The Wet Tropics

Sadly we are leaving today. I’ve loved it here and I think Simon has been very surprised how much I have warmed to the camping lifestyle. (The wine helped) We say our goodbyes, buy a few postcards and set off once more. We drive back to Daintree River and across on the ferry. On the way we pass lots of creeks including Devil Devil Creek.

The kids love this type of travelling and are so happy sat in the back of the Vee Dub chatting away, listening to music, playing their PSP’s and staring out of the window. The landscape is quite flat and very green and the mountains in the distance are constantly being engulfed by thick clouds. Although it’s not really isolated you can drive for miles without seeing much traffic and the “towns” are very spaced out.

We get to Mount Malloy and head for the pie shop. The pies have been recommended by a number of people and we’re keen to try them. They go down well but that’s more to with our hunger than the pie quality I think. Mount Malloy is a tiny place and the pie shop lady although friendly looks slightly on the scary side. The kids’ start singing the banjo song from Deliverance and Simon wonders out loud if the pies are made from lone travellers who get lost in this area. Whatever, I’m glad to get some fuel and be on our way!

We follow signs for a winery. The wine is made from mangos that are grown locally and we have to have a bottle. We have a taste first and settle on the dry version Yum! before setting off again. It so cool in the combi and we listen to The Dixie Chicks and Fleetwood Mac on the way. We are heading for Atherton and Lake Tinaroo and haven’t got much further to go now. On the way we pass huge termite mounds standing around 3-4 feet high and the same again in width. I’m tempted to get out and poke them with a stick to see what happens.

Its 6.30 now and we’re in the VW preparing dinner. We stopped at a butcher on the way and got some BBQ food. For 28 dollars we have got enough lamb, sausages, fresh homemade burgers and steaks to last us about 6 days. The campsite is lovely, right on the edge of Lake Tinaroo and we have a quiet and secluded spot. Simon and Ali cook the meat and me and Maisie make some packet pasta thing to go with it. When they come back Ali tells me he has given up wearing shoes. I can remember one of the doctors I used to work with telling me the kids would go feral on this trip and it seems like they’re almost there.

We have decided to spend a couple of nights here and tomorrow will be exploring the area a bit more.

Xi’an

Our train journey went without a hitch and I’m pleased to say we have arrived safely in Xian. We got to the train station early and sat on the floor for an hour until we were allowed onto the platform. There are so many people here and everyone is pushing and shoving. It is a bit intimidating. We find our train carriage and I glad it looks clean although so tiny. Our beds are the 4 top bunks in two separate compartments and we decide Ali and I will stay in one and Maisie and Simon in the other. This works out very well for Maisie as there is a 12 year old girl in their compartment who speaks excellent English.

We chat to an interesting and informative Swiss fella who seems to have travelled everywhere. This train goes all the way to Lhasa in Tibet crossing the Qinghai Plateau and takes over 40 hours. I can remember watching a TV programme about this train. As the elevation is 5000 metres oxygen is piped into the carriages to combat acute mountain sickness and a comprehensive health declaration must first be completed. It’s fascinating and we immediately add that “once in a lifetime” trip to our list of future places to go.

The lights are turned out early and I go straight to sleep and sleep like a log. Good job really as the space we have is so restricted I wouldn’t have wanted to be awake for any length of time. Ali spends an hour listening to his German lessons on his PSP. Without any encouragement either. (Very good Ali, a gold star for him) Wake up at 7.30 and it’s nearly time to get off.

Its 6pm now and we have had an exhausting day. We found our hostel ok and were pleased to see we have a massive room. The bathroom absolutely stinks but for 12 quid a night we are just going to put up with it.

We head off into town and try and get some western food for breakfast, unfortunately the only thing we can find is a fast food place and I’m worried as my diet is so hard to stick to here. We decide to visit The Bell Tower; it’s a large and ornate building dating from the 14th century and restored in 1739 during The Qing dynasty. We have a wander around and admire the beautifully carved ceiling. The Chinese really know how to decorate in style and we have seen some fantastic examples of fine architecture already.

Next on our agenda is to return to the train station and book our onward tickets. We do some shopping first; I buy a new t-shirt (I am so sick of wearing the same clothes all the time) and we get Ali some jeans. We get a taxi to the station and are slightly alarmed to see massive queues but when we ask at the information desk a lady ushers us into a side room and sorts it all out for us. How kind – she gives us a discount and no queuing hurray! We have decided not to visit Shanghai as all the reports we have heard are of a huge and very polluted city. Instead, on the 8th we will be heading further south to a place called Chengdu in the province of Sichuan.

We get yet another taxi to the Shaanxi History Museum. The Shaanxi Province is described as the centre of Chinese history and loaded with important archaeological sites mostly around Xian including the very famous Terracotta Army.

The museum is really good and has explanations in English as well as Mandarin. We have learnt that there were 15 Chinese dynasties and take our time examining pottery from the Ming and Qing times. The kids are great; they must be tired of looking at old pots but seem quite enthusiastic especially when we discover that some of the oldest remains of prehistoric man were found in this province. (Over 1,150,000 years old). One seriously ancient skull!

I’m really knackered now and we head back to the hostel. I’m finding China exhausting and think this is due to a combination of the difficulties we have trying to make ourselves understood; (Easier now we have a Mandarin phrasebook) and the distances between places. Really enjoying it though and looking forward to planning our trip out to see the warriors.