Asia Pacific 2010 - 2011

Golden and brown leaves falling back home. Migratory birds are leaving. Time to take off for me too. The initial plan was to cycle from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur, yet it went all different. And good. 6 months on the road, meeting great people, dwelling in great places, sharing great experiences.

Our grand finale at Angkor Wat was a rather relaxed day in the temple sites, beginning with the incredible Wat Prom – the jungletemple with the giant trees hugging millennium old walls. After a long and productive lunch break, we went on to the Bayon, the pyramid shaped temple with its fifty something giant heads observing everything, everyone. Angkor Wat itself at sunset - tick, we did Angkor. Awesome, pretty much off any scale I would measure things in before. What mankind did a millennium ago here in what detail and precision is certainly worth calling it the remaining of the Seven Miracles of our World. I'm “angkored“ now, as much as all these 2 million visitors every year...

Sarah and I escape Seam Reap by boat towards Battambang on an 8-hour cruise over the biggest lake in Cambodia, into the swamps with floating villages, then up a crazy winding, narrow river with very poor looking huts on its sides. No roads or cars for hours and hours. Little children wave from the houses, man in small boats throwing their fishing nets. We spoil ourselves with a Sarah plays the Ukulele and heads back (by bus) to Siam Reap for her new duties on the following day. “Bye bye love, bye bye happiness” a sad voice in my head sings. I have to be out of Cambodia in a few days because of my expiring visa. I want to spend a few days on the shores of East Thailand and hope for good opportunities for some NGO work in Cambodia in the near future.

 

 

I spend two more days in Battambang, writing articles, emails and finally reading the famous “First they killed my father” book – the incredible story of the Khmer Rouge time from the perspective of a 5 year old girl. After reading the book, I see Cambodia with different eyes...
Looking for information about the road through the Cardamom Mountains to Ko Kong, I get almost no encouraging information anywhere I ask in Battambang. So I cancel this adventure and decide to enter Thailand from Pailin, with a little “one-day” detour in the mountains to the Maddox-Julie-Pitt Nature Reserve project and its waterfalls and jungles. Awesome cycling on partly paved and partly crazy dirt roads. Badly deforested mountains and dry farm land as far as the eye can see. I arrive at the spot in the late afternoon. What was said to be 70 kilometers pretty much became 100. What was said to be a friendly accommodation option turned out to be a weird place, anything but welcoming visitors. However, the little waterfall with its pool under the mighty rocks was worth the trip, and luckily the local doctor managed to find me a homestay with his friends. A night in the hammock mounted under the stilt house. Next day I move on to Pailin, a former Gambling town and gem center of Cambodia, stronghold of the Khmer Rouge for decades. Another nice jungle treck in the afternoon, another swim in a pool of a small waterfall. On the next day, I leave for Thailand, just 20 kilometers away from Pailin. No odd stamp fees on the border. Bye for now Cambodia, hello again Thailand! Great paved roads with wide shoulders for cyclists, lots of trees providing shadow. It looks so different to the last few days cycling in Cambodia! Much more and faster traffic - new cars instead of the slow heavily loaded motor carts and old squeaky pickups trucks. No more waving kids on the side of the roads either, yet a few smiling elderly people and a some waving drivers. Certainly, Thailand is much richer, much more developed and sophisticated in the Western meaning than Laos or Cambodia are. Quick 70 kilometers down South to Chantaburi, a big gemstone center city. I'm tired, but tomorrow I'll be on the beach, after 10 weeks cycling. Yeeha!

Temple at KlongFrom Chantaburi, it's a 50 miles of pretty flat and straight road to the ferry port towards Koh Chang. A range of mountains in the North make a nice scenery, and a magnificent granite temple at Klong is well worth a morning prayer.

A group of Thai cyclists parks beside my bike at a resting place. They are from Rayong, heading for Koh Chang too. Two days to ride there, one night stay and then two days cycling back, that's their plan. Tough lads. We ride together to the ferry, crossing a few steep hills. Rather exhausted I arrive at the port. Or were my legs just too sore? The ferry goes a few minutes later, and my Thai cyclists give me some advice about the island. The famous beaches are on the West Coast, with really steep hills to climb in between. We can see the 700 metres high mountains already from the ferry, nice outlook. Alright – too much for me today – I just make it to village in the North on the first day. Few tourists here, good quality guesthouses for reasonable prices, a waterfall to visit yet unfortunately no beach really nearby.

Malena, my friend from Sweden wrote she will come to Bang Bao, a fishing town in the Southwest. Perfect, so I'll go there too. Haven't seen her in more than a year – that would be nice. The hills on the way are killers, to steep to cycle, at least with the luggage on the bike. I end up pushing the bike uphill through the nice jungle. Blood, sweat and tears, once again. The downhill parts are thrilling. Those famous beaches – "White Sand Beach", "Lonely Beach" etc. - you can barely see them from the road. Concrete walls and bungalows and hotels and heaps of fancy restaurants on the side of the road block the sight. Tourist tractor beam, here we go again.

Bang Bao is different, feels more like a local village in a beautiful bay, surrounded by wild forested hills. There are a few inexpensive down-to-earth restaurants and shops before the expensive seafood restaurants on the quai. Bungalow resorts on the beaches are rather expensive, anyhow... The wooden pier with two huts on a beach is inviting me for Tai Chi and a morning swim.

Malena finds my sipping coffee on the tourist pier – happy day.

We rent a motorbike on the next day, spend a splendid time on a small beach for ourselfes, visit a wounderful waterfall in the jungle and oops – my camera drops off from the backpack into the pool underneath. I rescue it, and after a couple of days it is even working again. We finish our trip watching a marvelous sunset from a hill, above some small islands. An almost full moon between the horns of a buffalo skull. Incredible time...

After Malena has left Koh Chang, I move to the Hippi Huts, an inexpensive basic style bungalow resorts run by a Thai Rasta. Good vibes here, and few more great days relaxing, reading, studying, chating with Anton, a Russian cyclists.

Getting closer to the end of my 14-days stay allowance, I pack and head back to Cambodia, intending to go on via Ko Kong towards Shianoukville. Ken, the Thai cyclist had recommended a bicycle shop in Trat, that would possible repair the broken front suspension. Getting there, I learn they would have to order the pieces which takes at least a week. Well then, at least I get new front bearings and a new chain. 50 USD, not really a special offer. On the way out I spend another splendid two-day stopover on Had Chuen, a bungalow resort on a beach with very few tourists but really friendly staff close to Ban Mai Rut. Bernard, a Swiss-French cyclist is there, gives me some information on the road to Shianoukville and being a real Physiotherapist, treats my hurting wrist. Good times, good by Thailand!

 

 

The border-crossing to Cambodia at Had Lek / Koh Kong was harmless, no odd fees to be payd, nor did I get the 3 month visa. Right after the border. Kids are waving again on the streets, the pavement is more bumpy and the surrounding hills are widely deforested – the same as on the way out at Pailin two weeks ago.

First stop in Koh Kong, a fairly nice town on a big river, close to the Sea. As the starting point for the Koh Kong island tours, there are a few tourists around, and the there is a good choice of hotels and Western style and prices restaurants. The barber is painful after almost 4 weeks not shaving. He's not using foam, and is very greedy with the cold water. Just spent one night in Koh Kong, and make my way towards Shianoukville on the fairly new road through the mountains and the well preserved forests. On the side of the road, there are funny elephant warning signs every once in a while, yet no elephant to see. From the top of some passes there are nice views of untouched forest covering soft hills and valleys until the horizon. Big rivers run from the mountains in the north to the Sea in the south. Big bridges cross them, looking like from a different world compared to the small shops and wooden houses beside. There are only few villages, so Bernards information about places to stay and eat and the long distances in between was indeed very helpful. The first night I stay in Trapang Rung in a nice homestay near a river, organized by the local Eco-tourism agency. Big fires in the woods spill smoke and burned palm leave parts in the air. I get no explanation for this fire. On the next day just after the first 40 kilometers in the mountains I arrive in Andoung Toek, stop at a little coffee shop and get into talk with a man that introduces himself as teacher at the school on the other side of the street. The more we talk, the more curious I get about his project here. Coming from a town from the other side of the Cardamom Mountains and having worked for a few big NGOs before, he and his colleague want to help the villagers with education in English and organic farming, introduce bio-gas installations to reduce the demand for firewood and electricity and set up eco-tourism here to gain additional income for the villagers. As well, they are curious about my thoughts to reduce the strong money dependency of the villagers. They would be happy if I would come again and help them teaching English for a while. We spent hours talking over lunchtime. We exchange contact details for further discussions, and I take off for the next 45 kilometers to Sre Ambel, a nice town on a river with two scum guesthouses beside each other.

One more day to go to Shianoukville, a 100 kilometers with aching knees and a wound bum on a narrow road with mental truck and bus drivers, and the last 16 kilometers of ups and downs almost kill me. I decide to take the first guesthouse in town rather than exploring the beaches for tonight. 3 months, 3000 kilometers. Time to rest.

Shianoukville is a prospering Cambodian city, due to both the big deep sea harbor and the beaches that attract lots of foreign tourists. Some of them would come for a few party days on the rather crowded and expensive Occheuteal Beach with all the hotels, some move on to the more remote and quiet Otres beach and the bungalow resorts. Others would stay on Victory hill, known for affordable long term stay guesthouses and resorts and those certain girls in the bars at night. I stayed everywhere in these days, meeting and talking with all sorts of tourists, those who came and got stuck, those rushing through all the SEA countries in a few weeks and those elderly big European man that live their lifes as comfortable as possible here with cheap accommodation, drinks, girls and food. Mad world, mad world!

Peace arrives only in small steps. After a week in and around Shianoukville I followed the invitation of the teacher in Andoung Toek to support their project. With a bag of whiteboard markers and refill ink, I went with small speedboat from Shianoukville to Thmor Sor, a small fisher town with smelly garbage patches underneath the stilt houses on the shore. A restaurant full of small kids, watching a modern Chinese Kung-Fu movie. From there it is 25 miles through the Bokumsator National Park to Andoung Toek, crossing Mangrove surrounded rivers by ferries, soft ups and downs on a shadowless road. I spend one week in Andoung Toek, creating a homepage for the BCDO project (www.bcdo-cambodia.org), talking with the kids and volunteer teachers about environment protection and awareness of money dependency. Mum (the wife of the landlord) serves delicious dishes for lunch and diner. On the weekend, we do some boat and hiking tours in the nearby forests, climb awesome rocky riverbeds in the jungle. The kids gather al sorts of wild plants and empty their shrimp- and crab traps int the river. There is a wedding ceremony which I'm invited to go. A 20 US$ gift is expected from each guest. I'm getting grumpy on the imbalance of the monetary system in Cambodia since a local worker probably has to work almost one week to earn that much money. Plus, the guys at BCDO could use this money much better.

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Sarah invites me to spend some time with her in Siem Reap in her apartment outside town. Two days cycling and hitchhiking from Andoung Toek and then I'm there, happy to be back with her, happy to rest, happy to have a kitchen in a really comfortable place. A good opportunity to to focus on my studies, to rest the legs and retreat from that negative mindset that piled up in my head. Yet I can't get over it, and after three weeks it is time to leave for me.

Having more than two weeks time until I can enter Vietnam and no interest in traveling around Cambodia anymore, I'm happy to enter the Hariharalaya Yoga Center nearby Siem Reap. 9 days of great vegan food, home-made bread, intense Yoga sessions in the morning, Meditation at sunset and reading. Slowly I'm becoming aware of what happened to me, what foolish games my mind started to play in the past months – with a mind always judging and complaining about the situation, lecturing the people around me – that's certainly not the way to happiness nor inner peace... Yet, apparently those mind patterns kept coming up in my mind, on and on. Time for a change, for a reprogramming of the firmware. And the body feels much better without coffee and the daily Yoga exercises instead.

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Left Siem Reap on a night bus, that picked me up 1AM from the N6 at the entrance of the Roulos Temple group. The bike travels in its bag now, the first time since months... I'm bound for Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), back to Vietnam in a way. A long "stopover" in Phom Penh at 6AM, a new bus and a few more hours. Arrive in HCMC at 2PM, unpack the bike, find me a hotel and stroll arround the city on the bike, mingling with thousands of motorbikes and busses on the crowded streets. Good fun, what a city – compared to Cambodia it seems like coming back into the 21st century.

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Heading for Dalat in the mountains to meet my Swiss friend Urs. I'm on the bike again, Dalat is located 300km North of HCM. Almost 100km on the first day in fairly heavy traffic and endless settlements along the road, and another 80 on the second, with the first real mountain ascends since months. Beautiful forests, and pooring rain. At the outskirts of Bao Loc, there is a nice hotel with fancy big rooms in 60/70 ties style, 6 USD including hot shower and WiFi. What a bless after todays ride!

New day – same scenario – rain. After a few miles I give up cycling, decide hitch towards Dalat. 10 USD damage for 90 kilometers for a maniac ride in an overcrowed transporter, banging through villages and coffee plantations in blossom. One more long uphill run through pine forests, then we reach Dalat, a vast city spread over small hills and valleys just before noon.

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My friends Urs arrives a little later, and we find us a place to stay in the Peace Hotel, as well as another mate to chatter with at the Peace Bar. Bat is his his name, he's from Australia, always good for a fun chat. A bright full moon at night, we roam around restaurants and bars. Incredibly touching Vietnamese live singing and Guitar playing at the Easy Rider bar, where one can arrange roundtrips with local motorcyclists. Hallelujah! For two days we go arround the buzzing town on rented motorbikes, get lost, climb the LamBien mountain, visit some Japanese gardens and shower under the stunning Elefant Waterfall about 30km outside Dalat. We were really lucky with the weather – always miss the rain showers :-)

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New day – same scenario – rain. After a few miles I give up cycling, decide hitch towards Dalat. 10 USD damage for 90 kilometers for a maniac ride in an overcrowed transporter, banging through villages and coffee plantations in blossom. One more long uphill run through pine forests, then we reach Dalat, a vast city spread over small hills and valleys just before noon.

My friends Urs arrives a little later, and we find us a place to stay in the Peace Hotel, as well as another mate to chatter with at the Peace Bar. Bat is his his name, he's from Australia, always good for a fun chat. A bright full moon at night, we roam around restaurants and bars. Incredibly touching Vietnamese live singing and Guitar playing at the Easy Rider bar, where one can arrange roundtrips with local motorcyclists. Hallelujah! For two days we go arround the buzzing town on rented motorbikes, get lost, climb the LamBien mountain, visit some Japanese gardens and shower under the stunning Elefant Waterfall about 30km outside Dalat. We were really lucky with the weather – always miss the rain showers :-)

Leaving Dalat in the afternoon. Nice long descent between dark clouds to the left and to the right. Bolts strike a few miles ahead. Hiding from the thunderstorm in a Bamboo Cafe with nice outlook over the lake and the distant mountains. Despite the forecasted 50 downhill miles, I fight steep ups and downs for the first 15 miles over really bumpy roads on the following day, on the shortcut towards the N1 and Mui Ne. Then I reach the last peak of the plateau, and get a splendid view over the plains below me. As well as I get my long downhill ride, reaching the N1 by noon. The remaining 35 miles to Mui Ne are a battle with face winds, soft acscends and my fading will in the burning sun. The landscape looks like a dessert, few bushes only cover the endless sand dunes. Halfway, there is a beautiful dark blue lake between the narrow road and a giant white dune behind, surrounded by palms and vegetable gardens. The villagers at the coffee shop welcome me with "Give me dollar", and I right away feel teleported to Africa. I honestly hope the Vietnamese who won the war against America, who defeated Pol Pot in Cambodia etc etc. will soon find their pride again instead of begging tourist Dollars.

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Mui Ne used to be a minor fisher town until a solar eclipse a decade ago brought the tourist boom to the peninsula. Nowadays a long strip of resorts, restaurants and bars along the shore indicates good tourist business. For me, it feels as little appealling as the tourist beaches on Koh Chang or Shianoukville, yet it was a great time. I spoiled myself with a nice beachfront bungalow with lousy breakfeast for 20 USD, and spend my days with Yoga on the beach, beers and fun Urs and Bat, and finally dancing again to Iggy Pop, Doors and Prodigy.

Activities like Jeep cruising in the Red and White Dunes are offered, which I don't appreciate for its ecological impact. Furthermore, Kite- and Wind Surfing schools are in place, and the nearby Cham temple ruin is a great spot for sunset.

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After a few days on the beach, Urs and I decide to move on, seek new adventures before we both leave Vietnam in a couple of days. To safe precious time, I pack my bike in the bag, and we take the morning bus to Ho Chi Minh City. We arrive just after noon, store our big bags in a guesthouse and rent us two motorbikes rather than booking a three day tourist tour. And escape the buzzing city towards the Mekong Delta with minimal luggage. My bike rattles and shakes if forced to go faster than 30 miles/h. Alright then – easy going. We spend the first night in Go Cong, a small charming town 50 miles East of My Tho. A man in front of a modern bicycle shop assembles a wheel for a new racer, nice work. More racer bicycles on the street, quite extraordinary.

On the next day, we ride randomly to the shore again, find a small ferry that brings us over the river to the next southern island in the Delta. Driven by compass directions and the low detail Southeast-Asia map, we cruise small roads that soon turn into elevated unpaved trails between flooded tree plantations and ponds, crossing irrigation creeks on funny little bridges and finally reach a dead end – a ruin on the lonesome shore. A local comes by on his motorbike, talks a lot that we don't understand and asks us to follow. He shows us his being-build temple a few miles away on the shore, still in the swamps. A giant cargo ship crosses our views. Strange, surreal. Finding our way back, heading west to find a more suitable ferry to bring us more south – we ask a young lady at a a gas station. She will show us the way, she says, starts her motorbike and leads us through a clutter of narrow paved trails under the trees, with her mother and her baby daughter on her bike. Feels like riding through Garden Eden. We get our small motorboat ferry, no chance we would have found that port on our own! The skipper of the following ferry helps us maneuvering our scooters over the wobbly planks on his boat, drives us to the next island and almost dumps our bikes into the mud on the attempt to unload them. Meanwhile a 50 year old lady cannot help grabbing my bum. What a trip! We spend the night in Ben Tre, eventually get a better map for 50 Cents in a book shop.

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On the following day, we stick to our strategy of random cruising beside the main roads, seeking a quite place in Garden Eden. On the western tip of the island north of Vinh Long, we spot the first tourist boat and few kilometers later, accidentally pass by a tourist information and home stay place. Down-to-Earth style has its price here, yet we don't mind – that's pretty much what we were looking for. A visit to the market, a Westerner on a motorbike stops by, asks us what we are up to. I'm looking for a fruit shake, I admit, and he invites the two of us into his home, a few kilometers away, in the middle of the green watery scenery. His name is Russon from Canada, he has been living here since 13 years and running fruit trading. And besides, he runs a home stay that is as much as not at all advertised. His wife spoils us with tasty shakes, beers and coffee with Baileys. What a treatment! Asking what we own him, he declines smilingly: “You just made my day”.

Time to head back via My Tho, some last miles in the low noise Garden Eden, some more miles along on really busy roads, wishing me Earplugs again. One more day back to Ho Chi Minh, one more day on side tracks, arriving at the right ferry ports rather accidentally. What a flow, what a feeling here in the Mekong Delta! Reaching ho Chi Minh City, we stop at an old nice temple, thanking the spirits of the Mekong for a great trip. Luckily, my ratteling red scotter survived the slow pace trip without a single failure :-)

 

Travelers we talked to often disliked the sometimes expensive organized Mekong Exploration tours. So to say, roaming arround on rented scooters was the greatest thing we could do...

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After 5 months in Southeast Asia, finally I follow Paul’s invitation and recommendations to visit the National Parks on the East coast of Australia. I fly from Ho Chi Minh to Kuala Lumpur and then directly to Gold Coast, where Paul meets me at the airport early in the morning. We assembly my bicycle at the police station and take off. A few hundred meters away from the runway, we hit the beaches already. It feels like entering a completely different world, suddenly there are no scooters on the streets anymore but cyclists. The beach promenade is occupied by many runners and surfers, as well as regular pedestrians. There are proper road signs, and readable advertisements. Every now and then, there are public showers and drinking water supply on the beach, very charming.

In the distance, I can see the skyline of Surfers Paradise, a set of skyscrapers along the endless beaches. They are mainly hotels for the booming tourism, in an area that had little significance before surfing and beach holidays became popular a few decades ago. Now, Gold Coast is a city, with Surfers Paradise as its center, with lots of bars and night clubs including a heavy drinking and drug scene, as I'm told. Heaps of air brushed camper cars are parked everywhere - yeah - this is the Australian Dream of crossing the vast country on the own (or rather rented) 4 wheels :-)

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I can stay in Pauls apartment for the first couple of days, and he shows me a bit around on the pushbikes. Near his home, there is already the first pretty much pristine forest, directly on a rocky hill over the Pacific, called Burleigh Heights. Big tame sort of turkeys walk everywhere, and hundreds and hundreds of pretty red, blue and white feathered birds sing their deafening song in the nearby park at sunset.

One day, we visit the Springbrook National Park. After a dozen kilometers, we have a second breakfast, stock up food for the ride and leave the populated area behind us. 24 kilometers on a small road winding up through beautiful rainforest. Giant ferns, Gum trees and small palms and hundreds of other plants create an impenetrable thicket, sometimes allowing a nice view down to the Pacific coast line. We visit a waterfall viewpoint at lunchtime, when it starts to rain. We carry on anyway, cycling to the next picnic area, hiking on small and steep trails for two or three hours down and up the valley again. The rain just amplifies the vivid green of the untouched forests, the moss on the giant trunks and rocks. Smaller waterfalls every now and then. The big  Twin Falls offer a pool for a really refreshing bath. Never mind the rain, the spirits around here are incredible. Multidimensional impressions of nature, impossible to rehash on photographs. On and on we walk, eventually returning to our bicycles. Still raining gently, and 800 elevation meters to burn back to Gold Coast, spotting a few of these small and shy rainforest kangaroos on the way down.

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In Pauls big Mitsubishi 4WD we drive via Nerang and Beaudesert through hilly farmlands that is hardly occupied for miles and miles. Cattle has vast space to live a happy cattle life, with lots of Eucalyptus and Fig trees providing shadow on the lawns for the hot and sunny days in the hot and dry Australian summer. For today, it's autumn. Heavy clouds from the shore in the East, blue skies in the West. We drive towards Rathdowney, then on a bumpy unpaved 4WD road directly into the Border Ranges National Park. Like Springbrook, it belongs to the Godwana UNESCO World Heritage, a stretch of mountains of volcanic origin that are covered with incredibly thick coastal rainforest, and home to some ancient trees species like the Antarctic Beeches.

We spend some time at picnic areas, seeing incredible giant Antarctic beech communities covered in thick green moss, watching the giant caldera with its fertile bottom and Mount Warning in the middle - impressive. Then we go for a hike out to the Pinnacle Lookout, a rocky needle sticking out of the caldera, allowing a  true 360 degree panoramic view. No one out here, except for a bare-feet Aussie Rasta. No one out here at all in the thick rainforest, in this wide National Park. We're off the beaten track. And the weather is with us, blue sky for a splendid view! The trunks of the grass trees and shrubs are black reminders of the last bush fires here, apparently caused by some fools cigarette bud.

Border Range NP - View towards Pinnacle and Mount Warning Antarctic Beech Woods

A few hours later, we leave the caldera, drive down towards Nimbin, a small town nearby Lismore that became sort of a Hippie Mekka after it hosted the Aquarius Festival back in 1973. Nowadays, it is a backpacker destination with pot museums, a few restaurants and colourful painted old shop buildings along the main road. Backpackers from Byron Bay are carried here for day trips to get their joints on the streets from stoned Aborigines. Paul, little proud of this part of Australia takes of to meet his parents near Byron Bay, and I stay for a bit with my bike and my tent on the camp ground, chatting to a nice Swiss couple with a descent adventure setup – a Toyota Landcruiser with a boat and heaps of equipment on the trailer.

Nights are rather cold for my summer equipment, after two days I cycle out of Nimbin with a severe cold. Hilly road towards Nimbin, after just 25 kilometres I'm exhausted, spend a few hours on the “Channon Arts Market”. The smell of Indian incense, the colours of Southeast-Asian cloth stores, and the sound of a live rock band add perfectly to the scenario. Most guests are dressed as they were on the way to Woodstock, and make me feel a bit funny in my cycling gear. Laying flat on the grass, I come to talk with guys that happen to be musicians of a band called “Holy Cow”. We chatter over topics like the root cause that made Germany start up WWI and WWII for a while, about their music and their next gig tonight in Byron Bay. If I wanted to go with them to Byron Bay by car? Yes, sure – for today I'm not able to ride any more anyway. As we cruise over the small roads, I realize what “mission impossible” this would have been for me – no shops nor guest houses on the road, but hills after hills until Byron Bay. 70 kilometres good work for a fit guy with enough water and food, certainly to much for me today.

Nimbin Main Street (and Hemp shop)

Spend a night in a 6 bed dorm in the Arts Factory in Nimbin, with some funny backpacker fools insisting to invite me for drinking games just after I fell asleep. Next day I'm back in my tent, definitely the better air in there, and no fools but me. For the next few days, I enjoy some nice company, live a healthy life and cure my cold with hot Chilli con carne, and heaps of Vitamin tablets and tea and honey. Paul takes me and the bicycle back to his home in Gold Coast.

Generally speaking, the Arts Factory is an interesting spot to stay in Byron Bay, with free daily Yoga classes, plus Didgeredoo and Djembee workshops. In the beautiful jungle like garden a camp ground is provided, as well as kitchen facilities. Some guitar players would play some songs. Byron Bay itself has transformed from a sleepy whaling village to a surfers and backpackers destination in less than 20 years, resulting in the usual side effects – high prices, begging etc. A number of nice back beaches around Byron Bay are little frequented and surrounded by nice Eucaluptus forests for hiking. Beside that the Lighthouse and the most Eastern point of Australian mainland (Cape Byron) are worth a visit. The Hinterland with its rainforests is not far away either.

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After Byron Bay, we spent two nights in Paul's place, and took off again, loaded with heaps of camping gear, canned Chilli and our mountain bikes in the boot of the Jeep. Again, dark clouds over the ocean, and bright or blue sky in mountains the West. That's where we are heading for. First stop is O Reilly's Station in the Lamington National Park, another subsection of the Godwana World Nature Heritage. We walk a short 2hrs circuit trail down to the bottom of the narrow valley, to the waterfall and its pool. Giant Brush Box trees with red trunks and mighty Yellow Hollywoods stand on the side of the small trail, and tall old Strangler Figs hug their host trees, or their remains. Shrubs, Liana and Tree ferns in between render anywhere aside the trail impenetrable. Once again I breath the rainforest rather than the fags.

We depart O Reilly's on a true 4WD road, heading down West. A place called Lost World Valley appears under thick black clouds in the remaining daylight. We move on, further West. Eventually, we find an empty picnic area nearby Rathdowney, put up the tent and enjoy the Chilli at the campfire. A bright moon renders the lean trunks of the tall Eucalyptus trees around us with silver glow in that night.

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Next station on our tour is the Mount Barney National Park, somewhat known for a stunning gorge called Lower Portal. We arrive early, have the entrance to the gorge for ourselves after a good hike. We are out of the rainforests, Eucalyptus trees, grass trees and shrubs dominate the scene. A quick swim upstream the cold creek through the pools formed into the rocky creek bed, and I see the full scale of the gorge. The beauty of the place is unreal, impossible to describe the spirit with words or camera pictures. As well the knowledge of Paul, my mate who is kind enough to show me sacred places like this. If I wanted to do something like that back home in Germany, I'd have to think very hard where to go...

We move on to the Girraween National Park, an area of rather dry Eucalyptus forests and numerous more or less giant granite rock formations in Northern Queensland Tableland, a hilly plain more than 1000 meters above sea level. The campground is fairly occupied due to the upcoming Easter weekend, mainly by Australian campers. 6$ per night per person, including hot shower facilities – great offer! Never mind the lack of electricity. Nearby the campground, just a few kilometers away, are giant granite rock formations to hike and climb, great lookouts and meditation places for sunrise and sunset, when there are hardly any other people up there. The Eucalyptus woods are full of round shaped granite boulders – this must be heaven for climbers, yet none are to see. Behind the campground, the Bold Rock River runs in his solid granite bed, with little gorges being cut into the stone in tens of thousands of years time. A magic white glow emits from the riverbed at nighttime under the full moon shining on it. It is easy to imagine what we did there for the next 4 days – hiking, swimming, breathing. One day we take the pushbikes for a descent ride around Tenterfield, where the open farmlands expose much more of the impressive granite hills, and have a look at the nearby Boonoo Boonoo Waterfalls and the Bold Rock National Park, home of the largest solitary rock in the Southern Hemisphere. Reaching the summit of Bold Rock, we are on our own again, spoiled with a stunning view and a marvelous sunset. Wet clouds surround us from behind, seemingly being soaked into the red glowing sky in the West. Read more...

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