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Cycling in northern India: on daily struggles, finding a quiet oasis and the Golden Temple

April 2017

TRIGGER WARNING: This article mentions a case of rape and goes into the correlation of rape and racism.

After exciting Nepal on the westernmost  border near Bhimdatta we had about 10 days left on our Indian visa. And close to 800k to cycle. Not that much especially given that the territory is mostly flat. We actually wanted to cycle into the mountains – I dreamed of 5000m passes in between Manali and Leh but winter had these roads still firmly in its grips and so it was not to be.

To be honest after cycling in Bengal a month ago our expectations were pretty low and we kind of just wanted to get to Pakistan already. In between the ever busy traffic we did manage to find some quiet roads though.

I loved this big outdoor market which popped out in the middle of nowhere. We stopped to have a drink and soak up the atmosphere and for once it was rather relaxed.

While still in Kolkata our host Pankaj had told us: ” You know, all these stories you heard about Indian men? It’s all true.” So basically he told us to be really careful, as rape is unfortunately not that uncommon, also towards foreigners. This is a difficult topic in my opinion. You might have heard of the gang rape of a 23year old woman in a bus in Delhi who later died from the injuries. The case got a lot of international attention and shocked me to my core as well. On the other hand in her article On Rape and Racism Emily Chappell describes extremely well how racist it is to assume that white women are more likely to be raped in places like India instead of their own home country. She says that most rapes happen with someone the victim knows and about 40% of all cases occur at home (UK numbers).

The thing is I did notice a big difference in how I got treated by a lot of men in the areas of India we cycled through, especially when Torsten was not around. A lot of them seemed to get very excited and thus came way to close to me, wanting to shake my hand (which is not common amongst locals with different sexes who don’t know each other) and tried hugging me whilst taking selfies (also not common between locals who don’t know each other).

So for the first time during these travels I really felt that I had to adjust my behavior a lot. It’s not that I have a problem with shaking someone’s hand or hugging someone I just met but I became aware quickly that these actions were received in a different way than intended by me. So I started ignoring most men around me, stopped shaking hands and if someone stood to close to me I would go away. These modifications became second nature rather quickly and I noticed that it became easier after that.

The thing is of course that everyone is different and as much as these modifications helped me cycling in Northern India, there were also a lot of interactions that went a different way. We had people follow us on motorcycles out of curiosity, got asked questions in many different languages, got asked for oh so many selfies and especially Torsten could get quite overwhelmed with 50 people gathering around us in the matter of seconds once we stopped in a small village. But then we had people follow us on a motorcycle to first get me a bottle of water, then one for Torsten and then a bag of bananas for both of us. We had people stop their car to ask if they could help us and more people offering to translate at food stands or helping us to find accommodation.

So traveling’s a fickle thing you know. There are no exact Dos and Don’ts, you might follow some guidelines but then you need to listen to your gut and common sense.

That all being said, I did not feel comfortable camping in Northern India (in the plains) if alone for the reason that it is so intensely populated and hiding seems to be impossible. So when we found ourselves looking for a place to sleep one evening with no accommodation around, Bachi’s family took us in for the night. We had an amazing stay with them. Our common language was a bit of English which was exhausted soon enough. That’s when I got the most perfect early birthday present: Bachi painted my hand with Henna! Usually cycle touring doesn’t go well with a lot of beauty routines and I’m really fine with that. Maybe this is why this shared experience without words was even more special and incredibly relaxing. Afterwards her grandma showed me how to apply oil so that the painting would keep longer.

On the next day we crossed the Ganges and had breakfast on its shores.

Afterwards we found some quiet roads again but cobble stones make for slow going I tell you. So it was dark when we arrived in Jagadhri.

No matter though, because this is when we met Amardeep and Kamal. And these two absolutely fantastic people would continuously spoil us for two days – my birthday included.

Apart from sharing their wonderful quiet oasis of a house and garden and their food, they also shared a lot of knowledge about their religion: sikhism. We both knew next  to nothing about that before so it was really interesting talking to them and learning that sikhism is based on Christianity, Islam and Judaism but kind of tries working with the best traits from each of the big religions.

Torsten had fun trying on a turban…

…and I got presented this wonderful shawl which is worn in the temple.

As my birthday coincided with the Sikh’s most important holiday we visited a temple and got to know ‘Langar’: The Sikhs think that it is rather hard to focus on praying on an empty stomach and this is why there are big free communal meals in every temple. These are run by volunteers and as a sign that everyone is equal, all the people sit together on the floor.

On the morning of our departure Kamal tought me to make stuffed prata which is a doughy pastry filled with potatoes and herbs. Crazy delicious! These two days with Kamal and Amardeep were just what we needed: lots of fantastic and interesting conversation, a quiet garden oasis, lots of milky tea and a fabulous birthday celebration. Thanks heaps you two!!!

After Jagadhri we kind of had enough of cycling in this region. We considered taking the train to Amritsar but were baffled by their rather laborious requirements of taking bicycles on board. So we cycled to Chandigarh, marveled at the very chic town and took a bus to Amritsar the following day. We rather wanted to spend some time at the Golden Temple instead of enduring more honking, congested roads and inconsiderate drivers.

And we didn’t regret that decision one bit. The Golden Temple is absolutely fantastic. The Langar here serves over 100000 meals every day and between 200000 and 300000 on weekends. Even more on special occasions. There are a few cooks who work there permanently but again most of the kitchen is run by volunteers. Never in my live have I seen such huge pots, so many onions being cut, so many people being fed every ten minutes. And the food was damn tasty on top of that!

As foreigners we were invited to sleep in a separate compartment. Food and accommodation is all free but you are invited to leave a donation and/or volunteer.

We arrived at the accommodation at about 11pm after our bus journey. Unwashed, tired, and a bit overwhelmed by the thousands of people outside. And this is when we hit a streak of luck once more: The only free beds were next to Jen and Lluis, two amazing people who were currently on a walk from Bangkok to Barcelona. A walk! We kind of woke them up when we entered the room and then – as tired as we were – just couldn’t stop talking about everything.

The next day we spent exploring the temple and its surroundings and as a parting gift from India we even got to enjoy some fireworks.

So long, India, so long. We will be back one day fur sure. Probably not on bicycles, but we sure will have to have a look at all those mountains we missed this time…

Holiday at home

September / October 2016

I cannot begin to describe how much our break at home meant to me. After two years of continuous travels I just needed to be in one place for a while. And so, after staying with Torsten’s family in Berlin for a few days, I finally boarded that last train that would bring me to my family.

With what words should I even begin to describe that welcome… Let’s just say, I loved seeing everyone again and for the first days we could not stop talking.

I had anticipated that I would need a lot of time to myself after being with people almost all the time for the past two years. Instead I was delighted to spend as much time with my family as I possibly could. For the first month my parents had a lot of free time as well, so we would enjoy long breakfasts and share our lives once more. So much had happened and we could never catch up entirely but we sure did try.

We also spent a lot of time preparing my sister’s wedding. Being able to help with that and not just hear about it on the phone was the best present for me. The wedding itself was utterly beautiful with all the family and friends being together and seeing so many people again for the first time in two years.

After the wedding my parents and Torsten and I went for a small hike…

… while my new brother in law slept it off :).

We also got to celebrate my father’s 60th birthday together. We hiked up to a hut and stayed there overnight.

What a fantastic way to celebrate a birthday and welcome a new year of life!

As my parents love being in nature we went hiking for a few more times…

After a month of enjoying the company of family I went back to Berlin and we applied for our Russian, Indian and Pakistani Visa. Here are some less than pretty passport pictures:

I also got to visit several of my friends in Bamberg and Rostock, unfortunately I was mostly to busy enjoying the company to take pictures. Here are some impressions from Rostock in autumn though:

As we stayed way longer than originally planned I also got to join my family for All Saints Day which made for a nice if slightly chilly day out with my grandfather.

A few hikes later and we found ourselves saying Goodbye again. I was and am so happy and grateful to have such a wonderful family and friends in my life. Which makes Goodbyes a sad and rather hard affair. One thing was different this time around though. While we didn’t really know how long we would be gone when we left for the first time, we now do have a time frame. We should be back in Germany in spring 2018. That should be halfway realistic considering mileage and seasons and also feels good to us. At some point we want to be closer to friends and family and also live in one place for a while.

going home overland: Ukraine, Poland, HOME

August / September 2016

Arriving in Kiev, Ukraine after a night train from Moscow we first purchased a Simcard to be able to contact our hosts and then sat down for a coffee. That’s when we started noticing that there are a lot of coffee places around. My kind of place!

After taking a few buses to Lana and Alex’ place we had a bit of trouble finding our way in the big apartment complex but made it eventually. Our fantastic hosts who had just come back from a holiday the day before welcomed us warmly into their flat and left us soon after as they had to go to work. That worked well for us as we could get some more sleep in after the night train.

A bit later we went to the nearby supermarket and were again fascinated with all the wonderful fruits and veggies available.

The next day we ventured out to the city and visited a vegan eatery recommended by Lana. Vegano Hooligano has fantastic food!

Afterwards we were content with wandering around, enjoying the sun and counting the millions of coffee places in the city. There sure is a coffee culture here!

Somehow this particular toilet paper was very big last year:


Memorial for victims of the Ukraine conflict:

Ukraine is another one of those countries I had never really considered going to before. But I am so glad we came here and got to experience late summer in this beautiful city.

On the next day, before leaving for Poland, we took a walk with Lana and she showed us some greenery close by.

We didn’t have our swim suits with us but couldn’t resist the water in this awesome summer weather. Oh well, the clothes will dry eventually :).

Later that day we once more boarded a train towards home. This particular one brought us to Kovel, a smaller city near the border to Poland.

We spent a few hours there, walking through a local market and buying honey and all kinds of tea, before boarding a bus to Warsaw.

I was beyond excited at this point. For one, we were almost in Poland and thus almost in Germany. Secondly, we would get to meet our dear friends Natalja and Piotr again. About one year ago we had all stayed at the Canfield’s house in Cairns, Australia, and for a few days we really felt at home with so many cycle tourers around. Sharing this common interest and a life style, we never ran out of stories to tell or activities to do together. Okay by that I mean eating. 😀 Just kidding, we also went for a hike. Anyway, Natalja and Piotr had finished their world tour a while ago and are now settled in Warsaw and we would get to see them again!

For a few days we were in heaven again. They welcomed us with absolutely tasty food and being in Poland we had some high spirited desserts :). We exchanged lots of stories about cycle touring and more importantly about life, about what’s important. We got to meet a group of their fantastic friends which I immediately felt very comfortable with.

We had some more delicious food and Piotr could not believe just how much coffee we can drink. He promised to buy some in bulk next time we are around :).

And we also went for a wee cycle. As N and P live on the outskirts of Warsaw it was really easy to get out of the city and we absolutely enjoyed being on bicycles again.

In the end we could have stayed and wanted to stay much much longer, but our families were waiting just across the border. And thus we boarded our last bus bringing us swiftly to Berlin. And yes, I did get a bit emotional arriving at Schönefeld airport. Suddenly, most people around me spoke German, everything was distinctly familiar and the people I missed the most were so very very close. More on that next time!

The pleasures of home – a break in Germany

Some of you might remember – there was this wedding I didn’t want to miss in September. So after about a year of cycling we changed our plans slightly, ditched the bicycles in southern China and boarded a lot of trains and busses through China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland to finally step off in Berlin, Germany, about a month later. We did miss our bicycles but since I had experienced quite a bit of travel fatigue in the past months I was all for a change of pace. And I fell head over heels in love with travelling by train.
But all of that is nothing in comparison to arriving at my home town train station and hugging my parents for the first time in over a year. Or to actually being there to help with wedding preparations and thus creating some more family stories instead of listening to those stories over the phone. And oh yeah, there’s all the food that came with us celebrating being together.
Suffice to say, I’m pretty happy at the moment. There’s time for rest, time to be alone, time to process some of all the things that happened. And also time to organise some things for the rest of our trip. After two years of travelling, pretty much all of my clothes have been mended at least once, have either several holes in them or are totally sun bleached or stretched beyond wearable. So some replacements are due. Also, my sleeping pad literally popped a while back in Hanoi and I had to build a funny charging construction with a sawing needle for my laptop as the original needle thing broke. So, also time for a new (used) one. Oh and we’re getting a second passport with hopefully some Visa stamps in it.
But most importantly, there is time to see and hug all the people I’ve been missing a lot for the past two years. With all the Internet, cheap phone plans and messaging apps we have, there is nothing like talking to each other in person.
So, don’t worry, there will be more updates and stories on our cycling trip some time soon. But for now I’m a bit busy trying to locate a used ThermaRest sleeping pad and coordinate a lot of visits to friends and family. See you all soon!

North Malaysian Treasures and Goodbyes


After almost a week of wonderful company and lazing around we were finally ready to leave Penang. Once again I was a bit sad to go but there were plenty of welcome distractions to come. First we met Lily, one of Ty’s English students, who was planning on doing a cycle tour of her own. Between her job and our desire to cycle in the morning hours we only managed a quick coffee but got along really well. She had also lived and travelled in New Zealand a few years back and we talked easily about travelling, ideas of living and cycle touring.


A little while down the road we crossed paths with Brigitte and Fred who had cycled from Switzerland to Malaysia. It was so nice meeting them and as the next cafe is never far away in Malaysia we sat down and had another coffee. Now that’s a morning to my liking :). All the best for your journey ahead you two!


The rest of the day passed quickly…

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… and just when it got dark we reached our warmshowers host Chia Chen in Alor Setar. He had sent us a list with suggested activities + timetable before which left us a bit confused. But as he was very invested in showing us around we thought why not just stay one more day and experience Alor Setar. So we started our day with outdoors yoga which is a first on this journey and ended it with chanting songs in a group – also a first. But both enjoyable to me.


In between we visited a boating competition, conversed a lot with the help of Google Translation and I actually got to try myself at making Roti Canai, one of my favourite Indian Malaysian dishes.

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It is a lot harder than it looks!

We also ate a lot of different food which is always appreciated.


In between we tried explaining how we like wandering around in cities without checking off attractions. Or how we enjoy having a coffee and just soaking in everything around us. Not an easy thing to explain if you only share a basic vocabulary!

But we found these paintings of traditional crafts while wandering:





On our way out of Alor Setar we coincidentally passed the Rice Padi Museum. We haven’t frequented a lot of Museums lately but as we literally rode right past we discussed for several minutes if we should take the chance and go in. That meant giving up riding in the cool morning hours of course but it’s not like we haven’t done that before ;). So we parked the bikes and went in and it was so worth it! From the 360degrees dome with a painting of the changing seasons to the exhibition of different methods of rice cultivation and more – it was informative and nicely done!

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Kedah, the State we were in, is the main rice growing area in Malaysia which showed all around us.



After our museum visit we cycled peacefully through rice paddies which was a nice change of pace.

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As we were nearing the end of the dry season, it was all rather arid and we could only imagine how lush and green this area must look in planting season.

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With El Nino this year Indonesia and Malaysia have had exceptionally little rain and higher temperatures than usual. We keep hoping the coming rainy season will change that. It’s hot at the moment!

And so this was it. After several months in Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia we finally leave for Thailand. The border is just around the corner and we’re excited for what’s coming. See you on the other side!

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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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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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?


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.