school, signed them and wished me a happy life. I found something to envy and aspire to in this odd individual who seemed to lead a life of blissful madness. He ran off to join a rugby game being played in the park and left me with Bernard.
Bernard whipped out an a paper on Aboriginal Land Rights. He instructed me to read an article which he believes would get him compensation for past misdeeds. I read of how the Northern Territories were debating the handing back of more land to Aboriginals and half-caste aboriginals. Bernie has olive skin and blue eyes. His grandmother was Aboriginal and his grandfather was from Turkey. He and his mother were placed in missions when he was growing up to be educated and placed in white households. He said he had a good life but would like to get some land to live on now, but is waiting to hear whether it is possible.
I left Bernard with both a light step and a warm heart, only to bump into a local Slavic man with one leg. He smiled, introduced himself, and told me in the first sentence that he had lost his leg (no, really?) and no mention of how it happened. I had to excuse myself and go – I was having a “Twin Peaks” couple of hours and couldn’t hold back any longer from laughing. I had to get back to the hostel to regain my sense of normality.
On my return Chris dragged me off the bar where he introduced me to Josh the Mancunian and Tony from somewhere near Oxford (England). It wasn’t long before we had decided to do a trip to Kakadu in Tony’s 4WD Pajero – nnooooooooo, not another Pajero. My skepticism shone through. We just needed to find two more suckers and we would leave ASAP.
It soon turned out that only girls that Tony was hitting on were to be invited – I think he was keeping the numbers high to reduce the possibility of rejection. What he didn’t realise is, THAT possibility was a foregone conclusion. His arrogance was a force to be reckoned with. It wasn’t long before Chris disappeared; he took a sudden dislike to Tony and I was left defending the fort with Josh – it seemed we all felt the same. I was starting to have my doubts of 5 days in the bush with Tony, so Chris wrote me a song:
A Tosser Called Tony
What should I do
I’m booked on a trip
Can I give him the slip?
He’s a tosser called Tony
Kakadu, Kakadu, I’d love to see you
But not with a tosser called Tony
I could feign a cold
If I were that bold
And stay in bed
While he went on ahead
He’s a tosser called Tony
I want him to know
That I don’t want to go
He’s a very strange man
With a knackered old van
That bloody great tosser called Tony
Chris, you should get out of Insurance mate – you have found your calling in life.
But over the next few days, I either spent them in the park, on the beach, in museums or walking around with Chris, Josh and Gloria. We discussed our values and beliefs, of which Gloria may have just come up with a real gem. She firmly believes this: “Chi non piscia in compagnia e un ladreo e una spia” – “Who doesn’t piss in company is a thief and a spy.”
That explains all the little puddles she left us right next to the tent, the campfire, the passenger door, the…
At night times I was left with Josh and Tony. Forced to see if Tony had a deeper side, we managed to scratch the surface a bit, and a little light shone through. And I had two chaperones to make sure I got home safely at 5am every morning. I had to leave Darwin – I needed sleep! The plans for trip Kakadu were waning too, so I hightailed it out of there. I booked myself on a bus to Cairns, as I’m running out of precious time in this colourful little land.