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Yosemite’s majestic mountains

Yosemite National Park

sunny 36 °C
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We can call ourselves really lucky: a couple of days earlier when it was obvious when we’d be getting to San Francisco and then to Yosemite I was lucky to get a reservation for a single night at Crane Flat Campground. Considering that campgrounds for Yosemite in summer time are usually sold out a couple of months in advance, we were very happy.
And then we were even more lucky when I found space for us for the following two nights at Upper Pines Campground (so even a campsite down in Yosemite Valley) just before leaving towards Yosemite – i.e. when we still had reception.
So it was a very relaxed drive and late arrival in Yosemite – having a reservation is not really what we’re used to. But admittedly this was extremely helpful, as also most of the national forest campgrounds before entering Yosemite were full. And while dispersed camping might be allowed in the national forest, we were not too sure if this was a good idea in bear country without having any proper food storage at hand.

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Crane Flat is a nice campground with large sites located in a big pine forest. We easily found our spot and marveled at how nice it is not having to think about where to stay for the night.
The next morning, we got up early by our standards and headed into Yosemite Valley. We stopped at a couple of viewpoints as we got closer.

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The trail to Bridaveil Falls was short and nice. But it also gave us a flavor of how many people are crowding the valley. And despite all kinds of warning signs with visual examples and statistics of 2015 injuries displaying how dangerous it is to scramble in the granite rocks leading up to the falls, we were able to observe a tourist slipping and hitting his nice camera lens on a rock…
So we left in search of a quieter place and were successful at Cathedral Beach where we enjoyed the nice views of El Capitan and the Cathedral Range and the river with a pleasant beach.

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Later we used the nice afternoon sun for taking in the major view points in the valley before retreating to our spot in the Upper Pines Campground next to newly named Half Dome Village to have BBQ with roasted marshmallows as desert.

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The next morning, we decided to allow Jordan and Chris to join us with their tent on our campsite. The couple had tried their luck at the only first come – first serve campsite. As they had camped up close to Glacier Point, they got up at 4:15am, to get into line at Camp 4 at 5:20am in order to learn eventually from the National Park Staff that the group before them was the last one to get a spot… Wow! And as all reserved campsites are laid out for 6 people, Jordan searched for sites with less people and that’s how we got together. As usual, our guests get to sign our guest book...

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Our target for the day was a hike up to Vernal Falls and we even got further up vs. our original plan. We hiked up to the top of the falls and then even further up to the John Muir Trail to head down in a loop.

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Given that it was quite a warm day and a ‚moderately strenuous‘ hike (as per the park flyer), we deserved a dip in the river before having dinner at our site. And yes, we slept very well after so much exercise.

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Our last day in Yosemite was dedicated to Sequoia trees. Due to the fact that Mariposa Grove is currently closed for improvement works, we headed to Tuolumne Grove. And yes, it was very impressive to see the trees grow. But it was also interesting to see a fallen tree just to take in the dimensions of the giant sequoias. After all, their diameter is just enormous.

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After a couple of stops with great vistas along Tioga Road, we had ‚scrambled pancakes‘ (aka Kaiserschmarrn) at a nice lake.

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A bit later we got to the Tuolumne Meadows before going up to Tioga Pass at nearly 10,000 feet. With crossing the pass, it was time to wave good-bye to Yosemite national park and to recognize how quickly a landscape can change from one moment to the other.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 10:09 Archived in USA Tagged mountains waterfall rock hike yosemite sequoia Comments (1)

Driving towards the Grand Tetons

Dinosaur NM, Flaming Gorge, Big Sandy, Jackson Hole, Grand Teton NP

semi-overcast 25 °C
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After our couple of days in Moab and surroundings our next big destination will be Yellowstone. There is no real must do tourist attraction along the way and we had not been sure for a long time if we should go via Salt Lake City or rather via Flaming Gorge. Ralf, our camping partner in Zion NP, convinced us that we’ll not regret it to pass by the Flaming Gorge and that’s what we wanted to do.
Our first travel day after a couple of days was dominated by the drive to Dinosaur National Monument, one of the biggest sites for dinosaur fossils. The fossil wall showing more than 1500 bones in their original position was very impressive. Unfortunately, the place was not really catering to the interests of kids, such that alternating Sam and I had to keep Max entertained. So we did not stay too long before heading on to our campground for the night.

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Once again we had a day of driving ahead of us with the Flaming Gorge being the highlight of that stretch. While most of the Flaming Gorge is now hidden by the large reservoir, there was still enough left to make a great impression on us.

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Eventually we went along the western shore line and eventually stopped at Big Sandy Reservoir for the night.
We did not expect too much of the location, but were amazed: we found a spot directly above the water. There was no wind at all and the lake lay in front of us like a mirror. And it was so quiet! We’ve been at many locations so far, but this struck us as one of the quietest places we’ve ever encountered. And it was also so remote that it was really dark at night such that once again we got treated to a nice view of the milky way.

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And finally on Friday we arrived in the early afternoon at Jackson, the gateway to the Grand Teton National Park. As we did not have a reservation for the night, we considered ourselves quite lucky to still get a slot in the Gros Ventre Campground along the southern boundary of the park.
We spent the rest of the day just taking it easy at our camp. And we were lucky to have with Terry and Lorrie great neighbors with whom we spent the evening playing Quirkle and Farkle. While Sam and I had been playing card and dice games quite a bit together, it was fun to play with others and to play different games again. So we just enjoyed and ignored our original plan of uploading Sam’s edited pictures and publishing the next blog posts. The posts will have to wait.
We spent the full next day to explore the park. Along the back roads we discovered a herd of bison. They were pretty unimpressed by us and enjoyed grazing against the backdrop of the Grand Teton mountains.

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For lunch we went down to the Snake River such that we could also observe the rafts starting and passing by in the river.
Approaching Jackson Lake and getting closer to the mountains, the clouds started drawing in. By the time we saw the first views of Jenny Lake along the trail we’d been hiking from String Lake thunder startled us and forced us to return to the car. On our way back to the campground Sam took a couple of attempts to catch lightning in a picture and was lucky in one of them.

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We’d been hoping to see some moose on the way back. While we did not get to see any moose, we were rewarded by seeing a rainbow.

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And as Max had been very patient over the last couple of days with the lots of driving we had done, he got the full next day to do just activities he likes. So he got to throw stones into Slide Lake and play lots of Lego. The alternating rain and thunderstorms did not allow for too many outside activities anyhow, so this was a fun and relaxing way to fill the day.
Eventually the rain subsided and we headed to Teton Village to take the free gondola up the mountain – a recommendation Lorrie and Terry had given us. By the time we got there, the sun was coming through the clouds nicely again. Already on our way up with the gondola we got to see a couple of marmots and a deer.
We enjoyed the view from the top, but did not wait too long before heading down again. With more than 3000 ft to descend at after 5pm, we rather wanted to get started. Once again we got to see marmots, lots of squirrels and chipmunks. Half way down the mountain, there was a trickle of rain and enough distant thunder to scare us. Luckily enough the sun came back again after a while and we were able to just enjoy the hike down.

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On our way back to the campsite we had hoped to spot some moose in the evening light. But despite some observing, we only got to see lots of deer and no moose. So we’ll just need to wait and see if we’ll see some of them in Yellowstone then, where we’ll head to tomorrow.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:51 Archived in USA Tagged mountain lake hike gondola bison bone dinosaur teton silence Comments (1)

Getting into the Canadian Rockies

Grey Wells PP, Tete Jaune Cache, Jasper NP, Icefields Parkway

overcast 10 °C
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Waking up in Grey Wells Provincial Park in a drizzling rain did not quite feel like this is how Canada should be like. Still, the rain needs to happen at some stage to keep all of the waterfalls in the park supplied with enough water. And Dawson Falls were a very nice sight indeed and despite the fact that they are just 4 miles upstream from Helmcken Falls, quite different.
Given the weather we were not really tempted to go further into the park for kayaking on Clearwater Lake and made our way back to the highway. Just after the crest of a small hill while still in the park, I was suddenly forced to slam the brakes: there was a bear mother standing in the middle of the road with two small cubs. Sam was quick enough to take a picture before the three headed into the forest, hiding so well from view that we have not seen them anymore even though they could not have been more than five meters from the road. That made us wonder how many bears (and other wildlife) we might have passed already without noticing them.

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After a round of shopping and enjoying salmon and berries on a ‘bannock’ (a kind of Indian frybread) the drive north was dominated by rain such that the mountain views were obscured by clouds most of the time.
Luckily, by the time we reached Valemount, the rain had stopped and gave way to even some bits of sunshine. Valemount’s salmon run is taking place two weeks before the one in Gray Wells, but we were lucky enough to still spot a salmon in the spawning area of the local creek – a female protecting her nest. What a different setting vs. the craziness of the Bailey’s Chute we had seen the day before.

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Sam and Max were at least as fascinated by the salon as by the truck and especially the one on its trailer across the road. They would trade in our van in to travel with that truck without any hesitation.

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That evening we followed Uwe and Carola’s recommendation of staying overnight at the campground of the Tete Jaune Lodge. And in fact the location directly next to Fraser River and the facilities were simply great.

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And at the risk of sounding a bit crazy: I was delighted to encounter what I consider ‘normal’ washing machines spinning around a horizontal axis. And yes: our clothes were clean after washing them – even Max’ stuff. Hooray!
The next morning it was quite obvious that it did not make any sense to stop at Mt. Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. Given all the clouds, we simply passed by and were happy at every opportunity to see a bit of the landscape around us.

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Eventually we headed directly into Jasper National Park where we got a spot for the next two nights at Whistler Campground. To Max’ delight the friendly ranger at the gate had made sure we were located right next to a large playground.
After enjoying the pleasantries of our new home location, we headed off for a hike to the Five Lakes. Already on the way there, we were impressed by the nice vistas of rivers with the mountains in the back.

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And once we arrived at the Five Likes, not surprisingly, we had the impression that also there were more Germans than any other nationality. The hike was really nice and Max was even officially allowed to ride his bike on the trail – unlike in the American national parks where almost all trails were officially for hikers only.

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There had been a warning sign at the start of the trail to watch out for bears, as they like to come to this area during berry season. So we made sure to talk loud enough and consequently did not encounter any bears, even though they might have been close by. We did see lots of squirrels though and a couple of smaller animals and insects.

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We enjoyed the solitude of the five small lakes along the trail. At one of them there was even a pair of the red chairs located in especially scenic spots all through Jasper national park.

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On our way back to camp, we noticed a couple of cars parked along the road with people getting out to have a look at an elk. Even though it was a really large male elk and a beautiful sight, we rather stayed away and were even a bit worried about the people getting so close. After all, we had been warned by enough signs about the elk during fall rut season and were cautious not to get too close.
The next morning it was raining and consequently we did not feel like going for any sightseeing in the national park. Instead we took advantage of one of the activities directly at the campground and went geocaching. With a GPS we borrowed from the ranger station we headed off to find the 10 caches hidden all over the campground. And that took quite a while – after all the campground is enormous at 781 spots spread widely in a forest probably a mile long by half a mile wide.

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It was fun finding the locations of the caches and their hiding places. So maybe geocaching is something we’ll continue doing also in other places.
After hiking so much on a rather cool and partially raining day, we had promised to Max that we’d go to the local pool. As usual, he enjoyed being in the water, swimming, jumping and sliding with pure delight.
After dinner (Kaiserschmarrn) that evening Sam set off towards a meadow south of the campground to see if he’ll be able to see any elk during their rut. After a long time of hiding and watching, he eventually returned back to the van having seen no animals at all – not even squirrels. I suspect he had been watched silently by a couple of animals who were doing just as well a great job in hiding themselves, but we’ll never know for sure…

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 08:46 Archived in Canada Tagged salmon lake river pool hike bear geocaching campground rut Comments (1)

Picture perfect Canadian Rockies

Canmore, Johnston Canyon, Banff, Lake Louise, Radium Hot Springs, Fort Steele

sunny 19 °C
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It was a great night staying inside Uwe, Carola and Aiyana’s house in Canmore. And luckily enough, Carola had a day off that Monday such that she and Aiyana could join us the day to do some hiking. They suggested to go to nearby Johnston Canyon and it was an excellent choice. And the weather was simply perfect!

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The kids enjoyed the climbing and balancing options the trail to the upper falls had to offer and the adults were pleased with the kids entertaining themselves and therefore having enough time to enjoy the views of the canyon and the waterfalls.

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After nice lunch at the Canyon Diner, we headed back towards Banff and Carola was kind enough to stop at multiple occasions such that Sam could take nice pictures of the Rockies in sunshine. What a difference a little sun makes – not only in regards to pictures, but also in terms of our mood. It was great!

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As if the children did not have enough activity already, we got home to Canmore and headed off right away in direction of the local bike park, where Max and Aiyana were racing the hills. Eventually we had to stop them and move on. A herd of deer had come to the park and one of the deer seemed a bit nervous about all the activity going on so close by.

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So we headed back home, where Max and Aiyana had fun playing together and we enjoyed having nice conversations about Germany, Canada, cultural differences and the standards for building houses in both countries. It was a nice evening and we felt sad to say good bye again to our kind hosts. Still, there are good chances to host them again when they’ll be in Germany once we’ll be back, so we’ll be looking forward to that.
Still, Sam and I also took a bit of time to firm up our plans from there on. There were several options and after a bit of brainstorming, we decided to go back to Lake Louise once more to see it again in nice weather and to head on to Radium Hot Springs from there.
We took the scenic drive up to Lake Louise along the old parkway and luckily we did, as otherwise we’d not seen the deer crossing the river.

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Lake Louise looked quite different in nice weather than two days earlier in fog and snow. This time, we had a really nice view of the lake and Victoria glacier in the background. And at the lake shore around the Fairmont hotel, it was very crowded.

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So we did not stay for long down there, but started to hike the 3.6km up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse right away. That was not only a nice hike, but allowed us to get away from the crowds. And we were rewarded by excellent tea and cookies at the teahouse including a breath taking view Lake Agnes in the afternoon sun. And by the time we got back to the lake, there were even a bit less people there. Seems like the bus tours had left by then.

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It was late enough in the afternoon, that we enjoyed the ride through Kootenay National Park to Radium Hot Springs, but did not make any stops or hikes along the way.

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The next morning, we went from the town of Radium Hot Springs back into the National Park to the actual hot springs. And it was really relaxing to enjoy soaking in the hot water.

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After all that soaking and relaxing, we continued towards the south, which proved to be a really nice drive through the Eastern Kootenay Rockies. While we were surrounded by mountains, they were a bit in the distance such that we found ourselves driving through a long hilly landscape. We really liked the area around Lake Columbia and commented to each other that this is the kind of landscape we could see ourselves living in. Well, at least theoretically. I’m not quite sure if we’d really want to live hours away from any larger towns.

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Eventually we reached our campground at Fort Steele, a really nice spot hidden away from any roads. So it was really, really quiet. It was just a very short drive the next morning to get to the Fort Steele Heritage Site, which is more or less an outdoor museum featuring many buildings from the gold rush era. In the years around 1865, gold miners dug more gold out of Wild Horse Creek than in all of California.

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We enjoyed our day at Fort Steele and were happy that we went there. Not all attractions were still operational, but we probably preferred anyhow having less people around and more solitude. Even though the railroad was not active that day, we took the detour to have a look and that side trip clearly paid out.

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Still, eventually we had to take the decision that had been pending for the last couple of days: Option 1 would mean to continue east via Canada, passing through Fernie and then following the trans Canadian highway east towards Regina and Winnipeg. Option 2 would go down into the USA, lead us though Glacier National Park and then east along US highway 2.
We did a bit of research, found out that the Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier NP had just opened again today after a couple of days of being closed due to snow and ice. And we concluded we might as well go there, as we had met so many people on our travels who praised the park. So it was time to say good-bye to Canada on a gorgeous day, wondering when (there’s no question about the if) we’ll be back again.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:12 Archived in Canada Tagged springs canyon fort lake museum sun hike hot outdoor teahouse goldrush Comments (1)

Bye bye mountains, bye bye sightseeing

Whitefish Lake State Park, Glacier National Park

sunny 18 °C
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The first couple of miles back in the US looked just like Canada before the forest subsided and fields took over. We did not feel like driving much longer and eventually turned into Whitefish Lake State Park. It seemed like a nice location right next to the lake – perfectly suited to stay overnight not too far away from Glacier National Park.

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While in principle the above reasoning was right, there’s one major factor we overlooked in our decision taking: the state park was squeezed in between the lake and the railroad tracks. And the railroad tracks were unfortunately more than busy with lots and lots of freight trains all through the night. Still, the lake was nice, we saw a woodpecker, and there were some deer grazing in the park. And Max found enough building materials to build a house for his cars.

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From there it was just a short distance to reach the west entrance to Glacier National Park. We were planning to take the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is famed to be one of the most scenic drives through the Rockies.
It was a nice day to take the drive with a good share of sunshine. Even though it was the shoulder season and a weekday, the road was still very busy. In retrospect we were very happy that we had not gone there on our way from Yellowstone towards Washington, where we would have ended up on a weekend during vacation period. The road started as a nice and easy drive along some lakes and rivers.

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Eventually the road indeed went to the sun: it turned into a narrow and windy road taking us all the way up to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. The further we got up, the more impressive were the views of the valleys and mountains below and around us.

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At our lunch location just below Logans Pass we were really impressed: we met a very nice couple and got to talk. Eventually we found out that they were the parents of 13 kids (of which two are adopted) between 32 and 9 years of age. We were thunderstruck. That is just too much to even imagine…

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Eventually we headed up all the way across the Logans Pass and hiked to Hidden Lake Overlook. It was a nice hike and brought us one last time up to the continental divide before we headed down towards St. Mary’s Lake.

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Down at the lake we were extremely lucky and got the last available campsite at the National Park campground. Lucky us! And even more lucky that on our walks through the campground we only encountered fairly fresh bear poo and not the bear that belonged to it.

Glacier National Park had been worthwhile seeing and we’re glad we took the detour vs. having continued straight east within Canada. And it marked a nice end point to our travels to date. Our trip down to St. Mary was the last stretch of road in the mountains, as we’d now be hitting the great plains. And it marks also the end of our sightseeing, as we’ll now try to simply get to the Great Lakes in as little time as possible in order to enjoy two weeks with friends and family.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:27 Archived in USA Tagged mountains lake road sightseeing hike railroad pass whitefish divide Comments (0)

Life in the cabin at the lake

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

semi-overcast 15 °C
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It was a great feeling to know that we had made it all the way to Carol and Pete’s place on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Even though all of us had enjoyed the last months of living in the camper van, none of us was sad to move into a room and sleep in a proper bed. Rather the opposite: We were all really looking forward to some time without any driving and just being in one and the same place.

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And what should I say: it is a really nice place. Once we arrived, Pete and Carol showed us around their cabin and the surroundings. Admittedly, the cabin could probably be also called a house and it is situated very nicely in the woods right above Hagerman Lake. Before even looking around the house, our first destination was the pier with the motorboat, the kayaks, the stand-up paddleboard and the water bike.

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We really enjoyed our days at Carol and Pete’s. There was so much to see and to do that there was no way for getting bored.
Whenever the weather was nice enough to do so, we headed out on the lake. After a short round alone in the kayak, Max decided to rather opt for the motorboat. Even though he clearly wanted to go out alone with the motorboat, he was not allowed to do so. But he really enjoyed going out with Pete and was thrilled to being allowed to even steer the boat himself. Sam preferred the water bike, and I mostly used the kayak.

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Whenever we were not out on the water, we took long hikes through the woods and into the nearby Ottawa National Forest. With Max using his bike, we were able to cover quite some distances. Along the way we found lots of mushrooms - not edible, but very pretty!

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The first couple of days, we enjoyed very nice and sunny fall weather. And with the leaves turning colors, this was a marvelous sight. Not to forget about the fabulous sunsets!

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But there was much more as well to keep us busy: Sam decided to get an appointment with a local dentist. The good news was that he confirmed after an x-ray scan that there only seems to be an irritated nerve and no real major issue.
And we had long expected visitors coming in: Janis arrived on Friday evening with her son Charles and my parents. It was so good to have them around. After all, it had been five months since we last met. Max had been already excited for the last couple of days that his Opa and Oma would be coming. And Sam and I were glad to see how much fun Max had when Pete or his grandparents spent time with him.
But even when the weather turned to be a bit more unpleasant with rainy cool days, there were lots of options to keep us entertained. While Max and Sam built LEGO castles, trucks and star ships, I got started with some puzzles eventually culminating in a 1000-piece puzzle of Yosemite. And once almost everyone had helped to finally get the puzzle completed, we started playing Farkle and Herzeln.

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Had I mentioned already the hot tub and the sauna or the open chimney? The cooler weather was the perfect excuse for our almost daily dip in the hot tub.

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And let me also mention the food: There was also no possible way of ever staying hungry. After breakfast, we did not have to wait too long for lunch. In the afternoons, there was classical German ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ (even though we stuck to tea vs. coffee) and in the evening there was once dinner. And no matter what Carol prepared or Pete put onto the BBQ, it was excellent: steaks, shish kebabs, taco salad, sloppy joes, local pasties, bratwurst… And as soon as we thought, we’re just absolutely stuffed, there was some kind of dessert coming our way, such that we ate as if we had been starved for weeks: lots of varieties of cookies, plum cake, brownies, icecream, chocolate fondue – you name it.
The food we had in town one day was ok, but there was no way whatsoever to live up to the cooking of Carol. Still, it was the perfect opportunity to combine the trip into Iron River with a trip to the car wash to vacuum our van. And we spent quite a lot of time in the garage trying to get the insides of the van as clean as possible. To make sure that the van is also well maintained, we had one last oil change done and eventually were happy that we were done.
As if all of that would not have been enough, one evening we got a heads up that there was a chance of seeing Northern Lights as south as Michigan. So we checked it out and in fact saw a slight glow towards the north. Nothing absolutely spectacular, but still quite cool. And as it was a nice and clear night, we even got to see the Milky Way as well.

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We could have spent lots more time at the cabin and it felt great to take a break from traveling. We had not done so few miles for ages – probably not even during the last couple of months back in Germany. Still, after ten days it was time to go back to Chicago respectively Glenview.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:38 Archived in USA Tagged food lake sauna kayak hike forest cabin puzzle tub lego waterbike Comments (0)

Perfect island paradise

Maupiti

sunny 28 °C
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It was love at first sight. Already from the air Maupiti looked simply perfect: a volcanic island with a high peak surrounded by an emerald lagoon and five rather flat coral islands.

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Despite the short runway on one of the northern coral islands, our landing was very smooth. Consequently, the presence of a large fire truck was only a reassurance and it was not required to take any action. The airport building itself was tiny, not much more than a covered passageway. But the waiting area was exceptional: small benches in the shade of palm trees right next to the lagoon.

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Once we had our baggage, it was only a really short walk over to the boat that should take us onto the main island. Once we, our baggage, a French couple that looked like honeymooners and a few locals were waiting in the boat, we soon realized that the boat also doubled as the postal service boat carrying all air freight onto the main island. And a bit later, we realized that it was also the employee shuttle for the whole airport crew of Air Tahiti – consisting of a total of six people.
The ferry ride was a good introduction to Maupiti and its crystal clear water. Before too long, we arrived in the village and were greeted by Sandra, the owner of Pension Tereia with flower garlands. We loaded our baggage onto her truck and she took us to the pension. She showed us around and we had some coconut and water before heading to the nearby beach where we stayed until after the sunset.

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By that time, we were already more than hungry and keen to have dinner which was to be served at 7pm. And it was simply excellent: for starters we had tuna sashimi with an excellent soy based sauce, followed by steaks of parrot fish with vanilla sauce and rice. And fresh mango from the tree next to the house as dessert. Simply perfect.
Sandra's son then showed us how to open a coconut with a single hit of a hand. Sam tried the technique successfully and we enjoyed the coconut water - at that stage we were too full to have anything else to eat.
The next morning, we had breakfast and were ready to leave at 8:30 for our excursion. Together with Claire and Adrien, the other guests in the pension we wanted to go snorkelling with manta rays and have lunch on a ‘motu’ – a small coral islet next to the only shippable pass into the inner lagoon of Maupiti.
Sandra’s husband Kété was steering the motorboat out into the lagoon supported by Max.

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Eventually we stopped rather abruptly, as there were manta rays underneath us. So we got our snorkelling gear and jumped into the water to have a closer look. The rays were enormous and it was hard to believe that Kété said that these were rather small, as their wingspan can get as big as 7m / 23 ft. Max and I preferred to have a look from the surface only, but Sam ventured down to the bottom of the sea at 5 or 6 m depth to have a look from below. It’s always impressive to see such gigantic animals and how small we humans are in comparison.

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After all of us were back in the boat and Kété’s son headed off with his harpoon to catch a fish for our dinner. And no worries, in Maupiti neither rays, nor sharks or whales are being caught – it’s not part of their tradition as we were told - there are way too many other fish around. And we simply marvelled at the sights around us.

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We then traversed through the only pass of Maupiti connecting the lagoon with the open sea. It is a narrow and rather long pass which is quite dangerous for larger boats. Consequently, in adverse weather the only freight boat coming to the island once per month will not attempt the passage with the result that it will only come back a month later and supplies in the stores might get low.

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Kété did a good job and soon enough we were out in the open sea. The waves were significantly bigger than inside the lagoon and we started making our plans just in case something would happen – after all it seemed that there were no life jackets available on the boat.
While we still wondered why we even went out to the open sea, suddenly Kété alerted us that just in front of the boat he had spotted the fountain of a whale and we got to see the backside of two humpback whales. When we thought already that they had dived down and would not resurface for the next couple of minutes, Kété turned and had us observe a spot and make sure that we had our cameras ready. And he was right: just seconds later one of the whales surfaced, blew air out (which was much louder than expected!) and showed his nice tail before heading down. Wow!

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That was already much more than expected, but we made one more snorkelling stop in a beautiful coral garden.

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After all these impressions, we headed for lunch on the small island east of the pass. And what a great location - just beautiful!

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Just like us, most other tourists on the island seemed to be there. After all, it was Saturday, the only day in the week when the typical Tahitian underground sand oven is put into action. Soon after we arrived, it was ceremonially opened and all the procedures and traditions were explained – in French, without any hesitation or thought about people potentially not being able to understand.

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So I unearthed my French skills to understand that we had pork, mussels and chicken as main courses together with cooked bananas and breadfruit. In addition, there was typical raw fish in coconut milk (which was excellent) and fermented fish with fermented coconut milk. The latter smelled much worse than it tasted. Without knowing what it is, we would have probably rather put it into the ‘cheese’ category than assuming that it is fish. For dessert, there was some kind of fruit jelly once again in coconut milk. All in all, the food was very different from what we know and had a distinct smoky flavour to it from the way it was prepared. Not bad, but it will also never be our favourite food.

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What followed, was not really what Sam and I are keen on: tourist entertainment at its best: it started with a competition in throwing coconuts into a hole 8m / 25ft away. The guests of all ten pensions on the island were to compete against each other. As we did not get into the round of the last three and consequently were done rather soon. While that exercise was actually fun, we both declined the next session of Polynesian dancing. We rather did it like the locals and took a dip in the water to cool off. We even spotted a couple of leopard whiptail rays while doing so.

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The excursion was excellent and we had really enjoyed our time on the trip. But after so much sun, we were glad to eventually to take the trip back home. That was fun as well - some of us had to sit in the back of the truck, including Kété who nicely played his ukulele along the way.

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We played a round of Farkle with Claire and Adrien before dinner, which was fun once again.
Even though Maupiti is small and remote and not nearly as touristy as all the other Society Islands, we were amazed to have excellent wireless internet in our pension. It seems that this luxury is a must have by now for all places hosting tourists. In comparison: drinking water on the island is available at five stations around the island where we often saw people or kids filling their canisters or bottles.

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On our last day in Maupiti, Sam and Claire climbed Mount Teurufaaiu (385m / 1280ft). A steep direct route secured by ropes led them all the way to the top to take in breath taking views of the island from above.

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In the meantime, the rest of us took it easy: we had a late breakfast and played some games. Once Sam was back, we went to the white beach and admired the beautiful water again.
We got food at the snack bar along the beach and soon enough had to leave towards the ferry and the airport.

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There we got the excellent hint from Claire to ask for ‘Maupiti’ stamps in our passports. After all, we had not even gotten any stamps into our passports upon our arrival – we’re in the European Union after all.
Still, the airport was clearly not up to the usual European standards and we simply loved sitting under the palm trees some 30m / 90ft from the landing strip (without any fence or the like in between). When it got hot, we just walked a couple of steps to stand in the clear water of the lagoon.

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With Max we were able to skip the line and get first onto the plane again and only realized when walking up to it that there had not been any security control. Life is beautiful and we decided that Maupiti clearly is a place to come back to one day.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:49 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged traditional mountain island paradise lagoon hike coconut snorkel whale coral manta ray islet oven motu Comments (0)

Kia Orana / Hello Cook Islands

Tupapa, Rarotonga

sunny 26 °C
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Even though we had left French Polynesia, we had another two and a half hours to enjoy Air Tahiti’s service – together with about thirty other passengers of which at least 50% seemed to be German speaking.

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Contrary to previous flights with Air Tahiti of which the longest had been just 35min, this time Sam was lucky: he asked if he could go to the cockpit during the flight and the pilot gave his ok. Once Sam had gotten all his questions about the planes, pilot education and risky situations answered, he left and Max and I were allowed in the cockpit to have a peek as well. Really nice!

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We had already seen a couple of other islands of the southern group of the Cook Islands before finally descending into the main island of Rarotonga. At the airport, we were greeted by nice ukulele music. Immigration was fairly easy and customs clearance more straight forward than expected.

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To get to our accommodation, we had planned to just take the clockwise island bus. As we mentally prepared ourselves for a 40min wait, suddenly a lady stopped next to us and asked us if we needed any help. We explained that we waited for the bus and where we wanted to go and miraculously she offered to give us a lift. Once we were in the car with Angela, we realized that she lived west of the airport and we had to go about 7km east. Out of pure kindness she took such a detour. We were amazed – what a lovely welcome to the Cook Islands. And we were thrilled: being in the Commonwealth, English would be sufficient again to get around easily.

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Kylie, the manager of the ‘Ariana Bungalows’ welcomed us, showed us our new home for the next five nights, the pool and the games room. And she had lots of advice for us on what to do and plan for the next days.

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Max was quite tired, so Sam headed off on his own to go shopping and soon enough returned stocked with typical NZ / Australian food and beer. It is fun seeing how easily the connection to the mother country can be detected, not only via the food. Just like in New Zealand, traffic on the Cook Islands is on the left side of the road. And already when we arrived in our bungalow, we had noticed one more thing that is hard to find outside of Commonwealth countries, the typical English faucets: one for hot and one for cold water. To wash your face with warm water, you need to fill the sink with the provided plug.
The next day we took it easy and spent the day on the terrace of our bungalow and in the tropical garden with its pool.

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Kylie’s husband Marshall husked a couple of green coconuts for us and we enjoyed the light coconut water and their soft flesh. For tea time, we had banana bread to go with our black tea / hot chocolate. A good start into our stay at the Cook Islands.

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The next day we took the bus into Avarua to visit the Saturday market. It was a fabulous place for people watching, for eating at the various food stalls, and for shopping of souvenirs as well as fresh produce.

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We even got treated to a typical Polynesian drum and dance performance. It was fun seeing the girls perform their dances so proudly. And the sound of the drums was the perfect way to get accustomed to the local music.

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As we were in town already, we used the opportunity to get a couple of other things done before taking the clockwise bus back home. Given the nice weather and bright sunshine, the pool was the perfect place to be for the remainder of the day. The only interruption was for tea time and eventually for getting the ‘barbie’ / BBQ ready for dinner.

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The next day, we took a hike to one of the most important marae / temples on the island. From there we continued a hike up the ‘Ikurangi mountain. It had been clear from the start that we would not make the 4-5 hour round trip up to the top, so we did not feel bad about turning around eventually and heading home and taking a plunge in the pool.

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Sam did make a serious attempt to hike the ‘Ikurangi alone the following day. This time he was fully equipped with proper hiking gear. Even though, the route proved to be extremely tough and though thickets of fern and other plants. It did not seem that lots of people are hiking there. While he was able to find the way up, eventually he decided to turn around anyhow: it just seemed a bit too risky to balance along a slippery ledge with significant drops on both sides and no one around to get help in case needed. Still, he liked the hike, the jungle feeling along the way and the beautiful views from the mountain.

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The other nice thing about our hikes were the insights in local life. Seeing the houses along the way, very often with attached decorated grave houses (which seem to be preferred over regular graveyards), the chicken, pigs and dogs and the local fruit trees.

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While we spent the last couple of days a bit of time with writing blog entries and editing photos, we don’t have internet, so we cannot upload anything. That left us with lots of time to read (‘Flight of the intruder’ for Sam and ‘The King’s speech’ for me) and to play Monopoly in the NZ version we found in the game room. Island life as it should be!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:19 Archived in Cook Islands Tagged temple bus mountain market pool hike chicken coconut bungalow Comments (2)

The gorges of Karijini National Park

Karijini NP, Tom Price

sunny 38 °C
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Shortly after leaving Auski Raodhouse, the road passed along Karijini National Park and the landscape started to get interesting. The highway passed through the mountains following a small creek and we were treated to nice vistas along the way.

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The Campground at Dales Gorge reminded us of the national campgrounds in the US and Canada. The choice which site to pick was easy: at one site the folks had waved very friendly to us and Sam was certain that they are friendly and fun Aussies. That assessment certainly held true. Before too long, Sam was standing together with Jesse, Jeffrey and Angeline and was having a beer. Max was entertained by playing baseball and Sam even joined the group for a quick sunset trip down to Fortescue Falls.
For some reason, both Sam and I had a really hard time going to sleep that night. Presumably, we were just not used to the outback heat, even though we had hoped that after acclimatizing in Broome, nothing could shock us anymore.
After breakfast, we did the short hike from the campground to Fortescue Falls. At the edge of the gorge, we parked Max' bike and headed down the steep staircases to the bottom of the gorge.

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From Fortescue Falls it was a short hike through the river gorge - which felt like a dense jungle - to Fern Pool. We were amazed - what a beautiful secluded place with lots of shade around. We liked it so much that we stayed all day. To cool off, we went swimming a couple of times, climbing behind the waterfall at the other end.

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We learned to watch out for the two risk factors in the pool. When swimming out straight from the dock (vs. diagonal towards the waterfall), there was no risk of getting hit by the droppings of the dozens of cockatoos sitting in the tree above the dock. And when constantly treading water or swimming (vs. just floating in the water), the tiny fish would not start nibbling at your feet. The other animals in large quantities presented no risks though: the hundreds of flying foxes tended to just hang in the branches of the trees, flapping their wings to cool off once in a while and sometimes changing places.

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Later in the afternoon our quiet place suddenly got rather crowded and we headed on to the pool below the Fortescue Falls before heading home for BBQ.To get a break from the flies, we tried our awning with the screen room. That really helped and was the success model for an enjoyable evening.

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The next morning, we packed up and headed towards Circular Pool. Even though it looked beautiful, we hopted to have a swim rather at Fortescue Falls, such that Max could play again in the shallow water. From there, we hiked through Dales Gorge along a nice path leading us along the stream, climbing rocks and balancing over stones in small streams.

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Eventually it was time to head on. At the visitor center we got warned that the gravel road towards Weano Gorge was not in a good state. They were right, but we took the direct road anyhow and were much faster that way vs. going all the way around on the sealed road.

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The view from Oxer and Junction Pool Lookouts was really spectacular. Even though it was tempting, this time we limited ourselves to just having a look into the gorges from the lookouts vs. going all the way down.

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The drive out of the National Park to Tom Price, the highest town in Western Australia, was longer than expected. Still, we passed some beautiful scenery and a lookout.

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At the campground, we realized that our campground neighbors of the last couple of days were there as well. That was the guarantee for an entertaining evening. As it was their last day of traveling, they had to get rid of their remaining beer and we gladly offered to help in that quest. We were having lots of fun. We told them, that we had chosen the campsite next to them, because they seemed like friendly Aussies. And Jesse told us in return that he had waved so nicely to us, as he had hoped for 18-year old German chicks. He was open about his disappointment once he realized that even though the nationality was well guessed, that one of them had a goatee and that we were not really in the expected age group. By the time I was in bed already, the fun continued. Angeline cooked a late dinner for everyone including Sam, steaks were used to symbolize kidneys and there was wine to be enjoyed. And like all really nice people we meet on the road, they were kind enough to write in our travel guestbook – a nice memory for the future that will help us remember fun evenings like this one.
As usual, by the time we were just getting up, our neighbors were already packed up and ready to go. What a pity to see them leave. Despite being on the road for a couple of months and being used to constant good-byes and no longer lasting acquaintances, we’re still not really big fans of that. Meeting known people again and having better and more fun conversations with every time we meet is something that could happen much more often. And whenever it does not happen, we need to hope for a good wifi or mobile connection such that we can call friends or family.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:29 Archived in Australia Tagged waterfall aussie swim pool hike gorge neighbors Comments (0)

Around Perth

Yanchep NP, Joondalup, Freemantle, Rockingham

sunny 30 °C
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As we reached the Northern suburbs of Perth, we were keen to have lunch. It was not really on purpose that we ended up at Yanchep NP. It was probably just good fortune, as we realized soon after getting there. First and foremost, we did find the BBQ station we had been looking for in order to grill our burgers for lunch. There were a couple of cheeky cockatoos around, keen to get a bit from our lunch. They were not lucky – we ate everything ourselves.

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Well fed, we headed towards the grove of gums that is home for ten koalas. We managed to spot seven of them up in the trees. After all, sleeping up in the trees, they are camouflaged very well.

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Even though Max was keen on finding all ten koalas, we convinced him successfully to rather check out which other animals we can find. And soon enough, we came across lots of kangaroos and observed cuter birds playing in the water of the lake. The hike around the lake was beautiful and we were happy that we had stayed to explore the park.

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Anyhow, we liked the national park very much and also wanted to stay for the night. And soon after we had set up camp, we were in for a big surprise: Guido, Lucia and Emia, who we had met already back in Coral Bay were there as well. While Max was excited to play with Emia, Sam and I were happy to talk with our nice friends again. And we had great conversations about traveling in Asia – after all we were just in the process of making up our mind where to go after New Zealand and having traveled Asia extensively, we got some excellent input from Guido and Lucia. While we talked, we were treated to a colorful sunset and could listen to the sound of some laughing Kookaburras in the trees above us.

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The next morning, were in for another surprise. Getting into Perth, I wanted to do some shopping at Aldi. With Christmas coming closer, we were all keen to get some typical German sweets like Lebkuchen. The Joondalup Aldi seemed to be along our route, so we went there. We had not realized in advance that it is located in Western Australia’s largest mall. And a week before Christmas, the place was packed with people. We were quite overwhelmed and fought our way through the crowds until we eventually found the Aldi store.
The mall also featured a huge food court. It was very noisy, but at least we got excellent and quick food. And once again, we met our Swiss friends, who were just as surprised about the size of the shopping center.
Coming from the North of Western Australian, we were not really used to so many people anymore. So we decided to keep the discovery of Perth until the very end our stay in Western Australia and headed directly to Fremantle.
Fremantle is not only a bit smaller and cozier than Perth, but it also features a busy port. Just to find out a bit more about the size of the container ships in the harbor, I googled the MSC Flaminia and found myself engulfed in a thriller like story of a big fire in 2012 with dangerous goods on board, many European harbors not wanting to accept a disaster ship like that and eventually being unloaded in a German port before having the middle section of the ship repaired in Romania. What a story – and what a coincidence that I had not googled the name of any other ship laying in the harbor.
Our destination was the Esplanade Youth Skatepark. It had been Max’ idea and Sam and I were perfectly fine with that idea. After all, we did not feel like doing lots of sightseeing anyhow. Just sitting as the side of the track with hot tea and cake and having a chat was just the right thing to do.
We soon got talking with some of the locals, such as Tony who emigrated from Italy and has was pretty vocal about ‘hating’ his mother country. In comparison to the collusion and corruption there, Australia is the perfect place for him to be. Luckily for us, he knew exactly what kids (and as a result of that also their parents) like and made me write down a list of the best playgrounds in and around Perth. Perfect!

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This being the first weekend of school holidays, we were lucky to have called our campground in advance (a first), as otherwise we would have not gotten a site anymore when we arrived.
The next day was dedicated to exploring Fremantle. Starting from the skate park, we explored the fishing boat harbor. Sam pointed out the statue of AC/DC founding member Bon Scott to me, who was long dead by the time we went to the Bucharest AC/DC concert six years ago.

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We got to the Round House with perfect timing to experience the firing of the 1pm cannon ball. This is still performed daily, in memory of the times when ships required to have the precise time in order to being able to navigate.

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We had lunch in town at the excellent SpudBar that had been recommended to us – potatoes with lots of different fillings. For anyone like me who loves boiled potatoes, this is just a great idea!

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A tour of Fremantle would not have been without a stop at the historic prison – a World Heritage Site - and the Fremantle market. And Max’s highlight came at the very end: we had promised to him that he’d be able to spend some more time biking in the skate park again.

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Back at camp, every one of us had plans: Max biked around the park with other kids, Sam went for an extensive run to Woodman Point and I did a bit of typing and researching - a good base for a nice evening in which everyone was happy.

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The next morning, we headed south along the coast to see what is there to be explored. Our first stop was at Peron Point in Rockingham, a nice peninsula with great views. But as it was very windy, this is not where we wanted to stay for lunch.

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We rather went to an adventure playground that was located along our way south. What a great playground. Max was happy and very busy. We enjoyed watching him play. After all, very often he is happily putting up with our ideas of what we’d like to see and do, so it’s just fair when he gets to go to places he loves.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 10:23 Archived in Australia Tagged koala harbour fort market town shopping prison hike mall kangaroo playground skate Comments (0)

Aoraki – the cloud piercer

Lake Tepako, Lake Pukaiki, Aoraki / Mt. Cook, Waitaki Waters

semi-overcast 21 °C
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The weather gods were in a good mood and provided us with the perfect weather for a drive into the mountains. There was hardly a cloud on the sky and thanks to the heavy rains and cool temperatures of the last days, the mountain tops were covered in snow.
I can easily admit that good weather is important for me and that I enjoy traveling in sunshine much more that in bleak conditions. Quite frankly, on a cloudy day we might not have even realized how beautiful our surroundings are. The road was windy and before too long we reached the higher reaches of the rather dry Canterbury Plains. And surprisingly, we even got to pass a house on the way.

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Lake Tekapo’s waters were stunningly blue. While the famous Church of the Good Shepard was overrun by package tour tourists, just a bit further away there was no one. A bit further on Lake Pukaki glistened in rather turquoise colors with Aoraki / Mt Cook in the backdrop. It was super windy, but thanks to the sun still pleasant.

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On our way towards Aoraki / Mt Cook along Lake Pukaki we stopped a couple of times. With every stop, the scenery changed and seemed to surpass the previous views once more. Eventually we stopped for lunch in one of the smaller viewpoints along the road, as we wanted to take in the view without having to share it with dozens of other people. It was just perfect.

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When we were ready to tackle the road again, we headed right to White Horse Campground and secured a spot for the night. We parked just a few steps from the trailhead for the Hooker Valley Track. What a great day hike: we passed along the Hooker River steadily climbing the valley, crossing three swingbridges in the process and eventually were rewarded with perfect views of Aoraki / Mt. Cook.

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The only sad note about the track was the realization that – just like in Canada – also here the glaciers are receding rapidly. We had a great view of the Hooker Glacier, but knowing that just a few years ago there was no lake but a much larger glacier did put a damper on the otherwise glorious outing.

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Already in the evening, we noticed how the mountain tops were starting to get covered in clouds, a process that continued the next morning. We headed to the National Park visitor center to learn a bit more about the history, geology and wildlife.
On our drive out of the valley, we did turn back a couple of times and were thankful about the fabulous weather we had the day before. With the clouds the view was not nearly as nice as it had been.
We stopped for lunch in Twizel. A bit further, there was a salmon farm and we got to feed the salmon, which provided us with nice views of the enormous fish.

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The drive from the mountains all the way to the sea was very pleasant. We passed along rivers, some hydro power stations, through quaint towns and lots of agricultural land with countless sheep. At the very end of the Waitaki valley, not far from the beach we stayed in a pleasant campground.
There we also met the first Romanians since we’re on the road. And while they were super nice, I was utterly disappointed that I have forgotten so much of my Romanian in the last five years. While still some time ago, I was talking Romanian any time I tried to address someone in French or Spanish, it seems that I am overdue for some practice.
The next morning, we enjoyed sunshine and pleasant temperatures. Max played with his new friend Sam from Berlin, while our Sam headed to the beach and was amazed about the dunes of stones.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged salmon park church mountain lake national hike swingbridge Comments (0)

Pancakes, Blowholes, Rivers, Fern Trees, Seals and Eals

Punakaiki, Westport, Nelson Lakes National Park, Blenheim

sunny 23 °C
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Punakaiki is famous for the Paparoa National Park and more specifically for the Pancake Rocks. We stayed at the only campground in town, the Punakaiki Beach Camp. I had stayed there already once before: almost to the day 15 years I had been part of a ‘Hiking New Zealand’ group touring the ‚Westcoast Wilderness‘. Surprisingly enough, there was a tour group of ‘Hiking New Zealand’ staying at the campground – what a coincidence.
We got a great campsite, right next to the beach with a perfect view of the sunset. Despite the great spot, we still ventured out that evening. Only seldom there is an opportunity to have the high tide coincide with sunset, i.e. the perfect time to visit the Pancake Rocks with its blowholes.
It has still not been confirmed why the sediments that created the pancake rocks formed such layers. Whatever their cause, it definitively provides a good base for erosion creating nice formations. The sea was properly at work for millions of years and as a consequence, we were able to wonder at sheer cliffs, natural inlets, tide pools and blowholes. Some of the rocks were washed out in wild forms, making them look like faces or animals.

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And indeed, while the first impressions had been nice, sunset brought a whole new dimension into the scenery.

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The next day we hiked along the Pororari River. It was a beautiful day and we were happy to walk mostly in the shade of the trees along the river banks. The hike was beautiful and the track did lead us through different terrain providing views of the river. While its waters are clean, it looks stained in a dark red / brown tone by all the tannins coming from the various plants along its sides.

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Anyhow, we got to see lots of different plants and animals along the way. The ferns and the possum sleeping along the path won the beauty prizes for flora and fauna.

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But also the landscape was spectacular and we enjoyed the vistas of the rainforest on both sides.

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At the swingbridge we eventually turned around, but not before heading down to the river and skipping some stones.

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Back at the campground we walked the couple of steps from our spot down to the beach. Max headed directly the only other child at the beach, a one-year old baby. To facilitate translations, I went over and we got chatting a bit. Nina was German, traveling with her husband Antonio and daughter Nelli. It did not take long to find out that Antonio is from Zaragoza and even knows a friend of mine. Pilar is also from Zaragoza and was part of the group of friends traveling to NZ to participate in a wedding those 15 years ago. The world is a small place after all!

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That evening we stayed ‘home’ and enjoyed our great spot at the beach. We watched the breakers coming in and eventually went to sleep to the sound of the waves underneath a starry sky.

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Before leaving the Paparoa National Park, we still wanted to explore the Punakaiki Cave. We headed into the cave well equipped with headlights. It was fun trying to figure out where to go. Despite the rather small size of the cave, it felt like a big adventure. At the end of the cave, we turned our headlights off and found ourselves in absolute darkness. Well, almost. There were a couple of tiny glowworms at the roof of the cave - nothing spectacular, but still a nice surprise.
Our original though was to head straight up into the mountains along the Buller River. The heavy rainclouds hovering over the mountains, easily convinced us to change our plan and to rather spend more time on the sunny coast. The choice was easy to just take the turnoff to Tauranga Bay to see the big seal colony there.

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In Westport, we (or rather Max) checked out the local skate park. As it started raining, we packed our stuff and headed into the mountains. We were positively surprised to realize that the rain only lasted for a couple of minutes and that we got to see the Buller River and its Gorge in bright sunshine.
As we passed through Murchison, we suddenly encountered lots of traffic. The road along the East Coast via Kaikoura is still being closed in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake. Consequently all traffic from the ferry in Picton towards Christchurch or anywhere else on the South Island is using that one road. It was fascinating to see which efforts have been taken to increase the capacity of the road by adding second lanes to one way bridges.
We stayed overnight at West Bay in Nelson Lakes National Park, supposedly featuring the clearest lakes in the world. While we were not able to verify that statement, we did get to see some old and big eels in the lake which live under the boat ramp next to the jetty.

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On the way to Blenheim, we got to stop multiple times for roadworks, always managed by roadworkers holding up ‘Go’ or ‘Slow’ signs. This made us slow indeed and we took quite a while until we reached the Blenheim area with its famous vineyards.
We did not stop at a cellar door for wine tasting, but still got a variety of wines to taste. The local Pak n’ Save store had three winemakers offering tastings of up to four wines each. And they were successful with their activity indeed. We liked one of the wines so much that we decided to get a bottle of Chardonnay we had tasted. Let’s see when there will be a good moment to enjoy it!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:04 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sunset river cave hike seal pancake skate blowhole Comments (0)

What a pleasant rendezvous

Picton, Cable Bay

sunny 25 °C
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It was late afternoon when we arrived in Picton. As the weather was simply perfect, we directly headed to one of the beautiful viewpoints above town in the Victoria Domain. The blue waters of the Marlborough Sounds were directly below us – sparkling in the sun. It was a simply great view. The view got even better once the Bluebridge ferry entered the scenes. The white contrasted nicely with the blue waters.

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Even better though was the knowledge that our Swiss friends were on the ferry, ready to meet us at the Picton Top 10 Holiday Park. And soon enough, we were all there, embracing each other and telling the stories of what we’ve done and seen in the six weeks when we last met in Busselton. And Emia and Max headed off to the playground and trampoline like long lost friends.
There was so much to catch up about and we could have talked without stopping for ages. But eventually it got late and we got hungry. While Guido and Lucia pitched their tent, Sam and I prepared dinner for us all. Over dinner and beyond, our talks continued. After all, we had recommendations on what to do and see on the South Island. And in return we had lots of questions about the destinations in Asia that our Swiss friends had been to already and where we still wanted to go to. Not surprisingly, it was pretty late by the time we all got into bed…

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The next day, there were rather other topics taking over. As all of us had left home in April of last year and were planning to be back in summer, we have much in common that we were able to talk about: learnings on the road, things we want to do when back home, thoughts about how the return to ‘normal’ life will be after so much traveling, next plans. Being so long on the road, we certainly started realizing how important relationships and friends are. And being so far away from most, it has an enormous value to meet some of them again.
It was a beautiful day again and at some point in the afternoon, everyone was ready for some activity. We hiked up the Tirohanga Track to a view point along the ridge behind our campground. The weather was picture perfect and the blue color of the sounds perfectly contrasted the green forested hills. The viewpoint was certainly worth the effort of the climb and we sat there for quite a while to enjoy.

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On our way down, we met a 82-year-old Austrian (he’s actually from Hartberg in Styria) with dog Henry. As Emia and Max had reached him first, they got chatting already by the time we got there. Both got lots of compliments on how well they speak English despite the fact that they did not learn it in school.

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Back at the campground, the kids raced around before we had dinner – once again all of us together. Not only the food was excellent, we also had a really nice wine from the region to go with it. And once the kids were gone playing, we had the time to continue our discussions. After all, we have so much in common: just like us our friends have been traveling since April 2016 and will be back at home sometime that summer. Check out weckerlos.ch to see what they’ve been up to in their travels.
The next morning it was already time to say good bye again. Given our plans from there on, the earliest chance to meet our friends again, would probably be back in Germany or Switzerland. All the best in the meantime, Guido, Lucia and Emia!
Eventually we headed to Karaka Point - a small peninsula reaching out into the sounds. The way the peninsula is formed, it was easily defendable in former times and consequently served the Maori as a fort – a so called pa site. We were able to still see remains of the fortifications. But it was also a nice place to see the ferries pass by through the sound. I guess we have been spoiled by the sunshine and lack of wind in the last days: it being overcast and windy today, made such a difference. The view was nice, but not spectacular.
That also helped our decision making. We had two more days to spend until we wanted to be in Nelson. We had considered multiple variants of what to do for these two days, including venturing out into the sounds to French Pass. Given the weather, we decided that it was definitively not worth it to do such a long and windy drive. Alternatively, we went to Cable Bay. The road was windy as well, but we would have needed to take it anyhow on our way to Nelson.
It was a good decision to only go to Cable Bay. Already after the two hours of windy roads to get there, we were happy to leave the car. None of us would have been keen on prolonging that distance any further. And Cable Bay was indeed a very nice spot to stay. A bit reminiscent of Cable Beach in Australia, we once again ended up at a place where the first overseas telegraph cable connected the country to the outside world. The beach was nice, it was wild and basically the beach end of a large boulder bank. While it was beautiful indeed, it does not live up to the standard Cable Beach in Australia has set.
The campground was small and cozy, the beach just maybe two hundred meters away and that’s also where a nice hike starts. As the weather was not too pleasant, we enjoyed the pleasures of being able to spend some time in the comfy kitchen area. Max immediately realized that rain meant playing lego and too all of his parts onto the kitchen table to play extensively.

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The next morning, Sam wanted to get some exercise and took off to hike the Cable Bay Walk. The 8km were excellent interval training with steep ascents followed by equally steep descents – offering sweeping views of the coastline, the Cable Bay lagoon and eventually also towards Nelson.

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Eventually Max and I headed off as well. The sun was out and at we wanted to hike up a tiny bit to get a view of the beach from above. Eventually we hiked up all the way up through the grazing flocks of sheep. The hilltop was hidden from our view and substantially higher than originally anticipated. Still, we made it - but I really had to convince Max hard that we would for sure see Sam once we'd be up there.

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And in fact, I was lucky: from our lookout we were able to spot Sam just emerging from the forest on the other hill. We hiked towards him and surprised him with our presence. We made our descent back to the campground together where we enjoyed a nice late lunch.
As we sat in the camp kitchen, we realized that there were more Austrians in the campground than all Austrians we had met on our journey so far. While that sounds like a lot, they were seven in total, not counting Sam.
As much as we liked the campground at Cable Bay, we had good reasons to drive to Nelson the next morning. After all, we had another rendezvous arranged already for quite a while that we definitively did not want to miss.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 18:17 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beach sheep friends cable hike sunny ferry sound swiss trampoline Comments (0)

Trekking in the Himalayas

Phedi, Dhampus, Landruk, Ghandruk, Naya Pul

semi-overcast 23 °C
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Max’s birthday marked our first day of trekking. After singing him ‘Happy birthday’, he got to open his present and wear his birthday crown with a big ‘5’ on it for breakfast.
And then it was time to head into the mountains. We were excited. As we left Pokhara, we got to see the outlines of some snowy mountains. They were a bit hard to distinguish from the clouds, but here they were, the peaks of the Himalaya that we had been waiting to see for so long! Not sure if we’d ever see more than that, we took some pictures from the moving van.

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As we reached Phedi, it was time to shoulder our daypacks and to head up the mountain towards the town of Dhampus. We were a group of six: In addition to our guide Prakash, Hom and Bir joined us as porters.
It was 9:20 am when we headed off. We were off for a tough start: the trail consisted of steps that led us up along the steep hillside. And the blazing sun did not help to cool us down. I was relieved when after half an hour we reached a first settlement and got to see down into the valley where we came from. We had already covered quite some distance and altitude.

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Next was an easy bit: we got to hike through some terraced rice plantations dotted with small little houses. People were working in and around their houses or in the fields with their buffaloes. Compared to the start, it felt like we were able to stroll through level terrain – even though we consistently headed upwards.

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The steep steps started soon enough again and before we knew it, we had climbed the 600 m of altitude to reach Dhampus (1770m) where we’d be spending the night. From the saddle, we had to still head along the hillside to the other end of the settlement, where our Eco-Lodge was located.

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Max had walked everything on his own – supported by Sam who kept telling him stories and kept him motivated. At 11:40am, we made it – way quicker than what we had assumed given that we had been planning on three hours walking time.
We sat in the sun, enjoyed the view down into the valley below us, used the wifi to receive some birthday messages for Max and eventually had lunch.
We only realized when a heavy thunderstorm started how lucky we had been that we arrived so early at our lodge. The clouds were thick, there was constant lightening and thunder all around us and lots of rain. On the corrugated sheet roof, the rain was really loud. I mean really loud. The rain also marked the end of the internet connection and unfortunately also the end of the warm water supply. Prakash had been smart enough to shower right away while there was still enough solar water available. We learned a lesson and promised to ourselves not to make the mistake of waiting too long anymore.

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At dinner time, there was a big surprise: Max got a birthday cake decorated with a 5, ‘happy birthday Max’ and two sparklers. He was thrilled and we were happy that he seemingly enjoyed his birthday. And best of all: contrary to many cakes we’ve eaten abroad, this one tasted excellent!
We had an excellent night’s sleep. The rain had cleared the air, there were no dogs around and the exercise probably helped as well. As I had gone to bed quite early, all of the above helped that I woke up before sunrise and could not resist to wake also Sam to be part of the spectacle.
It was a fabulous sunrise! With the air crisp and clear, we were treated to a panorama that is hard to be matched: with Machapuchare (also called Fishtail Mountain) dominating the scene, flanked at both sides by various peaks of the Annapurna Range. At 6,993m it has never been climbed, as it is considered sacred by the local population.

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As the sun came up, the hues of red and pink emphasized peak by peak as the sun came up high enough to illuminate them. While there was no wind where we were, it obviously blew mightily further above and created snow banners which were really nice to look at.

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We had a typical breakfast in Gurung style – the Gurung being the major ethnic group in the region. And then it was time to head out into this marvellous landscape around us. What a pity that yesterday we had not even realized how beautiful it was.
The path was very nicely laid out. We hiked through a small settlement and once more we heard a welcoming ‘Namaste!’ from all sides.

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As we headed in the shade towards a small stream, I was startled by one of our porters: I had a leech wandering on my left hiking shoe. He quickly helped me to get rid of it before it could start sucking my blood and I was very alert from there on. In the next couple of minutes, I got rid of another three little fellows who found their way onto my shoe. Luckily enough, the spell was over then and we did not see a single leech for the remainder of our trip.
But there was also bad news: seemingly we had managed to wander off the path that we were supposed to take. Prakash decided to head on and after inquiring with some local farmers we started heading straight up the hill. I was devastated. For one thing, I would clearly prefer a slight incline vs. a straight line up the hill. And the other thing I need to have is a regular pace – which does not work when your guide and porters don’t know the way themselves and have to ask around here and there.
After what felt like 200m of altitude on narrow paths up the hill, we finally reached the official trail again, which was wide, laid out with stones and was ascending only slightly. What a relief. Five minutes later, we reached the settlement of Pothana, where an official checked our trekking permits.
The view from there was stunning and with it my mood was right back where it should be. All along the next stretch we got to see alternating views of Machapuchare, Hiuchuli (7441m) and Annapurna South (7219m).

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After some nice up and down we reached the highest point of our trekking round at the little village of Deurali (2150m).

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As the view suddenly expanded to the West, we got to see one of the top 10 mountains in the world: Dhaulagiri at 8167m is the seventh highest mountain. So far in the distance, it did not seem nearly as tall and without knowing, I would have never guessed that I’m looking up at a peak that is more than 6000m of altitude above us.

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We also got to look back towards Dhampus where we had stayed last night and Pokhara with Phewa Lake in the background. Just that morning with the sunrise above Dhampus and this view from Deurali was worth all the effort of coming to Nepal and hiking all the way up here.
From there on we headed down a steep descent towards Tolka where we had a great and relaxing lunch. By then we had walked already more than 7km and had 4km more ahead of us. But at least most of the 670m ascent and 790m descent we had done already and the rest was an undulating path along the steep hillside.

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By the time we reach the Tibet Guesthouse in Landruk (1640m) in the early afternoon Max was really tired, but he continued to refuse being carried by one of our porters. We were proud and celebrated our great day and achievement with a warm shower and a beer. And then it was time to play Uno – an easy card game that we also introduced our porters to.

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The guest house was beautifully located with a view straight up towards Annapurna South – well in theory that is. Soon after we left our great outlook in Deurali, clouds had started forming around the highest peaks and by the time we reached Landruk, we could only guess that there were high peaks surrounding us. The downside to the guest house was that it was not really clean. It seems that the floors had been swept, but fresh linen seemed to be an overrated luxury. I was delighted to be able to sleep in my cozy sleeping bag and just tried to avoid touching anything. Still, the beauty of the location and the nice outside areas of the guest house with its many butterflies were just superb. And it is absolutely surprising what delicious meals can be prepared on a simple wood fire!

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By the next morning, the clouds had vanished again and we got to see Annapurna South in its full beauty. On the other side of the valley, Ghandruk – our destination for today - was already lit by the first rays of sunshine. If it would not have been for the steep descent into the valley before being able to start the climb into Ghandruk, the walk would have been almost too easy.

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This morning we took it easy and had a leisurely breakfast. We left at 8:40 am, hiking through Landruk and down the steep steps towards the river. Only 40 minutes later we reached the lowest part of today’s journey, the river Modi Khola (1320m) and had 730m of ascent laying ahead of us.

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Making our way slowly upward, we were passed by many porters loaded with the bags of trekkers or with all kinds of wares. At that stage, we realized that there was no need to feel bad about the loads our own porters were carrying. With one of them carrying our 20kg backpack and the other one a bag in addition to their own packs, they must have felt like in heaven compared with their usual job. And given that Max had up to now blatantly refused being carried, we could have done the trek with a single porter up to now. Still, it was great to know that they were there.

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Two hours later we had made it all the way up. We passed a donkey / mule caravan that had brought supplies either to Ghandruk or potentially as far back as the Annapurna Base Camp. The animals seemed delighted to head down without any loads and their bells were jingling cheerfully.

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Once we reached the Annapurna Guest House, we had the whole rest of the day for ourselves. Sam used the opportunity to recover some sleep, while Max and I played extensive rounds of Uno with Prakash, Hom and Bir.

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Time has passed so quickly and we had a hard time to believe that this evening was already the last one of our trekking tour. We celebrated extensively and not only played Uno, but even introduced our team to Farkle. Like all other good acquaintances (well, except those where we forgot about it) we met on our journey, they got to write into our traveling guest book which proved to be a bit of a challenge but was successfully completed with the help of Prakash.
That night we were kept awake for long: the six dogs we had seen already all afternoon around the guest house did not believe in the advantages of night time sleep and made an effort to enforce that believe also with the hikers.
The hike down from Ghandruk was beautiful, but crowded. Contrary to the last couple of days, today we found ourselves in the middle of big groups of people. The stretch from Ghandruk to Naya Pul is not only the final stretch for the round we had done, but is also done by all people who either target the ABC (Annapurna Base Camp), the Poon Hill Trek or who are doing the Annapurna Circuit – one of the most popular treks in Nepal.
It was a long and nice hike down the hill to the settlement of Birethanti. We saw another couple of caravans, passed though many small settlements, mostly on stone-paved steps.

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After more than 10 km, Max finally gave in and allowed our porter Bir to carry him for the last remaining kilometer. Still, it had been a brave achievement that he had made it so far without using any help.

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We had lunch at the fishtail restaurant which probably boasts an excellent view of the mountain of the same name. But after our four days of experience in the mountains, we were not surprised that by noon time it was hiding in the clouds. We had a last lunch together with our porters Bir and Hom. After lunch, we had to walk only another 20 minutes until we reached Naya Pul, which marked the end of our hike.

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There our taxi waited for us. We were not pleased at all with our taxi driver. He drove like a maniac, was constantly distracted by his mobile phone despite the heavy traffic on a narrow road (which was deteriorated to the point that it seemed more like a one-way road than a two-way major highway). After five anxious minutes of observing what was going on, we asked our driver to stop talking on his phone while driving. Two minutes later we had to specify that that rule included writing text messages. He was less than amused when he realized he had to stop while talking on the phone. But that did not stop him from accepting more than ten calls and having to see how others were passing him in the meantime.
While we headed down in to the valley of Phedi, we got to see the full path we had taken on day one of our trek. It had been a really nice hike – probably one of the highlights of our journey.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:17 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains rain view trekking river sunrise clouds valley hill hike birthday lightning Comments (0)

Bye, bye 2073 and welcome to 2074!

Pokhara

sunny 27 °C
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After our four days of trekking, we returned to Pokhara for a couple of relaxed days. We did not have too many specific plans on what to do and focused on taking it easy.
Already the first evening out we found an excellent restaurant fairly close to our hotel. Admittedly, the Happy Hour offer of a 600ml San Miguel beer with popcorn for 2,800 rupees (~2,5€) had lured us in and it turned out to be a very good place. The food was great and cheap, the location superb and we were sure to return a couple of times in the coming days.

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From our table next to the busy road, we had a great outlook on local life. There were the old men sitting along the road, the fruit and juice sellers in the street and the groups of (often similarly dressed) women heading along.

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The next day, we had a highlight coming up. Sam and I had a relaxing Ayurveda massage, while Max spent the time with Prakash. What a luxury to have a babysitter for Max!
In the afternoon, we explored the lakeside of Phewa Lake. With the upcoming Nepali New Year celebrations, many locals were in Pokhara. And seemingly many of them came from regions where less blond foreigners are around. We were asked several times to pose together for pictures – an opportunity that Sam took delightedly as well. We were probably at least as fascinated about our partners in the picture than they were about us.

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After a sunset beer in a lakeside bar, we headed out just in time to still take a couple of nice pictures.

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The next day, we headed out onto the lake. We rented a boat and paddled across the lake. From there it was a hot, but pleasant hike up the hill to the World Peace Stupa. We had a nice view down towards the lake and Pokhara, but had to imagine the impressive mountain backdrop that we knew from the postcards that were sold all over the place in Pokhara.

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We did not mind too much – after all we had seen a good bit of the mountains on our trek and had focused on getting some exercise vs. just a view.
On the way back, we could not resist to take a quick break at the small temple island in the lake. The place seemed to be the main attraction for all the Nepali locals who were in Pokhara and we were seemingly the only tourists there.

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After so much activity, we had deserved lunch in our favorite restaurant. And while I enjoyed some quiet time back in our hotel room, Sam and Max headed out to explore where the constant backdrop of music was coming from. They soon discovered, that it was a New Year’s festival that was going on the whole week. And even though they did not have enough money with them such that Max could have gone on any of the various rides, at least he found a group of kids to play cricket with.

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Nepal is celebrating their New Year in mid April – along with many other countries in Asia. Well, it seems that Nepali people love celebrations more than anyone else in the world. They claim to be the country with most public holidays (31) per year. Anyhow, they are very special indeed. After all, they are the only country in the world with a non-rectangular flag.
We had liked the bustling activity along the lakeside and headed there once more to take in the atmosphere at sunset.

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The next day was already New Year’s Eve and we headed out to celebrate. The festival was clearly geared towards the locals and only few other tourists were around. Max got to take some of the rides, which seemed to be at the standard of Europe some 50 years ago. Most amazing of all was the Ferris Wheel. It was driven by a series of belts that were connected to a tractor’s motor. The guy seemed to have lots of fun and accelerated to the point when the gondolas of the wheel were flying outwards by the centrifugal forces.

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There was also a stage with dances, music and official sounding speeches. It was fun to watch the people in the audience. But not being able to understand Nepali did put a damper on the excitement we felt when listening to the speeches.

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We rather explored the food section and were tempted by some of the many specialties on offer.

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Eventually we headed out of the festival area again and walked back along the lake. Max was kind enough to the first Nepali who asked and staged for a common picture. But then he felt he had done enough and declined all further requests.

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That evening the streets of Pokhara were full of people and life and everyone was in a very festive mood. And even though it was tempting to go out and be part of the fun, we still preferred to have a quieter evening. We packed our backpacks, did some reading. At midnight, we watched the fireworks that marked the start of the New Year 2074 and then retreated to bed.

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New Year’s Day marked our departure from Pokhara. We headed in a taxi towards the airport and took a small flight (a 30-seater propeller plane of Yeti Air) from Pokhara to Kathmandu. Due to the haze and the relatively low flight altitude of 11,000 ft, we got to see just a glimpse of the mountains.

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And having been in the Kathmandu valley before, we did not have any hopes to see any peaks in the coming five days. But we were looking forward to another couple of days with a nice mix of relaxing and exploring.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:33 Archived in Nepal Tagged sunset lake bar hike new_year Comments (0)

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