Wednesday, 10 April 2013 14:12

The nails in my coffin...

I am writing this on the day that I celebrate exactly three years of traveling. Thank you. The date is the 10th of april 2013 and I am in Chengdu, China. I am also stuck. Or so it seems.

I am experiencing some troubles but they are not of the kind you may expect. I am healthy as is my bike, I am not lonely, tired or out of money (although close). On the plus side I only have one problem. On the downer it can not be solved by anything out of before mentioned categories. Not by cycling faster or insane hours, not by anyone (but me hopefully) and unfortunately also not by money. What is killing me today is... Visas. I hate them. This is our fine history;

For 18 months I traveled on the other side of the globe, where they dance a lot of salsa, and never did I have a single problem with any permit to stay in any country. OK, admitted, I felt the heat when I overstayed my visa for Ecuador by 5 months but I knew in advance that would cost me a maximum of $ 200,- and in the end was solved for 5% of that due to a friendly border-guard. In Costa Rica I nearly overstayed but made my way to the border on the last day and was back in the country legally within 30 minutes. Once again courtesy to the humble dollar. But here in Asia... no such luck.

It started in Australia where they gracefully granted me three months stay. As if they don’t know how big it is! How could I possibly cycle through it in that time?! So, I applied for an extension which they were happy to give me. But only after I had made a $ 100,- trip to the radiology department of one of seven hospitals appointed by them. In the whole country! Luckily I was close to one but what if you're in Woolongmoolagabba, then you're screwed! I had to have my lungs X-rayed because they figured, after 90 days of breathing al over the place, that I might have caught tuberculosis in my previous travels. Sure. (I was fine by the way and I have lungs, I've seen them) My next three months ran out aswell and this time I had to leave the country. This, I admit, was not the end of the world since I went to New Zealand to see my family and got to race an amazing adventure race so I will let them of for that one.

Then Indonesia. Thanks to the sailing-rally that my boat was part of we cruised relatively easy through the red tape that can be quite complicated there. It also helped that the immigration officers who came aboard to check our vessel were more interested in taking pictures with us and the boat then in looking at our papers (that were in order btw). Like this: "do you have any drugs or weapons?" 'no' "Good. Can we see what a your kitchen looks like and do you mind if we take a picture?" Then we landed in Malaysia which I love for the simple fact alone that they give the foreigner a warm welcome by stamping a free visa on arrival (VOA) into his or her passport. Singapore has seen the same light and is also happy to have you. After that... bit harder.

Now, before I go on, I should confess that I did not at length look into all the smallest details of all the visa-conditions of all the countries I would go to. I researched them all, saw that some would be easy and some would be harder but saw now definite problems on the horizon. Waiting times and sometimes ridiculous costs apart, all would be feasable it seemed. And if not, I would count on the 'flexibilty' of the officer that needs new tyres under his moped. Or so I reckoned. Here in Asia though, I am yet to find that officer. For some reason they all seem to think they are doing something very important that has to be taken very seriously. I, on the other hand, like to think they are just over paid muppets who's only task should be to say 'welcome to our country sir, please spend as much of your money as you like' -Stamp-. Why I have to be subject to hopeless scrutiny, long waiting times, unneccesary paperwork  and endless money-loss only to spend a few weeks in a country as as a simple tourist is beyond me and none of the, generally nice it has to be said, people I meet at border gates has been able to explain it to me. It is hard exchanging any word with them in general I must say which in some cases is definitely for the better. I regularly have a few choice words welling up in me at these places and also the question if the robot would like some of my fresh bicycle-oil would probably not go down too well. So I keep quiet, wait, pay and see how they find it neccesary to claim yet an other whole page out of the few free blank pages I have left in my passport. And all with a happy face. On the outside.

Thailand is not the hardest country to enter but their logic defeats me. One gets a one month VOA but only if one arrives by plane. If you get there over land, which is not very unique in a small place like South-East Asia where people cross countries like they were public parks, you get a whopping 15 days. 15! Seriously, what can you do in 15 days?! You can extend, sure, but the best way of doing that is by... leaving the country. *sigh*.

Cambodia is very happy to have you. Or better said, to have your money. They grant you a VOA easily and efficiently but will tell you that although the sign clearly says: 'VOA, $ 20,-' you will have to pay in Thai Bath (only coming from Thailand) for which they have already helpfully calculated the exchange rate... Need I say more.

Laos is more fair. They rip you off in plain sight by charging you more then a dollar a day up front and as signed. I know that does not sound like much from where you are reading this but I come from the premise that a simple 30 day visa should be a 1.3 minute single stamp procedure followed by the above stated welcoming sentence. For free.

Then there is China. I am there now so I obviously got through the scrutiinizing. Thumbs up to the Laotian employees of the Chinese embassy in Vientiane. They are nice, there are no long lines (due to the fact that almost no-one ventures from S-E Asia to the Peoples Republic) and their system is straightforward. Although I still don't understand why they can not except my $ 32,- at the embassy and find it necessary to send me to some bank somewhere to put it in their account. At maybe ten visa applications a day, god forbid you would have $ 400,- sitting in your office that is fully glassed off and in a guarded building with a three meter high wall around it. Much better to send all those that are complete strangers in the town to an unknown location where the staff does not speak their language to deposit the fee. Or am I now spoiling the fun of traveling? Those $ 32,- give you the right to play around in China for 30 days. Where ever you want. As long as you end up at either an airport or an office of the so-called PSB, the Public Security Bureau. They know China is big so you can extend your visa twice at these PSB offices. Sort of. You see, the name 'extension' is not technically correct. 'Renewal' is better. This means that they will not add-on 30 days when you apply but simply void your old visa and give you a new one. In 5 working days which is, of course, in normal peoples talk, a week. During that week you can not leave town, or so they reckon, and definitely not go far. So what you really get when you 'extend' is 23 days minus the days that you are extending too early. For example if the day your old visa expires falls in a weekend. Every extension costs an other $ 25,-. This is the easy part though, it gets better further on.

Should I have prepared better you might ask? I ask myself the same but then the counter question is; 'how?'. Visas are normally granted for three months. This means that I would have to apply for the visas after China IN China. As said, I am in Chengdu which lies in the middle. All the embassies are in the capital of Beijing, which doesn't. So, if I do not (and I don't) want to spend two weeks of traveling, by train, to the north east of the country to apply for a visa for some country, these are my options: 

India: I wanted to go there, I wanted to cut through a tiny corner of China, go straight through Myanmar and then from the far east of India to the far west, into Pakistan. You can't. Myanmar is off limits in every possible way. Except for flying in and flying out which is not very 'over-landish'. So I had to go further into China to go around Myanmar. 'Tibet?' you might say but due to endless squirmish and people setting themselves on fire in an attempt to free their country, that 'province', as the Chinese see it, or 'country' as the Tibetans see it, if off limits for tourists. End of story. There is one possible exception and that is that you find four nationals of your own country (what difference does it make, pure discrimination) and join a guided tour with guide and vehicle with driver who can then take you by the hand and around the country making sure you do not take pictures of all the wrong things that are going on there. No thanks. On the side, a quote from a Chinese who traveled to Lhasa: 'really weird, there are NO foreigners in the city'. No shit Sherlock.

So India can't be reached. Next;

Bhutan and Nepal are shielded off by Tibet. And Tibet is shielded off by a lot of military.

Pakistan: Nope. A copy-paste from the website of the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad: "Foreign nationals can only apply for Pakistan visa from their country of origin OR from the place of legal permanent residence. Request for visas of a THIRD COUNTRY origin will be decided only by the Ambassador / High Commissioner / Head of Mission / Consulate" There is however, a consulate for Pakistan here in Chengdu. The nice gentlemen over there are getting to know me by now since I have bothered them a bit to see if I can get a visa. They are sceptical but claim none the less that they have mailed my application twice already and that they will call me as soon as they hear more. They mail this to Pakistan btw. Why the consul general can't deal with this himself or why they can't send it to Beijing and let the embassy decide I don't know. I do know that they claim that it will take a month. I am not going to wait here for that time so if (IF) I mysteriously get the visa granted, and I would be the first according to an informed friend of mine, then I have to send my passport from where ever I am to the consulate, they put a sticker in it and then send it to a place where I will be in a a few days. Circumstantial? Not at all...  Next up;

Tajikistan: No place to apply for a visa, no VOA and you need a letter of invitation.

Kyrgystan: No place to apply for a visa, no VOA.

Kazakhstan: Ah! That is not completely impossible because if you go to the very north of China, to a place called Urumqi, you will find a consulate where you can apply for the kazakhstan visa. From there then I can go to a town where I can get the visa for Kyrgyzstan, from the capital of that I can apply for a visa for Uzbekistan (Letter of invitation provided by Uzbek travel agency, for $ 35,-). Once in Uzbekistan I would have to make a detour to the capital of Tashkent to apply for a 5 day transit visa to get past the 500km of Turkmenistan which borders, finally, with Iran. The Iranian visa is, supposedly, not very hard to get. One can apply online. Except for that the website is down and that their first question will be where I would like to pick-up the visa (which consulate/embassy) and I don't know that because I don't know from where I will enter Iran. AHHHHHH !!! So I can't apply for that yet. But Kazakhstan is sooo far to the north...

Of course I could forfit. One option would be that I say 'screw you' to everything in the south and hack it through Kazakh, Russia, Ukraine into Europe. Possible but a lame route and a bit of a shame for my friend who has just bought a bicycle with panniers and claims to be training so that he can join me while cycling through Iran. He lands in Shiraz the 31st of may. No pressure....

Option two would be to sit with a cranky face for seven days in a train that covers the north of Russia and exit as a loser in Moscow. Let's keep that one as a very last resort....

After all this, maybe you can understand the warm feelings I harbour for immigration rules in this part of the world. Of course I am spoiled. Somewhere halfway my childhood the bigger part of Europe, my playground, decided that borders were indeed mere lines on the map and that yes, we needed to have our passports with us when we crossed them but showing them to someone, pfff, lot of hassle. So we cruise at 120km/h into any country around us. I am also spoiled because on the cover of my passport it says 'Koninkrijk der Nederlanden' and not 'Tsjikki-Wokkie land'. This means that of all the shit they can throw at you at borders, I get the smallest heap. Lucky as I am though, it still annoys me. Sorry.

In a perfect world I will get a phone call this week telling me that it's all OK for Paki and have a nice trip. It is the best country; most interesting, least hassle, best route and weather and I will be in time to meet up with my mate in Iran. Maybe I should just invest in a big bag of mints and see if I can make a lonely border guard happy on the highest international border crossing in the world, the Khunjerab Pass between China and Pakistan. I really want to go there!! But with a sticker in my passport please, not with a bag of mints...

 

TBC

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 09 November 2012 04:50

5 months on a boat, an eyewitness report.

Between the 13th of may and the 28th of October 2012 I lived on a 44ft catamaran with two other men. Together we sailed from Cairns in Australia to the southern tip of Malaysia, a journey of nearly 3700 nautical miles or 6600km. I had never sailed before nor had I ever met the two others. We were strangers and were now to spend nearly half a year in very close proximity on a home-built boat that had everything it needed for big blue-water crossings, but not too much more. This story should give you a small insight in what it was like.

'Basic' (but sturdy) would be a word to describe our boat, especially compared to the common standard for yachts or to the common image people have of sailing-boats. I am not however, going to complain. I like to think that I do not need a lot of luxury, I like 'functional' and although I shall admit that I was not always overjoyed with everything the boat had to offer, what remains is a very happy and thankful memory of having sailed right through the heart of Indonesia. In good company, with all the freedom that having your own floating house has to offer. If you want, you may envy me.

I say Indonesia but of course the trip started in Australia. In fact, half the time we had, we spend in Australian waters. I know Australia, or so I like to think. I have done the obligatory year of backpacking in the nineties, I have seen the infamous red-center and circumnavigated the entire continent in my own four-wheel drive. And this was all before I landed there again in the end of October last year. This time though, I got to see it from the water and we went to places that would be called remote, even by Australian standards.

Like I said, I had never sailed before so I had not really a good idea of what was waiting for me. My choice to embark on this trip was an easy one though: I had to. At least, if I wanted to stick to my 'going home overland' plan.

First things first; easy to say you want to travel by boat but where does the boat come from??

Well: from the internet. I had made the most beautiful flyer and hung it up in every marina I could find between Brisbane and Cairns but in the end it was a little profile I made on a website that did the trick. You see, apparently, it is not so strange for yacht-owners to invite total strangers to come along for a sail on their boats. And apparently it is not so strange for little adventurers like myself to go around marinas and forwardly ask for a free ride. Why? Well, if you put the right people together, they need each other. Let me give you an example:

I know of an Australian man who has spend 15 years building his own boat in a shed behind his house and who has launched that boat a few years ago, named 'Masquerade'. It floated and now that he has stopped work, aged 65, he wants to see more of the world. He reckons he's going to Thailand. The problem is that he is alone and of all the people he knows, no one can commit to months of sailing at the time and sailing a boat like his all this way just by yourself is tricky. Actually, it is downright impossible. So, he puts a little note up on a website called 'findacrew'. A site specifically erected for boaties who want to get in touch with one an other. In fact, you don't have to search yourself, the site puts people with the same criteria together and sends messages to those who match. Rather clever. And practical. Here, this man finds among a few other profiles two characters that stand out: one guy from New Zealand; a sailing man with great ambitions of traveling for years, all over the world, not entirely sure where yet. But his trip has to start with sails up. And an other guy who is some kind of bum, has no idea of sailing, seen half the world but can't afford proper transport and is now traveling by bicycle claiming to ride it home. These two the skipper approaches, asking if they feel like joining him on his journey over the top of Australia, through Indonesia. All the way up to Phuket in Thailand. They happily accept.

In fact: he made my day!

It had not been to easy, or promising, to find a boat, so when I was riding somewhere along a random dusty highway and my phone rang with this question, I did not know how quickly to say 'yes please!' It did however call for a shift in my plans. As a non-sailor, I purely saw the boat part of my trip as transport. For me a week would have been enough. Practical as I am, my reasoning went no further then: I need to get out of Australia, into Indonesia and then I will island-hop with the local ferries and make my way across the country and into Singapore like that. Had there been a ferry (or cargo-ship of some sort) between Darwin and West-Timor, the shortest crossing, I would not have bothered with the whole sailing thing at all. But there isn't, so I had to. And so began a 24 week boat-trip, not a one-week one.

I saw David in February. I rode up from Townsville and met him in the marina. He showed me the boat and we talked about the travel-schedule. Given the vast number of boats I could choose from for my goal and given my enormous experience in sailing, I did not care to much about the, quite clear, 'limited luxury' that shone through aboard. I wouldn't say spartan though, that would go far. For example; the seating surfaces had cushions on them. They were, however, too upright, outside and you couldn't stretch you legs in front of you. But the cushions made all the difference between our seats and the ones you would find in the back of, for instance, an army personnel carrier.

I was also appointed two beds! Well, one bed really, cut in half and the two halves were about 5 meters from each other. One was slightly narrower then my shoulders and was located in the starboard hull. The other was slightly wider then my shoulder-width and was located up on the deck in something that had lovingly attracted the name 'bus-stop'. Later other nicknames popped up such as 'the penthouse', 'cave', 'sea-view-cabin' and 'coffin'. This outside 'one could sleep there' location would become my bed for the next 150+ nights. By comparison, Matt the aforementioned kiwi-guy and other crew, had the front half of the port-hull with his own sitting area, a more-then-full-size-actual-bed and some good storage space. But I am not complaining, after all, my bed also had a cushion. And I am tougher anyway... :-)

May came and we met up next to the dinghy in the Cairns marina. We shook hands, looked at each other and said: "well, that's us for the next 5 months". Dinghies, btw, are little boats, made form rubber or aluminium, that are used to go from an anchored yacht to shore, and back. They are usually propelled by a small out-board engine. Ours wasn't. We had to row. Matt said that was a surprising feature. It wouldn't be the last time I heard him use those words regarding certain commodities on board.

After getting acquainted with the boat and making ourselves comfortable, well Matt did, we did a months worth of shopping, three shopping trolleys full, hid all of it in compartments around the galley and lifted the anchor. An exciting moment! Not in the last place for me, as I had never worked or been on one of these things. And I get seasick.

Now, I won't bore you with how slow I learned, which beautiful or boring islands and bays we saw nor with wind-speeds or sail-positions. I will say that in the first month of sailing I fed the fish just as often as they fed us: twice. We fished everyday but like someone else said; "if you try to live off the ocean, you die". At least they were two beautiful tuna we caught.

I had to get used to sailing. The slow speed annoyed me. Waiting for wind annoyed me. My bed sucked (I did get rained on in it) and the food was obviously just there to keep us alive. When at anchor we had one unit of transportation among the three of us and stubborn swimming between the boat and shore was out of the question because Australia's top half is ridden with those really big swimming snapper-lizards. All of this took some adaptation from someone who is used to going 100% his own way and being able to change plans and directions overnight without having to consult anyone. Except for his bank-account maybe.

But, as always, the medal has two sides; Sailing, wind permitting, gives you the opportunity of going where ever you like, yet not very fast, and when you arrive you simply drop a big metal hook into the water and you're set. You're house is right there with you with all the comforts that come with it. And even if it doesn't have a shower. Or a toilet. Or a fridge. Like ours, it is still very nice that you don't have to worry about anything really important and can set off straight away to explore the new place.

In the 2300 or so kilometers between Cairns and Darwin, we enjoyed most of the time the constant power of the trade-winds that blow here in this time of year. Which means easy and predictable propulsion, for free, and not too many worries about re-setting the sails and such. We simply raised them in the morning and left them there. Easy. Also boring. Hours and hours I've spent hopefully looking backwards at the fishing line hoping for a meal. Until I gave up on it. Stupid fish.

The most memorable part, sailing-wise, was the crossing from Thursday Island to the Wessel Islands, over the top of the gulf of Carpenteria. Here we had very strong side winds. 'Good!' you may think, you'd go nice and fast. That's correct but it also means that the two meter high waves hit our little boat with extra force, side-on, and managed to flow all over the deck and, more annoyingly, into the cockpits. We were soaked. This crossing took 3 days and two nights and especially my shift on the first night was spend between ducking and dodging waves coming over, stuffing that up and then half shiveringly waiting for the wind to blow-dry me. Repeat process. And in the end this will be the story I tell most...

For more stories and a few images on this part of the trip I would like to direct you to the picture department elsewhere on this website.

So, via a string of 20 anchorages and one month later, we arrived in Darwin, capital of The Northern Territory. And would stay there for 6 weeks. Darwin I hád seen before, twice, and I had no particular inclination to go there again. It is small, hot and the only reason it is on the map is that there is nothing around it within 1000km. No really. Also it meant we were still in Australia, which is a very expensive country for a traveler. We stayed here for so long because we did not know how long it would take to sail here, made good time and were now waiting for a sailing-rally to start; Sail-Indonesia. Previously David had doubted joining this rally but all sorts of advantages, most of them having to do with them taking care of all the red-tape involved in bringing a yacht into Indo, had convinced him to do so. So, stuck we were. Also, due to David's motto 'when in doubt, anchor out' we anchored so far away from the beach that I was wondering when we would set sail for our last day till Darwin. And our dinghy still didn't have an outboard. Much to the amusement of the rest of the fleet amongst which we were now anchored. David 'quite liked rowing' as he said and to a certain point I can agree with him. But it is nice to choose to row, not to have to. And there were several occasions that we really got to enjoy ourselves because sometimes, no exaggeration, the wind was strong that even when we were rowing an empty dinghy with two man abreast, we were still going absolutely nowhere.

Luckily, after three weeks of daily rowing up and down to shore/shops/shower/life, it was time to scrub the hulls of Masquerade. The good thing of a catamaran is that when it runs out of water, it doesn't fall over, like a mono-hull. So on high tide we went really close to the beach dropped the anchor and waited for the water to subside. We were now sitting on the beach and could walk to and from the boat for most of the day. We all liked this so much that we stayed there until on day before the rally. Much to the amusement of the other sailors again.

And it wasn't just the rowing we missed out on now: Darwin has an extreme tidal-flux of a maximum of 10 (!) meters and the sea-floor drops away very gradually. This means that if you row (or motor) in with your dinghy and put it up on the beach at high-tide you will learn to time your return to it well. Of course we learned this the hard way and one night, after a few refreshing drinks in a local billabong, Matt and I had gotten it exactly... wrong. Upon arrival back at the beach we stood next to the dinghy and the sea had so retracted so far that we could not see it. It sucked. Now we had to carry our heavy aluminium bathtub for almost a kilometer (!!!) before it would float. On the upside of course; we did not have to row so far now....

The Darwin time passed and by the 28th of July the grand day had finally come: I would leave Australia, over'land' and with my bicycle. Even though it was sitting in a box on deck. We had cleared out with customs the day before a now we were ready to cross our biggest leg ever; 470NM to Kupang. The capital of West-Timor. The winds were very favorable and after exactly 68 hours we lay-ed eyes on our first out of many stops in Indonesia. For Matt and me this was cool, we reckoned this place would bring us lots of great adventures but, to be honest, I didn't think much more of it. For David though, it would have been a bit different. After 15 years of building and various trials and tribulations in his home-waters, now was the moment; he sailed, on his own boat, for the first time onto foreign land. He had never been outside of Australia.

Kupang was what you would expect: a functional town supplying to all needs of poor and rich of the surrounding area. Loud, messy, full of little motor-bikes and everywhere you go people say 'hello mister' and 'where are you going?' something that annoyed the hell out of me within 24h. Damn those people who are trying to be so nice, they couldn't be more irritating if they tried. Not the constant repeating of exactly the same too-personal question I what gets to you as much. It is the fact that the exact thing that winds you up, is the exact thing by which they are trying to be nice. And you can't really yell at someone for being nice, can you? It reminded me of when I spend time in the rainforest with the Shiwiars, their way of being welcoming was force feeding you their awful local drink. It never ended. At least 'hello mister' doesn't give you a hard, bloated stomach...

So anyway, we instantly lóved Indonesia. Small details like personal questions, never knowing what exactly you have on your plate and a consistent absence of toilet paper aside, it's a great place. People are friendly, let's say 'interested' in you(r life) and it's safe as fek. Prices are of such an extend that half the time you feel giving them notes is just a formality, a ritual if you like and many a time have I looked at people with a mix of surprise and disbelieve when the told me how much something cost. Really? You will 'rent' me this motorbike for € 3,- a day? Not per hour? Sure? OK.

I have tried to bring across feelings like these in various picture folders, this is supposed to be about the sailing now.

Living on a small area of 8x8 meters, with barely any indoor space and with a few facilities missing that other people may find essential is not always easy. But, let me put this first, we have done very well. You may not believe me when I say this but it is possible for three strangers with plenty of differences to live in close proximity without shedding any blood. In fact, not a single word of discontent was spoken. And we all did our part for that. Dave was the captain so anything he deemed safe of necessary had to happen. He in his turn, especially after mutual trust had grown, asked us what we wanted or how we would do things. Matt became sailing master and I was in charge of fishing. The sailing went well under Matt's enthusiastic lead but I am afraid the fishing was less successful. I tried every lure we had, played with line-length, speed, deep/shallow water and bait but all to no avail. I shall wholeheartedly testify to whoever wants to hear it that mankind officially has fished the oceans empty. 3 tuna, a small shark and one Spanish Mackerel in 5 months is pretty pathetic. Praying for fish would have gotten us a higher success-rate.

As said, Matt had sailed before and it was interesting for me as a learner to be between the two others. They say there can't be two captains on one ship so it was nice to follow the process of them two sorting out who was right. Obviously, as a novice, not restricted by any preconceived knowledge of sailing whatsoever, I too was quite often right, most of the time guided by something called 'common sense', but I felt the boat didn't need a third captain so I stuck to quietly thinking 'told you so' to my self. Even though I hadn't actually.

Comfort was a big thing on board. Or actually, it wasn't; the lack of it was. I could prove and summarize this by saying that the fold-up deck-chair from the local DIY store that I bought was by fár the most comfortable place to sit anywhere on board. But it is a lot more fun to elaborate, so I will.

For example; I bet you any money that when I say 'cruising-yacht', you think 'money'. Right? The two go hand in hand. Someone put it this way: 'boat' stands for 'Bring An Other Thousand'. I say 'yacht', you think cruisy sailing in a steady wind with one hand on the wheel and a cold drink in the other. And at night you sleep in a crisp berth, gently rocked to sleep and cooled by a very light breeze. Could be. But: it turns out there are different ways of sailing... I am not talking about those round the world sailors who spend nights on the helm engulfed by waves and not changing their underwear for 68 days. Nor about the Volvo-Ocean-Racers who eat with plastic cutlery to save weight. No, I am talking about some of the other 99% percent of the sailing community. People who think that sailing around the world in two years is 'pretty fast' (I nearly died when I read that) and who scour every foreign port they pull into for their staple diet of toast and cheese. Early pensioners who either fly their children over to spend a few weeks with them or who will ship their boat (yes, boats get shipped) back to their home country because the don't fancy sailing it too much.

Most of these people will have spend a considerable amount of money to begin with and will have more sitting somewhere because sailing simply ain't cheap. Generally. But there are shortcuts. And Dave had found most, if not all, of them...

Starting at the beginning; you don't buy a boat, you build it. One buys a $ 2000,- design from a renowned builder (Granger in our case), buys a whole heap of cedar-wood, plywood and epoxy and starts cracking. David took 15 years but that was more to do with finance, family, other work etc. In the end, hours left out of the equation, he had a 44ft ocean going catamaran, fully rigged, for under $100.000,-. Fair play I say.

During our sail we spoke to plenty of other people and it seemed they had lots of problems that we were spared: Their second fridge had broken down. Their toilet was blocked. The auto-pilot had given in and there were even some poor souls, god help them, who's de-salinator had stopped working. The reason that we were spared any of these problems all together was that we had none of those things...

We ate canned food, our toilet was a bucket (stainless steel, yes sir!), we hand-steered all the way and we had a bunch of water jerrycans scattered all around the boat. And in case you were wondering, we showered by: one bucket salt water, soap-down, second bucket salt water, two liters of fresh water. This was a particularly fun system in the less remote areas where you had to be careful not to scoop up a nappy when you hauled-up the bucket of sea-water.

Add to this the absence of the dinghy outboard engine, the not having an electrical anchor winch (heavy), the not having of a paper-chart table and my less then accommodating berth and you can imagine that Matt and I sometimes enviously looked at those who could have a cold drink after a long day of not having hand-steered their boat. At the same time we marveled with a mix of disbelieve and respect at David who apparently had yet to be introduced to the concept of ergonomics, creature-comforts and efficiency. And he didn't seem to mind. Having said that; everything was built over-size and therefor rock solid which gives a secure feeling. Also for all the necessary boat stuff there was a spare and the tools to replace whatever had to be. Mostly rusty tools but that's what you get in a salt water environment. As our stainless steel poo bucket proved...

As David pointed out, ever the optimist, Masquerade was a good boat for me to learn sailing on. No push-button action but fair and honest hands-on mechanics. Yes, well, it was also a good boat to learn how to manually pull a 40kg anchor plus 20m of 10mm chain out of the mud, how to snake yourself into bed via an obstacle course of dinghy, canvas-flap, spare-anchor and bike-box and I also got pretty good at hanging on for dear life with one hand while trying to zip down and relieve myself of the back of a raging catamaran with the other hand as we didn't have any guardrails or safety lines of some sort. y next boat would feel só luxurious, David pointed out. Indeed; if the galley has a tap, it wins.

Now, I whinge and none of the above was made up. Not even exaggerated. But in the end of the day, who gets to sail for 5 months to and through the most beautiful and remote waters, in good company and spirits, for free? I'm just saying.

Wás it for free? Almost. We all paid for our own food but you have to eat anyway. The only thing that cost me was my share in the petrol we burned up when there was no wind. This amount had prior to departure been estimated at $ 400,- which was exactly what it cost in the end. Let me do the math for you: 5+ months, 6600km, $ 400,- = 6 cents/km or $ 2,50 per day. Affordable for transport and accommodation. Unfortunately the much anticipated 'living off the ocean' thing did not pull through but pancakes for breakfast and pasta with tinned tuna for dinner doesn't cost an arm and a leg. And not having a fridge meant that when we díd catch a good fish, we had to absolutely stuff ourselves before it would go off which tempered my fresh-fish-desire for a few days after...

Then last but not least; the psychology. True to form I had no idea what I threw myself into. Under the logic of 'how hard can it be?' and 'why would I not be able to do this?' I had gotten myself in a situation that was sometimes great, sometimes a bit tough on the mind. Apparently, I have a strong opinion. I deny that; as it happens, I just know a little bit better what would be a good thing to do. Traveling alone is perfect for these sort of people. But I wasn't alone. Sailing, or 'being marooned on this stupid white raft' as I called it in my happy-moods, was definitely more of a class for the psyche than in any other aspect. Sure I know now 100% more about sailing then before and my English has probably improved but the by far and beyond bigger challenge was mentally putting things in their right places. For example, it took me ages to adapt to the Kiwi/Aussie way of speaking which, incidentally, is a far more common way of communicating world-wide then the Dutch way. What you say is: 'are you sure that is the best way to do it and have you considered other possibilities?'. Rather then: 'What you're doing is stupid, here let me show you how it's done'. What the world has against this honest and efficient way of communicating, I don't know but it sure gets you a whole range of funny responses (all equally indirect and vague) if you persist with it. This whole thing can be summarized by the following: I spoke to someone who said that in my culture conflict must be a normal thing. I thought about it and concluded that what for her felt as conflict, merely was confrontation. It only becomes conflict when you take offense. Wisely, I did not confront her with that as she would no doubt have found that very conflicting. Anyway, I tried to address this but only made it halfway I think. There was more. Dealing with aforementioned lack of a place to just kick back. Dealing with the small range of food items which led to remarkably similar meals day-in, day-out. And most of all; not being able to do what you want. I had enthusiastically and gratefully committed to nearly half a year on this boat whereas I should know by now that I get bored with things after two weeks to a month. I had to tell myself over and over that what I wanted would come and that I would look back on this sailing trip for the rest of my life with a longing to go back to it. And it's true. Already now that I have left the boat for less then a week do I remember the laughs we had much more then my grumpy times. I treasure the adventures and am turning the boring times into funny stories. It is weird, for so long I was surrounded by these two former strangers who I now know so well and now they're gone. I won't say I deeply miss them but they are definitely not forgotten either. David gambled very well by selecting his two crew-members. Matt and I got along right from the start and became really good friends over the course of time. We did nearly all the excursions away from the boat together and never had a falling out. We were sort of differently similar. If that makes sense. And Matt is a patient boy, that helps. Dave had to grow on me but I don't mean that negatively at all. For one he is older and we had a few other differences but I have always felt a mutual respect and a bond that grew right to the last day when we parted with a short, strong and meaningful handshake. 'See ya later. Bye'.

Being with three was a good thing anyway, that way two can always chat while the third one recluses. Or you can vent little annoyances to the third one rather then having to work everything out. Most of the time it's nothing anyway.

I didn't make it all the way to Phuket by the way. It became clear at an early moment that my preferred travel speed did not match that of the other two. Fair enough. They somehow seemed to think we were here to have a really good look around and take it all in with deep breaths. Whereas my lingering was merely accidental. I had just spend two years of larding around waterfalls and foreign cities, I was on my way home and there was a lot to go so lets hurry. This didn't work. Once again it didn't create stress on board but we did wisely come to the conclusion that it'd be best to make an adjusted plan. Originally we were to arrive in Phuket in October but the men are now pushing December. It became Singapore for me. That way I could sail all the long overnighters, which is not fun if you're just two on board. I could also help navigate the straights around Singapore. Only the busiest shipping channel in the world. After that, those two would sail on and I would start riding up through Malaysia and onward. Apart from that I longed for something else, it also meant I would start riding from the very tip of the Eur-Asian continent. And that's cool.

So maybe, in the end, I did not really become a sailing boy then. But I don't spit on it either and am definitely keeping I open as a future method of transport. But I think that's what it will always be. Until I reach that certain age perhaps...

To David, Matt and Masquerade; thanks, it's been a pleasure and... catch ya later.  

Thursday, 30 August 2012 08:26

Crossing from Australia to Indonesia, more then just a geographical divide...

 

Some 28 months ago I left Holland to see places on our globe that are distinctly different from my home country. Then I ended up in Australia. I wanted a change, after 18 months in the Latin-American countries I felt it was time to swap locations. The Spanish, the local way of life and different culture had become the new norm and once again was I looking for change. Australia may not seem like the most likely place to go look for new impulses. Especially not if you've been there twice before... Wealthy countries present their own challenges for the money conscious traveler though as well as the adaptation back into, and the acceptance of, the complacent, and dare I say decadent, way of life that is synonymous to western countries. Just like my own.

I did not just randomly fly into Australia to see what would happen. I have surpassed the level of the backpacker who comes to work and party (thank you 1999), nor do I feel the need to explore the nooks and crannies of the continent as I have been lucky enough to be able to cross that off as well (thank you 2007). So what then? The excuse to come to this side of the world  was the world championship adventure racing, the real attraction lay in seeing if I could make it back home half way across the world without using a plane. Actually, give or take a few little exceptions, it looks like I will make it back home without using an engine. Although of course, I am not quite there yet...

It may have transpired by now that shall mainly use a bicycle for transportation, except for the wet bits where a sail-boat seems the handier solution. Starting in Tasmania I first had some 4000km to ride before I could head for the seas. I saw it as a warm-up. A good start of a long journey through 3 continents. A journey that, in my head, would only start from the mainland of Eur-Asia onward. It took me 40 days of actual riding to cover the distance but in time it took me from half november to half may. 6 months so to say, or 180 days. So, what happened in the 140 days I wasn't rolling? Well, not much and a lot at the same time. Nothing to write home about perhaps; hang out with friends, see national parks and some considerable time was spend in Townsville where I found such a comfortable environment that I was strongly inclined to park-up for a while. Singled out, all really nice and warming experiences but it's when you put them in a row that they add up to quite an amazing list consisting of a mix of great nature, lots of tarmac, some racing but most of all just spending time with new people I now call friends. I also got to see my close family in New Zealand again which was a treat as we don't get to spend much time together typically.

Nine months I stayed in this part of the world, eight in Australia, one in New Zealand. A journey in itself perhaps but for me it still merely felt like transit. My heart still lies with the more chaotic countries, the new ones, the differences. I should stress though that this says nothing about the great and lovely people I have met between Hobart and Darwin. I treasure every encounter and will never forget how all of you have made my time an incredible one. Such was the hospitality and enthusiasm I have found here, for example, that of all 270 nights I spent, I only had to find paid-for- accommodation for ten of them. I have seen a new side of Australia; the inside. And it's great! By not locking myself up in hostels or isolating myself in a camper-car, I 'had' to meet people and mingle. I spend normal day to day life with the locals, almost leveling out with them. Except for that little detail of course, of them having jobs and me not. This; the not spending money in an expensive country, the pedaling of a loaded bicycle through the heat and the constant flux of new faces with whom I automatically try to connect, those things made the challenge in this part of my travel. An interesting change from the bus-propelled, overwhelming latin experience that is South-America. I think that these two parts together should see me well prepared for the 20.000km of contact with the local people from Indonesia to Belgium.And I can't wait!

Speaking of Indonesia... Where in a skeptical mood I could sometimes call Australia 'boring', in Indonesia that word definitely has no place. It is.... quite different. And awesome! Someone summarized the spirit of this country with the line: 'it is impossible, but it can be arranged'. An other one is: 'as hospitable as it is chaotic'. The combination of these two should give you a good idea of what it is like to be here. And that is exactly what I like so much about it here and about other countries with similar characteristics. People have less but are all the more friendlier for it. For those who think that that is because they want your money; you're wrong. Also the lack of rules, or at least the enforcement of them, is right up my alley. It gives you that certain sense of... freedom. Yes; traffic is chaotic, but no car has a dent in it. No; there are no signs warning you for holes in the road, because people can think for themselves. And becáuse of the lack of social security, people look after one an other. Irony defined...

In other words; it is great to be back. Back in the lands of 'what the hell are they saying?!' Back at 'when are you guys going to grow that last foot or so?' And yes, I do appreciate that my dinner costs     $ 2.- again. Interesting too to note some differences. I do not consider myself a seasoned traveler at all. That would be too arrogant I think. After all; what  have I done? Disrespectfully throwing those few latin-american countries on one heap (because they are, on global scale, quite similar), this is effectively only the second third-world country that I see so I can hardly call myself an expert. Arriving here, in the south-west of the archipelago, I automatically started comparing here to 'there', to my only comparable bench-mark. It's a fun game. Some (many) trades are definitely mutual ones. I suppose humanity world-wide comes to the same conclusions when faced with similar problems. Issues that the western world has 'solved', a process with not just advantages, and that when reminded off, seem strange and alien to the westerner. So, Ferries and buses are not 'full' when all seats are taken but when they are actually FULL. Cars that work are by definition road-worthy. Having six identical stalls of something in 200m of street dóes make sense. I had a bit of a go at this in an earlier post from Ecuador. In 'our' eyes, it doesn't make sense because you'll be each others competitor. If everyone sells apples, why not sell bananas? Here, were there are no bananas, the sixth vendor just takes a little business from the other five. Everyone has work, no one dies with hunger. Same for the 'useless' second man on buses, the person holding open an open door in a shop and the people packing your groceries into plastic bags in the supermarket. Oh hold on, that last one is western. But still useless.

Long story short; there is a secret to what we call 'hidden unemployment'. It is called 'survival'. I saw it over there and I see it here again. If only I could switch off that stupid Dutch, efficiency-minded brain that keeps being bugged by it...

Other similarities? Yes, the Dutch are indeed the tallest people. Or at least these guys are not going to prove that theory wrong. The response to it is different though; where in, say, Ecuador, the people just stare (an other common trade apparently), here they háve to get their picture taken with you. Luckily not thát bad that they stop you in the streets but I don't think I have escaped one camera of local people I have had more then three minutes conversation with. Indonesians are not shy. It is actually kind of fun, we are not in a hurry anyway. Also the fact that the inevitability seems to grow if the other party is female makes the situation more acceptable again... The effect might weaken if/when we hit more frequented areas tourism wise (West-Timor is Indonesia's forgotten corner) but for now it is fine to be a pop-star. Including the being a millionaire part: 10.000,- Rupiah = $ 1,-

People are friendly, interested in where you are from, when you are going back there and what the hell you are doing in the mean time?! After all; the ocean is a dangerous place, why would you go there for your leisure and don't you have to work or something? When you get to know people better,  conversation inevitably, and understandably, comes to money and the cost of things. I hate it when they do that because it makes me feel like a very decadent and overly privileged young man. Which I am but that doesn't mean they have to rub it in my face. The standard story is to explain that yes, we have more money but things also cost a lot more in our country. Therefore, end of the day, we are not rich as such, we only benefit abroad. This story only holds up if you can then change the subject quickly to something else because of course it is as thin as one-night ice on a canal in Amsterdam. The truth is that there is no excuse. But I just can't tell people that I bought a bicycle worth a years salary and can afford to ride it home for 18 months just for fun. I just can't. Let alone elaborate on what went on before that. Or on how long for I will have to pay off my debt for this trip.

So far I absolutely love Indonesia. It is interesting, even better then I expected and it is just too cool how easy it is to get contact with the local people. Just this morning for example, we had the chance to go to a local junior high-school and see them practice the dances they will perform for the celebration of independence day (when those bloody Dutch finally left) next week. We were invited by their english teachers who we had randomly met in a restaurant. They thought it a good opportunity for the students to speak with a 'native speaker' (I've been upgraded). It was a treat for us to have a little look behind the scenes of Indonesian society but it became very clear real quick that we were not the only ones having a good look; the teachers room were we were hosted had windows all around it (imagine that at home) and for the duration of our stay an average of 20 young students were glued to them like we were the last specimen of a nearly extinct exotic species. It was the funniest thing ever and I have to repeat; Indonesians are NOT shy.

To help the process of mutual exchange of background along, I have embarked on a dedicated program of studies of the local language, Bahasa Indonesia, because I find it frustrating that I can't even have a little shopping conversation in the local language. 'Anda bisa berbicara bahasa Inggris' is just such an embarrassing question to ask. Luckily it is a very simple language to learn without conjugation, tenses or tones. Let's see how far I get.

Although traveling by boat is not always ideal, the benefits out-weigh the nuisances. It is easy to complain about a whole heap of things but typically those should be all forgotten when this adventure turns from 'current' to 'memory' and what remains are all the good sides of this way of travel. The big one being, need I emphasize this, the fact that you can go anywhere you want and that when you do, you always have your home right there with you. In a country consisting of 17.000 islands a boat almost seems like the only sensible way to travel through it. Especially if you want to go to places less traveled which, luckily, all aboard do. And even though we dó also go to the bigger and more famous ones like Flores, Bali and Kalimantan (Borneo), we still get to pick those little hidden bays where one  can find the unpolished beauty of authentic Indonesia. Combined with the fact that I can sometimes go off-board with my bicycle to explore some of the inland, I would say that in the eleven weeks we shall spend here I may rightfully so feel privileged with yet an other amazing travel experience.

Of course the trip won't end by the time we reach Singapore in the middle of October. Many people ask me about the how and where next. I'm not sure. Not entirely that is. I want to go home, yes, and relatively quickly. I can tell you the rough sketch; I wanted to go through Myanmar but they do not allow land-border-crossings. This presents me with a new challenge; that of riding around it. It is a bit 'in the way' though. The extended route now then sparks, after Malaysia and Thailand; Cambodia, Laos, China, India. I am not sure about the Himalayas yet. I would love to cross them but it being rather winter-ish around the time I should be there, feels like a little deterrent. Weak, I know.  Then  I reach a bit of a cross-roads: either go up, through the 'Stans', or keep going on the same latitude through Pakistan and Iran. Political situations will have a hand in that decision I suppose. I would like to come out via Turkey though to take advantage of the better weather in the south of Europe.  Am I running ahead of myself here? Probably. But I need some handhold to go by right? In the end it comes down to a big portion of 'we'll see'. Crap as an answer but perfect for the traveler... Same goes for the arrival date; nice and vague. The intention to push on is there but estimations of arrival are based on hopes rather then insight. My motivation is double sided: not only am I running out of money so that I kind of háve to go home, but also do I feel that the estimated three years of travel will be enough. At some point you know, 'work', 'normal' life and having a home become the 'new' things on the horizon.

I am sure though, that once there, it will all be boring soon enough again. Luckily there will be a few countries left I haven't seen yet...

 

Thanks for reading and till the next one! Selamat tinggal!

 

Raijua Island, 15-08 2012.

Monday, 16 April 2012 03:40

GODZone Adventure Race

 

 

For those of you aspiring to do a 522km endurance race without your own gear and with 3 people you've never met before; get right into it, piece of cake...

 

As some of you may have deducted by now; I kind of like adventure racing. You may also realize that it is hard to participate in these kind of races while you are living out of four panniers and spend half your time in solitide camping behind a tree and the other half with people you have met a week before and who are therefor, for now, your best friends. Sometimes though, you can get a sweet luck of the draw and you will have the opportunity to slide right into that lucky slot and bend the rules of logic. This is the, hopefully short, report of one of these rare occasions....

 

I am in Australia. I ride a bicycle from south to north. I am on a visa, that is now running out but my boat to Thailand doesn't go yet. Enter the back-up plan.

Since I have already extended my visa once without leaving the country, the Australian government has now really had it with me, does not want any more of my tourist money and I have to leave. I can come back any time and whenever I want. No worries. I have family in New Zealand, which is close, and the timing is perfect for being involved in the new but very promising GODZone adventure race held in the south there. A ticket is easily booked. Return, which immediately gets my into trouble at the airport (I should have known this); "sorry we can not allow you on this flight because you do not have a visa back into Australia" Me: " I am aware of that, it's the whole bloody reason that we are talking together in the fist place" them: "I undersand sir but you will have to buy a new ticket here now which is than totally refundable as soon as you arrive in New Zealand" (in about 4 hours). "Minus $ 50,-". 

In New Zealand I look up my family, have a great time and then make my way south to Queenstown where the race will be held. Before all this, still in Australia, I have had great contact with the volunteer coordinator, Paula, arranging my arrival and intended position during the race. After all, I would rather race but what are the chances of me finding a team, a mountain bike, kayaking gear, loads of shoes, and everything else you need for a race in the alps while you're normally residing in the tropics??! So all is sorted for Lukas to volunteer, until I ask her if she perhaps has heard of any team that might... She points me in the direction of the site where the teams that need extra power and the people who are without a team talk to eachother. In short; I find a team!  

This is great but it presents us (we're a team now) with the problems summed up above. In true Kiwi style though this will all be 'no problem'. 'No problem' in Dutch means: 'Too easy, I'll ring a few outdoorsy mates and we'll have all your gear in a jiffy, what color would you like?'. 'No problem' in Kiwi means: I am sure we can defintaly probably arrange that I think. The margin has to be filled with creativity...

And we did. I was in Queenstown a week before the race, stayed at Paula and Paul's place (no joke), met the team and together we got all the gear together in the space of only a few days. It shows, once again, what magical things you can achieve if you meet a few great people who will go out of their way to help you. If you're reading this, you know who you are; THANKS.

Then, the race. These races always go through a similar line of events; teams coming into town (suddenly lots of sporty people everywhere), race registration (people eyeing each other up, nervous organizers, lots of laughs), then moving to the start-line, messing around with maps, not getting enough sleep and then... The Start!!

I had seen this several times as a volunteer up till now and it was absolutely great to experience it as a racer this time. It's different. For example, you're not allowed to walk into race head quarters days before the race and you're not best buddies with the entire organization on your second day. Instead you get: "which team are you (in)? Wait here, I'll ask". Weird.

Us and 30 other teams were bussed to the start-line on sunday. We knew the race would start monday at 6:30am. I expected they would screw us over and not have us let sufficient sleep. I was right. We only got our maps in the bus. Frantic studying by everyone. We arrived, got settled in and then heard that yes, the race did start at 6:30, but not here. We would have to get up at 3am to be on a boat at 3:45am to be boated to a spot 15km away where our kayaks would be waiting for us. 3 hours sleep stolen at the beginning of the race!! By now, of course, we also knew how the race would be build up. This is what they had in store for us:

 

1: We would start the race at the entrance of Milford Sound and paddle in. 15 km.

2: Then on via the road by mountainbike. 49 km, as. 1240, des. 866m

3: Paddeling the Eglinton River. 36 km, des. 137m.

4: Bush trek Dunton range. 54 km, as. 2857m, des. 2478m.

5: Mountain bike, 81km, as. 1250m, des. 1527m.

6: Trekking Eyre Mountains. 48 km, as. 3400m, des. 3006m.

7: Then a 20 km paddle that got cancelled.

8: Mountain bike Thomson Mountains. 129km, as. 1030m, des 1287m.

9: Trekking Earnslaw Burn. 24 km, as. 2355m, des. 2280m.

10: Mountainbike Rees Valley. 21 km, as. 50,, des. 262m.

11: Kayak Lake Wakatipu. 46 km. 

 

Totals:  522 km, ascent: 12182m., descent: 11843m.

 

We didn't get to do it... Not all of it at least. These races are hard, worldclass. A team of greenhorn racers can not expect to go for the prices. Optimistically, we went for finishing. Read how we went.

We lost each other 10 minutes after the start. We had tandem kayaks, 2 per team and we saw an opportunity to get out of sight from each other in the dark start on the choppy boundary of ocean and sound (fjord). You might think we could have shouted at each other but with 20 other teams having the same problem it just became one big orgy of shouted numbers echoing of the sound-walls. I was in a kayak with Tim, we hung back until we were as good as last and had to conclude that somehow Dave and Hanna must have past us in the chaos and would now be far ahead of us. Great. We go in pursuit mode and make our way to the end of the sound where we would transition to bikes. Seals and dolphins play in the water around us for distraction. At the end we find the others. They thought we were ahead of them so had paddled hard to catch up with us. We don't waste any words on it and get ready for the riding.

It's only a 49km road ride and we make fairly good progress. Hanna and I use the tow-line we have set up between our bikes and we wizz over the asphalt. At TA2 (Transition Area) we put the bikes in their boxes, put on our wetsuits, pump our inflatable canoes and start our 36km paddle down the flowing Eglinton River. That is to say; the water that is there is defnately flowing but there is unfortunately not enough of it. We have to exit and carry the boats many times which takes away from the otherwise very beautiful and relaxing river ride. For paddling there are dark hours, they don't want us on the white water in the dark. Makes sense. We also had to wear our bicycle helmets for this. Which we forgot. The river 'closed' at 7pm. We arrived at TA3 at 6:45pm. Planned of course...

Hanna has paddled like a tiger but is now quite low on energy and cold, her and Dave go to the gear boxes while Tim and I deflate the canoes and put them in their trailer. The saturday before the race we were given not the maps or the whole course but enough information for us to plan how to pack our four designated gearboxes that we would see at the 10 Transition areas during the race. I.E.: 'at TA2 you will see box A and D', 'at TA7 you will see bike box and B', etc. Plus the estimated time the organizers think you will need between the TA's so you know how much food to put in which box. We had had a good think about all on saturday and packed our gear boxes to be as best prepared as we could. Now we were going to find out how well we had done this.

A race rule is that during the entire race, teams must carry certain items with them that will ensure their safety/survival while on the course. Things like sleeping bags against hypothermia and a whistle for drawing attention. A tent is also on that list.

At TA3 we get our first mandatory gear check. Just someone asking you to show a few items to see if you're not cheating by taking less weight with you on course. We all had some of these items in our bags to spread the load. I had the outer shell of the tent, bloody lumpy thing. When the gear check is over, and the guy is gone, Dave says; ehm, team, we don't have our tent poles, I forgot them in the kayak. No one says anything but we all know this will make camping overnight a bit more of a challenge and we will also not be able to camp at TA's, normally the most comfortable places. Even better is that we will see all our gear and bike boxes numerous times during the race, except for the kayaks because they are the first and the very last stage. At least we can camp at the finish.

These kind of things are not the biggies though, the course itself, and predominantly the navigating, is the hardest part of this race. As we will soon find out.

Stage four is a long trekking stage. 54km through the mountains and the organizers count on 15 hours for the fast teams and 24 hours for the slow ones. Modest as we are we take food for 24 hours (we think because it's not an exact science). We leave TA3 at 9pm and trek till the first mid-stage CP (check point) which we find at 3am. There we make the best of our pole-less tent and sleep for 2 hours. Correction; we wánt to sleep for two hours but miss the alarm and get four hours instead. Bummer but done deal, we pack up and go. The next one, CP5, proves a challenge for many teams and for Kia Kaha, meaning 'forever strong' in maori, it's no different. Dave is a good navigator but no one is perfect and the terrain is tricky. Not all streams and little ridges show up on our 1:50.000 map and although we know we are very close, we can not close the deal on this illusive marker and go round and round in circles for the rest of the day. Where we should have been there mid afternoon, instead we end up navigating ridges and creeks full of dead trees and thick vegatation till late in the evening. We decide to camp out and give it an other try at day break. Some of us are colder and more tired then others but together we make us a nice camp with campfire (forbidden) so we can make a warm drink and dry some clothes. It feels like a waste of time not to move for 7 hours but going endlessly up the hills and into the creeks would be a waste of energy. It is a difficult call to make. In hind sight we should have gone back to the spot where we knew where we were and have followed the tracks of all the teams that had gone before us I guess but we didn't. We were so close...

In the morning we still can't get our barings and frustrated we descend the mountain, cross the tracks of all the other teams and make our way to CP6. We skip CP5 and if we weren't already out of the race because of the time we wasted, we are now definately off the official course. 

Our dismay does not last though and we pick ourselves up and decide to make the very best of all the stages that lie ahead of us, after all, we are allowed to continue on course, we are just not in the running for first prize any more. Apart from the ego, It doesn't feel like a big loss...

We find CP6 where we are given an alternative, faster, route to TA4 so we can get back on track and into the cycling. Great! We embark on this new course which is a pretty track through field and forest. Later we agree that this hike was one of the better moments of the week. At 2am (thursday) we arrive at TA4. Remember that we only packed food for 24h initially and that we by now have spend 53h away from our food supplies. Still we were not overly hungry. We had gotten a bit of food from CP6, but not much, and we had also been invited into a hunters hut where the guys had given us a a cup of tea and a chunk of lamb-leg left over from their dinner. Other then that we had just taken too much to begin with I suppose. There is a rule in racing that says: ' travel light, starve at night'. Next time maybe.

Four or five other teams that make up the back of the field are held up at this check point (7) until the organizers have decided how they are going to let us continue with the course. It is a lodge and we make ourselves some hot instant meals (bliss I tell you) and relax by the fire. I am finding all this way too much comfort for an adventure race but since we are not allowed further for now I might as well enjoy it right? One team decides to sleep outside, where it freezes, in their tent 'for the real experience' but we don't (and can't anyway) so that we will be strong and fit for what's to come. In the morning we hear.

The now last 5 teams will continue on a 116km bike stage that will lead them to the beginning of the last paddle (and their tent poles for some) which shall lead them back to Queenstown and the finish line. A nice one; not too easy, not amazingly hard and a nice way to end the week by crossing the line as if we have done the whole thing. With our spirits high we set of on our bikes; this is going to be one hell of a fun and beautiful ride!! And it was. There was litteraly nothing to complain about. We found our way, the weather was cooperating and although it was long and sometmes tough, that was what we signed up for. We rode through fields, crossed rivers and got tired and sleepy. Hanna was on tow while we hiked our bikes and has to follow me sinking my teeth in up an endless mountain over an old track with switch-back after switch-back. She is tired but won't give up. Of all of us she has probably suffered hardest during this race but we never heard her about it. Must be the Swedish Viking blood coming out. Meanwhile Tim was sandwiched by both his own and Hanna's backpack pushing his bike with the squeeky brakes up the hill. Dave found the checkpoint effortlessly after which it was downhill for an hour over a track with sniper rocks hiding under the grass. Having left for all this at 11am we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset round 7pm while still, in my case, falling down the mountains with our bikes because my shoes wouldn't unclip fast enough when I cocked up at downhill speed. I didn't seem to learn but the rest of team learned a few new interesting Dutch words that I better not put in writing here... Once downhill we were at the shore of the lake which we'd be paddling on once we got to the TA. That was on the other side... It took for ever to ride around this massive body of water and only round 5:30am (friday), with the first rays of sunlight poking through the dark, did we arrive at the top of lake Wakatipu in Glenorchy. Here we found our kayaks, bike boxes and food. 

Since we were sent away from TA4 at the same time, and since we had all found our way, we now had the same teams ready here for the paddle plus a bunch of faster teams who had done more of the course and ended up here too to do the last stage. We didn't sleep but instead packed away our bikes, had something to eat and got ready for our estimated eight hour paddle over what seemed to be a very calm lake. We were looking forward to it as it promised to be an other dry day rain-wise. 

For a bit of a race element they had all the teams with an L on their forehead line up for a sprint start to their kayaks. This was fun, mostly probably because we were first in the water. We had decided we would give it a little bit of a push whereas others, that we had gotten to know quite well by now because we kept running into them in the back of the field, said they would just have a leisurely paddle back to town. Good on them and not a strange choice as the scenery was stunning and deserved quiet admiration.

The lake was less quiet then it seemed to be at the top of it and as an inexperienced kayaker I will admit that I found the sometimes one meter high waves a bit intimidating. Of course, the worst that could happen was to fall out but that would be a nuisance because you would have to get back in in and empty the boat. Not to mention the rather chilly water you would end up in. The waves had an advantage too though; they came from the right direction and pushed us along nicely. Sometimes, if we tried hard enough, we could actually catch them and ride them until they ran out. Great fun and a good speed boost. There were two CP's to find which was easy enough and about 6 hours later we arrived, rather soaked and cold, at the beach in Queenstown! Sweet!! 

Because it was a friday afternoon we had a bit of an audience clapping for us while we had our fasted transition ever (the only one we had coordinated upfront); getting rid of life jackets and paddles, stuffing everything in the kayaks under our spraydecks and had our last and final 1km run to race head quarters and the official finish-line, Yeahhh!!!! A photographer, cold pizza and warm bubbly wine awaited us to celebrate completing some beautiful parts of an in total epic race. Respect for the team that won the whole thing in under 87 hours. We were only newbies, now we can't say that anymore. The zero has gone, it has turned into a one and I really hope it will turn into a two and keep counting rather sooner then later!

So in summary: Was it hard? No. Was it easy? Neither. Did I ever regret being there? Never. Was it great to be out there with so many like minded enthusiasts and in such beautiful nature? Always. We didn't complete the course, we got lost, we made mistakes. But as a fresh team with a hand full of races and some volunteering on-looking as experience that is hardly a shocker I think. We loved it, we learned and we will definately be back. Kia Kaha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 09 March 2012 05:13

Progression!

As always; check out the pictures for the cartoon version of this. But:

 

What has happened since Brisbane?! Since I left there the 9th of January, a few things have definitely happened! I have ridden and other 1500km or so and have had the privilege of spending some awesome times with friends, both from 'old' as new made ones.

Even though it took me an apparent two months to ride this far (I'm in Townsville), the truth is that I have been spending a lot of time at peoples homes, letting them take me out on fun trips or just simply relaxing with them. The one major issue that played through my mind these months was how to get out of Australia and into Asia. I am pleased to announce that this has been resolved about which later more.

After a lovely Christmas and New Years at Amy and Candace's place I headed up the road to meet two old friends made in Ecuador. We hadn't seen each other in ages obviously and where they had continued with their normal lives after their adventures they were happy to hear about mine still continuing. We are talking about Rachael and David, I met them in Cuenca, exchanged details and what do you know, some people you dó actually see again! It was a pleasure and I enjoyed their hospitality for several days before heading further north. Not that far because only 100km up or so I was awaited by Glenn and Geoff, two mates from Brisbane and Glenn I knew from the race in Tasmania. We took Geoff's 4x4 to the beach and fished, kayaked and drank beer while cremating the fish. Taking advantage of that horrible aussie lifestyle so to say but you know what they say; 'while in Rome, do as the Romans do'.

I said good-bye to the guys and pushed on for a few days to Mackay where I would stay with a dutch girl named Nicole who I had approached through the couch-surfing site. On the way was plenty of sleeping illegally behind trees (and next to railroads again), smelly roadkill and trucks passing me to closely. Most of the drivers though take a wide berth and wave at me in a friendly fashion for which I am very thankful.

Nicole and boyfriend Adam turned out to be a relaxed bunch and they were happy to let me do what ever in their house while they went to work. While they weren't we talked about the differences between Holland and Oz of which we all knew both sides since Adam, being Australian, had visited our lovely country a few times already and they were planning to move there.

Then on to Airlie Beach, a famous backpacker-trap where people stay longer then intended and wake up one morning wondering why they thought is was a good night to participate in that jelly-wrestling competition again. Until they find the $ 300,- they have won in their pockets. I once again made good friends through the lovely system of couchsurfing where you basically write to a complete stranger to ask if you can live under their roof and eat out of their fridge until they get sick of you. Kind of, yet not far from the truth really.

Dominic was my first host here and him, me, his mates and some other random couchsurfers celebrated a great Australia-Day in and around his pool. From where ever you are reading this, does your country have it's own day? I mean specifically named after it? I didn't think so. The excuse for drinking over and the results of it cleaned up I left Dom to his own devices and more then happily 'moved in' with Jane, a very energetic and fun-loving Belgian doctor who now lives in Airlie but actually wants to go as rural as you can imagine to help people and find gold in her spare time (believe it or not, there is still lots of gold up for grabs in the outback). Apart form being a great host and now friend she introduced me to the sailing community of Airlie and I was given the chance to sail, and be 'crew', on a splendid 43ft sailing boat and do some low-key races with the locals. An awesome chance for a sailing novice like myself since a sailing boat would be my best bet of getting out of Australia over'land'. You don't make your life easier when you decide not to use planes when you want to go home from Tasmania I tell you. But... it worked!!!

I hung up notices in marinas, put myself up as crew on websites and asked, literally, everybody I spoke to if they knew someone with a boat. But most of all, I worried. Then, one day, just after I had left some random parking area along the highway where I had spend the night, my phone rang. I usually turn it off but had left it on intentionally now 'because someone could ring'. And then someone did!!! It was David. David owns a 44ft catamaran and plans to sail to Asia. I had seen his add on a website and had written him a note to say I wanted to join him on his ship if I could. He had written back that he was sorted but would remember me in case someone would drop out. I replied I hoped someone did.

One week after that the phone call came. “Lukas I had someone bail on me and hope you're still interested”. Was I ever?!?! Too cool! But I was skeptical, it sounded too good to be true. Now though, after meeting him, seeing his boat, knowing of the other crew member, I actually truly believe the three of us will sail between Australia and Thailand between May and October. I can not begin to tell you how relieved I am because the idea of catching a plane with bike and all panniers was not appealing at all. It was always my boring, lame and expensive back-up plan and I am happy that I won't need it. Although, in my Calvinistic mind, I state that of course we can only truly be sure of this when I off-load my bike in Thailand :-)

So, boat leaves in May, from Cairns where I as good as am now. What to do? Well, this:

I have discovered a consistency in my travels so far and it is... Visas. The stupid paperwork hassle that doesn't like me. In Ecuador I stayed five months illegally, in Costa Rica I had to make a quick visa run (going into an other country and coming straight back in) and now in Australia again the stupid time limit they put on travel is screwing me over once more. I came into the country on a visitors visa, no problem. Then, when I asked for an extension, they sent me to a doctor for an X-ray of my chest to see if I had tuberculosis which would exempt me from a new visa. They sure picked up on that one quick. Of course I didn't; fastest and most useless $ 105,- spent in my life. One can only extend once though because of.... no sensible reason. So, I have to do an other visa run. Problem is: It's an island here. Far from everything. I rang immigration to ask if a run would work. The answer: 'we can tell you that once you're out of the country'. Very practical if you want to buy a return ticket; that you don't know if you will be allowed back in... Anyway, it's a western country with all inherent consequences. They did manage to raise the level of suffocating and life-constricting rule-density here to such a degree that the dutch could learn from them. And trust me, that says a lot. If there is one country where they F themselves in the A with laws then it's that cheese-munching-should-have-drowned little place by the North Sea.

Anyway, I'm going to New Zealand. In April. And, surprise, surprise, I'm going to be volunteering for and adventure race :-) Also I have lots of lovely family there so I suspect that time will fly by. I'm looking forward to it. Till that time I am sitting out my time here in North Queensland which sounds a lot more negative than it is because it is not a punishment at all to be where I am now.

Then returning from New Zealand, I shall collect my stuff (bike isn't coming with me), ride to Cairns, prepare the boat, raise the anchor and sail off. And from there it's the big question mark again....

Someone asked me the other day if I run out of money and if I work at all. I can tell you that:

No and No.

 

Thanks for reading and I'll try to at least post something before we set sail. Keep safe.

Sunday, 08 January 2012 12:47

Let me know....

Written by

Please tell me what you think.

Saturday, 07 January 2012 15:24

Thousands of kilometers.

syd - bris 24Want to know how I went so far? Check out 'Pics'n text' for my latest pictures. I also have put text with the first two folders of Australia; the XPD race and Hobart to Sydney. Enjoy!

Then:

As I am writing this from Brisbane, I can now say that I have ridden 'thousands' of kilometers; two. And a bit. But even with the bit, my 2400 or so kilometers is nothing when you look at the map. And I do that quite regularly these days. Looking at the map of the earth my ridden distance is now visible but that's about it. Many more thousands of kilometers to go...

So far I rode in the easiest country of them all and I see it as a little practice run, the warm-up. It has been good! The weather was nice, the roads fine and I have had no problems so far. Sure my body hurt a little, I have been a bit bored sometimes and I had to do some minor repairs but all in all it has been a breeze. Mind you I write this after two weeks of leisurely relaxation over Christmas and New Years so my memory might be a bit coloured but I'm happy.

Now, as I am about to leave my villa in the basement of my new best aussie friends, I am looking forward to going into the vast Australian nothingness that they call 'The Outback'. A lot of desert and not a lot of settlements. Pure nature, nice!

Befor that though I have a bit more of coast line to follow. This is easy country and I should be able to knock em down quickly but there is one hitch: I need to work. This coastal area has lots of farms and since I have a bit of time for it I thought I would try to mak a few dollars here by picking fruit. People tell me that it should be easy to find some but I'll believe it when my pocket feels heavy... Staying positive though lets say I will. In that case my working should keep me occupied for a good month and then I'll do the desert run al the way to Darwin in the very north here. Close to Indonesia and my plan is to catch aboat between the two by the and of April. Apparently they are not easy to find but once again I do not want to despair up front.

Many people ask me what will happen after Indonesia and to tell you the truth: I do not know yet. I will have to look into visa rules and sea faring routes. Once I deside on it, I'll let you know!

That's it in a nut-shell for no folks. I am going strong, have a few hurdles to take and am looking forward to the rest of my trip. Have a look at my photo's to find out how it's been and keep an eye on this page, I will try to update it regularly!

See yah!!!

 

Saturday, 10 December 2011 00:28

Testes 1 - 2

Written by

Mocht je dit zien dan zie je het niet  weer...

nee dat klopt want hij staat niet in de categorie die wordt gepubliceerd daarvoor moet je die andere categorie hebben ;)

 

To Tasmania
To Tasmania To Tasmania
Good night
Good night Good night
Space
Space Space
Super sunrise
Super sunrise Super sunrise
Interviewed
Interviewed Interviewed
Bike Matthias
Bike Matthias Bike Matthias
Big house
Big house Big house
Petow paper
Petow paper Petow paper
Good picture
Good picture Good picture
All athletes
All athletes All athletes
Tent test
Tent test Tent test
Yellow jackets
Yellow jackets Yellow jackets
Box weighing
Box weighing Box weighing
Boxes
Boxes Boxes
Preparation
Preparation Preparation
Almost going
Almost going Almost going
Adrenalin rising
Adrenalin rising Adrenalin rising
Last instructions
Last instructions Last instructions
Go!
Go! Go!
160 kayaks
160 kayaks 160 kayaks
Lake mac
Lake mac Lake mac
Dead wood
Dead wood Dead wood
Heart hole
Heart hole Heart hole
Remote checkpoint
Remote checkpoint Remote checkpoint
Kayak raft
Kayak raft Kayak raft
Next kayaks
Next kayaks Next kayaks
Wallaby
Wallaby Wallaby
Morning
Morning Morning
Mirror lake
Mirror lake Mirror lake
Team paddling
Team paddling Team paddling
Cameras
Cameras Cameras
Fire beacon
Fire beacon Fire beacon
Lively CP
Lively CP Lively CP
Logistics
Logistics Logistics
Granville Harbour
Granville Harbour Granville Harbour
Working
Working Working
Bikes
Bikes Bikes
Typical
Typical Typical
Echidna
Echidna Echidna
Wet boxes
Wet boxes Wet boxes
Rain
Rain Rain
Arthur river
Arthur river Arthur river
Little meeting
Little meeting Little meeting
Truck view
Truck view Truck view
Smokey smiles
Smokey smiles Smokey smiles
Bedroom
Bedroom Bedroom
Driver
Driver Driver
Boat harbour
Boat harbour Boat harbour
Bay
Bay Bay
Floaters
Floaters Floaters
Paddling Arthur
Paddling Arthur Paddling Arthur
Quiet there
Quiet there Quiet there
Airport surprise
Airport surprise Airport surprise
Done
Done Done

Tuesday, 13 December 2011 05:24

It's all new!!

Welcome again folks!

OK, so, new site yes, but also new continent and new way of traveling! And how excited am I! Lots of thanks to good friend Thijs who never has anything to do and offered to do my site up so that we all may enjoy it more. Apart from an new hairdo it now boasts the option of commenting om my content. I hope to receive many comments from you guys or just drop me a line so I know you have been.

I'll give you a short update for those who are lost.

I traveled for 18 months in Latin-America and now moved to Australia. Initially to be with the WC Advenure racing but with the plan to try to go home overland after that. This plan has now escalated into the plan to do it all by bicycle (yes... water...). While writing this I have completed the first one thousand something kilometers and have arrived in Sydney. So far, all good! I stay here a few days in which I intend to serve you up some pictures. Also, thanks to Thijs, I now have to understand Twitter and what not so plenty to do for me.

So, if you want, keep an eye on it and enjoy stories and pictures, you are very welcome to!!!

CU you later people, where ever in the world!!

Monday, 03 May 2010 14:00

Montanita

Montanita;

a small (former) fishing village like there are so many along the 'Ruta del sol', on the coast of Ecuador, roughly between Salina and Manta. Allthough all of the places harbour tourists, Montanita takes the biscuit. Arriving into town I immediately knew what it was like, fancy restaurants, surfshops galore and a the game 'spot the local' proved to be a hard one. All in all a very comfortable place to start my travels and to feel home away from home. The accomodation I booked with the spanishschool I would attend was easily found and after 40hours of traveling I didn't mind being assinged a bed in a 3 bed dorm. There was only one other guy in the room with whom I would have to share our shower and hammock. Without us using either one at the same time... Arriving on saturday proved perfect timing: it allowed me plenty of time on sunday to take the same 3 hour bustrip back to the airport in Guayaquil to pick up my backpack. Silly me had thought that the airline sticker I had saying ' Guayaquil' would mean that my bag would automatically come to that airport and needly run of the belt. In fact it didn't (much to my disliking) and spent a day in Quito. They were kind enough to supply me with a toothbrush and managed to have the bag at the right place the next day. What else to do on your first day? Now united with my bag I could start school the next day and apart from me seriously having to get used to taking notes again and the concept of homework it was all very nice an d well arranged. It would be the start of 3 weeks of alternating school, surf and the Montanita special; 'Cocktail Alley'.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013 14:12

The nails in my coffin...

I am writing this on the day that I celebrate exactly three years of traveling. Thank you. The date is the 10th of april 2013 and I am in Chengdu, China. I am also stuck. Or so it seems.

I am experiencing some troubles but they are not of the kind you may expect. I am healthy as is my bike, I am not lonely, tired or out of money (although close). On the plus side I only have one problem. On the downer it can not be solved by anything out of before mentioned categories. Not by cycling faster or insane hours, not by anyone (but me hopefully) and unfortunately also not by money. What is killing me today is... Visas. I hate them. This is our fine history;

For 18 months I traveled on the other side of the globe, where they dance a lot of salsa, and never did I have a single problem with any permit to stay in any country. OK, admitted, I felt the heat when I overstayed my visa for Ecuador by 5 months but I knew in advance that would cost me a maximum of $ 200,- and in the end was solved for 5% of that due to a friendly border-guard. In Costa Rica I nearly overstayed but made my way to the border on the last day and was back in the country legally within 30 minutes. Once again courtesy to the humble dollar. But here in Asia... no such luck.

It started in Australia where they gracefully granted me three months stay. As if they don’t know how big it is! How could I possibly cycle through it in that time?! So, I applied for an extension which they were happy to give me. But only after I had made a $ 100,- trip to the radiology department of one of seven hospitals appointed by them. In the whole country! Luckily I was close to one but what if you're in Woolongmoolagabba, then you're screwed! I had to have my lungs X-rayed because they figured, after 90 days of breathing al over the place, that I might have caught tuberculosis in my previous travels. Sure. (I was fine by the way and I have lungs, I've seen them) My next three months ran out aswell and this time I had to leave the country. This, I admit, was not the end of the world since I went to New Zealand to see my family and got to race an amazing adventure race so I will let them of for that one.

Then Indonesia. Thanks to the sailing-rally that my boat was part of we cruised relatively easy through the red tape that can be quite complicated there. It also helped that the immigration officers who came aboard to check our vessel were more interested in taking pictures with us and the boat then in looking at our papers (that were in order btw). Like this: "do you have any drugs or weapons?" 'no' "Good. Can we see what a your kitchen looks like and do you mind if we take a picture?" Then we landed in Malaysia which I love for the simple fact alone that they give the foreigner a warm welcome by stamping a free visa on arrival (VOA) into his or her passport. Singapore has seen the same light and is also happy to have you. After that... bit harder.

Now, before I go on, I should confess that I did not at length look into all the smallest details of all the visa-conditions of all the countries I would go to. I researched them all, saw that some would be easy and some would be harder but saw now definite problems on the horizon. Waiting times and sometimes ridiculous costs apart, all would be feasable it seemed. And if not, I would count on the 'flexibilty' of the officer that needs new tyres under his moped. Or so I reckoned. Here in Asia though, I am yet to find that officer. For some reason they all seem to think they are doing something very important that has to be taken very seriously. I, on the other hand, like to think they are just over paid muppets who's only task should be to say 'welcome to our country sir, please spend as much of your money as you like' -Stamp-. Why I have to be subject to hopeless scrutiny, long waiting times, unneccesary paperwork  and endless money-loss only to spend a few weeks in a country as as a simple tourist is beyond me and none of the, generally nice it has to be said, people I meet at border gates has been able to explain it to me. It is hard exchanging any word with them in general I must say which in some cases is definitely for the better. I regularly have a few choice words welling up in me at these places and also the question if the robot would like some of my fresh bicycle-oil would probably not go down too well. So I keep quiet, wait, pay and see how they find it neccesary to claim yet an other whole page out of the few free blank pages I have left in my passport. And all with a happy face. On the outside.

Thailand is not the hardest country to enter but their logic defeats me. One gets a one month VOA but only if one arrives by plane. If you get there over land, which is not very unique in a small place like South-East Asia where people cross countries like they were public parks, you get a whopping 15 days. 15! Seriously, what can you do in 15 days?! You can extend, sure, but the best way of doing that is by... leaving the country. *sigh*.

Cambodia is very happy to have you. Or better said, to have your money. They grant you a VOA easily and efficiently but will tell you that although the sign clearly says: 'VOA, $ 20,-' you will have to pay in Thai Bath (only coming from Thailand) for which they have already helpfully calculated the exchange rate... Need I say more.

Laos is more fair. They rip you off in plain sight by charging you more then a dollar a day up front and as signed. I know that does not sound like much from where you are reading this but I come from the premise that a simple 30 day visa should be a 1.3 minute single stamp procedure followed by the above stated welcoming sentence. For free.

Then there is China. I am there now so I obviously got through the scrutiinizing. Thumbs up to the Laotian employees of the Chinese embassy in Vientiane. They are nice, there are no long lines (due to the fact that almost no-one ventures from S-E Asia to the Peoples Republic) and their system is straightforward. Although I still don't understand why they can not except my $ 32,- at the embassy and find it necessary to send me to some bank somewhere to put it in their account. At maybe ten visa applications a day, god forbid you would have $ 400,- sitting in your office that is fully glassed off and in a guarded building with a three meter high wall around it. Much better to send all those that are complete strangers in the town to an unknown location where the staff does not speak their language to deposit the fee. Or am I now spoiling the fun of traveling? Those $ 32,- give you the right to play around in China for 30 days. Where ever you want. As long as you end up at either an airport or an office of the so-called PSB, the Public Security Bureau. They know China is big so you can extend your visa twice at these PSB offices. Sort of. You see, the name 'extension' is not technically correct. 'Renewal' is better. This means that they will not add-on 30 days when you apply but simply void your old visa and give you a new one. In 5 working days which is, of course, in normal peoples talk, a week. During that week you can not leave town, or so they reckon, and definitely not go far. So what you really get when you 'extend' is 23 days minus the days that you are extending too early. For example if the day your old visa expires falls in a weekend. Every extension costs an other $ 25,-. This is the easy part though, it gets better further on.

Should I have prepared better you might ask? I ask myself the same but then the counter question is; 'how?'. Visas are normally granted for three months. This means that I would have to apply for the visas after China IN China. As said, I am in Chengdu which lies in the middle. All the embassies are in the capital of Beijing, which doesn't. So, if I do not (and I don't) want to spend two weeks of traveling, by train, to the north east of the country to apply for a visa for some country, these are my options: 

India: I wanted to go there, I wanted to cut through a tiny corner of China, go straight through Myanmar and then from the far east of India to the far west, into Pakistan. You can't. Myanmar is off limits in every possible way. Except for flying in and flying out which is not very 'over-landish'. So I had to go further into China to go around Myanmar. 'Tibet?' you might say but due to endless squirmish and people setting themselves on fire in an attempt to free their country, that 'province', as the Chinese see it, or 'country' as the Tibetans see it, if off limits for tourists. End of story. There is one possible exception and that is that you find four nationals of your own country (what difference does it make, pure discrimination) and join a guided tour with guide and vehicle with driver who can then take you by the hand and around the country making sure you do not take pictures of all the wrong things that are going on there. No thanks. On the side, a quote from a Chinese who traveled to Lhasa: 'really weird, there are NO foreigners in the city'. No shit Sherlock.

So India can't be reached. Next;

Bhutan and Nepal are shielded off by Tibet. And Tibet is shielded off by a lot of military.

Pakistan: Nope. A copy-paste from the website of the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad: "Foreign nationals can only apply for Pakistan visa from their country of origin OR from the place of legal permanent residence. Request for visas of a THIRD COUNTRY origin will be decided only by the Ambassador / High Commissioner / Head of Mission / Consulate" There is however, a consulate for Pakistan here in Chengdu. The nice gentlemen over there are getting to know me by now since I have bothered them a bit to see if I can get a visa. They are sceptical but claim none the less that they have mailed my application twice already and that they will call me as soon as they hear more. They mail this to Pakistan btw. Why the consul general can't deal with this himself or why they can't send it to Beijing and let the embassy decide I don't know. I do know that they claim that it will take a month. I am not going to wait here for that time so if (IF) I mysteriously get the visa granted, and I would be the first according to an informed friend of mine, then I have to send my passport from where ever I am to the consulate, they put a sticker in it and then send it to a place where I will be in a a few days. Circumstantial? Not at all...  Next up;

Tajikistan: No place to apply for a visa, no VOA and you need a letter of invitation.

Kyrgystan: No place to apply for a visa, no VOA.

Kazakhstan: Ah! That is not completely impossible because if you go to the very north of China, to a place called Urumqi, you will find a consulate where you can apply for the kazakhstan visa. From there then I can go to a town where I can get the visa for Kyrgyzstan, from the capital of that I can apply for a visa for Uzbekistan (Letter of invitation provided by Uzbek travel agency, for $ 35,-). Once in Uzbekistan I would have to make a detour to the capital of Tashkent to apply for a 5 day transit visa to get past the 500km of Turkmenistan which borders, finally, with Iran. The Iranian visa is, supposedly, not very hard to get. One can apply online. Except for that the website is down and that their first question will be where I would like to pick-up the visa (which consulate/embassy) and I don't know that because I don't know from where I will enter Iran. AHHHHHH !!! So I can't apply for that yet. But Kazakhstan is sooo far to the north...

Of course I could forfit. One option would be that I say 'screw you' to everything in the south and hack it through Kazakh, Russia, Ukraine into Europe. Possible but a lame route and a bit of a shame for my friend who has just bought a bicycle with panniers and claims to be training so that he can join me while cycling through Iran. He lands in Shiraz the 31st of may. No pressure....

Option two would be to sit with a cranky face for seven days in a train that covers the north of Russia and exit as a loser in Moscow. Let's keep that one as a very last resort....

After all this, maybe you can understand the warm feelings I harbour for immigration rules in this part of the world. Of course I am spoiled. Somewhere halfway my childhood the bigger part of Europe, my playground, decided that borders were indeed mere lines on the map and that yes, we needed to have our passports with us when we crossed them but showing them to someone, pfff, lot of hassle. So we cruise at 120km/h into any country around us. I am also spoiled because on the cover of my passport it says 'Koninkrijk der Nederlanden' and not 'Tsjikki-Wokkie land'. This means that of all the shit they can throw at you at borders, I get the smallest heap. Lucky as I am though, it still annoys me. Sorry.

In a perfect world I will get a phone call this week telling me that it's all OK for Paki and have a nice trip. It is the best country; most interesting, least hassle, best route and weather and I will be in time to meet up with my mate in Iran. Maybe I should just invest in a big bag of mints and see if I can make a lonely border guard happy on the highest international border crossing in the world, the Khunjerab Pass between China and Pakistan. I really want to go there!! But with a sticker in my passport please, not with a bag of mints...

 

TBC

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 09 November 2012 04:50

5 months on a boat, an eyewitness report.

Between the 13th of may and the 28th of October 2012 I lived on a 44ft catamaran with two other men. Together we sailed from Cairns in Australia to the southern tip of Malaysia, a journey of nearly 3700 nautical miles or 6600km. I had never sailed before nor had I ever met the two others. We were strangers and were now to spend nearly half a year in very close proximity on a home-built boat that had everything it needed for big blue-water crossings, but not too much more. This story should give you a small insight in what it was like.

'Basic' (but sturdy) would be a word to describe our boat, especially compared to the common standard for yachts or to the common image people have of sailing-boats. I am not however, going to complain. I like to think that I do not need a lot of luxury, I like 'functional' and although I shall admit that I was not always overjoyed with everything the boat had to offer, what remains is a very happy and thankful memory of having sailed right through the heart of Indonesia. In good company, with all the freedom that having your own floating house has to offer. If you want, you may envy me.

I say Indonesia but of course the trip started in Australia. In fact, half the time we had, we spend in Australian waters. I know Australia, or so I like to think. I have done the obligatory year of backpacking in the nineties, I have seen the infamous red-center and circumnavigated the entire continent in my own four-wheel drive. And this was all before I landed there again in the end of October last year. This time though, I got to see it from the water and we went to places that would be called remote, even by Australian standards.

Like I said, I had never sailed before so I had not really a good idea of what was waiting for me. My choice to embark on this trip was an easy one though: I had to. At least, if I wanted to stick to my 'going home overland' plan.

First things first; easy to say you want to travel by boat but where does the boat come from??

Well: from the internet. I had made the most beautiful flyer and hung it up in every marina I could find between Brisbane and Cairns but in the end it was a little profile I made on a website that did the trick. You see, apparently, it is not so strange for yacht-owners to invite total strangers to come along for a sail on their boats. And apparently it is not so strange for little adventurers like myself to go around marinas and forwardly ask for a free ride. Why? Well, if you put the right people together, they need each other. Let me give you an example:

I know of an Australian man who has spend 15 years building his own boat in a shed behind his house and who has launched that boat a few years ago, named 'Masquerade'. It floated and now that he has stopped work, aged 65, he wants to see more of the world. He reckons he's going to Thailand. The problem is that he is alone and of all the people he knows, no one can commit to months of sailing at the time and sailing a boat like his all this way just by yourself is tricky. Actually, it is downright impossible. So, he puts a little note up on a website called 'findacrew'. A site specifically erected for boaties who want to get in touch with one an other. In fact, you don't have to search yourself, the site puts people with the same criteria together and sends messages to those who match. Rather clever. And practical. Here, this man finds among a few other profiles two characters that stand out: one guy from New Zealand; a sailing man with great ambitions of traveling for years, all over the world, not entirely sure where yet. But his trip has to start with sails up. And an other guy who is some kind of bum, has no idea of sailing, seen half the world but can't afford proper transport and is now traveling by bicycle claiming to ride it home. These two the skipper approaches, asking if they feel like joining him on his journey over the top of Australia, through Indonesia. All the way up to Phuket in Thailand. They happily accept.

In fact: he made my day!

It had not been to easy, or promising, to find a boat, so when I was riding somewhere along a random dusty highway and my phone rang with this question, I did not know how quickly to say 'yes please!' It did however call for a shift in my plans. As a non-sailor, I purely saw the boat part of my trip as transport. For me a week would have been enough. Practical as I am, my reasoning went no further then: I need to get out of Australia, into Indonesia and then I will island-hop with the local ferries and make my way across the country and into Singapore like that. Had there been a ferry (or cargo-ship of some sort) between Darwin and West-Timor, the shortest crossing, I would not have bothered with the whole sailing thing at all. But there isn't, so I had to. And so began a 24 week boat-trip, not a one-week one.

I saw David in February. I rode up from Townsville and met him in the marina. He showed me the boat and we talked about the travel-schedule. Given the vast number of boats I could choose from for my goal and given my enormous experience in sailing, I did not care to much about the, quite clear, 'limited luxury' that shone through aboard. I wouldn't say spartan though, that would go far. For example; the seating surfaces had cushions on them. They were, however, too upright, outside and you couldn't stretch you legs in front of you. But the cushions made all the difference between our seats and the ones you would find in the back of, for instance, an army personnel carrier.

I was also appointed two beds! Well, one bed really, cut in half and the two halves were about 5 meters from each other. One was slightly narrower then my shoulders and was located in the starboard hull. The other was slightly wider then my shoulder-width and was located up on the deck in something that had lovingly attracted the name 'bus-stop'. Later other nicknames popped up such as 'the penthouse', 'cave', 'sea-view-cabin' and 'coffin'. This outside 'one could sleep there' location would become my bed for the next 150+ nights. By comparison, Matt the aforementioned kiwi-guy and other crew, had the front half of the port-hull with his own sitting area, a more-then-full-size-actual-bed and some good storage space. But I am not complaining, after all, my bed also had a cushion. And I am tougher anyway... :-)

May came and we met up next to the dinghy in the Cairns marina. We shook hands, looked at each other and said: "well, that's us for the next 5 months". Dinghies, btw, are little boats, made form rubber or aluminium, that are used to go from an anchored yacht to shore, and back. They are usually propelled by a small out-board engine. Ours wasn't. We had to row. Matt said that was a surprising feature. It wouldn't be the last time I heard him use those words regarding certain commodities on board.

After getting acquainted with the boat and making ourselves comfortable, well Matt did, we did a months worth of shopping, three shopping trolleys full, hid all of it in compartments around the galley and lifted the anchor. An exciting moment! Not in the last place for me, as I had never worked or been on one of these things. And I get seasick.

Now, I won't bore you with how slow I learned, which beautiful or boring islands and bays we saw nor with wind-speeds or sail-positions. I will say that in the first month of sailing I fed the fish just as often as they fed us: twice. We fished everyday but like someone else said; "if you try to live off the ocean, you die". At least they were two beautiful tuna we caught.

I had to get used to sailing. The slow speed annoyed me. Waiting for wind annoyed me. My bed sucked (I did get rained on in it) and the food was obviously just there to keep us alive. When at anchor we had one unit of transportation among the three of us and stubborn swimming between the boat and shore was out of the question because Australia's top half is ridden with those really big swimming snapper-lizards. All of this took some adaptation from someone who is used to going 100% his own way and being able to change plans and directions overnight without having to consult anyone. Except for his bank-account maybe.

But, as always, the medal has two sides; Sailing, wind permitting, gives you the opportunity of going where ever you like, yet not very fast, and when you arrive you simply drop a big metal hook into the water and you're set. You're house is right there with you with all the comforts that come with it. And even if it doesn't have a shower. Or a toilet. Or a fridge. Like ours, it is still very nice that you don't have to worry about anything really important and can set off straight away to explore the new place.

In the 2300 or so kilometers between Cairns and Darwin, we enjoyed most of the time the constant power of the trade-winds that blow here in this time of year. Which means easy and predictable propulsion, for free, and not too many worries about re-setting the sails and such. We simply raised them in the morning and left them there. Easy. Also boring. Hours and hours I've spent hopefully looking backwards at the fishing line hoping for a meal. Until I gave up on it. Stupid fish.

The most memorable part, sailing-wise, was the crossing from Thursday Island to the Wessel Islands, over the top of the gulf of Carpenteria. Here we had very strong side winds. 'Good!' you may think, you'd go nice and fast. That's correct but it also means that the two meter high waves hit our little boat with extra force, side-on, and managed to flow all over the deck and, more annoyingly, into the cockpits. We were soaked. This crossing took 3 days and two nights and especially my shift on the first night was spend between ducking and dodging waves coming over, stuffing that up and then half shiveringly waiting for the wind to blow-dry me. Repeat process. And in the end this will be the story I tell most...

For more stories and a few images on this part of the trip I would like to direct you to the picture department elsewhere on this website.

So, via a string of 20 anchorages and one month later, we arrived in Darwin, capital of The Northern Territory. And would stay there for 6 weeks. Darwin I hád seen before, twice, and I had no particular inclination to go there again. It is small, hot and the only reason it is on the map is that there is nothing around it within 1000km. No really. Also it meant we were still in Australia, which is a very expensive country for a traveler. We stayed here for so long because we did not know how long it would take to sail here, made good time and were now waiting for a sailing-rally to start; Sail-Indonesia. Previously David had doubted joining this rally but all sorts of advantages, most of them having to do with them taking care of all the red-tape involved in bringing a yacht into Indo, had convinced him to do so. So, stuck we were. Also, due to David's motto 'when in doubt, anchor out' we anchored so far away from the beach that I was wondering when we would set sail for our last day till Darwin. And our dinghy still didn't have an outboard. Much to the amusement of the rest of the fleet amongst which we were now anchored. David 'quite liked rowing' as he said and to a certain point I can agree with him. But it is nice to choose to row, not to have to. And there were several occasions that we really got to enjoy ourselves because sometimes, no exaggeration, the wind was strong that even when we were rowing an empty dinghy with two man abreast, we were still going absolutely nowhere.

Luckily, after three weeks of daily rowing up and down to shore/shops/shower/life, it was time to scrub the hulls of Masquerade. The good thing of a catamaran is that when it runs out of water, it doesn't fall over, like a mono-hull. So on high tide we went really close to the beach dropped the anchor and waited for the water to subside. We were now sitting on the beach and could walk to and from the boat for most of the day. We all liked this so much that we stayed there until on day before the rally. Much to the amusement of the other sailors again.

And it wasn't just the rowing we missed out on now: Darwin has an extreme tidal-flux of a maximum of 10 (!) meters and the sea-floor drops away very gradually. This means that if you row (or motor) in with your dinghy and put it up on the beach at high-tide you will learn to time your return to it well. Of course we learned this the hard way and one night, after a few refreshing drinks in a local billabong, Matt and I had gotten it exactly... wrong. Upon arrival back at the beach we stood next to the dinghy and the sea had so retracted so far that we could not see it. It sucked. Now we had to carry our heavy aluminium bathtub for almost a kilometer (!!!) before it would float. On the upside of course; we did not have to row so far now....

The Darwin time passed and by the 28th of July the grand day had finally come: I would leave Australia, over'land' and with my bicycle. Even though it was sitting in a box on deck. We had cleared out with customs the day before a now we were ready to cross our biggest leg ever; 470NM to Kupang. The capital of West-Timor. The winds were very favorable and after exactly 68 hours we lay-ed eyes on our first out of many stops in Indonesia. For Matt and me this was cool, we reckoned this place would bring us lots of great adventures but, to be honest, I didn't think much more of it. For David though, it would have been a bit different. After 15 years of building and various trials and tribulations in his home-waters, now was the moment; he sailed, on his own boat, for the first time onto foreign land. He had never been outside of Australia.

Kupang was what you would expect: a functional town supplying to all needs of poor and rich of the surrounding area. Loud, messy, full of little motor-bikes and everywhere you go people say 'hello mister' and 'where are you going?' something that annoyed the hell out of me within 24h. Damn those people who are trying to be so nice, they couldn't be more irritating if they tried. Not the constant repeating of exactly the same too-personal question I what gets to you as much. It is the fact that the exact thing that winds you up, is the exact thing by which they are trying to be nice. And you can't really yell at someone for being nice, can you? It reminded me of when I spend time in the rainforest with the Shiwiars, their way of being welcoming was force feeding you their awful local drink. It never ended. At least 'hello mister' doesn't give you a hard, bloated stomach...

So anyway, we instantly lóved Indonesia. Small details like personal questions, never knowing what exactly you have on your plate and a consistent absence of toilet paper aside, it's a great place. People are friendly, let's say 'interested' in you(r life) and it's safe as fek. Prices are of such an extend that half the time you feel giving them notes is just a formality, a ritual if you like and many a time have I looked at people with a mix of surprise and disbelieve when the told me how much something cost. Really? You will 'rent' me this motorbike for € 3,- a day? Not per hour? Sure? OK.

I have tried to bring across feelings like these in various picture folders, this is supposed to be about the sailing now.

Living on a small area of 8x8 meters, with barely any indoor space and with a few facilities missing that other people may find essential is not always easy. But, let me put this first, we have done very well. You may not believe me when I say this but it is possible for three strangers with plenty of differences to live in close proximity without shedding any blood. In fact, not a single word of discontent was spoken. And we all did our part for that. Dave was the captain so anything he deemed safe of necessary had to happen. He in his turn, especially after mutual trust had grown, asked us what we wanted or how we would do things. Matt became sailing master and I was in charge of fishing. The sailing went well under Matt's enthusiastic lead but I am afraid the fishing was less successful. I tried every lure we had, played with line-length, speed, deep/shallow water and bait but all to no avail. I shall wholeheartedly testify to whoever wants to hear it that mankind officially has fished the oceans empty. 3 tuna, a small shark and one Spanish Mackerel in 5 months is pretty pathetic. Praying for fish would have gotten us a higher success-rate.

As said, Matt had sailed before and it was interesting for me as a learner to be between the two others. They say there can't be two captains on one ship so it was nice to follow the process of them two sorting out who was right. Obviously, as a novice, not restricted by any preconceived knowledge of sailing whatsoever, I too was quite often right, most of the time guided by something called 'common sense', but I felt the boat didn't need a third captain so I stuck to quietly thinking 'told you so' to my self. Even though I hadn't actually.

Comfort was a big thing on board. Or actually, it wasn't; the lack of it was. I could prove and summarize this by saying that the fold-up deck-chair from the local DIY store that I bought was by fár the most comfortable place to sit anywhere on board. But it is a lot more fun to elaborate, so I will.

For example; I bet you any money that when I say 'cruising-yacht', you think 'money'. Right? The two go hand in hand. Someone put it this way: 'boat' stands for 'Bring An Other Thousand'. I say 'yacht', you think cruisy sailing in a steady wind with one hand on the wheel and a cold drink in the other. And at night you sleep in a crisp berth, gently rocked to sleep and cooled by a very light breeze. Could be. But: it turns out there are different ways of sailing... I am not talking about those round the world sailors who spend nights on the helm engulfed by waves and not changing their underwear for 68 days. Nor about the Volvo-Ocean-Racers who eat with plastic cutlery to save weight. No, I am talking about some of the other 99% percent of the sailing community. People who think that sailing around the world in two years is 'pretty fast' (I nearly died when I read that) and who scour every foreign port they pull into for their staple diet of toast and cheese. Early pensioners who either fly their children over to spend a few weeks with them or who will ship their boat (yes, boats get shipped) back to their home country because the don't fancy sailing it too much.

Most of these people will have spend a considerable amount of money to begin with and will have more sitting somewhere because sailing simply ain't cheap. Generally. But there are shortcuts. And Dave had found most, if not all, of them...

Starting at the beginning; you don't buy a boat, you build it. One buys a $ 2000,- design from a renowned builder (Granger in our case), buys a whole heap of cedar-wood, plywood and epoxy and starts cracking. David took 15 years but that was more to do with finance, family, other work etc. In the end, hours left out of the equation, he had a 44ft ocean going catamaran, fully rigged, for under $100.000,-. Fair play I say.

During our sail we spoke to plenty of other people and it seemed they had lots of problems that we were spared: Their second fridge had broken down. Their toilet was blocked. The auto-pilot had given in and there were even some poor souls, god help them, who's de-salinator had stopped working. The reason that we were spared any of these problems all together was that we had none of those things...

We ate canned food, our toilet was a bucket (stainless steel, yes sir!), we hand-steered all the way and we had a bunch of water jerrycans scattered all around the boat. And in case you were wondering, we showered by: one bucket salt water, soap-down, second bucket salt water, two liters of fresh water. This was a particularly fun system in the less remote areas where you had to be careful not to scoop up a nappy when you hauled-up the bucket of sea-water.

Add to this the absence of the dinghy outboard engine, the not having an electrical anchor winch (heavy), the not having of a paper-chart table and my less then accommodating berth and you can imagine that Matt and I sometimes enviously looked at those who could have a cold drink after a long day of not having hand-steered their boat. At the same time we marveled with a mix of disbelieve and respect at David who apparently had yet to be introduced to the concept of ergonomics, creature-comforts and efficiency. And he didn't seem to mind. Having said that; everything was built over-size and therefor rock solid which gives a secure feeling. Also for all the necessary boat stuff there was a spare and the tools to replace whatever had to be. Mostly rusty tools but that's what you get in a salt water environment. As our stainless steel poo bucket proved...

As David pointed out, ever the optimist, Masquerade was a good boat for me to learn sailing on. No push-button action but fair and honest hands-on mechanics. Yes, well, it was also a good boat to learn how to manually pull a 40kg anchor plus 20m of 10mm chain out of the mud, how to snake yourself into bed via an obstacle course of dinghy, canvas-flap, spare-anchor and bike-box and I also got pretty good at hanging on for dear life with one hand while trying to zip down and relieve myself of the back of a raging catamaran with the other hand as we didn't have any guardrails or safety lines of some sort. y next boat would feel só luxurious, David pointed out. Indeed; if the galley has a tap, it wins.

Now, I whinge and none of the above was made up. Not even exaggerated. But in the end of the day, who gets to sail for 5 months to and through the most beautiful and remote waters, in good company and spirits, for free? I'm just saying.

Wás it for free? Almost. We all paid for our own food but you have to eat anyway. The only thing that cost me was my share in the petrol we burned up when there was no wind. This amount had prior to departure been estimated at $ 400,- which was exactly what it cost in the end. Let me do the math for you: 5+ months, 6600km, $ 400,- = 6 cents/km or $ 2,50 per day. Affordable for transport and accommodation. Unfortunately the much anticipated 'living off the ocean' thing did not pull through but pancakes for breakfast and pasta with tinned tuna for dinner doesn't cost an arm and a leg. And not having a fridge meant that when we díd catch a good fish, we had to absolutely stuff ourselves before it would go off which tempered my fresh-fish-desire for a few days after...

Then last but not least; the psychology. True to form I had no idea what I threw myself into. Under the logic of 'how hard can it be?' and 'why would I not be able to do this?' I had gotten myself in a situation that was sometimes great, sometimes a bit tough on the mind. Apparently, I have a strong opinion. I deny that; as it happens, I just know a little bit better what would be a good thing to do. Traveling alone is perfect for these sort of people. But I wasn't alone. Sailing, or 'being marooned on this stupid white raft' as I called it in my happy-moods, was definitely more of a class for the psyche than in any other aspect. Sure I know now 100% more about sailing then before and my English has probably improved but the by far and beyond bigger challenge was mentally putting things in their right places. For example, it took me ages to adapt to the Kiwi/Aussie way of speaking which, incidentally, is a far more common way of communicating world-wide then the Dutch way. What you say is: 'are you sure that is the best way to do it and have you considered other possibilities?'. Rather then: 'What you're doing is stupid, here let me show you how it's done'. What the world has against this honest and efficient way of communicating, I don't know but it sure gets you a whole range of funny responses (all equally indirect and vague) if you persist with it. This whole thing can be summarized by the following: I spoke to someone who said that in my culture conflict must be a normal thing. I thought about it and concluded that what for her felt as conflict, merely was confrontation. It only becomes conflict when you take offense. Wisely, I did not confront her with that as she would no doubt have found that very conflicting. Anyway, I tried to address this but only made it halfway I think. There was more. Dealing with aforementioned lack of a place to just kick back. Dealing with the small range of food items which led to remarkably similar meals day-in, day-out. And most of all; not being able to do what you want. I had enthusiastically and gratefully committed to nearly half a year on this boat whereas I should know by now that I get bored with things after two weeks to a month. I had to tell myself over and over that what I wanted would come and that I would look back on this sailing trip for the rest of my life with a longing to go back to it. And it's true. Already now that I have left the boat for less then a week do I remember the laughs we had much more then my grumpy times. I treasure the adventures and am turning the boring times into funny stories. It is weird, for so long I was surrounded by these two former strangers who I now know so well and now they're gone. I won't say I deeply miss them but they are definitely not forgotten either. David gambled very well by selecting his two crew-members. Matt and I got along right from the start and became really good friends over the course of time. We did nearly all the excursions away from the boat together and never had a falling out. We were sort of differently similar. If that makes sense. And Matt is a patient boy, that helps. Dave had to grow on me but I don't mean that negatively at all. For one he is older and we had a few other differences but I have always felt a mutual respect and a bond that grew right to the last day when we parted with a short, strong and meaningful handshake. 'See ya later. Bye'.

Being with three was a good thing anyway, that way two can always chat while the third one recluses. Or you can vent little annoyances to the third one rather then having to work everything out. Most of the time it's nothing anyway.

I didn't make it all the way to Phuket by the way. It became clear at an early moment that my preferred travel speed did not match that of the other two. Fair enough. They somehow seemed to think we were here to have a really good look around and take it all in with deep breaths. Whereas my lingering was merely accidental. I had just spend two years of larding around waterfalls and foreign cities, I was on my way home and there was a lot to go so lets hurry. This didn't work. Once again it didn't create stress on board but we did wisely come to the conclusion that it'd be best to make an adjusted plan. Originally we were to arrive in Phuket in October but the men are now pushing December. It became Singapore for me. That way I could sail all the long overnighters, which is not fun if you're just two on board. I could also help navigate the straights around Singapore. Only the busiest shipping channel in the world. After that, those two would sail on and I would start riding up through Malaysia and onward. Apart from that I longed for something else, it also meant I would start riding from the very tip of the Eur-Asian continent. And that's cool.

So maybe, in the end, I did not really become a sailing boy then. But I don't spit on it either and am definitely keeping I open as a future method of transport. But I think that's what it will always be. Until I reach that certain age perhaps...

To David, Matt and Masquerade; thanks, it's been a pleasure and... catch ya later.  

Thursday, 30 August 2012 08:26

Crossing from Australia to Indonesia, more then just a geographical divide...

 

Some 28 months ago I left Holland to see places on our globe that are distinctly different from my home country. Then I ended up in Australia. I wanted a change, after 18 months in the Latin-American countries I felt it was time to swap locations. The Spanish, the local way of life and different culture had become the new norm and once again was I looking for change. Australia may not seem like the most likely place to go look for new impulses. Especially not if you've been there twice before... Wealthy countries present their own challenges for the money conscious traveler though as well as the adaptation back into, and the acceptance of, the complacent, and dare I say decadent, way of life that is synonymous to western countries. Just like my own.

I did not just randomly fly into Australia to see what would happen. I have surpassed the level of the backpacker who comes to work and party (thank you 1999), nor do I feel the need to explore the nooks and crannies of the continent as I have been lucky enough to be able to cross that off as well (thank you 2007). So what then? The excuse to come to this side of the world  was the world championship adventure racing, the real attraction lay in seeing if I could make it back home half way across the world without using a plane. Actually, give or take a few little exceptions, it looks like I will make it back home without using an engine. Although of course, I am not quite there yet...

It may have transpired by now that shall mainly use a bicycle for transportation, except for the wet bits where a sail-boat seems the handier solution. Starting in Tasmania I first had some 4000km to ride before I could head for the seas. I saw it as a warm-up. A good start of a long journey through 3 continents. A journey that, in my head, would only start from the mainland of Eur-Asia onward. It took me 40 days of actual riding to cover the distance but in time it took me from half november to half may. 6 months so to say, or 180 days. So, what happened in the 140 days I wasn't rolling? Well, not much and a lot at the same time. Nothing to write home about perhaps; hang out with friends, see national parks and some considerable time was spend in Townsville where I found such a comfortable environment that I was strongly inclined to park-up for a while. Singled out, all really nice and warming experiences but it's when you put them in a row that they add up to quite an amazing list consisting of a mix of great nature, lots of tarmac, some racing but most of all just spending time with new people I now call friends. I also got to see my close family in New Zealand again which was a treat as we don't get to spend much time together typically.

Nine months I stayed in this part of the world, eight in Australia, one in New Zealand. A journey in itself perhaps but for me it still merely felt like transit. My heart still lies with the more chaotic countries, the new ones, the differences. I should stress though that this says nothing about the great and lovely people I have met between Hobart and Darwin. I treasure every encounter and will never forget how all of you have made my time an incredible one. Such was the hospitality and enthusiasm I have found here, for example, that of all 270 nights I spent, I only had to find paid-for- accommodation for ten of them. I have seen a new side of Australia; the inside. And it's great! By not locking myself up in hostels or isolating myself in a camper-car, I 'had' to meet people and mingle. I spend normal day to day life with the locals, almost leveling out with them. Except for that little detail of course, of them having jobs and me not. This; the not spending money in an expensive country, the pedaling of a loaded bicycle through the heat and the constant flux of new faces with whom I automatically try to connect, those things made the challenge in this part of my travel. An interesting change from the bus-propelled, overwhelming latin experience that is South-America. I think that these two parts together should see me well prepared for the 20.000km of contact with the local people from Indonesia to Belgium.And I can't wait!

Speaking of Indonesia... Where in a skeptical mood I could sometimes call Australia 'boring', in Indonesia that word definitely has no place. It is.... quite different. And awesome! Someone summarized the spirit of this country with the line: 'it is impossible, but it can be arranged'. An other one is: 'as hospitable as it is chaotic'. The combination of these two should give you a good idea of what it is like to be here. And that is exactly what I like so much about it here and about other countries with similar characteristics. People have less but are all the more friendlier for it. For those who think that that is because they want your money; you're wrong. Also the lack of rules, or at least the enforcement of them, is right up my alley. It gives you that certain sense of... freedom. Yes; traffic is chaotic, but no car has a dent in it. No; there are no signs warning you for holes in the road, because people can think for themselves. And becáuse of the lack of social security, people look after one an other. Irony defined...

In other words; it is great to be back. Back in the lands of 'what the hell are they saying?!' Back at 'when are you guys going to grow that last foot or so?' And yes, I do appreciate that my dinner costs     $ 2.- again. Interesting too to note some differences. I do not consider myself a seasoned traveler at all. That would be too arrogant I think. After all; what  have I done? Disrespectfully throwing those few latin-american countries on one heap (because they are, on global scale, quite similar), this is effectively only the second third-world country that I see so I can hardly call myself an expert. Arriving here, in the south-west of the archipelago, I automatically started comparing here to 'there', to my only comparable bench-mark. It's a fun game. Some (many) trades are definitely mutual ones. I suppose humanity world-wide comes to the same conclusions when faced with similar problems. Issues that the western world has 'solved', a process with not just advantages, and that when reminded off, seem strange and alien to the westerner. So, Ferries and buses are not 'full' when all seats are taken but when they are actually FULL. Cars that work are by definition road-worthy. Having six identical stalls of something in 200m of street dóes make sense. I had a bit of a go at this in an earlier post from Ecuador. In 'our' eyes, it doesn't make sense because you'll be each others competitor. If everyone sells apples, why not sell bananas? Here, were there are no bananas, the sixth vendor just takes a little business from the other five. Everyone has work, no one dies with hunger. Same for the 'useless' second man on buses, the person holding open an open door in a shop and the people packing your groceries into plastic bags in the supermarket. Oh hold on, that last one is western. But still useless.

Long story short; there is a secret to what we call 'hidden unemployment'. It is called 'survival'. I saw it over there and I see it here again. If only I could switch off that stupid Dutch, efficiency-minded brain that keeps being bugged by it...

Other similarities? Yes, the Dutch are indeed the tallest people. Or at least these guys are not going to prove that theory wrong. The response to it is different though; where in, say, Ecuador, the people just stare (an other common trade apparently), here they háve to get their picture taken with you. Luckily not thát bad that they stop you in the streets but I don't think I have escaped one camera of local people I have had more then three minutes conversation with. Indonesians are not shy. It is actually kind of fun, we are not in a hurry anyway. Also the fact that the inevitability seems to grow if the other party is female makes the situation more acceptable again... The effect might weaken if/when we hit more frequented areas tourism wise (West-Timor is Indonesia's forgotten corner) but for now it is fine to be a pop-star. Including the being a millionaire part: 10.000,- Rupiah = $ 1,-

People are friendly, interested in where you are from, when you are going back there and what the hell you are doing in the mean time?! After all; the ocean is a dangerous place, why would you go there for your leisure and don't you have to work or something? When you get to know people better,  conversation inevitably, and understandably, comes to money and the cost of things. I hate it when they do that because it makes me feel like a very decadent and overly privileged young man. Which I am but that doesn't mean they have to rub it in my face. The standard story is to explain that yes, we have more money but things also cost a lot more in our country. Therefore, end of the day, we are not rich as such, we only benefit abroad. This story only holds up if you can then change the subject quickly to something else because of course it is as thin as one-night ice on a canal in Amsterdam. The truth is that there is no excuse. But I just can't tell people that I bought a bicycle worth a years salary and can afford to ride it home for 18 months just for fun. I just can't. Let alone elaborate on what went on before that. Or on how long for I will have to pay off my debt for this trip.

So far I absolutely love Indonesia. It is interesting, even better then I expected and it is just too cool how easy it is to get contact with the local people. Just this morning for example, we had the chance to go to a local junior high-school and see them practice the dances they will perform for the celebration of independence day (when those bloody Dutch finally left) next week. We were invited by their english teachers who we had randomly met in a restaurant. They thought it a good opportunity for the students to speak with a 'native speaker' (I've been upgraded). It was a treat for us to have a little look behind the scenes of Indonesian society but it became very clear real quick that we were not the only ones having a good look; the teachers room were we were hosted had windows all around it (imagine that at home) and for the duration of our stay an average of 20 young students were glued to them like we were the last specimen of a nearly extinct exotic species. It was the funniest thing ever and I have to repeat; Indonesians are NOT shy.

To help the process of mutual exchange of background along, I have embarked on a dedicated program of studies of the local language, Bahasa Indonesia, because I find it frustrating that I can't even have a little shopping conversation in the local language. 'Anda bisa berbicara bahasa Inggris' is just such an embarrassing question to ask. Luckily it is a very simple language to learn without conjugation, tenses or tones. Let's see how far I get.

Although traveling by boat is not always ideal, the benefits out-weigh the nuisances. It is easy to complain about a whole heap of things but typically those should be all forgotten when this adventure turns from 'current' to 'memory' and what remains are all the good sides of this way of travel. The big one being, need I emphasize this, the fact that you can go anywhere you want and that when you do, you always have your home right there with you. In a country consisting of 17.000 islands a boat almost seems like the only sensible way to travel through it. Especially if you want to go to places less traveled which, luckily, all aboard do. And even though we dó also go to the bigger and more famous ones like Flores, Bali and Kalimantan (Borneo), we still get to pick those little hidden bays where one  can find the unpolished beauty of authentic Indonesia. Combined with the fact that I can sometimes go off-board with my bicycle to explore some of the inland, I would say that in the eleven weeks we shall spend here I may rightfully so feel privileged with yet an other amazing travel experience.

Of course the trip won't end by the time we reach Singapore in the middle of October. Many people ask me about the how and where next. I'm not sure. Not entirely that is. I want to go home, yes, and relatively quickly. I can tell you the rough sketch; I wanted to go through Myanmar but they do not allow land-border-crossings. This presents me with a new challenge; that of riding around it. It is a bit 'in the way' though. The extended route now then sparks, after Malaysia and Thailand; Cambodia, Laos, China, India. I am not sure about the Himalayas yet. I would love to cross them but it being rather winter-ish around the time I should be there, feels like a little deterrent. Weak, I know.  Then  I reach a bit of a cross-roads: either go up, through the 'Stans', or keep going on the same latitude through Pakistan and Iran. Political situations will have a hand in that decision I suppose. I would like to come out via Turkey though to take advantage of the better weather in the south of Europe.  Am I running ahead of myself here? Probably. But I need some handhold to go by right? In the end it comes down to a big portion of 'we'll see'. Crap as an answer but perfect for the traveler... Same goes for the arrival date; nice and vague. The intention to push on is there but estimations of arrival are based on hopes rather then insight. My motivation is double sided: not only am I running out of money so that I kind of háve to go home, but also do I feel that the estimated three years of travel will be enough. At some point you know, 'work', 'normal' life and having a home become the 'new' things on the horizon.

I am sure though, that once there, it will all be boring soon enough again. Luckily there will be a few countries left I haven't seen yet...

 

Thanks for reading and till the next one! Selamat tinggal!

 

Raijua Island, 15-08 2012.

Monday, 16 April 2012 03:40

GODZone Adventure Race

 

 

For those of you aspiring to do a 522km endurance race without your own gear and with 3 people you've never met before; get right into it, piece of cake...

 

As some of you may have deducted by now; I kind of like adventure racing. You may also realize that it is hard to participate in these kind of races while you are living out of four panniers and spend half your time in solitide camping behind a tree and the other half with people you have met a week before and who are therefor, for now, your best friends. Sometimes though, you can get a sweet luck of the draw and you will have the opportunity to slide right into that lucky slot and bend the rules of logic. This is the, hopefully short, report of one of these rare occasions....

 

I am in Australia. I ride a bicycle from south to north. I am on a visa, that is now running out but my boat to Thailand doesn't go yet. Enter the back-up plan.

Since I have already extended my visa once without leaving the country, the Australian government has now really had it with me, does not want any more of my tourist money and I have to leave. I can come back any time and whenever I want. No worries. I have family in New Zealand, which is close, and the timing is perfect for being involved in the new but very promising GODZone adventure race held in the south there. A ticket is easily booked. Return, which immediately gets my into trouble at the airport (I should have known this); "sorry we can not allow you on this flight because you do not have a visa back into Australia" Me: " I am aware of that, it's the whole bloody reason that we are talking together in the fist place" them: "I undersand sir but you will have to buy a new ticket here now which is than totally refundable as soon as you arrive in New Zealand" (in about 4 hours). "Minus $ 50,-". 

In New Zealand I look up my family, have a great time and then make my way south to Queenstown where the race will be held. Before all this, still in Australia, I have had great contact with the volunteer coordinator, Paula, arranging my arrival and intended position during the race. After all, I would rather race but what are the chances of me finding a team, a mountain bike, kayaking gear, loads of shoes, and everything else you need for a race in the alps while you're normally residing in the tropics??! So all is sorted for Lukas to volunteer, until I ask her if she perhaps has heard of any team that might... She points me in the direction of the site where the teams that need extra power and the people who are without a team talk to eachother. In short; I find a team!  

This is great but it presents us (we're a team now) with the problems summed up above. In true Kiwi style though this will all be 'no problem'. 'No problem' in Dutch means: 'Too easy, I'll ring a few outdoorsy mates and we'll have all your gear in a jiffy, what color would you like?'. 'No problem' in Kiwi means: I am sure we can defintaly probably arrange that I think. The margin has to be filled with creativity...

And we did. I was in Queenstown a week before the race, stayed at Paula and Paul's place (no joke), met the team and together we got all the gear together in the space of only a few days. It shows, once again, what magical things you can achieve if you meet a few great people who will go out of their way to help you. If you're reading this, you know who you are; THANKS.

Then, the race. These races always go through a similar line of events; teams coming into town (suddenly lots of sporty people everywhere), race registration (people eyeing each other up, nervous organizers, lots of laughs), then moving to the start-line, messing around with maps, not getting enough sleep and then... The Start!!

I had seen this several times as a volunteer up till now and it was absolutely great to experience it as a racer this time. It's different. For example, you're not allowed to walk into race head quarters days before the race and you're not best buddies with the entire organization on your second day. Instead you get: "which team are you (in)? Wait here, I'll ask". Weird.

Us and 30 other teams were bussed to the start-line on sunday. We knew the race would start monday at 6:30am. I expected they would screw us over and not have us let sufficient sleep. I was right. We only got our maps in the bus. Frantic studying by everyone. We arrived, got settled in and then heard that yes, the race did start at 6:30, but not here. We would have to get up at 3am to be on a boat at 3:45am to be boated to a spot 15km away where our kayaks would be waiting for us. 3 hours sleep stolen at the beginning of the race!! By now, of course, we also knew how the race would be build up. This is what they had in store for us:

 

1: We would start the race at the entrance of Milford Sound and paddle in. 15 km.

2: Then on via the road by mountainbike. 49 km, as. 1240, des. 866m

3: Paddeling the Eglinton River. 36 km, des. 137m.

4: Bush trek Dunton range. 54 km, as. 2857m, des. 2478m.

5: Mountain bike, 81km, as. 1250m, des. 1527m.

6: Trekking Eyre Mountains. 48 km, as. 3400m, des. 3006m.

7: Then a 20 km paddle that got cancelled.

8: Mountain bike Thomson Mountains. 129km, as. 1030m, des 1287m.

9: Trekking Earnslaw Burn. 24 km, as. 2355m, des. 2280m.

10: Mountainbike Rees Valley. 21 km, as. 50,, des. 262m.

11: Kayak Lake Wakatipu. 46 km. 

 

Totals:  522 km, ascent: 12182m., descent: 11843m.

 

We didn't get to do it... Not all of it at least. These races are hard, worldclass. A team of greenhorn racers can not expect to go for the prices. Optimistically, we went for finishing. Read how we went.

We lost each other 10 minutes after the start. We had tandem kayaks, 2 per team and we saw an opportunity to get out of sight from each other in the dark start on the choppy boundary of ocean and sound (fjord). You might think we could have shouted at each other but with 20 other teams having the same problem it just became one big orgy of shouted numbers echoing of the sound-walls. I was in a kayak with Tim, we hung back until we were as good as last and had to conclude that somehow Dave and Hanna must have past us in the chaos and would now be far ahead of us. Great. We go in pursuit mode and make our way to the end of the sound where we would transition to bikes. Seals and dolphins play in the water around us for distraction. At the end we find the others. They thought we were ahead of them so had paddled hard to catch up with us. We don't waste any words on it and get ready for the riding.

It's only a 49km road ride and we make fairly good progress. Hanna and I use the tow-line we have set up between our bikes and we wizz over the asphalt. At TA2 (Transition Area) we put the bikes in their boxes, put on our wetsuits, pump our inflatable canoes and start our 36km paddle down the flowing Eglinton River. That is to say; the water that is there is defnately flowing but there is unfortunately not enough of it. We have to exit and carry the boats many times which takes away from the otherwise very beautiful and relaxing river ride. For paddling there are dark hours, they don't want us on the white water in the dark. Makes sense. We also had to wear our bicycle helmets for this. Which we forgot. The river 'closed' at 7pm. We arrived at TA3 at 6:45pm. Planned of course...

Hanna has paddled like a tiger but is now quite low on energy and cold, her and Dave go to the gear boxes while Tim and I deflate the canoes and put them in their trailer. The saturday before the race we were given not the maps or the whole course but enough information for us to plan how to pack our four designated gearboxes that we would see at the 10 Transition areas during the race. I.E.: 'at TA2 you will see box A and D', 'at TA7 you will see bike box and B', etc. Plus the estimated time the organizers think you will need between the TA's so you know how much food to put in which box. We had had a good think about all on saturday and packed our gear boxes to be as best prepared as we could. Now we were going to find out how well we had done this.

A race rule is that during the entire race, teams must carry certain items with them that will ensure their safety/survival while on the course. Things like sleeping bags against hypothermia and a whistle for drawing attention. A tent is also on that list.

At TA3 we get our first mandatory gear check. Just someone asking you to show a few items to see if you're not cheating by taking less weight with you on course. We all had some of these items in our bags to spread the load. I had the outer shell of the tent, bloody lumpy thing. When the gear check is over, and the guy is gone, Dave says; ehm, team, we don't have our tent poles, I forgot them in the kayak. No one says anything but we all know this will make camping overnight a bit more of a challenge and we will also not be able to camp at TA's, normally the most comfortable places. Even better is that we will see all our gear and bike boxes numerous times during the race, except for the kayaks because they are the first and the very last stage. At least we can camp at the finish.

These kind of things are not the biggies though, the course itself, and predominantly the navigating, is the hardest part of this race. As we will soon find out.

Stage four is a long trekking stage. 54km through the mountains and the organizers count on 15 hours for the fast teams and 24 hours for the slow ones. Modest as we are we take food for 24 hours (we think because it's not an exact science). We leave TA3 at 9pm and trek till the first mid-stage CP (check point) which we find at 3am. There we make the best of our pole-less tent and sleep for 2 hours. Correction; we wánt to sleep for two hours but miss the alarm and get four hours instead. Bummer but done deal, we pack up and go. The next one, CP5, proves a challenge for many teams and for Kia Kaha, meaning 'forever strong' in maori, it's no different. Dave is a good navigator but no one is perfect and the terrain is tricky. Not all streams and little ridges show up on our 1:50.000 map and although we know we are very close, we can not close the deal on this illusive marker and go round and round in circles for the rest of the day. Where we should have been there mid afternoon, instead we end up navigating ridges and creeks full of dead trees and thick vegatation till late in the evening. We decide to camp out and give it an other try at day break. Some of us are colder and more tired then others but together we make us a nice camp with campfire (forbidden) so we can make a warm drink and dry some clothes. It feels like a waste of time not to move for 7 hours but going endlessly up the hills and into the creeks would be a waste of energy. It is a difficult call to make. In hind sight we should have gone back to the spot where we knew where we were and have followed the tracks of all the teams that had gone before us I guess but we didn't. We were so close...

In the morning we still can't get our barings and frustrated we descend the mountain, cross the tracks of all the other teams and make our way to CP6. We skip CP5 and if we weren't already out of the race because of the time we wasted, we are now definately off the official course. 

Our dismay does not last though and we pick ourselves up and decide to make the very best of all the stages that lie ahead of us, after all, we are allowed to continue on course, we are just not in the running for first prize any more. Apart from the ego, It doesn't feel like a big loss...

We find CP6 where we are given an alternative, faster, route to TA4 so we can get back on track and into the cycling. Great! We embark on this new course which is a pretty track through field and forest. Later we agree that this hike was one of the better moments of the week. At 2am (thursday) we arrive at TA4. Remember that we only packed food for 24h initially and that we by now have spend 53h away from our food supplies. Still we were not overly hungry. We had gotten a bit of food from CP6, but not much, and we had also been invited into a hunters hut where the guys had given us a a cup of tea and a chunk of lamb-leg left over from their dinner. Other then that we had just taken too much to begin with I suppose. There is a rule in racing that says: ' travel light, starve at night'. Next time maybe.

Four or five other teams that make up the back of the field are held up at this check point (7) until the organizers have decided how they are going to let us continue with the course. It is a lodge and we make ourselves some hot instant meals (bliss I tell you) and relax by the fire. I am finding all this way too much comfort for an adventure race but since we are not allowed further for now I might as well enjoy it right? One team decides to sleep outside, where it freezes, in their tent 'for the real experience' but we don't (and can't anyway) so that we will be strong and fit for what's to come. In the morning we hear.

The now last 5 teams will continue on a 116km bike stage that will lead them to the beginning of the last paddle (and their tent poles for some) which shall lead them back to Queenstown and the finish line. A nice one; not too easy, not amazingly hard and a nice way to end the week by crossing the line as if we have done the whole thing. With our spirits high we set of on our bikes; this is going to be one hell of a fun and beautiful ride!! And it was. There was litteraly nothing to complain about. We found our way, the weather was cooperating and although it was long and sometmes tough, that was what we signed up for. We rode through fields, crossed rivers and got tired and sleepy. Hanna was on tow while we hiked our bikes and has to follow me sinking my teeth in up an endless mountain over an old track with switch-back after switch-back. She is tired but won't give up. Of all of us she has probably suffered hardest during this race but we never heard her about it. Must be the Swedish Viking blood coming out. Meanwhile Tim was sandwiched by both his own and Hanna's backpack pushing his bike with the squeeky brakes up the hill. Dave found the checkpoint effortlessly after which it was downhill for an hour over a track with sniper rocks hiding under the grass. Having left for all this at 11am we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset round 7pm while still, in my case, falling down the mountains with our bikes because my shoes wouldn't unclip fast enough when I cocked up at downhill speed. I didn't seem to learn but the rest of team learned a few new interesting Dutch words that I better not put in writing here... Once downhill we were at the shore of the lake which we'd be paddling on once we got to the TA. That was on the other side... It took for ever to ride around this massive body of water and only round 5:30am (friday), with the first rays of sunlight poking through the dark, did we arrive at the top of lake Wakatipu in Glenorchy. Here we found our kayaks, bike boxes and food. 

Since we were sent away from TA4 at the same time, and since we had all found our way, we now had the same teams ready here for the paddle plus a bunch of faster teams who had done more of the course and ended up here too to do the last stage. We didn't sleep but instead packed away our bikes, had something to eat and got ready for our estimated eight hour paddle over what seemed to be a very calm lake. We were looking forward to it as it promised to be an other dry day rain-wise. 

For a bit of a race element they had all the teams with an L on their forehead line up for a sprint start to their kayaks. This was fun, mostly probably because we were first in the water. We had decided we would give it a little bit of a push whereas others, that we had gotten to know quite well by now because we kept running into them in the back of the field, said they would just have a leisurely paddle back to town. Good on them and not a strange choice as the scenery was stunning and deserved quiet admiration.

The lake was less quiet then it seemed to be at the top of it and as an inexperienced kayaker I will admit that I found the sometimes one meter high waves a bit intimidating. Of course, the worst that could happen was to fall out but that would be a nuisance because you would have to get back in in and empty the boat. Not to mention the rather chilly water you would end up in. The waves had an advantage too though; they came from the right direction and pushed us along nicely. Sometimes, if we tried hard enough, we could actually catch them and ride them until they ran out. Great fun and a good speed boost. There were two CP's to find which was easy enough and about 6 hours later we arrived, rather soaked and cold, at the beach in Queenstown! Sweet!! 

Because it was a friday afternoon we had a bit of an audience clapping for us while we had our fasted transition ever (the only one we had coordinated upfront); getting rid of life jackets and paddles, stuffing everything in the kayaks under our spraydecks and had our last and final 1km run to race head quarters and the official finish-line, Yeahhh!!!! A photographer, cold pizza and warm bubbly wine awaited us to celebrate completing some beautiful parts of an in total epic race. Respect for the team that won the whole thing in under 87 hours. We were only newbies, now we can't say that anymore. The zero has gone, it has turned into a one and I really hope it will turn into a two and keep counting rather sooner then later!

So in summary: Was it hard? No. Was it easy? Neither. Did I ever regret being there? Never. Was it great to be out there with so many like minded enthusiasts and in such beautiful nature? Always. We didn't complete the course, we got lost, we made mistakes. But as a fresh team with a hand full of races and some volunteering on-looking as experience that is hardly a shocker I think. We loved it, we learned and we will definately be back. Kia Kaha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 09 March 2012 05:13

Progression!

As always; check out the pictures for the cartoon version of this. But:

 

What has happened since Brisbane?! Since I left there the 9th of January, a few things have definitely happened! I have ridden and other 1500km or so and have had the privilege of spending some awesome times with friends, both from 'old' as new made ones.

Even though it took me an apparent two months to ride this far (I'm in Townsville), the truth is that I have been spending a lot of time at peoples homes, letting them take me out on fun trips or just simply relaxing with them. The one major issue that played through my mind these months was how to get out of Australia and into Asia. I am pleased to announce that this has been resolved about which later more.

After a lovely Christmas and New Years at Amy and Candace's place I headed up the road to meet two old friends made in Ecuador. We hadn't seen each other in ages obviously and where they had continued with their normal lives after their adventures they were happy to hear about mine still continuing. We are talking about Rachael and David, I met them in Cuenca, exchanged details and what do you know, some people you dó actually see again! It was a pleasure and I enjoyed their hospitality for several days before heading further north. Not that far because only 100km up or so I was awaited by Glenn and Geoff, two mates from Brisbane and Glenn I knew from the race in Tasmania. We took Geoff's 4x4 to the beach and fished, kayaked and drank beer while cremating the fish. Taking advantage of that horrible aussie lifestyle so to say but you know what they say; 'while in Rome, do as the Romans do'.

I said good-bye to the guys and pushed on for a few days to Mackay where I would stay with a dutch girl named Nicole who I had approached through the couch-surfing site. On the way was plenty of sleeping illegally behind trees (and next to railroads again), smelly roadkill and trucks passing me to closely. Most of the drivers though take a wide berth and wave at me in a friendly fashion for which I am very thankful.

Nicole and boyfriend Adam turned out to be a relaxed bunch and they were happy to let me do what ever in their house while they went to work. While they weren't we talked about the differences between Holland and Oz of which we all knew both sides since Adam, being Australian, had visited our lovely country a few times already and they were planning to move there.

Then on to Airlie Beach, a famous backpacker-trap where people stay longer then intended and wake up one morning wondering why they thought is was a good night to participate in that jelly-wrestling competition again. Until they find the $ 300,- they have won in their pockets. I once again made good friends through the lovely system of couchsurfing where you basically write to a complete stranger to ask if you can live under their roof and eat out of their fridge until they get sick of you. Kind of, yet not far from the truth really.

Dominic was my first host here and him, me, his mates and some other random couchsurfers celebrated a great Australia-Day in and around his pool. From where ever you are reading this, does your country have it's own day? I mean specifically named after it? I didn't think so. The excuse for drinking over and the results of it cleaned up I left Dom to his own devices and more then happily 'moved in' with Jane, a very energetic and fun-loving Belgian doctor who now lives in Airlie but actually wants to go as rural as you can imagine to help people and find gold in her spare time (believe it or not, there is still lots of gold up for grabs in the outback). Apart form being a great host and now friend she introduced me to the sailing community of Airlie and I was given the chance to sail, and be 'crew', on a splendid 43ft sailing boat and do some low-key races with the locals. An awesome chance for a sailing novice like myself since a sailing boat would be my best bet of getting out of Australia over'land'. You don't make your life easier when you decide not to use planes when you want to go home from Tasmania I tell you. But... it worked!!!

I hung up notices in marinas, put myself up as crew on websites and asked, literally, everybody I spoke to if they knew someone with a boat. But most of all, I worried. Then, one day, just after I had left some random parking area along the highway where I had spend the night, my phone rang. I usually turn it off but had left it on intentionally now 'because someone could ring'. And then someone did!!! It was David. David owns a 44ft catamaran and plans to sail to Asia. I had seen his add on a website and had written him a note to say I wanted to join him on his ship if I could. He had written back that he was sorted but would remember me in case someone would drop out. I replied I hoped someone did.

One week after that the phone call came. “Lukas I had someone bail on me and hope you're still interested”. Was I ever?!?! Too cool! But I was skeptical, it sounded too good to be true. Now though, after meeting him, seeing his boat, knowing of the other crew member, I actually truly believe the three of us will sail between Australia and Thailand between May and October. I can not begin to tell you how relieved I am because the idea of catching a plane with bike and all panniers was not appealing at all. It was always my boring, lame and expensive back-up plan and I am happy that I won't need it. Although, in my Calvinistic mind, I state that of course we can only truly be sure of this when I off-load my bike in Thailand :-)

So, boat leaves in May, from Cairns where I as good as am now. What to do? Well, this:

I have discovered a consistency in my travels so far and it is... Visas. The stupid paperwork hassle that doesn't like me. In Ecuador I stayed five months illegally, in Costa Rica I had to make a quick visa run (going into an other country and coming straight back in) and now in Australia again the stupid time limit they put on travel is screwing me over once more. I came into the country on a visitors visa, no problem. Then, when I asked for an extension, they sent me to a doctor for an X-ray of my chest to see if I had tuberculosis which would exempt me from a new visa. They sure picked up on that one quick. Of course I didn't; fastest and most useless $ 105,- spent in my life. One can only extend once though because of.... no sensible reason. So, I have to do an other visa run. Problem is: It's an island here. Far from everything. I rang immigration to ask if a run would work. The answer: 'we can tell you that once you're out of the country'. Very practical if you want to buy a return ticket; that you don't know if you will be allowed back in... Anyway, it's a western country with all inherent consequences. They did manage to raise the level of suffocating and life-constricting rule-density here to such a degree that the dutch could learn from them. And trust me, that says a lot. If there is one country where they F themselves in the A with laws then it's that cheese-munching-should-have-drowned little place by the North Sea.

Anyway, I'm going to New Zealand. In April. And, surprise, surprise, I'm going to be volunteering for and adventure race :-) Also I have lots of lovely family there so I suspect that time will fly by. I'm looking forward to it. Till that time I am sitting out my time here in North Queensland which sounds a lot more negative than it is because it is not a punishment at all to be where I am now.

Then returning from New Zealand, I shall collect my stuff (bike isn't coming with me), ride to Cairns, prepare the boat, raise the anchor and sail off. And from there it's the big question mark again....

Someone asked me the other day if I run out of money and if I work at all. I can tell you that:

No and No.

 

Thanks for reading and I'll try to at least post something before we set sail. Keep safe.

Sunday, 08 January 2012 12:47

Let me know....

Written by

Please tell me what you think.

Saturday, 07 January 2012 15:24

Thousands of kilometers.

syd - bris 24Want to know how I went so far? Check out 'Pics'n text' for my latest pictures. I also have put text with the first two folders of Australia; the XPD race and Hobart to Sydney. Enjoy!

Then:

As I am writing this from Brisbane, I can now say that I have ridden 'thousands' of kilometers; two. And a bit. But even with the bit, my 2400 or so kilometers is nothing when you look at the map. And I do that quite regularly these days. Looking at the map of the earth my ridden distance is now visible but that's about it. Many more thousands of kilometers to go...

So far I rode in the easiest country of them all and I see it as a little practice run, the warm-up. It has been good! The weather was nice, the roads fine and I have had no problems so far. Sure my body hurt a little, I have been a bit bored sometimes and I had to do some minor repairs but all in all it has been a breeze. Mind you I write this after two weeks of leisurely relaxation over Christmas and New Years so my memory might be a bit coloured but I'm happy.

Now, as I am about to leave my villa in the basement of my new best aussie friends, I am looking forward to going into the vast Australian nothingness that they call 'The Outback'. A lot of desert and not a lot of settlements. Pure nature, nice!

Befor that though I have a bit more of coast line to follow. This is easy country and I should be able to knock em down quickly but there is one hitch: I need to work. This coastal area has lots of farms and since I have a bit of time for it I thought I would try to mak a few dollars here by picking fruit. People tell me that it should be easy to find some but I'll believe it when my pocket feels heavy... Staying positive though lets say I will. In that case my working should keep me occupied for a good month and then I'll do the desert run al the way to Darwin in the very north here. Close to Indonesia and my plan is to catch aboat between the two by the and of April. Apparently they are not easy to find but once again I do not want to despair up front.

Many people ask me what will happen after Indonesia and to tell you the truth: I do not know yet. I will have to look into visa rules and sea faring routes. Once I deside on it, I'll let you know!

That's it in a nut-shell for no folks. I am going strong, have a few hurdles to take and am looking forward to the rest of my trip. Have a look at my photo's to find out how it's been and keep an eye on this page, I will try to update it regularly!

See yah!!!

 

Saturday, 10 December 2011 00:28

Testes 1 - 2

Written by

Mocht je dit zien dan zie je het niet  weer...

nee dat klopt want hij staat niet in de categorie die wordt gepubliceerd daarvoor moet je die andere categorie hebben ;)

 

To Tasmania
To Tasmania To Tasmania
Good night
Good night Good night
Space
Space Space
Super sunrise
Super sunrise Super sunrise
Interviewed
Interviewed Interviewed
Bike Matthias
Bike Matthias Bike Matthias
Big house
Big house Big house
Petow paper
Petow paper Petow paper
Good picture
Good picture Good picture
All athletes
All athletes All athletes
Tent test
Tent test Tent test
Yellow jackets
Yellow jackets Yellow jackets
Box weighing
Box weighing Box weighing
Boxes
Boxes Boxes
Preparation
Preparation Preparation
Almost going
Almost going Almost going
Adrenalin rising
Adrenalin rising Adrenalin rising
Last instructions
Last instructions Last instructions
Go!
Go! Go!
160 kayaks
160 kayaks 160 kayaks
Lake mac
Lake mac Lake mac
Dead wood
Dead wood Dead wood
Heart hole
Heart hole Heart hole
Remote checkpoint
Remote checkpoint Remote checkpoint
Kayak raft
Kayak raft Kayak raft
Next kayaks
Next kayaks Next kayaks
Wallaby
Wallaby Wallaby
Morning
Morning Morning
Mirror lake
Mirror lake Mirror lake
Team paddling
Team paddling Team paddling
Cameras
Cameras Cameras
Fire beacon
Fire beacon Fire beacon
Lively CP
Lively CP Lively CP
Logistics
Logistics Logistics
Granville Harbour
Granville Harbour Granville Harbour
Working
Working Working
Bikes
Bikes Bikes
Typical
Typical Typical
Echidna
Echidna Echidna
Wet boxes
Wet boxes Wet boxes
Rain
Rain Rain
Arthur river
Arthur river Arthur river
Little meeting
Little meeting Little meeting
Truck view
Truck view Truck view
Smokey smiles
Smokey smiles Smokey smiles
Bedroom
Bedroom Bedroom
Driver
Driver Driver
Boat harbour
Boat harbour Boat harbour
Bay
Bay Bay
Floaters
Floaters Floaters
Paddling Arthur
Paddling Arthur Paddling Arthur
Quiet there
Quiet there Quiet there
Airport surprise
Airport surprise Airport surprise
Done
Done Done

Tuesday, 13 December 2011 05:24

It's all new!!

Welcome again folks!

OK, so, new site yes, but also new continent and new way of traveling! And how excited am I! Lots of thanks to good friend Thijs who never has anything to do and offered to do my site up so that we all may enjoy it more. Apart from an new hairdo it now boasts the option of commenting om my content. I hope to receive many comments from you guys or just drop me a line so I know you have been.

I'll give you a short update for those who are lost.

I traveled for 18 months in Latin-America and now moved to Australia. Initially to be with the WC Advenure racing but with the plan to try to go home overland after that. This plan has now escalated into the plan to do it all by bicycle (yes... water...). While writing this I have completed the first one thousand something kilometers and have arrived in Sydney. So far, all good! I stay here a few days in which I intend to serve you up some pictures. Also, thanks to Thijs, I now have to understand Twitter and what not so plenty to do for me.

So, if you want, keep an eye on it and enjoy stories and pictures, you are very welcome to!!!

CU you later people, where ever in the world!!

Monday, 03 May 2010 14:00

Montanita

Montanita;

a small (former) fishing village like there are so many along the 'Ruta del sol', on the coast of Ecuador, roughly between Salina and Manta. Allthough all of the places harbour tourists, Montanita takes the biscuit. Arriving into town I immediately knew what it was like, fancy restaurants, surfshops galore and a the game 'spot the local' proved to be a hard one. All in all a very comfortable place to start my travels and to feel home away from home. The accomodation I booked with the spanishschool I would attend was easily found and after 40hours of traveling I didn't mind being assinged a bed in a 3 bed dorm. There was only one other guy in the room with whom I would have to share our shower and hammock. Without us using either one at the same time... Arriving on saturday proved perfect timing: it allowed me plenty of time on sunday to take the same 3 hour bustrip back to the airport in Guayaquil to pick up my backpack. Silly me had thought that the airline sticker I had saying ' Guayaquil' would mean that my bag would automatically come to that airport and needly run of the belt. In fact it didn't (much to my disliking) and spent a day in Quito. They were kind enough to supply me with a toothbrush and managed to have the bag at the right place the next day. What else to do on your first day? Now united with my bag I could start school the next day and apart from me seriously having to get used to taking notes again and the concept of homework it was all very nice an d well arranged. It would be the start of 3 weeks of alternating school, surf and the Montanita special; 'Cocktail Alley'.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013 14:12

The nails in my coffin...

I am writing this on the day that I celebrate exactly three years of traveling. Thank you. The date is the 10th of april 2013 and I am in Chengdu, China. I am also stuck. Or so it seems.

I am experiencing some troubles but they are not of the kind you may expect. I am healthy as is my bike, I am not lonely, tired or out of money (although close). On the plus side I only have one problem. On the downer it can not be solved by anything out of before mentioned categories. Not by cycling faster or insane hours, not by anyone (but me hopefully) and unfortunately also not by money. What is killing me today is... Visas. I hate them. This is our fine history;

For 18 months I traveled on the other side of the globe, where they dance a lot of salsa, and never did I have a single problem with any permit to stay in any country. OK, admitted, I felt the heat when I overstayed my visa for Ecuador by 5 months but I knew in advance that would cost me a maximum of $ 200,- and in the end was solved for 5% of that due to a friendly border-guard. In Costa Rica I nearly overstayed but made my way to the border on the last day and was back in the country legally within 30 minutes. Once again courtesy to the humble dollar. But here in Asia... no such luck.

It started in Australia where they gracefully granted me three months stay. As if they don’t know how big it is! How could I possibly cycle through it in that time?! So, I applied for an extension which they were happy to give me. But only after I had made a $ 100,- trip to the radiology department of one of seven hospitals appointed by them. In the whole country! Luckily I was close to one but what if you're in Woolongmoolagabba, then you're screwed! I had to have my lungs X-rayed because they figured, after 90 days of breathing al over the place, that I might have caught tuberculosis in my previous travels. Sure. (I was fine by the way and I have lungs, I've seen them) My next three months ran out aswell and this time I had to leave the country. This, I admit, was not the end of the world since I went to New Zealand to see my family and got to race an amazing adventure race so I will let them of for that one.

Then Indonesia. Thanks to the sailing-rally that my boat was part of we cruised relatively easy through the red tape that can be quite complicated there. It also helped that the immigration officers who came aboard to check our vessel were more interested in taking pictures with us and the boat then in looking at our papers (that were in order btw). Like this: "do you have any drugs or weapons?" 'no' "Good. Can we see what a your kitchen looks like and do you mind if we take a picture?" Then we landed in Malaysia which I love for the simple fact alone that they give the foreigner a warm welcome by stamping a free visa on arrival (VOA) into his or her passport. Singapore has seen the same light and is also happy to have you. After that... bit harder.

Now, before I go on, I should confess that I did not at length look into all the smallest details of all the visa-conditions of all the countries I would go to. I researched them all, saw that some would be easy and some would be harder but saw now definite problems on the horizon. Waiting times and sometimes ridiculous costs apart, all would be feasable it seemed. And if not, I would count on the 'flexibilty' of the officer that needs new tyres under his moped. Or so I reckoned. Here in Asia though, I am yet to find that officer. For some reason they all seem to think they are doing something very important that has to be taken very seriously. I, on the other hand, like to think they are just over paid muppets who's only task should be to say 'welcome to our country sir, please spend as much of your money as you like' -Stamp-. Why I have to be subject to hopeless scrutiny, long waiting times, unneccesary paperwork  and endless money-loss only to spend a few weeks in a country as as a simple tourist is beyond me and none of the, generally nice it has to be said, people I meet at border gates has been able to explain it to me. It is hard exchanging any word with them in general I must say which in some cases is definitely for the better. I regularly have a few choice words welling up in me at these places and also the question if the robot would like some of my fresh bicycle-oil would probably not go down too well. So I keep quiet, wait, pay and see how they find it neccesary to claim yet an other whole page out of the few free blank pages I have left in my passport. And all with a happy face. On the outside.

Thailand is not the hardest country to enter but their logic defeats me. One gets a one month VOA but only if one arrives by plane. If you get there over land, which is not very unique in a small place like South-East Asia where people cross countries like they were public parks, you get a whopping 15 days. 15! Seriously, what can you do in 15 days?! You can extend, sure, but the best way of doing that is by... leaving the country. *sigh*.

Cambodia is very happy to have you. Or better said, to have your money. They grant you a VOA easily and efficiently but will tell you that although the sign clearly says: 'VOA, $ 20,-' you will have to pay in Thai Bath (only coming from Thailand) for which they have already helpfully calculated the exchange rate... Need I say more.

Laos is more fair. They rip you off in plain sight by charging you more then a dollar a day up front and as signed. I know that does not sound like much from where you are reading this but I come from the premise that a simple 30 day visa should be a 1.3 minute single stamp procedure followed by the above stated welcoming sentence. For free.

Then there is China. I am there now so I obviously got through the scrutiinizing. Thumbs up to the Laotian employees of the Chinese embassy in Vientiane. They are nice, there are no long lines (due to the fact that almost no-one ventures from S-E Asia to the Peoples Republic) and their system is straightforward. Although I still don't understand why they can not except my $ 32,- at the embassy and find it necessary to send me to some bank somewhere to put it in their account. At maybe ten visa applications a day, god forbid you would have $ 400,- sitting in your office that is fully glassed off and in a guarded building with a three meter high wall around it. Much better to send all those that are complete strangers in the town to an unknown location where the staff does not speak their language to deposit the fee. Or am I now spoiling the fun of traveling? Those $ 32,- give you the right to play around in China for 30 days. Where ever you want. As long as you end up at either an airport or an office of the so-called PSB, the Public Security Bureau. They know China is big so you can extend your visa twice at these PSB offices. Sort of. You see, the name 'extension' is not technically correct. 'Renewal' is better. This means that they will not add-on 30 days when you apply but simply void your old visa and give you a new one. In 5 working days which is, of course, in normal peoples talk, a week. During that week you can not leave town, or so they reckon, and definitely not go far. So what you really get when you 'extend' is 23 days minus the days that you are extending too early. For example if the day your old visa expires falls in a weekend. Every extension costs an other $ 25,-. This is the easy part though, it gets better further on.

Should I have prepared better you might ask? I ask myself the same but then the counter question is; 'how?'. Visas are normally granted for three months. This means that I would have to apply for the visas after China IN China. As said, I am in Chengdu which lies in the middle. All the embassies are in the capital of Beijing, which doesn't. So, if I do not (and I don't) want to spend two weeks of traveling, by train, to the north east of the country to apply for a visa for some country, these are my options: 

India: I wanted to go there, I wanted to cut through a tiny corner of China, go straight through Myanmar and then from the far east of India to the far west, into Pakistan. You can't. Myanmar is off limits in every possible way. Except for flying in and flying out which is not very 'over-landish'. So I had to go further into China to go around Myanmar. 'Tibet?' you might say but due to endless squirmish and people setting themselves on fire in an attempt to free their country, that 'province', as the Chinese see it, or 'country' as the Tibetans see it, if off limits for tourists. End of story. There is one possible exception and that is that you find four nationals of your own country (what difference does it make, pure discrimination) and join a guided tour with guide and vehicle with driver who can then take you by the hand and around the country making sure you do not take pictures of all the wrong things that are going on there. No thanks. On the side, a quote from a Chinese who traveled to Lhasa: 'really weird, there are NO foreigners in the city'. No shit Sherlock.

So India can't be reached. Next;

Bhutan and Nepal are shielded off by Tibet. And Tibet is shielded off by a lot of military.

Pakistan: Nope. A copy-paste from the website of the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad: "Foreign nationals can only apply for Pakistan visa from their country of origin OR from the place of legal permanent residence. Request for visas of a THIRD COUNTRY origin will be decided only by the Ambassador / High Commissioner / Head of Mission / Consulate" There is however, a consulate for Pakistan here in Chengdu. The nice gentlemen over there are getting to know me by now since I have bothered them a bit to see if I can get a visa. They are sceptical but claim none the less that they have mailed my application twice already and that they will call me as soon as they hear more. They mail this to Pakistan btw. Why the consul general can't deal with this himself or why they can't send it to Beijing and let the embassy decide I don't know. I do know that they claim that it will take a month. I am not going to wait here for that time so if (IF) I mysteriously get the visa granted, and I would be the first according to an informed friend of mine, then I have to send my passport from where ever I am to the consulate, they put a sticker in it and then send it to a place where I will be in a a few days. Circumstantial? Not at all...  Next up;

Tajikistan: No place to apply for a visa, no VOA and you need a letter of invitation.

Kyrgystan: No place to apply for a visa, no VOA.

Kazakhstan: Ah! That is not completely impossible because if you go to the very north of China, to a place called Urumqi, you will find a consulate where you can apply for the kazakhstan visa. From there then I can go to a town where I can get the visa for Kyrgyzstan, from the capital of that I can apply for a visa for Uzbekistan (Letter of invitation provided by Uzbek travel agency, for $ 35,-). Once in Uzbekistan I would have to make a detour to the capital of Tashkent to apply for a 5 day transit visa to get past the 500km of Turkmenistan which borders, finally, with Iran. The Iranian visa is, supposedly, not very hard to get. One can apply online. Except for that the website is down and that their first question will be where I would like to pick-up the visa (which consulate/embassy) and I don't know that because I don't know from where I will enter Iran. AHHHHHH !!! So I can't apply for that yet. But Kazakhstan is sooo far to the north...

Of course I could forfit. One option would be that I say 'screw you' to everything in the south and hack it through Kazakh, Russia, Ukraine into Europe. Possible but a lame route and a bit of a shame for my friend who has just bought a bicycle with panniers and claims to be training so that he can join me while cycling through Iran. He lands in Shiraz the 31st of may. No pressure....

Option two would be to sit with a cranky face for seven days in a train that covers the north of Russia and exit as a loser in Moscow. Let's keep that one as a very last resort....

After all this, maybe you can understand the warm feelings I harbour for immigration rules in this part of the world. Of course I am spoiled. Somewhere halfway my childhood the bigger part of Europe, my playground, decided that borders were indeed mere lines on the map and that yes, we needed to have our passports with us when we crossed them but showing them to someone, pfff, lot of hassle. So we cruise at 120km/h into any country around us. I am also spoiled because on the cover of my passport it says 'Koninkrijk der Nederlanden' and not 'Tsjikki-Wokkie land'. This means that of all the shit they can throw at you at borders, I get the smallest heap. Lucky as I am though, it still annoys me. Sorry.

In a perfect world I will get a phone call this week telling me that it's all OK for Paki and have a nice trip. It is the best country; most interesting, least hassle, best route and weather and I will be in time to meet up with my mate in Iran. Maybe I should just invest in a big bag of mints and see if I can make a lonely border guard happy on the highest international border crossing in the world, the Khunjerab Pass between China and Pakistan. I really want to go there!! But with a sticker in my passport please, not with a bag of mints...

 

TBC

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 09 November 2012 04:50

5 months on a boat, an eyewitness report.

Between the 13th of may and the 28th of October 2012 I lived on a 44ft catamaran with two other men. Together we sailed from Cairns in Australia to the southern tip of Malaysia, a journey of nearly 3700 nautical miles or 6600km. I had never sailed before nor had I ever met the two others. We were strangers and were now to spend nearly half a year in very close proximity on a home-built boat that had everything it needed for big blue-water crossings, but not too much more. This story should give you a small insight in what it was like.

'Basic' (but sturdy) would be a word to describe our boat, especially compared to the common standard for yachts or to the common image people have of sailing-boats. I am not however, going to complain. I like to think that I do not need a lot of luxury, I like 'functional' and although I shall admit that I was not always overjoyed with everything the boat had to offer, what remains is a very happy and thankful memory of having sailed right through the heart of Indonesia. In good company, with all the freedom that having your own floating house has to offer. If you want, you may envy me.

I say Indonesia but of course the trip started in Australia. In fact, half the time we had, we spend in Australian waters. I know Australia, or so I like to think. I have done the obligatory year of backpacking in the nineties, I have seen the infamous red-center and circumnavigated the entire continent in my own four-wheel drive. And this was all before I landed there again in the end of October last year. This time though, I got to see it from the water and we went to places that would be called remote, even by Australian standards.

Like I said, I had never sailed before so I had not really a good idea of what was waiting for me. My choice to embark on this trip was an easy one though: I had to. At least, if I wanted to stick to my 'going home overland' plan.

First things first; easy to say you want to travel by boat but where does the boat come from??

Well: from the internet. I had made the most beautiful flyer and hung it up in every marina I could find between Brisbane and Cairns but in the end it was a little profile I made on a website that did the trick. You see, apparently, it is not so strange for yacht-owners to invite total strangers to come along for a sail on their boats. And apparently it is not so strange for little adventurers like myself to go around marinas and forwardly ask for a free ride. Why? Well, if you put the right people together, they need each other. Let me give you an example:

I know of an Australian man who has spend 15 years building his own boat in a shed behind his house and who has launched that boat a few years ago, named 'Masquerade'. It floated and now that he has stopped work, aged 65, he wants to see more of the world. He reckons he's going to Thailand. The problem is that he is alone and of all the people he knows, no one can commit to months of sailing at the time and sailing a boat like his all this way just by yourself is tricky. Actually, it is downright impossible. So, he puts a little note up on a website called 'findacrew'. A site specifically erected for boaties who want to get in touch with one an other. In fact, you don't have to search yourself, the site puts people with the same criteria together and sends messages to those who match. Rather clever. And practical. Here, this man finds among a few other profiles two characters that stand out: one guy from New Zealand; a sailing man with great ambitions of traveling for years, all over the world, not entirely sure where yet. But his trip has to start with sails up. And an other guy who is some kind of bum, has no idea of sailing, seen half the world but can't afford proper transport and is now traveling by bicycle claiming to ride it home. These two the skipper approaches, asking if they feel like joining him on his journey over the top of Australia, through Indonesia. All the way up to Phuket in Thailand. They happily accept.

In fact: he made my day!

It had not been to easy, or promising, to find a boat, so when I was riding somewhere along a random dusty highway and my phone rang with this question, I did not know how quickly to say 'yes please!' It did however call for a shift in my plans. As a non-sailor, I purely saw the boat part of my trip as transport. For me a week would have been enough. Practical as I am, my reasoning went no further then: I need to get out of Australia, into Indonesia and then I will island-hop with the local ferries and make my way across the country and into Singapore like that. Had there been a ferry (or cargo-ship of some sort) between Darwin and West-Timor, the shortest crossing, I would not have bothered with the whole sailing thing at all. But there isn't, so I had to. And so began a 24 week boat-trip, not a one-week one.

I saw David in February. I rode up from Townsville and met him in the marina. He showed me the boat and we talked about the travel-schedule. Given the vast number of boats I could choose from for my goal and given my enormous experience in sailing, I did not care to much about the, quite clear, 'limited luxury' that shone through aboard. I wouldn't say spartan though, that would go far. For example; the seating surfaces had cushions on them. They were, however, too upright, outside and you couldn't stretch you legs in front of you. But the cushions made all the difference between our seats and the ones you would find in the back of, for instance, an army personnel carrier.

I was also appointed two beds! Well, one bed really, cut in half and the two halves were about 5 meters from each other. One was slightly narrower then my shoulders and was located in the starboard hull. The other was slightly wider then my shoulder-width and was located up on the deck in something that had lovingly attracted the name 'bus-stop'. Later other nicknames popped up such as 'the penthouse', 'cave', 'sea-view-cabin' and 'coffin'. This outside 'one could sleep there' location would become my bed for the next 150+ nights. By comparison, Matt the aforementioned kiwi-guy and other crew, had the front half of the port-hull with his own sitting area, a more-then-full-size-actual-bed and some good storage space. But I am not complaining, after all, my bed also had a cushion. And I am tougher anyway... :-)

May came and we met up next to the dinghy in the Cairns marina. We shook hands, looked at each other and said: "well, that's us for the next 5 months". Dinghies, btw, are little boats, made form rubber or aluminium, that are used to go from an anchored yacht to shore, and back. They are usually propelled by a small out-board engine. Ours wasn't. We had to row. Matt said that was a surprising feature. It wouldn't be the last time I heard him use those words regarding certain commodities on board.

After getting acquainted with the boat and making ourselves comfortable, well Matt did, we did a months worth of shopping, three shopping trolleys full, hid all of it in compartments around the galley and lifted the anchor. An exciting moment! Not in the last place for me, as I had never worked or been on one of these things. And I get seasick.

Now, I won't bore you with how slow I learned, which beautiful or boring islands and bays we saw nor with wind-speeds or sail-positions. I will say that in the first month of sailing I fed the fish just as often as they fed us: twice. We fished everyday but like someone else said; "if you try to live off the ocean, you die". At least they were two beautiful tuna we caught.

I had to get used to sailing. The slow speed annoyed me. Waiting for wind annoyed me. My bed sucked (I did get rained on in it) and the food was obviously just there to keep us alive. When at anchor we had one unit of transportation among the three of us and stubborn swimming between the boat and shore was out of the question because Australia's top half is ridden with those really big swimming snapper-lizards. All of this took some adaptation from someone who is used to going 100% his own way and being able to change plans and directions overnight without having to consult anyone. Except for his bank-account maybe.

But, as always, the medal has two sides; Sailing, wind permitting, gives you the opportunity of going where ever you like, yet not very fast, and when you arrive you simply drop a big metal hook into the water and you're set. You're house is right there with you with all the comforts that come with it. And even if it doesn't have a shower. Or a toilet. Or a fridge. Like ours, it is still very nice that you don't have to worry about anything really important and can set off straight away to explore the new place.

In the 2300 or so kilometers between Cairns and Darwin, we enjoyed most of the time the constant power of the trade-winds that blow here in this time of year. Which means easy and predictable propulsion, for free, and not too many worries about re-setting the sails and such. We simply raised them in the morning and left them there. Easy. Also boring. Hours and hours I've spent hopefully looking backwards at the fishing line hoping for a meal. Until I gave up on it. Stupid fish.

The most memorable part, sailing-wise, was the crossing from Thursday Island to the Wessel Islands, over the top of the gulf of Carpenteria. Here we had very strong side winds. 'Good!' you may think, you'd go nice and fast. That's correct but it also means that the two meter high waves hit our little boat with extra force, side-on, and managed to flow all over the deck and, more annoyingly, into the cockpits. We were soaked. This crossing took 3 days and two nights and especially my shift on the first night was spend between ducking and dodging waves coming over, stuffing that up and then half shiveringly waiting for the wind to blow-dry me. Repeat process. And in the end this will be the story I tell most...

For more stories and a few images on this part of the trip I would like to direct you to the picture department elsewhere on this website.

So, via a string of 20 anchorages and one month later, we arrived in Darwin, capital of The Northern Territory. And would stay there for 6 weeks. Darwin I hád seen before, twice, and I had no particular inclination to go there again. It is small, hot and the only reason it is on the map is that there is nothing around it within 1000km. No really. Also it meant we were still in Australia, which is a very expensive country for a traveler. We stayed here for so long because we did not know how long it would take to sail here, made good time and were now waiting for a sailing-rally to start; Sail-Indonesia. Previously David had doubted joining this rally but all sorts of advantages, most of them having to do with them taking care of all the red-tape involved in bringing a yacht into Indo, had convinced him to do so. So, stuck we were. Also, due to David's motto 'when in doubt, anchor out' we anchored so far away from the beach that I was wondering when we would set sail for our last day till Darwin. And our dinghy still didn't have an outboard. Much to the amusement of the rest of the fleet amongst which we were now anchored. David 'quite liked rowing' as he said and to a certain point I can agree with him. But it is nice to choose to row, not to have to. And there were several occasions that we really got to enjoy ourselves because sometimes, no exaggeration, the wind was strong that even when we were rowing an empty dinghy with two man abreast, we were still going absolutely nowhere.

Luckily, after three weeks of daily rowing up and down to shore/shops/shower/life, it was time to scrub the hulls of Masquerade. The good thing of a catamaran is that when it runs out of water, it doesn't fall over, like a mono-hull. So on high tide we went really close to the beach dropped the anchor and waited for the water to subside. We were now sitting on the beach and could walk to and from the boat for most of the day. We all liked this so much that we stayed there until on day before the rally. Much to the amusement of the other sailors again.

And it wasn't just the rowing we missed out on now: Darwin has an extreme tidal-flux of a maximum of 10 (!) meters and the sea-floor drops away very gradually. This means that if you row (or motor) in with your dinghy and put it up on the beach at high-tide you will learn to time your return to it well. Of course we learned this the hard way and one night, after a few refreshing drinks in a local billabong, Matt and I had gotten it exactly... wrong. Upon arrival back at the beach we stood next to the dinghy and the sea had so retracted so far that we could not see it. It sucked. Now we had to carry our heavy aluminium bathtub for almost a kilometer (!!!) before it would float. On the upside of course; we did not have to row so far now....

The Darwin time passed and by the 28th of July the grand day had finally come: I would leave Australia, over'land' and with my bicycle. Even though it was sitting in a box on deck. We had cleared out with customs the day before a now we were ready to cross our biggest leg ever; 470NM to Kupang. The capital of West-Timor. The winds were very favorable and after exactly 68 hours we lay-ed eyes on our first out of many stops in Indonesia. For Matt and me this was cool, we reckoned this place would bring us lots of great adventures but, to be honest, I didn't think much more of it. For David though, it would have been a bit different. After 15 years of building and various trials and tribulations in his home-waters, now was the moment; he sailed, on his own boat, for the first time onto foreign land. He had never been outside of Australia.

Kupang was what you would expect: a functional town supplying to all needs of poor and rich of the surrounding area. Loud, messy, full of little motor-bikes and everywhere you go people say 'hello mister' and 'where are you going?' something that annoyed the hell out of me within 24h. Damn those people who are trying to be so nice, they couldn't be more irritating if they tried. Not the constant repeating of exactly the same too-personal question I what gets to you as much. It is the fact that the exact thing that winds you up, is the exact thing by which they are trying to be nice. And you can't really yell at someone for being nice, can you? It reminded me of when I spend time in the rainforest with the Shiwiars, their way of being welcoming was force feeding you their awful local drink. It never ended. At least 'hello mister' doesn't give you a hard, bloated stomach...

So anyway, we instantly lóved Indonesia. Small details like personal questions, never knowing what exactly you have on your plate and a consistent absence of toilet paper aside, it's a great place. People are friendly, let's say 'interested' in you(r life) and it's safe as fek. Prices are of such an extend that half the time you feel giving them notes is just a formality, a ritual if you like and many a time have I looked at people with a mix of surprise and disbelieve when the told me how much something cost. Really? You will 'rent' me this motorbike for € 3,- a day? Not per hour? Sure? OK.

I have tried to bring across feelings like these in various picture folders, this is supposed to be about the sailing now.

Living on a small area of 8x8 meters, with barely any indoor space and with a few facilities missing that other people may find essential is not always easy. But, let me put this first, we have done very well. You may not believe me when I say this but it is possible for three strangers with plenty of differences to live in close proximity without shedding any blood. In fact, not a single word of discontent was spoken. And we all did our part for that. Dave was the captain so anything he deemed safe of necessary had to happen. He in his turn, especially after mutual trust had grown, asked us what we wanted or how we would do things. Matt became sailing master and I was in charge of fishing. The sailing went well under Matt's enthusiastic lead but I am afraid the fishing was less successful. I tried every lure we had, played with line-length, speed, deep/shallow water and bait but all to no avail. I shall wholeheartedly testify to whoever wants to hear it that mankind officially has fished the oceans empty. 3 tuna, a small shark and one Spanish Mackerel in 5 months is pretty pathetic. Praying for fish would have gotten us a higher success-rate.

As said, Matt had sailed before and it was interesting for me as a learner to be between the two others. They say there can't be two captains on one ship so it was nice to follow the process of them two sorting out who was right. Obviously, as a novice, not restricted by any preconceived knowledge of sailing whatsoever, I too was quite often right, most of the time guided by something called 'common sense', but I felt the boat didn't need a third captain so I stuck to quietly thinking 'told you so' to my self. Even though I hadn't actually.

Comfort was a big thing on board. Or actually, it wasn't; the lack of it was. I could prove and summarize this by saying that the fold-up deck-chair from the local DIY store that I bought was by fár the most comfortable place to sit anywhere on board. But it is a lot more fun to elaborate, so I will.

For example; I bet you any money that when I say 'cruising-yacht', you think 'money'. Right? The two go hand in hand. Someone put it this way: 'boat' stands for 'Bring An Other Thousand'. I say 'yacht', you think cruisy sailing in a steady wind with one hand on the wheel and a cold drink in the other. And at night you sleep in a crisp berth, gently rocked to sleep and cooled by a very light breeze. Could be. But: it turns out there are different ways of sailing... I am not talking about those round the world sailors who spend nights on the helm engulfed by waves and not changing their underwear for 68 days. Nor about the Volvo-Ocean-Racers who eat with plastic cutlery to save weight. No, I am talking about some of the other 99% percent of the sailing community. People who think that sailing around the world in two years is 'pretty fast' (I nearly died when I read that) and who scour every foreign port they pull into for their staple diet of toast and cheese. Early pensioners who either fly their children over to spend a few weeks with them or who will ship their boat (yes, boats get shipped) back to their home country because the don't fancy sailing it too much.

Most of these people will have spend a considerable amount of money to begin with and will have more sitting somewhere because sailing simply ain't cheap. Generally. But there are shortcuts. And Dave had found most, if not all, of them...

Starting at the beginning; you don't buy a boat, you build it. One buys a $ 2000,- design from a renowned builder (Granger in our case), buys a whole heap of cedar-wood, plywood and epoxy and starts cracking. David took 15 years but that was more to do with finance, family, other work etc. In the end, hours left out of the equation, he had a 44ft ocean going catamaran, fully rigged, for under $100.000,-. Fair play I say.

During our sail we spoke to plenty of other people and it seemed they had lots of problems that we were spared: Their second fridge had broken down. Their toilet was blocked. The auto-pilot had given in and there were even some poor souls, god help them, who's de-salinator had stopped working. The reason that we were spared any of these problems all together was that we had none of those things...

We ate canned food, our toilet was a bucket (stainless steel, yes sir!), we hand-steered all the way and we had a bunch of water jerrycans scattered all around the boat. And in case you were wondering, we showered by: one bucket salt water, soap-down, second bucket salt water, two liters of fresh water. This was a particularly fun system in the less remote areas where you had to be careful not to scoop up a nappy when you hauled-up the bucket of sea-water.

Add to this the absence of the dinghy outboard engine, the not having an electrical anchor winch (heavy), the not having of a paper-chart table and my less then accommodating berth and you can imagine that Matt and I sometimes enviously looked at those who could have a cold drink after a long day of not having hand-steered their boat. At the same time we marveled with a mix of disbelieve and respect at David who apparently had yet to be introduced to the concept of ergonomics, creature-comforts and efficiency. And he didn't seem to mind. Having said that; everything was built over-size and therefor rock solid which gives a secure feeling. Also for all the necessary boat stuff there was a spare and the tools to replace whatever had to be. Mostly rusty tools but that's what you get in a salt water environment. As our stainless steel poo bucket proved...

As David pointed out, ever the optimist, Masquerade was a good boat for me to learn sailing on. No push-button action but fair and honest hands-on mechanics. Yes, well, it was also a good boat to learn how to manually pull a 40kg anchor plus 20m of 10mm chain out of the mud, how to snake yourself into bed via an obstacle course of dinghy, canvas-flap, spare-anchor and bike-box and I also got pretty good at hanging on for dear life with one hand while trying to zip down and relieve myself of the back of a raging catamaran with the other hand as we didn't have any guardrails or safety lines of some sort. y next boat would feel só luxurious, David pointed out. Indeed; if the galley has a tap, it wins.

Now, I whinge and none of the above was made up. Not even exaggerated. But in the end of the day, who gets to sail for 5 months to and through the most beautiful and remote waters, in good company and spirits, for free? I'm just saying.

Wás it for free? Almost. We all paid for our own food but you have to eat anyway. The only thing that cost me was my share in the petrol we burned up when there was no wind. This amount had prior to departure been estimated at $ 400,- which was exactly what it cost in the end. Let me do the math for you: 5+ months, 6600km, $ 400,- = 6 cents/km or $ 2,50 per day. Affordable for transport and accommodation. Unfortunately the much anticipated 'living off the ocean' thing did not pull through but pancakes for breakfast and pasta with tinned tuna for dinner doesn't cost an arm and a leg. And not having a fridge meant that when we díd catch a good fish, we had to absolutely stuff ourselves before it would go off which tempered my fresh-fish-desire for a few days after...

Then last but not least; the psychology. True to form I had no idea what I threw myself into. Under the logic of 'how hard can it be?' and 'why would I not be able to do this?' I had gotten myself in a situation that was sometimes great, sometimes a bit tough on the mind. Apparently, I have a strong opinion. I deny that; as it happens, I just know a little bit better what would be a good thing to do. Traveling alone is perfect for these sort of people. But I wasn't alone. Sailing, or 'being marooned on this stupid white raft' as I called it in my happy-moods, was definitely more of a class for the psyche than in any other aspect. Sure I know now 100% more about sailing then before and my English has probably improved but the by far and beyond bigger challenge was mentally putting things in their right places. For example, it took me ages to adapt to the Kiwi/Aussie way of speaking which, incidentally, is a far more common way of communicating world-wide then the Dutch way. What you say is: 'are you sure that is the best way to do it and have you considered other possibilities?'. Rather then: 'What you're doing is stupid, here let me show you how it's done'. What the world has against this honest and efficient way of communicating, I don't know but it sure gets you a whole range of funny responses (all equally indirect and vague) if you persist with it. This whole thing can be summarized by the following: I spoke to someone who said that in my culture conflict must be a normal thing. I thought about it and concluded that what for her felt as conflict, merely was confrontation. It only becomes conflict when you take offense. Wisely, I did not confront her with that as she would no doubt have found that very conflicting. Anyway, I tried to address this but only made it halfway I think. There was more. Dealing with aforementioned lack of a place to just kick back. Dealing with the small range of food items which led to remarkably similar meals day-in, day-out. And most of all; not being able to do what you want. I had enthusiastically and gratefully committed to nearly half a year on this boat whereas I should know by now that I get bored with things after two weeks to a month. I had to tell myself over and over that what I wanted would come and that I would look back on this sailing trip for the rest of my life with a longing to go back to it. And it's true. Already now that I have left the boat for less then a week do I remember the laughs we had much more then my grumpy times. I treasure the adventures and am turning the boring times into funny stories. It is weird, for so long I was surrounded by these two former strangers who I now know so well and now they're gone. I won't say I deeply miss them but they are definitely not forgotten either. David gambled very well by selecting his two crew-members. Matt and I got along right from the start and became really good friends over the course of time. We did nearly all the excursions away from the boat together and never had a falling out. We were sort of differently similar. If that makes sense. And Matt is a patient boy, that helps. Dave had to grow on me but I don't mean that negatively at all. For one he is older and we had a few other differences but I have always felt a mutual respect and a bond that grew right to the last day when we parted with a short, strong and meaningful handshake. 'See ya later. Bye'.

Being with three was a good thing anyway, that way two can always chat while the third one recluses. Or you can vent little annoyances to the third one rather then having to work everything out. Most of the time it's nothing anyway.

I didn't make it all the way to Phuket by the way. It became clear at an early moment that my preferred travel speed did not match that of the other two. Fair enough. They somehow seemed to think we were here to have a really good look around and take it all in with deep breaths. Whereas my lingering was merely accidental. I had just spend two years of larding around waterfalls and foreign cities, I was on my way home and there was a lot to go so lets hurry. This didn't work. Once again it didn't create stress on board but we did wisely come to the conclusion that it'd be best to make an adjusted plan. Originally we were to arrive in Phuket in October but the men are now pushing December. It became Singapore for me. That way I could sail all the long overnighters, which is not fun if you're just two on board. I could also help navigate the straights around Singapore. Only the busiest shipping channel in the world. After that, those two would sail on and I would start riding up through Malaysia and onward. Apart from that I longed for something else, it also meant I would start riding from the very tip of the Eur-Asian continent. And that's cool.

So maybe, in the end, I did not really become a sailing boy then. But I don't spit on it either and am definitely keeping I open as a future method of transport. But I think that's what it will always be. Until I reach that certain age perhaps...

To David, Matt and Masquerade; thanks, it's been a pleasure and... catch ya later.  

Thursday, 30 August 2012 08:26

Crossing from Australia to Indonesia, more then just a geographical divide...

 

Some 28 months ago I left Holland to see places on our globe that are distinctly different from my home country. Then I ended up in Australia. I wanted a change, after 18 months in the Latin-American countries I felt it was time to swap locations. The Spanish, the local way of life and different culture had become the new norm and once again was I looking for change. Australia may not seem like the most likely place to go look for new impulses. Especially not if you've been there twice before... Wealthy countries present their own challenges for the money conscious traveler though as well as the adaptation back into, and the acceptance of, the complacent, and dare I say decadent, way of life that is synonymous to western countries. Just like my own.

I did not just randomly fly into Australia to see what would happen. I have surpassed the level of the backpacker who comes to work and party (thank you 1999), nor do I feel the need to explore the nooks and crannies of the continent as I have been lucky enough to be able to cross that off as well (thank you 2007). So what then? The excuse to come to this side of the world  was the world championship adventure racing, the real attraction lay in seeing if I could make it back home half way across the world without using a plane. Actually, give or take a few little exceptions, it looks like I will make it back home without using an engine. Although of course, I am not quite there yet...

It may have transpired by now that shall mainly use a bicycle for transportation, except for the wet bits where a sail-boat seems the handier solution. Starting in Tasmania I first had some 4000km to ride before I could head for the seas. I saw it as a warm-up. A good start of a long journey through 3 continents. A journey that, in my head, would only start from the mainland of Eur-Asia onward. It took me 40 days of actual riding to cover the distance but in time it took me from half november to half may. 6 months so to say, or 180 days. So, what happened in the 140 days I wasn't rolling? Well, not much and a lot at the same time. Nothing to write home about perhaps; hang out with friends, see national parks and some considerable time was spend in Townsville where I found such a comfortable environment that I was strongly inclined to park-up for a while. Singled out, all really nice and warming experiences but it's when you put them in a row that they add up to quite an amazing list consisting of a mix of great nature, lots of tarmac, some racing but most of all just spending time with new people I now call friends. I also got to see my close family in New Zealand again which was a treat as we don't get to spend much time together typically.

Nine months I stayed in this part of the world, eight in Australia, one in New Zealand. A journey in itself perhaps but for me it still merely felt like transit. My heart still lies with the more chaotic countries, the new ones, the differences. I should stress though that this says nothing about the great and lovely people I have met between Hobart and Darwin. I treasure every encounter and will never forget how all of you have made my time an incredible one. Such was the hospitality and enthusiasm I have found here, for example, that of all 270 nights I spent, I only had to find paid-for- accommodation for ten of them. I have seen a new side of Australia; the inside. And it's great! By not locking myself up in hostels or isolating myself in a camper-car, I 'had' to meet people and mingle. I spend normal day to day life with the locals, almost leveling out with them. Except for that little detail of course, of them having jobs and me not. This; the not spending money in an expensive country, the pedaling of a loaded bicycle through the heat and the constant flux of new faces with whom I automatically try to connect, those things made the challenge in this part of my travel. An interesting change from the bus-propelled, overwhelming latin experience that is South-America. I think that these two parts together should see me well prepared for the 20.000km of contact with the local people from Indonesia to Belgium.And I can't wait!

Speaking of Indonesia... Where in a skeptical mood I could sometimes call Australia 'boring', in Indonesia that word definitely has no place. It is.... quite different. And awesome! Someone summarized the spirit of this country with the line: 'it is impossible, but it can be arranged'. An other one is: 'as hospitable as it is chaotic'. The combination of these two should give you a good idea of what it is like to be here. And that is exactly what I like so much about it here and about other countries with similar characteristics. People have less but are all the more friendlier for it. For those who think that that is because they want your money; you're wrong. Also the lack of rules, or at least the enforcement of them, is right up my alley. It gives you that certain sense of... freedom. Yes; traffic is chaotic, but no car has a dent in it. No; there are no signs warning you for holes in the road, because people can think for themselves. And becáuse of the lack of social security, people look after one an other. Irony defined...

In other words; it is great to be back. Back in the lands of 'what the hell are they saying?!' Back at 'when are you guys going to grow that last foot or so?' And yes, I do appreciate that my dinner costs     $ 2.- again. Interesting too to note some differences. I do not consider myself a seasoned traveler at all. That would be too arrogant I think. After all; what  have I done? Disrespectfully throwing those few latin-american countries on one heap (because they are, on global scale, quite similar), this is effectively only the second third-world country that I see so I can hardly call myself an expert. Arriving here, in the south-west of the archipelago, I automatically started comparing here to 'there', to my only comparable bench-mark. It's a fun game. Some (many) trades are definitely mutual ones. I suppose humanity world-wide comes to the same conclusions when faced with similar problems. Issues that the western world has 'solved', a process with not just advantages, and that when reminded off, seem strange and alien to the westerner. So, Ferries and buses are not 'full' when all seats are taken but when they are actually FULL. Cars that work are by definition road-worthy. Having six identical stalls of something in 200m of street dóes make sense. I had a bit of a go at this in an earlier post from Ecuador. In 'our' eyes, it doesn't make sense because you'll be each others competitor. If everyone sells apples, why not sell bananas? Here, were there are no bananas, the sixth vendor just takes a little business from the other five. Everyone has work, no one dies with hunger. Same for the 'useless' second man on buses, the person holding open an open door in a shop and the people packing your groceries into plastic bags in the supermarket. Oh hold on, that last one is western. But still useless.

Long story short; there is a secret to what we call 'hidden unemployment'. It is called 'survival'. I saw it over there and I see it here again. If only I could switch off that stupid Dutch, efficiency-minded brain that keeps being bugged by it...

Other similarities? Yes, the Dutch are indeed the tallest people. Or at least these guys are not going to prove that theory wrong. The response to it is different though; where in, say, Ecuador, the people just stare (an other common trade apparently), here they háve to get their picture taken with you. Luckily not thát bad that they stop you in the streets but I don't think I have escaped one camera of local people I have had more then three minutes conversation with. Indonesians are not shy. It is actually kind of fun, we are not in a hurry anyway. Also the fact that the inevitability seems to grow if the other party is female makes the situation more acceptable again... The effect might weaken if/when we hit more frequented areas tourism wise (West-Timor is Indonesia's forgotten corner) but for now it is fine to be a pop-star. Including the being a millionaire part: 10.000,- Rupiah = $ 1,-

People are friendly, interested in where you are from, when you are going back there and what the hell you are doing in the mean time?! After all; the ocean is a dangerous place, why would you go there for your leisure and don't you have to work or something? When you get to know people better,  conversation inevitably, and understandably, comes to money and the cost of things. I hate it when they do that because it makes me feel like a very decadent and overly privileged young man. Which I am but that doesn't mean they have to rub it in my face. The standard story is to explain that yes, we have more money but things also cost a lot more in our country. Therefore, end of the day, we are not rich as such, we only benefit abroad. This story only holds up if you can then change the subject quickly to something else because of course it is as thin as one-night ice on a canal in Amsterdam. The truth is that there is no excuse. But I just can't tell people that I bought a bicycle worth a years salary and can afford to ride it home for 18 months just for fun. I just can't. Let alone elaborate on what went on before that. Or on how long for I will have to pay off my debt for this trip.

So far I absolutely love Indonesia. It is interesting, even better then I expected and it is just too cool how easy it is to get contact with the local people. Just this morning for example, we had the chance to go to a local junior high-school and see them practice the dances they will perform for the celebration of independence day (when those bloody Dutch finally left) next week. We were invited by their english teachers who we had randomly met in a restaurant. They thought it a good opportunity for the students to speak with a 'native speaker' (I've been upgraded). It was a treat for us to have a little look behind the scenes of Indonesian society but it became very clear real quick that we were not the only ones having a good look; the teachers room were we were hosted had windows all around it (imagine that at home) and for the duration of our stay an average of 20 young students were glued to them like we were the last specimen of a nearly extinct exotic species. It was the funniest thing ever and I have to repeat; Indonesians are NOT shy.

To help the process of mutual exchange of background along, I have embarked on a dedicated program of studies of the local language, Bahasa Indonesia, because I find it frustrating that I can't even have a little shopping conversation in the local language. 'Anda bisa berbicara bahasa Inggris' is just such an embarrassing question to ask. Luckily it is a very simple language to learn without conjugation, tenses or tones. Let's see how far I get.

Although traveling by boat is not always ideal, the benefits out-weigh the nuisances. It is easy to complain about a whole heap of things but typically those should be all forgotten when this adventure turns from 'current' to 'memory' and what remains are all the good sides of this way of travel. The big one being, need I emphasize this, the fact that you can go anywhere you want and that when you do, you always have your home right there with you. In a country consisting of 17.000 islands a boat almost seems like the only sensible way to travel through it. Especially if you want to go to places less traveled which, luckily, all aboard do. And even though we dó also go to the bigger and more famous ones like Flores, Bali and Kalimantan (Borneo), we still get to pick those little hidden bays where one  can find the unpolished beauty of authentic Indonesia. Combined with the fact that I can sometimes go off-board with my bicycle to explore some of the inland, I would say that in the eleven weeks we shall spend here I may rightfully so feel privileged with yet an other amazing travel experience.

Of course the trip won't end by the time we reach Singapore in the middle of October. Many people ask me about the how and where next. I'm not sure. Not entirely that is. I want to go home, yes, and relatively quickly. I can tell you the rough sketch; I wanted to go through Myanmar but they do not allow land-border-crossings. This presents me with a new challenge; that of riding around it. It is a bit 'in the way' though. The extended route now then sparks, after Malaysia and Thailand; Cambodia, Laos, China, India. I am not sure about the Himalayas yet. I would love to cross them but it being rather winter-ish around the time I should be there, feels like a little deterrent. Weak, I know.  Then  I reach a bit of a cross-roads: either go up, through the 'Stans', or keep going on the same latitude through Pakistan and Iran. Political situations will have a hand in that decision I suppose. I would like to come out via Turkey though to take advantage of the better weather in the south of Europe.  Am I running ahead of myself here? Probably. But I need some handhold to go by right? In the end it comes down to a big portion of 'we'll see'. Crap as an answer but perfect for the traveler... Same goes for the arrival date; nice and vague. The intention to push on is there but estimations of arrival are based on hopes rather then insight. My motivation is double sided: not only am I running out of money so that I kind of háve to go home, but also do I feel that the estimated three years of travel will be enough. At some point you know, 'work', 'normal' life and having a home become the 'new' things on the horizon.

I am sure though, that once there, it will all be boring soon enough again. Luckily there will be a few countries left I haven't seen yet...

 

Thanks for reading and till the next one! Selamat tinggal!

 

Raijua Island, 15-08 2012.

Monday, 16 April 2012 03:40

GODZone Adventure Race

 

 

For those of you aspiring to do a 522km endurance race without your own gear and with 3 people you've never met before; get right into it, piece of cake...

 

As some of you may have deducted by now; I kind of like adventure racing. You may also realize that it is hard to participate in these kind of races while you are living out of four panniers and spend half your time in solitide camping behind a tree and the other half with people you have met a week before and who are therefor, for now, your best friends. Sometimes though, you can get a sweet luck of the draw and you will have the opportunity to slide right into that lucky slot and bend the rules of logic. This is the, hopefully short, report of one of these rare occasions....

 

I am in Australia. I ride a bicycle from south to north. I am on a visa, that is now running out but my boat to Thailand doesn't go yet. Enter the back-up plan.

Since I have already extended my visa once without leaving the country, the Australian government has now really had it with me, does not want any more of my tourist money and I have to leave. I can come back any time and whenever I want. No worries. I have family in New Zealand, which is close, and the timing is perfect for being involved in the new but very promising GODZone adventure race held in the south there. A ticket is easily booked. Return, which immediately gets my into trouble at the airport (I should have known this); "sorry we can not allow you on this flight because you do not have a visa back into Australia" Me: " I am aware of that, it's the whole bloody reason that we are talking together in the fist place" them: "I undersand sir but you will have to buy a new ticket here now which is than totally refundable as soon as you arrive in New Zealand" (in about 4 hours). "Minus $ 50,-". 

In New Zealand I look up my family, have a great time and then make my way south to Queenstown where the race will be held. Before all this, still in Australia, I have had great contact with the volunteer coordinator, Paula, arranging my arrival and intended position during the race. After all, I would rather race but what are the chances of me finding a team, a mountain bike, kayaking gear, loads of shoes, and everything else you need for a race in the alps while you're normally residing in the tropics??! So all is sorted for Lukas to volunteer, until I ask her if she perhaps has heard of any team that might... She points me in the direction of the site where the teams that need extra power and the people who are without a team talk to eachother. In short; I find a team!  

This is great but it presents us (we're a team now) with the problems summed up above. In true Kiwi style though this will all be 'no problem'. 'No problem' in Dutch means: 'Too easy, I'll ring a few outdoorsy mates and we'll have all your gear in a jiffy, what color would you like?'. 'No problem' in Kiwi means: I am sure we can defintaly probably arrange that I think. The margin has to be filled with creativity...

And we did. I was in Queenstown a week before the race, stayed at Paula and Paul's place (no joke), met the team and together we got all the gear together in the space of only a few days. It shows, once again, what magical things you can achieve if you meet a few great people who will go out of their way to help you. If you're reading this, you know who you are; THANKS.

Then, the race. These races always go through a similar line of events; teams coming into town (suddenly lots of sporty people everywhere), race registration (people eyeing each other up, nervous organizers, lots of laughs), then moving to the start-line, messing around with maps, not getting enough sleep and then... The Start!!

I had seen this several times as a volunteer up till now and it was absolutely great to experience it as a racer this time. It's different. For example, you're not allowed to walk into race head quarters days before the race and you're not best buddies with the entire organization on your second day. Instead you get: "which team are you (in)? Wait here, I'll ask". Weird.

Us and 30 other teams were bussed to the start-line on sunday. We knew the race would start monday at 6:30am. I expected they would screw us over and not have us let sufficient sleep. I was right. We only got our maps in the bus. Frantic studying by everyone. We arrived, got settled in and then heard that yes, the race did start at 6:30, but not here. We would have to get up at 3am to be on a boat at 3:45am to be boated to a spot 15km away where our kayaks would be waiting for us. 3 hours sleep stolen at the beginning of the race!! By now, of course, we also knew how the race would be build up. This is what they had in store for us:

 

1: We would start the race at the entrance of Milford Sound and paddle in. 15 km.

2: Then on via the road by mountainbike. 49 km, as. 1240, des. 866m

3: Paddeling the Eglinton River. 36 km, des. 137m.

4: Bush trek Dunton range. 54 km, as. 2857m, des. 2478m.

5: Mountain bike, 81km, as. 1250m, des. 1527m.

6: Trekking Eyre Mountains. 48 km, as. 3400m, des. 3006m.

7: Then a 20 km paddle that got cancelled.

8: Mountain bike Thomson Mountains. 129km, as. 1030m, des 1287m.

9: Trekking Earnslaw Burn. 24 km, as. 2355m, des. 2280m.

10: Mountainbike Rees Valley. 21 km, as. 50,, des. 262m.

11: Kayak Lake Wakatipu. 46 km. 

 

Totals:  522 km, ascent: 12182m., descent: 11843m.

 

We didn't get to do it... Not all of it at least. These races are hard, worldclass. A team of greenhorn racers can not expect to go for the prices. Optimistically, we went for finishing. Read how we went.

We lost each other 10 minutes after the start. We had tandem kayaks, 2 per team and we saw an opportunity to get out of sight from each other in the dark start on the choppy boundary of ocean and sound (fjord). You might think we could have shouted at each other but with 20 other teams having the same problem it just became one big orgy of shouted numbers echoing of the sound-walls. I was in a kayak with Tim, we hung back until we were as good as last and had to conclude that somehow Dave and Hanna must have past us in the chaos and would now be far ahead of us. Great. We go in pursuit mode and make our way to the end of the sound where we would transition to bikes. Seals and dolphins play in the water around us for distraction. At the end we find the others. They thought we were ahead of them so had paddled hard to catch up with us. We don't waste any words on it and get ready for the riding.

It's only a 49km road ride and we make fairly good progress. Hanna and I use the tow-line we have set up between our bikes and we wizz over the asphalt. At TA2 (Transition Area) we put the bikes in their boxes, put on our wetsuits, pump our inflatable canoes and start our 36km paddle down the flowing Eglinton River. That is to say; the water that is there is defnately flowing but there is unfortunately not enough of it. We have to exit and carry the boats many times which takes away from the otherwise very beautiful and relaxing river ride. For paddling there are dark hours, they don't want us on the white water in the dark. Makes sense. We also had to wear our bicycle helmets for this. Which we forgot. The river 'closed' at 7pm. We arrived at TA3 at 6:45pm. Planned of course...

Hanna has paddled like a tiger but is now quite low on energy and cold, her and Dave go to the gear boxes while Tim and I deflate the canoes and put them in their trailer. The saturday before the race we were given not the maps or the whole course but enough information for us to plan how to pack our four designated gearboxes that we would see at the 10 Transition areas during the race. I.E.: 'at TA2 you will see box A and D', 'at TA7 you will see bike box and B', etc. Plus the estimated time the organizers think you will need between the TA's so you know how much food to put in which box. We had had a good think about all on saturday and packed our gear boxes to be as best prepared as we could. Now we were going to find out how well we had done this.

A race rule is that during the entire race, teams must carry certain items with them that will ensure their safety/survival while on the course. Things like sleeping bags against hypothermia and a whistle for drawing attention. A tent is also on that list.

At TA3 we get our first mandatory gear check. Just someone asking you to show a few items to see if you're not cheating by taking less weight with you on course. We all had some of these items in our bags to spread the load. I had the outer shell of the tent, bloody lumpy thing. When the gear check is over, and the guy is gone, Dave says; ehm, team, we don't have our tent poles, I forgot them in the kayak. No one says anything but we all know this will make camping overnight a bit more of a challenge and we will also not be able to camp at TA's, normally the most comfortable places. Even better is that we will see all our gear and bike boxes numerous times during the race, except for the kayaks because they are the first and the very last stage. At least we can camp at the finish.

These kind of things are not the biggies though, the course itself, and predominantly the navigating, is the hardest part of this race. As we will soon find out.

Stage four is a long trekking stage. 54km through the mountains and the organizers count on 15 hours for the fast teams and 24 hours for the slow ones. Modest as we are we take food for 24 hours (we think because it's not an exact science). We leave TA3 at 9pm and trek till the first mid-stage CP (check point) which we find at 3am. There we make the best of our pole-less tent and sleep for 2 hours. Correction; we wánt to sleep for two hours but miss the alarm and get four hours instead. Bummer but done deal, we pack up and go. The next one, CP5, proves a challenge for many teams and for Kia Kaha, meaning 'forever strong' in maori, it's no different. Dave is a good navigator but no one is perfect and the terrain is tricky. Not all streams and little ridges show up on our 1:50.000 map and although we know we are very close, we can not close the deal on this illusive marker and go round and round in circles for the rest of the day. Where we should have been there mid afternoon, instead we end up navigating ridges and creeks full of dead trees and thick vegatation till late in the evening. We decide to camp out and give it an other try at day break. Some of us are colder and more tired then others but together we make us a nice camp with campfire (forbidden) so we can make a warm drink and dry some clothes. It feels like a waste of time not to move for 7 hours but going endlessly up the hills and into the creeks would be a waste of energy. It is a difficult call to make. In hind sight we should have gone back to the spot where we knew where we were and have followed the tracks of all the teams that had gone before us I guess but we didn't. We were so close...

In the morning we still can't get our barings and frustrated we descend the mountain, cross the tracks of all the other teams and make our way to CP6. We skip CP5 and if we weren't already out of the race because of the time we wasted, we are now definately off the official course. 

Our dismay does not last though and we pick ourselves up and decide to make the very best of all the stages that lie ahead of us, after all, we are allowed to continue on course, we are just not in the running for first prize any more. Apart from the ego, It doesn't feel like a big loss...

We find CP6 where we are given an alternative, faster, route to TA4 so we can get back on track and into the cycling. Great! We embark on this new course which is a pretty track through field and forest. Later we agree that this hike was one of the better moments of the week. At 2am (thursday) we arrive at TA4. Remember that we only packed food for 24h initially and that we by now have spend 53h away from our food supplies. Still we were not overly hungry. We had gotten a bit of food from CP6, but not much, and we had also been invited into a hunters hut where the guys had given us a a cup of tea and a chunk of lamb-leg left over from their dinner. Other then that we had just taken too much to begin with I suppose. There is a rule in racing that says: ' travel light, starve at night'. Next time maybe.

Four or five other teams that make up the back of the field are held up at this check point (7) until the organizers have decided how they are going to let us continue with the course. It is a lodge and we make ourselves some hot instant meals (bliss I tell you) and relax by the fire. I am finding all this way too much comfort for an adventure race but since we are not allowed further for now I might as well enjoy it right? One team decides to sleep outside, where it freezes, in their tent 'for the real experience' but we don't (and can't anyway) so that we will be strong and fit for what's to come. In the morning we hear.

The now last 5 teams will continue on a 116km bike stage that will lead them to the beginning of the last paddle (and their tent poles for some) which shall lead them back to Queenstown and the finish line. A nice one; not too easy, not amazingly hard and a nice way to end the week by crossing the line as if we have done the whole thing. With our spirits high we set of on our bikes; this is going to be one hell of a fun and beautiful ride!! And it was. There was litteraly nothing to complain about. We found our way, the weather was cooperating and although it was long and sometmes tough, that was what we signed up for. We rode through fields, crossed rivers and got tired and sleepy. Hanna was on tow while we hiked our bikes and has to follow me sinking my teeth in up an endless mountain over an old track with switch-back after switch-back. She is tired but won't give up. Of all of us she has probably suffered hardest during this race but we never heard her about it. Must be the Swedish Viking blood coming out. Meanwhile Tim was sandwiched by both his own and Hanna's backpack pushing his bike with the squeeky brakes up the hill. Dave found the checkpoint effortlessly after which it was downhill for an hour over a track with sniper rocks hiding under the grass. Having left for all this at 11am we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset round 7pm while still, in my case, falling down the mountains with our bikes because my shoes wouldn't unclip fast enough when I cocked up at downhill speed. I didn't seem to learn but the rest of team learned a few new interesting Dutch words that I better not put in writing here... Once downhill we were at the shore of the lake which we'd be paddling on once we got to the TA. That was on the other side... It took for ever to ride around this massive body of water and only round 5:30am (friday), with the first rays of sunlight poking through the dark, did we arrive at the top of lake Wakatipu in Glenorchy. Here we found our kayaks, bike boxes and food. 

Since we were sent away from TA4 at the same time, and since we had all found our way, we now had the same teams ready here for the paddle plus a bunch of faster teams who had done more of the course and ended up here too to do the last stage. We didn't sleep but instead packed away our bikes, had something to eat and got ready for our estimated eight hour paddle over what seemed to be a very calm lake. We were looking forward to it as it promised to be an other dry day rain-wise. 

For a bit of a race element they had all the teams with an L on their forehead line up for a sprint start to their kayaks. This was fun, mostly probably because we were first in the water. We had decided we would give it a little bit of a push whereas others, that we had gotten to know quite well by now because we kept running into them in the back of the field, said they would just have a leisurely paddle back to town. Good on them and not a strange choice as the scenery was stunning and deserved quiet admiration.

The lake was less quiet then it seemed to be at the top of it and as an inexperienced kayaker I will admit that I found the sometimes one meter high waves a bit intimidating. Of course, the worst that could happen was to fall out but that would be a nuisance because you would have to get back in in and empty the boat. Not to mention the rather chilly water you would end up in. The waves had an advantage too though; they came from the right direction and pushed us along nicely. Sometimes, if we tried hard enough, we could actually catch them and ride them until they ran out. Great fun and a good speed boost. There were two CP's to find which was easy enough and about 6 hours later we arrived, rather soaked and cold, at the beach in Queenstown! Sweet!! 

Because it was a friday afternoon we had a bit of an audience clapping for us while we had our fasted transition ever (the only one we had coordinated upfront); getting rid of life jackets and paddles, stuffing everything in the kayaks under our spraydecks and had our last and final 1km run to race head quarters and the official finish-line, Yeahhh!!!! A photographer, cold pizza and warm bubbly wine awaited us to celebrate completing some beautiful parts of an in total epic race. Respect for the team that won the whole thing in under 87 hours. We were only newbies, now we can't say that anymore. The zero has gone, it has turned into a one and I really hope it will turn into a two and keep counting rather sooner then later!

So in summary: Was it hard? No. Was it easy? Neither. Did I ever regret being there? Never. Was it great to be out there with so many like minded enthusiasts and in such beautiful nature? Always. We didn't complete the course, we got lost, we made mistakes. But as a fresh team with a hand full of races and some volunteering on-looking as experience that is hardly a shocker I think. We loved it, we learned and we will definately be back. Kia Kaha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 09 March 2012 05:13

Progression!

As always; check out the pictures for the cartoon version of this. But:

 

What has happened since Brisbane?! Since I left there the 9th of January, a few things have definitely happened! I have ridden and other 1500km or so and have had the privilege of spending some awesome times with friends, both from 'old' as new made ones.

Even though it took me an apparent two months to ride this far (I'm in Townsville), the truth is that I have been spending a lot of time at peoples homes, letting them take me out on fun trips or just simply relaxing with them. The one major issue that played through my mind these months was how to get out of Australia and into Asia. I am pleased to announce that this has been resolved about which later more.

After a lovely Christmas and New Years at Amy and Candace's place I headed up the road to meet two old friends made in Ecuador. We hadn't seen each other in ages obviously and where they had continued with their normal lives after their adventures they were happy to hear about mine still continuing. We are talking about Rachael and David, I met them in Cuenca, exchanged details and what do you know, some people you dó actually see again! It was a pleasure and I enjoyed their hospitality for several days before heading further north. Not that far because only 100km up or so I was awaited by Glenn and Geoff, two mates from Brisbane and Glenn I knew from the race in Tasmania. We took Geoff's 4x4 to the beach and fished, kayaked and drank beer while cremating the fish. Taking advantage of that horrible aussie lifestyle so to say but you know what they say; 'while in Rome, do as the Romans do'.

I said good-bye to the guys and pushed on for a few days to Mackay where I would stay with a dutch girl named Nicole who I had approached through the couch-surfing site. On the way was plenty of sleeping illegally behind trees (and next to railroads again), smelly roadkill and trucks passing me to closely. Most of the drivers though take a wide berth and wave at me in a friendly fashion for which I am very thankful.

Nicole and boyfriend Adam turned out to be a relaxed bunch and they were happy to let me do what ever in their house while they went to work. While they weren't we talked about the differences between Holland and Oz of which we all knew both sides since Adam, being Australian, had visited our lovely country a few times already and they were planning to move there.

Then on to Airlie Beach, a famous backpacker-trap where people stay longer then intended and wake up one morning wondering why they thought is was a good night to participate in that jelly-wrestling competition again. Until they find the $ 300,- they have won in their pockets. I once again made good friends through the lovely system of couchsurfing where you basically write to a complete stranger to ask if you can live under their roof and eat out of their fridge until they get sick of you. Kind of, yet not far from the truth really.

Dominic was my first host here and him, me, his mates and some other random couchsurfers celebrated a great Australia-Day in and around his pool. From where ever you are reading this, does your country have it's own day? I mean specifically named after it? I didn't think so. The excuse for drinking over and the results of it cleaned up I left Dom to his own devices and more then happily 'moved in' with Jane, a very energetic and fun-loving Belgian doctor who now lives in Airlie but actually wants to go as rural as you can imagine to help people and find gold in her spare time (believe it or not, there is still lots of gold up for grabs in the outback). Apart form being a great host and now friend she introduced me to the sailing community of Airlie and I was given the chance to sail, and be 'crew', on a splendid 43ft sailing boat and do some low-key races with the locals. An awesome chance for a sailing novice like myself since a sailing boat would be my best bet of getting out of Australia over'land'. You don't make your life easier when you decide not to use planes when you want to go home from Tasmania I tell you. But... it worked!!!

I hung up notices in marinas, put myself up as crew on websites and asked, literally, everybody I spoke to if they knew someone with a boat. But most of all, I worried. Then, one day, just after I had left some random parking area along the highway where I had spend the night, my phone rang. I usually turn it off but had left it on intentionally now 'because someone could ring'. And then someone did!!! It was David. David owns a 44ft catamaran and plans to sail to Asia. I had seen his add on a website and had written him a note to say I wanted to join him on his ship if I could. He had written back that he was sorted but would remember me in case someone would drop out. I replied I hoped someone did.

One week after that the phone call came. “Lukas I had someone bail on me and hope you're still interested”. Was I ever?!?! Too cool! But I was skeptical, it sounded too good to be true. Now though, after meeting him, seeing his boat, knowing of the other crew member, I actually truly believe the three of us will sail between Australia and Thailand between May and October. I can not begin to tell you how relieved I am because the idea of catching a plane with bike and all panniers was not appealing at all. It was always my boring, lame and expensive back-up plan and I am happy that I won't need it. Although, in my Calvinistic mind, I state that of course we can only truly be sure of this when I off-load my bike in Thailand :-)

So, boat leaves in May, from Cairns where I as good as am now. What to do? Well, this:

I have discovered a consistency in my travels so far and it is... Visas. The stupid paperwork hassle that doesn't like me. In Ecuador I stayed five months illegally, in Costa Rica I had to make a quick visa run (going into an other country and coming straight back in) and now in Australia again the stupid time limit they put on travel is screwing me over once more. I came into the country on a visitors visa, no problem. Then, when I asked for an extension, they sent me to a doctor for an X-ray of my chest to see if I had tuberculosis which would exempt me from a new visa. They sure picked up on that one quick. Of course I didn't; fastest and most useless $ 105,- spent in my life. One can only extend once though because of.... no sensible reason. So, I have to do an other visa run. Problem is: It's an island here. Far from everything. I rang immigration to ask if a run would work. The answer: 'we can tell you that once you're out of the country'. Very practical if you want to buy a return ticket; that you don't know if you will be allowed back in... Anyway, it's a western country with all inherent consequences. They did manage to raise the level of suffocating and life-constricting rule-density here to such a degree that the dutch could learn from them. And trust me, that says a lot. If there is one country where they F themselves in the A with laws then it's that cheese-munching-should-have-drowned little place by the North Sea.

Anyway, I'm going to New Zealand. In April. And, surprise, surprise, I'm going to be volunteering for and adventure race :-) Also I have lots of lovely family there so I suspect that time will fly by. I'm looking forward to it. Till that time I am sitting out my time here in North Queensland which sounds a lot more negative than it is because it is not a punishment at all to be where I am now.

Then returning from New Zealand, I shall collect my stuff (bike isn't coming with me), ride to Cairns, prepare the boat, raise the anchor and sail off. And from there it's the big question mark again....

Someone asked me the other day if I run out of money and if I work at all. I can tell you that:

No and No.

 

Thanks for reading and I'll try to at least post something before we set sail. Keep safe.

Sunday, 08 January 2012 12:47

Let me know....

Written by

Please tell me what you think.

Saturday, 07 January 2012 15:24

Thousands of kilometers.

syd - bris 24Want to know how I went so far? Check out 'Pics'n text' for my latest pictures. I also have put text with the first two folders of Australia; the XPD race and Hobart to Sydney. Enjoy!

Then:

As I am writing this from Brisbane, I can now say that I have ridden 'thousands' of kilometers; two. And a bit. But even with the bit, my 2400 or so kilometers is nothing when you look at the map. And I do that quite regularly these days. Looking at the map of the earth my ridden distance is now visible but that's about it. Many more thousands of kilometers to go...

So far I rode in the easiest country of them all and I see it as a little practice run, the warm-up. It has been good! The weather was nice, the roads fine and I have had no problems so far. Sure my body hurt a little, I have been a bit bored sometimes and I had to do some minor repairs but all in all it has been a breeze. Mind you I write this after two weeks of leisurely relaxation over Christmas and New Years so my memory might be a bit coloured but I'm happy.

Now, as I am about to leave my villa in the basement of my new best aussie friends, I am looking forward to going into the vast Australian nothingness that they call 'The Outback'. A lot of desert and not a lot of settlements. Pure nature, nice!

Befor that though I have a bit more of coast line to follow. This is easy country and I should be able to knock em down quickly but there is one hitch: I need to work. This coastal area has lots of farms and since I have a bit of time for it I thought I would try to mak a few dollars here by picking fruit. People tell me that it should be easy to find some but I'll believe it when my pocket feels heavy... Staying positive though lets say I will. In that case my working should keep me occupied for a good month and then I'll do the desert run al the way to Darwin in the very north here. Close to Indonesia and my plan is to catch aboat between the two by the and of April. Apparently they are not easy to find but once again I do not want to despair up front.

Many people ask me what will happen after Indonesia and to tell you the truth: I do not know yet. I will have to look into visa rules and sea faring routes. Once I deside on it, I'll let you know!

That's it in a nut-shell for no folks. I am going strong, have a few hurdles to take and am looking forward to the rest of my trip. Have a look at my photo's to find out how it's been and keep an eye on this page, I will try to update it regularly!

See yah!!!

 

Saturday, 10 December 2011 00:28

Testes 1 - 2

Written by

Mocht je dit zien dan zie je het niet  weer...

nee dat klopt want hij staat niet in de categorie die wordt gepubliceerd daarvoor moet je die andere categorie hebben ;)

 

To Tasmania
To Tasmania To Tasmania
Good night
Good night Good night
Space
Space Space
Super sunrise
Super sunrise Super sunrise
Interviewed
Interviewed Interviewed
Bike Matthias
Bike Matthias Bike Matthias
Big house
Big house Big house
Petow paper
Petow paper Petow paper
Good picture
Good picture Good picture
All athletes
All athletes All athletes
Tent test
Tent test Tent test
Yellow jackets
Yellow jackets Yellow jackets
Box weighing
Box weighing Box weighing
Boxes
Boxes Boxes
Preparation
Preparation Preparation
Almost going
Almost going Almost going
Adrenalin rising
Adrenalin rising Adrenalin rising
Last instructions
Last instructions Last instructions
Go!
Go! Go!
160 kayaks
160 kayaks 160 kayaks
Lake mac
Lake mac Lake mac
Dead wood
Dead wood Dead wood
Heart hole
Heart hole Heart hole
Remote checkpoint
Remote checkpoint Remote checkpoint
Kayak raft
Kayak raft Kayak raft
Next kayaks
Next kayaks Next kayaks
Wallaby
Wallaby Wallaby
Morning
Morning Morning
Mirror lake
Mirror lake Mirror lake
Team paddling
Team paddling Team paddling
Cameras
Cameras Cameras
Fire beacon
Fire beacon Fire beacon
Lively CP
Lively CP Lively CP
Logistics
Logistics Logistics
Granville Harbour
Granville Harbour Granville Harbour
Working
Working Working
Bikes
Bikes Bikes
Typical
Typical Typical
Echidna
Echidna Echidna
Wet boxes
Wet boxes Wet boxes
Rain
Rain Rain
Arthur river
Arthur river Arthur river
Little meeting
Little meeting Little meeting
Truck view
Truck view Truck view
Smokey smiles
Smokey smiles Smokey smiles
Bedroom
Bedroom Bedroom
Driver
Driver Driver
Boat harbour
Boat harbour Boat harbour
Bay
Bay Bay
Floaters
Floaters Floaters
Paddling Arthur
Paddling Arthur Paddling Arthur
Quiet there
Quiet there Quiet there
Airport surprise
Airport surprise Airport surprise
Done
Done Done

Tuesday, 13 December 2011 05:24

It's all new!!

Welcome again folks!

OK, so, new site yes, but also new continent and new way of traveling! And how excited am I! Lots of thanks to good friend Thijs who never has anything to do and offered to do my site up so that we all may enjoy it more. Apart from an new hairdo it now boasts the option of commenting om my content. I hope to receive many comments from you guys or just drop me a line so I know you have been.

I'll give you a short update for those who are lost.

I traveled for 18 months in Latin-America and now moved to Australia. Initially to be with the WC Advenure racing but with the plan to try to go home overland after that. This plan has now escalated into the plan to do it all by bicycle (yes... water...). While writing this I have completed the first one thousand something kilometers and have arrived in Sydney. So far, all good! I stay here a few days in which I intend to serve you up some pictures. Also, thanks to Thijs, I now have to understand Twitter and what not so plenty to do for me.

So, if you want, keep an eye on it and enjoy stories and pictures, you are very welcome to!!!

CU you later people, where ever in the world!!

Monday, 03 May 2010 14:00

Montanita

Montanita;

a small (former) fishing village like there are so many along the 'Ruta del sol', on the coast of Ecuador, roughly between Salina and Manta. Allthough all of the places harbour tourists, Montanita takes the biscuit. Arriving into town I immediately knew what it was like, fancy restaurants, surfshops galore and a the game 'spot the local' proved to be a hard one. All in all a very comfortable place to start my travels and to feel home away from home. The accomodation I booked with the spanishschool I would attend was easily found and after 40hours of traveling I didn't mind being assinged a bed in a 3 bed dorm. There was only one other guy in the room with whom I would have to share our shower and hammock. Without us using either one at the same time... Arriving on saturday proved perfect timing: it allowed me plenty of time on sunday to take the same 3 hour bustrip back to the airport in Guayaquil to pick up my backpack. Silly me had thought that the airline sticker I had saying ' Guayaquil' would mean that my bag would automatically come to that airport and needly run of the belt. In fact it didn't (much to my disliking) and spent a day in Quito. They were kind enough to supply me with a toothbrush and managed to have the bag at the right place the next day. What else to do on your first day? Now united with my bag I could start school the next day and apart from me seriously having to get used to taking notes again and the concept of homework it was all very nice an d well arranged. It would be the start of 3 weeks of alternating school, surf and the Montanita special; 'Cocktail Alley'.