Turns out Sean Bean was right before he had his head chopped off all that time ago (very old spoiler alert!). Winter was definitely coming. Genius prediction, much like Mystic Meg predicting someone with the letter A in their name will win some unspecified amount of money on the lottery. Of the same level of insight as the Australian Prime Minister telling us that conflict is not just about goodies v baddies but sometimes baddies v baddies, bang bang you’re dead nah nah nah nah nah.
Yes, winter has come, though still a temperate south of the wall kind of winter. Chill morning fog and darkness before five. A fortnight long cold which cycles between varying levels of mucus and ear blockage and throat irritation and is happy to never quite go away. Slow cooked beef and tom yum soups and the occasional hot chocolate to soothe things down. A time when images beamed at crazy hours of the night from northern – or indeed equatorial – climes are a somehow compelling, comforting companion.
As Brazil shakes its booty, the tropics are never sexier. So it was with a tinge of disappointment that I rocked up in Townsville, north of the Tropic of Capricorn, to find a fine imitation of a wet weekend in Morecambe. Even the locals were aghast and – predictably given a ‘chill’ 19 degrees or so – wrapped up in cardigans and these strange and rare things known as trousers. Crazy weather they said. Climate change they uttered. Wahhhh you’re from Canberra you’re mad I could never cope with that I like the warmth and being near the sea and lolling around too much they exclaimed incredulously.
So what to do on a wet weekend in Townsville? Trudge along the ever fine esplanade in your waterproof and realise that maybe you should buy some new shoes that don’t absorb quite so much water. Marvel at the views of Magnetic Island which emerge in between cloudbursts and drizzle fronts. Attempt to have an alfresco coffee as wind sweeps in sideways rain. Soak up the Great Barrier Reef, presented in aquarium form, and battle with thousands of kids to look at a faaaaaaahkin shaaaaaaak.
By Tuesday (when I had work to do) the rain had stopped, and then Wednesday (the day I left) it was back to sunny skies. This meant that – while an excursion across to Maggie was now off the cards – I could at least get out a little, and savour just a smidgeon of that tropical taste. I climbed Castle Hill, invariably described as a pink granite monolith and plonked right in the middle of the city. Just like Rio, I thought, as I clambered up the many, many steep and arduous steps to the top. No giant Jesus at the summit, but some fat guy in shorts was there. He had driven up on the road, to marvel at the views still submerged under a mackerel sky.
I was pleased to exercise, just so I could eat guilt free on the waterfront; indeed, I think the eating side of things was the most satisfactory part of this tropical foray. The sun managed to accompany a delicious lunchtime salt & pepper calamari salad on Tuesday and a sweet corn pancake and bacon brunch was the perfect gap filler until my flight home on Wednesday. I squeezed in a coffee or too, some soggy fish n chips, and, right near the end, a beachside gelato. The tropics had returned, the sexiness was back.
And with just an hour or two to spare I could take those idyllic palm tree beach shots, and capture the fragrant green tinge of a city lumped around hills. I could walk in shorts (yes shorts!) along the very excellent Strand – a perfect seaside promenade punctuated with eating and drinking stops in between sandy bays. I could pretend, should I wish, to have had a sublime tropical getaway and delete all the pictures of rain on my iphone. I could happily linger until September.
But then, returning towards my hotel and a taxi to the airport, a snake came up to me and said something like, “Neil, you don’t want to stay here. The air force planes are too noisy. The coffee could be better. There are sharks. And mosquitoes just waiting to eat your succulent English blood. Backpackers will overwhelm us, plus there are people obsessed about some stupid annual rugby league match. Oh, there are some snakes too. They might not be as nice as me.” Sage advice, insightful predictions. And so I scampered off to the airport and wee wee wee wee all the way home, all the way home to winter.