King Hoo Ping ceremony (Semarang, Indonesia)

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The scent of incense and sounds of chanting and chimes fill the air. We on’t now what will happen next but we watch to see. The air was still a moment ago but since the prayers started it has become windy. My cousin tells me that the wind comes because it is the souls of those passed coming back for the ceremony. Flags that were still a few moments ago wave as the wind gusts the table. The souls have come to join us for the annual King Hoo Ping ceremony at my uncle’s old house in Semarang’s China Town.

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After attending church with one of my cousins this morning, we have been invited to come to the King Hoo Ping ceremony from midday. Naturally, we agree enthusiastically. It turns out this is an important ceremony for my family and their friends. My uncle was raised by a Chinese family and my cousins grew up in the heart of Semarang’s China Town area, spending their days playing in the many temples that abound here. They uphold the Confucian tradition of King Hoo Ping to honour the deceased every year.

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The tables are set with an abundance of food. There are bowls of rice, birds, vegetables, fruits, beers and all manner of foods I don’t recognise. People stand and sit around the tables talking and watching the ceremony. I realise we are actually just partying in the street of the kampung with a big tent over our heads for shade from Semarang’s searing heat. Everyone is festive.

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My uncle arrives just after we do. This is the first time I’ve seen him among people other than the family. I see how well respected he is. And how many laughter lines he has around his eyes. Every time I look he is smiling with someone. He asks me to take photos of him praying at the head of the table. He is one of three sponsors of this ceremony, which is a great honour. To be a sponsor you must receive approval from the spirits; it is not something just anyone can do. My cousins tell me that about a decade ago someone tried to move this ceremony to another nearby location. My uncle was a sponsor and said “okay but you must first ask the souls for permission”. The people didn’t ask the souls and moved the ceremony anyway. That year during the King Hoo Ping ceremony the winds came and blew the tent and tables away. So now the ceremony is back outside my uncle’s house where the souls seem to be happy.

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As I stand there watching the incense rise from the sticks standing in the food offerings something strange happens. Someone special to me appears beside me and touches my shoulder. I know she is here just as she was with me on Kumano Kodo back in Japan. On that occasion her message was that I should not walk the Camino de Santiago di Compastella. A decision that led me to the wonderful experiences I had in Hungary.

On this occasion her presence is again linked with an important travel-related decision I have made. See, last night I decided to end my nomadic life after Turkey. I have enjoyed the experience but am ready to have a new more balanced way of living. One in which I am not just wandering aimlessly but in which I have a home from which I take specific adventures. A life in which Paul and I travel together to see new places and have new experiences, both at home and abroad. I had booked flights to Cambodia in November but have decided not to board that flight. Instead, I will be home with Paul from mid-October to late-December when we head to Europe for the winter. I need structure in my life so from 1 September I have increased my workload to 3 days a week and committed to attend my office on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays when I actually am in Brisbane. That still leaves me the luxury of a four day weekend every week. And I still have the flexibility to travel whenever I want and work my three days a week while traveling. But I think for a little while I want to enjoy some routine of work, fitness training, weekend adventures and road trips with Paul. I hope we can still travel overseas for 2-3 months a year because there is so much more we need to see and experience. But I want to do most of it with Paul; not alone. And, as the spirit of my friend stands behind my at the ceremony, I know that I have made the right decision. Because suddenly I feel at peace and after this day the gastroenteritis will suddenly clear.

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And that’s how I find myself at the Matahari in the evening buying three pairs of business pants and three business shirts at a buy two get one free sale.

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I also buy the first pair of jeans I’ve owned in almost exactly a decade to signify that my wardrobe can expand a little beyond lightweight traveling clothes.

I am excited about the next chapter. I look forward to dropping the two trouser sizes I have gained this past 18 months and feeling attractive again. I can’t wait to have friends around for dinner more regularly and to spend more quality time with my family. It will be fun to have work colleagues and a professional life again in a more regular part-time capacity. And I get goose bumps knowing that Paul and I will have more time together instead of having our relationship tucked into my travel schedule.

Rest day in Szeged (Southern Great Plain)

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After days of extreme dry heat, the weather gods have decided it’s time to give us a break. It’s a about 23’C and overcast as I slide out of my bivy. Annoyingly, I am still awake too early and can’t get back to sleep. But the view of Szeged on the other side of the river is fantastic and it’s really no hardship to be up.

I jump on my bike and start to ride out of the camping to buy some bread and bananas for breakfast when the Belgian couple camping nearby call out to me. I spoke with them yesterday and they know I understand their Flemish words. I am invited to join them for breakfast. They have only two chairs but a step ladder will suffice. They share their food and I enjoy some bread, bananas and yoghurt washed down with a very delicious herbal tea. By the time I leave their camp it is 11:30am … four hours after I sat down.

I hang out at the camping ground using the wifi to knock out some work. The guy from the camping comes over with some pork and cabbage that his mother made me for lunch. It’s delicious. We talk for a few hours about his life in Hungary and his experiences of where his country has been and is going. He explains that the average wage in Hungary for an educated person is about 250-300 euros a month and that the people who mow lawns or are working to renovate the camping ground swimming pool might make 150 euros a month if they are lucky. Most young Hungarian people stay living at home for a long time (he’s in his early thirties but cannot afford to move in with his girlfriend due to financial hardship). I hear about how in 2008 the housing market crashed in Hungary. Not like in Australia where the market dropped about 10% but crashed to the extent that people like his family lost their homes and lost all their equity too. This is why there are so many houses either abandoned or for sale. Because the owners cannot afford the repayments and no one can afford to buy the houses. He has a degree in philosophy from a German university; speaks Hungarian, English and German fluently; is gregarious and generous. Yet it’s a struggle. He tells me personalities and behaviours, and how it will take 3-4 generations to overcome these effects but that the global world expects Hungary (and other former Soviet nations) to change within 1-2 generations. (I should mention that my mother told me something similar). It’s interesting and I am grateful to him for being so open about his experiences. He tells me that he is a patriot and missed Hungary while he was studying abroad. He wants a better future for his country and his countrymen. And he has decided that he will do his part by being friendly, outgoing and welcoming to foreigners so that they enjoy his country and share positive stories about their experiences. He doesn’t resent the West for being wealthy. Rather, he knows that the money we spend in his country will eventually help and that our ideas and happiness might be infectious.

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Later he invites me to dinner with his girlfriend. They take me to a fish soup restaurant. The meal is absolutely delicious and the company even more so. I just wish it wasn’t so prohibitively expensive for them to come to Australia because I’d love to show them around my country too. I can only hope to come to Hungary again to catc

Friendship and food

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My primary reason for choosing Adelaide as a destination was to visit my friend, L. We met seven years ago when I came to visit someone I then knew, H. L was H’s mate but he and I hit it off and have been firm friends since. I have been meaning to come back to Adelaide to visit over the intervening years but it never happened. So I was excited to come here to spend time with L. And what a time we’ve had. We’ve stayed up late catching up on the years, walked his cute dog and shared meals.
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Cooking is one of my loves so I have taken over L’s kitchen to cook up some feasts. First there was a dinner of chickpea and leak soup, followed by roast chicken and pumpkin. It was such a treat to use an oven; something I don’t have access to when I camp.
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The next night I used the leftover roast chicken to make nasi goreng for dinner. This is a simple dish I learned from my mother, which was a common dinner at home. I love the sweet and salty flavours and that it can be made with any leftover meat.
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Yesterday I pumped up the country music on my phone while L was out picking up his 10 year old nephew and baked up a storm. It was cold and grey outside so baking in a warm kitchen was divine. By the time I was done, I had baked some mini lemon crumble loaves and a big chocolate chip chocolate brownie. I had also quite contendedly licked the beater, wooden spoon and mixing bowls. The sugar overload didn’t stop me from getting stuck into the finished brownie though.
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And then, last night, L and his nephew cooked me a big feast of Greek-style marinated lamb chops, chips and salad. The lamb was so tender it melted in my mouth. I think sharing food is one of the most wonderful experiences. And it’s one I’ve enjoyed immensely this week.

Central Queensland wrap up in pictures

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The first stage of my travels was a wonderful success and confirmed for me that I definitely on the right path. The week-long motorbike trip to Central Queensland had everything I am looking for in my new nomadic lifestyle:
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I travelled through rural areas where I could buy delicious fresh produce direct from the producer.
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I spent time out in my packraft exploring some magical waterways.
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I enjoyed the simple pleasures of seeing a butterfly sitting on the water and kites hunting for prey.
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And the bliss of being welcomed into my friends’ homes.

The road to Baffle

Note on images: Most of my photos are on my camera and I forgot to bring the cable that connects it to my laptop. This post will be updated at a later date once I get that sorted.

 

Magpies warble and kookooburras laugh as I open my eyes. I snuggle up in my sleeping bag enjoying the luxury of Mother Nature’s alarm clock. The sun will rise in fifteen minutes so there’s no rush to get out of bed. I slept well and the Maidenwell traveller’s rest area was quiet all night.

It doesn’t take me long to pack. I don’t have to rush; I just potter away methodically fitting all my gear onto the bike. The air is cool but not cold; thanks to the blanket of grey clouds hanging low over the land. I consider leaving my wet weather gear in an easily accessible place but decide against it. It’s a decision I will come to regret later in the day but not one that I will dwell on. As the sun shines it’s orange light across the eastern sky, I ride off down the highway enjoying the muted colours of gum trees and grasslands in the overcast morning light.

I blast through Nanango and ride on to Goomeri where I stop for breakfast. I boil the billy for hot chocolate and munch on raisin bread as I watch the goings on in town. Grey nomads tow oversized caravans (rigs) with huge four wheel drive cars. This is the daily ritual for them: leave early to get the best spot at the next campsite (often just a roadside rest area). A few families turn up and stop to let their children use the bathrooms or stretch their legs. I guess they are off someplace for the school holidays, which started today. A family with a horse float stops across the road. At first I only see the appropriately horsily dressed parents but soon one child after another piles out of the truck and starts running across the grass as if to stretch their legs and rejoice in the freedom of getting out of their car.
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The grey clouds come lower as I ride on to Ban Ban Springs. I can’t help but think if Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as I smell the various scents that fill the country air. There’s sweet wattle flowers and lucern hay. There’s stinky dairy cattle and road kill. There’s the occasional waft of eucalyptus. And then, as I turn east from Ban Ban Springs towards Gin Gin the heavens open and I get to experience that other side of motorcycle touring: getting wet. That decision I made this morning to put my wet weather gear away comes back to bite me. I could stop to dig it out or complain but instead I just settle in and enjoy the freedom of life on the road.
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It’s almost 4pm by the time I reach my destination. I haven’t been to Baffle Creek in just over two years. But still I recognise the familiar road in with it’s sections of paperbark swamp. I feel happy and excited to be here visiting my friends K and G. They are just lovely people and we have always shared many laughs.
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K is someone with whom I can talk about anything without censorship and right now I have a lot to talk about. I know K also shares a lot with me so I look forward to hearing her stories. We settle in straight away with a  cup of tea and a campfire to start our catch up. For the first time I don’t have to rush off after just one or two nights so I’ll stay a few days before I move on.