I was lost somewhere in Kakadu National Park. Panic was setting in: my water bottle was practically empty, my heavy camera was weighing down on my neck and why didn’t I take photos along the way that I could use to piece together my journey like Hansel and Gretel?
Why am I thinking fairy tales when I should be thinking Bear Grylls – this is proof I have no survival skills. Let me backtrack… we were up early on an eight kilometre hike to Motorcar Falls. Named after a guy, who, in 1946, drove his Chevy to the waterfall.
I was hoping it was more of a Thelma and Louise style story, but turns out he just realised it was impassable. Talk about getting famous for doing nothing. The story might be soft, but the waterfall is anything but.The green water hole is so inviting after the hour-long walk that even some brown water snakes couldn’t stop us from diving in and swimming to the waterfall.
There’s a ledge right under the fall that gave me the only powerful shower of the trip. It was sublime, I could have stayed there all day, but we had to get back to the bus in time for lunch. I find that tours can be very orchestrated, as orchestrated as the Hugh Jackman pouring a bucket of soapy water over his chiselled body scene in Australia.
Every angle is covered. So, on the way back from Motorcar Falls I thought I would get ahead of the guide who was rounding up the stragglers. I needed some alone time after the constant, consuming company. Big mistake. There are no distinguishing features along the track to Motorcar Falls, everything looks the same – red dirt and rock surfaces that stretch for miles.
There are no signs, just a worn out dirt track until you get to a cross-road. One sign leads to a car park, the other two were to destinations that I did not recognise. I assumed that since we arrived on wheels I should take the car park route. I probably walked for about 10 minutes before a voice in my head started saying, “I don’t remember it being this far. The hill wasn’t this steep on the way in.”
And: “Why can I not hear anyone behind me?” I decided to keep walking towards this supposed car park even though I knew it was the wrong way. Obviously I do not respond well to a crisis. I’d be the one looking at a tsunami saying, “I know I should be running, but perhaps I’ll just duck-dive it”.
Apathy combined with stupidity ain’t a good mix. After another 10 minutes I still wasn’t at this car park. Panic started to set in for real now. So I did what any other helpless atheist would do: I prayed. The girl that wanted to avoid mindless conversation was now talking to the man upstairs. Nothing. I decide now that I should go back and I pray again that I am going the right way back to where I started.
From the shows that I have watched on near-death experiences, I find that the most common mistake is thinking that you’re going the right way, but actually heading further away in the opposite direction. Luckily for me, I got back to the signpost and after reassessing the situation and taking my last mouthful of water, I decided that instead of heading down the paths that lead to names I don’t recognise, I will go what would have been ‘straight ahead’. I walked for five minutes before I heard the sweetest sound: my name being called out by several people. I had been found and I was alive!
The tour guide’s face went from white back to tanned and he said, “you didn’t take the sign to the car park did you?” And that’s when I realised we aren’t parked in a car park, but on the side of a dirt road. That roadside lunch never tasted so good. Looking back on that walk, the memories of Kakadu National Park are a whirlwind of panic-induced red earth whizzing past vast red rock and the sounds of silence.
I have this spiritual Walkabout feeling of survival crossed with the speedy anxiety of the roadrunner. I recommend it. My tour guide may disagree.