Jasper&Dorien’s honeymoon special

It’s a shame having to miss out on some of your best friends’ wedding, but a real honour being part of their honeymoon!!
Totally by coincidence, when we called to congratulateJasper and Dorien, they turned out to be heading to Indonesia. And they were willing to spend their last week with us!
We met at Gili Air, where we took the time to catch up with some cocktails on tropical beaches.

The next day, we headed to Lombok to undertake a climb of Indonesia’s 2nd highest volcano: the Rinjani. What a hike that was!! If you think hiking is relaxing, think again. This was blood, sweat and tears…

Day 1: Nothing but uphill to the rim.
Day 2: Down to the crater lake, a swim in a hot spring and up up up again to get to the foot of the famous Rinjani.
Day 3: Getting up at 2:30 am (thank god, it was so cold in the tent that I was glad to get out) to start the climb to the very top. The climb was – without exaggerating – absolutely horrible! The soil was so sandy that with every step you took, you fell down half a step again. We were so tired and cold that we didn’t have the power to encourage each other. The way to the top was a pure matter of character. We were supposed to get there before sunrise, but by the time we got to the top the sun was up and clouds were the only thing left of the nice view. Bummer! Not to mention the 2 hours to get down again to have breakfast and the 6 hours more to get to the end point. That last 6 hours were luckily downhill, but my toes were already so sore that even that was unbearable.
Conclusion: never again!
(still happy here)

The next day, it was time to take the boat to Lombok again. The heavy wind and high waves made this trip one to never forget for Jasper&Dorien (#seasick). What a nice way to spend your honeymoon! 😉

The last 2 days we spent in Seminyak, the upperclass part of Bali. At least we were sure to spend the last days without unexpected bad experiences.
My birthday was one of the best I ever had. What’s better than spending it amongst good friends, on a tropical beach and with just enough (or was it too much?) Bintang. 😉

And then it was time to say goodbye to Jasper&Dorien and to Indonesia, and say hello to Thailand, our final destination…

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Bali Belly and Gili Diving

Our arrival in Bali was exactly how you’d expect: trying to find a reasonable taxi driver, arriving after midnight at the hotel we booked and hearing that the place is full.
After having things sorted out, we sat on our tropical garden terrace with our first Bintang (famous Bali beer) and we finally realised that we had left Australia…

The contrast with the quiet and peaceful Oz couldn’t be any bigger: hectic street life, non stop motor cycles and cars driving in a spider web being surprisingly tolerant for one another, a person every 5 meters that asks if you want a taxi or a massage (if not now, maybe tomorrow?), cute little offerings for the Hindu gods on the footpath (watch out where you put these feet!), decorated streets for the upcoming Hundu ceremony Galungan.

There is only one thing you can do to get used to it: get amongst is! And that’s what we did: after getting a deserved massage (there’s always a good reason to deserve a massage), we rented a motorbike to discover Bali’s south coast.

Driving through the heavy traffic was a bit scary at first, but once you know when to use the horn (all the time!), it was great fun. Driving from beach to beach, visiting some temples and having our first encounter with the cute (at first sight) little grey monkeys.

Our other first encounter was a bit less exciting: the Balinese police. Oops, we didn’t know we needed a motorcycle drivers license and paid our fine (€25) politely. WRONG!! Apparently, bargaining is the most normal thing to do, even with the police…

After having seen the south of Bali, we headed to Ubud, a touristy but very cosy town, surrounded by magnificent rice fields. August 29 was a great day to be there! That day Galungan ceremonies were held everywhere in the streets, to celebrate the triumph of good against evil, Dharma against Adharma. The Balinese people were dressed up beautifully to go to the temple and visit their family.

The next day, we rented a car to drive to West Bali National Park and back. What an adventure that was! Getting off the main roads turned out to be extremely time consuming (we asked for the way about a hundred times!), but you get to see some amazing rice fields and scenery. The National Park was a bit of a disappointment, nothing worth talking about.

The great thing about Indonesia is that any booking comes with an excellent service. You go home with a simple piece of paper, but behind it there is a genius sms-system so that the drivers knows who you are and where to pick you up, puts you on the right boat, another driver waits for you at the pier, drives you to the next port and helps you getting on the boat again. Being scared for these long trips (what if the driver doesn’t show up) appeared to be unnecessary. Thumbs up for Indonesia, “no worries” works here just as well… 😉

So back in Ubud, we booked a boat to the Gili Islands. They are that piece of paradise you dreamed about when you were a kid. A cocktail in a hammock on the beach, a bar to bar walk on the beach around the island? All possible!

And also… some splendid underwater life. A good reason to get our PADI open water diving certificate. Yes, we swam with huge turtles and yes, we found Nemo!

Oh, and as for that Bali Belly, that’s a thing you get for free…

This Perth Part of Earth

Our Sydney housemate Luke moved to Perth 3 months ago, and offered us a place to stay at his nice apartment in Northbridge, right next to Perth’s CBD. We understood immediately why he chose Perth: it’s a modern city, full of cosy corners, funky bars and a booming (mining) business. Luke immediately took us out, so let’s say that the first weekend turned out to be pretty blurry.

After that, it was time to sell our precious Janis. We did love her so much that we really considered shipping her home, but that would end up a bit pricy.
But luckily 3 days later we sold her to a nice Belgian couple who – I’m sure – will take great care of her. Another worry less!
But it was still very painful to see her go…

Then, some necessary administration, booking flights, applying for and getting a job (!), strolling around Perth and Fremantle, catching up with some other Castle-siders that moved to Perth (Perth is hot!), having drinks with Wim & Laura who also had Perth as their final destination, etc.

And then the big moment came, the moment we feared the most: leaving Australia. After a whole year of absolute perfectness, it was time to say goodbye. It’s hard to explain how that felt. Australia has conquered a biiig piece of our heart!

But we’re not going home yet. Flying over Asia and not taking a sneak peak? No way!
Next on the agenda: Indonesia.

Disconnected

After Livia and Ernesto’s leaving, we decided to take it easy, to stay an extra night at places we liked, to take the time to do go fishing, to – without any guilt – just do nothing, and to become one with Australia’s deserted beaches.

At Gnarloo Bay, we camped at the edge of a cliff with the Indian Ocean as our back yard. We spotted a humpback whale who gladly did a little show for us. Unfortunately, he swam away as soon as Tom took his big camera out…

Also in Gnarloo Bay, the coral reef was so close that you could just go snorkeling off the beach. Paradise!

In Shark Bay, we felt nothing for the Monkey Mia hype, but that feeling changed when we kayaked with a dozen dolphins.

We felt more for some four wheel driving in François Péron National Park: sandy roads, azure blue water, red cliffs, and purple(!) sand. Sadly enough, the immense numbers of dugongs and whale sharks that live there (both about 15 meter long) didn’t show up.

At Australia’s westernmost point, we camped right on the beach, caught a snapper and ate it (killing it was the hardest part, we’re such cowards), met Australia’s nicest ranger, had a whole bay for ourselves, shook Janis apart for the last time (4 wheel driving can also be pretty annoying) and gave her a mud bath after the first drops of rain in 2 months.

After that, the landscape was visibly changing from semi-tropical to colder and wetter temperatures. We wanted our last camping night to be memorable and found a great spot right on the beach.

On our last day, we visited the impressive (but too commercialized) Pinnacles Desert and drove straight to Luke’s place in Perth.

And our Janis didn’t complain one single time!

Janis and her Dirty Joplins

Livia and Ernesto came with what we asked for: nothing but a very, very small backpack. That was more than necessary to fit all our stuff + 4 people in the car and on the roof. With a little reorganization, our poor Janis looked like this:

After some thousands of kilometers of sealed road, we needed some rock&roll. And that’s exactly what we found in Kakadu National Park: our first river crossing… Usually, it is advisable to first cross a river by foot and check how deep the water is. But in Kakadu, you have good reasons to stay out of the water:

So, how can you make sure the river isn’t too deep for your car then? Well, Ernesto wouldn’t be Ernesto if crocodile warnings didn’t make him go into the water even more. And despite several attempts to talk him out of it, that’s exactly what he did… I think I lost 5 years of my life worrying about the lives of Ernesto and – after that – Janis. But we made it, look at that!

Kakadu NP is known for its immense population of “salties” (salt water crocs, the dangerous ones), but unfortunately also for its immense population of “mozzies”. And – this is Murphy’s work – the better the views, the more you’ll have to cope with the annoying presence of these little monsters. So, Ubirr was at the same time one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to (with a beautiful sunset, spectacular views and rivers full of crocodiles) and the most horrible camping night ever (bzzzzzzzzz non-stop). But it was well worth it!

Next on the planning: The Kimberleys. The Kimberleys are – so they say – Australia’s most remote piece of land. All the way through this wilderness lies the Gibb River Road, the most feared 4WD-track in Oz. With 2 spare tyres and a whole lot of food and fuel, we knew we could do it.
To be really honest, we didn’t feel alone at all. The tracks and camping spots were so well organized (even commercialized) that we had not even half of the remote feeling we experienced on the Strzelecky Track. But, the views sure were spectacular…

With one tyre less, sore feet from hiking our way through the beautiful gorges, some thousands of pictures and a nice tan, we got to Derby right in time for an amazing sunset…
TIA – This Is Australia

Next, we felt we deserved some Broome-time. Broome is a town in the north-west of Australia, and is known for its laid back atmosphere. However, we also had some planning to do, and that turned out to be a fiasco… Only a few days left to get to Perth, 3000km to go. Oops!
We decided to extend our trip with another 2 weeks, to make the most out of our west coast experience. Livia and Ernesto booked a bus to Perth.

So we got out of Broome as fast as we could, and drove in one go to Karijini National Park. With its spectacular gorges, dangerous but rewarding hiking trails, beautiful sights and deep red sand, it’s definitely one of the Western Australia highlights.

After Karijini, we headed to Exmouth to end our trip with nothing but white beaches, turquoise oceans whale watching and snorkeling. We got a little too enthusiastic though. As soon as we saw a little sandy way heading to a deserted beach, we didn’t doubt a second. But, we forgot that even the most solid 4WDs can get bogged…

We tried everything to get us out, nothing worked. And just when we were starting to get desperate, an angel under the name Benno arrived. Aussie as he is, he waved our worries away and taught us the magic trick: “just let your tyre pressure down, mate.” Of course, it’s as easy as that.

Some beautiful snorkeling, mind-blowing sunsets, numerous games of pesuedos, a suicidal frog and a nearly-dead kangaroo later, it was time to say goodbye to our traveling mates Livia and Ernesto.

In the middle of the night, wrapped up in blankets, we waited at the deserted Minilya roadhouse for a Greyhound bus to appear and take these 2 lovelies away from us. Our goodbyes were strange, not knowing when we’d see each other again.

I didn’t sleep that night…

In this post, we used some very nice pictures of Liva, who is a professional photographer. If you want to admire more of her work, have a look here: www.liviagiacomini.com.

To the Top End

First stop was Coober Pedy, a town that gets so hot in summer that houses (and even churches) are built underground. There’s also a lot of Opal (a gem stone, edelsteen) found in the ground, so that every piece of land is covered with mines and piles of sand. And… after 2 weeks of rough outback, there was cheap fuel and cell phone connection, hallelujah!

Coober PedyUnderground church

A few hundred kilometers north, we reached the border of the Northern Territory. Time to visit Australia’s biggest tourist attraction: Uluru, a big red rock and an important water source for aboriginals where big religious celebrations were (and still are) held. You just can’t drive through the red centre without having a stop at Uluru.

First we got fooled by Mount Connor. We drove for miles thinking that this was the one… I suspect that writers of guide books don’t mention it on purpose, just because it’s funny how many people stop to take pictures of it. Worse was that Sarah and Pieter warned us for this, but we forgot about it, haha!

Mount ConnorUluru sunset

If you can look past the thousands of other tourists, Uluru is quite an impressive rock! We walked around it, were very tempted to climb it but didn’t (out of respect for the Aboriginals) and watched the sunset from Janis’ roof… That same day, we also did a nice walk through the Olga’s (a bunch of little Uluru’s, 50kms further), which was – for us – as beautiful as ‘the rock’ itself.

Sunset UluruOlga's

What actually surprised us more was the beauty and ‘grandeur’ of Kings Canyon. Just see for yourself:

Kings CanyonKings Canyon

And then, some more 4 wheel driving, yes! The Merenie Loop Road is a shortcut to Alice Springs and only recommended for 4WD’s. To our disappointment, it was more a road in horrible condition, but the views were definitely worth the humps and bumps. And the camping spot along the Finke River was magical…

Merenie Loop RdMerenie Loop RdWest MacDonnel RangesCamping by the Finke RiverCockatoos

Then finally, a city again: Alice Springs. 1 cosy street, camel burgers (mmmm!) and a viewpoint with a crying guy on top of it (with real tears, an original way to beg for money). That’s about it. Nice and warm there, but we were ready for hot and sweaty. So time to move on and cross the tropic of capricorn (steenbokskeerkring).

The 1200km long road between Alice Springs and Katherine is called ‘The Track’ and is known for the fact that there’s nothing to see. We can confirm that!

Once in Katherine, we met up with Wim and Laura. A couple of Belgian friends of friends that experienced the Outback as real cowboys, and… own a sister of Janis! We took the time to visit the Katherine Gorge together, camped and cooked the Aussie way, talked for hours about Landcruiser stuff (the guys, of course) and will definitely meet again in Western Australia.

Landcruiser club

Then we drove to Darwin to get our Janis ready for the West Coast,
Mechanic Tom
pick up Ernesto and Livia at the airport and spot some crocodiles in Kakadu National Park. And eh, it’s hot and sweaty here… 😉

Grey nomads, desert tracks and a whole lot of nothing

Our original plan was to head to Adelaide, then to Uluru and drive all the way up to Darwin. From Goondiwindi, we only needed to get a few hundred kilometers west to catch up with that plan. The great thing about this, is that we took a more unconventional route through Australia, which means that we were all alone to explore the outback.

You can take that quite literally. We spent our days driving on deserted Australian roads without seeing a living soul for hours. We did see a lot of dead kangaroos and cows, and a road train every now and then (a truck of +-50 meters long).

Road kill
Road Train

But as soon as we arrived on the camp spots, we sure weren’t alone. The ‘grey nomads’ ruled the place. Grey nomads are a species you only see in Australia: the retired folks that buy a camper and drive around Oz. Their campers are usually better equipped than an average student room (TV, microwave, chainsaw, etc.) and more than huge. But we must say, grey nomads are cool!

Grey nomads sitting by the camp fire

On a camp ground in Bollon, they invited us to sit by their camp fire, showed us how to collect the best wood, borrowed us their equipment and even gave us fruit for a healthy trip west. We had to promise to drive safely and to pass by their house if we ever drive through Adelaide.

Of course, we keep to our promise to drive safely, but nobody talked about how rough we should take it. Since we didn’t buy a Toyota Landcruiser to stick to the highway, our eyes tinkled when we saw a 4WD-track right on our way west. By combining the Strzelecky Track (460km) and the Oodnadatta Track (370km), we found us a nice shortcut into the Red Centre and right through the Australian desert. I don’t have to tell you how remote it was, but I can tell you that it was great! It’s a special feeling to put up your tent in the middle of the desert, next to a nice (but smelly) hot spring, where the only thing you can hear at night is the howling of a dozen dingoes…
A bit scarier were the many car wrecks on the side of the road. It’s so expensive to tow them away that they are abandoned there to rust away for years. We didn’t see a Toyota Landcruiser wreck, however, that’s the good news… 😉

Car wreck

The villages on the tracks (like Marree) are ghost towns that used to have booming business until the Ghan train was moved further West. Now there’s nothing left but a bush pub filled with old memories, an expensive shop and a fuel pump. Bizarre…

Marree

After these dirt road adventures, we were happy to end up on the sealed Stuart Highway (that goes all the way from Adelaide to Darwin, about 3000km), give Janis’ tires a little rest and move north.