I still call Australia home

 

It is seriously nice to be back on home soil. Things work the way I expect them to, and there aren’t many unpleasant surprises in the way of food, bathroom facilities or driver behaviour – which makes a really nice change. Oh, and you can drink the water straight from the tap – brilliant!

My last few weeks in Indonesia only served to confirm that I was ready to return to my own country. It was a litany of transport dramas – real and grossly exaggerated – that drove me partially mad and left me with a negative feeling about a country that, on balance, had been so rewarding.

Trying to get through southern Sumatra to the ferry across to Java was really hard work. The road was clogged with heavy traffic as it is the only road to the port, so it was not nice to ride along. We decided we’d cut our losses and hitch a ride to the ferry. Every vehicle that stopped asked us for excessive amounts of money to give us a ride – 1 million Rupiah (AUD$110) for a 50km journey – so we politely refused. Even the buses wanted to take us for all they could get, asking for $20 each for the same journey when a local person wouldn’t pay more than $1.50. We were getting a bit fed up with this, so we grabbed a hotel room in a little town and then caught the first bus in the morning, for which we still paid above the odds ($5 per person) but not the extortionate rates of the day before.

The ferry itself was quite good value ($2.50 per bicycle, cyclist included) and it was a nice smooth crossing. Monika and I had to part ways at the port: she was heading for Bandung to meet up with friends, and I was trying to make my way as quickly as possible to Bali for some R&R before my flight home. As soon as we reached the bus terminal at the port in Java the extortion started again. We managed to negotiate downwards, but were still paying well above what a local person would pay.

I’d decided to head to Jakarta and then catch a train to the ferry crossing to Bali. A good plan, but I didn’t count on the number of people travelling during the holiday period (Idul Fitri, or Eid, at the end of Ramadan) or the general shutdown of all transport related booking agencies. I jumped on a bus headed into Jakarta, and was told I’d be dropped off at the main train station in the city so I’d be able to check on train tickets as soon as I arrived. This was not to be. The bus dumped me 20km away from this station, at night, in the pouring rain. I was not a happy camper, as you can well imagine.

Then came the drama of trying to make it down to Bali. I worked hard to get a train ticket for a week after I’d arrived in Jakarta. I was pleased as everything was booked solid. After I’d paid for it, I tried to find out what I needed to do to get my bike on the train as well. No bikes allowed on the train… What the? My only hope of getting the bike down there was to contact the other half of the railway company that did freight and put it on a separate train at a different time. Awkward, but perhaps manageable, yes? … Nope. That half of the company was closed for a week for the holiday. Frustrated? You betcha! Ok, so I try to get a refund on my train ticket… can get a refund, must wait 30 days to collect the cash and they keep 25% of the face value of the ticket. ARRRRRRGGGH!

Fortunately, the awesome booking agent I’d used to get the ticket in the first place offered to spot me the cash and would collect the refund when it was finally made available by the railway corporation. Feeling markedly less impressed with Indonesia at this stage.

I wasn’t keen to front up to the bus station and have to pay a fortune to be stuffed into a bus for the better part of two days to get to Bali, so I kept asking about other options. It turns out that Air Asia operate an Indonesian subsidiary and even booking the day before the flight with extra baggage allowance to cater for the bicycle worked out to be cheaper than what they wanted for the likely exhilarating (in the wrong way) bus trip through Java. You beauty! I was finally on my way out of Jakarta.

By the time I got to Bali, I’d run out of time to go anywhere meaningful on the bike so I elected to chill out at a hotel far from the crowds of tourists in Kuta. I hid out in my hotel room attempting to write stuff that the Australian media might be interested in carrying about my trip so I could get the word out and raise some funds for melanoma research. It turns out that I suck at writing media releases. Anything vaguely formal and I revert back to my government report writing days and get bogged down in statistics and other yawn-worthy stuff. I was sending myself to sleep!

[If any professional PR/Journo types want to lend a hand and help me get the word out, I'd be ever so grateful. Send me an email, or leave a comment at the end of this post.]

I arrived in Darwin in the wee hours of the morning to find my dear Mummy waiting for me outside immigration. It was so good to finally get a Mummy-hug! We filled up our time in Darwin getting various things done. Including some repairs to the wheels of my bike so they should last all the way to Melbourne. After 10,000km (including pre-adventure training) Surly Sally is still travelling really well. There are a few more cable ties holding bits of her together than before I set out, but she’s holding it together better than the cyclist on most days!

Mum had asked me what sort of food I wanted when I arrived and had stocked up on some of my favourites. I have gleefully munched my way through a barnyard of barbecues and roast dinners, and have almost taken my fill of fresh salads – “almost” because after a year of abstaining from uncooked vege due to dysentery concerns, it would take a month of Sundays to satisfy the cravings.

Roast beef and vege! Yum.

Roast beef and vege! Yum.

Another old fave: a very Australian snack.

Another old fave: a very Australian snack.

 

A week after arriving in Darwin, I set off for Kakadu bright and early in the morning to avoid the heat. My dear Mummy rode with me for the first 20km and has been building on that tally practically every day since. She can now knock of 40km in the cool of the morning in around two hours – not too shabby for a 70 year old. My Mummy is freaking awesome!

Mum and I cruising down the road in Kakadu National Park.

Mum and I cruising down the road in Kakadu National Park.

Lying down after pushing through 45km into a strong headwind. The things we do to our mothers!

Lying down after pushing through 45km into a strong headwind. The things we do to our mothers!

 

It took a couple of days to make it into Kakadu from Darwin, and there is no denying it is pretty warm at this end of the country. Early starts are crucial, as are regular stops for muesli bars, coffee and/or a slice of the awesome cake Mum has been baking in her nifty thermal cooker – start it on the stove and then leave it in its vacuum thingy for a few hours and presto-change-o you have scumptious fruit cake.

How is this for luxury? Yeah, baby!

How is this for luxury?

I’ve gone from sitting in the dirt on the side of a road somewhere in Asia eating whatever was available at the little shed that passes for a shop to reclining in a comfy chair, sipping on chilled water and snacking on freshly made cakes. Oh yeah, baby!

I had a lovely time in Kakadu, spotting plenty of wildlife, much of which was too fast to catch on camera. The cruise on the Yellow Water was incredible. I got to see lots of salt water crocodiles from the safety of an uncrushable metal boat.

Yellow Water Sunset

Yellow Water Sunset

We were extraordinarily privileged to see Jabiru (large crane-like bird) catch a fish at close waters and then defend its catch from two pairs of Sea Eagles who continuously dived and harassed the Jabiru while they broke up the fish with their impressively strong beaks. Even the guide was excited by the sight, which tells you how rare it is to see.

Defending their hard-won fish.

Defending their hard-won fish.

The Sea Eagle takes care not to get caught on the Jabiru's strong sharp beak.

The Sea Eagle takes care not to get caught on the Jabiru’s strong sharp beak.

 

I am now in Katherine, a reasonable sized regional centre in the top part of Australia. There is a beautiful gorge close by that we visited yesterday, rich with Indigenous culture and devoid of man-eating crocodiles so you can canoe and swim at your leisure.

We have spent an alarming amount of time here in Katherine shopping for provisions for the next leg of the trip down to Alice Springs. Keeping a cyclist fed is full time occupation according to Mum, and she is doing a smash-up job of it. I’m feeling really strong and well-loved with her on the task. Thanks a million, Mum, you are amazing! Thanks also to Ron, my step-father, who has done a remarkable job at the rest breaks along the way and has truly set a new standard: comfy chairs set up in the shade, icy cold water ready when I arrive, and coffee on demand. Champion effort.

My more than able support crew: Ron and Mum xx

My more than able support crew: Ron and Mum xx

I would also like to thank the folks who have donated to my melanoma research fund along the way: Judy and Godfrey, Collin, and the strangers who dipped into their pockets without giving me their name. Cheers!

I hope this post finds you eating some delicious and nutritious food, surrounded by people who love you and feeling strong and, well, awesome!

More pictures:

Some Indonesian kids watching as we try to hitch a lift in Sumatra

Some Indonesian kids watching as we try to hitch a lift in Sumatra

Beautiful faces: seeing this pic reminds me that Indonesia was so much more than the transport headaches of the last few weeks

Beautiful faces: seeing this pic reminds me that Indonesia was so much more than the transport headaches of the last two weeks

An interesting lizard guest  at one of our last campsites in Sumatra. The yellow skin flap popped in and out, perhaps to attract insects for a snack?

An interesting lizard guest at one of our last camp sites in Sumatra. The yellow skin flap popped in and out, perhaps to attract insects for a snack?

These enormous trucks, called Road Trains, are terrifyingly common on the roads in Northern Australia. Up to four trailers long, they are loud and fast and darn scary when they pass you on your itty-bitty little bike on a road that seems waaaaayyy too narrow at that point in time.

These enormous trucks, called Road Trains, are terrifyingly common on the roads in Northern Australia. Up to four trailers long, they are loud and fast and darn scary when they pass you on your itty-bitty little bike on a road that seems waaaaayyy too narrow at that point in time.

At Kakadu National Park! Woo hoo!!

At Kakadu National Park! Woo hoo!!

Crocodile safety: love the last picture...

Crocodile safety: love the last picture…

Sunrise over the billabong in Kakadu

Sunrise over the billabong in Kakadu

The park rangers in Kakadu run regular walk n talks at various sites through the park, well worth it to better understand the land you are travelling through.

The park rangers in Kakadu run regular walk n talks at various sites through the park, well worth it to better understand the land you are travelling through.

Indigenous rock painting in Kakadu. A little warning about crocodiles, perhaps?

Indigenous rock painting in Kakadu. A little warning about crocodiles, perhaps?

Stunning blue skies and hot as the underwold. Loving every minute of it!

Stunning blue skies and hot as the underworld. Loving every minute of it!

Yellow Water, a must visit location in Kakadu, just breathtaking.

Yellow Water, a must visit location in Kakadu, just breathtaking.

Contemplating the beauty and the terror of this wide brown land... apologies to Dorothea McKellar for the inept paraphrasing

Contemplating the beauty and the terror of this wide brown land… apologies to Dorothea McKellar for the inept paraphrasing

A medium sized female estuarine (salt water) crocodile at Yellow Water. That was close enough for this little black duck, thank you.

A medium sized female estuarine (saltwater) crocodile at Yellow Water. That was close enough for this little black duck, thank you.

Before the Jabiru caught their fish, this pair of Sea Eagles survey the water for potential tucker.

Before the Jabiru caught their fish, this pair of Sea Eagles survey the water below for potential tucker.

There are a lot of fires burning in Kakadu at this time of year. The Traditional Owners have been managing the land with fire for millenia. Burning at this time of year, reduces fuel loads so there won't be more destructive fires later in the season and encourages new plant growth to feed the animals they hunt and themselves. Just one relatively minor example of how well they understand their country.

There are a lot of fires burning in Kakadu at this time of year. The Traditional Owners have been managing the land with fire for millenia. Burning at this time of year reduces fuel loads so there won’t be more destructive fires later in the season and encourages new plant growth to feed the animals they hunt. Just one relatively minor example of how well they understand their country.

Leaving Kakadu NP. Stunning views out over the savannah woodlands. I'll be back!

Leaving Kakadu NP. Stunning views out over the savannah woodlands. I’ll be back!

My Mummy and Me at Katherine Gorge. Love a rest day!

My Mummy and Me ar the sunset lookout in Kakadu. Love me a rest day and my Mum!

Katherine Gorge. Takes your breath away with the beauty.

Katherine Gorge. Takes your breath away with the beauty.

An early warning system in Katherine Gorge for Saltwater Crocs. Apparently they can't resist attacking these buoys, so the rangers check them regularly to see if any are about. All "salties" are trapped and relocated so the Gorge remains safe to swim and canoe... except for the time between them arriving and being caught, but the guides didn't spend much time dwelling on that period...

An early warning system in Katherine Gorge for Saltwater Crocs. Apparently they can’t resist attacking these buoys, so the rangers check them regularly to see if any are about. All “salties” are trapped and relocated so the Gorge remains safe to swim and canoe… except for the time between them arriving and being caught, but the guides didn’t spend much time dwelling on that period…

 


Comments

I still call Australia home — 11 Comments

  1. Nothing like good camp cooking….and a “coldie”, even if it is H2O! Looks like a very high standard has been set for the next stages. Great to have you back on home soil….and if you look at the map it is all downhill to Melbourne! Well done, Janey.

  2. You made it to the land Down Under! Wow very impressive! I was just thinking of writing you when I received your post. I will send you an email soon. Have a good time in Australia and enjoy the food, your family, your friends and what not!
    XXX Pepijn

  3. Sad to have probably passed you for the last time 3 days ago, we say probably because you seem to get ahead of us in our motorhome regularly. We are in Alice Springs after spending a night at Devils Marbles, woken by howling dingoes at 4.00am, fantastic. All the best Jane will watch the news reports in Melbourne for your arrival.
    Judy and Godfrey

    • Hey Judy & Godfrey

      I arrived in Alice a few days ago. Slightly worse for wear, admittedly. It was pretty tough riding those last few hundred k’s. very dry indeed. Kept an eye out in case my favourite A-vanner’s were out and about again, but alas, no. Hope you are doing well and enjoying this amazing country of ours!

      Cheers
      Jane

  4. Enjoyed your story and photos very much.Thanks a million. Got your website from the radio this morning. I am an 87 y.o. male and I admire your courage.You have a great mum.All the best. Lee

    • Thanks Lee! Having the time of my life. Mum is pretty awesome indeed. Hope you are strong and well, 87 and Internet-savvy is impressive ;-)

  5. have just been reading of your adventures, admiring your amazing pictures. got your webpage off Dan an Jess’s creswicktolondon.com I am Jess’s mum Margy

  6. Pingback: Left of the Centre | intrepidcycle.com

Leave a Reply to Poppy Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>