“I’ll just introduce you to the dogs,” our housesit host said, sliding open the patio door. There was a covered concrete patio with a small sand pit, a tiny picnic table, and a chewed-up plastic dinosaur, but no dogs.
“Hmm, that’s strange. They’re usually right there.”
She stepped out into the yard and called their names, but there was no response. Exactly what this young mum needed: the dogs had escaped through an open garage door, two days before she was due to fly to Dubai with two toddlers.
“They’ll make an odd pair,” she sighed. “A pug and a staffy, out roaming the streets.”
We chatted and went over the details of the housesit, but by the time we left the dogs still hadn’t turned up. Jared did a lap of the neighborhood, but there was no sign of them.
“See you on Wednesday—hopefully there will be some dogs here for you to look after!”
* * * * *
The dogs returned; they had been two doors down the whole time, living it up in the neighbor’s yard. We quickly ascertained that it had been the pug’s idea to escape; I have rarely met a more enthusiastic dog. Sure enough, multiple people in the neighborhood stopped us over the next two weeks to say they’d seen the dogs on the day of their jailbreak.
“The little one was leading the way,” they said. “The big one was following behind, making sure she didn’t get into any trouble.”
The first night I made a spicy veggie pie, a dish that’s only possible with oven access. While rolling out the dough the cold butter began to melt, leaving a slimy mess on the counter. The pastry was no match for Darwin’s heat and humidity.
The pug stuck close to my ankles, breathing heavily and hoping for scraps to supplement her dinner. The staffy watched with interest from his cool position on the tiles.
“I think we need to turn on the air,” I said, wiping my sweaty bangs off my forehead. “Otherwise this pie is going to the dogs.”
Camping makes me forget how easy living in a house can be, when cold air can be summoned by the push of a button.
* * * * *
Darwin has a reputation for being a polarizing town that people either love or hate. It’s a transient place, luring workers with lucrative contract jobs and a heat that slides over your body and soaks into your skin. Year-round temperatures rarely dip below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s at night.
In the dry, it’s like being on vacation all the time: warm weather, fishing every day if you want it, beers at sunset, nighttime food markets. In the wet, the heavy humidity can send you troppo.
We met a couple (through this blog, actually!) who had been living there for over a year, longer than they’d initially planned. Darren loved it; Saskia didn’t. She gave the best explanation I’d heard about why she wasn’t into Darwin:
“It’s like putting a hair dryer in a bathtub. I like hair dryers and I like bathtubs, but the two just don’t go together. Well, I’m the hair dryer and Darwin is the bathtub.”
* * * * *
Experiencing a city while staying in a house automatically gives it a little extra shine, so my perspective on Darwin leans a little more towards the ‘love it’ side. We hung out with the dogs, relishing the chance to sit on a couch and put food in a full-sized fridge.
At night, the sound of the curlews’ mournful cries wafted in through the open bedroom windows, and I always woke with a start thinking that it was a baby crying. I first saw these odd, long-legged birds in Airlie Beach, but now they’ll always remind me of Darwin.
On Thursday and Sunday we drove to the Mindil Beach Markets to catch the sunset and eat laksa from the Darwin Laksa stall. With each mind-blowing bite, I knew I was locking in a craving that I wouldn’t be able to satisfy in the future.
We visited the free, air-conditioned Museum and Gallery of the Northern Territory for a glimpse at Sweetheart, a 5-meter stuffed crocodile that once roamed Darwin’s waterways. Jared and I went for beers at Six Tanks Brewing and talked about having Friday-night drinks at the nearby surf club, but laziness got the better of us and we mostly stayed in.
I suspect Darwin is the kind of place that I would love for six months or so; any longer and I’d start living on the surface of my brain instead of delving any deeper. My ambition and motivation would fade into the background, obscured by Sunday sessions and Thursday-night laksas.
We left Darwin knowing that there was so much more to see and do, but that’s always when a city leaves a lasting positive impression on me: when I leave before I’m quite ready to.
Have you been to Darwin? Did you love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between?
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