More than ever, I’m not qualified to give an opinion. Of the almost 3 weeks I was in Australia, I’ve spend 1 with friends and their newborn child. Quite a reality check, as it served as a reminder for the family and friends I’ve left thousands of kilometers behind. Moreover, it showed me how different my life has been from ‘normal people’, who have a household to run and don’t wake up with an idea and a couple of hours later find themselves at the foot of a mountain / in a cave / in another country because they no longer liked the weather in the former. It also showed that great friendships can stand the test of time and distance, something you always hope, but aren’t sure of until you look each other in the eyes again.The friends are blessed to live in Sydney, an amazingly beautiful city, where surfers walk around center of town with their surfboards on their arms. I was fortunate to be a recipient twice of their hospitality, the second time was in the boom-town Brisbane where I assisted in a family dinner presided and prepared by an enigmatic 87 year old grandmother. The old ‘hippie town’ Byron Bay was made extra eventful by sleeping in a tipi and going to the cinema for the first time since I left The Netherlands (movie ‘Biutiful’: highly recommended!). I didn’t do any excursions whilst in Port Douglas, therefore probably missing the point behind the excellent reputation of this tiny town. Darwin was very special, even though I spend less than 12 hrs in the city. Let me summarize my experience by stating that parts of the center of town missed several essential steps towards civilization. Now I’m back in south east Asia, looking forward towards exploring Indonesia.
(above average wedding location with a view of the ocean in Port Douglas)
My ‘little’ cousin and her husband visited Amsterdam from the deep south of The Netherlands. They wanted to give me a present for staying over at my place and I couldn’t think of an object that was missing from my life.
We walked through a quaint area of Amsterdam called the ‘Jordaan’ where I showed them one of my favorite music stores. Just when we walked in and I was explaining that I could spend hours sitting there listening to their excellent music selection, I stopped halfway during a sentence and said “I know what I want”. The object of my desire was the CD that they had on play and I heard less than 10 seconds of it.
In Australia, the home country of Angus & Julia Stone, their music is everywhere: the official tune on any JetStar flight, every mainstreet shop has it on their playlist, and it is a perennial favorite of Australian cover bands. In my book these symptoms typically mean crappy mainstream music. However, the wisdom of the crowds seems to have worked this time. Even after hearing the tune countless times. Subtle voices, great lyrics combined with the bizarre realization that it’s actually brother and sister singing together keep the music thoroughly entertaining.
The cousin her husband and I finished off the weekend with an amazing boat trip through the Amsterdam canals.
It was (where else?) during an International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) movie that I fell in love with Icelandic music. The documentary ‘screaming masterpiece’ beautifully showed why music from Iceland is so great. An isolated island between the USA and Europe with long cold nights and some of the most amazing landscapes on the planet. This resulted in very distinctive music, balancing on the fine rope between hope and desperation.
Fast forward several years. Sigur Ros became one of my favorite bands and it’s singer went solo under the name ‘Jonsi’. It was one of my most highly anticipated concerts in Amsterdam’s best venue (Paradiso, a former church). The sound volume was the highest I ever experienced. The visuals were the best of any concert, ever. The emotions expressed on the faces and by the bodies showed that the band wasn’t just playing music, but truly living it.
The complete audience was mesmerized. In the middle of the concert the band stopped playing and Jonsi stopped singing. silence. Complete silence in a room with over a thousand persons for way over a minute. When band recommenced playing, the building nearly collapsed by the explosion that lasted until the end of the concert.
Australia and Sydney in specific just aren’t the way you think they are:
-You see loads of cool grandpa’s wearing sneakers
-A grandma playing with her Nintendo DS isn’t remarkable
-Dudes with surfboards walk in center of town
-Everybody seems to wear sports outfits and joggers are everywhere
-Counter culture is difficult to find, but if you find it…
After a fantastic month on Borneo the time had come to move on. And why not to Melakka? The freshly minted Unesco world heritage city in the south of Malaysia.
Unfortunately, my time arrival back to civilization didn’t go smoothly. I had contracted a nasty virus, which doctors thought was dengue fever. A slew of bloodtests followed and I was held back by very low energy levels, trouble eating and sleepless nights.
Fortunately, the dengue fever assumption proved to be wrong. Once I had arrived in Singapore, the fever subsided quickly.
Singapore also marked my return to the civilized world. I felt immediately how long I’d been gone. People in big cars with unhappy faces. I won’t easily forget the Russian couple on the top of a hotel. She was young, gorgeous and dressed in a short glitter dress. He was a lot older. While sipping at a EURO 40 cocktail he gave her a kiss. She looked like she was forced to eat oysters. When he left her alone for some time, I felt like walking up to her and ask her how much she really liked the money. I just enjoyed the view instead.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Singapore is an amazing country, run like a modern company, focussed on delivering shareholder value to it’s citizens. However, a wise man once described Singapore as “Disneyland with death penalty”
After spending a record breaking week in a city (Kuchin), the time had come for some die hard nature. Mulu’s Unesco world heritage park seemed to fit the bill.At first, I was disappointed. Malaysians like things to ve very well organized, and this park was not an exception. Even inside the world famous Mulu caves, wooden boardwalks were created to make exploring easier. The adventurer in me winced. Fortunately, there was enough to see: 2 million bats flying out of their cave at sunset and beautiful formations inside he cave. They were exciting enough to tempt me into ‘cave exploration’. The basics are same as the regular cave trips: you walk through a cave, but helmets are worn, and some climbing is required (especially fun with water flowing down your path at the same time). The extra special bonus were the cave snakes, adding that extra bit of excitement to every time you put you hands somewhere you can’t see them. After all this trekking (remember: I just came from Bako national park), one would think I’d have enough. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case as Mulu also is the gateway to the ‘Pinnacles’. I had previously climbed the highest mountain in South East Asia (Mt Kinnabalu), which had left me with sore legs for two full days after the climb. The ‘Pinnacles’ reputation isn’t based on it’s height (barely more than 2 kilometers) nor length, but on it’s steepness. The mountain showed it’s difficulty by the time it took our group to walk/climb less than 5 kilometers (total distance for up and down): more than 7 hours.
Above you can see why it was worth the climb and why the Lonely Planet calls this the ‘worst parachute landingzone in the world’.I am typically a ‘slow climber’ preferring many stops to few and favoring taking my time to soak up the environment to ‘running’ up the mountain. I learnt to appreciate the other way during this climb, which is mostly about getting up and down (safely) and the sense of achievement back at the base camp once you’ve made it. And trust me: once you’re lying in the river / mini waterfall with a cold drink, you truly appreciate your achievement at the ‘Pinnacles’.
Once you leave paradise, finding a new home is pretty difficult. At least, that’s how I felt after the beautiful underwater world in Mabul / Sipadam. Fortunately, ‘relocating’ proved to be much easier than expected.Kuchin, a city in the south of Borneo (Malaysia), is my favorite large city of the entire trip. Gentle people, great food at hawker stands and stylish restaurants alike. And a lively bars scene, each with an interior that would make it a topspot in any major European city. As you probably know, I’ve tried to avoid cities during this trip. Kuchin has the perfect combination of great sights and good motorbike rental, that will keep you happily driving around for days. The most obvious sights are the ‘Bako national park’, to which you’ll do the last part by boat. I’ve seen god-knows-how-many beautiful sunsets on my trip but this one surely ranks amongst the most amazing.
Other noteworthy events include inquisitive monkeys at inconvenient moments and getting woken up in the middle of the night because of the noise of a fight between two bearded pigs, and my immediate bond with big-nosed proboscis monkeys.