Monday, 29 September 2008

Day 495 - Darwin (Australia)

So how about another little story then, we havent had one of those for a long time. A little bit of background information first, a memory test. If you have been reading this blog for a while you may remember that I asked for your prayers for Aoiffe, partially based on the fact that mine are never answered, but the truth is really more the fact that I don't know when they are answered. You may also remember that I met Audrey in Singapore, a Jehovoh's Witness. I spoke to her about praying and she said her prayers were always answered and she told me how she knew, the fact that what she prayed for happened, but I was still none the wiser really, I was still unsure how you could tell if it was an answered prayer or just fate, would it have happened even if you hadn't prayed at all. Anyway, this happened a few days back whilst I was in Kefamenanu in Indonesia. You may also remember that I stayed in a hotel were there was a conference with 230 government workers, well one of the Francesco came back in the evening and we went to the Timor Festival and whilst we were there we went into a makeshift cafe for something to eat. At no point did I say to Francesco that I would pay for his food, but when it came to pay he told me it would be 80,000 Rupiah. I was staggered, in this scruffy little cafe with just an average meal I was being asked to pay more than I had paid for any meal in Indonesia, 40,000 each whereas whilst in Timor I had been paying 10-15,000 for the same type of meal. I assumed there had been a mistake, maybe I had misheard and it should have been 18,000, so that is what I gave them but I was told that it was in fact 80,000. I wanted to know why and asked for an itemised bill, which they produced, apologised and said that it should have been 60,000, which was still way too high. I was still questioning the price when Francesco paid another 50,000 and received 8,000 in change, despite the fact that I had asked him not to pay. As we walked back I tried to decide what had happened, had I been ripped off, had I been conned as Francesco said he knew the people, or was it just a very high price. In reality it was no big deal, it was hardly going to break the bank, but it's the principle of the thing and I wasn't really happy about it and wasn't sure how to resolve it. So I decided to say a quick prayer, I spoke to God and asked for His guidance, though I was somewhat firm and told Him to cut the crap of the subtleties, what I was looking for was the blindingly obvious. Ok, job done, just sit back and wait for a reply, but that same old question arose, how do I recognise a reply? I started to read a book and after a while my mind drifted back to my problem, but now I was sure what I should do. I was certain that I should give Francesco another 12,000, that would pay for my meal, if I was being ripped off or conned, then it would be minimal, if Francesco had been after a free dinner it would teach him a lesson not to expect it, and my conscience was at ease that he was not paying for my dinner. I felt much happier. Come morning I had to nip across the road and buy an enormous packet of biscuits just to get the change that I needed. When Francesco arrived there was a crowd of people around us, so I took him aside and gave him 12,000, his face lit up, he was delighted and I felt good that I had done the right thing. After a photo session I was on my way. Within a few minutes, before I was even out of the town a motorcycle pulled up along side my "Where are you going?" he asked, "Atambua" I replied "Oh, ok" he said and started to pull away, but as he did he turned back and called out "GOD BLESS YOU". Those words really hit me, I shall not forget that moment for it was the second time in less than 10 minutes that somebody had said that to me, nobody had said it to me before or since. Now you can call me a bampot if you like, but I think God was playing a little game with me, he was saying "How was that, was that blindingly obvious enough for you?". At the moment I am reading a book, a novel, a thriller, but a rubbish book. But I did find even in such a rubbish book that there are sometimes some great little quotes, I stumbled on this one "If you limit earthly things, you set your thoughts free for the spiritual". I think that is true, I have done away with most of my worldly goods and something is happening to my spiritual side, may be I am just listening more, or at least able to listen. Amongst the islands of Flores and Timor I have seen alot of poverty, may be their lack of earthly goods is the reason that Christianity remains so strong on the islands. Back home we never make time to think, we are always too busy with those earthly thing, TV, music, computers (he says typing away at one), cars etc, etc.
So Saturday was to be my last full day in Asia. I started it with a breakfast of rice, eggs and that meat I like so much that nobody will tell me what it is so I would guess at either dog or goat, Then I went to Arte Moris, a little gallery that is effectively the National Gallery. It sort of summed up East Timor, crumbling and in desperate need of cash. There were some nice paintings, especially those painted on the woven local fabrics, but they were hanging loosely from wooden screens. I then rode along the coast to the Statue of Jesus, a smaller version of the one in Rio, it stands 27m high, one metre for each province of Indonesia, as it was when it was condtructed. The views were wonderful as was the ride right next to the turquoize sea. You could tell it was the weekend, there were lots of westerners about, I presumed most UN and aid workers, After a ride around town and to a couple of cemetries where more atrocities had taken place I made my way back to the hostel. In the evening we all went to a bar to watch Premiership football. The taxis all stop at 7pm as the drivers wont risk the roberies and muggings, so we had little chance of one at 1am. We flagged one down, but it turned out to be a police pick-up van, so we hopped in the back. I was dropped of at the hostel while the others carried on to another hotel for a party. Once out of the police van I then had to scale a 10ft wall and fence to get back in as the gates were locked, whilst being watched by the security man from next door. Once down Betty arrived with the keys and even though she can't speak English and I can't speak Tetun, I knew from the look on here face that she was saying "Why didn't you call me?".

I was up at 6am, the gates were still locked so I knocked on Betty's door and she unlocked my bike and the gates, I then did something I never normally do and gave her some money. I don't like doing it as it makes people think that all tourists are walking wallets. Betty is tiny, in her early 20's and works so hard, non stop, always busy whilst other workers sit around doing nothing. She never has to be asked to do anything, she is already doing it and she work from about 8am until gone 10pm. So for waking her up I gave her $2, she accepted it and said if a quiet and feeble voice "For me?", "Yes" I said, "Thankyou" she said and took a step forward and gave me a gentle hug. I felt so sorry for her, I feel she is exploited by the Australian owner of the backpackers, she is paid $1.50 a day. I made my way the short distance to Dili airport. At the roundabout at the terminal, there were two exits plus one with a no entry sign, the only way to get to the building was down the road with the no entry sign, I shall miss quirky Asia, chaotic Asia. I really don't like the hassle of flying with a bike. At the terminal they wouldn't let me in "You must dismantle the bike outside, then bring it in", "Are you going to help me in with everything when I have dismantled it then?" I asked, he showed me a badly cut finger and said "Sorry, I can't", I said "but I can't carry it all in myself and if I leave some of it then it is unattended luggage, surely a security threat", they then let me in. At check in everything was weighed, I was more than 20kg over the weight limit "That will be $125 please", "But you have priced it at $5 a kilo, I was told it would be $4", "ok I will do you a discount, $120", well I have never heard of a discount on excess baggage before, but here it seemed to be negotiable so I said "I will give you $100", "It is $120", "No" I said "I will give you $100" and to my surprise he said "Ok then". I was only allowed 3kg hand baggage, but mine weighed about 10, I even put my wash bag in there to save weight on the main baggage. I had to have it checked, he went through my wash bag, took out the beard trimmer, held it in one hand and thumped it into the other like a truncheon, "Very big" he said "No it's not, it's just the right size, it's a beard trimmer" I replied "Too big for flight" he said "Oh I see, well my main baggage has gone, so I can't repack it" I told him, "Too big" he said again "Ok" I replied, took it off him and packed everything away without him saying another word, To be honest a clenched fist would have been a more dangerous weapon, what are they going to do next, cut my hands off? And so to Australia, soon I was pedaling away from the airport and it felt like a different planet, big roads, green watered grass, strange birds, big Ibis like bird wandered on the grass. I was looking forward to being in a English speaking land, I could ask directions and understand the answers. I was heading for Palmerston, but there were no signposts to it, I would ask the way. Oh, hang on, I forgot, it might be English speaking, but it is also a western country, they was nobody anywhere, the only people around whizzed past in cars. At traffic lights I knocked on a window, "Which is the way to Palmerston?". The woman replied "It's that way mate", I had arrived in Australia. I am staying in Palmerston, about 20km from Darwin, but why so far out. Well, whilst I am in Asutralia I had decided to have a go at Couch Surfing, a web based homestay for travelers. Once you have registered you can do a search for people in the area you want to stay in, send them a message, they can have a look at your profile and decided if they want to host you, then off you go. I arrived at Mick's house for my first taster, it didn't take long to discover that Mick isn't you normal Couch Surfer, he is something of a local legend in it. Mick was out shooting, the door was opened by Isa from Finland. She showed me around and we sat on the patio until Christina from Germany returned, then later Irene from Ireland returned with Mick, so with me he is now hosting 4 travelers, the others have all been here a while and have jobs locally, he has hosted as many as 11 in the past. Mick is great, a medic in the army and so trusting, his philosphy is that he can't travel the world at the moment, so he wants the world to come to him. He says to treat the house as my home, I have a room to myself and he only has 3 rules. Firstly, "Don't drink my last beer", but you are welcome to the others. That rule is on the notice board and written in the language of every nationality he has hosted. The second one is "When I am cooking, fuck off", he enjoys his cooking, but apparently doesn't like being hassled at the time, and lastly "No politics", other than that, do as you like.

This morning everybody else had left for work by 8am, I have been on my own for the day. I popped into Palmerston centre and did some food shopping, everything is wow!!! The are big roads, dual carriageways, but so little traffic, there is a shopping mall, I could talk to people and understand what they were saying, there is a big supermarket with things I haven't seen in months such as milk, there are even different types of!! I returned and ate bread and cheese, oh wonderful, the stuff dreams are made of. For the first time since I left home, where I am staying actually feels like home, I could put the washing on, do the washing up, go into another room and write this on the internet, watch the tele or a DVD if I want, yet at the same time time I can talk to Mick and learn about Australia and learn about the road ahead, right now it all feels very strange. I only intended to stay 3-4 days in Darwin, but already I feel so comfortable that I want to stay longer.

And thanks for your congratulations about me arriving in Australia. I know that is the name of the site, but really Sydney is the destination, still a long long way to go. And Dad, I know what you mean about water, but ironically Australia will be the most challenging place for water. Ok I can drink tap water, but I have just got to find a tap. They have them here in Darwin, but when I leave I will be going through the remotest land of the whole trip, in very hot and humid weather, I will set out with 11.5 litres of water, but that isn't much as it might have to last me 2 days, hopefully no more than that. It's going to be tough, I real challenge, but I am really looking forward to it, it's exciting.

Lorna sent me an email and asked me for some fact and figures, hmm, a tricky one. Norwich drew 0-0 with Barnsley last weekend that is a fact. I don't really keep many, but I will try a few.

495 days
307 cycling days
31636 kilometres
26 countries
2 punctures in the last 12 months
5 chains
2 bottom brackets
2 dynamos
3 cassettes (gogy things)
2 front brake cables
2 back brakes cables
2 back tyres
1 front tyre (still on the one I used when I left home)
2 tightened rears spoke, otherwise wheels are untouched
2 set of brake blocks
2 pairs of sandals
Been ill twice, but only once was bad
1 car hit, only lightly
1 car hit me when I was on foot
100's of wonderful people
About 7000 photographs
About 3 good photographs
Lots and lots of fun
4 postcards sent, 4 too many! (I am just too soft)
$1200 stolen
4 items lost
About 10-15 pens used, they seem to runout so quickly, I write too much.
About 5 diaries filled and sent home


Tony said...

Thanks for the use of your fine route from Hungerford to Lambourn, yet again, yesterday. It was hard to get out of the front door!... and you have not only done that but reached Australia, and all the other countries on the huge list, and done so much more than merely reach them! Hard to take this in. Ongoing congratulations of course. (Also to your front tyre.)

dad said...

10pMe again. I saw a programme recently about Autralia's Aborigines. They know all sorts of ways to get water from the desert. Mick might be able to give you some tips, but don't underestimate the strength of the sun in the deserts. OK I know you're well clued up on the risks and know what to expect but there's no harm in my giving you this info. Good luck and God Bless you!.

aoiffe said...

Tell me, is the cheese up to the same standard as your favourite supermarket value cheese where you are able to cut a slice and patch up a tyre with it?

Lorna said...

Thanks, John. It looks like both you and the bike have stood up to the conditions well. You'll have to write to the manufacturer...

W&W are off on their annual coach outing this Saturday to Bristol. Shame you can't join us!

Safe cycling!

Anita Frost said...

Congratulations John on reaching Australia. A truly magnificent achievement.

Love Anita and Martin

Basher Barlow said...

At bloodly last you got there !

Garry Broad said...

Congratulations John, what an amazing trip, and what an experience to quietly reflect upon in the yrs to come. Good luck and stay safe in Aus.

Aaldrik said...

you could have flown there you know?
takes about 24 hours...
But well done anyway!
Ali & Son

Richard said...

We're so glad you've mad it to Oz. I expect you'll be in Sydney by the end of the week!