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Maeva / Bienvenue / Welcome French Polynesia

In Tahiti

semi-overcast 29 °C
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On long distance flights, for us most airlines are pretty much the same: there’s individual in-flight entertainment, mediocre food and some kind of cheap toy article handed out for kids. But this time, there was a first: never before did we get a flower handed out in a plane. In this case it was even a Tahitian Tiaré which was extremely fragrant with a very pleasant smell.

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Upon our arrival, we were pleased once more about a distinctive difference vs. other airports: at the entrance to the main terminal, there was a couple playing music and dancing for us. I found it funny to see that they were wearing official airport employee badges on their traditional costumes.
Passport control was not more than just a quick glance – after all we were just official entering France, i.e. an EU country. The airport is small by comparison and consequently our bags arrived in no time.
As it was just a bit after 5am in the morning local time, we decided to have a break at the airport snack bar. Max was excited to get his favourite drink, real ‘Apfelschorle’ imported from Germany and we tried to wake up by drinking some tea.
A bit after 7am it seemed late enough to take a taxi to our home for the next two nights, the Inaiti Lodge. Marceline, the owner greeted us warmly and invited us to have some tea and hot chocolate. She explained all we needed to know about our surroundings and shared the great news with us that our room was already available for us and we did not have to wait until the official check in time of 2pm.
We were excited to hear that: all of us were a bit exhausted from the long overnight flight. And after a while even Max went to sleep. By noon we had rested enough to start exploring and to have something to eat. An outside nearby snack bar was easily found and we had great fresh food underneath a tree in full bloom.

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For shopping we headed to the local Carrefour market which reminded us a lot of the Carrefour we used to shop at when we still lived in Romania.
A bit later in the day we took a walk to the Tahiti Yacht Club. There we had a nice view of the sailboats, the sea and the sunset behind the neighbouring island of Moorea. We even spotted a typical outrigger canoe training in the evening sun.

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In the evening we stayed up until after 8pm and rested well until the next morning. And with that we were practically adjusted to the new time zone – five hours behind the Chicago time we were used to.
It did take us a bit longer to get adjusted to the heat though. At 30 °C / 86 °F it was actually not too unpleasant, but we were simply not used to such temperatures anymore.
There were also lots of other things we were not used to anymore after our long stay in North America: typical French baguette for breakfast, seemingly crazy car drivers (of which more than 50% seem to be driving Renault / Dacia, Peugeot or Citroen) and people speaking exclusively French. In fact, many of them probably know how to speak other languages as well, but they usually chose not to do so. So it was time for me to resurface my French skills, while Sam and Max were pretty much at my mercy to get translations.
We ventured into Papeete by taking the local bus into town. Our first destination was the central market, where we had excellent food and had fun people watching.

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From there we headed from the pier with its cruise ships, sailboats and colorful fish to the parks along the sea promenade where we easily found a playground for Max to get rid of some of his excess energy.

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Back in the center of town we had a peak into the cathedral and walked by the town hall, but actually preferred to watch the artists decorating large surfaces all over the town as part of the annual street art festival.

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That evening we were knackered and happy to just sit in our little hut outside, have some baguette with camembert cheese and local Hinano beer. If I wouldn’t have read the label, I could have easily believed it to be Bavarian beer, a typical ‘Helles’ – a nice surprise.
At night, it was raining heavily and we were able to experience a short and intense tropical rain shower also that morning. Once again, we were extremely lucky, as Marceline was able to let us stay in our room until she took us to the airport around noon. Check in was very quick and we took the advice to stay outside the gate area until 10 min before boarding would start. What seems like an impossible idea in most large airports, was easily done: there was no one waiting in front of us at the security check.
And our joker Max did an excellent job again: having a child below 12 years of age, we were allowed to board the tiny ATR 42 turboprop plane first – a big plus considering that there were no seats assigned and we wanted to make sure that we’ll get good seats for taking pictures.
And the views from the plane were beautiful indeed. We got to see all major islands of the Society Islands. We started right next to the sea in Tahiti and soon got to see Moorea and later Huahine below us.

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After just 35 min of flight, our plane made a planned stop in Raiatea, where we got treated to an excellent close up view of Raiatea and neighboring Tahaa. Many people left the plane and a couple of new passengers joined. Still, of the 48 seats in the plane 13 had to stay empty, as the short runway in Maupiti only allows for a limited payload.

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Along the way to our left, Bora Bora was lying peacefully below us giving us already an impressive first glimpse into where we’ll be in a couple of days’ time.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:16 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged sea beer sunset flight island outrigger baguette heat eu Comments (0)

The classical honeymoon destination

Bora Bora

semi-overcast 28 °C
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It was just a 10 min hop from Maupiti to Bora Bora. So before we knew it, we were there already.

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It did not take long to get our bags and to board the ferry to Bora Bora’s main island.

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We were picked up by our host Gérard at the ferry terminal and took over our nice apartment in the ‘Sunset Hill Lodge’ with a view of the sea and some of the outer islands. We immediately left again, headed towards the supermarket, as we were extremely hungry.
Seeing the prices in the supermarket, we realized that Bora Bora is not only more touristy, but also more expensive than the other islands. We shopped for dinner and stocked up our supplies of baguette.
After a relaxing long breakfast on our terrace with view of the lagoon, we planned our excursions for the day: a walk to the local supermarket and in the evening a stroll into Bora Bora’s main village Vaitape. It was fun seeing a bit of local life.

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We watched the locals playing football on a small field next to the sea, their girl friends chatting away close to the sea. We observed how quickly others were gliding on the water in their outrigger canoes and got treated to a great sunset.

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For dinner we went to the local fast food places, called ‘roulottes’. The roulottes are colorfully decorated mobile food vans that serve as snack bars, located in the center of most French Polynesian towns and villages. The food was quickly served, excellent fresh quality and affordable compared to the local standard. Everything we had was good, but we particularly liked the classical Tahitian raw fish in coconut milk.

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On our walk home, we passed a large group of women studying their new Polynesian dance routines and four locals sitting close to the lagoon, singing and playing the ukulele. But also the cruise ship that anchored that evening in the lagoon helped us to enjoy simply being where we were.

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Gérard also had good news for us when we came home: he had kayaks that he’d be happy for us to use for free. That was excellent news and we were thrilled by the prospects of going kayaking one day.
The next morning, Gérard offered to drive us to Matira Beach, the nicest beach in Bora Bora. So we spent a wonderful day at the beach, snorkelling, swimming, building sand castles and playing in the sand.
The culinary highlight of the day was Sam’s excellent tomato soup with couscous. With full stomachs we played a round of dice before getting Max to bed and eventually heading off to bed ourselves.
This way we were up early enough to do some kayaking. Gérard recommended that we cross the lagoon and go to a little motu. It was an excellent recommendation and we enjoyed the trip there and also the islet itself. It is in fact a private island which the guests of one of the super luxury hotels may use. Luckily enough we were alone and had the whole island for ourselves.

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On our paddle back home, we passed anchored sailboats from all around the world. Sam spotted one flying the Austrian flag – even though I have the suspicion that it was just a charter boat. And there was another sailboat from La Paz, Mexico. It’s four months that we were there and potentially this trip could easily be done by boat in this time. Still, Sam and I agreed that neither of us would have been tempted by a sailing trip of such dimensions. Coming from mountainous areas, we feel much more grounded on land and would feel rather intimidated to have only water around us – much deeper than an anchor could reach.
After our intense paddling (more for me than for Sam who would have had still enough reserves to paddle around the cruise ship), we had a quiet afternoon and a good sleep – at least Sam and I. Max has completely given up on his afternoon sleeps by now and prefers to play quietly on his own vs. sleeping like we do.

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We spent our last day in Bora Bora at Matira beach again, thanks to Gérard taking us there again. We enjoyed just being there, looking out onto the lagoon and taking an occasional swim to cool off.

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We watched two obviously rather rich girls being brought to the beach in a boat of one of the large luxury hotels. As they were not allowed on the hotel beach to use their drone, they had to come to the public beach to do so. Once they were gone, we were fascinated about the German couple who sat down close to us in the shade. They were the first Germans we had seen in Bora Bora, as over 80% if not 90% of all tourists we met so far seemed to be French. As we got to talk, we learned that they are on a round the world trip as well: in two and a half weeks and stops in Hong Kong, Auckland, Bora Bora, Hawaii and Los Angeles. As much as I love traveling, I don’t think that this is what I’d ever like to do!
Eventually we headed to the ferry which treated us to nice views of Bora Bora’s central island on the way to the airport.

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Our flight was after sunset, consequently there was not too much to be seen. And we were looking forward to Raiatea – the sacred island.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 16:37 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged sunset beach cruise dance kayak ferry expensive snack motu roulotte Comments (1)

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)

From classical outback to the coast

Tom Price to Exmouth

sunny 32 °C
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Contrary to most other people in the campground, we took it easy and had a relaxed swim in the pool before heading off. The plan for the day allowed to take it very easy: we went shopping, had lunch in town and Max got to ride the local skate park. Just like in our campground, there were lots of galahs around.

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After that we headed off in the direction of Exmouth and the coast. As Exmouth is over 600km away, we planned to break the journey in two parts and would only start with the smaller portion for today.

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Our stop for the night was Cheela Station where Pauline greeted us nicely. She explained that the station consists of half a million acres of land on which 5000 cattle / stock are grazing. The cattle is only there on a temporary basis to feed them up before returning to their home stations. Wow – these dimensions seem incredible. And we had thought that Bill from Arizona (who we met in Loreto, Mexico) with his 10,000 acres of land and 1000 cattle had an unbelievable huge area of land. And compared to German standards, this is really hard to imagine.

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We were the only guests for the night and had all facilities for ourselves. While Max enjoyed running through the sprinkler, I did our laundry and Sam cooked dinner. Everyone using the washing machine is asked to make a small gold coin (i.e. 1AUD) donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Considering the remoteness of these stations and small towns, most have an airstrip which are used e.g. for medical emergencies. And that’s one of those topics I try not to think about too much – given the huge distances you just don’t want to imagine requiring urgent medical help. So avoiding accidents and trying not to cross the path of any venomous snake (or other animal for that matter) is key. In some way, we are spoiled in that respect growing up in densely populated Western Europe with excellent medical assistance everywhere.
We were all ready just in time to hike up to sunset hill for the perfect viewpoint. The sunset was great, enhanced by lots of clouds and rain that does not hit at the ground, but evaporates before.

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The next morning Max and I saw a huge goanna – at least a meter, if not two meters long – sticking its tongue out. We were really impressed and kept our distance. By the time Sam headed over to take a picture, it was unfortunately gone. But with birds, old cars and station equipment such as the branding irons, he had enough other objects to take nice pictures of.

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The rather boring six-hour drive to Exmouth was interrupted with the excitement of Nanutarra roadhouse. Well, not too much happening there, but at least it was sometime. I was intrigued by the large monument for the late Lionel Logue – seemingly someone bearing the same name as the speech therapist made famous by ‘The King’s Speech’, who also came from Western Australia, but died in London.
By the time we finally arrived in Exmouth we were all ready for a jump into the pool. Max and I headed off right away, while Sam realized that our Swiss acquaintances Doris and Eric were at the same campground as well. After Broome, 80-Mile beach and Karijini, this marked the 4th time we met them and what should I say – we had a fun and entertaining evening with them. There were so many topics to talk. Traveling for one, but also sailing the oceans of the world and found lots of reasons to laugh. Great – let’s hope we’ll meet up again on our way south…
We spent the next day at the pool without venturing out to other places. At least Sam was curious enough to hike to the beach. And while he was excited to see footprints of many animals including snakes, I would not have been too excited by that. I was already shocked enough when the lady at the campground had explained to me that we should watch out for snakes, as with the start of summer they are now coming out of hibernation into the mating season.
Even without the snakes, we were happy with what the caravan park had to offer in regards to wildlife. There were quite a couple of emus wandering the park and they did get quite close. In fact, the emus seem to love bread and it was cool to see how they were following some people around and even ventured into the camp kitchen in their quest to get some.

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That evening Sam and I stayed up late. We used the opportunity of having free wifi to upload pictures and updating the blog. After all, eventually we felt it was time for the blog to leave the Cook Islands and getting updated to arrive in Australia… Still, there’s just too much going on and too much to be enjoyed such that updating the blog is definitively not our first priority. There’s much nicer things to occupy ourselves with than worrying about the blog being updated with a three week ‘jetlag’.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 11:13 Archived in Australia Tagged rain sunset coast hill station goanna emu Comments (2)

Sandy off road adventures

Francois Peron NP, Denham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Punakaiki, Westport, Nelson Lakes National Park, Blenheim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beaches and Caves

Uretiti Beach, Waipu Caves, Whangarei

sunny 26 °C
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It was good that we had rested a bit, as we were off to a long drive the next morning. I had always planned to spend our last week in New Zealand in Northland. We passed through an area that looked very much like the ‘Shire’ of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, but did not make the detour to the see the actual film set. Our lunch break was at Papakura, a Southern suburb of Auckland. We did not see anything of the town itself, but had merely identified it as a place where a skatepark was located rather close to the state highway.

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Despite the multi-lane highways, it was heavy traffic through Auckland and we were happy to eventually leave its northern suburbs. After a while, the highway started sneaking along the many hills of Northland. Even though we had driven more kilometers that day than on any other day in New Zealand so far, thanks to the excellent roads, we arrived fairly early at our campground at Uretiti Beach.

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What was initially planned to be just a one-night stay as a base to explore the nearby Waipu Caves, turned out to be such a nice spot that we stayed for three nights. The beach was just a two-minute stroll from our camping spot – basically just behind the dunes. We had beautiful weather and it was great to be at the beach. Only then we realized that since we came to NZ, we had not really been at the beach. So, it was time to seriously hit the beach.

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All three nights were beautiful: the milky way and the Southern Cross were shining brightly above us. In a couple of photo sessions in which Sam tried to capture that part of the night sky that we never get to see in Europe.

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Looking up to the stars like that, we did get a bit philosophic. After all, it is a big question mark if and when we’ll see the Southern Cross again. Well, knowing us and how much we like traveling, the if is probably less of a question. It’s rather the when and where. Even though we pondered the question for quite a while in those three nights, we did not come up with a definitive answer. So, time will need to tell.
The days passed quickly. Between building sand castles, jumping in the waves, flying a kite, playing cards or dice, playing with Max, relaxing and reading, we did not get bored. And despite all of this relaxed activity, we did not forget to call our mothers for their birthdays – a perfect reason to have a chat with home.

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But the best time at the beach was sunset. What a great atmosphere…

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After the third night, we were determined to finally explore the Waipu Caves – the reason why we came to Uretiti Beach in the first place. It was a short drive up into the hills. Most of the road was gravel, but by now we trusted our van that it would easily get us there.
We were surprised about the number of cars at the parking lot of these non-commercialized unknown caves. It probably did not help that we went on a Saturday, on which in addition to the tourists also some locals went exploring. But our guidebook was spot on: most people did not venture far into the cave, but turned around before it got interesting. And those who did go in farther, often did not have a clue how to see the famous glowworms. Only once we told them to turn off their lights, let the eyes adjust to the darkness and to look up, they realized that they were all around them.
We simply loved the cave. The glowworms were like a giant milky way above us and created a very special and magic atmosphere. And contrary to any developed cave, we were on our own, could spend as much time as we wanted, could take as many pictures as we wanted and were not dependent on a tour guide to turn off the lights for a minute or two.

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As we neared the end of the cave we had to duck down quite a bit, walking through an underground river. I must admit that after a little waterfall, I did get slightly scared. Sam and Max did spot an eel in the water and knowing that I’d be walking right next to it, did make me feel uneasy. Luckily, the ceiling came closer and closer and to my relief we turned around without any closer encounters with the eel.

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What a great adventure at zero cost! We were very happy that we came to the caves.
From the caves, it was only a short drive to Whangarei. At the AH Reed Memorial Park, we hiked through the maturing kauri forest with its forest canopy walkway. Walking high up between the trees always makes me contemplate how a bird must feel flying through a forest. Seeing how big the young kauri trees were, we started wondering how big the old trees are getting.

Max and Sam took the hike through the park to Whangarei Falls while I got the car. Down at the falls we met again and enjoyed the nice view.

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By then we had seen and done enough for the day, so we just wanted to drive to our campground for the night. Well, there was one more attraction along the way that we did not want to miss: we anyhow had to pass through Kawakawa on our way north, the last home of the late Austrian eco architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Usually toilets do not make it into guidebooks, but these are certainly different. And indeed, they make an excellent stopover along the road – reminding us of the Hundertwasser roadhouses along Austrian highways. Which reminds us that to the day in three months from now we’ll be arriving in Austria. Hard to imagine!

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:36 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sky sunset beach cave skyline toilet star eel glowworm Comments (0)

Rooftop bars

Bangkok

sunny 35 °C
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Arriving at Bandkok’s old Don Muang airport, we were surprised how long it took us to get through immigration. After all, we did not need a visa, apart from not having to pay any money to be allowed to enter the country, the formalities seemed quite complex.
After our brief interlude in Cambodia, we were back to left hand traffic in Thailand. Despite the heavy traffic, we were able to move rather quickly – thanks to the many highways criss-crossing the city. And being high up above most buildings, we got to see that there’s much more construction in progress such that things should improve even further in the future.
Our hotel was nice and modern. But being situated along one of the tiny backroads of a rather old and shabby neighborhood of Chinatown, it seemed somewhat misplaced. Still, we were excited about it: We had an apartment with two rooms for ourselves with a view of some of Bangkok’s high rises. And there was a huge pool, a fitness studio and a rooftop bar at our disposal.

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We did not have many plans for the next nine days. After all, we had come to Bangkok first and foremost for Sam to get his visa for Mongolia (being German citizens, Max and I do not need one). Within minutes of having arrived in our hotel, Sam headed out to the Mongolian embassy. It took him almost an hour to get there in the dense afternoon traffic. If he would have known that he was able to successfully leave the embassy again after a mere seven minutes, he would have probably told the taxi driver to wait for him and to take him back immediately.
This way, he had to walk for ten minutes to even find an area where there were taxis around. And soon he realized that the first six taxi drivers he asked, did not want to take him, as they feared to be stuck in rush hour traffic. And not even the moto taxi drivers were interested in such a long drive. After all, he did find a taxi to take him, but realized before too long, that the driver was simply awful: he exclusively drove in first and second gear and did not seem to be too familiar with his vehicle. After over one and a half hours in the taxi, Sam eventually decided that instead of being stuck in traffic, he’d be quicker by walking the last four km.

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Other than Sam’s visa, we only planned to take it easy. After all, Sam and I had largely explored the key sites and some surrounding places like the old royal town of Ayutthaya already ten years ago. So there was no ‘must-do’ activity except the goal to enjoy ourselves.
The enjoyment started on our roof-top terrace. Sitting up there at dawn, having a nice dinner and seeing the lights fading while the lights of the skyscrapers were coming up was clearly a highlight. And considering how easy it was to take the elevator up one floor, we repeated the event multiple times.

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That’s also where we started our days: the breakfast buffet left no wishes open, even after nine days, breakfast did not get boring.
Our first plan was easily set: we agreed to meet Petra, Thomas and Aurel at their hotel. While the boys splashed around in the pool, we got to chat and make plans what to do. Eventually we headed out along one of Bangkok’s many klongs (canals) and even got to see a large goanna swimming in the murky water.

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A short stroll delivered us right into the middle of Bangkok’s tourist center, the Khao San Road. The place is crowded, funky and sometimes a bit strange. Not something I’d like to have around me at all times, but fun to enjoy for a limited time. We were easily able to avoid buying a roasted scorpion or other more ‘normal’ food. Sam declined all offers for getting a tailored suit and even though the ladies at the many massage saloons were keen to get blond Max into their places – at their dismay he was not interested at all.

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He rather ran along the street with his friend Aurel, all set to arrive at the Thai Boxing place where we wanted to observe the training. The kids were excited and had so much fun. They would have preferred to participate fully in the training themselves. The trainer noticed their interest and let them do a bit of hitting and kicking.

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We had excellent food from Northern Thailand at ‚Madame Musur’. After strolling along the busy street some more, seeing great food, lots of people and many fun sights, we eventually ended in a small bar. By the end of the day, we had sealed our plans on meeting again when we’ll be back in Germany.

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Going back home from the Khao San Road should be very easy in principle: there are lots of taxis, you take one and go home. Well, real life is different: taxi drivers are keen to earn more money on unsuspecting tourists. We had about five of them offering to take us to our hotel for a price of 200 baht (about 5-6€) before finally finding one who agreed to simply turn on his meter. At home the meter said 72 baht, we gave him 100 baht and everyone was happy.
Another thing that Bangkok is famous for is shopping. While we’re clearly not the typical tourists in that respect, we still headed to several of the main shopping malls. At the MBK Center we got all errands done easily: there was a bank, a camera repair place, countless stalls specialized on IT accessories and a toy store. And best of all: the gigantic food court offering all kinds of food from every corner of Asia.
At some stage, we got lost a bit between the many shops selling t-shirts that we turned in circles for a while until we finally found an elevator to get us out of the place. It was time to leave and as we did not want to get stuck in afternoon traffic, we walked home passing through the quiet grounds of one of the universities.

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What an unbearable heat! On the way home, we stopped the local juice bar for smoothies and then deserved a bath in the pool. We were more than happy about the fact that we had cancelled our original booking for Bangkok and went for a place with a pool instead.
One other day we headed out to an Italian restaurant that was highly praised in our guidebook and just a 10 min walk away. We soon realized that things change more quickly than guidebooks are able to keep up with. The place seemed to have closed down. But at least we found some pizza anyway just a couple of blocks further. And anyhow: there was enough to be seen along the streets to justify the trip. Pictures of the late king Bhumibol can be seen everywhere around the city along with black and white ribbons.

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From there it was only a short taxi drive to the pier where we took the express boat. Just like the locals we opted for the orange flag boat which costs 15b (around 0.5€) per person vs. the blue flag tourist boat which would have cost us 150 baht. The river is the same, the view as well and we did not mind mingling with the locals.

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More or less by accident we got off at Wat Arun. Being there, we figured that we might have a look around as well and visited the well-known temple.

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From there we took the ferry shuttle to the other side of the river where we originally had wanted to go. Wat Pho, another temple, is well known for its school of traditional Thai massage – sometimes even dubbed Thailand’s oldest university. The 1h herbal massage was very pleasant and the massage therapists were well qualified in what they were doing.

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From there it was only a two-minute walk to the Amorosa rooftop bar overlooking the river. It was great to see the sun set behind Wat Arun. The atmosphere was really nice. And it could have been even nicer if it wasn’t for the nervous couples at the prime spots who continued to take selfies over more than half an hour making sure that they did not miss a single angle of the sunset. Admittedly, we did take pictures ourselves as well – but after a couple of shots, we rather sat there and enjoyed life.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:30 Archived in Thailand Tagged traffic taxi sunset temple shopping boxing bar mall rooftop Comments (1)

Bye, bye 2073 and welcome to 2074!

Pokhara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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