Sunday, 19 June 2016

Half-lap Day 46: Darwin and LiAM's 10th Birthday

The kids had asked if they could wake everyone up for LiAM’s birthday as soon as anyone woke up – we said that was OK as long as it was light. LiAM and Millie woke when it was still dark, and chatted excitedly to each other until it was light enough for them to be a bit louder and wake Caitlin up.

Once we were all out of bed Tony started cooking the bacon LiAM had requested, and we gave him his presents. Millie gave him a couple of little Minecraft figurines (a rabbit, and Steve in a minecart), Caitlin a watergun that can shot continuously when it’s in a pool or attached to a bottle, and a little plush crocodile, he got a card and money from Grandma and Grandad, and a shirt and an interactive Skylanders colouring book from my sister (there’s an app to download and the coloured pictures move on the iPad when you scan them). I had one more present for him and could not find it anywhere, which upset me a little but I figured that it would turn up when I did a clean out of the car and he could have an extended birthday.

He loved all his presents and spent most of the morning colouring in his Skylanders book. Millie received her presents from my sister as well – a watermelon swimming top and a metallic colouring book. She had so much fun colouring that she didn’t want to stop, ever, when we asked her to get ready for our day out.

After bacon and eggs for breakfast and a couple of hours spent colouring and hanging out at the tent, we drove in to Darwin to Crocosaurus Cove, a crocodile place right in the centre of town. LiAM and I had booked in for VIP Croc Feeding Tour, and Tony and the girls paid for regular entry. We walked through the entrance hallway and came out near some crocodile enclosures with glass (actually acrylic) sides, we were at the base of the enclosures and in one the croc was lying on the roof of a dome we could walk under – he was massive, it was incredible to stand right underneath him and get an idea of how big these big old saltwater crocs can get. We saw a few other crocodiles and some fish then went upstairs where we saw some people getting lowered into the water in the ‘cage of death’ – a glass cage which goes into the water with the crocodiles and they swim around it. LiAM had really wanted to do this but he needed to be 15 so we settled for the VIP Tour. We watched them for a few minutes then popped in to the reptile house where they were feeding the reptiles, it was cool to see lizards chasing insects, and pythons starting to work on eating rats and mice. There was a talk as well, and as usual our kids were up the front and answering lots of the questions.

LiAM and I left to go down and wait for our tour to start. There were 8 people in the group, including 2 other kids. We started by going upstairs and looking at all the saltwater crocodiles and our tour guide told us their histories, which were quite varied. From there we went to a little balcony above the enclosure that housed Burt – the saltwater crocodile who was in Crocodile Dundee. We each had a turn at holding out a stick with a large piece of chicken tied on to it, for him to reach up and snap the chicken off the end of the string. LiAM volunteered to go first – everyone else was a bit nervous. He held his pole out confidently and Burt snapped it 2 or 3 times but the chicken was still on there, then he closed his mouth on it and wouldn’t let go of the string. LiAM and the tour guide held on to the pole and pulled it back, and eventually got it free of his mouth. It was pretty exciting to watch. A few other people had a turn then it was my go. I hadn’t been scared at all until I stepped forward and grabbed the pole and really thought about the fact I was about to lean towards a very large saltwater crocodile (the glass railing we were behind was quite high and it really was quite safe, but even the thought of interacting with him at all got some adrenaline flowing). I held the pole out and he snapped the chicken and again wouldn’t let go – his bite force was strong (not surprisingly) and it took us some time to pull the string free. I wasn’t scared once he started trying to eat it, I was just really excited, it was a great experience. A couple of the poles snapped a bit as people tried to pull them back and the pole got pushed against the railing. The 2 men on the tour were able to pull the string free more easily, I think their extra height meant they could get a better angle. It was amazing to watch him eating even when the others were feeding him, he easily came up out of the water, to snap the food, and he moved so quietly and quickly. He wasn’t jumping up, just lifting his head, then he’d go back to lying in the water on the ledge. Caitlin wandered past just before I fed Burt so she went and got the others and they were able to watch me feed him.

From there we went to feed the juvenile freshwater crocodiles, there were over 100 crocs in there, of varying sizes (all the same approximate age though – the dominant ones get more food and grow faster). Again we held bits of meat over the edge on a pole and string and the crocs jumped or reached up to grab them. Not quite as thrilling as the salty but still quite exciting to watch and to do.

Next we held a baby crocodile – he had his mouth taped shut and everyone got to hold and pat him and take photos. He was surprisingly soft, his scales didn’t feel rough at all. He was pretty cute. Our guide chatted to us during the whole of the tour, sharing lots of information about crocodiles in general and about the ones who lived there in particular. She was impressed with LiAM’s enthusiasm and asked if was going to work with animals when he grew up – she said she’d worked with dolphins, and something else, and now crocodiles, and it was a great job to have.

The tour guide then took us to the reptile house and handed us over to a reptile guide, Nicole. We were given cold bottles of water, Nicole introduced herself to all of us and then asked what kind of reptiles we’d like to hold. She started with a sand goanna called Blaze – it was a beautiful reptile with yellow markings all over it. LiAM went first again, and everyone had a hold then Blaze went back to LiAM. Nicole let him hold on to it and he walked around for the next 20 minutes or so with a goanna climbing all over him – up his arms, around his neck, over his shoulders and sometimes sitting on his head. He loved it. Nicole talked to us about all the different types of reptiles they had there, then we held a frill-necked lizard which was pretty exciting. She put it away after a while, and Blaze as well, and bought out a baby frill-necked lizard. She handed it around, then pulled a Stimson’s Python out of her pocket – very cool to see a snake casually get pulled from a pocket. He was fun to hold, he coiled himself around our hands and was quite comfortable being passed around (he wasn’t very big). Putting them away, she bought out a white (not albino) blue-tongued lizard, and a black-headed python. Most people had a turn of the python, and LiAM and the other 2 girls loved holding him, they shared him around and at one point had the python draped across the shoulders of the 3 of them.

Nicole was great to listen to and again LiAM impressed her with his knowledge and interest. She said that most of the staff at Crocosaurus did work experience there, then got a job while they were at school, then stayed on and have learnt everything just by working there – sounds perfect for the kind of thing LiAM would like to do.

Tony and the girls came in towards the end of the tour and were able to pat the python. LiAM got a bite from the white lizard as he was handing her back – that’s 4 reptile bites he’s had this trip and he was thrilled. Tony went to move the car and the girls stayed with us – eventually the reptiles had to go away and we went outside to have a bit to eat. We sat where we could watch the fish feeding and Tony was back in time to see it too. They had barramundi, whip rays, saratogas and archer fish – watching the rays come up to be feed was really cool, and the other fish where interesting too. The barramundi were huge, I’d only seen smaller ones so far on this trip.

The girls and Tony had had fun while we were on the tour – they’d watched the biggest crocodile being fed, seen a demonstration of the croc’s bite force, fed the freshwater crocs and held the baby crocodile. The difference between the tour and regular entry in that case is that we were able to take our own photos of the baby crocodile, generally they take professional photos which you can choose to buy. LiAM was a bit disappointed that the girls had been able to do so much of what he’d done on the tour, it made it feel a bit less special – but having had Blaze on his head for so long was a bonus that he thought did make the tour worthwhile. For me, feeding the salty was the big deal, but he wasn’t as excited about that.

Tony left again to go and meet up with an old friend – a guy he went to school with in Malaysia, 30 years ago. The kids and I got into our swimmers and went to swim ‘with’ the freshwater crocodiles – there’s a pool right up next to the juvenile freshies, with the nice thick (14.5cm) acrylic wall in between the 2 bodies of water, so when we were swimming we could see the crocodiles seemingly right next to us. The glass was a bit clouded and scratched so it wasn’t super clear, but we could still see them right there, and with goggles on under the water it did feel like they were right next to us and they were much clearer. There were some cracks in the wall on the crocodile side which alarmed Caitlin at first, but the wall was solid on our side so it was fine.

We swam for a while then got out to do another feeding of the juvenile freshwater crocodiles. There was no one else there so we were able to each feed a few crocodiles. The lady was impressed that the kids were happy to bait their own hooks with the meat. LiAM said that he’d done this earlier on the VIP Tour and she said ‘Oh, so it’s your birthday!’ – they’d obviously been talking about him. She said ‘I’m glad you’re here, I have a present for you’ – and gave him a crocodile tooth, which she’d picked up earlier – a fresh tooth from one of the freshies. LiAM was thrilled as he’d been thinking about buying a crocodile tooth. He now felt that being on the tour was completely worth it, as it had indirectly lead him to getting the tooth.

The kids went back in the water once we’d finished and I took some photos of them, then had another quick swim myself, it was quite exciting to be looking at them from in the water and really seeing them move around. We got out and the kids got changed then rushed off to hold the baby crocodile again. They got heaps of photos taken, and I was in a few as well. We looked at them on the computer and most of them were fantastic – but so expensive and everyone was happy just scrolling through them and enjoying the photos, then leaving. We wandered through the display of different types of crocodilians, amazing to see the different jaw and skull shapes of them all. We went to look at all the crocodiles for one last time, including standing up under some little domes where we could look at baby freshwater crocs at ground level, that was pretty cool. Then into the gift shop, where Millie bought a magnet and everyone bought a squeezy tube with pictures of crocodiles on it. I thought about buying some things as well, then decided to save my money til we got to the markets later.

We went across the road to Shenanigans (an Irish Pub) and found Tony and his friend and chatted to them. The guys finished their beers and the friend suggested we leave our car at his place and walk to the markets from there rather than try to find parking at the market. We headed back to the car and then to his place, and realised that sunset was fast approaching and we might miss it. I was a bit disappointed (especially on Tony’s behalf, he’d missed the sunset on Monday night too as he was buying the chips) but everyone else was relaxed – if we see it, we see it, otherwise we’ll just enjoy the markets.

We parked the car, met Tony’s friend’s son, and the 7 of us walked down to Mindil Beach. When we arrived the sun had set, but the sky was still orange and blue and reflecting amazing colours in the water. We hung out on the beach for a little while, watching the sky, and then LiAM talked to my parents for a while for his birthday. The V8 Supercars are on in Darwin this weekend, so there was lots of V8 stuff happening at the markets – we’d missed the drivers signing autographs, but the V8 girls were still around and Caitlin and Tony got their photo taken with them. We wandered along the food corridor – there was SO much choice it was very hard to decide. Tony and Caitlin chose Indian (and Millie shared with them). I had Indonesian – beef rendang, vegetable curry, chili eggplant, chili anchovies, coconut rice and peanut sauce – so delicious! LiAM had a crocodile burger. It was very crowded, hard to keep track of each other as we walked along, it was nice to sit in front of the stage and eat and listen to the music being played. The kids had a bit of a play in the playground in between eating their dinner.

The kids bought some little helicopters that were launched by rubber band and lit up in the air, they were pretty cool. Everyone was hot so we went back to the food aisle to get ice cream or smoothies. LiAM and I had pina coladas (so tasty) and Caitlin and Millie had ice cream – Caitlin’s was home made and magnificent, Millie’s was quite tasty too. Tony shared a bit of everyone’s. We wandered through the market stalls after we’d eaten, and looked at so many amazing things. Lots of clothes and lights and bags and decorations and pictures, people playing music and fire twirling, and so many other things. I finally found some indigenous art that I liked and could afford. I spent ages deciding between a painting of a crocodile or a turtle – I bought the crocodile. I bought it from the artist himself and had a good chat to him about his art and name and country. Tony found a stall selling cream to help with cracked skin – he’s always looking for something to help his hands as they get so dry when he’s working. This stuff starts with a sea salt scrub and then a moisturiser, and he liked the way it worked so he bought some. Millie found a dolphin necklace that she loved – it was at a stall where the lady writes things on grains of rice then puts them in pendants. Millie took a long time to decide exactly what she wanted, and eventually bought the dolphin pendant on a pink chain, with ‘Amelie’ written on the rice. It’s really gorgeous.

We were all pretty tired by now, so Tony went to get the car and bring it closer now that the carpark was emptying out. We kept wandering and LiAM found a duck whistle that he loved and bought, and Caitlin a lovely necklace. LiAM also bought a little amethyst, which is his birthstone. We met Tony in the carpark, where LiAM surprised him with his duck whistle, then headed home.

Millie was nearly asleep when we got back (after 10.30) but woke up enough to have birthday cake. LiAM loved his R2D2 cake, and we all had a piece (it was quite tasty and not stale which I had been worried about – the box was damaged so I got a discount but I didn’t know if the quality of the cake would be reduced) and went to bed to read Brisingr until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

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