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350km south of Darwin, we arrived at Katherine, our first major town in the outback. It is a sleepy laid back place, with a large aboriginal population, a few shops selling didgeridoos and aboriginal art and curios, a big Woolworths (more like a Tesco here), and a good bikeshop!! Sedef suffering from a cold, we stopped here for a couple of days at the excellent Kookaburra YHA hostel, and visited the nearby Katherine Gorge.

We were intending to canoe up the gorge, but were disappointed to hear that this was not possible as the ‘salties’ had entered the system during recent rains and were still at large. Our two options were to either take an exorbitantly priced 2 hour cruise up and down the river, or to do a free hike up the gorge to the beauty spots in the area. We opted for the walk!

Several walks were available – we just went for an easy 3 hour jaunt, which took us up to a beautiful lagoon fed by a waterfall (and safe to swim!). We were quite early so had the whole place to ourselves – an hour later we realised how lucky we were as we passed the lagoon on the way back and found it crammed with people!

Our plan in Australia was to follow Anne Mustoe’s route and head south from Darwin to Tennant Creek (1/3 of the way down the continent), then swing to the East Coast to Townsville & the Great Barrier Reef, and follow the coast down south to Sydney.

However several days into cycling we realised that that would pit us against the strong East – SouthEast winds that are prominent at this time of year. Also considering the sights we most wanted to see (Devil’s Marbles, Ayer’s Rock, Kings Canyon) which all lay further south, it actually made more sense to just head straight south all the way across the continent to Adelaide, and then follow the coast east to Melbourne, and ultimately Sydney.

The Outback started literally 20km south of Darwin – the biggest city in the Northern Territory (NT) with a population of a staggering 70,000!! We quickly learned that the towns marked as little black dots on our map down the Stuart Highway were, at best a single roadhouse (an all in one family run shop/cafe/pub/sometimes accommodation) and at worst an abandoned shack… The whole area was very sparsely populated – even the road was quite empty, despite it being the only highway connecting the south with the north. We felt like we were riding into Springfield, with ‘The Simpsons’ clouds in a perfectly blue sky! :p

If we were lucky there would be a roadhouse selling cold drinks or at least a rest area with a vat of water. During one day’s cycling of 90km there was nothing – other than the bush and the hawks gently circling above. We were told this would be quite typical as we headed further south – making it extremely important that we carried ample water with us. As expected it’s still hot here – though less humid and with a strong headwind helping cool us down. Also it is much cooler at night which makes sleeping outdoors possible again (which we could rarely do in South East Asia) – great news for us considering the price of accommodation here.

In the northern part of NT we saw crocodile warning signs – in wet season the whole area is flooded and salt water crocodiles (‘salties’) can get inland for miles! They can grow up to 4m long, and we were told about a German tourist who had decided to ignore the signs and go for a midnight dip in a pond – the next morning rangers harpooned a 4m ‘saltie’ with the body of the tourist still in its jaws.

Other forms of wildlife in this part of Australia is abundant. We saw our first kangaroos (but they were both dead :p) and dingos (very alive!). Another typical feature of NT is the giant termite mounds, sometimes up to 4m tall (see picture above with Sedef standing next to one!). Oh and the fat Cane Toads – sometimes as big as a kitten – in one small mining town we found the local kids engaging in the unofficial national sport of toad-splatting (with spades!). Cane toads were first introduced into the region by men to combat an insect plague in the sugar cane fields. However they not only were absolutely no use as far as the plague was concerned, but they bred faster than rabbits and became a national scurge, having no natural predators (other than kids with spades :p).

Another amusing feature of the Australian outback is the infamous ‘road trains’ – huge lorries with up to 4 carriages ploughing down the highway at breakneck speed. Apparently it takes up to 3km for them to do an emergency stop – we didn’t believe it at first until we saw a set of black skidmarks running for almost 1km!! If you hear one coming, and there is oncoming traffic on the other side of the road (and they cannot safely overtake you), get out of the way since they ain’t stopping!! We had to throw ourselves onto the verge on a couple of occasions to get out of the way, but generally found that they gave us plenty of room if they could.

It’s a long way down to the other coast!!!

After 5 days of waiting, Cyclone Monica in Northern Australia dissipated down to a rating 1, having dumped a heavy load of rain on the Northern Territory. A lot of minor roads were flooded but the main highway we would cycle down south on was open. We could finally fly across from Bali to Darwin, on the north coast of Australia.

Leaving Bali at 3am in the morning was extremely hassle-free with Garuda (Indonesian) airlines… Just deflated the tyres, no boxing, pedal inverting, disassembly etc required – and no excess luggage to pay either, despite being at least 20kg over!! The staff just wheeled the bikes away… Collection at the other end couldn’t be simpler – they were just wheeled in to the luggage reclaim area. We were now in Australia!!

Through Warm Showers (www.warmshowers.org), a cycling organisation we recently discovered where members offer each other accommodation (and a warm shower!), we had found Kingsley, a fellow cycle-tourer living near Darwin. Out of Darwin airport at 8am, we cycled straight down to his place, 40km south. Despite the sleepless night we were quite bright eyed and bushy tailed – must be the excitement of the lovely wide tarmac roads with orderly traffic, and even cycle paths… Such a bliss after the hard cycling on the roads of Indonesia…

After one night at Kingsley’s (near a town called Humpty Doo – they have such quaint place names here), we set off on our long journey south into the outback, straight down the North Territory to the Red Centre of Australia – called as such because of the colour of the ground as well as being ‘red hot’ in Summer season. We had timed our arrival perfectly to coincide with the start of the Dry Season / Winter (beginning 1 May).

Sponsors Wanted

Since we have decided to extend our expedition to North America, we are looking for sponsorship partners to assist us with financing. This can be either in the form of merchandise, assistance with accommodation, intercontinental flights/transport, or financial sponsorship. Below is a summary of what we can offer in return – please email us if you would like more information, or have contacts you believe might be interested.

MARKETING OVERALL
Substantial 14 month expedition covering 25,000km around the globe
Association with good causes – supporting the Children in Need and Cancer Research Charities
Exposure in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia
Patronage by Terry Wogan (BBC TV and radio presenter) and world famous cyclist Anne Mustoe (6 books on cycle tours around the world)

BRANDING AND PROMOTION OPPORTUNITIES
On Tour Apparel & Gear
Equipment (Bicycle, Tent, Trailer)
Product Usage / Placement
Web site – www.nutsonbents.com
Expedition Journals
Specialist magazine articles / product reviews (i.e. bicycle, travel & outdoors)
Mainstream newspaper and magazine interviews / articles (already appeared in several national newspapers in Europe and Asia)
TV and radio interviews (morning chat shows, local and national news) – already appeared on BBC Video Nation, BBC Radio 2 – Terry Wogan Show, and BBC Radio London
Guinness Book of Records entry for ‘longest distance on a recumbent bicycle’ (impending – initial approval received from Guinness)
Book & Follow-Up Documentary

The Whole Hog!!

Most sane, normal people would have thought cycling half-way around the world to Sydney would be more than enough effort, pain, and tears. Well, we are not most people – hence the moniker ‘Nuts’! As we got closer and closer to Australia we realised that we were significantly ahead of schedule, much fitter and leaner, were in no rush to return to London, and still had the travel-bug!!! So we decided to go the whole hog and extend our expedition to a full round-the-world tour! Yes a few more screws must have come loose on the bumpy roads of Asia… :p

Which means that from Sydney we will be flying across to either Seattle (US) or Vancouver (Canada) on the west coast of North America, and then cycle across the continent, over the Rockies to the East Coast. Our expedition will finish in Toronto, where our sponsors Softcom are based, and we expect it to be a media event.

For all of you out there this means both good news and bad news. The good news is that you will not be expected to cough up completion bonus Charity donations when we get to Sydney. The bad news is that we expect the donations to be more generous!! :p

Initially we were quite daunted by the prospect of Indonesia – India had been such a trial for us we weren’t looking forward to another third world country. We were horrified to hear that as many as 90% of Indonesians carry some form of parasite – in fact our guidebook advised “Never, ever, under any circumstances, to drink the tap water, even in cities, or to even use it to brush your teeth“, and “not to shower bare-foot“.

However, despite a few annoyances such as the heavy smoking (by almost every man on the street!) and hassle from touts in the tourist areas, we need not have feared. People were friendly, accommodation was fairly clean and adequate, and food was nice and cheap, very similar to Malaysian fare. We were warned about some of the weirder delicacies such as fruitbat, snake, and rat, so in most places we stuck to good old favourites of sate ayam (chicken on sticks with spicy peanut sauce), nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles). The coffee (kopi susu) was heavenly – even in the most run-down establishments – not really that surprising considering Indonesia produces some of the best coffee in the world. The Indonesians have a very sweet tooth, liking their pastries and their coffees sickly-sweet – a left-over from the Dutch colonial rule.

It seemed to us that every Indonesian seems to have a creative streak – from buskers who file on to the buses strumming their guitars to the arts and crafts that are on sale in the most unlikely of places (e.g. in the middle of an off-the-beaten track rice field!!). Amongst the most famous are Indonesian batik paintings (painting one colour at a time using wax to block off areas of the canvas already painted – as many as 10 layers of painting is required depending on the complexity of colours and designs), puppets made out of leather (for shadow puppet-shows) or wood, fine silver filigree works, extremely detailed wood and stone carvings, ceremonial masks, and all manner of other hand-made products.

Indonesia is still suffering from the effects of the ’98 Southeast Asian financial crash, and resorts such as Bali from recent terrorist bombings. There has been a huge level of change in politics recently – the country has made great strides towards democracy but things are still unsettled, and there is a long way to go.

Day 264: Bali

By the time we reached Bali we realised that we would have to depart Indonesia from here, as our visa would expire in the next 7 days and the ferry frequency would leave us ‘visa-less’ in either Flores or en-route to Timor. We had heard that there was a cyclone in Northern Australia (which means no cycling) and resigned ourselves to the fact that it was 1. safer to stay in Bali and more importantly, 2. cheaper!

We felt rather out of place when we arrived, everyone spoke Australian (even the locals mimicked the accent!) and most guys were going around bare-chested!! Gone was the reserved dress-codes of the rest of Indonesia and in its place, a definite hedonistic surfing haven. We saw far too many people wearing ‘tasteful’ t-shirts with slogans like “F**k you, you f**king f**k” (no Scott we didn’t get you one!! :p) and we saw some truly stomach-churning tattoos, piercings, shaggy braided hairstyles, and sagging bellies. Food is also dramaticaly more expensive compared to the rest of Indonesia – though still cheap by western standards.

Thankfully, there was a lot to explore in Bali other than the surfing beaches which kept us occupied for a week. Plus a decent internet cafe to while away too many hours updating this blog :p

We saw many amazing temples, one of them with carvings depicting the Dutch arriving by bicycle (in floral shorts!!), cars, boats, and planes, and disturbing the local traditions in colonial times. In one temple we got attacked by two monkeys – before we could stop them they made away with Nic’s sunglasses and Sedef’s guidebook! We spent the next 10 minutes chasing the monkeys around the garden and up trees to get our things back – much to the amusement of the locals. We also saw some amazing landscapes, going for walks around the terraced rice paddy fields, which was a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Bali. In Kuta, we took a moment to contemplate the 200 people who died in the 2002 terrorist bombing in Kuta – a memorial with the names of those who died now stands on the site of the club which was targeted.

There is a distinct difference between Bali and Java/Sumatra. Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, while Bali is mostly Hindu, then there is the western influences brought on by the tourist trade and almost inescapable anywhere on the island. Touts are on every street corner and even on motorbikes when you pull up to the traffic lights. We now know what to expect when we hear the opening line of “Brother, I’m not trying to sell you anything, but…”. We saw and almost bought a couple T-Shirts stating “No, I don’t want a f***king motorbike / taxi / t-shirt / sarong / dolphin / inflatable hammer etc.”

Exploring the island, we visited the artisan villages famous for their paintings, wood and stone-carvings, and ceremonial masks. The majority of workshops all use traditional methods to create their masterpieces, though cheaper abstract and modern art seems to be the ‘in’ thing at the moment. Anything you could possibly want in the way of handcrafts are available in Bali, even ‘antiques made to order’!!! :p

We scoured the art galleries of Ubud until we found one painting that was amazing (the tribal worship picture below), similar to one we saw in Jakarta and by the same artist. We were going to buy it, if only the price tag was slightly lower (it was 150million Rupiah – a coffee is 5,000 rupiah). Unfortunately we had picked probably the most expensive painting on the whole island – it was painted by a famous Indonesian painter and a real collectable. We contended ourselves with a photo of it – thanks to the sympathetic gallery owner.

We paid a visit to the harbour, to find out if there were any commercial cargo freighters to Darwin – where we were informed that all international shipping went to the port of Surabaya in West Java. This decided the fact that we would have to fly to Oz now… Australia here we come!

Our appetites whetted for volcanoes in Krakatau, we next headed towards the sulphur-spitting Mount Bromo – a ‘must-see’ in Java, and in fact all of Indonesia.

The entire Bromo region is like a prehistoric scene – one almost expects to see dinosaurs walking around… It consists of a vast volcanic crater-bowl, 10km across with sheer walls of 300-700m around. At the base of the crater is a dead-flat ‘Sea of Sand’ (volcanic ash), pierced by three volcanic peaks (Bromo, Batok, and Kursi), formed by further eruptions after the formation of the vast crater-bowl itself. Looking down at it from our hotel perched up on the edge of the crater rim was truly surreal.

Another early start saw us speeding by 4×4 across the Sea of Sand north towards Mount Penanjakan to witness the sunrise across the crater. It was already crowded by the time we arrived, with everyone jostling for a good view point, cameras at the ready. There was an air of excitement as the sun peered over the horizon and dawn’s early light pervaded the crater. Long shadows loomed westwards as the sun climbed higher into sky, seeking out the nooks and crannies of the lava flows that formed the volcanos. In the distance Mount Semeru (Java’s highest mountain) puffed up vast clouds of volcanic ash, dormant Batok in the foreground, while Bromo smoked just behind it to the left.

Afterwards, we made our way (again by 4×4) back down to the Sea of Sand and to Bromo itself, so we could climb up to the crater’s rim and walk around. It was a steep but short climb, and horses were available for the initial part of the ascent. From which there are a series of steps to the top. Amongst the inquisitive tourists, were locals making wishes and casting their offerings into the volcano. Most people crowded around the top of the stairs for a quick glimpse into the crater – we wandered further around the rim of the crater. Every now and again the wind would change direction and we would be engulfed by the thick suffocating sulphurous smoke the volcano constantly spewed. Thankfully, it wasn’t life threatening and rarely lasted more than a few seconds. Nic wandered further around the rim to the highest point of the crater (almost half way around) which took 30 minutes. From there the view of the volcano’s crater was clearly visible – almost like a thick cracked pastry pie-crust. Clearly people had been down there at some point as several names were written out in stones. The sides of the crater bore evidence of the force of previous eruptions and were truly mesmerising.

In this day of open-heart surgery, microchips and space flight, it seemed almost primitive to witness people praying to a volcano god and making offerings…

Hugging the north coast and then swinging down south into central Java, we arrived in the city of Yogyakarta (or Jogja, as the locals call it). It is a popular tourist destination that is considered to be the very heart of Javanese culture and handcrafts. All classical Javanese arts (batik painting, wooden and shadow puppet shows, gamelan music recitals, and so on) thrive in Jogja as nowhere else in Indonesia. Most tourists are attracted here not only by the arts, but also by the nearby temple complexes of Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu).

The day we arrived in Jogja was another public holiday – thus making it almost impossible to find a room for the night. We didn’t realise that the next day the Sultan of Jogja would lead a special religious ceremony in the palace – which meant that all of Indonesia had descended on Jogja for the occasion!! Thankfully we found a tiny fan room in a back-street losmen (like a family run B&B).

Borobodur – the largest Buddhist temple in the world

We had to get up before we went to bed (or so it seemed at 4am in the morning!) – so we could catch the magnificent sunrise at Borobudur, and have it to ourselves before the hoardes of tourists arrive. The temple is a colossal multi-tiered Buddhist stupa from the 9th century. It is rather squat – like a collapsed pyramid – and the sheer size of it is not that obvious at first glance (hence the aerial picture we got off the web). It has three tiers – the first two covered in reliefs depicting man’s earthly existence, desires and passions (first tier) and man’s path to enlightenment (second tier). The top tier has no reliefs as it depicts man’s reaching nirvana, represented by a huge stupa in the middle. Each stupa at this level contains a Buddha image, the stupa covering his form, as nirvana signifies a state of non-being or formlessness.

From the top of the temple we could see Volcano Merapi in the distance – ominously smouldering with a plume of smoke (see last photo below). Our guide explained that the locals were expecting an eruption that year, since it came every four years. One week later the volcano was in international news – with an eruption expected imminently. Evacuation plans were being put in force.

Prambanan Hindu Temple Complex

Contemporary to the Buddhist Borobodur is the nearby Hindu temple complex on the Prambanan plain. It was built by the Hindu dynasty that took over power from the previous Buddhist dynasty. The complex consists of six temples, dedicated to the three main Hindu deities: Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. Alas by the time we got there the place was crawling with school kids on a day-trip, thus rendering it almost impossible to climp the narrow steps into each temple to see the god/goddess statues inside.

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