Travelling – day 367

Now, we weren’t expecting good things from today. The guy who sold us our tickets was clearly a scam artist and we had kicked up a bit of a fuss yesterday when we went back to confront him. We weren’t expecting the day to go without incident and we were right! 

Leaving out guesthouse at 6am to make sure we were at the pick up point early enough so it couldn’t be claimed we weren’t there, we waited… And waited… And waited. Jayne called the number he gave us for ‘any problems’ but it was turned off (or disconnected!!). Fortunately, a staff member used a different number and within five minutes, a mini bus had picked us up and was driving us towards Phnom Penh. We were waiting to see if the other rows of seats got crowded since we had ‘paid extra to not share our seats’… Clearly wasn’t going to happen as everyone had their own seat the entire journey. Stopped at a rest stop after about 2 hours for a late breakfast / early lunch. We ordered a bowl of noodle soup although I ate most of Jaynes meat – it was either beef liver or tongue. I loved it! It reminded me of being back in France. Back on the minibus for a couple of hours, we arrived in Phnom Penh – in the middle of nowhere. I made Jayne stay on the minibus whilst I sorted things out. We were supposed to have bus tickets in our hands for Kampot at this point and a transfer to the bus station. Fortunately, the bus driver seemed to understand my hand gestures and I was pushed back into the minibus and I was given a mobile phone. I ended up speaking to the boss of the travel agency we had used who said we had bus tickets to Kampot but needed to pay another $15. For those who don’t know me, I rarely get angry, but at this demand I lost it! I could see the driver look at me in the mirror as he negotiated the busy streets as Jayne rubbed my leg telling me to calm down. Turns out the boss didn’t realise that not only had we paid for the entire journey but also that Map had taken so much money off us – even he was shocked at how much we had been charged. He agreed we didn’t have to pay any extra but ‘conveniently’ couldn’t get hold of Map to confirm our overpayment for a refund… At least we had bus tickets in our hand at this point and were at the bus station. In the grand scheme of things, it was only $20 but it is the principal of the situation. Consoled ourselves with the fact that this is the first time it had happened during our year of travelling and it was a lesson learnt not to pay for anything when we are tired!!!

Got a pork baguette sandwich and some crisps at the bus station before boarding a second mini bus to Kampot. It wasn’t very busy. In fact, there was more parcels and packages to be dropped off en route than passengers! Passed the time watching ‘Game of Thrones’ and watching the countryside pass by. Dropped off the other two passengers in the seaside town of Kep before continuing the last thirty minutes to Kampot. Turns out our cheapest guesthouse of the trip is one of the nicest!!! Amazing beds and a lovely bathroom, we are both a bit gutted that we are only here for two nights. Headed to the waterfront and walked past the colonial buildings decorated with hundreds of fairy lights. Made our way slowly to the night markets where we had fried noodles and fried rice sat in the middle section with the funfair rides for children. The merry-go-round looked particularly fun as each horse was held on with ropes which meant you could swing them even more… And the kids did! So much so that one almost fell off. Walked to the supermarket to grab some breakfast supplies and an ice cream before heading up to the softest and thickest mattresses we have had in SE Asia. Saturday 8th October 2016

Travelling – day 365

We had an early-ish bus to get us to Kratie but not too early so we were able to have breakfast at the guesthouse before we left. Walking down to our pick up point, the usual gaggle of TukTuk drivers were there with one even offering to drive us if the bus didn’t show up! Fortunately, the transfer mini van showed up and we jumped in. Headed off to a couple of other guesthouses and hostels to pick up other passengers. Before we knew it, the minibus was so full that the company porter had to sit in the boot with all our backpacks. It wasn’t a long drive to the bus station where we then all transferred to different buses. Getting on our Sorya bus was easy enough – the destination was printed in large on the window. Sat behind 2 women – an Irish and an Australian – who had met in Vietnam and were now travelling together. Chatted a little to them until, as we started driving, the music video was turned up to such a loud volume that nothing could be heard between us so we settled in for eight hours of dodgy and loud Cambodian music. 

Stopped a couple of times en route for toilet stops and food breaks but we stuck to the safe food options… Mainly because the lunch stop had massive piles of fried insects, including cockroaches and tarantulas! We ate a very sickly bread roll muffin type thing. I think it had been made with condensed milk which is why it was so sweet. We also managed to find some Kralan which is a traditional Cambodian savoury snack. It consists of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk, with black eyed peas or beans stuffed inside a bamboo cane. It is then steamed for hours. It was actually surprisingly nice. We shared one cane which worked out well – it is incredibly filling! The rest of the journey was spent watching episodes of ‘The Inbetweeners’. We had tried to watch ‘Dexter’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ but the music on the bus made it too difficult to concentrate on the complicated story lines. 
Arriving in Kratie, we had the usual routine of TukTuk drivers running next to the bus to get the tourists business. Our guesthouse was just around the corner from the bus stop but it didn’t stop one TukTuk driver from following us there in an attempt to get business from us for tomorrow. It might have worked except, as we tried to check in, he kept hassling us and became a bit creepy. The young man in the guesthouse kept telling us that ‘it wasn’t open until next year’ at which point I started getting annoyed, especially as I had been emailing back and forth with someone as I had originally booked the wrong dates. I have a feeling he was trying to get us to change to a family or friends guesthouse rather than the one he worked in. After a quick phone call to his boss it finally got sorted and we had a room – dropped our bags inside and went for a walk, to be followed by the fore-mentioned TukTuk driver… Losing all patience, Jayne told him to stop following us and we continued walking up the riverside watching the sunset in peace. We went and bought bus tickets to Kampot for two days time (which, we realised later, we had been overcharged for… Scambodia indeed!!). Headed back to our guesthouse restaurant for dinner and met an American couple who are doing a similar trip to us for just under 6 months. We swapped tips and travel destinations over dinner and agreed to met up again tomorrow for dinner. After a small walk down to the river, we saw energetic aerobic classes next to the ice cream trucks. We skipped the exercise and went straight for the ice cream! Back at base we had a shower and climbed into bed to find that the mattress was so thin it was practically non existent! I was so tired that I pretty much passed out immediately although it took Jayne a lot longer to fall asleep. Thursday 6th October 2016

Angkor (Big Circuit) – day 352

Having had a lazy day recuperating yesterday, we decided that (despite some sniffles) we were going to head out to the Angkor Wat temple complex and complete the 26km big circuit. Having booked a motorbike through the hotel last night, it was a little bit frustrating to find that it hadn’t been delivered at 9am and we had to wait for over half an hour for it to arrive – with no petrol! Topping up with petrol we headed down the road, had our tickets stamped and were off to our first temple of the day – Pre Rup. The temple consisted of a pyramid shaped temple mountain with the uppermost of the three tiers carrying five lotus towers. The brick sanctuaries were also once decorated with a plaster coating, fragments of which still remain on one of the towers; there are some amazing detailed lintel carvings here. Several of the outermost towers are perilously close to collapse and are propped up by an army of dodgy wooden supports. It is suggested that the temple may have served as an early Royal crematorium as Pre Rup means ‘Turning the Body’. Avoiding the crowds of ladies trying to sell us anything from their vast collection of t-shirts, trousers, souvenirs and cold beverages, we were back on the dodgy bike (I could only start it if Jayne wasn’t sitting on it) and headed down the road to Eastern Mebon. The Hindu temple is a smaller version of Pre Rup. The temple mountain form is topped off by a quintet of towers. The elaborate brick shrines are dotted with neatly arranged holes, which attached the original plasterwork. The base of the temple is guarded at its corners by perfectly carved stone figures of elephants, many of which are still in a very good state of preservation. The earthen ramps that flank the side of the temple are a clue that this temple was never finished and show how the temples were constructed. Slightly further down the road was Ta Som, a late 12th century Buddhist temple. The most impressive feature at Ta Som is the huge tree completely overwhelming the eastern gopura (entrance pavilion in traditional Hindu architecture). Back on the bike, we drove to Preah Neak Pean, another late 12th century Buddhist temple. It’s a large square pool surrounded by four smaller square pools. In the middle of the central pool is a circular ‘island’ encircled by the two nagas (mythical serpent, often multi headed) whose intertwined tails give the temple its name (Temple of the Intertwined Nagas). The temple is restricted to only the edge of the complex and is accessed by a wooden causeway. The central pool used to have four statues but only one now remains. Water once flowed from the central pool into the four peripheral pools via ornamental spouts in the form of an elephant’s head, a horse’s head, a lion’s head and a human’s head. The pool was used for ritual purification rites. The next temple we visited was Preah Khan (meaning Sacred Sword). One of the largest of the complexes at Angkor – it is a maze of vaulted corridors, fine carvings and lichen-clad stonework. Probably served as the Royal residence while Angkor Thom was being built, this temple was immense! Phreah Khan covers a large area and it took us over 90 minutes to explore it (and I’m sure we probably missed some things!). The temple itself is within a rectangular enclosing wall of around 700m by 800m. Four processional walkways approach the gates of the temple, and these are bordered by a stunning depiction of the Churning of the Ocean Milk, although most of the heads have disappeared. From the central sanctuary, four long, vaulted galleries extend in cardinal directions. Many of the interior walls of Preah Khan were once coated in plaster that was held in place by holes in the stone. Today, many delicate reliefs remain including rishi (Hindu wise man) and apsara (heavenly nymph) carvings. Passing through and stopping at the North gate for a couple of photos of the absolutely stunning gateway we continued to Phnom Bakheng, the popular sunset point. Visitor numbers have been been restricted to just 300 people at any one time which meant we had to arrive pretty early (4pm for a 5.55pm sunset). Climbing the hill up to the temple was a bit tough after spending all day in the heat and humidity but we made it to the top and were one of the last people to be allowed in. The temple mountain has five tiers, with seven levels (including the base and the summit). At the base are – or were – 44 towers. Each if the five tiers had 12 towers. The summit of the temple has four towers at the cardinal points of the compass as well as a central sanctuary. All of these numbers are of symbolic significance. The seven levels, for example, represent the seven Hindu heavens, while the total number of towers, excluding the central sanctuary, is 108, a particularly auspicious number and one that correlates to the lunar calendar. Unfortunately, there were too many clouds in the sky to experience the ‘proper’ sunset experience however the colours in the clouds over the Western Baray was beautiful and well worth the wait. Back on the bike, we made our way in the dark back to our hotel, dodging the insects that were attracted to the headlights. Dropping off our cameras and bags, we took the bike into the centre of town to get some dinner. Knowing that we needed to return the bike by 9pm, we weren’t too worried when the heavens opened at 8.10… Even when it was still raining hard at 8.30… However, at 8.45 we started to get a bit worried, had to bite the bullet and drive home in the pouring rain. It wouldn’t have been too bad except all the streets were flooded and I am truly surprised that the motorbike got us home at all, especially as in some sections we were mid calf deep in water!! 

Totally drenched, we stripped off our clothes, had a warm shower and relaxed with some ‘Modern Family’ on the iPad before going to sleep. 
Friday 23rd September 2016

Port Arthur – day 327

Unfortunately, the only free parking in Hobart is on the street between 6pm and 8.30am. Not a problem as we managed to find parking straight outside the YHA last night but slightly inconvenient as it required us getting up early when, quite frankly, we both just wanted to stay wrapped up in bed. After eating breakfast and making sandwiches for lunch, we headed to our rather lovely bright red Kia and headed onto the ‘freeway’ to Port Arthur Hostoric Site, which is considered to be one of Australia’s most important heritage sites and tourist destinations. The drive was quite lovely as we drove through the scenic Tasman Peninsula on the south east of Tasmania to get to the ruins of the former penitentiary. 

Using our YHA membership cards, we managed to get a concession price into the site – those cards are fantastic and have more than paid for themselves ten times over. Well worth the $25!! Treated ourselves to a guided tour of The Isle of the Dead too (also at a concession price). We where given a playing card each which corresponds with a convict that had resided at Port Arthur. As we had 45 minutes to wait until our harbour cruise and tour, we went into the museum to find out the fate of our convicts. Mine was from Cork, Ireland and was sentenced to transportation for stealing. Fortunately, my convict was a blacksmith so spent his time in a ‘decent’ job and environment within the prison. Jayne’s convict didn’t far so well… He was from Norfolk, England and he was also convicted of petty theft. He was given a job as a shoe maker and cobbler and spent his days making prison shoes until he was caught stealing again… He was then ‘demoted’ to the chain gang to chop and carry timber. A dangerous job as the logs were often dropped and men were crushed from the rolling trunks. We then went into the beautifully gardens and ground, including the reconstructed Commandant’s Garden which was originally planted in the 1850s, to explore the timber and stone church, constructed in 1836-37 and a lasting tribute to its convict builders. Built on high ground to overlook the convict settlement, the church could accommodate over one thousand souls at its services. The building was never consecrated, due to its use by prisoners of different denominations, but was representative of the authorities’ goal to reform the convict population through religion. The building was destroyed by fire in 1884 and has undergone repeated conservation work throughout the 20th century.Before we jumped onto the catamaran and started our cruise of the harbour. The MV Marana took us past the Dockyard, the Isle of the Dead Cemetery and the Point Puer Boys’ Prison. A really interesting cruise with the guide explaining bits about the islands that we passed and the history of the whole site, introducing us to the maritime history of Port Arthur.Jumping off at the Isle of the Dead, we began our guided tour which provided an insight into the live and deaths of some of Port Arthur’s past residents. The tiny island cemetery holds the remains of over 1,000 people, convicts and ‘free’ (guards etc), although there is supposedly space for over 2,000 bodies. Between 1833 and 1877 over 1000 people were buried on the Isle of the Dead. The island has two distinct burial sections; with convicts buried largely in unmarked graves on the low southern end, and the free and military burials marked by headstones up on the high northern end. The reason convicts were in unmarked graves was because they were considered criminals and, it was believed that, in their death they should be forgotten. After 1850, some of the convicts ended up with headstones but only if their family and friends could afford to purchase one. We got to hear the personal stories of convicts transported half way around the world, the soldiers who gave their lives to guard the prison, the men in positions of responsibility, and the families who followed them to the ends of the earth. The story of the convict tombstone engraver who made his friends (and partner in crime) tombstone the most ornate one in the entire cemetery was incredibly moving. 

Back on the boat, we made our way back to the port and were able to capture the iconic photo of Port Arthur before we began our free walking tour of the site which provided an introduction to the most significant parts of Port Arthur, giving us a great foundation to continue exploring the rest of the site on our own.Finishing the tour and heading over to the imposing ruin of the Penitentiary which was constructed in 1857 as a flour mill and granary. The flour mill and granary was converted into a penitentiary, capable of housing over 480 convicts in dormitory accommodation and separate apartments when the convict building became overcrowded. Flanked by the Watchmen’s Quarters, the building also contained a mess room, library, Catholic chapel, workshops and ablutions complex. The building was gutted by fire in 1897 and lay derelict until a conservation program began in the 1960s.

We walked around the various other buildings, including the reconstructed homes of important people. The building we both enjoyed the most was the Separate Prison. In 1848, harsh physical punishment within the prison was rejected in favour of punishment of the mind. Flogging gave way to solitary confinement and the Separate Prison was built at Port Arthur in 1850. Cruciform-shaped, each of the four wings comprised a central corridor flanked by rows of solitary confinement cells. Separated by thick sandstone walls, it was hoped that the convicts would benefit from contemplative silence and separation. So much so, the guards weren’t allowed to wear shoes or talk to each other when working so that the convicts heard no sound whatsoever. Even the chapel continued individual cells so no one could see each other. As we entered the Prison, a voice read out the Rules and Regulations of the Separate Prison as they were read to each man who was imprisoned here. It was also written on the wall, highlighting the strict solitary confinement that was ahead of each prisoner. Our echoing steps walked along the central hall to A Wing, and the cells where the men spent their days—sleeping, waking, working and eating. We then went into the narrow exercise yard, where we were surrounded by by high, imposing walls, revealing a sliver of sky – the convicts only link to the outside world.

We even tried the additional solitary punishment cell, used for convicts who broke the rules of solitary confinement (usually by making noise!). The cell was located through four doors, each one could be individually locked, and each inner wall was a metre thick – 4 meters to lock out every sliver of sunlight – when we each shut the other person inside, the darkness was so imposing. I couldn’t even last a minute inside, let alone 23 hours a day for a couple of days. Having already spent five hours wandering around the site, we decided to head to the Coal Mines Historic Site which was Tasmania’s first operational mine, established as a much-needed local source of coal, but also as a place of punishment for the ‘worst class’ of convicts. During its busiest years almost 600 prisoners with their jailers and their families lived and worked at the Mines. While the underground workings are no longer accessible, we were able to visit the picturesque ruins of houses, barracks, offices and punishment cells. As we explored the evocative unspoiled landscape, we were able to appreciate something of the isolation and hardship that the convicts had to endure.Knowing we had a three hour drive ahead of us to Coles Bay, we didn’t linger too long at the Coal Mines. Heading down the main road back towards Hobart, our sat-nav directed us down another main road to save us driving all the way to Hobart and back out again. Well, I say a main road… Within 5km the sealed tarmac road turned into gravel and then, slightly further on, dirt! Not exactly the same quality of main roads we are used to!! Seeing the funny side of being reduced to driving along this road at about 30km we kept a close eye out for wildlife as the side of the road was littered with roadkill. We came across loads of live animals as we drove for nearly an hour down the road – kangaroos, wallabies, possums and I even saw a Tasmanian devil but it disappeared easily before Jayne spotted it. 

A much longer drive than anticipated as, even back onto the proper main road, I was too worried about hitting anything to drive fast. Especially as I witnessed the car in front hit a possum. A slight difficulty finding the YHA due to confusing road signs, we grabbed our key that had been taped to the reception door and headed to our cabin (the hostel was closed for repairs). In a cabin with three others, a couple from Italy and a German girl, who were all huddled around a little electric heater whilst Jayne made pasta for dinner as I let my heart rate and adrenaline levels settle down!

Monday 29th August 2016

Kings Canyon – day 319/9

The usual morning routine (incl. breakfast) takes about two hours for the three of us. But, once everything was in order we had a final farewell up at the lookout to Uluru. Still looking like a prop at a pantomime, we couldn’t believe we were here or how beautiful a solitary rock could be. It was a striking image growing further away in distance as we drove back down the highway. 
We stopped at the service station near Mt. Conner lookout. The view from the yard was pretty awesome as we waited for the attendant to come out and unlock the handles. Not connected to the tills inside the shop, the whole transaction is carried out at the pump and we were on our way after more extortionately priced fuel would safely get us to Kings Canyon. At the only other stop en route for the bathroom, there was the most beautiful pet cockatoo in the tree outside the restaurant. Charlie was able to say ‘Hello’ and we contemplated stuffing him under a t-shirt and taking him with us. But, we arrived at Kings Canyon Resort, without our feathered friend and without a booking on the system. Ninjas sorted the whole situation out as I stayed in the car, nobody wanted to unleash the Kraken. 
A breather and a spot of lunch in the room and we headed off for the afternoon. The yawning chasm of Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park is one of the most spectacular sights in central Australia. Despite the map depicting a steep climb at the beginning of the trail and several AED’s, Emergency Call Radios and First Aid boxes dotted along the route we knew we could do it. The steep climb was the start of the 6km loop of the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. The canyon delivered better views the higher we climbed to the top of the cliff and we weren’t expecting it to get much better than that… but it did. Meandering through the beehive sandstone formations, over plains of rippled sandstone, past trees scorched and twisted from fire and through sections alive with vegetation the walk itself was slow going because we were taking so many photos. Then, we emerged from the honeycomb maze to start viewing the canyon from the middle of a cliff wall and the sheer drop.We traversed the new (and not burned down) metal bridge to Cotterills Lookout. It gave the most impressive view down the canyon with the height giving an eagle view of the creek below. It was also, when viewed from the other side of the rim, undercut and sticking out precariously with very little rock supporting it underneath. That wasn’t a very comforting thought to find out later on. However, until then, ignorance was bliss and the Garden of Eden, down a fleet of stairs was equally blissful. A lush pocket of ferns, prehistoric cycads (plants that have survived from the time of the dinosaurs) and red leaf gum trees surround a tranquil pool. Pooling on top of an impermeable layer of slate, giving life to plants and animals in the area, the pocket of serenity was worth the extra walk down. Tracey and I returned up the stairs to catch up with Katherine who was still recovering from over-doing it with what I think is a cold. We didn’t take as many photos on the last stretch of the walk. Namely we were filling up our memory cards with very similar photos of orange stone, also because it was slowing us down and we could see the storm clouds rolling in on the horizon. Not sure if it was going to hit us or not, the rumbling thunder echoed through the paths and the wind howled, giving a careful warning of what could happen if one was not prepared or cautious. So when we passed a family where the son had twisted his ankle we were eager to help and make sure everyone was down off the walk before any bad weather hit. I had a Panadol in my purse which was greatly appreciated and we caught up with the girls and told them to wait for mum and dad. When everyone was together we promised to wait at the car park until they were down safely. We didn’t do much in the end, but when the rain came and went and they came strolling (and hopping) towards the shaded hut in the car park they were grateful that we waited for them. 

The viewing area for the sunset behind the lodges was cramped and lacking the promised pop-up bar. Everyone milled around watching the canyons in the distance change slowly to a deep red. I have lost the ingenuity to describe the colours in different ways, but imagine that today’s scene was the transformation of an element in a toaster turning from a dull black to a warm orange. These hills changed from a pale yellowy orange with trees and bushes dotted along the slopes to one alive and vibrant, an intoxicating reddy orange that captivated the soul. It was a rare occasion where I was more transfixed with the view cast by the sunset rather than watch the sun set behind the hills and a bright sky. Plus, I didn’t even take a single photo and lived in the moment. Fortunately, Tracey did…Over to the ‘Thristy Dingo’, it was amazing to see how busy the dinner service was. The Ninjas enjoyed their first bottle of wine and I sipped a bit at the fruit cider before taking it back to the room and enjoying it with a film. Roll forward two hours when they stumbled back to the room, ‘Shitfaced’, and regaling tales of heckling the singer and kids coming up to give them goodnight kisses. I don’t know what antics happened and to be honest, what happens in the outback stays in the outback. Kat and I had some noodles and watched poor Tracey convince herself she could watch a film, passing out with Chicken Crimpys and the iPad on her bed. I should have taken it as a sign that Katherine would be the same with her passing out only a few minutes in to an episode of Friends.  

Sunday 21st August 2016

Travelling & Devil’s Marbles – day 315/5

I’m really hoping that today’s blog will be relatively quick and easy to write. It involved a lot of driving, lots of music, and a whole load of fun. 
Leaving the resort by 07:30 we treated ourselves to a coffee at the garage before hitting the highway. There were a few wallabies by the side of the road still enjoying the coolness of the morning and lush vegetation and Tracey saw her first wild dingo. It didn’t appear to be eating any babies. 
About 3km off the highway, after a number of bloated (ready to pop) cows , we had a stop at Daly Waters. An important staging post in the early days of aviation − Amy Johnson landed here on her epic flight from England to Australia in 1930. Just about everyone stops at the famous Daly Waters Pub and we were now part of the posy. Decorated with business cards, bras, banknotes and memorabilia from passing travellers, the pub claims to be the oldest in the Territory (its liquor licence has been valid since 1893). It has become a bit of a legend along the Track, although it may be a bit too popular for its own good. 
Further down the Stuart Highway there was a change of drivers. Katherine was at the wheel and had to learn how to deal with the heat shimmer on the road, the dips in between the visible sections of road and the white blobs of vehicles that one second are far off in the distance and suddenly really close due to the speed and misperceptions of the terrain. She did a sterling job and even overtook a road train (on a bend). Tracey continued to teach the young padawan the tricks of the road and we chewed up a fair distance before lunch. 
Our lunch break was spent slagging off the grey nomads who couldn’t decide what they were doing with their caravan. It was quite painful watching the drama unfold like a bad black & white film. If there was a frying pan handy I would gladly have taken part in the antics. But, Tracey had us back in the car heading south before we lost the plot altogether. Katherine created a playlist and I carried on catching up with blogs in the back. I had to put in headphones at several points with the dodgy karaoke in the front being very loud (and bad). 
The gigantic boulders in precarious piles beside the Stuart Hwy, 105km south of Tenant Creek, are called the Devil’s Marbles. Karlu Karlu is their Warumungu name, and this registered sacred site has great cultural importance. The rocks are believed to be the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. Stopping at 3 points at the site, the main site has a ’15-minute’ walk that loops around an area – we spent much longer going around marvelling at the granite formations from different angles and trying different camera settings. This geological phenomenon is particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset, when these oddballs glow warmly. We did sit down for the sunset spectacle, knowing that tonight’s accommodation is only a few minutes down the road and we’d be there before it was dark. Thus, we witnessed the stone change from a rich golden glaze, to a warm terracotta, to a gentle ochre. The disrespectful people climbing all over the rocks took very little away from the majesty of the transformation and when our shadows were as long as the giant formations we were admiring we left. Arriving at the hotel we had completed our 791km journey and finished the longest leg of our road trip. Settling in to the room, the peace was disturbed as Tracey was attacked by a gecko. Rather, it must have been stuck in the air con unit above her head and it only dislodged when the tail fell off… the tail that continued to wiggle on her bed. With hysterics in full swing I disposed of the sadly deceased reptile and gave her the iPad to watch The Inbetweeners. I’m sure all trauma was soon forgotten as she laughed away while we fell asleep.

Wednesday 17th August 2016

Travelling & Magnetic Island – Day 305

A very disturbed nights sleep with noisy roommates, or maybe it was just one noisy roommate on several different occasions!! We were woken up around 2am by some one who had forgotten his room key and Jayne was sure she heard someone trying to ‘cook crack’ in the bathroom with the sound of spoons clicking together around 3.30am (I am so naive… I have no idea what that really means!!). Anyway, we woke up with our alarms and got up showered and dressed before heading downstairs for breakfast. We had found cashew nut spread in Woolworths yesterday and we had it with some hot crumpets and pears – it is divine!! There are no words to describe how amazing it is but I could simply devour the entire pot using just my fingers!Went back upstairs to pack up our bags with all our freshly laundered (and dry!) clothes before walking down through the marina to the coach terminal. A really dull five hour coach journey with our highlight being the stop at the service station where we saw a woman being confronted for shoplifting (she refused to let them search her), a gorgeously cute golden Labrador puppy who, judging by the size of his paws, is going to become one huge beast soon and our ice creams.Arriving in Townsville, we had just under an hour to wait for our ferry to Magnetic Island. We used the super fast internet in the ferry terminal to upload some of the photos to blogs that we have neglected to do over the past few days, hoping to make it easier to upload everything once we get them written… Oops – we have been too busy having fun (and too lazy to sit down and write them!!). The SeaLink ferry to Magnetic Island was easy and efficient with the turn around for loading and unloading passengers being surprisingly quick. Before long, we were powering through the surrounding bright turquoise seas towards the coastal rocky and mountainous national park. Arriving at the ferry terminal in Nelly Bay, we jumped straight on a local bus (whose timetable revolves around the ferries) to take us to our YHA accommodation – the Bungalow Bay Koala Village. It only took about 15 minutes to drive in and out and all around the streets of the island to get us to Horseshoe Bay, dropping us right outside the door of the ‘resort’. We checked in, dropped our bags in the cabin and headed to the beach. Popped into the local convenience store to get some fruit bread for tomorrow’s breakfast and spotted some marine stingers and poisonous snakes in jars on the shop counter. Apparently they’re just for show, Jayne freaked out even more when we saw a sign on the beach identifying the six different types of stinging jellyfish in the area and the netted swimming area in the bay…Walked along the beach to the end, perching ourselves on a set of rocks to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see it clearly but we did get to see the sky and clouds changing colour as the sun dipped lower behind them.Back at the ‘resort’, we quickly checked emails before heading towards the campers kitchen. En route, we got distracted by a possum in a tree – our first wild possum in Australia! Had to drag ourselves away from the little bundle of cuteness so Jayne could start cooking dinner. However, this YHA doesn’t provide any cutlery or crockery… Slightly surreal moment looking around the kitchen (and then double checking) to find that here was nothing there to use to eat our food. Fortunately, we have our ‘SeatoSummit’ collapsible bowls and sporks so I headed off to the room to retrieve these as Jayne got busy cooking pasta. It only has an outdoor eating area so we had dinner with a multitude of wildlife – wallabies, possums and insects. One extra large cricket decided Jayne’s back was the perfect place to rest…Headed back to the room and, since we are both in top bunks tonight, we couldn’t snuggle up to watch some TV or a film. So, with the large gentleman fully clothed in his high vis safety gear snoring loudly in his bunk to the giggles of the girls opposite him, I climbed into my bunk to read some of my book as Jayne got into hers to watch a film that I didn’t want to watch. 

Sunday 7th August 2016

Fraser Island – day 299

Woke up in our very strange dorm room that had the fire exit sign shining brightly like a lighthouse beacon all throughout the night. So much so, that on three occasions during the night I woke up in a panic thinking it was daylight outside and we were late for our bus transfer to the ferry port. Fortunately (or unfortunately, since I didn’t have a proper nights sleep) we were fine and got up just before our alarms went off to go shower and get dressed. Rather than disturbing our roommates, we packed up our bags outside on a picnic bench by the pond with ducks making a hell of a racket around us! With all our bags reorganised ready for our trip to Fraser Island, we headed to the kitchen to have some breakfast of left over chocolate cake and a coffee (so healthy!!). Checked out and, as I was waited for our bus to turn up, Jayne chatted away to Tiffany in the YHA reception and our travels. Jayne says it was nice to talk to a receptionist who was clearly interested in what we were doing rather than feigning an interest. Our transfer bus turned up and the driver, Jon, had to go on a walk about to try and find two other passengers who hadn’t turned up… Apparently they had done the same on Friday! Clearly a bit pissed off, he called head office to let them know and then we were on our way. As the only two on the massive bus, we could have spread out but Jayne decided to sit right next to me… Got us slightly hoping that we might be the only two on the tour of Fraser Island but no such luck – the others were being picked up in a different bus. We were just too far over the other end of town to make it feasible to pick us up with the others! Went for a little drive around town with Jon pointing out various things to us and driving past the town marina to see if there were any last minute passengers to collect (there weren’t!). Drove out of town to the Kingfisher main office where we were given our boarding passes for the ferry and had to store our luggage in a container that would be brought over later on a quieter mid-day ferry. Sat on a bench, admiring the absolutely stunning view of the bay whilst we chatted to other guests (who were going on a different tour) and drinking iced coffee.

We then all got on a different bus and headed down to the private marina to board the Kingfisher Bay Resort boat. It was at this point that a woman stepped in front of us carrying a baby to which Jayne said, in a hideous Aussie accent, ‘a dingo ate my baby’… Fortunately the woman was from New Zealand and thought it was funny, even saying that she wants to keep saying it herself but doesn’t want to tempt fate! Jayne still got a disapproving teachers look from me! We spent the 45 minute ferry crossing looking for wildlife. I was under strict instructions form Jayne to keep my eyes open for dugongs, humpbacks and dolphins that can all be spotted in this stretch of water. We did get to see a turtle that seemed to be flailing around in the water a bit. The skipper (Captain Warren) was confident enough to sail the boat extremely close to the shore so we got to get our first glimpses of our 49th UNESCO site.img_2066

Arriving at the Kingfisher Bay Resort dock we met out tour leader, Hayden, and were asked to wait in the jetty bar so he could double check numbers and dietary requirements before we headed out in the bright yellow 4×4 bus. As the largest sand island in the world, there are no paved roads outside of the resort. You are basically being driven around, up and down, sand dunes in a bus. It is essentially the worlds bumpiest theme park ride – which mean that seat belts are compulsory but they do jam up every time you hit a bump which effectively strangles you!! Coming out of the resort, the first road we encountered was called ‘Rollercoaster Road’. Imagine going down a water slide that is made out of sand in a bus and you’ll kind of understand what it was like… Don’t think I’ve ever simultaneously bumped every part of my body against bus seats, windows and Jayne before! As we descended the Rollercoaster road, Hayden played a song over the speaker system that basically announced that ‘we all have to die one day’… Great way to break the ice!!

Continued our bumpy drive across Fraser Island, along the well worn in tyre tracks that had been etched in to the ‘road’ that was surrounded by forest on either side, not wide enough for two vehicles so there was a lot of huffing and puffing when we came across a car coming in the other direction – especially since 9 times out of 10, it was us that had to reverse! It took us about 45 minutes to get to our first stop of the day – Lake McKenzie.

Lake McKenzie is probably the most visited natural site on the island. It is a ‘perched’ lake, which means it contains only rainwater, no groundwater, is not fed by streams and does not flow to the ocean. The sand and organic matter at the base of the lake form an impervious layer, preventing rainwater from draining away. The sand here is pure, white silica and is not only beautiful to look at but feels beautifully soft to walk on. The sand acts as a filter, giving the water its clarity and helping to make the water so pure it can support very little life. Deciding to test that theory, we went for a swim – the water was freezing!! But, in for a penny in for a pound, as we were already in our swimming costumes and ankle deep in the water, we decided to fully submerge ourselves. Jayne went for a snorkel, looking through the crystal clear waters at small fishes and the lake vegetation. Not wanting to get my head wet, I swam breaststroke to the island in the middle and waited for Jayne to come over. A slightly scary moment where the lake goes from clear blue to very dark where you can only hope that there are no biting creatures lurking beneath the waves! 

Deciding that we didn’t want to stay in the water much longer, we headed back to the shore and sat near the water getting dry and warm in the sun. Walked back up to the bus at 12.30 to have lunch. A help yourself buffet of make-your-own sandwiches where we had a constant stream of birds waiting for any bits that might get dropped, including a Kookaburra who stole a piece of cheese straight off a lady’s plate! It was the land monitor lizard that got most people’s attention as it inched further and further forward…Back on bus, we were headed into the forest to begin the first of our two walks of the day. As we were driving/bouncing along the road, Jayne spotted an echidna snuffling around in the trees – much to her delight as she has been desperate to see one. Our first walk was 2.6km through the forest stopping off at Basin Lake before we got started. 

Basin Lake is a window lake which is created by a natural depression or valley in the sand exposing the water table or aquifer below. These are as the name suggests – windows into the aquifer or water table. Although les famous than Lake McKenzie, it was incredibly beautiful and, shamefully, deserted.

The walk through the forest was lovely. We got to spend time looking at the different varieties of flora and keeping our eyes out for any animals. Chatted mostly to a couple called Dave and Em, who seem to be on a similar trip to ours – they have visited many of the same places! Whilst comparing notes, I was spending more time looking at my feet as I was worried about tripping up on one of the hundreds of tree roots that were littering the path. Arriving in Central Station, which originally was established as a forestry camp when there was logging on Fraser Island. Central Station’s rainforest area houses a display explaining the development of the island and its various flora and fauna with a wealth of information on display. Central Station has a short boardwalk around Wanggoolba Creek and through the Fraser Island rainforest, where we walked down another track to begin the 1.8km rainforest walk. Fraser Island is the only place in the world to have a subtropical rainforest growing in sand. Imagine towering pines, rainforest trees with three metre girths, rare and ancient giant ferns, eucalypt forests with their characteristic pendulous leaves, lemon-scented swamp vegetation and dwarfed heathland shrubs covered in a profusion of flowers. Now imagine them all growing on an island of sand. It was actually really interesting to see the contrast in the rainforest compared to the forest, which are meters apart. We were able to fill our water bottles straight from the creek as the water is so pure, having been filtered through layers upon layers of sand for almost 80 years before it surfaced in the creek. As the others in the group powered on ahead through the forest, we lagged behind being absolutely fascinated and taken aback by the subtropical vegetation growing so prevenetly in the sand. At the end of the walk, the bus had opened up its sides to give us homemade biscuits, tea and coffee. Jayne and I found a log away from the group just to enjoy being in the environment.

A bumpy drive back to the resort and we got some free time to either walk down the beach, go to the bar or walk to the end of the jetty. We chose the latter option, sitting at the end of the dock watching the ferry sail away, the fisherman trying to catch something and the sun set. Absolutely stunning and a beautiful end to the day!

Back on the bus to be driven up ‘Heart Attack Hill’ – the steep incline which houses the cheap backpacker accommodation at the top of the 1km hill. We had been assigned 4-bed dorm rooms in buildings with 5 rooms each yet no one on our tour was in our room… As I went to retrieve our bags, Jayne went to the room and met Emma – a teacher from Bristol who starts her tour tomorrow. We opened up the goon bag of white wine that we had bought with us and got to know each other better. Chatting to her, it was like I had found a carbon copy of myself… Except she has never read a Harry Potter book!! Finally being able to get over this and move on (😳), we headed over to ‘The Dingo bar’ where we had burgers, wedges and salad for dinner, chatting away to Emma about our respective adventures with a pitcher of cocktail. Not entirely sure how it happened but we ended up playing Beer Pong…
We played it with the roughest tasting beer ever – to the point that we kept having to swap people in as the drink kept making us feel gassy and sick. Unfortunately, after the game was won, it was Jayne who was chucking up her dinner in the bar toilets so we headed back to the lodge and went to bed! Monday 1st August 2016

Dingle Area – day 269 (J)

They say that a day not spent in Kerry is a day wasted. I’d kind of agree with them. Of the 5 peninsulas of the South West coast of Ireland I think it’s by far the nicest and it has always held a special place in my heart. Lacking the forest areas of the Iveragh peninsula, An Corca Dhuibhna makes up for it with hills, beaches, good pubs, lively music, excellent restaurants, incredible views, and a host of other reasons to satisfy the most adventurous or worldly travelled individuals. 

So when we surfaced we said we’d tackle a life long challenge- to summit Cnoc Bréanainn (Mount Brandon). The mountain is perpetually covered in clouds and mist and one has to grin and bear it and hope for a bit of luck to reach the top. My dad has turned back twice, quite sensibly, but today we had a good feeling about it and lo and behold, we made it. Following the white marker posts up the hill, passing the 14 stations of the cross we made it up despite the blistering cold, howling wind and frequent moment of ‘oh shit, where’s the next marker gone!’ We only had a downpour of rain about 15mins away from the car park at the end of the hike and with only one slip soon into the descent it was a relatively easy climb and quite enjoyable. We were even rewarded with some stunning views over to An Fear Marbh (The Dead Man) and An Thrí Deirfúir (The Three Sisters – although funnily enough, the three headlands are named Binn Hanraí, An Bhinn Mheánach and Binn Diarmada – translating as Henry, Middle and Dermot, all masculine).   A quick change of shoes and socks out of the wet stuff, we headed in to Dingle before shops and cafes closed. Mam and Dad went wandering around visiting gift shops while I headed straight to Strawberry Beds opposite the church on Green Street. Nuala Moore runs and owns the shop and I haven’t seen her for almost 8years when she came to Cork to bring her dog to the veterinary hospital for a cataract operation. The golden lab, Hayley, lived another 4years as a working dog bringing comfort and companionship to the sick and residents of the hospital. 

Nuala and I met at my PADI IDC, down in Waterworld, Castlegregory. She aided Sandra Fitzgibbon in my Instructor Development Course and it goes without saying that I passed my Instructor Examination. Anyway, met up with Nuala and she showed me all her medals and trophies from this year alone, competing in Ice Swimming championships all over the world. She was also showing me photos of a Skype phone call she had that morning to officers in the Russian navy, discussing hypothermia. My parents turned up and we all watched a few videos she made as part of the relay swim of the Bering Strait swim a few years ago between Russia and Alaska. Plus, it was 10years ago to the day that she was part of the relay team that swam around Ireland. An inspirational woman, it was great to see her if only briefly.  I remember when I used to come down to Dingle and help with the Food Festival – as part of my MSc – which is apparently now a massive event. Over the years it has grown and the shops, cafes and restaurants selling food and quality products has rocketed. Can’t complain, the coffee and gluten free cake around the corner were amazing. The service in the supermarket however has diminished and I had to complain to the girl at the till at them trying to cheat me out of twice the price of the product and not refunding my money. But, we got it sorted, ordered a Chinese and headed back to enjoy it with a Ginger beer and a weird Lemon beer I got at Lidl. With such a stretch to the evenings at this time of year we took Griz out again and went to An Trá and did a bit of rock pool exploring. Drove around for a bit, taking loads of photos, before finally heading homeward. Enjoying a nice warm shower, I crashed on to the bed, enjoyed the changing hues of the clouds at 23:00, wrote some blog and finally passed out. Saturday 2nd July 2016