Wednesday, December 24, 2008

10 reasons why I love Australia

1. They are metric here - no more miles, yards and ounces! This is a logical country. They still drive on the wrong side of the road, though...

2. They have good chocolate here. Ok, it is not like Milka Noisette, but chocolate is edible and at German price level. So Wolfgang, Toek and Maik fear no more: There won't be any begging letters for German chocolate from Australia.

3. They have real jogurt here - even real fat Greek yogurt. Forget about no-fat American yogurt, this is the real stuff!

4. They have other stuff than Knorr formerly known as Lipton side dishes.... ok, there still is the universal chicken flavour noodles and Spanish rice, but they have some very good stuff, too like Lime coconut rice. Also it is called Continental here instead of Lipton. And because of their huge Asian population there is a whole variety of Asian Kimchi or Thai soups or Spicy Seafood ramen.

5. They have real muesli here - everywhere. Forget about the crappy cornflakes, here they have the real rolled oats and raisin stuff in every tiny little supermarket and it is cheap, too.

6. The exchange rate is great. First it has plummeted to a low just before I came here and second it is at a very handy 1 EUR = 2 AUS$. Calculating prices is very easy.

7. Life is cheap. Most of the time I am camping, but there are backpackers and youth hostels everywhere. You never pay more than 28 AUS$ for a dorm room. Prices in supermarkets are a little bit under German level - at least in the big cities. Unfortunately prices in small towns (and this is were I am usually hiking through) can be quite steep.

8. Food choices are great in cities. I have already mentioned that but I have to mention it again. Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, Italian or Burgers - you name it and they have it. The ethnic food variety is great. And I can't remember having seen a McDonald's yet - though I am sure they have it, too. Unfortunately, in the small towns choices are pretty limited. It is mostly Fish and Chips (God bless the Queen) and I just recently discovered that I utterly dislike that.

9. They have ALDI here - and this needs no further comment.

10. People are very interesting. I have met more interesting people here in one week than in one month in the US on the AT. Australia is a very young country - much younger than the US, so I have met loads of people who immigrated themselves (instead of being second generation immigrants). Most people seem to have a very interesting life story.
There seems to be one pattern: You get an Australian boyfriend/girlfriend, you come to Australia to stay with them, you like it in Australia, you stay for 2 years, you can then apply for Australian citizenship, you become an Australian citizen....

Bibbulmun Track: A big thank you to my guardian angel

On my way out of Pemberton I decided it was my civil duty to report the storm damage to the local DEC office (that is like the Forest Service in the US). The rangers were very happy about my report because they have a lot to do now assessing the storm damage. The ranger told me that in 20 years he spent in Pemberton he had never seen a storm as severe as that. He was heart broken about the damage. The DEC had just maintained the Bibb Track and brought it to top shape - and now with all the storm damage they will have to start all over again.

Pingerup Plains
I also learnt that I had been extremely lucky. The big devastation had only happened were the centre of the storm had hit - and this centre had damaged a long strip of land across the area. Luckily the hut where I had spent most of the storm was about 5 km away from the storm center. After seeing all the damage the storm had caused I wonder what would have happened to me if I had been directly in the storm center. I would probably be lying dead under a tree branch now. I think a owe a big thank you to my guardian angel.

Pingerup Plains
The other good news is that there was much less damage after Pemberton. There were still lots of blow downs, but nothing serious. The bad news is that after Pemberton there was not much wind but flood damage. And I will hit the swamp areas now. The local tourist office told me here that the trail is officially closed - hike or better wade at your own risk. Well, I will give it a try and spend christmas wading through mud....

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bibbulmun Track: The big deluge

I seem to attract weird weather wherever I go... This weekend I was happily hiking the Bibb Track. There had been no storm warning and the locals had not told me anything either. On Saturday I woke up to an overcast sky. I did not think much about it and started hiking. At 11 am it started thundering and raining. I still did not think much about it - it had rained before and a thunderstorm here is usually over in 10 minutes. At noon I was on top of a hill and shit scared. It was thundering, lightning and bucketing down. On top of all that there was a horrible wind. I was afraid of being hit by a tree branch. I almost started running, but the next hut was still 1 hour away. I made it to the hut at 1 pm soaking wet. At that point I was still expecting that the weather would clear up in a matter of minutes - of course, once I was safely at the hut.

Damaged water tank
It was only then that the storm really started. I have never ever seen anything like that. Bucketing is an understatement. The water came down so hard that I was hiding under my sleeping bag - expecting the roof to come down any minute. The thunder was so loud that the hut was shaking - and I am not exaggerating here. I was half expecting to be flooded in the damn hut. I have seen really heavy storms in the US - but they were always over in 1 hour. This one lasted 6 hours - of which I luckily spent 4 in the hut. I just saw in the news that it had rained 57 mm in a couple of hours. The storm had actually been the remnants of a cyclone further north....

Unfortunately, I had to keep moving. I was almost completely out of food and I had to get into town the next day. When the storm was over I left the hut and started walking at 6 pm. The first hour was ok but it was then that the devastation started. The wind had been so strong that huge trees had been blown down. And I mean huge... I had to crawl over blow downs a lot on the CDT but this was different. On the CDT the trees had been lying there for months and were all stripped of leaves. Here on the Bibb the trees had just fallen and there were tree branches and leaves everywhere. And on top of that the understorey here is really dense, so walking around the blow downs is a very difficult option, too. And of course, after 5 minutes of crawling through brush I was soaking wet. Usually here I am hiking 4 km/hour - after the storm I slowed down to 2 km/hour. I camped at night carefully choosing a site with no big trees around me. At night I could still hear trees and tree branches falling in the distance...The next day I decided to road walk...

Wet,but happy that it is over
I am in Pemberton right now and have no clue what conditions ahead will be like. Pemberton was without electricity for many hours and some nearby towns have been flooded. I am afraid that the storm damage will continue for many more km. I packed extra food, put on long pants to avoid scratches and will see how it goes. Cross your fingers for me!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bibbulmun Track = holiday track

The Bibbulmun Track is a wonderful surprise - a real holiday after the AT. I absolutely love it. Why? Hiking is so easy here. The terrain is so easy, that I could hike about more than 50 km per day - but what for? It is so nice and relaxing, that I decided to take it slow. Everything is new and interesting. When there is a noise in the forest, I still expect to see a deer or a bear. But here it is either a cangaroo (there are plenty) or a feral pig. The birds are gorgeous. They all look like they have escaped a zoo, but I guess normal birds here DO look like parrots. They probably are parrots... Well, they do make a lot of noise in the morning to wake me up. Instead of pine trees there is jarrah (eucalyptus) and grass trees. And of course there are poisonous snakes and spiders, but I better do not think about those.

View from a hut
The biggest surprise though are the huts: The trail is fairly new, so the huts are not older than a maximum of 10 years. They are much bigger than AT huts and there is no mice problem (they have possums instead, but they are not as bad as mice). The huts are a great place for an extended lunch break because they provide ample shade. Usually there is plenty of reading material there, too - lots of Reader's Digest, which seems to be an Australian favourite. Each hut has a rainwater tank, so water is not an issue either. There are campsites beside the hut, so I don't have to deal with snoring hikers - but I am usually alone anyway. There also is a pit toilet and I do not know how they manage, but these toilets don't smell. There is usually even toilet paper at the toilets. And all this is completely free! A real treat.

Wagaul trail marker
The trail is fairly well marked with triangel markers, there is an excellent guidebook and a lot of resupply towns, so life is really easy right now. I enjoy it to the fullest! Usually I get up at 7 am, start hiking at 8 am and have about 16 km in by noon. I then have a 3 to 4 hour lunch break to avoid the heat and hike another 16 km in the late afternoon. It gets dark around 8.30 pm, so there is plenty of daylight. The only thing that surprises me is that there are not more other hikers - this is such a great trail!!!!!!


Fire danger warning

After 3 days in Melbourne I flew to Perth. I have never been really sick on this trail (apart from an infected finger) but of course once I had to fly I got a cold.... It had already happened twice before: With a cold your ears cannot adapt to the air pressure change while landing. Beside hurting like hell you end up being deaf. And that happenend again. Despite nasal spray I was in horribly pain and could hardly hear on my left ear when I landed in Perth.

Northern Terminus of the Bibbulmun
But the good news was that my bike had arrived in one piece and even better: Hans had arrived at the airport, too. Hans is a Bibbulmun Track volunteer who had offered to store my bike while I am hiking the Bibb Track. He even came to pick me up from the airport. I could not hear much of what he was saying, but everything worked out great. And not being able to hear was a good thing, too, because the youth hostel I stayed in with next to a very noisy train station...

Luckily, things got even better the next day: My hearing came back, I could do all my errands and resupply and even saw the new movie "Australi" with a very sexy Hugh Jackman. Unfortunately, not all Australian men look like him...

Perth seems to be very nice, but I did not do any sightseeing - I was busy preparing the Bibb Track.