28th Sep 2012 – 17th Oct 2012
Northern India, Spiti valley, Australia
It has been awhile since I have written but now I am off on a little trip round northern India followed by Australia where , ostensibly, I am seeing my daughter and new grandson etc but also hope to motorbike in Australia visiting other friends. I booked the flights way back in January and have not had time to concentrate on the detail some of which has changed! The trip in Nepal has now changed to Northern India. Going up the Spiti valley on a Royal Enfield 500cc. I believe there are two of us and a guide but I wait and see. The internal Indian flight from Delhi to Shimla has been cancelled and in spite of my protestations we have to go by car instead of a plane. I wanted to go by motorbike quite naturally! I am not happy about my life in an Indian drivers hands on Indian roads…rather it was my hands on a motorbike. The lady in the office suggested that it was safer to leave Delhi in a car. She was probably amazed to hear that I had already ridden a motorbike in Delhi. It has been very hard work finalising everything back home after very late plum harvest. I had to do an additional spray, cut grass , tidy trees etc many of them additional jobs to the normal end of season. It has been a difficult year plum wise. But I just made it, sitting now at the airport in my motorbike jacket and crash helmet beside me!! Bit of a nightmare plane journey because it was changed and also because I am then heading to Perth. First leg to Mumbai. Then Delhi. First flight 9 hours, arriving about 8 pm our time. Then it gets nasty setting off at about 1am our time…let’s not dwell on that.
Saturday 29th Sept
Quite exhausted. Been travelling for 22 hours with virtually no sleep. Arrived in Simla safely . Guide here to meet us with the bikes. Life in the hands of the Indian driver was exactly as I feared. I met up with John the other rider and the driver at Delhi airport. At first the road was dual carriageway and things were not too bad. Plenty of overtaking, undertaking and weaving though. Still cows wandering, tractors, cycles and small motorbikes all making their way.The driver wanted to talk but his English accent was extreme and very hard to understand. Various stops for food and drink and then the road became normal main, full of traffic with lots of slow lorries. Overtaking became dire, lots of horn blaring and blind bend stuff. Then we left the plain and headed into the Himalayas on a very twisty road with slow lorries, buses and faster cars and motorbikes. Had to watch the road so didn’t feel sick and plenty of hary moments. The only saviour is that the speed is low. Lots of horn peeping and squeezing into non existent spaces. We climbed a fair amount and now at about 2000m . Weather was hot on the plain but now pleasant to cool. I am particularly tired as could not sleep whilst in Mumbai airport for 5 hours. Spent the time finding the terminal, getting some money, playing with suitcases in security ( mindnumbing) and reading. Barclay debit card not working , might have to ring them. The car journey had been meant to have lasted 6 hours, it took 10 hours! The last bit took forever in the slow trafficky conditions. It would have been a long journey by bike but I know I would have been happier….especially the last bit.
Sunday 30th Sept
Nice day dawns. Had done some catching up sleeping but was disturbed in the night by scratching sounds, tiny stones moving and other noises. Gecko in my room? It went on….in my bathroom? Came to the conclusion it was monkeys outside. We had seen quite a lot on the road. Think they are Maqaques. Get introduced to my bike, a 500cc Royal Enfield. One of the modern ones with normal controls, electric start and EIS. Rucksack on back as no back seat to strap it to….big bag in back up van. Road is tarmac, great in places and varied in others. Traffic lessons as the morning goes by but not before we come across a glorious jam caused by the inevitable lorry that had lost an axle on a bend. A bus deciding to overtake the queue and meet the traffic coming the other way did not help. But on our bikes we squiggled through. We began the day at about 2000m, head down to a valley at 850m and then back up to 2000m by the end of the day. Alam the guide leads at a very nice pace and we have some fun food and drink stops with lovely views over steep valleys not unlike Laos. The back up van amazingly keeps up with us; only an Indian driver could have kept up with motorbikes on a road with traffic and bends because only an Indian driver overtakes as if he is a motorbike! We are in the district of Himachal Pradesh. It is between Pakistan and Tibet. Around Simla , where we began the day, there are lots of apple trees and the apple harvest is in full swing. I have a feeling some end up in England..I am sure I have seen boxes of apples with Himachal on the side. Tonight we have reached a place called Saravan. It is off the main road and at the end of a road. It has a great temple and that is what we have come here to look at. Mostly a wooden structure that you had to walk bare foot around. If you then put a little cotton hat on and locked up your cameras with any leather you were wearing, you could climb right up and look at some of the shrines which were impressive with lots of silver. The top of the temple had real gold ornamental things on it’s roof. Far less tatty then any other Buddhist temple I have seen. The town has some nice old original houses and is off the tourist track. WiFi and ATMs do not exist round here though mobile coverage is good. Tomorrow we head further north east.
Monday 1st Oct
Wake up to a fight between two creatures in the ceiling of my bedroom. One creature seems to have caught the other…one is wailing… Admire the view and off we go. Sun is shining, it’s quite warm even at 1700m. Trundle down the mountain , back to the main road. Not very far to go today but the road surface worsens to dirt much of the time. Bit dusty! Have fun doing photo sessions of rocky overhangs, deep ravines and ourselves. We are now pretty near the Tibet border. Our final road is up but is tarmac on the whole as it is used by the military for patrols. It’s not very wide though…. We end up in a luxury campsite. Large tent with bathroom attached, electricity. We are now at 2600m though it’s still warm in the nice sun. We have arrived early and so get a guide and get taken off into the hillside across the river, on foot. He takes us to a village. They are restoring their temple which got burnt down in 1998. Cows and calves wander the path; we are befriended by a nice dog who walks with us, we watch women heave rocks to help build some house walls ; we taste wild peaches…the original peach, it’s tiny like an apricot and very good out of which they make alcohol once it has been dried;we see plenty of apple trees…this is the main earner; we see two shops…one is the general store and the other important shop is the sewing lady with her sewing machine; and we admire the turquoise coloured river and wild datura plants. There are large fir trees of some sort on these hillsides, the treeline being some 3500m I guess. Gathering hair from a certain type of goat with silky hair is another industry …ie for making pashminas. I think we saw some with a flock of sheep on the road. Also get told about the ways with which they get the apple crop down from the mountain. Horses with baskets but also baskets on a kind of wire lift system like cable cars. A lorry then sits where the basket ends up and fills his lorry. They appear to be boxed up all neatly on the field in the final box so no bruising as it travels down the mountain side. Back to camp and then eventually the evening meal served outdoors. By now it’s dark and really quite cold so on with lots of clothes. After supper a hot water bottle for the bed is offered, as is a bucket of hot water. The water has been made hot in a large metal tank heated with a wood fire. Wood is expensive here apparently. They are not allowed to chop trees down…. Hence heating their houses through the long cold winter is very expensive
Tuesday 2nd October
The dog that followed us stayed round camp and went to sleep outside my tent. In the night many dogs barked including him! John, in the next door tent, could also hear another dog close by and he got up and found it with a chain and metal spiky collar on it’s neck. He took off the chain and it seems continued to have a fairly sleepless night! The guys this morning told us that there was probably a leopard about and that the villagers put these metal collars on to protect their dogs from the leopards. Our mut/dog hung about till we were about to go and then disappeared. The camp owner has lost 3 dogs to leopards Head up valley first to explore…our guide has not been here before. End up in a very rural village at 3000m. Traditional old people in wonderful clothing and old houses. Must be tough here in the winter entirely cut off…the road is not open then. The road is rough in places with the odd river/stream crossing. My Royal Enfield throbs along with it’s low revving 2 cylinder 500cc engine. We meet lorries on bends hanging over the river but all move slowly and with much hooting on the horn all is well…the occasional hold up where lorries meet each other and there is not room. It is a lovely valley and the road hangs from the cliffs above it giving great views and worrying drops from the unguarded edge to the road. We back track to the main road. It too is rough in parts with plenty of dust from the lorries but we are soon off up another valley to Kalpa….it’s at 2700m. This time an hotel but as I write the electricity has failed!! Time to find the head torch !
Wednesday 3rd Oct
Mum’s birthday. I am writing this in the dark, head torch still in use!! We arrived in this place, Tabo, just before dark. I think the electricity went off as we arrived and then it was dark. We were given a candle! Big problem really is that I cannot charge anything and being the modern traveller that I am I have various things that need charging not least the Garmin edge that is tracking my route. I am getting better at beer drinking as wine has not been in evidence since the first day. Tonights place is at 3200m and is very near the Tibet border. We have had to get an Inner Line Permit to travel here. The hotel is attached go a Buddhist monastery but as it has been dark since we arrived we have yet to get the lie of the land We had to start late as the permit could not be got till 10am. It could not be got the day before because it was a holiday day…reason Ghandi’s birth and death anniversary/bank holiday. So we set off about 11am to cover about 150kms. Should be no problem but we have ridden the most spectacular roads hanging on the sides of mountains. Some across scree slopes, some hanging over rivers, some cut out of rock and others where landslides are common. Great tarmac in places and rough in others. Lots of photo stops, occasional traffic jam where the road was inadequate. Wonderful to see India where it is clean, not teeming with people, the air is clean and little traffic. Incredibly high mountains but now in a part that is not green, rather like Morocco but oasis filled with apple trees rather than palms and all so much deeper and higher. This morning we began in a greener part. We have eaten vegetable curries non stop. So far all okay. No one suffering from altitude problems yet…we have been up to 3600m today. Crossed a few little streams, bumped along on very gravelly parts and enjoyed a strip of tarmac that allowed me to get into top gear for the first time in the trip.
Thursday 4th Oct
We still do not have electricity when we wake but the sun is shining and it is warm in the sun shine. We have breakfast outdoors and then walk off to go and see the old monastry of Tabo. Begun in 996 ad it is a mud structure. We solemnly peer at various buddas and admire the wall paintings of endless gods. (the electricity in this hotel has just gone off!!!!). All impressively old. Short ride today to Kaza …on the way we divert to another monastry perched high above the Spiti river at 3880m on a rocky outcrop with amazing views. The monastry claims it needs money to stop it falling down. They were not exactly hard at work trying to preserve it. Few monks doing anything. Wonderful setting though…very old…the oldest in the valley. The village nearby was very neat and tidy making it hard to believe this is India. In fact the Himalayas have so far been pretty clean…rubbish seems to be under some kind of control. It is hard to imagine how they survive the winter which saw the first snowfall up high last night. No-one seems to have heating. Doors remain open whilst it is cold outside so they must be a lot tougher than us! Here we are tonight, 3600m high; now the sun has gone down my room is getting very cold. The windows were open…they are now as closed as they can be due to the very bad fit. I have put on all my warm clothes and no doubt will eat in my jacket as we have done for the past few nights. This is only beginning of October what is it like in Dec..?? The last monastry we saw gets cut off at the end of the month for I suppose 6 months. I think this town does too…. The scenery continues to be fantastic as we follow the Spiti river up and up.. Now very dry and barren brown but pockets of green round the villages. The road has hung into many a scree slope while one hopes it will remain so till I am through. In other places we are squeezing through a gorge. Tarmac alternates with dusty gravel. Villages sometimes have somewhere to buy a cup of chi/tea and we stop in rough looking places to get superb vegetable curries, rice, etc . We stop often to take photos….
Friday 5th Oct
I have just been handed a lantern powered by a battery for the electricity keeps going on and off. I tried to use the computer but just as I had written my email the power went. The temperature in my room hovers around 11c. This hotel probably shuts at the end of the month and has not invested in a heating system or even a fireplace. By day it is fine for it is hot in the sun..a bit like skiing…but once the sun goes down its cold. All the washbasins that I have used so far in all the hotels look great until you turn on the tap or let the water out down the plughole….all the water ends up draining on to the floor and/or your feet. Whether it then percolates through the building remains a mystery. We have now done monastries having seen two more today. The getting to them has been wonderful. Our roads continue to defy the terrain and hang into scree slopes or rocky edges. These roads are no good for anyone who might fear going along a road that has no edge and has a drop off of hundreds of metres. When the going is gravel great care on a motorbike has to be taken!! The views have been spectacular, the heights amazing. We have been to one of the highest villages in Asia…4500m and to more around that height. The monastries have of course been at the very top.. Not sure that a life of meditation is mine. We have seen very few monks but guess they are around. The position of the monastries way up high is fantastic and the views and peace and tranquility amazing. Luckily we have seen them without too many others being around but at one we met a bunch of Ukrainians travelling around in 8 tourist vehicles. Once tourism arrives in full force all will change for the worst. This area only opened up ( meaning got a road to it) ten years ago. Before that access was on foot or horse. You can see that the road has already altered their way of life. Nevertheless all the places we visited today will be cut off by the end of the month. Highest point today was 4500m, but that is not the highest point we go on this trip. We have been able to stop and take photos when ever…our progress quite slow at times. This is the beauty of travelling by bike..you can stop so easily. We met a belgian couple last night who are travelling by tourist car and they have to hang out of the windows to take photos and have also been scared out of their skin by the driver and the road. The dining room in this hotel…we were here last night as we have done a circle around, is equally as cold as my room. Thus all guests dress appropriately for supper …in full winter gear ie anoraks. One pair even sat and ate in their hats as well as their puffer anoraks.
Saturday 6th October
A short day as all we are doing is moving nearer to the high pass that we have to get over. The road will be rough.! So today was easy and we reached Losar. It is a village at 3900m. We are staying in a homestay but it seems pretty good and the common room has a small stove in it (hurrah) over which some of the supper is being cooked. Having arrived early, John and I went for a walk or rather a climb! Very soon I was gasping for air as we climbed up. We reached about 4250m. It was pretty steep! Back down to the main part of the village and watched a couple ploughing with two yaks. Lovely looking soil. The plough was wooden and the shear was metal….single furrow. As we watched that more yaks were let out from somewhere and came bounding over the fields. The males, black and big, were being very frisky, holding their big bushy tails high and looking quite fierce. Sadly it was getting dark and taking photos was out. This is our highest night stop. We leave the Spiti valley tomorrow. Also leaving will be two different sets of Israeli couples…one lot hitchhiking around and the other ones by motorbike two up. The hitchhikers we helped along this morning and then they have stood for hours in this village trying to get a lift. Five vehicles went by in total. They are now staying in a cheaper place at $4 per night for the room. The biker pair are staying here. We met another bunch of Israelis yesterday…..
Sunday 7th October
At 3900m it has been quite cold at night and our back up truck does not want to start. We watch it being towed up and down the road but eventually it starts. We say goodbye to the two up on one Enfield israelis….they are very low to the ground. The sun shines…I dress up in all my warm layers and feel like a trussed chicken….then dark glasses on for the sun is bright and it feels like we are off skiing… The road is rough and gravelly and off we go to head off up the pass. First we stop to photo a bunch of Yaks..then its concentration on this road. Very little traffic but some quite tricky rocky bits and watery bits to cross. Soon at the top where there is a buddhist thing at 4500m. Down to 3300m , cup of chi, and then up again to negotiate another pass. The israelis have bit the dust…back brake pedal hit a rock and basically is hanging off….time for a truck ride. This time its some good tarmac mixed with road under construction and traffic after joining a main road. Truly interesting riding..negotiating dirt bits with trucks on the side of a mountain. Amazing passes, so high and so far to come down. Only done this before in the Andes. We end the day by dropping right down to 2000m and ending in Manali.. The “raid himalayia” is taking place by arriving in Manali tonight like us but heading in the opposite direction. Our guide has done it three times. The dirt section that we took 3hrs over they have to do in 2 hrs 40 mins. So…we are not too bad..!!!! The best do it in under 100 mins. It is a rally over 5 days. Saw some more yaks as we came down. ..this is many more than I saw in Asia where I had expected to see lots.
Monday 8th October
A day off. But no hanging around..we are led off up to Old Manali and shown a temple and shops. It becomes obvious that this is a back packer place. We watch two guys hammering/splitting a large rock on a building site. Their only tools are chisels and hammers. Their aim is to split the rock into pieces they can lift. They manage to do one split in about half an hour. Walking on we pass a dead dog lying on some steps. How long will he lie there? Off to another temple in a lovely forest of Deodar trees. The temple is being repaired…its made of wood,( it was built in 1558 )…and all the planks are being tooled on the spot by hand…men working hard with saws and hand planes etc. We have seen women working on sites….they are often the carriers of cement or stones.Lunch in an Italian restaurant where we had better pizzas than in Italy and then down to new Manali where we shopped. Manali is a centre of all things woven as in the Himalayan hat and pashminas. Pashminas made from Angora rabbits,from goat hair , from Cashmere and wool mixed with silk. We saw a white angora rabbit being used as a tourist attraction.
Tuesday 9th October
A long day of about 260kms. We have had to change plan a bit as internal flight from Shimla to Delhi has been cancelled by the airline. So today we get to Shimla and then next day go to the guide’s home town of Dehra Dun…. where we can get a flight back to Delhi.It is a day of twisty tarmac roads , wandering cows, donkeys, dogs, horses, other bikes and trucks. One section had lots of trucks grinding their way up and down hill, sometimes getting jammed as they went round tight corners. We got dirty in the dust and filth from their exhausts but it was fun biking on the emptier sections. Cows wander the road everywhere, sometimes getting hit as evidenced by the three dead cows I saw. They sleep on the road, by the road, anywhere. One was sleeping by some entrance steps to where we had lunch. They wander amongst shops too. Dogs do much the same, all peeing etc where everyone walks.We arrived in the gathering dark. There was a traffic jam because of road works but we managed to wriggle through and reach the hotel. John’s back light wasn’t working…..
Wednesday 10th October
Another bright and sunny day dawns. We are at 2000m now and it is not so cold. The room last night was heated so that was a luxury. Yet more Israelis around especially at early breakfast. Wifi not working which was a pity….. This ends up as a rather dusty day. Some of the road is under construction and that means dusty! Otherwise it was tarmac and excellent in places. Ended up down on the plain and out of the hills and back into busy India. I feel it is less mucky and better organised than 10 years ago. The roads are better. Less oxen and carts around. Faster mopeds/ little bikes. More tractors less carts. Less rubbish perhaps. Maybe it gets worse further south. I have got Mumbai to wander around yet for a day so we will see. Nevertheless riding into Dehra Dun was a tiny bit worse than London traffic with loads of small bikes all trying to beat each other. Had to keep your wits about you and keep up. “Might “and the horn are still master of the roundabout or junction.Have said goodbye to my bike and tomorrow fly from here to Mumbai via Delhi…..that is the plan.
Thursday 11th October
At first last nights hotel wanted to charge for wifi, but after I moaned they allowed me 3 hours free….which I did not really use because of time pressures!! The hot water was really hot and I had a great bath not shower. Breakfast included and was fine. I mention all this to compare with tonights hotel……Our back up truck driver drove us to the airport at Dehra dun. I am very glad I had been riding my own bike all these days. It was distinctly worrying at times as we overtook without much acceleration directly into the path of oncoming vehicles. One can say it was all very indian driving….its not for me. Made it though. John and I flew to Delhi together and then went our separate ways. I carried on to Mumbai. Flights went fine. Arriving at about 4pm I was relaxed about getting to my prebooked hotel. When phoned they claimed there was no booking. Phone call to UK by me to my tour organiser. They had got the dates wrong and none of us..me included , had noticed. That hotel, 4 star apparently , was now full. They got me into another 4 star hotel. I had stayed in the airport whilst it got sorted. So then had to get a taxi…this had to be got from a prebook counter. Cheap though and set price. Then you went into a certain queue and got allocated your taxi. My man looked pretty miserable, skinny type,anxious….no english. Still we made it. He and I were rather amazed that at the entrance to the hotel the car was gone over with some kind of drug detection and other security devices. We got in…I then gave the driver a dollar….he was thrilled to bits….made his day apparently. A dollar is about 60p.I then was subjected to an airport type screening before getting through the door of the hotel. Apparently this will happen everytime I go in and out. Why have I been able to stay in all these other hotels without this nonsense?This 4 star hotel is all that I hate. They are charging over the top for ordinary things. Wifi….$20 per HOUR!!! ….everywhere else has been free. The room…its the same as any others really. Hot water not so hot as last night. Tea amaking facilities just the same. Bathroom….okay …no water spilling over your feet. Electricity controlled by key so you are not supposed to charge things when you are out. The lift…no stairs…is controlled by sticking your finger in some spot and then putting your room card over the same spot till a green light comes on and then you can go. Ridiculous!!!! Again..to get into my room I have to put my finger over the middle of a spot and then this card. It is all so NOT ME.!! Food is a ridiculous price too…This whole place is for men who seem happy to allow their companies to be ripped off. It is bad value for money. Tomorrow I hope to find an internet cafe…
Friday 12th October
I had a good lie in bed reading , then went to check whether breakfast was included. It would have been in the ‘other’ hotel. But here ofcourse it would be extra….an arm and a leg extra. I could have made another phone call to the Uk but didn”t. I have one or two things to sort with the tour company to whom I paid a lump sum for all the flights etc. Out of their control, two internal indian flights were cancelled and alternative arrangements made…how much difference moneywise has that made? And then this hotel? Off into the heat outside I went to find a cyber cafe. Smart hotel it might have been but within yards one was in the Mumbai filth. Feeling very conspicuous I walked on, picking my way through rubbish, foul smells and holes in the ” pavement”. It was true life though for the masses which my hotel was not. After a while , thinking the neighbour hood looked about right for a cyber cafe I asked and was quickly seating in a darkish little spot where I spent about 5 hours looking at photos, trying to upload and checking emails etc. That 5 hours cost me $2…..in the hotel that would have been $100. Back to the hotel ,frisked by security…literally….before getting in the door. Really can’t understand why they are quite so paranoic….I know the Taj hotel was bombed a few years ago…..but the life inside the hotel seems rather out of touch with the outside. I am now sitting in the lobby waiting to go to the airport…its rather too cold in the air conditioning because I am dressed for the outside. Tea has graciously been served and will no doubt have cost about 20 times the price of “chi ” on the outside…..I am happy with “chi”. We have had some delicious cups of chi, some flavoured with cardomom ( lovely), some with ginger..again lovely. Always hot and good and the cost?….about 30p. I watch others being frisked at the door…having to empty their pockets etc. Women are invited into a cubicle, men are frisked in public….I said I was happy to be “done” in public which rather put them out! Jobs for the boys and one woman for the females….there are 3 of them employed outside the door. This hotel is snobbish, eletist and over the top. ….
Saturday 13th October
By about 6pm I couldn’t stand the hotel any longer and took one of the outrageously expensive taxis to the airport. In a tuktuk or mini cab it would have cost 100 rupees maybe….in their car it cost 650 rupees to do a 5 min journey. Thats $2 versus $15. So I hung around the airport a while before starting the endless check in palaver, which eventually led to arriving in Singapore this morning at 6.30am after about 2hours sleep . Thinking I was feeling good enough I got rid of any bags in Left luggage and headed off shopping in the city. I have a slight hole burning in my pocket because I have won my battle with Bupa travel over my last Morocco holiday and the delayed departure claim. The insurance ombudsman has upheld my claim. Hurrah and so I will eventually get a payment. Feeling rich with this future pay out which I thought I would not get I fancied a new camera and Singapore is a good spot. Asking for the right shopping centre , I bought a new camera. By then fatigue had set in and I went back to the airport (they are becoming a bit like home), where I sat around near electric outlets re charging things. Its a good airport. Then another night flight to take me here to Perth and to my daughter Emma who was waiting for me. End of Indian adventures.
Wednesday 24th October
I am sitting in a caravan, rented for the night in Gundagai. It has a stretch of wooden railway track across a flood plain that is the longest timber truss bridge ever built in Australia. But not only is there this old wooden aquaduct and bridge built of wood for the railway there is also very near it and also across the same flood plain a wooden road aquaduct and bridge. They look amazing and you can picture the men at work on them. The stupid settlers of old settled on the flood plain originally and then ,of course, got flooded out with great loss of life in 1852 or so!! The camp/caravan/ cabin site is also beside the river…the Murrumbidgee River. Idyllic. I left Emma and Mike after a week with them in their new house to pay a visit to some friends dotted round Australia. Flew to Melbourne and stayed with Vanny and Ian whilst I bought a motorbike. Sounds easy and infact was not too difficult. We had contacted a private seller and so had things lined up. Mike wants a bike to do his test on so it had to be no bigger than a 250cc. Opted for a Honda. Took a bit of a gamble on the registration by getting it sorted before I saw the bike. The plan is that I use it now and then ride it all the way back to Perth….more later… However here I am after a day of riding 500 plus kilometres in the direction of Sydney. Seen pretty birds, riden lovely empty curving roads, seen dead wombats, porcupines and kangaroos. Got pretty stiff in the knees but things will adjust!!! Bit cold most of the day but now….heaven….the first evening since leaving England ,about a month ago,that I feel warm. Hurrah.
Tuesday 30th October
I headed to Inverell to visit a couple who had come to work for us on the farm for the plum season. Elvie and Jon. Elvie is a pyschiatric nurse and Jon was a Postie. Jon has now stopped work and Elvie does it part time. Their real hobby is archery and the whole family has been doing it for years. They also love travelling. They had said they lived up a rough track! My mobile did not work once I got near where they lived so no phoning for guidance. I found their road and knew it was quite long. It was dirt by then. I went all the way to the end and ended up in a farmyard. ” No, said the farmer, THAT track, pointing at the merest tracks in the grass. Up I went , through a gate and on . The track was more definable but rougher so on and on and then in a clearing there was a house. It was pretty remote! They own 1300 acres of scrub. Excellent place for practicing their archery and killing a few animals with their arrows. It was a lovely spot. They have made a pretty garden with lots of fruit trees, water for which comes from a dam. Water for house from the rain via the roof, electricity from solar panels and bottle gas for cooking. They have a mains phone line put in free by the government but have to use satellite for computer. Great visit Headed off down to Inverell to get petrol and then it rained on me. At least I have used my waterproofs that I have carried around for a month now. Long day to reach Lightning Ridge. Slight deviation from the route but Elvie insisted it would be interesting looking at an opal mining place. Put me in touch with a mental health work collegue who showed me round the mine workings. He himself had prospected with his father and was currently living in an old railway carriage up on the ridge. He was fairly eccentric I would think looking at the outside of his living quarters. He introduced me to Poverty Pete an old englishman from Bournemouth who had arrived to mine opals. He had succeeded too. However his remaining days ” on the ridge” will not be surrounded by beauty as it is one chaotic mess of heaps of gravel and mine shafts, bits of broken metal,vehicles and all sorts of abandoned paraphernalia associated with mining opals. You can see why they need a mental health centre here. Every “home” was homemade from bits and pieces and the place screamed ” broken dreams” at you. Men chasing riches and failing. A tough and rough spot on the ridge. The town was fine and no problem.
Wednesday 31st Oct
Suddenly it is hot. I wake to a cloudless sky and it is warm, no , hot! Yesterday I had 3 layers , today just a t shirt ( plus jacket). Now moaning that it is too hot as it zooms over 30 degrees. The air is so dry and the countryside looks so parched. Dead trees, dry golden grass. Harvest for grain has begun and the huge road trains( with only one trailor) tip the grain at a depot in huge heaps in the open air. No worry about rain for now. I think onward journey might be rail for the grain. Little traffic on the road, just me, a few caravans and some trucks. A motorbike did come the other way…. Highlights were emu and a dead stripey huge lizard thing….Goanna? Reached Bourke nice and early, settled for an authentic australian hotel in town and walked along the Darling river levy in searing heat! There was some shade from the lovely trees and lots of birds to look at. Otherwise Bourke is yet another australian town , built on a grid pattern and well spread out with huge wide roads. The poor Darling river is way below its level of 100 years ago because too much water is being abstracted from it. It is a nasty green colour and is in bad shape. They have taken up cotton growing here as well. …..why can’t we learn not to do the rivers in. The route is on the edge of the outback. The outback is more colourful….here it is more open because it is farmed.
Thursday 1st Nov
Slightly cloudy and not as hot as I leave town. Cobar, 150kms along looks quite modern and I feel encouraged to keep going to Wilcannia on the Barrier highway thinking it will be similar…I was wrong. But before I got there I stopped at a roadhouse where there was a motorcyclist heading the opposite way. He looked like a hells angel type but was very nice and helpful. Roadhouses are friendly places anyway. He told me to watch out for Emus…” look like bushes of they have their heads down” but are stupid and panic. So far today I had called it goat day for all I had seen were wild goats. Told me where to stay once I reached Broken Hill but more importantly told me where to stay in Wilcannia. Broken hill was another 200kms on from Wilcannia and I did not think I would reach there easily. I have stopped in his recommendation in Wilcannia. Its a motel and fine. The rest of the town is very basic and hardly any of it. Its beside the Darling river but it has seen better times. The motel is behind the petrol station/roadhouse and I don’t think I would have seen it.
Friday 2nd Nov
Had to be out of the motel by 9am so off to Broken hill. Gained a half hour in time zone change between NSWand S.Australia and reached town by late morning. Countryside had been very desert like with scrubby bushes and more goats but some Emu. Headed for a backpacker place recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. Even though still am they said no problem about taking a room then for the night. Good and friendly with small pool, free wifi etc for a good price. Broken Hill is famous for silver mining and is where that large mining co BHP Billiton began. Huge hill overlooks the town. Did a bit of museum stuff, saw the “Boundary Rider” solid silver tree. It is a table centre piece weighing about 8 kilos of pure silver made by a jeweller, ..and then relaxed. Had missed the tour down a mine which was a shame but they only did them in the morning. Chatting later one of the australians said had I heard that rumble? Every evening about that time they do an explosion in the mine right under the hotel!!! They now mine stuff called Galena which has silver and other minerals in it. Cooked a meal of fantastic steak in the backpacker kitchen.
Saturday 3rd November
Obviously Emu day! See plenty of them including dead ones which I had not seen before. Had not topped up with petrol as I left town because had only done about 50 miles and the map looked as though it had places that I would be going through. This became a bit of a worry after 200 kms and no petrol stations. Little bike is economic but only has 12 litre tank. I stop in the next tiny gathering of houses. Has cafe but no petrol..however lady says only 44km more. Have cup of tea with her. She soon tells me that she has fallen out with two of the 7 other inhabitants here. She has been running her cafe/truck stop here for 11 years but now her trade was being ruined by these two incomers who were taking her business. Presumably the other 5 inhabitants have taken sides!!! I think to attract more truckers she needed to do something about her sloppy appearance….that might have done the trick. The decor of the cafe was tastefully decorated with old hessian sacks….interesting!! Thought I would stop by the road but now being attacked by flies. Head on…looks very desert like but told later this is normal, not a desert and it would rain on Monday.! Have made contact with Linda who happens to be with friends of hers in Quorn near Port Augusta just 40 kms off my route. Linda, not at all a tall or big female , rode a 400cc motorbike from England to Australia, all alone, aged 59. It took her nigh on 2 years. She had an australian pension to collect when she arrived.!! Its got hot again and am getting short of petrol again as I arrive in Quorn. Linda’s friends have an amazing own built ( he is a carpenter) house with a wonderful view. Very laid back open plan home. Took 6 years to build with their own hands.
Sunday 4th Nov
We had arranged….because Linda wakes early(!!)to go up some gorge to see Yellow footed Rock Wallabies at dawn. So because Linda was making plenty of noise I woke and was ready by 6.30am. It was already pretty warm as we got into Linda’s old car. Her bike for some reason had been in the USA and now needed reregistering and was in Adelaide. Linda’s car was pretty old…but we arrived at the gorge duly saw and photographed the Wallabies and also plodded 5 kms in the increasingly hot sun. Back to the house where the owners had sensibly had a lie in. Plan is to ride to Port Lincoln where Linda’s house is and stay there one night. It is a bit of a detour but means I will have a more interesting ride tomorrow along the coast. I leave in searing heat and it seems to get hotter and hotter. It is so hot that I cannot think about anything except how uncomfortable I am. My feet are boiling in my boots, my bum is uncomfortable on the seat and the air has the feel of a sauna blasting across my face. I am in a sauna fully dressed!! I believe it hit 40c. Eventually it cools as I get nearer to Port Lincoln. Linda never made it in her car.! It broke down after about 50kms. Luckily there was both a hidden key to her house and a lodger. So lodger and I had a good meal together feasting on the fish he had just caught out to sea that afternoon. Linda stayed with yet another friend in Whyalla…..near her car!!
Monday 5th Nov
Very windy and very overcast but as I step outside I realise its pretty warm still….like a bath this time and not a sauna. Not exactly as cold as it looked from inside. Unfortunately the wind is galeforce and pretty head on. The warmth makes it nicer. However after a while it becomes less and a sea fret comes over the land and it gets quite cold. Then it gets sunnier and warmer and then it threatens rain on both sides. There is a fire on the right quite far away. All the changes keep me entertained as well as the vast fields of grain on either side being combined. Very strange scenery coast side as fields of grain abutted sand dunes of white sand. On the road I was having fun with a tailess looking lizard called a “Sleepy Lizard” I thought the first one I saw had lost its tail but then I saw more and more. They are about 12 inches long and look like a slow moving twig crossing the road. They freeze when traffic comes ( not a good idea) and move pretty slowly. Tried to get a photo of it with its tongue out but I was never quick enough. There were lots of them. Reached Ceduna as planned. Apparently been lucky not to get wet. Lightning has played havoc with electricity…many black outs and the wind had set off more than the one fire that I saw.
Tuesday 6th Nov
Beautiful sunny clear blue sky morning as I set off at 7.45am. Cold though, so I have all my layers on…all! There is no wind which is good. The first signpost I see says Penong…..asia????? Very confusing. Soon clouds bubble up but still no wind. Reach the area called Yalata . It is an aboriginal homeland. All gumtrees and bushes and you can imagine the aboriginees there. Supposedly there should be plenty of camels, kangeroos and wombats but they must all be asleep as I see none except dead wombats on the road. Not even the Sleepy Lizard is around. Meet a couple of motorcyclists heading the same way. They are going quicker than me and are trying to reach somewhere much further on than my ambitions run too. Later meet another single biker who thinks my bike is doing very well. He was on a much bigger Honda. So to the Nullarbor plain….the Australians seem to make a big thing of it. Having ridden across a fair proportion of it now I have to say that the Sahara is a great deal more boring. This plain gets 8 inches of rain per year…yes desert…but it is covered with really quite large green bushes and in some cases a few trees. My eyes keep searching for a glimpse of an animal but still none. Eventually all I see today is one Emu…a very poor animal day. The Nullarbor roadhouse was a good tea stop. It was selling Nullarbor tourist knicknacks as well as very expensive fuel. Travelling the incredibly boring Western Sahara is a great deal cheaper as the fuel is subsidised there. I also got to musing about the price of fuel in the Himalayas which did not increase in price however remote it was. There the fuel tanker would have had many a rough road to travel whilst here the road was perfect and not really that remote . Umm….. The “border crossing” came and went. They wanted to know if I had any fruit…isn”t this one country? They then took the reg number of my unregistered bike. Wonder when they will twig that it is unregistered….will they seek me out!! By getting to this part of Western australia today I have gained a rather ridiculous amount of 1 and 3/4 hours time zone change. I made a little use of it , and went 80 kms further than planned and reached Mundrabilla motel. Probably should have done more but that was 560 kms for the day. Enough. Tomorrow I gain another 3/4 hours to finally get back to Perth time. No mobile , no wifi tonight; its mostly truckers, some mobile homers on the move and me!
Wednesday 7th Nov
Another beautiful morning at 6.30am. Couldn’t make the time change….woke up early. Lovely colours but sadly it soon starts to cloud over with loads of ‘fluffy clouds’. It is really quite cold…again have maximum clothes on. Two emu are the wildlife highlight but today I spot the cyclists. I was told I would see some cyclists. Caught up with one just before a roadhouse and then found another there. Both…separate from each other…were men from Sydney out to prove their middle aged manhood ( midlife crisis) by cycling Sydney to Perth. We had an entertaining chat together. To do the miles today I am keeping going by visiting each roadhouse and having a break. At the next one Caiguna are two motorcyclists on fully loaded BMW’s. It is fate , for these are two brits that I have followed on their website ….2ridetheworld. Simon and Lisa. We have friends in common and have a good chat. They are going the opposite way to me so it was goodbye after our chat and I headed off down the longest straight stretch of road in Australia….all 146.7kms or 90 miles. Things were getting quite monotonous I have to confess. I also am amazed that there is no mobile coverage down this road. This is a main trunk road…lonely…big distances…surely it should have coverage? The indians can do it in the Himalayas why can’t the australians do it in gently rolling countryside? Decide that I will push on to Norseman at the end. At least I will find a town and cheaper petrol. Another con of this road is the huge hike in petrol prices. Too difficult for deliveries! How come the indians delivered in the himalayas over rough roads with no hike in prices.? If normal price here is 145 then 199 is a rip off, but that is what they were charging in the middle. Push on with the bit between my teeth and get here about 5pm. I did like the camaraderie of the Nullarbor road. One couple I kept seeing ended up here as well and were eating in the same place tonight. Another chat. Found myself a cabin. Brilliant…could sleep 6 ! Tele, fridge, kettle, cooker…the lot. Heater too…its cold.
Thursday 8th Nov
Try and sit outside in the morning with my cup of tea but the flies are already about. They have been around all the trip. Not masses but really annoying, constantly around your face. Stopping in the outback they will have you on your way in about 10 mins. Just time to do a pee and they are beginning to send you mad.. Norseman was a horse. The founder of this town was a Shetlander who called himself a norseman and then called his horse Norseman. The horse pawed the ground in this place and got a gold ingot in his shoe. So Norseman the horse discovered gold. They are still mining gold here….9,000 lbs a year at £900 per ounce?…… thats not masses really. Relaxed now, have destination in sight. Decide to take a dirt road shortcut….if I see the turn off. I do and head off. Its tarmac for quite a while, then good graded dirt but no signposts. I am looking for a town called Cascade half way along….in the end a rare vehicle appears , slows down and is helpful….and yes I am on the right track. Saw a big snake cross the road…no idea what it was and also saw 2 black swans on a bit of water. Made it back to the main road correctly. Bit of a relief….saved 50kms . Ravensthorpe was the nights stop. Stayed in the local hotel/motel/pub and found wifi at the Community services centre……till 5pm. Food whilst travelling has always had to be bought before 7.30pm…they stop serving around then. Makes for an early night hence the early mornings!
Friday 9th Nov
Paper thin walls of motel so woken by others getting up at 5am. Sun is up and shining. Snooze, but in the end find myself leaving at 8am. It was warmer and eventually I stripped off a layer…and then another…much warmer than yesterday. Try going through a National Park. Its dirt road but graded. Boring, boring…saw nothing but more and more bushes. Yes nice flowers but 65kms of them? One kangeroo and 3 lizards as well! Not worth the detour for me. Finally Albany…strange place but at least have digital technology and sit and play wifi in a cafe. 54kms and I reach Denmark where I meet Emma and Mike again. I am going to babysit their children while they are at a wedding here. Mike admires his bike….its nearly done 7000 kms since we bought it and now is dirty. Have next two weeks to make it look better and service it….Mike does his test during that time…..no hanging around here.!!
Sunday 11th Nov
Ten years to the day that I finished my Round the World trip in 2002. Today I reach Yallingup with the bike…it has reached its new home. About 6800kms in 19 days on the road. Three days staying still. Average of 225 miles over 19 days or 265 miles over 16 days.