Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Home ...?

After a few days struggling in Krabi with the hardest decision I ever had to make, I'd had it. I was completely finished, done for, up, ... I couldn't go further; I couldn't bring up the energy to find out where to go or what to do. The prospect of going to Laos, Cambodia and the north of Thailand, instead of filling me with joy, only filled me with tiredness and a feeling of disinterest.
I realized that I was travel tired already for a while, and the only thing that kept me going was Alex' company. He makes traveling a lot of fun and made me do things and go places that I otherwise wouldn't have done.
It took me a few Skype calls and cookies from the lovely girls in my dormitory, as well as a few talks with them, to come to my conclusion: I wanted to go home. The only thing I could think about was being at home, have a hot bath, drink hot chocolate, snuggle in front of the television in a blanket and fall asleep.

Traveling home happened in a frenzy. On Saturday night I took a night bus from Krabi to Bangkok. In Bangkok, where I arrived at 6 am, I was met by Chai, Alex' friend, who let me sleep for a while in his hostel. After that I did some last shopping on Khao San Road and I realized that - in better times - there is something to say for the area and Bangkok.
I met up with Chai for a few last cheap beers and a talk about life and love. Good dude.
After that, struggling with the idea that my coward's flight home was a mistake - or not - I got to the airport in the evening, wandered around, and caught my plane at 00.45 in the night. It would take me another 26 hours to get home.
All this time I was wondering if I was doing the right thing. I still don't know.
In the airport of Zaventem - so familiar and yet so strange - I was met by all the people I love and love me. They even made a "welcome home"-banner for me, and had a chocolate chicken, a toy bear and bubbles. Ahhh ... :-). The meet-up was followed by a little lovely "welcome home"-party. Unfortunately I was so knackered that I couldn't really participate a lot, but I did love the excited buzz around me, the bubbles in my hand and the splendid food my sister had made. Thanks all of you guys.

In the mean time I've been home for about 3 days now and I still don't know if my decision has been the right one. I think it's right in the sense that I honestly couldn't go on in the state that I was in. Yes, I do want to see Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and every other country in the world, but I want to see them in a proper way, I want to get all the fun and joy out of it the way it's supposed to be. I also think it was imperative that I met my friends and family again and get pampered for a while and come back to my senses, because I'd honestly lost them in Krabi.

But do I want to be back in Belgium? I don't know.
The first thing I thought when I flew over Brussels, was: "No! No way. But ... I could go to the mountains now."
I have no idea what's going to happen now and where I'm headed off next. I've been filled with the strange craving of going back to the mountains and snow (I think that's why I love New Zealand so much) so my path might lead there soon(-ish). In any case, these next few weeks will be filled with a lot of thinking.

I have no regrets about this trip (except maybe the one tour Inge and me did in New Zealand towards Glenorchy that was pretty boring and overpriced :-)).
I have seen 5 countries, I-don't-know-how-many cities. I have seen glorious mountains, wonderful lakes, pristine beaches, lush forests and the most perfect sunsets imaginable. I have held a koala, a wallaby and a snake. I've seen the strangest bugs ever in my life. The biggest spiders. Kangaroos, dolphins, penguins, turtles and whales. And so much more.
I have met the nicest people and have come to realize that everywhere in the world, there are so many good people about, of every color, race and sex, who will always be ready to have fun, to just have a chat, and if necessary, to catch you when you fall, even though they have only known you for five minutes.
And I have met Alex. Although we parted in a confused haze, there are still a million feelings there. It's a very big part of my confusion in being home, but also here I have no regrets whatsoever, on the contrary. I love every minute we have spent together, and hope he enjoys the rest of his travels and going home again. Somehow I have the feeling that this is not the end.

So here I am: home. Or not? We'll have to see that in a while.
In the mean time, you won't have to check this blog again. I'll let you know when I'll take it up again :-).
Cheers, people. We've had a lovely ride.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Destination: unknown

The last days in Penang with Alex were great, and the goodbye at 8 am was hard.
A minivan brought me to Tanah Rata, which is located in the heart of the Cameron Highlands. These highlands are to be found in the middle of peninsular Malaysia's main mountain range (Banjaran Titiwangsa, for the interested), and are known for their cooler climate, tea plantations and some other things like strawberry farms - although the locals are the only ones who don't eat strawberries.
I booked into a nice guesthouse called Eight Mentigi which was brand new. It even had hot showers :-). I hooked up with some people and explored Tanah Rata a bit, although to be honest there wasn't a lot to explore there - the town is very very small and consists mostly of restaurants and souvenirs shops with everything in the form of a strawberry. On top of that it started to rain heavily - rain! Who would've thought! And a cold rain too, mind you. So we got back inside quickly and indulged in some reading and bumming around.
The day after I went on a day tour to see the highlands and a tea plantation. The visit to the plantation was amazing with gorgeous views (never knew a tea plantation could be so beautiful), they were quite the stunner. The mossy forest (literally a forest overgrown with moss) was interesting as well - our guide showed us a lot of different types of plants and so on. The views on the highlands were pretty breathtaking too. The afternoon part, unfortunately, was a bit boring, with a visit to a butterfly farm, a strawberry farm (totally NOT interesting), the time tunnel (pretty pointless, although I did want to take every artefact in there home) and a market. But ah, now I've seen it all.
The next day I set off again, towards Kuala Lumpur this time. I was looking forward to this because this has been the hometown of one of my best friends for a while, but I wasn't immediately impressed. Sure, it's a lot more western than anything I'd seen before, but my first impression was one of total chaos. I couldn't tell north from south from east from west. Chinatown, where I was staying, was a lot less impressive than Penang's, and the hotel I stayed at was a big miss. But ahh. I explored a bit and spent a lot of time in the big malls, mostly because of the air conditioning and because of the rain that fell at a set time every afternoon, which made it impossible to stay outside.
The lake gardens were a nice spot though, where I spent a few hours reading and endeavouring on my own yoga moves :-).
I also went to the Batu Caves, of which I was really disappointed. The Batu Caves are a sort of temple complex inside limestone crops just outside KL. The caves themselves were really nice and worth it, but everything man-made in there ruined the experience in my opinion. I felt no spirituality at all. The only good thing about going there was that I met Malcolm, a retired traveler with loads of stories to tell.
In about 2 hours we were there and back in the city, and since I had a few things to do I agreed to meet Malcolm for dinner. I bought my train ticket to Singapore, sent off a 3kg package to home (my backpack is again a lot lighter!) and rested up a bit in the hotel afterwards (it was raining anyway...).
I met Malcolm and 2 Irish guys in Chinatown which was good for a few animated conversations. I was happy to know that Malcolm would take the same train to Singapore the day after.
I went to see the Petronas towers with the Irish blokes, because I had to have a picture of them by night, right? Now this was finally worth the effort. Plain as they may seem by day, and a bit lost in the skyline of KL, by night the towers really stand out and shine. Good thing I took the trouble to go out there!

The train ride to Singapore was long and boring, although every once and a while Malcolm and I would get into a nice conversation.
Singapore really is so different from KL. Where in KL I was overwhelmed by the chaos, in Singapore I was amazed by the efficiency and cleanliness. People even stopped for us when we wanted to cross a street! Go figure.
We went straight for the hostel (The Inn Crowd) which was a very decent place - so different with what I had in KL. The atmosphere was great.
Malcolm and I went for dinner in the area, which was really not that good to be honest, and I went to bed early because I was starting to get sick.
The day after we set off for a walk through Singapore towards Marina Bay Sands, which stands out in the skyline with its three big towers connected by something that looks like a boat on top. Spectacular! We tried to get in one of the restaurants on the roof to get a view, but were told we had to dress 'smartly' for that ... Too bad, my backpack doesn't carry high heels.
After this I rushed to a meet up with a true Singapore girl - Christel - who was really nice. Unfortunately, my throat, ears and lungs were getting really bad now and I rushed back to the hostel when Christel had to go. Malcolm told me he'd booked a flight to Kuching for the day after, and I realised I really was going to miss him. I figured out my own itinerary and had a last dinner with him, and went to bed for yet another early night, followed by a doctor's visit this morning. I have the feeling I've visited a few too many doctors on this trip! I got yet again a whole range of pills, syrups and antibiotics, and hopefully it helps - I'm knackered.

In the mean time I think I've hit the imaginary wall. The parting from Alex has been weighing on me more than I thought it would, and has left me with a void which I haven't been able to fill up. I've realised that travelling is not only about where you go, but also has a lot to do with who you're with. Well, I miss my partner in crime ...
I've been doing it pretty hardcore so far, rushing from this place to that and trying to see as much as possible, but I've come to understand that in the end it doesn't really matter if you've seen every nook and cranny of every city in every country - as long as you're happy, that's what it is about.
I've been at a loss as to what to do and where to go at the moment, so I decided to go back to Krabi - where, strangely enough, I felt myself pretty at home - to rest up from being sick and to take it easy for a while. I might go to an island from here, I might take up yoga, I might go to the other coast, I might go somewhere completely different - the reason I decided to come here is because of the homey feeling, the very good hostel, the perfect food on the night markets and the closeness of beaches and things to do. I'll decide from here where I'm going next. So for now: destination unknown! But I'm sure that will be fixed soon :-). I'll let you know!

Monday, 28 February 2011

En route through Peninsular Malaysia

As the month draws to a close, so does the travel with Alex. Where I decided to go on through Malaysia and Singapore to Indonesia, he decided he wanted to go back up to Thailand to enjoy some more training, snorkeling, yoga and so on. Hard times ahead for us, but let's not dwell on that for now - we've had a great time so far.

In the end we stayed in Krabi for about 5 nights. This gave us enough time to rest up from my busted foot, infected eye and other bruises, and Alex' wounds sustained in a motor cycle crash - although not to worry folks, it could've been much worse and we've been thanking the angels above ever since, that nothing worse did happen.
5 days Krabi was nice, with good food, lazy days and some wandering around in Ao Nang (Krabi's main beach) and Krabi Town, but after that we'd quite had it and we decided to wend our ways into Malaysia at last, because Alex' visa was also almost running out so a border hop was in order.
After a few too many buses, one of which was cramped with 12 people in 11 seats, we arrived at the ferry terminal in Satun in Thailand's deep south so we could take the boat to Langkawi "The Jewel of Kedah", Malaysia - the traditional border crossing for a lot of tourists and so also for us.
Upon arrival we immediately noticed a big difference with Thailand - wide, clean lanes bordered with trees and wide pavements, a lot (but I mean a lot) more veiled women, slightly more organized traffic and less scooters. We checked into Daddy's Guest House on Pantai Cenang, just because it was so funny: the driveway was actually a big pile of rubbish and suddenly a cow crossed our path, accompanied by her flock of roosters :-).
Langkawi didn't really suit us. It seemed like a big version of Koh Phagnan, with no snorkeling to do and less beautiful beaches. So we only stayed long enough to tour the island once and meet up with people we met in Thailand, and then set off for Penang, Malaysia's second biggest city.
Now, we'd heard some good things and bad things about Penang - that it's just another big dirty city, that it's too Western, that the food is ridiculously good, ...
Well, that about the food is true - SO nice! We've already indulged in a lot of hawker stall food, Indian, Malay and Chinese alike. We'd thought Malaysia would be a lot more expensive than Thailand, but so far that has been very ok. We were even lucky in accommodation: we're checked into a very nice hotel in Love Lane, right in the heart of Chinatown, and because it's "not completely finished" (meaning all day long there's drilling, hammering and sawing ... But ahhhh :-)) we got a very decent reduction per night. Hurraahhhhhh!
As for the other comments on Penang, I don't really agree with them. Yes, it's quite Western, but I don't think it as a bad thing - I think it's a good blend between 2 cultures. The city is littered with temples, churches, mosques and shopping malls alike, which is a great combination to stay entertained. I've visited the botanical gardens as well (which were nice and quiet but nothing spectacular) and have walked around Georgetown a bit, while Alex has found his fitness heaven - enough to do for both of us!
At night we enjoy the food and nightlife and soak up a lot of atmosphere. Yes, Penang, you are a nice city.

As said, we will part ways soon. Tomorrow is our last day together and nobody knows when we'll meet up together again - will it be in Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia? Or will it rather be in New Zealand or Europe? Who knows. In any case, Alex, I want to thank you for the beautiful times we've had so far and hope we will have yet a few (or a lot) more to come.

As for the rest of you, less sentimental (;-)): my route through Malaysia will go to the Cameron Highlands next, which is more inland and higher up in the mountains, so supposed to be a lot cooler (thank the heavens!). After that I might consider a side trip via the Perhentian Islands, but that will depend on the budget - and then it's on to the big KL, the capital of Malaysia.
Obviously I'll keep you posted. Until then: keep cool (or in your case, warm)! :-)

PS: photos of Malaysia can be found in Peninsular Malaysia on Facebook.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The land formerly known as Siam

On 31 January I arrived in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi. Although the meeting with Alex wasn't entirely as expected, we met in the hotel and soon headed out to Khao San Road the next day, where we bought a few very cheap fashion products. It felt good to be buying something again, as I had refrained from doing so since the beginning of my trip - everything you buy, you have to drag around ... So even then I refrained from buying more than one dress and one pair of sunnies (which I actually really needed because my previous ones died after being slept on on Fraser Island). The hustle and bustle on Khao San Road, which seems to be one of the most popular streets in BKK, was total, and I was immediately immersed in the 'Hello Asia' - feeling.
We didn't have a long time in Bangkok though, because in the evening a bus was waiting for us to go to Chumphon, where early in the morning we were to take a boat to Koh Tao, one of the islands on the Gulf Coast.
This immediately had a very relaxed atmosphere to it. With only one concrete road and 2 main tourist hubs, it's the ideal place to just get a cheap bungalow and jump into the water with your snorkel. Or lie in the beach. Or indulge in the cheap fruit shakes. Or amazing Thai food. And so on.
We stayed here for a few days (longer than we had planned) and so discovered the island a bit. It's very small so in about 15 minutes by scooter, you got from one side to the other - although every once and a while yours truly had to get off because the roads were too steep and poor Lucy (how I had baptised the scooter) couldn't handle it. Ah well, who cares!
After Koh Tao, we moved on to Koh Phagnan, which is another island just south of Koh
Tao on the same coast. We checked into a great place (Bounty Resort) where we got a cheap bungalow with an ocean view, a hammock and direct access to a very small private beach. The restaurant in the resort was heaven itself so we had no reason to complain whatsoever!
Koh Phagnan being a much bigger island, we decided to get a motorbike instead of a scooter (since I got a few bruises the first day from a skidding scooter with bad tyres) so Alex had good fun riding the thing, with or without me on the back.
Koh Phagnan has a lot more beaches, so we took our time exploring most of them. Especially Had Khom and Mae Had had our preference because the snorkelling was so gorgeous over there - literally swimming in a giant colourful fish bowl. We were also charmed by the small fishermen's village of Chaloklum. Again extended our stay on this island and stayed for about a week instead of the planned 3 days - Koh Phagnan really was another paradise!
Deliberately skipping Koh Samui (the 3rd island in the row) we went back to the mainland, where we caught the bus from Surat Thani to Khao Sok National Park. Here we arrived in the middle of the jungle. The main attraction here are the big karst mountain formations completely clad with green. We had a nice little resort called Green Mountain View Resort, which was run by a decent bloke called Tawee. We got a bungalow with an open-air bathroom, which was very interesting, especially when you wanted to have a shower after dark :-). Luckily we managed to keep all strange animals out (and luckily we had a mosquito net) although I have to say - strange noises came from somewhere under the bed and we're still not sure what it was. More disturbing was the huge golden orb spider (which I called Arabella) sitting in a web next to our door, who suddenly disappeared. I wonder where she got to ... In any case we kept our backpacks closed at all times!
The national park itself was nice but not breathtaking, as we just did a walk to a few waterfalls, although I'm sure there are much nicer things to be seen over there, like a big lake in between the karst mountains. Sadly enough, time and money aren't always our best friends ... Luckily Tawee and the other resort guests seemed good fun at night and Tawee's free whisky was even better :-).
From Khao Sok we had a pretty exhausting trip towards Krabi. The region is known for its limestone cliffs which are heaven for hardcore climbers. We decided to stay one night in Krabi Town to rest up a bit and explore the night markets (which really did serve delicious and ridiculously cheap food). The day after, we got up at 6am to climb the 1272 steps to Wat Tham Seua, or rather Tiger Cave Temple. It doesn't seem like a big deal, but let me tell you that it is only for the fit amongst us! Lucky we did this in the morning, because it was hot enough already. All this aside, the views on the top were stunning and standing below the Buddha really made you go quiet. A lovely place!
In the afternoon we headed for Ton Sai, one of Krabi's beaches. Ton Sai being very small and surrounded by the limestone outcrops, it's climber's paradise, but we didn't really feel the vibe. We wanted to give climbing a go but felt a bit intimidated. Most importantly, the heat got us really down. During the day it was nigh impossible for us to do anything, as every movement made you sweat even more. (I have the impression that every place we get to, it gets just a tad warmer and more humid - a lethal combination). And in the night, there wasn't really much to do as Ton Sai was so small. So the next day we booked a snorkel trip and went for a walk to Railay beach, which went over a very rocky path - again, we were soaked in sweat upon arrival. Luckily, Railay's beach was much nicer and we jumped into the water immediately.
In the afternoon we got on the long tail boat which would take us out snorkelling to a few places. This turned out to be a nice way to spend the afternoon and we had a nice evening with dinner on a remote beach and a night swim to watch the fluorescent plankton in the water. Magical!
Unfortunately I got an infection on my eye, which wasn't too beautiful and for which I'd need a doctor. But no doctors on Ton Sai ...
Tired of Ton Sai and with Alex sporting a bit of a foot injury, we decided to head back to Krabi Town and skip the climbing for now. Lucky, because on the way to the beach to catch the long tail boat that would get us to Krabi, I tripped and fell with 30 kg worth of stuff on my back, and I busted my ligament in my right foot. Doctor getting more necessary now ...
Again down by the immense heat, we had a little rest and then headed for the medical clinic, where the doctor had a good time looking at my foot, trying to get a tiny piece of splinter out of the same foot, and staring at my eye. At least one of us was having fun ...
So now we're back in Krabi, where we just want to relax and explore the area a bit more, before we're going down to Malaysia - where I want to continue my travel and Alex wants to go the consulate in Penang to get his Thai visa extended.
For the time being, my stay in Thailand is almost over since I'm continuing throughout South East Asia. But not to worry - I'll be back here on the end of my trip seeing as I need to get back to Bangkok.
But that is for later - now is relaxing time! :-)
See you all folks.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The last bits and pieces and the end of an episode

Noosa turned out to be a nice spot on the east coast. It's laid back and relaxed and immediately seemed to be welcoming to me. Helping to this fact was also the backpacker where I stayed: Noosa Flashpackers. A little bit of advertising here is in order I guess! Although located a little out of town, more in the direction of Sunshine Beach (what a nice name - wouldn't you want to stay there, now?) it's ideally located to visit the national park, just around the corner. The backpacker itself is very modern and has all the facilities you need and more: super clean air-conditioned rooms, 2 pillows ( :-) ), a swimming pool, free breakfast and free Internet (which, for the backpacker, is a real treat seeing as internet costs so much in Australia). They even had rain showers :-). Needless to say I indulged in a little over-pampering myself haha :-).
Obviously I explored the national park, where there are a few walks to be done. Following the advice of a certain someone, I set out for the coastal track. This passed by Alexandria Bay (with a nudist beach), rocky places with well-sounding names like Devil's Kitchen and Hell's Gates and Tea Tree Bay. Once again I bathed in tea tree oil, and loved the effect on my skin!
Of course all the mentioned places had gorgeous views on the ocean and it was a great place to just sit, relax, watch the waves and try to spot dolphins (without luck though). What I did spot in the end, was my first koala! The cheeky bugger was hanging in a tree, sleeping of course, and hiding well out of sight. But some nice people pointed him out to me.

From Noosa I took the Greyhound bus once more to Byron Bay. I stayed here for 2 nights and loved it! The city is Australia's hippy walhalla and you could immediately soak up this atmosphere: everything was much more 'chiiiiilllll, duuuuuude' :-). Not only was it nice to sit back and relax at the beach - just walking around the town had its charm as well.
Of course I had to take a surf lesson here. Can't go to Byron and not surf! So I booked my lesson with 2 familiar faces from Fraser Island (which was a very nice plus) and in the afternoon we set out for Lennox Head. Well, the waves there were - in my humble beginner's opinion - wild! They came crashing from everywhere and were higher than myself. Beat that, North Sea! We got a tiny bit of explanation on the beach as to what a wave actually is, what rips are and what to do if you get caught in one (swim hard!). Then we learned a bit of techniques but since the water is the only place to be, off we went into the waves. It took me a few tries, but in the end I stood up nice'n'right and I was able to catch a few waves into shore. Wahoooo, there I went! And apart from a bit of bumps and bruises, no serious injuries were sustained.
For the rest I walked the walk around Cape Byron, where I spotted dolphins (wheeeee
!) and which had once again spectacular views. Yes, Byron Bay, you were wonderful.

From here on it went to Sydney on an overnight bus, where I arranged some practical stuff for the rest of my trip, and the same night I took another overnighter to Melbourne. Exhausting trip, but I didn't want to waste too much time in Sydney.
Melbourne is a big city as well, but the stories are true: it does feel much more European than Sydney - wider lanes, trees in the streets, wide sidewalks, trams in the middle of the street ... I liked it. I didn't spend a lot of time here though, just enough to soak up the atmosphere and watch some tennis on the big screen on Fed Square.
The next day I went on a three day tour along the Great Ocean Road. The group was small and nice so we moved pretty fast and saw a lot of the road. Again we were treated to beautiful sights, especially around the 12 apostles and Loch Ard Gorge. This is very dryly said, but there are just no words to describe what you feel when you see it in real life. I felt very small, in any case. And happy :-).
The tour brought us to a wildlife park as well. Although I'm opposed to putting animals in confinement, I did get to hold a baby wallaby, a baby koala and a snake :-). Not a poisonous one though, but still, I was scared out of my wits. But we're here to experience new things, right, so I couldn't NOT do it :-). Strange and cold!
The rest of the trip took us along the Grampians national park, which was full of the typical Australian wildlife: koalas, kangaroos, emus, spiders, snakes, lizards ... We also did a nice rock walk with breathtaking views, and walked to a aboriginal rock art centre. Here i sustained my first (minor) injury: yours truly slipped over a twig (!!!) and fell, and pulled her thigh. Luckily there were 2 lovely physiotherapists in the tour group so in the evening they were able to tape me up and give me anti-inflammatory pills. Now I'm still sometimes restricted in some movements but it's not as bad anymore :-).
After the tour we were put on a bus towards Adelaide, where the temperature reached about 40°. Pret-ty hot, I must say. The town is nice, seemed very colonial to me, but my time there wasn't much because I flew back to Sydney the day after, to prepare for my next intercontinental flight: the one from Australia to Thailand, which is tomorrow :-).
It was time to say goodbye to the coolest Belgian in Sydney, Frauke, so we went to the beach once more and talked about everything and nothing, you know, the things in life when you're on the other side of the world :-).
And thus, with that ending, I have ended my Australia life the way I started it; I clearly remember me arriving in Sydney with all my bags and Frauke's face would be the one I saw first. And now hers will be the one I see last here.
Australia, we had fun, we had good times. But now it's time to move on.
Goodbye Ozzie, hello Thailand!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Great Barrier Reef meets the Rainforest meets the world's largest sand island

When I arrived in Cairns, the tropical heat immediately fell down on me. What a difference with Sydney!
The courtesy bus picked me up and dropped me off at the front door of The Asylum backpackers, a pretty dodgy place but fine enough to sleep. I immediately went to look up my sissy and her crew. We bummed around the small town for a bit and booked a diving trip (or for some: snorkelling) for the day after - eesh, my first diving experience!
So the next day we set out pretty early (too early, it seemed later) and arrived at the boat which would take us to the outer Great Barrier Reef. Checked in and had to go through a whole list of medical conditions, making sure you had none of them. After that, we set out for the big blue ("it's big... And blue!" - "I knew it!").
Us divers got a very quick diving introduction and were then taken down straight into the water. Scary at first, but once you got your breathing right, it was so much fun! The only problem was trying not to hit the coral with flippers - the reef is badly enough damaged as it is, thank you very much. We saw a few little fish (amongst which Nemo and his daddy) and a lot of beautiful coral. And we got to hold a sea cucumber :-).
The rest of the day on the reef was spent snorkelling, which was so gorgeous. The weather was perfect, the water crystal clear and the fish very colourful and beautiful. I even got to chase turtle Crush to try and get him on the photo :-).
After the diving we got treated by sissy to a cocktail in Outback Jack's (thanks again for that, duuuuuude ;-)) and we went to bed pretty early because it had been a long day.
The day after - and my last day with the Belgian crew - we rented a car and set out for the Daintree national park, the place with some of the oldest parts of rainforest in the world. Pretty impressive to see of course. We went all the way up to Cape Tribulation, where we walked around a bit, saw the biggest spider ever and enjoyed some deliciously empty beaches (watch out for the crocs though).
In the middle of the night it was goodbyes here and there to the Belgian crew, who had a very early flight, and when I woke up I was on my own again. Flying solo for the first time eh!
I rented a car (a cute little red Hyundai Getz) and drove around the Atherton Tablelands - west of Cairns - which were nice but not as spectacular as the Daintree. Ah well, it can't all be golden :-).
From Cairns I got the overnight bus to Airlie Beach, where I had planned a sailing trip to the Whitsundays.
This trip (2 days, 2 nights) was awesome! The former racing yacht was called Boomerang, and that soon became a motto rather than the name of the boat :-). I got to know the other people on the boat and they were all amazing and we had such good fun. The crew on the boat were also very cool and the food was delicious.
And then I haven't even spoken of the Whitsundays. This must truly be heaven on earth. Of course we were the lucky bastards with perfect weather throughout, but still - water in all shades of blue, a clear blue sky and burning sun, pearly white beaches, and getting some snorkelling done. When we were up the first morning, we were joined at breakfast by Flipper and his little kid. Beautiful! And at dinner another Crush (I'm guessing it was his father) poked his little head out of the water for us. What do you want more?
Back on land there was a nice party with fellow Boomerang sailers and the crew. Unfortunately time to say goodbye again!
From Airlie Beach, on it went down the east coast to Emu Park, which is close to Rockhampton. For the first time here I got to witness some of the flooding - it makes you go real quiet. The fields next to the highway were nothing less than lakes, and everywhere in Rockhampton I saw water creeping in gardens etc. Spooky!
From Rockhampton I took the ferry (of hell) to Gladstone. Anyone who has done the
Stewart Island Ferry in New Zealand: that was nothing compared to this one! Luckily yours truly was fine, but I did end up watching a little kid for a while since his parents were hanging over the railing outside, if you get my drift.
After a few more buses and a very boring day in Hervey Bay, where there was nothing to do and where it rained, I arrived in Rainbow Beach early in the morning.
That same afternoon I had a briefing to go on the Fraser Island Trip. This trip was tag-along, which means that if you want you can drive a 4WD yourself, and follow a lead car. On this briefing we received every possible warning about dingos (quite aggressive stray dogs), marsh flies and the ocean ("And remember folks, do not swim in the ocean!"). We were also divided in teams and were en ready to go the next day.
After again a briefing in the morning (with as a highlight the number of ways we could die) we loaded up our Land-cruiser with our camping gear and set out, following the lead car.
Now, when you arrive at the island after a short barge ride, the only thing you see is beach. Of course, it's the world's largest sand island so you get a lot of beach, but the eastern beach being 123 km long, it does something to you. The remoteness of everything was really amazing to see.
Practically all the things we did on the island were accessed from this beach. We went to Lake Wabby, which is known for its high quantity of tea tree oil which makes your skin soft, and which is famous for the catfish nibbling at your feet when you sit still enough. I sat still enough :-).
The next days it was cooking food (and doing the dishes in the ocean), seeing Indian Head (the most eastern point of the island where they threw aboriginals off the cliffs in an act of 'purifying the country', sadly enough), going to Eli Creek and, last but not least, spending some time at Lake McKenzie, the pristine blue lake with white beaches that you see on every postcard of Fraser Island. Heaven!

Now the road goes down again to Noosa Heads and Byron Bay. I will catch you later folks!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy holidays!

Ow there guys, it has been a while since I got back to you about my doing and don't-ing, so I'm going to try and make this worthwhile!
A lot has happened since the last entry. I got back to Australia after my New Zealand-trip and started working again, but to be honest I didn't get the feel of Sydney anymore - a feeling that was already manifesting itself even before going to NZ. I was wondering more and more what I was actually doing there and tried to sort some priorities out.
- I wasn't 100% happy in Sydney
- I didn't make enough money to cover my expenses anyway
- I had seen most of the city and wasn't too curious about the rest anymore
- I missed Alex like crazy
Suddenly it dawned on me that "Hey, I am a traveler! I have no one to take into account and I have all the freedom in the world to go where I want and to do what I want." So already after a few days the decision was made: let's not waste any more time sitting here and wondering what to do, let's just move on.
So I gave up my apartment (not without any trouble), Alex booked me another flight to NZ and I told the manager in the Belgian Beer Cafe that I wasn't coming back after that week. I finished my shifts, made some more money and off I was again, 20 december, to New Zealand, to be once again greeted by Alex and the Great White Truck. This time the visit would last for 10 days, since I was going to meet up with sister and crew in Sydney for New Year's - a reunion that I couldn't and wouldn't give up.
Time with Alex was a blast, as always. After wandering around in Christchurch (and buying Christmas presents) and going running and all that for a few days, we headed up once again to Mt Algidus Station, since we were going to spend Christmas Smiley style.
Unfortunately -ahemmmm- the Wilberforce river, which we have to cross to get to the station, was severely swollen due to a lot of rain in the north, so we couldn't cross it with the Great White ... A helicopter was our only solution. Now, you know me, I try to stay calm but somehow that doesn't always work, so of course I got my camera out so all my homies could witness this uber-cool event :-). I love helicopters, I should seriously think about the pilot exam! The ride was very short but cool, and we landed on the other side to be greeted by Alex' father.
The time on the station consisted of exploring a lot, witnessing a hovercraft being launched (with some slight defects, unfortunately), doing some walks, attempting to get the logs out of the hydrowaters so we could go kayaking once more (but since the water was so high, there was no getting to the logs - again no kayak :-( ), having a delicious Christmas Eve-dinner, and an even more delicious Christmas dinner (courtesy to Alex' mum). And not to forget the presents of course! As you can see, I had a great time again.
Back in Christchurch (after a jetboat ride on the Wilberforce, because too many helicopter rides would get boring I think ... :-) ) we got home to a dirty, dusty floor, open drawers and bottles on the floor - another earthquake! Luckily it wasn't that hard (as we read later) but we did feel some aftershocks in the days following. A pretty bizarre feeling, out of nowhere the house starts to shake, windows rattle and there's a very loud grumbling, and after a few seconds it all passes. Especially when you're falling asleep, the experience is scary!
The days back in Christchurch were filled with a very funny movie in the cinema (Four Lions - wuhahaha), feeding the ducklings who always come back to the lawn, going to Sumner for a run (Alex), a walk (me) and a picnic (both), going to Lyttleton to have dinner (which we didn't have in the end, but ah well), a brunch on the balcony, some runs in Hagley Park (Alex), a gym visit ... and so on and so on. A glorious time! Once again saying goodbye proved very hard, and it is pretty unsure when we will meet again. But that's traveling for you, we try to go with the flow and we see where we go!
Now it's back in Sydney where I spent New Years Eve with my sister and friends. The reunion was very very nice, it had been about 4 months since we had seen each other. We wandered around town and ended up at 5 below Harbour Bridge, where we conquered the crowds and got a good spot to view the fireworks at midnight. The waiting time was long but didn't seem that way, we filled it with eating and playing small games, haha :-). Crazy Belgians on the loose.
At midnight the fireworks started (even though there was no countdown...?!) and these were truly very impressive. Harbour Bridge and the Opera House seemed to be on fire. Whoever said that the Berlin Fireworks were the most impressive in the world - they were wrong!
1st January was spent on Bondi Beach and afterwards Inge, Veerle, Caroline and me went for the Bridge Climb on Harbour Bridge. Yet again a wonderful experience! The walk gives you amazing views over the city, the heat was very doable, the walk was really calm and easy and as a plus we got an amazing sunset. Recommended to everyone!
Now I'm spending my last day in Sydney by going to Coogee Beach for a farewell party, and tomorrow I'm flying to Cairns to rejoin the Belgian crew for a few days. Diving and snorkeling are the main goals. After that we split up once more (I have learned quite quickly that traveling is all about saying hello but more painfully saying goodbye too many times ...) and my road continues down the east coast to Melbourne. Let's see how that turns out!
Happy New Year to everyone, I hope you all had a good time :-). See you later alligator!

ps: of course a lot of pictures have been added of this crazy few weeks, they can be found on Facebook. Cheers mates!