Sometimes you just want to ride every day without having to think too much. Sometimes you just don’t want to have to camp every night and cook your own dinner. That’s what motivated us to look for a 4 day ongoing ride, where we could carry everything we needed on the back of our horses, and stay and eat in towns. I was actually surprised how few options for this style of horse ride are available, but after some research, found the ideal option:
The Great Victorian Rail Trail!
We chose to begin our adventure in Trawool. This allowed for 4 days of riding to Mansfield, with approx 27 km ride each day. There is also a horse yard, a hotel (Comfort Inn Trawool – 5792 1444) and a fairly big carpark to park a vehicle and float. We arrived in the middle of the day which was not a good idea as we had an unseasonally warm 30 degree Autumn day!!! Still, a quick saddle up and off we went.
Trawool to Yea – approx 25 kms
Without doubt the most difficult part of this ride to organise was horse accommodation in Yea. Yea is a wonderful small country town with oodles of options for human accommodation and meals but somehow, the Rail Trail, in their wisdom, did not include any horse yards here. The whole plan would have been kaput at this point if it were not for Sonia at the Giddy Goat Cafe in Yarck. (More about that shortly!!!) Thank goodness for Sonia. She was so enthusiastic about my attempts to have an ongoing ride on the trail she hunted around and asked and found us Eden! We had two Guardian angels on this ride. One was Sonia, the other was Eden. Eden has a farm just on the outskirts of Yea where she homes her menagerie of much loved animals, including (at that time) 11 rescue horses. She provided a wonderful yard for our horses, plus horse feed! She drove us down to our accommodation in town, then later picked us up for dinner at the pub. But don’t think it ended there!!! She also arranged for a friend to help her collect our vehicle and float and take it to her other property in Mansfield where it remained safely to be waiting for us at the end of the ride.
An alternative option for collecting your vehicle is to arrange a pick up from Mansfield to take you back to Trawool. There are a couple of companies offering transfers and luggage carry services for cyclists. Details can be found at http://www.greatvictorianrailtrail.com
We took about 5 hrs to cover the distance to Yea as we wanted to warm the horses up for the 4 days of trail. We recommend taking food for yourself and a collapsible bucket for horse water. The best place to be sure of water is the public conveniences dotted along the trail but you need a collapsible bucket to collect it. The first of these on this section is at the 16 km mark.
I must say, it was wonderful to arrive in Yea, have our horses safe, happy and eating and check into the Peppercorn hotel for a shower before an exceptional country pub Parma!
Yea to Yarck 24 – 30 kms – (my GPS was different to the official measurement which was the lower amount!!!)
I was excited to arrive in Yarck as I had developed a friendship with Sonia over the phone and it was wonderful to meet her. She is a dynamo and as I mentioned, without her enthusiasm we would not have been doing the trail. The GVRT has a horse paddock put aside in Yarck which happens to be right on the trail, across the road from our B&B for the night, which is next door to the Giddy Goat which does amazing food and the best coffee! What more could we ask for ? We had the B&B to ourselves but it can actually accommodate up to 13 guests! More accommodation and horse paddocks can easily be made available if you wanted to ride in a larger group. This would also keep costs down.
We arrived in time for lunch at the Giddy Goat (bonus!!) but did pass Molesworth at the 18 km mark. There are horse yards at Molesworth as well as a pub and some accommodation but you need to organise in advance as everything was closed when we rode through. Ph Molesworth pub 5797 6266.
Still you would NOT want to miss a night in Yarck. Whilst Giddy Goat is not open for dinner, the Yarck pub (across the road) does a brilliant meal.
For meals, accommodation and all round assistance
Contact Sonia – The Giddy Goat Cafe and B&B – Ph 5773 4223
Yarck to Woodfield 27 – 30 kms
Whilst at first it seemed tempting to stay at Bonnie Doon on this night, we are so glad we didn’t. There are yards at Bonnie Doon but they are not near accommodation and it would have added an extra 5 km to the days ride. The main reason we were pleased with our decision was the Woodfield Shearers Quarters were just superb for our purpose. Comfortable beds, hot showers and a large kitchen and living room with open fire. Once again, the Shearer Quarters can sleep up to 13 guests so could accommodate a larger group. Our horses stayed in the front yard of our accommodation but I’m sure a larger paddock could be arranged – Contact Mindy 0418 771 178. We had packed a lunch of provisions from the Giddy Goat, Antonio’s traditional salami staple and the eggs and bread left for our breakfast at the Shearers Quarters, we rustled up some dinner for ourselves. If planned in advance, I’m sure Sonia could have delivered a hearty soup with crusty bread to be discovered in the fridge. Alternatively you might like a night ride to Bonnie Doon pub 5 km down the trail (of course that would mean 5 km back as well!!!)
As Mindy had told us there was not going to be much pick for our horses in the front yard of the Quarters we arranged for Mike from Mansfield Produce Ph 5779 1385, to deliver us some hay and chalf. He was going to deliver the other half of the hay bale to Mansfield the next day for our last night, and for a small fee, is able to help all along the trail if required.
Woodfield to Mansfield 27 – 30 km
Off on an early start for our last day on the trail, the horses, fit for purpose and seemingly enjoying the journey kept an amazing pace and we arrived in Mansfield for lunch!
The whole trail is a lovely, albeit flat, riding experience. The surrounds change from open fields and countryside to smaller eucalypt lined lanes with glimpses of the Goulburn River steadily keeping company most of the way. The surface is made for bicycles but generally quite soft for the horses. There are also plenty of options, especially on this last day, to take the dedicated horse trails which veer off along side the trail. I had expected to be constantly encountering bike riders, especially as we rode into Mansfield on a Saturday, but on the whole 4 days we only passed 4 bicycles and no other horses or walkers.
Arriving in Mansfield we settled the horses into the Trail Yards (same as the Trawool yards above.) Whilst they are quite small, they are very strong. We elected to stay at the Mansfield Valley Motor Inn across the Hwy from the yards and whilst we could not see the horses, they were close for regular visits and check up. If concerned you could also bring your own padlock to secure their gates. We were lucky to have our float waiting for us and with the hay Mike delivered and the food and rugs we had in the float, Ginger and Darcy were very content and some how seemed to sense that this was the end of this adventure. Buckets for horse water is also needed here as the trough is a few feet away from the yards.
A Rail Trail will always be a “flat” ride and can never replace the wonders of the high plains or bush, we loved this journey. Something different!!! Good, long trotting days; the lovely swagger of going at your own pace; the bond you share with your horse riding 4 days in a row; the comforts of a cooked meal and the luxury of not having to set up camp. And more than anything, the wonderful hospitality offered by the locals, who are excited to be sharing their experiences of life in rural Australia.
Antonio and I, this year, again travelled the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.
He walked every step with his backpack – just like a perfect pilgrim. I am not the perfect pilgrim but thoroughly enjoyed my holiday, having my pack carried each day, walking reasonable daily distances and occasionally taking advantage of trains, buses, taxis and even bicycles.
“Not the Perfect Pilgrim” is a day to day photographic account of my holiday and includes a packing list and key notes of advice. It is the Perfect gift for someone contemplating the Camino, or for someone who has returned and wishes to continue to indulge in the beauty and adventure of the Camino trail.
It is also NOW available at AMAZON.COM !!!! Just search for Denise Mazzon or “Not the Perfect Pilgrim.”
The challenge below is to publish just 10 photos from the journey.
There are over 90 pages of photos in the book!!!! Enjoy & Buon Camino
Crikey!!! After completing one and a half stories on average a week on our European adventure I figured a few Aussie tales would be a snap. But not only was power and internet access difficult to obtain ……. the real problem was I rarely had time to think!!
And now we are home! 6 weeks, just on 900 km on horseback and 40 different camp sights later, we feel fitter, stronger and maybe even a little wiser, with new friends along the BNT and lots of wonderful memories!!!
The Bicentennial National Trail is an adventure like no other. Incredibly, managed and maintained by a linked chain of volunteers it is 5330 kms of a little known, unique Australian asset. It’s easy to follow the trail once you have the books, set out like an orienteering program in meter x meter details with each days travel ending at a camping site with water. All of this section we traveled, able to be supported by 4 wd vehicle back up.
We never felt in danger or at risk in the natural elements like falling off precipitous edges of cliffs or crossing torrential rivers. We saw only one dead snake and I cannot remember a spider. Out of crocodile country there is not one predator we had to be afraid of. The main danger only presented itself in man made areas. The roads!!! On occasions having to manage 5 horses around blind corners with no kerb is something one would hope may be changed one day.
We began our section of the BNT 6 days ride south of Canberra through the Kosciuszko & Namadgi National Parks……. a horse riders playground with amazing sandy trails and tracks through stands of snowy white gums, camping areas, often with yards for the horses (much to our chief horse yard builders (Antonio) delight.)
The next section north of Canberra was completely different. We wove our way through historical and rural New South Wales riding through and often camping in the showgrounds of small, friendly, seemingly thriving townships linked by wide open farmland. We were often welcomed with a “Gyday – where you blokes headed?”
Historically, this countryside, quite close to Sydney, offered “good soil in a relatively safe climate” and attracted pioneering Australians. Stories of early pastoralists like John Macarthur (known as the founder of Australias wool industry) and his sons; the burgeoning growth of their estates in the 1820’s, built the hard way, with an axe and the backs of convict labour.
Surprisingly around Jenolan Caves, and almost all the way to Wallerawang, the landscape was dominated by pine plantations. National parks, government owned, turned over to Pine Plantations. Mile after mile of pine trees! Quite beautiful to ride through on a hot day when the trees are tall and scented and the ground underfoot soft for the horses. But an eyesore and blight on the horizon when freshly razed, as were many of the kilometers we rode around.
But the best was still to come. By far the most beautiful scenery we experienced was past the pines into the Wollomi and Gardens of Stone National Parks, as well as the Capertee Valley. This valley forms a canyon that is second in size only to the Grand Canyon and of course, provides some stunning scenery and incredible properties we had the privilege (as bonified BNTers) to ride through. We reveled in the consistency of soft trails, breath taking scenery and views. Natures growth often looked like “God” had employed a landscape gardener; bunches of “black boys”, stands of native conifers, hedges of maiden hair and fish bone fern.
And even more “townships,” like Glen Alice. Marked on the map, the center of the community boasts a CFA shed, a community hall (complete with stage, piano and kitchen), a “pressed metal” clad church, an ancient cemetery and brand spanking new Telstra phone box. In our 3 day stop over we met numerous locals, found a home for our lovely “River” who was finding the long days riding two difficult on his old joints, a horse to replace him (take him with you, try him out, if he does not work out – send him back!!!) – the lovely Wally, and new “best” friends – Julie and Warren, who not only provided a green paddock and dam for our four legged friends but kept visiting us with bountiful armfuls of produce from their garden and subsequent kitchen, baby tomotoes, silverbeet, quince paste, pasta sauce. Julie, clearly the “Maggie Beer” of the district!
Just one week later Julie and Warren were meeting us in Aberdeen to camp and catch up before we headed too far north. It so happened that Wally must have known. A six year old injury raised its head and we suggested they bring their float to take him home.
Fortunately we were in horse lovers country. Nearby Scone is the Headquaters for the Australian Stock Horse association. The King of the Ranges is an annual horse event for the district and the area continues the string of Thoroughbred studs we encountered since Widden. No longer were we camping in Showgrounds, they were now the Rodeo Grounds!
Serendipitously, no sooner had Wally left our little herd than Gavin, asking around the local pony clubbers, found us another horse – Darcy. Myff Hall had found Darcy a bit of a handful and her husband Ollie felt his ears prick up when he heard we needed a horse. Darcy would fit our bill perfectly. A horse that has a calm temperament but LOVES to work! In fact needs to work his “V8” engine, preferably daily. The terms were set. Again, “Take him with you, try him out, if he suits you can buy him, if not bring him back!” Nothing could be fairer than that and Antonio has since bonded with Darcy, and whilst River remains in the lush green paddocks to be ridden and loved by Julie, we now have a gorgeous new bay in our little horse family with Mix and Beauty.
The final stage of our trip was via the Hunter and Upper Hunter valley. I expected to see acres of vineyards and whilst they must exist in the Hunter, we instead, rode through and past Thoroughbred stud after Thoroughbred stud. Clearly a money making venture for some, these studs ooze money and we felt very privileged to trot along beside their valuable stallions and over their manicured roadsides.
Through much of our ride, we could also notice “the boom” and “the bust” times of this part of Australia. Remains of towns that existed, now either slowly falling apart or turned into something else. Wool and farming influencing early life before the Gold Rush bought thousands more prospectors. The now slower burning Coal Rush, one of the biggest employers through these districts and controversially not only taking farmers off the land to work in them, but taking farmers land. A company can pay the government to “prospect” on anybodies land! 18 inches below ground, belongs to the government and the rights to mine it can be sold by them! No matter who owns the top, lives on it, or has had it passed down in their family for generations.
Travel on a horse is not unlike travel on a Camino. It’s a very upclose and personal view of the natural and human life on the trail in all its diversity. A wonderful indepth experience of a part of rural Australia we had never known. Scrolling through the previous destinations in the GPS on our way home, reads like a foreign novel: Tomalla, Manobalai, Rylstone, Gingkin, Mutmutbilly, just to name a few!
At times the journey was tough. Packing up camp almost every day, riding in the heat, concentrating on keeping horses calm on the side of busy trafficked roads. Still both Antonio and I feel stronger as a result and rested! The real credit of course, goes to our trusty steeds who carried us proudly by whatever obstacle we presented them with. Day to day riding and close contact with the horses is a joy that gets under your skin! The part of the journey we most enjoyed and the part that will be most missed. Something was gained that is hard to put a finger on, yet is felt and appreciated.
As Ollie Hall & Winston S Churchill quipped,
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man!”
It was a dark Ballarat morning and even the Rooster had not yet stirred as a white 4 WD with a 4 WD campervan attached, followed by a big white 5 horse truck, (carrying 5 horses!) called “Suzie” pulled out of the Stabeuz driveway!
5.10 am – right on schedule!
And so, the adventure began! Antonio has had a dream for many years of traveling the Bicentennial National Trail on horseback. We first discussed it with Karen and Gavin Stabeuz over 3 years ago, and a plan was hatched. They were able to take leave from their employment although Gav (our wonder backup man) still oversees his business from WiFi and phones! The joys of modern living.
From modern living to pioneering and camping rough! Not that rough mind you, but camping every night none the less.
The BNT is known to be the longest marked, non-motorised, self reliant trekking route in the world and was officially opened by RM Williams in 1988.
Spanning 5,330 kilometres from Healseville, Victoria to Cooktown in Far North Queensland it is a combination on old coach, stock and pony express routes, old pack horse trials, country roads and country towns with a focus on highlighting the lives of Australias’ early settlers and pioneers. The trail is as diverse as it is interesting.
Largely bush the track traverses farmland, 18 of Australias’ National Parks, wilderness and mountain areas and encompasses a wonderful sample of Australias’ most spectacular scenery from lush tropical rainforests, rugged mountains, valleys, gorges and rivers, remote dry plains, alpine meadows and snowfields.
As of today we have spent 2 weeks on the trial and looking back it seems to have evaporated in a moment but on further reflection could provide the material for 30 books.
To be interested in a journey like this, of course, you have to love 4WDing and horseriding . That is being on a horses back for 5-6 hours a day. A practice that can become quite meditative – the melodic sound of 20 hooves walking along and hitting the gravel, even the faster paced click or lope of the trot and canter! There is something awesome and comforting about spending so much time in the company of our horses. Mostly sensible, our 4 legged friends carry us without complaint to the best of their ability. Trusting us as we trust in them. There is a union.
Our 5 horses need to become a “family” and joining our 3 with Karens 2 has ensured there is some sorting amongst themselves to determine their respective positions in the herd.
We two legged creatures have also gone about a bit of jostling !! I always expected our first week to be full of teething problems; our first month a matter of settling in and the remainder of the journey sitting back and enjoying the scenery. The early stages certainly require some patience and goodwill. Blending together 4 different ways of doing things around camp, what to pack, what to bring, what to keep and where to pack it. How best to cater to the horses needs; groom, rest, water, feed. Bit by bit systems are falling into place and bit by bit we all get to know and appreciate each other.
Antonio has ridden all the Victorian section of the BNT and in 2009 we rode the last 10 days of it together with all we needed on the back of our pack horse, Rocky! I fell in love with the adventure, the planning, the challenge. Packing and unpacking, traveling so light as to have nothing excessive but ensuring we had everything we need. Combining the use of navigation, maps, GPS and BNT guide books information to ensure we rarely got lost or went any further out of our way than we had to .
The dynamic of a longer trip is similar but more complicated. Having a car and Gavin, prepared to drive each day to meet us at the end of ride is amazing, but of course we have and need more “stuff!!” 5 horses require more gear and more food.
Its not a trip for the feint hearted and is truly a “working” holiday. Jobs around camp just never seem to end and no sooner have we unpacked we seem to be packing up again. As Antonio says, the holiday begins when we get on the horse and just have to sit there.
As the focus is so much on the practicality of each days needs, the landscape and day to day incidents of the previous day and week fade quickly and remain to be savored at the end via photos, blogs and diaries.
What is etched in our minds as we go though, is the kindness of people we meet. Australia is a wonderful country full of wonderful open hearted people. It’s a little surprising to me re the old cliche about country people. It’s true. They do seem happier, have more time, more willing to help.
The BNT is a linked chain of official volunteers and stems out to locals who sometimes don’t even know of the BNT but are willing and able to help. Our official co-ordinators for the sections we have rode have been more than generous with their time and advice. Jenny (& Hilary) even rode with us the first few camps, Leanne left her Artists trail day (she sculpts from farm refuse!) to visit us with maps advice and tomatoes and potatoes.
A friend of Karens welcomed us into her home and entertained us with jaw dropping stories of her work in a senior government position and introduced us to the “pet” kangaroo that visits most night to sit by her fire before going out and spending the day with her kangaroo mob friends!! Others volunteer places to leave our truck which leaps frogs along with us as we go.
The trail is littered with characters. We met a bunch of guys camping from Sydney with their horses. One of them riding in a saddle made in 1897!!
I do love the orienteering aspect of the journey. Following maps, books and GPS, often calling on all resources to find the clues to know which direction to take. Its very satisfying to make it accurately to camp even though I have made a couple of blunders so far, (without major consequences), I am getting better at it.
It’s journey to be in love with ……………. and such an active journey. That dog tired feeling at the end of the day, hitting at the sack almost with the sun and rising again as it rises. The fulfilling of each days plan is, well, very fulfilling!
Maningrida is a small settlement of around 3000 people sitting on the edge of far northern, tropical Arnhem land and the Arafura Sea. Arnhem Land was declared an Aboriginal Reserve in 1931 and has been occupied by indigenous people for tens of thousands of years. Wikipedia tells me “it is the location of the oldest known stone axe, which scholars believe to be 35,500 years old.”
Maningrida is remote! A permit is needed to visit! 500 kms from Darwin, roads are closed for up to 5 months during the wet season; the barge delivery of groceries can take two weeks from order to arrival; the most common form of entry is in a small plane (3 seats wide,11 seats long) which takes one hour from Darwin.
The environment is as stunning as it is wild and dangerous. Long white beaches merge with scrub that turns into parched, red, dusty bushland, meeting billabongs and wide brown rivers edged with lush, green, broad leafed ferns and palms.
Tropical storms are common in the wet season and unpredictable. The area suffered Australia’s strongest cyclone, Cyclone Maria in 2006. Excursions into this landscape need to be carefully planned and thought about. Ants and snakes are the least concerning predators. Wild buffalo, dingo and crocodile encounters are not rare. The salted tanning hides at the Maningrida rangers office of two large salties remind us that these prehistoric style reptiles are fierce, killers and everywhere!
This land that can kill is also a generous benefactor! Rivers are teeming with Barramundi, billabongs filled with Mud Crabs. Rocky outcrops provide shelter, sunsets provide beauty. The variety of mammals and birds create diversity.
Socially the township of Maningrida still appears to be a hothouse in a clash of cultures – there is shrapnel on either side. Aboriginal traditional ceremonies and rites of passage are still a part of Aboriginal daily life and threads of many aspects of traditional culture struggle to survive. Yet much of the magic, mystique and phenomenal survival skills of the nomadic aboriginal seem all but lost.
Housing is provided and wanted but aboriginals just don’t use houses like “white” people! Its natural for them to sit together every night, outside on the ground, with their dogs, around their fire. Ownership and possessions are still foreign concepts to a tribal race who for many thousands of years carried very little, their home and livelihoods provided by mother earth and spread over vast expanses of country!
The Aboriginal concept of family, tribe and kinship is complex, resulting in “relatives” moving from house to house, outstation to outstation, stronger aboriginals taking from or “humbugging” on weaker “family” members, bickering and jealousies, pecking orders!
Many Aboriginals have been negatively effected by “white” man introductions. A tendency for addiction to substances, alcohol (which is strictly limited in this community) petrol, marijuana, and gambling create social problems and conflict.
We are told it is difficult to encourage individuals to turn up for work on a regular basis. Opportunities abound for local enterprises to bring wealth to the community. It is said that the Mud Crab industry alone could bring $25,000 a week. Yet, tribal bonds are the prime concern and full time employment is not a priority ……. it only takes a few hours work to earn money to “recharge” a mobile phone. This often seems to be enough with workers who arrived in the morning, disappearing by lunch time.
Childrens education is not seen as important or valued. The school bus traverses around the township every morning, screaming top 40 music through loud speakers attached to its roof in order to alert or perhaps, wake up sleepy children whose parents are not prodding them to get ready and attend school.
Basic health messages are not being heard or adhered to. Although cases of leprosy, still documented in the 1960’s, seem to have abated, children have beyond average amounts of ear and hearing problems through a lack of blowing noses; eye sight issues due to not washing flies from little faces; scabies in epidemic proportions due to lack of good washing facilities and the aboriginal liking to have almost a dog per person living with them.
Enter the Balanda (white people) riding in like the cavalry in their government issued 4 WD’s (a necessity if working further afield in outstations.) The Northern Territory government works closely with the Aboriginal Maningrida management group, Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation and places a continuous stream of “Balandas” in the community to provide a wide range of services.
Many “Balandas” just don’t make it. This government funded “white” community is not necessarily a cohesive group and conflict can occur through incompetence, self righteous ideals and a lack of complimenting skills, values and philosophies. An elderly desert aboriginal woman once quipped that “Balanda are like Toyotas. When one breaks down we just get a new one!” It is also quipped that the well paid positions vacant in Maningrida attract Missionaries, Mercenaries or Misfits.
Certainly there seems to be no lack of funds or resources put in to trying to resolve the issues of a misplaced race in an a white, affluent country. Each new Balanda brings a fresh faced enthusiasm; new projects and plans are drawn; funding is arranged and machinery is purchased, often only to lay rusting in a hot and dusty yard when that Balanda has lost enthusiasm and purpose in the face of overwhelming hurdles and problems. This and just becoming fed up with the lack of citystyle “niceties”, a good cafe, streets and sidewalks free of litter and marauding packs of dogs!
Our friends Bob and Sharon have taken up the challenge and together, are equipped to make the most of and contribute to Maningrida. Attracted by a job description requiring travel in 4 WD and light aircraft, Sharon is employed in a program to coordinate child safety services and is realistic and pragmatic about what can and will be achieved. Bob is retired and socializes and volunteers his way into the community seamlessly. It’s an adventurous learning curve, a unique and rich experience where supporting each other, and maintaining a sense of humor is vital.
Despite the issues, we loved our brief immersion into the tropical north and the opportunity to witness first hand the problems that are as old as white settlement. It was interesting and stimulating to observe and wonder! Aboriginals and Balanda each doing their best, each wanting whats best for two cultures widely separated by thousands of years of disparate genetic imprint. Conflict and struggle must exist. To me, its like trying to download Apple software into Microsoft computers. It cannot happen easily!
There is something captivating about life in Maningrida. Perhaps an unwieldy sense of hope, a lay back, hot, bare foot kind of place that embraces a old black pig and a big old black cow, and allows them to live free range and unhindered in their community.
Given time, maybe Dreamtime, cultures will merge, health will flourish, and the mystery and magic of an ancient tribal race may return.
Australia! Home at last!!
Ironically, after 96 stories posted in many varied parts of Europe and Morocco, I have encountered technical issues that have delayed the posting of this last story. Perhaps its the universes way of resisting our journey coming to an end??
Being home is busy. Busy with friends, family,horses and house. I have not even begun to think about the garden …………. We are like ducks to water………… loving it.
All that we missed is still here and we indulge and settle in immediately.
There were tears from me touching down on the tarmac. Tears hugging our dear friend Evie who met us at the airport. Tears when we first see family and friends. Tears of relief I think! Sometimes I had worried that we might never get home! Was traveling all those kilometers in all those countries over all those months tempting fate?? Could we really do it all without incident?
Well we did! Not only without incident but with gusto, fun and great fortune. Even the weather favored us and I honestly struggle to remember more than 6 days of rain.
I have started turning the blog into a hard cover 12 x 12 inch coffee table book. Editing each story recalls our time vividly. Which brings me to the blog. I got to “cut my teeth” on a little bit of story telling and I am soooo touched that so many people made so many visits (well over 10,000 and growing!) The blog was always a pleasure to do and allowed me to use my mind creatively. I discovered a joy that comes from writing and photograpy. And I thank every one for the encouraging words and sentiments. It made such a difference to us to share our journey “live” and have that connection with so many people.
The journey itself. Where to begin. Many times we have been asked what was the best country or the thing most enjoyed. For that, there are many answers. Certainly the partnership between Antonio and I was brilliant. We were rarely outside of a 5 meter radios of each other for 15 months and rarely argued or had cross words. We both loved living in our little 6×2 mtr space and recommend this travel to anyone – on one condition – use a GPS. Stress levels would have been VERY different without the help of Roger and Esmeralda.
In all, our journey was an adventure of discovery – every day, never really knowing what we would find around the next corner. A university in sociology, geography, history, geology – life!!
Things we learned (from our experience!!): Who knew ……………
Germany has the best range of bread in all of Europe!
Norways Lofoton islands pip Switzerland at the post for best natural scenery.
Spain has the greatest number of stunning old cities and buildings from the Guggenheim at Bilbao to the Mosque at Cordova to the Moorish Palaces of Alhambra.
Morocco is the most photogenic of all countries.
The Danes seemed the happiest and most outgoing people.
Slovenia is Europes’ best kept secret.
Italys’ most outstanding feature, for me, the warm heart of the home – the kitchens.
Best outdoor walking paths – the UK.
Best cycling – Holland
The best fun we had – The Portuguese Camino with Team Pink.
Most beautiful capitol city – Austria’s Vienna.
Finland has 180,000 lakes.
Icelandic ponies have an extra gait called “tolting” that is so smooth you could easily drink tea with a saucer as you ride.
Norway has beautiful beaches.
Moroccans do not like dogs and only shepherds keep dogs – cats are populous and help to keep the streets clean!!!
Germans have a cooked lunch and an uncooked dinner.
Norwegians eat 5 meals a day.
The windmills in Holland are my most loved icon.
The rooms I would miss most from home was 1. The horses tack room – 2. The laundry!!
Czech is proudly the most atheist country in the world.
France has the best overall campsites and the smallest toilet rolls.
Farmers in the South Tyrol wear a traditional blue apron on visits to town.
There is no doubt our differences are interesting and diverse. Somehow, despite our differences, its our similarities that are even more fascinating. Humans sharing the same earth, the same sky, the same sun, and having done so for thousands, some reports say millions, of years. Soil grows things, no matter what country you are in and is always a shade of brown; clouds are always a shade of white!
We all want health, happiness and love.
Of course, for The Mazzons, there are many more adventures to come. We are preparing to undertake a 4 month packsaddle horseride in 12 months time, with vehicle support, from the Queensland/NSW border south to the Victorian/NSW border! We will always return to Europe to ski, and to visit Noah and Elizabeth. We still need to hug the Dalmatian coast of Croatia and travel into Greece and Turkey. There is new York that neither of us have been to and ………….. STOP!
For now, we continue to settle into old routines, to spring clean the stuff! After 15 months in cubby where we sometimes felt we had too much stuff – having a houseful is overwhelming and a great opportunity to cull with Cubby life still in mind. We are relishing in the “nesting” and the exercise and movement that comes with it!
Thankyou again for sharing our adventure.
We are happy to be home.
A crisp scent of aromatic burning oil, soft strumming tones over the CD mixed with the joy of a bubbling waterfall and the plonk of leaping goldfish. A bright red hibiscus beams up at us from lush dark tropical foliage. Arriving at Chiva Som is like walking through a translucent curtain into a warm and humid garden of serenity and peace.
A stark contrast then to the past 21 hrs we have just spent in stainless steel airports, compressed air cabins of airplanes and the dusty pollution of the 3 hr drive from Bangkok. (Mind you, we cannot complain about the chauffeur!!!)
This was my 3 rd visit to Chiva Som and it’s a small wish granted that I once made with myself sitting at a table here over 6 years ago, that I get to share it with my best friend and husband, Antonio. A week for us to make the transition back to home, time to refresh and reflect. A “cut and polish” of the mind and the body. The last leg of our 15 month journey.
It has been as superb as I remembered. It has to be good when for starters you are given the option of a Japanese buckwheat pillow or the standard feather pillow!! Add to that up to 200 therapies and treatments available. No wonder we need our time tables that are discretely placed outside our door each evening outlining times for our daily massages and treatments. We then have to fit in our choices of scheduled classes including the usual suspects; stretching, yoga, mediation but also the less known; kinesis, Ai Chi, or Vinyasa flow class.
And we need time for some socializing by the pool. We have met here almost as many nationalities as we met through the past 15 months; Swiss, German, Scottish, Portuguese, American and English, Egyptian, Indian, Russian and a couple whom we are quite sure must have been African Royalty. We have made new friends with a lovely Australian couple and a lovely couple from Moscow.
The food, even though its all designed to make you live longer, is to die for! It is beautifully presented, delicious, plentiful and satisfying, yet there is a lingering sense that something is missing – oils, fats, butter, salt, cheese…… and did I mention pasta! No pasta here.
Beer and wine is available but not encouraged and every menu choice is followed by the amount of calories, carbohydrates, proteins and fats the dish contains. Afterall, it is a “health resort” and renowned as one of the best in the world.
I have had two previous visits, March 2005 and April 2006. My weight and blood pressure rates were recorded and kept. As were the visual computer records of a skin analysis. It is great to know my weight and blood pressure have decreased and my skin analysis has hardly altered.
“Chiva Som”, meaning “Haven for Life” is in the resort town of Hua Hin, about 200 km south of Bangkok looking out to the Thailand Gulf, actually only a hop away from Burma and a large skip from Cambodia. ………. aahhhh the miles we could do in a camper!
Could we buy a camper here???
The city also hosts a Royal Palace, Klai Kangwon (Far from Worries). Built in 1928 it is still frequented by the royal family. There is actually plenty to do in the surrounding area but we hardly leave the resort other than brisk walks along the 5 mile beach, and one night to absorb the atmosphere, colors and smells of the local night market.
The service here is typical Thai – faultless!! Of course the Thai people and culture could not be more different from Europe, Morocco or Australia! Whilst deep down I think Antonio would learn to love it, for now he is just not sure about all the bowing going on towards him. 95% of Thais are Buddist and shrines and symbols to and of Buddha are an integrated part of their lives.
And its tropical here. Warm nights, hot humid days. Perfect weather to help you stretch, slow down and relax.
6 nights has been wonderful to break our journey and nip jetlag in the bud. We can hardly believe we are now nearly home! We make a final pack of our bags and wait for our car like kids waiting for Santa. In less than 15 hrs, we will be home.!!!