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Published: November 3rd 2009
(Day 572 on the road)
I am in Australia, and I keep having to pinch myself to believe just how different this place is compared to Southeast Asia. A mere two hour flight southeast of Bali, it feels like a different world altogether. After travelling across Asia for the last year and a half, some things that I once considered normal and a part of everyday life in Europe suddenly seem odd and new, yet strangely familiar. Some of the things I noticed on my first few days in Darwin and which caught my attention:
Pedestrian crossings where cars actually stop for people. Laws that prohibited smoking in public places. Kindergartens and day care centres. A well-stocked library. Fixed prices for everybody without any discrimination. People using rubbish bins and not just dropping their litter everywhere. A tourist information that is not a travel agent. People jogging. Street lights (or 24h electricity everywhere for that matter). City planning that deserves the name. Pedestrian walkways without treacherous one metre deep potholes. People asking "where are you from" out of genuine interest, and not because they are trying to sell me something. Traffic and red-light cameras. Women wearing perfume and make-up. Shoes other
than flip flops for all occasions. Playgrounds for children. Disabled access ramps and toilets. Drinkable tap water. Toilet paper.
And of course the most wonderful thing of all: Personal space and peace, of which I have been so deprived of in the last few weeks and months in Southeast Asia. I can spend a whole day walking around doing touristy things and not a single person approaches me with whatever he thinks I might urgently need (taxi, food, water, souvenirs etc). What a thoroughly enjoyable feeling!
At the other end of the spectrum are all those things I will miss dearly about Asia. The list is endless, a few things that spontaneously come to mind: The availability of great food literally anytime of day or night. Enjoying one hour massages for one or two euros. Chatting with the always smiling and always curious locals. Renting a motorbike for three euros per day for endless fun exploring remote corners. Relaxing on deserted beaches. Snorkeling in crystal clear water teaming with tropical fish. Coming eye-to-eye with amazing wildlife. Having the cutest children in the world practising their three English questions on me. Sipping fresh fruit juices everywhere or eating exotic
fruits that I have never seen before in my life. Soaking in natural hot springs. And a million more things I have come to appreciate about that part of the world. As one reader of my blog commented: Asia gets into your heart somehow. I couldn't have said it better. And I know for sure that I will be back one day to explore more of this marvelous region. Thank you for everything, Asia - I miss you already.
But past is past, and this is now. New adventures lie ahead.
The other thing I immediately noticed about Australia were the costs of things here. Of course I was mentally prepared for higher prices compared to Asia, but I was not prepared for just how high they actually are. On top of that the Australian dollar currently trades at an all-time high, making it even worse. It took me a considerable amount of time to accept that one night's hostel accommodation in an eight-bed dormitory here is equivalent to about five night's accommodation in a private en-suite room in Indonesia. Or that the cost of the ten minute bus ride from the airport to the city here would
feed me for about four days in Malaysia (eating out, not cooking). Or that for the price of one single fast-food dinner of fish and chips I could rent a motorbike for three full days in Indonesia. I could go on with these comparisons, but I am sure you get the picture. The result is that eating in restaurants for instance is suddenly out of the question on my budget. Instead I found myself shopping for special offers at the local supermarket and eating noodles or similar cheap food for dinner. What a change. If I spend too much time in expensive countries like Australia, it will shorten the overall length of my trip considerably. I will have to figure out a way to deal with this.
I spent a few days in the city mainly relaxing and enjoying the sensation of being left alone by everyone. I forgot just how wonderful it feels to blend in - as I don't look different from the average Australian I am not instantly branded as a foreigner. I also made good use of the excellent free facilities at the library and visited the informative Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, before ending the days at the new Darwin waterfront with its nice views of the bay.
Together with Japanese Momoko (which translates as "Peach Child", how nice!) I also explored the Sunday's Mitchell Market, a local flea market boasting a good range of mostly Asian cuisine. I sampled some and immediately wish I hadn't, making me miss proper Asian food already.
On my last day I rented a car together with two girls from Italy and Spain (sorry: The Basque region, she made that very clear) to explore the nearby Litchfield National Park. The park is famous for its various waterfalls, lakes and rivers, and we spent a relaxed day stopping and swimming at various places.
And the next day it was time to leave Darwin and head south. Ayers Rock was awaiting me.
Next stop: Alice Springs (NT, Australia).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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