jump to navigation

Instagram

On 26 March 2020 from | comments closed

Lonely Planet Collection Update

On 6 December 2015 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

After 6 years, it is time to update my Lonely Planet Collection. I am only listing the physical books below, as I also started to get a little collection of Lonely Planet e-books in PDF format. Especially for last-minute trips (when there is not enough time to order the physical book), trips to only a small part of a country (where a chapter in PDF format is much more cost effective than ordering the whole book) or minimum luggage trips (e.g. hiking in Nepal where the book adds weight and I can read the e-book on mobile/tablet/e-reader anyways). In case you need to borrow one, you know where to find me.

Guide Year Edition
 
Europe
Austria 2008 5
Croatia 2007 4
Cyprus 2015 6
Czech & Slovak Republics 2007 5
Germany 2004 4
Greece 2002 5
Hungary 2009 6
Iceland 2010 7
Ireland 2012 10
Italy 2004 6
Netherlands 2004 2
Norway 1999 1
Paris 2001 3
Poland 2005 5
Portugal 2005 5
Russia, Ukraine & Belarus 2000 2
Southeastern Europe 2013 1
Spain 2007 6
Sweden 2015 6
Switzerland 2009 6
Turkey 2001 7
Ukraine 2005 1
 
Middle East
Israel & the Palestinian Territories 2007 5
Jordan 2009 7
 
Africa
Botswana & Namibia 2010 2
Egypt 2006 8
 
Asia
Across ASIA on the cheap 1973 1
Hong Kong & Macau 2004 11
India 2013 15
Japan 2013 13
Nepal 2003 6
Philippines 2012 11
South-East Asia on a Shoestring 2008 14
Sri Lanka 2012 12
Thailand 2003 10
 
Pacific & Australia
Australia 2002 11
New Zealand 2002 11
 
North America
Canada 1999 7
New York City 2008 6
Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah) 2002 3
 
South America
Bolivia 2010 7
Brazil 2010 8
Peru 2010 7
South America on a Shoestring 2007 10
 
Antarctica
Antarctica 2005 3
 
Various
Signspotting 2005
Travel Photography 2000 1
The Travel Book 2004

Guides in italics are not actually owned by me, just collected 😉

Manu: into the Jungle

On 18 November 2010 from Lima, Peru | comments closed

There are many places from where to explore the jungle in South America, but most require an expensive flight to get there and away. Manu National Park is one of the exceptions, as it can be reached by car from Cusco. I booked a 5-day/4-night trip with Atalaya Peru, leaving Friday 12 November. Until Paucartambo it was normal sealed road, but quickly thereafter it turned into a one-lane gravel road that was winding its way through the mountains. We made stops along the way to see waterfalls, cock-of-the-rock birds and monkeys. Arriving at the Atalaya Lodge I noticed the lodge was on the other side of the river, and no bridge was present. A simple zip-line trolley was used to get people and cargo to the lodge, where resident red howler monkeys and macaws were awaiting. In the evening the guide Alici took us on a nocturnal tour of the rainforest.

Saturday started with a bath underneath a small waterfall, followed by a visit to a small farm with Scarlet and Bolivian Macaws. In the afternoon we took a longboat to the Amaru Mayu Lodge, located on a cliff next to the Upper Mother of God river. From there we made a jungle walk, spotting dusky titi monkeys and eating pineapple fresh from the tree.

On Sunday we got up early to spot parrot claylicks from a longboat. During the following jungle tour we saw heliconia, cotton trees, the tree of life, cecropia tree, walking palm tree, ceiba pentandra and erotic palm tree. I also got the chance to play Tarzan swinging through the jungle on strangler fig vines. On the fauna side there were army ants, centipedes, hoatzins, blue-grey tanager, social flycatcher, horned screamers, black-capped donacobius, capybaras and red-capped cardinal.

On Monday we made a visit to the village of Pilcopata, before returning back to the Atalaya Lodge with its resident red howler monkeys. In the afternoon Maria, Alici and I went for a jungle walk to the big waterfall, and in the evening we spotted a large toad nearby the lodge. Tuesday was already time for the long drive back to Cusco.

I Survived the Inca Trail

On 11 November 2010 from Cusco, Peru | comments closed

That is what the t-shirt and 2 certificates say, so it must be true. Not that there was any doubt about this, although I have to admit that the days when I was the first one to reach the top of the pass are over.

The Inca Trail is the one activity in Peru that needs to be pre-booked well in advance, as the government (rightly so) only allows 500 people a day. I booked my trek with Peru Treks for their excellent price/quality ratio. They are able to offer good rates because the group size is relatively large with 16 people in a group. For me that was not an issue, and it actually made it more social, especially during dinner where everyone was sitting together in a large tent. It was all very well organised. I was woken up with tea/coffee/hot chocolate at my tent in the morning, there were 3-course lunch and dinners, a large cake at the last dinner, and the tent was already built up when we arrived at the campsite. My sort of camping. I also had a private tent, since there were only 2 people in each tent for 4 people, but there were 3 Swedish guys that wanted to stay together. Aside from the Swedish and 2 Irish guys, the rest were all couples though.

Although it is not the toughest trek in the area, the Inca Trail is not a walk in the park. The second day has a 1100m increase in altitude to 4200m, called Dead Woman’s Pass. On the last steep uphill bits I had to stop every 50m or so to have my heart beat normally again. I really noticed that I got 5 years older since my last real high-altitude hiking trip to Nepal in 2005. Need to do more exercise when back in Europe. I do feel it is getting better though, but I guess that I am also getting used to the altitude. The one thing that makes the Inca Trail stand out from the other treks in the area are the remains of the Inca Empire, like the Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna Ruins.

The last day of the Inca Trail starts early in the morning, with all the groups leaving at the same time to Intipunku, the Sun Gate. Unfortunately, when we arrived to Intipunku all there was to see were white clouds, no view at all of Machu Picchu. So we continued down to Machu Picchu for our guided tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before the tour started, I was able to get a space to climb Huayna Picchu (spaces to climb sell out quickly in the morning), making it possible to see everything in one (long) day. During the morning tour we learned a lot about the site and its amazing stonework. By 11:00 the clouds had dissipated, so there was a clear view of the site when I climbed Huayna Picchu. After 4 days of trekking and the additional climb I was quite exhausted, so the hot springs in Aguas Calientes were very welcome at the end of the day. The next morning I took the train back to Cusco.

Cusco

On 6 November 2010 from Cusco, Peru | comments closed

Cusco is one of the rare cities that can keep a serious traveller busy for a week, especially when considering the surrounding countryside. As I had 4 full days before the start of the Inca Trail, I had an easy start on Tuesday by checking in at Peru Treks and paying the remainder of my Inca Trail fee. In the afternoon I visited Qorikancha, Monasterio de Santa Catalina and checked out trips to Manu (Amazon rainforest).

Wednesday it was time to do some sightseeing of the Inca ruins around Cusco. I took the bus to Tambomachay and walked from there to Puka Pukara, Q’enqo and finally Saqsaywamán (pronounce as “Sexy Woman”). From this last Inca ruins the Christo Blanco (large white Christ statue) was visible and I visited this before walking down into the city of Cusco.

For Thursday I booked an all-day tour of the Sacred Valley. It was quite good value, and I soon discovered why. The first stop consisted of a great deal of stalls selling handicrafts and other touristy items. Luckily we didn’t stay for too long and went to the Inca citadel of Pisac. It was easy to see why the Incas had become so powerful: their fortresses were near-imprenetrable because of the location. If attackers did manage they would have to expose themselves getting to the top, as the fortress was designed to force attackers in a single line. After a touristy buffet lunch, we continued to the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo, another site with a great view. This one had great stonework too. The final stop of the day was in Chinchero, where a demonstration of the colouring and weaving of wool was given. Obviously with the intent to sell, but I quickly sneaked out and went to explore the small town.

Friday was the last day before the start of the Inca Trail, and I decided to take it easy, and explore a few more sites in Cusco: the Waterfall Monument and the Pachakuteq Monument, which turned out to be quite a walk from the city centre; taking it easy turned into a warming up for the next day.

The Wednesday after the Inca Trail I would watch traditional dances in the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, and Thursday I would visit the Catedral and Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús.

Arequipa & Lake Titicaca

On 2 November 2010 from Cuzco, Peru | comments closed

Thursday was a good day to check out the sights in Arequipa. Literally everybody told me to visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, so I strolled some hours through the passageways, checking out the nun’s cells and making lots of photos. Very much recommended indeed. Afterwards I had some French crepes at another recommended place. They provided the energy to visit de Museo de Arte Virreinal de Santa Teresa, where I got a nice private tour. Then it was back to Cayma by combi, a very cramped minibus. After a brief visit to the church, I decided to walk back to the hostel, a good chance to practice my Spanish, as I had no map of the area and therefore no clue how to get there. I managed.

Friday was spent in the bus to Puno (6 hours) and booking a 2-day tour of the islands in Lake Titicaca. Located at an altitude of 3800m high, it was better not to do too much the first day.

Saturday morning our boat left to the Uros Islands, manmade floating islands made of reed. A boat made of the same reed brought us from one island to the next. Even though the islands itself are a spectacular feat, they were way too touristy for my taste, and it was simply cringing to hear islanders sing songs in English and other European languages. So off to Isla Amantani it was. After docking, we (4 French and myself) were picked up by our host family were we had lunch. Late afternoon we climbed the highest hill of the island (4150m) to watch the sunset and after dinner with our host family, we got dressed in traditional outfits and joined the traditional dancing in the local discotheque (stretching the word here).

Sunday morning we had a nice pancake breakfast at the host family and then set of to Isla Taquile were we walked around the island and had lunch. In the afternoon we went back to Puno, where halloween celebrations were still in full order. In the restaurant I got served by a monster, and I have never seen so many Grim Reapers (“Magere Hein”) wandering the streets.

Monday I took an overpriced Turismo Mer bus from Puno to Cusco. The advantage compared to the normal busses is that it stops at some (pre-)Inca sites along the way: Pucará, Abra la Raya (all busses stop here), Raqchi and Andahuaylillas. This did break up the journey quite nicely, and Raqchi really was an amazing site, with a huge temple and some 156 circular storage silos. In the evening I arrived to Cusco, 4 days early for the booked Inca Trail, but with plenty to do in the meantime. I am staying at Pariwana Hostel, which is quite central and a good place to meet people.

On the Gringo Trail

On 27 October 2010 from Arequipa, Peru | comments closed

On Friday I took the bus from Lima to Ica together with together with Kath, Liz, Sarah & Natasha (all from the UK). From Ica we got taxis to Huacachina, a natural oasis in the middle of huge sand dunes. This place is now totally ruled by backpackers with lots of restaurant and nightlife (OK, 1 place).

Saturday morning the sand dunes needed to be conquered with a sand buggy, driven by Jesus. After driving across the dunes with speeds of up to 85km/h (as measured by my GPS), we stopped on a sand dune to make photos. When trying to depart, our buggy did not start anymore, but luckily Jesus had the skills to hotwire the buggy. The next stops were devoted to sandboarding down the dunes. As boarding down something has never been a skill of mine, I decided that laying on a board would be way more effective. It was, except that I got sand literally everywhere. Luckily the hostel had a swimming pool to cool down in. When resting at the side, I was offered a direct ride to Nazca. This turned out to be much faster than the bus, driving up to 155km/h on the Pan-American Highway (once again measured by GPS, the speedometer on the car stuck to zero).

In Nazca I went shopping for flights over the Nazca lines. Due to either fuel shortages (the story I was told) or safety reasons (the story I suspect) only 3 airlines were operating, boosting the prices. When I was certain I could not get a better deal, I booked a flight with Alas Peruanas. In the evening, I visited a show on the Nazca lines in the
Planetarium Maria Reiche, getting a cool photo of the full moon through a telescope.

Sunday morning I made the flight over the Nazca lines with a 6-seater Cessna (2 pilots + 4 passengers). Of course I totally forgot to take anti-motion sickness pills, and with a plane kept banking from left to right to show the lines, that was pretty hard on my stomach. But the lines were clearly visible from the sky, and it was very interesting to watch these man-made geoglyphs that have still not been explained exclusively by science.

In the afternoon I visited the Chauchilla Cemetery together with Jacqui (from New Zealand) who was also on the flight in the morning. Afterwards we went to the archeological museum (Didáctico Antonini).

Sunday evening an overnight bus from Cruz del Sur brought me to Arequipa, where I met Kath, Liz, Sarah & Natasha at the hostel again on Monday morning. Together with 2 guys we went into the centre and checked out the frozen Inca maiden in the Santury meseum.

Tuesday morning started at 03:00, because the bus to Cañón del Colca was picking us up at 03:30. Around 09:00 we arrived at the Cruz del Cóndor, from where we could see a number of condors fly through the canyon. At around 10:30 we started to trek down into the second-deepest canyon in the world. FYI: the deepest one is Cañón del Cotahuasi, but it would have take a 12-hour bus ride over unsealed roads to get there, and I could not be bothered for the extra 150 metres depth. After hiking down for 3 hours we reached the bottom, crossed the river and went back up for half an hour to have lunch. From there it was another 2,5 hour to get to Sangalle, an oasis at the bottom of the canyon, complete with swimming pool and bungalows.

Wednesday morning we started the climb out of the canyon at 05:50, and reached the top (1100m higher) after an exhausting 3 hours. We had breakfast in Cabanaconde and drove to Chivay to relax in the 39-degree thermal pools and have lunch there as well. After lunch we drove to 4910m altitude and back to Arequipa. Funny thing is that during this tour I have been alternating in speaking English, Dutch, German and my few words of Spanish. If my French had been any better I would have used that too.

I called this post “On the Gringo Trail” because that is what it feels like. Most backpackers travelling from Lima to Cuzco stop in these places and do these activities (perhaps except the Nazca lines flight). I actually looked into going to Cañón del Colca by myself using public transport, but it would take at least a day longer and only be marginally cheaper. So the Gringo Trail it is, at least up until Cuzco.

The Journey Begins

On 21 October 2010 from Lima, Peru | comments closed

The journey began on 19 October 2010 at 06:00, when my dad gave me a ride to Düsseldorf Airport. From there a KLM Cityhopper Fokker 70 took me to Schiphol. I decided to take the flight from Düsseldorf as there was no difference in the ticket price and it is a lot easier to reach Düsseldorf Airport in the morning than it is to reach Schiphol; the departure time at home would have been the same. From Amsterdam my longest flight ever (12,5 hours) was starting, and I was all prepared: netbook battery full, MP3-player battery full and lots of magazines. As it turned out, I didn’t even need most of this, as the in-flight entertainment system was excellent, so I watched “Grown Ups”, “Knight and Day” and “The A-Team”. And every time I was remotely starting to feel hungry or thirsty, one of the cabin crew was offering food or drinks.

Upon arrival in Lima, everything went smooth, with a taxi driver waiting for me and bringing me straight to the hostel. After getting some money (Peruvian Soles) and food, I had a really nice and long night sleep.

Wednesday I went exploring the nearby 1500-year-old ceremonial site of Huaca Pucllana together with Kath, Liz, Sarah & Natasha, who arrived at the same day. In the afternoon we went shopping for a new pair of waterproof overtrousers, which I completely forgot too bring. After not having any luck at 2 large department stores, I finally found an expensive pair at a The North Face store. I also got some altitude sickness pills. After some nice ice-cream with a view over the Pacific Ocean, we went back to the hostel. In the evening we went out for a few drinks on Calle de Pizza (pizza street), ending up in a karaoke bar with too many pisco sours.

Thursday morning there was a Spanish lesson at the hostel. Very useful and lots of fun as well. I used the rest of the day for getting organised and planning the next couple of weeks. Travel planning is so much easier when you can ask other people about their experiences. I also decided to give most of the sights in Lima a miss right now, because it’s simply too cold (less than 20 degrees during the day and always overcast) and I will be back here when the weather is nicer. I almost bought the Starbucks mug of Lima for my collection too, but first I need to find a way to get it home in one piece.

What to Pack?

On 18 October 2010 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

Even though I have packed bags hundreds of times by now, it can still be a challenge, and is usually something I tend to leave to the last minute. Packing for business trips is easy: suits, shirts, socks, underwear, toiletries, done. Only evening outfit and coat are dependent on the weather. For my trip to South America weather I need to pack for both the cold and rain of the mountains in Peru, and the hot summer beach weather in Brazil. As a guideline I used my packing list that I made for Australia and New Zealand in 2003, and found it fairly useful, although the amount of gadgets that I am bringing has increased quite a bit, as well as the number of warm clothes (I remember buying sweaters in Australia). Here’s the full list.

Things to wear
Large backpack (Lowe Alpine, 70 litre)
Smaller daypack (Berghaus, 25+5 litre)
Sleeping bag (Nomad, 1,5 kg)
Lightweight Travelsheet (150 g)
Long trousers (2 zip off and 2 regular)
Wind- and waterproof jacket (Gaastra)
Fleece sweaters (2)
T-shirts (2 longsleeve, 4 polo)
Button down shirt
Underwear & socks
Thermal underwear, hat, gloves
Light hiking boots (Hanwag)
Sandals

Things to use
Towels & serong
Hat, sunglasses & sun protection spray (Nivea Invisible, factor 30)
Swimming shorts & prescription diving goggles
Small medicine bag, mozzie spray (DEET) & malaria tablets (Malarone)
Large toiletbag (including electrical toothbrush and shaver)

Things invented
Netbook (Asus Eee PC 1015PE)
Camera (Canon PowerShot S90) + underwater cover
GPS Travel Recorder (QStarz BT-Q1000X)
Phone (Nokia 6300)
MP3-player (Philips GoGear Spark 4GB)
Compass (Recta, for worldwide use)
Pocket knife (Wenger, Swiss of course)
Headlight (LED)

Things written
Passport
International driver’s license
Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate
Debit card & credit cards
PADI Advanced Open Water card
Lonely Planets (Peru, South America on a Shoestring)
Books & magazines

Time for a Sabbatical

On 12 October 2010 from Prague, Czech Republic | comments closed

Ever since my trip to Patagonia & Antarctica in 2007-2008 I have wanted to go back to South America. From other travellers in Argentina and Chile I heard great stories about Galapagos, Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni. I was planning to go to these places at the end of 2008, but decided to travel in South-East Asia with a Swiss friend instead. At the end of 2009 there was no chance of taking a leave from the project in Prague for 5 weeks. So in 2010 I can finally make my dream come true. 2,5 months of paid leave and 3 months of unpaid leave should provide ample time to visit these places, and more. I am basically going back to slow travelling (like slow food or slow IT – Ron Tolido wrote some interesting columns on the topic), the method of travelling I got used to during my time in Australia, New Zealand and Patagonia. With a 5-month trip there’s not the (self-inflicted) rush there was in South-East Asia, where on some days I would be travelling by bus for 7 hours in the morning, do some sightseeing in the afternoon, and travel another 7 hours by bus the next day.

Obviously I will be exploring all the highlights of the places that I am visiting, but also the less known sites, of which I generally treasure the fondest memories. And it will allow me to simply stay longer in a place that I like, for example Ushuaia and Bariloche in Argentina. Arequipa in Peru is likely to qualify for this as well. To keep things flexible, I decided to have only a short list of must do’s for this trip: the already mentioned Galapagos, Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni, as well as the redeemer of Christ in Rio de Janeiro and Chitzen Itza. This way I can see all the new world wonders in the Americas in one trip and boost my score from 1 to 4 out of 7. And 5 countries (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico) in 5 months seems a lot more managable than 5 countries in 5 weeks.

Lonely Planet Collection

On 3 October 2009 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

It is no secret that I am a large fan of Lonely Planet guidebooks. Aside from the miniature versions of important landmarks, it is the only physical collection I maintain. Years ago (2001) they sent me a free travel guide after I gave them some feedback on the Canada guidebook, and that basically bought my loyalty (pretty cheap, eh). 9 years down the road of independent travel it has become a decent collection spanning all continents. Almost enough guides to lose track of, and therefore I made the inventory below. In case you need to borrow one, you know where to find me.

Guide Year Edition
 
Europe
Norway 1999 1
Portugal 2005 5
Spain 2007 6
Paris 2001 3
Netherlands 2004 2
Germany 2004 4
Switzerland 2009 6
Austria 2008 5
Italy 2004 6
Poland 2005 5
Czech & Slovak Republics 2007 5
Hungary 2009 6
Croatia 2007 4
Ukraine 2005 1
Russia, Ukraine & Belarus 2000 2
Greece 2002 5
Turkey 2001 7
 
Africa & the Middle East
Egypt 2006 8
Israel & the Palestinian Territories 2007 5
Jordan 2009 7
 
Asia
Across ASIA on the cheap 1973 1
South-East Asia on a Shoestring 2008 14
Thailand 2003 10
Hong Kong & Macau 2004 11
Nepal 2003 6
 
Australia & the Pacific
Australia 2002 11
New Zealand 2002 11
 
North, Central & South America
Canada 1999 7
New York City 2008 6
Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah) 2002 3
South America on a Shoestring 2007 10
Peru 2010 7
Bolivia 2010 7
Brazil 2010 8
Antarctica 2005 3
 
Various
Travel Photography 2000 1
The Travel Book 2004

Guides in italics are not actually owned by me, just collected 😉

VariousMega Mansions

On 17 August 2009 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

Saturday morning we left Cape Cod at a decent time to drive to Mystic, Connecticut. Since it would only be a short drive, we decided to do some sightseeing in Newport, Rhode Island. This town became the place to summer for rich New Yorkers, and they tried to outdo each other in building the grandest mansion. Obviously, we visited that one that dwarfed them all: the Breakers, an Italian Renaissance megapalace built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. 70 Rooms would indeed do for a summer residence. After a late lunch at the Elms, another large mansion, we continued on to Mystic. We had dinner and ice-cream in this centuries-old seaport town.

Initially the plan for the last day was to catch a ferry from New London to Long Island, catch two more ferries to get to the Hamptons, have a look around, and drive back to JFK. Since we had already seen the most sumptuous mansion imaginable in Newport, and the waiting time for the ferries as well as the traffic jams on Long Island in the weekend could be long and unpredictable, we decided to forego on the Hamptons, and drive straight to JFK. But even with taking things slowly in the morning, it left plenty of time to make a stop in New Haven, where Yale University is located. Unfortunately the tour times did not match our itinerary, so we wandered around the campus by ourselves. It was very interesting to note the quite distinct architectural styles between Harvard and Yale.

During this entire trip TomTom was a very good companion, aside from not finding the hotel in Cape Cod and sending us to some fields when we wanted to go to the center of Bird-in-Hand (or perhaps that was the center). But other than that, we drove everywhere in one go. The exception being our final destination. According to our companion, the car rental drop-off was in the middle of a not-so-well-to-do residential neighbourhood. Oh well, with about 5 hours to spare before departure, we had plenty of time to get back to the highway and find the real drop-off place. And thus ended a 2-week, 11-state/district (NY,NJ,DE,MD,DC,VA,PA,VT,MA,RI,CT) fly-rail-drive in North-East USA.

VariousBoston & Cape Cod

On 15 August 2009 from Hyannis, MA, USA | comments closed

After our last Miller Inn gourmet breakfast on Wednesday we hit the road for Boston. First decent stop was in Bennington, whose battle monument is the highest structure in Vermont. But the detour here was really made to check another state off the list, and to drive the New England country roads. We got to Boston late afternoon and after dinner Wilbert, Laura and I visited the highly overrated Cheers bar. When you are not from the generation that watched the series, it really is not that interesting.

Thursday morning we walked the famous Freedom Trail, which passes by Boston’s highlights. That went pretty well, I only pissed off a navy officer by making some photos of the USS Constitution from behind the car fence. Of course I had to climb the Bunker Hill Monument for the views, to compensate for not climbing the Washington Monument in D.C. As the climb was at the end of the Freedom Trail, we walked back to downtown Boston to retrieve our minivan from the parking garage and head to Cambridge for some home-made ice-cream and a tour of Harvard. The latter was given for free by a junior student and it was a great way to make some sense of the campus buildings and get some insights into Harvard university life. After the tour we crawled to Cape Cod, as it seemed to be one long traffic jam between Boston and the Cape. We had dinner in Hyannis and went for some grocery shopping in the supermarket, when we heard the message on the intercom that it suddenly started to pour down rain, and the owners of the open convertible should close the top to prevent becoming the owners of a swimming pool on wheels 🙂

Friday morning we drove along the Cape to Provincetown, from where the whale watching cruise departed. Sightings guaranteed, and we were not let down. Afterwards we strolled around gay and touristy Provincetown. I climbed the 76m-high Pilgrim Monument, which was a great excuse to enjoy some ice-cream with hot fudge, marshmallow & M&M’s afterwards. In the late afternoon we drove to the beach for a swim and some relaxing in the sun.

VariousNiagara Falls & Gorges Ithaca

On 12 August 2009 from Ithaca, NY, USA | comments closed

Sunday morning we left early for the long drive (600km) to Niagara Falls. After checking in at the hotel, we crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. It felt good to be back after 8 years. First we got a superior view of the falls from the Skyline Tower and then we walked to the top of the Horseshoe Falls, where the sheer volume of water was even more impressive because of the closeness. We finished the little Canadian detour in an Italian restaurant, before walking back through the hideous downtown area (imagine Las Vegas, but less class, really) and driving back to the USA.

Monday morning our Lady of the Mist boat brought us as close under Horseshoe Falls as possible. I wonder why I took a shower before, because we got effectively showered under Niagara Falls. Then it was time for shopping. We drove to a factory outlet near Waterloo, and spend a few hours buying new shoes and clothes. Late afternoon we arrived in Ithaca during a torrential downpour. It rained so hard we stayed in the minivan on the parking place of the Miller Inn, 10m from the door. The lady from the Inn spotted us, and she came to the car with a huge umbrella to provide safe passage to the entrance. That was already an indication that the level of service (which is generally much better in the USA than in Europe) was in a class of its own. Coffee, tea and cold drinks were always available to enjoy in the dining room, map room or music room. And in the evening freshly baked cake and cookies were provided. But the two exquisite courses of the gourmet breakfast topped it all, one simply could not have a better start of the day.

Tuesday we spent the day around Ithaca: hiking around the gorge of Taughannock Falls, swimming in Cayuga Lake, relaxing and getting sunburned next to Cayuga Lake, eating the best hamburger (a.k.a. Pineburger) in the county and hiking through the gorge of Buttermilk Falls. The weather forecast was terrible, but the actual weather could not have been better. During the research for this trip, I found no itinerary from a tour operator that included Ithaca, but I am really glad I included this relaxed little city in great natural surroundings in our itinerary.

VariousD.C.: No Beer with Obama

On 9 August 2009 from Lancaster, PA, USA | comments closed

Thursday morning we had the usual New York breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese before boarding the Amtrak to Washington D.C. The plan was to have a beer with Mr President in the garden of the White House, but as we lacked an official invitation from Barack and security could not be more tough, we made some photos of the White House instead.

Friday was Mall-day, and I am not referring to shopping. The National Mall is the large green space in Washington D.C. where all the 3 M’s (monuments, museums and memorials) are clustered around. We started at the East end with a tour of the Capitol, where the values of democracy are strongly conveyed. Using the underground tunnel, we walked to the Library of Congress for a brief visit (no time to read). After lunch we spend a few hours in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where (among others) the first Wright brothers’ flyer and Bell X-1 are exhibited. We continued along the Mall to the Washington Monument and the National World War II Memorial. At that spot I just needed to play “Brothers in War” by Dire Straits: back shivers guaranteed even with 30 degree Celcius outside temperatures. The Mall ended at the Lincoln Memorial and so did our sightseeing for the day. After dinner Laura, Wilbert and I went to Improv Comedy Club to see Ian Bagg and hear him make a lot of fun of the audience (good thing we did not get front row seats).

Saturday morning we picked up our rental minivan, a golden Toyota Sienna LE. It fits 8, so 5 adults and luggage was no problem at all. Before driving out of the city, we first visited the Jefferson Memorial and FDR Memorial, and made another stop at the Arlington Cemetery to pay our respects at the grave of the Kennedy’s. We checked into our hotel in Lancaster and went for a drive around Dutch Pennsylvania a.k.a. Amish Country. It is interesting to see how some people can maintain their old-fashioned lifestyle with horse-drawn carriages and plowing the land using horses. The homemade dinner we enjoyed there in the evening was one of the best though.

VariousSummer in New York City

On 6 August 2009 from New York City, NY, USA | comments closed

After having travelled to a decent amount of places, people kind of expect that you have been to certain cities (note: this only applies to cities, not towns, villages, national parks). New York City is one of those cities. And when the plan came up for another family vacation (the last one having been over 5 years ago), only a little persuasion was needed to put the Big Apple on the list. Unfortunately the folks back home decided that the weekend before departure was better spent at home, so I took a flight 2 days earlier to prepare the city for their arrival, and visit some places they did not show interest in.

After the usual pleasant flight with Air Berlin (“we recommend wine with dinner and cognac after dinner, no charge of course”) JFK was the starting point of my North-East USA trip. The Airtrain and metro brought me to my hotel on 47th Street (a block from the Waldorf Astoria), where a pleasant surprise awaited: I got the penthouse suite with private rooftop terrace. Quite a posh start of the trip. First thing I did was taking advantage of the beautiful evening by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to (surprise, surprise) Brooklyn. Taking photos was obviously the goal, because there are plenty of Starbucks in Manhattan too. After some great shots of the downtown skyline I checked out Times Square for some Las Vegas-style New York. I could not think of a better start in NYC.

Sunday morning the plan was to go to Central Park, but the rain messed that up. When it cleared, I walked across the Queensborough Bridge to (surprise, surprise) Queens, but that was a total waste of time. No decent views and no decent neighbourhood on the other side of the bridge, so I took the metro to B&H – the largest camera store in NYC – to buy a wide-angle lens. Since it was pouring down rain now, I figured it would be a good thing to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was not the only one with this line of thought. Once inside, the crowds were not that bad because of the sheer size of the museum. It would have been easy to spend more than 3 hours, if it were not for closing hours. Luckily the weather had cleared up by then, and Central Park offered some nice walks and great sunset views. In the evening I wandered throught Little Italy and Chinatown, to have some Vietnamese dinner.

After having breakfast on my rooftop terrace Monday morning, unfortunately the time came to switch to another hotel. Having done that, I went to United Nations, but decided to forego the tour, as the next available one was in 2 hours. Instead, I took the free ferry to Staten Island with great views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. I returned back to Manhattan on the same ferry. There I explored Wall Street and the surrounding downtown area, before checking out the shops on 5th Avenue. When the family arrived, I met them at the hotel and we had dinner on Times Square.

For Wednesday morning we had booked a helicopter ride, but as the weather forecast for Wednesday was not too good, we rescheduled it to Tuesday morning. Seeing the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, the Hudson River and New Jersey from the air was amazing. Too bad the ride only lasted for 15 minutes. (Update 08-08-2009: only 5 days later a similar helicopter crashed above the Hudson :() The boat tour was a little longer with 75 minutes, and offered the closest views of Lady Liberty and the New York harbour. Then we got on the bus to drive from Midtown to Downtown Manhattan, where we checked out Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, before getting back on at South Street Seaport. In the evening we did a night tour through the city.

Wednesday we walked through the Empire State Building, but got the lift to Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center. After a Starbucks coffee at the Trump Tower, we walked through Central Park, and joined a bus tour through Harlem. In the evening Laura, Wilbert and I went for some dinner at Union Square and watched the show Fuerza Bruta. It was easily the most unique show I have ever seen, with (amongst other things) female performers moving around in a transparent swimming pool, 20 cm above the audience! After the show we went for some drinks and live music at Cafe Wha in Greenwhich Village.

Website Update 2009

On 22 July 2009 from Prague, Czech Republic | comments closed

You may have noticed few website updates lately, which is entirely due to the fact that I am using my website primarily as my travel blog and photo gallery. And as I only blog on trips longer than 1 week, there have been no blog updates. There has not been a lack of shorter trips though, so not to worry 😉

My website is currently using the following open-source scripts [updated 22 August 2009 & 20 December 2009]:

IndochinaIndochina Photos

On 18 December 2008 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

It took a while to sort them all out, but the best Indochina photos are online now. In 5 weeks time I made 950+ photos, and 210 passed the quality checks (many underwater photos failed).

Below is the complete route of my travels in Indochina.

Center
Travels Indochina

IndochinaFrom Sun to Snow & Country Comparison

On 25 November 2008 from Rotterdam, Netherlands | comments closed

My flight from Bangkok to Düsseldorf on Monday 24 November was delayed by 2 hours because of the snowfall in Düsseldorf. From 30 degrees and sun to 0 degrees and snow, the difference could not be much larger. And what happened to global warming with snow in the Netherlands in November?

Time for a trip review:

Mission accomplished.

Would I do anything different next time? Maybe take the advice of some people to fit less countries in a 5-week trip. I should have left Vietnam out, as 6 days there was too short. About 3 weeks would be better. But I knew that in advance, and therefore skipped the North entirely (in favour of South Laos), and my initial research indicated that the border crossing between Cambodia and Laos would be difficult, something which proved not to be the case (Laos visa needs to be obtained in advance, Cambodia visa is issued at the border). But when that came to light we already had a visa for Vietnam and not using it would be a waste. The main reason for visiting less countries is spending less hours in the bus or train, as now it was sometimes 7 hours in the bus on consecutive days. Visiting less places would allow to stay longer in certain places, thus avoiding long bus travel every day. But then again, many places were only interesting for a half or full day, staying longer would only allow me to read more books (which is something I can do at home as well, although I do not seem to get around to it there).

Some comments on each country:

IndochinaBoating like Bond & Biking in Bangkok

On 23 November 2008 from Bangkok, Thailand | comments closed

Friday 21 November Patricia went back to Railay Beach and I joined a daytour to Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island. After the usual minibus drive the boat took us through spectacular Phang Nga Bay to Phing Kan Island, from where James Bond Island can be seen (featured in “The Man with the Golden Gun”). Unfortunately it was a very cloudy day, so the photos are not what I was hoping for. Next stop was Hong Island, where Thai guides were paddling the other passengers in sea canoes around the island and through the caves. Because I needed some exercise, I got my own sea canoe, so I could paddle myself. At Panak Island I did get a Thai guide to paddle me through the narrow caves, and at the last stop I swam from the boat to the island, so I got some more exercise there.

After the diving, canoeing and swimming of the last couple of days I decided to take it easy on Saturday. As it was still cloudy I could not be bothered to lay on the beach, but instead I sorted and geotagged my photos, and got a massage before having a flight back to Bangkok in the evening.

Sunday morning I got up real early (again) and used the Skytrain and a taxi to get to the hotel where Co’s bikes were stored. Bikes, indeed, as I booked a biking tour with Co van Kessel. Tukata and May were the guides for our group of nine. The first street we took was a market street in Chinatown, where it was basically impossible to bike. But that was only the first street. From there we took the backstreets of Chinatown, past meat cutters, open kitchens, temples and many small houses (often only one room). We crossed the river by ferry, biked some more and took a longboat through the canals, where houses were literally built in the water. We then biked through some of Bangkok’s padang fields on narrow concrete paths. This really was a completely different side of the city, especially compared to the buzzing commerce centre of Siam. After lunch and another longboat ride through the canals and across the river, we biked back to the hotel. In the afternoon I went up Baiyoke Tower 2 to enjoy the view from the highest tower of Bangkok, had a sushi dinner at Siam and relaxed a bit at the guesthouse. After all, I am getting back home on Monday evening and starting work again on Tuesday.

IndochinaDiving Similan Islands & Richelieu Rock

On 20 November 2008 from Phuket, Thailand | comments closed

Sunday 16 November early in the morning I arrived back in Bangkok. I took the Skytrain to my guesthouse and wrote and mailed a few postcards, before going back into the city. I tried to do some shopping at the large shopping malls in the centre (Siam), but could not find what I was looking for. So the Skytrain took me to Chatuchak Market, where I was unsuccessful at first as well, but could finally get all the items on my shopping list. Another Skytrain ride brought me to Lumphini Park, where I watched some aerobics classes. The Skytrain really is my favourite means of transportation in Bangkok: fast, frequent, air-conditioned and pretty good value with the daypass. It brought me back to my guesthouse as well.

After a schema-time flight with Air Asia to Phuket on Monday and a smooth drive with the chauffeur from the hotel, I arrived at my hotel in Karon. Spent most of the day sorting out photos and walking along the beach. When Patricia arrived in the evening we got the instructions for the diving liveaboard and had some dinner.

Early Tuesday morning we were picked up for a 2-hour minibus drive to the port. From there a 1-hour 15-minute speedboat ride took us to Somboon 4, our liveaboard boat for the next 3 days. After boat and dive briefings we jumped into the Andaman Sea for the first dive. Altogether we did 11 dives in 3 days, including 1 night dive. We saw a few turtles, many lionfish, a porcupine ray, a zebra shark, a blue-spotted ray, a few moray eel, an octopus and many other fish. The quality of the dive sites varied: we were not very impressed with the first and last dives around the Similan Islands, although some other dives around the Similan Islands were good. But the best dives were on the second day: Richelieu Rock, Koh Tachai and Koh Bon. That came to no surprise, as Richelieu Rock was a top 10 dive site. Was, as it seems to have dropped out of the top 10.

So, since there are many lists of top 10 dive sites (here is another one), and the list I always used keeps changing, I decided to enter them on my blog as well. Below is the list of top 10 dive sites as of 1 January 2008, and the year I dived there:

  1. Yongala, QLD, Australia – 2004
  2. Blue Corner Wall, Palau, Micronesia
  3. Thistlegorm, Red Sea, Egypt – 2006
  4. Barracuda Point, Sipadan Island, Malaysia
  5. Shark and Yolanda Reef, Red Sea, Egypt – 2006
  6. Navy Pier, WA, Australia – 2004
  7. Manta Ray Night Dive, Kailua Kona, Hawaii, USA
  8. Elphinstone Reef, Red Sea, Egypt
  9. Richelieu Rock, Thailand – 2008
  10. Great Blue Hole, Belize

IndochinaTrekking, Temples & Ticking Off

On 15 November 2008 from Chiang Mai, Thailand | comments closed

Tuesday 11 November an older Swiss couple, myself, our guide and our ranger left Luang Nam Tha for a 2-day trekking in the Nam Tha NPA (National Protected Area). We stopped on the brand new Chinese-built road to Huay Xai and wandered off into the forest. Jungle would be a better word, as our ranger made good use of his machete to cut a path for us. It certainly was the least used trail I ever walked on and it was very slippery at times. I wore clean beige trekking pants, but after a few hours they were muddier than ever (seriously, childhood included). We had our lunch of sticky rice with vegetables (I passed on the fish) in the forest on a makeshift table of large palm leaves. After crossing the river (only knee-deep) we arrived at the village where we would spend the night. It was really back-to-basic: no electricity and no running water (except the river and one pump). They did have the new sealed road running through the village though, and a few houses had a small solar panel to power a light in the evening. And there was mobile phone coverage (as pretty much everywhere in South-East Asia), but that is of little use to the villagers when there is no electricity to charge the phones. Since our hosts were still working, I took a refreshing swim in the river. Afterwards I got acquainted to the duck we would have for dinner (it was resting in its fate), and we walked around the village. A few villagers were eager to show their homes as potential sleeping places, thus making some extra money. It seemed it was one of the first times tourists went to this village, because our guide talked to the village chief and wrote down the important figures (about 400 men and 200 women living there). The villagers were very friendly and open, even though oral communication was basically impossible (and our guide was not always around to translate). But the kids are always a lot of fun, especially showing them digital photos of themselves, which results in enthousiastic yelling. I went to bed early that evening, tired from the trekking and swimming.

Roosters, always those darned roosters. Almost everywhere in Laos roosters are roaming around the house, waking everyone around 05:00. I guess that is why Lao go to bed so early, because they know they are woken up early as well. At least I had been warm that night in my clothes, silk sleeping bag and under two blankets on the thin mattrass on the floor of the house. Breakfast was once again sticky rice, but this time with scrambled eggs. With that in our stomachs we set off on another 6 hours of trekking in the jungle. For the first half of that a villager with a shovel came along, who could create some steps at places where the trail was too steep or narrow. Along the way we passed some large old trees and primitive animal traps. Lunch was (not surprisingly) sticky rice with vegetables. We got back to Luang Nam Tha late afternoon, and I enjoyed a nice hot shower in the guesthouse and fries instead of sticky rice for dinner.

Thursday morning, right when I was about to get a tuk-tuk to the bus station, a minibus driver came up to me and offered the drive to Huay Xai for the same price as the bus + tuk-tuk. Since I knew the minibus would be much faster, it was a no-brainer. I just wish they would not have taken the Lao standing at the roadside, because he obviously could not handle the fast driving on the winding road and threw up constantly. With his head out of the window, luckily. But he also was our saviour at a customs checkpoint, where the driver could not find the requested document. After 10 minutes the young customs official could no longer bear the smell and released us. So after only 3 hours I was in Huay Xai, exited Laos, got the boat across the river to Thailand, and entered Thailand. I was not quite sure if I should go to Chiang Rai first or directly to Chiang Mai, but the decision was made for me, as I just missed the virtually last minibus to Chiang Mai. So I got to Chiang Rai, found a nice guesthouse, and went to see a temple and the hilltribe museum. In the evening there was a large parade, ending at a field filled with shopping and food stalls. For a moment I thought the stars had turned yellow/orange in Chiang Rai, before I realised they were not stars, but large lampions with a fire burning underneath.

Friday I could not resist the temptation to tick off another country on my list. From Chiang Rai it was only 1,5 hours to Mae Sai, where I could cross the bridge into Myanmar (aka Burma). I hired a tuk-tuk driver and went to some temples and the large golden stupa, where an old lady showed me how to perform the prayer for good luck. It involved knowing the day I was born (Friday), flowers, incense sticks, ringing bells, and obviously many Buddhas. After spending 1,5 hours in Myanmar, I retrieved my stamped passport at the border, re-entered Thailand and got a bus to Chiang Mai. In the last guesthouse the lady had already said it would be very difficult to get a sleeper train to Bangkok on Saturday night, so my first stop was the train station. The lady there said the trains were full, but I noticed a one between all the zeros on her screen, and then she said there was still one bed in first class. I booked it and realised the advantage of travelling by myself.

Saturday morning I took things slowly and just as I was about to walk into the city, I met Emmy and we decided to visit some temples together. On the way to Wat Doi Suthep we met Julie, and we spent the rest of the afternoon together, until I had to get to the train station for the night train to Bangkok.

IndochinaBussing from South to North Laos

On 10 November 2008 from Luang Nam Tha, Laos | comments closed

When booking the night bus to Vientiane for Wednesday 5 November nobody mentioned the fact that the beds were designed for Lao people. That means the beds were no longer than 1,70m, which is really too short for this 1,88m Dutchman. Only two beds in the middle of the bus would fit me, as I could put my feet in the aisle there, and luckily one of them was still available and I was allowed to sleep there, so I could get some decent sleep that night.

Thursday morning Joyce (who I met on the night bus) and I took another bus to Vang Vieng and we checked out this backpacker-overtaken town in the afternoon. Friday we went on a tour to some nearby caves, one of which was half under water, so we navigated it in a tube (inflated truck tire), which was pretty cool. After lunch we joined the proper tubing that Vang Vieng is infamous for. This means going down the river in a tube, stopping at bars along the way. Since bars are all competing for the backpacker kip (Lao money), they come up with the craziest things. Swinging on a rope over the river has become commonplace (but still fun), so one place put up a giant waterslide (great fun), and another mud-volleyball. The latter made me feel a tad embarrased of Western “civilization” though, when seeing (mainly) English backpackers slide in the mud, something a local would never do (and even frowns upon). I guess that is why all the bars are located a fair distance from the town.

Saturday morning Joyce and I biked to another cave, before I took a bus to Luang Prabang. What Siem Reap is for Cambodia, Luang Prabang is for Laos. (Package) tourists that only visit one city in the country, visit Luang Prabang. As a result, the prices have become at least double the going rate in Laos (renting a bicycle for a day was 30.000 kip, compared to 10.000 in the rest of Laos), and the city has lost its soul, being completely overtaken by tourists. It simply did not feel like Laos anymore. This is exactly the reason why I wanted to visit as much of Laos as possible on this trip, because I was thinking Laos would change the most the following years. For Luang Prabang it is already too late. Let me illustrate this with an example. Every morning directly after sunrise dozens of monks traditionally go around the city for alms. When tourists gave them bad food (sold by street vendors) and some monks got ill, the monks no longer wanted to go around for alms. The government told them that if they did not, actors in orange robes would do it, just to make sure the tourists dollars kept coming in.

Needless to say, I did not want to spend too much time in Luang Prabang. On Sunday I enjoyed a good breakfast and visited some temples. I also spent quite a lot of time fighting a virus on my laptop that I got in an internet café Saturday evening. In the end I won and w32.autosky is gone (from my laptop at least).

Monday morning I got up early to see the (real) monks go around the city for alms, and look at some more temples. I arrived at the bus station early to secure a seat on the bus to Luang Nam Tha. It turned out the bus was not even one quarter full, so there was plenty of space, but at least I had unlimited legroom for the 10-hour scenic journey through the forested mountains. Upon arrival in Luang Nam Tha I immediately arranged a 2-day trekking in the Nam Tha NPA.

IndochinaRelaxing & Riding in Southern Laos

On 5 November 2008 from Pakse, Laos | comments closed

We asked three times: “is it a direct bus to Savannakhet?”. “Yes, direct bus” was the answer, three times. At least the first 1,5 hours on Friday 31 October it was a bus, but then we got crammed into a minivan for the 2-hour trip to the Laos border. After crossing the border it got even worse: an old local bus where benches would fit 3 people (where 2 would be considered the maximum in any somewhat developed country) and the overhead luggage storage was only hanging on to the roof of the bus with some iron wire. After enduring the bus ride for 5,5 hours, it suddenly stopped and the bus driver yelled “Pakse, Pakse”, pointing to a bus on the other side of the road. By that time we had almost given up on the idea of getting to Pakse the same day, so we hurried to grab our bags and run to the Pakse-bound bus. As it turns out, that was completely unnecessary, because the bus had been standing there for about an hour, getting repaired. Our luck turned though, because it got fixed in 15 minutes and we arrived in Pakse before 20:30, after 14 hours of travelling.

On Saturday Patricia took a bus to Thailand (to the boyfriend she was missing), and I continued South in a sawngthaew to Champasak. There I rented a bike to ride through the village and fields to Wat Phu Champasak, a beautifully located temple.

Sunday morning I met Maaike on the ferry over the Mekong. Since we were both heading to Don Khon in Si Phan Don (four thousand islands), we travelled there together by bus, sawngthaew and boat. Besides exploring the islands of Don Det and Don Khon by foot and bike, there was not a great deal to do. Therefore I spent some quality time in a hammock, reading and relaxing.

Come Monday evening I had finished all the magazines and books I brought, so Tuesday morning it was time to move on. I got a boat and sawngthaew back to Pakse, where I rented a moped (100cc Honda) to travel the Bolaven Plateau. First stop was the gas station (you get a rental with an empty tank here, allowing them to make an extra profit when you return it with fuel left in it). Second stop a nice waterfall. However, the sky was turning pretty dark, and it did not take long before the heavens opened. Patricia had borrowed me her big red poncho and this came in really handy. Many locals were turning their heads when a big red bird on a moped was passing by. I reached Tadlo just before sunset, and really enjoyed the hot shower and food here.

Wednesday morning I got up early for a short hike to two waterfalls, before riding an elephant for 1,5 hours. From my elevated position I crossed through forest, pools and a village (where the chilis were drying next to the satellite dish). Then it was time to hit the road again, as it was about 110km back to Pakse, a ride of about 3 hours with 25km of the road unsealed. 60km/h was about the maximum speed of the moped anyway, and that was good as I had to share the road with some locals (overtaking them all) and many kids, cows, dogs, chickens and the occasional buffalo. I visited two more waterfalls on the way back, and had a nice swim on top of one of them. Pakse was reached mid-afternoon, so I had plenty of time to get organised for the night bus to Vientiane.

IndochinaRainy Season After All

On 30 October 2008 from Hué, Vietnam | comments closed

Monday 27 October we had a slow start in busy Saigon with coffee at Sozo, where we spent quite a few hours in the last few days. It is a stylish place with good coffee and free internet, run by disadvantaged Vietnamese. Therefore it is the perfect way to help the underprivileged in this country, by supporting them in making a living. The remainder of the day was spent on a train journey to Nha Trang.

When the opportunity to do 2 dives for USD 40 (incl. everything) presents itself, it is to be taken. Hence we got up early on Tuesday to dive the South China Sea. It turned out to be 2 of the longest dives I did so far, although I was not too impressed with the coral and visibility. I guess I got spoilt a little bit by my dives in Australia and Egypt. There were some interesting fish though. As soon as we were back at the hotel the rainy season started, with long torrential downpours and very short dry intervals. That pretty much cancelled the plans for the rest of the day, as temples are just not very fun in the rain.

To save some precious daylight hours, we took the night train from Nha Trang to Hoi An, arriving there early Wednesday morning. Because it was not raining at the time, we booked a tour to the Cham ruins of My Son. However, at the ruins it kept raining cats & dogs, and the nice little path through the forest alongside the temples was knee-deep with water at certain places. The jungle did not seem very happy to give up its treasures that day. In between some showers in the afternoon, I explored the Hoi An Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Thursday morning we took a bus to Hué. It turned out to be one of the overnight sleeper busses, with 3 bunk beds next to each other. Weirdest bus I have ever seen, pretty comfortable though. In Hué we explored the Imperial Enclosure in the Citadel in the afternoon.

South-East Asia is really easy to travel in. In every place where we arrive people are waiting at the bus or train station, touting their accommodation. When the price, location and facilities are alright (they usually are), we take them up on their offer, and otherwise Lonely Planet has plenty of alternatives (although guidebook-listed places seem to be a bit pricier). There are plenty of restaurants around with good, healthy food. And getting a bus or train for the next day is usually no problem. Only for the bus to Laos today we needed to go by a few traveller’s cafés to find one leaving tomorrow.

IndochinaThe Dark Past

On 26 October 2008 from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam | comments closed

Wednesday 22 October we got picked up by a pickup, thinking we were the last passengers on the route of hotels around town. We were wrong. I never knew one pickup truck could fit so many people and backpacks. Luckily the boat to Battambang was not as crowded. Patricia and I went for seats on the inside, fearing we would get sunburned on the roof. Turns out that getting wet by rain was the main risk of the roof. On the way to Battambang we passed several floating villages, where the entire life of the inhabitants is taking place on the water. Progress has not passed by these towns though, as one of the houses was a (non-floating) platform with a tall mobile phone tower. I am still not sure if the captain took a wrong way somewhere in the wetlands (my GPS travel recorder may provide the answer), or if we went slower than usual (it did not appear so), because it took us 7 hours instead of 5. That left very little time to see some of the sights outside the city of Battambang, since sunset is around 17:30 and at 18:00 it is pitch black. We decided to call it a day.

On Thursday we took the bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh, once again arriving in the afternoon. We explored the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda the same day, leaving plenty of time for the other sights on Friday. That was a good thing, because Friday morning it rained and therefore we had a slow start of the day (it is vacation after all). In the afternoon we chartered a tuk-tuk driver to bring us to the other Phnom Penh attractions. We started at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, where opponents (in the broad sense, basically everyone with education or glasses) of the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime got tortured before being killed at the Killing Fields of Cheoung Ek. That was the next destination of the afternoon, but it failed to leave a big impression, except for the stupa with the thousands of skulls that were dug up.

On a completely unrelated note, the last attraction we went to in Phnom Penh was a base of the Cambodian Army. In return for my sponsorship I got to fire an AK-47 (aka Kalashnikov) in their shooting range. I fired shots both manually and semi-automatic (mostly manual though, seeing it was USD 40 for 30 rounds). In the evening I went on a little pub crawl with some English (Ian, Tony & Sarah) & Australian (Dickbee). Besides playing pool in the last bar, the other game to be played was spotting the girls that are not actually girls. We ended the night (danced the night away would be a more accurate description) in the club Heart of Darkness.

So with little more than one hour of sleep for me we got into the bus to Vietnam on Saturday. The border crossing here was the easiest non-Schengen I ever encountered while travelling by bus. We only had to get into the bus (out of Cambodia), or through a security check (into Vietnam) when they called our names. Easy does it. In the afternoon we visited some more reminders of the wars in South-East Asia, but this time the focus was the Vietnam war. The Reunification Palace was not very interesting, but the War Remnants Museum was, with shocking photos of the Vietnam war, and examples of US military equipment outside. Notre Dame Cathedral was the last stop of the day.

Sunday we booked a full-day tour to Tay Ninh and the Cu Chi tunnels, in a big bus full of tourists. Something went wrong there. In Tay Ninh we visited the very colourful Caodai Great Temple and watched part of a mass. In the afternoon we visited the Cu Chi tunnels, built by the Viet Cong. The tour started with a very bad propaganda film with footage from the 70’s. After that the different tunnel entry points and traps were showed. The tour ended with a run through a narrow, dark and hot tunnel, which was obviously not designed for a Dutch guy with a backpack. Good exercise though.

IndochinaAncient Angkor Temples

On 21 October 2008 from Siem Reap, Cambodia | comments closed

Friday 17 October 2008 my 5-week 4-country Indochina trip started. I flew from Düsseldorf, as LTU had the best rates I could find at the time (the useless Dutch vacation tax may have something to do with it). Düsseldorf is the closest major airport as well, and I like the convenience of direct flights. I do not like to have a window seat without a window though, which is precisely what happened. I guess I should track down the airplane seating schema before next online check-in. The flight itself was pretty uneventful and we arrived at BKK on schema time.

My arrival day (Saturday) in Bangkok was mainly used to arrange the bus to Cambodia, recover from the jetlag (i.e. get some sleep), get a haircut, catch up on e-mail, and wait for Patricia to arrive. We had dinner together and went to sleep early, because the taxi to the bus terminal was arriving at 07:00 (it gets worse).

Sunday was a true travel day: taxi to the airport bus terminal, bus to Aranya Prathet (Thai side of the border), getting Thai passport stamps, getting a Cambodian visa, getting Cambodian passport stamps, walking into Poipet (Cambodian side of the border), taking a bus to the bus/taxi company, and getting a taxi to Siem Reap with a Danish couple (Kim & Mia). Unfortunately I realised in the taxi that I left my rainproof jacket in the Thai bus. And it does rain in the rainy season. Soit. The hotel in Siem Reap was already booked, based on the tip of an ex-customer-colleague. So after checking in we arranged a tuk-tuk to Angkor for the next day, leaving at 05:00 (yes, it is still vacation).

On Monday I finally would get to see Angkor Wat, “one of the most inspired and spectacular monuments ever conceived by the human mind” [LP]. When walking through the huge, almost empty temple complex right after sunrise, I wondered which New Wonder of the World should be taken off the list in favour of Angkor Wat. The Redeemer of Christ in Rio de Janeiro, for sure. Never been there, but it simply cannot be as impressive. It took a few hours of wondering around in awe and making many photos, before we continued our tour of the Little Circuit. The first stop was the South Gate of Angkor Thom, the fortied city. We walked through and our tuk-tuk was nicely waiting on the other side. Next stop was Bayon, where Big Brother was watching us. Although, so it seemed, because 216 gargantuan faces of Avalokiteshvara were looking down on us. So there we were, at 09.30 of the first day in Angkor we had already seen the most beautiful temples. Luckily every temple offered something special. Baphuon is the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, Ta Keo had the steepest stairs I ever took, and Ta Prohm had trees coming out of the temple. The last is actually the most similar to how it was rediscovered in the 1860s, when the jungle had taken over Angkor. This was not too hard to understand, as even now they kept hundreds of locals at work by manually mowing the grass (an engine-powered lawnmower would really cost many jobs around here). Well, at least the USD 20 entrance fee was put to good use. To watch the sunset, we went up Phnom Bakheng, from where Angkor Wat was visible in the distance. On the way back to Siem Reap we stopped for some Angkor Wat by night photos, arriving back at the hotel after 14 hours of wandering around temples. I rightly deserved a massage.

Tuesday morning was the first morning where waking up felt like vacation. At 08:00 we had some real bread, croissant and coffee at the Blue Pumpkin. Western food, almost for western prices. After breakfast the tuk-tuk was waiting for me to see some more temples, while Patricia took the day off and spent hours getting massages. The second day of Angkor consisted of the Big Circuit and Banteay Srei. I started at Pre Rup, which offered outstanding views over the surrounding area. Then it was Banteay Srei’s turn to astonish with the most beautiful carvings in the Angkor area. On the way back to the Big Circuit I visited the landmine museum, founded by a former Khmer Rouge soldier who already manually defused 50.000+ mines. The temples of Eastern Mebon, Ta Som, Preah Neak Pean and Preah Khan followed. I finished my visit to Angkor appropriately by watching the sun set on Angkor Wat. After the golden light had shone on the temple complex, dark clouds came down, and a torrential downpour followed. Luckily I could shelter in the temple. So far being here in the rainy season has only been good, as it mainly rains at night and for no more than an hour during the day (knocking wood). And the rain keeps the air clean (it would be very dusty otherwise) and the fields lush and green.

IndochinaBack to the Land of the Smiles

On 12 October 2008 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

Ever since my last trip to Thailand in 2003 I have been wanting to go back there. Inspiring temples, gorgeous islands, breathtaking beaches, smiling people and coconut milkshakes with banana pancakes for breakfast, is there more to wish for? Mountains, I guess. But I hear those seem to be present in the North. And as it happens, every traveller I met in Thailand recommended me to visit Chiang Mai in the North, so that is my first must-see. The second must-see is Richelieu Rock, Thailand’s only top 10 dive site. Ko Tapu (aka James Bond Island) is the third must-see in the land of the smiles.

But Thailand is only one of the Indochina countries on this trip. Cambodia is next, where Angkor is my must-see. The temples here almost made it to the list of New 7 Wonders of the World. Vietnam follows, where the Củ Chi tunnels are the must-see. The last country on this trip will be the enigmatic and relatively undeveloped Laos, as I have heard only good tales from other travellers. Luang Prabang is the must-see here.

Since you probably lost track of my must-sees by now, I put them in the Google Map below 😛

Center
Travels Indochina

And for those of you who want to know more in detail where I am going when, my
Travel Planning @ Google Docs provides all the answers. Just know this is a continuously changing draft.

The Ultimate Car

On 13 July 2008 from Rotterdam, Netherlands | comments closed

Does anybody have 99.000 euro (excl. VAT) for me?
The Tesla Roadster is finally coming to Europe!

This is _the_ ultimate car: fast (0-100 km/h in 3,9 s), environmentally friendly (electric engine, no CO2 emissions), and it’s a roadster (more driving fun). The future of automobiles is here.
I want one.

VariousMy Travel Notebook

On 15 June 2008 from Rotterdam, Netherlands | comments closed

I recently purchased myself an ultra-mobile PC from the company that created the genre. The Asus Eee PC 900 it is. I intend to use it mainly on my travels, when I do not want to carry the sizeable and heavy -albeit solid- company-issued Lenovo. The Eee PC is perfect to carry, and the small size of its keyboard can also be considered an advantage: because it is harder to type, I will actually do less of it, and spend more time watching the world go by.

In this post I would like to elaborate a bit on the software that I installed to use on the road. After all, that is one of the primary reasons to take my own notebook: the frustration of the quality and inability to install software on internet café computers. And the fact that I would spend most of the time in internet cafés simply typing or sorting out photos, activities I prefer to do from a hammock or soft sofa 😉

VariousTo the Top of Europe

On 18 May 2008 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

When the rare opportunity of a 5-day weekend presents itself, I just have to cross some country borders (well, I would already do that with a 4-day 3-day weekend). The succession of Queen’s Day and Ascension Day presented such a weekend. So I hit the Autobahn and drove to Interlaken in Switzerland. Fewer towns are more beautifully located: in between two lakes and surrounded by mountains.

Since Thursday started off as a rainy day, I went to St Beatus Höhlen with some people I met at the hostel. This network of caves leads deep into the mountain. Afterwards we drove to Grindelwald to go for a hike to the Oberer Gletscher and around the Gletscherschlucht. Unfortunately I happened to have picked the time to visit the mountains when almost all the cable cars were in maintenance. Nothing unusual, as they do it every year between the skiing and hiking season. But it was making it next to impossible to do the hike I wanted to do, since there was no way to get to and from the trailheads. Therefore it was over to plan B for Friday: the very touristy train to Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest train station, and therefore dubbed ‘the Top of Europe’.

Jungfrau Railways are not only Europe’s highest railways, but also its most expensive, so any discount was welcome. The Good-Morning Ticket did the trick, even though that meant taking the first train at 6AM. At least it was very uncrowded at the Sphinx, the futuristic observation building. Too bad it was still very cloudy early in the morning, but when the clouds disappeared the view of the Aletsch Glacier – Europe’s longest ice stream – was absolutely amazing. I would have wished to stay longer, but the Good-Morning Ticket required me to go back at noon. On the way back I got out at Lauterbrunnen, where I made a nice hike through the beautiful valley, before taking the train back to Interlaken. There I got back in my car and cruised to Luzern, where the best pizzeria served me dinner. And then it was on to the final destination of my trip: Zürich. After checking in to my hotel, I met up with Michael and we hit the town for some drinks and fun.

Saturday morning I met up with Michael again, and we went up Uetliberg Kulm for a nice view of the city. It was followed by a proper city tour, only to be interrupted by the best foods Switzerland has to offer (Mövenpick is my new favourite). We took a little afternoon rest on the grass of the city park next to the lake. In the evening we had a real Swiss dinner at Crazy Cow before looking at the not-so-impressive city lights from Polyterrasse. Obviously Saturday night was spent drinking and partying in the surprisingly hip and trendy banking capital of Switzerland.

Sunday morning’s only activities in the Swiss Confederation consisted of breakfast and filling up with cheap fuel. But this little 5-day trip definitely marked a renewed interest in the small neutral country in Central Europe. Ich will Zurück nach Zürich 😉

PatagoniaArgentina & Chile Photos

On 21 February 2008 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

As I promised to let you know, the best photos of Argentina and Chile are online now. I already put the best ones of Antarctica online a few weeks ago. In 6 weeks time I made about 900 photos, and 25% of them are online now. (If you actually do the math and check it out, you will notice that more photos are actually online, but some of them were copied from others because they were just too good to withhold you.)

Below is the complete route of my travels in Patagonia and Antarctica. Ideally this map would be visible from the Patagonia & Antarctica 2007-2008 album, but an unknown issue is currently preventing this.

Center
Travels Patagonia

Website Update 2008

On 31 January 2008 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

I have been using a website traffic counter since one of the first websites I created in 1998. Over the years the company providing the counter has changed its name from Nedstat to Webstats4u to Motigo. The last name change also brought about a change in advertising: the horrible pop-under appeared. Since that really annoyed me in South America and I got complaints from site visitors as well, I decided to remove the counter with almost 10 years of history, and go with Google Analytics from now on.

I also brought my website fully up-to-date with the latest open-source scripts [updated 24 May 2008, 15 July 2008, 18 September 2008 & 15 December 2008]:

PatagoniaBack Home & Antarctica Photos

On 27 January 2008 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

Travelling back home somehow seems more telling of the distance than travelling away from home. Maybe it has to do with not seeing any new things anymore, making time go slower (although some psychologists actually argue that time goes faster when you do not have new experiences). In any case, it took me some 20 hours to get from Santiago to home, flying 13 hours to Madrid and another 2 hours to Amsterdam. I arrived home Tuesday late afternoon.

All in all, it was a trip with many experiences. Of course Antarctica stands out most: the pristine white landscape, thousands of penguins, many seals and whales, cruising between huge icebergs with strange shapes, and imagining the hardship of the early overwinterers. When it comes to physical activities Antarctica does not top the list (aside for a quick run away from a glacier calving off), but Patagonia does: I did some excellent hiking, horseback riding, rafting, biking, glacier hiking, and volcano climbing. But my 6-week vacation also offered plenty of opportunities to just relax and enjoy the backpacker life that I got used to during my year in Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia.

By visiting both South America and Antarctica, this trip completed a life goal of mine: visiting all 7 continents. And that before my 30th birthday. Guess I have to start looking for a new life goal, although I usually only come up with one just before achieving it. That said, the New 7 Wonders of the World may be a nice new challenge, as I have only visited the Colosseum in Rome so far.

PatagoniaRelaxing Last Days

On 21 January 2008 from Santiago, Chile | comments closed

The last days of my trip my travel pace has slowed down considerably, starting with a visit to the thermal pools near Pucón on Thursday evening. The warm waters made sure I had a really good night’s sleep. Friday evening I had an overnight bus to Viña del Mar, but instead of making it a busy activity-filled day in Pucón I slept out and wandered around the town and on the beach a bit on Friday.

When I arrived in Viña del Mar on Saturday I visited a small museum with one of the moais from Easter Island outside. Afterwards I took the bus to Valparaíso and explored the city. Because most of the city is on a hill, small cablecars have been built to get up and down, and I made frequent use of those. In the evening I just relaxed in the really nice B&B in Viña del Mar.

At noon on Sunday I took my last Chilean long-distance bus to Santiago. Because almost every museum was closed on Sunday afternoon, the walking tour I did was pretty short. Luckily the smog also was not very heavy because there was not much traffic. But it was still very noticable from the viewpoints at Santa Lucia and San Christobal.

This pretty much ends my travel blog for my Patagonia trip. I am off to the airport now for my flight back home. Upon popular request and keeping with my tradition I will let you know when the photos are online 😉

PatagoniaVolcanos Everywhere

On 17 January 2008 from Pucón, Chile | comments closed

Tuesday I crossed over into Chile for the last time this trip, as I will be flying home from Santiago. In Osorno I was able get a connecting bus to Puerto Varas, leaving immediately, so that worked out very well. The weather was great in Puerto Varas, so it was perfect to make some photos of volcano Osorno, rising up behind the lake. Besides making photos, I did not do very much in Puerto Varas, as I was there too short to make any of the daytrips. But it was good to relax and update my e-mail.

Wednesday afternoon I took a bus to Pucón, best described as the Chilean Bariloche. Only difference is volcano Villarrica in the background. And for the first time since Buenos Aires the temperature is above 25 degrees again. So it feels like summer as well. Not that I am very keen on high temperatures, but visiting South America in the summer and wearing a polar fleece every day is a bit strange too. Guess I went too far South. But I just love the long daylight hours, for the most part of my trip the sun did not set before 22.00 hours.

But even with these long daylight hours, I had to get up in total darkness on Thursday morning, as we set off at 04.00 hours to climb volcano Villarrica. The first bit of the climb was in the dark, but it got light after we put on all our expedition gear (gaiters, crampons, axe) to cover the icy slope. The climb took over 5 hours at a pretty slow pace, although we had to cover 1400 altitude metres to get to the top at 2847m. From there the views were amazing. The entire Chilean Lake District is dotted with volcanos, hence volcanos everywhere. The way back was a lot of fun, as we basically slided down through the snow at sometimes pretty high speeds. Sliding for grown-ups, pretty cool.

Patagonia7 Lakes Road Trip

On 14 January 2008 from Bariloche, Argentina | comments closed

Sunday afternoon Joanna, Willie and I picked up our Volkswagen Gol 1.6 to drive the 7 Lakes Route to San Martí­n de los Andes. By the way, Gol is not a typo, that really is the name of the car. When we got the car, the rental agency was not even sure if we could drive the unsealed bit of the road today, because it had rained in the morning. But after a quick telephone call they said it was OK, as long as we would drive carefully.

It basically took us all afternoon and evening to drive the 240km from Bariloche to Juní­n de los Andes, where we would stay overnight. This was mainly caused by many “Sunday drivers” on the road, and the fact that the unsealed bit was pretty rough. It was a very scenic road though, and we stopped at some of the 7 Lakes for photos and lunch. The scenic town of San Martí­n de los Andes was the last stop, and we got to Juní­n de los Andes just before dark.

Monday morning Willie and I left Joanna at the bus station in Juní­n de los Andes (she was travelling on to Mendoza), and we checked out some interesting religious statues and the view of the city and surroundings. Afterwards we took Ruta 40 back to Bariloche, which was sealed all the way, so even with some nice stops for photos and lunch, we got back at the end of the afternoon.

Tomorrow I will be leaving Argentina, and crossing into Chile for the last week of my trip. I updated the Itinerary post to reflect this.

PatagoniaRelaxing, Rafting & Biking in Bariloche

On 12 January 2008 from Bariloche, Argentina | comments closed

The morning before an afternoon flight is an ideal time to explore the little museums and attractions a city has to offer. That’s why I went to the Centro de Interpretación Histórica (museum about Patagonia) and Laguna Nimez in El Calafate on Tuesday morning. In the afternoon I had my flight to San Carlos de Bariloche. Only 2 hours delay.

Wednesday was a rainy day in Bariloche, and since most activities here are outdoors, I spent the day at Hostel 41 Below. They must be doing something right, because I planned to stay 3 nights, and ended up staying 6. The reason might be that Bariloche has it all: beautiful surroundings of lakes and mountains, lots of outdoors activities, good chocolate and ice-cream, and a fun nightlife.

Weather-wise Thursday started off bad as well, but in the afternoon it cleared, and Dan, Abbie and I went up to Mt Campanario to enjoy the views and eat some rich cake. In the evening we visited another local bar.

Friday the weather was good, and it made the rafting much more enjoyable. We rafted for over 2 hours on the Rio Manso, with some really nice class III rapids. One rapid we took head on, diving into the wave. Luckily the wetsuits kept us warm, because the water was ice cold. Just before the border with Chile we got out of the water, and had a nice asado (barbeque) in the mountains.

Saturday Joanna and I rented bikes to do the Circuito Chico, a nice 30km bike ride with some good views of the area around Bariloche.

PatagoniaPetito Moreno Glacier

On 7 January 2008 from El Calafate, Argentina | comments closed

After the 5,5-hour bus trip from Puerto Natales (CH) to El Calafate (AR) on Sunday, I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the hostel, and trying to get my flight to Bariloche. It seems it is almost impossible to get a flight with Aerolineas Argentinas. Making a reservation online works fine, but then no possibility to pay is offered, and the reservation is cancelled when no payment is done within 24 hours. So I lost my first reservation, called their office in Chile, got another reservation, but could not pay by phone because they would have no time to process it. I was told I could pay at the airport in El Calafate, so I went through the hassle of getting to and from the airport, only to find out there was no office at the airport, and I still could not pay. At least they extended my reservation and assigned me my prefered window seat. Today I physically went by their office in the city and was finally able to pay for the flight and get the ticket. On to Bariloche tomorrow.

The rest of the day I visited Petito Moreno, South America´s most famous glacier. I can understand why, it is picture perfect and looks much more blue than the glaciers in Antarctica. I spent 2 hours looking at it, waiting for a piece to break off. Unfortunately only very small pieces broke off, but it sure is an active glacier. After the lookout we took a boat across the lake to the south side of the glacier. When the guide was explaining about glaciers, there were actually 2 decent sized pieces that broke off. Of course all attention diverted immediately. After the explanation, we got crampons on and made a 2-hour walk on the glacier. We could see deep blue crevasses, small streams and sinkholes. It was a lot of fun as well to walk on the glacier. To top it off, we had some scotch whiskey with real glacier ice. No surprise everybody was sleeping in the bus on the way back.

PatagoniaTorres del Paine

On 5 January 2008 from Puerto Natales, Chile | comments closed

Freely translated: “Towers of Pain”, but I will get to that part later on. On Tuesday 1 January in the afternoon I took the bus into Torres del Paine National Park, and the catamaran got me the last bit to the Paine Grande Lodge. Before long I decided that roughing it on this trip would refer to the hiking itself, not to dragging around and putting up a tent, or creating warm evening meals. The accommodation and evening meals were provided by the refugios.

It was a good thing I did not start the hiking on 1 January, because it was raining all day long. On Wednesday there were still some showers, but much less. From Paine Grande I hiked to refugio Grey for some coffee and lunch. Along the way there were some good views of glacier Grey. All in all a good introduction day to the park, ended by a nice hot shower and dinner in the lodge.

Thursday would be the longest day: all the way from Paine Grande to refugio Los Cuernos, including the side trip to the Frances Valley lookout. Luckily the weather cleared up and it was dry all day long. The views from the Frances Valley lookout were amazing: 360 degrees of mountains and turqoise blue lakes. But it was a tough day: hiking from 9.00 to 18.00 with only a few short breaks.

Friday I could still feel Thursday’s hike in my legs, but it would be the shortest day, so that helped a bit. Since there were no lookouts between refugio Los Cuernos and refugio El Chileno, it was not the most interesting hike. Weatherwise it was OK: clear blue skies, but very hard winds. I literally almost got blown off the trail, only by holding on to some brushes I managed to prevent it.

Today all made up for it though. I left at 6.30 and reached the Torres del Paine lookout at 8.10. This is one of those places with a very high probability of bad weather, like Milford Sound in New Zealand. But like Milford Sound I had the luck of being there on a day with clear blue skies. Because I left so early I also got the chance to enjoy in it peace, before all the dayhikers arrived. On the way back I kept singing the few lyrics that I know of the song “Perfect Day”. Beautiful view in the morning, only having to walk downhill to the bus, wind in my back, and saying “hola” to everybody walking uphill: it was a perfect day.

PatagoniaHappy New Year from Chile

On 1 January 2008 from Puerto Natales, Chile | comments closed

My last day in Ushuaia (Saturday) I basically spent checking e-mail, updating this blog, downloading the data from my GPS travel recorder, getting very frustrated with the slow computers in internet cafes, and sending the now traditional New Year’s e-mail. In the evening I had dinner with Yannis, Aspasia, Michael and Patricia. It did not get very late though, since everyone was still quite tired from the Antarctica trip, and I had to catch a bus to Chile early in the morning.

For a trip that was originally intended to be Chile only, it has taken me a long time to actually get to Chile. Sunday was the day I finally crossed the border into Chile, after quite a long drive through no-man’s-land between Argentina and Chile. The luxurious bus journey between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas also made me realise how far away Ushuaia actually is. More than 100km of the road was still unsealed, leading through the empty and windy Patagonian tundra.

Monday the same bus company brought me from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, gateway to Torres del Paine National Park, the main reason for me to travel to Chile. I had gotten very worried about being able to get non-tent accommodation, since e-mailing the various companies and travel advisors had not resulted in a confirmed booking. However, when I went to a local travel agency in Puerto Natales, everything was settled within half an hour. Quite a relief. I immediately arranged the bus to El Calafate, as well as accommodation there and in Bariloche. All according the the Itinerary in another post. In the afternoon I also had some drinks with Pieter and Eva, whom I met in the local supermarket (it’s a small world).

New Year’s Eve a BBQ was organised by the hostel, complete with a campfire with the traditional Patagonian lamb. It was a good and relaxed atmosphere with more than enough alcohol. Anticipating this I got my bus to Torres del Paine today in the afternoon. The next 4,5 days I will be hiking in the national park.

PatagoniaAntarctica 2

On 29 December 2007 from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

Early Monday morning we sailed through the Lemaire Channel on the M/V Antarctic Dream. It is a very narrow and scenic channel, but the weather was too foggy to see much of it. The first landing was at Yalour Islands, where we got to see the adélie penguins, that we had not seen before. In the afternoon we did a zodiac tour among some large icebergs near Pléneau Island. Even after a few days in Antarctica, it was still amazing to see these huge blocks of ice. We even managed to see a leopard seal sleeping peacefully on one of them. In the afternoon we went back through Lemaire Channel, and this time the sky was clear, and the scenery was breathtaking. In the evening we anchoraged at Port Lockroy, the UK base-turned-museum.

On Christmas Day (Tuesday) morning we did a landing at Jougla Point first, watching more penguins, but also some cormorants, a crabeater seal and some large whale bones. Then a zodiac took us to Goudier Island, where Base A of the UK was located. Bransfield House is now Antarctica’s most popular museum (17.000 visitors in 2006/2007). It also has the largest souvenir shop, and since all proceeds go to preservation of Antarctic heretage, I decided to buy an overpriced polar fleece here.

Christmas Day afternoon we tried to get to Enterprise Island, but there was still quite some ice in Wilhelmina Bay. That did not stop our expedition leader, and we moved through the ice until we got stuck, moving back, and trying again. After 5 attempts we had created 400m long canal through the ice, but it was decided to abort there, and move on with the expedition. A white Christmas was basically created by almost completely surrounding the ship by ice. And being on an ice-breaking ship was really cool, since there are not that many ships able to do this in the first place. Before the M/V Antarctic Dream became an Antarctic Expeditions vessel, it served in the Chilean Navy, and therefore has a extra-strenghtened hull. After cocktails in the evening, we had our Christmas dinner with the new friends during the trip, very nice.

Wednesday we arrived at Deception Island, one of the world’s safest natural harbours, even though it is still volcanically active. We did the most difficult landing so far, because it was very windy and we landed on a sandy beach. That meant the waves were getting into the zodiac while we were landing, and I got some icy water into my left boot. Luckily that dried up during the hike onto the hill overlooking Telefon Bay. From the hill we could see the landscape formed by the recent eruptions. The waves hitting the zodiac on the way back were even worse, and this time my right foot got all wet. It is a good thing the hot showers on the ship are working perfectly, since it is the best way to become warm after a cold landing. They would also have come in handy after the planned swim at Pendulum Cove, and everybody was really looking forward to a swim in thermally heated water in the Antarctic. Unfortunately there was still too much ice to reach it.

On Thursday the Drake Passage was quite OK again to the point where an engine room tour was organised. You could really tell the people working there were proud of their work, because everything was very clean. The rest of the day I spent sorting out my photos, making sure to type everything in before I would forget it. Friday morning I got up at 6AM to see Cape Horn, the Southermost point of South America.

On Friday evening the expedition leader gave a recap, and after that we had some cocktails and a large farewell dinner. As had become usual, there was way more food than anyone could eat. Since we already arrived in Ushuaia in the evening, we got off the ship after dinner and went to a few bars. It was early in the morning when we arrived back on the ship, allowing only a few hours of sleep before breakfast and checkout. It was a good end to an amazing trip.

PatagoniaAntarctica 1

On from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

On Wednesday 19 December I left the Ushuaia harbour onboard the M/V Antarctic Dream, ready for an Antarctic Expedition. I was one of 69 passengers onboard, varying in age between 14 and 80, but with more younger people than I expected. A great deal of the time seemed to revolve around food: breakfast in the morning, 4 courses for lunch, and 4 courses again for dinner. It is a good thing the portions were relatively small, otherwise I would be leaving the ship with quite a few extra pounds. After getting to know most people onboard a little, I ended up having most dinners together with Michael (Swiss), Patricia (Swiss), Yannis (Greek), Aspasia (Greek) and Shani (Israeli/American/British), all aged between 28 and 32. We had quite a few good laughs together.

It took us until Friday afternoon to cross the Drake Passage, 1000km of Southern Ocean separating South America and Antarctica. We had a very good crossing, with only some china breaking. During the day we had lectures onboard about the penguins, birds, and ice of Antarctica. We got the first sight of Antarctica when huge tabular icebergs passed by in the distance, simply amazing to see. Since we crossed much faster than planned, we already did a zodiac landing in the late afternoon. This meant getting dressed really warm with waterproof clothes and a lifevest on top, stepping into the zodiac from the ship, and out of the zodiac in shallow water. The first landing was absolutely amazing: seeing chinstrap penguins in their real environment for the first time, watching the pristine beauty of uninhabited, snow-covered islands, walking through knee-deep snow, and feeling very small admidst all this.

Saturday consisted of a landing on Aitcho Islands, where we got very lucky to see not only the very common gentoo penguin, but also the uncommon macaroni penguin and king penguin. On top of that there was an entire group of elephant seals. This first two landings were on the South Shetland islands, and it took the remainder of the day to get to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Sunday was a full day with 3 landings. The first one at Neko Harbor, where besides the obvious penguins, there also was a crabeater seal. The main attraction was the huge glacier, and I basically sat on a rock for 2 hours watching it. During that time a few small pieces broke off and plunged into the water, but I felt something big was about to happen. When it was almost time to go, a huge piece of the glacier broke off with a thunderous roar, and it plunged into the water. That meant running for my life, because the resulting wave completely flooded the rock I was sitting on. A unique experience. On the way back I walked down the hill a bit too enthousiastically, and fell down on my knee, which hurt quite a bit.

The second landing on Sunday afternoon was at Waterboat Point, where the Chilean Presidente Gabriel González Videla Station is located. The station was surrounded by a penguin colony, and because of the sheltered location, the smell here was much worse than at the other locations. The station had a small museum and souvenir shop (nothing of interest there). It is hard to imagine how people could spend the winter in these small bases with no supply ship for 6 months, and nothing but bitter cold and snow.

On Sunday evening we did the third landing of that day. Cuverville Island was the location, and there was supposed to be a view from the 275m hill. However, it was quite cloudy and because my knee was still hurting, I decided not to do the hike. Instead, I just sat down among the penguins, and watched them waggle by and approach me slowly. Very funny to see.

PatagoniaFrom Antarctica Hostel to Antarctic Dream

On 19 December 2007 from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

After booking my trip to Antarctica on Monday, the first thing I did was buying the Lonely Planet of Antarctica (yes, there is one, although the first backpacker has yet to be spotted). It proved to provide quite a lot of useful information though.

Tuesday I had time to do another hike to Cerro del Medio, starting from the Antarctica Hostel in Ushuaia. While it was quite warm in the city, there was a freezing wind coming from the mountain, once I had passed the treeline. But the views over the city were amazing. The somewhat tropical sounding Laguna Margot proved to be a half-frozen lake, so that was my cue to go back.

On Wednesday I did some last-minute shopping for my trip, and visited the End of the World Museum, and the Prison/Naval Museum. Perfect ways to spend a rainy day, before boarding the Antarctic Dream late afternoon.

PatagoniaItinerary

On from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

After more than one week on the road, I guess it is time for a bit of an itinerary for both myself and everybody else. This is a post that will get updated, so check it again and again and again…

Date Overnight Transport
09/12/2007 Iberia Flight AMS-EZE
10/12/2007 Buenos Aires
11/12/2007 Buenos Aires
12/12/2007 Buenos Aires Ferry Uruguay
13/12/2007 Ushuaia Flight AEP-USH
14/12/2007 Ushuaia
15/12/2007 Ushuaia
16/12/2007 Ushuaia
17/12/2007 Ushuaia
18/12/2007 Ushuaia
19/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
20/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
21/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
22/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
23/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
24/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
25/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
26/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
27/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
28/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
29/12/2007 Ushuaia
30/12/2007 Punta Arenas Bus Ushuaia-Punta Arenas
31/12/2007 Puerto Natales Bus Punta Arenas-Puerto Natales
01/01/2008 Torres del Paine
02/01/2008 Torres del Paine
03/01/2008 Torres del Paine
04/01/2008 Torres del Paine
05/01/2008 Puerto Natales
06/01/2008 El Calafate Bus Puerto Natales-El Calafate
07/01/2008 El Calafate
08/01/2008 Bariloche Flight FTE-BRC
09/01/2008 Bariloche
10/01/2008 Bariloche
11/01/2008 Bariloche
12/01/2008 Bariloche
13/01/2008 Juní­n de los Andes Car Rental
14/01/2008 Bariloche Car Rental
15/01/2008 Puerto Varas Bus Bariloche-Puerto Varas
16/01/2008 Pucón Bus Puerto Varas-Pucón
17/01/2008 Pucón
18/01/2008 Pucón-Viña del Mar
19/01/2008 Viña del Mar
20/01/2008 Santiago Bus Viña del Mar-Santiago
21/01/2008 Iberia Flight SCL-AMS

PatagoniaBeyond the Edge of the World

On 18 December 2007 from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

After spending some days in Ushuaia and checking out various travel agencies, I have decided to go for the once-in-a-lifetime adventure. It is quite expensive, but it is not likely that I will get another chance to go there anytime soon. After all, the End of the World is not next door, and going there any other time would require the extra cost of the flight from Europe to Ushuaia. Also, this way I am certain to have a white Christmas 😉

From 19 to 29 December I will be on the Antarctic Dream visiting the white continent: Antarctica. There will be no communication during this time, as it is either impossible or very very expensive. I will be back in Ushuaia for one day after the trip before continuing on to Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.

PatagoniaHorse & Hike Weekend

On 17 December 2007 from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

This weekend I enjoyed the unusually good weather in Ushuaia. On Saturday morning Thomas, Nora, Rahel and I went horseback riding for 2 hours. It was great way to explore the beautiful scenery. The horseback riding was pretty easy as well, although I got the horse with quite a strong character, who clearly could not be bothered too much with my instructions. Luckily he was also very careful and gentle, getting me dry through a 1 meter deep river at the end. If only sitting down afterwards could feel better…

Saturday afternoon Willem, Nora and I walked around the harbour a little bit, before I spent hours waiting at travel agencies to try to book a bus that I could not book from Ushuaia. That means I am still planning the rest of my trip. Discussions with fellow travellers here are helping a lot because most have already been north. It is therefore much easier to make a realistic schedule over here.

On Sunday Rahel and I went to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, and we got dropped off at literally the end of the road. From there one can travel 17.848 km by road to Alaska (still high on my destination list as well). It was also the starting point of a nice 5-hour hike through forests and along bays and lakes, with always snow-capped mountains in the distance.

PatagoniaBig City Party & Southernmost City

On 15 December 2007 from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

From my last post you may have gotten the idea that I am not all that positive about Buenos Aires, which is not entirely true. The city is just too big for me. But the last night was really great. By an ex-colleague of my girlfriend I got invited to a big (1500 people) party of the TV-station Canal Trece. That was a lot of fun: live artists, good music, nice people, lots of foods, Champagne-Red Bull mixes, need I say more?

I almost got no sleep that night because my flight to Ushuaia was leaving Thursday morning at 05.45. I was able to sleep a little bit in the plane, but I was still quite beat Thursday night. Luckily I am staying in one the nicest hostels in Argentina, with a very good atmosphere.

Ushuaia really has an end-of-the-world feel. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, it is a long way from anywhere, and relatively close to Antarctica (only 1000km). Therefore I spent Thursday afternoon looking into last-minute cruises to Antarctica. Unfortunately there is almost no availability because the Explorer (one of the larger ships) sank at the beginning of the season. That also increased prices again, so the last-minute prices are not the good deals of the previous seasons. It is not making the decision any easier though.

On Friday Nora, Rahel and I made a hike to the Glaciar Martial, a glacier quite close to the city centre of Ushuaia. However, it still took us some 4,5 hours to get to the glacier through a very muddy forest. Not feeling like doing that again on the way back, we took the chairlift, and did not even have to pay for it because they closed the checkout 😉 Not surprisingly, I did get slightly sunburned, but that was because of this darn weather here with clouds and sun alternating every minute, and the snow on the glacier.

PatagoniaDaytrip to Uruguay

On 13 December 2007 from Buenos Aires, Argentina | comments closed

Buenos Aires is one of those cities where you can see the main tourist sights in 2-3 days. A lot of travellers hang around for a lot longer, but that is usually to take an extensive Spanish course or tango lessons, for which BsAs is the place to be. If you are not into those things, or simply do not have the time for it, and if you are not really a big city person (that would be the third reason to stay), then it is nice to get out of the city after some days.

That is pretty much what I did. On my arrival day I checked out the nice suburb of Recoleta and a bit of the city centre. On the morning of the second day I toke in most of the sights of the city centre. In the afternoon I met up with an ex-colleague and we had some coffee on the Plaza de la Mayo (his office is on the square, quite nice). Afterwards I walked a bit through the San Telmo area, and went to the suburb of Palermo in the evening, but most things were actually closed by then.

After waking up early again (that is the only disadvantage of sleeping right in the city centre with the window on the street side), I took the fast boat from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento on the third day. Colonia is an old, small, attractive little town in Uruguay, only one hour by fast boat from BsAs. I explored the museums and had a big late lunch at the quiet main square, before going back to busy, noisy, polluted BsAs.

PatagoniaSummer in the City

On 11 December 2007 from Buenos Aires, Argentina | comments closed

The perfect way to avoid the cold, rainy and short winter days of the Netherlands, is to fly to the summer. It only takes 14 hours of flight time (2 hours for AMS-MAD & 12 hours for MAD-EZE) to be in Buenos Aires. But if the captain would have turned back halfway, and flewn back to Madrid, I may not have noticed the difference. Buenos Aires looks a lot like Madrid: huge European-style buildings, everything in Spanish, activity at all times of the day, and there is even a C&A here. The main differences so far are the word Argentina on all license plates, and the fact that the metro doors and windows can be opened at all times, even when it is running.

The first day in Buenos Aires I spent sightseeing the city. It seemed they prepared the place especially for me: lots of rain before I arrived, so the streets were all clean when I got here, and sunny weather with maximum temperatures of 26 to 30 degrees ever since. They also already named a street after me: Guido is obviously a long street with nice houses in the better part of the city (Recoleta). I am not attaching special meaning to the fact that it ends at a cemetery, but it must be said that it is the poshest and most known cemetery of the city.

I decided to make a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay tomorrow, since it is only 1 hour by fast boat from Buenos Aires. And otherwise I will never get my passport full with stamps before expiry.

PatagoniaTo the End of the World

On 25 November 2007 from Amsterdam, Netherlands | comments closed

Ever since I saw photos of Torres del Paine in Patagonian Chile I have wanted to go there. It must have something to do with a subconscious preference for remote locations. After all, the places I liked most in Australia were Karijini National Park and the Kimberley, both in the remote north of Western Australia. Since it takes over 24 hours of travelling time to get there, it is not a destination for a short trip. Therefore I have been saving my holidays to be able to go the decent time of 6 weeks.

On 9/10 December Iberia will take me from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires. There I will spend 3 days, before LAN takes me to Ushuaia, the southernmost city on earth. Literally the End of the World. From there I will make my way north to Santiago, from where Iberia will bring me back to Amsterdam on 21/22 January.

In the map below some of the places I intend to visit are marked: the already mentioned Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Torres del Paine, but also Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Puerto Montt, Bariloche, Puyehue Volcano and Valparaiso. I have no predefined route between these places, but will decide as I go along. Watch this website for updates, or subscribe to my RSS feed (I can recommend iGoogle with the Google Reader gadget).

Center
Travels Patagonia

Traveller IQ Challenge

On 11 November 2007 from Amsterdam, Netherlands | comments closed

Although I have primarily used this blog for my travel stories, I do not want to withold you the following internet game. The Traveller IQ Challenge is a very addictive way of showing your knowledge of this world. And of course it offers the opportunity to compare scores. My personal Traveller IQ is 118, try to beat that!

Routes in Google Maps & Website Update

On 30 September 2007 from Amsterdam, Netherlands | comments closed

To allow an accurate display of my routes in Google Maps, I modified the Gallery 2 Google Maps Plugin to allow the display of KMZ files in my photo gallery. For two albums it is now possible to view the route I traversed:

I also brought my website fully up-to-date with the latest open-source scripts [updated 28 October 2007 & 25 November 2007]:

VariousCruisin’ Central Europe

On 2 September 2007 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

What to do when one gets to switch cars and drive a Renault Mégane CC convertible for 4 weeks? A lot of cruising! Whenever I had the chance, I opened the roof on the way to work in Utrecht and Brussels. The only weekend with nice weather we went to the Belgium coast, cruising to Oostende and back to Amsterdam through Zeeland. But the Netherlands and Belgium are not the best cruising countries, with boring straight highways, and generally bad weather, especially this summer.

So I planned a 9-day trip through the foothills of the Alps, all the way to Slovakia. It gave me a chance to explore some of the sights of Central Europe that I had always wanted to visit: Mount Säntis (Switzerland), Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany), Mount Kehlstein in Berchtesgaden (Germany), and Bratislava (Slovakia). On Saturday 11 August I took off on my journey with the drive to Jacobsbad in Switzerland. There I put up my new 3-second tent on a campsite. Next day I drove to Schwägalp, where the funicular railway to the top of Mount Säntis starts. The town was totally overrrun with Swiss watching the Schwägalp Schwinget, a Swiss wrestling competition. I made a 4-hour hike over the rocky top of Mount Säntis before returning down, and watching part of the competition as well.

On Monday I cruised the Swiss country roads to Liechtenstein. When I asked a local girl about the things to see, she answered me it was only the shopping in the capital Vaduz. At that time I understood the reason I had never been to the Principality of Liechtenstein before: there is simply nothing to do and see in this valley between the mountains of Switzerland and Austria. So I continued my cruise, and drove the German country roads to Schwangau, where I put up my tent at the Bannwaldsee.

Tuesday I drove the short distance to Hohenschwangau, where the Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castle are located. Neuschwanstein Castle is the major drawing card of this area, a fairytale castle with a superb location in the Bavarian hills. The castle was built by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as a homage to Richard Wagner, the King’s inspiring muse. The castle was close to completion when Ludwig died in 1886, shortly after he was declared insane. It is the most photographed building in Germany and is one of Germany’s most popular tourist destinations. Luckily I already reserved my tickets online, so I did not have to queue up there. With the accuracy only found in Germany and Switzerland the tours started exactly on time, and gave a good overview of both castles. After these visits I cruised through the busy tourist town to another tourist town: Berchtesgaden. Since I was only spending one night there I got myself a room in a small pension. In the evening I visited Schönau am Königssee, a small village located next to Germany’s deepest and most scenic lake.

Berchtesgaden is a town with a dark history, since it was home of the Southern Headquarters of the NSDAP, Hitler’s political party. A large mansion (the Berghof) was built for the leader with a huge panorama window offering a great view of the mountainous surroundings. Unfortunately the Berghof was destroyed by the Allies at the end of the second World War. Preserved was the Kehlsteinhaus, also known as Eagle’s Nest, on top of Mount Kehlstein. This tea house with amazing views was constructed for Hitler’s 50th birthday, but he rarely visited it. To get there, a new road was constructed in 13 months, as well as a 124m tunnel in the mountain, leading to an elevator taking the visitor 124m up to the Kehlsteinhaus. The great surroundings would be reason enough to visit Berchtesgaden. However, I also wrote an essay about it in elementary school, and since then I have always wanted to visit the place. That is exactly what I did on Wednesday morning. First I visited part of the Documentation Obersalzberg museum with exhibits on the mountain and the Nazi era. Although interesting, I got anxious to get up to the Kehlsteinhaus. The long queues in front of the ticket office showed I was not the only one. Four buses at a time are going up, and four are going down, crossing halfway where the road is wide enough. From the parking lot at the top I walked through the granite tunnel and got into the brass elevator up to the Kehlsteinhaus. The views were indeed amazing. Afterwards I visited the remainder of Documentation Obersalzberg before cruising through Austria to Bratislava, capital of Slovakia.

After the breakfast buffet at the 4-star hotel (I like some variation in accommodation) on Thursday morning I took the bus to the city centre. There I explored the Castle, Michael Tower, and wandered around the old city centre. The sunny day and the terraces in the streets gave the city a really nice charm. I stayed in the city centre till late, because in the evening there was a festival with bands playing a various locations, giving the city a very lively atmosphere. Friday morning I went to Devín Castle with two Polish friends who just arrived in the city. We wandered around the castle ruins, and enjoyed some demonstrations that were part of a festival at the castle. After I brought them back to Bratislava, I crossed Austria again to return to Berchtesgaden. After all, Berchtesgaden had more to offer than a visit to the Obersalzberg.

Saturday morning I climbed up Mount Jenner, enjoying the views of the Berchtesgadener Land for an hour. To reward my exercise, I went to the Watzmann Thermen, where I relaxed in the thermal pools and saunas. In the evening I enjoyed the German food once more in a beautifully decorated restaurant on the Buchenhöhe. Sunday I spent all day driving back home, completing the 3100km cruise through Central Europe.

Photo Albums in Google Maps

On 30 June 2007 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

In line with my previous post where I created a Google Earth map of my travels Down Under, I now installed the Gallery 2 Google Maps Plugin. This plugin can display the location of an album or photo in my photo gallery.

This weekend I tagged each existing album with the most befitting location. Go check out my Google Map.

Of course I would like to have the GPS coordinates of each photo that I take. To accomplish this, I just ordered the Qstarz BT-Q1000, a travel recorder that can log the GPS coordinates of my photos. And I can use it as a regular GPS receiver to navigate with my Nokia N73.

Down UnderMap of my Travels Down Under

On 3 June 2007 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

I know it has been a while since I made my 11,5-month trip to South-East Asia, Australia & New Zealand, but I finally managed get a good start on a map of all my travels. Google Earth is a really nice utility to do this. And Google Maps allows me to show the maps directly in my website. So here you go: a complete map of my travels in Australia [Updated 7 July 2007].

Center
Travels Oz

Website Update 2007

On 14 April 2007 from Amsterdam, Netherlands | comments closed

Almost a year has passed since the last major website update, and now the time has come to compare the script version numbers. Actually I think I have upgraded the technical side of my website more often in the past year than the content side. Not a good thing, but then again there has not happened a lot in the last year outside of the work arena. At least the website still contains all my online photos, from France in 1997 via Australia in 2004 to Ukraine in 2006. The same goes for my travel stories: from Canada in 2001 via Australia in 2004 to Ukraine in 2006, it is all there. And new technologies make it easier than ever to publish new stories and upload new photos. Time is the real bottleneck now. But it is certain that website is never really finished, there can always be more content, as well as technical and visual improvements.

So here we go now, the current state of technology [updated 18 May 2007 & 22 June 2007]:

VariousEgypt: Life of the Kings

On 21 November 2006 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

It was early in the morning of Friday 10 November 2006 when Arno and I boarded an LTU-flight from Düsseldorf to Sharm el-Sheikh. For both of us it would be the first time in Egypt, and aside from a hostel for the first nights, a trip to Mt Sinai and a 3-day diving liveaboard, nothing was booked. Package tours simply do not accommodate for the combination of Egyptian culture and a diving liveaboard. Backpacking and finding our way ourselves is much more fun anyway, and we are both used to it from our experiences in Australia.

The first Egyptian experience was climbing Mt Sinai, where Moses received the ten commandments. It required another early rise, as we were gonna watch the sunrise from Mt Sinai. Walking uphill (over 1000m altitude difference) for over 2 hours, in the dark, smelling camels: the sacrifices one makes for a good photo. But the views were spectacular, and afterwards we explored St Catherine’s Monastery.

Back in Sharm el-Sheikh, we were the first passengers to arrive for the 3-day diving liveaboard. The 25m yacht was very luxurious, and the 9 crew could cater for the wishes of 12 passengers. But once onboard, we discovered that we were the only passengers! Apparently no one else had booked the trip, and it was guaranteed departure. It truly was the luxury life of Kings: our equipment was taken care of, we could choose the diving spots (not that we had the knowledge, so we let the crew decide), and had a private divemaster on all dives. Altogether we made 10 dives in 3 days at all the great spots of the Northern Red Sea, including the Dunraven and the Thistlegorm.

After the diving trip, we had another day in Sharm el-Sheikh that we spend relaxing on the beach, snorkelling and shopping. After all, diving is quite exhausting. Pretty much all of the next day was spent in the bus to Cairo, that included the tunnel under the Suez Canal. In Cairo we had no problem finding a centrally located, affordable hostel.

In the morning of our first full day in Cairo we visited the pyramids of Giza. Being the only remaining ancient world wonder, their size and construction could not be more impressive. It was good to be on the site when it opened, because the pyramids are completely overrun by tourists. That was not the case for the sites we visited in the afternoon: Saqqara and Dahshur. We hired a taxi to bring us to these destinations, and in Dahshur we almost had the site to ourselves, while the pyramids there were only slightly less impressive than the ones at Giza. Altogether we climbed into the burial chamber of 3 large pyramids. This room deep inside the pyramid is where the mummified Kings enjoyed their afterlife.

The second full day in Cairo we explored the treasures of the Egyptian museum. The amount of ancient items it was stuffed with was simply unbelievable. Our last full day in Cairo was spent in the old Islamic centre of the city. We visited the Citadel and the Mohammed Ali mosque (not related to the fighter). On our way to the next mosque we managed to get lost in the small streets, but found our way eventually. And a visit to Cairo would not be complete without being ripped off at Ibn Tulun mosque, where we paid for the free access to the tower.

We took the night train to Luxor, and after checking in at the centrally located hostel we went to the Amun Temple in Karnak. This impressive site includes a great hall of huge columns, still standing tall. On our second day in Luxor we booked an organized trip to Thebes, visiting the Collossi of Memnon, Valley of the Queens, Valley of the Kings and Deir al-Bahri. Late afternoon we explored Luxor Temple, and returned there in the evening to make some nice night photos.

Because we had another full day in Luxor, and only visited 3 tombs in the Valley of the Kings, we returned to Thebes on our last day in Luxor. There we rented bikes and biked to the Valley of the Kings, Medinat Habu and Old Gurna, where the lesser known tombs of the Nobles are located. In these tombs we got a private tour from the tomb guardians, one even showing how the tombs could be lighted using mirrors reflecting the sunlight. Late afternoon we did a short camel ride along the river, our visit to Egypt would not be complete without one.

Most of the second last day was spent in the bus to Hurghada. This must have been one of the slowest bus trips I ever made. The 280km took over 6 hours! I guess the large number of stops did not help, including a long break in the middle of the desert. At the last day of the trip we spent a few hours on the beach of a Hurghada hotel, where we realized how good it was not to have booked a package trip. It would have been fairly impossible to have a more varied trip.

Website Update 2006

On 24 April 2006 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

The last widely published update of claessen.ca dates back to June 2002, almost 4 years ago! In the meantime I have also created “oz.claessen.ca: Guido’s Down Under Experiences” for my trip to Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. This site consisted basically of a blog (pMachine) and photo gallery (Gallery). This is the way to go, as static websites are just too inconvenient to update. But it also caused my website to become split in my ordinary website (static & photo gallery) and my Down Under website (blog & photo gallery). This became even worse when I started to test Gallery2 (the ultimate photo gallery script), and uploaded new photos there.

So here we go now, a brand new website, based on the following scripts:

These version numbers are the current state of web technology. It will be interesting to see how things develop from now on. In my opinion open source technologies have really matured, resulting in less frequent releases with more new features that have been tested more thoroughly. Gallery for sure has come a long way since I discovered it in 2001.

VariousUkraine 2: L’viv

On 19 April 2006 from L’viv, Ukraine | comments closed

The initial plan of my 1-week trip to Ukraine consisted of Kiev with a daytrip to Chernobyl, and L’viv with a daytrip into the mountains. The first was too popular during the time I was there, the second too unpopular. It was basically too early in the season to go into the mountains, as everything would be too muddy. So I had over 2,5 days to spend in L’viv, which left me enough time to wander aimlessly around the city, and enjoy the nice weather from a park bench. L’viv is a much smaller city than Kiev, but it is loved by Ukrainians for its charm. The comparison with Krakow is pushing it though.

Having enough time to spend, I visited pretty much all interesting places: Rynok Square, Castle Hill, Lychakivsky Cemetery, Museum of Folk Architecture & Life, and of course the obligatory church and cathedral. In terms of nightlife, L’viv is definitely not the place to go (unlike Kiev). It does make for some nice daytime exploring for a day and a half. And having a 30 USD/night room in the beautiful George Hotel in the middle of the city is a luxury not enjoyed for that price in Kiev.

VariousUkraine 1: Kiev

On 16 April 2006 from Kiev, Ukraine | comments closed

Early 2006 I found myself with the luxury problem of having over 15.000 Miles & More frequent flyer miles, the majority of which were expiring 30 April 2006. Not wanting them to go sour, I figured they would be most valuable on the most expensive regular flights. Since Lufthansa does not fly to Reykjavik (Iceland), and both Moscow and Saint Petersburg require expensive and time consuming visa procedures, that only left Ukraine in my opinion. The president of this former Soviet-state has a Dutch wive, and therefore Dutchmen do not require a visa anymore.

That is how I ended up boarding a small plane with mainly business travellers going from Düsseldorf to Kiev. There I managed to find my way with public transport to a small hostel, and needed all my Russian skills to get the right train ticket to L’viv. (Un)fortunately I already found out before the trip that it was not possible to book a daytrip to Chernobyl. Yes, there are daytrips to the radioactive wasteland surrounding the exploded nuclear reactor. It is deemed safe enough for a day, as long as you stay on the roads of the deserted towns and countryside, where the radiation has washed away. Wandering around in the bush is not recommended. However, since the meltdown happened on 26 April 1986, all the daytrips were sold out to journalists wanting to write the story of “Chernobyl, 20 years later”.

Not having my daytrip to Chernobyl left me over 3 full days to explore Kiev, which is more than enough. I went to all the highlights of the city: the large monastery complex of Pecherska Lavra, the tanks and other military equipment of the Great Patriotic War Museum, St Michael’s Monastery, St Sophia’s Cathedral, various city parks, the huge arch of the Friendship of Nations Monument, and Independance Square. The last is the center of the city where the orange revolution took place. It is also the place where I met up with some students and alumni of ESTIEM local group Kiev. That is the good thing about being an member of an European student organisation: knowing people in most major European cities. I went to have a drink with them one evening, and explored Kiev one afternoon together with Lena.

Overall Kiev was a lot more modern than I expected. The Lada’s so commonly seen in Moscow and Saint Petersburg were a rarity (it may also have to do with the fact that the last time I was in Russia was in 2003). Nevertheless, those two cities are the ones that come closest to my impression of Kiev. The metro system is very efficient and very deep (the fast escalators of one metro station needed 5 minutes to bring me up), just like Saint Petersburg. In one thing Kiev seems to beat the Russian cities though: the percentage of women wearing stiletto heels, I have never seen so many as in Kiev.

VariousSightseeing Rush & New Year in Poland

On 4 January 2006 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

On Tuesday 27 December 2005 I drove to Cologne to board my Germanwings flight. A few hours later I arrived in Krakow, where Magda picked me up from the airport. We explored the city and had dinner at a typical Polish restaurant, before driving to Katowice. At Magda’s aunt and uncle’s house we had some more dinner while snow started to fall. Later that evening we joined the birthday party of a Polish girl who set up a language school. Definitely a rushed first day.

Wednesday was a bit more relaxed with sleeping late, having a long breakfast and waiting for a ride to the Katowice bus terminal. There we got in a bus to Oswiecim, better known under the German name of Auschwitz. Since we arrived mid-afternoon, and the museum (the former concentration camp is now a large museum) closed at 3 PM, we only had the chance to see Auschwitz I. This is the oldest and smallest concentration camp with good exhibitions about the atrocities commited. Seeing this historic place with the infamous “arbeit macht frei” gate covered in snow (it was still snowing) was very moving. On one side it became imaginable how cold and hard it must have been in winter, on the other side it was difficult to look beyond the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of the present. But as George Santayana once said: “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”

After this moving experience we got a bus back to Krakow, where Magda walked around Wawel Castle, before taking a night train to Gdansk. The 650 km journey took some 9 hours, and we arrived pretty tired in Gdansk. There we explored the city centre with its rebuilt Hanseatic houses for a short time, since the constantly falling snow was not making the sightseeing any easier. Gdansk was not the main destination here, but Malbork, some 40 minutes by train from Gdansk was. Malbork houses Poland’s largest castle, and we spent the entire afternoon sightseeing the place. In the evening we got on a train to Lodz, but it broke down half way. So there we were, in a small Polish village, -15 degrees Celcius, in the dark, waiting besides a broken train. Luckily within the hour another train arrived, and with a stopover we managed to get to Lodz right after midnight. So far for the rushed part of this trip.

Friday I got the chance to sleep late in Lodz, since all we had to do was get to the forest cabin before dark. That turned out to be quite a challenge after all, since road conditions were terrible because of the continuous snowfall (there was now some 30 cm of snow), and the bad connections to the forest cabin. Magda, Ashka, and I travelled together from Lodz to a place where we got into a taxi to the edge of the forest, and from there the forest ranger brought us to our cabin. The cabin “Kobyle Blota” is beautifully located in the middle of the forest, but there is no electricity, gas or running water. So we had to use candles for lighting, cut wood for heating and cooking, and get water from the well. But there was plenty of food, lots of alcohol and a great atmosphere. Altogether there were some 12 people staying in the cabin, and I was the only non-Polish, so I could not always follow the conversations, but enough to join in the fun.

On Saturday 31 December 2005 we prepared for the New Year’s party. We decorated “Kobyle Blota” as well as we could, and cut lots of wood for heating. We also helped the forest ranger with feeding the wild boars. The snow had stopped falling, and the forest was absolutely magical with 40 cm of snow on the ground and all the branches of the trees covered with snow. A great place to start the new year. The party in the evening was a lot of fun, with large amounts of food and alcohol, and even some fireworks at midnight. When it comes to New Year: the most unusual places are definitely the best.

1 January 2006 was a day of resting, packing, cleaning, and leaving. We all helped cleaning the cabin, and clearing snow from the road to the cabin. The drive out of the forest was rather slow, because a Polish father was pulling six kids on sleds with the towball of his car. A lot of fun for the kids, but probably forbidden in Western Europe. At the main road we took a taxi to the nearest train station, where I said my goodbye’s to Magda and Ashka. They were going back to Lodz, and I went on to Warsaw. In Warsaw I checked in at the “Oki Doki” hostel, and walked the city a bit. Especially the largest and tallest building of Poland was pretty impressive: the Palace of Culture and Science. This huge Soviet building was a gift from the Soviet Union and now the Polish do not really know what to do with it, so they light it up like a Christmas tree. It makes for excellent photographs at night.

I spent my last day in Poland exploring the city centre of Warsaw. Unfortunately the Royal Castle (the main attraction) was closed, so I had enough time to get to the airport for my flight. When I returned at Cologne/Bonn airport my car was waiting for me, with only 25 euro in parking charges. After this short and rushed visit of the Polish highlights, I certainly have to return to Poland on a more in-depth trip.

NepalBackstreets to Back Home

On 25 October 2005 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

Monday was the last day in Kathmandu, and since we had our flight in the evening, it was almost a full day to spend in the city. So after packing my bags, I roamed the backstreets of Kathmandu, with my Lonely Planet in one hand and my camera in the other. Even though it was in Kathmandu and people there are used to tourists, in some of these places I felt like I was the attraction. During travelling, that’s a good thing. I walked all the way to Durban Square, where I watched the activity from a high temple. Afterwards I did some last-minute shopping (got a nice soft-shell fleece jacket).

In the evening the entire group (things had been pretty individual in Kathmandu) went back to the airport, where we checked in. Unfortunately the airline would not label our bags all the way to Amsterdam, so when we got to Heathrow half an hour too late, we had to pick up our bags, go through customs and check in a different terminal. I guess it will come to no surprise when I say that we were too late for our flight. Luckily we got seats on the next bmi flight to Amsterdam, only 2 hours later. From Schiphol to my home town I took the train, and the Dutch railways decided to make my journey even longer by not having trains between Amsterdam and Utrecht. So I had to go through Amersfoort, and missed my connection in Roermond. After 28 hours of travelling I finally arrived home, exhausted from the trip, but full of new impressions and experiences.

NepalMt Everest & Temples

On 23 October 2005 from Kathmandu, Nepal | comments closed

The last long bus trip from Sauraha (near Royal Chitwan N.P.) to Kathmandu was a fine 5,5-hour ride. I’m amazed with the driving skills of our driver, since the roads here are literally packed with almost every mode of transportation imaginable: pedestrians, bikers, rickshaws, 3-wheel minibuses, minibuses, buses, trucks and normal cars. And overtaking traffic in blind bends seems to be the rule rather than the dangerous exception it is in Europe.

The remainder of Saturday I spent relaxing a bit in Kathmandu, and planning activities for Sunday. I woke up in the middle of the night on Sunday, took a taxi to the airport, and checked in with Buddha Air. After sunrise the small plane took off for a mountain flight above the Himalaya. I got to meet the captain in the cockpit, and he pointed out the top of the world: Mt Everest. Then the plane turned around and headed back to Kathmandu. Needless to say, I made plenty of photos.

When I got my feet back on the ground I walked to Pashupatinath, a temple where the dead get cremated. I met Peter there and after exploring Pashupatinath we walked to Bodhnath, a large Buddhist stupa. From there we took a taxi to Bhaktapur, a town with a small car-free centre full of temples and squares. We met a guy who would be our guide, but he only showed us a small part of town, before leaving us at a tourist-trap where they tried to sell us paintings. We listened to the sales pitch, but got out of there as soon as possible and explored the city on our own. A taxi brought us back to Kathmandu.

In the evening I met up with Suzanne and Kim, two girls from the Eindhoven region, who were on the same flight from London to Kathmandu. Both of them are doing 3 months of volunteer work at a hospital in Kathmandu. We had dinner and drinks at a restaurant in Kathmandu and I ate chicken for the first time in 3 weeks, since the meat could not be trusted. But being a vegetarian is not for me, that’s for sure.

NepalElephants in the Jungle

On 21 October 2005 from Sauraha, Nepal | comments closed

Our time in Royal Chitwan National Park has been marked by rain. On arrival on Wednesday it was not so bad and we managed to visit an elephant breeding centre, where little Dombo got out of the enclosure to play with us tourists. Really cool, especially when dumbfounded French tourists were videotaping the elephants in the enclosure, while a small elephant was walking towards them, pushing them aside.

Thursday morning we went downriver in a hollow tree (very unstable) to go for a walk in the jungle. Unfortunately we didn’t see any rhinos in the rain, and – more unfortunately – the thick bushes were sprawling with leeches. I had to pull 2 off me that had already been drinking a lot of my blood. At least salt kills them quite effectively. The elephant ride in the afternoon was cancelled because of heavy rain. But at least I did get a chance to start and almost finish the book ‘Olifantenpolo’ by the Dutch consul-general of Nepal.

Today the weather cleared up a little bit and we went for a 3-hour elephant ride in the jungle, finally spotting 1 rhino. In the afternoon we made a 4WD tour through the 20.000 lakes community forest. At first I thought it wasn’t possible to fit 10 people in and on a small size trooper-style 4WD, but we managed, alalthough it was pretty cramped. Getting back was the funniest part, since the car repeatedly wouldn’t start after shutting down (no clue why they did that in the first place) and on the way back the car made the weirdest noises.

NepalRelaxing & Rafting

On 19 October 2005 from Sauraha, Nepal | comments closed

After the Annapurna Sanctuary trek I spent the remaining day in Pokhara relaxing a bit. In the morning three of us took a short boat ride on the lake, and we walked up to the World Peace Pagode, from where the view of the lake and the mountains was absolutely stunning. The rest of the day I walked around Lakeside, doing some shopping and checking my e-mails.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we went for an overnight rafting trip on the Seti river. I would say that the rafting was even more relaxing than the day in Pokhara, as as the rapids in the river were – unfortunately – only class II or III at most, and were few and far between. But it was all made up by the excellent crew, who made great breakfast, lunch and dinner on the river shore. After a short bus ride out of the mountains and into the plains we arrived at Sauraha, close to the Royal Chitwan National Park.

NepalTrekking to A.B.C.

On 16 October 2005 from Pokhara, Nepal | comments closed

A.B.C. = Annapurna Base Camp, located at 4130 metres altitude it was the final destination of our 10-day trekking in the Annapurna range. I won’t be placing a day-to-day report in my blog here, but I’ll write down some things of interest to give you an impression. I think the photos will tell their own story.

The trekking party consisted of the 8 Dutch tour members (including tour leader), and 6 Nepali staff: the guide, the assistant-guide, and four porters. The first day started off nicely with a walk along a river. Patricia, the assistant-guide and I were walking ahead of the rest, and after an hour we decided to wait for them. When they hadn’t arrived in 1,5 hours, we reached the conclusion that we took the wrong route (even though the assistant-guide kept telling us we were on the right track), and we walked back. We reached our first lodge right before dark in rainy weather. Needless to say, no one believed the navigation skills of the assistant-guide afterwards, and during the rest of the trek no one got lost anymore.

The second day we walked to Ghorepani where we had to pay a fee to the maoist rebels. They were unarmed and not very impressive, yet all foreigners were gently forced to pay the 1200 rupees (15 euro). The next morning we got up before sunrise to climb up Poon Hill and watch the sunrise from there. We continued to Tadapani and to Chomrong on the fourth day. This part of the trek was mainly through forests, and agricultural areas. We encountered quite a few locals, some of which looked like they were just going for a stroll, and some were carrying lots of stuff (there are no roads in the trekking area, just tracks). Also we passed lots of donkeys, and the occasional cow on the track.

The fifth day we took the track to the Annapurna Base Camp, where we arrived on the sixth day. Since this track only leads to A.B.C., we encountered more tourists, guides, and porters than before. At A.B.C. the view was amazing, especially the next morning, when the sky was completely clear. We could see Annapurna I (8000+ metres), Annapurna South (7000+ metres), and Machhapuchhre (almost 7000 metres) from an altitude of 4130 metres. Really spectacular.

Luckily no one suffered too bad from altitude sickness, although Pieter did get really ill (still not sure what, he managed to get up and down slowly, but had to be carried the second-last afternoon). From A.B.C. we hiked to Bamboo on the 7th day, where some smart Nepali had started a German bakery. And having fresh chocolate croissants and orange juice for breakfast up in the mountains is really heaven.

The 8th day we hiked to Jihnu, where we soaked in the natural hot springs next to the river, before having dinner at the lodge. The food at the lodges was quite good, not only the local dal bath (rice with ‘linzen’), but also macaroni, pizza, fried rice, potatoes, pancakes (yummie) and soup. Besides the food, the hot showers that were available in most of the lodges were an unexpected convenience. Some also had electricity, but usually only a few hours of the day.

The ninth day Fidel, the assistant-guide, one of the porters and I took a somewhat more difficult path and visited another town. We arrived at Syauli Bazar before the others though, because the ‘easy’ path was not a easy as it sounded. The tenth (last) day was a short walk along the river back to the main road. There the bus to Pokhara was already waiting.

NepalHonk Honk to Pokhara

On 6 October 2005 from Pokhara, Nepal | comments closed

The first day in Kathmandu was spent checking out Durban Square and the monkey temple. At Durban square they fitted a bunch of hindoe and buddhist temples together. The monkey temple was aptly named because monkeys abound at the place, and climb the roofs. In the evening we had dinner with the entire group (8 including tour guide), before calling it a day after two nights in airplanes.

Today we did the 200 km busride to Pokhara in a fast 7 hours. Needless to say, the roads here are not that good, and people drive like crazy (except for our bus driver). It was a very scenic ride though, through the mountains and along the river. Pokhara is nicely located at a lake, and the view is supposed to be great, but the clouds were ruining it today. We did get some rays of sun though, and it gets quite warm when we do.

Tomorrow we’re starting the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, so the next post will be when we’re back in Pokhara.

NepalArrival in Kathmandu

On 5 October 2005 from Kathmandu, Nepal | comments closed

Opposed to my previous post, I didn’t check out Abu Dhabi after all. It was about 40 degrees outside, so even breathing was hard. Therefore the afternoon was spent sleeping, but after the dinner buffet Peter and I walked into the city for a while and we checked out the river. Expensive cars all over the place, a real contrast with Kathmandu, from where I’m typing this post.

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu was good. We got a $150 voucher to use as a discount on Gulf Air flights, as a compensation for overbooking the flight to Kathmandu. However, this is fairly worthless compensation, as it only benefits us if we fly with Gulf Air again within the year. Except for the fact that I’m not planning a trip to a Gulf Air destination within the year, I’m also not very eager to fly with them again.

In Kathmandu we were picked up from the airport after a while, and brought to the hotel through all these narrow bustling streets. Definitely Asia: everywhere different smells, lots of people, lots of noises, temples smoking with incense sticks, and shops everywhere. The weather is about 25 degrees, but cloudy. The hotel is one of the highest in the city (7 floors), and thus the view from the rooftop terrace is great.

NepalGulf Air & Abu Dhabi

On 4 October 2005 from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates | comments closed

Somehow Murphy’s Law always applies when I need to get a flight. In this case, first the car wouldn’t start, and when it finally did we got cought in an unexpected traffic jam (German national holiday apparently). Anyway, after illegally crossing some train tracks and catching a train just-in-time, I managed to get to Schiphol airport even half an hour before the tour guide. Worried for nothing, I guess.

At Schiphol I met all but one of the others. 2 couples, another single guy, and the tour guide; all between 31 and 39, so I’m definitely the youngest. Check-in at Schiphol was fine, as was the bmi flight to London. When we boarded the Gulf Air flight to Abu Dhabi 4 people from our party of 7 got upgraded to business class. Unfortunately not me, although I suspect it was because I had my frequent flyer number registered with all passengers.

Once in Abu Dhabi we tried to get our boarding cards for Kathmandu, but were informed that the flight was full, and we got bumped to the next flight at 01.30 tonight. Therefore we won’t arrive in Kathmandu before Wednesday morning. So we went through customs (another page filled in my new passport), and the airline brought us to a hotel in Abu Dhabi, where we’ll get lunch and dinner (too late for breakfast).

After my half-an-hour of free internet here in the hotel, some resting, refreshing, and lunch, I might check out the city a bit, although it’s really hot here, and I’m not really dressed for this weather. So far my impression of Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) is really positive. New 4-lane highways, shiny high-rise buildings, expensive cars, and a lot of construction going on. There’s definitely a lot of money being made in this region, especially with today’s high oil prices.

NepalReady for the Himalaya?

On 3 October 2005 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

… I really don’t know. But it’s now too late anyway. I’m going… today. The flight itself already seems a bit of an adventure: from Amsterdam to London with British Midland, and then with Gulf Air to Abu Dhabi and finally Kathmandu. I’m supposed to arrive there on Tuesday 4 October at 15.55, that’s 12.10 CET (yep, 3 hours and 45 minutes time difference, apparently to tell the difference with India). I’m expecting no problems with the passport check however, as I bought the novel of the Dutch consul general (funny thing to include advertising in the visa application form). The plan is to update my blog every so often when I’m in the big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara.

For the first time in my life I’m going to do a real organised tour longer than 1 week. The organisation that got the honour is Mambo. The trip includes 11 days of trekking and 2 days of rafting. And that’s the part I’m slightly worried about, as physical education was definitely not my thing in secondary school. However, I really enjoyed the trekking in New Zealand, and I love spectacular mountain scenery, so Nepal is a logical destination. After all, mountain scenery doesn’t get any better than in the Himalaya’s. To prepare I went hiking a few times in the Ardennes in Belgium, pretty much the only area in the Benelux where it’s possible to do a decent hike (with altitude differences), and to drive to and from in one day, as is it’s only a 2-hour drive. I also got some new gear: windproof, waterproof and breathable pants, and a Camelbak to drink while hiking. I just hope I have enough battery power to keep my dad’s Canon Powershot S50 operating, since 5 battery packs is not a great deal when hiking in the mountains for 11 days without electricity. Nepal is definitely a place where I can get out of Western civilization for a while. Wish me luck.

Down UnderLast Down Under Posting

On 16 November 2004 from Reuver, NL | comments closed

Since I completed my 11,5-month journey through South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, this website no longer serves the purpose of online travel diary. Thus I have decided that oz.claessen.ca: Guido’s Down Under Experiences will no longer be updated. However, I plan to keep this website available for as long as possible. In the not-so-near future it should be merged with claessen.ca: Guido’s Website. This is also the place for contact information and my latest news and photos.

I would like to thank you for visiting my site, and hope you enjoyed your time here.

Down UnderSite of the Week!

On 9 November 2004 from Reuver, NL | comments closed

site v/d weekMy site has been selected as Australian Backpackers site of the week! Feeling very honoured, I took up the opportunity to write down some tips for future backpackers in Australia. I hope someone can use them to his/hers advantage.

Down UnderLast Photos Online

On 6 November 2004 from Reuver, NL | comments closed

Today I put the best photos of my last month in Australia (Sydney, Canberra & Blue Mountains), as well as those of Hong Kong online.

In total I have made more than 2500 photos during the last year, almost all digital (only 2 films of underwater photos are not). In harddisk space it amounts to almost 3 GB, so I can put the photographic memories of my entire trip on just one DVD. Although that is the most convenient way to view them, I did decide to start the project of making a physical album with a selection of the photos, my diary entries and some souvenirs, just to have something tangible. However, completion might take a while, considering the fact that I still have not completed any album of a trip in the last 10 years…

And just to assure you, yesterday as well as today I have been driving without the urge to move to the left side of the road. I did operate the windscreen wipers instead of the directional indicators a few times though. The narrow roads in Europe will also take some time to get used to, unlike not hearing the engine anymore (unlike my 4WD in Australia, my parents’ car is really quiet).

Down UnderSafely Back Home

On 4 November 2004 from Reuver, The Netherlands | comments closed

Tuesday evening I made my way to the new airport in Hong Kong, built on an island that was literally flattened and extended through land reclamation. For the last time on this trip Cathay Pacific made sure I had an excellent flight back home. In between watching ‘Collateral’ and ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ I had some short light sleeps, but I was still pretty tired when I arrived at Schiphol early Wednesday morning. After customs (luckily I did not get checked, as I was slightly over the spirits limit) my parents were already waiting, and it was really good to see them again. Trying to avoid the traffic jams we had some coffee at the airport, but still ended up in one and only arrived home at 11.30 (the plane landed at 6.30).

I spent the rest of the day unpacking and having some of the Dutch foods I missed most: “rijstevlaai” (rice pastry of a local bakery) and “verwenjoghurt” (delicious thick fat yoghurt, unlikely the tasteless 99%-fat-free yoghurt dominating the Australian supermarket’s shelves). In the evening we watched the video my dad has made in New Zealand, but I fell asleep halfway through it, still tired from the flight and slightly jet-lagged. At least I did have a really good sleep in my own bed last night.

Down UnderShopper’s Paradise

On 2 November 2004 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR | comments closed

After dinner on Sunday evening I walked along the waterfront of Tsim Sha Tsui, looking at the amazing skyline of Hong Kong Island. It was quite busy with lots of people in weird Haloween costumes, which was fun to watch.

On Monday I took the Star Ferry to Central, where I walked around among the skyscrapers for a while, before catching a ferry to Lantau Island. Hong Kong’s largest island also has the largest bronze outdoor seated Buddha statue, and that was where I was headed. From the island’s ferry terminal it took another 45 minutes or so to Po Lin, the monastery and temple complex. With a height of over 26 metres and located on top of a hill, the Tian Tan Buddha statue is quite impressive indeed. After wandering around the temple complex and statue, I took the bus and MTR to Mong Kok. However, I could not find the shops I was looking for there, and went back to Tsim Sha Tsui.

In the evening I took the Star Ferry to Central, and the bus up to The Peak for the last time. The skyline looked really impressive from there, even though it seemed a bit foggy during the day. But that was probably smog, although there are not as many cars as I thought there would be. Lots of busses and taxis, and every other car seems to be Mercedes, BMW or Jaguar.

Today I planned to visit some museums in Tsim Sha Tsui, but I had forgotten to check their opening days, and it turned out that all the interesting museums close on Tuesdays. My impromptu alternative was to take the train to Sha Tin, where the 10.000 Buddhas monastery is located. I did not count them, but reliable sources conveyed to me that there are actually more than 12.000 Buddhas in the monastery, and I had no trouble believing that. After seeing enough Buddhas for the day (week, month, year…) I took the train and bus to Kam Tin. There are two walled/fortified villages in this area, and I visited them both, but somehow the villages completely failed to impress. I could have saved myself quite some time here, since the villages were in the New Territories, quite a distance from Tsim Sha Tsui.

I decided to spend the rest of the day doing what Hong Kong is most renowned for: shopping. Hong Kong is really a shopper’s paradise, from small Chinese shops to large luxurious malls, the city’s favourite pastime is definitely shopping. I am pretty sure clothing is a lot cheaper than back home, but I just could not be bothered getting any (it would not fit in my backpack anyway, but I would be rich now if I got 20 eurocents for every time a tailor’s businesscard was offered to me). However, for electronics the city does not always compare favourably with Dutch internet shops. The new watch I want is not available in Asia (presumably because there are no time calibration radio signals broadcasted). Mobile phones are only slightly cheaper, but the contract discounts in the Netherlands do not make it worthwhile to buy a new mobile phone elsewhere. I did get an Apple iPod mini though, since they were some 20% cheaper than back home.

This is the last post I am writing from abroad (I hope to be back in the Netherlands Wednesday 06.30 CET). I will probably write some more things once I get back home, but for now there is only one thing I still want to mention. Recently I realised that one common element of all the countries I have visited in the last 11,5 months (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Macau) is the fact that in all of these places people were driving on the left hand side of the road, and I got completely used to that. You may want to remember this when I hit the road some time next week…

Down UnderMacau

On 31 October 2004 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR | comments closed

After posting on my website yesterday I walked up to Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island (not the highest point in Hong Kong). Unfortunately the views only got worse compared to the observation deck at the upper terminal of the Peak Tram, so I went back there. I decided to splash some money on the attractions there, notably the Peak Explorer and Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium. When I got back to Tsim Sha Tsui I found a good Japanese fast-food restaurant (‘Yoshinoya’) that serves big bowls of rice, chicken and vegetables for only 2,60 euro. After dinner I walked around Tsim Sha Tsui, checking out all the electronics for sale.

Today I took a ferry to Macau, another Special Administrative Region of China. Instead of being ruled by the British, like Hong Kong, Macau was ruled by the Portugese until 1999. I found out that it could have been ruled by the Dutch though, since we invaded the peninsula in 1622 with 800 men and met very little resistance. But a single cannon shot from a Jesuit priest (hitting a barrel of gunpowder) caused them to flee. What a shame. Anyway, Macau nowadays has still quite a few Portugese buildings remaining, and it is weird to see the mix of Chinese culture and Portugese heritage. I spent all day doing the Lonely Planet walking tour around the peninsula (including a visit to the excellent Macau Museum), and had to rush to catch the ferry back to Hong Kong. I really start to like this Pacific Coffee Company, if only for the free internet access at their coffeeshops (no weed here, strictly forbidden).

Down UnderHectic Hong Kong

On 30 October 2004 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR | comments closed

Yesterday I successfully managed to pack all my stuff in my bag, and to my surprise my large backpack was only 19,5 kg when I checked it in at the airport. It could have been 25 kg, because over that amount Cathay Pacific charges extra. I guess I am getting better and better at travelling light.

After packing all my stuff and bringing some old clothes to the Salvation Army, I sorted out the last photos I made in Australia, did a final e-mail check, and said goodbye to some friends I made in the hostel. Then I took the bus and train to the airport, where all went according to plan as well (I must say that I have had no problems or even delays with any flights on this trip so far). Cabin service on the Cathay Pacific flight was impeccable, and I arrived in Hong Kong well-fed, albeit slightly tired. I watched 3 movies on this flight: ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ and ‘The Terminal’ (not that anyone cares, but I just felt like mentioning it).

Upon arrival in Hong Kong I took a bus to Tsim Sha Tsui, where I arrived a little after midnight. I was slightly worried about not having booked anything in advance, but that fear proved ungrounded, as I only had to walk in the busy street for about 5 metres before someone approached me with an accommodation offer. I took up the second offer, and got a small basic double room on the 13th floor of Mirador Mansions. I do have to move to an actual single room in Chungking Mansions today though, but for an average of 10 euro a night I do not really care, I only need a place to sleep and leave my backpack during the day.

Today I slept in a bit, before getting out into the city. I tried to find a bakery for breakfast, but bakeries are fairly uncommon around here (I found plenty of curry shops already open), so I had to settle with some bread roll and orange juice from Seven-Eleven. In Kowloon Park I tried to figure out where to go today, and met a 90-year-old medical doctor, with whom I had an interesting conversation. It basically came down to the fact that I should read the Bible myself, because people that are 90 years old (and he was still in his right mind, I must add) are wise. I told him I would consider it (that is, when I am stuck on an uninhabited island with nothing else to read), and took the MTR to Central.

“When it comes to public transport, nobody does it better than Hong Kong.” [Lonely Planet Hong Kong & Macau, 2004] I must say I fully agree with this statement, even though I have only spent a few hours in Hong Kong. I got an octopus card at the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) station. I only have to hold it over a sensor when going in and out of trains, busses, ferries, trams etc. and the correct amount is charged. Too easy. In Central I took the Peak Tram up to the Peak, where I am writing this post now. After all, I needed a cup of coffee (2,10 euro) and got free internet with it, not to mention views of an uncountable amount of skyscrapers when I look outside.

Down UnderLast Day in Australia

On 28 October 2004 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

Today was my last full day in Australia, and I decided to go for a last walk through the city. I made another dozen photos of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, after all they are quintessential Australia. This time I even walked across the Harbour Bridge to make photos from the Luna Park and McMahons Point. On the way back I got a cheap haircut (5 euro), and closed my bank account. I already did most of the administrative stuff on Monday, like transferring money and cancelling my car insurance. In the end, Sydney is the only city in Australia where I could spend a week sightseeing without getting bored, and I have even managed to keep busy in the 3,5 weeks that I spent here.

In the evening I had some drinks with a few Norwegian backpackers, and we went to the karaoke in the local pub, where most of the hostel population was hanging out. Afterwards I got online (I have free internet access at the hostel now, since I programmed the website), and arranged my health insurance for upon return.

Down UnderBlue Mountains Revisited

On 27 October 2004 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

Because my flight out of Sydney was not leaving on Tuesday like I initially planned, I decided to spend a few days in the Blue Mountains. In retrospect, I could have spend a few days in Canberra, instead of doing a one day tour that was too rushed. But going back just would not be worth the trouble anymore. Besides, it was almost a year ago since I last visited the Blue Mountains, and it still is one of the areas of Australia I enjoyed most, mainly because of the hiking tracks there. During the last few weeks in Sydney I have been going back to quite a few places where I went in my first week in Australia, and I already have some sort of nostalgic feeling about some places, very weird.

I took the train from Sydney to Katoomba on Tuesday afternoon, and after checking in at the hostel there, I went for a hike along the cliff. I managed to find a track that I had not done on my previous visit, and was able to make some nice photos of the valley and the Three Sisters.

On Wednesday I took the train to Wentworth Falls, and made a hike together with Caroline (German), Marleen (Dutch) and Simone (Italian guy). We took the Charles Darwin track to the valley, and some steep steps down into the valley. But at the bottom we had to wait for an hour before we could continue, since they were rebuilding the track; the hiker’s version of roadworks. The rest of the hike was without problems, although we were slightly worried about the weather, but the sky was clear again when we got out of the valley. I took the train back to Sydney in the late afternoon.

Down UnderFlight Home

On 25 October 2004 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

I called Cathay Pacific today to book my flight back home. Initially I had planned to leave tomorrow and fly to Amsterdam in the weekend, but all the flights from Hong Kong to Amsterdam are booked out between 27 October and 3 November. Instead of spending more time in Hong Kong (I do not think the city is interesting enough to spend more than 4 days in, including Macau), I decided to spend a few extra days in Sydney. Therefore my flights are as follows:
Sydney to Hong Kong on Friday 29 October 15.00 – 22.20 with CX100
Hong Kong to Amsterdam on Wednesday 3 November 00.15 – 06.30 with CX271

You might have noticed that I dropped my initial plan to spend a few weeks in China on the way back. I basically cannot be bothered anymore with the hassle of travelling through China. I would have had to get vaccinations (for which it is too late now), I would have to unpack and pack again in Hong Kong (I am not taking all my stuff on a trip through China), I do not speak the language (the solution of learning the language, what I did with Russia, is just not going to work for every country I visit), and I would not have time to visit the highlights anyway (i.e. Bejing and the Great Wall). It all comes down to the fact that in my mind a visit to China requires some decent preparation: where to go, what to do, what jabs to get etc. I might book a short organised tour from Hong Kong (and thus postpone my flight home), but chances are small that I will do that. In the end, I simply cannot be bothered to travel by myself through a country with a completely different culture where I do not speak the language, at the end of my trip. I will probably just save the money for a future trip.

Down UnderCanberra

On 24 October 2004 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

Today I did a tour to Canberra, Australia’s capital city. After all, I figured it would be pretty bad if I had spent almost 9 months in Australia without even seeing its capital city. Because it is almost 300km from Sydney, it meant sitting in the bus for a long time, and not having very much time in the city itself. We did go to an exhibition about Canberra, the Parliament House, the War Memorial and Mt Ainslie. Unfortunately it was raining most of the day, and that did not help in getting a good impression about the city.

Down UnderSold my Car

On 23 October 2004 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

On Wednesday I met a German guy in the city who was interested in buying my car, so he had a look at it with his girlfriend on Thursday. He liked the car, but wanted a mechanic to have a look at it first. Since there was no mechanic available on Friday, the pre-purchase inspection was carried out today. The mechanic spent almost 3 hours checking my car inside, outside, and test driving it. He managed to produce a large list of necessary repairs (totalling over A$950), so I had to make a little bit extra effort to sell the car. After I threw in 6 months of registration (A$245), I finally managed to sell it for A$3200.

In total it cost me roughly A$2250 (in car expenses and fuel) to drive almost 17.500 km through Australia. That is A$0,13 (8 eurocents) per kilometre. Not bad at all.

Besides waiting to sell my car, I helped the hostel programming a new website, a fairly good pastime considering the fact that it has been raining in Sydney every day for the last week, with the exception of today.

Down UnderCar Selling Hassle

On 20 October 2004 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

On Friday I had three people look at my car, but two of those only seemed to be browsing around. Another guy decided not to buy it, after I drove all the way to Bondi Beach to show it (not going to do that again). I did use the opportunity to put up some flyers in hostels in Bondi Beach as well.

Saturday I went into the city centre to make some more photos of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I also went up in one of the pylons of the Harbour Bridge for some good views of Sydney harbour, the Opera House and the skyline.

On Sunday I walked to Darling Harbour, where the Australian International Motor Show was taking place. I did not intend on going to the motor show, but when I saw a 4WD demonstration track outside I was sold. I got my ticket and went straight back outside to test drive (unfortunately a professional had to drive) the 4WD track in a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I really love that car, even on the steep hill it just would not roll back or forward (downhill assist or something). Unfortunately it is still a bit outside my price range, just like pretty much all the other cars at the motor show. Nevertheless, it was still fun to look at them and I made lots of photos of flash cars.

Later in the afternoon I got myself a souvenir polo shirt at Paddy’s Markets, before checking out the Powerhouse Museum. The exhibits there turned out to take more time than the two hours I had planned, and I was therefore pretty much kicked out at closing time.

On Monday there were two more people who checked out my car, and two Swedish guys were very interested, but they decided to fly to Darwin and buy a car there, very annoying.

Tuesday I went around all the hostels in the city centre and Kings Cross again, putting up new flyers, with a slightly lower price. When I had finished that, I visited the Sydney Aquarium. Especially the tunnels under the water where the sharks swim where really cool, and I made lots of photos (also deleted lots straight away, because the flash reflected off the glass, but that is the beauty of digital cameras).

Today I went on a bit of a souvenir shopping spree, making sure I have enough reminders of Australia when I get back home. A big map of Australia and a boomerang were still missing in my collection, but I also got the Lonely Planet from Hong Kong and Macau as well as the police report of my lost sunglasses. I also got a red marker, and went around to the hostels in the city centre and Kings Cross, lowering the price of my car a bit more (A$3500 now) and make it stand out at the same time. I hope these marketing courses I did are paying off this way.

Down UnderCultural Sydney

On 15 October 2004 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

Monday afternoon I put up my car-for-sale flyers all around the city centre and Kings Cross. On my way over there I met Christina (German, we met before in Rainbow Beach and Brisbane), and in the evening we went to an Irish pub with live music till late. The 1 1/4 hour walk back to the hostel was not fun, but at least I sobered up.

Tuesday I spent all day cleaning out the car and sorting out all the stuff in it (what to bring home and what to sell with it). In the evening I met up with Christina at the Opera House and we went for dinner in Chinatown.

Wednesday was a really hot day with a maximum temperature of 38 degrees; way to hot to do anything at all. In the hostel I found the book “Dead Famous” by Ben Elton, and I just could not stop reading it (FYI, it is about a murder being committed in a “Big Brother” house). I finished the 380-page book on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday evening Christina and I went to the musical “The Lion King”, that has been playing in Sydney for more than a year, and still manages to pretty much fill the theatre. I really enjoyed the performance, although I have to say that the songs by Elton John in the original Disney movie sounded better.

Down Under4WD For Sale

On 11 October 2004 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

Since I could not find anyone to take along as a passenger from Byron Bay to Sydney, I just drove by myself. Once on the road, I decided it would be good to cover most of the distance on Sunday, so I drove around 600km and stayed overnight in Karuah. This morning I drove the remaining 200km into Sydney (over the harbour bridge).

I am now on a mission to make the sale of my car known to as many people as possible, so I created the following flyer:

4WD For Sale – $ 4300 o.n.o.

Want to go off the beaten track?
Want to travel Australia the Australian way?
Want to save money on expensive 4WD tours?
Want a vehicle that is economical?
This 4WD has it all! Economical engine (up to 10km on 1 litre of fuel) & the ability to go where few backpackers have gone before to experience true Australia!

Holden Jackaroo ’84 LS
– 4-speed manual, 4 cylinder 2l engine (rebuilt 17,500km)
– W.A. Registration (up to 18/11/04, easy to renew)
– Immobilizer, Power Steering, Air Conditioning
– Dual fuel tanks -> total range of up to 1000km!
– Bull-bar, tow ball, air compressor, maps
– Radio/cassette-player with converter for discman/MP3-player
– 1st backpacker owner, recently & regularly serviced, good condition
– More space than a Ford Falcon Wagon

Loads of camping gear (worth hundreds of dollars):
– Luxurious 2 pit gas stove, gas lamp & 2 gas bottles
– 44l esky, 25l water can, 20l fuel can
– Table & 2 chairs
– Foldable double matrass, sheets, doona, fleece blanket
– Storage boxes, pots & pans
– Snorkelling gear
– Lots & lots more!

Contact Guido on 04 0708 3434 for more information.

Down UnderMoney Out, Money In

On 9 October 2004 from Byron Bay, NSW | comments closed

Friday morning I drove up to the lighthouse in Byron Bay and walked to the easternmost point of Australia. Afterwards I brought my car to a mechanic for a final service and tune up, figuring it will be easier to sell when it runs smoother and has had a recent service. In the meantime I spent time online and walked a bit on the beach. The service and tune up turned out to be a bit more expensive than expected (160 euro), but luckily I could do some work at the elections today, and I was able to make over 70 euro by just handing out leaflets at a poll boot. I am doing a working holiday after all.

Down UnderQueensland Photos

On 7 October 2004 from Byron Bay, NSW | comments closed

As I mentioned in post #100 (wow!), today I crossed the border between Queensland and New South Wales. Unfortunately I could not make any photos of the signs, since I could not stop on a 2-lane divided highway (from Brisbane to Byron Bay the highway went from 4 lanes each way to 1 lane each way, really weird). Because of this, and the fact that I have free internet access in Byron Bay, I figured I might as well sort out my photos here and put the best Queensland photos online.

Down UnderBrisbane in a Day

On from Byron Bay, New South Wales | comments closed

After some internet time on Wednesday morning, I went up the Bell Tower in Brisbane City Hall and checked out some expositions in City Hall. I also caught up with Judith (German, we met before in Perth, the other side of the continent). In the afternoon I checked out the Queensland Museum for over an hour, an walked down the South Bank. There is an artificial beach there which looks really weird. From th South Bank I took the ferry to the Botanical Gardens and walked over the QUT campus (Queensland University of Technology, I almost got a t-shirt because of the Dutch pronounciation) to Parliament House. I briefly watched a session about fishing quotas, but got bored and went back to Queen Street Mall. By that time my underwater photos were developed and they actually turned out better than expected. After dinner in the city I went back to the hostel tired, but fulfilled, because I saw all the interesting things in Brisbane in one day.

Today I drove to Byron Bay in New South Wales (170 km) on my own. I did put up some notices in Brisbane, but could not find anyone to share the journey with, until after I left. When I was more than halfway this girl called me, and I am supposed to see her in Byron Bay tonight, so I would not have to drive the 800 km to Sydney on my own. This seems to happen every time, as soon as I have left, some nice girl(s) call me for a ride. Damn, damn, damn.

Down UnderAustralia Zoo

On 5 October 2004 from Brisbane, QLD | comments closed

Monday evening I had a few drinks with Theresa (Austrian) and Sebastian (German) at the hostel in Noosa. I did manage to wake up early on Tuesday though. That was necessary, because I had planned a busy day at the zoo. Australia Zoo is basically the last zoo I want to see in Australia, and mainly because it is Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin’s zoo and has a good reputation. Rachel and I got to Australia Zoo before 10 AM, right in time for the otter feeding. After that I got the chance to feed an elephant (i.e. hundreds of people in line with a piece of fruit to give to an elephant, they do eat lots). Then it was time for the shows in the ‘Crocoseum’: birds flying around the stadium, a snake show, staff playing and swimming with tigers (cool!), and the famous Croc Show (crocs rule!). We had a bit to eat after all the shows and then visited all the other animals in the zoo. The kangaroos here were really tame and lazy, just like the koalas. The crocs were as dangerous as usual though. We finally saw some cassowaries as well (remember, we were searching for ’em in the forests around Mission Beach), but they were smaller than expected. The animals I liked most would have been the tortoises though, especially Harriet, which is 173 years old (wow!).

At around 3 PM we drove on to Brisbane, getting into the city before evening rush hour. I made it an early night, because I want to see all of Brisbane today. So I got up early this morning and first picked up two brand new licence plates for my car, after driving 10.000 km with just the rear plate.

Down Under4WDing on Fraser Island

On 4 October 2004 from Noosa, QLD | comments closed

Thursday morning we (Rachel and I) drove from Hervey Bay to Rainbow Beach, where our Fraser Island self-drive camping safari was departing from. We had to get to Rainbow Beach in the afternoon the day before, so we could watch a video about the island and meet our group. Four girls (Danielle, Claire, Laura and Gemma) from the Whitsunday Islands sailing trip were doing the Fraser Island trip at the same time, so we made sure we were in the same group. Besides us, there were two English girls and two German guys in the group, so not a bad female-male (7-3) mix at all.

On Friday morning we packed all the stuff on the car, got some 4WD instruction (not that I needed that), and we set off in convoy (6 cars with about 10 people each). I decided to book a self-drive tour to Fraser Island, because (1) it would be quite costly to get my own 4WD onto the island, (2) I did not want to rough it too much before selling it next week, (3) the rental vehicles would be better, and (4) I figured it would be more fun with a larger group as well. Besides, I figured I would be doing much of the driving anyway, since I was one of the few with actual 4WD driving experience. As it happened, I did drive about half the time, so that was pretty cool.

After getting off the barge onto Fraser Island, I drove us to Rainbow Gorge, where we made a short hike. Next stop was the ‘Maheno’ wreck, that was laying on the beach. We stopped shortly at Eli Creek, before setting up camp next to a group of Irish. We spent all evening cooking, eating, and drinking lots around the campfire.

Saturday morning we had breakfast, packed all the stuff onto the car again, and continued driving on the beach to Indian Head. The best place to drive on Fraser Island is the beach, because the inland roads mainly consist of loose sand, and the maximum speed there is 35km/h, whereas the maximum speed on the beach is 80km/h. That seems pretty fast though, especially when the car is leaning over towards the sea. Driving on the beach is best during low tide, when there is a lot of hard sand to drive on. Unfortunately, we drove up to Indian Head with the tide coming in, so we had to drive more and more through soft sand. When I had to avoid a bogged vehicle, and got out of a track, we got bogged ourselves. Luckily some nice Australians came to the rescue (girls are terrible when it comes to digging out a car), and after a few unsuccesfull attempts to get the car unbogged, we discovered that the front wheel hubs were unlocked. That basically means the car was not even in 4WD that day (only the rear wheels were driving), so we locked in the front wheel hubs and got out straight away. Somebody obviously pulled a good prank on us there, since that was the only time I got bogged with the 4.2l LandCruiser Diesel.

After looking out from the top of Indian Head, we walked down the beach to the Champagne Pools, where we went for a quick swim. When we got back to the car, we drove to Happy Valley for lunch, and on to Lake Wabby. There we went for another quick swim, because it was getting late and we needed to set up camp. We did that in the dunes, together with the Irish group. We again spent the evening cooking, eating and drinking around the campfire.

Sunday morning we enjoyed a nice cooked breakfast, before Rachel drove us to Lake McKenzie. This is the largest and most beautiful lake on the island, and we went for a refreshing swim (I actually swam to the other side and walked back). Afterwards I wanted to take the inland track back to the beach (we could not drive on the beach until 12.30 because of high tide), but after we had to wait quite a while for a bogged vehicle, we decided it would be quicker to head back to the beach and drive on the beach back to the barge. On the way we saw a recovery truck with the broken down vehicle of another group (10 girls, and they crashed into a tree, luckily no one was really hurt, but it does prove some prejudices about female drivers). On the beach Knut (one of the Germans) drove for a while, but when we got off the beach onto the inland access road to the barge, he got us seriously bogged. It took quite a few attempts, lowering tire pressure, digging out the wheels and everybody pushing to get the vehicle out. But after that all was smooth and we got back to the hostel without any problems. In the evening we had a nice BBQ dinner and some drinks at the hostel.

Today we (Rachel and I) drove to Noosa, where I have some hours of free internet access, so I could check my e-mail, bank accounts (not looking good), and update my website. In the afternoon I also did a 7km hike in the national park to compensate for all the hours in the car.

Down UnderDrinking & Driving

On 30 September 2004 from Hervey Bay, QLD | comments closed

Monday evening we had dinner with everyone from the Whitsunday Islands boat, and we went on a bit of a pub crawl in Airlie Beach afterwards. Especially the teapots with shots were very tasteful.

Needless to say, we (Rachel and I) did not leave Airlie Beach very early the next day, but still had to drive around 500km to Rockhampton. On the way we had lunch in Sarina (some tiny town along the highway). In Rockhampton we checked into a very nice hostel (Oxford Hotel Backpackers), and relaxed there for the evening.

We left Rockhampton on Wednesday morning, and drove almost straight to Bundaberg. There we did a tour of the famous Bundaberg Rum distillery, and got to taste a little bit afterwards (not even one standard drink, since I still had to drive, and drink driving is bad). I did buy some rum for later use though. From Bundaberg we drove on to Hervey Bay to spend the night there. Pretty much everyone I met during my travels did not recommend to stay in Bundaberg itself, and it would make the drive to Rainbow Beach today a bit shorter as well.

Down UnderWhitsunday Islands

On 27 September 2004 from Airlie Beach, QLD | comments closed

Late Saturday afternoon Rachel and I got on the Romance, to sail and dive around the Whitsunday Islands. There were 20 people on the boat in total, with more girls than guys, so it already started off good. Our first destination was Whitehaven Beach, where we anchored for the night. It was also the only place we sort of sailed to (we had some sails up, but the engine was running too), and we did not even sail the next days, since there was virtually no wind. But that was okay with me, and I guess you get what you pay for, which was only A$299 (= 175 euro) for 2-days 2-nights Whitsundays, 3-days 2-nights Fraser Island self-drive safari & 2 nights accommodation in Rainbow Beach.

Saturday evening we shortly went over to Whitehaven Beach by dinghy, before drinking and socialising on the boat. Sunday morning we were woken fairly early though, and were sitting on the beach by 8 AM. We spent the rest of the morning relaxing on the beach, before going to Lunchin Bay. There I did a dive, and snorkelled for a bit afterwards, trying to find my disposable underwater camera. I lost it when we got pulled back to the boat behind the dinghy (very cool!). Again the evening was about drinking and socialising (good thing they sell 2l and 4l casks of wine in Australia).

Monday morning I did some snorkelling and spent the rest of the day sunbathing and reading on the boat. It feels like I am on holiday now, instead of really travelling around Australia. You do know the difference between a tourist and a traveller, right? A tourist knows exactly where he is going, but does not know where he has been. A traveller knows exactly where he has been, but has no clue where he is going.

Down UnderSS Yongala Wreck Dive

On 25 September 2004 from Airlie Beach, QLD | comments closed

Thursday morning I went for a nice walk to some WWII fortifications on Magnetic Island, before we (Rachel, Jeremiah and I) took the ferry back to Townsville. There I got a new pair of swimming shorts (another thing I seem to have lost along the way), and we drove on to Ayr.

Friday we got up early and drove to Alva Beach, where the base of Yongala Dive is. After fitting on all the diving gear and the briefing, we got a short 4WD ride to the beach, where we jumped into the dive boat and speeded towards the shipwreck of the SS Yongala. The SS Yongala was a coastal steamer that sank in a cyclone in 1911. It is the largest and most intact historic shipwreck in Australian waters and listed as the best dive site in the world. We (a group of only 7 divers) did two dives there, and I must admit they were the best dives I have done so far (also the most expensive, being A$190 = 110 euro for both dives). The shipwreck is completely covered in coral (basically an artificial reef) with lots of fish around. I swam alongside a large turtle and saw a bull shark! After the dives we enjoyed a nice BBQ, before we drove back to Ayr.

On Saturday we drove to Airlie Beach, where we dropped off Jeremiah at a hostel, and Rachel and I checked in for a sailing trip on the Whitsunday Islands.

Down UnderMagnetic Island Birthday

On 22 September 2004 from Nelly Bay, Magnetic Island, QLD | comments closed

On Monday I set off with Jeremiah (Canadian/American) and Rachel (English) towards Mission Beach. Over there we made a few short walks through the rainforest, trying to spot Cassowaries (slightly similar to Emus), but we were not able to spot one.

On my birthday on Tuesday morning I made a short walk on the beach of Mission Beach, before we set off to Townsville. On the way we drove into Lumholtz National Park, where we admired Wallaman Falls, the longest single drop waterfall in Australia (286m). In Townsville I bought myself a prescription mask for a bargain A$115 (= 66 euro). This is something essential for diving (and snorkelling) because I cannot really see without one (“where is the boat?”). So far I always borrowed one from the dive school, but the smaller operators just do not have them, so I had to get one for myself. At the dive shop I also found out that the Yongala dive would be cancelled for Wednesday because of high winds. So we decided to spend a day on Magnetic Island instead. After a nice Italian dinner in Townsville we took the ferry to the island and booked the Yongala trip for Friday, since it was booked out on Thursday. That effectively gave us two nights on Maggie, and offered a good excuse to get completely wasted in the Island Bar (according to English tradition).

Wednesday I spent pretty much all day recovering from my hangover and relaxing at the hostel near the beach on Magnetic Island. The East Coast really has much more of a holiday feel to it than other parts of Australia, mainly because of all the islands and beaches.

Down Under10 Months on the Road

On 19 September 2004 from Cairns, QLD | comments closed

Today exactly 10 months ago I left the Netherlands on a jet plane, not knowing when I would be back again. It turns out it will be pretty much a full year of travelling, considering the fact that I have less than 2 months left during which I need to travel down the east coast to Sydney, and I need some time to sell my car at the end.

Aside from 3,5 weeks in South-East Asia and 6,5 weeks in New Zealand, I have now spent 7,5 months in Australia, driving almost 14.000km. By now I have seen a fairly decent part of the country:
– Sydney & Blue Mountains;
– Tasmania;
– Melbourne, Great Ocean Road & Grampians;
– Almost all of Western Australia;
– Almost all of the Northern Territory;
– Outback Queensland, Cairns & environs.

I will skip the state of South Australia entirely, there is just not enough time (and money left) to see everything.

The last couple of days I spent relaxing in Cairns, and I put up notices looking for people to travel with. I have been spending the evenings at the Woolshed, a very popular backpacker bar that also serves meals for A$4-6 (=2,30 to 3,50 euro). It is almost impossible to cook by myself for that price. Additionally, it has a real east coast Australia party atmosphere. In Cairns I have definitely entered the realm of the sun-sea-beach-party backpackers, whom I have been avoiding up to now. I will probably keep doing that, although a bit of party every few days is not a bad thing to end my trip with.

Down UnderNorthern Territory Photos

On 17 September 2004 from Cairns, QLD | comments closed

Besides sorting out my mail (regular and electronic) this afternoon, I also spent some hours on updating my website and uploading the best photos of the Northern Territory.

Down UnderCape Tribulation

On from Cairns, QLD | comments closed

Wednesday morning I picked up Sarah from her accommodation, since she was coming with Dom and I for a 2-night trip to Cape Tribulation. After shopping (always seems to take ages), we left the city northbound. The first stop was Mossman Gorge, a not-so-impressive gorge, where we made a short hike. I must say that after almost 10 months of travelling it becomes hard to get impressed by natural features that I have already seen before somewhere else. Especially with gorges, it is almost impossible to surpass the ones in Karijini NP and the Kimberley. Anyway, after we took the ferry over the Daintree River the road became much more winding and hilly, with maximum speeds of 40km/h to 60km/h. Therefore we needed pretty much all the time to get to the Cape Tribulation campsite. But after we set up the tent there we took our time to make some nice BBQ dinner in typical Aussi fashion.

Cape Tribulation is special because it is a place ‘where the rainforest meets the reef’, so all the beaches have rainforest on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other side (the Great Barrier Reef is quite a bit off the coast). Since it was not really warm enough to lay on the beach (and it is boring anyway), we spent all Thursday making short walks through the rainforest on our way back from Cape Tribulation. We ended up right above the Daintree River at Cape Kimberley, where we camped.

This morning we drove to Daintree Village, but left it almost straight away, since there seemed to be absolutely nothing interesting there. From there on we drove straight back to Cairns, because I had to go to the post office for my license plates. As it turned out, the Australian Post office in Alice Springs messed up big time by misspelling my last name, so my license plates were still in Alice Springs. Luckily they were able to send them straight on to Brisbane, where I can pick them up (hopefully).

Down UnderPADI Advanced Open Water Diver

On 14 September 2004 from Cairns, QLD | comments closed

I spent the last 3 days living aboard the Scubapro II, one of Pro Dive Cairns’ multi-million dollar dive boats. At first I was not planning to do my Advanced Open Water Diver course with Pro Dive Cairns, because they are quite a bit more expensive than the competition. However, I could get a standby rate (A$550 = 315 euro) for the course, making Pro Dive just as expensive as the competition, so it was an easy decision to go with the best company. On Saturday I got all my dive gear fitted and studied a bit of the course materials. I also sorted out all the photos I made since Darwin and burned them on CDs (I always burn my photos on two CDs, cannot risk the chance of losing them).

Sunday morning I got picked up from the hostel at 6.15 and transferred to the dive boat. I am glad I decided to get some anti-seasickness medication, because the 3-hour trip to the reef was far from smooth. The next 3 days I made 11 dives on the Great Barrier Reef, almost continuously changing in and out of the wetsuit, so it was fairly tiring. We were looked after really well though, with 3 buffet meals a day and snacks in between. The group consisted of only 20 divers (and 1 snorkeller), so there was lots of space (the boat has a capacity of 32). Of the 11 dives that I did 5 were for the Advanced Open Water Diver course, and consisted of a Navigation Dive (trying not to get lost underwater), Night Dive (in complete darkness), Deep Dive (up to 30m deep), Photography Dive (making lots of photos) and Naturalist Dive (trying to recognise the fish and coral). The course turned out to be fairly easy, but lots of fun to do. During the course I dived with David from Italy, but the 5 dives afterwards I did with Sarah from Switzerland. She had just completed her Open Water Diver course, so it was entirely up to me to make sure we would not get lost. Not that it is actually possible to get lost while diving, because it is always possible to surface to find out where the boat is. But being “geographically embarrased” (as getting lost is called) is not fun, because we might have had to snorkel back to the boat for a long way. Luckily my scout skills also worked underwater, so we never had to snorkel too far.

The last 5 dives were also the best for spotting aquatic life (with the exception of the night dive, just cannot see much in the dark). We spotted a whitetip reef shark and swam along a turtle for a while! In the end I was really glad I booked the 3-day liveaboard trip with Pro Dive, because everything was organised perfectly, and the safety procedures on the boat were really good. After the trip on Tuesday evening we all had dinner together in the city, and checked out some of the underwater photographs.

Down UnderOut of the Outback

On 10 September 2004 from Cairns, Queensland | comments closed

I spent the weekend of 4-5 September relaxing in Alice Springs, finishing ‘The Return of the King’ and reading Bill Bryson’s book on England. A lot of people that wanted to go to Cairns decided to fly there in the end, since it is a 2500km drive with few interesting stops along the way. Nevertheless, driving turned out to be quite a bit cheaper than flying.

On Monday I got a call from Dom (Dominique) from Germany, who wanted to drive with me to Cairns, and we left pretty much straight away. We spent the night at the Devil’s Marbles, so we got to see these fascinating rocks at both sunset and sunrise.

On Tuesday we drove all day to cover the 750km to Mt Isa in Queensland. When we crossed the state border, I had to set my watch half an hour forward. So now I am on GMT +10, or 8 hours later than mainland Western Europe. When we drove into Mt Isa, I almost could not believe the fuel prices, since 1 litre of unleaded petrol was less than A$1 (=0,58 euro). This is a price I have not paid since leaving Perth, more than 12.000km down the road. Usually unleaded fuel was about A$1,20/litre (=0,70 euro), with A$1,38/litre (=0,80 euro) the most I have paid at a roadhouse in W.A. Still very cheap compared to European fuel prices. In Mt Isa Dom and I met up with Amy (a friend of Donna’s, whom I met in Perth) and had a few drinks. Afterwards we went shopping, got dinner and set up the tent on a campsite.

Wednesday we drove on to Normanton, not a very interesting town, but it made for a good overnight stop. Since we drove into Queensland, the roads have gotten significantly worse, and even the highway from the Northern Territory to Queensland was single lane seal for a long way. This means the highway is only sealed wide enough for one vehicle, and if two vehicles pass each other, both have to get their left wheels on the gravel. Except in the case of road trains, because they stay on the seal because of their size. If they would have to get off the seal for a car, it would mean this car would get showered with stones. Not good for the windscreen.

Thursday Dom and I drove from Normanton to Undara Lava Lodge, where we camped and did a tour to the lava tubes. These are huge tunnels created by the lava flow from the Undara volcano. The tour guide told us all about it in a very enthusiastic way.

Friday morning we did a few short hikes in the Undara Volcanic National Park, before heading to Cairns. On the way to Cairns we made a few more stops with short hikes to Millstream Falls and the Crater Lakes. The scenery really changed today: whereas outback Queensland is all flat with dry yellow fields, coastal Queensland is all mountainous with green fields and forests, very similar to South Germany. This made the last bit of the drive a lot more interesting, with hundreds of bends in the road that goes up and down. It also meant we left the outback, since there are no more road trains, little towns everywhere and decent fuel prices (we paid A$0,92/litre = 0,53 euro/litre in Cairns). We got to Cairns in the evening, where we set up the tent at Tropic Days and enjoyed a free dinner at a bar.

Down UnderRed Centre (In)activity

On 3 September 2004 from Alice Springs, NT | comments closed

Indeed, I am still in Alice Springs, not really according to my wishes, but more out of necessity. The problem was finding people who wanted to travel to Cairns at the same time that I did. As it turns out, there were a few people that wanted to go to Cairns, but they had not been to Uluru yet, so I am currently waiting for them to return. In the meantime I am slowly exploring Alice Springs and reading ‘The Return of the King’.

On Monday afternoon I wandered around the town centre and got up to Anzac Hill for a better view. Tuesday morning I had some minor repairs on my car done, and explored the Old Telegraph Station in depth. The people who lived there in the early years were true pioneers, getting supplies about once a year. On Tuesday I also checked in at Annie’s Place, a nice hostel. I have been camping pretty much every day for the last month, so I felt it was a good idea to sleep in a real bed again, but I also needed to do some laundry, and it is just freezing cold here at night (must be the desert climate). Additionally, they offer dinners for A$5 (= 3 euro) in the restaurant, even cheaper than McDonalds or KFC.

Wednesday I spent pretty much all day reading my book at Annie’s Place. Of course I had to compensate that with some physical activity the next day, so on Thursday I went with some local bushwalkers to Standley Chasm. From there we walked about 18km on the Larapinta Trail, a hiking trail accross the West MacDonnell Ranges. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, and I really enjoyed the hike. In the evening I had dinner in the hostel restaurant again with some other backpackers.

Today I had to organise that my license plates would be forwarded to Cairns, since I will not be able to pick them up here in Alice Springs. All in all it has been a lot of hassle getting new license plates, with long telephone calls to the Department of Planning and Infrastructure in Western Australia. But then again, I doubt if it had been any easier back home, probably not. In the afternoon I borrowed a bike from Ernie (one of the locals I hiked with yesterday), and biked all the way to Simpsons Gap. The roundtrip turned out to be more than 50km, and I was pretty exhausted at the end (also sunburned). Clearly I have not been biking in a long time. In the evening I went to see the carnival parade of the Alice Springs festival. It was more like a children’s parade than anything else, nothing like the carnival back home.

Down UnderThe Big Red Rock

On 30 August 2004 from Alice Springs, NT | comments closed

On Friday we drove the 450km to Yulara, the resort town next to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. After we set up the tent, we drove into the park and up to Uluru (a.k.a. Ayers Rock, a.k.a. the Big Red Rock). We did not have enough time to walk around, so we decided to check out the visitors centre instead. Afterwards we drove to the sunset viewing area, where we were able to make some nice photos of Uluru changing to a red colour.

Saturday we got up really early to see the sunrise at Uluru, but the sun was hiding behind some clouds, so it was pretty disappointing. After sunrise we drove to the other side and climbed the rock. A little note on that: the Aboriginal owners ask everyone not to climb it, but they have not actually closed the climb (except in bad weather conditions), so still thousands of people climb it. Also, the park entry fee for Uluru – Kata Tjuta is A$25 p.p. for 3 days, which is exorbitantly expensive, considering you pay only A$22,50 for a car for 30 days for all the national parks in Western Australia. If they do not respect my financial situation (being a poor backpacker), I do not respect their wishes not to climb it. However, I did refrain from calling people from the top (yes, there is mobile coverage on top of Uluru), and sent SMS instead. On top of Uluru it really felt like I was in the centre of Australia, with a huge expanse of flat country almost everywhere I looked. After climbing Uluru, we drove to Kata Tjuta (a.k.a. the Olgas), where we did the Valley of the Winds hike, passing along some of the characteristic domes. Next was Walpa Gorge, a short hike to a lookout into the gorge, not very interesting. On the way back to Uluru we stopped at the sand dunes for a view of Kata Tjuta, but it had become really cloudy, so it was not very good. Back at Uluru the climb was closed because of high wind speeds at the top, and we did our last hike of the day around the base of Uluru. During that hike it rained as well, the first rain since I left Exmouth. All in all we hiked some 26km on Saturday. We went to see another sunset of Uluru as well, but the sun only came out shortly half an hour before, so the rock did not become red that day.

On Sunday we drove over 300km to get to Kings Canyon, and did the Canyon Rim walk, going all the way around the canyon. This was probably the most interesting hike in the centre, and reminded me somewhat of Karijini NP in Western Australia. Initially the plan was to camp at the Kings Canyon Resort, but they were asking an exorbitantly high price (A$14,50), so we decided to get back to the highway. That included driving 100km on unsealed road (the alternative was 270km of sealed road), but it was easy in my 4WD. We camped for free at Stuart’s Well.

Today we drove into Alice Springs, David and I said our goodbyes, and I finally had some time to update this website, since I had not been able to do that since leaving Darwin.

Down UnderDown to the Centre

On 26 August 2004 from Alice Springs, NT | comments closed

I spent all Tuesday kayaking and hiking in Katherine Gorge, while David explored and relaxed in Katherine (he had been to the gorge before). In the morning I rented a kayak for 4 hours and paddled up to the end of the first gorge, where I had to carry the kayak over rocks to the second gorge (pretty hard work). I turned around about halfway through the second gorge, but this time I went through the rapids to get back to the first gorge, a lot easier. After returning the kayak, I went for a quick swim in the river, and decided to hike a bit in the afternoon. So I went to Pat’s Lookout that gave a good view over the gorge, but kayaking is definitely better. Back in Katherine we happened to stay next to a guy who was the expert on my type of car in the Northern Territory (he just rebuilt an engine himself), and he fixed my oil leak, so we were all good to go to Alice Springs (1200km South).

Wednesday we set off for Alice and made a stop at Mataranka on the way, to look at the thermal pool and flying foxes (bats) who are inhabiting the rainforest in huge numbers (very smelly indeed). We camped overnight at Banka Banka, a very good value campsite, with an interesting presentation on outback station life in the evening.

On Thursday we spent quite some time hiking around and making photos of the Devil’s Marbles. I also cought up with a Swiss couple I had met before in Broome and Turkey Creek (of all places). We got to Alice Springs in the evening and quickly put up some signs looking for people to travel further with (David wanted to go straight to Sydney from Alice).

Down UnderKakadu & Arnhem Land

On 23 August 2004 from Katherine, NT | comments closed

Wednesday morning I packed all my stuff in the car and said goodbye to Adina (Peter had already left to work), before meeting David at his hostel. Unfortunately I was only able to find one person to share fuel costs with, but that would have to do. I did not want to spend much time looking for other people, since my flight date seems to approach fast. And despite the fact that David is from London, our ideas about travelling were fairly similar and he knows how to cook, so we have been saving quite some money by camping (sometimes for free) and cooking during the trip.

After shopping for food at Woolworths we drove towards Kakadu National Park. Before the park we stopped at Adelaide River for a jumping croc cruise. On this river the saltwater crocodiles (the nasty ones) actually swim towards boats to get fed. But the meat is hold out in the air, so they have to jump for it. And they do! I saw crocodiles jumping from the water up to one metre in the air. Very spectacular, and I have a few very good photos and videos. After the cruise we checked out some more huge termite mounds, before finding a campsite for the night.

Thursday morning we got up early, viewed the Mamukala Wetlands (Australia being as dry as it is, wetlands are quite unusual and an important feature of Kakadu NP), and checked out the visitors centre. There we decided to make it a day of Aboriginal rock art and hiking, so we drove to Ubirr, did a 9km hike around sandstone formations, creeks and the river. Before driving to the rock art, we got some ice for the esky (coolbox) at the store and I met Lieke there. Australia is a big place, but not big enough not to run into the same people all the time. The Aboriginal rock at Ubirr (and later Nourlangie Rock) is definitely the best I have seen, and some paintings are thousands of years old. Besides rock art, Ubirr has a really good lookout, and we planned to see the sunset there, but could not be bothered to wait more than 3 hours, so we drove on to Nourlangie Rock to see some more rock art. We were just in time for the second ranger talk about Aboriginal culture, which was very interesting. The rock art here was really good, but also really recent (around 1960). In Aboriginal tradition it is not a bad thing to put a new painting over an old one. Before driving to our free campsite, we checked out a billabong (waterhole) and another lookout.

We booked a tour to Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls on Friday, because the 60km road there is a very rough 4WD track with a deep water crossing on the way to Twin Falls (I heard it was 1m deep). The deep water crossing was the main reason to do a tour (getting stalled in crocodile infested waters does not sound like fun), and additionally we would get to hear about the flora and fauna, and not have to worry about driving rough tracks that might end up costing more in repairs than the tour. We drove to Twin Falls first, where we had to get on a boat for the last bit, because of the saltwater crocodiles in the water. The falls were probably the highest I have seen in Australia. Next we drove to Jim Jim Falls, and it took a decent hike to get there, but the swimming was great (the falls were not flowing unfortunately). All in all it was a pretty relaxed day.

Saturday we drove into Arnhem Land, and every other day of the year it is necessary to get a permit to drive there, because it is Aboriginal owned land. But Saturday happened to be the yearly open day in Oenpelli, with lots of activities going on. We checked out the art store and the school where all the activities centered. After the official opening at noon there did not seem to be much going on however (we had already checked out all the stands before), and it seemed most things were run by white people anyway, and there was even an Asian food stand. So I was getting fairly bored, but the problem was getting back. To get to Arnhem Land it is necessary to cross the East Alligator River, which is impassable during high tide. So we had to wait a while before we could drive through the river, and got back late afternoon. We made a short walk near the river, before heading to the campsite at Yellow Water.

Sunday we checked out the wetlands and the Aboriginal cultural centre at Yellow Water. The rest of the day was driving, hiking and swimming. First we drove the 4WD-only road to Maguk, where the waterfall and plunge pool was refreshing. Then we drove the 4WD-recommended road to Gunlom, another waterfall with plunge pool. We did not swim here though, since there were some more rock pools and small waterfalls at the top of the falls, and those were much better to swim in.

On Monday we started the day with a hike to Motor Car Falls, but it was too early to swim, so we hiked back and drove out of Kakadu NP. On Friday the tour guide had given us the tip to go to Molime Rockhole, just outside Kakadu NP down a 4WD track that was not signposted. So we went there, had the place to ourselves and went for a swim. Afterwards we drove to Edith Falls, where we also hiked to the top of the waterfall for a refreshing swim in the rockholes. It was also the first place where I forgot to take my camera (left it in the car), so annoying. Late afternoon we drove on to Katherine, where we camped at Coco’s. Finally I was able to get 2 litres of Hokey Pokey ice-cream, since there was a freezer and we stayed two nights.

Down UnderLots of Western Australia Photos

On 17 August 2004 from Darwin, NT | comments closed

I spent the last 4 days in Darwin getting organised, cleaning my car and sorting out my photos. Adina and Peter were really nice to let me stay at their house, a little bit (20km) out of town, but overlooking a lagoon with lots of wildlife. Somehow it seems all the Australians I know have a 5-acre block. I tried using their computer to sort out my photos, and spent about a full day trying to get it to work, but in the end had to resort to an internet cafe. I will save you the details, just never buy a computer with only recovery CDs to repair Windows.

I made about 300 photos in the last 6 weeks (I know, I am not making as much photos anymore as I used to), and I put the best ones online. You can find them in the Western Australia album starting from the end of page 2.

On Saturday I went into town to put up notices looking for travel mates, and I got a few responses (not as much as I hoped for though). I met up with an English guy today and it seemed we have fairly similar ideas of travelling to Alice Springs, so I hope that works out.

I spent all Sunday and Monday morning cleaning out my car, since it was an absolute mess. I had not cleaned it since I left Mandurah, about 2 months ago, and everything was covered in red dust. So I cleaned it outside and inside, and did the same for all the camping gear, sorting that out at the same time. Monday afternoon I took the car for a service, and bolted the bull-bar back on in the evening. In Katherine I noticed that it was only fixed to the car with 2 bolts on one side, so I put a tent peg in as a temporary measure, but fixed it properly on Monday. I also noticed I lost a license plate, so I applied for new ones today. It must have come off on this rough gravel road in the Kimberley, and the bull-bar probably lost a few bolts there as well (the others during towing).

Besides all this, I went to the Darwin city centre almost every day to check out the sights (not many), shop (I got the last book of ‘Lord of the Rings’), sort out my photos (almost for free since I helped them trying to get their computer fixed), and meet friends (the Australian who towed me and Lieke).

Down UnderInto the Territory

On 13 August 2004 from Darwin, Northern Territory | comments closed

Tuesday morning we crossed the border between Western Australia and Northern Territory, which was a bit of a weird feeling, since I spent almost 4,5 months in Western Australia. Also, it required us to set our watches 1,5 hours forward. So now I am on GMT +9,5 (these half hour time differences are really weird), or 7,5 hours later than mainland Western Europe. After crossing the border we went almost straight to Katherine, where we found a nice campsite for the night. It was also the place where we encountered traffic lights again, and I almost forgot they existed, since we did not see any for more than 5000km.

On Wednesday we drove into Litchfield National Park, where we checked out huge termite mounds, and some nice waterfalls: Florence Falls, Tolmer Falls, and Wangi Falls. Sally, Claire and I went swimming at the first and last of these, before finding a campsite near Wangi Falls.

Thursday we drove to Darwin, with a short stop at Berry Springs. After settling at the caravan park I took the bus into town (could not be bothered driving for 1,05 euro), and checked out the city center. In the evening I went to the Mindil Beach Market, a large open-air market with lots of food stands (had some great Asian food), souvenir stands, and street artists. Later on I met Sally, Claire and Charlie (met him before in Fitzroy Crossing), and we took the bus back together.

Today I settled the score with Sally and Claire and visited Jo’s sister Adina, on the outskirts of Darwin, where I have been able to type up the last three posts. I also made a new sign looking for travel mates, made an appointment to get my car serviced, and confirmed my return flight (arriving on Schiphol at 06.30 on Sunday 14 November 2004, flight CX271; I hope you can pick me up from the airport, mum & dad).

Down UnderCar Trouble & the Kindness of Strangers

On 9 August 2004 from Lake Argyle, Western Australia | comments closed

We left Fitzroy Crossing on Friday morning, but after a while the car seemed to be pulling back (suddenly lose power) at higher speeds. So I pulled into a rest area and at that time the engine stalled as well, and I could not get it started anymore. Unfortunately, this happened between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, 140km from both towns (they would be considered villages back home, with a population of around 1500). So there we were, stuck along the highway in the middle of nowhere, with no GSM signal either. Fortunately, we were not the only ones at the rest area, and I went to a couple standing with two utes (pick-up trucks). They checked out my car, but could not find anything that was obviously wrong. So they got on the radio to ask for a ride to Halls Creek or a satellite phone to call the RAC (Royal Automobile Club, WA’s ANWB/ADAC/AA). Next thing we know this large road train (truck with 3 trailers) pulls in, and we got the RAC on the satellite phone. However, they were charging A$200 just to get out there. In the meantime, a tourist from Melbourne with his parents had pulled in as well, and he offered to tow us to Halls Creek in his rented LandCruiser. That seemed the most viable option, so we ended up getting towed for 140km to Halls Creek. Indeed, the kindness of strangers. It was not easy though, since power steering was not working and the brakes were really bad because the engine was off. But we made it, and called the RAC from the Shell service station. It took them 2 hours to arrive from a workshop not even 5 minutes away, so that was not a good impression. But they had the engine running within 5 minutes by adjusting the distributor. Of course we thanked the tourist from Melbourne with a good supply of alcohol (he would not accept any money, and beer is currency in Australia).

On Saturday we had not even got back to the highway before the car stalled again. So we called the RAC again, and it got fixed again. Once more he adjusted the distributor, but told us it should really get fixed. However, no one in Halls Creek had the time or the parts to fix it soon, so we decided to take it easy and see how far we could get. We managed to get to Turkey Creek, and had the engine cool off there for a while. When we departed the problem only seemed to have gotten worse, and I did not think the car would make it to Kununurra, 200km along the highway, so I turned back to Turkey Creek. There I called for a mechanic, and an old typical Aussi guy with a long white beard showed up. He was thinking the problem was in the spark plugs, but those turned out to be fine, and he also came to the conclusion that the distributor was broken. Luckily, he had a second-hand one in one of his engines, and he built that into mine. If you consider that Turkey Creek is just a roadhouse and an aboriginal community, it is pretty amazing that I managed to get my car fixed there. But after almost two hours it did get fixed, it was running smoothly, I was 90 euro poorer, and we were on our way again.

We managed to get to El Questro without any further problems, and we joined Ray and Jenny (an Australian couple we met at Silent Grove campsite) for dinner. El Questro is a 1 million acre Wilderness Park (that is about the size of the Netherlands) with some very upscale accommodation in the homestead (500 euro per person per night), but also chalets and campsites. Needless to say, we stayed at the latter, but spent most time at the bar, using the bar’s campfire to heat the marshmallows.

Sunday morning Sally, Claire and I went to Zebedee Springs: natural hot springs in the El Questro Wilderness Park. After relaxing there for a bit, I brought Sally and Claire back to the campsite for some sunbathing, and I went to El Questro gorge. I was surprised to see a few 2WD vehicles in the El Questro resort, because it is necessary to cross a river to get there, although the river is not deep at all. A lot of roads in the Wilderness Park were 4WD tracks though, impossible to do by 2WD. This was also the case for the track to the El Questro gorge, part of it was very sandy (needing lots of ground clearance) and there was a turn-off in the middle of a creek crossing. The gorge itself was great to hike in because it was very narrow, and the steep cliffs walls gave a lot of shadow. I did the full hike, requiring to wade through waist-deep water at the halfway pool. The hike was supposed to take 2,5 hours, but only took me 1 hour. At the end there was a beautiful waterfall streaming into a rock pool, so I went for a nice swim there. After driving back I joined the girls sunbathing at the river, and we made some nice dinner.

Monday morning we packed everything in the car and were ready to leave El Questro, but the car did not do anything. I got the mechanic and it turned out to be just a loose battery contact, so after that was screwed on everything worked and we drove to Kununurra. We made it just a fuel, food, and tourist information stop, and continued on to Lake Argyle, where we spent the afternoon at the pool of the caravan park.

Down UnderCreek Crossings

On 5 August 2004 from Fitzroy Crossing, WA | comments closed

On Tuesday Sally, Claire and I set off to Derby, where we took a look at the Prison Boab Tree, a tree large enough to hold people inside. In Derby we got the latest road conditions and got on Gibb River Road. This is almost 700km of unsealed road straight through the Kimberley. However, I decided to only go to some of the natural attractions on either end of the road, mainly because I did not want to break down in the middle of nowhere. On Tuesday we reached Bell Gorge, 220km along Gibb River Road, where we camped overnight at the Silent Grove campsite. The unsealed road was better than expected, but the last 20km to the campsite was a 4WD-only road and I wondered why until we got to the first creek crossing. Creek crossings are fairly normal in this part of Australia, and at this time of the year (the ‘Dry’-season) there are only a few of them. Nevertheless, it is still scary to drive through a creek that is 40cm deep, even with a 4WD. It also took some trail-and-error to figure out the best way to tackle them. I think I made all the beginner mistakes by now: using high-gear 4WD, using too high entry speeds (it does clean the windshield nicely though), stalling the engine (luckily it was not deep there). FYI: second gear in low-gear 4WD is the best way to handle the deeper creek crossings.

Wednesday morning we went into Bell Gorge, definitely one of the most picturesque gorges in the West Kimberley. I went as far into the gorge as possible and had a quick swim before joining Sally and Claire who had been sunbathing. We drove back on Gibb River Road and took the 4WD-only road along Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. After setting up the tent at the Windjana Gorge campsite, we spent the afternoon in Windjana Gorge, where freshwater crocodiles were sunbathing on the banks of the river.

Thursday morning we visited Tunnel Creek, basically a 750m natural tunnel where you have to wade through a knee-deep creek to get to the end. Coming from the broad daylight, the tunnel was pitch black and the girls were too scared to continue. I went on and met up with an Adventure Tours group, one that we seemed to be following, since I had met some of them in Bell Gorge and Windjana Gorge. After a quick look around at the end of the tunnel I went back and we drove on to Fitzroy Crossing. That turned out to be a fairly rough road with another creek crossing (I have photos of this one). We drove straight through town into Geikie Gorge, where we had a few hours to spare before the boat cruise started. I used the time for a nice walk along the gorge and the river. The boat cruise was very informative, and we saw lots of crocs in the water and on the banks of the river.

Down UnderStaircase to the Moon

On 2 August 2004 from Broome, WA | comments closed

I am not talking about the Led Zeppelin song, but about the effect caused by the rising of the full moon reflected off the tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. This is a major tourist attraction here, complete with crowds and a market. This happened at 18.18 last night, and I watched it with the usual crowd of people (Sally, Claire, Phil etc.). Before the Staircase to the Moon we did not really do anything though, and spent another lazy day at the campsite. In the evening I went to the Kimberley Klub for a really fun game of Spoons, an easy cardgame with a bit of a spoon battle.

Today was the last day in Broome, and subsequently Claire and I did some laundry, before going to Cable Beach for the last time. I also had my car fixed, and it turned out the clutch did not need to be replaced, but just readjusted. So that was only a 45 euro repair.

Time to go now and check out the Staircase to the Moon again, it is supposed to be better today, since the moon is only rising at 19.18, so it will be completely dark by that time. Tomorrow Sally, Claire and I are going into the Kimberley, and from there to Darwin. That will most likely be the next place to update my website, in about 10 days or so.

Down UnderRelaxing & Fixing

On 1 August 2004 from Broome, WA | comments closed

Wednesday evening Sally and I went to the Jam Night at Divers Tavern, where we were joined by Arno, Phil and Christine. It was Arno’s last night in Broome, because he left to Darwin on Thursday, so we had quite a few farewell beers.

Thursday and Friday were some very lazy days: after sleeping in we went to Cable Beach in the afternoon, and just relaxed at the campsite the rest of the day. Friday evening I met up with Phil at the Kimberley Klub, more a budget resort than a hostel, where we chilled a bit.

Friday was a bit of a bad day though. I was having some problems getting my car into reverse gear, so I went to a car repair place and they told me I had a problem with the clutch. However, he could not look at it till Monday, so I went to another place, where two mechanics did a testdrive and took a look at it, and it turned out the clutch is on its last legs. They ordered a new one from Perth, and hopefully it will arrive on Monday to be built in the same day. The estimated cost for it is A$750 (mainly labour), so that really sucks, but I have no choice than to get it fixed here. A broken clutch in the Kimberley is a lot worse.

Saturday was probably the laziest day of all, we only got out of the campsite to get some food at the supermarket, and spent all day reading. So I almost finished ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’. Now I have to find ‘The Return of the King’ somewhere cheap, to finish reading the entire trilogy. Saturday evening we first went to The Last Resort, to drink more wine and have some fresh fish, before clubbing at the Oasis.

Down UnderBroometime

On 28 July 2004 from Broome, WA | comments closed

I am currently on Broometime, as the casual go-with-the-flow attitude here is called. And Broome is not a bad place to linger for a while, since daily temperatures are around 30 degrees, the skies are clear and blue, the beach has beautiful white sand and offers an Indian Ocean sunset (unlike all places on the East coast of Australia). Camping with two nice English girls is not bad either.

After my previous post on Monday we ended up spending all day around the mall and Chinatown, doing laundry and getting some nice food. We spent the evening chatting with a lone rider at the campsite.

Tuesday was Cable Beach day. Cable Beach has the beautiful white sand and we spent all afternoon there, till after sunset. Arno, Phil and Christina also joined us at the beach, and I met up with Lieke, as well as the Dutch and German girls I met on the campsite in Exmouth. I am definitely not the only only lingering around in Broome for a while. In the evening Sally, Claire, Arno, Phil and I went to the historic open air cinema to see ‘Endless Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. The theatre was great, especially with an airplane flying over really low before landing, but the movie was rather weird.

Today Sally, Claire and I went to Gantheaume Point, where it should be possible to see dinosaur footprints at very low tide, but we were unable to see them. Afterwards we went to the local crocodile farm, to watch lots of chickens being devoured by hungry crocs, and to get educated a bit about them. After all, they are rather common in the area I will be travelling in next, so it is good to know the difference between a freshwater crocodile and a saltwater crocodile (the former will not eat you, the latter will, and likes freshwater too). But not to worry, it is easy to outrun crocodiles on land.

Down UnderGorgeous Gorges

On 26 July 2004 from Broome, WA | comments closed

In Exmouth I met Sally (23) and Claire (21), both English, when I visited the Ningaloo Club hostel (very relaxed place, but pretty expensive as well). They needed a lift to Broome and I needed passengers to go there, so that was settled pretty quick. We took off on Wednesday, and spent all day driving to Tom Price (yes, it is the name of a town). In Tom Price we went to the tourist information and supermarket, before setting up camp and having dinner at the campsite.

On Thursday morning we drove into Karijini National Park, where little streams flow through gorgeous red gorges. After setting up the tent at Savannah Campsite, we explored Weano Gorge, Joffre Falls and Knox Gorge, where I took a refreshing (i.e. very cold water) dip in the Jungle Book pool.

Friday morning we got up early to explore Kalamina Gorge. Even though the campsite was pretty full (school holidays) we were the only ones in the gorge that morning. Do not try that in Europe. Afterwards we drove to Dales Campsite (we wanted to get there early, because otherwise it might be full) and set up the tent. After lunch we walked to the Circular Pool outlook and met Arno (Dutch), Phil (English) and Christina (German) at the car park. I have met Arno and Phil in pretty much every town since Perth, so we decided to hike in the gorges together. But first Phil and I took a refreshing swim in Circular Pool, before hiking through Dales Gorge to Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. After dinner at the campsite we played cards till bedtime (10PM in the outback, since it is pitch black after 7PM).

On Saturday Sally, Claire and I set off to Port Hedland, because we had done pretty much all the hikes in Karijini NP, and the girls needed a decent shower after a few days in the bush. Karijini was ‘red dust country’, as I like to call it, because after a few days everything was covered in a little layer of red dust. Unsurprisingly, Port Hedland had nothing else to offer besides fuel and food, so we made it a relaxing afternoon at the hostel.

We slept in a bit on Sunday, before starting the 600km drive to Broome. This drive enforced all the observations I have written before:
– Almost all the cars we encountered were 4WDs, most pulling a caravan or trailer [Observations: 4WDs].
– We saw lots of dead kangaroos besides the road [Observations: Kangaroos].
– The ‘Welcome to the Shire of Broome’ sign was put up more than 400km before the actual town [Observations: Distance & Size].

Down UnderPADI Open Water Diver

On 20 July 2004 from Exmouth, WA | comments closed

Today I finished the last three dives of my PADI Open Water Diver course. We drove out to the Tantabiddi boat ramp and launched the boat from there. The first dive was good, we spent most of the time practicing skills, and went for a swim over the coral afterwards. But then the wind picked up and it took us some time to find another good diving spot. We found a spot that was deep enough, but unfortunately there was no coral there, so our second and third dives were mainly about practicing necessary diving skills. Because the waves were pretty high and the boat was rocking quite a bit, I got fairly seasick as well, not fun at all. But we did finish the course, and I have practiced in windy conditions, giving me a better preparation for other dives.

The next dives I do will probably be at the Great Barrier Reef. I could have done some more ves here (even a free Navy Pier dive), but it is still pretty windy, and the two British girls I am travelling to Broome with wanted to leave as soon as possible. Therefore the plan is to drive to Tom Price tomorrow. The next website update will probably be from Broome, in another week or so, since there is no or only very expensive internet in between here and Broome. And I just got used to free internet at Coral Coast Dive (where I did the dive course)… If I would have had to pay for internet usage the last week, it would be at least 50 euro.

Down Under8 Months on the Road

On 19 July 2004 from Exmouth, WA | comments closed

Exactly 8 months ago I had my feet on Dutch soil for the last time. I have been to quite a few places since: 3,5 weeks in South-East Asia, 6,5 weeks in New Zealand, and 5,5 months in Australia. But of those 5,5 months, I spent only 2 months really travelling. And looking on the map of Australia, it seems I have only covered a very small part of it:
– Sydney & Blue Mountains;
– Tasmania;
– Melbourne, Great Ocean Road & Grampians;
– Perth, South-West WA, along the coast to Exmouth & Port Hedland.

There is still a lot of Australia to travel to, and since my ticket validity is a maximum of 1 year, it means I have already spent 2/3 of the available time. But at least I feel like I am really travelling now.

Yesterday I went with three Australians to Oyster Stacks and Turkuoise Bay, where we went snorkelling on Ningaloo Reef. Oyster Stacks was the better snorkelling spot, but Turkuoise Bay had an absolutely gorgeous beach, which was fairly crowded due to the winter school holidays (about 1 person every metre of beach, not 1 person every _square_ metre of beach, like on Dutch beaches in good weather, after all this is Western Australia). Even though it was a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies, the wind was still a bit chilly, so it got cold in the water after a while. Afterwards we made a short stop at the Vlamingh Head lighthouse (yep, named by the 17th century Dutch explorers), before getting back to the campsite.

This morning we were supposed to have our last three dives on the reef, so we got our wetsuits on, went in the small boat, got out into the water, got splashed by 1,5m high waves, and turned around after getting all soaked and seasick. Obviously, the weather was too bad to go diving today. The wind was the main problem, since it was a sunny day again. At least the weather here is a lot better than in Western Europe right now, where rain and storms seem to be ruining the summer. I feel really sorry for the folks back home (but not really…).

So on the downside my diving course is taking at least another day (hopefully the wind drops tomorrow, but we will have a bigger boat to make things easier). On the upside I have more time to read my diving theory book and update this website a bit more. I also found some people to travel to Broome with, so it will not cost me a fortune in fuel.

Down UnderDiving Course Update

On 17 July 2004 from Exmouth, WA | comments closed

On Wednesday I started the PADI Open Water Diver Course, and the first thing we did was getting some fitting gear from the shed: wetsuit, boots, fins, mask, snorkel, BCD (buoyancy control device), regulators, weight belt and scuba tanks. Luckily the dive shop had a mask with prescription lenses my strenght (actually, slightly stronger), so now I can see perfectly underwater as well. This is probably something I should buy for myself when I really get into diving, but unfortunately those masks are very dear, although I already got an address in England that makes prescription mask lenses for 38 euro a lens.

The other participants of the course were Arno (Dutch), Ron (German), Max (German), Helen (Scottish) and Elaine (English). Roy (Kiwi) was our instructor. After getting all the gear, we did some theory lessons, before doing our first confined water dive in the pool. That went all fine, except for the fact that the pool was fairly cold.

On Thursday we did some theory in the morning, before getting into the pool again. That was even colder than the day before, because Thursday was all cloudy, very untypical weather apparently. At least the rain did not bother at all under water. After our third confined water dive in the pool in the afternoon, we finished class early, because Helen and I still had not had our medical examination. That took about 2 hours, mainly because the doctor was running late with the previous appointments that day. Fortunately I can report that I am in good health, except for one thing: I cannot see anything without glasses… Nothing new there, and as I mentioned: I have prescription lenses in my mask to make me spot the fish, other divers and boat (although boats are usually hard to miss, even without visual correction).

The course group got slightly thinned out on Friday, because Helen failed her medical and Elaine was not very confident, so she wanted more time to study the theory. Since there were only 4 of us left now, things were moving a lot faster though, and we managed to finish the remaining confined water dives in the pool in the morning. In the afternoon we went to the Navy Pier with a whole lot of certified divers. The Pier was really cool to swim around and through, we saw lots of fish, from tiny bright blue ones (Neon Damsels) to entire schools of large silver fish. Only drawback was all the sand afterwards; everything and everybody was covered in sand.

Friday during lunchtime I met the daughter of a former Rabobank colleague (also doing a working holiday in Oz), and we went out together with some other Dutch, German and Canadian girls. I did not make it a late night though, since the doctor said I should sleep well, eat well, and not drink too much alcohol before diving. And since I always do what doctors say (ahem…) I decided to follow that advice. [Lecture]In all seriousness, diving is lots of fun, but there are risks involved, like decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis and the like. That is why it is essential to do a diving course before diving, so you know about the things that can happen, and how to handle in those situations. After all, you might be 20 metres deep in the water, and getting straight up when a problem occurs is just the opposite thing you should do. Therefore it is good to know the things you should do, so potential health damage is minimised.[/Lecture]

Today (Saturday) started with learning some more diving theory, followed by making the final exam, which I passed without any problems (and also without actually reading any chapter of the book). In the afternoon we planned to do another dive around the Navy Pier, but it got cancelled because of bad weather conditions (too windy, but at least it was not raining today, like the three previous days). Unfortunately I will not be doing another Navy Pier dive for the course, and I regret not taking my disposable underwater camera with me yesterday. The remaining three open water dives are at Ningaloo Reef on Monday, so tomorrow is a day off (maybe to study some theory or maybe to check out some beaches and/or gorges in Cape Range National Park). I used the afternoon today to browse the internet and update my website, since I can use the internet for free at the dive school (normally more than 3,5 0 euro/hour).

Down UnderNew Mobile Number

On 15 July 2004 from Exmouth, WA | comments closed

Since (1) Vodafone has almost no coverage outside the major cities in Australia, (2) my Vodafone credit ran out, and (3) I needed to be reachable, I got a new mobile number today from Telstra. So if you want to reach me or text (that is what SMS is called here in Oz) me while I am in or close to a town, this is the new number to dial:
+61-407083434

Down UnderDiving Course

On 14 July 2004 from Exmouth, WA | comments closed

Yesterday evening I got talked into doing a diving course here in Exmouth, so I started it this morning. It is not something completely out of the blue, ever since I planned to go to Australia, I also planned on doing a diving course here. However, initially the plan was to do a diving course on the east coast, most probably in Cairns. But when I spoke to some diving backpackers last night, I learned that diving courses are not significantly cheaper in Cairns than in Exmouth, and more importantly, most diving courses in Cairns do not even go out on the Great Barrier Reef, since that is 250 km out of the coast. Additionally, the Navy Pier here in Exmouth is the 4th best diving site in the world. Therefore my reasons for doing a diving course here in Exmouth are the following:
1. Getting my diving certificate in Exmouth allows me to dive on Ningaloo Reef and do a multiple day live aboard diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef.
2. Diving courses in Exmouth are slightly more expensive than in Cairns, but the groups are probably smaller, and I get to dive the Navy Pier and Ningaloo Reef.
3. Spending some time in Exmouth gives me more time to find people to travel up north with.

So I booked my PADI Open Water Diver Course with Coral Coast Dive in Exmouth. It should be 4 days in total, consisting of theory and practice in the pool, as well as 4 dives out in the ocean (Navy Pier and Ningaloo Reef). Total damage is 235 euro, plus 60 euro for my medical examination.

Down UnderIn the Tropics

On 13 July 2004 from Exmouth, WA | comments closed

Saturday morning we (Marina, Jenny and I) went to see a lot of parrots in Rainbow Jungle, before heading back into Kalbarri National Park to see the Loop (again for me) and the Z-Bend (more gorges). Afterwards I drove straight to Denham, where we checked in late at the hostel and still managed to get a complete little unit to ourselves. Subsequently we had our own little kitchen and Marina made some nice dinner.

Sunday morning we drove to Monkey Mia early in the morning. In Monkey Mia dolpins come straight up to the beach, and they stayed there for about half an hour, until the ranger gave them some fish and they swam away. We also left after the feeding, because it was a long way to Coral Bay, with just a stop for food and fuel in Carnarvon. Unfortunately it was a Sunday, otherwise I would have stopped at a windscreen repair place as well, since a little pebble hit the windscreen between Denham and Overlander roadhouse, and it created a bit of a crack. I just hope that is fixable.

On Monday I went on a 4-hour cruise on the Ningaloo reef, spotting lots of humpback whales, dolphins, turtles, and snorkelling at the reef. The latter was rather cold, because the sun hid behind clouds, but the reef was still spectacular and I was just surrounded by fish. It was also the first day I was travelling alone again, because travelling with Marina and Jenny just did not work out, our interests were too different. I mean, I like to sleep in, but that just does not go together very well with sightseeing in the winter here, when the sun sets around 17.30, making days really short.

The plan is to start looking for a few people to travel up north with in Exmouth. Aside from it being more fun to travel with someone, it is also safer, and it will save me quite some money on fuel, since my car turned out to be not very fuel-efficient. At least I think it is not very fuel-efficient, but from discussions with other backpackers with cars I learned it is not doing very bad, especially considering the fact it is a 4WD. I am currently getting about 300-350 km out of a 45 litre tank (I have 2 of those). That translates to about 1 on 7, or 14l/100km. With metropolitan fuel prices of 0,53 euro/litre that is not bad, but in the outback prices rise to 0,83 euro/litre, so it is definitely better for my finances if I can share fuel costs with someone.

I spent Tuesday relaxing on the beach in Coral Bay and socialising at the hostel, before going snorkelling on the reef for a bit in the afternoon, when the temperature had risen enough not to get hypothermia. Late afternoon I drove to Exmouth, and met up with some fellow backpackers that I met before in Kalbarri and Coral Bay (I just keep meeting the same people travelling up the coast).

Down UnderOn the Road

On 9 July 2004 from Kalbarri, WA | comments closed

The plan was to leave on Tuesday, but Marina had her birthday that day, so we went out to Deen’s in Northbridge on Monday night. It was a lot of fun, with lots of other backpackers, a band, and lots of drinks. Too many drinks in fact, because Jenny got completely drunk on the shots, and she was sick in bed all day Tuesday, delaying departure with one day. In retrospect that was not a bad thing, because we would have never been able to arrive at the Pinnacles on Tuesday night.

Tuesday morning I spent with some practical issues in the city: banking, getting a haircut (it is really short now, ideal for travelling), and trying to get everything in order with the Department of Planning and Infrastructure (making sure the car is actually mine). The last thing did not work out, because they had huge computer problems on Tuesday, but I got everything organised on Wednesday. Tuesday afternoon I spent in Kings Park, making a relaxing walk there.

On Wednesday morning we packed all the stuff in the car, and drove to a large shopping centre in one of the suburbs. With the idea that everything is more expensive up north, we got a whole bunch of food as well as a tent for camping. We finally hit the road in the afternoon, arriving in Cervantes around 3PM. There we checked in at the hostel and drove into Nambung National Park, where the Pinnacles are located. The Pinnacles are these weird big stones sticking out of the sand, some up to 4m high. When we got there the weather was cloudy and there were a few short showers, but at the end the sun came out and it was absolutely spectacular. Seeing the sun light these stones, throwing long shadows on the sand, contrasted by a dark cloudy sky was just perfect for pictures. When it got dark we drove back to the hostel, and went out for a late birthday dinner for Marina at the local Tavern. In the evening I played cards with the others backpackers in the hostel (“shithead” of course) before going to sleep around midnight.

On Thursday morning we drove to Geraldton, where I got some snorkeling gear, and we checked out the Cathedral and the museum. The latter was pretty good, with lots of info on the V.O.C. ship Batavia, that sunk close to Geraldton in 1629. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving on to Kalbarri, and checking out some of the viewpoints on the coast along the way. In Kalbarri the girls met some friends and we (me, another guy and five girls) all went out for a really good dinner at Finlay’s Fish BBQ. For less than 6 euro we had about 4 different kinds of fresh fish, chips, and salad. Besides, the place was BYO (bring your own alcohol), so drinks were cheap as well. The atmosphere reminded me most of Thailand, with a campfire and all wooden tables outdoors.

Today the girls went sandboarding, but knowing my own ability with boards (snowboards, skateboards, surfboards, all no success), I figured I would be better off going for a hike. So I slept in and went for a hike through the gorges of Kalbarri National Park in the afternoon. It took a bit of effort getting there (40km from town, of which 26km was a sand track), but it was well worth it, the scenery was really beautiful. It also felt good to do something active again, after spending too much time sitting in the last three of months.

The weather also seems to get better. The last week it was raining on and off, but no rain today. Aside from the weather itself getting better, we are also travelling up north into the tropics, where the daily temperature rises above 30 degrees, even in the middle of the winter.

Down UnderReady to Hit the Road

On 5 July 2004 from Perth, WA | comments closed

After having spent more than 3 months in and around Perth (with a short trip to Port Hedland), the time has come to leave this area. I went back to Mandurah on Saturday, finished some things in the weekend, watched the stars from the hot spa for the last time, and drove back to Perth today. On the way I bought a whole bunch of camping gear for 120 euro from a Dutch couple that was leaving. I also got a compressor (to let my tyres down for more traction in sand), an underwater camera (should come in handy at Ningaloo Reef), and a book with maps of Australia (getting lost is not my plan). Not that getting lost is easy up North, considering there are only 2 sealed roads between Perth and Port Hedland, and that is an area over 2000 km from West to East!

Last week I also put up some ads at hostels and internetcafes, looking for people to travel with. I got a fair bit of response on that, and met up with two girls (27, English and Scottish) and that clicked pretty well, so I am hitting the road with them tomorrow. Here is a rough itinerary:
– Cervantes / Nambung National Park (Pinnacles)
– Kalbarri / Kalbarri National Park
– Denham / Monkey Mia
– Coral Bay / Exmouth (Ningaloo Reef)
– Tom Price / Karijini National Park
– Port Hedland
– Broome
– Derby
– Gibb River Road through the Kimberley
– Kununurra
– Darwin

That is roughly 5000 km and the plan is to cover that in about 4 weeks. Of course I will make lots of photos, and try to capture the essence of Western Australia: empty beaches with Indian Ocean sunsets, hiking in gorges, snorkelling at Ningaloo Reef, swimming in billabongs (waterholes) and enjoying the remote beauty of the Kimberley.

Unfortunately most of these places are fairly remote, and I do not expect myself to be updating my website lots in the next couple of weeks, but I will try to put some experiences on there. However, if there is no update at all in the next 4 weeks, it may be safe to suggest I became dinner of a crocodile (“well done Guido, you freaked out your mum again”).

Down UnderFlashpacker

On 30 June 2004 from Perth, WA | comments closed

Flashpacker, that is the term I have been dubbed by Lisan, a Dutch girl in my home away from home: 12.01 East. After this week I have stayed more than 4 weeks in total at this one hostel/backpackers. For good reasons though: the owners are very social, and you get to know everyone who is staying there, since most people stay for at least a few weeks. Also, getting a triple room for A$90 (= 56 euro) a week cannot be beaten.

But I was dubbed a flashpacker because I temporarily had a laptop and really fancy office in East Perth to do some things. But even though I was spending most of my day on ticking things into a laptop, I still had time to enjoy Perth’s nightlife. I went out on Wednesday (free beer all night), Friday (spent too much on beer that night), Saturday (just briefly, the Big Apple wasn’t my scene) and Monday (not a good idea, since I had to get up early on Tuesday).

Besides doing things during the day, and going out at night, I also made a visit to the emergency dentist here. Tuesday morning one of my teeth broke, so I got it fixed straight away, but it costs A$275 (= 165 euro). Expensive little joke, and the dentist wasn’t even sure if it was going to last, since the filling apparently touched the nerve. So far it seems okay though, and doesn’t hurt (even after all the anaesthetics worked out). Let’s just hope it stays that way.

I am starting to feel pretty anxious to start travelling again though. I have been in and around Perth for 3 months now, so it is time to move on. Also, the weather has gotten pretty bad, rainy and around 20 degrees during the day. On the other hand, The West Australian newspaper tells me that the weather back home is even worse. Hard to imagine it is summer back home and winter here, while the weather here is even slightly better. In any case, time to travel up north, where daily temperatures are still over 30 degrees.

Down UnderLost & Not Found

On 17 June 2004 from Mandurah, WA | comments closed

I have not posted any news on my site for the last month, and today I am posting twice, but that is because I went on a bit of a shopping spree today that I wanted to tell you about. The thing is this: after almost 7 months away from home I have a small list of items that I have lost somewhere along the way, most fairly minor, but one pretty major.

List of things I have lost during my trip:
– Maglite Solitaire (small flashlight);
– 2 (!) hats;
– One pair of jocks (Ozzie slang for underwear);
– Portable MP3 CD-player (got lost in the mail between Australia and the Netherlands).

Obviously, the last thing was the major item and I am wondering now why I sent it back to repair by regular mail. I know why, it was broken and I figured it would be no good to anyone in that state; also all my other packages arrived without problems. Not much to do about that now though, and I really need some music when I am on the road (and there is a lot of road out here, trust me, I have surveyed some of it). So today I bought a new portable MP3 CD-player (AIWA, one of the cheapest, but still 100 euro), and got it installed in my car. I also got some new zip-off pants. Last week I already bought a new sweater, because getting back from 30+ degree Port Hedland 20 degree Mandurah felt cold.

Down UnderPhotos of Western Australia

On from Mandurah, WA | comments closed

Word reached me that folks back home were actually looking at my website and wondering why I have not updated it recently. Well, I have not been travelling much lately, so there was basically not much to tell. I have been setting up some websites here, and surveying the road up north in Port Hedland. At least it was warm there, since here in Mandurah it is becoming winter, meaning temperatures of slightly less than 20 degrees during the day. People actually move up north for the summer because they think that this is cold.

Well, I have some more stuff to do the next couple of weeks, but I plan to hit the road in the beginning of July. The idea is to find someone to travel with in Perth and then travel north: Pinnacles, Kalbarri, Monkey Mia, Coral Bay, Exmouth, Karijini NP, Broome and through the Kimberley to Darwin. I hope to take Gibb River Road through the Kimberley, but that is almost 700km of unsealed road, so I might have to get some extra stuff for my car. I learned a bit of 4WDing the hard way by getting bogged on the beach in Mandurah (a LandCruiser had to pull me out), so I know I need stuff like a compressor to inflate/deflate the tyres and some more survival gear.

I also put the most interesting photos of Western Australia on my website. The number is fairly low, but that is because I have not really been travelling much yet in this huge state. I have upgraded my photo gallery software as well, adding the feature to view my images full screen, straight from your browser.

Down UnderObservations: 4WDs

On 6 June 2004 from Port Hedland, WA | comments closed

Australians love their cars, I think I have mentioned that before [Observations: Distance & Size], but I have not yet mentioned how many cars are 4 Wheel Drive. From a newspaper article I recollect that the percentage of 4WDs sold in Western Australia is about 20%. However, the majority of the population lives in metropolitan Perth and has less need for a 4WD, so that is why 2WD vehicles are still sold most. But as soon as I travelled north of Geraldton, it seemed that at least 50% of the cars was 4WD.

Australians use their 4WDs mainly on sealed roads, but there are quite a few 4WD-only roads in National Parks, and a 4WD is virtually necessary to launch a boat from the beach (very popular) or tow a caravan (less than 10% of caravans seemed to be towed by 2WD, as if you are not supposed to do that). It would also be necessary to have a 4WD when driving in the north during the Wet, since you would have cross many rivers and streams, even on the sealed roads and highways. For that purpose some 4WDs are equiped with a snorkel (‘elephant cars’ as I prefer to call them), so they can drive through deeper water.

Nevertheless, most roads can be driven in a 2WD, although it takes some getting used to for Europeans like me (I mean, even roads on campsites are sealed in Europe, a fairly unknown concept here). And you can stay on sealed roads for a very long time in Australia, but all the off-the-beaten-track destinations are only reachable on an unsealed road. Not that strange, considering a lot of the Shires outside metropolitan Perth have up to 3 times more unsealed roads than they have sealed roads.

In any case, I will probably not drive much on 4WD-only roads in my own 4WD, but it is good to have the extra security of 4WD on unsealed roads, especially when the road or the weather is bad. And I do plan to take the Gibb River Road throught the Kimberley, which is a 700km unsealed road through the heart of the Kimberley. But even on that road the plan is to keep my car in 2WD, following Western Australian wisdom: “if you get bogged in 2WD, you can get out in 4WD, but if you get bogged in 4WD, you’re f**ked”.

Down UnderObservations: Kangaroos

On 30 May 2004 from Port Hedland, WA | comments closed

Kangaroos are the quintessential Australian animals, and are prominently featured on postcards and in travel books (e.g. Lonely Planet. The main reason for this of course, is the fact that kangaroos only live in the wild in Australia, and there are quite a few of them here.

The first time I saw a kangaroo it was really fascinating, especially the way these creatures were bouncing around. But the novelty wears off, and by now kangaroos are mostly annoying, especially when driving at dusk or at night. That is the time when they are most active, and I saw a lot of them bouncing over the road, or simply sitting still in the middle of the road. They seem very suicidal as well, actually making an effort to jump right in front of the car. Apparently this behaviour is caused by kangaroos being blinded by car headlights, but I think they are simply suicidal animals. Either way, it is essential to watch out for kangaroos (and straying livestock, for that matter) when driving at dusk or at night. If it were not for quick braking responses we would have hit a few kangaroos driving up to Port Hedland. And hitting a kangaroo in a normal car driving 100km/h is dangerous, since at best they break a headlight, but at worst they jump and go straight through the windshield. That is one reason a lot of cars have bull-bars on them, to at least avoid broken headlights by kangaroos.

We also saw a lot of death kangaroos along the North-West Coastal highway up to Port Hedland. Most of these got killed by road trains: a truck with up to 3 (sometimes 4) trailers. These vehicles are so heavy it takes at least half a kilometre to stop when they go at cruising speed, so they do not even worry about kangaroos, the bull-bars in the front take care of them. We drove over one dead kangaroo though, between Geraldton and Carnarvon, and scraped a bit off it with the bottom of the car. So every time we got out of the car afterwards, there was this terrible smell of dead kangaroo, and the town of Carnarvon will always be associated with that in my mind (also because the name sounds like meat).

Nevertheless, kangaroos are still interesting to see when they are far from the road, and very cute when they are given bread and holding it with their little hands while eating.

Down UnderAlive & Rolling

On 21 May 2004 from Mandurah, WA | comments closed

I admit, I have been terribly lazy updating my website. I will try to make up for it later on. The weird thing is, the more access I have to computers and the internet, the less frequently I update my website or reply e-mails (note to self: should ask my sister what the psychological bla bla is for that).

Anyway, I have been busy the last month with shopping for electronics, installing computers, filming & video-editing, webdesign, surveying roads, and I am currently setting up an e-commerce website. Pretty good stuff to do as a backpacker, especially the road surveying: I have to navigate and press space-bar, and for that I got to see every sealed road around Mt Barker and Albany, including driving on the Albany airport runway. I guess I will spend another month setting up websites and doing road asset management around Port Hedland, 16 hours north. Life is not bad around here, especially not when I’m laying in the spa looking at the stars before going to sleep 🙂

Also, I bought myself some wheels yesterday. A silvery Holden Jackaroo ’84, 4WD (!), 4 cyl. 2.0l rebuilt motor (bought it off a car repair shop, car itself has done about 300.000 km), power steering, air-co (not expecting too much of that), radio/cassette, and 6 months registration (WA rego is easy to renew anyway). I have to add a bull-bar myself, but I can get it off another car. Bull-bars (called roo-bar around here) are fairly essential in the bush, since kangaroos actually make an effort to jump right in front of your car to get killed, or worse, break your headlights. All of this for 1450 euro is not a bad deal I think. Since I don’t have a clue about cars myself, the neighbour (a typical aussie who lived all over WA) went along and checked it things out for me as well (otherwise I would probably buy a car based on the colour). This 4WD was mainly a trade-off between economy (it should be pretty fuel-efficient, a good thing with rising fuel prices due to the unstable security situation in Iraq and the upcoming driving season in the USA) and accessibility (a 4WD is necessary to drive through the Kimberley, upstate WA) on one hand, and speed (highway cruising speed would be about 90 km/h) on the other hand.

Down UnderObservations: Distance & Size

On 2 May 2004 from Mandurah, WA | comments closed

I do not need to tell anyone that Australia is a large country, but I also think that it is hard to understand long distances without actually experiencing them. And Western Australia is definitely the best state to experience distance. With 2,5 million square kilometres it is about the size of Western Europe, but only 2 million people share all this space, and 2/3 of those live in metropolitan Perth. So there is a lot of empty country out there.

The fact that distances are so large has quite an effect on the behaviour of people. Sandgropers (that is what people from W.A. are called in other states) have a love-hate relationship with their cars, loving them when they work, and hating them when they don’t. The reason for this is that a car is virtually a necessity to get around, unless you are living in metropolitan Perth. But it also causes the behaviour of going literally everywhere by car (same thing in the U.S.A.). A few examples of this: if a shop is 50 metres from another shop and has a carpark (almost all shops do), Australians will drive to that other shop, instead of walking there and back. Where I was staying in Mandurah, one of the neighbours (not direct neighbour, about 300 metres down the road) would always drive over when visiting. I also had to take these distances into account when shopping, because from the house in Mandurah where I lived to the nearest supermarket was about 10km, instead of 50m like I was used to.

Aside from behaviour of people, distance can also be noted on the goverment level. Each state is subdivided into different Shires (county in U.S.A., “gemeente” in Dutch, “Kreis” in German). When I first heard the word “Shire” my first association was with Lord of the Rings, but not only hobbits live in the Shire, a lot of Australians do as well. And like most things in Australia, Shires are quite a bit bigger than the European equivalent. The Shire of Plantagenet (around Mt Barker, north of Albany), where I drove on all the sealed roads, is a good example. It is about 100km from west to east, and with 5000 sq km about the size of a Dutch province, yet less than 5000 people live there. It gets much more extreme with the Shire of East Pilbara – the largest Shire in the world – which is 10 times the size of the Netherlands, with a population of less than 8000!

Down UnderBeer & Wine

On 18 April 2004 from Mandurah, WA | comments closed

Wednesday evening is the traditional 12.01 (our hostel) going out night. This Wednesday we were picked up by a bus from Black Betty’s and started to drink our bar tab (the free beers we got from the bar) there. However, we also had a bar tab at Mustang bar, so one by one some of us sneaked out and got to Mustang to finish the bar tab there. After all, an unfinished bar tab is obviously a waste of beer, and (almost) every backpacker considers that a shame. After finishing the bar tab at Mustang, we went back to Black Betty’s and partied till late. I remember walking home with Shelley and Mike, sitting down on the couch in our hostel and going to bed a bit later. However, Thursday afternoon (I slept through the morning) I managed to reconstruct the full story. Apparently I had falled asleep on the couch, people tried or did not try to wake me up (not sure), and I had still been there at about 5 AM. Too much free beer, I guess. I spent the rest of the day socialising, shopping, and watching Average Joe 2 (the reverse of “The Bachelor”, where a model has to choose between guys, just hilarious).

On Friday morning I had a meeting with the wife of a professor in Hong Kong I know. She is setting up a company south of Perth, and needed some help with her computer and website, as well as creating videos. Since sales, telemarketing and fruitpicking seemed to be the only backpacker work available around Perth, I figured it would be good to save some money doing fun computer stuff and decided to move to Mandurah.
In the afternoon Doug, Jo and I went on an information tour along some of the Swan Valley wineries, to check out the interest in the product and to taste some wine. The evening was once again about beer though, as we went to various bars with a group of people from the hostel, making the last night in 12.01 rather short.

On Saturday morning I took a shuttle bus to the international terminal, from where Jo picked me up to go to Dawesville, just south of Mandurah, and about 2 hours from the city centre of Perth. They built a large house here where I will be staying for a while (depends on the things to do). I have my own room and separate bathroom, so that is quite a step up from living in hostels. I have spent the weekend settling in, reading quite a bit, and helping Jo with some computer problems.

Down UnderSouth-West WA Road Trip

On 14 April 2004 from Perth, WA | comments closed

On Sunday Rebecca, Johanna, Steve and I left for a 3,5-day road trip to see the South-West of Western Australia (which is also the South-West of Australia). We started off by driving 350 km East to Wave Rock, a rock formation that looks like a giant frozen wave. From there we drove South towards the coast through the Stirling Ranges NP and Porongurup NP. After driving 700 km the first day we found a campsite in Mt Barker, where we spent the evening eating, playing cards (mainly ‘shithead’, the international backpackers card game) and drinking (mainly beer, the international students/backpackers drink).

On Monday we drove to Albany, and checked out The Gap and the Natural Bridge, two natural coastal phenomena. Next stop was Denmark (the town, not the country), where we did some shopping before heading to the beach. After swimming and lazing in the sun, we drove on to the Tree Top Walk, a boardwalk among the tops of the giant karri trees up to 40 metres high. We spent the evening and night at a campsite near Walpole, where we ate, played and drank.

Tuesday morning we drove to the Gloucester Tree, a former fire lookout tree, 61 metre high and looking out over the forest. But that is at the top, and to get there we basically had to climb all around the tree on pegs sticking out. Not for people with fear of heights (like Johanna). After enjoying the view from the top it was a beautiful drive through the karri forests to Cape Leeuwin (I am sure it is named by the Dutch, but do not ask me the story). Cape Leeuwin is the most Southwest point of Australia, and the border of the Southern and Indian Ocean. From there we drove back North to Margaret River, where we walked around town and got some ice-cream (Rebecca, Johanna and I managed to finish 2 litres). We camped overnight in Bunbury.

The plan was to see some dolphins at the beach in Bunbury in the morning, but they did not show up, so we drove back to Perth to drop off our rental car before noon. Altogether we saw most of the South-West of Australia, but had to drive 1650 km in 3,5 days. Road trip for sure.

Down UnderMore NZ Photos Online

On 10 April 2004 from Perth, WA | comments closed

This morning Rebecca and I went to pick up a rental car for a 4-day trip to the South-West of Australia together with Johanna and Steve. In the afternoon I made a backup of my photos and sorted out all the photos of the second half of my New Zealand trip. The best 80 are online now.

Down UnderSailing to Rottnest

On 9 April 2004 from Perth, WA | comments closed

Wednesday evening we once again went out to the regular bars in Northbridge (Perth’s bar area). The best thing about these evenings is the fact that the hostel I am staying at has a pretty good bar tab, so we get quite a few free beers before we have to start paying for beer. That did not even happen last Wednesday, because I went home relatively early. The reason for that was the sailing trip I went on on Thursday.

Together with Rebecca, Johanna (both from Germany), Marije (Dutch), Emma (Welsh), Steve (English) and Cormac (Irish), I went on a sailing trip to Carnac and Rottnest Island on Thursday. When we finally found the sailing yacht (a bit too late, but we made up 70% of the passengers anyway), we set sail for Carnac Island. There we saw some very lazy sea lions and went snorkelling at the reef (I also tried to swim with the sea lions, but they could not be bothered and did not show up). From there we sailed to Rottnest Island (named Rat’s Nest Island by the Dutch after all the quokas, kangaroos that look like big rats). Unfortunately I got fairly seasick on the way over there, so the sailing was not that pleasant. Everything was okay on the island though, where we went for a short walk to one of the postcard beaches. Rebecca and I also climbed a little hill for a better view, before joining the others back to the boat past the postcard lighthouse. Back on the sailing yacht we relaxed during the 2-hour trip back to Fremantle (Perth’s port). All in all a very nice day, albeit slightly too cloudy (I think I still managed to get sunburned though).

After midnight on Thursday (or actually Friday) we celebrated Judith’s birthday in the hostel, a good reason not to wake up before noon today. Because of Good Friday everything was closed anyway, so Judith, Esther (both from Germany), Shelley (from Canada) and I went to Fremantle, lazed on the beach and had some coffee and dinner in town. I also had two Tasmanian flashbacks: I met Jack (whom I spent New Year’s with) and I saw the same street artists as in Hobart. It is a small world after all.

Down UnderMy CATs are Dead

On 7 April 2004 from Perth, WA | comments closed

The last couple of days I have been relaxing quite a bit, and socialising in the hostel. Sunday I did nothing else than sleeping in and reading. Monday I started a small jobsearch, and went out at night with lots of people from the hostel. On Tuesday I continued my jobsearch, and went with Judith (from Germany) and Shelley (from Canada) to the Swan Bell Tower and Kings Park, where we relaxed in the sun. Sunday and Monday were fairly cloudy, but since yesterday the sun is back and it is around 30 degrees during the day 🙂

Today I went shopping for a new book and sandals. Because my cool, beloved CAT sandals have unfortunately passed away. Somehow I get emotionally attached to some clothing items, and definitely to these sandals, whom I fell in love with the moment I saw them in Calgary. Since then they have been my travel companion on all trips where the temperature rose above 25 degrees. I guess they have been to more places than 99% of the world population: made in China (what is not these days), bought in Canada, and worn in the USA, the Netherlands, Russia, Norway, Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and probably a few more European countries. But those days have gone by, and I did get a new pair of sandals today (56 euro, and once again made in China). I will post some photos soon.

Down UnderNo More Sales

On 3 April 2004 from Perth, WA | comments closed

The sales job I started turned out to be a total waste of time. The only positives were that I got a bit of sales training, saw some of Perth’s suburbia, and got a bit more confident in bothering total strangers. But in those five days (half of it training) I spent more money than I made (embarrasingly little). Basically people could not be bothered to sign up straight away, or just could not save any money anyway. If the latter was the case, I would not try very hard to sell the product. I am definitely more of a consultant personality than a sales personality. After the first day in the field I already figured out I was not going to make the money I wanted to make, since it was all commission based, and on top of it the hours were quite long. But aside from that, even the ones with some weeks experience were not making A$600/week they promised in the ad. But I decided to give it a decent go for a few days, and every day a few more people were quitting the job. Yesterday I already decided today would be my last day, and I only decided to work because employment agencies and the like are closed on Saturday anyway, and I would get more for a sale on a Saturday.

Other than wasting a lot of time on a useless job, I met quite a few people in the hostel I am staying at, and at least the evenings were pretty social, with a lot of free beer on Wednesday evening in the Mustang and Black Betty’s (two bars in Northbridge). Luckily my hangover was not too bad on Thursday.

I also have some more interesting stuff about Perth that I have not written about so far.
– Perth is the most isolated city of its size, and with Sydney more than 4000 km away, it is actually closer to Singapore than to Sydney.
– Western Australia (the state that Perth is the capital of) is larger than Western Europe, yet has less than 2 million inhabitants.
– Last month (March) it did not rain at all, which has not happened since 31 years. The weather has been great so far, dry and sunny every day (more than 30 degrees today).
– The city is huge: from the centre the suburbs spread out for some 75 km. I worked in the north of the city for the last few days, half an hour on the freeway from the centre, driving through the suburban sprawl. The area itself was quite nice really: all these large bungalows (pretty cheap apparently, about A$250.000 = 155.000 euro), with large garages (most families have at least two cars here as there is no other way to get around anyway), and neat roads, lawns and gardens. It was almost unreal how every small detail was taken care of.

Down UnderSales Training

On 31 March 2004 from Perth, WA | comments closed

On Monday I spent the day walking around town to find a different hostel to stay, mainly because I did not like the place I was staying at very much (the dorms were too big and there were too many people from England). I figured that if I want to spend some time in Perth, I might as well spend it at a place I like. So I found a place with a better atmosphere (albeit slightly alternative), where I am currently only paying A$90 (56 euro) a week for a bed in a triple room. That is really cheap for an Australian big city hostel.

After finding a new hostel, I looked around town for jobs advertised, and decided to check out one that promised A$600-1200 earning, with travel and accommodation paid for. In the following interview I was basically talked into a sales job, selling home phone and internet door to door. Oh well, it is not like I have anything better to to this week, and I can still look for other jobs in the morning. Besides – and this was my main motivation to go to the training – a bit of sales experience will always be a good thing to have, and – if nothing else – it should make me more confident. And a bit of personal development was one of the main reasons to go to Australia anyway (otherwise I could just have travelled around South-East Asia for a year without having to work).

So I did this sales training yesterday and today, learning a lot about the product first and some sales techniques later on. I will basically be selling a cheaper home phone service (kinda like “Tele2” in the Netherlands) and/or dial-up or DSL internet. The course had 7 participants (including 2 Dutch girls) yesterday, and today only 3 were left (the Dutch girls dropped out). And it was quite some fun today, mainly because of the male-only environment (some things are just not said when girls are present). Tomorrow will be observation first, before I can bother people by knocking on their door myself.

Down UnderArrived in Perth

On 28 March 2004 from Perth, Western Australia | comments closed

The last couple of days I have been relaxing, going out, and enjoying the nice Australian weather. The weather is definitely a lot warmer here than it was in New Zealand, and after 6 weeks of pretty intensive travelling I needed a bit of a break as well.

Friday I spent the day at my hostel in Melbourne, reading and making a package to send home (no need to carry around the Lonely Planet of New Zealand, and they are starting to make a nice collection back home). In the evening I went to a comedy show, part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, for which the hostel was handing out free tickets. Afterwards I had some beers in a bar close to the hostel.

My flight from Melbourne to Perth on Saturday was only in the evening, so in the morning I picked up a free newspaper at the Melbourne Museum and took the tram to St Kilda. After a quick rollercoaster ride in the Luna Park I sat down near the beach and spent some hours reading the paper. Sun, sea, newspaper, life does not getter any better that this (except for a cappuccino or hot chocolate maybe, but I could not be bothered to get up and get it). The flight to Perth was with Virgin Blue and it was pretty good, especially since I had about a metre of leg space, being seated at the exit. In Perth I took the bus to my hostel, met a Canadian girl (from Winnipeg of all places), checked in at my hostel, went out, and met up with the girl and some guys. Meeting people and making friends is sometimes really easy.

Today I slept in till the afternoon, and went into the city for lunch and grocery shopping. I got all the feelgood food I could think of: Milo serial (only sold in Australia, kinda like chocolate cornflakes, but really good), Cadbury chocolate (I visited 2 Cadbury factories in the past 3 months, need I say more?), and Hokey Pokey ice-cream (I thought it was only sold in New Zealand, but Woolworths in Australia sells it as well, great stuff). With all that stuff (and more), I walked out in the clean shopping streets (all the shops are open on Sundays here), soaked up some of the sunshine (Perth enjoys more hours of sunshine than any other capital city in Australia), and took the free city centre bus back to my hostel. I think I already like Perth.

In the past week I also managed to completely figure out the world time zones, and the changes with daylight savings time. The fact that I had to change the time on my watch, camera and phone about three times had most to do with that. Because daylight savings ended last weekend (a weekend earlier in New Zealand) in the southern hemisphere, and started last weekend in the northern hemisphere, and because I moved thousands of kilometres west, the time difference (compared to mainland Western Europe) went from 12 hours last week to 6 hours now. Perth is GMT +8, whereas mainland Western Europe is GMT +2. Just for your information, will try not to bother you more with acquired knowledge…

Down UnderBack in Australia

On 25 March 2004 from Melbourne, VIC, Australia | comments closed

Yesterday I spent my last morning in New Zealand on getting rid of my remaining Kiwi dollars. I managed to find a neat LED keyring light to replace my lost Maglite solitaire, before getting to the airport. Security there was pretty annoying; at the second checkpoint the x-ray scanners kept beeping and I had to get my belt and shoes off before I was able to pass through. Quite embarrasing really. The flight itself was pretty good, and because they played the feelgood movie ‘Love Actually’ it was over before I knew it. Qantas almost managed to get me drunk on the Bundaberg rum with coke (somehow they kept giving me doubles). As expected, Australian customs were not much of a problem, although they did want to see my ticket at the forbidden goods check, as if they were afraid I would not return home. In the evening my hostel (‘The Friendly Backpacker’) organised a pub crawl, a pretty good start of my return in Oz.

Down UnderLast Day in New Zealand

On 24 March 2004 from Auckland, New Zealand | comments closed

On Tuesday morning I did some souvenir shopping in Taupo (2 shirts and some postcards), before getting on the bus to Auckland. It seemed the bus passed through the Shire, since the scenery mainly consisted of green rolling hills, and Hobbiton was actually built somewhere in that area. I spent the rest of the day shopping, and sorting out my photos (another 3 hours in an internet cafe).

Today I took the ferry to Rangitoto, a volcanic island only 30 minutes from the city centre of Auckland. I hiked to the summit of the volcano to get some nice views of the Auckland harbour, checked out a cave and hiked to the neighbouring island of Motutapu, altogether some 5 hours. Afterwards I got a haircut, did my laundry and cleaned out my bag, so Australian customs will not give me a hard time when I enter the country tomorrow.

Down UnderTongariro Crossing & Mt Doom

On 22 March 2004 from Taupo, New Zealand | comments closed

I climbed Mt Doom, threw the Ring (that I didn’t have) in the fires (that didn’t exist), and saved (middle-)earth. Or something like that. Anyway, my journey in NZ is almost at an end.

On Saturday I spent about 5,5 hours in the bus from Wellington to Turangi, where I just relaxed at the hostel for the rest of the day. Not a bad idea, since Sunday morning at 7.30 the bus to the Tongariro Crossing left. This is a 17 km track through the Tongariro National Park, passing Mt Ngauhuroe, a red crater, beautiful emerald lakes, a crater lake and Mt Tongariro. It is supposed to be the finest one-day walk in NZ. I considered the crossing itself fairly easy, it took me less than 4,5 hours. Since my return bus would depart more than 7,5 hours later, I decided to do the sidetrack up Mt Ngauhuroe. This vulcano seems to be better known as Mt Doom, for Lord of the Rings fans anyway. And it was not an easy volcano to climb, the slopes were pretty steep and covered in loose rock. So for every two steps forward, I would slide one step backward. Pretty annoying and exhausting. Oh well, I managed to climb to the top (2287 m, the track started at 1100 m) and the views were pretty awesome. Unfortunately I did not bring the Ring (they sold the Ring in Wellington for about 225 euro, too expensive for my backpacker budget). And if I had brought the Ring, there was no fire, magma or lava to throw it in anyway (pretty disappointing). Mt Doom took me about 3 hours return, which was what the sign said and therefore it took me a long time, considering I usually need no more than 2/3 of what the signs say (I mean, the crossing was signposted as 8 hours, and it took me less than 4,5 hours).

This morning I got a lift of two Danish girls to Taupo, where I spent the afternoon biking around. I guess I have seen quite a lot of New Zealand by now, considering that I went to places where I had been before. I biked to Huka Falls, and from there to floodgates of the power station and to Craters of the Moon, an active thermal area. That area really bleeched in comparison with Whakarewarewa in Rotorua and Wai-O-Tapu where I have been 5 weeks ago, but at least it was free.

Down Under4 Months on the Road

On 19 March 2004 from Wellington, New Zealand | comments closed

Today I realised it has been exactly 4 months since I saw my home country for the last time. Not that that is unique in itself, I have been away for a longer time when I was studying in Canada. It is, however, unique in the sense that I have been travelling for 4 months, and only working for 8 days during that period. Budget travel indeed. I must say though, I kinda feel like it would be good to settle down for some time now, which is exactly what I plan to do when I get back to Australia.

Yesterday evening I still felt slightly bad about leaving the South Island of NZ, since I really enjoyed it and even 30 days was not enough to explore the place. I definitely recommend everyone thinking of going to NZ to spend at least 2/3 of the time on the South Island. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking: mountains, hills, lakes, fiords, sounds, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and just a few people ruining the view. But maybe I miss it as well because I was staying at some very relaxed hostels, especially the last 4 days. I mean, for the 12,50 euro I was paying at The Villa there was a cozy atmosphere and a spa, whereas here in Wellington it is a fairly impersonal big former hotel for the same price. Oh well, tomorrow I will staying in Turangi, close to Tongariro National Park.

Today was a bit of a downhill day. I did a tour of Parliament, and got up to the Botanical Gardens with the cable car. From there I walked down to the city centre, and caught a bus to the top of Mount Victoria. Once again I walked downhill to the city centre, where I checked out another museum. I feel more tired of walking through the city all day than I did walking on one of the tracks all day. The last downhill thing that happened was that I found out that Peter Jackson (the director of Lord of the Rings, and a New Zealand hero) showed the 11 Oscars in Wellington on Thursday. Apparently the celebration took place when I was on the ferry. Too bad.

Down UnderQueen Charlotte Track

On 18 March 2004 from Wellington, New Zealand | comments closed

Last Sunday I went by bus from Christchurch to Picton, where I spent the rest of the day preparing for the Queen Charlotte Track and relaxing at The Villa. This is one of the best hostels I stayed at in NZ, it has a very cosy atmosphere, all the facilities and a spa (Dutch: “bubbelbad”)! So I was very happy to have booked it as well for Wednesday night.

On Monday I started the Queen Charlotte Track, a 71 km walkway in the Queen Charlotte Sound. FYI: a fiord is a glaciated valley that has been flooded by the sea after the glacier’s retreat, whereas a sound is a river valley flooded by the sea following a rise in sea levels or depression of the land, or a combination of both. Anyway, the first day I hiked about 28 km in 6 hours from Ship Cove to Camp Bay. There I stayed at Noeline’s, a lovely old lady who was running a homestay, and she welcomed me (and everybody else) with scones and a drink. Just the thing I needed after a long hike.

Tuesday was the furthest hike I did so far: 32 km with some 1100 m of altitude difference. However, I did manage it in about 7 hours, which everybody else thought very fast. Oh well, I just can’t walk slow, I get more tired that way. I stayed the night at Lochmara Lodge, according to the ratings the best hostel in its category. And it was indeed, at a location only reachable by water of by foot. In the evening I enjoyed the hot spa, very nice after a day of hiking, and checked out the glowworms in the forest with Samantha (from Canada).

Wednesday morning was a bit drizzly, so I stayed at Lochmara Lodge for a while reading my book and kayaking in the bay, before setting off for the last part of the Queen Charlotte Track. The last 18 km took less than 4 hours, and a watertaxi brought me back to Picton. Overall the track was pretty easy, even though the distances were quite large. The views of Queen Charlotte Sound and the many bays were just amazing. Every once in a while I would stop to look at the view and be amazed by the silence, only the sounds of the birds in the forest could be heard, very peaceful.

Today I took the ferry from Picton to Wellington. The 3 hours felt pretty short, since I was reading a very funny book (Ben Elton – Inconceivable) that I swapped with an English girl who was on the same bus from Queenstown to Picton. In the afternoon I went to Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, where I managed to spend some 5 hours looking at all the exhibits and learning about NZ.

Down UnderGoing North

On 13 March 2004 from Christchurch, New Zealand | comments closed

Today was another day of sitting in a bus and enjoying the scenery. I went from Te Anau to Christchurch via Queenstown, instead of via Dunedin, mainly because the scenery is a lot better. Especially Lake Pukaki with Mt Cook in the distance was just amazing to see on my way South. So I had my camera ready today only to discover that the light is a lot better in the morning, because the sun reflects on the snow of Mt Cook and the lake gets its turqoise colour. So unfortunately I could not get the photo I wanted (like this one).

Tomorrow I have an early bus on to Picton, from where I will start the Queen Charlotte Track. That is 71 km in 3 days: a lot of hiking. Luckily I will only have to carry a daypack, since they do luggage transfers here, and accommodation is in hostels. I am taking a ferry from Picton to Wellington on the 18th, so I can spend some more time on the North Island before flying back to Melbourne on the 25th (and on to Perth on the 27th).

Down UnderKepler Track

On 12 March 2004 from Te Anau, New Zealand | comments closed

After a resting, laundry and shopping day in Te Anau on Tuesday, I started 56 km of the Kepler track on Wednesday. Unfortunately the weather on Wednesday was rain, alternated with heavy rain. So I was pretty soaked when I got to the first hut. Fortunately I could dry most of my clothes and the other two days were dry. The second day I first ventured into a cave, before starting the track. After reaching the highest point of the track the sky became clear, and the track followed a system of ridges with spectacular views of the track and the surrounding mountains. After this alpine section, the track went down in 76 switchbacks (‘hairpin bends’) to the second hut. The third day was like a walk in the park, going slightly downhill through forests along rivers and lakes. I hiked about 4,5 hours every day, getting to the hut and pickup point around mid-afternoon. That left plenty of time to make dinner and socialise in the huts.

Down UnderRouteburn Track

On 8 March 2004 from Te Anau, New Zealand | comments closed

Thursday and Friday I pretty much relaxed and enjoyed the good weather in Queenstown. I also did quite a bit of shopping for my first multiple day track. Lots of food, a waterproof cover for my backpack, a little pot and a water absorbing shirt were some of the items I was still missing.

On Saturday I set off on the Routeburn Track, 33 km through the wilderness of South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. The track traverses from Glenorchy to the Divide (between Te Anau and Milford Sound). The first day was only 2 hours though, since the Falls Hut was booked full I had to stay in the Flats Hut. The huts were pretty well equiped though: gas cookers and even flush toilets! But considering the price was 19 euro per night (1,5 times the price of a hostel), one would expect something as well, even in the middle of nowhere. At least the huts on the Kepler track are only 13,50 euro per night. The second day I hiked about 6 hours, arriving at Mackenzie hut at 14.30. The last day was about 5 hours of hiking in total. It was great to be in the wilderness with the comfort of the huts and the company of the other hikers. On both evenings I have been playing a lot of card games. Weatherwise the hike was quite okay, only a bit of drizzle on the second day. Unfortunately it was mostly cloudy the second and third day, and I was often thinking “I wonder how the view is without the mountains”. Nevertheless, I made about 50 photos, so beautiful was this remote area.

Down UnderSkydive!

On 4 March 2004 from Queenstown, New Zealand | comments closed

Yesterday I spent all day in a bus from Christchurch to Queenstown. The bus took a different route than we had been driving before, passing Mt Cook and beautiful Lake Tekapo, where we had a lunch stop. On a sunny day New Zealand scenery is absolutely breathtaking: light blue volcanic lakes with the backdrop of snow capped mountains. In the evening I met up with Sharon (the Israeli girl I met before in Tasmania) to catch up on what we had been doing in NZ.

This morning I jumped out of a perfectly good aeroplane. It was a Tandem Skydive with NZONE for about 160 euro. Since Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, I figured I might as well go for the ultimate jump (conveniently forgetting the fact that skydiving is actually less scary than bungi jumping). I paid for the 12.000 feet jump, but I got a jump from 14.000 feet (more than 4.500 m) altitude. This was because there were 8 ‘funjumpers’ on the flight (filling up the small plane), who wanted to go higher. No complaints from me or my Bulgarian jumpmaster (this guy was already skydiving for the Bulgarian army 20 years ago). The first few seconds after jumping out of the plane were unreal, and I completely lost my orientation (mainly because I was facing all directions in the first second). Then I got almost a minute of freefall, falling towards the ground at terminal velocity (200 km/h), before Krasimir opened the parachute. At that time it was just enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery around Queenstown, on a rare fine day without a cloud in the sky. After I made some photos, we made some sharp turns, rushing towards the ground, before we parachuted into the drop zone. We made a smooth landing and I was back on the ground, safe and sound. I would do it again anytime, if it were not for the money.

Down UnderNew Zealand Photos Online

On 2 March 2004 from Christchurch, New Zealand | comments closed

This morning I brought my parents and sister to the airport, but with three stopovers it will take them 36 hours before they are back home. Afterwards I checked in at a hostel, and checked out the Canterbury Museum. I also booked myself a bus to Queenstown tomorrow morning. In the evening I sorted out all the New Zealand photos and I put the best 120 (out of more than 500) online.

Down UnderNew Zealand with Parents 2

On 1 March 2004 from Christchurch, New Zealand | comments closed

Tomorrow my parents and sister are flying back to the Netherlands (with stopovers in Auckland, Brisbane and Kuala Lumpur), so our holiday together is almost at an end. Let me quickly summarise last week.

The 15th day (24 February) we spent in and around Queenstown. However, I did not do any adventure activities, since the weather was not good enough. So instead we drove to Arrowtown and Glenorchy, and I put all the photos on CD in the evening. On the 16th day we first drove to a deer park, right outside Queenstown. Some Lord of the Rings scenes were shot there and it is not hard to imagine why, since the views were breathtaking. In the afternoon we drove to Te Anau, where my sister and I went for a short stroll on the Kepler track. On the 17th day we woke up early in the morning, drove to Milford and had a 2-hour cruise on the Milford Sound. We got extremely lucky weatherwise, since there was no cloud in the sky, something very unusual in this rainy fiord. After the cruise we drove back to Te Anau, and my dad and sister flew over Doubtful Sound with a waterplane (I saved the money to go skydiving in Queenstown later on). The 18th day we drove to Dunedin on the East Coast, and continued on to the Otago Peninsula to see penguins and a castle. On the 19th day my sister and I did a tour of the Cadbury chocolate factory in Dunedin (the second factory on my trip) before driving to Christchurch. The 20th day in Christchurch we visited a couple that emigrated from my home town (Reuver) over 40 years ago. Later in the afternoon we drove to Lyttelton and had dinner along the Avon river in Christchurch. The 21st day (today) we went to Akaroa for a slightly disappointing cruise on the harbour (we only saw a few dolphins) and the rest of the family went souvenir shopping, while I have been sorting out the photos. We drove about 2.950 km on the South Island, totalling to 4.900 km on both islands. Aside from flying (expensive) and hiking (slow), it is the best way to see the country.

Down UnderNew Zealand with Parents 1

On 23 February 2004 from Queenstown, NZ | comments closed

I just noticed I have not updated my website for the last two weeks, but it seems a lot longer, so much has happened since. I am currently travelling with my parents and since they want to see all of New Zealand in 3 weeks, days tend to be pretty filled with driving, sightseeing and hiking.

The 1st day I picked up my parents and sister from the airport and we explored the city centre of Auckland. The 2nd day we went to the War Memorial Museum and drove up to the Bay of Islands, where we made a cruise on the 3rd day, exploring Russell and Waitangi afterwards. The 4th day we went to see some huge Kauri trees, before driving back to Auckland. On the 5th day we drove through the Coromandel peninsula to Wangamata, riding in a crazy homemade railway and visiting a beautiful beach on the way. The 6th day we went to Rotorua, where we saw lots of geothermal activity (geysers and mud pools), and had a Maori concert and hangi in the evening. The 7th day we visited another geothermal area and drove on to Whakapapa Village in Tongariro National Park. The planned hike was cut short by the rest of the family since it started raining, but I still hiked for 3 hours, mainly because I took the wrong path at a crossing. On the 8th day we had to get back to Wellington to catch the ferry, but all the roads on the West Coast were closed because of the worst rainfall in a century, so we had to take a detour and drove more than 550 km in one day, arriving at the ferry only half an hour before final check-in. The receptionist at the Grand Chateau Tongariro said we would be very lucky to get to Wellington that day. Well, we made our own luck. In total we drove about 1950 km in 7 days on the North Island.

The 9th day we woke up in Picton on the South Island and hiked for 3 hours with views of Queen Charlotte Sound. On the 10th day we drove to Marahau, where we hiked for 3 hours in Abel Tasman National Park, getting there and away by watertaxi. On the 11th day we drove to Hokitika, just stopping for pancake rocks and a recreated gold mining town on the way. The 12th day we went to the Franz Jozef Glacier, but did not even get out of the car to see it, because it was raining cats and dogs and very windy. We did get to see the Fox Glacier, but relaxed inside for the rest of the day. On the 13th day the weather was a lot better and after a visit to Matheson Lake we drove back to Franz Jozef Glacier and got to see it after all. From there we went to Wanaka, stopping for a few waterfalls along the way. On the 14th day (today) we hiked for 3 hours in Wanaka with picture postcard views of Lake Wanaka. In the afternoon we drove to Queenstown, where we are trying to figure out which activities to do.

Overall the last 14 days were pretty intensive, with lots of driving through this beautiful country. We had all some really nice sunny weather in the beginning, lots of rain on the bottom of the North Island and at the glaciers, but great weather here as well. But I guess a country with lots of sun would not have the Lord of the Rings landscapes that New Zealand has, so a bit of rain is inevitable.

Down UnderArrived in New Zealand

On 9 February 2004 from Auckland, New Zealand | comments closed

After a weekend where almost everything had to go wrong the first attempt, it seems that things are better after arriving in Auckland, New Zealand. But let me start at the beginning. When I missed my bus to Sydney on Saturday morning, I booked another bus later that day straight away and spent the day reading ‘The Age’ (Melbourne’s newspaper) and looking for waterproof pants in half a dozen outdoor stores. I could not find what I was looking for however, so I am going to give it another try here in Auckland tomorrow. According to the two German guys in my room, outdoor stuff is cheaper in New Zealand anyway.

I arrived Sydney on Sunday morning at 7.30 after getting a little bit of sleep during the 11,5-hour bus ride. I was not feeling too tired though, so after breakfast at the hostel I took the ferry to Manly, a beach suburb on the other side of the harbour. From Manly a 10km scenic walkway starts which I walked all the way to the end, passing some nice secluded beaches and getting great views of the Sydney harbour. I went back to my hostel by bus, ferry and train. In the evening I had to burn all my photos on CD, since my 512MB CompactFlash card was almost full and I wanted to have an empty card before arriving in New Zealand. So my last night in Sydney I went to half a dozen internet cafes before I found one that offered CD-burning. But there I wasted at least one hour, because as soon as I had uploaded all my photos, the computer would crash and I had to start all over again. Another first attempt that went wrong. Sometimes I really regret not having brought a laptop, but I am glad I did not when I have to walk with all my bags. Anyway, I found another internet cafe with a CD-burner, and I managed to burn them all on CD twice (backups are essential after all).

On Monday morning I managed to get to the airport in Sydney in time for my flight, but at checkin I was told the flight was very full and I might not be able to get on. I was put on standby and had to wait in the checkin area until half an hour before departure. Another first attempt that went wrong. At least I got a 5 euro voucher for food, so I had a small breakfast at the airport, pretty nice since I left my hostel too early to get breakfast there. Half an hour before departure it was pretty chaotic at the standby counter, but after a while I heard I was on a priority list and was able to get on the Qantas flight (others were booked on an Air New Zealand flight or had to wait for 2 hours till the next flight). I was on a priority list because I showed my British Airways frequent flyer card upon checkin, so even if I do not get enough miles for a free flight, I do get priority when a flight is full. And since nowadays you can apply for almost every frequent flyer card for free on the internet, why not collect miles when flying with flag carriers? There are really only benefits to collecting miles, even for non-frequent flyers. Just make sure you only use one card for each alliance (Star Alliance, OneWorld, SkyTeam), otherwise you end up like me, having collected enough miles for a free flight, but not able to get it because the miles are spread on 3 different cards from Star Alliance (Lufthansa, Air Canada, SAS). Clear case of a luxury problem.

The Qantas flight to Auckland was pretty good, aside from a little turbulence. And I think I had one of the best airplane lunches ever: chicken with rice (maybe that is why), salad, chocolate pudding and Bundaberg rum with Coke 😉
I was already warned about the airport in Auckland by a backpacker magazine, and they were right, the airport just cannot handle all the traffic. After landing, it took more than 1 hour to get to the terminal by bus, clear immigration, collect luggage, and clear customs. Mainly because the queues before immigration were really long, and I just had to laugh when the immigration officer looked at my ticket, noticed that I left from Amsterdam, and asked if I brought any pot with me. That really is the first thing people think about when they hear Amsterdam.

After I checked in at the Fat Camel hostel in Auckland (some hostel names are pretty funny), it was about 6 PM and all the shops just closed, so I was not able to do any shopping. I hope I find some time in the morning, before I have to go to the airport to pick up my parents and sister. They are coming to New Zealand for 3 weeks and want to see the entire country in that time, so I reckon the next 3 weeks are going to be quite intensive, driving at least 200km a day, but also a lot of fun. As a consequence of the hectic shedule, I probably will not be able to frequently update this website for the next 3 weeks. Then again, who cares, right?

One more thing: at the moment New Zealand is GMT +13, so there are 12 hours of time difference with mainland Western Europe. This is almost the furthest one could get away from Europe; any further, and one would be going back. And no, I am not digging a hole to find a shorter way 😉

Down UnderFirst Bus Cancelled, Second Missed

On 7 February 2004 from Melbourne, VIC | comments closed

I had it all planned out: get back to Melbourne by train after work on Friday, get to Sydney on a tour via the Snowy Mountains and Canberra over the weekend, and fly to Auckland on Monday. Then the tour company called me on Friday that the tour was cancelled because there were not enough participants. So I changed my plans, deciding not to go to the Snowy Mountains and Canberra now, and I booked a ticket on a direct Greyhound bus. But on Friday evening a Dutch girl at the hostel had her birthday, we went out with a group of people, I had a few drinks and I slept through my alarm clock this morning. When I woke up in shock I called the bus company only to find out that the ticket was non-refundable, so that was 26 euro wasted. Oh well, I booked again on an overnight bus tonight, saving one night accommodation expenses. And 26 euro from Melbourne to Sydney is actually really cheap, considering it is a 12-hour bus ride.

Down UnderWorking Holiday

On 5 February 2004 from Ballarat, VIC | comments closed

One of the reasons for me to go to Australia was the fact that I could obtain a working holiday visa, making it possible to stay for a year and supplement travel funds by working. Since I have only been travelling for the first 9 weeks of my trip, I figured it would be great to work for a few weeks before going to New Zealand. So for the last two weeks I have been doing some boring repetitive factory work in shifts from 7 to 12 hours. Not so fun, but at least I am making some decent money now, instead of just spending money. I do have to get a better job later on though. That is why I will probably be spending 2-3 months in Perth when I return from New Zealand. The more professional jobs require at least 2 months commitment and I have no travel plans at that time. Also it will be good to settle down after having travelled through New Zealand for 6-7 weeks.

Down UnderAustralia Day

On 27 January 2004 from Melbourne, VIC | comments closed

Yesterday was Australia Day, celebrating the discovery of Australia. In the morning I went to City Hall to hear the Governor’s speech, to see the raising of the flag and to watch the march pass by. In the afternoon Anke (a Dutch girl) and I went to Government House, which is only open on Australia Day, creating a long queue to get in and walk through. But it was pretty interesting to see. Afterwards we watched a few buskers and other activities along the river. In the evening there was music at Federation Square and lots of fireworks above the city, so we watched that before getting a few beers in a pub.

Today I checked out the jobs in Melbourne in the morning, but I could not find anything really interesting. In the afternoon Mark called that he found a job for me in Ballarat, something we talked about when I was there. So the rest of the afternoon I read a book in the park and in the evening I sorted out my photos in an internet cafe. The most interesting photos of Victoria are online now.

Down UnderGold Rush

On 25 January 2004 from Melbourne, VIC | comments closed

On Thursday evening there was a campfire at the hostel. In most places in Australia campfires are restricted because of the high risk of bushfires, so I was glad there was one here. I had a great time chatting with the other guests and just looking at the sky full of stars. Because Halls Gap is in a valley far from any industrial zone there is very little light polution, and it was possible to see a lot of stars. I even saw a shooting star (finally, I am usually just too late to see them).

On Friday I relaxed at the hostel until I was picked up by the tour that was dropping me off in Ballarat, Australia’s largest inland city (about 70.000 inhabitants). During the Port Arthur tour in Tasmania I met Mark and Margy, an Australian couple living in Ballarat. Since I was passing through I took them up on the invitation to drop by. With a few beers we chatted all evening.

On Saturday morning Mark dropped me off at Sovereign Hill: one of Victoria’s most famous tourist attractions. It is an open-air museum with the atmosphere of Ballarat in the 1850’s, according to the same principle as the “Zuiderzee Museum” in the Netherlands. I spent more than half the day there, just wondering around the old gold mining town, viewing live demonstrations, visiting the mine, and panning for gold (no success). Afterwards I shortly visited the Gold Museum, and took the train back to Melbourne.

Today was another typical Sunday: pancakes in the morning, socialising at the hostel, shopping in the afternoon (almost all shops are open on Sundays here), and more socialising at the hostel.

Down UnderGrampians

On 22 January 2004 from Halls Gap, VIC | comments closed

Yesterday was a fairly busy day here in the Grampians. I did my laundry in the morning, and afterwards Theresa and I went for a triathlon: hiking for 4 hours, biking for 1 hour and swimming for 15 minutes (the lake was not very nice). In the evening we cooked some pasta and I finished the ice-cream (great stuff, it is already soft right out of the freezer!).

I am staying at Tim’s Place, a really nice and cosy hostel. I like the smaller hostels better, because of the more homely feeling; it is easier to get to know people here. Today was a day to relax, with a brunch and a short (1,5 hours) hike in the Grampians. Tomorrow I will be heading back to Melbourne to be there for Australia Day on Monday.

Down UnderGreat Ocean Road

On 20 January 2004 from Halls Gap, VIC | comments closed

Early Monday morning I got picked up by Dave for a tour of the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians. I wanted to do a 3-day tour but that one was either booked full or cancelled. He still wanted me to go on his tour though and even offered I could do the tour I wanted for free if I did not like this one. I agreed with that, since the weather forecast was really great and I wanted to get out of Melbourne. After switching bus drivers in Melbourne we headed off to the Great Ocean Road. It is really just a long coastal road with lots of beaches along the way, some viewpoints and some spectacular rock formations at the end. Because so many people rave about it and it is considered one of Australia’s must-have-done’s, my expectations were quite high. It did not manage to live up to those expectations. It is a really nice coastal road, no doubt about that, and the rock formations like the Twelve Apostles, The Arch and London Bridge are quite spectacular. But it really missed the dramatic cliffs, secluded beaches and hairpin bends I had expected. Basically it paled in comparison to some of the coastal roads I have taken in South-West Turkey, in between Olympos and Fethiye.

Almost at the end of the Great Ocean Road we switched tour groups, because the first bus was getting back to Melbourne and Theresa (a German girl) and I were going on to the Grampians. We stayed the night at a small hostel, where the owner had made a nice BBQ dinner and taught us how to play the didgeridoo (I have no natural talent for that, as expected). Except for the mozzies (mosquitos) it was a lot of fun.

This morning we visited some sights in the Grampians, making lots of photos with people (me as well of course) standing on the ledge of a cliff. The weather was great (sunny, 30 degrees), and the photos are really cool. We had lunch at McKenzies falls, and afterwards the rest of the tour group switched busses to go to Adelaide. Theresa and I got brought back to Halls Gap in the middle of the Grampians, where I am planning to do some hiking, biking, laundry and eating lots of ice-cream, since there is a freezer here (most hostels do not have one), so I bought a nice 1,2 litre package, which should be enough for 2 days ;-).

Down UnderPhotos of NSW & Tasmania

On 18 January 2004 from Melbourne, VIC | comments closed

Today was a typical Sunday: sleeping in the morning and lazy throughout the rest of the day. However, I did manage to sort out and name all my photos, and I put the ones from New South Wales and Tasmania online.

Down UnderPlanning Work & Travel

On from Melbourne, VIC | comments closed

I have been staying in Melbourne for a week now, enough to see all the main tourist sights. On Thursday I visited Cook’s Cottage (a little building they completely moved from England to Melbourne), the Immigration Museum, and Jacqueline and I went to the Crown Entertainment Complex. On Friday I visited the Melbourne Zoo, basically to have at least some photos of animals in case I do not see them in the wild. In the evening it got pretty crowded because of a summer concert; hundreds of Australians were picknicking on the grass. On Saturday I went back to the Melbourne Museum, because I had not seen the aborigine exhibit yet and a free newspaper is included in the entry (free for students). I also mailed some books home and got a new hat at the Queen Victoria Market. In the late afternoon I went for some more shopping with Jacqueline.

This week I have also been e-mailing and visiting employment agencies, and checking out the classifieds in the newspaper. The problem with most somewhat professional work is the fact that I will only be staying in Melbourne for a few weeks. It almost seems telemarketing is the only thing to do. Also most hostels have raised their prices because of the Australian Open that is starting here in Melbourne next week. I am more and more thinking of spending some time on the countryside (it is fruitpicking season after all).

Another thing about travelling for a few months or more is the fact that travel planning seems to take up a lot of time. When I travelled in Canada and Europe for a short time I had my itinerary completely planned, and I did not spend any time planning during the trip. But with this trip I want to keep things flexible, so I can stay longer in places I like and move on when I do not like a place. This has the downturn that I spend much more time figuring out where to go next and how to go there. Every advantage has its disadvantage (to quote an famous Dutch soccer coach).

For tomorrow I booked a 3-day tour (90 euro) to the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians NP. The weather forecast is sunny and over 30 degrees (it is 20 degrees today), so I reckon Australia is definitely a better place to be right now than cold and rainy Europe.

Down UnderMelbourne, the Neverending Story

On 14 January 2004 from Melbourne, VIC | comments closed

The last three days in Melbourne mainly consisted of looking for work in the morning, and exploring the city in the afternoon. On Monday I met up Jacqueline, a Swiss girl whom I met on New Year’s Eve in Hobart. She is studying here, but has not visited a lot of places in the city, so we’re kinda exploring the sights together. Federation Square and NewQuay on Monday, the Botanical Gardens on Tuesday, and the Melbourne Museum today.

Other than that there is not that much else to write about. Melbourne is a great city, and I would like to stay here for some weeks. But to realise that really need to find some work here as well, otherwise I might be better of reducing expenses by staying on the countryside. Time to browse through the classifieds in the newspaper.

Down UnderWild West Escape

On 11 January 2004 from Melbourne, Victoria | comments closed

After having spent about six days in and around Hobart, I had kinda seen the place, but more importantly, the festivals ended, the weather became cloudy (it was like that and worse the last week) and the friends I had met there were also leaving. I felt it was time to move on. I had not seen the west coast of Tasmania yet, so that would be the obvious way to go. The problem was in the mode of transportation: busses were basically not an option for the west side, because they mainly go to the larger towns (once a day) and not to all the interesting national parks in between. And I could not really find anyone who was planning to travel on just the west coast either. Therefore I decided to spend some more money (225 euro) and book a 3-day tour from Hobart to Launceston. Pretty much my entire Sunday consisted of deciding this and just relaxing, except for briefly meeting up with Jennie and Sharon to say goodbye.

On Monday 5 January I was the first to be picked up by Luna (originally German, but emigrated to Tasmania) for the tour. There were 18 more participants, so it took a while before we could head off into the Styx forest to see some huge trees. There it became quite clear that this tour was going to have an environmental focus. We had lunch on a wooden bridge over a stream in the middle of the forest, before we went to see the tallest tree in the forest. A group photo was obligatory and Luna was hassling with some 15 cameras. After the photo we went even deeper into the forest (at that time we had not seen a paved road for 3 hours) to a tree sit. Basically some Greenpeace activists built a tree hut in an 84-metre high tree to protect it from being logged. We spent some time there listening to their reasons and enjoying the pristine rainforest. After seeing all these tall trees we went to Mt Field NP, also famous for its tall trees. We did a short walk to see them and two waterfalls. By the time we got back Luna had already made some BBQ preparations, but with a little help from everyone we could quickly enjoy a great BBQ in the national park. We stayed the night at a nice hostel close to Mt Field.

On Tuesday we had to get up really early because we would be driving quite far that day. The first stop was at Lake St Clair NP. There we made a short aboriginal culture walk in the forests and walked back along the lake, where we had lunch. In the afternoon we drove through the Gordon-Franklin Wild Rivers NP, a protected wilderness area. We did a short hike up to Donaghys Lookout, from where the view was 360 degrees of wilderness, except for the path we walked there was no sign of human activity. We also stopped for another short walk to the Nelson Falls. When we got out of the national park, we entered the Queenstown area, a landscape more similar to the moon than to earth, created by mining activity in the last two centuries. Since Queenstown has not much else going for it, we drove on to Tullah, where our hostel was located at the shore of the lake. The place had a bar and fireplace, and the atmosphere was really great. Needless to say, it got quite late, even though we would have to get up early in the morning.

On Wednesday we managed to depart only half an hour later than planned, but unfortunately it was raining cats and dogs. The plan for the day was doing a 5-hour hike at Cradle Mt, but with the rain pouring down no one really felt like doing that. So we drove on to the Marakoopa Cave, where we could see glowworms at the ceiling of the cave. That was really quite spectacular, the ceiling looked like it had all these stars on them. Other than the glowworms, there were also lots of stalagmites and stalagtites in quite spectacular formations. Best cave I had even seen. Next stop was a Honey Farm, where they were selling lots of different sorts of honey, from vanilla to chili. Luckily they had plastic jars, so I got some honey for in my backpack. Because we did not go hiking the last day, the tour ended relatively early in Launceston. There I showed the Cataract Gorge to a few other participants of the tour, and we had dinner altogether in the evening.

I spent Thursday in Launceston, doing laundry and making travel plans for the last days in Tasmania, as well as booking the ferry back to the mainland. Regardless of the rain, I decided to backtrack to Cradle Mt to go hiking there for two days.

On Friday I got a lift from two English backpackers to Cradle Mt, where I checked in a the expensive, but basic hostel. From there I took the free bus going into the national park, where I set off doing the Face Track that was supposed to take most of the day. Somehow I managed to return within 3,5 hours. Probably because I did not stop very often to look at the views, because there were not any; the mountain was completely covered in clouds. I was also really glad I got a decent raincoat back home, even though it had been at the bottom of my backpack for the first 6 weeks. I really needed it on the mountain, and I even regretted not having rainproof trousers, since my pants got soaked wet, and they were really exposed to heavy winds on the plateau. But even though the weather was bad, it was still great to hike in this wilderness area, and the hot shower in the hostel afterwards was so much more rewarding. Instead of going to sleep at 19.00 like my other roommates, I had some beers and an interesting conversation in the kitchen till late.

Saturday morning I got up fairly early to do another short hike in the national park, before the bus would pick me up in the afternoon. I did the Dove Lake track there, probably one of the nicest short tracks to do. It only took a little bit more than an hour to go around the lake, so no worries about catching the bus in time. I got to Devonport in the early evening and somehow ended up watching movies until 2.00, not very wise since I had to get up at 6.00 to catch the ferry to Melbourne.

Early Sunday morning I got a ride to the ferry terminal with a couple from Melbourne, and still had to wait for another 1,5 hours to board. I did get a decent seat on board, since I heard that there were barely enough seats for everyone. The 10-hours Bass Strait crossing mainly consisted of reading, listening to music and watching Harry Potter (I almost fell asleep during that activity). But at least it was sunny in Melbourne when I arrived!

Down UnderA Mountain & Ghostly Criminals

On 4 January 2004 from Hobart, TAS | comments closed

Mt Wellington offers magnificent views looking out over Hobart and I took up the plan to hike to the top of this mountain. So on Friday Sharon, Jennie and I went by bus to the mountain and hitch-hiked to the top, since this is one of these mountains where you can drive all the way to the top, and hiking down is more fun than hiking up. From the top it took us about 5 hours to hike down, mainly because we missed the crossing to the organ pipes, and we got lost in the woods, causing us to hike down a small stream. In the evening we made pancakes at my hostel (I really missed those) and went out to the Irish pub.

On Saturday morning I met up with Sharon and Jennie to go to Salamanka market, a weekly market with lots of local things, touristy stuff, food and a great atmosphere. And it was listed as one of the highlights of Tasmania, so not to be missed anyway. After a currywurst lunch I got picked up by Christina for the tour to Port Arthur. There were only 7 others in the tour, so it was quite personal. In the afternoon we visited some sites on the Tasman peninsula, like pavement that was not manmade, a blowhole and a few natural arches. We also did some short hikes along the beach and along the rocky coastline. In the early evening we got to the Port Arthur Historic Site, where very few tourists were left. Considering that this is Tasmania’s main tourist attraction, that was pretty good. The entire site was really pretty and peaceful, especially in the light of a setting sun. That made it quite hard to imagine that this used to be the most brutal prison in Australia, where the worst criminals were sent. After checking out the site for a few hours, we had some dinner and went on the Ghost Tour. It was pretty dark by now and the guide was telling all these scary stories about ghost sightings at Port Arthur. It was interesting to hear and cool to walk around the site at night, but unfortunately (be careful what you wish for) we did not see any ghosts. Back in Hobart I met Sharon, Jennie and Jack at the Irish pub, which is starting to become a habit.

Down UnderTales from a Small Island

On 1 January 2004 from Hobart, TAS | comments closed

Although Tasmania is about the size of the Benelux, it is amazing how often I have run into the same people here. Some examples: I met the French girl I sat next to in the plane in the hostel in Coles Bay and again in the hostel in Triabunna. In Hobart I met the Israeli girl that I met the first day hiking in Freycinet NP. I also met a Swiss girl part of the tour group I met on the second day hiking in Freycinet NP. And on New Year’s Eve I met the German couple I drove to Coles Bay with. It is a small island after all.

On 31 December I did not want to do anything too exhausting, so I went to Cadbury’s Chocolate Factory to learn how chocolate is made, to taste some and to buy it at factory prices. I got almost 2 kg for 6 euro. So I have been living on mostly chocolate for the last few days 😉

On New Year’s Eve I went out with Sharon (Israeli), Jennie (English), Jacqueline (Swiss), Jack (Dutch), Silke (Dutch) and Mette (Dutch). We had drinks in the park, went to a few pubs and watched the fireworks at the waterfront. For the first time I have been celebrating New Year in a T-shirt, although it got a bit chilly at night. But I had a great time and only went to sleep after 5 AM.

New Year’s Day I spent quite relaxed, getting some Vietnamese food at The Taste down at the waterfront, and watching ‘Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King’ in the cinema. In the evening I played cards with Sharon and Jennie.

Down UnderBack in Civilisation

On 30 December 2003 from Hobart, Tasmania | comments closed

Christmas Day started for me with a flight from Sydney to Launceston, Tasmania. The flight was with Qantas and no worries there. The airport in Launceston was a bit of a shock though, since the only plane there was the one I arrived with, and everyone had to walk into the terminal and get the luggage from the carts driven in. But this all turned out to go a lot faster than at the big international airports. Launceston itself was not that big either, with only one tourist attraction: the Cataract Gorge. So I hiked a few hours around that area during the afternoon. In the evening there was a (free!) Christmas BBQ at the hostel, which was a lot of fun. Afterwards we played some frisbee in the park. Something completely different than Christmas in Europe, but not bad, not bad at all.

On Boxing Day (that is what the 2nd Christmas Day is called here) I got a lift from a German couple to Coles Bay at Freycinet National Park (NP). The drive there was quite nice, through hilly terrain with some vineyards, and we stopped at St Columba waterfalls along the way. However, as soon as we left Launceston my mobile could not find a network anymore, and that has not changed since I got to Hobart. So it appears my mobile only works in the two major cities here, nice.

On 27 December I hitchhiked into the Freycinet NP and made a hike to Wineglass Beach and back along Hazards Beach. Wineglass Beach is really one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, fine white sand in a bay with the shape of a (you guessed it) wineglass. On 28 December I made another hike in Freycinet NP, this time to the top of Mt Amos. Great views over the park and I got a cool photo with me on top and Wineglass Bay below. Once again I hitchhiked back to town and got on a bus to Triabunna. The bus shedules on this island are a bit frustrating, with about one bus a day at most, one of the reasons I am hitchhiking short rides into National Parks and trying to get lifts from other travellers for longer distances. I should really buy a car when I get back to the mainland, but my plan is to do that only when I get back from New Zealand, since leaving it somewhere for 6 weeks does not make much sense either. Not to mention the fact that I will depart from Sydney and arrive in Melbourne.

The hostel in Triabunna had a pretty good atmosphere and was run by a nice couple (although the guy was the raw small town type) that even remembered the names of all the guests. The second night the hostess had made cookies for everyone, really nice. On 29 December I made a daytrip to Maria Island (discovered by Abel Tasman and named after Maria van Diemen, just like he originally named Tasmania ‘Van Diemen’s Land’). The island is now a National Park without cars and offers some nice hiking opportunities. Once again I climbed a mountain (600 metres) called Bishop and Clerk. Before hiking up there I hiked along the fossil cliffs (not much to see there) and afterwards I hiked to the painted cliffs (pretty interestingly shaped and coloured cliffs). So after about 5 hours of continuous hiking I was pretty beat up on the ferry back to Triabunna.

Today I got a lift to Hobart from another traveller staying at the hostel in Triabunna. In the afternoon I went into the city, where there is lots to do. All of it combined is the Hobart Summer Festival. First of all, the Rolex Sydney Hobart sailing yacht race finished here the day before yesterday (and some smaller yachts still have to arrive), so there are lots of fast expensive yachts in the harbour. Then there is an international buskers (street artists) festival. But the main attraction is the food festival (called ‘The Taste’) with lots of local food to try out. For one, I could not resist the pancake with raspberries and ice-cream 😉

Down UnderMerry Christmas & Happy New Year

On 24 December 2003 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

I want to wish all the readers of my travel diary a very good Christmas and
all the best for 2004!

Down UnderBushwalking

On from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

I just got back from three days in the Blue Mountains, slightly sunburned (better than the cold weather without a white Christmas back home I figure 😉 ), and tired from bushwalking. Bushwalking is the Oz word for hiking (Kiwi’s call it tramping). In my travel diary I will use both terms, but hiking because it is shorter.

In Dutch: [‘Hiking’ heeft naar mijn mening geen goed Nederlands alternatief. ‘Bergwandelen’ komt nog het best in de buurt, maar impliceert bergen, die niet altijd aanwezig hoeven te zijn. Meestal is dit overigens wel het geval, wat ook de reden is dat ‘hiking’ in Nederland niet echt mogelijk is, natuurlijke obstakels die slechts te voet te bereizen zijn ontbreken simpelweg. En dat is volgens mij de essentie van ‘hiking’: daar lopen waar men alleen te voet kan komen. ‘Wandelen’ roept bij mij het beeld op van een zondagse bezigheid voor mensen op leeftijd, danwel mensen vergezeld van attributen zoals kinderwagens en rolstoelen. Een echte ‘hike’ is niet te doen vergezeld van deze attributen. Het schetste dan ook zeer mijn verbazing om op weg naar een uitkijkpunt een Nederlandse stel met twee kids tegen te komen die een kinderwagen richting het uitkijkpunt aan het zeulen waren, ondanks dat 95% van de route uit trappen bestond. Nederlanders in den vreemde zijn raar…]

On Tuesday I took the bus to Blackheath, where I walked the popular Grand Canyon trail. This trail led down from the top of the cliff into rainforest and along a little stream in a canyon. It reminded me most of the hikes my family and I did near Berdorf in Luxembourg. Forests, rocks, hills, little streams and even other tourists, everything was there, just on a slightly bigger scale. From the lookout point I continued along the top of the cliff (no worries, all the dangerous spots were fenced) to a heritage centre from where I took the bus back to hostel. Altogether I only hiked no more than 4 hours, but it was a good start.

Today I decided to go for a longer walk, so I went to the ruined castle (basically a pile of rocks in the middle of the valley). The hike was classified as 6 hours and hard. I did need 6 hours from door to door, but it was not really hard. The most difficult part was getting up the ruined castle, since it was basically rock climbing. But the view was really great: I could see 360 degrees across the valley. It is a less popular track though, since in the 4 hours without any signs of civilisation I only encountered one other hiker. After a very satisfying walk I took a shower at the hostel. Afterwards I was picked up by the guide from the tour last Monday. Since the tour was not booked full today, I could join them back to Sydney.

Down UnderBlue Mountains

On 22 December 2003 from Katoomba, NSW | comments closed

Yesterday kinda felt like the last day in Sydney, even though I will be back before my flight to Tasmania, and I will probably fly back to Sydney within the month as well. But still, it felt like the last day. And on last days I always want to do these things that I have been planning to do all along, but just did not get to. And there are actually quite a lot of these things lurking in Sydney: the 10km walk from Manly, harbour cruise, powerhouse museum, aquarium, beaches, climbing the harbour bridge etc. So trying to minimise the damage, I went to the National Museum in the morning: it had some nice displays with minerals (sounds really boring, but they were actually quite fascinating; from diamonds to gold), some of the deadliest spiders (I would still run away from every spider though) and a great wildlife photo exhibition.

In the afternoon there was a party at Bondi, so we went there with a full bus from our hostel. I guess my appreciation of city beaches was mostly shown by the fact that I had not even been to Bondi beach after spending a week in Sydney. Bondi is, after all, the most famous beach in Sydney. And it is really nice for a city beach, as it is a bit sheltered in a bay with rocks on both sides. But I think I was spoilt too much in Thailand… The party was really nice though, especially because of the view on the beach from the terrace.

This morning I was picked up by Santa Claus and his minibus, bringing me and the other folks on the tour to the Blue Mountains. But first we made a stop at the Sydney Olympic Park, which looked quite abandoned, but Santa Claus (our guide) played this Olympic opening tune, so we still got some Olympic feeling driving into the park. And I have another thing to do in Sydney: swim in the Olympic swimming pool. The next stop was at a national park to see kangeroos. These were living in the wild, but accustomed to humans, so they would not bounce away on first sight. It was pretty cool to see, especially since we could approach them pretty close, so I was able to make some nice photos. Next we stopped to view waterfalls and the last stop before lunch was at the Three Sisters, basically three rocks that have not been eroded yet. The last two stops also offered great views of the Blue Mountains.

Before lunch I checked in at my hostel, one of the better hostels with about all the facilities for $25 in a 4-share room. The tour continued to the scenic railway, a former mine railway with an average inclination of 44 degrees. I walked down through the forest and took the railway back up the cliff. It was actually quite spectacular. At the end of the tour I was dropped in Katoomba and everyone else went back to Sydney. The plan is to do some bushwalking here, but more about that later.

Down UnderPhotos of Thailand

On 20 December 2003 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

I finally managed to find an internet cafe where I could upload my photos. Somehow there is always something that does not work for me, either an old operating system, no CD-drive, a slow connection, or the place is just too expensive. But no more worries, I managed to upload the remaining photos of Malaysia and the ones from Thailand. The photos from Sydney will have to wait till another time though.

Down UnderTasmania

On from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

I spent the last six days in Sydney getting organised, sightseeing, job hunting, relaxing, and figuring out what to do and where to go in Australia. Chances of finding a nice job in Sydney during the next weeks are pretty slim, because of Christmas and New Year’s holidays and the summer vacation here. Since I did not come to Australia to enjoy the cities (I might just as well have stayed home), I figured I needed to get out of Sydney. I can always work later in the year, and I have saved some money to travel, so why not do it right now?

So I decided to go to Tasmania, the island that is also a province, twice the size of the Netherlands, but less than 500.000 inhabitants. The main reasons to go there are the fact that flying is not much more expensive than taking the ferry, and the weather is best now. Since it is the Southernmost part of Australia, it might be fairly cold when I choose to go there after travelling to New Zealand. Today I booked my flight, but because it is ultra high season here, I am flying on 25 December, the first available option. I guess I am making a tradition of spending Christmas at airports. On the other hand, my family is 16.645 km away, so it will not be a family Christmas after all. And what is the point of celebrating Christmas without family anyway?

But before heading off to try to spot a Tasmanian Devil, I am going for a 2-3 day trip to the Blue Mountains on Monday. Time for the real Australia, even though Sydney is quite okay for a city with 4 million inhabitants.

Down UnderA Word about Costs

On 18 December 2003 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

Some of you visiting this site might wonder how much my wanderlust is costing me. Somehow most backpackers’ sites carefully avoid this issue. But I decided to go by Adam Curry‘s (for those of you who do not know him: it is not important) adagium: “There are no Secrets, Only information you don’t yet have”.

I just started my trip, so there is not that much information to share, but here is what I have paid so far:
1638 euro for the flight (Amsterdam-Singapore, Bangkok-Sydney, Sydney-Auckland, Auckland-Melbourne, Melbourne-Hong Kong, Hong Kong-Amsterdam);
450 euro for travel insurance;
103 euro for my Working Holiday Visa.
So including guidebook it is about 2250 euro just to get here, be insured and be able to work.

However, during 3,5 weeks of travelling in South-East Asia I only spent 330 euro. That is excluding 155 euro of electronics I bought. Unfortunately Australia is quite a bit more expensive than South-East Asia. I am trying to spend a maximum of 50 euro a day here. So far that is working, but I have not left Sydney yet. I am working on that though.

Down UnderJob Hunting

On 17 December 2003 from Sydney, NSW | comments closed

Since I have a fixed flight from Sydney to Auckland (New Zealand) on 10 February, my plan is to stay around the Sydney area for the next 7 weeks. Sydney is supposed to be the best place to find work, except for this time of the year, since it is the summer holiday period. So office work is pretty hard to find, although I ran into a vacancy for the Christmas and New Year period today. I did some tests: typing (only 54 words/minute) and Microsoft Office (average more than 90/100 points). According to the guy at the agency I stand a pretty good chance. We’ll see.

In any case, there seems to be more work in the hospitality area and since I worked for more than 3 years at a bar in my home town, I have some experience in that area. However, I need to get an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) certificate to be able to work in hospitality venues in NSW. So that will fill my day on Friday.

I also moved to a cheaper hostel, but I should really find some shared house or something for the next seven weeks. When all these plans fail, I can just enjoy the summer here and travel around. At least the weather here is a lot better than back in Europe, so far it has been sunny and over 25 degrees every day. Just perfect.

Maybe it is because of the weather, but Sydney is a really nice city. First of all, there is a lot of activity, so no chance to get bored. Other than that, there are plenty of opportunities to avoid the streets. From my hostel I can walk pretty much all the way to the Opera House through a series of connected parks. Yesterday I spent hours relaxing in the Botanical Gardens, mainly because I was not feeling too well (I am blaming the airplane food), but also because it is such a relaxed place.

Down UnderMy Address Down Under

On 15 December 2003 from Sydney, NSW, Australia | comments closed

I got my personal forwarding address in Sydney this morning. This means you can send me snail mail, like postcards and the like. Please use the full address below. You can also call or SMS me on my Australian Vodafone number.

Oz Address
Guido Claessen
TCP# 9542 AUS
C/- Travellers Contact Point
Level 7, Dymocks Building
428 George Street
SYDNEY NSW 2000
AUSTRALIA

Oz Phone #
+61-405011063

Down UnderDown Under!

On 14 December 2003 from Sydney, Australia | comments closed

I finished my 3,5 weeks of travelling from Singapore to Bangkok, and I have finally arrived Down Under! To quote Bet: “this is where the adventure really starts”. Mainly by looking for a job and a nice place to stay in Sydney until February.

Bet and I spent our last day together in Bangkok by going to Vimanmek Mansion, the palace of one of the former Kings of Thailand. Afterwards I tried to do some shopping near Siam Square, but I could not find anything I liked. So we went back to the Banglampu area and spend a few hours sorting out all our photos and burning them on CD. Not the best way to spend the last day, but quite essential if I want to make sense of all the photos I made after I get home.

The flight from Bangkok to Sydney was pretty smooth. But I guess Cathay Pacific did not become “Airline of the Year 2003” for no reason. The stopover in Hong Kong was too short to visit the city, but too long to spend at the airport (a later flight from Bangkok was booked full at the time of booking). To avoid getting bored, I went through immigration and back to score some extra passport stamps. Upon arrival in Sydney two more pages were filled, one with my visa that I got straight at the airport.

Today I will mainly be handling all the practical stuff: postal address, mobile phone number, taxfile number, bank account etc. And I need to catch up with sleeping: a short night in Bangkok and another short night on the plane are not helping. Not to mention another 4 hours of time difference compared to Bangkok. Sydney is GMT +11, so it is 10 hours later than mainland Western Europe.

Down UnderBuddhas Everywhere

On 12 December 2003 from Bangkok, Thailand | comments closed

Yesterday we went to Bangkok by bus, since we would have to wait 1,5 hours for the train otherwise. At the bus terminal we avoided the taxis and took a bus (0,10 euro) to Banglampu, where we planned to stay. Most places were already full at 6 PM, but we managed to find a nice and clean place.

I must admit I was a bit worried about travelling to Bangkok at first, because “the noise is deafening, the pollution asphyxiating and the heat stifling” [Lonely Planet]. Aside from the sheer size and traffic jams, I find the city quite manageable. Bangkok has pretty much everything a traveller needs in large numbers: accommodation, food, internet, cheap clothes etc. And the city is interesting: there is always something going on, 24 hours a day.

Today we visited Wat Pho (a large temple complex) and the Grand Palace. Both places had a large number of fully decorated buildings and some temples. I think I have seen enough Buddhas by now, no matter how gold coated they are. I also saw one of the largests Buddhas today: 46 metre long.

Down UnderLots of Ancient Temples

On 11 December 2003 from Ayuthaya, Thailand | comments closed

The full moon party last Monday was really crazy. I am not sure if there were 10.000 people in Hat Rin town and on the beach, but it must have been something like it. The atmosphere was really good, with lots of drunk Commonwealth citizens, as expected. Bet and I did not make it into the morning though, as we would have a long trip ahead of us the next day.

On Monday we got on the ferry back to the mainland, with lots of other hangover travellers, no surprise there. The night train to Bangkok was quite okay, although another traveller rated it as half the quality compared to the train to Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. That seems to become a common theme: all the other travellers I meet have already been in Chiang Mai, and I am not even going there. Well, this was not intended as a trip that would include all the sights though, less than two weeks is way too short for all of Thailand. I am pretty sure I will visit this country again somewhere in the future. It is cheap, there are lots of things to see (nature as well as ancient sites), the people are friendly, the food is just great, some beaches are just like paradise, and it is always warm (although the last point also has its disadvantages).

On Tuesday morning we arrived in Bangkok, where we did not even leave the train station and boarded a train to Ayuthaya. This should have taken less than two hours, but it did take a bit longer for us. Because the station was signposted pretty badly, we had to take a train back from the next station. When we finally arrived at the hostel in Ayuthaya we had been travelling for almost 24 hours. So we rested a bit, before biking around the city to see all the ancient temples. Ayuthaya has been the capital of Thailand hundreds of years ago, and there are quite some ruins remaining of that period.

Since we did not manage to see all the main sites in one afternoon, we woke up early this morning to bike around the city a bit more and take in the sights. I really made a lot of photos here, which I will try to upload from Australia. I am betting I will not have the time nor the opportunity to do that in Bangkok, where we are going now.

Down UnderThere’s E-mail in Paradise

On 8 December 2003 from Koh Phangan, Thailand | comments closed

I do not quite know how to tell you this, but basically I have been doing nothing at all for the last 5 days. Unless you count sleeping late, laying on the beach, swimming in the sea, and eating delicious foods as activities. Because in that case I have been really busy 🙂

Koh Phangan is really an island to relax. Bet and I went to some of the other beaches, only to be assured that we are staying at the nicest one (Hat Yao). It also offers the best snorkelling this time of the year, so I finally put my three snorkel diving diplomas of my childhood to good use.

I am currently in Hat Rin, the not-so-nice-to-swim-but-great-to-party beach, and today there is a full moon party: the largest beach party in the world! Usually around 10.000 party people come to the full moon party, so it should be lots of fun. The plan is to stay until after sunset, and then catch a few hours of sleep before taking the ferry at noon and the connecting train to Bangkok at night.

Down UnderRelaxing on the Beach

On 4 December 2003 from Koh Phangan, Thailand | comments closed

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a real travelling day. Bet and I went from Penang in Malaysia to Koh Phangan, an island in Thailand. This meant we were picked up by a van at 5 AM, to bring us into Thailand in a mere 3 hours. There we switched vans to bring us to Surat Thani, a ride of 5 hours. Luckily the second van had better suspension, because the first one had very little, causing us to jump up and down at every little bump in the road (and Thailand has many). Unluckily the second van was completely full, so the ride was pretty cramped. But what to expect when one pays 15 euro for the entire trip. The last part of this trip was the 3,5 hour ferry ride to Koh Phangan, only after we made it just in time to the ferry from Surat Thani in another van, completely packed and speeding with 120 km/h over roads with 2-way traffic. The ferry ride was quite nice though, with mainly backpackers also going to the island.

On the ferry we met this tout who was recommending a place on the beach where we were planning to go. Since the ferry arrived at 9 PM we figured it might not be such a bad idea to just accept his offer of a free ride to this place. The free ride turned out to be in the back of a pickup truck, pretty cool, even though the last part of the ride (20 min. in total) was over an unpaved road with deep holes in it. A 4WD is really necessary on this island, and it seems pickup trucks are by far the most common vehicle in Thailand. People are even standing in the back of them on the highways, a situation considered highly dangerous and illegal back home. Anyways, the place he brought us was really okay, and we decided to stay in this little bungalow with a nice view on the bay and the beach for only 3,15 euro a night. Thai prices are even lower than Malaysian 🙂

Today was a lazy day of sleeping late, swimming and relaxing on the beach. It almost speaks for itself that we watched the sunset into the sea. We also met some Norwegians who are also staying at the same place, they are already here for more than 3 months. Basically they work in Norway for 6 months during the summer, and spend the 6 months of winter (Norwegian winters are quite long) on a tropical island in Thailand. Not bad at all.

Down UnderCrossing Malaysia again

On 2 December 2003 from Penang, Malaysia | comments closed

I just noticed I have not posted a single entry here in 6 days. Oh well, I guess this will happen more often in the future. My plan is to visit an internetcafé at least once a week. This is already little for me, considering I used to check my e-mail every hour on average (usually every minute, seldom not for 24 hours). And when you think that updating at least once a week is not much, consider this: I have not updated my personal handwritten diary since I arrived in Malaysia. Basically I have been travelling from Penang in North-Malaysia to Johor Bahru (JB) in South-Malaysia, and back. The trip takes about 10 hours by bus, and only costs 11 euro; did I already mention Malaysia is cheap?

Last Thursday I first went from Penang to KL, where I visited the Petronas Towers (closed because of holiday) and went up KL Tower for a great view over the city. In the evening another bus brought me from KL to JB. On Friday I planned to visit the Singapore Zoo, but when I arrived rain poured down from the sky. I waited around a bit, but the rain did not stop and I decided that visiting a zoo where all the animals were sheltering for the rain would not be a good idea. So I went to the famous Raffles Hotel, where managed to sneak inside the residents-only area to get a better look at the place. Afterwards I walked down Orchard Road before going back to JB. Saturday was a lazy day, I sorted all the photos so far (about 100) and managed to upload the best ones. In the evening I joined Bet, her housemates and some other AIESECers on a Korean dinner, where we had to BBQ our own food.

On Sunday afternoon Bet and I went to Melaka, were we did some sightseeing on Monday. Melaka was conquered by the Dutch in the 17th century (Holland’s Golden Century) and the Stadthuys is a reminder of this period. It is now a museum with interesting displays on the history of Melaka. After this museum we had some really good satay (in Dutch: saté). We got a few big trays of satay-sticks, and we prepared the ones we liked in boiling satay-sauce. It tasted delicious. Also, we had our laundry done at the hostel (for 2,50 euro altogether), so all my clothes are clean again. On Monday evening we went by bus to KL, where we stayed at Kamlesh’s (the Indian boyfriend of Bet’s Korean housemate) place.

Today (Tuesday) Bet had a job interview in KL, and afterwards we went shopping for a backpack for her (they have all the brand name clothes and accessories here, real as well as fake). We managed to find one and got on the bus to Penang. One more thing about the busses here: they are quite luxurious and comfortable, since most busses only have three seats in one row, and they have enough leg space for tall Dutchmen. On arrival in Penang we bought tickets for Ko Pha Ngan, a nice island in Thailand. So tomorrow morning at 5 AM I am leaving Malaysia for Thailand. That is actually 5 hours from now, since all times on this website are GMT +1 (as in mainland Western Europe), and Malaysia is GMT +8. So goodnight for now, and I will get back to you from Thailand 😉

Down UnderImpressions of Asia

On 26 November 2003 from Penang, Malaysia | comments closed

The last days Bet and I have been travelling together. Because it was a religious holiday (end of ramadan) she got some days off from work. Our days have mainly be filled with some sightseeing, much eating and a lot of relaxing. On Sunday we went sightseeing in KL (Kuala Lumpur), where Chinatown offers some great shopping opportunities. In the afternoon we got on the bus to Penang, an island in the North of Malaysia. We stayed here for three days, sightseeing the city, a Chinese clan house, a large Buddhist temple, Penang Hill and the beach. But our pace was pretty low, because the temperature is always above 25 degrees with a very high humidity, making even minor exercise pretty tiresome.

After having spent a few days in Malaysia, I think it is time to write down the first impressions. First of all: the food is just great. For the ones who know my cooking: in this country they specialised in rice with chicken. And the great thing is that I usually do not spend more than 2 euro for a meal with drink. However, there is more to eat than rice and chicken, although most main meals are based on rice or noodles. There is also a great variety of fruits, with some tropical fruits being my new favourites. Because fruits are so cheap and widely available here, fruit juices are also much more common and often freshly made. With all this new and good food to try, I am eating much more than usual, and even quite a lot of fruit. I guess this should take away one of my mum’s main worries.

The other impression I made so far is that Malaysians and Singaporeans love shopping, because there are so many huge malls in this country. The first times I went to these malls I thought I was in the USA if it were not for the fact that everyone was Asian. A great number of shops and brands are American, or at least western. These malls made me really realise the uniqueness of Europe. It is strange to see all these protests against globalisation in Europe, while the old continent itself has still maintained much of it old ways of living, where other continents are much more affected by American culture. But enough about this, since it is supposed to be a travel log, not a political rant.

Down UnderCrossing Malaysia

On 22 November 2003 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | comments closed

Yesterday evening (after last post) I waited for Bet in Singapore and we walked around the city a bit. I made some really cool night skyline photos of Singapore with a long shutter time and I will try to upload them asap. However, not every internet cafe allows this and internet connections here are pretty slow. Hope it will be better in Australia.

Today we (Bet and I) drove with a friend of hers to Kuala Lumpur, arriving in the late evening. Tomorrow there is some time for sightseeing the city (with the famous Petronas Towers) and we got a ticket for an afternoon bus to Penang.

Down UnderArrived in Asia

On 21 November 2003 from Singapore, Singapore | comments closed

The journey to Malaysia went pretty perfect. Because the Dutch railways were on time (who expects that nowadays?) I arrived at the airport 2,5 hours before my flight, and had to wait for 2 hours at the gate. Luckily Cathay Pacific has been a really great airline so far: no delays and I was very well taken care of during the flight (example: instead of asking “could you move your bag under the seat?” they said: “can I move your bag under the seat?” It’s the details that count…). I also had about 1,5m of legspace because my seat was at the emergency exit (and no one needed to use it). So with a stopover in Hong Kong, 14,5 hours of flying time and no sleep (I can’t sleep during the day), I arrived in Singapore, where it was really easy to find my way to Johor Bahru in Malaysia. In this city – just across the bridge from Singapore – I’m staying with Bet.

Today I did some electronics shopping in Singapore (512MB CompactFlash memory card for my digital camera and USB 2.0 reader for it). This place is really technofreaks heaven. I shopped at a 6-storey building with only electronics stores 🙂 Other than that, I just walked through the Muslim and Indian areas. I’m still a bit tired from the fact that I made a 32-hour day yesterday. But one more good night of sleep and I should be over my jetlag.

Down UnderMy backpack

On 18 November 2003 from Reuver, The Netherlands | comments closed

All my bags are packed
I’m ready to go

Because I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again

I just finished packing my backpack and daypack. I have not weighted them yet though, I am afraid that if I do that I will not be able to sleep tonight. I have never been good at packing light, although I did make an effort this time. I will let you know how heavy it turned out to be. Here is a list of most of the items in my backpack:

Things to wear
Large backpack (Nomad, 70 litre)
Smaller daypack (32 litre)
Sleeping bag (Nomad, 1 kg)
Lightweight Travelsheet (150 g)
Long trousers (2 zip off and 2 regular)
Wind- and waterproof jacket
Fleece sweater
T-shirts (1 longsleeve, 3 regular or polo)
Button down shirts (2)
Underwear & socks
Decent hiking boots (Mephisto)
Sandals (Caterpillar, too heavy, but I like them too much to leave at home)

Things to use
Towels & washing hands
Hat, sunglasses & suntan cream (Vision, factor 28)
Swimming shorts & goggles
Plate, cup & cutlery
Small medicine bag
Large toiletbag (too heavy, partly because of electrical shaver and toothbrush, but what can I say? I’m a technology addict)

Things invented
Compass (Recta, for worldwide use)
Pocket knife (Wenger, Swiss of course)
Flashlite (Maglite 2xAA & 1xAAA)
Digital camera (Canon Digital IXUS v3)
Mobile phone (Nokia 3310)
MP3 CD-player (Cenix MMP-CD20)
CDs with software & MP3s (Playlist: CD1, CD2, CD3, CD4, CD5, all CDs)

Things written
Passport (in a Russian cover)
International driver’s license
ISIC-card & frequent flyer card
Debit card & credit card (Rabobank)
Lonely Planets (Australia, Thailand & travel photography)
Books & magazines
Resume & copy of diploma
Diary & ballpoint pens

Down UnderGuido de Oz guide

On 17 November 2003 from Reuver, The Netherlands | comments closed

Click here for the full-size screenshotI am already proclaimed an “OZ-specialist-guide” by my travel organisation Australian Backpackers. And I have not even been in Oz yet!

Down UnderWebsite philosophy

On 14 November 2003 from Reuver, The Netherlands | comments closed

This website has been designed with speed and maintainability in mind. Speed means that the pages should be small enough to load reasonably fast on computers with a slow internet connection. For this purpose the graphics were kept to a minimum and the design is clean and sober. Maintainability implies that I should be able to update this website from any computer with an internet connection, without installing any software. This is important because I am relying on internetcafé to update my site during my trip. The easier the better.

To achieve this, I installed and configured two software packages:

Also, I have tried to make this site as much standards complaint as possible, making extensive use of CSS for the site layout (especially for the Experiences). However, this could mean that this site does not display very well on old browsers. In that case, upgrade your browser! Anyone still using Internet Explorer 4 or Netscape 4 or less should be banned from the internet anyway, because they are blocking internet progress. This site has been tested with Internet Explorer 6 and Mozilla 1.4, and works fine in these browsers. Some feedback is always welcome though, that is what the comments are for 😉

Down UnderI booked my flight, again

On 10 November 2003 from Reuver, The Netherlands | comments closed

I thought everything was going okay with the preparations for my trip. I got my insurance papers and some useful presents at my official graduation ceremony last Wednesday. But on Friday the travel agency called and they told me that Thai Airways had changed the conditions of my flight. With this ticket I would not be able to change the dates for free and I would not be able to change the city to depart from in Australia. This was one of the main reasons I booked my flight with Thai Airways, along with the fact that it is a Star Alliance airline, so I could get a lot of frequent flyer miles at Lufthansa.

After a weekend of thinking things over and getting my priorities straight, I decided to change my flight to Cathay Pacific. It is actually a better airline, and they allow me to take the overland route from Singapore to Bangkok on my way to Australia, a stopover in Hong Kong on the way back, unlimited free date changes and one free route change. Especially the latter was really important, since I don’t have a clue yet from what city in Australia I will depart. The price of the ticket also stays the same and I even got some airport tax back. Unfortunately Cathay Pacific sucks with regard to earning frequent flyer miles. Oh well.

Check my trip: a detailed online view of my trip. In short:
19 November 2003: Amsterdam – Hong Kong (1 day later) – Singapore
14 December 2003: Bangkok – Hong Kong – Sydney (1 day later)
09 February 2004: Sydney – Auckland
21 March 2004: Auckland – Melbourne
open: Melbourne – Hong Kong
open: Hong Kong – Amsterdam

I also got confirmation from the Australian Government that my Working Holiday Visa has been granted. I applied for it online 2 days ago. I love the internet!

Down UnderI booked my flight

On 3 October 2003 from Reuver, The Netherlands | comments closed

Today I booked my flight to Asia and Down Under with Thai Airways. I will have a 2-week stopover in Bangkok and from there to Sydney, where I’ll spend about 2 months and try to find some work. In February I will go to New Zealand for 6 weeks, and afterwards I’ll really start to travel around Australia.

Update: this information is outdated.

Down UnderFor Dutch readers

On 1 October 2003 from Reuver, Limburg | comments closed

Ik zal ook maar even een woordje in het Nederlands typen, maar met name omdat dit bericht irrelevant is voor buitenlandse vrienden. Dat is tevens de reden dat ik alle andere berichten in het Engels typ: ik wil dat ze ook te lezen zijn door mijn buitenlandse vrienden en kennissen. Aangezien mijn Nederlandse doelgroep toch goed Engels kan lezen en ik te lui ben om twee versies te typen is de rest van deze site dus geheel Engelstalig.

Voorbereidingen
Er zijn natuurlijk veel zaken die van tevoren geregeld moeten worden bij een reis van een jaar naar Zuid-Oost Azië, Australië en Nieuw-Zeeland, maar de twee belangrijkste zaken zijn de vlucht en de verzekering. Dit zijn ook nog eens de grootste enkele uitgaven, waarmee al snel meer dan 2000 euro gemoeid is. Ik ben dan ook al een tijd geleden begonnen met het uitzoeken van de verschillende mogelijkheden, waarbij vooral David’s Backpack Underground erg veel nuttige informatie bevat en Mark de Vries 80 pagina’s aan reistips aanbiedt. Ook het Nederlandstalige forum Gumtree.nl is erg handig. Hierdoor heb ik voor de voorbereiding van deze reis weinig gebruik gemaakt van mijn Lonely Planet Australia en de Lonely Planet Thorn Tree.

Reisorganisatie
Aangezien er voor een reis naar Down Under toch minstens een vlucht, verzekering en visum geregeld moet worden, zijn er enkele organisaties die er hun brood van hebben gemaakt om potentiële reizigers hier mee te helpen. Gewone reisbureaus zijn naar mijn mening onvoldoende gespecialiseerd om flexibele tickets aan te bieden die een jaar geldig zijn, om nog maar niet te spreken over meerdere stopovers. Ik heb het online geprobeerd bij ATP (waar ik vaker online geboekt heb), maar het lukt simpelweg niet of tegen een absurde prijs. Kilroy Travels (waar ik vaker studententickets online geboekt heb) zou ze waarschijnlijk wel aan kunnen bieden, maar ik heb voor deze reis niet bij hen geïnformeerd. Dan blijven de reisorganisaties over die gespecialiseerd zijn in dit soort reizen:

Tot zover de voorbereidingen en reisorganisaties in het Nederlands. De rest gaat verder in het Engels en naar ik vermoed met steeds meer Ozzie-slang (Australische uitdrukkingen en taalgebruik). Sorry voor het eventuele ongemak.

Down UnderGoing Down Under

On 19 September 2003 from Eindhoven, The Netherlands | comments closed

As soon as I made the decision to go on a longer trip after graduation, it became the question where to go. I have already been to most European countries, and to Canada and the U.S.A. Africa is not my cup of tea. Asia and South-America are perfect continents for low-budget travel, but have very limited possibilities to work. I have saved some money with student jobs during my studies, but not enough to travel for a whole year, which is my goal. That leaves Australia, since Antarctica is just not an option for a (long) trip, although I would love to see it. Australia is perfect for my purposes: large and varied enough to travel around for a year, and it is relatively easy to work to replenish my funds. For Dutch citizens it is possible to obtain a Working Holiday Visa for Australia, which allows holders to stay in Australia for one year and to work for a maximum of three months at one employer. Perfect for a year of travelling and working.

Another great thing about Australia is the fact that New Zealand is relatively close by (only 1500 km of ocean in between). And since I heard that New Zealand is the Norway of the Southern Hemisphere, I have been wanting to go there. The “Lord of the Rings” movies have only increased that desire. Because of its distance from Europe, most airlines require a stopover in Asia, which would be great for a few weeks of travelling as well. My plan is getting more and more concrete.

Down UnderReasons for a long trip

On 18 September 2003 from Eindhoven, The Netherlands | comments closed

Now that I have graduated everybody seems to ask me if I am already applying for a job. And they seem surprised when I tell them I am not. For me it is the perfect time to make a long trip. At the moment I don’t have any ties to the Netherlands, except family and friends. I am not studying anymore, not working yet, do not have housing (goodbye student room) or a relationship. I do not think I will be more free of obligations and responsibilities at any other time in my life.

As soon as I start working I also need a place to live, need to decorate it, need lots of household goods and appliances, and all these things make it harder and harder to go abroad to travel, especially for more than a few months. Aside from that, now I am still used to living low-budget (being a student for more than 6 years makes one creative) and I think that might also change in the future due to a higher standard of living. So now is the time.

Down UnderPost Graduation Syndrome

On 17 September 2003 from Eindhoven, The Netherlands | comments closed

This PGS (Post Graduation Syndrome) feeling is strange. Not having to work on my Master’s Thesis anymore, not having to get up early in the morning, not having to bike to work, not having a report to write or a presentation to prepare. Just a short to-do list with low priority things on it. I like it. But I am also getting a bit uneasy with all this nothingness. I need to do something. But not applying for a job and working full-time, not yet. I have to explore the world first.

Down UnderGraduated!

On 16 September 2003 from Eindhoven, The Netherlands | comments closed

After roughly 6 years of studying and experiencing student life, I succesfully presented and defended my Master’s Thesis today. From now on I can call myself a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering and Management Science. Yeah!

NorwayOslo: Departure from Norway

On 8 July 2002 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

On 6 July I had a filling breakfast at the hostel and I took the tram to the city centre. There I took a look at the exposition “the Earth from the Sky” before taking the ferry to Bygdøy. There I went to the Folkmuseum for a few hours; wandering around between the old houses, taking part in a tour and trying some old Norwegian food. Afterwards I checked out a few old vikingships in the Vikingshipmuseum and took the ferry back to the city centre. There I walked through the shopping crowds for a while before taking a guided tour of the Akershus Castle. After the tour I took the T-bane to the end of the line at Frognerseteren. I still had to walk a bit to reach the TV-twoer, but unfortunately the elevator was broken, so I could not get a view from there. Therefore I went back to the city centre and got some dinner. The sky was pretty clear and it was sunny; perfect weather for a last visit to the Vigeland Park. There I asked a guy to make a photo of me and ended up becoming a model for some of his photos. I also met Henning and Corinna; Norway is a small country after all. Finally I took the tram back to the hostel for my last night in Norway.

My last day in Norway only consisted of a nice breakfast at the hostel, after which I took tram to the train station and the FlyToget to the airport. SAS brought me to Amsterdam safely, where my parents picked me up.

NorwayNorway in a Nutshell: Flåm to Oslo

On 6 July 2002 from Oslo, Norway | comments closed

On 5 July I woke up early and went for a short walk around Flåm. The atmosphere was really cool, quiet and small clouds low in the valley. After the walk I picked up my backpack, and got on the boat the Gudvangen. There I chatted with a couple from South-Africa while watching the breathtaking views in the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord. From Gudvangen I took the bus to Voss. It went up a narrow road with lots of hairpin curves, offering amazing view into the Nærøyfjord. Luckily this time the boat and bus were almost empty. Mission: accomplished. In Voss I hiked up Mount Hangur. It took me 1 hour 15 minutes, but at least I saved 8 euro for the cable car and still used it to get down. Of course the top of Mount Hangur offered a great view of Voss and lake Vossevangen. Back down I walked around Voss a bit, and got an early dinner. Then I got on the train to Oslo. Once again the views were really great, going from 1222 metres (Finse) down to sea level (Oslo). And everywhere there were mountains, hills, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests and wooden houses. After 6 hours I arrived in Oslo, where I checked in at the hostel and went to sleep.

NorwayNorway in a Nutshell: Bergen to Flåm

On 5 July 2002 from Flåm, Norway | comments closed

After hiking for three days in a row, I decided 4 July was going to be more relaxing. It was a wonderful sunny day in Bergen, so I got some bread at a bakery and had breakfast on the pier. Since I did not feel like visiting a museum with the sunny weather outside, I walked to the aquarium, and sat in the park for a while, just watching the fjord. I also briefly checked my e-mail, before getting on the train to Myrdal. I had planned to go down to Flåm in a quiet train. Unfortunately some huge cruise ship docked in Flåm, so the Flåmsbana was crowded with Spanish and Italian tourists. Mission: not accomplished. Luckily the view from the Flåmsbana was still amazing, and the train stopped at the large waterfall to have a closer look. In Flåm I checked in at the hostel and looked at the departing cruise ship. Other than that, Flåm was a really quiet village, and I planned to go to sleep early. However I ended up chatting with my roommates from England, Germany and the Netherlands for quite some time.

NorwayNorway in a Nutshell: Bergen

On 4 July 2002 from Bergen, Norway | comments closed

3 July started completely cloudy and rainy, pretty common weather for Bergen I guess. After making breakfast at the hostel, I walked through the fish market to Bryggen, the old Hanseatic houses on the waterfront. I took a guided tour of Bryggens Museum, Schøtstuene and the Hanseatic Museum. It was really good to take this tour, because at least I knew what I was seeing. After the tour I visited the Rosenkrantz Tower. Then it stopped raining, and I went by bus and cable car up to the top of Mount Ulrike. Unfortunately it was still very cloudy, so there was no view of the city. Nevertheless I decided to hike to the top of the Fløibanen. The first part of the route was a real hiking trail over the top of the mountain range around Bergen. It felt like Tolkien’s “Middle Earth”, only the tops were visible because the rest of the mountains was covered in clouds. Every few hundred metres the trail was marked with a block of piled up stones. It was really cool to hike. The last part was downhill on normal roads, and at that time the sun had come through, so there was also a good view of Bergen and the fjord. But altogether I hiked for 4,5 hours, including a 30 minute unvoluntary detour. I went down with the Fløibanen and made dinner at the hostel, before going to sleep. At that time there was no single cloud in the sky.

NorwayNorway in a Nutshell: Preikestolen to Bergen

On 3 July 2002 from Bergen, Norway | comments closed

2 July was a rainy day, for the first time during my travels in Norway. Nevertheless I decided to make the hike to Moslifjellet after a big breakfast at the hostel. The trail was quite easy to follow, mainly going over rocks. Unfortunately the rain only got worse, so my pants were completely soaked after half an hour. After 1,5 hours I reached the top, but the view was a bit spoiled by all the clouds, and it was really wet and cold up there. The trail back from the top was more like a stream than a path, and I was really glad I bought some decent German hiking boots before I came to Norway. After hiking with some really nice views, not seeing a single soul, and getting completely soaked, I arrived back at the hostel. There I took a hot shower and got some hot chocolate afterwards. Both were so much more rewarding after the wet hike. When my clothes and backpack had dried a bit, I went back to Stavanger by bus and ferry, and I continued to Bergen by express catamaran. Before going to sleep I got a few beers at a student bar (only 4,50 euro!) with a Slovakian and an Australian guy from the hostel.

NorwayNorway in a Nutshell: Stavanger to Preikestolen

On 2 July 2002 from Preikestolen, Norway | comments closed

On 1 July I had some breakfast at the shore of the lake, before catching the bus to the city centre with Aachim. There we got on the car ferry to Tau, where a connecting bus was waiting to go to Preikestolhytta. I checked in and we started to hike to Preikestolen. But I was hiking faster than everyone else, so I overtook most of the tourists, and got to the Pulpit Rock in 1 hour 15 minutes, instead of 2 hours. The Pulpit Rock at Preikestolen was really cool to see, and a nice test of vertigo fear by looking 600 metres down into the fjord. I had some lunch and when Aachim arrived, he made the necessary photo of me on the edge. After that I wanted to see Preikestolen from a higher perspective, so I hiked further up the mountain. But there I saw an even higher top and I hiked up there. At the top I had a breathtaking view of the Lysefjord from Lysebotn to Stavanger. When I wanted to go back, I lost track of the path, so I hiked down a steep slope back to the path to Preikestolhytta. There I had dinner and relaxed a bit before going to sleep.

NorwayNorway in a Nutshell: Trondheim to Stavanger

On 1 July 2002 from Stavanger, Norway | comments closed

I woke up in my room at Moholt Studentby 30 June at 8.30, packed my large backpack, checked my e-mail for the last time, finished the milk, jam and bread, and double-checkied if I had not forgotten anything. Then Christoph drove my to the airport, from where my first flight took me to Olso. There I left half of my luggage in storage, and got in a long queue with lots of summer holiday tourists, including an American woman that was complaining about everything. In Stavanger the flybussen dropped me off in a suburb near the hostel. The hostel was beautifully situated near a small lake. In the hallway I ran into a drunken Fin, who wanted to tell me all of his life’s stories. No time for that, I had to take a bus to the city centre. There I visited the pretty small domchurch, walked through the harbour, where people were celebrating that Brazil won the World Cup, and strolled through Old Stavanger. In two hours I had seen pretty much everything of Stavanger, so I got some dinner and went to see “40 Days and 40 Nights” in the cinema. Afterwards it was a nice walk back to the hostel, especially because I took the longest route around the lake. Back in the room, I chatted with Aachim from Germany, before going to sleep.

NorwayCabintrip Sula

On 24 June 2002 from Trondheim, Norway | comments closed

This was not really a cabintrip, but a Midsummer outing with some colleagues to a cabin/house on the island of Sula. On Friday 21 June we took the express catamaran to Sula, 4 hours from Trondheim. There were 5 guys (including me) from our department and 3 divers (friends of the organiser). Sula consists of a few large connected islands (a few sq km in total) in the Norwegian Sea / Arctic Ocean, surrounded by lots of small islands. We stayed in a house of SINTEF. On Friday night we had some dinner and some drinks afterwards.

On Saturday after breakfast we (three colleagues and I) went out with a small motorboat to fish. It was the first time I was fishing in the sea, and I could use an advanced fishing rod of a colleague. Not that it helped, cause I did not catch anything the first hour, but when I cought something (I was the last one to catch something), it was the largest fish so far (about 1,5 kg). At the end we went to a shallow spot with lots of fish, everyone was catching a lot of fish. It was really fun, I would threw the bait into the water, and got it out with a fish. I think I cought 3 fish within a minute 🙂 Then we went back to the house to prepare the fish. The guys who had been diving also came back. They caught some scallops (shellfish) and crabs from the bottom of the sea. Opening the shells of the scallops was a lot of work. We cooked the crabs and one of the guys thought me how to open them and get the meat out, which is really tasty. So I did that for some time, cause they caught some 5 crabs (and crabs have 8 legs that are edible). At the end of the evening we had a great dinner of all this seafood, and some drinks afterwards.

On Sunday 23 June I climbed up to the lighthouse on the island, and walked around a bit more. Then we cleaned the house and took the express catamaran back to Trondheim. The view was really good, sunny with lots of islands the boat sailed in between.

NorwayCabintrip Heinfjordstua

On 10 June 2002 from Trondheim, Norway | comments closed

On the morning of 8 June we left with 7 people by bike to the cabin. The weather was sunny and warm, so first we biked along the fjord before going uphill and inland. In the hills we stopped and hiked to a gorgeous waterfall, where we stayed for 1,5 hours to have lunch and relax. It was also the reason it took us 5,5 hours to get to the cabin. The cabin was on a lake and we went swimming to one of the island. The water was really great, just warm enough to swim, and really clear. Also the view was great, just hills and forest, nobody else to see. In the evening we made dinner on the campfire, with marshmellows afterwards of course. At night it was really hot and there were lots of mosquitos, so I (and everybody else) slept pretty bad.

On Sunday I went for a short wake-up swim before breakfast and we spend the rest of the day rowing, swimming and sunbathing. So I was really sunburned at the end of the day. At the end of the afternoon we biked back home, really nice, because it went along a number of lakes and mainly downhill.

NorwayCabintrip Holvassgamma

On 27 May 2002 from Trondheim, Norway | comments closed

My second cabintrip on 25 and 26 May was with Martijn and Christoph. We drove for 4 hours all along the fjord, really nice, so we only started to hike to the cabin at 17.00. We spent two hours climbing through a riverbed, jumping from rock to rock, really cool, but we only got about 4 kilometres further. Then we climbed onto a hill, and from there it was only downwards to the lake. We had to cross a river with a canoe (part of the equipment of the cabin), but it was completely full of water, so we had to get the water out first. After crossing the river we walked all along the lake, because we did not know where the cabin was, and we could not find it, so we walked back to where we arrived with the canoe and finally found the hut at 23.00. But it was still complete daylight until 24.00, so that was not a problem. We made sausages above the fire and marshmellows afterwards, they taste so good! On Sunday we slept late and hiked back to the car, but a different route that only took 3,5 hours. Then it was still 2 hours by car (with amazing views) and on the ferry back to Trondheim.

NorwayCabintrip Flåkoia

On 20 May 2002 from Trondheim, Norway | comments closed

My first cabintrip on 18 and 19 May was really awesome. I went there with 6 Germans, so I have been practicing my German quite a bit. After parking the cars on a hill, we still had to hike for an hour to get there. The cabin was on the shore of a lake, surrounded by hills and forest. It was so beautiful! So we did a lot of hiking, made a fire to cook, and drank the water from the lake. It was great. Unfortunately I had to leave a day earlier, because I had to finish some things for my work on Tuesday. So I hitch-hiked back to Trondheim, since it bus would only arrive in 45 minutes.

NorwayLofoten trip: Stamsund to Trondheim

On 14 May 2002 from Trondheim, Norway | comments closed

On Sunday 12 May we drove back to Svolvær along the coast, stopping to watch the great views along the way. We also made a stop at another small beach with white sand. The sun was shining, so we put off our shoes and got into the water with our feet to make photos. But the water was COLD! I estimate less than 5 degrees. But the photos should be really cool, it will be hard to believe I took them north of the Arctic Circle in the beginning of May… I took about 36 photos on the entire trip, which is quite a lot for so few days. We returned the car back in Svolvær, and got on the express boat back to Bodø. Again really great coastal scenery. In Bodø we checked into a hostel in the train station, and played another game.

On Monday morning we did some shopping in Bodø, and got on the train back to Trondheim. I slept a little bit, but mainly kept watching the view. Cristal clear lakes, snow topped mountains, waterfalls, cabins, forests, the scenery was really awesome. I always thought Canada was the most beautiful country, but after this trip I am sure that Norway is the most beautiful country, at least when you love the combination of forest on hills next to cristal clear lakes 🙂