So you’ve just arrived on the other side of the earth. Your eyeballs are almost hanging out of your head, you’re that damn tired, but it’s only mid-afternoon, so you can’t go to sleep now. You’ve got to power through to a reasonable local bedtime so you get a decent, timezone-adjusted sleep tonight. Then you’ll be fine, right?
You’re forgetting the fact that you are in the mighty clutches of the modern jetsetters evil Chucky. Terrorizing businessmen, flight attendants and supermodels around the world, he is such a little ass that he even got onto our time-zone-crossing train last year. We sh*t you not. Like us, hurtling through the darkness of the -30 degrees Siberian night still firmly stuck on Moscow time, you too will soon find your hopes of slumber shattered by all kinds of wrong. You went to bed at 10pm but now it’s 3:30am and you’re wide awake, fighting to go back to sleep but struggling to make sense of life, yourself and the world in general.
Bad news. You’re jetlagged, my friend. You may have prepped by adjusting to your destination time zone as soon as you get on the plane, eating just yoghurt and quinoa 3 days before travelling and tracking your light exposure through your freshly downloaded Entrain app. But after walking out of the arrivals gate, blinking at the California sun or bright lights of Picadilly Circus in the rain you may still be off your flamin’ chops. And after making it through a whole day of zombiedom, not being able to fall asleep when everyone else has conked out will seem like the worst irony in the world you’ve just partially circumnavigated.
Just imagine what those NASA space-dudes in their little toothpaste tube in outer orbit must feel like. All. The. Time. Studies on mice have shown that switching Mickey’s sunlight bulbs and food deliveries on 6 hours ahead of time activated a huge amount of little mouse-genes. Then this tiny protein aptly named ‘SIK1’ went around their little bodies switching all the genes off again. Whilst SIK1 helps mouse and human body clocks stay stable despite artificial light and full moons, it also ends up causing confusion and jetlag. Good news? You’re not a NASA space-monkey or an albino cheese eater. You have the benefit of gravity and a whole new world to explore. Get up! There’s plenty of stuff you can do to keep your sanity intact and maybe even feel a little productive. I mean, you’re already having a chuckle at this awesome post, right?
Check out our suggestions and don’t worry. Everything is going to be amazing.
- Porn. Ok, this one is not productive at all but might just help you wipe away the stresses of travel with one fell stroke. Well, maybe a few strokes. Boy or girl, go on; try it. You’re online, after all. Unless you’re in a dorm room, in which case, don’t even think about it. Stop it. Just no!
- Find something fascinating to read or listen to. Heard of the ‘Serial’ podcasts? Have you read Shantaram? Seen our latest piece of Rat & Dragon pondering? Of course we’re going to say that, but truly, since travel is obviously your thing, and you’re awake anyway – take a look at the World Wide Web BEYOND Buzzfeed. There’s some really pretty good stuff out there. You might even discover something amazing about your current location, or read something that will inspire your next journey. Go!
- Write your own blog post. Don’t have a blog? Start one! Actually, you don’t even need to blog it, just write about something that you found interesting recently. You needn’t be an expert on the subject, you could just conjecture and write about what you think of it. It’s quite satisfying to read it back to yourself, and who knows, there might be some other nutjobs out there that your post really resonates with. If you like it, get a free wordpress blog and upload your new masterpiece. Congrats! You now have a blog following.
- Make a list. Shopping list? Yawn. To Do list? You should already have one of those. How about a Bucket List? Get inspired and write down all the things you’d like to experience or achieve before you die. Write your own superstar obituary. Don’t worry about figuring out how/if you can actually do it. First just make the list. If you already have a bucket list, just list random stuff: people at work you’d secretly love to shag, vegetables you’d happily never eat again, all the assholes you went to high-school with, all the stuff you love/hate about your girlfriend/boyfriend/pet/children…. The list goes on. Read it in the morning and decide whether to stick it on the fridge or burn it.
- Have a drink and get some air. Put some clothes on and go to the balcony, an open window or the front door. Destroy that dehydration like Mr T destroys snickers bars. Become a midnight Ninja and take a hyper real look at your slumbering surroundings.
If you’re home after a big trip, just breathe the familiar air deeply and reflect on how it all looks a bit different since the mind-bending experiences you’ve just had in your life on the road. Does your familiar old street somehow seem smaller now? Safer? More restrictive? Or do you feel more free? If you find yourself on the far side of the planet, savour the different flavours and smells in the air – the different temperature and humidity. Listen for sounds of unknown nocturnal street life. Watch the rats and stray cats and night-urchins in the alley. Observe different constellations in the sky. If you stay up long enough, this may be the only sunrise in your fresh travel destination you’ll be up early enough to enjoy.
Exploring the world when everyone else is asleep, nodding knowingly at a passing cat at 3am pretending to be batman makes you feel like you’re in some sort of exclusive super villain club. And when you’re far away from everyone you know, you get the unique chance see a different side to the traveller’s destinations your fellow adventurers only see during civilised hours. Watch bakers set up at 4am and harbour hands get ready for a day’s fishing. You’re on the other side of the world, goddamnit. It’s chock-full of new and wondrous experiences. Don’t waste a moment!
All in all, we find jetlag can be quite fun. The detached zombie-like state during daytime is a little bit like a drug hit without the potential criminality or embarrassment of scoring Miau Miau off left-wing uni students. It also comes with a bit of a drunkard’s ‘don’t give a sh*t’ attitude, a sense of not quite being in your own body, coupled with finding everything randomly hilarious. And nighttimes are just magical, especially when something biological forces you out of your 9-5 routine and makes you see a moment for what it is – a moment in itself, without being swallowed up by your daily humdrum life (who’s the real zombie here?). Embrace jetlag and make it work to your advantage. You’ll soon see how much fun you can have.
The first glimpse of our newest destination lay ahead of us, just a small sheet of plastic window between our noses and the vast expanse of South East Asia’s biggest country. We were hurtling through the skies at ‘one tea with milk and a coffee please’ speeds in our little Air Asia capsule eagerly awaiting our arrival in Myanmar. Dramatic cloud formations caused some turbulence, but despite our prime position at the front of the wing, there was surprisingly little to see. An all-encompassing pastel-ochre haze stretched as far as the eye could reach in between big fluffy white clouds, teasing our curiosity to breaking point.
On the bus from the airport we saw what was going on. One hour of dusty scorched and empty rice paddies rolled past our window, baring witness to the final stage of Asia’s cyclical life-supporting rice agriculture: the epic burn off. All around Asia farmers had been harvesting rice, then torching fields to break down nutrients in preparation for the next season’s rice sewing, creating the world’s biggest haze cloud. During our 3-week journey from Mandalay to Yangon we witnessed entire hillsides ablaze with slow, controlled fires, which were especially impressive at night and most awe inspiring at our homestay monastery near Kalaw. In the pitch black, silhouettes of the monks paced through the flaming, smoking fractures in the otherwise impenetrable rural darkness, patiently tending to the little streams of yellow-red fires.
There are many factors apart from your equipment and settings (ISO, Aperture, Shutterspeed, Sensor and Lenses – here’s a great tutorial) that play a part in the photography you create. The burn off colour hues and blood-red sunsets brought a distinct atmosphere to our trip through Myanmar, which would have been completely different story at another time of year. But what causes the red-tinge everywhere? Well, dear reader, welcome to the phenomena of lighting and colour. Anyone who’s seen Pink Floyd’s album cover to ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ in their dad’s (or own – good on ya!) record collection will know that daylight is white but made up of a whole colour spectrum. This straight rainbow emerging from the backside of a prism is actually only an 80th of the whole measurable light spectrum – depending on how you calculate, this is the most generous estimate. The spectrum includes all sorts of fancy things such as UV rays, microwaves, radio and X rays, which are invisible to humans – but not to bees. Clever bees. Weather, the atmosphere, water, big bulky buildings standing in between you and the sun all have an effect on how light and thus colour enters your lens and hits your sensor. And just like for next month’s successful rice planting session, the burnoff is a great place to start.
Natural or ambient light comes from the sun and is measured in energy. Bright white sunlight is measured with an energy level of around 5500 Kelvin, blue light at around 7500 kelvin, then yellow orange and red (3200, 2500 and 1500 k respectively). The higher the number, the shorter the wavelength and more powerful the light is. Just to give you an idea, lasers are artificially created to have very directional light waves amplified to hit a very small area and are energetic enough to melt metal and blow up James Bond’s crotch. It’s important at this stage to not confuse energetic value with physical temperature. The higher the Kelvin, the bluer and whiter the light gets, which is counter to our emotional perception of ‘warm’ colours like red and yellow being, well, full of energy and… warmer. Lasers aren’t hot themselves; they merely have the energy to displace molecules in James’ crotch (which get hot when they’re displaced).
Our burnoff did two things. Firstly, all the little particles in the air acted as a bit of a filter, which made the light coming from the sun a lot less directional and harsh. Imagine a nice, translucent curtain blocking some of the sunlight coming through your window and making your breakfast a lot more pleasant. This meant that Myanmar didn’t look like a stark, contrasty scene in the Nevada desert, but an evenly lit, vibrant summer’s afternoon. Shadow edges were less pronounced and there was a lot more detail in the highlights and darker areas, which would have been completely blown out (white) with pitch-black shadows in our Nevada example. The second thing the burn off did is really interesting. When white sunlight hits the atmosphere, around 15% of it bounces off, is absorbed by particles or changes course slightly but continues through to the ground. Blue light has a high energetic value and short wavelength (lots of ups and downs in a short space of time) and is scattered a lot more when it hits the atmosphere than other colours. That’s why, on a clear, sunny day, the sky looks blue. It’s all those little blue wavelengths being knocked about by oxygen and nitrogen particles, like a fishing net that only catches hyper fish but lets the relaxed ones through. Red light, that has a much longer wavelength, gets through the atmosphere a lot easier, and is also better at slipping past the burn off particles, meaning more of it gets to where we’re standing on the ground. Et voila, Myanmar has a red tinge.
This stuff is also happening every day, in your back garden, as the scattering of blue wavelengths is particularly prominent at sunset. During the day, the sun has a relatively straightforward layer of atmosphere to shoot its rays through, as we and the part of land we stand on are straight down through the atmosphere. But at sunset, the light travels from the sun at a low angle, and has a lot more atmosphere to go through before it reaches us. The same beam of light that leaves the sun and travels at a 90-degree angle through the atmosphere and hits Dragon in the face in Spain at midday needs to travel at a 45-degree angle through a cross section of atmosphere to hit Rat in the retina at 6pm in Kazakhstan. That’s a lot more gas molecules to get in the way of blue wavelengths, so Rat sees only leftover red where Dragon still sees blue, green, yellow, orange and red (=white).
Sunset and sunrise times are so prized by photographers and cinematographers that this part of day is referred to as the ‘golden hour’. Light is refracted, so everything looks really well lit and soft, the yellow-red tinge ads approachable warmth (psychological, not Kelvin) and romantic mood. Get this: during golden hour, the sun isn’t your only significant light source. And we’re not talking about big city lights. The fact is, there’s not just direct light coming from the sun, but indirect light coming from everything around you, most importantly the huge umbrella straight above your head – the sky. During daytime, the sun’s direct light dominates all other indirect light, but in the golden hour, the sun’s direct light takes a step back and lets the colours coming down from the sky have fun at the party too. For you photographers, the lighting ration between your key light (the sun) and your fill light (the indirect sunlight coming down from the sky) is low, meaning less contrast and richer colours resulting from a fuller dynamic range.
Whilst chasing golden hour is every photographer’s prerogative, bare in mind it means getting up really early and getting to bed pretty late. ‘Hour’ is also misleading, as the time it takes for the sun to rise or set varies dramatically depending on seasons and how close you are to the equator. Shooting significant footage at golden hour may be doable in Iceland, but you’ll get approximately 37 seconds in Kenya. On top of that, the closer to the equator you are the higher display of colour ranges you get. Wondered why your pics from India look so much more vibrant than the ones back home? This isn’t just the holiday cocktails talking. Scientifically, you’re onto something as the higher your latitude, the higher the Kelvin value of your dominant colour spectrum is. We’re desperately researching why this is, but no one seems to know. If you have pointers, shout. This means that if you take exactly the same red coat and photograph it in Sweden and Sri Lanka, it will look like it’s a richer tone of red in Sri Lanka, as opposed to a more blue-tinted red in Sweden.
All fascinating stuff. But what do we hear you say? When you went scuba diving that time, everything came out really blue ‘cause the red was filtered out first? Well, congratulations, you are 100% right. Show off that PADI certificate proudly to family, friends and random people in your close vicinity. Hold your horses though, as we have a surprise. Water acts differently to air. Yup, crazy stuff.
Whilst the blue wavelengths are scattered by gas molecules in the atmosphere, they are actually quite good at keeping on going through denser water. When blue scatters in the sky, it doesn’t disappear. It paints the whole sky blue by whizzing around from molecule to molecule like a tiny pod-race. In water it whizzes down into the depths for a lot longer than low energy red wavelengths. Red gets absorbed relatively soon after entering through the water’s surface and colliding with H20 molecules, making them vibrate and thus heating the upper layers of your kid’s paddling pool. So in the sky, blue light keeps whizzing around like the Stig, and red light meanders through the atmosphere. But in water, blue light ambitiously aims for the depths, and red light turns into heat close to the surface.
In all of these examples, the lighting conditions aren’t meant to be a hindrance. Different environments create different moods and you can get some stunningly atmospheric shots on cloudy, rainy days, in the shade, haze and blearing, direct sunlight. It’s a good idea though to capture as much colour information as possible, so you can chose later which bits to keep and which ones to tone down. When you’re scubadiving, consider a red filter that puts red back into the picture. Or take a torch. When you’re somewhere with a lot of glare, use a polarizer. And in general, take whatever conditions you find travelling as an opportunity to create unexpected moments caught for the world to enjoy.
You probably don’t remember this now, but there once was a very first time that you ever laid eyes on a toaster. You didn’t think to yourself: “Yawn. Vegemite. Maybe jam”. Nope. What you actually thought was: “Ohmygod! Ohmygod! A machine that you put bread into and it launches out hot and CRUNCHY!” Mind = Blown.
Of course, after marvelling at The Machine for the next couple of breakfasts, you gradually got so used to it that it became simply that old toaster and your youthful brain, ever insatiably craving more info, went on to discover the marvel that is your own doodle (or if you’re a girl, butterflies or pencil cases or whatever). In those days, a trip to the shop on the corner might as well have been a deep space mission to an unexplored galaxy.
Not only were these discoveries monumentally profound in themselves, but each and every one of them hinted at the marvels of the world beyond your horizons of understanding. And, being a kid, you weren’t self-conscious at all about embracing the sheer, massive volume of what you didn’t know. Rather, you looked out at the world with massive, wide and earnest eyes, asked questions and sucked in more and more knowledge. After a while though, just like The Machine became that old toaster, and the trip to the shops became a pain in the ass, all the things around you grew familiar and unremarkable (everything except your own doodle, that is). Moreover, as you got older, the people around you expected you to know more and more too, even actively ridiculing you if you didn’t know. Bam! You’re an adult now and people pay you to know! (You’d better not admit that you’re still in awe of that old toaster.)
So once you’re an expert in all that once-incredible stuff around you (and even in accounting or conveyancing law, as your boss and peers demand you to be) how are you expected to keep that wide-eyed, youthful attitude? Well, most people don’t. They build their lives becoming the all-knowledgeable experts of everything around them. The unknown stuff takes on a more sinister shade. If they don’t know it by now, it’s probably not worth knowing. There’s probably not that much out there that they don’t know by now anyway. It could even be dangerous out there in amongst all that stuff they don’t know. Uh oh – they’ve “grown up”.
But hold on. Believe it or not, there is a place where mind-blowing discoveries still exist. There’s a place where, not only is it OK to admit that you don’t know stuff, but the people around you wont even expect you to know about the simplest things – as fundamentally simple even as how to talk. In fact, these people will probably be really encouraging about showing you this stuff – and they’ll take infinite delight in the way you marvel at stuff that, to them, is as boring as that old toaster. That place is, of course, everywhere on earth that you haven’t been yet. A trip to the shops on the corner becomes a voyage of discovery again. It’s filled with weird, colourful things with squiggly lines instead of what you’d call words – there could be ANYTHING in those packets! New sights and sounds arrest you in the streets and new smells and tastes astound you at every meal time. And what the hell is that thing??? You put dried corn in that side and out comes flat bread at the other end (You’re in Mexico now, and it’s a boring old tortilla mill). And that little intricately decorated doll house in the corner of the room? (You’re in your Japanese friend’s Tokyo flat and it’s a shrine to their ancestors – every house has got one, obviously)
You flounder at meeting people – suddenly you’re learning to make new sounds with your mouth and getting amazing results from the people you’re trying to communicate your intentions to. Good for you – you’re saying your first words all over again! – only now it’s called “learning a new language”, and it’s not merely “something expected of you” – it’s actually amazing and highly valued – it might even help you land that new job. You realise there’s so much out there that you don’t know, and you embrace that fact and run to it, wide-eyed and thirsting for discovery. You’re absorbing new things – you’re developing! Congratulations. You’ve got your youthful drive. You know what? As long as you’re travelling new places and discovering, you’re pretty much a youngster, no matter how many candles on your cake. Just remember that, next time you make yourself some boring old breakfast.
Queensland. Some call it the Texas of Australia. Some call it ‘the place so humid, no one actually lives there’. Some call it the Sunshine State, and our Dragon, well, he calls it home. With a plethora of backpacker-catnip along the East Coast, you’d be forgiven for bypassing unassuming and confusingly named Townsville. Yep, it’s the place you get the bus to, to get the ferry to Magnetic Island, where you really wanna be going. It’s the place where the Powerpuff girls live. It’s also the place that has three major events on the annual calendar (if you go by what the locals say): the first is any Cowboys Rugby League game, the second is the V8 Supercars convention, and the third is the opening of Barramundi season.
As a city girl, it’s never even occurred to me (Rat) to go fishing. As a Townsville guy, it’s never even occurred to our Dragon to not go fishing. So after a month solid of 10 hour editing days powerhousing two series of 7 films each and another 2 projects from scratch, we were waiting for feedback and took an afternoon to explore the local delight that is the hunt for barra.
3pm, we’re at a friend’s loading up his boat with rods, fishing line, hand reels, cooking utensils, sausages and beer. In Queensland, I am told, you can have a beer without fishing, but don’t go fishing without a beer. We head off past idyllic beach fronts, through lush green jungle canopies, past a Mac Donalds and along a dual carriage way. A sharp turn brings the ute (pickup truck and pride & joy of any self-respecting Townsvillleite) careering down a steep gravel path to a small car park and the well-camouflaged boat ramp. We crack the soft drinks. Beer is only allowed after catching the first fish, but seeing as JD & Coke in a can counts as a soft drink, reversing the boat down the ramp and into the river goes like a well oiled dream. A dream involving a 15 part turn.
Our captain Jimbo opens the throttle and we speed down the river with the wind in our hair and the smell of wet dog in out nostrils. We zoom past more lush greenery towards what appears to be a huge concrete H blighting the otherwise idyllic scenery. We come to a standstill right underneath a motorway bridge and strap our boat to one of the pylons. Really? Is my first thought. All this beautiful fauna around and we’re heading straight for the eyesore? “This is the best fishing spot in Queensland”, pipes up Jimbo, and with that launches into a 7 hour on off conversation about how he’s caught the biggest fish and the best fish out of everyone he knows, right here at this secret spot. Not that he seemed to have been many other places, but why fix something that’s not broken?
Dear reader, now comes the squeamish part. If you are vegetarian on moral grounds, or a member of PETA, or watch Sea Shepherd, or believe that anyone who doesn’t leave animals be in their ‘natural’ habitat is evil, please stop reading now and skip one of our other blog posts. Here’s a good one on fun you can have with road kill. Maybe not that one. Please also stop buying suede belts from Topshop, check your new yoga trainers for white-brushed leather, stop using plastic and chuck out all your cosmetics containing palm oil.
For you bloodthirsty adventurers, this is where is gets interesting, and there are different types of fishing. You can throw big cast net into the water using a spiralling action to maximise the surface area, and you pull in anything that gets caught. You can spear your fish with a bamboo spear from a rock outside the water, you can wade and spear or get yourself a spear gun and snorkel/dive and pretend to be James Bond.
The most commonly known way to get dinner is probably with a rod and a hooked worm, and again this is only one way to do it. Fly-fishing is an art form within itself and involves complex feathered and knotted fake insects and special techniques to coax the fish to the hook at the end of your line. Lure-fishing allows you to try out an enormous array of different multi coloured plastic or metal fish that simulate a swimming dinner for a bigger fish, right up to attracting Marlin in deep sea areas. Apparently it’s not how tasty the lures look, but how pretty they seem to the fish, which encourages our aquatic friends to give them a bite. For the real Bear Grills types, there is bait fishing. You can use little hand reels, i.e. a plastic circle with fishing line wound round it and dead bait attached to the hook at the end – chopped up liver works a treat, so do grubs, pieces of fish, squid and prawns you can buy deep frozen from a fishing shop. And this is how you catch live bait, which is exactly what we were up to under out motorway bridge.
Sitting there with music blaring, all four of us chatted away about fishing exploits and nothing else. I didn’t have much to say, this being the second time in my life I was at the other end of a hooked line (the first time I was 6 in a trout farm in Austria, and I think I got quite a bit of help). As the afternoon progresses the narrative fish get bigger and more ferocious. The circumstances harder, the bravery peaks in a story of catching a mythically large barramundi in what sounds like a cyclone. Graham sharply pulls at his little blue circle of fishing line and yanks a little stripy fish about the size of my palm out of the water. First bait is caught, deposited in a special compartment at the rear of the boat that lets in fresh river water to keep the little ‘Barra Mars Bars’ alive and the first beer is cranked. The second yank is mine, another little unsuspecting nibble turns out to be a hell of a journey for a spiky little black and yellow striped bait fish. I have to carefully smooth down his dorsal spikes so I don’t get jabbed as I pull the hook out of his lip and get him to the wet box as quickly as possible, before he wriggles around enough to scare me into letting him go. K-SHHHHHHHH I’ve earned my beer.
As it gets darker, we catch more, 15 in total, and Graham who is by far the best hooks a turtle. Don’t confuse them with uber cool dude Crush from Finding Nemo, these river turtles are ugly and they stink to high heaven. We unhook him and are glad when he disappears off to where he came from. During the spectacular sunset we move the boat out from under the bridge for the ultimate showdown of the day – using our live bait to catch what will hopefully turn out to be a monster barramundi. Quick reminder that this is my first proper time fishing. I have no childhood memories or familiar fondness to connect to what we’re doing. To me, the fishing shops we visited earlier during the day may just as well have been huge warehouses filled with millions of different coloured key rings and a wetsuit or two. But as the sky turns blood red and purple, and we set up for the hunt, I find myself feeling quite excited.
First, we need some decent tunes. Rage against the machine takes over from N’Sync. The little camping stove is fired up for dinner. We’re hardly in the open roaring ocean but after 5 hours under the bridge seeing the sky makes me feel a little bit like we’re in open water. We take it in turns to scoop a bait fish out of the wet box, hold it so it can’t squirm out of our hands or spike us, and hook it onto our bigger barra hooks. This is probably the ickiest part, but at the same time the hook is best placed where it harms the fish the least, so it can happily swim around the longest to attract a barra munch. Different people do different things, some hook through the back above the spine, some through the lip, we hook ours into the mouth and out through the forehead. This has several advantages, first it misses all vital organs and blood supply keeping the fish alive and wriggling temptingly. Secondly, when you drag the fish back in when it’s wondered too far, you are dragging it in the direction it would usually swim, not against the grain, as a back hooking would.
We let our little fishies swim for it. Put our rods that were unknown to our bait and target still firmly attached in the rod holders around the side of the boat and watched the line as it wandered around the boat following the fish exploring. Chatting away about – you guessed it – fishing, we sat, sipped our beers and watched the sausages sizzle. A couple of times, when the lines looked like they would tangle due to our fishies wondering, we reeled them in again, and let them run in a different direction. I felt a little bit like I was taking 4 small fish on leads for a walk around the park.
The sausages were cooking away nicely and I was just reeling in my little dude who was chilling under the boat too close to the anchor line when BOOOM – something massive tugged at the line. Within lightning speed, the half cooked sausages and gas stove where stored away and everyone’s lines were brought in. Instructions were given from all sides, but no one touched me or my rod, I had to do this on my own. I had never realised that fish are caught in sport on lines that only hold a certain amount of strain, measured in kilos. The thrill comes from letting a hooked fish run, then slowly reeling it in, then letting it run again if it does, then slowly reeling it in, all without breaking the line. The lower strain the line can take makes the bigger the fish you caught even sweeter. Suddenly the prestige of “I caught a 10kg tilapia on a 5kg line” made total sense. The extreme case of the chase can lead whole boats following a fish on the other end of one guy’s line, to avoid breaking it before the fish tires out. This can take hours and hours, with no guarantee that he will get away last minute. Cue more cyclone/shark infested water/”it was bigger than my auntie” stories from the crew.
And so I carefully reeled, waited, lost line, gained line and brought the fish closer and closer to the boat, without seeing what it was. Suddenly it jumped out of the water 2 meters from the boat, to my delight (it wasn’t an eel!) and the other’s horror (this is when fish are most likely to get unhooked). I got lucky though and reeled him in again, and again until he flopped into a net. In the boat, everyone cheered. It was a big one. The minimum size you can keep is 58cm length, this means that there are enough baby fish to keep the species alive and kicking (or swimming). The mythical size everyone wants to catch is over 1m. The biggest fish the boat had ever caught was 89cm. This one was 75cm long. Despite my previous indifference, some primeval funny bone had been tickled deep inside my Neanderthal brain matter. Seeing the fish I had just single-handedly caught was awesome, and thanks to barra season officially open, it also tasted awesome the following day.
Many sports fishing enthusiasts will unhook the fish, possibly tag it, and then let it go. Cue forehead slaps and confused looks from our Indonesian and Laosian friends. But I wanted the full experience, and you learn something new each day, if you try new things. Whilst I don’t think I’ll be swapping an opportunity for a great discussion on some lofty subject amongst good friends with sitting under a bridge with a line and raw liver all over my hands, I can now say I have an idea how to survive on a desert island. And that’s quite a skill to have acquired.
“I must get to the other side. This is my quest, he waits for me”… a bearded armadillo stuck to a Nevada highway by his squashes, tire-marked midsection tells a perplexed chameleon anti-hero Rango. “The Spirit of the West, amigo. Enlightenment! Without it, we are NOTHING.”
To pretend our encounters with wildlife traffic casualties in various states of flattening and decay had been even half as philosophical as Verbinski’s Oscar winning masterpiece of animated filmmaking would be a lie. But on our 9860km Mighty road trip, we did see quite a few, in some areas so many dead kangaroos that it a) put us completely off driving at dusk & night and b) made us think.
In Australia alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an animal is hit and killed by a motor vehicle every second. The number of animals killed by cars in the United States is estimated to be around a million a day.
This of course takes into account smaller animals like mice, rabbits and cane toads (notoriously targeted on purpose by some Aussie drivers – studies using decoys have proven this!) but not millions of insects who end up on people’s windshields a la Men in Black. Yes, insects have feelings, too. Haven’t you seen Pixar’s “Antz”?
But apart from being a bit disgusting, undoubtedly sad and sometimes dangerous, there’s a lot of fun things you can do with road kill.
1) *Sizzle*, *squirt*, “’ere ya go, napkins are over there”
There is a quite prominent group of enthusiasts who enjoy eating your newly quashed squirrel, possum or moose. And not just Texas Tucker and his redneck family – small but established communities in the US, Southern Canada, the UK, Australia and other Western countries prize the freshness, organic status, low cost, high nutrient value and lack of chemical or hormonal agricultural additives “flat meat” (or, depending on where you are, “highway pizza”) offers.
The meat needs to be evaluated: “How fresh is it? How flat is it? Is it NOT a rat?” is a common eligibility test. If thoroughly cooked, it is no different than that obtained through hunting and the practice of preparing road kill for dinner is legal and even encouraged in some states.
In Canada, bears killed by accident may be donated to needy people for their meat, and in Alaska, whilst big game road kill – usually caribou or moose – are considered property of the state, troopers will allow volunteers to butcher a hit animal to donate to churches, needy families and soup kitchens on the condition that “it’s not too smooshed” (official technical term). Around 820 moose are donated each year.
Once you get over the ‘pancake with a tail’ factor, eating road kill makes a lot of sense. Even if establishments such as the annual Marlington West Virginia Cook-off and the Roadkill Café at Mindil beach’s Sunset Market in Darwin serve hunted animals, the variety of different meats encourages a huge diversification of the palette. It’s fun, social and encourages people to realize there are plenty of tasty and healthy alternatives to just eating environmentally hazardous steak. “You kill it, we grill it” and “From your grill to ours” – indeed.
There are a wide variety of road kill cookbooks available to try it out at home. In the UK, where traffic accidents are the number-one killer of badgers, ‘The Roadkill Chef’ Fergus Drennan pioneers foraging cuisine as environmentally responsible. There are few things he avoids, but not because he has “a problem with cats or dogs, …[but they’ve]… always got name tags on their collars” and he can’t quite agree eating them with having two cats of his own.
2) “Hey, Mindy, pull over a sec, there’s a BEAUTY!”
You don’t need to want to actual eat squashed animals if you’re after a bit of fun. Until recently you could buy Kraft Foods “Trolli” brand gummies – “US Road Kill edition” and feast on sweats shaped as partly flattened chickens, squirrels and snakes. They’ve been discontinued but the internet is a treasure chest for that kind of thing.
But if even that’s a little on the insensitive side for you, why not join marine scientist Len Zell on his road trips around Australia with the pure purpose of finding out a huge amount about a regions biodiversity from what ends up at the side of the road.
Rumble strips, which are installed to warn drivers when they drift off the centre of a road are elevated off the tarmac to cause the noise that alerts drivers. They also accumulate road salt which small and large wildlife in search of salt licks will stop at oblivious of the risk of being hit. Roads in Oz are built to have storm rainwater run off them, meaning that the sides of roads often get the best water supply away from creeks and vegetation attracts animals that feed on it.
You can tell a lot about an area’s local species numbers, their general health and even changes in a species makeup. American cliff swallows, as the name suggests, swallow their insect pray whole. They also like cliffs, whether naturally formed or artificial in the shape of bridge pylons.
A pair of scientists from the University of Tulsa have been studying cliff swallows dating back 30 years with the help of their relatively high death rate due to the proximity of the highway to their nesting grounds. They have found that an un-proportionately high amount of killed swallows has longer and slower wings, meaning that shorter-winged birds are now in the clear majority when nesting under bridges.
Interestingly over the 30 year study period, the amount of birds killed has gone down whilst the overall population has increased. That’s evolution for you right there, nut shelled into 30 years. Darwin would be proud of our Dragon’s favorite bird.
3) “3am emergency callout boys and girls, let’s go get stuffed!”
Almost as secretive as the illuminati, and as skilled as lumberjack ninjas, a group of highly reactive and collectively minded people are getting kicks out of hearing about our furry forest friends getting bulldozed. The occupation of this sophisticated group of snatch-n-grabbers? Taxidermists.
Now being adopted by the o-so-amazeballs hipster enclave, Taxidermy has been around a long time and its need for fresh animal bodies is fed by hunting, foraging and picking up unfortunate critters from the nation’s highways. What may sound macabre can be a genuinely beautiful art, lately with increasing numbers of women involved.
Artist Kimberly Witham has had some interesting run ins with the police as she explains the contents of her car’s boot: “a pair of running shoes, 10 jars of pickle, a case of Leinenkugel’s Red Lager, a dead mallard, stuffed fox, dead pheasant, bag of deer antlers and a kit equipped for a serial killer”.
Roadkill can also be the only chance for avid stuffers to get hold of endangered species that you can’t hunt and kill. Some countries such as Germany require you to report and register every hit animal with the local forestry department but getting to a carcass and registering before others do is a great opportunity to stuff something unusual. For bigger animals, trucks and strength in numbers are needed, so niche networks have formed across regions who help each other find and collect exciting specimen.
4) “Kaaaa-ching and sing, sing, sing”
Finally, if you’re hard up for cash, you can do the environment, wildlife and council a favour by adopting the rather unglamorous job of road kill collector. Whilst you’re on call 24/7 and especially active at night when most accidents happen, you can rest assured that you’re clearing the roads from hazards for other drivers and making sure scavenging animals (such as possums or birds of prey) eat the carcasses in the safety of a nearby forest as opposed to on the centre strip.
And when you get tired of scraping furry pancakes off tarmac in the rain at 3am, make sure you’re in Pennsylvania as you’ll get paid around $40 per deer, and as an average of 1800 deer are hit every year, you’ll be pocketing a salary of $72000. Not bad at all.
If all else fails, why not be creative and write a song along the lines of Louden Wainwright The Third’s 1972 smash hit “Dead skunk in the middle of the road, stinkin’ to high Heaven!” You’ll end up entertaining the nation way better than X Factor ever could.
Interesting fact of the day: it has emerged after the writing of this blog post that our Rat’s mum has met Mr Wainwright and enjoyed a live rendition, so make sure to add it to your next BBQ playlist. To find out all about cute critters they’re still alive, check out our definitive guide to Australia’s batshit crazy animals.
CCRAAAASHHHHHHHHH, SLAM, Bang bang bang bang… “Oh crap, I think I left one of the draws open”. We stop at the side of the road and the living, eating and sleeping space behind our drivers cabin is full of tshirts, notepads, plactic plates, muesli bars, knickers and an Aussie flag towel.
Never before have I had to be so careful where I put my stuff. Even on a boat, where all loose items have to be secured at all times it’s a lot easier to remember to do so if you’re rocking around 24/7. But being the campervan novices that we were when we hit Australia, we had a month’s worth of learning ahead of us. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes hilarious but always exciting, we soon found out how well thought out this little Rhino camper of ours really is.
With all the things we had never even imagined would be important on a massive 10,000km road trip across an entire continent, we want to share the love and spare a few headaches with our beginner’s guide to camper-vaning (yes, this is a verb. we think.):
1) Seeing stuff
The whole point of going on a road trip is to have a real independent adventure with the wind in your hair and the open road ahead. If you’ve been so caught up in organizing which tie-dye-dream-catcher hippy hat and aviator combo you’re going to wear and turning your bedroom upside down in the search for your driving license, fret not.
The best way to find the hottest secret treasures you can see along the way is by asking people local to the area you’re visiting. Tourist info places are great as it is their job to know about the local attractions and they often have free booklets, maps and discount deals. They can also point you in the direction of National Parks, where you can camp and get to awesome waterfalls, trekking trails and viewpoints way before the crowds arrive. If you’re planning to hit Oz, check out the places we saw on our way from Darwin to Sydney, via Uluru and Cairns.
Take your time when you pick up your van as you want to be able to get used to driving it and get a good tour of all its features by the experts who you’re hiring it off. Said experts (we got our Mighty van from THL) also have a really good idea of places in their area that are off the main tourist radar but just as awesome as (if not even more awesome than) the Lonely Planet highlights. And as camping is so social – you’re pulling up next to someone new every night – sound out what other people have seen, what they thought was worth a visit (and what wasn’t) and be open to changing your plans if a rare opportunity arises. One-in-a-lifetime super-moon rise in the desert, anyone?
Most places with a thriving campervan industry will have loads of places to stay. National Parks have various camping options from wild camping, low-cost, no frills places to fully serviced campsites with electricity and water points where you can connect your van costing between $20 and $50 a night (remember to disconnect your electricity and water supply BEFORE moving your van. #justsayin’).
Most of the land outside the parks is owned by someone, and certain areas inside the parks are off limits (the Uluru area is particularly restrictive, you CAN’T stay overnight close to the rock) so always check that it’s legal for you to stay in the place you’ve found.
If you’re more chilled knowing you have somewhere to stay that night, get yourself a local SIM for mobile phone access (Telstra is the way to go in the outback) and book ahead that night and make sure to over-estimate driving times. No matter what Google says, add another 20%, an hour for lunch and an hour for activities as many campsites in the Red Centre close at 6pm (!), when night falls and driving becomes dangerous ‘cause silly Skippy (i.e. the kangaroo) gets active. Other countries may have other considerations, so ask the hirers for any local quirks so you’re not left stranded at locked gates.
Campers are notoriously exposed to the weather, which is a big part of the fun. Oh, those childhood memories of digging a trench in a thunderstorm around the collapsing tent in Dorset… But the desert has its own set of climate clinches. Yes, it’s friggin hot during the day, but also friggin cold at night, so ask your hirer if they have extra blankets if you’re prone to getting cold. Deserts also flood – check the best time of year for your planned trip, flash floods ain’t fun unless you’re that bearded Noah dude.
Getting away from the city is also a big bonus, but hold your horses until you’ve stocked up on food, as bigger cities have way more variety and much lower prices than that tiny hut owned by that sideburned Emu farmer 5 hours from the nearest neighbour in the middle of the outback. The same goes for petrol – if you have a chance to fill up, DO SO. Some days we re-fuelled 3 times to be able to make the distances we covered. You don’t want to get stuck in the middle of said nowhere where cars pass on average once a week. We’ve all seen Wolf Creek. And if you haven’t – it ain’t pretty.
On the note of food, our kitchen was really awesome – we cooked most of our meals in it, and they were GOOD. Lamb chop on a bed of haricot vertes with mango salsa? Done. Char grilled peppers stuffed with goats cheese and couscous confit? Done. Go as painfully middle class as you like, and pack leftover quinoa and goose liver pate in ziplock bags to save space in the pod-sized fridge.
Our van had nifty draws that you could lock closed with a push of a button, you’ll learn to do that quickly as leaving them open results in the chaos of spilled wild rice and organic muesli bars. Same goes with driving off and leaving windows and doors open. Just don’t do it. If you pick up your van first, you’ll not have to carry food across town, just trolley it to your van, and you’ll know what fits and what doesn’t. Maybe give that giant fresh Tuscan salami a miss.
4) And finally…..Driving
When hiring a campervan, driving is kind of a big deal. You may need an international driving license (we didn’t). You may need to drive on the opposite side of the road than you’re used to. You may mix up indicators with windscreen wipers. You can only take as many people as fit in the front cabin, each on one seat with one seatbelt. No imitating Priscilla, Queen of the Desert then. For better or for worse, thanks to Health & Safety those days are over.
A camper is roughly double the height and length of a car, and whilst we had to look out for trees when parking, we loved the high-seated view and found Rhino surprisingly easy to drive. If you’re not confident, and always want your travel buddy to drive, why not try out driving a van on a safe, quiet road in the middle of nowhere? Best place to try and you’re guaranteed to surprise yourself.
Finally, we can’t stress enough to not underestimate distances (see above). Don’t drive at dusk or night as all the cute fluffy animals you’ve been feeding in the wildlife parks will be on the road and drawn to the headlights of your car like moths to a candle. They really are that suicidal, and we stopped counting the road kill at the side of the Stuart Highway on day 3. Crashing the van into a massive boxing roo or (like one of the couples we met) hitting a rare eagle that was chomping away at a recently squashed Wallaby in the centre line just isn’t worth it.
Exploring a country by camper is fantastic. It’s a real adventure and the possibilities of being in control of your own home, kitchen and transport is incredibly liberating. If you’re planning on Oz, check out our route for inspiration. If not, let us know where you went in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.
Wherever you end up, have fun and drive safe. Oh, and seriously, don’t forget to fuel up!
Alternatively, check out our handy guide in film format!