Day 179 | Sandy Billabong: sounds ominous to the lone rider

79 km | Heading west total: 7,851 km

I was overtaken by a couple of 4WDers as I made my way down a track to the aptly named Sandy Billabong.

You have to pass by a proper caravan campsite, that’s one that has showers, and then go another 6 km of dirt road to the one without those facilities. Not as many people venture down there: they’d rather pack closely together where there is the joy of the flushing toilet rather than share the primitive pit toilet of the ‘bush campsite.’

The travellers on the sealed road end up staying at the rather uninteresting, densely populated campsites tethered by the enormous bulk of their necessities: more adventurous types, travelling lighter, get to the spectacle of the giant aviary at the wetlands.

One of these 4WDers was Ian, a South African exile, recently separated from his wife. Well, she left him for another bloke, something’s not right here. He came over and offered me a beer, and, could I refuse that? He’d loved his 5 months in Argentina and Chile, the countries of other exiles. When he was in the army he’d been a chef and had cooked for Nelson Mandela who he said had radiated a huge presence even in that time before his prison release. Lived with his South African colleagues in London for years. Thickset from too much food and beer he was about to traverse the country I’ve just travelled through, heading to Alice over the next 2 months via the Gregory tracks and Tanami. He could never return to South Africa to live and would probably end up in Australia.

I’ve been an exile from New Zealand myself for 20 years, first in London and later in Australia, but at least have the choice of return.