Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Back on the Mainland

My trip to Tasmania has now come to an end, and I'm really pleased that I listened to Stephen and Damien and made my way there.

After leaving Cradle Mountain, Fabian and I drove down to a place called Queenstown, a mining town on the edge of the Wilderness, a World Heritage Site that covers a great part of Western Tasmania.

We were really pleased with the fact that we got a room for two for the price that you would normally get dorms, but not so impressed by the kitchen...the whole place was gross. Should they have tried to grow Ebola or another deadly virus there, even it wouldn't have survived.

However, they did have electric blankets...I really felt like an old granny switching mine on. I guess I was just missing my hot water bottle.

The following day the sun was shining when we woke in the morning, so we decided to head towards Lake St Clair, as it was on the way and is the end of the Overland Track. However, you can't really plan anything in Tasmania at this time of the year, and within half an hour, it was grey, wet. Winter had hit us, after a nice spring morning...

Nevertheless we still stopped by the park and did a short trek to Platipus Bay, trying to see what are, probably, the oddest animals on earth...sadly, they were more sensible than us, and had decided to stay indoors.

Platipus Bay, no platipus though...

From there we went down to Mount Field National Park, the home of Russell Falls. I must admit that I was thinking, once you've seen one fall you've seen them all...but this is one is pretty good, especially as it had been raining so much lately.

Once back in Hobart we decided that we had not seen enough mountains, and so on Sunday morning we headed up Mount Wellington. Beautiful mountain, towering over Hobart, giving amazing views over the city and the area around it. Strangely, it was free...I was surprised that they had not turned it into a National Park and slapped a $22 entrance fee on it. Honestly, here they charge you for everything...

It was another great morning, deep blue skies, sun warming up our backs as we took the path across the bush and upwards...but as we got closer clouds moved in to cover the summit, so I couldn't get the perfect pic of the bay I wanted.

Having spent a week in Tasmania, I have decided that there are few places I have visited that attracted me so much. It may sound like a cliche, but people here really are truly friendly, welcoming, love to talk, to the point that even I can't get a word in.

I will be back, as one American General said when leaving some Pacific islands to the invading Japanese.

Well, Fabian has now left for Sydney and I am back to travelling on my own. I'm in Melborune at the moment, but only for a couple of days, as I am heading down to New Zeleand tomorrow where I'll hook up with Charles again. I must get a travel guide soon, there is so much to see there and I'll only have two weeks, not even that.

I have really enjoyed meeting Fabian, odd how you can relate to someone so different from you. He was half the age of my ex and most of my friends. He kept reminding me that I was so old myself..

There was something going on in Federation Square in Melborune...

Friday, 26 June 2009

Why Can't I Just Take Up Knitting?

View from Dove Lake with Cradle Mountain in the background

6am and I'm suddenly failing to comprehend why I have agreed to wake up.

Actually I think it was my idea to wake up at this God forsaken hour. I can't believe alarm clocks can be set this early. We are up this early to climb Cradle Mountain, it is a 6 to 8 hour trek, but we need to be out of the National Park soon as our 24 hour pass expires at 2.33pm.

I must say that everything in Australia seems very expensive, but travelling with a 21 year old backpacker you learn to look into every possibility if enables you to save money. So yesterday we waited for a couple of hours after reaching the park to do an afternoon walk, as it would leave us enough time to climb the mountain today, even if we had to start walking with the first ray of sunshine, and get out before having to buy another pass.

Fabian will eventually turn me into a criminal...I have now learned how to run washing machines and dryers using cotton buds instead of coins, hence saving $6, enough for our breakfast. Anyway, going back to today's trek, I believed it was going to simple, like the ones I did in the Himalayas, but without the lack of oxygen. So off we went, heading out just as the first rays of sun cut through the darkness of the night. Driving carefully, so to avoid killing a jumping kangaroo, we reached the car park by Dove Lake.

Too early, not sure why I got that odd smile on
It is bitterly cold, the wind cutting through several layers of clothing, polar fleece included. And like always I can't help but wonder why am I doing this, why am I out in this cold, when I could have just stayed in bed for a few extra hours, and it was a warm bed.

Anyway, it is too late to now regret having got out of bed in the first place so better forget about it. The trek starts by Dove Lake, at around 900 meters, and follows for a while the Overland Track. I am determined to come back to Tasmania to do the Overland Track, it is 6 to 8 days walking from Cradle Mountain down to Lake St Claire, in the Tasmanian Wilderness. Having had a glimpse of it, a cheeky check, I think it must be an amazing experience to trek across the plateau, though you have to carry your own food, sleeping bag and tent. Initially the path up to the plateau is fairly straight forward, a mixture of easy trek with some rough and steep, but in general fairly do-able.

By 10.30am we reach Marion's Lookout, not sure who this Marion is but the view from there is amazing. For another little while the path gets really easy, flat over the plateau with the imposing view of the Cradle Mountain range ahead of us. As we get closer I realize that this is not going to be just a walk, it is not pure trekking. Getting to the top means jumping from rock to rock, lifting yourself, and especially not looking down.

Lots of rocks to climb

At one point during the ascent, I did look down, and my fear of heights kicked in. Feeling a bit dizzy, I decided not to look down again, and specially not to think about how to get down. I also cursed Fabian for not having registered our walk, a really stupid mistake. Due to the extremely changeable weather in this part of Tasmania, people can find themselves stuck on the summit, or half way up, and having to be rescued by rangers...how embarrassing!!!

However, that wouldn't have been our case, as no one knew that we were there...Once I decided that it was time to stop being a drama queen, I kept going. Ascending was a slow process, as the summit was icey and slippery. To make matters worse, everytime we thought we got to the top, a new higher top seemed to appear just as you lifted your head over the rocks. Nonetheless we got there, to the top. It was only 1545 meters high, but it felt as hard as the Himalayas. The climbing itself was harder, but obviously there was no lack of oxygen. The view from the top, especially over to Benson Peak, is awesome.

And then you get the kick from what you have just achieved, the adrenaline rush, the best high...Our plan was to have our lunch at the top, Mother Hen (me) had prepared pasta with bacon and eggs. However, clouds seemed to be closing in and we decided to head down as soon as we got our picture taken. Time to leave...

Fabian and I at the top of Cradle Mountain, Benson Peak in the background

I am getting worried that this trip is really getting me hooked on some new hobbies that are anything but cheap, bloody scuba diving, mountain trekking...could I not just take up knitting? It would be so much cheaper....

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Cradle Mountain National Park

Crater Lake

We have eventually reached the Wilderness of Tasmania, and it is as beautiful as I had hoped for.

We have also been blessed with some great weather and, best of all, I have seen a kangaroo!!!

It was nice to finally see one that was alive as I have seen dozens dead by the side of the road.

I am really enjoying Fabian's company, a 21 year old German who is mad about hiking, who has spent several months here in Oz, including a few weeks working on a cattle station. I am actually thinking about doing some work on a farm, called wooffing, where you just work for accomodation and food, so it's legal.......I am far too old to get a holiday working visa, sob, sob.

On our first day here we walked up to Crater Lake and then down to the Dove Lake. I am really regretting not having planned this better. If I had more time and a sleeping bag, like the one I sent back to the UK (!), I would have done the Overland Track - 7 days trekking across North Tasmania, which looks awesome from what I've seen.

I kept thinking about Jurassic Park...but then again I've got too much imagination...

Tomorrow we are up very early to climb Cradle Mountain....

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Getting into Tasmania

Fog rising from the bottom of the valley. I am over this fog thing, it is everywhere!!

Tasmania is absolutely stunning.

The island is rugged, wild, but most of all beautiful and its people are extremely welcoming. Everytime we stop by the road to take a picture a passing car will stop to see if we need any help.

The only problem we have had so far is the weather. Fog seems to cover the country, or at least half of it. Sadly when we went down to Wineglass Bay the fog had decided to cover that part of the island, after we drove 200km!!!

I am travelling with Fabian, a 21 year old hitchhiker I picked up on the road yesterday. He's great company and it's great to share the cost of the petrol.

It's winter here so most of the buses have been cancelled and I have had to hire a car to get to the main sites......I know God will punish me for the environmental cost of it.

Ross - little town established in 1821 with a lovely church:

We're off to Cradle Mountain today. We wanted to sleep in the free huts but I have posted my sleeping bag back to Spain so we will have to use the backpacker's dorms, which are expensive at £15 each!!!

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Three Sisters

Clouds started to break up

Sun breaking through the forest and the clouds

I managed to make my way out to the Blue Mountains.

Weather has turned wet and awful, but I decided I needed to see the landscape even if the blue haze was not there.

After a 2 hour train journey from Central Station I reached this sleepy little town that sits on top of one of the gorges. It is an odd place to locate a town, almost perfect if you are suicidal.
The view from any of the look out points is absolutely stunning. And although I would have probably liked to see it in all its blue glory in perfect sunshine, it was still a great spectacle to enjoy, even with the clouds.
Billy no mates taking a picture of himself

The main downside with the clouds was that I didn't get to see the Three Sisters, three pinnacles that raise one side of the valley, and they are one of the most iconic images of Australia.

However, I decided to take one of the walks alongside the valley and down in to the gorge.

Funnily enough, as I got closer to the Sisters, the cloud cover lifted, though I could only see the one.

The walk down to the bottom of the valley is a killer on the legs, descending on really steep stairs. And being low season and winter, when you get to the bottom you find yourself completely alone.
There are some great ferns at the bottom of the gorge, protected from the drying winds by the mountains

I have decided that birds are completely mad in this country, they are so loud. Walking through the forest at the bottom of the valley you would be woken from your day dreaming by the loud call of a bird, that then turns out to be no bigger than a sparrow.

All in all the place is beautiful, the view breathtaking, so I've decided to head back there on Sunday.

Tonight though I'm going out to some party in a club, a full on gay event...

Monday, 15 June 2009

With Glass High Heels and Holes In Her Tights

Two of the most famous sights in Sydney, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House

So I am back in the First World, and it's really a shock to the system.

I arrived a few days ago into Melbourne, a bit stressed as I had just realized that Damien, my friend here, lived in Sydney, not in Melbourne. Just one of those little mistakes that anyone can make surely?!

Anyway, as soon as I got to Melbourne I knew I had to leave. A brown snake, one of the deadliest in the world, had just bitten a guy in the middle of the business centre...clearly not a place for me.

Sydney is amazing. It is so relaxed, beautiful, with some great sights. I am really lucky that although it is the middle of the winter the weather is quite mild, it's like spring in London.

I love the contrast between modern and old, the same as you find in the City in London. But here there is also the small vs. the big.

I was amazed by this little cute building standing in the middle of the business district

Damien has decided that I need to get out and about, I've not been in a gay place or with many gay people since I left London. So after dinner with some of his friends, including a former Aussie Bum model, we went to a bar.

Not sure what was going on, it was some type of amateur drag queen contest, it was Priscila gone wrong. Each of them were a car crush, actually some were a train wreck. My favourite was some monstrosity miming something that I couldn't recognise, wearing a black little dress, with a huge hole in her tights and the nastiest glass heel platform shoes.

Had I not felt sorry for them, it would have been funny.

After just coming from Thailand were the ladyboys can be the perfect replica of a woman, these people looked more like aliens.

So I didn't get a snog...

I have booked my ticket for Tasmania, I am going trekking there for a week...

Not the usual pigeon you will have in London or Madrid

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Jungle Train

On my last night in the Perhentians I got to enjoy a great storm, to the point that I never made it back to my hut. It was too risky to try to cross the jungle. I could have been washed away, or so I was told.

I couldn't find him on my fish ID book, but I think he is a homo sapiens, of the 'very cute' type, almost as cute as a Nemo...

I managed to get up this morning at 5.15 to get the jungle train that slowly, very slowly, cuts through the peninsula and gets you near Kuala Lumpur.

Leaving behind the jungle...

The main reason I managed to wake up on time is that I was sharing my bedroom with a 21 year old that had an alarm clock, as I have lost my phone and never had a watch, and so was at a loss of what to do.

To be honest my paternal instincts had gone up into top gear when I met Rick on the boat that was taking us out of the island. He mentioned he was going to hospital with a terrible diahhrea that had lasted a full 24 hours. I initially wondered if he had swine flu. All was clear though when he explained that two nights ago he and his friend had drunk a large bottle of local rum, or what I would call, cheap petrol. I told him he was just hungover.

I had been there.

After our leaving party in India I had had the loose motions for three days. Going to the doctor would make it worse, as they didn't drink, being a muslim country, and would have stuffed him with useless antibiotics. I loved taking back my mother hen job...

Two more days and I will be off to Melbourne, no more mosquitoes, then again, no more shorts, it is going to be so cold.....

Monday, 8 June 2009

I Don't Want To Leave

My first underwater picture...

I am not ready to leave paradise as yet. I am going to miss almost everything about this place.

Probably, the only thing I won't miss are the mosquitoes and the big lizards that crawl in front of me in the jungle and make me jump.

The islands are completely carpeted by emerald green jungle apart from 10 to 20 meter wide strips by some of the beaches where development has taken place. There are three colours here, green, shades of blue, from aquamarine for the sea, to intense blue for the sky, and white for the sand.

I have had such a great time here, that even going to Australia is looking a lot less appealing.

I'm actually surprised how much I have enjoyed diving this time, and how much I have improved, so much so that I'm considering taking the next course up, dive master.

This would give me the chance to work in a dive center, but takes 6 to 8 weeks to do, and it is not cheap.

Ok, they may not be sharks, but the little clown fish are very territorial...

Also once you finish you start a the very bottom, well just above the trainees. For, although you pay for the couurse, at the same time you are working in the dive centre where you train.

Maybe it would be good for me to work a few months as the minion, to eat a bit of humble pie.

So, yes, I am thinking that maybe after I cross over to Central America I may stay in one place instead of travelling around much and just dive and work. Once I am a DM I can then just move to another part.

It may just all be me day dreaming again, another change of plan...I've changed them so many times already. Nonetheless, some of the unplanned parts of the trip have been the best, for example the Himalayas.

Anyway, I've got a bit of time to decide, and need to do proper research about the weather, cost, etc....

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

My Heart Skipped A Beat

There is not a lot to do in the Perhentians, just laze around, dive, snorkle, swim, but it is more than enough to keep me happy.

Yesterday I went snorkelling for the day, visiting several points on both islands. It was a great day, I swam with turtles, and with sharks. The first shark I saw a couple of days ago was a bamboo shark, they live at the bottom of the sea and seem fairly harmless. However, the ones we saw yesterday were black tip sharks. They are the scary looking ones, but as they're only 1 meter or so long, you don't worry that much that you are about to be eaten.

I am using my last few dives to improve my breathing, as I normally use too much air and the dives need to be cut short. It is all about relaxing and moving as little as possible to maximise the oxygen.

I am really loving the islands, not sure about my room mate though. I have decided to call him Fred. He is the gecko that lives in my hut. I love geckos, they eat away all the insects that decide to bother you in your room. However, Fred is no longer on my Christmas Card list. I was happily reading my book outside in the little balcony of my hut, when suddendly, uninvited and unexpected Fred dropped himself on my head.

My little balcony where last night my heart almost skipped a beat...

I almost lost all dignity when the stupid lizard landed on me. I jumped, I shouted. I very nearly wet myself.

There are few other risks on the islands, probably one of the them though is to be sunbathing and get killed by a falling coconut...what a shameful death, I can just imagine the news, 'death by coconut'.

I have a couple more days in this tropical paradise and then will be making my way back to Kuala Lumpur before travelling on to Australia.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Shipwrecks and sharks

I am sitting by the beach, enjoying a beautiful sunset, with a beer, recovering from my second day diving.

I am in the Perhertians, a National Park in North Malaysia, famous for its diving and snorkelling, but set in a magnificent tropical setting.

The islands are stunning, and they have been looked after much more than other places such as Ko Tao.

I am so pleased that I have come here, it is the perfect antidote for the sadness and loneliness that I was feeling after Stephen had left.

Today I've done my first shipwreck dive and I also saw my first shark, but won't bore everyone with the details of all the amazing, colourful fish I saw in the last two days.

As the sun sets, this tropical paradise becomes an eerie, slightly strange place....

The call of prayer breaks the silence, that had only previously been broken by the singing of birds and the low and gentle rumble of a distant electricity generator.

But in the distance, standing on top of the hill, two very large wind power generators remind us how Malaysia has embraced modernity, without leaving behind its traditions.

I am in a Muslim country where alcohol, at least in this part, is scarce, where most ethnic Malay women wear headscarves. A country were converting away from Islam is a crime. Nonetheless, Malaysia has also been able to integrate all the different religions that live here. They have worked and lived in peace since the troubles following independence.

So far at least, there has been no fundemantalist attacks, and the country seems to enjoy a more egualitarian prosperity than I have seen elsewhere.