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The dolphins of Shark Bay

Carnarvon, Monkey Mia

sunny 32 °C
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Admittedly, we have been spoiled by the warm and pleasant temperatures back in tropical Broome. As a consequence, we are a bit hesitant to continue moving further south, as this inevitably means cooler and cooler temperatures. But after a couple of days in the same place, the curiosity to see something new is usually taking over again. And that means that we left Coral Bay and headed south.
Along the way from Coral Bay to Carnarvon is – as we already expected – pretty much nothing. Well, to be fair, there was a sign when we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. We have one of these pictures already - from Namibia. And it feels like ages ago when we took the picture of the sign 'Tropic of Cancer' on the Baja California in June.

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And there is a roadhouse to fuel up. Other than that, it was a really boring drive once more, forcing Sam and me to change drivers repeatedly. Already after less than an hour of driving these really boring stretches of road, we felt unable to continue driving with the required attention. After all, once in a while there were goats, emus or cattle seen somewhere in the bush. And as they might as well stand next to or on the road, we should watch out.
The last couple of kilometers into Carnarvon were actually representing a change to the endless bush we passed through before. Due to Western Australia’s largest river passing through the region (which seemed actually to be dry when we passed over it), Carnarvon and surroundings is a very agricultural region producing a large part of Australia’s tropical fruit.
We had lunch at a great playground right next to the town beach overlooking the Fascine. While the playground was simply excellent, the locals around it were quite strange. We had the impression that most of them were spending their afternoon doped in the sun.
After an extended shopping at Woolworths to stock up our depleted inventories, we headed towards one of the town’s campgrounds. Once again, it was windy. But that did not stop us from jumping into the refreshing pool.
That evening was focused about getting stuff sorted back at home. A couple of things had piled up that needed our attention. Part of that was fun, part of it less so. So we wrapped our minds around things like Christmas calendars, selling my Passat, sending out bank details to the US as Phil was successful in getting our van sold (Hooray!!! Thanks, Phil!), realizing that there are some issues with shares, talks with work, the tenants of flat... We had a night with less sleep than usual and managed to get the most urgent stuff sorted.
Using the opportunity of the fruit growing region, we picked a couple of mangoes and then moved on. The drive along the North Western Coastal Highway was boring – as expected. The only was a nice lookout which also served as a location for RIP stones and other paraphernalia.

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Once we turned off onto the ‘World Heritage Drive’ towards Shark Bay, the landscape got more interesting and we were treated to nice views of bays with white sand and turquoise waters on both sides of the road. As we learned, Shark Bay is one of the very few (16 out of 203) world heritage sites that meet all four natural criteria (btw, the Grand Canyon is another one that meets all four criteria).

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After a short stop in Denham to meet our campground neighbors from Coral Bay Anthony and Co, we headed on to Monkey Mia. There we found a nice spot right with a perfect view to the beach and the sea. The beach was just a few steps from our place and it was lovely - a great place to take pics of Max with his elf hat. He only had to watch out not to run into one of the many pelicans resting at the beach.

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And as we soon realized our neighbors were Desi and Alex from Munich – who we already knew from Osprey Bay. We really enjoy meeting so nice people all along our way – and even better when we’re crossing paths multiple times. So, we ended up sitting together in front of their campervan having nice talks until late in the night.
The next morning, we participated in Monkey Mia’s main attraction, the dolphin feeding. While the Parks and Wildlife Ranger explained all kinds of interesting information about dolphins, the dolphins already swam along the shore.

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And soon afterwards, it was feeding time. And Max was lucky enough to be chosen to feed Piccolo. He waded into the water to meet Piccolo, got a fish and gave it to the dolphin, who carefully took it from his hand. And an hour later he got to feed again on of the dolphins, this time pregnant Shock. Sam also had a go and fed Surprise.

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Back at our tent, Max found a new friend: another four-year old boy called Max who was dressed as Batman. Soon enough our son Max emerged from their tent dressed as Captain America. They ran round the campground chasing the ‘baddies’. Surprisingly enough, they ran around in their warm costumes in the hot midday heat. Eventually they did agree to cool off in the pool though.

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That evening Sam treated us to an excellent Thai Curry – a much better value than the Thai Curry that was on offer in the resort’s Monkey Bar.
By the time we got up in the next morning, Max and his family had left already. That was fortunate, as otherwise our Max would probably not have liked to leave either. But like that we were happy to go on new adventures, heading into Francois Peron National Park.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 18:24 Archived in Australia Tagged fruit dolphin mango playground pelican feeding elf batman Comments (0)

Sandy off road adventures

Francois Peron NP, Denham

sunny 30 °C
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After two days at Monkey Mia with the dolphins, it was time to pack up, as we wanted to head up into Francois Peron NP. Knowing that most of the national park is only accessible by high clearance 4WD, specifically Sam was looking forward to the national park.
After a couple of kilometers, it was time to reduce the tire pressure and off we went on the red sand towards Cape Peron. Along the way, we passed through some gypsum salt pans before the sections with the really deep sand started. Sam had fun, Max loved the excitement and I was glad that I did not have to drive myself.

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On our way north, we stopped at a beach with an excellent view of the adjacent red and white sand dunes. The landscape was simply great.
For lunch, we stopped at Cape Peron (which is named after a French naturalist who explored the area in the early 1800s). As it was really hot and the midday sun was burning down, we enjoyed the shade of picnic area until we were ready to head on. The lizards provided some entertainment while the mountains of small black beetles were rather static.

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Later in the afternoon, we hiked the nice trail along the coast to Skipjack Point. While we saw lots of tracks in the sand of various animals, most of them were hiding in the shade. All except the cormorants, which populated almost the full lengths of the shore.

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At Skipjack Point we were stunned by all the sea life we could observe from our viewpoint. We saw mantas, sharks, dugongs, turtles, cormorants and lots of fish. Wow – we could have stayed there for ages just observing.

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Our camp for the night was not far away. The Bottle Bay campground seemed almost empty and we had the pretty beach just for ourselves. What a beautiful sunset! And how windy…

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The next morning we headed again to Skipjack Point hoping to once more see lots of animals. But we soon realized that with the south easterly wind, there were huge waves coming in. And without visibility, there was no marine life to be seen (even though it was probably there). Still, it was a very pretty sight with the whitecaps in the rough sea.

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Eventually we decided to start our drive out of the national park. Once again we had to pass the sections of the road with deep sand. In one of those sections we were able to just barely pass by a car that was bogged in the sand and had its hood up. But shortly after we had to stop in a section with fairly deep sand ourselves, as there was a bogged camper van blocking the road. Its driver had gotten frustrated by the deep sand and had taken the absolutely wrong decision to try to turn around where the sand was deepest.

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As there were some Aussies already helping the Germans in the camper van, we headed back to the group of girls with the open hood. They had gotten bogged already so often on their way in that their clutch started smelling. The solution was pretty easy: we helped them to deflate their tires to 15 psi. Thanks to the pressure gauge Sam had bought the day before that was pretty easy. Then we told two of them to stay with us and advised the driver to go on to the next intersection and to turn around in the rather firm sand there. And the plan perfectly worked!
By the time this was done, two more cars were stuck in the sand behind them. So, two more times to deflate tires. And this time we also used the sand boards which are part of our 4WD accessories. And at least on the second try both cars were able to get away.

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We had lots of fun in the process, digging the cars out and using the sand boards. On the way out, we took the two girls with us in the car to the next gypsum pan, where their friend waited for them. In other words: we were the only car out of five that did not get bogged in that section!
After a well-deserved stop at Peron homestead to soak in the hot pool, we headed to one of Denham’s campgrounds. Max had already been looking forward for the last couple of days to use the jumping pillow there. And before too long, he met his new friend Charlie, and both raced around the campground on their bikes.

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But also, the playground in town was quite an attraction in itself. Max was happy to meet his old friend Cooper there again. And Sam and I enjoyed the nice setting along the beach and marveled at the excellent playground, which was potentially the nicest one we have encountered so far on our travels.

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That evening we had an excellent dinner at Australia’s most westerly hotel. The old pub served us a great seafood platter, but also Max was very pleased with his fish and chips.

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In principle, we had planned to stay in Denham only for one night before heading south again. But Max insisted to stay another night and soon enough we realized that a day without much sightseeing helped enormously to get our calendars and cards for Christmas done and uploaded. In the meantime, Max jumped endlessly on the jumping pillow, before we headed to the nice playground again.

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That evening we were invited at Max’s friend Charlie and his parents Chris and Debbie. What a nice evening with nice talks and good food! Once more Sam and I were amazed how friendly people are here and how easy it is to get in touch with others.
While packing up the next morning, Max was up at Charlie’s before going for a final round of jumps on the jumping pillow. Other kids are just the best babysitters!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:48 Archived in Australia Tagged sunset coast pub sand west jumping shark playground deep manta pillow dugong bogged Comments (0)

Bye, bye bush - hello town

Geraldton, Sandy Bay, Pinnacles NP, Cervantes, Wedge Island

sunny 28 °C
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As we reached Geraldton, we ended up in afternoon rush-hour. This had not been an issue in our travels so far. Latest by then, we realized that we had left the bush and reached the more populated areas of Western Australia. After all, Geraldton with its 25.000 inhabitants is the largest town between the 4000 km that separate Perth and Darwin. Still, a couple of traffic lights later, we reached our campground close to the harbour and the lighthouse.

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It had been on purpose that we stopped in Geraldton and did not simply pass through. After all, it was only ten days until Christmas and we wanted to get our shopping done. Geraldton was a perfect place for doing so. We were successful in all respects. While Sam and Max did the grocery shopping at Coles, I had enough time at Target’s next door to choose potential presents. And as Max then headed directly to a TV, Sam and I were able to go through together and to choose what we wanted to actually buy. Perfect! Christmas shopping had never been so easy!
After our successful session of power shopping, it was time to get Max some exercise. We went to the foreshore and were astounded by the multitude of playgrounds for all ages. Once Max had explored the first playground, we walked five minutes for him to tackle an even bigger play structure. And in its back we even discovered an animated feature that allowed us to play against each other trying to touch as many light up points as possible - very cool and lots of fun also for adults. I had never seen such sound and light speed games before, but it was definitively a lot of fun. And the location at the foreshore with its calm beaches was excellent as well.

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Back at our campground, it was time to deal with some planning topics. After all, a month later we’d be leaving Western Australia and before leaving it helps to have the next leg of our adventure prepared: i.e. I booked a flight, a place to stay in Sydney and we discussed how to approach transport in NZ. And despite the fact, that Jetstar had given us a 300 AUD voucher for answering late on my complaint and for our troubles on the journey from the Cook Islands to Sydney, we preferred to book Virgin Australia for our flight back to Sydney.
After a good night’s sleep and a nice chat with Scotsman Alan, who’s been traveling around Australia in their bus already for more than two years, it was time to leave Geraldton to discover the last stretch of coast before getting to Perth.
There were lots of turn offs to the beach along the turquoise coast. Eventually Sam picked the one leading to Sandy Bay for our location for lunch. The beach was great and also the campground looked pleasant. The only downside to the campground was, that it seemed very full. It was time to realize that getting closer to Perth and getting closer to the Christmas holidays which were to begin in the next days, this will clash with our current style of traveling. After all, up to now it had never been an issue anywhere to get a campground last minute. Since we had come to Western Australia, we had not reserved a single camp site in advance. And we were not quite ready to change our approach to traveling radically: prearranging campsites for the remainder of our trip would have meant to give up the luxuries of staying longer where we like it and passing through if we did not feel like stopping.
Sandy Bay surprised us with its fine white sand. We had not stood on such fine sand since Cable Beach back in Broome. The beach was very sheltered from the wind and the water was extremely calm, reminding us of Bahia Conception in Mexico. A nice combination!

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Up at the look out over the peninsula, it was very windy again, but the view was certainly worth it. And Max enjoyed running up the dunes and jumping down. With Jim from Canberra, he had his perfect partner in crime and both were having lots of fun. After all, Jim and Debbie were just waiting for their grandson to arrive a couple of days later and Jim was keen to get some practice already in advance.

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Even though it was tempting to stay in Sandy Bay, we had still some more plans in the pocket for that afternoon. We wanted to see the Pinnacles in Naumburg NP in the afternoon. And it was a good decision to go there so late in the day, as the light was just perfect and made the yellow sand and rocks glow.

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For the night, we stayed at Cervantes close to the beautiful and deserted beach. But as soon as the sun had set, we got chilly and were ready to head to our camp for the night.

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On our drive south the next morning, we were pleased to see the vegetation changing once more. We were passing through endless fields of grass trees, sometimes with blindingly white dunes in the middle of the landscape.

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Eventually, we turned towards Wedge Island. Not knowing what exactly to expect, we were very pleased when the road suddenly ended on a great beach. There was hardly anyone around except a couple of fishermen. And the beach was glorious. Well, in fact there was a beach to both sides of the long stretch leading to Wedge Island. What a great spot and without a single other tourist around.

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It’s the discoveries like this which make traveling so exciting – very often we do not know what exactly to expect. It might be just an ‘interesting’ spot or a real gem. And as tastes are different, guidebooks might be helpful in pointing out nice places, but they will never replace the fun of just having a go and checking things out ourselves.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:37 Archived in Australia Tagged shopping island sand rock dune lighthouse playground Comments (1)

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)

Start into 2017 - more exciting than expected

Porongurup NP, Tozer’s Bush Camp, Fitzgerald River NP, Wagin

32 °C
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New Year’s Day greeted us with the first sunshine for almost a week. That was great news, as we had not gone to Porongurup National Park so far hoping for nice weather. In the national park, we headed to Castle Rock and hiked our way up to the Granite Skywalk. The last bit was a fun scramble through and up the rocks and the reward for it was a spectacular view down into the plains far below us.

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We were not the only ones greeting the new year with a hike. But after our hike we were lucky to get a nice picnic spot and were able to use one of the free barbecue stations to make our lunch. The drive to Tozer’s Bush Camp close to Bremer Bay led us through some nice nature reserves.

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It had been a long day and we were happy once we arrived and could spend the rest of the evening in the big but cosy camp kitchen. Once the rugby fans were gone, it got more quiet and only few people remained. By coincidence someone switched TV channels and ended up at the New Year‘s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. We watched the full concert - just like every year. Except that this time we were in the middle of the Australian bush and had the luxury of being able to watch the concert in the evening vs. having to get up early in the morning to see it - after partying until the early hours of New Year's Day.
The next morning, we headed to the information center in Bremer Bay to inquire about the status of the roads in nearby Fitzgerald River National Park. Unfortunately, the people there were not really knowledgeable and seemed to talk about roads that they had never seen themselves.
We headed off into the national park and soon realized that the road we took was probably unpassable a couple of days earlier when it had rained. By now the road was passable again, but the bumps and holes in the road were a proof of other cars having gotten stuck. We passed without any issues – except being shaken to the bone and soon enough got into the sandier parts that made for more comfortable driving. Eventually we headed to House Beach and parked on the white fine sand – finer even than Cable Beach. When running over the sand, it even squeaked – a funny sound that I’d usually associate with gyms, but not with sandy beaches.

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After an extensive break during which several cars drove past us and went further along the beach, we decided to do the same in order to find a camp further up at Gordon Inlet or Point Anne. Gordon Inlet seemed not too tempting and so we continued along the beach further north.
At first, the drive was fun. On the hard sand, it was easy driving with the sea to our right and the dunes on the left. And romantically enough, we had the beach for ourselves. A bit later, we realized that all of that was not really too positive: at the point, when we eventually got bogged in the by then very soft sand, there was no one around to help us. And the sea would return eventually above the point where we were stuck with our heavy vehicle.
So I did what I do best in such situations: I panicked. And while Sam tried to stay calm, I eventually managed to make him nervous as well. Luckily enough, we had already some practice in getting other cars out of the sand. We reduced further our tire pressure, got the sand boards into position and edged our way slowly upwards further away from the waves.
Unfortunately, the edging away was only a couple of centimeters up at a time until we got stuck a couple of meters further on. Eventually we used our UHF radio system several times to see if there are other people around who might be able to help, but without response.
After like ten trials or so, we had gained maybe a meter upwards (not in height, but in distance from the waves) and I had calmed down to the point that I agreed to Sam’s proposal that he runs back along the beach. After all, we had passed someone camping in the dunes an estimated two kilometers back from where we were stuck.
In the meantime, while Sam was running back, I kept trying to gain more centimeters upwards. All gains were earned very hard and required digging the wheels and sand boards out every couple of minutes again and again.
As Sam ran back, he soon realized that it must have been further away than just two kilometers where we had passed that tent. Only once he had run for seven kilometers in the soft sand, he finally reached it. In there he met ‘Digger’, a friendly chap living there on the beach for several weeks in summer, who was happy enough to get some change and pleased to be able to help.
When they came along in Digger’s car, Max and I were really excited and happy to see them. Along with the thanks that I had made it quite a way up on the beach, they got to work right away. They decided to reduce the tire pressure even more to below 15psi. Already that helped enormously and with a single try Sam made probably 15m before getting stuck resulting in a full meter further away from the water. That was far enough to get the recovery kit to use and Digger helping with pulling us out.

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Latest by then, my panic had subsided and my mind was willing to allow other things than just digging and driving. So I got the camera and made a couple of shots to document the ordeal and the lucky ending with Digger pulling us out. Once also our car had made it up into the drive-able tracks along the upper end of the beach, both cars turned around and we headed back to Digger’s camp.

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The drive back in the tracks was fairly easy and we were happy not having to dig ourselves out anymore. Even though I was keen to just get off that beach as soon as somehow possible, we had to stop at Digger’s place to have a beer together. After all, who knows if we would have been able to even get out of where we were stuck by then.
Digger shared a couple of stories with us, told us about his life at the beach and the great salmon fishing. By the time we had finished our beers, we were ready to go. To avoid any further complications, we decided to simply go back to the place where we had gotten onto the beach and camped directly there, behind the dunes. After all, it was dark already and we were simply exhausted.
The next morning, Sam joked about driving onto the beach once more, but only to see my stern reaction that I’d veto any movements on the beach for the future, at least not whenever driving a rental car without any other cars around that are prepared to help.
We just walked down to the beach and had an enjoyable morning there. Down there, we realized that the tide had come all the way up to the dunes during the night. Lucky us, that we had managed to leave the beach for the night.
Even though the beach was stunningly beautiful, it was time to say good-bye to the Southern coast. Having gone through our options, we had decided not to continue onward to Esperance, but to rather start our journey back towards Perth, where a couple of days later we were supposed to return our car.

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So we headed out of the national park and back inland, where the temperatures were suddenly about 10 °C higher than what they had been at the coast. In Katanning, we had to stop at the All Ages Playground which features giant slides, swings and oversized rocking horses.

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We decided to stay in Wagin for the night, a nice town in the heart of the Southern wheat belt that is known for its sheep farming. We liked the place with the old buildings and the laid-back country atmosphere. At almost 40 °C in the late afternoon, it was a pity that the campground did not feature a swimming pool. But at least there was a shady park nearby with the ‘Giant Ram’. Quite a contrast vs. the empty beach we came from this morning!

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:44 Archived in Australia Tagged beach sand concert playground wheat ram recovery inland bogged Comments (1)

Heading north via ferry ride and a real highway

Aussie Bay, Picton, Wellington, Whanganui

sunny 26 °C
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Leaving Nelson after five days with Sam’s dad Otmar and his partner Gerti, we were a bit sad. We had enjoyed living in a house and having family around. Now we’d be again on our own living in our campervan.
Driving towards Picton, we knew already that the road was very windy. And indeed, coming from the other direction it was not any better than a week earlier. We stopped for a quick hike to a viewpoint shortly after Havelock. Just to jump your memory: Havelock is the the well-known world capital of green shell mussels, as it boasts at the entrance into town. The view down into the sounds with their crystal clear water was fabulous.

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A bit further on we stopped at Aussie Bay for the night. The DoC campground there is beautifully located directly next to the waters of the sound. We were there early enough to pick the prime spot at the very end of the campground. As it got dark, the campground did get extremely full. It seems like the rather cheap places like this one (8$ ppn) seem to be flooded by work and travel people who don’t want to afford the more expensive serviced campgrounds. Most of them travel just in a car in which they sleep – some are just converted vans (mostly the Toyota Previa), some are just station-wagons.

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We enjoyed our location next to the water. It was great to relax, read, play in the water and along the beach. As it got night, we were not only treated to a perfect starry night with the milky way shining at us, but also to a glowworm spectacle in the small creek just a couple of meters behind our camper. Nice!
The next morning, we headed out early. For one, we knew already that on the windy road into Picton we’d not be able to average more than 30km/h. In addition, we still wanted to do some shopping in Picton such that we’d have a picnic for the 3.5h ferry ride.

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Soon we were waiting in our line to be allowed to enter the ferry. Next to us we realized that there were many more Corvettes for it just to be a coincidence. After enquiring, we found out that there had been over a hundred of them meeting in Nelson for the last weekend.

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Once on the ferry, we had a look around. One of us stayed with Max in the kid’s area, the other one of us explored the ferry and enjoyed the views. The sounds themselves were already very beautiful and we considered ourselves very lucky to be doing the ferry crossing on such a nice day. But there was even more to be seen: we got to see dolphins and could watch a lady swimming in the attempt of crossing the 26 km Cook Straight. It seems like a very difficult task taking between 8h and 24h depending on level of fitness and conditions of the sea. And it seems a bit scare: after all one of 6 swimmers gets to see sharks and even though none has been attacked so far.

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It turned out that it had been a good decision to install ourselves in the kids' room. Otherwise we might not have met Emere with her kids four-year-old Te Iti Kahurangi and one and a half year old Rongomaiwahine (who fell in love with Max until he started catching her back when she started running away).
From Emere we learned about the Te Matatini Championships, a Maori festival taking place only once every two years. According to our Lonely Planet the Te Matatini is the best place to see ‘kapa haka’ being peformed. Most people just know ‘haka’ as the war dance the NZ All Blacks perform before their rugby games (which they subsequently win most of the time).
In fact kapa haka is encompassing Maori performing arts and includes not only the wardance, but also songs and other dances. Emere did tell us that she was going to the Hastings festival, as it was hosted by her iwi (tribe). She was hoping that she’d see other tribes sing and perform about their relation with her tribe. One of the stories she expected to be picked up by several performers was the story of Rongomaiwahine, an ancestor of Emere’s iwi. Rongomaiwahine was married, but another man named Kahungunu, wanted to have her for himself. Her husband died in strange circumstances and eventually Rongomaiwahine married Kahungunu.
We were intrigued and it was clear that we would definitively want to visit the festival. Emere gave us her phone number and we’d try to meet up once we’d be there.
Eventually our ferry entered the harbor of Wellington. Our ‘Lonely Planet’ was rather sarcastic in regards to the weather in ‘Windy Welly: despite it’s bad reputation Wellington ‘breaks out into blue skies and T-shirt temperatures at least several days a year’. It seems we were more than lucky to be there on exactly one of those days. And indeed: the parliament buildings and the famous 'beehive' looked great.

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Despite the beautiful sunshine outside, we could not resist to take a look around the National Museum ‘Te Papa’ with its Maori marae / meeting house. Max enjoyed the interactive kids discovery zone and once we had managed to get him moving again, we all had a look of the harbor from the viewing platform. From up there, we saw people jumping into the water from various springboards.
So we headed outside to have a closer look. The locals were really having fun and it was hard to resist having a dip ourselves. We stuck to watching and soon noticed the many dragon boats with their crews picking up speed while crossing the harbor basin, which looked like fun. While having an icecream we watched how the crews got into their dragon boats and got going – always directed by someone in the stern shouting out the rhythm.

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Max soon convinced us that it was time to go to the skate park that he had already noticed just across the road from the Te Papa Museum. He had fun racing against the many other bikers there.

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Even though our spot for the night was nothing more than a large parking area, it was great: we were just in the center of town next to the harbor basin.

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Also the next morning, Max' first request was to have another go in the skatepark before heading out of Wellington. So that‘s what he did. After Max had biked enough to be tired and taking more breaks than actually riding his bike, we loaded it back into our camper and headed off towards north.
We were amazed how quickly we were able to progress on a real highway. We had not been on a divided highway in ages and were not used to such rapid transport anymore. After a while, the highway transformed into a regular highway, but still featuring passing lanes every couple of kilometers. And best of all: there were hardly any curves. So despite the signs along many roads that ‘NZ roads are different – take more time’, even in NZ there are pockets where you can go fast. We were hardly able to believe it that we had made it all the way to Whanganui for our lunch break – despite the rather late start.
Whanganui was a nice little town next to the river of the same name with lots of historic buildings along its main road. We parked downtown and had lunch. Once again we marveled at the many vintage cars we saw driving around. It seems like that maintaining and driving old cars is a favorite Kiwi pastime.

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Eventually, we headed out of town to the Kowhai Park. We have been to many parks and playgrounds so far, but this was one of the most creative and fun playgrounds we’ve seen on our journey so far. It’s hard to tell what Max liked most: the dinosaurs slide, the octopus’ swings, the rocket, the zip line, Humpty Dumpty or the pumpkin house. No wonder, that it took a bit of convincing to continue our journey and not even the promise of seeing some volcanoes this evening did the trick.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:29 Archived in New Zealand Tagged river museum bay harbor ferry sound playground skate Comments (0)

Exploring Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

sunny 34 °C
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Our first full day in Phnom Penh started already as good as it gets. The hotel featured a fabulous breakfast buffet – a treat we’ve not experienced since the start of our journey almost one year ago.
Despite the excellent food at breakfast, it did not take long to get hungry again (thanks to still being internally tuned to New Zealand time) and we ventured out to explore. Even though we had been exposed to the Cambodian traffic already the day before, it took a bit of courage to walk along the street. The sidewalks were so busy with street vendors, parked cars, construction sites or other obstructions that we could use them only for very limited stretches. For most of the walk, we had to walk on the street, together with the mayhem of tuk tuks, scooters, cars and trucks. Being in a one-way street meant that more than 80% of traffic came from behind us. That made us turn around constantly to check what is coming our way. Still, for short distances tuk tuks, scooters and occasionally even cars don’t seem to mind going against the traffic flow.
In all of that chaos, our attention was regularly diverted to other things. There were sudden holes (big ones!) in the ground that we had to watch out for. There were thousands of unfamiliar smells around, many of them not necessarily very pleasant. And last but not least, every single tuk tuk driver who spotted us along the road was certain that we’d prefer using his services and made sure we understood that he’s available to take us anywhere we want.
After having survived the walk for about three blocks, we retreated to a small restaurant along the road and sat down for lunch. Even though the menu was also available in English, we did not really know what to expect. Our lucky orders were better than we had expected. While every dish tasted very different from what our taste buds are used to, the food was really good.
With some food in our stomachs, it was already easier to walk the last couple of blocks to the Central Market. The impressive art deco building housed a huge maze of different stalls and we strolled aimlessly around to get an impression. There was much to be seen and even though we did not need anything, we had fun just having a look.

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The section with the jewellery and cloths did not smell like anything specific - apart from the occasional whiff of incense to appease the gods that are responsible to send many shoppers to the stalls. Once we got into the detergents and beauty area, this changed already and we were exposed to multiple fragrances overlying each other. Well, the fruit and vegetable section took a bit more of getting used to and even though we barely saw the butchers’ area, we were able to distinguish its signature smell immediately.

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Eventually we had seen enough for our first day and headed home. The cool waters of the pool were simply too tempting – specifically in light of the warm and humid temperatures that we were simply not yet used too.
On the other hand, there also was a concept that we had gotten used to very quickly and we made sure not to miss out on the happy hour in our hotel.
The next day, we headed to a restaurant for lunch that we had spotted while driving by in a tuk tuk on our way back from the central market. What had looked nice while driving by, did turn out to be rather icky. Only once we were seated and had ordered our food, we realized the rather odd clientele consisting of elderly white men and young Cambodian ladies. We just did not like what we saw. It seemed like most people knew each other already. And it did not help the atmosphere, that some people had drunk a bit too much and lots of them were approaching Max, touching his face and asking all kinds of questions. He was not amused. And neither was Sam when a lady tried to rub his back. We had our lunch, paid and tried to get away from there. It was just not nice. And while it might be simply a part of real life in South East Asian towns, I prefer just knowing about it vs. seeing its protagonists interact.
We walked away from that place being sure not to return again, found a tuk tuk driver and asked him to take us to the Royal Palace, the key attraction of Phnom Penh. Incredibly enough, he had issues understanding where we wanted to go. Initially I had assumed that we were simply not having luck with our drivers: already the taxi driver who took us from the airport to our hotel had gotten lost. When going to the Russian embassy and back to the hotel, our tuk tuk drivers had to first confer with colleagues for a couple of minutes and to consult a map before heading off… But not knowing where a tourist wants to be taken when he says ‘Royal Palace, please’ that was beyond our understanding.
With the help of our navigation system on the mobile phone, we made it successfully to the Royal Palace. We found the ticket booth and were pleasantly surprised by the nice and quiet atmosphere inside – far away from the bustling streets just outside its walls. The architecture of the palace reminded us very much of Bangkok’s Royal Palace.

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But while the buildings were nice to see, the real attraction were the people: the tour groups following their tour leaders which were equipped with colorful umbrellas, the monk taking selfies of himself in front of one of the buildings, the uniformed guards idling and the locals who came to the temples to pray.

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From the Royal Palace, it was just a short stroll to the river. Seeing where the Tonle Sap River joins the mighty Mekong was nice as it was two completely different colors coming together. But it was even more fun to see the multitude of ferries and boats crossing the river.

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We took a short walk, but eventually headed home, as we had already a great plan for the evening. Sopharath, one of the kind employees working at the reception of our hotel, had offered to take Max to the playground together with her six-year old son Pong Pong. We were excited about the idea and enjoyed a great evening.
Equipped with a cup of sugarcane juice each, we headed off in a tuk tuk to the playground. There were lots of people there. Despite the crowd, it was fairly easy to spot Max. Seemingly he was the only blond kid around. It was a very nice atmosphere in town at night time.

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Eventually we treated ourselves to some food at a street stall – an interesting experience as we had never tried some of it before, e.g. bitter melong. To fill our stomachs, we then headed to a burger restaurant filed with locals before heading back home to the hotel.

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After these first days, we had gotten used to our surroundings already. Navigating in the dense chaotic traffic became normal and we stopped turning hectically around every couple of seconds. We went with the flow and enjoyed what we noticed while walking along.

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We had also found a couple of nice places in the vicinity: we were daily guests at the juice bar at the corner facing the tough decision which of the delicious smoothies or fresh fruit juices to choose from. In addition, there was an excellent Malay restaurant just a bit further down the road that we really liked. So we started feeling more at home.
Still, it felt like a big adventure getting some small chores done. When trying to get our laundry done locally, we were directed by the staff in our hotel, to a small alley across the street. We would have probably never ventured in there. In the maze of small alleys, we eventually found a small laundry to take our stuff. And in the process, we discovered a different world: there were tiny restaurants, many street stalls, youths playing at pool tables, kids playing marbles and many small businesses.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 11:06 Archived in Cambodia Tagged traffic food market palace pagoda tuktuk playground alley stall Comments (0)

Pleasant weather in the world’s coldest capital

Ulaanbaatar

sunny 19 °C
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It was a very bumpy approach into Ulaanbaatar and all of us were happy to have arrived. Passing through immigration was easy. In the baggage area we had to watch out a bit for the many Koreans seemingly running on autopilot, but with a bit of care we managed to avoid any direct hits.
In the arrivals hall, we were greeted by Oogii who we easily recognized by the Steppenfuchs sign. She will be our tour leader and translator in the next couple of weeks in Mongolia. Once we had passed on the best regards from our Swiss friends who had traveled with her through Mongolia last September, we headed to our Furgon, the sturdy Russian offroad vehicle (also known as UAZ-452) we’d be traveling in for the next couple of weeks.
It was already past midnight by the time we arrived at Zaya hostel. Luckily Oogii knew where it was. Arriving there alone in a taxi would have been a perfect recipe for disaster: we would never have been able to identify the featureless soviet style apartment block with a disco in the ground floor as the place to go. Once we arrived in the 3rd floor, everything was great. We had a nice room and the huge washroom was just on the other side of the floor.
The next morning, we had our breakfast in the company of the pleasant local owners of the hostel – two brothers who had spent a couple of years in Texas – and then headed out to explore the streets of Ulaanbaatar. It reportedly is the coldest capital city in the world, but even though it had been freezing when we arrived last night, it was very pleasant and warm on this sunny spring day.
In the nearby Peace Tower, we easily got some local money and then did our best to start spending it. Our first destination was the state department store. And while we had assumed it would be a glum dark soviet style store with little to offer, we were in for a big surprise: the light flooded building featured well-known brands galore – food, clothes, electronics, you name it. After we had unsuccessfully tried to buy a new computer mouse in Korea, this task proved to be extremely simple here: within less than five minutes we were the proud owners of a new HP mouse.
From the store, we walked another couple of hundred meters to a restaurant for lunch. I had picked the ‘Blanka Luna’, as it offered vegetarian and even vegan fare. As we were sure to be served more than enough meat in the next couple of weeks, that sounded just right. And indeed, the food was simply great.
As Max craved for some exercise, we picked a path back to the department store through the backyards of the apartment blocks. With not much of a detour, we passed three playgrounds, which all also featured fitness equipment. The playgrounds were relatively modern, clean and well maintained. Max was delighted – specifically after his rather disappointing experience in regards to playgrounds in South-Korea.

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We were standing in the sunshine and it was absolutely T-shirt temperature. We had followed the temperatures of Ulaanbaatar for the last couple of months and had been delighted when we saw that with our arrival the temperatures would be hiking up significantly from -11 to +2 °C per day a couple of days earlier to suddenly a pleasant -2 to +21 °C.
Before temperatures dropped in the evening, we were back at our cozy guest house, played Uno and Tantrix with some other guests and worked on our blog. There were two categories of guests at the hostel: those who did a short stopover along the Trans-Siberian Railroad on their way from Moscow to Bejing and those who were planning to explore Mongolia for an extended period of time.
As we have the luxury of being able to do both, we found lots of things to talk about with the other guests. While Yasemina from Slovenia told us about her experience in the train, Anne from Berlin recounted some tales from her trips to Mongolia.
Oogii picked us up the next morning and showed us some of the main sights in town. We started our tour at the Buddhist Gandan monastery. As we entered one of the buildings, we realized that there was just a ceremony going on at that stage. The monks were singing or reciting something and the younger monks accompanied them with the sound of conch horns, cymbals and drums. The people of faith participating in the ceremony all tried to get hold of a large blue shawl and in return passed on some donations in form of money towards the head monk.

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Once we had seen enough, we headed out and explored a bit further. We would not have recognized the wishing pole if Oogii would not have explained it to us. But that explained why there were so many people huddled around that one pole – hoping to get their wishes fulfilled.
A bit further, we entered a large building and were surprised to find inside it a 26m golden statue of a standing bodhisattva. When trying to turn some of the prayer mills inside, we realized how cold it was in the building. The metal seemed to be still at freezing temperatures. Once again, we realized how lucky we were having arrived just when real spring time temperatures were hitting town.

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Our next stop was at the newly built dinosaur museum, where some dinosaur skeletons from the many sites in the Southern Gobi Desert were on display. Not surprisingly, Max was much more fascinated by the dinosaurs vs. the temples.
From there it was just a very short drive to the main square, recently renamed after the infamous national hero Genghis Khan. The square is flanked by the parliament, the stock exchange, the main post office, the national theater and many more important buildings.

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But we were magically drawn towards the center of the square. There was some kind of tourism marketing event going on and on a small stage there were multiple groups presenting their skills: there was music, singing and dancing – a great introduction to local culture and dress. And at the same time a nice group of mostly local people standing around and watching what was going on.

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While Max loved to see the children dance, Sam and I were most impressed by a group of musicians playing the horsehead fiddle, and a Mongolian plucked zither. Either there is a Mongolian folk song that sounds a bit like Apocalyptica or they simply interpreted one of their pieces with traditional instruments.

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We could have stayed there for ages, as there were more and more groups arriving to present their skills. But eventually hunger took over and we walked a couple of blocks towards a restaurant called ‘BD’s Mongolian BBQ’. We had not been to such a fancy restaurant for quite a while. It was great fun to select various vegetables, meats and sauces and to then see them being prepared on an enormous hot plate by the chefs. They did not just grill our food, but they made a big show out of it with juggling their utensils and using a bit of fire for special effects. It was great fun and really good food!

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After so much food, we were happy to take a hike back to our place. Along the way, we could not resist to buy some classical German food at the supermarket. Getting stuff like Schokolinsen, Nutella or Apfelmus was just too tempting.
The next morning, we were picked up already for our big tour of Mongolia. Actually, due to the fact that we’re traveling very early in the season, we’ll be concentrating on the South with the Gobi Desert and a bit of the central highlands in the hopes of having reasonable temperatures.
We were looking forward to that trip very much. After all, we love nature and large empty spaces. And for sure, Mongolia should fit those criteria really well!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:21 Archived in Mongolia Tagged square dance music monastery capital playground cold Comments (1)

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