Feeling blue

February 2016


I am at an amazing place right now. A lush tropical island, somewhere between Borneo and Singapore. The waters are clear, there is intact coral around, the people are friendly and interested and small roads lead through tiny villages up and down through the hilly island. The views are breathtaking. It all sounds too good to be true.

And it kind of is. In the past few days everything has been too much. I didn’t want to explore the island, I wasn’t very fond off checking out the underwater life and making new connections with people seemed overwhelming as well. I feel the great need to be alone, to have a break from it all and to have some time to process.

I’ve been waking up being homesick and not wanting to get out of bed. I wanted to have rye buns for breakfast, toasted with butter and home made jam. My longing for bread lead me to research bakeries in Singapore because that will be the likeliest place to find any familiar tasting bread in the near future.

It’s a bit unusual for me, that longing for bread and it leads me to believe that I’m actually looking for something familiar. We’ve been cycling for about 6 month now and overall been on the road for almost 16 months. And I don’t think I’m tired of travelling per se. I still love cycling, I love connecting with people I don’t know yet and I love exchanging smiles with strangers. And I am still all for out new food and am amazed about all the new vegetables I never knew.


But right know, in the most beautiful of places, I just need a break. I feel bad, because I should go exploring and I should make more friends and try everything new and yet I can’t. And as much as I do feel bad about not doing all that much, I do get it actually. I’m all for change and new people and impressions, but I also need time to process all of that. Maybe more than some people, maybe less than others. I’m not sure how other long term travellers do that and I do feel the pressure of going on and on. But on the other hand I know that taking some time to process and letting experiences sink in is the key to stay healthy for me.

So for now I’m letting it sink in and I’m taking it as it comes. Spending a day inside, doing computer work, reading, watching movies, whatever it takes. And then, I’m quite sure, this feeling will pass. Of course I might have to make use of the bakery related research soon!

Discovering diversity: Along the coast to Kuching

January 2016


After our hiking adventures it was high time to get on the bicycles again!


After Bintulu we took a small ferry over the river and managed to get away from the main roads and cycle along the coast for a while.


It was calm and quiet and I loved the small roads. Eventually we turned inland again as we wanted to meet a warmshowers host in Sibu. We saw modern longhouses…


… and tried colourful desserts (ABC).


When it got dark we found a place to stay in Selangau and ate dinner outside. Soon a few guys came to our table and asked if we’re bicycle tourists. Erm, how do they know that? Our bicycles were locked up in our room and we were wearing normal clothes… Their answer was that we must be cycling through – otherwise why would two foreigners stay in that tiny town without any tourist attractions? I admired their combination skills and thought to myself that this is exactly why I like cycle touring. You get to be and stay in places where not too many travellers go. The normal places, the places in between attractions, the places where life is happening.


So we got to know the guys for a bit: They are all Malaysians, but live in Singapore and Melbourne. At that time they were on a fundraising tour for the Sarawak Children’s Cancer Hospital.


On the next day we made our way to Sibu.


It rained all morning and I loved it. It even felt a bit cold sometimes and I cherished that sensation as long as it lasted.


In Sibu we found John’s house easily and were welcomed by his family. It was their first time to host any foreigners so we were all a bit nervous. But we got along very well and over the following couple of days they introduced us to a truckload of new food!


I am still absolutely awestruck by all the new vegetables I got to know in Sibu. Some of them at John’s home – cooked and processed – and some of them at Sibu’s fresh market.


It has a jungle sections where people sell vegetables and more – harvested just a few hours ago from the jungle. It is seriously amazing!


I had thought that I already knew a lot of locally grown fruit and vegetables after a few months in Indonesia and Malaysia.


It turns out my knowledge wasn’t that big after all. There are so many different greens, so many fruits in all shapes, colours and sizes and often even John or his mum didn’t know the name for them.


There is an abundance of everything and for the first time I begin to understand what biological diversity really means.


We then took a walk around Sibu which was also very nice.

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An afternoon visit to John’s grandma in her village longhouse with a tasting of home made rice wine left us with even more impressions.



John told us that nowadays it’s mostly elderly people and kids who live there.



The young people usually look for work elsewhere.


When we said good bye, John’s grandma has tears in her eyes and I was reminded of my own family and the good byes after a visit to my grand parents. Some things are so similar, no matter if there is thousands of kilometers in between.

Thank you John and family for hosting us – we had an amazing time with you! I am so very thankful for all the new things we learned staying in and around Sibu. That’s what travelling is about!


From Sibu it wasn’t far to Kuching. We cycled along the coast, on small and quiet roads.


After meeting Alex, a friend of Simon (our host in Miri), he organised accommodation further down the road with a friend of his in Roban. So without a common language and only because we knew a friend of a friend, Mr. Ah Poo trusted us with one of his spare rooms for the night. These gifts that we get as we cycle along will never seize to amaze me.


On the next day it got even better. After a beautiful day of cycling we arrived in Maludam and looked for a place to sleep. Several homestays were on offer but too pricey for us. So we sat down in a cafe, had perfect coffee and steamed buns that reminded me of a German dish (Dampfnudeln 😉 ) my mum makes. We then asked the very friendly owner if he knew a cheaper place to stay for a night. He said he would ask his friend and came back a short while later only to invite us to his home! We gladly accepted and let the magic happen once more: Awang, Juria and their big family opened their house to us, gave us our own room and we had a lot of fun preparing and sharing dinner together.

There is a myriad of languages spoken in Malaysia, with Bahasa Melayu, English and Mandarin being the most widely used. On top of that there are a lot of local languages. On this journey we cannot ever learn all the languages we encounter properly but of course we try to learn at least a little. As Bahasa Malayu is similar to Bahasa Indonesia we could do some Smalltalk and try to explain our trip. And Awang’s family spoke some English, too. So with those two languages and of course body language we had a fun evening getting to know each other.


The next day turned out to be a crazy one! We had planned on cycling towards Kuching and staying somewhere in between. But when we started looking for places to stay there was just absolutely nothing around or later nothing in our price range. Interestingly a lot of places which you could rent for a few hours though. Buut that’s just not enough rest for a cyclist ;).

So we kept on pedalling and eventually it got dark and we still cycled some more. At some point we decided to just go all the way to Kuching. At least we would find a hostel there and get some proper rest tomorrow. So we kept on cycling, looked up a place online and got there, very much exhausted. With 145km we had just cycled our longest distance in a day! The manager of the hostel we stayed was very impressed with our journey and gave us a dorm room all to ourselves.


We stayed there for two nights and then moved to Syakirah’s, a couchsurfer who generously left us her place as she went away for the weekend. It was awesome to have a flat to ourselves for a while! So for a few days we didn’t do much.


My body needed rest and food and being stationary for some time. Kuching is a nice city to get all that, too.


We wandered around for a bit, had coffee, got invited by a few businessmen to join their Friday morning breakfast and met up with Simon, our warmshowers host from Miri once again.


All in all this stretch of cycling was beautiful and we met so many different people who made it even better. I love the diversity of it all: Sometimes we contact people beforehand (through warmshowers or couchsurfing) and sometimes we meet people on the road and sometimes someone invites us into his or her home without even knowing us. Each time when we leave we take another story with us, maybe a few words in a new language and each time we have made a new connection, a new friend. Ideas and preconceptions get replaced with faces and personal stories that I can relate to. This is how our world gets bigger and smaller at the same time. Bigger because of all the people and experiences. Smaller because all those people really aren’t that far away any more. I mean that in a cultural sense and in a physical one. Culturally we have a lot in common with all kinds of people we meet and physically – I mean, come on, you can go there on a bicycle! Why don’t you try it?




On friends and hiking in Sarawak’s National Parks

January 2016


After 5 months of cycle touring one of my dreams came true: Carina, a long time friend from back home was coming to visit! Very spontaneously she decided to spend her winter holiday in warmer climates and visit us. That was perfect for us as we’re not good long term planners anyway.

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With a bit of logistics involved we decided to spend a few days in Miri with our generous warmshowers host Simon who graciously let us stay in his flat as long as we wanted. There we would meet Carina and go off to hike several National Parks.


Torsten and I both love hiking but we haven’t done a lot of that since starting cycle touring. Quite often it involves a lot of planning and hassle (getting to the trail head, leaving the bikes and the luggage somewhere safe, having to engage a guide, paying a lot of fees for using the trail) and we already do a lot of planning for the cycling part of our journey. So this is why we were quite excited on the chance of actually going hiking again.


After a breakfast of roti we set off towards Lambir Hills National Park. Carina on the bus and we on our bicycles. We had quite the laugh when we managed to cycle into the entrance right as Carina’s bus arrived ;). We settled into our hostel accommodation and then walked towards several waterfalls. One actually had a lake where we could swim!


As it got dark we walked back “home”, cooked dinner and fought a battle against a lot of mosquitoes.


In the next morning Torsten and I hopped on our bicycles once more to cycle the 70k to Niah National Park. When we started it was raining lightly and it continued like that for while. It was the best weather to cycle in a long time and the 70k ride passed quickly. Carina hailed a bus in the meantime and relaxed a bit until we got there. Once again we secured a hostel room and I cannot recommend the accommodation in Sarawak’s National Parks enough! Simple, clean and affordable – what more do you want for a hiking adventure? We had thought about camping before but as Carina didn’t have a tent and it was hot and humid as always we preferred the hostel.


In the afternoon we walked along a perfectly comfortable board walk to the Niah Caves. I wasn’t sure if I would manage a long hike after already having cycled quite a bit in the morning but the trail was really easy. We spotted some colourful centipedes…


… and were blown away by the magnitude of the caves:


My camera is not good enough to take pictures in the dark, so you just have to visit yourself! There are a lot of birds flying around all the time and you see  many constructions and scaffolding for bird nest collectors.


The walk back was a quick one and after that we joined a group from Singapore for a Chinese dinner in Niah. Very delicious!


Previously we had planned to go to the next National Park in the morning but as we talked a bit we came to the conclusion that staying for one more day was good as well. Our accommodation was really beautiful and I already felt that we were going too fast and trying to do to much. So we decided to stay a bit longer. That meant that we would try and go up Bukit Kasut the next day.


And oh, what a hike it was! At first it started out all flat and we were wondering when the climb would begin.


And when it did it really went up up up! The steep slopes in the humid jungle let the sweat drop from our every pores and we took a lot of breaks to drink huge amounts of water.


But it was a lot of fun and the views were absolutely fascinating. Especially given that the elevation was only about 300m high.


After that we somehow got a boat over the river and had a late lunch in Niah. We did some shopping and hitchhiked back to the National Park. Dinner was an amazing set of about 5 home made dishes and we almost finished it all.


The next morning brought a first: Torsten and I would split up to get to Similajau National Park. I wanted to spend the time with Carina and we would therefore try and hitchhike with my bicycle in tow. Torsten would cycle the distance of 110k in the meantime. So he left early in the morning while Carina and I enjoyed a relaxed breakfast and had time to talk and reconnect.


About two hours later we arrived in Similajau National Park, having successfully found two lifts. Due to my bicycle and the two of us it had to be a pick up truck with 5 seats or we would have had to split up. But it was easy enough and our second lift actually drove about 100k out of his way just because he wanted to make sure to get us to the park. We assured him repeatedly that we would be fine but he wouldn’t have any of it. What an amazing guy!


Similajau National Park lies on the beach and so we spent the next two days relaxing at the beach and hiking alongside it. p1150915

We didn’t see any crocodiles (much to my disappointment) but found other fascinating wildlife:


We marvelled at the intensely coloured rivers…


…and had beautiful sunsets.


And then – much too soon – it was time to say good bye again. Carina, thank you so much for visiting us! It was absolutely awesome to share our life with you, to reconnect and to get to know the diversity of Borneo together.



The many face(t)s of Brunei

December 2015


In the middle of Borneo lies the small sultanate of Brunei. As there are no roads around we were planning on cycling right through. Also we were quite curious about the place. Rich through oil, mostly Muslim and the Sharia in place again. That’s what most people know about Brunei. But what else is there to know?

Albeit short we had a few very interesting days. Right after Christmas we crossed the border once and then back into Malaysia (as Brunei consists of two separate parts) and then back into Brunei. In the matter of a week we collected seven stamps in our passport!


Crossing borders seems arbitrary in a way and often I have a hard time believing that people are supposed to be different on the other side of the line. There are so many different factors influencing our socialisation and the place where we are born is only one of them. As we keep crossing borders (land borders, sea borders, city or province borders…) we usually do notice a few things that are different though. Cycling in Brunei was comfortable for us, as the roads suddenly had wide shoulders where we could cycle. Also there were parks and picnic areas with tables and chairs where we could take a rest.

On our way towards the capital we saw houses made from wood and some very fancy villas.


But the most obvious change was probably the forest next to the road. It seems that Brunei is able to afford keeping the forests instead of turning them into palm oil plantations. For cycling that is just beautiful: The huge trees protect us from the sun and you see a lot more monkeys jumping around. Cicadas are singing and birds chirping.

IMG_3603_v1We planned on staying two nights in Jerodong, a city near the capital, with our couchsurfing host Jay. Albeit brief, our stay provided us with a lot of impressions that question the conservative picture Brunei gets in the west. Yes, the sharia is in place and yes, alcohol is legally banned if you’re muslim.

IMG_3604_v1But there is also a lot of young people interested in change and working towards creating their own culture. There are locals wearing short pants and there are activists working for fair labour conditions. These road signs for example are from an exhibition for the rights of migrant workers. 


And yes, there is also a lot of wealth on display, especially when you visit the capital and one or two of it’s museums.


But go to a local market or hop over to Air Kampung (Water Village) and we saw a lot of parallels to life in Malaysia (Borneo): the local home made ice cream, the small shops or the houses built on stilts.

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After we spent a quiet New Year’s Eve at Jay’s place we cycled off the next day. It was Friday and our host warned us that everything would be closed between 12 and 2pm for prayer. We just managed to buy some groceries and get breakfast/lunch before really everything shut down. It was definitely interesting to see. Apart from that we had almost empty roads for a while ;).


We cycled further west where we would meet Amzah, a friend of a friend. We met up with him in the afternoon and – without knowing him before – stumbled into one of our most heart warming encounters of this trip so far.


He treated us to a beautiful room, invited us to a wedding ceremony held by his family and showed us he local beach just in time for sunset.


We met his extended family and tried all kinds of food. On the next morning we ditched our cycling-early-to-avoid-the-heat-routine once more to visit his coconut farm.

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I loved the farm and Amzah’s enthusiasm for organic growing methods.


The family also started another business where they produce organic soaps, shampoo, perfumes and more from coconut and other plants. Amzah, thank you so much for your hospitality and the tour!


During lunch time we finally cycled off and didn’t quite make it to the Malaysian border on that day. But oh well, it was so worth it. I still have a hard time believing what we managed to see and experience in those 4 days!


So of course, I cannot provide you with a deep insight into life in Brunei – our stay was way too short for that. But what I want to say is that people might be different from the picture they get in the media. Meeting people and making friends is always worth it in order to get over media images. I’m not saying that that will make everything better in the field of politics or economics but it will be the first step towards a more connected society. So please try and make the first step!

On making friends, train rides and a fabulous christmas celebration

December 2015

Sometimes everything just falls into place. You might have had a hard time before or even for the briefest of times thought about quitting but then something happens that makes everything perfect. In my case I get that feeling almost exclusively when I meet people. The beauty and sadness of travelling as we do  is that we know that we only have a few days with mostly everyone. So meeting someone new and becoming friends can happen very quickly and intensely. This is a story on making friends and absolutely loving it!


When we were in Keningau, Torsten’s achilles tendon hurt even during the 500m walk to our breakfast place. So we called our warmshowers host in Tenom to ask her about hospital options or any other ideas. Barbara generously offered to pick us up and after some consideration we accepted. We could have cycled but most likely it would have made matters worse. She arrived about an hour later and we drove over many more hills to Tenom. The small town nestled in the mountains became our cosy home for the next week. Barbara’s house was a haven to recover from the exhausting ride and my first two days were spent with doing a lot of nothing except for reading and eating. It was glorious.


During the following week we took turns cooking wonderful and diverse meals and satisfied our hunger for cheese and all kinds of food we hadn’t had in a long time. I’m talking quiche, curry and muffins and feta salad here. I can’t begin to describe how happy I was! It’s quite interesting how I get homesick for food sometimes…

p1150197 We also did a bit of bicycle maintenance. As my cassette was quite worn for some time now I exchanged that and finally put our cassette tool and chain whip to use.


It was actually really easy to do that! Over time I’m gaining a lot of confidence to do bicycle related stuff on my own or with a little help from Torsten. I like that most things are relatively easy – not like a car with complicated electronics and such.

As Barbara was busy setting up her new language school in Tenom we helped with painting one of the classrooms. I really enjoyed doing something with my hands for once and it was nice to see the change on the walls right away.


Apart from that we didn’t do a lot. We panic visited the botanical garden on our last day which was quite beautiful.


But the most important thing for me was the feeling of being at home somewhere. I like travelling and all the experiences it brings but I also miss spending time with friends and family a lot. In Barbara we found a very good friend and after a few days it felt like we had known each other for a very long time. We felt entirely comfortable there, sometimes spending time together talking, sometimes reading or working a bit, sometimes having coffee or a beer and watching TV. It was a relaxing holiday with the best company we could have wished for.


When it was time to leave an intense feeling of sadness overcame me and stayed with me for a while. Sometimes the part where we leave people and places behind is really hard. Then again this wasn’t going to be the last time to see Barbara! As Christmas was coming up she invited us to spend it with her and a friend at the beach and we gladly accepted. I was happy about the prospect of being with friends during the time of year where I would miss my family a lot.


So we took the fabulous rickety train out of Tenom towards Kota Kinabalu and enjoyed the hell out of it.

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The train has open wagons and slowly meanders through a river valley lined by small villages.

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It is a truly awesome experience!


After that we spent a few days in Kota Kinabalu. We met up with John, a warmshowers host and he introduced us to his friend Alex who’s sister would host us for a few days. Confused? So where we at first but it actually was a lot of fun. Henny and her family invited us into their home, gave us yummy food and let us try their home made ice cream! From that moment on I was won over… 😉


Alex invited us to a cycling city tour on the next day which was awesome as we didn’t have to navigate for once.


He also showed us a cheap bicycle store where I exchanged my chain rings.


On Christmas day we left the city and cycled a short 20k to the beach.


We were welcomed with a Christmas cookie buffet, coffee and mango juice. With the taste of home in my mouth and the beach right in front of me it was the perfect combination to celebrate Christmas on our tour.


We then met Barbara and her friend Louise and had loads of fun and more good food and drinks. It was heaven on earth!

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So sometimes everything just falls into place. You meet someone and get along instantly and all the hard times of cycling uphill in the jungle are forgotten. Thanks heaps, Barbara, that was all (and a lot more) that we needed!

p1150464(As we had the chance we actually surprise visited her once more a few days later. We rarely get to just pop by someone’s house with our mode of travelling. So we jumped on the chance of using the train one more time and I loved the look on Barbara’s face when she saw us sitting in her driveway!)