It's about 9 a.m. and I'm being jostled about on an itchy cloth bus seat with my feet up on the open partition in front of me. The group of three journalists (and one wife and one baby) I'm hosting in the Northern Territory* for the Taste of Kakadu Food Festival are mostly quiet in the seats behind me; it's still early. I hear our guide flip on his microphone and it makes some rustling sounds as he situates the headset before saying, "So who's down for a little morning meditation?"
I, for one, am always down for a good guided meditation - I've read the studies, I know it's good for me, and of course I don't do it as much as I should. But I paused before answering - are the journalists back there gonna think that's "so weird?" To my pleasant surprise, everyone was into the idea, and our tour-guide-turned-meditation-coach did his thing for the next 20 minutes. We got off the bus ready to take on the day - with new knowledge that everyone on that bus was just a litttttle bit of a hippie. Sweet.
That mindset - feeling free-spirited, connecting with the earth, openness and raw honestly - was such a pure and accurate reflection of a destination like the Top End and the experiences we had there. Watching the sun come up on the Yellow Water Billabong fostered a moment of collective appreciation paralleled with an insane danger of very live and large crocodiles lurking in the water is a feeling I've never felt anywhere else. Learning to throw a traditional spear or attempting to start a fire with only sticks and friction sure forces you to be open and honest with yourself and your capabilities.
One day during morning meditation, we were asked by our tour guide to "think of three things that would make your day a good one." Mentally, I chose mine: I wanted to see a view that made me gasp, to taste something that's so good I have to close my eyes, and to feel loved in one way or another. After our meditation concluded, we all started to share our "daily goals." No one wished for finding money on the ground or meeting a celebrity - we were in a place so spectacular that just the things and emotions around us were what we hoped for.
I sure gasped when I saw the view at Ubirr, the site of incredible Aboriginal artwork as well as a view that looks out over an expanse of seasonal billabongs. I had to close my eyes to savor the kangaroo meat I had later that night at dinner - I've had kangaroo before, but never so tender, and in such a delicious sauce. And I felt loved when I got a text from my boyfriend back in Los Angeles, just checking in to see how things were going. It felt like the Top End was placing everything I ever wanted right in my lap.
The trick to seeing the Top End isn't just getting there, hopping out of a tour bus and snapping some shots on your camera to remember once you're back home. Seeing the Top End and all of it's incredible waterfalls, billabongs and wildlife is just one factor of visiting this special part of Australia. To truly experience the Top End, you've got to taste a buffalo meat pie, or savor a slice of grilled barramundi. You've got to hear the sound of a didjeridu played by an Aboriginal elder who has mastered the art of circular breathing. You have to feel the adrenaline pump through your body just before you cliff jump into Gunlom swimming hole, and smell the smoke from a bush fire. Only then have you really seen Australia's Top End.
One afternoon, our guide pulled the bus over to the side of the road to pick up an Aboriginal man who was walking from one community to another. The man hopped in the passenger seat next to our guide, and turned around to survey his new company. He said hello to us, asked where we were from, and how we were liking the Kakadu area. We all exclaimed how beautiful it was and how much we were enjoying it. He gestured wide, as if showing us the expanse of his peoples' land, and said, "This here, everything good." I couldn't agree more.
To see more photos from this trip, check out my Australia gallery!
*Disclaimer: I work as the PR Manager for Tourism Northern Territory. While this trip was work-sponsored, I was not paid for this blog post and all opinions are my own.