Week Seven. (Sunday 18 August to Sunday 25 August)

Eventually, we escaped Elliott. There are only so many days one can spend sitting in a little shed in the middle of nowhere. (sitting in a Kombi that drives somewhere is different). The first thing the tow truck driver Eddie asked us when he picked us up was: "any riots?". No, not that we were aware of... The trip to Katherine at 120km/hr in a tow truck was great fun. We got Eddie to flash his lights at every Kombi we met along the way. Much to our amusement, we wondered if they saw our red kombi up on the back of the truck. We learnt alot about Outback Australia from Eddie, he had just spent a week with some friends riding offroad motorbikes all through the Bungle Bungles. I doubt we will get there, but we are aiming for Tunnel Creek, which he did visit as well. He explained life as a tow truck driver, recovering wrecked cars, trucks, roadtrains, helicopters etc etc. Also a lot about Aboriginal land ownership, the new railway (being built between Alice Springs and Darwin), 10 metre high walls of water in the outback, the devastating floods of Katherine in 1998 and many other things (but not exploding rocks). Our next driver Ken, took us from Katherine to Darwin. On the first half of the journey we passed many roadside bush fires glowing in the night. The place looked magical with the orange glow. Ken tolds us everything that Eddie had managed to not mention. We learnt about leaping crocodiles and escarpments flooded with eerie lights out in the middle of nowhere. He tolds us many stories of driving in the night to pickup wrecked vehicles and being spooked by the bush when you are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest human, nevermind nearest township. We arrived in Darwin late that night just as his stories were getting spooky indeed.

Next morning we headed off to Continental Motors to see how XQU was. We had to wait for the engine to be pulled apart, so we spent the day walking about town. We had a fine breakfast at the Roma Bar and headed back to the motel for a swim. The weather is too hot here to do much exploring on foot. Later that afternoon, XQU was diagnosed with a destroyed piston in the number four cylinder. The photos explain it all very clearly to anyone who has mechanical experience. We are getting replacement parts shipped up from Adelaide so we have Darwin as our home for the next few days, courtesy of NRMA once more. The following day, we venture out to the Darwin Aviation Heritage Centre to see one of only two B-52 bomber planes that are on display outside the USA. The B-52 was de-commissioned in 1990 and given to Darwin (it had previously served during the Vietnam war). Later that evening, we visited Doctor's Gully to see fish that come in to shore at high tide and swim in the shallows and get hand fed by us hu-mans. They say the fish had been tamed for the last 20 or so years, but i find this dubious as all the fish looked less than 5 years old and with a short term memory of at least 3 seconds but not more than 25 seconds. nonetheless, they could be hand fed and the sting rays could be thrown food from a safe distance. (the photos are not taken in an acquarium).

Another day passes as we await for our XQU to get back on the road. The parts shipped from Adelaide overnight have still not arrived. They say, 'not tomorrow, not the next day...' is an actual saying here. So we head for the WW2 oil storage tunnels under Darwin city and admire all the fantastic photos taken of Darwin being bombed by the Japanese in 1942. We also visit the Darwin harbour and wharfs. The Navy from Australia and New Zealand were in port, restocking vegetables, cleaning armaments, looking cool and fixing expensive radar equipment all under the watchful eye of locals comsuming crocodile burgers, grilled barramundi fillets and roast emu steaks. I extracted a grand from the ATM machine, seeing it looked safe having so many armed forces about. This will go towards our expensive Kombi repairs. We head for the NT parliament house and visit the gallery for a session of parlimentary arguments about the number of payrolls the NT government actually does each month. We head back to our motel, as the heat of the day starts to drain us of energy. We see a spiffy Toyota Land Cruiser for just $6k. hmmm. Later we head to the famous (in Darwin) Mindil Beach Markets, where the locals provide a gourmet feast from Sri Lankan, Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Greek, Italian, German, Australian Road Kill, Tropical, Chinese and Japanese foods. This happens every thursday here during the dry season and would be for me, one of many reasons to stay in Darwin (if i had to live here).

At last, a week to the hour of breaking down in Elliott, XQU is ready for us to take her somewhere for a test drive. We have to heat test the engine for a few hundred kilometres, and where else to do such a thing, but in Kakadu. XQU has a new cylinder head imported from Spain and a reconditioned piston and new tappets, so we are set. Let's go!

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