Lots of love and laziness in Penang


I really love the cycling part of our journey. Not that getting up at 5am is all that enjoyable to me but once I’m on the bicycle I relish the cool morning air and love being witness to my surroundings slowly waking up. Going along quiet rural roads, huffing and puffing uphill and coasting downhill, catching my breath after a hill and soaking in the views, turning turning turning the pedals and completely loosing myself in my thoughts, feeling the wind cool my body down on a particularly hot day – all of those sensations are part of cycle touring and I mostly enjoy them a lot.

But then there are the times when we don’t cycle. Times like our stay in Penang. And people like Virgina and Tyrone, who agreed to hosting us because the fabulous Barbara, a mutual friend, asked them to.
These times and these people are like the ice cream on a hot summer’s day, like food after two hours of uphill cycling or like having real coffee after going instant for a while. Like most of the examples – you could theoretically live without them, but they do make live so. Much. Better.

When we arrived in Penang after a 125k day of cycling I was pretty beat. Not in a bad mood, just really really ready to not cycle for a few days. I also always wonder how non-cyclists look at us when they see us after a day on the road. Sweaty, dirty with road grime, red faced and exhausted. Oh well, most people just offer us a shower quite fast ;).

I won’t bore you with what we did do in that week in Penang. As usual it was a mixture of relaxing, doing nothing, reading and some activites / shopping / city wandering. Oh and eating of course. Here are some pictures:

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What I want to say is that I enjoy the cycling part of our journey. But I absolutely could not do that long term without the fabulous people we get to meet and stay with. I could not relax and feel at home without making that kind of connection to people on the road.

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When we thought of names for our homepage, “wandering thoughts” seemed to fit as I reflect a lot on what happens during our travels. The “cycling home” part was added later for the Facebook page. As we’re going home it seemed like a good extension. But it has become true in more ways than the original one. We’re not only cycling home to Germany,  we also keep finding places and people we feel at home with, over and over again. This really is the beauty of travelling: My world gets bigger with so many more human connections in it.

Picture courtesy of Tyrone Fowler

Thank you, Virginia and Ty, thanks you so much everyone else who has been a part of our journey so far!!

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Cycling Coast to Coast in Peninsular Malaysia: Coconuts, Cameron Highlands and Street Art

March 2016


One thing you can be entirely sure of when cycle touring: After a flat stretch – however long it may be – the hills and mountains will always reappear. Always. In our case the hills started maybe a day after we left the East Coast behind. Ever eager to avoid the main road we found a small one and pretty steep one at that.

It’s hard to choose sometimes: The big roads are usually busier but the gradient is gentler. The small roads are quieter and the people tend to be more open and friendly. But if there are hills, the gradient is usually a lot steeper. However exhausting that may be and however much I curse about that sometimes – people like Sambi and his family make choosing the small roads all worth wile:


When we stopped at the road near their property they joined us for our break after giving us some time to relax (very thoughtful and much appreciated). We talked, drank several coconuts and joined forces in getting the hard meat out of the nuts. We laughed, hung out and got heartfelt invites to stay or come back whenever we wanted. Sambi told us that the road we were cycling on had just been paved a while ago and made a big difference for them. He showed us his property with all the coconut trees and the several houses of family all around.


This is why we take the smaller, steeper roads. The people we keep finding there are just something else.


After cycling over a few more (bugger of ) hills we had one long climb to go before we would be up in the mountains, the Cameron Highlands.


p1170522After leaving Kuala Lipis we camped at about 200m at a hospital and started really early for the big climb of about 2000m (including a lot of up and down). To our surprise it was actually quite enjoyable. The gradient was easy, the road big but also with a wide shoulder and there was almost no traffic.

p1170523The morning was absolutely beautiful…


… as was this cicada up close. Here are some more pictures of our ride up:

p1170534 p1170535 p1170537 p1170541 p1170542Going up there are not too many places where you can get water and you need a lot in this climate! But lucky for us there was a lot of water coming down the mountain. Mostly we were sure enough that there was no contamination somewhere above as there was nothing around.  If we weren’t sure we used our Steripen to treat it before drinking.

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Near the top we marvelled at the huge tea plantations and the masses of tourists flocking to them. But the best surprise was definitely the awesome Indian food we found. Cycling uphill makes hungry! Another novelty was the sudden change in climate: As we came closer to the top clouds started to cover the sky and it was suddenly downright cold! Don’t get me wrong – I’m certainly not complaining. What a glorious feeling not to sweat for once.


And then the biggest novelty of all – a real camp site! Due to the hot and humid climate and our scotish tent we hadn’t been camping a lot in the past few months. So we were both eager to tent and have cold nights once again. We found Sungai Pauh Campsite easily and set up our tent in a corner, a bit away from all the school groups.


We met Greg, a very nice teacher whose students had just left and spent the evening talking until midnight. Surprisingly I wasn’t the tiniest bit tired even after all that climbing. Maybe the cold weather?


Strawberries seem to be the big thing in the Highlands which meant that we just had to try some strawberry ice cream. What can you do? The Highlands were originally a place favoured by the British as they appreciated the colder climate. That fascination seems to hold steady until today and is probably also fired by all the produce you can find here: There is a lot of fruit, vegetable and tea growing around here.

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To put it mildly, the Highlands are touristy. Crowded would be a stronger word, especially as our visit coincided with school holidays. But I couldn’t have cared less. We spend so much time outside of touristy places and so much time in nature, that I sometimes relish things like these…


There is really not much a relaxed day with Indian food and cheese cake for dessert can’t fix. When our bodies had recovered from the climb we also did some hiking. There are some pretty good trails where you can once again hike without a guide as they are marked.


In the end we stayed for three days. Mostly because of the climate. As much as we like South East Asia, we both look forward to cycling in less than 30 degrees sometime again.

p1170589Cycling down was also beautiful, especially as the road was closed off in intervalls for construction and we enjoyed a mostly traffic free coasting downhill.

p1170596 p1170603 p1170612My mind was set on reaching Penang in a few days. There we would meet friends of Barbara, our host in Sabah. I was looking forward to that as we hadn’t stayed longer with anyone since Kuantan and I needed to be with friends again.

p1170624 What I didn’t expect was, that I enjoyed both Ipoh and Taiping, the two cities we stayed in between, a lot. Both have interesting architecture – for example old train stations – and a lot of street art.

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And if you’re into strong coffee – we usually liked the coffee in the Chinese run coffee houses the most. Very strong and tasty.


And then it was just one more monstrous cycling day to Penang.


125km, hills, monkeys and our first real wrong turn which added an extra 15k.


But it was still an awesome day of cycling and after leaving these peaceful roads behind…


… we finally saw Pulau Pinang in the distance. More about our awesome week with the fabulous Virginia and Tyrone in a little while!



Cycling Coast to Coast in Peninsular Malaysia: Caves, Hospitality and Taman Negara

March 2016


A beautiful tailwind pushed us on flat and straight road away from the East Coast. In no time we had cycled 80k, sat down for lunch and discussed further options. Torsten wanted to make use of the tailwind and cycle on while I was happy with an easy cycling day and was inclined on stopping and spending the afternoon blogging or reading. This sparked a big discussion on ideal riding days, on decision making, on compromising and needs and wants. Not an easy one but certainly a good one, especially in hindsight.


We did stop for the day, Torsten found a beautiful river and I suggested camping there. Setting the not free standing inner tent up wasn’t exactly easy but it worked in the end :).

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On the next day we cycled past a temple and a cemetery in the early morning and had awesome roti in a small village for second breakfast. Starting early really makes all the difference in this climate. Spontaneously we wrote to a couchsurfing host in Jerantut and asked if we cold stay for the night. He replied almost instantly and invited us to stay. Happy to have a place for the night, we took it easy and then stumbled upon some limestone caves on the way.


We had only about 20k to go, so we followed the sign and wandered around for a couple of hours in some sort of a Natural Park.

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Hiking wasn’t really possible without a guide but we could explore some caves which was very impressive!

p1170408 p1170416p1170423 p1170431 p1170438I absolutely love stumbling upon things like that without doing much planning. So after escaping the worst afternoon heat in the caves we quickly cycled the remaining 20k to Jerantut. We met Mohd, an absolutely awesome guy, who loves travelling and was just on the verge of going to New Zealand for a week. So we talked a lot and exchanged travelling tips. As he had no space to host us at his home at the moment, he brought us to a hostel and insisted on paying for us! We only accepted after he promised us to let us invite him for dinner later. Well, what can I tell you, he broke his promise. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how hospitable people can be!


On the next day we left the bicycles in our hostel and took a bus to Taman Negara. Sure, we could have cycled but going 80k back and forth over a lot of hills didn’t look too inviting.


We weren’t quite sure if we wanted to go to Taman Negara in the first place but given that it is one of the fewer National Parks in Asia where you can go hiking without hiring a guide we went. And I’m so glad we did! The village just before the Park has some good food on offer, the entry fee is really cheap (Entry: 1 Ringgit; Camera fee: 5 Ringgit; Overnight stay in a hide in the jungle: 5 Ringgit) and there are marked trails.You can hire a guide for the longer trails but it’s not compulsory.


We went up Bukit Terisek which only takes a couple of hours but still delivers some stunning views. What was absolutely mind blowing to me was the Canopy Walk though.


To use it you have to pay another 5 Ringgit which is again comparatively cheap and I cannot sing its praises enough: When we arrived it was completely empty which let us completely focus on the magnitude of the trees. For the first time I had an opportunity at grasping the height or the depth of the jungle. There is a whole different world up there which you usually just don’t see!

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Completely amazed and thankful for the experience we left and hiked some more. Eventually we took a bath in a river and arrived at our hide shortly after. The management built the so called hides to give people an opportunity at sleeping in the jungle and wildlife spotting from a vantage point.


Sadly they had just been burning the grass down in front of our hide which really didn’t attract any animals.  After specifically asking which hide would be the best to see animals we were a bit nonplussed. Oh well.


It was still nice to be out in nature. On the next morning we hiked back to the Entrance and decided on a Rest Day in Jerantut. We didn’t really want to start cycling in the middle of the day and Torsten could do with some time for work.

Stay tuned, soon it’s time to cycle up to the Cameron Highlands!

Meeting old and new friends: The Malaysian East Coast

February / March 2016

Some places are all about nature. About quiet peaceful scenery,  singing birds or chattering monkeys. Other places are just all about the people you meet.



While we cycled past some nice beaches, lovely roads…


…and impressive bridges, the Malaysian East Coast was definitely all about the people. We had so many touching, heart warming and beautiful encounters which made cycling in this area incredibly awesome. So, get yourself some coffee or whatever your drink of choice is and settle in to meet some of our friends!

Bob’s paradise

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After getting out of Singapore and Johor Bahru’s traffic we arrived at the relatively quiet East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. There we stayed for three nights in Bob’s green paradise.

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Bob is an amazingly generous person: He doesn’t cycle himself but still likes to invite cyclists over to his place and lets them stay for a few days. He is interested in a lot of topics and we talked about politics, the recent government scandal, nature, birds and the environment.

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When I felt a cold coming down, he taught me to open my own coconut to drink the water which is a lot harder than it looks like! I loved watching the Hornbills enjoying the Papaya trees and also did some bicycle maintenance: The pulleys needed replacement:

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I felt very accomplished after exchanging them. It was one more bicycle maintenance thing that is not hard to do. But if you’ve never done it, it takes some time to learn.

Apart from that we ate a crazy amount of food. Bob and his family spoiled us with food in regular intervals of about two hours which was almost too much even for us. Almost :). When we asked Bob why he hosts people, he said that he realized that a lot of people seem to be scared of Muslims. So with him being a Muslim he wants to get to know people and show that he’s not scary at all. It wasn’t the first time to hear an explanation like that but it still left me with mixed emotions: It makes me sad that someone feels compelled to do that and that there are people who have all kinds of prejudices against Muslims. Getting to experience Bob’s generosity and openness on the other hand is just something else. It is one more human connection that we made, one more friend, one more argument against fear of strangers and discrimination. Thank you so much for that, Bob!


Travellers welcome travellers


Further down the road we reached Mersing. We cycled past some camp sites and considered staying on one just because of the novelty of finding a camp site in Malaysia. But as we still wanted to check out the ferry schedule for the boat to Tioman on the next day we went into Mersing. Once there we weren’t quite sure what to do, asked at some hotels for prices and looked for more camp sites further on. It was already getting dark when we stopped at a house with a few guys sitting on the porch to ask for a place to set up our tent. And that’s how we met Raja, Arab, Mahmood and Jo.


They immediately invited us to stay with them, to share all their food, to have a shower, to wash our clothes and just about everything else we could ever need or want. I have no words for their impromptu generosity! We were pretty lucky in meeting them as the house was Raja’s home and all the others just come on a semi regular basis on weekends.


They had all previously lived and travelled in most parts of the world and completely understood what traveller’s need. For me that always gets very clear when someone offers you to do laundry ;). So we took a shower, got comfortable, talked and shared stories and discovered that we have similar ideas of travelling and living in places. And once again I was reminded why we travel the way we do. It is very unlikely that we would have met the guys in a hostel and I am so very glad that we stumbled upon them.


An impromptu bus ride to Kluang

In Mersing we also spontaneously decided to take Banghui up on her invitation to visit her in her hometown Kluang. We had previously met up with her in Singapore and as she is actually from Malaysia, she often goes back on weekends. As I wasn’t very keen on cycling the 100k back and forth we decided to just take the bus. It was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed the scenery from up above.

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Meeting Banghui again was perfect: We got to meet her family, enjoyed cheese cake with her siblings, ate at a Chinese restaurant with the whole family, walked up a hill, talked a lot and got to know each other better.

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After we had a yummy breakfast at the Kluang Railway station on the next day, she and her sister Jo-Ann even drove us back to Mersing as we missed the bus to get to our ferry in time. Thank you so much Banghui and family, we’re loved being able to just pop over and visit you!!


Rainy season in Tioman

Well, our time in Tioman doesn’t really fit the bill for this article but it was too nice not to include it. We loved being there in rainy season: Not many people, cheap prices and even if the water wasn’t very clear for snorkelling there is something about being in places in the off-season. The vibe is different somehow and I love it. Maybe you understand when you see these…

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A night in Nenasi

After Tioman we stayed one more night at Raja’s place – this time in our hammock and a cot:


With the wind coming from the sea it was so comfortable! After that we cycled on…


… until we reached Nenasi when it got dark. A small village where we wanted to look for a place to camp. As the beach was rather busy we ended up asking at the local Chinese school. And we couldn’t have found a better place! After the guard allowed us to set up camp we washed ourselves in the bathrooms and then met Mei, one of the teachers.


She was so very kind and offered us a lot of her food and we talked for a long time about the school and our travels. There are a lot of Aboriginal children coming to this school and Mei invited us to come with her to visit them in their villages the next day. We would have loved to do that but unfortunately we had already arranged a couchsurfing stay for the next day. But still, it was very interesting to talk with Mei and we felt like staying in a camp site: A kitchen, bathrooms, grass to set up our tent – it was all there :).


Palatian days in Kuantan

“Welcome to my palace” – that’s what Stefani answered to my couchsurfing request. So we cycled to Kuantan, found her place easily and were warmly welcomed with cold water and muffins (a dream coming true after a day of cycling in hot Malaysia). Her house really did feel a bit like a palace – a lot of space and beautifully furnished. Stefani was awesome: Very warm, interested, a lot of stories of her life in different places to tell and one of those persons you immediately feel comfortable with. We enjoyed a few days of rest, getting things of our to-do-list done and having wonderful food and South-African-Cider – of all things! Thank you so much, Stefani!!

All the things in between

And then there are all the encounters in between that make cycle touring so special: We met many more people on the road, had long and short talks and it happened often that we wanted to pay for coffee or food and someone had already taken care of that. All in all it was a beautiful stretch to cycle and travel and the people really made all the difference. When I look at those pictures above, my heart opens up to those people who just opened their heart and home to us strangers. There really is so much beauty in this world if you want to see it.

Singaporean Swings

February 2016


When we stepped out of the ferry from Pulau Bintan it felt like we had returned to Australia. The port of Singapore reminded us of an airport and we marvelled at the concept of an actual bicycle lane. We cycled towards the spacious and luxurious apartment of our fabulous hosts Ivy and Martin and were welcomed with beers and very tasty food.

We spent almost a week in Singapore and it passed in a blur. Like sitting in a swing there were some Ups and also a few Downs.

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We had great conversations with our hosts, lots of tasty coffee, we cooked and baked and worked and relaxed.

We cycled into the city, went to the Marina Bay Gardens and strolled around in Chinatown and the Financial district.

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We were stuck in traffic with busses and a car, we used the MRT and cycled some more. Sometimes we found interesting (and a bit confusing) things by the side of the road:



Meeting SK who runs the Tree In Lodge, a bicycle friendly hostel in Singapore, was one of the best experiences: He is a well of information regarding cycling in the area, route options and visa applications. But most importantly he is just an awesome and very friendly guy! SK connected us with two Italian cyclists (Alessandro and Stefania from Godimundi) staying in the hostel and we had fun talking about our routes and cycling and further plans.


Together with our hosts Martin and Ivy we went to dinner with Stefania and Alessandro and their cyclist friends (Simona and Daniele from BeCycling) and we met a few more times for eating and walking in the city. I loved finally meeting more touring cyclists, exchanging experiences and understanding about the fascination of this mode of travel.

We also met up with Banghui again, a very good friend we’ve known from New Zealand. She is Malaysian and works in Singapore now. It was interesting to hear her perspective on working in the city and just to reconnect.

Singapore as a city on the other hand was rather overwhelming sometimes. I just couldn’t wrap my head around all the tall shiny buildings and the well dressed people in the financial district. This was quite the difference to the areas we had been cycling through in the past months. Things like chain oil and gear cables were crazy expensive coming from Indonesia and we had to look a long time to find affordable alternatives. For eating out on the other hand you had the whole range of cheap hawker stalls and fancy expensive restaurants.


I liked the green areas and the free camp sites on the shore but overall it seemed to big of a city with too much traffic (for me) to feel comfortable.

Our host’s place was like a safe quiet haven to relax during that time and I’m very grateful for that! We got to chill out, eat Western food again (of which I never thought that I would enjoy that much) and meet a lot of interesting people. After almost a week it was time to move on though.
Deciding on our route in Malaysia went smoothly: As we had enough of big cities for a while we planned on skipping Kuala Lumpur and cycle along the east coast. Off to quieter places!

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A perfect day on Jemaja

February 2016

After almost two weeks on Siantan, the small ferry finally ran again. So we boarded the ship and went to Jemaja, a neighboring island. Siantan and Jemaja both belong to the Anambas Islands, a group of islands which roughly lie between Borneo and Singapore / Malaysia. We spent a day cycling the beautiful island, swimming on several beaches and sharing food with locals. It was an absolutely picture perfect!

Taking the small ferry from Siantan to Jemaja.
Lots of tiny islands.
Yes we had fun transporting the bikes and all the bags over that gap :).
Watching the petrol refilling process.
Village built on stilts.
Marsh lands.
Cycling on beautiful (and flat!) small roads through the island.
Loving the colours.
No one there except us.
Sandy riverbank.
Road leading to the other side of the island.
Trees hiding the beach.
Road construction.
Perfect beach.
Not that perfect sadly.
A lot of rubbish from the ocean ends up on the beaches.
This awesome family invited us to share their lunch with them.
Bad weather coming up.
In need of a wider lens to capture the huge palm trees.
Overgrown stilts.
Morning light.
The Bukit Raya, waiting to go to Pulau Bintan.
The harbour is too shallow, so we board smaller ships which bring us to the big ship. A bit of a challenge with the bicycles but we manage.
Boarding process from above.

Island Limbo: Stuck on Siantan

February 2016

Wanting to go overland (over sea) to Singapore we needed to go to Kalimantan / Indonesia once more.


At first we had a few beautiful days of hilly riding from Kuching to Pontianak. It was nice to go back to Indonesia and we loved finding familiar things again.


We had a lot of Nasi Campur (Rice with mixed things on top), drank sugar cane juice and talked to friendly locals.


One night we stayed in a church as a thunderstorm came rolling in and we slept really well!


In Pontianak we stayed with Leonie, our couchsurfing host. She is engaged in a local NGO working with less privileged children and it was very interesting hearing about her work with them. We would have liked to have more time with her but our next ship towards Singapore was already waiting.

While doing research on the boat Torsten saw that we would pass the Anambas islands while going towards Singapore. When he read up on them he found out that they are supposed to be really beautiful with lots of corals and snorkelling opportunities. So we decided to stop there for a few days. As the PELNI boat runs only every two weeks we confirmed with a local that the small ferry is actually running which it was. At that time.


So we boarded the ship and spent the next 30 hours on sea. Once again I was in love with just being out there, watching the endless water and the sun. It is really peaceful.


When we arrived in Tarempa early in the morning, a few locals invited us to have coffee with them at the harbour which was just the perfect welcome.


A bit later we met with Steve and he showed us to his hotel where we ended up staying for almost two weeks. How did that happen? Oh well. Usually there is a small ferry that sails to Pulau Bintan (close to Singapore) every couple of days. During monsoon season it might get cancelled sometimes. In our case it got cancelled due to strong winds once, twice, many times until we stopped counting. In the end we waited for 13 days.

p1160426 p1160428 p1160479 So, two weeks on a tropical island – that doesn’t sound too bad you say! Yeah well, it doesn’t but for some reasons I still had a hard time.

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Siantan is a small island, far away from the mainland. There are shops and eateries with local food. We found one restaurant which probably had the best Indonesian food we have ever eaten. But what to do when you miss that damn German bread and jam with more fruit than sugar?


Other than being homesick we had a bit of a hard time figuring out what to do on the island. Siantan is not a touristy place. Which is awesome of course as you get to experience local life(s). But it also means that it took us some time to find out what you can do on the islands. We tried to do some writing and working which was not that easy as the internet connection was mostly slow to non-existent.

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In the end we visited a waterfall, cycled around the island over ridiculously steep hills but with awesome views and went snorkelling for a bit.

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The most amazing experience was to meet Titin, a local English teacher who talked to us on the road and invited us to meet up when ever we wanted. We visited her in her family’s home, got to know her mother and children and were offered a lot of local food – yum!

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Another day she organized one more scooter to go to the waterfall and it was a lot of fun swimming in it and climbing around. And oh – the views!


But the best part was to talk and exchange a lot of stories about all our lives. Even if we have different views on religion, family life and more – our conversations were full of interest and acceptance for the other person. On our last day Titin told us about an island close to Siantan where you can camp overnight and see turtles. And it is possible to go there with a small inexpensive local boat. Oh well. That did sound awesome but we really didn’t want to be stuck on the island for another two weeks.

It was interesting to experience that tourist infrastructure can have its benefits sometime. Just in the way that there is information on what to do and how to get there. It took us a long time to find out that we could have gone to the turtle island and how to get there. It also took us a long time to find out that there are local ferries to some nearby islands because we didn’t think to ask that specific question. I don’t think that many people from Siantan go camping or snorkelling in their free time . Which is maybe why it takes longer to find out about these things.


Anyway. Maybe we didn’t spend our two weeks on the lush tropical island as you would expect it from a western travel brochure. But we did most definitely get a glimpse into island life: An island that is far out there and relies on big supply boats. A place where it’s difficult to get fresh fruit and vegetables because not much grows on the hilly lands. (Of course there is fish in abundance.) A place with stunning natural beauty but also a place where you need to travel at least ten hours to get to a bigger hospital. A place with lovely, interested locals and the best Nasi Campur.


A place where things might just not go as you had previously planned. But then again – when does that ever happen?