The Land Down Under

One last beach shot which I forgot to include last post. A nice sunset on a tranquil, if a little trashy, beach near Ho Chi Minh City.

Riding into HCMC I had to take a ferry across a wide river. Here are all the scooters waiting to board the ferry. The women frequently bundle themselves up like the one on the right. Their whole face and body are covered, despite the high heat and humidity. Someone told me it was because of the air pollution, but also because they did not want to be recognized. Strange, they even do it in the countryside where there is little traffic.

I had to take my bike apart again and box it up for the airplane. But none of the bike shops had boxes, so I was told to go to a certain street corner and someone will make a box for me. Sounded strange, but sure enough, I showed them a picture of what I wanted and gave them the dimensions and 15 minutes later, voila, I had a bike box.

Here’s the woman cutting the cardboard.

They even had a stapling machine.

The central post office was nearby so I stopped in for a look. Pretty impressive for a post office. Uncle Ho was overseeing the activity as usual. It was swarming with tourists and vendors.

I have to say I was a little disappointed with Ho Chi Minh City. I stayed in the section  recommended by my guide book, but it was loaded with tourists and pushy street vendors, taxi drivers, sleazy massage parlors and prostitutes: “Hello mister, you want boom boom?”

I have come to believe that the best way to see a country is buy a guide book or google “best tourist things to do in country  X”, then just avoid those places. Go anywhere but where the guide books tell you. That way you will see the real people and culture. If I judged Vietnam by Ho Cho Minh I would want to get out and never come back. But, it may be that I am just an old fart. The night life is great and there’s plenty to do.

Australia

Remember this song?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jHXu86O01w

My plan for Australia has evolved over time. Originally I was going to ride the circumference, but that turned out to be too ambitious and long–about a whole year. So I opted to go around only half the country in six months. But finally, due to other circumstances, I have decided to just ride straight from Darwin to Sydney. This is about 4000 km and should take about two months:

I’ve also decided to skip the rest of Asia. It just wasn’t that great for me. It’s cheap and the people are friendly and the food is good, but the heat and humidity got to me. Plus it is very crowded. I’ve decided to head back to Africa and Europe next spring rather than SE Asia and India. I’ll let you know as the time approaches.

My trip to Australia went smoothly. I had a two hour flight to Singapore where I had to overnight in the airport hotel. Then a four hour flight to Darwin. I had arranged to stay with another warmshowers host, and I got lucky again. Luke and Fiona were great hosts. They cooked fantastic vegetarian meals, we swam in their pool and talked about travel and cycling. They’ve taken a few bicycle tours in Europe and East Timor with their kids in tow on trailers. Unfortunately they don’t have a blog or photos but it sounded like a great adventure.

I stayed with them two nights. The second night we had a little picnic in a park near the sea. Here they are with their two children, Gus (6) and Frankie (3).

Sunset at the park.

I spent a day racing around town getting stuff I could not get in Japan or Vietnam: A new solar charger, a couple of good tires, and some other tools. I also got a SIM card, power adapter and a bunch of other stuff. One thing about Darwin at this time of year, it is HOT and humid. The same as Vietnam. I was hoping it would be cooler because it is only springtime here but I’m too late. Summer is fast approaching and it will be 30 deg C (90 deg F) for the next two months.

I bought some maps and reviewed my tentative route with Luke and Fiona. The big challenge here is the vast distances between towns where I can get water. I finally decided to employ a strategy I followed in western China: at every town, ask where the next water is available, then calculate how much I need to carry to get me there. We also considered other options, such as buying several liters of water and just asking someone driving the same direction to drop them off at a predetermined location. Another option was to ride at night to avoid the daytime heat.

And boy was it hot. I got off to a bad start. It rained the day I left Darwin, and I got lost. I rarely get lost because I am obsessed about navigation. But in this case I was so sure I knew where I was that I did not bother checking my position until I had gone 15 km out of my way.

Then the heat and humidity sapped my energy. For the first 3-4 days I just could not pedal. I was dizzy and panting, and could not even ride up small hills. I camped out three nights in a row and felt I was going to melt in my tent because of the heat. Fortunately I camped near lakes and creeks so at least I could swim and cool off. Here is one campsite on Bennett Lake where I had a swim and enjoyed the sunset.

That night it started raining at 3:30 in the morning.

https://vimeo.com/301572413

Then I got smart and bought a bag of ice at a small town before I headed off again. The ice saved me and allowed me to have some cold drinks when I got to my campsite.

My dinner: ramen with veggies and salmon and a scotch on the rocks. Sweet.

I struggled again the next day, overheated and ready to pass out when I saw I sign for air conditioned cabins, ice, cold beer and a restaurant. I had tears in my eyes I was so relieved. But when I got there I was dealt a cruel blow: the place was closed. There was a guy there, Tim,  who gave me some Red Bull but there was no water and no electricity. I was so hot I had to lay down, panting. I could not catch my breath and for a minute I thought I was going to pass out. Tim was concerned and suggested we go to the creek where I could swim and cool off. So we did and it saved my life. I decided to camp there by the creek. It was still sweltering but at least I could swim and cool off bit. Here is my campsite and a video of me swimming

https://vimeo.com/301574169

Here is Tim, the guy who helped me out.

I am riding on Stuart Highway, the main road that bisects Australia from Darwin to Adelaide. One thing you see a lot of are “road trains”. A road train has a relatively normal tractor unit, but instead of towing one trailer or semi-trailer, it pulls three or more of them. With a narrow shoulder, it can be a bit nerve wracking when they zoom past at 130 kph.

https://vimeo.com/301751617

I’ve also seen hundreds of kangaroos. But they are shy and don’t stand around long enough for me to take a photo. They bound off then stand and stare for a bit before hopping away. but I still hope to get a pic.

Well that’s it for now. I am about 300 km southeast of Darwin, headed southeast.

4 thoughts on “The Land Down Under

  1. Debbie Black November 20, 2018 / 1:25 am

    Hi Kev –

    Spring in Australia sounds kind of brutal! Is it hotter and/or more humid than Vietnam to cause you to struggle? What about bugs? Hope it cools down for you.

    Is this your first trip to the land down under? Looks like you’ll be riding inland a bit. Will you see any of the Great Barrier Reef in Sydney? I don’t know if it reaches that point.

    Post what you learn about Australia that you didn’t know before, what surprised you most, what you love and what you hate about it!

    It will be interesting to experience Christmas in summer!

    Happy Thanksgiving! Be thankful that you’re out of the U.S. This country feels like it’s about to implode!

    • Kevin Koski November 26, 2018 / 4:57 am

      Hey Deb,

      I’m not sure why the heat has gotten to me here. Vietnam was sweltering too but I managed just fine. I think it is hotter and more humid. Bugs aren’t too bad, just flies that land all over my face when I am riding. they drink sweat, so I am told.

      This is my first time in Oz. I probably won’t see the Great Barrier Reef, as that is in the northeast and not on my route. But I would like to return one day when I have my sailboat.

      What I have learned…It’s HOT, its BIG. It is also expensive, and the alcohol laws are strict. The booze here costs twice the US prices and it is meant to discourage the aboriginal people from drinking. I’ll post more on that as I learn more.

      As usual, people are so friendly. I’ve had truckers driving big road trains stop on the middle of the highway to give me a cold bottle of water.

      Not much to hate really, a thumbs up so far except for the heat.

  2. sahara November 25, 2018 / 10:17 pm

    Hi Kevin its me again Sahara

    • Kevin Koski November 26, 2018 / 4:57 am

      Hi Sahara I hope you like my blog.

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