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Getting to the Baja California

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 31 °C
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A first night in Mexico with the sound of the waves in the background… Nice!
Even if this is probably not doing mainland Mexico it’s justice, it is in fact only supposed to be our transit route towards the Baja California. Given that along the 1000 miles (1700 km) peninsula of the Baja California there’s mostly just one highway with asphalt, we simply wanted to avoid going down and up the same roads twice.
Our base plan was to take the ferry at Topolobampo towards the very south of the Baja in La Paz. I had checked ferry schedules and prices already a couple of times. There were regular departures, availability did not seem to be an issue and the only down side were the prices. A regular car was defined to be less than 5,40m long and it would cost 1230 mexican pesos to ferry it over. Unfortunately surfing the net, it seems like our camper van is 5,42m long. And this is without considering the aircon in the back of the camper which adds probably another 8 cm. And cars longer than 5,40m unfortunately do not just cost a bit more, but the prices suddenly raise to 5700 pesos. Still from the way we set up our journey, the ferry was the only plot that made sense, so we were still planning to do that independent of the cost.
Admittedly, after all that initial research I had not checked ferry details again and as I was not sure which length to use for the car I did not want to book tickets online anyhow, but was planning to get them on the spot. So when driving somewhere close to Hermosillo, I realized that the Topolobampo ferry that was announced to be in maintenance for the month of May was only restarting operations much later and that they first availability was only as of June 15. That did put quite a damper to my plans: while there were a couple of interesting things to see on the mainland, there was not enough that sounded interesting to keep us busy for 10 days.
There are two alternatives for ferries: we could also use the ferry to La Paz from Mazatlan. This would entail driving probably another 10 hours south on the mainland on those highways we already found quite strenuous on our first encounter. In addition the ferry would take longer and be a bit more expensive than from Topolobampo. The other option would mean to take the ferry from Guaymas to Santa Rosalía. As Santa Rosalía is just about half way on the Baja, this option would result in driving that stretch south to Cabo San Lucas and to then drive it again in the other direction on the way up.
None of the three options were ideal, but we were clear that our preferred one was the last option. The guidebook warned to be early to book tickets, specifically as the ferry from Guaymas is significantly smaller than the ones from Topolobampo or Mazatlan and as the ferry does not leave daily, but only three times a week. I tried my luck and was fortunate to hear that there would still be availability for the ferry that would be leaving in the evening. This was great news, so I made the reservations on the phone and was told to be there latest at 5:30pm and that the ferry would leave at 8pm.
Excellent – that was great news, as we were anyhow not too keen to stay much longer in hot and humid San Carlos with its loads of mosquitoes. We had another look at the sea to see how it’s like in daylight and concluded that we’d rather jump into the pool to cool off a bit. And that was very enjoyable and very relaxing. That was good since we were in dire need of a bit of relaxation anyhow.

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So we did not do too much else before eventually going to the ferry terminal. As usual the Scout app on our mobile phone helped us easily to navigate our way towards the terminal. Except that close to our destination the ‘ferry’ signs subsided and there was nothing that looked even remotely like a ferry terminal. After a first tour of the harbour area, we decided to ask someone. We had gone too far. Fine, on our way back we asked three more people and eventually ended up at a gate with two small buildings to either side of it. And in fact one of them sold tickets for the ferry. The lady at the counter found the reservation for ‘Bernardo’ that included a Ford Econoline with 2 adults and one child – so I figured that this was us. She then helped me to measure the car and luckily enough she concluded that the car was not longer than the 5,40m for a regular vehicle. So I paid for our tickets and after the marines arrived at 6pm, we were admitted to drive towards the ferry.

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After quite a while of waiting while all baggage was checked by dogs searching for drugs, all cars were searched as well: a dog entered through every door of each car – and every step of the process was thoroughly documented with a camera. Eventually I got to drive onto the boat together with another 6 cars and a small truck (we’re talking a small ferry!). Max and Sam had been waiting on the upper deck of the boat already over an hour.

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It took a bit of investigation to find our cabin and it was quite a disappointment: there were empty food containers and empty cans on the table, the bedding of the four bunk beds looked used and the cockroaches on the floor were not suited to change our first impression. We quickly closed the door again and concluded that travelling in the salon would be a better option. After all the roughly 100 reclining seats there were made of leather. We picked the last row that was a proper bench and looked like a better sleeping option than the recliners and were happily waiting for the ferry to take off.

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Well, the ferry did not take off that evening. As the captain explained to everyone a bit later, the harbour had been closed due to bad weather and the ferry would be able to leave earliest tomorrow after midnight, i.e. 28 hours later than originally planned. As the ferry was ready to take off and it was the harbour leadership taking the decision, they would not pay for hotels, but at least the tickets would still be valid tomorrow. And everyone who did not want to stay on the boat could call around noon the next day to get an update on the ferry departure.
We decided to leave and declined to experience a night on the boat in the harbour. We rather went back to the RV park we had stayed at already the last night. So another 45 min of driving in the night on Mexican roads and watching out for pot holes and unannounced speed bumps…
We did not have a lot of trust into the ferry leaving that evening, so we took it quite easy. After breakfast we took a walk (and Max his little bike) to the local Ley supermarket. And even though we were limited in our shopping as we had to carry everything back to the campervan, it was fabulous shopping. We found many things that US American stores seem not to carry, such as milk in one liter packs that does not need to be refrigerated. Given our small refrigerator we really prefer small sizes and things that will not go back also without refrigeration – so this was an excellent find! And given the low prices specifically for fruit and vegetables it was simply fun to shop again!
The bad news was that when leaving the store, we realized that Max’ little bike had two punctures in the front tire and consequently he had to push it home vs. being able to ride it. Well, if there wouldn’t have been the nice car mechanic 100 ft down the street from the supermarket who noticed us walk by and offered his help to pump up the tire. We explained that pumping it up would not do the job, as there were also punctures to be fixed and he explained that this would be an easy job for him.

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And in fact within less than five minutes he had taken out the inner tube of the tire, had identified the two punctures, roughed them up and vulcanized them such that the tube was better than new. Back into the tire, pumping it up and letting us go… Just like that. He did not even want money for the quick help he had given to us and refused to take the equivalent of 2 US$ I gave to him, as this was too much. He was fine with taking half of that and we were just so pleased to have Max riding his beloved bike again and knowing how easy and fun life can be in a country like Mexico.
Another round of swimming in the pool and eventually Sam reminded me to call the ferry again, as they had advised us at noon that they’d only be able to tell us more at 4:30 in the afternoon. And when they said we should be there latest at 6pm for the ferry to leave at 8pm panic set in – at least on my part – as I had mentally written off the ferry for that evening already. So we quickly took a shower, gathered our stuff together, sorted what we wanted to take onto the ferry (knowing how it looks there helped already big time to decide what we should take) and then left for the ferry terminal. The rush was completely unnecessary, as the marines only arrived an hour late and we had to wait in the meantime. But eventually after the same procedures of checking all cars and baggage, we were admitted to the ferry and looked for a mice spot in the Salon for the night.

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It seemed that about half of the people who were on the boat the evening before had given up the idea of taking the ferry, so there was plenty of space. Good for us. Still, the ferry ride was not really pleasant. There were quite a bit of waves and the boat was rolling heavily. Lying down helped and also the fact that the main salon was located underneath the car deck and that we got a spot fairly in the middle, so close to the gravitational center of the ferry. But going to the toilets or the upper deck included being shaken around a lot. And I don’t even want to imagine how much we’d have been shaken in our cabin two decks further up and located on the side vs. in the middle of the ferry.
Contrary to his parents, Max slept through out the whole journey and it was rather hard to wake him up the next morning when the ferry arrived at 6am local time in Santa Rosalía. So we made it to the Baja California after all – and arrived even much earlier than originally anticipated.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged california santa pool baja bike ferry repair rosalia cancelled mechanic guaymas Comments (1)

Beaches and pools – life is beautiful in BCS

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 34 °C
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So we have made it to Baja California Sur. And as we arrived more north than originally planned, for the first and potentially only time on our journey we how had a stretch of road ahead of us that we’d take again on our way back. While this might sound like a bit of boredom, I got to like the idea a lot. It takes away a bit of pressure in the sense of ‘should we stay here longer – is this really the place to be or maybe there’s a nicer place just around the corner’. In case we’d like it somewhere and did not stay as long as the spot would have deserved, we will easily be able to come back to it on our way back. And we will easily be able to pick out nice spots on our way down and stay there later.
It did not take a lot of searching to find a nice first spot to stay: While Sam slept in the car and Max listened to a story with his headphones, I drove through Mulegé and towards the Bahía Conception. Heading down towards Playa Santispak, it just seemed too tempting to go there. And even Max liked it so much that he woke up Sam saying ‘look, such a nice beach!’.

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So we had a look and decided to stay for the day and the night. And to avoid the burning sunshine, we parked next to a ‘palapa’ hut which provided us with enough shade and protection from the light breeze. What a nice spot! And what a bargain – 150 pesos for the night including the palapa, i.e. roughly 8 US$... Life is beautiful in Mexico.

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We spent most of the day hanging out in the shadow of our palapa or in the shallow warm water. Lunch consisted of an enormous portion of fresh fish that we had bought in the morning from one of the rolling stores. In the evening we had a nice fire at the beach and enjoyed some roasted marshmallows with the family that stayed next to us.

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The next morning, we were just ready to have breakfast when Chicho stopped by to pick us up for the boat ride we had arranged with him. As we had not taken into account that the southern part of the Baja is again back on mountain time and not on pacific time, so Chicho had to wait a bit for us to be ready. As we headed out into the bay with his motorboat our first stop was for snorkeling. On the way to our next stop we saw large colonies of pelicans sitting on their already white rocks. We really liked the secluded beach on little Coyote Island. Being very shallow and extremely calm and clear water it was fun for all of us to swim there.

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I really enjoyed being at Playa Santispak. Just sitting there and looking at the water was all I needed. Somehow it felt that roughly eight weeks after the last working day, this is when I arrived on our trip. Life is beautiful. So we were clear that we wanted to stay for another night at this marvelous place.
This evening we were too lazy to cook ourselves and just went to the restaurant a bit further up the beach. Food was good, the view even better, the beers were cold and also the margarita did not disappoint us.
It was hard to go to sleep that night (well, not for Max) and once the raising moon had left the scene, we were treated to a great starry sky featuring the milky way and a couple of shooting stars. And by then temperatures had cooled off enough for a good night’s sleep.
Even though it was hard to leave that nice little spot we had found, we knew that on our way up we could easily stop by again. So it was relatively easy to leave the next morning headed towards Loreto, the former capital of Baja California.
Along the way we were treated to a couple of really nice vistas not only of beaches, cacti and mountains, but also of a Hummer AWD being stuck in a mangrove swamp and obviously not having a winch to get himself out again.

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After almost two hours of driving we arrived in Loreto, where we treated ourselves to lunch at one of the many little restaurants along the road. The fish and shrimp tacos they served were excellent and we continued ordering more and more.

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Loreto surprised us as being a really beautiful town that seems to be laid out for a lot more people and tourists than now in the low season. We had a look at the old mission church and wandered through the pedestrian zone to the sea.

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After having an enormous ice cream each, we eventually headed to our campground for the night, the Loreto Shores. Even though the view of the beach was a bit obstructed by houses, the pool was just great. All of us enjoyed to soak and cool off.

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Max eventually went to bed while Sam and I used the opportunity of having a good internet connection to get the blog and pictures up to date again.
The next morning, we easily took the decision to stay for another night. It was just way too comfortable and pleasant to head off already. So we just took it easy, spent most time either at or in the pool and enjoyed life. Only in the late afternoon we headed for a round into town and quickly found a nice place to eat. Max enjoyed Tacos de Pescado, Sam Camerones con Ajo and I tried the Pescado Empapelado. It was excellent!

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When paying we had a nice conversation with the older lady who had been tending our table, just like one of the many conversations we had with people we met. She commented on Max’ blond hair and his age and added that she had a grandson who was six years old. A bit later she added that he had a brother of 10 years and a sister of 12 years and that actually all three of them were living with her. Their mother had left them due to drug addiction issues and their father lived in the US and did not take care of the kids. So she was all on her own with the three kids trying to make enough money for all of them to get around… What a story and how sad to hear this. She had touched us quite unexpectedly and we realized once more how lucky we can call ourselves to be well situated. By coincidence we saw her in the street when leaving town the next day. We might not have noticed her, but she was waving so nicely at us that we recognized her and waved back to the tough lady.
The next morning, we took an easy start: breakfast at the pool was followed by soaking in the pool until we felt prepared to head off. Between running some errands, shopping and lunch it was almost 2pm when we left for La Paz. The road was initially winding through the mountains with lots of cactus on both sides, then we passed through agricultural land, desert-like dusty plains and eventually got into rolling cactus hills again before seeing the bay of La Paz lying in the early evening light ahead of us – really nice scenery.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach road pool loreto palapa motorboat santispak Comments (1)

Mountains and deserts at incredible temperatures

Written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 48 °C
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Once we had left Yosemite, it was fascinating to see how quickly the landscape changed.

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The road dropped quickly towards Lee Vinings at Mono Lake. It was tempting to stay at one of the National Forest campgrounds next to lakes with great vistas along the road – but they were all full and anyhow after three days without electrical hookup, we wanted to fill up our batteries. Consequently, we went down into Lee Vinings and arrived before 5pm such that our reserved campground was still available for us.
We did take a bit of time to explore Mono Lake and to read about how it rapidly decreased in size after the city of LA started diverting water from the streams.

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The next morning, we left towards south and passing signs towards ‘Devils Postpile National Monument’ we decided that we wanted to have a look. We had not realized that we were not able to go all the way there, but had to use a shuttle bus. But as we had already gone up quite a bit into the mountains of Mammoth Lakes, we figured that we might as well do that.

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And it was quite a sight to see the basalt columns of Devil’s Postpile. It seems that there are only very few places in the world where this geological phenomenon can be observed so nicely.

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After the sightseeing, we treated ourselves to Bavarian food. Kind of: Sam’s Yodler Burger was not too different vs. any other burger he had so far and I would have classified my Bavarian Chilli as just a regular chilli. After all, at least I am not aware of any typical food that is anything like a chilli in Bavaria.
Heading down towards Bishop and Big Pine we suddenly saw a sign advertising hot springs. We did not want to spend the money to stay at the RV park there, but realized that a bit further down there were a couple of other cars parked and there were people in swimsuits. So we tried our luck and enjoyed soaking in the hot water before heading on to our place for the night.

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The next day it was then time to get into Death Valley. On the way there we passed some nice mountains and also the National Historical Site of Manzanar. We did not stop there though and rather headed on to our hot destination.

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And yes, it was extremely hot. Neither one of us has ever been in such a heat before – well apart from in a sauna. The thermometer at Furnace Creek read 119 °F (48.3 °C) at 218ft below sea level.

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So Death Valley really counts as desert. We do love deserts, but fairly enough, Death Valley in the height of summer was after all just too hot for us. Due to the temperatures not even jumping dunes was an option. It seems that the only thing searching out such hot temperatures were fighter jet pilots (we saw an F18 passing just a bit in front of our car and it was really low!), test car drivers (Erlkönige) and tourists from far away. We clearly belonged to the last category and limited ourselves to viewing the sites from the car and just getting out for very quick stops such as the lowest point of the USA called Badwater or Artist's Palette and eventually retreating to our campground.

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We were easily able to resist the urge to play golf on the world’s lowest golf course. But the pool was very tempting and it was such a big relief to get out of the heat into the pool. Still, it was fascinating to see how the biggest pool we’ve seen so far on our travels was located in the middle of one of the hottest deserts of the world.

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At the pool we also met Jerry and got to talk a bit. Jerry is from Florida and came to Death Valley to support his friend Jodie to run the ‘Badwater135’ ultra marathon. We had seen a couple of cars with signs ‘Careful – runners on the road’, but had not realized what this was about. So for those who don’t know (i.e. just like us): the Badwater135 is a race over 135 miles (or 217 km) from the lowest to the trail head to the highest point Mt Whitney in the continuous 48 US states. It takes place on purpose in the extreme summer heat and all runners are supported by a crew of three people who join them running for the most parts of their run. So while Jerry was ‘just’ a crew member, he would be running 40 miles in the next day. And he told us that just a couple of weeks ago he had been running a 100 mile ultra marathon in Florida…

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We were thunderstruck. This was just way too crazy. And even though the Badwater135 site clearly says that the run is not intended to be viewed by spectators and that the recommended options to see it are competing, serving as crew or following on social media, we did watch the race. At 1pm we went out to the road and observed how the runners were passing after their first 17 miles by the checkpoint at the place we stayed overnight. Wow!

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We did sleep a bit overnight. But quite frankly, we did not sleep really well. It was just way too hot despite having the aircon running in the camper van. So we were happy to go to the pool again first thing in the morning before eventually leaving Death Valley via Zabriskie Point towards Las Vegas.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:29 Archived in USA Tagged desert springs death valley pool hot point marathon basin heat deepest mono temperatures Comments (1)

Summer splurge in Las Vegas

Las Vegas

sunny 45 °C
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To get a first impression of Las Vegas, we could not hesitate to take a detour via the Strip. And yes, it was quite a change seeing the masses of people and traffic after having been out in the nature for the last couple of days.

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We had made reservations at the Las Vegas ‘KOA at ‘Sam’s Town’ already a couple of days ago in order to have some packages sent to the KOA in our name. The place had been recommended to us already back in Sedona by the Germans we had met there and they were right: it is a very practical campground fairly central in Las Vegas with unmatched rates given the amenities even including a free shuttle bus to the strip. We had nice evening lights coming from the Eastside Cannery Hotel and Casino in the back of our spot.

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Las Vegas was significantly cooler than Death Valley, but still way too hot after we’ve gotten used to the temperate coast of California. So our first outing was to the pool and that’s also how we started our next day.
We then headed towards the Strip to do some sightseeing and people watching. Even though we only spent some time at Treasure Island, the Mirage and the Venetian, we did get quite a good impression of the awesome buildings, features and shows the hotels are putting up there in order to lure people into their casinos.

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We were back just in time for our Cirque de Soleil show ‘Mystere’ at Treasure Island. And as expected, the show was unbelievably great. It’s just always fascinating to see the storyline interwoven with acrobatics, the music, humorous elements and seeing so many details happening in parallel such that there’s not a single second of boredom coming up. The tickets were not really cheap and it did cost us a bit of decision taking before deciding, but it was definitively worth every single cent of it.

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On the way back home, Sam and I would have loved to wander the nightly streets of Vegas, but considering how late it was and how exhausted Max was after his first circus experience, it was clear that we’d go home straight away. But as our path led us down a bit of the Strip anyhow, we got to see at least a bit of Vegas by night – specifically the famous fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel.

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The next day we were on separate missions: Sam ticked off his long time bucket list item to go to a shooting range. He took the hotel shuttle into town and got picked up there by an open Military Hummer H1. Knowing how much he loves this car / tank, the outing was off to a great start. At ‘Battlefield Las Vegas’ he was then invited to choose the package he’d like to go for. And probably he was a bit envious of the four Canadians just in front of him who payed 1,600 $ to do the ‘modern warfare package’, but stayed reasonable to just go for the standard ‘Black OPS’ package.
Still, he was excited about the professionalism of the all retired army / marines / air-force staff and he loved the shooting with the various arms he had booked. I have not checked the target (which he got to take as a souvenir, just like the ‘19$ value t-shirt’), but according to Sam’s account he did very well except for one of the machine guns which surprised him a bit and consequently got him off target. All in all, he was happy. More than happy.

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Before heading back to the campground, he walked much more of the Strip than what would be possible in our usual group of three. He was specifically impressed by Cesar's Palace, the Bellagio Fountains and by the great people watching. Eventually he ended the afternoon at a sports-bar before taking the bus shuttle back to our home base.

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In the meantime, Max and I took our camper van to a local garage, had a full inspection done, got the oil changed and invested into new breaks. Fortunately enough, the waiting are of the garage featured some car magazines and air-conditioning. And with an intermediate excursion to get lunch at a nearby mall, Max and I were quite exhausted. After all, Las Vegas at midday is not too much cooler vs. Death Valley. Depending at which site we looked in the internet, we had 45 °C at a real feel of 51 °C or 111 °F equivalent to 119 °F real feel… Whatever it was in reality, it was very hot.
Once the car was fixed and an extensive visit to the playground we headed back in order to jump into the pool to cool off a bit. Sam was back just in time to join us and we had fun…
A bit later in the evening we took advantage of the free water & laser show at the Sam’s Town hotel. It was nicely done and as usual we were amazed at the broad display of national pride with national anthems, flags, songs etc. This is something I have never ever seen in Germany, where only since the soccer world cup in 2006 it started to be socially acceptable to display a German flag in public. Let’s see if this will even change. Until it does, we’ll need to continue enjoying the national pride shown in countries like the USA, France or others.

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The next day we just enjoyed a very lazy day without any sightseeing or errands at all. We just stayed in our campground and spent lots of time at the pool. We also extensively used our laptop to bring the blog up to date and to get the pictures of the last couple of days sorted out and edited.
Still, one day of not doing anything seems to be the absolute limit of what we can bear, so without much thinking it was clear that we’d head onwards the next day.
Heading out of Las Vegas, we all waved back to the city. We had enjoyed our stay there and will definitively come back some time. There’s just so much to see and do there. And while many things to do are coming at a hefty price tag, there are lots of things for free or much cheaper than in other places.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 05:12 Archived in USA Tagged las vegas circus pool range strip shooting garage cirque Comments (0)

The National Parks around Moab

Capitol Reef NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP

semi-overcast 37 °C
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We had a full day’s worth of activities in front of us and consequently started earlier than usual. The first place on our list was the scenic drive in Capitol Reef National Park, the least visited of Utah’s five national parks.
Once more we were impressed by the scenery and the ever changing landscapes around us. But even more so we liked our stop at the orchard on the way out again: it was apricot season and we had lots of fun picking them. In the process, we treated ourselves to eat many of them and eventually could not resist to take five pounds with us.

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After a bit of a break in the shade of large trees next to the river, we continued our journey towards Little White Horse Canyon. After all, we had met a French and a German family who had been equally impressed by the hike and highly recommended it to us. And they promised that it would not be too crowded – which we perceived as a big plus given the many people we had around us in Zion and Bryce National Parks.
Already the way there was very nice and there were lots of photo opportunities along the route.

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By the time we arrived at the trail head, grey clouds were looming over the canyon and we had a bit of concerns as if it was safe to go in or not. But fortunately by the time we had finished lunch, the clouds had left and we were safe to go.
And we really liked the hike. After a bit of a hike along a wash in the glaring afternoon sun, the interesting part started with a bit of climbing over some rocks stuck in the narrower parts of the canyon and soon after we found ourselves in a slot canyon which somewhat resembled Antelope Canyon – except that we had it alone for ourselves and the light was not as perfect as it had been there.

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After our drive it was time for the last stretch of road for today to reach Moab. And it was faster than expected, as it was the first time we were allowed to drive 80 mph on an interstate.
And arriving in Moab also meant taking a bit of a timeout from traveling around. We had booked a spot in the local KOA campground for three nights and used that time to just relax a bit. Our main activities consisted of going to the pool, playing table tennis and mini golf. And we also caught up with our families back home and got the blog entries up to Las Vegas uploaded and published.
While I had really needed that break, Sam was already keen to move on. So eventually we moved on again. Our first stop was in town at the Moab Brewery to get some lunch. The food was excellent and great value for money.
We then headed on to Canyonlands NP and enjoy the grand vistas of the canyons the Colorado and Green River have carved. The part of the park is called Island in the Sky for a good reason – only a narrow bridge allows to access the large table that is surrounded by canyons on all sides.
Then it was time for getting a bit of exercise and we hiked to Mesa Arch which is located in a spectacular spot right along the cliffs going down towards the canyons.

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Our campground was on top of the Canyonlands area, just outside the park and with clouds and thunderstorms approaching we felt a bit exposed. In the end it was not too bad after all. We got treated to a nice sunset and the storm must have decided to change its direction such that we only got a bit of rain.

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The next day we started with a hike of the two trails at our campground before hitting the road and checking out Arches NP. The park is amazing and we loved the different rock formations and obviously the arches. Max’ favorite was Sand Dune Arch – less for the arch, but much more so for the huge sand dune underneath it. Sam even hiked the bit further to also get a glimpse of Broken Arch while we continued enjoying the sand.

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In the late afternoon we even attempted the hike to Landscape Arch – luckily there was already a bit of shade by then. To do this hike at midday temperatures and full exposure to the sun would probably not have been a smart idea. Already along the way we got to see a couple of other arches and nice features.

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Even though the top attraction in Arches is the hike to Delicate Arch – the official landmark of the park and of the state of Utah – we did not attempt it. We were fine with all the other sights we had seen such as Balancing Rock. And we’re pretty sure that this was a wise decision and we were much better off with just retreating to our campground along the Colorado River.

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The next morning, we had a very early start to get into Moab, as Sam had arranged for a motorbike tour with a KTM 350. Renting a motorbike and going offroad had been on his list of things to do on our trip. And which place would be better suited for that other than Moab?
And he was happy to having gone. There were lots of offroad trails for motorized vehicles to choose from (and there would have been even more for mountainbikes). His favorite trail was the ‘Cliffhanger’ where at certain instances he had to think through if he dares to go down the steep inclines, as afterwards he’d need to be sure to get up again on his own.

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But also Max and my day was filled with lots of fun. After exploring the local BMX park and enjoying the rides there, we headed to the city pool where Sam met us once he was done motorbiking.
After having excellent food at legendary Milt’s Stop and Eat, presumably one of Moab’s oldest diners (another recommendation we had taken from Jakob’s ’36 hours’ book), it was time to say good-bye to Moab and to head off towards the more northern and cooler parts of the country. Given that it was already quite late in the day, we did not go too far and stopped along the Colorado River again at Hittle Bottom campground. The location of the campground was simply great in what seemed to be an enormous natural amphitheater. The rock formations reminded us a lot of Monument Valley and we got to enjoy them in the great evening light.

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At night we were treated again to a beautiful night sky featuring the milky way and lots of shooting stars. And thanks to the camera suite Otmar sent to Sam, now Sam was even able to experiment with longer lens openings than the 30 sec maximum he had to deal with so far.

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Moab had been a nice place for staying a couple of days. The mix of national parks, adventures and lots of backcountry to explore makes the town a good base for spending some time.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:47 Archived in USA Tagged park canyon colorado national pool arch moab koa Comments (0)

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)

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)

Living on Broome time

Broome, Kimberley, Western Australia

sunny 31 °C
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Arriving in Broome felt like a shock. Even though we knew about its tropical climate and had even hesitated going there due to the ‘wet’ season, we were just not well prepared for it. And it did not help that given our lack of luggage, all of us were wearing long pants and Crocs and we did not have sandals or shorts.
In fact, we had originally not planned to go to Broome at all. Sam and I have been pretty much all over Australia during the time when he studied there, except the Red Center and Western Australia. So we had considered starting our journey in Alice Springs, seeing Uluru and then driving one of the offroad tracks over into Western Australia and to spend the rest of our time exploring there. Given that we have not yet sold our van in the US, we felt rather like renting a 4WD vs. buying one. When contacting our preferred rental company – admittedly rather short term from French Polynesia – they did not have 4WDs in Alice Springs anymore. Instead they offered hiring in Perth or Broome as alternative options and even waived the usual 700 AUD one-way fee to or from Broome.
So after a bit of research, we realized that the wet season in the north-west of Australia in fact officially starts as of October / November, but that the rains really only start as of January. So we took it as one of those fortunate coincidences like so often in our travels so far and chose Broome as the start point and Perth as the return in mid-January. And we’re certain that this new plan will be better than the one we had worked out ourselves.
So that’s why we ended up at the Broome airport. A taxi took us swiftly to our ‘Beaches of Broome’ backpackers resort, located just a few minutes from Cable Beach. We were not the only Germans there, as there were seemingly lots of German students staying there as well.
As we settled into the comfortable bar to have dinner and a cold beer (ginger beer for Max), we received a relieving phone call: our luggage had arrived at the airport and we should come and pick it up. While we had been promised that our luggage would be delivered directly to our place, we were just happy to finally get everything. So, I grabbed a taxi and headed back to the airport. And hooray: our three big bags had successfully arrived. Unfortunately, the car seat had gotten lost along the way and it was unclear when it would make it to Broome as well.
We slept well in our climatised room and thoroughly enjoyed having our baggage with its great choice of clothes. Marvelous! This was already a perfect start into the day. Plus, free breakfast self-served from the backpackers’ kitchen – excellent!

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Well equipped with shorts, sunscreen, swimming gear, beach towels, flip flops and more things we had been missing lately, we headed to Cable Beach. What an amazing wide beach with just the softest sand ever!

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We could not resist to have a dip in the waves. Despite the general risk of saltwater crocodiles, great white sharks, marine stingers or strong currents in Australia’s tropical waters, Cable Beach seems to be fairly safe. And yes, we were fine – but still probably a bit more cautious vs. the harmless waters of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

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At the pool, the risks were considerably lower – including the risk of getting a sunburn thanks to it being nicely shaded. But as soon as the sun started going down, we headed back to the beach. We were not tempted to take one of the camel tours at sunset that Broome is famous for. But it certainly was a nice sight, just like the surfers.

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We enjoyed our last evening in the lounge and bar are of the backpackers. The next morning, it was time to pack and punctually at 10am, we were picked up by Mel to take us to Broome Mechanical where we could take over our Drive Beyond 4WD with roof top tent.
This marks the third time after Namibia and Chile that we’ve rented a 4WD with roof top tent. And the Drive Beyond is by far the best equipped. It features two spare tires, a recovery kit, sand boards, an exhaust jack, three jerry cans, a UHF radio system, compressor, inverter and a complete tool box. In addition, there’s an awning with attachable screen room, a solar powered fridge / freezer combination, a two-plate gas burner, a Weber BBQ, two gas bottles, two tables, five chairs, full kitchen equipment and blankets and towels… wow!
It took quite a while to go through all the features of the car and by the end of it we were tired, hot and hungry. So we took our new vehicle for a ride into town and had nice lunch. Once we were well-fed and happy to hit the road again, we ran all kinds of errands, did our shopping and were happy to finally get our car seat at the airport.
By the time we were done with all of that, it was already quite late and getting dark. Sam used the opportunity and headed to the beach for taking pics of the sunset. In the meantime, Max and I got everything ready for our first night at the Cable Beach caravan park. Luckily enough, all roof top tents seem to work pretty much the same, so it was easy to set it up.
It was quite a change to sleep in a tent after so many nights in our van and lately in pensions and apartments. The main difference being that Max was wide awake once it got light outside – around six in the morning.

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Being rather tired did not help to be majorly active. Still, we were keeping ourselves busy all day: Sam bought a second-hand bike for Max which required a significant effort to get it ready for Max. Most importantly an uncountable amount of thorns had to be pulled out of both tires and both inner tubes required fixing. But also the breaks, pedals and geometry of the bike kept Sam busy for a while.
The other thing that had to be done, was sorting all of our stuff. With everything that came with the car, all supplies we bought plus all of our stuff, we needed to do quite a bit of rearranging and sorting, such that the stuff we need often is easily accessible and the rest out of the way without wasting too much space.
While we were busy, Max was happy to play some baseball with the boys from the camper next door and eventually headed with them to the pool. Sebastian and Alex did a nice job with keeping Max entertained and challenged at the same time.
By the time we had sorted our way through everything, we really deserved our dinner: kangaroo kebab from the BBQ with some grilled vegetables. Nice! We had the resident ibis visiting our camp site during dinner again, but soon enough he realized that there was nothing to get for him and he headed off again.
The next morning, we could not resist having a dive in the pool before heading off. After all, the pool was marvelous and absolutely worthy of a five-star hotel. In our six months staying at lots and lots of campgrounds, we had never ever seen a pool even half of the size of this one and not nearly as nicely laid out with a waterfall, loungers and green vegetation all around.

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So refreshed, we took our new vehicle on its first outing. Our first stop was at the lighthouse point. When tides are really low, this is where some of the world’s best preserved dinosaur footsteps can be seen. When we were there, it was rather high tide and only three days later, tides would be low enough to see the footsteps. So we just enjoyed the views, which were excellent.

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Even though the road along the coast was anyhow not paved, Sam could not resist taking every single turn off to try the even smaller and sandier roads. Officially he claimed to test the car, but I guess he just had fun driving offroad.

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We stopped once more at the deep-water harbor and had a stroll around the cape. A nice and quiet place.

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Back ‘home’, it was time for the pool once more. After all, we might not have such a great pool again for a long time.
The next morning it was time to say good-bye to our great caravan park with the enormous pool. We took a last dip in the pool before heading off, but knowing already that on the way back from the Dampier peninsula, we’d stop again there.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:11 Archived in Australia Tagged sunset beach pool backpacker camel 4wd Comments (1)

Exploring the Kimberley

Dampier Peninsula, Broome

sunny 32 °C
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After a relaxing weekend in Broome, we headed north on the Cape Leveque Road to explore the Dampier Peninsula. We had been pre-warned that roughly 90km of the road are not paved, but it was still surprising to see that it was not really in a very good state. Lots of corrugated sand board along the way.

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Along the way, we passed lots and lots of termite mounds. And quite a number of abandoned cars in various states of destruction. Shortly after we hit the sealed part of the road, we had to pass through a bush fire. We could see the bushes and the ground burning right up to the road and could feel the radiation. Luckily enough, after a couple of hundred meters, the fire stopped again just like that.

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We stopped had lunch at the local store of Beagle Bay and noticed with a bit of amusement the sign saying that children are not allowed in the store during school hours. While we were sitting there, school ended and a whole group of aboriginal kids entered the store before they got picked up from their parents. We then had a peek into the church, which is beautifully decorated with mother of pearl. Considering the selection of books for sale in the church, it seemed that the catholic church is conscious of its role in relation to Aboriginal development and specifically the ‘stolen generations’. Still, knowing that Beagle Bay played a role in history in that respect, did put the very nicely decorated church into a context that was anything but shiny.

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Our next stop was Gambanan bush camp in the very north east of the peninsula. We picked a nice spot for our van on a rock just above the ocean. We could see a very strong current going out into the sea, so even though it looked like being low tide already, the water was still going out. After consulting the tide chart, we realized that tonight the high tide would be almost 10m above low tide. We were not quite sure anymore if we’d be cut off on our rocky outcrop and rather did not want to take any risks. So we found ourselves another spot which was for sure high enough above the ground not to be affected by the high tides.

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That evening, we had full moon. Even a super moon, very close to the earth. With the full moon rising over the mudflats at low tide, a phenomenon called ‘staircase to the moon’ is created. It did look pretty cool.

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Up to that point we had been alone at the huge bush camp and were already looking forward to a quiet night. Well, shortly after the moon came up, a group of German girls arrived and set up camp 20m away from us. That was strange – after all they could have picked from dozens of free campsites. Sam eventually came up with the theory that they were afraid of so few people being around, such that they set up right next to us for security / safety reasons.
Despite the heat and humidity, we had a good night’s sleep. But we had to rise early as well: with the direct sunlight hitting the tent around 6am, Max was wide awake.
We took it very easy and had a slow, relaxed and lazy day. With the heat, humidity and the pestering bush flies, the place reminded us a bit of Motu Mahare. Even though mosquitoes might seem at first glance more of a pain than flies, at least they don’t crawl into your ears, eyes and nose. It was more than just a nuisance, it was nerve-wrecking. We could have set up our awning with the screen room, but unfortunately due to fairly extreme wind gusts (seems like bush flies don’t mind the wind), this was not an option. Unfortunately the frogs only lived in the bathrooms whereas the bush flies only stay outside. Otherwise they could have had quite a meal.

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Eventually we left for Cape Leveque and spent the remainder of the afternoon at the beach and the edge of the water – luckily without any flies around.

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A bit later we moved to our campsite high above the cliffs with a nice view of the sunset. And luckily enough the sunset also marked the point in time when the flies retreated for the night. So we were able to enjoy a very nice, pleasant and calm evening pretty much on our own – thanks to it being low season.

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The next morning, the sun was up again and with it, the flies were back. And we were happy to just pack up and leave after breakfast. We had originally considered spending a day in One-Arm-Point and to see the beach huts and the fish hatchery there. But we figured that our patience to endure these potentially beautiful sights while being constantly pestered by flies would simply not be sufficient.
We just want to leave and we knew already where to: our beloved spot in the ‘Cable Beach Caravan Park’ with the beautiful pool and – what we had not even realized during our first stay – no flies at all. Instead a nice variety of birds: ibis, finches, cockatoos, parrots and even a flying fox.

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At the caravan park, Sam was also able to get some parts which had been missing on Max’ bike such that Max could finally try it out. It will take him a bit of time getting used to the new bike. Even though it has exactly the same frame as his ‘Cars’ bike in the US, it is a steel instead of an aluminum frame and it has huge (and heavy) sand tires. And after six weeks of not biking, Max is definitely out of practice.
Our first outing with the bike was to Cable Beach where we had dinner in a nice restaurant with an excellent view at the sunset.

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After one more day of just enjoying being in such a nice place and enjoying all its luxuries, the adventure genes started itching again and it was time to bid Broome and Cable Beach good-bye and to head on South.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 05:49 Archived in Australia Tagged birds sunset park beach pool moon flies lighthouse cape gravel corrugated Comments (1)

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)

Westland or should we rather say Wetland?

Haast Pass, Jacobs River, Fox Glacier, Hokitika, Greymouth

rain 20 °C
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From the northern end of Lake Hawea where we had stayed for the night, it was only a short drive over to Lake Wanaka. After a nice drive along its shore, we started heading up towards the mountains.

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After having talked to an English traveler the night before, Sam had all of our excursions for the day planned out. The first stop was at the Blue Pools. We hiked 15 minutes through pristine forest to reach a swingbridge. After hiking along a bit further, we got to a second swingbridge spanning the Blue Pools. Their color was amazingly blue and the water crystal clear. Still, the main attraction proved to be something else: we got to watch a whole group of youngsters jumping from the swingbridge into the water underneath. It was not nearly as high of a jump as the bungy jump we had observed the day before, but this time without a rope. And surprisingly enough, there seemed to be much more hesitation and thrill involved in doing the jump into the holes. Quite a crowd had gathered around the swing bridge to applaud and it was great fun.

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Hiking up towards the car park, we came across a busload of German tourists. Looking at the age group and their immaculate trekking outfits, I told Sam that I’d take a bet that up in the carpark there’d be a Rotel bus (the German travel company that is famous for having their travelers stay overnight in rather small sleeping compartments in the back of the bus or in a bus trailer). Up at the carpark, I was disappointed to see only a ‘normal’ bus, but Sam pointed out the ‘Rotel’ sign to me quickly enough. And later that day in Haast we saw the sleeper unit of the group: a full-size truck trailer converted into the usual sleeping setup. We were happy to travel independently!
Eventually we reached the Haast pass. It’s named after Austrian explorer Julius von Haast who made the crossing back in 1863. Up there we were greeted by the sign ‘Welcome to Westland’. Sam rightfully pointed out that it might as well be more suitably named ‘Wetland’, given its infamous amounts of rain of about 5m annually.
Thanks to the rain in the last couple of days, we were rewarded with waterfalls showing off the full force. After a first stop at the Thunder Creek Falls, the valley started opening up and the narrow valley with its steep sheer-sided walls gave way to a rather wide valley with the road gently snaking along the riverside.

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The Roaring Billy Falls were our next excursion. While the falls were nice, the actual highlight was the walk there. We passed through a wonderful forest of large fern trees and felt like dinosaurs might be lurking just behind the next curve. Down at the river we spent some time skipping the perfect flat stones on the river. It had been a good decision to do this part of the journey on a nice day!

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All along the road we saw lots of vintage cars. After wondering for quite a bit what was going on, we talked to a couple and found out that it was the Timaru vintage car club having an outing doing a tour of the South Island for a week. It looked like a lot of fun. Probably it would be not nearly as much fun when it’s raining – after all many of the cars had no real rain cover!

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In Haast we were lucky to fill our tank before the next stretch of almost 170km without a gas station, but were surprised to find out that there was no mobile reception. For the first time in years I did buy a phone card and used it to call our campground for the night to reserve the last powered site. Sam was so surprised. He checked twice why I had bought a new SIM card, before realizing that this was a really old fashioned phone card like the ones I used when I was still studying in Munich.
Having our campsite secured for the night, we could take a leisurely stroll at Ship Creek. We got to see and touch our first Westcoast beach with its round pebbles and rough sea. We did both walks, starting with the Dune Lake Walk which led us through sand dunes and stunted forest to a nice viewpoint of the beach. The Swamp Forest Walk was as swampy as expected and featured enormous trees. Once more, a great stop on our way.

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At Knights Point we appreciated the nice view of the coast before the road headed inland for a bit. Still, we continued to make only slow progress, as the road continued to feature more curves than straight stretches. Heading north, we did get glimpses of Aoraki / Mt. Cook and it felt much longer than just those two weeks when we stayed just on the other side of it.

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Later than expected we arrived in Jacob’s River at the Pine Grove Motel. Two weeks ago, we had stayed just on the other side of Aoraki / Mt. Cook.
There are two ways how we could get back there. By car the shortest route would lead us via the Haast Pass and would take 439 km. The direct route would be just around 40km by hiking up the Copland Valley Track to Welcome Flat Hut and from there crossing the flanks of Mt Cook an effort which should only be undertaken by serious mountaineers.
We only realized later that in fact the Copland Valley track was temporarily closed that day due to the projected heavy rains of up to 150mm. And we can confirm: indeed, it was raining heavily.
As we arrived in Fox Glacier, we did get a nice view of the top of glacier from the viewpoint south of the bridge before heading to the glacier itself.

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Despite the rain, we also hiked up to the viewpoint above the glacier to see its lower end. Despite the 450m distance to where the glacier currently ends, it still looked very impressive. And it is - together with its twin glacier Franz Josef a bit further north – the only glacier in these latitudes coming down so close to the ocean, surrounded by rainforest.

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When hiking down again, a ranger passed us and upon reaching the carpark we realized why: he had closed the hike due to the heavy rains and subsequent risk of flash floods.
A bit further on, after passing through Franz Josef Glacier we left the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and simultaneously also the Te Wahipounamu Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area which encompasses 2.6 million hectares of wilderness.
We drove to Hokitika in pouring rain. The rain was atrocious. Once we had reached the dry heaven of the camp kitchen, none of us was keen to run back to the camper van to get something. Max played with the toys he found in the camp kitchen while Sam and I took turns on the laptop and read. And we were also there just in time to watch the final part of the Superbowl. What an exciting game and an unbelievable catch up of the New England Patriots winning 34-28 after the Atlanta Falcons had been leading already 0-21.
It rained until we went to bed that night. Our weather app recorded 49mm of rain for the day. After all the wettest place in NZ and one of the top 10 in the world is just a couple of kilometers away from Hokitika. Cropp River – a tributary to the Hokitika River - gets over 11m rainfall in an average year, with records of 18m in a single year and over 1m within 48h. Just for reference: the wettest place in Austria gets 2,5m of rainfall per year.

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The next morning we could hardly believe our luck: it had stopped raining! So we could finally go into town. Hokitika is mainly known for its jade carvings and we checked out one of the local workshops and galleries. We did check out how comfortable one can sit on a jade bench costing 220,000 NZD, but decided against it. We rather opted for a nicely painted stone featuring a kiwi for 3 NZD. Chatting with the artist, we found out that the stone is actually called ‘Grauwacke’ and might similarly be found in the German Harz. We immediately suspected that we might be talking with an emigrated German, but in fact he was South African.
A couple of doors further, we visited a glass blowing workshop and got to watch how the cute penguins on sale are made. It was great fun to watch and we admired how quickly and nicely the artist was creating the penguins.
Down at the beach we got to admire lots of driftwood sculptures which had been created as part of the annual driftwood festival just a couple of days earlier. It was fun checking out the various sculptures and deciding which one of them we liked best (every one of us had another favorite).

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Even though Max had been interested in seeing the workshops and the beach, clearly this kind of sightseeing is not his favorite pastime. So we made sure to provide him with some sights that are sure to please him. We stopped at the skateparks of Hokitika and Greymouth. In the latter, he managed to his big delight to trade his bike for a skateboard (at least for a couple of minutes) and really enjoyed trying out the skateboard.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 01:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sea rain beach lake river glass waterfall pool swamp forest dune jump drive pass Comments (0)

More thermal activity

Taupo, Waikite, Rotorua

semi-overcast 25 °C
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Heading north towards Taupo, we once again passed along the Tongariro National Park. This time, we got to see the Eastern slopes of the volcanoes from the so called ‘Desert Road’. And while not necessarily desert like, there was not too much to be seen. And due to the fact that large areas are closed to the public and serve as a military training area, it is advisable to stay on the road and not to venture further out.

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A bit later we knew the roads already from our visit three days earlier. And it did not take Max long to realize that we were stopping again at the bike park where he had ridden his bike already. Once we had eaten and Max had biked some rounds, we ventured out to hike along the Waikato River – New Zealand’s longest. The hike was really nice and we even got to see from above the spot where we had camped a few days ago.

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After we had enough exercise, we turned back. This time all three of us took a dip in the River at the spot where the Otumuheke hot stream joins it. We found a spot with just the right temperature – not too far up the hot stream and not too far towards the cool Waikato. Sitting there and enjoying the soak in the sunshine, Sam once more felt a small tremor. After all, we are in a zone known for its volcanic and seismic activity!

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Still, we all agreed that there’s no need for a larger shake or eruption just now. We’d rather be far away in such an event. The world’s largest eruption of the last 5000 years took place in 186 AD in Taupo. In one of the visitor centers we had seen the comparison of the ash clouds of various outbreaks: Mt. St. Helens was a spec, Krakatau’s eruption sizable, but still half the height of Taupo’s ash clouds, which were allegedly 50km high. Thanks to the notes of Roman and Chinese historians, the date of the eruption can be dated. After all, at that stage there were no humans living in New Zealand yet with the Maoris only arriving almost 1000 years later.
Despite the soak in the hot stream, we had plans for even more soaking and left for Waikite Thermal Pools. We had reserved a spot for the night at the campground which belongs to the pools. Once we arrived, we had a quick dinner and then headed straight to the pools. We had six different pools to choose from at temperatures between 35 and 40 °C. It was a magical atmosphere – specifically as the sun set over the steaming valley with the pools. The next morning, we went to the pools once more to have a look at daylight.

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We did not spend too much time, as we were keen to be at the ‘Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland’ at 10am. This is when the daily eruption of the Lady Know Geyser is taking place – perfectly timed due to the help of a little soap that sets the eruption off. As we had seen our share of geysers in Yellowstone with the similarly predictable Old Faithful (even without soap or other helping agents!), we did not go to the geyser, but took the tour of the rest of the area. Thanks to the simultaneous geyser show, the parking lot was empty and there were hardly any people around. The strategy that our excellent guide book ‘NZ Frenzy’ had suggested, worked perfectly.

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Just like we had in Yellowstone, we enjoyed the multitude of thermal features enormously. The Champagne Pool was the predictable highlight of the area, but also the Artist’s Palette, Primrose Terraces and Sulfur Pool were absolutely impressive. By the time the other visitors came returned to the thermal area after seeing the geyser, we had seen already completed most of our sightseeing and were happy to leave.

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We headed straight into Rotorua. We were hungry and had a couple of errands to run – tasks that are easily completed in a small town like Rotorua.

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On the way back to our car, we took the scenic tour via the Government Gardens with its bowling lawns. A tournament with international participation was going on over four days and the enthusiasts were taking their sport seriously. We were fascinated by the accuracy of the bowls and also by the unusual attire these older men were wearing.

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Scattered throughout the gardens were fenced off steaming pools – proof that Rotorua is a town that is located on top of a huge caldera. And there was a not just a slight hint of sulfur in the air. At times, it got so strong that we started to understand why some of the campgrounds in suburbs far away from the center make a big point around the fact that there are no sulfur in their locations.

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The campground where we stayed for the night, was located close to the airport. We were not bothered by the few airplanes making their descent into the airport and there were no wild sulfur smells either. Max was happy to have a trampoline and playground just next to our spot and we were happy about the excellent wifi.
The next day, we spent some more time in Rotorua. The Kuirau Gardens are much more than a normal city park. There were lots and lots of hot pools, steaming vents and mud pools. All of that, along with warning signs about staying on the paths. After all, as the area is subject to geothermal activity and due to its nature previously stable ground might become unstable. Together with some locals and other tourists, we took a footbath in the thermal water.

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At the skatepark, there were no other tourists around and actually no locals either. Max had the place for himself and enjoyed the solitude. A bit of shopping and back to the campground to enjoy the rest of this quiet day. And yes, after the many kilometers we had driven over the past days, we deserved a bit of rest.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:10 Archived in New Zealand Tagged park pool hot geyser thermal bowling Comments (1)

A full week in Phnom Penh? Why that?

From Auckland, NZ, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

sunny 34 °C
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Getting from Auckland to South East Asia, is fairly easy and cheap. With AirAsia serving the region so well, we were able to get to Phnom Penh in Cambodia for less money than the one way flight from Sydney to Broome had cost us a couple of months earlier.
The only downside was the less than ideal connection. On the way to Kuala Lumpur, our plane had a short stopover in Australia’s Gold Coast. We had assumed that we’d be able to stay on the plane, but unfortunately had to get out, go through security checks and were only 30 min later admitted to board again. What an unnecessary effort – specifically with a sleeping child (which was eventually not sleeping anymore).
The other disadvantage of our flight was that we were not able to check our baggage through to Phnom Penh, but had to retrieve it in Kuala Lumpur and check it in again. I had bought two separate tickets to make sure we can show the New Zealand immigrations officials a ticket to a destination we do not need visa for. Both flights were AirAsia, but they refused to check our baggage through.
So upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur at 4:30 in the morning local time, we had to go through immigration, get our bags, check them in again and go once more through all security controls and to our gate. At least we got some exercise and luckily everything worked out fine. As a sided effect of this process, we have now official stamps in our passports that we have been to Malaysia. Despite this official proof that would probably count for any kind of record attempts, we do not feel that we’ve been to Malaysia. Getting to meet two bored (and unfriendly) immigration officials and one lethargic and tired check in employee as only representatives of their country would be a rather unfair picture of Malaysia. I’m sure we will eventually have the time and energy to get some more extensive contact with this country and its inhabitants.
But not now. We had briefly contemplated using the opportunity of this stopover in Kuala Lumpur to get to see the town a bit, but we were too anxious to get to Phnom Penh to afford some time elsewhere.
So what’s so special about Phnom Penh? Well, formerly it used to be called the ‘Pearl of Asia’, but even though our guidebook promised that it’s on the way back to the previous splendor, there’s still way to go. So, let’s be clear: we had another reason to go there.
When we were sitting in Australia around Christmas time and had finally worked out our plan on how to spend the last three months of our travels, we came to a great plot. Sam and I agreed that I would be a perfect ending for our trip to spend some time in Mongolia and to then go back home by train – the Transsibirian Railway to be exact.
What sounds like a great idea, is sometimes more easily said than done. Talking with a travel specialist, it soon turned out that the only way to get a visa for Russia, is to apply in the home country. That was very bad news. We had little interest to fly back to Germany just in order to get our visa.
As I’m not easily deterred when I have a good plan in mind, I did turn to my friend Google in search of a good idea. Soon it turned out that the Russian Embassy in Cambodia seems to have a much more relaxed view in respect to issuing Russian visa to non-residents. Seemingly other travelers had been successful in getting their Russian visa there, so that’s what we wanted to try as well.
So that’s why Phnom Penh made it on our list of destinations. And that’s why we arrived at the airport, marveled at the process of getting our visa (our passports went through the hands of probably 10 people in the process), got our stuff, took a taxi to the hotel, enjoyed a quick welcome drink, dropped our stuff there, gathered our paperwork (quite a stack) and took a tuk tuk directly to the Russian embassy.
Yes, we were tired and exhausted. We had had hardly any sleep on our night flight and had six hours of jetlag. Yes, we were stunned by the sudden exposure to Asian traffic rules again (anyone who has been to a South East Asian city will know that I’m not referring to right-hand traffic here). And yes, it was extremely hot and humid. The pool at the hotel was definitively much more tempting than the outlook of having to deal with authorities and bureaucracy. But we were in Phnom Penh on one single mission that we tried to tackle as soon as possible.

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At 10:15am we were at the embassy. We were cordially invited to take a seat in the waiting area and joined a group of others waiting for their audience in the consulate.
As time passed by, we got talking with some of the others waiting with us. We made the acquaintance of Nicole and while talking about the many languages she spoke with various people at the embassy, found out that she’s in fact Romanian. Being brought up in a gypsy community as the daughter of one of the gypsy kings, she had so many stories to tell. I love meeting people like Nicoleta – that’s exactly what makes traveling so much fun.
The part about traveling that is definitively not so much fun is bureaucracy. Up to now, having been to rather ‘easy’ destinations, we did not have to deal with too much of it. This should sure change from now on. Our first glimpse of that came at noon. At that time we were waiting to be admitted any minute, as it was finally our turn. This is when the consulate officially closes. A rather unfriendly employee came to the waiting area and declared the consulate closed. Next week Monday at 8am, the consulate would be open again.
While most other people left, we tried our luck. And indeed, it turned out to be our lucky day after all. Five minutes after the guy had disappeared into the bowels of the consulate, a lady appeared. When explaining her our situation, that we had waited for so long and that we had all required documents for getting a visa ready at hand, she promised to have a chat with the consul. And he seemed to have a good day and admitted us at 12:15.
In fact, they quickly saw that we had all required documents. We did not even need to go for the urgent visa. For 210 USD, we'd get the visa next Thursday. We happily accepted. We’ve hardly ever been so relieved. Wow, we had made it! Our Russian visa were within reach and we’d be able to realize the perfect ending of our round the world trip by taking the legendary Transsiberian Railway! Delighted we returned to our hotel to celebrate.
And we even found the perfect companions for our celebrations. As we hit the pool after lunch, there were already four other people there. We soon found out that Andrey, Angelika, Tatiana and Mikhail were from Russia, enjoying their last day in Cambodia before heading towards home.
Initially it was Max who broke the ice by identifying them as perfect companions for playing in the pool. And indeed, they were playing endlessly.
Sam, Andrey and Misha tried their best in emptying the pool with a simultaneous dive-bomb. The wave they produced was gigantic and proved to be a good reason to celebrate.

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At 5pm we were ready for Happy Hour and ordered our drinks. After a first round, there was a second one, eventually a third and then the count becomes a bit more blurry and less reliable… What can be stated with certainty is the fact that at 5 to 8 a last order was placed to make use of Happy Hour. By then, all of us had eaten so many peanuts with lemon grass / ginger flavor and had drunk so much that the original plan of having dinner became less relevant.
Despite the 6 hours jet lag vs. New Zealand and a severe lack of sleep from the overnight flight, Max managed to stay up until 8 pm. I used the excuse to go to bed as well. Sam stayed up later.
Max and I were awake at 5am and were happy to get breakfast at 7am. That’s also where we met our Russian friends once more. They had to head out quickly to catch their ride to the airport. What a pity that they had to leave. Even though one should think that by now we’ve gotten used to saying good bye to new friends and acquaintances, it still makes us sad. Let’s see – we’re still hoping that we’ll be able to host some of the people we met on the road back home in Germany when we’ll be back.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:00 Archived in Cambodia Tagged pool tuktuk visa russia transsib gypsy embassy Comments (0)

Cambodian countryside

Phnom Penh and surroundings

sunny 33 °C
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Having seen a fair share of city life, we felt the urge to get out of town and to discover more of the countryside. So we booked a tour to check it out.
The first part of the tour brought us to the ‘killing fields’ genocide museum in Choeung Ek, one of the more than 300 Cambodian sites of mass murder during the reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. An audio guide provided us with much more background on the subject. It is already hard to imagine how the Khmer Rouge managed to kill roughly a quarter of the population in their five years of ruling – half actively the other half indirectly by letting the agriculture and food production go down. But it is much harder to understand that their leader Pol Pot got to live another 20 year in peace without being put in prison. Hearing that he was able to marry again and see his grandchildren grow up, was harder to believe than the fact that the Khmer Rouge continued to hold the official UN seat for Cambodia for years after having been overthrown.

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After that excursion into the brutal history of Cambodia, it was time to clear our minds. We headed out together with our guide Det into the countryside. Sam and I were riding on 330 Polaris ATVs and Max on a small kid’s ATV with the guide riding behind him.

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After a kilometer on tarmac, we headed off onto small dirt roads leading along the river Prek Thnot. We got to see little isolated villages, nice pagodas, mango and banana plantations and rice fields. Our first break was at a small store to quench our thirst. We were very happy about the dust masks we had been given. The roads were very dusty.

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Even though we were mostly riding along, we were able to get a good impression of village life. There were the youths playing soccer or volleyball on village squares, there were the kids taking a bath in murky waters of the canals leading to the rice fields, the huge and thin white cows dotting the fields, the huge containers next to the houses filled with rain water from the roof, the omnipresent signs advertising the merits of the Cambodian People’s Party, kids running up to us and waving, the setup of a wedding pavilion on the dirt road leading through a village and much more…

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Our second stop at a pagoda was very nice as well. We had a look around, and even got to see some monks.

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We were lucky to see all of this on a Sunday, being able to see people enjoying life. We had tremendous fun our tour. But it was a long trip and eventually we were happy to have the last stop for watching the sunset over the rice fields.

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We were exhausted by the time we arrived at the hotel. It had been a long and exciting day. We had dinner and fell asleep.
The next couple of days we took it very easy. We spent much of our time at the pool, enjoying life and planning for the days to come. One of those days, we realized that the pool really helped us to balance the exploring in the heat with relaxation. Realizing that the place we had booked in Bangkok did not have a pool, we cancelled that booking and found another place that did have a pool.
We read much, caught up on sleep and were happy just to be in one place without having to rush around to tick boxes in whatever sights should be ticked off by the avid tourist. While we’re often enough behaving like tourists in our travels, long term traveling is different.
So our key highlights of the next couple of days did not include the National Museum or one of the many temples. Instead, we went for another excursion with Sopha. After picking up her son Pong Pong at his school, we headed to the ferry and crossed to the other side of the Mekong.

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After another couple of kilometers passing along small markets, miniature stores, pagodas, family houses and animal paddocks, we reached the mango garden of Sopha’s brother. It was nice and peaceful there. The boys had a great picnic that Sopha had brought along, we picked some mango and had great conversations. There were many working cows passing by. It’s hard to believe that these cows are fit for doing heavy work in the rice fields – as they look so thin. From one of the nearby rice paddies we had a nice view of the sunset. What a great outing!

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On the way back, we passed a wedding ceremony in a decorated pavilion erected on the main road. Life in the dark was mellowing the scenery. The omnipresent garbage is not visible anymore, the atmosphere looks cozy, making even the poorest living conditions look romantic and homey.

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After our ferry ride back home, we concluded the evening with a typical Khmer BBQ. We were probably the only foreigners in the huge place. Sopha ordered for us a full set containing meat, various entrails (we suppose it was heart, liver, kidney, but also something else unidentifiable), shrimp and octopus. In addition, there was onion, bell pepper, mushroom, green tomato, cucumber, cabbage and water mimosa. What a feast! We were very full at the end of our meal and happy that we had to walk only two blocks back to our hotel.

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While we enjoyed life in Phnom Penh, there are also bad news that we heard from home. It’s strange being so far away and still affected by such far away decisions. While shocking indeed, the distance makes it probably more easily digestible. After all, we’ve been surviving many surprises lately and traveling certainly taught us that there’s a way out of every situation.
For lunch, we wanted to follow a recommendation of the Lonely Planet for a change. Unfortunately the nice restaurant with the view from the top floor of the Sorya Shopping Center was closed. We still enjoyed the view. Heading to the food court further down, was not a very smart decision. With all the building works in the shopping center, it was not very full and lacked through put. Luckily just Sam and I took a slight fit from the food and were happy to stay in and around the hotel for a day. It could have been worse. Other travelers had told us much worse stories.

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There was also good news that week: on Thursday, we headed to the Russian consulate right at 8am when it opens. There was no line and within a couple of minutes we held our passports with nice Russian visa in our hands.
The celebrations took place in the nearby Aeon Mall. Due to the early hour, we toasted with hot tea and hot chocolate. When the mall opened a bit later, we checked it out. Quite frankly, it could have been located anywhere in Europe just as well. Apart from a couple of stores exclusively appealing to the taste of locals (such as the store full with Korean smiling animated figures), big malls seem to get globalized and exchangeable. The only way to distinguish the location of a Starbucks or KFC is to check out the menu where in addition to English, the local language might give away where you are. But latest when exiting the mall, haggling with a tik tuk driver about the price of the journey and being back on the road, it becomes pretty obvious that we're still in South-East Asia and not Europe.

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Having received our Russian visa, our mission of the trip to Cambodia and specifically Phnom Penh had been successfully accomplished. Consequently, we were ready to head off. Anyhow, with our eight nights in the same (great!) hotel, we had spent much more time there than all other guests. Most people left after two or maximum three nights.
After a very personal good bye ceremony from hotel staff, we boarded our bus to Siem Reap. We were seated comfortably in the big bus, being able to enjoy the vistas of the Cambodian countryside passing by. Two stops and six hours later, we reached Siem Reap, the main tourist destination of Cambodia due to its proximity to the World Heritage listed temples of Angkor Wat.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:00 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cow river rice museum pool visa mall bbq ferry news quad Comments (0)

Temples in the jungle

Siem Reap, Angkor Wat

sunny 34 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

Siem Reap greeted us with hot, humid weather. We had thought that we had acclimatized well in Phnom Penh, but soon realized that Siem Reap’s heat was much less bearable.
The solution was easy: once Mr. Tommy (our tuk tuk driver) had dropped us at our hotel, we quickly changed and headed down to the pool. Lucky us, that we had booked a place with a pool again!

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That evening, we took it easy and did not venture out for dinner – even though the hotel even offered a free shuttle service into the center of town. We tried the hotel’s restaurant and were soon after ready for bed.
The next morning, we were a bit disappointed about breakfast. Having been spoiled by a large buffet selection in Phnom Penh, both size and quality of our breakfast did not reach that standard by any means. So we headed off hoping that we’d be finding some better food during the day.
Mr. Tommy was waiting for us already. We were excited to have him as a companion for the next couple of days. Being used to the tuk tuk drivers we encountered in Phnom Penh, it was a pure delight to talk with someone in English, who knows his way around and who even offers suggestions of his own. All of that at a daily rate of 15 USD - just perfect!
Our first stop was at the ticket counter getting three day passes for the Angkor Wat Archeological Park. At 62 USD per adult, prices for US American or Canadian National Parks seemed very tame in comparison. But, we wanted to see the place without having to rush through in a single day.
Mr. Tommy suggested us to start our tour with a quick look around Srah Srang, a royal bathing pool dating back to the 10th century. Its gigantic size of 700m by 350m surrounded by stone steps gave us already a first impression of the incredible size of buildings that have been undertaken in the area.

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From there, Banteay Kdei was just across the road. We were amazed once more by the sheer size of this monastic complex, despite the fact that our guidebook described as much smaller than other temples surrounding them. It was fun exploring the temple and finding our way through the various enclosures. While partially restored, parts of the temple looked rather deteriorated – which added a certain charm to the building.

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Seemingly it had been built using poor sandstone and not the best construction methods. We did not mind. It was a perfect introduction to Angkor’s many temples. And it featured much shade which was important in the mid-day heat. After a feast of fresh coconut juice, mango and pineapple, we were ready for further explorations.

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Our goal was to see the Ta Phrom temple. This is one of the most photogenic temples as it has been only partially cleared of jungle overgrowth. While partially restored, it had been intentional to leave most of the massive trees that had grown in the temple, creating a jungle-like atmosphere. We were impressed and even though I had never seen the ’Lara Croft‘ movie with Angela Jolie, it seems that Ta Phrom served as backdrop for several scenes.

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We were fascinated by the place and impressed to see how the jungle is claiming back what man cleared centuries earlier. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones impressed by it. While we wandered around rather aimlessly, we ended up in the middle of large tour groups twice. In both cases, we found a quiet corner and waited. Once the chatting and constant selfie and picture taking of the Korean and Chinese groups had ended as quickly as it came, we headed off again – largely undisturbed and having the place for ourselves and a couple of other tourists again.

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As much as we liked the place, the sun won today’s battle easily and we asked Mr. Tommy to take us back into town for lunch. We went to the Butterfly Garden, which is not only known for good food in a pleasant garden-like setting, but also for supporting local communities.

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After lunch, we headed back to the hotel and were thrilled to have a pool. Admittedly, I rather spend a bit of extra money to stay in a nice place offering a bit of comfort and luxury. The thought of returning from a hit day just to a tiny hotel room without any possibility to be outside is not really appealing to me. So we fully took advantage of the pool and stayed there for most of the afternoon and evening.
The next day, we took a break from visiting temples. While Max and I stayed at the hotel, Sam went motorbiking for half a day. He got to ride some single trails through remaining jungles. But between the stretches of jungle, most areas have been deforested. And the continued development with more and more roads being paved, caused tracks to be graded, which just a mere two weeks ago were still some nice offroad terrain.

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But Sam also enjoyed having the opportunity to watch some village life and a jungle temple that is not on the usual tourist route. Despite the fact that the half day ride was laid out for 4 hours, Sam and his guide La were back already after a bit more than three hours. And La could not resist commenting that he had not done that tour so fast for quite a while.

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In the afternoon, we headed out together again into town. After an excellent lunch at the very comfortable Blue Pumpkin, we checked out the old market. It was easy to get lost between the stalls, even though everything was organized in sections. The fruit and vegetable section was not very busy and we even detected a couple of sellers sleeping on the tables surrounded by their wares.

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Then there was the textile section which eventually turned into the souvenir section. In an attempt to keep our baggage light, we declined all offers to buy bronze buddha statues, wooden elephant carvings and even the pretty muesli bowls made from coconut shells featuring colorful insides.

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The meat and fish section tempted us even less to do some shopping. The dirty floor and the smells did not help to create an atmosphere where I’d trust the quality of the wares. That might be wrong – after all eating in restaurants probably implies that our food might originate from a market like that. Even though we did not buy anything, the market was a nice place to take pictures.

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There’s something that strikes me about today’s markets. No matter how small the stalls are, no matter how little basic hygiene there seems to be in many areas, no matter how slippery the floor might be. Nowadays at least one out of two salespersons seems to hold a smartphone in his / her hands, briefly distracted by customers and eager to return back to whatever they were checking out on social networks.

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To a certain degree that is disappointing, as it clearly signals that time has not stopped here and that things might not be stopped in time like we would sometimes like to imagine in our romanticized view of less developed countries. But practically speaking, this adds a freedom to look around the market stalls without the otherwise tiring firework of ‘Mister, mister, good price. How much you pay?’.
Filled with lots of impressions from the market, we headed across the road to a nice icecream shop. It’s interior design was well thought through and would have fitted as well in a downtown of any major European city. Well, except that in Germany we’d probably have paid three times as much than here for our icecream – even though the store was way above local standards in terms of pricing.

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But not only the market was a good source of photo opportunities: just driving along in traffic was providing so many fun sights that we were only able to capture a fraction of the inventive and packed vehicles we saw on the road. And we loved the small gas stations along the roads!

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By the time, we got back to the hotel, Aurel had arrived with his parents Thomas and Petra. They had stayed at the same hotel with us in Phnom Penh and as the boys got along so well, they booked the same hotel as us. Max and Aurel were delighted to meet again. And their parents were delighted to have such a good entertainment for their respective kid.
Even though Max would have been entertained as well in the hotel, we headed out for some entertainment of a different kind: We wanted to see Phare, the Cambodian Circus. Standing in line to get into the tent, we met Nadja, Remo, Ben and Lenny again – who had stayed with us in Phnom Penh a couple of days earlier. Similar to Western Australia, also in South East Asia many tourists seem to walk along the same trodden paths, so meetings like that did not really surprise us much. It was nice to see them.
But even better was the circus itself. It recruits its talents exclusively from a school for disadvantaged kids in a nearby town. And with the proceeds from the circus, the school is being supported such that 1200 kids are getting a free school education and another 500 are getting vocational training.
We did not really know what to expect of the circus, but were pleasantly surprised how the protagonists combined music, artistic performances and dance. All artists were fairly young and were teeming with energy. In a way, the closest I can compare them with is Cirque du Soleil – just on a bit smaller scale. And as we love the Cirque du Soleil, this was great.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:19 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temple market tree jungle circus pool motorbike tuk_tuk Comments (1)

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