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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Auckland

It feels good to be back in a big city. Specially when it's a city like Auckland, well organized, clean, not so much traffic or noise.

I called Sylvia, the Mexican girl I had met in Fox. I will join her and her friends later on to celebrate her birthday.

It was great to go out again, specially with latin people. You're just making jokes and laughing all the time. It was great. Have to do it more often.

Well, after a good party night, the day after is always very slow. I had planned to do the coast to coast track, a 12 km track that goes from the west to the east coast of Auckland. I made it till the museum. Then a few rain drops just made me change my mind, go back to the city center and just spend some time in a book shop checking some travel guides.

So I didn't see much of the tourist attractions Auckland has to offer, but I got a feeling of the city. It's easy to understand why it's listed on the top list of the best places to live in the world.


Road Triping in NZ

Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

Queenstown and the beautiful lake soon stay behind as I hit the road on my rented Toyota. It's my first time driving an automatic gear car. It's boring and frustrating at times.

The adrenaline levels lower down as soon as the landscape changes. I'm on my way to Dunedin on the east coast. It's amazing the effect Queenstown has on the most normal of the mortals. There's simply so much to do there! If I had the money I would have done a few more things (yes Magnus, sky diving would have been one of those). And if the ski season had started already I would be hitting the slopes.

Well, back to the normal tourism, what brings me to this students city? It's not the fun, but it might be funny anyway. I am going straight to the Otago Peninsula, where I hope i'll see the rare yellow eyed penguins, sea lions, blue penguins, seals and albatros. I first head towards the albatros refuge center. It's a controlled natural reserve, where we have to pay to see the place where the albatros gather and breed. I am happy just with a cup of coffee in their great cafe and with seeing them fly. I still go down to the beach nearby, where the blue penguins apparently spend the night, but a sign says they don't arrive before 6 if they happen to come. So I just decide to head on to Sandfly beach, where I know I will encounter sea lions and the chances of seeing the yellow eyed penguins is high.

Sandfly beach is a beautiful wild beach. It's a really steep downhill trail through loose sand from the car park to the beach. On the way some cheap that are feeding on the green wavy hills that surround the coast line, look at me surprised.

As soon as I reach the beach I head towards the closest ravine. I think I saw something moving. And I had! :) walking up the cliff there was a yellow eyed penguim. He hid on the bushes looking at me but I am still able to see it clearly and take some pictures. I then start walking to the other end of the beach. 50m from me I see a penguim rushing out of the water and going into the dunes. A stupid tourist runs after it probably just to get the perfect shot. What an idiot. I continue walking and suddenly I spot a huge brown thing moving around where the waves break. As I walk closer I spot a sea lion enjoying himself in the waves. He seemed like he was posing at us. First playing around in the water and then rolling in the sand. He was still doing it when I left the beach, almost an hour later. I spent at least 15 min looking at it. We don't have these kind of things back home, or to be more correct, we don't have them in the wild within easy access to everyone. I continue walking, pass by a couple of sea lions that sleeping. They look like they had a hard day. When I reach the other end of the beach i see two more penguins up in the hill. I try climbing a rock to see them better but loose my balance and make some noise. This scared a few sea lions that I hadn't noticed sleeping on the rocks. Fortunately they just complain and look at me, giving me time to take some pictures of them and the penguins and leave. On the way back to the car I see two more penguins rushing out from the sea and am surprised with an astonishing sunset.

I was planning on reaching Christchurch the same day, but I took some time leaving Dunedin so just stayed in a small town halfway.

Kaikoura
Remember this city. It's reallysmall but one of the most beautiful places i've ever been to. The huge mountains covered in snow crashing into the sea make this almost look unreal, like those pictures we sometimes sea in books and that make us think that such a place doesn't exist. Kaikoura is famous for whale watching (i skipped this although it wasn't that expensive) and the seal colony. As I park the car at the end of the small peninsula immediately spot a few seals, sleeping just next to the cars. I then go up the hill and follow the trail that leads gives access to the beach where the seals are. The smell isn't very appealing as I get close to them. But it's fantastic just being there watching dozens of seals swimming, resting in the sun, playing in the water. Some don't seem very pleased to see me and just dived and left. There's also a huge stone on the beach that with a little bit of imagination resembles a seal. Funny to find it there.

Back in town I start talking with an irish guy - John - and an Italian - Marco. John was on a fishing trip earlier in the day and brought lot of sea food that he says not to be able to finish. He offers me a huge cray fish. That was the best dinner since I arrived in NZ! Later that day we went for a few drinks in town. Just one final note about Kaikoura: never forget to turn off the lights of your car...

The North Island
I leave behind the beautiful southern island and take the ferry to Wellington. My plans for the North Island are, to visit the Te Papa museum in Wellington, do the Tongariru crossing (you may know this mountain as Mordor, from the Lord of The Rings) and check the volcanic activity around Rotorua, before arriving in Auckland where the road trip ends as well as the visit to NZ.

Unfortunately, the rain showed up and a huge storm made it impossible to do the Tongariru crossing and enjoy the other places as I could have.

Nevertheless, I wandered arround the great Te Papa museum in Auckland, where I learned a bit more about the story of this country and specially about the Maori people. Then I went North to the Tongariro National Park. I still managed to see the mountain but the day after when I woke up the storm had started. But it's a beautiful terrifying mountain, just like the image you have from the movie! After that I moved North, passing by the enormous lake Taupo and ending up in Rotorua, where the air smells to sulfur all the time. This is due to the intense volcanic activity present in the area. I visited some geisers, saw some mud pools and hot springs. It would have been great if the weather was good. Finally and continued my way to Auckland where the road trip ended.

Queenstown and the Routeburn track

Queenstown

9 am check-in at AJ Hacket, the Bungy jump shop. After some routine questions they weight me and write a number on my hand. 20 min of waiting time follow. I look around and notice a guy with a terrified face. He happens to be doing the same jump as me and is having second thoughts about it... Georg, is a german guy who was working for a couple of months in a farm and is now enjoying the country for a couple of weeks before going back home.

The bus journey to the Nevis jumping place takes about 40 min. Then it's time to put on all the stuff we need. I end up talking with a brasilian girl most of the time. Well, the jump is terrifying and fantastic at the same time. Everything happens quite fast, but it's impossible not to remember those 8 sec of free fall. I end up buying the video instead of the printed photos as was my first intention. I can make photos from the video later. I've uploaded part of the video to the Queenstown album in case you're still trying to understand how high are 134m!




Preparing for the Routeburn track

Back in town, I have lunch with Georg and we plan to go together to Milford Sounds tomorrow and on the way back he leaves me in The Divide where I start my walk.

Then I have to rush from one place to another to prepare for the coming three days. First buying the hut permits, which allow me to stay at the Department of Conservation (DOC) huts along the way. I make a mistake doing the reservation so I have to go back there a second time. The weather forecast is fantastic, they expect clear weather for the rest of the week, which is quite unusual. This means i'm fine with the gear I have. Just need to buy the food for the next three days. There are cooking facilities in the huts, but no food. It's the main difference to Nepal. Last thing to do is booking the bus from the end of the track in Routeborn shelter back to Queenstown. After this, I just need to unpack my backpack, leaving only things to sleep and to keep me warm and the food I bought. I'm actually carrying mostly food. After Nepal I'm not doing the same mistake. I'll wear the same clothes for 3 days!

Later in the evening I meet Georg for dinner and for a beer. We agree on leaving Queenstown at 8 am tomorrow.

The Routeburn

Well, after a couple of hours on the road I understood I wouldn't have time to go to Milford Sounds, so we just stopped in Te Anau for a coffee (and for me to buy a pot... I completely forgot about it) and then continued in the direction of Milford.

At 12.30 I said goodbye to Georg. We agree on meeting again when i'm back in Queenstown. And then here I am tramping in New Zealand :)

The three days of tramping were fantastic. The scenaries are beautiful, the view from the top of Conical Hill is breathtaking. On one side you can see the river flowing down in the valley, ending in the sea that is visible because the weather is fantastic. On the other side of the mountain there's a white carpet of clouds covering a lake. It really feels like jumping on them and float. I ended up meeting some really nice people in the huts. The huts were the biggest problem actually. They're not heated in the sleeping bunkers so it gets pretty cold at night (below 0) and I was not prepared for such extreme temperatures! I managed but was a bit uncomfortable both nights. The second problem I had were the blisters on my calfs. Liliana, the cushioned bandages you gave me saved me :) and finally a minor wet feet problem in the last day due to the frost on the vegetation from a side track I went on (goretex my hass!), completes the list of difficulties I experienced. Nope, compared to the ABC climb, this was a piece of cake! It is actually possible to do it in 2 days easily, without rushing too much.

I come to the end exhausted but happy. It was perfect, just as I thought it would be. I actually now feel like doing more, but... I don't have time :( The Rees Daart track, the Milford and the Kepler are really appealing! Maybe in a future visit. I also realise that if I want to do some more trekking I should probably buy new shoes...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quote

Thanks to dreams, in the history of the galaxy the world has been reinvented more often than are stars. From the book, "Mister Pip" by the New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The TranzAlpine and the glaciers

The TranzAlpine and the glaciers

I love traveling by train. The steady pace and the slow changes in landscape allow me to travel anywhere. This time I enter the train worried. I don't want to be stuck in Greymouth, I just don't have time for that, and I don't wish that much going north. Then there's the weather problem. If the storm continues I won't enjoy things as I should and I will probably have to cancel the "great walk" i'm planning to do.

Well, I call the shuttle company and the lady tells me they have no information yet, but she can put my name on the drivers list and then he'll inform me when he gets to Greymouth if he can proceed or not.

It didn't leave me relieved but what can I do?! A british middle aged guy sits in front of me. We do the usual conversation and when the train departs I ask him if he wants me to get him a cup of coffee. He has a broken arm; he had planned to drive around NZ on a motorcycle but on the second day a car crashed into him. He seems to be a nice funny guy... Unfortunately, he speaks so fast that at certain point I only nod and stop trying to follow him! Meanwhile, the TranzAlpine leaves the east coast plains and enters the mountains. The scenaries immediately make me cheer up and relax. This is what brought me to NZ and I want to enjoy every minute of it! Steep mountains ending in valleys crossed by rivers that run in fury. The Autumn vegetation, mixed with the grey and moisty weather make things look mysterious and make my mind and imagination flow, just like the rivers down in the valleys.
I went to open wagon to take some pictures just for 10 min. There's too many japanese... I don't feel like fighting for the best spot. Anyway, the best camera is my own vision and appreciating things with my own eyes.

After Arthur's Pass, right before we begin our descent to Greymouth the rain makes its appearance. It's not that bad, but the ocean is still far. The trip is not that spectacular on this side of the mountains, so me and the english guy spend most of the time trying to communicate (Chelsea fan, he is).

Greymouth, getting my bag from the luggage wagon and rushing to the i-site to see if they have any information about the road. Still nothing... They tell me to wait for the bus and see what the bus driver has to say.

The bus driver tells us that the road is open for now, but there's no guarantees we can make it to Franz Josef. The trip then continues normally. When we are only 30 min away from our destination I see the reason for the road being cut. Simply in a 90 degrees curve to the right, when the road is following the course of a large river, there's just no road! The power of the water caused a landslide and the road ended up 50m down in the river... Fortunately these guys must be used to this because they made a gravel road just next to where the asfalt once was. I was really surprised with the bridges they have here. On a main highway most of the bridges are one lane only! Seems really primitive to me and uncomfortable.



Franz Josef

It took me a while to find the Glow Worm Hostel reception, but as soon as I find it, I leave my stuff and rush to the i-site to book accommodation for tomorrow in Fox and buy the bus ticket.

I then finally sit down in the kitchen relaxing and waiting for the free vegetable soup they serve at 6. At 6 sharp they tell us to help ourselves, and so we do.
I sat in front of an English guy, Andy, and started talking about NZ and our trips. He is also on a RTW trip. We agree on meeting later for a few beers. As we pass by the 3-4 bars the village has, we realise that it will be the same having a beer at the hostel, but cheaper and end up buying a 6-pack and sitting down in the kitchen. As we start talking, an American couple jumps into the conversation. We were talking about our plans for south america and they have just came from there. Well once again (i've heard and read it before) they strongly recommended Colombia. That was their favourite place and it's yet very unexplored in what concerns tourism, due to all the political issues. Me and Andy ended up finishing the six pack and the cider he had in his car as we started talking about music. He listens to good stuff.

The glacier
I had booked a shuttle yesterday to take me to the glacier, but since Andy is heading there as well I ask him for a ride and run to the reception to cancel the shuttle.

15 min after we parked and began the glacier walk, we reached a river. You can see the glacier from there, but it's just too far away to get the right feeling of it. So, we just took our shoes off, pulled our pants up and rushed through the ice cold water.

Before we got to the glacier we had to do it once again. Well, when we got to the barriers saying dangerous behond this point we weren't satisfied yet, so we just followed a guided tour by a side trail and half an hour later we were not only right next to Franz Josef glacier, but we could actually touch it and had we the right gear we would have been able to walk on it", for free! Nevertheless, it was a great experience and it was well worth the time.



Fox glacier
I took the bus to Fox later in the afternoon. It's just a 30 min ride. I stayed at the Ivory Towers hostel. It was an ok place, but with a strange open room door system, which means nothing valuable can stay in the room. I stay in a 4 people dorm with Max, a really nice russian guy that lives in Sydney. Later in the evening we meet Sylvia, a Mexican who is studying in Auckland and once she heard my travel plans she immediately offered to show me around in Mexico City, when I get there. Later a Dutch girl who stayed at the same place as me in Franz Josef came in and said she had just came back from a track where you can see lots of glow worms. Well I grabbed my torch and there we go, me and Max, into the dark rain forest, walking a 20 min trail without knowing exactly what to look for. But we found them! First we saw some isolated little blue lights but as we walk further we saw dozens of little lights, making the dark forest look like a Christmas tree. Amazingly beautiful.

The next morning I wake up early. My plan is to walk to the glacier back and forth in time to catch the bus to Queenstown at 11 am. It's just 8km, so two hours are more than enough for that. It was a bit disappointing this trip to the glacier. The main trail is blocked for security reasons and the other trail is being used by organized tours and one of the guides is not in a good mood and I don't feel like fighting, so I just stand there at the viewpoint enjoying the river of ice from a distance and then I go back.

Back in the hostel, I pack up my stuff and then spend an hour talking with Sylvia. We'll probably meet in Auckland and go out and party. It's always good to go out with people who know the city. I also called AJ Bungy to book the Nevis jump. I ask a few questions about my back problems. They say it is ok and so now it's settled. I'm going to jump from 134m. I must be out of my mind! At 11 the shuttle picks me up and there I am on the way to the world capital of adrenaline :)

First days in New Zealand

Long before the Lord of The Rings brought up to everyone's TV the amazing scenaries of New Zealand, I was already fascinated by this small country of 4 million people and 45 million cheap (according to the bus driver from the Akaroa shuttle). Don't ask me why, I can't answer that question, but the excitement to being here at last is big.

In New Zealand me and Tiago went separate ways. Our objectives were different so it was better that each followed his own way and in the end both of us will probably be happy with the Kiwi experience.

First days in NZ
The day before leaving Sydney I booked a flight from Auckland to Christchurch, in the Southern island. This is where most of the things I want to do and see are located, so this way I save time and money.

Christchurch
Christchurch is a nice city, close to the coast. It appears to have grown around the cathedral square. The Cathedral itself is an old 200 years building, really beautiful, specially at night, when it becomes really mysterious. My flight arrived two hours late, had some problems with the first hostel I had contacted and the second I contacted didn't want to take a booking but told me to show up. After spending 5 min finding north, I managed to find Coachman Backpackers. I had to ring the bell 3-4 times before someone answered... It seems like the reception closes at night, so the guy from the hostel didn't feel like letting me in, but in the end he did! And I'm very happy for that, it is a really nice place, with a huge lounge where I spent my time planning my trip before going to sleep.

I stayed 2 nights in Christchurch, but didn't see much of it. Since I am going back I can leave that for later. My first objective was to get a train ticket in the TranzAlpine to Greymouth, on the west coast. I went to the i-site for that. The information centers in this country are fantastic. Really well organized, they provide all the information required and offer non commissioned bookings. Good and efficient as all tourist offices should be. I left the i-site directly to the Akaroa shuttle. I decided to spend the first day in NZ exploring the countryside in Banks peninsula, about 80 km from Christchurch.

The Banks Peninsula
The journey to Akaroa takes around 2h30m because the bus follows a touristic route that takes us to Birdlings Flat (where I first see how rivers can really look grey in this country due to the sediments they carry as they flow through the grey stones), Little River and then through the mountains, from where we get fantastic views over Pigeon bay and Akaroa bay.

There's not much to tell about Akaroa. It's a small city, proud of its French origin. You can see this in the names of some shops/hotels, the streets names and in some houses you even see the French flag waving in the wind. One thing I start to realise in this day trip is on how Kiwis make tourist attractions out of nothing. At least to me who comes from a country with almost 900 years of history.

As I have nothing planned and don't feel like going on a tour to watch the dolphins, I decide to make one of the many walks through the mountains that they have organized. The Akaroa Heritage walk takes me through steep hills, initially surrounded by trees, and later by grass fields where cheaps get scared by my presence and run as fast as they can from me. Once I reached the top I relaxed in the shelter and organized the rest of my day.

The return journey to Christchurch could be done in an hour if we hadn't stopped in a milk house where a tray with cheese was waiting... Great, if I liked cheese...

Back in Christchurch it was time to plan the next couple of days. I booked a bed at the Glow Worm hostel in Franz Josef and then tried to book a bus trip from Greymouth to Franz Josef. The answer from the shuttle company left me worried. Apparently the storms that caused floods in Southern Australia last week crossed the Tasman sea and... Caused floods on the West Coast which washed away part of the only road that goes through the West Coast! I decide to stick to my plans and call back in the morning when I catch the train to see how the situation is.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Final notes about Australia

Australia, the island - continent! There was not enough time to see it and have a real feeling of the australian lifestyle.

We were treated as kings in Sydney. We were really spoiled by Manuel and Manuela. I just hope we didn't give too much work. I loved Sydney. It's beautiful, it has plenty of life and a great atmosphere. It is also a huge melting pot with people from different parts of the world living and working there.

The road trip was nice. We saw a lot of the natural wonders of eastern Australia. We saw most of what we wanted. I had thought about taking a few more surf lessons, but in the end I didn't have the surfing spirit. But the class I took was good and well worth the money. It also missed some night life in our trip, but when you're sleeping in camping sites it is hard to go anywhere. Besides, being on the road is exhausting, so there was not much energy left at the end of the day...

The great barrier reef was the top of the trip and I can definitely consider returning there for diving in the future.

In Australia I was once again bellow my budget. I had planned on spending 50 euros/day and ended up spending around 45 euros/day.

Australia is a bit too far and too big for a normal vacation. I would consider living there for a while. Vacation, only if it's long.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sydney - part II

I went to Townsville on easter Saturday to catch the plane back to Sidney on Easter day. Townsville is a small nice city by the coast. It's one of the places where you can take boats to the Whitsunday islands, so there's a lot of tourists staying in the city. It's quite nice to walk in downtown and in the "Strand". As there was no one else in my room and hardly anyone in the hostel I took the day off and relaxed. Just did as little as possible.

Back to Sidney

A surprise awaited us on the return to Sydney. Family Camelo gathered and prepared a barbecue. Easter doesn't mean much to me, but in Stockholm I was used to join together with the portuguese community and prepare a long Sunday lunch. Well, that's exactly what happened in Sydney: great food, great wine, fantastic company and loads of good mood.

After this we had two days left to visit Sydney. My first stop was the Opera House. I took the guided tour which took us to the concert halls while they were explaining the historical details of the project, the construction challenges, the way the different spectacles are organized. It was a great 1h walk, well worth the $24. The end of the tour made me a bit sad. The brilliant Danish architect who designed this masterpiece of modern architecture never saw his work completed because he was fired for political reasons. In the end they show an interview with him in the room that was named after him, and which is used as a reception room. Lets hope his son inherited his genius since he now works in the renovation of the Opera House.

Since it was an awful grey day in Sidney I left the harbour bridge for next day and went to walk around The Rocks, where the city started and made a long visit to the museum of contemporary art, where there was a great retrospective exhibition of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Some of her works are fantastic. It was well worth the time I spent there.

Back home, a surprise awaited us: "caldo verde" one of my favourite portuguese dishes was the first course. And after it a great dish of roasted fish. It felt like being home :)

In the last day in Sydney, I went to the north shore of the harbour and walked along Levandar bay until I reached Blue Point from where you get amazing views of the harbour bay, Harbour bridge and the Opera House. The day was sunny and beautiful so it felt great just to wander around walking, crossing the Harbour bridge on foot, getting lost in the huge and peaceful botanical gardens. Before I met Tiago in the Australian museum, I went past the art gallery of New South Wales, and am still regretting having been to the Australian museum instead of the impressionism exhibition that was on the AGNSW that was mostly about the master Monet, with 30 paintings from him.

In the evening another portuguese dinner "arroz de cabidela" and a visit to the Italian quarter of the city, before going back home and pack. New Zealand is one day away :)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Still India

Do you want To have just a small example of what a rickshaw trip is like in India, check the Varanasi photo album. I added a video to it.

RC, relaxing after a visit to Franz Josef glacier :)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Road triping in Australia

Road Triping in Australia

Our plan was to drive along the Australian East Coast for around two weeks. We rented a campervan from Hippie Camper, which had these annoying flowers all around but inside it had everything we needed to survive on the road: sleeping bags, sheets, small cook, and most important, a fridge. For two weeks we slept whether in camping sites, by the beach, in natural parks or even in the city center of Brisbane. I prepared most of my meals in the van. Ate a lot of tunna and egg sandwiches, loads of fruit. It was quite handy to have the campervan, but spending 24h a day in the same place can become pretty exhausting!

The route

You can find it at the map on top of this page. Shortly it was as it follows:
Sydney - Blue Mountains - Hunter Valley - Pacific Palms - Port Macquarie Nambucca Heads - Coffs Harbour - Lennox Head - Byron Bay - Surfers Paradise - Brisbane - Glass House mountains - Noosa Heads - Hervey Bay - Fraser Island - Mon Repos National Park - Eungella National Park - Cape Hillsborough National Park - Airlie Beach - The Whitsunday Islands - Wallaman Falls - Mission Beach - Cairns

The highlights of the road trip

Jenolan Caves, in the Blue Mountains - this is a complex system of caves located several hundred meters above sea level. We only had time to go to one of the caves (only guided tours allowed and they're spread out during the day). Nonetheless, the Imperial Cave offered us some beautiful structures, that acquired beautiful colours with light. In the end we went down to the subterranean river. The water was so clear that it just felt like jumping in. It was well worth the $25.

Tyrrel's Winery - located in the more and more renowned Hunter Valley wine region this was a great stop. We arrived early in the day when there was hardly anyone around and just ended up staying longer than we expected. Our host was really nice, specially when he noticed that we were there really to taste the wines and not only to drink and go, like most people. We tasted about 5-6 red wines, 2-3 white wines, and a liquor wine (cheap imitation of Port Wine...). We had a great time with our host, he showed us around the production line (in the end we still took the guided tour) and discussed energetically the big issue in the wine industry right now: cork or screw cap. I can strongly recommend some of Tyrrel's red wines. I'm not a big fan of white wine and the ones I tried were not that good. And the best of all: wine tasting is free all around the Hunter Valley wineries.

Pacific Palms beach by sun rise - it was deserted. Just two people walking a dog far away and me. My first contact with the Pacific Ocean. A beautiful dunnar landscape that reminded me a lot of the great beaches back where I grew up in Portugal.

Nambucca Heads - beautiful place to spend the night with the ocean at our feet. It was great.

Byron Bay - I would have liked to have spent more time here but it was not possible. It's quite a poshy place, but there's a huge mixture of surfers, hippies and regular tourists. I don't know in which group we fit in... But i'm sure it's a great party place and great for surfing as well.

Noosa - beautiful, easy going place. I took a surf lesson here. It went ok... The natural park just outside the city has a few easy tracks that take you around different types of vegetation. We saw a kuala here, right in the parking lot. The only negative thing about Noosa was the lack of night activities.

Fraser Island - I decided to spend two days at the island. I walked between 80-90 kms in those two days. It was extenuating but it was worth the effort. I saw a dingo, almost stepped on a 1,5 m snake, saw beautiful birds, heard the sounds of the forest, dived in the amazing lake Mckenzie and... Got lost! In the first day, I took a wrong turn in the last lake of my circuit and ended up some kms north from where I should. This made me kind of freack out for a while because it was getting dark, I was low on water, I had just seen a dingo and my legs couldn't move much more! I finally reached the place where I stayed (Dillie Village) at 7.30 pm, and just collapsed in my bed.

Eungella National Park - get at the observation platform at 6 am and you'll get the perfect setting for seeing platipus (ornitorrinco). The guide also says the walks that start there are worth, but I was still half asleep and so just decided to move on.

Cape Hillsborough National Park - well I didn't find the NP that special but the close encounter with wallabies (small canguroos) that apparently happens every morning at sun rise, was well worth it. Plus the camping site has great conditions and it's not that expensive.

Whitsunday Islands - maybe the expectations were too high, or the one day cruise we took was not the best, but I didn't come back from there fully satisfied. It's a beautiful group of islands, Whiteheaven beach is one of the most beautiful I've been to, but maybe I need to go back in there with more time to go to different islands and avoid these one day cruises that take you everywhere and don't allow you to see anything!

Wallaman Falls - they're just waterfalls, but they are magical in the full moon light and in the morning when the fog starts to disappear. We have a funny story here, there were two swedes sleeping under the stars in the viewpoint. During the evening there was a tropical storm which lasted 3 days. When we woke up the next morning their clothes were covering the campervan and they were not in the viewpoint any more... Wrong day to sleep under the stars :)

The end of the road trip

The road trip ended in Cairns. We got here under heavy rain storms that prevented us from doing much on the way here from the Wallaman Falls.

The only thing that was still worth doing, given the weather conditions, was snorkel in The Great Barrier Reef. Cairns has a lot to offer, but the weather and the budget didn't allow it.
But, nonetheless it was the right option to spend the day out in The reef. I went with Reef Daytripper in a beautiful katamaran, with only 14 people onboard. $89 was the price and for an extra $50 one could have an intro diving lesson. The crew was really nice and the reef, well it's simply astonishing. The variety, of colors, shapes, animals is impressive. I spent around 3h on the water and would have stayed longer if I hadn't been exhausted. It's one of those places that I strongly recommend everyone to go and put on their "To do" list. And I saw a reef shark and have a picture proving it :)


Sydney - part I

Sydney

We arrived in Sydney early in the morning. Waiting for us at the airport was Sr Manuel Camelo, an old friend of my father, who has been living here with his family for twenty years and that is going to be our host during our stay in Sydney. And what a host! Manuel and his wife, Manuela treated us like Kings during the time we spent in Sydney.

Besides showing us around downtown in the first morning, they took us to the portuguese quarter several times for breakfast or lunch, introduced us to the portuguese community by taking us to one of the weekly saturday gatherings (bailarico :) ) and helped us making our moves in Sydney. We also had a great brasilian barbecue lunch at her daughter's place after which we spent the afternoon wandering around the famous Bondi beach.

Culturally speaking I only had time to look at St Mary's cathedral and walk around the city center. The rest will have to be checked once we're back from the road trip.

Final notes about Thailand

The trip in Thailand wasn't exactly the way I thought it would be.

First of all, appart from Chiang Mai, the rest of the trip I felt like I was in any normal touristic place. I might have chosen the wrong places to go or there's just so many "farangs" living in Thailand that is impossible to avoid them.

Then I didn't feel that people were as friendly as everyone else told me! They see you as a potential source of money. Most are extremely polite which is good.

Furthermore, traveling in Thailand is not easy if you're on a tight schedule and that forced us to spend some extra money on trips that was missing for partying.

I spent around 27 euros/day not counting the extra souvenirs I bought. 2 euros above my initial plan, it shouldn't be a problem.

I left Thailand with a feeling of there's still so much to be seen and to learn about. It's quite an ancient culture with a very rich story that can be seen in the several ruins spread around the country (and that we missed). And of course, the sea is fantastic, specially if you find places that are not touristic. It's a great destination for all of you beach and sun lovers. Just bear in mind that paradise comes with mosquitoes!

Going back, why not!?

Bangkok - part III

Third and last time in Bangkok. There were a few more temples to see, a visit to the world famous Patpong imitations market and to Chinatown on the "things to do" list.

As we arrived and found a room at the Rainbow hotel, very (too) close to Khao San road we went out for dinner on the street vendors. Street food is extremely tasty and cheap. You can eat for 50-60 bt (and I'm talking about real food, not bugs!). After that as we were walking around we were approached by a rickshaw driver that offered to take us to Patpong for a ping pong show (if you don't what this is, google it :p). I skipped the show and asked him to drop me off at the nightmarket. I would meet Tiago later back in the hostel. My main objective was buying a watch and some other gifts. The watch imitations are world famous and some are of great quality. After checking a few places, and bargaining a little (i wasn't really in the mood for bargaining which made things more difficult) I bought a beautiful Tag Heur. I shipped it home, lets hope there aren't any problems with customs.

We met at the hostel around midnight. I joined Tiago and the crasy english guy, Mathew, he had met at the show. They had managed to gather quite a crowd around their table. 3 canadians, two other brits and anyone interesting that passed by. It was quite a funny evening, went to bed at 5 after a serious 1h conversation with Mathew and the other brit.

The next days in Bangkok were spent sightseeing, shopping and eating. The most impressive places I went to in those two days were Wat Pho, a beautiful complex of temples where the enormous reclining Buddha is found, and Wat Arun - temple of dawn- from where you get outstanding views over the city palace and city itself. I also visited the old portuguese neighbourhood and church they have there. It's a simple church that seems to have an important social role. I had a feeling (and that is actually written in the guide) that the portuguese have left but the genes are still around...

The last thing we did in Bangkok was buying some funny T-shirts they sell all around in Khao San Road. Soon it will be time to throw away one or two and this is the perfect place to renew the stock.

Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phi Phi

Our next destination was the beautiful brochure model Phi Phi islands. They're not a backpackers destination, most backpackers stay in Krabi in the mainland, but we wanted to see these world famous islands.

As we arrived we took a long boat to Longbeach, where the bungalows we had booked were located. It's a nice area, 30 min away from the noisy party Phi Phi village. The Longbeach bungalows where we stayed were quite basic, but better than the ones in Koh Phagnan (800 bt/night).

There's not much to do in Longbeach. It's a place to relax and enjoy the sun and the water (in high tide, otherwise the sea is full with rocks). We met two swedish girls in the resort (we can't get rid of the Swedes...) and went out one night to the only bar where something seems to happen. They have fire shows up till midnight. It was really funny dancing on the beach under a thunderstorm. We also had a close encounter with the chef from the restaurant where we had dinner earlier. Strange creepy drunk guy. He was chewing his lit cigarette in front of us.

Maya beach
We took an afternoon off to go to the now extremely popular Maya beach, in Phi Phi Leh, where the movie The Beach was filmed. I can only say it's a fantastic place, well worth spending a day there (it's in a natural park so you have to pay to go in and there are no touristic infrastructures on the island).

Phi Phi Village
The new Phi Phi Village (the old one was washed away in the tsunami) is a labyrinth of narrow streets located between the sunrise and sunset beaches. It's not a nice place to stay, but it's the only place in the island where you can find supermarkets, bars and restaurants at affordable prices and a market. At night it's crowded with drunk tourists. The bars on sunrise beach were funnier and less crowded. There's fire shows every night on the beach bars and we just grabbed beers in the supermarkets and sat down on the beach enjoying the shows until the party started. It was fun to stay there for two nights, but I don't think I would have enjoyed staying there for a longer period.

The postcard picture
Walking up to the viewpoint to get that beautiful picture of Phi Phi Village in between both beaches with the bluish/greenish sea bathing the island is an exhausting activity given the heat, humidity and inclination. On the way up we took the forest trail. After reaching the viewpoint we relaxed there for a while enjoying the views. It's quite relaxing the place.
After that we decided to walk to another beach on the other side of the island. It's a hard walk downhill but it was well worth the effort. Hat Rantee beach it's the place I had been dreaming of all this time. Almost deserted, there are only two resorts there and they're kind of hidden by the vegetation, sandy beach, hardly any rocks. Simply perfect. It's a pitty we didn't stay longer. It started raining a couple of hours after we arrived so we left before the steep trail became muddy and before the actual storm that was heading for the island arrived.

Phuket
We just went to Phuket to catch a plane to Bangkok. As we saw that the airport wasn't that far from a beach we left the bags at the airport and walked 15 min there. it wasn't as easy as i expected to get there, because it is part of a national park, so foreigners have to pay... as i wasn't willing to pay when i was 50m away from the beach, we turned back, turned right and walked 10 min until i saw a trail following an electric wire that went through the forest. we followed it and... arrived in a beautiful, deserted beach, where we stayed until it was time to go back to the airport and catch our flight.

Koh Phagnan

I guess this is the post everyone is looking for, but lets start from the begining :)


Full, bad A/C and narrow sits, that was the nightmare bus ride to Surat Thani, where we would take the boat to Koh Phagnan. Unfortunately we still had to wait over an hour to be carried to the bus that would take us to the harbour. Confusing? Well try doing it after two awful nights in a bus...

We took an overcrowded ferry, that left the harbour around 10. I took a "seat" on top of the backpacks. That was the most comfortable place available! The sun was shining, which when you're in the middle of the sea without any shadow in sight means sunburn on the way.

After a 3.30h trip, 30 min by taxi to haad rhin (the party beach and village) we still had to walk 15 min to Leelha beach, where we had a booking in the very basic Leelha beach bungalows, for 300 bt per night.

Beach finally
This was the beginning of our relaxation part of the trip. Our days in Koh Phagnan can almost resume to waking up, diving in the warm and translucent water, eating breakfast, staying at the beach the whole day and then having dinner in the afternoon and partying in the evening. Well, not in the first day... We stayed in Leela beach for a couple of hours and then went to the center to Haad Rhin beach. It's a beautiful bay, with lots of sand and almost any rocks in the water. It must have been a great place before the tourism industry arrived... And I have to say, that I kind of felt I was... Back in Sweden... Given the amount of Swedish food restaurants and the amount of Swedes on the streets!
After swimming for a while I had to sleep for a couple of hours. I woke up the next day!

The Full Moon Party
The main reason to go to Koh Phagnan was taking part in the full moon Party, a 24h rave party that takes place on the beach and attracts about 5000 people. Well we went first to the pre full Moon Party, where we warmed up for what was coming the day after (be careful with half a liter cuba livre buckets when you're tired and dehydrated...).

The party itself is just a giant rave spread out by different stages in a 500m sandy beach. What makes it so special? Maybe taking 24h, which allows you to watch the sun rising while you're still partying, being in Thailand makes it different as well.

It was great fun. I can definitely take part on it again. And I strongly recommend everyone to go there and just dance all night long. We didn't have time to explore the island and I heard from an american that used to live there that it is a really beautiful island. So, another reason to come back.

Well, after the Full Moon Party there's an after full Moon Party that takes all day until sunset. We preferred staying on the beach doing nothing the whole day, but we could hear the music all day long. And after the after full Moon Party ends, life gets back to normal... Meaning, the beach party starts again around 10-11 pm and goes almost until dawn.

Bangkok - part II

Bangkok - part II

I hate traveling by bus... I hardly ever sleep. This time the bus had only 20 people inside so I had two seats for me but it's still too uncomfortable.

Well we arrived in Bangkok at 6.30 am and had the whole day ahead before catching the bus to Koh Phagnan at 6 p.m...

We decided to start the cultural visit of Bangkok during this stop over.
As we start walking, a rickshaw driver offers to drive us around for 5 bt each. Of course there was a scheme there. So he would take us to some travel agencies we would pretend to be interested in buying some trips and for that he would receive a pre paid fuel voucher from the agency. Before we said no more agencies he took us to the huge Standing Buddha, marble temple, the golden mount (from where one gets a great view over the city) until he dropped us at the royal palace, three agencies later!

The ticket to the palace includes a visit to the fantastic Wat Phra Kaeo, a complex of temples that is just next to the palace. As any westerners walking around in 35 degrees temperature i was wearing shorts, which are not according to the dressing etiquette, so I had to borrow some funny pants from the reception. Different cultures, we just have to respect (they have a well organized free service for people like me). The palace is not possible to visit and the museum's palace is not that interesting - the only thing I found interesting in the museum was learning that they change the golden dress of the emerald Buddha according to the time of the year, in case the statue gets cold with the weather changes...

When we left the palace the rickshaw of course, wasn't there. Why would he wait 2h for 10 bt if could just pick up more tourists and take them to more agencies...

It was then time to get back to the agency where we had left our bags, grab some food for the trip and wait for the bus that would take us to the party island. On the way to the agency we got our first experience of a thunderstorm in Thailand. When it rains, well it really pours down!

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is kind of the capital of northern Thailand. It is a really nice city full with Buddhist temples and with a huge offer of activities to do.

As soon as we arrive we head on to eagle house 2 hostel. It's a really nice place, the room has A/C and hot water, all for only 290 bhat/night.
After checking in, the first thing we do is booking a thai food cooking course for the next day. 900 bt to learn how to cook 5 dishes from a list of about 20.
We spent the rest of the day visiting temples. It is quite impressing the amount of temples, history and monks that this city has. In the evening a couple of beers while listening to live music, close to the hotel made up for the rest of the evening.

We then spent most of the next day learning how to cook Thai food. I had some problems with our chef's good morning mood (i'm normally quite grumpy in the mornings) but once the real action started everything went fine). First we went to the market to buy fresh ingredients. The teacher showed us a lot of the different herbs and fruits they use. Some are familiar others not quite. It will probably be a pain in the hass to find these things back home, but I hope for the best.

Here is the list of dishes I chose: hot and sour prawns soup, pad thai noodles, pat paneng, chicken souffle and golden parcels.

We prepared and ate 3 dishes in the morning what left us full and sleepy. So we spent the 1h break resting. After the break we prepared the other two dishes but this time saved them for later.

After the cooking course we just rested.

1 day lifestyle tour
The tour consists of a visit to a butterfly and orchid farm, a visit to a village where 4 different tribes live (including the long neck woman), an elephant ride, a 2h trek to a waterfall, white water rafting in river Pai and bamboo rafting.

Lets just say I didn't see any butterflies, in the village I felt like I was in a human zoo, the elephant safari was boring and the beasts kept asking for food and the bamboo rafting was more like paddling a boat with water up till your waist... The trekking was great mostly because when we got to the waterfall we jumped in and relaxed there for a while. The white water rafting was great fun! I had been planning to do it for years.

It was a funny group that took part in the tour. We met some of the people in the evening and had a few beers.

By scooter around Chiang Mai

The next day we rented two scooters and explored some of the monuments around the city. We visited the ruins of Wiang Kum Kam and the temple of Water Phra That Doi Suthep, which is located way up in the mountains north from the city. This is a very relaxing place, with a great terrace overlooking the city and another one in the shadow that was the best option due to the extreme temperatures.

After returning the scooters we got ready for dinner and for partying. We decided to go and have dinner at the night bazaar. The night bazaar consists of a huge street market, that spreads for several streets and quarters. It took us sometime to find the food section. We first found the prostitution market, then the shops, the sea food market and finally some food...
Since it was still early and we had bought some stuff in the bazaar we decided to go to the hostel, grab a beer on the way, before going to a club. Well when we were relaxing in the room the lights suddenly went off. We immediately thought of Nepal and the permanent black outs. As I come outside I see some strange blue lights in the main street. I moved closer and saw a huge fire going several meters above the roofs! This was only 20 meters away from our hostel! We went out to the main street. The fireman were doing their job and everyone was surprisingly calm! After 30 min the lights came back, the fire turned to black smoke and there was one restaurant less in Chiang Mai.

We then finally went out. We went to Space Bubble. 100 bt to enter including one drink. Well going out in Thailand can be really funny! I sat most of the time observing what was going on. Westerners showing off with their escorts, groups of Thai girls looking for a western and hitting on everyone (yes including me). Drunk old hippie looking guys just enjoying themselves in their own world. I just laughed a lot until the place closed down. In the end since we couldn't find a taxi we took a ride with one of the girls that was dancing inside and that was drunk like hell...

We spent the last day in Chiang Mai visiting a few more temples and relaxing. The trip to Koh Phagnan takes two nights by bus and one day is to be spent in Bangkok.

Below you can find some pictures of Chiang Mai and surroundings and a video of our chef.


Monday, April 6, 2009

New photos Added

Hi

i just Added photos to the picasa album. Check the posts from Delhi until HongKong.
Cheers mates

RC road triping in Australia