July 2005 Archives
We're back in Darwin now, after enjoying a week in Kakadu National Park. We had a great time, and a big part of that was because we had Chris and Tilde there to point out and identify lots of animals and plants that we probably wouldn't have even noticed. We saw several Agile Wallabies (kind of like kangaroos) right on our campsite (okay, we probably would have noticed those, but we wouldn't have known what they were, or noticed the uniqueness of a certain part of their anatomy), lots of big fruit bats (for David) and the glittery green eyes of night-time wolf spiders (for Zuzana). We also saw dozens of different bird species and were excited to spot a few crocodiles in the river without even having to attract them by going for a swim as Chris suggested.
We were guaranteed lovely accomodation every night in our rented campervan (Danke Omi!). It was really comfy and easy--everything we needed without having to set up or pack up everything all the time. It got us thinking about possible future trips with a similar van through parts of Europe that we haven't seen yet.
But before we do that, we ARE coming back to the States. We bought our last series of tickets yesterday when we got back to Darwin. We'll be flying to Auckland, New Zealand on August 16th, spend 3 weeks there, then 2 weeks in Hawaii. We'll arrive in San Francisco on September 20th. In about half an hour we're headed to the airport for our flight to Brisbane on the east coast. We hope to get some pictures of Kakadu up soon!
For the past two nights we've been staying at the home of our Servas hosts - Margi and John. They're originally from the southern city of Adelaide but moved to Darwin with the intention of staying for only 6 months. They liked the town and area so much that they've lived here ever since.
Our first night together John cooked a popular local fish dish of barramundi. It was very delicious. We sat out on their balcony overlooking the nearby marina and enjoyed our dinner with a sweet South Australian white wine.
Yesterday afternoon, Megan and I went to the Darwin Museum and Art Gallery. They had lots of interesting things on display - aboriginal artwork, an exhibit on the effects of Cyclone Tracy that completely leveled the city of Darwin on Christmas Eve back in 1974 and a (stuffed) 17 foot saltwater crocodile named "Sweetheart." The mueseum was well organized and the exhibits seemed quite modern.
Last night Megan and I were in charge of preparing dinner and decided we'd treat them (and ourselves) to a Tex-Mex dinner. We served nachos with refried beans, fresh spinach, guacamole, sour cream and homemade salsa as an appetizer. For the main course we had vegetable and chicken fajitas. The local liquor store recommended Taylor's Shiraz, another South Australian wine that went nicely with the spicy Mexican food. After dinner we sat out on their balcony enjoying the warm evening air and talking about Australia's past, present and future.
This morning we said goodbye to Margi and John just before they left for work. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with them and hope they'll come to the U.S. someday so we can return the hospitality.
Megan's aunt and uncle - Chris and Tilde - arrive in Darwin today. Henni flies in tomorrow and then we're off to Kakadu national park for a week. We should have lots of great photos when we get back.
Our flight from Bangkok took us to Singapore and then Bali. Megan slept for a few hours during our layover in Indonesia but I didn't get more than 1 hour's sleep all night. My legs were feeling cramped and restless which kept me awake and I was engrossed in the book I'm reading about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia called "Surviving the Killing Fields". Our plane touched down at Darwin International Airport this morning at 7:30AM and we rubbed our tired eyes and gathered our carry-on luggage.
We deplaned and made our way through the Immigration and Customs procedures. Australia is very, very strict in its restrictions on food, plants and organic items entering their country. We had some wooden chopsticks with us from Thailand which they pulled out of our backpacks but thankfully they weren't confiscated. We caught the shuttle bus outside the airport and headed for downtown Darwin.
We're staying at the Gecko Lodge which is about a 10 minute walk from the center of Darwin. We'll be here for 2 nights and then we're hoping to spend 2 days with Servas hosts. The only time we've stayed with a Servas family was on the island of Mauritius and we enjoyed the experience.
Megan's aunt Tilde and uncle Chris arrive in Darwin on the 21st and Henni flies in from Austria the next day. We're spending about a week exploring Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory by camper. Chris and Tilde are nature photographers and videographers and also write books on wildlife. We're very excited to be meeting up with all three of them (for me, it'll be the first time meeting Tilde and Chris).
The folks at our guesthouse informed us that the annual Beer Can Regatta festival was taking place down on the beach. We spent a few hours walking around looking at these big boats made almost entirely from beer cans. It was an interesting bit of Australian culture to witness. Tomorrow we're going to organize the rest of our travels through Australia. We have to decide how we're going to make our way down to Sydney - bus or airplane?
We're just about to jump in a cab to the airport. We're flying Bangkok to Singapore to Bali to Darwin. The last few days have been a bit emotional as we realize that the Asia part of our trip is now over, and also because we've experienced so many different things just in the past week or two that it's hard to process it all. Sorry that we don't have time to write more now, but we did put up photos yesterday so I guess that will have to do for now. Bye!
Sorry about the last entry--somehow the last part of it got deleted and the entry got posted out of order, I didn't notice it till now. So to recap the part that got cut off:
In Mui Ne we found a great guesthouse right on the beach so we could fall asleep to the sound of the waves and stuff ourselves with more delicious seafood! We rented a motorbike to ride out to the red dunes nearby and went dune sledding with a group of Vietnamese boys. On Sunday afternoon we took the bus to Ho Chi Minh City--the noise and the fast pace of the city was a bit of a shock after the beach, but enjoyable in its own way. We visited the War Remnants museum there--well done, but full of disturbing and depressing images.
We booked one more tour through Sinh Cafe, this time a two day tour through the Mekong Delta that would take us all the way across the border and to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Again, we enjoyed being able to relax and have everything taken care of for us, while getting to see and learn things about the area that we probably wouldn't have on our own. The border crossing was painless and after a bumpy, but thankfully quick bus ride, we arrived in Phnom Penh yesterday evening. Unfortunately, it seems that the big tour company here, Capitol, doesn't quite live up to its Vietnamese counterpart. We got dropped off at their office/restaurant/guesthouse and weren't impressed by their pushy yet indifferent attitude. We decided to pass on the prison cell-like rooms there and instead headed over to the lake area that has a much nicer, more relaxed atmosphere. We'll probably spend a day or two here and then head over to Siem Reap for a quick look at Angkor Wat before making it back to Bangkok for our flight to Australia next week.
I think at first we were a little uncomfortable with "just" being tourists, but here in Vietnam we've really started to enjoy it. And it's so easy and affordable to do it here too. We purchased an "Open Tour" bus ticket all the way from Hue to Ho Chi Minh City, with stops in Hoi An, Nha Trang and Mui Ne. These are air-conditioned buses that in contrast to our Laos-Vietnam bus, actually have aisles down the middle where no one is sitting, and store lugguage in underneath bins instead of just piled up around the back seats--what luxury!! But the great thing is they pick you up at your hotel and drop you off at their offices right in the center of town--no dealing with bus stations a few kilometers out of town. And all we have to do is confirm our seats the day before we want to travel.
We found a good, cheap place to stay in Hue (for $5) and after that bus ride, the shower felt SO good! That afternoon we walked around the citadel area and then had fun watching Vietnamese families flying kites in front of the main gate. The next day we joined all the other tourists to do a dragon boat ride down the Perfume river. The boat stopped at a few temples and three different tombs from the old emperors. At one stop, we skipped the tomb and ended up having coffee and talking with an 84 year old Vietnamese woman. She was full of stories to tell--she had experienced both Chinese and French rule, and had also worked for the Americans during the War.
On our way to Hoi An, a few hours south of Hue, the bus stopped at Marble Mountain and though we didn't know what to expect, we bought the ticket to check out the cave there. It turned out to be pretty impressive, but creepy too. It would make a great spot for a haunted house kind of attraction. On the way out we noticed the hand statues reaching up out of the ground--maybe plans for the haunted cave are already underway.
In Hoi An the bus stopped at a partner hotel first the way it always does. At first the $12 rate seemed out of our price range, but they convinced us to at least take a look at the room while the bus waited for us. The room was beautiful, much nicer than we were used to, with air con and even satellite TV. After seeing the pool, and being told we could have the room for $10 including breakfast, we were sold. Within 10 minutes we were out by the pool sipping banana shakes and waiting for our lunch to arrive...not bad!
I'll have to do the quick version for the rest of our time here, as we're just about ready to go: in Hoi An we enjoyed our luxury hotel, had a bunch of clothes made for us (it's the thing to do there--the town is full of tailors), went to the beach and ate really good seafood. Next was Nha Trang--more beach, more good seafood, and a touristy but fun boat ride to the surrounding islands that included some beautiful snorkeling, a Vietnamese boy band singing La Bamba, and a floating bar serving wine in little plastic cups. Then Mui Ne--