All posts by John

Guns and goats

Since Viv last wrote we’ve left Vietnam and now find ourselves in a the laid-back capital of Asia, Laos. We should fit right in!

And so to bring you up to date on our antics since Viv last wrote….

We left Saigon and headed back to the centre of Vietnam on a loooong sleeper train. Managed to somehow get a compartment all to ourselves, it all felt very decadent until the train food arrived – Vietnam has the worst train food I’ve ever experienced. Yes, worse than soggy British rail sandwiches with cucumber in them, eugh! It is at least free but probably because there would be riots if they tried to charge for it. It’s actaully quite a cunning ruse – give the passengers some horrible food for free and then come around with moderately nicer food that you have to pay for. You buy it just to remove the lingering horrible taste in your mouth that the free muck left you with.

We got off the train in Dong Ha and the following day went for a tour round various war sites in the DMZ on the back of motorbikes. It was great fun bezzing around on motorbikes and a great way to see the countryside and rural life too. Almost every group of children that we passed would wave at us and shout “Heellloooooo!!” and then collapse in a fit of giggles when you shout back “Sin Jow!” over the hum of the motorbike engine. It was quite surreal viewing the war remnants and junk as it is all very peaceful now. Trying to imagine this place as a barren expanse of land, home to nobody and with the whirr of B-52 bomber engines from above and explosions and gunfire on the ground was hard. It really didn’t seem like the same place that we had seen war photos of only a few days previously such is the extent that life and normality has returned to this area. There were only occasional reminders of the war that was so recently and intensely fought on these lands: a bullet scarred bunker, a ruined bridge, bomb craters, a tank shell.

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One thing you can certainly say about the Vietnamese is that they are an incredibly resourceful lot. To avoid having their villages razed by bombers they built an underground network of tunnels and living quarters that entire villages would live in, they lived in them for 6 years. Seeing the cramped and dingy conditions that they would have lived in at the Vinh Moc tunnels was a real eye-opener to the lengths that people will go to survive.

The tour was a lot of fun and our guide was great for adding a bit context; he was a South Vietnamese veteran who spent 5 years at a ‘re-education camp’ after the war ended along with our guesthouse owner. We’d recommend the DMZ cafe in Dong Ha and their DMZ tour – the rooms are cheap and clean and the tour was fun.

There’s nothing much else of any interest in Dong Ha so we took a bus to the Laos border the very next day. The journey to the border was a little hairy at times, the driver seemingly deriving his driving ‘talents’ rather too much from the Indian school of vehicle pilotry. We made it to the border safely and getting through border security was a breeze – the most lax border crossing we’ve been to yet for sure which is great for us as it means no hassle and less queues.

The bus journey on the other side was an interesting experience too. The passenger bus also doubles as a goods truck and it seemed there was as much produce crammed on to it as you would usually be able to fit in a reasonable sized truck – sacks of potatoes stacked 3 high in the aisle, boxes under our feet and all sorts piled high on the roof. Not too soon after we had set off we realised that this bus probably wasn’t quite so dangerous as it first appeared being that it never got above 30mph and the roads were very good with barely another soul on them.

The bus journey really made us realise just what a difference a border makes. Almost all of the houses along the way were of the traditional wooden-stilted type and their inhabitants seemed largely non-plussed about tending to their arid and parched fields, instead choosing to sit/lie around chatting or sleeping. Laos only has a population of 6 million and we reckon there are probably more goats here than there are people, at least going by our 6 hour bus journey here – there’s shit loads of them! We both like goats – very comical looking creatures. If we ever have a lawn again we reckon that a goat is the order of day for keeping the grass short rather an lawn-mower. It would surely enhance our lives with many a comedy-caper to be had chasing the goat down the road and appeasing Mildred at number 32 when the goat had escaped and eaten all of her begonias, again.

We arrived in Savannakhet last night, the southern capital of Laos but with more of a small town feel to it, at about 7. About all there was time for last night was an gorgeous Thai-influenced meal and a Beer Laos by the Mekong looking over to the bright lights of Thailand on the other side. We’re looking forward to exploring the rest of Laos, it seems a really chilled out and fun place to be.

Until next time,
John

Some videos

I’ve taken a few videos at points over our travels. They now have a home on the web so I will share them with you. Click on the video name to view each video. In chronological order:

Gannets flying – I know you all didn’t get enough of the gannets with the crazy number of pictures, get your gannet fix with this video.

Pylons – Some telephone pylons taken on a train ride down in Dunedin on NZ’s south island.

Cute Japanese toys – My personal favourite, these toys are endearingly cute. We saw them in a toy shop in Hiroshima after having spent the morning learning about the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, it was a good way to cheer ourselves up.

Hanoi rocks

It’s been ages since I last posted on the blog, hopefully this one won’t be too mammoth… You’ll all be pleased to here that the blog is back up and functioning properly again after last week’s sojourn caused by the crap website hosting company suspending our account due to too much traffic and asking $75 a month for a new hosting package! We have now moved hosting company to one less likely to pull the same stunt. Many thanks to Rightee for getting it all back up and running – if anyone bumps into him in the pub please buy the man a pint from me and I’ll stick an IOU in the post!

Once we had eventually got over the food poisoning incident we have really got into Hanoi. The old quarter where we were staying feels more like a town than a city and is great place for random wandering around the narrow streets watching life go by. It’s a very relaxing place to be as the pace of life here is slow, it is also getting very hot so you have to amble everywhere at about half your normal pace. We’ve eaten a lot of baguettes too – the best that I’ve tasted anywhere outside of France – certainly one of the better aspects of colonialism!

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After a couple of days of recovery in Hanoi we set out on a trip to the beautiful karst waterways of Halong Bay. Now despite complaining about organised trips so much in Australia we were actually looking forward to this one so that we didn’t have to think for ourselves quite so much after having to do far too much of that in China. It turned out to be a very relaxing couple of days floating about the calm sea in a moderately opulent boat (at least compared to cramped one we sailed on in Oz!), strolling round a cave, walking to the top of a small island, kayaking in a little lagoon and having BBQs on the beach. We had a great bunch of people in our group which rounded it all off nicely into a fun and relaxing package.

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We have also taken a trip out to the Cuc Phuong national park, notable for the amazing number of butterflies there – at times there were clouds of hundreds of them surroundings, a really beautiful sight. While there we also visited the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre who recover primates from the illegal trading, where they are sold for pets, food and Chinese medicine, and rehabilitate them ready for releasing back into the wild. Our particular favourites were the gibbons, who were indeed very funky – it was great to watch those fellas (and lasses!) bounding acrobatically about the enclosure!

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Our last couple of days in Hanoi involved watching the entertaining water puppets and an enjoyable half day spent wanding around Hanoi and chatting with our hotel receptionist’s sister so that she could practice her English.

We were sad to leave Hanoi as we’d felt really at home there, thanks in no small part to the genuine friendliness of the staff at the Little Hanoi and other Hanoians that we met around the place, but it was time to move and we set off in our first Vietnamese sleeper train down the coast to Hoi An. Hoi An is a beautiful French colanial town with little streets lined with faded yellow buildings giving it a well-aged feel. It is also home to countless tailors where you can get almost any clothing item imaginable for a price which is peanuts compared to that you’d pay in the UK. We made the most of the unique opportunity and picked up beautifully tailored suits, shirts, trousers and skirts – it was a fun experience feeling a little pampered in the tailors’ shops. We really enjoyed having ‘fashion parades’ and seeing ourselves in clothes that are drawn from a limited set of faded, bobbled and generally travel worn items! While we were in Hoi An there was some sort of full moon festival which featured lots of gaudily decorated floats and a parade through town with various other attractions here and there such as a highly impressive martial arts display by kids from the local school.

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I also got up insanely early to beat the tourist rush at the ancient Cham temples of My Son. Compared to the temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia My Son was less than impressive, although admittedly being heavily bombed during the American war would not have helped its case.

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From Hoi An it was down to the city formerly known as Saigon and presently known as Ho Chi Minh city. Our arrival there at 5.30am was less than pleasant. Having got virtually no sleep on the train did not get us off to the best start, the taxi drivers unwilling to take us the 3km to our hotel for a reasonable fee did little to lighten our mood further. We balked at the $5 they were unwilling to budge from and chose to walk it as our silent protest against foreigner extortionism. And then the thunder storm started. We arrived almost an hour later wet and extremely tired to find our room not yet ready so we waited in the reception for an hour. On eventually receiving a room (not the double room we had booked, it was a twin) we tried to get some sleep on the promise that we could move later when a double room became available. About an after that was when the hotel renovations started for the day and all thoughts of sleep abandoned. On finding that the promised double room had still not materialised by the promised time and that the workmen had re-started their renovations after being told they had finished for the day we decided that we’d had enough and argued our way out of there, in the end avoiding paying the full room rate they were doggedly demanding. Hoang Linh hotel hotel hang your head in shame and learn something about customer service.

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You’ll be pleased to hear that our time down south has been been considerably better than that initial day. Ho Chi Minh itself is nothing to write home about – on our current limited exploration it seems rather characterless, a lot more industrial and the people not quite so friendly as up north, they’re still very friendly just not to the same degree. We escaped to Cat Tien national park for 3 days out in the wilderness. It was just the two of us and our bouncy guide ‘Tony’ who had some interesting stories from his time spent in the south Vietnamese army during the American war. All the guides here have picked a western name for themselves, Tony’s real name is Dao and we have previously been led by ‘Frank’ and more disconcertingly, ‘Snow White’. We went for some treks through a jungle that actually sounded like you’d expect a jungle to sound. There were also loads of butterflies here again, less in number than Cuc Phong but greater in variety of species. I’ll certainly give them top billing in my list of most beautiful insects when I get round to compiling that and other such arbitrary lists that in reality are never going to come to fruitition so don’t hold hold your breath. Anyway, I digress. A night wildlife spotting on the back of a jeep (saw many deer and not a lot else) and a night spent by a beautiful wetlands lake (which we also spent a morning kayaking around) in the company of crocodiles, monkeys, kingfishers, herons, ducks and other waterfowl rounded off a highly enjoyable time there.

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And I think that just about brings us back up to date again. Expect more regular updates from here now that the blog works again. I’m also working on getting the pictures back again too, in the meantime check out our flickr sites which will be updated with squillions of new photos just as soon as we find a net cafe with a connection that runs faster than congealed porridge. That aside we’re both well and have so far thoroughly enjoyed our time in Vietnam, we’ve still a week or so left here then it’s off to Laos.

Dap biêt!
John

Time out

Greetings from Yangshou!

We are just at the end of a relaxing few days in Yangshou where we have had a home-stay with a Chinese family who have made us feel very welcome. We’ve even learnt a bit more Chinese and helped out cooking our evening meal which was a very amusing experience with much hilarity caused by our inital ineptitude and the novelty of having a man in the kitchen.

Yangshou itself is set in magnificent limestone karst scenery, it’s quite a sight to see these gigantic near-vertical rocks sprouting from the ground all around you. We spent a day cycling around the the foothills of the karsts on little tracks weaving their way around rice paddy fields where the farmers were planting rice and ploughing the paddy fields with water buffalo. We even managed to climb a karst with a large hole at the top called Moon Hill which was an achievement more for running the hawker gauntlet at the bottom than for climbing the 1000 or so steps to the top. Later in the day the heavens opened which coincided with us having just set out on a clay track and the clay clogged up the wheels on out bikes so we had to carry them back to the road and pull the clay off with our hands and then cycle through lots of puddles to get the bikes clean again, with the side effect of making us even muddier – we arrived back plastered in the stuff!

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Other than that we’ve spent a few days chilling out, a little more than intended actually as a day of rain yesterday prevented us from embarking on another bike ride and boat trip down the river.

We’re now feeling that our batteries have had a bit of a quick charge and that we’ve renewed impetus for tackling Vietnam where, all things being well, we should be arriving on Saturday.

I’m afraid the pictures are still not fixed, we’re still working on getting them back, in the meantime you can still view all the latest pictures on our flickr sites – click on the links to the right. Viv has uploaded a few and I have uploaded lots, with even more to come!

And finally congratulations to Dan and Fran on their recent engagement.

Final thoughts on Japan

In short we were a little dissapointed with Japan. I’m sure it was once a beautiful country but it is now scarred by unsympathetic and relentless urbanisation that makes green spaces are rare commodity. In the big cities there is rarely interesting modern architecture to draw the eye and give the place a bit of personality. The only respite from the cities’ uglyness is the temples, many of which are beautiful, and there are a lot of them. But therein lies the problem, unless you are a templeaholic they become rather samey quite quickly and you can be left scratching your head for what else to do that may hold your interest.

We were also a little let down by the food, a couple of notable exceptions aside, we found it to be pretty bland and textureless – not to our tastes at all.

On the up side Japan’s star attraction is the people, they are the most genuinely friendly, polite and altruistically helpful nation of people that I have ever met. Almost everyone we met went out of their way to help us out from the old man in Hiroshima who showed helped us find the way to our accommodation (even though he didn’t know the way himself!) to the guide in the Kobe earthquake museum who was just stunningly warm and friendly and gave us a personal tour through the museum.

The public transport too is wonderful – the trains run promptly and regularly and go to all sorts of out of way places and they are also incredibly rapid. They’re not even particularly expensive, certainly comparable to the UK.

Bear in mind that these comments are based on having seen only a little of Japan, funds dicatated that we could neither travel more widely in the time or travel for longer so we base our judgements on limited experience. I am told that the far north and south are far less developed and that all things flora and fauna are given more space in which to thrive, this we would have liked to have seen.

Kyoto and beyond

Greetings all, it’s been a little while since our last post so I thought I’d do a quick update on what we’ve been up to.

We’ve spent most of our time in Kyoto. Like most cities in Japan it is nothing much to look at save for the odd temple or shrine cropping up here and there and even those after a while become rather samey. We went round Nijo castle in Kyoto which was pretty interesting and had some pleasant zen gardens and also did a lot of random street wandering which we’ve found to be a good way of discovering parts of towns that you may not otherwise have ventured into.

The best shrine that we have visited is defintely Fushiminari shrine just outside Kyoto in a forest. The shrine is actually lots of mini-shrines with loads of stone carved foxes at each one. The path to all these shrines has ‘gates’ along its entire length, there must be thousands up there. We did this walk in the rain which really added to the atmosphere at it got pretty misty up there.

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Back at the hostel we had a really fun night in with the other backpackers staying there and got very drunk on cheap Japanese beer. This was a mistake as our 48 hour hangovers would testify. Apparently the cheaper beer is brewed with chemicals instead of hops resulting in horrendous hangovers, we’ll not be making that mistake again!

We took a day trip out to Arashiyama too where we got attacked by monkeys who we later fed and went for a pleasant wander around back streets and bamboo groves. Arashiyama is one of the more attractive places we have visited. It also heralded the first day of spring, nice balmy temperatures and a cooling spring breeze, beats the bitter cold we’ve mostly endured for the last couple of weeks.

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We found Kyoto to be quite dissapointing, it’s attractions are really not that varied and revolve largely on temples which as I’ve mentioned get to be somewhat tedious after a while.

After a bit of confusion as to how many days there were in March resulting in cancelled and then re-booked accomodation and train tickets we now find ourselves in Kobe, scene of the massive 1995 earthquake that devastated the city. This may have been a good opportunity to bring some striking architecture and personality to the city, unfortunately it seems an opportunity missed by the town planners and Kobe is as grey and bland as every other Japanese city that we’ve visited.

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Our accomodation here is the certainly the dingiest that we have yet stayed in. Our bunk beds are like cots, the lighting is dim, the room cold, the corridors institutional, the staff un-smiling and the toilets smelly. The hot water and electricty is turned off between 9am and 5pm and there are only 2 showers serving the entire building. It is crap. On the up side it is cheap (for Japan) and clean for the most part. Unfortunately as far as cheap accomodation goes in Kobe it’s Hobson’s choice (been trying to get that phrase into the blog for a while!) and the ‘Kobe guesthouse’ was our only option. We’re not here much longer anyway as it’s off on the slow boat to China tomorrow. We should arrive in Tianjin at 3pm on Sunday, a mere 50 hours after we set sail from Kobe, we’re stocked up on sea-sickness pills and green tea flovoured kit-kats!

Sayonara Japan!

Hello from Japan!

For those that can’t read kanji that says ‘Hello from Japan!’, at least that’s what google translate tells me.

We arrived on Sunday and currently taking it easy staying at Keith’s in Tokyo, finding our feet in what is a radically different place to Australia (unsurprisingly!).

The journey here was pretty smooth and featured our first airport sleeping experience at Hong Kong that was actually pretty pleasant thanks to advice from http://www.sleepinginairports.net/ (thanks John K!). < ?php echo $falbum->show_random($num=4, $tags=’hongkong’); ?>

Japan is a very confusing place. I’m not sure if Japanese people are just used to the level of complication that abounds or whether it is just served up so they can have a good laugh at gaijin wandering about looking confused.

Here’s a list of things that have confused us so far:

  • The rail network is ridiculously efficient and blazingly quick, but trying to find out what sort of ticket you need to get is ridiculously confusing such are the number of different fares and train operators.
  • Taps. I needed instructions on how to use a tap (really!)
  • The kettle. Likewise, I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to use a kettle that had four buttons on it. There is no need for such complication in a kettle, all you need is one button for on, surely! Ironically you’d think that a kettle would boil water but the wizzo-kettle doesn’t even do that, it merely heats the water to a steamy, if not boiling, 98 degrees.
  • The shower. Granted, showers back home have had me flummoxed for a while before, but I’ve always managed to figure it out in the end. Keith had to show me how to use his, never would have figured it out for myself.
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Aside from being confused a lot we’ve really enjoyed our first few days here. We’ve been out and about a bit sightseeing in Tokyo. Watching the sun set from Tokyo’s answer to the Eiffel tower was cool. Looking out over the city in any direction all you can see is grey buildings until mountains or the river get in the way of the architects, Tokyo is vast. For the most part it’s also nothing much to look at, but is punctuated with the odd respite from the endless shops and offices in the form of temples. The buddhist temple Senso-ji and the surrounding low-rise district was pretty cool. The electronics shop districts are a gaudy sight too – endless rows of them with neon signs vying for your attention to step inside and look at all the cool gadgets and cameras advertised by brightly painted signs and posters. Viv bought a fancy new camera for a bargain price in one of the shops to replace the recently deceased one that had a terminal meeting with the coral sea back in Australia. < ?php echo $falbum->show_random($num=4, $tags=’tokyo’); ?>

Relative to Australia it is bloody cold here, about 12 degrees outside and as most of our clothes more summer orientated we’ve been pretty chilly, even when we do have about half of our limited wardrobes on to go outside! It should be warming up soon anyway with spring only just around the corner.

We’ll be hopefully heading on from Tokyo on Monday, assuming that all is well with our Chinese visas, to Hiroshima. In the meantime we’re enjoying the luxury of Keith’s hospitality at his dinky little flat. < ?php echo $falbum->show_random($num=4, $tags=’yashio’); ?>

Sayonara!

John

Sailing the Whitsundays

We have just got back from a pleasant couple of days sailing the Whitsunday Islands aboard the ‘Ron of Argyll’. Unfortunately the weather was not with us and we ended up with 3 overcast days which meant that snorkelling could either not be attempted or was not the best. However we did have one excellent snorkel on a patch of the great barrier reef with a great variety of coral and an even greater variety of fish. We were in the water for about half an hour and just kept spotting new fish that we hadn’t seen before even towards the end of that time. The fish have such vivid and irridescant colours, it’s a really beautiful scene. Some of the fish were very inquisitive and would come to check you out, one fish looked a bit evil and had sharp teeth which unnerved me when it approached. Viv got bitten by a fish too when she was feeding them bread, it mistook her finger for the bread!

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That snorkel was defintely the highlight in what was otherwise a slightly dissapointing experience. The boat was too crowded and the others on the trip, while all pleasant enough, were not anyone that we shared much of a rapport with. We also both found that we do get a bit sea sick so the times when we were sailing for a while weren’t the most pleasant as we spent the time lying down feeling queasy. It was nice to get back on solid ground again.

Finally, congratulations to Viv’s sister Jane who has just had a baby boy, here’s hoping he doesn’t grow up to be a spurs fan like his father!

When it rains, it pours

As Viv said in the last post the caving was really great, felt proper adventurous and jeez those holes were tight! I’m just glad that I had lost a bit of weight since leaving the UK else I’m not sure I could have got through, fortunately we didn’t attempt the hole named ‘rebirth’ – those cavers have some great names for bits of the cave!

After the caving we headed up to Mackay and got wet putting up our tent, wetter walking to the supermarket and soaking on the walk back. At night the tent did what it does best and warmly invited the rain to come join the party inside the tent – a free water bed! If anyone is planning to visit Mackay then don’t bother staying at the Central Tourist Park – it’s shit. There’s no kitchen (thankfully there was a pizza takeaway over the road), nowhere to sit that’s out of the rain other than the tent and you have to rely on Mackay’s poor public transport (although at least it had some, most of Australia doesn’t) to get you out there. It is also bloody ugly.

Fortunately we only had to spend one night in the crapsite, our next couple of nights were far more pleasurable and spent at Cape Hillsborough national park. As ranted in my previous post we had to get a tour out there which consisted of being shown a low-production value video about the region on the way out there and then being taken on a couple of short walks by a guide. Granted the walks were very pleasant and Glenn the guide did give some interesting insight into the area’s environment but all in all it was a pretty uninventive tour. Anyway once the tour was done we had a couple of days in the park to ourselves before getting picked up again and having to do another tour with Glenn (along 2 tracks that we had already walked ourselves). Our campsite was great – right on the beach and nestled under shady trees and surrounded on all sides by ants’ nests. Actually the later part wasn’t so great as my polka dot feet gladly will testify if asked. We got to see mangrove forests, deadly and non-deadly snakes, rhinocerous beetles, ghost bats, lots of crabs and some birds that didn’t move at all when you approached in the mistaken belief that you couldn’t see them disregading the fact that their plumage wasn’t green and that they were sitting on grass. Probably not contenders for the avian branch of mensa. It was a great couple of days and we even got to have our first camp fire of the trip, made by my own fair hands – I felt like a man! Fires rule! The excessive quantity of seam sealer that has now been liberally applied to the tent also seems to have persuaded the tent that water is best kept on the outside. show_random($num=4, $tags=’CapeHillsborough’); ?>

We then popped back to Mackay for the night this time staying in the much better YHA which came with the added bonus of getting a free view of hundreds of flying foxes (fruit bats) gorging themselves on the berries in the big tree right outside our room’s balcony. They made a right racket chattering away to each other and such was the rate at which they were eating we had to run the guantlet between the kitchen and our room to avoid getting pelted with discarded berry stones raining down from the tree above! We also got to see our first possum, a friendly fella who was pretty tame and very cute. It’s interesting to note the difference in image that possums have between Australia and New Zealand – in NZ they’re a pest to be hunted and turned into various dead possum products but in Australia (where they are native) they are a part of the national identity. I guess the Australian possums have a better PR man.

In the morning we headed out on a much better tour to Eungella national park where we swam in a couple of creeks and saw the deeply strange but very endearing duck-billed platypus. They’re much smaller than I had imagined. Our two days in Eungella were spent doing the longest walks that we have yet done in Oz through lush rainforest. It was great to get some really decent exercise again with an added shot of adrenaline when a lethal snake came out of the undergrowth and across the path right where I was standing – I’ve never jumped out of the way so quick! We also saw a couple of lace monitors – they’re huge and just lollop around the forest floor, occassionally stopping to bask in the sun seemingly unfussed by our presence. We also found that, pretty as cockatoos are, they collectively make the most offensive noise of any bird that I have yet heard. On our last day there we had just packed up our tent when the heavens opened and in the 5 minute walk to the bus shelter we got soaked from head to toe including most items in both of our rucksacks. The last couple of days we have had the contents of our bags strewn around room in an effort to dry everything out. One casualty of the downpour is my ipod which while it works fine now refuses to charge up so it looks like I’m without my music for the rest of this trip :-(. Gutted. show_random($num=4, $tags=’Eungella’); ?>

We’re now at Airlie beach, haven for the bratpackers that have been previously ranted about here. We probably didn’t help ourselves by staying at a backpackers that felt like a university hall of residence complete with neighbours who kept us awake till past 4am last night despite my asking them politely to shut up. Their reputation has not been enhanced.

One bit that we both forgot to mention previously was back at Bundaberg where we got to witness loggerhead turtle hatchlings poke their head above the sand for the first time and make their epic journey down the beach to the ocean’s edge for a life in the sea. It was an amazing spectacle to have witnessed, knowing that those of the hatchlings that make it to adulthood will return to these waters and this very same beach to breed in 30 years time – the journey down the beach providing them with a magnetic imprint so that they know where to return to. The turtles are the great travellers of the ocean, those hatchlings will spread out across the seas some making thier home in waters as far away as South America yet still returning to the Queensland coast to breed. The experience was not as intimate as we might have liked as we had to share it with about 60 others. I have to give the rangers their due here though – there were lots of children in the group and they did a great job of keeping them interested and mostly quiet which helped make the experience as good as it was going to get with that size of group.

Apologies for the excessive length of this post, brevity never was my strong point. I’ll leave you there anyhow to return to the far more interesting world of whatever it was you were doing before reading this post (assuming you didn’t just skip down to the bottom). Lots of new pictures up on both of our flickr sites, check them out! We’re off sailing the whitsunday islands for the next couple of, hopefully relaxing, days.

Peace out,

John

Tours, tours and more bloody tours

Since leaving Rainbow beach we had a longer than expected stay at Maryborough, a picturesque city/town littered with beautiful colonial buildings and blessed with the friendliest people we have met in Australia. We stayed at a great little campsite and spent a bit of time getting to know a few Aussies staying there and generally just chilling out. At times we felt like the only tourists in town such was the enthusiasm we were greeted with in the tourist office when the old lady who worked there bounded up to us offering help and the old fella who took great delight in explaining every minute detail in the historic shop (featuring food and other products dating back to the 1870s – the owners never threw anything away!) and then offering to take us on a free tour of the city. The much vaunted street market turned out to be a handy outlet for vendors of tat to pass their products off as ‘crafts’ and sell them to unwitting locals and visitors. show_random($num=4, $tags=’Maryborough’); ?>

From there we headed up to the forgettable bundaberg where I played ‘kick ball’ with a rather strange christian evangelist who lived in a caravan and played christian rock at 7 in the morning, I won the ‘kick ball’ 3-1.

We now find ourselves in the even more forgettable Rockhampton: the city where nothing is open, not even a supermarket, on a Sunday. Our first morning in Rockhampton was a very frustrating one trying to book coaches to a couple of national parks that we wanted to visit. The problem with Queensland is that the main bus network only goes up and down the coast, it doesn’t go anywhere even remotely off the well beaten (or more accurately pummelled, hammered and beaten into submission) track that is followed by the bratpackers (copyright Viv!) who infest every beach up and down the coast with thier sun-seeking bland banality. There is generally no public transport to a lot of places of interest leaving us the only option of going on guided tours. Tours being pretty big here you’d expect tour companies to be pretty on the ball to garner your business, well you’d be wrong. Variously we’ve had hassles this morning with tour companies not taking bookings more than 4 days ahead(!), only being able to do a day trip (we wanted to stay for a couple of nights and go back on the same tour bus a couple of days later), then deciding that they could take us there on one day and back on a different day, and then deciding that we’d have to book 2 tours with them to be able to go at all (one for the day we go out and one for the day we go back), the shitty phone system that neglects to tell tell you when your money is running out, and leaving the work experience kid in charge who knew neither a) was the tour running tomorrow or b) was there space in it. After all that it’s no wonder that the well trodden track is just that, as it’s so much bloody hassle to try and doing anything off it without your own transport, ARGH! The net result was that we managed to get it all booked and it only took about 4 hours, an endless supply of coins to feed the thirsty phones, more dollars than we would have spent had there just been a coach to and from these places and not a tour (our preferred option) and an insane amount of frustration at the whole incompetance of the thing!

Right that’s it, rant over. I’m off to get a glass sauvignon blanc and relax.