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Thursday, February 27: Day 311 – The Ghan

When we woke up today, heavy rains were blowing all of the trees
back and forth. The local Aboriginals have a saying, “We sing for the rain, and the rain sings for us.”

Suprisingly, we all boarded the buses and headed for the trains in good time.

Once on the train we were shown to our cabin. We were glad that we checked our bags and only brought in an overnight bag because the space was cramped. It was like living in a tiny house made popular on the TV show. It is very efficient with no wasted space.

The couch makes up into a bed and another bunk comes down from the wall. Rob and I are “separated by berths”!!

The bathroom has a shower head right over the toilet. Hmm.

The corner sink is small but provides a place to wash up.

As we were waiting to depart, an announcement said that the train would be delayed according to the track owners. We will get an update in 2 hours…so we sit and watch the rain hit the window.

The Ghan has 38 carriages with 44 members on staff. It is pulled by two locomotives and is over a half mile long. This is only the back half and it goes as far as one can see.

The Ghan is the famous north to south transcontinental rail trip that traverses the outback, the tropics, farmlands and cities. This ever-changing panorama tracks through the red heart of Australia and was entirely completed in 2004.

The name, The Ghan, is short for The Afghan Express. Afghan cameleers opened up inland Australia to Europeans by ferrying goods and supplies with their “ships of the desert”. These camels brought mail, water, tools and equipment. Later, thousands of camels were imported to build infastructure such as the railway and telegraph. Some camels ran away; others were left behind when the car arrived. Today there are feral camel herds in Australia numbering over one million.

Most of the people on the train are much older and grayer than we are. It is too expensive for the backpacker.

We finally got word that we could advance our train and we left around 12:30 which was 2½ hours late. But maybe one could say 26½ hours late!

Each dining table has a foursome so we met a new couple at each meal. At lunch we met two ladies named Tina and Gail who have formed a travel club with others. They have been to a lot of places. We are always interested in where travelers choose to go when coming to the USA.

They asked us if we had moved to Australia as many Americans were doing. No, we are just traveling through.

They thanked us for coming to Australia and supporting tourism. So many people are canceling their trips due to the bushfires. This kind of adds to their misery. Sadly, most of the money raised for the bushfires goes to prevention, education, etc. and not to the poor people who have lost their homes and businesses.

It has been hot and dry throughout Australia. Many communities are on water restrictions. Gail had not mowed her grass in one year.

On the train we ate our meals in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant. She was married to William IV of England. The city of Adelaide is named after her.

It was freezing in the restaurant, and I wore my winter coat and hat. The waiter said that he had never seen someone boarding from hot Darwin dressed in this way.

First, we were served artisanal bread. Tina is allergic to lemonmyrtle and inquired if it was cooked into the bread. I have never heard of it. This made me think of all the ingredients that I am ingesting that my body doesn’t recognize!! Maybe I have an allergy as well?

While looking out the window of the train, we saw the results of the rains.

We passed by many giant termite mounds. We were told that they are built with a north/south orientation to minimize sun exposure. Our untrained eye decided that it just looked like a large dirt blob!!

We were late arriving into Katherine, but buses were waiting for us. They took us to the gorge for a boat ride before the sun set. The gorge looks different every day due to the water, sunlight and wildlife.

Katherine is known as the place where the outback meets the tropics. The Nitmiluk Gorge with unforgettable views is an important site to the indigenous Jawoyn people. Nitmiluk means cicada.

Mining, cattle, watermelons and mango, and tourism are the biggest industries in Katherine.

Katherine has hot springs. If you ask a local, “How to tell if the hot springs are safe?” This is their response. “We let the tourists go first.”

In 1998 there was a devastating flood from Cyclone Les. One could only see the rooftop black satellite dishes sticking up out of the water. The downtown was under 10 feet of water and crocodiles were found in many swimming pools.

When we have floods in the USA, we see people walking through the flood waters. No one ever thinks that there might be a crocodile in it…or sharks in the case of coastal flooding.

I heard one Australian say to another, “Did you know that Australians have the most gamblers in the world?” “I bet we don’t,” said another. Ha!

Before 2014 if the road to the gorge was washed out or overrun with water, the busload would get out, a small boat would ferry them across to another waiting bus in order to continue. Now if the water is that high, the gorge is closed.

On a tour of the city our guide pointed out the irony of the hospital beside the cemetery. Very efficient or very sobbering!!

Katherine had 90 bombs dropped on it with only one fatality during WWII. There is one bomb crater left from the war.

Our safety briefing on the boat consisted of pointing out where to find a life jacket and that the emergency exits are on the right and left side of the boat. Take your pick!

The second gorge is closed because the water level is rising. Actually there are 13 gorges. These can be numbered if they are separated by land. The river runs faster as it approaches the ocean.

In 1978 the Jawoyn people made a land claim. In 1989 the land was returned to the Jawoyn people. They in turn leased it back to the Northern Territory. One hundred percent of the land is owned by the Jawoyn people. Monies collected are used for education and health care. There are 13 groups of people within the Jawoyn.

Stuart was the first European to see the gorge and named it after the daughter, Catherine, of James Chambers, an early Australian pastoralist.

Saltwater crocodiles are big and mean. Stay away!

Fresh water crocodiles are smaller and have pointy snouts. They will only eat things in one bite, so humans are safe!! They only know of two people ever getting hurt. A guy was trying to take a selfie with one. The crocodile woke up and was startled. The other time a girl fell out of a tree and landed on one by accident.

I thought that this crocodile trap was poorly placed – right next to the boat loading ramp.

The gorge is made of white sandstone, but the iron in the soil makes it red. The water brings minerals that turn it black.

Freshwater crocodiles in this area used to number about 1,000, but now there are only 100. This is because they eat cane toads which are poisonous. They die within 2 hours. Australia has introduced measures to reduce the population of cane toads.

We didn’t see any live crocodiles. But our guide wanted to make sure that we saw one.

Do you see it?

I have outlined it. One has to use the imagination.

It gets very hot at the gorge. If it is 104 degrees on the water, it will be 122 degrees on the top where there are hiking trails. No one has ever hiked the complete trail in a day. It usually takes three days.

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