MicroPost – We’re Home, we made it!

Just a very short “news” post. We had a final couple of days trundling across Brittany, and exploring St Malo (thanks to our last WarmShowers hosts Muriel in Loyat and Jean-Yves in St-Malo). This was something of a relief, as the last few weeks up the west coast of France have been some of the hardest – endless rain, everything closed, expensive, surprisingly bad drivers, and our emotions all over the place as we approached the end, and worse, real life. France gave us a final quick drenching as we left Jean-Yves place for the ferry terminal (5 minutes away!). Finally, a comfy overnight ferry to Portsmouth and a short day’s ride back home.

  • No rain, some sun
  • Oh, a cycle track out of Portsmouth
  • Unexpectedly mostly prudent & considerate drivers
  • A ginormous supermarket with reasonable prices
  • Hello everybody we missed.

Maybe South East England isn’t too bad after all.

We’ll do a last one or two real blog articles in due course. But in brief, here’s the final statistics:

  • 722 days (16th April 2016 to 11th April 2018)
  • 35085km ridden according to the bike computer (21800.8 miles). Well, a few of them might have been pushed up hills or through mud or sand!
  • 24 different countries excluding the UK, three to five of them twice, depending on how you count.
  • Two antipodes – places on opposite sides of the globe, near Wellington and Madrid.
  • Hundreds or thousands of wonderful people.
  • Six flights, and five ferries longer than river or bay crossings, four coach rides en route, three truck lifts, one train ride (these en-route, not counting side trips).
  • One visit home for a family funeral (five extra days and four extra flights).
  • About three sets of tyres and eight chains each. Two on the road welds, one fork replaced. One of the original wheels made it home, three were replaced.
  • Approximately 200Kg of souvenirs and redundant clothes sent back to home.

The End, for now.

Rain, Rain, Rain

We’re having a drought.  Haven’t had any rain for months. The Roman cistern is so low due to the lack of rain,’ were the cries we heard but the streets were jammed full of umbrellas: doorways blocked by umbrellas, umbrella stands packed with umbrellas, street sellers brandishing umbrellas, eye level – a sea of umbrellas.
I’m a cyclist too,’ explained one fed-up man cowering in a tavern. ‘Five days this week I’ve been soaked to the skin,. Today I’ve walked. So many months with no rain and now we’ve got it all at once.’ he exclaimed, arms flailing wildly.
_CTG0179-1

Bayonne

In amongst the armies of umbrellas were the two silver cyclists dressed from head to foot in water proof cycle clothes. Well nearly, I’ve only got sandals and I’m not sure my waterproof socks work anymore. ‘At least you’re properly dressed for the weather,’ said a Lisbon museum curator, as we wandered through his rooms, but he was clearly pondering over my ‘choice’ of footwear. Suitable it certainly wasn’t: In Segovia, spotting a Decathlon near our hostal, I dived in and upgraded back to boots for my off-bike footwear. It was Gid’s idea (back in Phoenix) to use sandals – and waterproof socks if necessary – off the bike, since he’s done the whole trip riding in sandals. But somehow, he didn’t ever actually do it off the bike; I enthusiastically took his lead. Oops.
Sporting our newly purchased rain hats, we were pretty water resistant in our cycling gear. With a slight bit of modification the hat fits under our cycle helmets adapted to allow the all important helmet mirror to work. Sun hat, rain hat, come what may, one-hat-does-all. One minor catch is that the brim is so good at stopping the rain from penetrating the fabric that a river flows off it when you tilt your head; on several occasions, nearly tipping a deluge of water into our bar bags as we looked down, cracking a hole under the lid, to sneak something out.
Walking around town, with very little exertion, the rain kit is perfect but for an entire days cycling all is not so good. Flying into Lisbon we had plunged full-on into hilly country. Whilst we’ve had a couple of flatter days hills dominate the terrain.
And as we got higher, the rain turned to snow or hail. Here we are in the minor range of mountains between Madrid and Segovia. You might see a skier or two in the background.
Cycling up hills in rain kit results in massive amounts of perspiration inside, soaking the clothing and lining the garments. Attempts at venting the attire allows the rain in. Gid seems to stay dryer is his relatively new jacket with arm pit ventilation while my, again newish, rain legs seem to do the trick. But older kit is showing signs of being beaten. Design flaws are exposed too – Gid’s Endura  jacket keeps him dry, but the “waterproof zip” front pocket actually is more of a bucket – after a day in the rain everything in it is awash as rain gets in, but not out. Amazingly, the waterproof sock system works pretty well. At least, it does for Gid. Clare’s are shorter, and older, and seem to leak – mind you, she has darned them (eh?). The Ortlieb and Carradice panniers do pretty well, but Gid’s rack bag and bar bag – both a decade old when we started – have wear holes, which inevitably leak.
Although our cased-up maps, and outdoorsy Garmin Edge work irrespective of the weather, the same can’t be said of the phones. We tend to use the phones especially for finding accommodation as we approach or search in some place (the Garmin doesn’t really do this level of detail). But arriving in Caceres, that went horribly wrong. Raindrops confuse the touchscreens, and torrential rain confuses them utterly. And as we tried our few pre-planned hostels, we realised the town was full. It was so wet it was difficult moving around the city or talking. We really needed those phones to work to show us the places to try. Eventually, old school, one helpful hostel owner, who couldn’t offer us accommodation, rang round the others to find us a space. Gracias Senora.
Our tent, which held off riverlets and heavy torrential rain several years ago in Alaska, is one such casualty. While crawling into the vestibule with weight on the groundsheet, water oozed up. I moved our foam mini mat over the offending area and tried to ignore it but by the morning water had seeped up through the inner tent leaving a soggy mess. Our aim that day was to crack a challenging mileage to make a major town. Helpful Warmshowers host Fernando had told us he could do the trip by lunchtime. With the Garmin set, off we went, panniers full of wet camping kit, up the nearest hill. We’d forgotten to tell our future host that we were actually not quite in the fortress town we’d told him but, in fact, we were the far side of the mountain it stood on!  It took us 1 1/4 hours to cover the 10km in pouring rain. The Garmin, repeatedly trying to take us on short cuts up one dirt track or another, finally succeeded as we took off on a short linking track to get us back on course. The start was fine but in the 1.5 km we had to cover at least half of it was steeply down some farmers lane with, in this rain, deep cut rivulets and wet rocks.
 _GRO4004 (2)
Once back on our future host’s nice smooth, nearly flat road we limped into the newest town with a hostel to cancel the rest of the day. Achieving merely a third of our target distance we draped the room with dripping tent, sleeping bags, mattresses etc.
All part of the adventure it seems. It’s good to read accounts of trips 20 years ago, before any of this electronic nonsense or longer, before breathable waterproofs and English being the universal travellers’ language, and then consider ourselves as lucky.
We had better note, that after some of our previous weather-related moans, so far in Europe, we’ve only had one day of bonkers headwind. Mostly winds have been light and/or on our backs. This may change as we approach France’s Atlantic coast.

Australia – Photos

Wow – what a lot of photos we took in Australia – getting on for a thousand each. Well, here’s a selection. There’s even more wildlife photos a few of which we’ll upload to the Birds and Beasties pages someday.

The Scenic Views, Part 1

The Scenic Views, Part 2

On the Road

Urban

Whale Watching

Hervey Bay, since you ask. Several times we saw whales from the coastal cliffs, down much of the SE coast. The humpbacks migrate that way.

The Best of the Rest of the Wildlife

The Holiday Snaps

End

Java – The Story

And So To Java. We pedalled away from Jakarta’s bus station in the early morning. The Garmin did a good job of finding a quiet way out. Jakarta was quiet – too quiet. Our relief at being away from Sumatra’s hills, and then the end of Ramadan, was short lived. Ramadan is immediately followed by Eid al-Fitr, which is by definition a religious event, but substantially experienced as a transport event; everybody in Java is on the roads. Java’s land mass is structured around a few massive volcanoes, the main roads weaving through on the flat bits in between. Alas, the smaller roads often don’t join up, so to get anywhere, everyone, including us, had to use the main, but only 2 lane, highways. Really, it was madness to cycle at that time. Cyclists would be best off spending Eid holed up, especially if they can join in the festivities.
It calmed down after about three days. Java’s crowded, narrow, bumpy major roads are at least relatively flat, and still alive after a week of good progress, we took a couple of days off in the historic, and more or less geographical, centre of Java, Yogyakarta, before continuing on to catch the short ferry to Bali.
Java has a big population in a not-so-big space.. Drivers are not so deliberately homicidal as Indian drivers, and they’re more inclined to look where they’re going, but the traffic is a lot denser, as Indian main roads are hugely bigger. As usual, it’s the bus drivers who are most aggressive and unwilling to share space or time. Well, they’ll happily ‘share’ your lane if they’re going the other way and want to overtake something. But the drivers are mostly ok, it’s the motorbike riders who are nuts. Well, more likely they’re happy, carefree folks who have no worries about any possibility of collision. Overtake a truck on the inside on a narrow blind bend – no problem. Overtaking is probably the Indonesian national sport, and often would earn many points for artistic flair and imagination. On the whole it felt less safe even than India, which is saying something. However, it was a lot less noisy than India, with only brief blasts of horns used beneficially. It got a bit less hectic as we worked our way east, taking loops via minor roads when we could.
Dear reader, you might get the impression that crossing Java by bike is a dumb plan: That’s about right. Whereas Sumatra, whilst being very tough, felt a worthwhile adventure. Bali’s roads we only experienced from the ferry to Denpasar, the capital, travelling mostly on the main road. It was somewhat less hectic than Java, and, crucially, the road was both a bit wider and in better repair. The last 40km or so on Bali’s minor roads were lovely, full of things to see.
So where are the photos?

 

Camera Club Special – Let’s Play ICM in a Cave!

Post dedicated to all our friends at Worthing Camera Club.

The limestone caves near Phetchaburi are lit up with coloured tubes. Beside the cave temples, there’s plenty of interesting drippy rock formations. But how to make a picture of them?

Needs to be a bit more alive, perhaps…

Ok, but only ok. And quite tedious, in a cave, without a tripod or flash gun. Hey, unlike an English cave, tripods aren’t banned 🙂 But I haven’t got one. My camera’s tiny detachable flash is, err, detached. And anyway no help, far too weedy, boringly white, and boringly stuck on top of the camera. So thank you Olympus for making a tiny lens that’s f1.8, that saved those photos. But I still had to get Clare to stand still for way longer than is normal. And can only shoot from an ideally placed stalagmite. And they’re not terribly exciting.

Which got me to remembering some of Worthing Camera Club’s winter lectures a few years back. Intentional Camera Movement is a respectable (ish) discipline that isn’t only “I forgot to bring my tripod to the bluebell wood”. So here are my Thai rocks:

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PS: Most of those are colours as shot. A few are rather mucked about with in Lightroom.

Thanks for looking!

 

Cheap As Chips?

A tiny blog posting – a Micropost!

I thought it would be interesting to see how the countries we pass through compare economically. Thanks to Wikipedia, it’s pretty easy.

Here’s a chart showing the Per Capita Income in each country we’ve passed through, or hope to pass through.

GDPUSD2015.png

And here’s the same chart, adjusted for the cost of living in each country (called Purchasing Power Parity, or  PPP).

PPPUSD2015

PPP seems to have the effect of making the people in middle-income states better off. And Singapore.

We can even divide one by the other, to give us a rough Cost of Living Cycling. However, this is a bit rubbish, as in most of Europe, costs were kept down by camping. From about Bulgaria/Romania onwards, it felt a bit insecure rough camping, and hot – we really appreciated the comfort of a shower, so mostly stayed in guesthouses and cheap hotels. In tourist cities, that was often pretty cheap, but out on the road, I would guess that it very often was close to $20/night for a room for the two of us, irrespective of country. So far the most expensive nights have been Uzbekistan ($70 for a yurt), India (~$70 for a tent, ~$40 for a palace (really it was, gorgeous)), and Myanmar ($50 at two of the hotels, trading on scarcity). Not normally regarded as high-cost locations. The Caspian Sea ferry was also an expensive night, but did cover a fair bit of ground as we slept. The Tajikistan Toyota Tour was by far our most expensive week, but wasn’t exactly integral to the trip. And it didn’t include the (cheap) guesthouses!

CostOfCycling

Turkey, Uzbekistan and India have been most costly for souvenirs, not because of prices, but because of the wonderful handicrafts, and their availability, and perhaps more stop days, and maybe the timing of Christmas.

End of micropost!

(Note to self – master spreadsheet stored on cloud, in case plans change!)

Alternative transport tried and tested

On leaving Yangon airport, after our flight from India, it was like stepping back into normality albeit with a sauna full on. The taxi had four – count them – wheels, and four – listen – cylinders, real springs, and the driver’s style had only a soothing effect on our blood pressure. Other cars travelled along marked lanes with the occasional brief hoot as we listened to the purr of motor car engines. Motorbikes are banned! Buses cruised along. All very orderly and blissfully peaceful. Melodic bird song returned to our ears.
The city itself was, by comparison, clean, although as we explored further we found many similarities with India: crowds, street vendors, wires draped along the buildings and criss-crossing the streets, surface drainage channels and food stalls filling the pavement. But no cows, no hasslers, and the wares now carried on shoulder poles. And did we mention, no hooting? We visited quietly busy pagodas and restocked on memory cards and a few bike bits.
Our plan for Myanmar was designed to show us some of the country, bearing in mind that we’d flown into almost the “end” of it, near the Thai border. So, we used alternative transports to backtrack about halfway up the country, back towards the border with India. Not that riverboats or Myanmar trains go much faster than a bicycle, but they do keep going for longer and don’t collapse from exhaustion.
Decidedly top heavy, perched on a one metre wide gauge, the sleeper train from Yangon to Bagan lurched and jolted along, frequently caterpillar style whilst wobbling from side to side. Sharing the carriage with Anton from Germany and the many bugs and mosquitoes, left us all with ample space but the mossies seemed rather greedy. Gid resorted to a bug net overnight, carefully tucking me in as well. Lurching along in the train we were submerged in village life: fields being watered or tended to, traffic waiting for us to pass, children, and those young at heart, keen to wave. Vendors tempted us with their wares peering into our gaping windowless chasms, other locals sat just biding their time or peeking from behind their doors but all were near to be seen.
The river boat from Bagan to Mandalay was not as interesting as the train trip from Yangon to Bagan. Bustling along the river that was  a good half mile wide, despite winding our way back and forth avoiding the shallows, we were rarely in touch with the people. Dancing dots on the horizon appeared to be children playing on the bank. Others were attending laundry or fishing nets, just distinguishable in the distance. Photos taken require dramatic cropping to give a feel of the people and scenery around us. River traffic trundled past but was frequently industrialized; clearly not from the villages that periodically line the banks.
On the boat itself there was an on going game of musical chairs as views versus the sun battled for the prized seats first facing one way then the other.  With about 20 tourists aboard (and one local passenger), there was a chance for some chat. Especially as Nicolas and Elise were also cycle touring. Navigating through the sand banks that were intermittently marked, was highly technical.  Two people stood on the bow of the boat elegantly welding depth gauge poles, arm actions directing the helmsman left or right.
Motorbikes are banned only in Yangon, elsewhere in Myanmar they are ubiquitous. Like India, they’re all small, if a little newer in design. Unlike India, there’s an assumption of observation, and a concept of right of way,  so hooters are used sparingly. Sometimes one can hear a motorbike approaching by the voices of the people on it! We’re still trying to take this on, after immersion in India for three months. In Mandalay, it was our voices, as we took motorbike taxis at one point. They also gave us helmets, but had they just got their motorbikes and wanted to practice? The two times we went on the back of Indian’s bikes, helmetless and three up, admittedly in the middle of nowhere, the riders were much smoother and assured, whereas our Mandalay taxis, two times two up, felt a bit wobbly and less secure. Were we paying for their learner petrol?
Our second train trip, Mandalay to Tsipaw, notable for two feats of engineering back in the early 1900s, was also marked by higher levels of sophistication seen in the farming. Although still mainly small scale stuff with every last patch of fertile land cultivated,  the watering cans on shoulders and the ox ploughs had been replaced by rotavators, hose pipes, sprinklers systems and strimmers.
Unbelievably the train jolted to a halt then went backwards. It was plenty slow enough surely it didn’t need to cover some bits twice. It gradually became obvious; as day was breaking we could see the track layers beneath us. We were gaining height up the side of a mountain onto a plateau, the train can’t do hairpin bends, so it had to switch direction for each zig or zag. A panoramic view opened up before us, lined with receding hills.
The second spectacular event was marked by people peering out of the windows and cries of, ‘There it is’. Fleeting glimpses developed into a full view until the train stopped just before we curved round to cross the Goteik Gorge viaduct. Crowds clambered down onto the track for a better view framing the ‘must take’ photographs.
Think that’s about covered it: Plane, taxi (4 wheels), train, riverboat, motorbike, train. Oh and then  in Tsipaw, tuk tuk, hiking, and in Lyaung Shwe, long tail boat.