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Through the mountains into tiger territory: Cycling in Nepal 2

March 2017

After descending from Okhaldunga we relished the warmth and set out to ride the middle mountain road towards Kathmandu. Not exactly sure about the road conditions after Gurmi we were thrilled when a guy told us it would be all asphalt after the first 5k.

The road wound along this stunning blue river and was a beauty to cycle. Even when the steep up and downs made for a lohot of cookie breaks…

The earth is always moving…

I especially liked that we were finally getting back into camping. Whereas it was almost always too hot in Southeast Asia and I didn’t feel comfortable camping in India – it was now getting easier finding places to set up our tent. We would still get discovered every night as there are somehow always people around but we felt safe nonetheless.

In Kathmandu we stayed with Madhukar and Lalita through Warmshowers. We had interesting talks with them about the earthquake that destroyed parts of their house, about arranged marriage and relationships in general and about cycling of course.

They took us to their relatives’ house in the city, shared their food and told us all about the festival happening in the streets. Unfortunately I forgot the name but we took part in a ceremony where less fortunate people from the villages around Kathmandu come to get some food and sweets.

As interesting as the festival was, the handing out of the sweets we bought on Madhukar’s recommendation left me a bit uncomfortable. I totally get the idea to provide something for the less fortunate within a society. However handing out things as a white foreigner in a society where charity and volontourism are as common as bread is not something I want to take part in. I had an equally hard time talking about this to our host though as I didn’t want to criticize their tradition.

On other news we found muesli and yoghurt! Yep, simple things make us pretty happy these days :).

Cycling out of Kathmandu made for one of the worst days on our tour. The air was just absolutely horrible. Even with the face mask that I had bought on the first day in Nepal I had serious trouble breathing.

Since the earthquake in 2015 the city is a big construction zone. Add that to the coal powered brick factories and the fact that Kathmandu lies in a valley surrounded by high mountains – the amount of dust is not a pretty sight. Yes sight, because you can literally see it. On your skin and when you try to look at something about a 100m away from you.

Combined with my asthma the ride out of the city was really tough, especially as it went uphill.

It got better though and we got to see some pretty amazing river crossing cable cars.

And we met Shiva… One night when we were looking for a camp site we found a cleared patch in between some farmland. After setting up camp of course someone discovered us, this time the charming little boy from the pictures below.

And that’s how we met Shiva Datta and his family. When he saw our tent he came over with the biggest smile and after some introductions he insisted that we have dinner with them in their house.

Shiva lived with his wife and son, mother and father. He is an English teacher in a nearby school and had the opportunity to go to places like the USA for work but chose to stay with his family instead. The family produces most of their food by themselves and told us about their lives and the village. They forgo alcohol in their village as it makes people fight more.

Thank you so much Shiva for letting us into your lives and sharing everything with us!

It was getting humid!!

After three days we reached Pokhara where we planned on doing another small hike. Our plans changed however once we looked at the weather forecast and at the ever looming clouds and mist. We weren’t really in the mood for a repeat of the previous rainy / snowy / thundery hiking experience and thus Pokhara became a bit of a touristy rest instead. Not bad at all once in a while!

The ride from Pokhara down to the plains was one of the most beautiful ones in Nepal. A nice road and not much traffic, perfect views – what’s more to want?

We did notice an increase in kids asking for money / sweets / pens however. It seems that all the NGOs and charities definitely left their trace.

Once back on the Plains we enjoyed the ride along the relatively quiet main road. There were long stretches of forest, something we hadn’t encountered in a while. For camping we asked to stay with a family as we were… in tiger territory!

We didn’t catch any pictures of the family but it was another awesome experience. They let us set up our tent in peace and later joined us for tea. We shared some food and they proceeded to bring us all the ingredients for tea. Some leaves, fresh milk from their cows and sugar. After tea they gave us more tea leaves and sugar and when we politely declined they just looked for some plastic bags in our food bag and put the sugar and tea inside. It was really exceptionally sweet!

Torsten then got his little harmonica and played something for the 10 kids that had gathered around and then all the kids wanted to try as well. We had fun for about half an hour until the parents told everyone to let us sleep. Also appreciated :).

On the next morning we left all the fruit we had with the family and cycled off towards Bardia National Park.

Planning on maybe doing some hiking in the jungle and eventually even seeing a tiger we learned that the guided tours (obligatory) are rather expensive and start early in the morning.  After a few days of cycling we just couldn’t be bothered and instead cycled around on our own, enjoyed the atmosphere on the river and relaxed in the garden of a beautiful homestay.

And then the Indian border was just a little while away. We enjoyed our month in Nepal and will be back for some more hiking in better weather some day.

One more thought for the end though. Nepal has been the first country where we encountered a lot of children begging for something or trying to get hold of our handlebars to stop us. Or yelling at us for some reason. I’m pretty sure that this is due to many white foreigners coming to Nepal to volunteer in some sort or another or to many NGOs doing something ‘charitable’. Has all that really changed anything in the long term though?

So before you consider donating to a charity or volunteering to build a school or in an orphanage, please consider the bigger picture. You might start by reading this New York Times article:

“Perhaps we ought to abandon the assumption that we, simply by being privileged enough to travel the world, are somehow qualified to help ease the world’s ills. Because the mantra of “good intentions” becomes unworthy when its eventuality can give a South African AIDS orphan an attachment disorder or put a Haitian mason out of work”.

I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of things we should change. Poverty, women’s rights, slavery and so much more. Probably we should consider doing that through other ways though.

On this note and with a picture of my funniest flat tire from the last day in Nepal – see you soon!

Into Pnomh Penh – Getting a taste of Cambodia’s challenges

May 2016


Leaving Battambang after a week we were both happy to be on the road again.  The two days cycling towards Pnomh Penh led us past a lot of agriculture and this interesting earthen structure. We couldn’t quite figure out what it was for though. p1190010


p1190019We cycled past temples… p1190025

lots of houses on stilts…


and found the river which led us into Pnomh Penh. Unfortunately there was some major road construction happening. So the going was rather tough and we were a bit slower than expected. When it was already getting dark two people on a motorcycle rode past us and kept looking back at us. Eventually they stopped and talked to us. And this is how we met Ary and Aude, two French staying in Cambodia to live and work. They invited us to stay with them but as we already had organized a warmshowers host to stay with we decided to meet up for dinner the next day. What a warm welcome!

p1190030_v1 Over the river we had another surprise waiting for us. Our hosts Raphael and Claudia were living right beside the Mekong in a beautiful house with a garden.  p1190040  p1190048 p1190049 p1190053

We spent our days in Pnomh Penh relaxing, cycling around the city and also gave the bicycles a good clean. Cambodia’s secondary roads left a little dust where there should be no dust:


We also payed a visit to Tuol Sleng Prison where the Khmer Rouge incarcerated and tortured people they didn’t agree with. Not an easy place to be at until today. I was especially interested in the portrayed stories of people who had been forced to resettle somewhere else / to marry someone they didn’t want to marry / to work for something they didn’t believe in. All of this happened not too long ago and all these stories are still a part of today’s society.

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On two days we ended up staying with Ary and Aude in the city as the ferry over the river only runs until 10pm. They cooked a fantastic dinner for us and introduced us to the French way of slowly eating for about 3 hours. We also tagged along for some drinks in the evening and found ourselves in a district that could as well be in Italy or Spain. With lots of small bars and restaurants it looked distinctly European.


Pnomh Penh was an interesting place to be. It was a cocktail of extremes with simple Cambodian eateries on the one side and fancy French bakeries with fancy prices on the other side. Shiny malls and Tuol Sleng Prison. Lots of old scooters and a few expensive 4 wheel drives. And everything in between.

It is very easy for foreigners to get a Cambodian business visa for a year to stay. Volontourism is ever rising and the industry of charity is booming still. There is an ongoing discussion about the effects of Western charity and for anyone considering going to volunteer or work in Cambodia I recommend reading this article on volontourism and Cambodian orphanages :



With a lot of new impressions and things to think about we left Pnomh Penh after a few days for the countryside. We planned on following the mighty Mekong for a while to see where it would lead us… More on that next time!


Cycling paradise in Southern Thailand


Look at the windmill – that’s where the wind is blowing to.
Look at the trees – that’s how strong it is.
Look at the distance – that’s the actual amount of traffic here.
Look to the right – there is food where the huts are.
Look at the asphalt – what more could you ask for?

Pure bliss!

So this is it I think: We have arrived in cycling paradise. I can’t think of any other way of describing it. Everything just… works.


But let me explain from the beginning:

Our route and the roads

We cycled into Thailand at the Padang Besar border crossing. Not our first choice as we would have preferred the smaller one near the west coast. But with the idea of applying for a Chinese Visa in Songhkla we went east.


Just after the border we found ourselves cycling on an actual bicycle lane – what a novelty after the past months! And while we’ve had a few busy highways towards Hat Yai and Songhkla, there were oh so many quiet and peaceful roads afterwards.

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We had a nice break in Songkhla at our couchsurfing host Tom. Unfortunately our attempt to apply for the Chinese visa was not successful as non residents are supposed to apply in Bangkok now. Oh well. So we cycled northbound along quiet coastal roads with an inland stretch towards Suratthani.


Sure, sometimes we would find some sand on the road or maybe even a tree. Or Google Maps shows bridges which are more fiction than reality. But I prefer that to cycling on a main road any day.




There is literally food everywhere. And I can’t rave enough about Thai food. It is oh so easy to find street stalls which prepare food freshly and with an array of herbs and sauces. What I especially liked was the amount of vegetables used! Also almost every eatery however small offers free drinking water. We often used that to top up our bottles (after asking of course!).


For an added bonus, there are also big supermarkets. Usually we prefer buying fruits and vegetables in markets but sometimes supermarkets are convenient, too. They tend to have more choice and some occasional treats. Not the one in the picture above though, way too big!



We both never plan to much where we are going to end up after a day of cycling. We usually have some ideas where to find guest houses and if that doesn’t work, camping or asking people are other options.


In southern Thailand accommodation was almost as ubiquitous as food. Sometimes we were surprised about finding places to stay in rather remote corners. And if you don’t find anything, the beach is really not a bad alternative as long as there is some wind!

A shift in attitude: On compromising

It might have been that cycle touring in Thailand is just overwhelmingly easy as for the above mentioned reasons. Or it might be that our discussion on cycling and distances and compromising was fruitful. In any case I noticed a shift in my attitude towards compromising. Torsten and I might still have different ideas on what distances we would like to cycle on some days but somehow all our talking made me realise that it’s important to compromise. That may sound mundane but is has grown more important recently. In the beginning of our trip I was far from being able to cycle the distances / dirt roads / altitudes we cycle today without it being a major event. Now I’m much more capable and even if I don’t enjoy cycling 130k for several days in a row I can do it for one or two days. And as Torsten enjoys cycling longer distances sometimes I’m fine with doing that as long as we have some easier days in between.

That may sound trivial but it’s actually quite important for us to both enjoy touring together. When cycling with someone the chances are high that you won’t always agree on everything. So our solution is now that we sometimes cycle more, sometimes less and I’m doing well with the mix.


Of course the shift in attitude has a lot to do with the shift in physical abilities. Not only that I can now cycle longer distances, I am also a lot more confident on dirt roads. And we had a few challenging ones going inland to Suratthani.


I still don’t enjoy cycling over rutted tracks on a loaded touring bike for hours but if it happens I am much better at dealing with it. And mostly I actually stay on my bicycle, even going uphill ;).


So as I said, cycling in southern Thailand really has it all: tasty food, a choice of accommodation or camping opportunities and different levels of easy or difficult cycling. Almost like a holiday!

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?


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!

To stare or not to stare


As we’re waiting to embark on our PELNI boat towards Makassar, my friend Lia and I have the following conversation:
Lia asks: “So, in your culture, is it not normal to stare?”
Me: “Erm, why?”
Lia: “Well, I watched some movies and sometimes when someone stares at a person, that person says ‘what are you looking at?’.

I smile and respond that it is – in all my cultures – indeed not very polite or even common to stare at a person. And come to think of it – this is one of the local habits I have been trying to get used to in the last months. Torsten and I noticed quite early that a lot of people watch us doing all sorts of things. Things like trying to lean the bicycles against a lamp post or buying some fruit or even just drinking coffee or eating something. So not the most exciting things in life you might say. As I wasn’t really used to being watched that much, I felt a bit uncomfortable at times. Growing up  I was taught not to look at someone for long because that would be impolite.


Given that we were travelling through a lot of small villages and the people were probably not used to seeing many heavily loaded touring cyclists sweating their way along those roads I reasoned with myself that we were quite an unusual sight and people would naturally be curious. So over the course of our journey in Indonesia I learned to get used to being looked at a lot and – for the most part – to be fine with it. Except for those moments when I am very tired or exhausted I now usually don’t mind someone watching me while fixing my bike, having coffee or figuring out where to go.


And then I had this conversation with Lia which made me think about the whole deal more consciously. Our talk was followed by an experience on the boat ride to Makassar: On said boat a lot of passengers, including us, sat on deck to pass the time. And since there is not a whole lot to do on an overnight boat journey, most of us sat there, talking sometimes, but mostly just watching things happening. And then, suddenly it hit me: There was a man renewing the deck floor and manufacturing wooden nails to fix the deck. And he wasn’t alone: there were about 15 people standing in a close circle around him and watching him do his work. They didn’t engage in conversation with him, they just looked at him. Stared at him you might say.

Except that I’m now hesitant to use that word because I no longer think that it is appropriate. “Staring” has that negative connotation of being impolite which doesn’t seem to apply here. Looking at someone for a prolonged period of time is not necessarily impolite in this context and it took the conversation with Lia and the realisation that we weren’t the only ones being looked at to understand. A lot of the time that’s just what people do here. It might be to pass the time or because what they see is unusual or because there is nothing else to do. And additionally of course, because it is not necessarily considered impolite.


This is what I value so much about travelling: It took me some time to understand and I did feel uncomfortable in the process but then I learned something about other ways. While I don’t believe travelling and learning naturally go hand in hand, I do think, once you’re willing to be curious and look further than your initial feeling of discomfort, you might be in for a surprise. I can now say that I am way less insecure about doing what I want to do while someone watches me. And I don’t mean that in a “I am watching you” kind of way. I no longer question someone’s politeness or his motives but rather confront him or her with a smile or a ‘Hello’ or I just look back. For once that’s just so much more comfortable than before. And who knows, you might just gain a few new friends in the process!


Sick in Tawau: On unwritten rules


After stopping in Nunukan for a couple of days and accidentally overstaying our Indonesian Visa (we should know better by now than to trust boat schedules on a board), we finally arrive in Tawau, Borneo. Our first days in Malaysia are partly amazing and partly just very quiet. Food wise we are in heaven: Suddenly there are so many different tastes and spices, something that we missed quite a bit in the last months. We indulge in Indian food, mostly bread with dhal and curry. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. YUM!


On other news I’ve been fighting with a slight cold since we cycled out of Makassar and unfortunately that has turned into a fully grown bronchitis by now. I’m coughing my lungs out and feel slightly tired all the time. When our neighbour from next door comes over to bring me some of her old cough medicine I know that it must be quite loud, too.


So I make use of our nice little hostel room: I drink about 3-4 liters of tea every day, lie in bed and watch a LOT of TV shows. While Torsten is somewhere working, I sometimes venture out to get food or medicine or just walk around a bit. And somehow this is just what I need: having a bit of time to get used to a new place.


While I don’t think that everything changes when you cross a border, Malaysia has still a few new things to discover / deal with. One of those things – and for cyclists maybe the most important thing of all – is always food. And by that I mean food choices, availability, prices and so on. Yesterday we were at a restaurant for coffee and I saw that they have Mee Goreng Tauhu (Noodles with Tofu). When I later went back there to have lunch I was informed that they only make noodles for breakfast. So I went to another restaurant and asked for noodles and what do you know – noodles seem to be a breakfast dish here. At least in the small and simple restaurants that we usually go to.


It’s small and simple things and unwritten rules like that which are quite important for us to discover. It’s not necessarily a Malaysian thing though, it might just be the city or a certain area. In the Indonesian city of Ruteng for example most everything seemed to be closed by 8 pm. On the contrary in many other areas in Indonesia people seem to pour out on the streets after it gets dark and get together to eat and drink and meet family and friends.


Another example is Martabak – a kind of crepe which usually has an egg vegetable filling and is fried in oil. Very delicious! When we wanted to buy that dish in Mataram on Lombok, every single roadside stand (and we saw about 20 of them) exclusively made that dish with meat. Before and after that city, Martabak would in 99% of all cases be vegetarian. So setting your mind on a specific kind of food at a specific time of day you might just be in for a lot of surprises!


I  try to understand things like that in retrospect and think about how Mataram as a big city might just be richer and meat might be more available. Ruteng on the other hand is high up in the mountains and might be too cold (in a relative sense) to hang out outside in the evening and therefore shut down its shops earlier.

For our daily (cycling) life that means that a lot of small things change all the time. Sometimes I understand why, sometimes I wonder, sometimes I never find out what it’s about. Sometimes the changes seem to be relevant in a certain city or for a specific group of people, for an area or even for a country. You never really know before though. And you never stop stumbling across those unwritten rules.

At the moment I enjoy having a lot of time finding out about life and food in Tawau, Borneo. And so I get better albeit slowly. After almost two weeks I’m finally fit enough to leave Tawau and take on the Kalabakan Road. Off we go, into the (Palm Oil) jungle!

Choosing where to go – on the beauty of cycle touring

To be honest, travelling the world has never been high on my list. I value change, I am interested in meeting new people and ever want to question my beliefs and prejudices about other people. But setting out to go around the world, going from one place to the next and always having to decide where to go and what to see and what to do is not something I wanted to do for a prolonged period of time.
So you might wonder why I am now cycling for quite some time and why it seems to be going well except for the usual complaints. Well, you see, because cycle touring is different. Sometimes it is not at all about the places to go to but all about everything in between. And that is so. much. more. fun. On the Indonesian island of Flores this became especially apparent.


The ferry from Sumbawa brought us to the small and rather touristy town of Labuan Bajo. It is well known as a starting point for diving and snorkelling tours and caters exceedingly well for the western backpacker.  There are bakeries, lovely cafes and a lot of shops that rent diving and snorkelling gear and organize tours. It was different from what we had in Sumbawa and I wouldn’t usually feel comfortable with the obvious focus on tourism.


But it was perfect at that time. In Sumbawa we were constantly in the centre of local attention whereas here we were just two out of many travellers. We ate exclusively local food before, we fought with the heat and stomach bugs and now it was time to indulge in some bread and a latte, use our hostel’s wifi and relax. In the end we didn’t go for a organized tour. They are rather expensive and we have so many beautiful experiences on the way that it was hard to justify spending so much money on one.


Further down the road we stopped for a night in Moni, another small town known as a starting point to the Kelimutu Lakes. These are volcanic lakes that change colours sometimes and thus are one of the major tourist attractions of Flores. Unfortunately the entry fees for foreigners went sky high in the last year, so once again we decided not to go for that.



Instead we ate pancakes and pasta in Moni and climbed down to a waterfall where we saw some locals wash their clothes.



We stayed in a woven bamboo house and enjoyed the panorama. It was beautiful and very relaxing.

And when we were in the rather unassuming town of Ende, Torsten found out that you can hike up a small volcano with supposedly quite nice views. You don’t need a guide nor pay entrance fees. So we set out to hike Gunung Iya.


We left our bicycles at a small store at the end of the road and walked through a rubbish dump. We found the trail head and walked up.


It was hot and exhausting and I was starting to regret it a little but all was forgotten once we got to the top.


The views down to Ende were absolutely stunning  and I fell in love with the colours of the volcano.

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And we could even see some smoke coming out!


So maybe we missed something in not going to the Komodo National Park for snorkelling. Maybe we would have enjoyed the Kelimutu Lakes. But who knows, we might have regretted paying three days budget just to view the lakes. Sometimes it’s hard to choose where to go and what to do when you could theoretically try and do it all. But for one I find it rather exhausting to go from one must-do to the next. I am rather surprised by people and things along the way. And I like not having so many expectations about what I am going to see and feel. And with tourist attractions it is harder to keep your expectations at bay. There are so many pictures about the Kelimutu Lakes that you might think you know what you are supposed to get. But of course it can still be different. The weather could make the lakes more or less impressive, the sun shine in a different angle or you might be in a bad mood and not enjoy it as much.


So this is why I want to free myself from checking things off an imaginary to-do list. Each journey differs from the next one and that’s good. I don’t want to fulfill a certain itinerary but rather work on having an open state of mind. I want to be open for the beauty of what’s right in front of me or for the challenge. I want to be surprised, I want to learn, I want to be overwhelmed and sometimes just do nothing.


It’s like having the choice of maybe seeing an elephant in the wild or going to the zoo to see one for sure. Or finding street art instead of going to an art gallery. I’m choosing street art and the chance of seeing an elephant over certainty. Somehow this seems more real to me.

Letting go in Lombok

In Australia we were lucky to stay with so many awesome warmshowers hosts and I missed having that connection to people quite a bit by then. (Unfortunately there are almost no active hosts on the islands east of Java.)  Settling into a cycling routine hadn’t been that easy for us here: As we constantly talked to people during the day, we rather enjoyed having a place to ourselves at the end of it. Of course that also meant that we didn’t really connect to people on a deeper level as we had many times before in Australia. So gladly I remembered reading a blog post from Drop the tension about a house in Mataram which is open to all travellers. Soon after I wrote a post on their facebook page if we could stay for a few days. The reply came within hours and we were invited to stay.


After Torsten’s stomach settled down we cycled to Rumah Singgah in Mataram and were welcomed by Babak.


He and his family open their house to travellers and thus bring a lot of people together. After we had been staying in guest houses in Indonesia so far this was quite the change for us. We shared our sleeping space with lots of other people and there was always a myriad of things going on: People come and go, share coffee and food, engage in conversation, watch TV and use the WiFi.


Mamak sometimes roasts coffee which smells amazing and there is almost always a pot of freshly made coffee around. The atmosphere is bubbly and still relaxed and I love it and simultaneously wish I would understand more Indonesian to comprehend more of what’s going on around me. Almost all fellow travellers are Indonesian. While we were there only a Danish couple stayed for a night.


On the first evening Imam asks us if we would like to join an overnight snorkelling trip visiting several islands off the east coast of Lombok. Sure, sounds great! On our own we don’t usually go for rather expensive tours off the bike but in a group we can share the cost and it should be a lot of fun to do that together.

Preparing for the trip was an interesting experience for us. Our group communicated mostly in Bahasa Indonesia and sometimes English which meant that we didn’t understand a lot of what was going on. We asked questions like what to bring along and what would we eat and should we bring our stove and would we have enough water? And who would drive the boat and where would we sleep? We are used to organize a lot of big and small things as we go along and food, water, a place to sleep are always high on the list. So we tried to do our part here but didn’t really succeed. Most of the time we weren’t entirely sure what would happen and how we could take part in the preparations. Maybe due to language barriers, maybe due to different styles of organizing. So we felt a bit insecure of how to proceed but then just decided to go with the flow and see what would happen.


In the end – of course – everything fell into place and we had a wonderful trip.


We stayed overnight at a small uninhabited island and slept outside on a bamboo platform.



We lit a camp fire, watched the sun fall and rise and had a beautiful breakfast with coffee from make-do mugs before we set out to snorkel in a few different places.


And oh my – the underwater world is just something else! If you didn’t feel peaceful before, it’s very hard not to be at peace watching all the colourful fish and coral.

So, what’s this about? Maybe one thought that stays is to let go. Sometimes things go a different way but nevertheless turn out beautifully. Sometimes you need to ask yourself what’s really bothering you and then try to let it go. And who knows, you might be in for a deeper and more satisfying experience if you open yourself to different ways of doing / thinking / living.


Most wonderfully, returning to Rumah Singgah after our trip felt like coming home. We had some more coffee, someone played guitar, some of us sang along with the correct lyrics, others just sang along ;). It was loud and lively and I went to sleep very happy that night.