Location: Kessel, Belgium
Belgium, home to brick houses and red rooftops, grey weather and loads of traffic. As I was driving back home I found the surroundings a bit dull, simple. I don't know how if fit in here, but somehow I do.
After almost 2 months I finally saw my two best friends again in my own jungle and they have been very spoiled during my leave ;o)
Thank you all for reading the blog and your many comments. I hope you enjoyed it and that it may have inspired you to go and explore these places yourself. If you still would like to leave a message don't hesitate. I will be checking messages for the next 2 weeks.
Lots of love.
Location: Singapore, Singapore
Ah, Singapore, I did not know what to expect. Was it going to be like Hong-Kong with tall buildings, crowds of people and litlle restaurants all over the place? Well, sort of... Singapore has 2 major freeways running through town and it seems like nobody drives old cars. They are all shiny and all the models are the largest and the most expensive. Houses are often bigger than the ones you see in Europe and this all amidst a city jungle inhabited by monkeys, lizards, snakes, spiders and who knows what else. Don't be mistaken though as Singapore houses a lot of poor people too and life standard can often be very simple. Be careful as you can get a fine as much as 1000$ when cycling through a pedestrian tunnel. And jail is never too far away.
Libin and Afra were so kind as to show me around town. The agenda was filled with more things to do than was ever going to be possible. So off we went and decided to go to the MacRitchie Reservoir treewalk.
It is a primary forest in the middle of town. It took us 3 hours to get out of the jungle and during the walk little monkeys appeared watching us tourists walk by. The jungle was buzzing with life in the humid and warm environment and 1 particular bird (?) made a noise like a fire alarm. In the middle of our walk we had to cross the treetop bridge and as the name tells you you literally walk at least 20m above the ground amidst the tops of the trees.
In the evening we had dinner and had chili King Crab (2.4kg), a popular Singaporian dish and enough to feed 3 people. Oh, I love Asian cuisine so much. The hot and sour soup I ordered before was so hot the crab wasn't hot at all anymore :o)
A visit to the night zoo that same evening tought us that environmental changes were affecting animal population. The excursion on the premises led us to see animals at night and running freely around. So keep you hands and toes inside at all times!
As Singapore is also known for its national emblem, the orchid, a visit to the National Orchid garden was a good way to start the next day. Very beautiful and I did not know some orchids smelled like sweet vanilla or pure roses. Where can I find those in Belgium? The heat caught up on me and I was overwhelmed with tiredness. I just had to rest and luckily I did because we were heading for the Thaipusam festival in the evening.
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival in honour of the son of Shiva and is a night (from 10pm) and day (till 12pm) of purification and penance during which people make offerings of thanks for blessings received through fulfilments of vows. All participants, about 8000 and mostly Indian, are dressed completely in yellow or orange. They are supported by their family and friends as it is a great honour to carry the "kavadi" (large wooden or metal frames decorated with peacock feathers, bells, milk cans and Shiva symbols) from one temple to the other along the 5 km long road. The kavadi is worn and attached by hooks and spikes into the body of the carrier. It doesn't bleed when the spikes are driven into tongue, cheeks, forehead and body as the participants have undergone a period of spiritual preparation before the festival in which they had to be strictly vegetarian and had to forseek all bodyly pleasures. Also a mixture of moth balls and cow dung is applied to all pierced areas and works as a desinfectant. When the piercings are done 3 people, standing behind and along side of the person are shouting words really hard in order to help to person resist the pain, because it is very painful! They are not in a trance but you can see them mentally prepare themselves by prayer and cleansing. When they leave the temple they are encouraged by song and drum and are surrounded by their loved ones.
Still smelling of incense I found myself going back the next morning to take part in the the long walk. People carrying the kavadi, seen the previous day still on the ground, were now carrying them and the little prayer houses made of wood are dragged along the way by large hooks attached to their back. It is a long walk and it ends in the other temple where everybody is happy and proud of the devotee for the fulfillment of his or her job. They dance around however tired they are. Standing in the middle of it all you can actually feel that spirituality and the whole experience had been really special.
Pictures are not for the faint of heart! I am sorry I cannot show you the little movies I made.
Location: Rotorua, New Zealand
Haere mai ra
Nga manuhiri tuarangi e
Haere mai, Haere mai
Visitors from afar
In search for that other part of New Zealand which I had not seen yet, Maori, I decided to head down south on the North island.
First stop, Rotorua or Sulphur City. It has the most energetic thermal activity in the country with bubbling mud pools, gurgling hot springs, geysers and the smell of rotten eggs caused by sulpherous reactions. The city literally is build on top of a thin crust of earth and underneath it that earth is boiling.
The city also holds a large part of Maori population and just about when I thought their language did no longer exist I heard some people talking it to one another.
I decided to investigate Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which is a giant thermal area in which you can more or less freely wander around these bubbly mudpools and craters and lively colours which have emerged on the surface. I was very impressed!!!
Time for a hot bath afterwards in Kerosene Creek. I know, the name doesn't sound very promising but the water is great. Only thing is I still smelled like rotten eggs the day after :o)
The rest of my short trip I spent in Hicks Bay, a remote little village nearby East Cape, 4 hours East of Rotorua. I just couldn't leave as it felt just perfect to charge my batteries. I encountered some very typical Maori hospitality and was priviledged to pay a visit to the Hinemaurea Marae, which is a place where Maori people can gather to celebrate special occasions or just as a meeting place. The Marae is a very important place as it is considered home. I was explanained the customs and found out a little bit more about the Whare Tipuna or the ancestral house of which you have seen pictures I took in the Auckland Museum. Very special.
Then the next day I was invited on a boattrip to catch Hapuka fish. Tangaroa or the god of the sea was not happy that I joined as I felt sick most of the time up to the point my face went green apparently. But I managed to get through it and caught my own fish in the end.
In the evening all the guests of the backpackers place joined in and we prepared a meal of the fish we caught that day. Mjam!!! It felt like I knew everyone for a long time and that made it extra special.
So that's it. My days in New Zealand have come to an end and I will slowly head back home. One more stop to go: Singapore.
Tena Koe (goodbye)
Location: South Island, New Zealand
Last week I found myself driving around on the South Island of NZ. Oh yes, people drive on the left and it takes getting used to that. Luckily you find yourself driving on the roads all by yourself. Not surprisingly when you know that the entire South just has about 800000 inhabitants + tourists. Sometimes you need to concentrate hard to find the next village which may hold only 2 houses.
But let me start by the beginning: Christchurch, once a model city for the rest of New Zealand. British pioneers wanted to build a society which resembled the home country well. So the whole town looks like a replica of your tipical Britisch hometown surrounded by farming land. Anglicans built a church in towncenter and boy oh boy they knew what comfort was. You could sink away in the chairs and where catolics want you to kneel on the ground, the anglicans provide soft cushions.
A river runs through citycenter and taking a very old tram around the center we (that's Andreas dad and me) discovered that you can not only find art centers in town but also the Belgian beer culture. Yep, the Leffe was tasty and the stoofvlees was very good and to top it off the weather was just like in Belgium, rainy and cold.
The next day we took the TranzAlpine to Greymouth. Not very spectacular but New Zealanders can tell a story behind every corner of the mountain so maybe it wasn't very informative but it was funny at times. Greymouth certainly is not a place where you would want to stay as it looked like the last town in the underworld but we had other plans: visit the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.
Through a layering and weathering process known as stylobedding, the limestone rocks have formed into what looks like stocks of thin pancakes. Due to the bad weather conditions the sea bounced onto the rocks. I have never seen waves this big. The pictures are not fantastic but having to see these things without the protection of an umbrella and the rain pouring out it was just a matter of luck to get good shots.
After that we drove through rainforest-like pieces of land, along side the ocean.... And New Zealanders like to build 1 way bridges. As if they don't drive crazy enough in the mountains they also like to make it diffult having to share 1 lane not only with cars coming from the other side but also a train riding on the same bridge. Combine this with their crazy rule of giving way (when you want to turn left in a street you have to give way to drivers from the other direction wanting to drive into the same street. meanwhile all other drivers behind the first car can just continue driving straight ahead...) it is no surprise there are so many traffic accidents.
Franz Josef is your typical holiday ski resort village, only.... summer is their highlight season. I had booked a heli-hike up Franz Josef Glacier but that wasn't going to happen as it kept on raining. Apparently in that region you can get up to 7m of rain every year or 260 days. It is one of the only glaciers that have advanced so closely to the sea. The glacier has retreated a lot the last decades but at this moment it is advancing again, so I was told. Very hard to imagine when you see the ice melting in front of your eyes and when the water from deep within the glacier is streaming out of the terminal, a big cavity at the end of the glacier. Guides are constantly chopping steps in the ice because if they stop doing that everything will be gone the next day. And there you are, in front of that mighty structure, trying to assess how big it is through the clouds and how you are going to actually walk on it. Yep, I walked on the ice in between the crevasses, cracks in the blue ice. It is blue because the pressure has become so high that all the oxygen has been moved out of the ice. Sometimes a hard climb but the misty and very rainy environment made it extra special. Don't be claustrofobic as sometimes you try to squeeze yourself between the cracks. Funny feature was defintely the plug holes or holes in the ices which accumulate melted water and make it stream to the center of that gigantic ice mass. Well worth seeing and defintely the highlight of NZ for me so far.
Next day the weather suddenly turned all sunny and Vincent took off on the helicopter taking some aereal pictures. Enjoy the stunning views!!
Ah, nearly forgot to mention..... do go to the public toilets there as they are truly very funny. It's like entering a space ship and getting instructions on how the ship works. Accompanied by music you do your thing and everything else is done automatically.
Anyway, it wasn't long before we found ourselves driving towards next destination, Wanaka, another resort town. Nothing much to see but the drive up there was very beautiful as you pass many ... or maybe it was just one... lakes.
And then off to Queenstown, on the northern shore of Lake Wakatipu. It is NZ's outdoor adventure capital but the mountains are made of pure velvet. Hard to capture on picture but it looks like I pulled it off. It is not only possible to be an active person there but you can also actively enjoy wine drinking as many wineries are located in the region and many hold tastings. NZ wine is quite good. But that's just about it in the party town full of tourists.
About 4 hours from Queenstown up North West is Milford Sounds, NZ's biggest tourist attraction. It is a giant fjord and the water surrounds the mountains as if it were a sea. The weather was awfull again but the rain caused the mountains to show all their waterfalls. Many tiny ones. Nothing compared to the stunning beauty of Foz de Iguacu in Brazil. Such a pity that the boatride consisted of almost nothing else but getting the boat underneath the falls and getting people wet. For me it wasn't worth the drive out there.
I did manage to get a speeding ticket driving on a long straight road after passing some coaches at 123km/h. The police officer chased us with red and blue lights and told me I should stick to the 100km/h limit because there are so many roadkills. I resisted to tell him that the only roadkills on these kind of roads that I had seen were possums. And that's why I include a picture of this animal. Note, it wasn't lying there anymore when we returned on our way back so I guess somebody must have taken if for it's fur. Oh yes, anything from belly button warmers to nipple fur patches made of possum. Keep warm!
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
When I first took off to Argentina I thought I was heading for Israel due to the many Jewish people on board.
No I was leaving Santiago de Chile and I though I was going to Brazil. Indeed I had been wondering how many kiwis I would encounter on the flight or if there would be Chilians travelling but so it were young Brazilians on their way to learn English. As the airplane had technical difficulties we had to sit around in the plane. Chatting with the people around me I betted that the Brazilians would applaud as soon as the aircraft would be fixed and no surprise, so they did!! Inden, you can't believe how much I laughed. And they applauded again when we landed successfully in Auckland. The crowd in front of me clapped their hands extra loud as they wanted to defend their Brazilian roots :o)
Anyway, once outside I realised the weather was not going to be as good as in South America.... about 20 degrees less!!! So I was very cold and was glad I had carried my sweaters and socks with me all that time before.
So, first impressions of New Zealand: nobody is probably going to like me for saying this but the North seems to be one big holiday resort for English. Indeed the hills and pastures make you believe you are in England and everybody here looks so English. A little bit like Benidorm in Spain for the Belgians: everybody speaks your language, it just looks a bit more exotic!
But some of the plants are really very beautiful. And they are just the kind of plants I really like.
What is Auckland like? It is a harbour city with the Sky Tower in the middle which came in very handy to orientate myself while cycling through town all day long. New Zealand apparently has the best boat builders of the world and it shouldn't come as a surprise when you see all the luxurious yaughts. The harbour brigde connects 2 sides of the city each on different parts of the ocean. Its lanes can be moved so that in rush hour 5 lanes are available for traffic either in the morning or in the evening. Pretty impressive. The place we are staying is called Point Chevalier and is apparently not the rich side of town although I would beg to differ. In an attempt to find out more about Maori culture I cycled my way up the mountains to the Auckland Museum. It is huge and it is situated in the middle of a giant green lawn. It displays very beautiful art and crafts and war stuff. For more information on Maori culture I suggest you run to your local videostore and pick up Whale Rider. One of my favorite movies.
But that has been all today. In the past week Andrea, Maree and Vin took me out to lie on the beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula. It is densly forested and mountainous. The beaches are simply wonderful and many sports can be practiced here like surfing, kayaking and boogie boarding. Don't pronounce the boogie word too long as Brits do but do it more quickly, otherwise you are doing something disgusting....
Not a lot of pics here but I can tell you that Cathedral Cove, a rock formation forming a tunnel alongside the beach was very nice. Later that day a giant fire which we watched from the beach front and which looked like a stream of lava coming down the hill destroyed a part of nature people had been trying to preserve and build up for the last 20 years. Very spectacular. Other spectacular things at the same moment but ignored by many people that night was a full moon lighting up the sea and its many little islands.
Then a couple of days later we found ourselves in the company of friends of Andi at Mt Maunganui. The beaches are full of outdoor people who have the most fantastic bodies.... Going up to the top of the Mount about 232m high you get spectacular views of the surrounding area.
Yet..... I hope to see more spectacular views next week on the South Island where I'll hopefully climb a gletsjer.
Happy New Year to everybody and may the stars be with you.... euh. Kiwi-girl.