Susanne & Machiel attempt to travel for a bit.
Currently traveling
  • Day146

    Corona Airways

    Today in Qatar ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    We named our blog "Half around the world and back again" because we never thought we'd circumnavigate the globe. Yet here we are.

    Sunday evening we got notified about a ticket price drop for flights to Europe with Qatar Airways. It seemed like they actually added extra flights. Against our usual indecisiveness we booked a flight for the next afternoon. We dared to only because it was very soon. Otherwise the risk is that we'd lose another ticket to a country closing its borders. With 2 hours delay (they claimed for thorough cleaning, so that's a good thing) we made our way to Doha.

    We have never seen as many non-Asians wearing facial masks. But despite that and lots of signs asking for it, people still don't seem to understand the importance of social distancing. It reconfirms our wish for self quarantining back in Europe and we don't understand why that is not mandatory. These flights are just asking for mass infections. It's hard to maintain 1.5 meters distance in a booked out plane, of course, but you have no choice. People's behaviour only makes it worse however. Random people walk and talk very closely to each other at the airports. The ones wearing anything resembling a mask appear to feel invincible. And apparently you get home quicker when you breathe into someone's neck while queuing. People are stupid.
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  • Day142

    The end

    March 27 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 28 °C

    Today we had to hand in our van. So after breakfast we had to pack our stuff. There was a bird who wanted to be packed with it, but we advised it to fly out of the van instead. Before we left Yanchep National Park we wanted to have a look at the koalas one last time. This time we were lucky and two of them seemed pretty active. While the first one seemed undecided if he was hungry enough to really do the climb to the leafs, the second one was fully enjoying his breakfast. He didn't seem to notice that it was from a 'fake' tree. It was very cute. But seeing them being so active and up close we also realised how big they were and how large their arms and claws are.

    Eventually we had to leave. We arrived in Perth, removed all the red dust from the van, dropped off our bags at the apartment, filled the fuel tank and drove to Traveller's Autobarn. This was a first glimpse into a world with corona. 3.5 weeks ago this place was busy with staff and people that picked up their van. Today it was closed, information on how to hand in your car contactless was hanging on the front door together with how to get a voucher for remaining rental days in case you delivered it early because of corona. The parking was full of returned unused rental cars and vans.

    To minimise the infection risk we took an uber to our Airbnb for the week. After giving the critical places like light switches, door handles, kitchen drawers etc. a good scrub, we felt at home quite quickly. Which is good, because it's a place for isolation.

    The last 142 days have been a great adventure for us. Thanks to everyone who followed our trip and thanks for the comments, likes and private messages! For now we will discontinue our world trip blog until there's something to write about again.
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  • Day141

    Australian wildlife again

    March 26 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 34 °C

    The morning was once again filled with administrative work. We are also part of a WhatsApp group with other 'stranded' Dutch people in Australia. Just keeping up with that group chat already takes some time. We also needed to fix accommodation for the next week. The first AirBnB we booked this morning suddenly said it was only available a day later due to maintenance. The second one we booked eventually worked after our first 2 credit cards had not enough credit anymore thanks to flights and 2 cancelled but not yet refunded AirBnBs. Luckily we have 3 cards and the third worked. If there had been a cricket match in our front garden this morning we wouldn't have noticed.

    Around noon we were finally done and left the campsite with the destination being Yanchep National Park. Our aim was to spend our last vanlife day there and also camp in the park. We saw a lama farm on the way. From the campsite we could easily walk around in the rather small national park. There were lots of loud cockatoos as per usual. This time a different species though. There was also a protected area in the park for koalas, who wouldn't know the difference between that and the real wild anyway. But it's been a while since we saw them on the Great Ocean Road and therefore worth it. We spotted several of them and two were actually pretty close. While they don't do much more than sleep and, if you are lucky, move an arm or leg, they are still very cute to look at. Lots of grey kangaroos hopping around as well. We hadn't seen many 'roos lately in the outback. So it seemed like the perfect last day with the van.

    For dinner we made a basic pasta dish for probably (hopefully) awhile. While eating it in the van (we had to escape from the mosquitos outside once again), we had a new first time experience. A not so small spider was walking next to the table behaving as if it was at home here. Luckily it was brown and with that, according to our knowledge, not dangerous. In a heroic move we caught it in one of our cups and released it in the wild.
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  • Day140

    Messages and phone calls

    March 25 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 31 °C

    The day started with a new letter from the Auswärtige Amt. The message was something like 'book with Qatar Airways NOW'. This was slightly stressing as the prices got very quickly insanely high. 11000 AUD per ticket!!! Who is willing to pay this? An hour later the next message followed saying something like 'Qatar will keep connecting Australia with Europe as far as we know. So you can also book tickets for April.' Sure for April the prices looked slightly better but even those were changing while you were looking at them. Plus, we already have 1400€ in flight coupons, we don't really want another one. In corona times booking a flight for 2 weeks from now feels like booking a flight 5 years ahead normally. There's too much uncertainty.

    Just when we decided to wait for the Dutch government advice, we received an SMS from them. 'book Qatar Airways to Europe'. Ok, so again we checked the website for flights, now to Amsterdam. They were a bit cheaper. We considered booking but even then for something several days from now. Before finalising we decided to call the Netherlands. We actually reached someone quite quickly (beforehand we already tried to reach Qatar Airways or the German embassy to ask if the connection is really guaranteed in April, but neither of them picked up) . The phone line was breaking off twice but it was enough to get to know that Qatar Airways was not part the official Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs solution, but was kind of accidentally sent by the Dutch Embassy via the same communication channel.

    To add a bit more frustration to our morning, we also got to know that our Airbnb hosts don't want to host us anymore. They are not the youngest anymore and don't want to take the risk. We of course understand that but it felt quite last-minute and it added another point to our to-do list.

    We took a shower and drove to the next town hoping for better reception. Qatar Airways flights seemed hopelessly expensive anyways until 2 weeks from now. And booking that didn't really feel good. Before leaving we went to the local shop to pay our camping (10 dollars for 2 people, it was so cheap). We also bought pasta and sauce just in case. The employee working there was very kind and we had a nice conversation about our situation while of course adhering to the social distancing rule of 1.5m.

    In the next town we finally found bread which we enjoyed for lunch in the local park. Machiel called with the Netherlands again before and received the confirmation that Qatar Airways is not the official solution and that we best wait to receive a phone call from the emergency line in the next days. It however sounded as if the actual repatriation flight could still take a while.

    In the meantime we again received a letter from Germany. "Repatriation flights are also not for free. The difference is that you pay afterwards and not beforehand. The costs can be high." We of course never expected a free flight to Europe, but we appreciate a reasonable price together with the guarantee that it actually brings us there.

    Next on our to do list was a call to Etihad. Surprisingly we also got through here. We wanted to know our options apart from turning our flight into a coupon. The employee was very nice and understanding. Apparently we could also get 80% of the price back. Her advice however was to wait a few days and see if Etihad changes their policy to allow a full refund. That was interesting to hear.

    Because our flight was cancelled and we are now seemingly stuck in Perth before repatriation flights are in action, we had to find accommodation for awhile. We called OHRA to check if this was going to be covered in our travel insurance. They answered this wasn't strictly in their policy but that they would judge claims case-by-case out of 'goodwill'. Not perfect but we believe it might work for us.

    We looked a bit at other Airbnb options but decided to postpone a booking to tomorrow. We didn't have the energy for cooking today so we went to a nearby takeaway and got some burgers. For the 2nd time in Australia we camped next to as cricket field, this time in Bindoon, pretty close to Perth. One of the great things of being more south again is the weather. We're probably almost a 1000km south of where we were 4 or 5 days ago, and that's definitely noticeable. It's just a little bit cooler all the time which makes the van more livable. We can now even start sleeping in our inlets compared to being soaked in sweat in just underwear.
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  • Day139

    There goes the plan

    March 24 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    The suspicions were already there yesterday, but we woke up with the confirmation that our flight connection we booked 2 days ago had been cancelled. The UAE shut down its flights, affecting not only the airline Emirates as initially reported, but also Etihad. This made it clear for us that the solution will be repatriation. The most unfortunate thing about the flight cancellation is financial. It doesn't look like we'll get to see our money back. Instead we get a voucher valid for a booking made before September 30th. We feel bad about having booked it but felt pressured to try.

    As the repatriation plans are very unclear it isn't easy to plan the upcoming days. We're on the way to Perth, trying to enjoy our time and see stuff, but at the same time we don't want to lose out on a flight if they happen to announce it very late. So we're covering a lot of ground, not wanting to be too far off Perth in case something happens.

    After 3 hours driving, we arrived in the village Dalwallinu. We looked a bit around and were told by a local that people from Perth were coming all the way here (that's 250km) to buy huge amounts of groceries. Therefore they are now limiting almost everything. We were able to buy some vegetables and fruit and had lunch. Generally we got the feeling we weren't that welcome anymore as tourists.

    We drove further to find a place to sleep. We had the choice of two highways here, such a luxury. We could stay on the 95 or go on the similarly ETA'd 115. We chose the latter because the campsite options along it were more favourable. However after a few km they announced roadworks, which is normally fine but in this case the road was completely unsealed for quite some time. We're not allowed to drive too far on that so we stopped and checked the road services website. As that wasn't informative enough we had to call them, but the employee on the phone was more than useless. We didn't see it return to sealed for awhile and the website indicated it might be the case for another 40km. So we had to turn around and take the other highway while looking for alternative rest stops as the sun went down. Not ideal for driving but we made it to a very nice community camping in another tiny town.
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  • Day138

    Peaceful rock climbing

    March 23 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Despite our world trip being in ruins and fighting mosquitos for most of the night we were in a good mood. Having booked a flight at least gave us some more clarity of the days ahead. On the road we quickly ran into an old friend (who gained quite some weight!) and against all corona advice Machiel even held his hand. We continued to Meekatharra, where we visited a lookout over the town and mine. There was also some stuff to read about the local aboriginal history.

    We wanted to visit the Peace Gorge, but the road was closed. When we asked about this at the information center, the friendly employee simply told us "Nah it's OK, just go there. But don't go any further!". We happily took his advice. Peace Gorge wasn't too much of a gorge as far as we could see, but it had some cool rocks to climb.

    Our next stop was Cue. It had some nice old buildings. But just like Meekatharra, despite having some houses, it felt very deserted. There was an old and now deserted mining town 'nearby' and a small version of the Uluru with old aboriginal rock paintings. Sadly both things were only reachable after lots of km on unsealed roads. So we had to skip this. Instead we visited a lookout, a creepy teddy bear tree, and a hospital ruin from 1890. Nothing too special but a nice break from driving.

    We stayed the night at a free highway reststop. The toilets were full of crickets as per usual, certainly makes it more exciting.
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  • Day137

    The real outback

    March 22 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 29 °C

    Having followed the news for awhile it looked like we had to take action. Staying in Australia seemed trickier as states announced they were either closing their state borders or thinking about it. We did some hours of research and, after quite the hassle with airline websites being seemingly overloaded, we booked a flight connection back to Europe. Now we can only wait to see if it goes.

    Mining towns are interesting to be in. While you might not expect it, it's all about mining. Most people you see wear fluorescent mining uniforms and drive around white pick-up trucks with a company number on it. You sometimes wonder if there are any women.

    We continued our infinite drive south. The next town would be 420km away. The landscape on the way was once again much greener than we had expected in the outback. There were even some lakes with pretty green grass around which the cows seemed to enjoy. While being entirely different, it did remind us a tiny bit of the Netherlands.

    Even though we have now driven a whole lot in Australia, we came across a new thing today. Suddenly there was a car coming towards us signaling heavily with a 'oversized load ahead' sign on top. It was aggressive, basically pushing us of the road. Soon we realized why. The oversized load was very oversized in this case: it needed both lanes and maybe a bit more. Remember the picture in the previous blog of Machiel being dwarfed by this haul truck? Now we know how those are relocated. Throughout the day this became kind of norm. Every one's in a while we had to make space for trucks transporting heavy machinery to the mines in the North. We tried to capture it with the camera but it never seems to show the actual enormousness.

    On the way we also drove by another pink lake like we've seen on the west coast. We had to climb over a fence to get near this one though. We also ended up overtaking our first roadtrain! Took a while to find one that drives slower than us.

    We camped on a camping in the middle of nowhere where we were apart from one other caravan, the only people. By the way, while the flies haven't been that bad lately, not even in Karijini, they have been on their worst today. They really swarm you entirely including your legs etc.
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  • Day136

    Back to reality

    March 21 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 34 °C

    After breakfast we went to say goodbye to the nice Dutch couple who were travelling in their campervan. We spoke for a good hour about Australia, their travels, our travels and corona. Then it was time to leave Karijini National Park and make our way south.

    After some hours of driving we arrived in the mining town of Newman. After a short visit to the tourist information center ("I'm afraid there isn't much to do here or on the way to Perth" is an exciting conversation starter) we caught up with the news and people after having been without reception for a couple of days. The past 48 hours had felt like a much needed break from all the sadness and worries.

    Now however, it was time to face reality again. And reality currently doesn't make us (probably actually no one) happy. For us it is clear that sooner or later our world trip will stop. Lots of questions are popping up in our heads. For how long do we need to pause it? 6 months? 1 year? Is it even feasible to start a worldtrip part 2? How do we fill the time in between? How do we get an income? Does it make sense to apply for a job we would like to have? Or is that impossible and we should just try to find work in areas that are currently looking for people? Parcel delivery, supermarkets etc? Where do we live? All these things just seem so different from how we imagined this year to go. Despite it sounding overdramatic, for us it feels like our dream is falling apart and that left us sad, hopeless and slightly panicking.

    Eventually we went to the local camping, which like the one back in Tom Price was also mainly miner accommodation, with the difference that this one still accepted tourists as long as we declared ourselves healthy. Not knowing how long we'd still stay in Australia, hence also not knowing if we had enough clean clothes, we anyways made use of the free washing machine.

    Around sunset, we drove up to the Radio Hill as we were told it had a nice view over the town and surroundings. While driving there we noticed lightning in the clouds. No thunder however, and it didn't rain either. The views were pretty great. Back at the campsite all cockatoos had collectively decided the tree above our van would be their stay for the night. At first their loudness was a bit annoying but when they all started sleeping it became cute instead.
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  • Day135

    Hiking in a gorgeous gorge

    March 20 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 35 °C

    Today we hiked the gorge loop. First we walked east on the cliff ridge. On braver moments we dared to walk to the edge to look down at where the trail would bring us. The ridge trail brought us to the Three Way Lookout. From there we descended into the gorge. There was some welcome shade in there to give us a break. We were walking besides the river and crossed it a few times on narrow parts. The red cliffs, the green trees and the water made it incredibly beautiful. It wasn't too busy, just crossed a few people. We took our time with several long stops along the just 1.5km long gorge path. It was really really nice.

    When we reached Fortescue Falls we went for another swim, which was even better than yesterday's given that we were warm and sweaty and the water felt even more refreshing. They should have a pool at every end of a hiking trail!

    When it was time for lunch, we went up the stairs back to our van. We needed to buy ice for our coolbox as well, so we drove to the information center to cook lunch there again. There was a shady spot that attracted less flies, which makes the cooking so much more pleasant.

    We couldn't visit any other parts of the park because they were still closed thanks to the cycloon from February. That was a bit of a shame. So it was only logical, that we'd go once more to our new favorite swimming pool. On the way back to Fortescue Falls, we did a short side trip to look at Fern Pool. It also looked very nice but couldn't change our minds. We went for another swim at Fortescue Falls. The waterfall was by the way a really nice shower for washing hair. Although of course without soap. Afterwards we enjoyed sitting at the edge of the pool for a while watching others go in. We also met the emigrated Dutch couple again. So we ended up talking for a bit. In the end it got a bit later than we anticipated and instead of driving in the dark to a rest stop somewhere we stayed another night in the park.
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  • Day134

    Swimming in a gorgeous gorge

    March 19 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 35 °C

    We had a short night in which we didn't sleep well at all. Corona was just too active in our brains. So after a couple of hours of restless sleep, we called it a night. Could have been a good opportunity to leave early and enjoy the cold part of the day. But we were busy discussing corona and what to do with it. We are simply very undecided on what would be the best decision here. After 2 hours in the waiting line of the Dutch consulate, we actually got someone on the line. But they didn't really have any advice apart from 'if you want to leave, book a flight, it's your decision'. We also asked Susanne's family to sign us up on the Condor website for possible flights back home organised by the government. We actually don't know if they would help Machiel as well. Currently they have no program for Australia anyways.

    It was 9 and time to leave. Upon entering Karijini National Park there was Mount Bruce immediately to the right. The hike up is about 5 hours return. It was a bit too late to do this without getting a heat stroke. So we only went up a part of it. The views were nice. On one side we could see an iron ore mine in the distance. Super long trains were leaving and arriving from there to go to Karratha in the North. From there the iron ore is shipped to Europe and other areas around the world. On the other side we could get a nice view on hills and lots of bushes.

    The Karijini Visitor Centre had lots of information about the park's history and flora and fauna. We cooked lunch at the parking lot and afterwards drove to a bore tap to do our dishes. Then it was time for Fortescue Falls. A long staircase down brought us to a picturesque pool surrounded by tall red cliffs. We swam for awhile and sat at the waterfall. It was a bit like one of those tropical swimming pools with a waterfall on a timer, just without the timer. The water was refreshing but not too cold. So it was very enjoyable. A decent alternative to a shower after a sweaty warm day.

    Back at the car, we went to the circular pool lookout. A drop of several 10s of meters surrounded by steep red cliffs. There are a lot more trees and plants in the park than we had imagined, which created a beautiful mixture of red and green.

    What we forgot to mention is the incredible night sky, which we've also already seen in the Cape Range National Park. There are sooo many more stars to see here and they just feel they are only half as far away as in Europe.
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