Let’s have a drink!

February 9, 2010

Despite what everybody thinks we did not make this journey just by ourselves. We were fortunate enough to have long distance support when we needed it. First of all, there’s Bien en Sip, who took care of all we left behind, that is, lots of paperwork, tax related issues and bankaccounts. At times it seemed they were busier keeping this whole enterprise on track than we were. Then there is Loes’ parents whose moral and at times generous support is much cherished. A warm welcome in Perth was the icing on the cake. Herb’s parents, who in the last year probably burnt more candles than you can fit in St. Peter’s, in the meantime moved from Belgium to Amsterdam, we think in an attempt to make up for all this time we’ve been away. Paul and Silke regularly sent us crucial items such as inflatable pillows and toothpaste. Sjoerd looked after our appartment and Sven helped us out with our weblog when our computerskills fell short, or when Chinese National Interest deemed it too dangerous for us to enter our blog ourselves. Frederique from A la Carte organised and sent us the maps we needed to find our way and Jan-Willem from Fietsplezier and the guys at Santos Bikes were there when we needed them, just once, in Uzbekistan. Tamar, Renee and Boudewijn, Wilma and Rik made sure we were provided with all these things you start craving when away from home for a long time, liquorice and the Viva, to name but a few. And of course there was our friend Elroy, who only started reading our story just now, from finish to start, so he knows it has a happy ending.

And then there is you, the people who read this and have followed our whereabouts over the last year. Your interest, at times underlined by a message left on our blog, has been a great support and surely motivated us to keep up both pace and blog.

We are looking forward to seeing you all again, tell you all we didn’t put on our blog and hear about the beautifully white winter in Holland. Since we arrive on Schiphol at the unholy hour of 6.05 in the morning on feb. 20th we suggest you sleep in. But do join us the day after. We’ll be having a drink on sunday the 21st from about 4.00 in the afternoon at our much loved and much missed Wynand Fockink in the Pijlsteeg just off Dam square. And you are most invited.

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Perth!

February 8, 2010

The last time we put on our cycling gear, the last time Herb lights the stove to make coffee, the last time we convert milkpowder into milk and eat muesli from our plastic bowls, the last time we break up the tent and load the bikes. The last kilometers.

As we reach the outskirts of metropolitan Perth there is no trace of sadness, we’re all upbeat and exciting by a beautiful memory we’ll share from here. Our minds travel back along the line the we drew on the map over the last year; from the biting cold in wintery Europe to the excruciating heat here in Australia, or as the locals put it: ‘Why did you come to the hottest part of the hottest continent in the hottest time of year?’, and the endless impressions on the way.

People playing volleyball  or peddling on boards in the surf as we cycle along the city’s beaches. One more time we are approached by someone who wants to tell us all about this 81-year old man who cycled around Australia three times….but not today, today we just want to hear how good and wonderful wé are and of that we get our share as we roll the last kilometer down Broadway towards the Swan river and the banner over the road comes in sight: ‘Welkom Loes + Herb’. A ribbon over the road, a checkered flag, popping champagne bottles, flowers, a cake with our picture on it, medals, a trophy, and a few tears after all as we are embraced by Loes’ very proud parents and a small Dutch community.

403 days – that is 1 year, 1 month, and 1 week – 28.807 kms, 3 continents, and 30 countries. It’s done.

Changing focus

February 8, 2010

No such thing as a free lunch on the last leg of our journey. What should have been an easy ride south towards Perth is more a battle into the relentless wind. And as the nights get colder we even miss our sleeping bags that we send home from Bangkok. We still have our ‘long johns’ and cuddled up in our fleece sleeping bag liners we stay just warm enough to get a good night’s sleep. We battle an extra 18 kms to see the Pinnacles, a fascinating landscape of thousands of limestone peaks. On the 18 kms backtrack we go more than twice as fast as on our way in. The Pinnacles are our last sight, our final tourist attraction; from here the focus is entirely on getting to Perth, on two weeks of comfort in the company of Loes’ parents. Our little vacation after a long journey.

Wind and change

January 31, 2010

There really is only one flavour here: south westerly and full force. Our days begin before daybreak, for the strong winds kick in late morning or early afternoon. Like on the blistering days near Tom Price we don’t do much after 1 PM; too much effort for too little progress. After nearly 4.000 Australian kms we can mark a first: a car pulls over and the driver offers us deliciously cold grapes, a couple of homegrown mangoes and a bottle of icy water. Robbie works for WA Mainroads and when we meet him again the next day he offers his whole lunchbox: ‘I’m on me way home anyway’.

It’s not the only change; when we are nearing the township of Northampton we suddenly see a piece of land, cleared to the horizon, on our left side. And as we wonder what it is it suddenly sinks in: After 6 weeks of sand, rocks, and bush, we have difficulties recognizing agriculture when we come across it. Rapidly the world around us changes; the outback gives way to Western Australia’s wheatbelt. Fields of gold covering rolling hills, farms, windmills, and fluffy sheep. Northampton not an outback settlement, but a township with some sense of history, well, as far as there is such a thing in Australia. We see elderly people on their way to the local grocery, shops lined at a covered boardwalk, the shared front of the butcher and the chemist faded, the convent now a B&B. All motivated by these changes we push on again a gale wind and with 10 kms at a time we reach Geraldton for a final day of rest. The outback behind us, less than 500 kms to go to the finish line.

Presents

January 31, 2010

Coral Bay is hardly a village, it’s just 2 campsites, a couple of restaurants, a handful of shops, and a beautiful stretch of coastline. This remote feel adds to the charm and we allow ourselves an extra day of rest. A snorkelling trip on a catamaran takes us out to the Ningaloo reef, where we swim with marine turtles. Herb makes date couscous with grilled vegetables which we enjoy with a glass of wine and in the company of Norbert, a German geologist we met here.

When, on the second day, we take a stroll to the shops, we suddenly hear a familiar Dutch voice: ‘Gaan we nog een biertje doen?’ Loes’ parents have driven all the way up from Perth to pay us a surprise visit and we spend a wonderful evening over a lovely dinner, a real treat. The next day we’re back in the saddle; south, into the wind. Turquoise water no more, red dust instead. Apart from the stench of roadkill and a sign that marks the tropic of Capricorn there’s not much going on in this monotonous landscape. Or so we tought. Just after crossing the tropic of Capricorn we are surprised to find our names written on the road in true Tour de France fashion. As the day progresses we come across several texts that Norbert left on the road to cheer us on. A true present, which really does help.

Into the hairdryer

January 24, 2010

Tom Price is a world away from Hedland; green and shady it’s a welcoming oasis in this dusty red world. And the treat doesn’t end there. When strong gale winds force the Tom Price mine to close early, we find ourselves invited by ‘Cheesecake’, Cotter, and Cory, two drillers and a welder who live on the campsite and are determined to make the most of this unexpected half day off. Normally working 13 hours a day, 2 weeks in a row, they are now enjoying their first beer and whiskey-cola already in the afternoon, and so are we. Anyone passing or planning on using the camp kitchen is an instant invite on the party and it turns out a hilarious evening, and a lesson in Australian culture. The ‘barbie’ fired up, heaps and heaps of meat (lamb chops, steaks, sausages, and risoles, mind you risoles, not hamburgers) fill the square meter of barbeque more than 2 times. Apart from what we eat the meat is hardly touched, let alone the salads; the liquid dinner much preferred. An Ozzie BBQ is not necessarily a meal, it’s a social event, and a wonderful one at that.

We leave Tom Price with our spirits up to the max, finally the wind is behind us and we expect to be at the western coast and into cooler climate soon. Our hopes are already trashed on the second day out of Tom Price when the wind turns against us once again and our thermometer rises to 50 degrees. It rises to 50 because it can’t go any higher. The lack of shade, the extreme dry heat make the afternoon breaks nearly as exhausting and dehydrating as the hours on the bike. We soon learn that cycling into this fohn becomes unbearable after 1 PM, so we only cycle in the morning. We go trough incredible amounts of water and when we loose 10 precious liters trough bad luck and a little stupidity on Herb’s behalf, the situation gets precarious. We decide to leave the road and ride to a homestead to fill up. Kilometers well worth it: water never tasted better and perhaps nothing ever will. Miraculously we still cover the over 550 kms to Coral Bay in less than 5 days. To arrive here, where the outback touches the ocean, is a great relief. Still 1141 windy kms to go, but soaking in the chrystal clear waters of Coral Bay for a couple of days will make that a managable feat.

The end of civilization and beyond

January 24, 2010

More than just rough around the edges, Hedland is considered the worst place to live in Australia. And it’s easy to see why. Barren, bleak and sunbaked it’s from this desolate port town that the Ozzies feed the world’s hunger for iron ore. The place is dusty and shade is a commodity rarer than water in the Sahara, or democracy in China. Everybody who lives here is somehow involved in the mining industry: in the supermarket, the bottle store, behind the wheels of the endless number of white pick-ups, and even at the campside everybody wears overalls with either orange details for BHP or fluorescent yellow for Rio Tinto, two big mining companies. Despite the hard atmosphere we do take a much needed day of rest here, during which we decide to leave the coast. Adding kilometers but hoping for more varied scenery, we cut into the Pilbarra Region, through the Karijini NP and to Tom Price, the other quintessential Australian mining town.

Despite mechanical adversity and a wind that seems to turn against us regardless, we get what we hoped for: hills, and a lanscape that offers a different view every so many kilometers, with the gorges and rockpools of the Karijini NP as the undisputed highlight.

Into the great wide open

January 12, 2010

Now that the bushes have disappeared, Australia is showing its true scale and character. Surrounded by emptiness with just this strip of bitumen stretching in front of us, it takes determination to battle the western wind, the afternoon heath and the over 600 dry kilometers to Hedland. We carry nearly 40 liters of water now, get up before the wind does, start cycling at first daylight and take an afternoon break under the oversized mailbox of a distant cattle station.

Wind

January 12, 2010

As we get closer to the north western coast of Australia the wind is beginning to play its part. Still we keep a good pace through rather uninspiring landscapes. The highlights: the inevitable sausagerolls at the two roadhouses we pass and the one dingo we spot on the 414 km stretch between Fitzroy Crossing and Broome. Broome is quite a pleasant place, inhabited by overweight men with lots of facial hair, wearing bermuda’s, boots, and singlets, their socks pulled up, driving white pick-up trucks, and a sixpack at hand.

We make pancakes for breakfast and enjoy a cool breeze at Cable Beach.

Dry

January 1, 2010

After Kununurra the weather and landscapes go a lot dryer. The ‘floodway’ signs seem a bit obsolete when passing the Kimberley’s sandy arteries. Distances between roadhouses and townships are increasing and so are the temperatures. Matters get worse now that we no longer find watertanks at the rest areas, so we have to load the bikes with as much water as we can. The 300 arid kilometers between Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing we have to ration our water, not easy at 45 degrees in the shade and the air so bone dry that eating a biscuit is impossible without water to wash it down. On december 30th we decide to take advantage of the near full moon and cycle about 60 kms at night. In the magical blue moonlight under a star filled sky, we can at least see that we don’t miss much; savannah plains. If emptiness is your thing, they’ve got lots of it here. One advantage of the changing climate: the nights have become bearable, so sleeping a lot easier. After the last 100 kms at half a liter per 10 kilometers we arrive, drained of energy, in Fitzroy Crossing, where we stay for a day of rest and a very quiet New Year’s Eve.