A Travellerspoint blog

Down Under

Two Islands on the other side of the world

overcast 20 °C
View RTW - South America & RTW - Australia on MyriandKodi's travel map.

Weeeell, we already arrived in Brazil.
Having left NZ eight weeks ago it might be time to update our blog a bit. And as we are a bit lazy at the moments we'll spare you the big words and tall thoughts and just treat you to some Pictures. Mainly. So that one of the next days we'll still have the time to write about Chile and Argentina. Maybe ;-).

We only had three weeks to explore the two islands, south to north, enjoying the freedom of campervaning. A total of 4000km on winding roads meant a lot of time on the streets, but also just a lot of awesome scenery while driving.

Here are our high lights:

Southland

We arrived in Christchurch, which is still under construction. The central km² with the nice old town is not accessible, we left the next day for Dunedin.
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Dunedin's main attraction for us was the Otago Peninsula with lots of great wild life:
Seals, Dolphins, Sea Lions, two kinds of Pinguins, huge Albatrosses and hundreds of other birds live on and around the peninsula. And sheep. Lots of sheep. The nicest corner of this nicest corner of Southland is Sandfly Bay, distinguishable by Christmas Hats and lots of flying sand.
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From Otago we made a round around the rest of the South island: Milford Sound, Queenstown, Mount Cook, up the east coast and across the channel. We stayed in lots of free camping places in stunning settings. One evening we met a couple of french on one of these. They went to the ocean with an empty bucket and returned with a few kilos of mussels. Tastiest free dinnner of the hole whole trip!
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...and more sheep...
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Northland

The northern island is more populated and a little less ruggy than the southern. We took it in a bit of a rush, just peeking at Wellington, Napier and some volcanoes before we headed for Auckland, where we met Andreas Cousin Stefan.
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We spent Christmas on a nice camping on the beach. Sun, sand, BBQ. And red hats. Merry Xmas!
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Posted by MyriandKodi 04:43 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Meet the locals II

Wild (and some tame) life down under / Part II: Biggish cities, Tasmania and the East Coast


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Melbourne

While the others had a nice 8h bus trip back to Alice Springs in front of them we had booked a flight out of minuscule Uluru Airport. We said our goodbyes and boarded our plane to Melbourne. Well, plane to Sydney, actually, where we had a connection to Melbourne. Seeing all the nicely dressed business people was a bit weird. We had been out of western civilisation for a few months (Darwin and Alice hardly count as civilized...) and the people in suits and business dresses reminded us of how lucky we are, to have stepped out of this thread mill for a while. I'm not sure what kind of impression we made on them, Karmen's motto at the Rock Tour had been "You will get smelly, you will get dirty, but it’s so worth it!". Well, we certainly lived up to that...

Back in Melbourne Anna (a friend from back in Barcelona, who has recently moved to Melbourne) waited for us. At her nice home, with red wine, pan tomaca, tortilla de patata and home made Croquetas! Yummi.

So started our short visit in civilisation, we had our first shower in days and then Anna told us, that we were in visited to a party. An opening of a posh stretch of Restaurants and Bars by the river Yarra. And here our problems started. Even after abusing her washing machine, the clothes we found in our backpacks were hardly posh party garb. Well, in the end we made do, Myriam borrowed a nice dress from Anna and Andreas let himself be convinced that, the motto of the party being "Pirates" dressing up in white cotton shorts and short sleeved shirt would do. Well, there was approximately one other person at the party wearing shorts, so he wasn't the only one totally under dressed..

Nevertheless, being on the guest list got us in easily, so we whiled away between Melbourne's bold and beautiful, sipped champagne, accepted hors d’oeuvre and slurped oysters as if we hadn't ever done anything else in our lives.

After a few days in civilization (we really enjoyed staying in a proper home for a change) we moved on to Australia’s southernmost wilderness, Tasmania. We really had enjoyed Melbourne. We didn't do or see too much, just spent our time enjoying the restaurants. We also went for a nice run on the Melbourne GP circuit, to prepare for the city to sea run, which we were planning to do when returning from Tasmania.
In this nice little town, you could really feel that summer was coming, which opens up the people at any end of the world!

Tasmania

We landed in Launceston, with about 50'000 inhabitants Tasmania’s second biggest city. A nice small town, with nice small people. We stayed in Batman Fawkner Inn, a heritage house, in which Mr Batman (not to be confused with his cousin from Gotham City) and Mr Fawkner had decided to found a new city on the mainland. This city was to be called Melbourne later...

Launceston was mainly our stop over to get our equipment for the overland track together. We had our basic tracking gear, but for this six day walk through the wilderness we needed a tent, sleeping bags and mats, cooking utensils, better rain gear and gaiters. We were very happy to find Jenni from Wild Island Adventures. A former trekking guide herself, she now rents out state of the art trekking equipment. And not only that she also had a million good tips for our trip and offered to send all the stuff we didn't want to carry with us to our hostel in Hamilton, where we could also return the equipment. One of the nicest things she gave us on our way were her parting words: I really envy you guys.
We had become a bit nervous, that we might have picked a walk that was too hard for us, so some cheering up helped.

The Overland Track

The Overland Track was the main reason, that had brought to this remote island. It is about 70km long and traverses the Cradle Mountain National Park. The track is at not more than 20km a day not too hard. But it takes you through a region in which the height of civilisation are compost toilets and rain water tanks for drinking water. We mostly slept in simple huts on wooden berths. As there is virtually nothing in terms of resources but water, we had to carry food for seven days (one day as buffer...) with us. We did, especially considering our lack of experience, a very good job with our supplies. Nearly all our food was dehydrated, from milk powder and muesli for breakfast, noodle soup and muesli bars for lunch, to pasta, rice and dehydrated minced meat and peas; the only water we carried outside our drinking bottles was that in a few bags of tomato concentrate, two onions and some garlic.
This way, we where able to keep the weight of our backpacks down to about 12 and 16kg, including tent, etc. (and were the envy of all the other trekkers that we met on the walk). So we were ready to go!
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The first bit of the track leads through rough alpine terrain. On our first day we walked through sunshine and snow along cradle mountain. After a long day with two long climbs we reached our first hut. And while we did our first look around we saw our neighbours. Wallabieeeees! Grazing directly next to the hut. We jumped to get our camera out!
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Then we made ourselves comfortable in the primitive but cosy hut. One nice thing about the track is, that most people do it in the same direction and on a similar schedule. So, while you walk on your own, you often meet up with the same people you spent the last night with in the next hut. It being shoulder season we rarely were more than 10 people in the huts. Enough to give us some company and the chance to chat about last days walk and next days plans; but never so many, as to make it crowded.
In one of the following pics you can see, Jason, Steve, Steve, Dave and Alex (and Andreas) whom we also met after the trek in Hamilton, for steaks and lots of drinks.
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During the first few days we were incredibly lucky with the weather. According to the locals it rains 300 days a year in this region. Out of the 60 nice days per year we had four in our week! Our second night we stayed in our rented tent (we had paid for it, so we wanted to at least try it out one!). That night the temperature dropped -5 °C. No problem for us and our sleeping bags! Even if the frozen hatch of the tent opened like a piece of cardboard in the morning we had stayed nice and warm at night!
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The landscape during the first days really was amazing. But one of the most memorable moments was in the morning of the second day. We had just stopped to look around the gorgeous landscape when we turned around a black snake, about 150cm long, slithered over the path in front of us. Myriam had just time to yell and Andreas time to take one picture before she appeared in the under brush right next to the path.
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The good thing about Tasmanian snakes is, that there is only three types, which all have the same venom. The not so good thing is that they are all potentially deadly. It wasn't easy to convince Myri that we would not turn around (and quit the whole trip...) and that we would not run past these bushes either, but walk on slowly... The (deadly) black tiger snake probably was several miles away before we passed the bushes nervously...

Apart from this small shock in the morning we enjoyed the walk and the landscape thoroughly. Wide plains, intermingled with rough mountains and deep blue lakes, interchanging with green brown swamps and enchanted forests. The walk offers a new and beautiful view after every other bend...
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Only in the last days did it start to rain. One day it was really pouring down on us non stop. In some places the way turned into a small river, in others huge mud puddles appeared. We both sank knee deep into mud several times. Here we were truly happy about our rented (and our own) equipment: We managed to stay relatively dry, even after 10 hours of rain and wading through mud...
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After a week of walking we reached Lake St Clair.
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Tired, cold, smelly (did we mention that the huts had nothing but rainwater tanks and NO showers?) and very happy about our adventure. After a first celebration beer, we took the bus to Hamilton, Tasmania’s capital, where we first had a shower and then some meat and quite a bit of celebration wine with the new friends we had met on the track!
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The rest of Tasmania (and a broken ankle)

We rested a couple of days in Hamilton, enjoying cheap oysters and seafood. Then we rent our second camper van to further explore Tasmania. A hippy camper!
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Tasmania is very relaxed regarding free camping. We did not spend a single night in a proper camping. We just explored the beautiful east coast and stopped wherever we liked the view.
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We also visited a nature reserve where we met Tasmanians most famous local, the Tasmanian Devil! Cute little buggers, that look something between a big rat and an aggressive pig, they are now under threat by a contagious form of cancer. 75% of the wild population died during the last few years...

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In the reserve and on the road we met some more locals... (the last one is a Echidna, the local version of a hedge hog. But not related at all. His closest relative is Platypus, the "Schnabeltier").
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On Nov 6th we did a nice walk to beautiful Wineglass Bay.
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For the way back we decided to go for a run, still the preparation for Melbourne's City To Sea run on our mind. After about 500m Andreas stepped on a root and twisted his ankle. Badly. It would later turn out that he had an avulsion fracture of the left ankle. But at that moment we didn't know what it was.
Attrackted by his yell, a couple of helpful people provided us with tape and pain killers.
After cooling the ankle in the freezing ocean Myriam taped it and we started hobbling back the one hour walk over a small mountain. Luckily Douglas, an incredibly helpful young man from Hobart who had seen us shortly after the accident came back to check if everything was OK. It was not... Supported on two sides we went back to the car park. The walk took us two hours.
Douglas then invited us to his "shack", only a few kilometres away. We were happy for the chance to take a shower and just rest on his sofa...
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It was an incredible experience meeting someone who so selflessly helped someone he didn't know at all. So everybody who ready this: send a nice thought to Douglas Finley, maybe it will help him find that final varnish for the perfect violin he is trying to build...

The next day we drove to the next hospital, in Hobart, a good 100km away. There we spent a delighting afternoon waiting. And waiting. And some more... After the diagnosis the doctor wanted to put the broken leg into a plaster. Yes, the white stuff we thought they stopped using ten years ago. Maybe we shouldn't have gone to a public hospital. After a lot of begging a wailing we convinced the doctor that we'd come back the next to to put the foot into a "moon boot" instead. Light, removable, and much better for quick recovery and enjoying our further travels!
Best thing was, that in the hostel we were staying we met Alex and Jason again and had the chance to dance a little...
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The Great Ocean Road

The next day we flew back to Melbourne, where we stayed in the Marriott for a day (to meet Anna and her sister). In Melbourne we hired a car (with automatic transmission, hitting the clutch with a crutch doesn't really work...) and drove down the Great Ocean Road for a few days.

Fantastic landscape and very relaxed locals abound...
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We spent several hours searching for Koalas. Most of the time you can see nothing but their backsides...

The following Saturday we had to back in Melbourne, where we met Andreas little (not so little any more...) Cousin, Stefan, with whom we were going to spend the next three weeks. On Sunday Myriam and Stefan ran 14km from Melbourne's centre to the ocean "The City to Sea" run is trying to compete with Sydney’s "City to Surf". Well, in Melbourne only about 13'000 runners started, compared to 50'000 in Sydney. Still some way to go.
Andreas did the cheering and documenting, as he could not run too well in his moon boot...
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The East Coast

From Melbourne we flew to Cairns where we got ourself our third camper van.
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From Cairns it took us three weeks to drive down about 2000km of the east coast to Brisbane. One thing that is slightly annoying is, that the ocean up there is really infested with dangerous animals, crocs, stingers and other wild things make for a rather nervous swimming experience.
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Down the road we saw a lot of beautiful beaches, but also -to our surprise- a lot of beautiful back country national parks. We stayed half of the time in nice (and expensive) private camping places with wifi, pool and all amenities and in the other half in rather basic government run places in national parks. The latter often were only reached by unsealed gravel roads, but in truly beautiful settings.
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We also spent a couple of remarkable, ah that is AWESOME, days sailing the Whitsunday Islands on "Hammer", an (not so) old racing boat that had been turned in to a tourist haul. Just the feeling of freedom and tranquillity that sailing gives you is wonderful. We left the boat dreaming of doing our next great trip on our own sailing yacht...

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We spent the days lounging on deck, snorkelling with giant turtles and, yes, doing all our swimming in extremely fashionable "stinger suits", the only protection against poisonous jelly fish... For Andreas it was great, he had visited his first in a series of physios a few days before and had gotten the OK for swimming and snorkelling. Finally out of the boot and some water fun!
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On the second evening on board we could watch the dark shapes of dolphins zipping through the water, hunting for squid. Time and again their backs would brake through the surface. The speed of these guys is really amazing!

Sydney

After disposing of Stefan and the camper van in Brisbane (we would meet one of the two again for Xmas in New Zealand!) we flew down to Sydney.
Thanks to the rather bad weather we did neither see nor do much. An evening with Manoj and Divia, two friends who had moved there from India, and one at the Sydney Opera House, where we saw a beautiful one man piece "Story of a Rabbit", were the high lights, before we flew on to New Zealand after only four days.

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Awesome Australia

Lots of sun shine, the people relaxed and sometimes a bit disconnected from our world, impressive landscape and beautiful beaches. Even one very European city. And so much wild life in all corners. Some dangerous but much of it also very cute. Two month in Australia have made an impression and left much more to explore!

But please, beware, and don't break a leg!

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Posted by MyriandKodi 12:57 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Meet the locals I

Wild (and some tame) life down under / Part I: The sizzling Northern Territory


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Darwin

Arriving to Australia was a shock. Not for the heat or humidity (we were used to that from Asia) and neither for culture (Australian cities are much to European to give us culture shock). No, what shocked us were the prices.
After staying in nice hostel rooms for something between 1 and 10€ per night, prices starting at 50€ for a double and 20€ for a bed in a dorm are hard to get used to. Food also is even more expensive than at home. So the first thing we had to get used to was not dining (and lunching, brunching and breakfasting) out any more everyday. Even like this our daily expenses rose from about 20€ to about 60€ per day and person...

Our first taxi ride from the airport (we had tried to take a local bus, but it being a school holiday, there were none...) was with an Indian immigrant. We were able to negotiate a good (non meter) rate. Our Asian experience already started to pay off.

For our first week in Australia we had booked a small camper van to explore the tropical national parks of Australia’s Northern Territories. It was very small indeed, but with a comfortable bed, a small gas cooker and an eski (Aussie for ice box) all we needed.
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Darwin itself had a very weird atmosphere. On one hand it was a nice American looking small town with lots of green (very hot though).
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Then we saw our first Aborigines. They were taller than expected (I guess we had confused them with pygmies, or something...). And they all had a sense of loss around them. Many were sitting somewhere in the shade, drinking booze if they had, or just sleeping, but many others were just walking along the street with an empty expression on their face. To us, they looked like they had lost their way and were trying to find the way home to an Australia that does not exist any more. Next to them the white life goes on as if they didn't exist. Whenever the topic came up in conversations with (white) Australians, they seemed embarrassed and helpless. The government is trying to help them with free flats and monthly payments (i.e. trying to enable them to survive in a westernised world) but one can see, that most indigenous still were far from integrated into the western culture.
Later, in the centre of the continent we saw Aborigines, that were still able to live in their traditional ways, using modern tools, but still following the ways of their ancestors in their semi nomadic lives.

After we got our van (and supplies from the next supermarket) we headed out to Litchfield National Park, were we had our first encounters with Australian wildlife.
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Well we didn't see any actual termites, but their mounds can be quite impressive. The mounds in the first picture are called "magnetic". They are flat and are all aligned in the same south-northernly direction, pointing to the magnetic north pole, to improve temperature regulation. They warm up quickly in the morning and stay warm long in the evening, but do not expose too much surface to the hot midday sun.

Btw, the mound behind the small red girl is not magnetic, just big...

The other locals we didn't meet were the crocodiles. All lakes in rivers in the national park have signs along the lines of "There should be no salt water crocodiles present at the moment, but you can never be sure. Be careful." As we learned, in Australia only salt-water crocodiles ("salties") are dangerous to humans. Sweet water crocodiles only eat fish. Most of the time... The problem with the salties is, that during floods, when ocean lagoons and sweet water lakes are connected they tend to immigrate inland. So, as the signs told us, you can never be sure.
Actually, Australia is a big island, surrounded but deadly animals. In the tropical north crocodiles roam the beaches. Along the eastern and western coasts, deadly jellyfish ("stingers") are present during the hot half of the year. During the colder half and along the south coast: sharks. On the mainland you have deadly spiders and venomous snakes. Something like 80% of the worlds deadliest snake species live in Australia (percentage not validated, it's probably more). Well, and if the animals didn't kill you, the heat will...

Well, I digress. Litchfield is one of Australia’s many beautiful national parks. We didn't do too much, just bathed in beautiful (croc-free) pools and met some more locals...
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Alice Springs

From Darwin we took The Ghan to Alice Springs. On the 2000km journey we stopped once, at the one town on the way...
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Alice Springs is a dusty town at the heart of Australia. It has a river, some Aborigines that tend to sleep in that river and ... Yubb, that's about it. Ah, yes, once a year the Solar Challenge, a 3000km race through central Australia passes through. We only saw some one of last years cars and got some drinking bottles (which accompanied us through the rest of our trip through Australia/NZ), as we were a few days too early for the race.
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After three nights in a nice hostel we boarded a small tour bus to The Rock, about 400km away from Alice.
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Uluru

Aka Ayers Rock

"The Rock Tour" seems to be what most backpackers seem to book from Alice. We were the oldest of about 13 people from around the world plus Karmen, our excellent Australian tour guide, who drove the bus, entertained us on the trip, set up our camps and cooked for us...

On our first day we visited Kings Canyon, with our first chance of shooting about 1 mio pictures of red "puli" (rock). Micro-, Macro-, MEGA-puli!

Three hours walking in the sun. We were happy to happy to have bought our silly hats... The air was hot and very dry, each of us drank about three litres of water in these three hours.

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After another couple of hours of driving (and a visit at a nearly deserted desert bar for beeeeer and a short look at the dead poisonous snake they had killed last night in the bar) we went to the place of our camp for that night. A small flat area in the middle of nowhere. We set up camp, stacked up the wood we had collected earlier and enjoyed Karmens chilli con carne, prepared in big pots over the camp fire!

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That night we slept in "swags", heavy sleeping bags with integrated sleeping mat, under Australia’s desert night sky We've never seen the milky way soo clearly before (yes, they have a milky way, too, down there).
Apart from an ant tribe, which had decided that Andreas face looked like an interesting new place for a grand night out, it was a nice a quiet, if rather cool, night.

On the next day and after a hearty breakfast of muesli, fruits, toast and coffee we set out to visit some bigger Puli. First on the list (Kata Tjuta,which means "Many Heads" in the local Aborigines language). Another long and hot hike took us to the summit with impressive views.

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Well, this all had been nothing but a prelude to the big one...

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In the middle of the desert, the top 350m of a 7km long rock is sticking out of the earth. Its naturally white coloured stone transferred to deep red by the oxcidating iron inside.
The sight from far is impressive, but only upon coming close up its size hits your brain.
We spent several hours walking around Ayers Rock. It's skin is covered in many marks, in which you can read the stories of the local Aborigines. As Uluru is a sacred place to them they ask you not to climb it, especially as it is their duty to look after anyone visiting and they absolutely cannot keep tourists from falling down...

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In the evening we went to a lookout close by for dinner and lots of sunset shots. Especially two girls from Brazil and Poland went crazy. They must have shot 1'000 pictures of themselves with the rock, each other with the rock, themselves without the rock, the rock with the rock...
Well, it is amazing to watch Uluru change its face every minute, as the evening shadows creep over it, its colour changing through different tones of yellow/orange through ever darker shades of red to black, a small lizard joined us in enjoying the evening sun... Definitely a great place to spend some hours and have some cold beers.
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After spending the night in another camp under the stars we returned on the next morning for sunrise over and a closer look at Uluru. The whole place, is really magical. Even if you don’t give too much for the energy of places like this, the atmosphere is truly astounding. For us the slow approach and close contact to the desert in the nights before had surely helped to open us up for this experience. We won't forget our encounter with Ayers Rock easily.
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Posted by MyriandKodi 12:46 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Goodbye Asia

City Lights II

semi-overcast 29 °C
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On our way to Australia, we had two last stop overs, Hong Kong and Singapore. Even if we stayed only four days in each we got a first impression. Well, for Myri a third impression of Hong Kong, as she'd been there twice before.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is crammed with buildings, über modern (there is free wifi in some city buses...) and very commercial. In all the streets neon signs flash at you like in New Yorks Times Square and the malls are endless labyrinths. One of the most amazing things is that you dont really have to go out on the streets, to get from one place to another. All public buildings are connected through covered - and often even closed and climatized - walkways on the second or third floor. It feels like you can walk from one end of the center to the other without ever seeing the sky...

We indulged in a few (free) nights at the Marriott Harbourview. The city centre is so overcrowded, that hostel prices are insane. The nicer places start at about 60€ per night and room, where "room" means 6sqm walk in cabinet without windows...

So we spend a few more of our precious Marriott points and got good value for it: A nice room on the 32nd floor, directly over the Exibition Center in the harbour. The views where spectacular.
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On the first evening they celebrated our visit with a huge firework over the water, which we enjoyed with our complimentary Champagne and tapas... (well, maybe the firework also celebrated the Chinese National Holiday...)
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We didn't do too much in the city, just walked around in the center. On one evening we went out with some local friends of the Velasco sisters. The Hong Kong speciality "Spicey Crab" was delicious.
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Singapore

In Singapore we did even less than in Hong Kong: Some sport (having inscribed for the Melbourne City2Sea 14km run we stepped up our training programme) and a little sightseeing. The four days passed like one...
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One really amazing impression that we had in Singapore was that of its internationality. China Town, Little India, lots of immigrants from all over Asia.
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Goodbye Asia

So, there ended our five month in Asia. A truly amazing time, with lots of culture and history. But most of all with lots and lots of really nice people. Never before in our lives have we been met with so much genuine friendliness. Sure, there where also a lot of people trying to get money out of us, but that seems only natural in countries where so many (relatively) rich tourists come to get milked for their dollars... But apart from these "specialists" in the tourist centres everybody just welcomed us with open arms and went beyond themseves to make our stay in their country a beautiful experience. From the girl selling freshly squeezed fruit juices to the old lady grinning at us from her streetside shop, from the tea house owner in Kathmandu to tea picker in Sri Lanka: Smiles smiles smiles and a warm welcome greeted us everywhere.
It would be a great change if we could welcome strangers in our countries with a quarter of this friendliness.

Australia and South America will have a hard time to compete with the experience we made here!
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Posted by MyriandKodi 20:42 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Knee deep in History

Wading through Vietnam and Cambodia

overcast 33 °C
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Yeah, did it! Swimming in the rough sea without wetsuit, riding a (too small) rented mountainbike, running in my (relatively) light trecking shoes, ... The heat and humidity added to the experience:
I loved it!
As a side note: the event nearly had to be cancelled, as an important former politician had died a few days ago. In the end, the race could take place, without traffic control by local police (they had this day of national mourning off) and without music at the finish...

Now, the triathlon had been the reason - or deciding factor - to reroute our trip: Three weeks travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia, instead of lazing and exploring at Thai beaches. Luckily Nicole had brought us the flyer of the event! Unexpectedly we found ourselves travelling through some of the most interesting, bloody and very sad parts of the later 20th century's history.

Vietnam

In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the shadows of the 20 years of war are still visible.

The worst impact on the Vietnamese was probably the extensive use of di- and trichlorophenoxyacetic acid. "Agent Orange" was sprayed from airplanes for defoliation of aereas, in which Vietcong fighters where suspected to be in hiding.
The pictures of deformed children, on display at the war museum in Saigon tell a sad story of the Agent's side effects.

US soldiers were fighting in South Vietnam (to protect it from the Commies) for 20 years. Throughout this time, the USA never declared war on North Vietnam. In 1973 the US signed the Paris peace treaty, in which they pledged "...to contribute to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction...". The US never payed reparations of any kind.

Well, when we arrived in Hoi An for the triathlon, we hadn't heard too much of these things and this nice river side town did not show us any of its wounds. We arrived during the Tết Trung Thu autumn festival. In the evenings, groups of kids would move from house to house and perform a colourful (and noisy) spectacle. Two of the kids, wearing a dragon costume, would dance to incessible drum beats, trying to pic up banknotes handed out by spectators with the dragons mouth. A third kid, wearing a grim mask is joining the dance, eventually driving the dragon away with a ceremonial paddle. These groups could be seen all over town, some of them drawing huge crowds of spectators, blocking of street traffic in many places. The river and the town itself are beautifully decorated in colourful lampions, basking the pictouresce houses in soft red and yellow light. We'd love to show some pictures, but somewhere between Hoi An and Hanoi our memory card crashed...

In Hoi An we also had our first contact with Vietnamese food. Less spicey than Thai food, fried rice features strongly. Hoi An itself has some delicious local specialities. Among others light, nonfried spring rolls and an equally light delicious soup with tasty crunchy pork(?) chips in it.

From Hoi An (and after recovering from the Triathlon) we took a rather fancy Sleeping Bus to Hanoi, the former Comunist capitol. Unfortunately the space for the legs is not designed for German feet, otherwise the ride could have been quite comfortable (yes, still no pics...).

We liked Hanois atmosphere. Bustling with energy and chaotic moto traffic, but still with some of the good old communist dust. In the middle of the city lies a tranquil lake with a temple on a small island. Here we could also witness the Asians obsession with wedding pictures. Newly wed couples and their photographers seemed to spend hours on and around the lake, posing, shooting, posing, shooting... We were told that this can go on for several months before the actual wedding.
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In Hanoi we booked a boat trip to Halong Bay, a must for every tourist visiting Vietnams north. The only downer on this two day trip was a very nice, but slightly overmotivated tour guide, who kept ushering us on. "Ladiesss and Gentlmennn, hurry pliess..."
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After returning to Hanoi we took the next flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly -and much shorter- known as Saigon). Saigon is very different from Hanoi. Where Hanoi is dusty, old and claustrophobic, Saigon is clean, modern and with lots of wide Avenues, glittering below Advertisements for western brands. Where Hanoi is reminiscent of Beijings old town, Saigon is more like Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. These differences reflect the different pasts of the old communist capital and her southern sister, that has been under French and American influence for many years.
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Still we prefered the flair of Hanoi over the franchise look of Saigon. We didn't stay too long, but enjoyed a few days of very American luxury, to celebrate Myriams birthday. After four month of rice, it was great to have a place with free wine and cheese...
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From Saigon we took a bus south and, after staying on night in ???, we took a fast boat up the Mekong across the border to Phnom Penh, the capital of another Country with a very bloody recent past.
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Cambodia

In 1975 Cambodia turned from your average Sotheast Asian Kingdom into the probably most horrible mutation of communism in human history.
After the Khmer Rouge had taken over control of the capital and with it the control over Cambodia, they tried to turn it into the perfect communist agricultural state. Millions died within the four years of their regime. Many of those who weren't killed because of their capitalistic background (e.g. beeing educated or rich, like doctors, engineers, shopkeepers or anyone wearing glasses) died in the ensuiing famine, of hunger or illness (which couldnt be treated as there were no more doctors...). When finally the Cambodians arch enemies from Vietnam came and conquered the country, they were celebrated as saviours. The Khmer Rouge had managed to kill nearly a third of their own people. No family is without victims. We realized, how close this "history" still is, when talking to Cambodians of our age, who had been kids at the time. All of them had lost parents or siblings.

In Phnom Phen we visited a death prison of the Khmer Rhouge. Of the several thousand prisoners brought there only twenty survived. The rest were hanged, shot or died during torture. The atmosphere was oppressing, the organized murderous inhumanity reminds of Auschwiz, if on a smaller scale.

We left Phnom Phen to see another side of Cambodia. Battambang has not much to offer, but the friendliness of its inhabitants and the beauty of the surroundings made us stay for three or four days. The highlight was a day trip with a very nice and knowledgable local, who not only took us to the temples of the region, but also to the rural backstreets, where we could witness the everyday life of the local rice farmers. As so often in rural parts of Asia, we were baffled by the stark contrast between the poverty of the locals (several generations of a family live in an open one room hut, electricity is luxus, tab water inexistent) and their apparent happiness. From the open laughter of the kids running after us to the toothless grin of the old women, sitting in front a hut.
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And then the view of a teenager who lost his legs to a mine reminds us yet again of the horrors, that are not long enough past to be called history.
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Another visible (and nicer) part of history is Battambangs famous Bamboo Train. Small platforms, made of bamboo and propelled by an old twostroke engine <<<whizz>>> along a decomissioned rail. When two of these micro trains meet, the one with less passengers is lifted off the track to let the other pass...
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In Battambang we had heard the news of the floods in Cambodias north. Several tourists had been air lifted from a flooded temple near Angkor Wat. Well, this couldn't stop us! Angkor Wat was planned as the last big high light of our Asian travels. It should not disapoint us.

Angkor Wat

Siem Reap, gateway to one of the most amazing temples of the world was under water. Our guest house luckyly was not in the city centre. So the waters stood only about 20cm high at our door step. We visited the center twice during our stay. Cycling through knee deep water is fun, but it's also hard work.
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On our first day we rented two bicycles and made our first trip to Angkor Wat. The main temple is amazing, but sitting in the middle of a manicured park (like Mexico's Chichen Itza) it is hard to really get in touch with this huge construction.
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The temples of Angkor Thom with hundreds of stone faces looking into the distance and Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider temple, overgrown by huge trees, where much more atmosperic. Especially in slowly crumblig Ta Prohm the age and the magic of the place become palpable.
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Ta Prohm: Temple ruin, huge trees and jungle sounds. Beautiful.

After one day spent in our fantastic guest house (too much rain for leaving the house) we had another day to explore the more remote temples of the region. The sheer (???) number of realy amazing places in such a small area is unique (well, maybe Myanmar's Bagan can compete...).
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We left Angkor Wat in awe. Whoever has the chance to visit this magical place: DO IT! It's an experience not easily forgot.
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From Siam Reep we took a bus to Bangkok for a last visit at beloved Suk 11 and our flights to Hong Kong and then Singapore, were we commenced our trip through Asia.

PS:

Yeah, well... to avoid confusion: we left Asia about two month ago and have been travelling through Australia since. Right now we are heading down the east coast in a camper van. We wrote above text shortly after we left Singapore, but somehow we didn't find the time to upload the pictures and finalize it... (Australia seems to be the the real internet outback).
So, hopefully, there will be more on our travels here in Australia soon!
Hugs, besos und ganz liebe Grüsse to all of you out there!

Posted by MyriandKodi 18:05 Comments (0)

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