Thursday, 26 August 2010
Since my previous report from Katherine, Leana and I cycled at a fair pace deeper into the Australian Outback – we even had a tail-wind at times. As we’ve moved Southwards the vegetation has become more sparse, and “towns” on the map are mostly just roadhouses (shop, petrol station, and basic camp site, etc.). However, so far the longest distances between water points have been only about 90 km, as there are regular rest areas at the roadside – where we’ve also camped. The stretches where nothing much happens are at times so vast that we even become excited when we see a road sign, but there are some interesting places in between. We camped at Bitter Springs near Mataranka where we were the first people in the steaming water the following morning – sending the wallabys hopping off into the bush. Devils Marbles is a spectacular formation of rocks, a rare feature thus far (there we met Italian Antonio, cycling Australia). Besides wallabys we’ve also seen a bit of the local wildlife, including a dingo in the road at dusk (he gave us a wide berth – maybe it had something to do with our smell!). So, after initially making good time, things have now ground to a bit of a halt. We had a rest day at Tennant Creek, doing laundry and stocking up at the local supermarket. Only 2 days later, after cycling a few k’s in the AM we camped at Wycliffe Well (UFO centre of Australia). This morning we awoke to unseasonal cold rainy conditions, and decided to stay another day. Just as well, because here we’ve met another SA cyclist, Clyde, who has joined us in the campsite where we’re sure to be swapping stories until we go our opposite ways tomorrow. Daily distances cycled since Katherine have been:- Mataranka 115 km; Larrimah 81 km; Daly Waters 104 km; Newcastle Waters 127 km; Renner Springs 118 km; Tennant Creek 166 km; Wauchope 119 km; and Wycliffe Well 18 km. Total distance cycled so far in Australia has been 1 189 km. Total since leaving Cape Town at the start of this journey is 61 696 km.
Monday, 16 August 2010
On FRIDAY THE 13TH Leana and I headed off from Darwin down the infamous Stuart Highway. My mouth was dry and I wondered whether it had something to do with the Aussie beer from the previous night, but I discovered otherwise. Apparently it is winter, but in this Northern Territory of Australia locals refer to this period as “the dry season”. For some time previously we’d been cycling in humid tropical conditions, so instead of being soaked in sweat, we’re now caked in salt by the end of the day. So far the road has been good, the dreaded hills we’ve heard about were no more than just hills, and the feared Road Trains are OK as long as you keep your line at the side of the road. However, the constant breeze up the nostrils slows one down a bit, but at least it keeps the flies away. Having said all that, I’m aware that we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. The area we’ve been through thus far is quite touristy with the occasional water and camp sites at reasonable intervals – apparently the desolation is still spread out ahead of us. So far we’ve seen wallaby’s and flocks of black cockatoo along the way. There is also plenty of wallaby road-kill (no reference to the rugby team). Today we took a break at the town of Katherine, camping at the rather interesting “Coco’s”. Distances cycled since Darwin have been:- Adelaide River 124 km; Pine Creek 120 km; and Katherine 97 km. Total in Australia so far is 341 km, and total distance since Cape Town is 60 848 km.
Thursday, 12 August 2010
Flying with our bikes and heavy loads was going to be a problem for Leana and myself. Our budget Jet Star flight specified 20 kg of check-in baggage for each of us, which just about accounted for the bikes alone. Our room in Kuta, Bali, resembled a disaster zone as we sorted through our things searching for stuff to dump – but that hardly made a difference. Then, to identify the heavy items which I would be allowed to take as carry-on baggage – yes, I did consider strapping the bike to my back! Once at the airport it was also confirmed that we would need to box the bikes, and a helpful “cyclist” passenger phoned his bike shop who delivered the boxes to the airport for us! At the “check-in” (or is it “weigh-in”) a terrible shock awaited us – even after much begging, wailing, and banging our heads against the walls the excess weight penalty was still 680 Aus $ (about R5000 SA). That was almost double what our non-refundable tickets had costed, and with our non-extendable Indonesian visas expiring the next day there wasn’t much choice but to pay up (thanks again, Leana!). After the 3am landing at Darwin airport I was concerned about perhaps being arrested due to all the apparently “illegal” things in my luggage. However, I was casually waved through customs while (the now poor) Leana had the full search treatment – sniffer dogs and all! By the time I’d re-assembled the bikes dawn was breaking and we had a pleasant 15km ride to the city, mostly along cycle paths. I think Darwin is an interesting little “frontier-type” city with a fascinating mix of locals, tourists (many Aussies), and migrant workers (many Aussies). From what I gather, Australians from the S-E regard Darwin as a “different country” – that’s how isolated this place is. Last night we tried to make sense of it all by watching the humanity from behind a beer at pavement café’s – this lot sure know how to let their hair down! So, now we also have books and maps etc. to help guide us on the Australian leg of our trip, heading South tomorrow from here across the vast “Outback” towards Adelaide. I don’t expect life on a bicycle to be easy on the isolated route, and some pessimists have warned against the demons and dragons. However, I think that the key to our survival in Australia is being able to afford to live – the place is expensive!
Bali, a name I imagine most people who read this would be familiar with (surf-heaven & holiday mecca, and the unfortunate night-club bombing a few years back). On the other hand the neighboring Lombok island (the “poor brother”) is not as well known and has a bit of a different character. But 1st, let me backtrack to where my previous report ended, Surabaya city on Java island. Our trip through Eastern Java was not too unpleasant, albeit unremarkable. All the time I was still trying to recover from illness, so we stayed over on a couple of occasions – otherwise I just had to grit my teeth and bear the discomfort. Leana was still itching to peer over the rim of a volcano, so while we were in the town of Probolinggo she took a side-trip to Mt Bromo. At 2 am that morning I remained firmly tucked into bed while Leana’s vehicle picked her up in time to reach the summit by dawn – unfortunately as it turned out, just about every foreign tourist in Java was also there! Once we’d done the short ferry crossing to Bali island, the difference was immediately noticeable. Most obvious was the religion – Bali has a local brand of Hinduism, apparently corrupted by traditional and other cultural influences. The architecture on the island is heavily influenced by these beliefs, and every building (house, office, hotel, etc.) has elaborate shrines and altars where incense is burned and offerings are made. In contrast to what I’ve witnessed in Indonesia thus far, there was comparatively little evidence of Islam on the island. Lombok island to the East, however, has some Hindu’s but there is once again the regular singing from the mosques – I found that I’d actually missed it! The lumbering auto-ferry takes 4 hours between the 2 islands, but I think the trip to Lombok is worthwhile. The place is far less touristy than Bali and has some beautiful areas such as Senaru village up on the slopes of the 3726m Mt Rinjani (another volcano). There are also some beautiful beaches in the Sengigi area where we stayed the first night on Lombok. A few days later we returned to Bali and cycled around the Eastern and Northern coast of the island, as well as across the hilly interior with interesting rice terraces. Earlier we’d cycled down the West coast on our way South to the capital, Denpasar, and to the very touristy Kuta Beach area – also staying over at famous surfing spots like Medewi Beach and Uluwatu Point. Why did we return to Bali? Well, the answer is that we’ve been granted Australian visas, and the cheapest way to get there is to fly from Bali to Darwin (all fees courtesy of Leana, as I’m bankrupt again!). So, after our little island tour we were back at the Kuta “tourist ghetto”, fortunately close to the airport – waiting for take-off to Australia on 10 August. During that time I managed to take some care of the bikes, but I mostly just hung around getting up to no good. Daily distances cycled since Surabaya have been as follows:- Pasuruan 67 km; Probolinggo 41 km; Situbondo 102 km; Gillimanuk (Bali) 91 km (& 1hr ferry); Medewi Beach 59 km; Denpasar 74 km; Kuta Beach 13 km; Uluwatu 28 km; Kuta 29 km; Padang Bai 61 km; Sengigi (Lombok Island) 40 km (& 4hr ferry); Senaru 85 km; Labuhan Lombok 68 km; Mataram 75 km; Padang Bai (Bali) 21 km (& 4hr ferry); Amed 56 km; Lovina 85 km; Tabanan 83 km; Kuta (3rd time) 36 km; and Darwin (to & from airports) 21 km. Total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town on 27 March 2007 is 60 507 km.