23.09. bis 01.11 2014 From Darwin to Perth
When we see the coast line of Australia looking out of the window of the plane, I feel excited and uneasy at the same time. We have quite a few things in our luggage of which I'm not sure if they will pass the hygiene inspection. We have received so many warnings as regards the rules and the consequences if you make false statements that we simply answer each question in the questionnaire we have to fill in with a yes:
Do you have more than the allowed amount of something in there - Yes
Do you have foods - Yes
Do you have drugs or medications - Yes
Were you near agricultural land in the wilderness or waters? - Yes…..
Of course, we have to open every bag, but because we were honest we can keep the 10 cigarettes that we have above the allowed amount of 50 each. As for the box with our first aid kit … they only want to know the contents and believe us when we tell them what is in there without checking (this way I can keep my ointments and Codeine cough medicine and also my homemade soaps I conveniently forget to mention …)
Although the tent still has some sand in it, it still passes the inspection without complaints and the camping table that I was quite concerned about never even gets looked at.
Too bad that I am wearing the necklace that Stacey has swapped with me in Dili - but it has seed and wood parts so it gets taken off me even though I try to explain its importance - but this is the only thing they are strict about so all in all we’re done pretty quickly and before we know what to do next we are in the arrival hall and consider how to go on from here.
Let’s see if there's wifi here and check if we have news of the whereabouts of our motorcycle and / or Frank.
Of Frank we have an e-mail message, he is still not in Darwin and does not think that we can stay with his friend Dave, and of the Couch Surfing requests there is no news. The shipping people have left us a message that the bike is due to arrive here on Friday – so we assume there won’t be anything happening before the weekend and we expect that it will probably take at least until Tuesday next week, before it comes out of quarantine and we have it back. So now we need a Plan B. Spontaneously, we rent a small car from one of the many car rental places at the airport – and for now just hire it until Tuesday (I do clarify however that it will be possible to extend this time), we load all our luggage in the boot and firstly find our way into the city, where we want to stock up on a few provisions and find out how to get a sim card for the mobile phone and one for the dongle and whatever else…
Darwin is more a town than a city but it is the capital of the Northern Territory – thought that would be a bigger place but at least we quickly find the center and there is a Woolworth Department Store - everything is modern, very clean, tidy and absolutely bloody expensive !!!
We just get the most important foods for a few days, (only things on offer), two plastic plates, a cooking pot, 2 simcards with 20 dollar credits and a 25g packet of tobacco and already we have spent well over $ 100 (the equivalent in Asia would have cost us maybe 10 Dollars!!!!). We drive out of town and stop at numerous campgrounds for the next 50 km until we finally find one where an unpowered camp site costs “only” $ 25 - we are totally shocked.
After 14 months in Asia, we feel as if we have landed on another planet.
The traffic is calm and orderly on multilane roads, everyone stopping at red lights and if you see a 2-wheeled vehicle it is usually a really big bike with all the bells and whistles. The trucks are called Road Trains and have up to 4 huge trailers. Only backpackers run the old bangers, otherwise you mostly see sparkling four-wheel off-road monsters ...
All toilets are to sit on and there is no bin where you dispose of toilet paper (it honestly takes me a while to stop looking for one and just drop toilet paper in the bowl) there are even proper showers with warm water (not that you would need that here) and on the washing machines is a warning shield which tells you not to let children play near it (what could possibly happen other than they might get clean?). In Asia, it was a common sight to have at least 4 kids under 10 years of age on one scooter trying to race us…
We both don’t quite know what to make of all this.
It really is devilishly hot and we decide to first put our tent up and then disappear in it and trying to block out the new unfamiliar sounds around us.
Early in the morning we wake up by the noisy bird screams - they sound very different than anything we've heard so far (in Indonesia you hear almost no birds in the wild, as they are either being captured and put in cages or shot and eaten - we want to drive to Darwin again, because I urgently need internet to see if there is any news. The tent is dismantled and stowed in the car and off we go. We see huge termite mounds on the roadside so we have to stop several times and take pictures - I wander around the big things while Kev is sitting in the air-conditioned car. While I am wondering if there are any poisonous snakes about (everyone knows that Australia is full of them!)
Back in the car I try to have the new SIM cards activated which is not so easy and takes extremely long, then we drive back to the city center and look for a free wifi spot because my internet stick still does not work and Frank's phone number is in an email from him. We wander about aimlessly until we finally find a McD’s and while we each have a cold Coke for an outrageous $ 4.50 we can use the free internet and then I call Frank who is now at his friends place and he thinks that if we come and see him in the evening - preferably bringing a few cold beers as a bribe with us maybe Dave might allow us to at least camp on his property - I am somewhat disillusioned and I also don’t fancy the idea of bribing anyone into anything – I don’t really want to be where we are not welcome - but both Frank and Kev cajole me and in the end we actually buy a case of Öttinger (45 dollars for 24 cans, but here like home the cheapest beer on offer), then we start looking for a bank, because a friend with an account here and in Germany has offered us to transfer our Euros for Australian dollars and this way we all save on bank charges. In spite of the beers we bring with us (or maybe because of the wrong sort) Dave is not to soften and so we end up on our old camp site after all. At least we have managed to get my internet to work though extremely slowly. Unbelievable - in modern Australia, it is even slower than in Indonesia - about as "fast" as in Timor Leste - wow who would have expected that in a modern country like this one?
Back at our campsite - it is already dark and we put our tent in the same place again, then we cook something for dinner and I'm still trying to send an email home, so everyone knows that we arrived here in one peace and they don’t have to worry - after the mail crashes 3 times however (I don’t even try to get on Facebook) I give up.
On the campsite are a lot of young backpackers of all nations at the moment and some Aussies from the southern states have taken their huge caravans here too and everyone is waiting for the mango season to start. Fruit pickers move around with the seasons and up here the wages are supposed to be good .... However, given that everything is so expensive I wonder if it is still worthwhile, but it must be worth the effort judging by the numbers of people migrating here. The fruit season is late this year and everyone is getting a bit impatient now ... all whine and complain, because the money is running out - just like our budget seems to be melting away in the hot Australian sun.
We decide to spend the weekend in the bush and we got news from the shipping company now that the arrival of the motorcycles will be delayed by another 5 days – the new arrival date is supposed to be Tuesday the 30th so we will be stuck here another week at least..
I am upset because both sim cards are already used up – the 20 dollars on the phone card only lasted for 2 calls and one SMS and the balance on the internet stick just about lasted for one look at facebook and checking our emails once and now we are at a Telstra shop (which is full of people who complain about something). I am told that I have chosen the wrong tariff for the mobile phone in order to get a better rate I have to charge the phone with at least $ 30 (which is valid for just one month and then gone whether one has used them or not) - I quite honestly think that this is daylight bloody robbery and slowly I have really had enough…..
In Indonesia I did not need a phone and for the Internet I bought a sim card that cost less than 10 €, was valid for a year and gave me 5 gigabytes worth of internet use every month for a whole year... this is all getting rather scary and if it continues the way it has started, this continent might end up devouring our entire travel budget ... ..nothing here comes free and quite often we feel like shouting: “how much?!? Oh come on – be real – I’ll give you half…”
We spend the weekend in Lichfield National Park - along with all the other tourists and locals from Darwin, the park is full of people and actually we were hoping to finally find a place with some peace and quiet. With my old German sim card I manage to send a short message to my family to let them know that we arrived safely and after that we are too far away from any kind of reception anyway.
We stick our little tent between all the outdoor crazy Australians and are amazed at how luxurious camping in the bush can be. They have huge solar panels for electricity and every mod con from a mixer to an oven in the camp kitchen, multi storey campervans and Roof tents in dizzying heights for the children.
Everywhere is unbelievably dry - the end of the rainy season approaches. It is nice that we can swim and cool down in the rock pools here at the moment - the dreaded Salties (salt water crocodiles) only come this far inland with the rainy season – then you can’t dare to swim in any waters anymore..
The whole country is full of hostile creatures - snakes - so full of poison that they kill a human with a single bite 20 times, a lot of highly poisonous spiders and other critters - one wonders why everyone is so crazy about the outdoors. Thinking about that now we decide it's probably good that the place is so full of people – at least there is a bigger chance that among them all there might be one or the other who knows what to do when us dunces step on something that bites back.
We visit the unusual termite mounts, which can be found here. There are 2 types: one are the Cathedral termites, they build up to 7 meters tall structures which are as it were furrowed with fins for air cooling and which provide protection for small animals against bushfires and sun in its columns and then there are the magnetic termites - their buildings look more like grave stones and like a compass needle they are aligned from south to north - so the long sides are mostly in the shade and the internal temperature of the buildings is not too high.
After 3 days in the national park we’ve seen pretty much everything we pack our rental car and make our way back to civilization - I'm looking forward to a shower.
We take a different way back and get a taste of what we can expect up here in future: corrugated dirt roads. We are being shaken – not stirred - and promptly we lose a hubcap en route – hell fire – that will cost us another arm and maybe even a leg.
The days until Tuesday seem very long and then we are informed that our bike is still not on land, the ship has arrived but won’t be in the harbor until early morning. By now Frank has finally received an email with an invoice from ANL ( the shipping company ) over 499 dollars –payable at the pick-up point
We get on our way to searching for the premises of the shipping company but at the specified address no ANL is to be found. We keep driving around the block asking everyone we meet but nobody knows where this address should be. In the end I ring ANL and am told that we need to transfer the money from our bills first - which bills? Why transfer? Now we learn that we supposedly get two individual bills!
In Timor we were told that you have to rent a full container - no part loads - and therefore we shared the container (which is allowed) and now on arrival the rules are suddenly changed and both motorcycles are being declared as part loads and the harbor fees applied separately!
That's as if you rent a container fill it with orange boxes and at unloading you have to pay for each crate individually. Apart from that the company is asking now for $ 1000 just for unloading a single container - almost as much as the entire shipping cost (in Timor we were told, port charges in Darwin would amount to $ 200 - that's quite a difference and it's not really surprising that we all get quite upset We had to spend all this time waiting with very little information and frustration gets the better of us - Frank snatches the phone off me and yells at the somewhat helpless lady and we all are angry -. This just can’t be true!
After a long search we find PJ's - who are the agents here for transactions with ANL (which is not mentioned anywhere) and they promise us to clarify the matter with ANL – before next week we can not do anything anyway, because the container will firstly get sprayed and then placed in a 3-day quarantine as there are some African snails in Timor which they do not want to bring in here.
Well – in the mean time we write e-mails to the shipping company, visit the customs office and get the paperwork stamped so we can import our motorcycles legally, check with the Australian MOT what we need to do when we finally have the bikes in our hands and then we wait ....
I spend my time trying to write the Indonesia Blog at the campsite (the first 3 weeks on Sumatra alone have taken up 12 pages already) - just a shame that the internet is too slow to upload anything. Kevin is happy that next to the campsite is a lake and disappears every day for hours to fling his passion for fishing - but he only catches turtles and them we can not eat ....
Well - let's hope that next week will be better and we can finally get out of here.
We have extended the hire of the rental car again…. until Tuesday. We try to drive as little as possible however because our daily allowance is only 100 kilometers and we have already exceeded that if we go to Darwin and back again. So we are trying to kill the time on the campsite - the Indonesia blog grows and grows, if this continues, we end up with 12 pages per island - maybe I should really write a book instead of the blog.
Once we visit the Northern Territory Museum - it's free and equipped with air conditioning and you can spend at least 3 hours in it and it is actually really interesting and worth doing.
As most of our camping equipment is with our bike, especially the kitchen stuff we have to improvise in the cooking department. Usually we have some meat sauce (minced meat is cheapest) and we always cook enough for 2 days. On the first day we have it with jacket potatoes, on the 2nd day we have the rest of the sauce with pasta.
As of Monday we call several times a day at PJ's, because ANL shines above all by the fact that they are hard to get hold off. One person we manage to get on the phone says, the container is released, the next one tells us that it must be sprayed first. The days stretch like rubber - we want to get out of here…..
Every 2 days I have to call the car rental company and renew the contract. We visit all junkyards in the area trying to find a new hubcap - in the end we just buy 4 new ones at an accessory retailers (hopefully no one will see that these are not the original Toyota caps).
Wednesday afternoon we are being told (I bet that they are rolling their eyes when we call) that the container must be sprayed again, but on Friday morning we can probably come and collect our bikes they have even already made an appointment with the health officials for the hygiene inspection.
Friday morning before office opening and completely untypical for Holford standards we are along with Frank outside PJ's and wait impatiently for the things to come.
We are being praised by the guys here as supposedly our bikes have been the cleanest in a long time and then the inspection is done in no time – perhaps it was a good thing that it was not until Friday - the official guy makes some fun with us saying with a smile that he must actually keep Liza in quarantine for the weekend and examine her more closely…… He takes a more superficial look through the boxes and that's it.
Franks Rosinante also does not give rise to any complaints and now comes the exciting moment: will they start up? Rosi spits and coughs a little and then she hums but Liza... .. NOTHING!! I knew it! Even after connecting the battery to a charger for a while nothing happens so in the end everyone around gives us a mighty push around the yard and finally we do manage to get her running – reluctantly…... and off we go ….next stop: Northern Territory registration department.
Rosi passes the road worthiness test with flying colours – for us again .. everything is not that easy: The horn does not work and one of the rear lights (with the rear break light I cheat because I know, that the switch on the hand brake doesn’t work so I have already positioned myself in the sidecar and whenever Kev is being told to pull the front brake I put my foot on the foot pedal …… as inconspicuously as possible. I have no idea if the guy actually realizes what I am doing but he lets it pass) - and as for the horn - which also does not work - we explain that the battery is completely discharged after 5 weeks of container detention ...
And then he asks us where the handbrake is?!? We look at him gone out ….. a handbrake? This is a motorbike, they don’t have handbrakes…..,. "Sorry but it is law here - you'll have to have one fitted and come back" the inspector says. Oh man - what is this now? I ask him how such a brake is supposed to look like - that would be a huge alteration (and cost) and then we remember fortunately that we indeed have a steering -brake lock (thank you Vincent!!!) Frantically, we scour the spare parts box and oh happiness – it’s there – once it is mounted on handlebar and brake lever the nice man is satisfied. We promise to repair the horn and tail light and get the coveted piece of paper with which we can now move on to next door and get the bike registered legally and insured. That was a close shave - after 8 hours and almost $ 1,000 lighter we are finally legally in the country. Now we have to take care of a few parts - the engine is leaking oil out of the oil pressure sensor, and we need to find out why the battery is not charging. The address of a bike repair place turns out to be a dead loss, we are sent off at once, but given a different address and directions for a shop where we can try to order some parts – well actually we just order 2 new oil pressure gages (always good to have a spare one) and then head for the confidence-inspiring address of Darwin Motorcycle Wreckers. After a little testing here and there it turns out that the battery we bought in Cambodia is already knackered. Once we have obtained a new battery the bike seems to be charging as it should and she even starts up at the push of a button. Super although this was the cheaper option of the possible problems we are again nearly $ 200 lighter - so I'm getting a little nervous - if it goes on like this Australia might end up being the last country on our trip....
We head back to our campsite and stop at the supermarket on the way, because today we have something to celebrate. We treat ourselves to a carton of cheap white wine and when we return to the motorcycle she does not start ….. again – she’s not even trying .. we do manage to push start her and after reaching the digs we have another reason to drown the day with the mother of head ache plonks …Tomorrow with a little bit of luck we may even find the problem without having to return to the workshop.
This turns out to be right - after we've taken the tank off a loose cable immediately draws our eye - we plug it back in and lo and behold - everything works again - even the horn.
Now we bring the expensive rental car back and wait for the replacement parts and then we’ll be ready to take Australia by the horns.
What a pipe dream - of course nothing turns out to be quite so easy. The ordered parts are not there on the promised day, the plugs of metal putty with which we had plugged the exhaust have been blown off and now we have 3 holes in the collector box and again the bike refuses to start - the cables are loose again ...And to top it all the alternator warning light comes on as well.
We spend a whole day in Darwin, get the exhaust welded, a new alternator-regulator fitted, the oil pressure screws are still not there, but after Kev and Frank have renewed the rocker cover gasket there seems to be no more oil coming out and we decide not to wait any longer and just leave.
We are very excited, Frank will meet us at 9 o’clock on the Stuart Highway and we have set the alarm clock for 6 am. Yesterday we have treated ourselves to a 6 pack Öttinger and celebrated a little with the young backpackers at the campsite - well 3 beer each is celebrating - right? When we arrived at the campsite last evening we were actually full of good intentions but there was quite a thunder storm when we arrived and then a second one shortly after- the rainy season seems to be near - of course we did not manage to pack our belongings for a quick set off in the morning.
Now there are almost 3 weeks worth of dress bomb explosions scattered around the tent and all the camping kitchen stuff needs to be sorted and then repacked in and around the outfit - fortunately Frank has sent a text message that he will be late and so in the end even after a last minute oil check and a last shower we are almost on time.
It feels somehow unreal, as we finally set off on our way towards Katherine, a city that probably only here deserves to be called a city ...
Here, we stock up with a few supplies, tobacco and a bottle of Ploff (cheap whiskey) and I try to use the internet at the mall to send an e-mail but I'm haunted by a security lady and she shoos me from one corner to the next - you are not allowed to use the only bench seat because that is for old people to rest exclusively and when I perch on the floor I get told that’s not acceptable either…… just like the Aborigines who are standing around everywhere here waiting for the Liquorshop to open (alcohol and tobacco are only sold at special stores here and that only at certain times). Many of them seem quite lost and out of place in the modern Australian society and they do not seem to be able to cope with alcohol and drugs. So much so that there are whole areas being declared to alcohol-free zones and who is caught selling or consuming it must expect severe penalties - I have to be honest, I find this approach relatively bananas - on the one hand, the problems are not solved by this approach and on the other it only fuels for the prevailing racism even more. As the non Aboriginal part of society is feeling patronized too and they are voicing their displeasure about that quite a few times in our presence. And then what it will bring to treat adults like children who always find the hidden sweets anyway? But then again – what do I know?
Alcohol and tobacco are outrageously expensive (4$ for the cheapest 33o ml can) - one almost feels like a drug addict when buying a beer and the cold hops nectar seems to evaporate almost immediately after opening the mini can in this heat and when the extravagant refreshment kisses the tongue you almost feel as if a little angel pees on your soul – which is just as well as one has been made to work hard to find and purchase it in the first place.
After Katherine we drive on the Victoria Highway heading west and another100 km on we find a 24 hour parking area where we set up our camp for the night – along with many others. The free 24 hour parking places up here have toilets, fireplaces, covered seating areas and water tanks - quite comfortable actually ....
Australian campers are something else - Dutch people could learn an awful lot here - every second 4wheel drive is customized for this purpose and the motor homes are just amazing - they have extendable rooms, some even 2 floors and they are equipped with everything the modern household needs. The camping community here seems to be divided into two groups - one absolutely high-tech the other minimalistic with just a swag roll and mosquito net.
The night sky is quite spectacular too, we leave our outer cover off and now we can fall asleep gazing at beautiful starry skies.
The next day we get to just before Kununara and stop again for the night. We are once again having problems with our bike - it won’t start again and I can not imagine being able to push start her all the way along the Gibb River Road. We do find a brittle Cable connection and Kev and Frank take care of the repairs while I make some dough for bread. There are heavy metal fire places here which can be used for a barbecue. I bought flour and dry yeast (I find the horrible squidgy bread that costs at least $ 3 too expensive and above all not very nice. So I have decided to make my own as often as I possibly can and these fireplaces are just the right thing for baking a damper. It's hot enough in any case so that the dough can rise nicely and next to us a nice Aborigine family has stopped for a picnic and they have given us 3 fish which I still have to clean, but the whole lot will make a good supper.
The next morning we meet another local – whom we ask whether there is indeed a border between Northern Territories and Western Australia, for we have heard that it is not allowed to carry fruit, vegetables and honey products from one state into the next, because in WA there are no fruit flies and they want it to stay that way (and here is me thinking that fruit flies can fly…..)
We find out that there are indeed controls at the border and now we must get rid of our onions - we give them away in the parking lot to some people who drive in the other direction.
Then we are ready to start .... and the bike decides not to! I’m going bloody mad!!!! And push start again!!!!
At the border Frank ends up with an official who makes him open all his bags and cases and we have a nice lady who believes us that we have no fruit fly harbour in our luggage – thank god for that because it is always an ordeal to untie and then repack everything and in this heat we would really hate to do that.
In Kununara we fuel up, fill our water containers buy a few cables and connectors, and then we have to go to the supermarket again for more food, because on the Gibb River Road, there are only a few roadhouses and they are likely to have rather steep prices.
Then push start the bike again and off we go - our first real off-road route is waiting for us.
The famous road also starts in style - with a river crossing that gives us a test (and the bike). Liza makes it to the middle but then starts to splutter and almost stalls (just how am I supposed to push her out of here – but then, with a saltie in the back it might just give me the extra bit of energy to make it) but she changes her mind and with some more chugging and spitting she makes it to the other side - uff.
On the other side, there is already a campground after a few kilometers - we are looking at it, but decide immediately that we can safely assume that we can not afford this one, but our budget should be sufficient for a couple of ciders with ice cubes – they go down ever so well - in the scorching heat however the cider does not help me when I have to push the damn bike down the drive again. After 10 km there is a track into the bush and we find a quite cosy clearing that must have been created by a bush fire not too long ago. Here we spend our first real night in the outback ... despite the probability that there might be some venomous creatures here.
Well what the heck - the King Browns will probably not follow us into the tent and we most likely won’t have to come out for a pee either cause all the fluids have already been sweated out.
At night I keep hearing strange noises and every now and then I try to shine the torch into the night but can’t find the source of the sounds. Never mind I will definitely only leave this tent again when it is light enough to see if it is a stick or something else I am about to put my foot on!
In the morning we also have the opportunity to make the acquaintance of thousands of locals… We find that any reports on the fly pests in the bush are, if anything, only slightly exaggerated, and the annoying little insects then give us 2 eye-openers. First - Tourette Syndrome definitely has its roots in the Australian bush: we sit with some spastic twitching hand movements at the breakfast table repeatedly emitting strange sounds like:” HNNIAAH !! Shhh!!! F *** OFF !!! BSTRDS !!”
The second finding concerns the missing Malaysian plane: that has definitely been brought here by a crazed fly victim who with hectic traffic controllers’ movements has convinced the pilot to land here. The plane then has been rattled to bits by the corrugated roads and the rest has been disposed of by billions of termites.
We too are shaken right and proper on the gravel track, but that's really the most exciting thing on the entire route (apart from the fuel prices at the Roadhouse in the middle - 2.50 AUD per liter and we have to refuel), because the rivers, we are crossing have all dried up – apart from that it’s just dust and bushes. Nice is the campsite, we find. It is in a small canyon alongside a creek that even has a little water in it and even if Frank wonders whether there might be crocodiles we enjoy this place and most of all its remoteness. At night (again) we hear all sorts of strange noises which we can identify in the end as flying foxes who feast on some sort of fruit tree next to us. We like the solitude and the really incredible starry sky here. Before we get to the end of the track the corrugation gets really bad again and we end up really worn out and so fed up - not only from the red dust - that we give up on the idea of exploring the Tunnel Creek and only want to have asphalt under the tires again. Finally we get there and we drive to about100 km before Broome, then we stop at a roadhouse with adjoining campsite. The prices are not so bad and there is cold beer, showers, free use of washing machine, wifi (albeit very slowly) and so we stay here - even for 2 nights, because we have looked so deeply into the Victoria Bitter cans that we all nurse a headache and have no desire to go anywhere in this unbearable heat (especially since the helmets have shrunk since yesterday and really pinch on every corner).
Kevin is convinced that we will get to cooler areas soon - he insists that this should be within the next 500 km but after they are behind us we stop for the night in a place called Sandfire ... and that's about right.
Instead of the expected cool down the temperature seems to keep going up also during the following day and after a few hours in this furnace I have almost feverish dreams of cider with ice cubes - or just water with ice cubes – well – anything with ice really and the ride is really monotonous - nothing other than bush and straight road. We stop at a roadhouse where water is more expensive than petrol, and after we have ridden almost 700 km today, the endless straight ride through an area that seems to live from mining. Whatever we finish the day sometime at a Roadhouse with adjoining campsite again – this one is full of containers where miners live and we use the mini patch of grass for our tents - but after all, it has actually cooled down a little bit.
We now hope to soon escape the hot climate and after push starting the bike in the morning and studying the map the landscape is still quite bleak, but at least it is clouded over a little now which gives us a breath of fresh air now and then - we make good progress and then even finish off the day on a a free 24 hour parking lot again – things seem to be going uphill as we get down the country.
Would it not be nice if it just kept going that way? OK - I have to push the bike every time we turn off the engine, but otherwise we only have to reach Perth and then we can find spare parts, get new sleeping mats (our Exped sleeping mats have started to burst at the seams - probably the adhesive between the ridges has started to dissolve in the heat and now we have some big bubbles at the sides which we keep rolling off in the night. After a few emails with Exped Australia, I learned that the mats have a 5 year warranty and we will actually get new ones in Perth and that without problems).
Well - as soon as we have crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and made plans for the next few days, where we want to take a couple of detours to some of the Nature Reserves our bike suddenly starts to make horrible noises. We stop immediately and after some listening and fiddling about we ascertain that the problem is coming from something at the rear end - we decide to try and make it to the nearest town - Canarvon - which is another 70 km because we can not afford to get a truck and be towed that far and we end up in this town that has more caravan sites than residents, seek out the cheapest campsite (only AUD 35 per night) and there we take the rear wheel off. One of the wheel bearings has run dry, overheated and has welded itself to the axle – churning it by spinning around in there in the process. It is Saturday and until Monday everything is dead in this place – well since there is nothing else to do here while waiting for the new week we get at least a bit of writing and motorbike maintenance done - one can only hope that our luck turns for the better soon cause otherwise we really have to worry about the rest of our world tour.
At the crack of dawn – Monday morning - we are awakened by rioting Kookatoos - not a big deal, because we are already waiting impatiently for the owner of the campsite who has offered us to press the wheel bearing off the axle. It is not an easy job and the hub looks worse inside than expected, but we get new bearings fixed and glued in with Locktite and the back end put back together and it all seems to be working.
So we have something to celebrate - so we look for the next Woolworths and get a box of red wine and then we find some German sausages in the supermarket next door. They even taste really good and we had a positive response to a couch surfing request from Perth ... things seem to be going our way at last…..
OK – the owner of the campsite charges $ 120 for the job of pressing the old wheel bearing off the axle plus 2 nights camping at35 dollars each, but hey, at least we are moving again. We just have to fill up at the next petrol station and then we’re back on the road ….. but at the gas station the next shock waits for us. There is a big puddle of oil under the motorcycle and since everything is covered in oil now we can not determine whether it is coming from the oil pressure sensor or the cylinder head gasket. We check the oil level (apparently it looks worse than it is, because we don’t have to refill anything) and decide to still get on the way towards Perth. We just have to get there, because there is no place before that city where we can find spare parts and it is still about 1000 km to go.
For a while Frank follows us to ensure that we do not lose the entire engine oil and cease the engine but it turns out that we have a bit of a blessing in disguise and the dripping stops when the engine is warm enough. After a while we relax a little and start to find the muse to take in the environment again and we decide to still turn off for Shark Bay. We actually had intended to ride all the way up to the Nature Reserve, but with all the problems and the more temporary repair work at our rear wheel we do not fancy to take too many corrugated roads so we stop on a quite busy campsite in town – not really the nicest of all places and after only one night we decide to drive on to Kalbarri National Park, or at least to a free 24-hour parking area just before Kalbarri which we reach relatively early even though we take quite a few photo stops along the way.
One thing that none of us really understands is all signs that were erected, advising you not to let your pets off the leash, because there is poisoned bait laid out for Foxes - I just wonder, whether such action should be permitted in a National Park or if it would not be better to pay hunters to do this job .... I can see the reasons of why they are trying to get rid of the foxes but just question the ways of going about the problem – but then again I do not feel that we are in a position to judge – this is a very big country which makes pest control difficult and, of course, also mostly predators will eat the appropriate bait (like foxes and dingoes) and marsupials are thus not threatened but are there not also some birds who will take the bait…?- the roos and wallaby and whatever is living in the wilds are being thinned out by road trains and fast cars anyway. The roadsides are littered by all sorts of dead animals rotting and humming according to the various stages of decay (on the bike you get the pleasure of smelling it all which you don’t in an air conditioned SUV).
Heavens - there was so much thoughtless exposure of plants and animals to nature (goes for every country on earth) which then turned out to end up being a horrible mistake and now the results are almost impossible to get a grip of.
For example the Aga toads from Puerto Rico who were introduced in the 30s, on the assumption that they would help to combat beetle larvae which threatened the sugar cane harvest - unfortunately this was a misconception. The Toad has nothing to do with the beetle larva- but it is, however, toxic and extremely prolific, so that they are now slowly spreading throughout the country are causing native species to die because they obviously had no evolutionary chance to develop immunity to the toads poison. They have a fable here for radical intervention here and even at the campsite, we can see again and again how conservationists armed at night with shovels kill each toad they can get hold of. I could probably ramble on here about what and for which reason has been introduced and then venture even further into some surreal and sometimes draconian means of trying to get rid of it again (just mentions rabbits and myxomatosis) ... .. but I won’t.
Well back to the trip - as I said, we keep stopping to look at bays and other attractions and so we end up at a long pier, which leads out into the sea and marvel at stromatolites. They are bacteria that form a community in mats and since they occupy niches in nature where not many other living things can exist (or want to) they can then live here without predators and thus survive. These mats of stromatolytes have been the beginning of all life on earth and by making oxygen from CO2 these bacteria have created the foundation on which more complex life forms could develop. I have read so much about this place and imagine that there is something happening – what do I know, at least some bubbling here and there. But apart from black rock which very slowly, without you knowing anything about it is growing out of the sea there is nothing more to see and even the knowledge of everything about it does not make it a lot more exciting. (I know I am being a right peasant now)
The only exciting occurrence at this place is that our bike won’t start - again - and thanks to the sandy subsoil, we have to work very hard to push start her again – it’s slowly getting a bit annoying.
We drive further and decide to get quickly to the next 24 hours parking area where we again take everything apart to reconnect the cable. The place is quite idyllic and even alongside a river - more people seem to know this because it’s full with mobile homes. We set up camp a little away from all the camper vans and I make a dough for a so-called Damper (a baked bread in the fire) – this time with pumpkin, because it needs using up - and let the dough rise while I am searching through the cable jumble of our motorcycle. Ultimately, it is contrary to expectations, Kevin, who finds the broken connection - this time it’s on the other side of the tank. With Ballistol and insulation tape the girl starts running again.
Now we can devote ourselves to dinner. We make a fire and promptly get scolded for it – we learn that from 1 October there is a total ban on open fires in this area. We could of course neither know nor suspect that and since we now have the dough and a fire crackling we decide to make use of both before putting the fire out … unfortunately our bad conscience has driven us to stick the bread in too early while the fire is still too fierce.... The outcome being: we have a totally charred bread and are now in fear of causing a bushfire and so we wait for ages until the fire is almost out before we dare to snuggle into our sleeping bags. We have only just dozed of peacefully when we are aroused again. The roaring of a huge pick-up haring across the otherwise quiet parking area and almost hitting our tent in the process startles us. In the huge car is a somewhat agitated Aborigine (probably not quite sober) yelling: "You white c ... ts!!! - I'll kill you all!!! .... Black power!!! "
This goes on for quite a while until finally the engine noise gets lost in the distance. After that, we are all awake and on alarm station after that, but luckily he's not coming back. ” Hmm maybe they are not all so nice and peaceful as we thought.”
The next day we spend in Kalbarri National Park. Here you can admire rugged rock formations and an incredibly beautiful coastline – for once a different landscape and some fodder for the camera – it was actually getting a little boring to keep driving in a mostly straight line with not a hint of change in scenery.
The bike now finally starts on every push of a button, but unfortunately the oil leak is getting worse, it looks as if it is coming from the cylinder head gasket.
We are fortunate to have found a couch surfer place for a few nights in Perth but we can’t arrive there until the weekend and now we have to kill a few more days. We make a stop here and there and for tonight we are hoping to camp on a free 24 hour car park, which is located just before Geraldton, but when we get there, it is closed and the next one is supposed to be in 124 kms. This is no good, because we gave ourselves a lot of time the whole day exploring all sorts of side roads often chatting with other tourists and now it is not long until dark - well there is nothing we can do - so we just keep going and then have a little stroke of luck, because in the next village is a campsite with unpowered spots for tents. The unpowered sites are miles from the amenities though but reasonably affordable and while the men set up the tents I start to cook supper. There is nothing worse than trying to tamper with the camp stove in the dark and all is ready just in time before it is pitch black as our spot at the campsite has a beautiful view of dunes and sea, but not a scrap of lighting.
In the morning we then set off for Leeman. We have met two nice backpackers in Lichfield National Park who gave us lots of tips for the trip along the West Coast and amongst other things they highly recommended to stop here and to find the desperate boys sheds to camp. The sheds are supposed to belong to a really nice guy called Shawn who will definitely let us put up our tents here – they say. Only we do not find desperate boys sheds ... after some searching we finally decide to stop at the petrol station and ask - Leeman's so small, so everyone knows everyone and as luck has it there is almost the entire rest of Shawn's family in the petrol station doing some shopping here and we are welcomed with open arms. Shawn takes us to his huts (it’s desperate bay really) on the beach where we can put up our tents and there's even a bathroom with a toilet here and a kitchen where I can cook on our camp stove protected from the wind (the washing up is a job for the lads, but that one is made easy here as there even is a sink).
Shawn and his family leave us but promise to come back later and also fetch a box of cold beer with them – so we end up having a real nice evening with Shawn and his wife and they even haul a generator and a battery with them to work the shower – wow – we have not found such nice hospitality anywhere in this country yet and we are completely bowled over by it.
The next morning, Shawn comes over with his friend and son, they want to check a few lobsters pots which got stuck in some rocks and immediately Frank offers to help because he has a diving license.
They come back with three giant crayfish and to top the list of hospitalities give them to us for free for breakfast. Wow that’s just unbelievable! But here is now something I can not do – I am not able to throw live lobsters (or crayfish) into boiling water – yes you may call me a wimp – so Frank’s the one collecting bad karma and does the cruel job - to eat them, however, only poses one problem to me: cracking the hard shell of the crustacean! I must say fresh crayfish and white bread for breakfast is hard to beat. Shawn and his companions leave, but announce that they will be back in the afternoon again with the buggies ....
I do not know what we expected, but certainly not the 3 Mad-Max-style beach buggies with V8 engines that appear later. We are invited and chauffeured into the dunes, where we have great fun, because the guys know how to drive these monsters. We tear up and down steep sand dunes - I never thought that you can drive up such steep piles of sand and we are having some real good time! In the end we are even allowed to have a go at driving them too - I, however, stick to a normal quad, because I don’t trust myself not to ruin the things. The men have fewer inhibitions and prefer to test large toys ...
I don’t think any of us will ever forget this day and it is also the first time that we can actually experience the previously praised Australian hospitality firsthand. Shawn also lets us use his workshop and tools so we can try to fix our bike the next day so we decide to repay at least some of the generosity shown to us by showing them some of our pictures from different countries – we see Franks pictures from Africa for the first time and he really has a collection of some super photos ….
We're a little sad when we have to continue, but the show must go on – towards Perth where we hope to get an awful lot of accumulated problems sorted.