071 / Nice Zealand

071 / Nice Zealand

The first days in New Zealand, I had a feeling that I couldn’t quit explain. Everyday life feels very different here compared to Europe, but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason. I didn’t feel the 19.050 km between Paris and Christchurch when I visited a supermarket (H&S also has the biggest shelf space here…) or when I took a taxi (they feel too expensive everywhere, if you’re not on an expense note) and Ronald McDonald and Nespresso-Clooneys look the same everywhere.
But then it struck me. Most people living in Paris probably remember the day when they took the subway in an extremely good mood. You potentially made the mistake to smile and maybe say “hi” to somebody randomly. The only change you got was an annoyed “Are you crazy”-look. Now that’s exactly where you feel you’re on the other side of the world. Here, people would stop in opposite directions of the motorway to give a high(way) five. Everybody is nice and friendly, without exception. It’s almost worrying… Where are the trouble makers?
When I arrived in Auckland, the public bus made a small detour to drop me off at my hostel. And in my hostel, the owner traded two Lonely Planets because he reckoned they could of better use for me than for him when he heard of my plans. So far so good. Auckland is built on 40 volcanoes, and not all of them are extinct (take that Naples!). That’s probably the only spectacular fact about this city, because besides the harbor, and the surrounding islands, there is not too much to see here. I only stayed one day and took a ferry to Rangitoto Island (I support places with cool names).


The next day I took a flight to Christchurch (on the Southern island of NZ). I choose a hostel where I had the best shot of meeting some “bad guys”. I signed up for the Jailhouse, a hostel that used to be a jail until 1999, with a true prison atmosphere.


On my way there, I found two consecutive streets that gave me the impression they were calling my name. I’ve received mail in the past where the spelling was worse .;-)


When I discovered that everybody in the hostel was lovely again, I decided to rent a bike and go discover the city (it’s about 300K people, 2nd city in NZ). To my surprise, there was a huge free concert in the park. Of course it was a charity concert, where the people of Christchurch raised money to restore the city after last September’s earthquake (7.4 on Richter scale). And because New Zealand people are so generous, they don’t organize one concert when they raise funds, they organize two… Show offs.


Totally discouraged to find some dark side, I want to cycle home when I found a spark of hope. During the concert, somebody had stolen the saddle of my rented bike. Aha… a crime, in New Zealand.


When I clumsily drove home, I was considering my best negotiation option in order not to have to pay too much for the damage. I was ready for some confrontation. Back at the hostel, I showed the bike to the guy at the desk. He smiled in wonder, thinking out loud “who would do something like that”, and then he apologized with me, saying this was obviously not my responsibility, and that he hoped it didn’t cause to much inconvenience for me. I was blown away. These guys are genuinely good, I surrender.
The following day I planned a daytrip with a scenic train to Kaikura (love the name), where 3000m high, snow white mountains end dramatically into the sea. When the free (what else…) shuttle arrived a bit too late, I decided to start walking. All of a sudden there was a guy with a minibus passing by saying “Wouter, is that you? Hop in mate. Sorry for the couple of minutes we’re running late”. Can’t beat them… By the way, Kaikura was amazing.



Today, it was time to leave Christchurch, and take the train across the Southern Alps to the West coast on the most breathtaking train ride I ever had. When I arrived in Greymounth (not a cool name, so I don’t support ;-) I wanted to go to Punakaiki (now, that’s a name) to check out the famous pancake rocks but the options were rather expensive. A shuttle ride ($60), car rental ($100)… I said they were nice, never said that they were cheap! So I decided to finally use their niceness to my favor and to hitchhike. Final conclusion: I rest my case, they ARE nice. After only seconds people took me the 45 km, both ways, offering me candy, some good stories and some travel advice. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Lifting jpg.jpg




13:19 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |


070 / Bali’s High 5

070 / Bali’s High 5

Normally, one of the most hidden places on my watch is the area around the 5. If possible, I would take off the 5 when I purchase my next watch, and get a second 11 or a double of another sexy number. Since I stopped watching Neighbors (around the age of 5 I guess) I can’t say a lot of exciting things happen around 5PM… And unless there is an army of poisonous snakes in my bed or Jesus is back and he’s throwing an improvised earth warming party, don’t wake me up at 5AM either. It might be the last thing you’ll ever do.

In Bali, a fair part of everyday life happens around the dreaded 5AM and surprisingly, it doesn’t even feel as a criminal offense. Here’s my Bali High 5.

When you want to do some decent surfing, you have to wake up at 5AM. The wind is low, and the waves are perfectly defined in the surf. When I was surfing, I got at the sea around 9AM, that’s probably why there are not spectacular surf pictures to show here. This whole surfing activity is not the calling of my life. Catching a wave makes me think of making love on a riding motor bike. Technically, it’s not impossible, but why all the hassle to have a good time? I gave it a try… the surfing, that is. J  


When I went to see the sunrise at Mount Batur, a holy volcano, it happened at 5AM. You have to wake up around 3AM and climb in the dark for about 2 hours. For the ones who make it, the treat is a breathtaking view, a true waaaaw moment.




In the east of Bali, there are some really good dive spots, but to make it there in time (due to the crazy, unexplainable traffic jams) you have to wake up at… yes 5AM to make it in time. The shipwreck we visited was well worth it. Too bad that around 15.000 other divers had the same idea that day, causing another, underwater, traffic jam. The second dive (down to 29m deep, my personal record), that followed an underwater cliff was nice, and I saw an octopus moon walking over the sea bottom.




When Yon (my cool, Balinese guide) and I went for a overnight camping stay on a deserted mountaintop Hindu monastery, we were woken up by noisy monkeys and cold toes at … 5AM. The free style hike, the religious offering at night and again, the dazzling sunrise were well worth the pain.




Luckily, 5AM is probably a Gemini, because it has another, late side as well. We celebrated Tom’s birthday in Sky Garden (whoehoe) with an amazing, improbable five some (Betta, Vivie, Fred, Tom & myself). Great night, nice encounters! Thanks guys for tuning my Bali-stay into what it has become!



My Bali High 5, like the five points of the eternal Bintang-star.



Ps. I also discoverd why Balenese hairdressers only charge $5 for a hair cut. It's probably because they only leave 5mm of hair on your head, whatever you ask them...



12:07 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |


069 / Where’s Waly? In Bali.

069 / Where’s Waly? In Bali.

Asian people are sometimes describe as people without a sense of irony and humor… Everybody knows that stereotyping is a bad thing. Travelling generally makes you aware of the differences, and within a couple of weeks in smelly trains, cold water showers and late night discussion, I’ll be ready to ask everybody to stop stereotyping once and for all. At the same time it is everybody’s responsibility not to reinforce the already existing stereotypes. Otherwise, the vow of non-stereotyping becomes virtually impossible! One story to illustrate my point.

When I just arrived in Jakarta on Wednesday evening, flights for Denpasar (Bali) were finished for the day, so I had to make an overnight stop in Indonesia’s dusty, concrete megalopolis. After a rip off taxi ride to Jalan Jaksa (the only backpacker area in town) and a check-in in the smallest hotel room in my life (3m²), I was ready for some food around midnight. I decide to go into a seriously local eatery: Plastic chairs, white TL lightening, a fan that turn in a three dimensional field, the regulars who think they own the place, menus that outdate the fall of the Iron Curtain... the works. After a couple of minutes, a guy with more moustache then teeth engages in some small talk. After the mandatory saying that I’m from Belgium, that this really is a country, that it’s close to France and that my name is Wouter Wouter Wouter Wouter say again Wouter, he tells me without blinking that he’s eating dog. Very good. Very good.
True, I wasn’t going to change my Nasi Goring order to have a piece of Chihuahua, but it didn’t really shock me too much either. To entertain myself (another skill that being on the road sharpens), I show the guy a picture of Siska (our dog in Belgium, the country close to France) and put on a sad face.


My new best friend of the evening started to feel slightly uncomfortable, and shifted around on his chair, wondering to what extend he had broken my heart. I realized that I had to abort my game, and tried to get out of it by saying, obviously joking “20 push-ups”. What happens after left me speechless. The guy got up without looking at me, and started to do the push-ups in the middle of the restaurant… A random dog that was laying on the floor showed only a vague interest in the events. Little did he know I was safeguarding his offspring…

In the morning, Lion Air took me for $50 to Bali, home of the eternal surfer, the Bintang wife beater shirt, 78% of the people of Australia and the memories of a thousand honeymooners. I was happy to go to a place where I was planning on staying for at least a week (a record since the trip started). I arrived in Kuta in the evening, just in time to catch a glimps of the sun’s dazzling eye shadow.


The next day, I woke up in a happy mood, I planned on meeting interesting people where I would go surf & party with, and planned on getting a scooter and cruising the island… Mainly planning, I saw it all happening in my head, and I felt excited… It was an odd day where I basically just sat and waited for things to happen, and guess what? They don’t. My babic and Nike were right, you have to make your own day, DO stuff. So I went online (gotta love these modern, wifi travel possibilities) and wrote some locals via Couchsurfing. I luckily stumbled upon Betta, a cool jungle school bamboo guard with an attitude and some time to spend. On Friday, we went for dinner and ended the night in Sky Garden, an overheated notorious nightclub.

The day after, we decided to go to Ubud, a small town inland in Bali that has recently been voted “best city in Asia” (and offered the scenery for the movie Eat, Love, Pray). If Fertile was a country, Ubud would be it’s capital. It’s warm, and humid and you have the impression there is so much vegetation, that it almost literally flight in the air. It feels like a tri-athlete doing yoga: zen, powerful, trustworthy, welcoming. It’s the tropics at it’s best. We met with Tom, currently a surf instructor, and Fred, his longtime friend who’s a consultant. Both are German. Together, we formed a quite unlikely and cool squad. We played pool, discovered the best places to drink Balinese coffee and eat all sorts or preparations of pig (Oh, holy Babi Gurung…) and laughed a lot. I slept on Betta’s friend’s house, just next to the river. A beautiful place to wake up in. The Germans and I went for a 10 km hike in the rice fields around Ubud in the morning. We only got lost once, but we were man (i.e. stubborn) enough to not admit it and to try an experimental short cut through the jungle. Off the beaten track. Correction, Off the track altogether.







After lunch we visited the Green School, an award winning, Steiner inspired all natural, all sustainable school that is entirely made out of bamboo, ideology and astronomical tuition rich expats pay to get their children in. Funny detail: The principal’s office offers an excellent view on the mud pool where minor children perform martial arts. Not sure this would still be allowed in Belgium (the country, close to France…)




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068 / King Kong

068 / King Kong

When I used to think about Hong Kong, images of eye patched pirates would blend with those of British colonials who drink their gin & tonic, showing tanned forearms in shirts full of sweat.  After a couple of days in this metropolis who benefits from the Chinese “One country – Two systems” policy, my adventurous vision needed some updating (which Hong Kong can provide via Wifi, Bluetooth, ESPN :-), 2G, 3G+, UMTS, SMTP and a selection of another 29 digital protocols).

 Travelling is often about experiencing changes, and contrast, and maybe because I was arriving from India there was a slight perception bias, but Hong Kong has a service level that high that it makes you believe that ‘they’ have put a spy chip into your brain that reads your thoughts, even before you do. By the time you actually think “I need to go to the loo”, “I’m lost, where’s a map” or “Frozen Yoghurt would be soooo good now!”, they already come up with a service, a sign or a yoghurt that matches exactly what you were dreaming of . I did produce a couple of thoughts that were not followed up by an automatic solution, some of them involving the Pope promoting birth control measures or Belgium forming a workable government.




Hong Kong was also my first Couchsurfing-experience as a surfer (after the numerous times I was hosting people in Paris). I was lucky enough to meet Margot, a media professional/writer/polyglot/host/cat-lover/energy guru/sales director/gastronome… She received me brilliantly in her 15m² flat in Chanwai, in the heart of the city. The 1st of October, more than 20% of the world population celebrates her national holiday, and this is done with massive fireworks orchestrated by the master-creators in person. Front row seats. A lucky traveler moment.




On the second day, when I thought for a second, “it’s cool this city on the water side, too bad there is no place for a decent beach at this hot temperatures”… Hong Kong immediately came up with Stanley Beach, just across the big hill… You feel really on holiday, not aware of the 8 million people that live only a decent stone throw away. It’s Victoria Peak that divides the skyscrapers from the green beaches. The view from up there alone is worth a stop in Hong Kong. After a visit to the night market in Kawloon, with some very local dishes (the most remarkable is an omelet with oysters baked inside…), I was ready to discover Macau.


Macau has been described as the Las Vegas of the East, but in my opinion, this is like saying that Donatella Versace is the Italian Sharon Stone… I found the place as ugly as it’s landmark casino (The Grand Lisboa), where overweight Chinese with golden watches lose money and chainsmoke cigarettes… Even the misleading veil of darkness could not hide the emptiness. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, even the art of making an artificial, plastic city worth visiting.


When I was all alone and sad around midnight in a karaoke bar, Johnnie spoke to me in very clear terms : Keep walking. An that’s exactely the action plan for the rest of the trip.



Direction Java & Bali.




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067 / Octopussy's Udaipur

067 / Octopussy's Udaipur

The last stop in the mighty subcontinent was Udaipur, India’s most romantic city in a lake district with a somewhat Mediterranean feeling. We went there to wind down and to recover from the exciting trilogy “night train – night in the desert – night bus” of the past days. I checked in in a tidy quality hotel with a stunning view over the Water palace where Octopussy was filmed starring a legendary Roger Moore as OO7.


The food was good, the people smiling, prices sweet, laundry fresh and talks generous. Vehicle-maniac Adam had the cool idea to rent an old school motorbike (A Royal Enfield Bullet 350) and to cruise around the hills and lakes surrounding the city. After the years of cruising through Paris, it was my turn now to be the passenger…



 The nice thing with a bike is that you can go to places where normally it’s really hard to come. We discovered an amazing lake side and drove through some very local villages where the young children had smiles the size of a kite when we passed by, waving our hands. A pair or Ray Ban’s, a dusty old bike, a bit of cash and some time on your hands… One day I’ll be ready for my midlife crisis!



At night, we went to the daily sunset showing of Octopussy (it’s been 30 years that the hotels show the same VHS every night… talking about a winning business concept). We celebrated the global presence of beer by offering a little piece of our liver to Kingfisher (the local beergod). For some unexplained reason, Adam could not remember the name of the city: Upadour Odupur Podudoor…


In the morning, I left a bit emotional the first leg of my big trip. When I arrived in Mumbai, there was a siege-like, tense atmosphere. A highly symbolic conflict between Muslims and Hindus has been going on for 60 years, disputing the ownership of a holy side. Today, the Supreme Court has made a ruling, and the Indian government was alerted for potential riots in the big cities. Result: I’m for 12 hours in Mumbai, with all shops closed, public transport disturbed, a zero tolerance alcohol policy, a prohibition to stay for more than 4 hours in the airport, hotels in the neighborhood who adapt their prices accordingly and topped off with a late monsoon rain and 90% humidity. Oh traveler in India, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere...

I’m counting to hours to board for another hyperkinetic destination : Hong Kong…

You’re coming?





06:38 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |