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Travelling Adventures and a Journey of Discovery

Karen Bendixsen

When I completed my university degree, I couldn't wait to take some time to see a bit of the world. So after saving money for many months together with my partner Duncan we started to plan a trip of a lifetime.

Being down here in Australia we're so far away from everywhere else that it makes sense when you take off on an overseas trip to see as much as you can. So we bought round the world airfares and planned to spend most of our time in South America, then on to Europe and home via Thailand.

After assessing the money we had managed to save and selling both our cars we estimated we could hopefully travel for about 6 months.

So on August 20 th 2003 we boarded our first of many flights and embarked on our world adventure.

First stop was Santiago Chile. Now here I must explain that my connection to the Klinkhamer family is my mother Wendy Klinkhamer (now Wendy Bendixsen) who was obviously originally from Holland. My father however is originally from Argentina and lived many years in Chile.

So we arrived in Santiago and were welcomed into the homes of family and friends that I had never met before. It was so exciting to see the city that my father had spent so many of his years growing up in and put faces to the people I had heard so many stories about.

We made Santiago our base to begin with and spent a month there exploring the city and surrounds and making day trips up to the Ski fields to snowboard.

Our next stop was Peru, we flew to Lima and made our way overland to Cuzco, via many interesting places such as “Huacachina” an oasis town in the desert where we went dune buggying and sandboarding (Just like on snow but on sand). Then the sheer cliffs of the “Colque Canyon” where we saw Condor's flying over head. Then we arrived in Cuzco the ancient Incan city that is surrounded by ruins thousands of years old. We spent a week in Cuzco acclimatising to the altitude before embarking on the famous “Inca trail”. This is a 4 day hike through the Andes mountains following a path to Machu Picchu that was used by Incas thousands of years ago. This experience was one I will never forget because apart from the physical challenge of hiking mountains at altitude where breathing was very difficult, the beauty of the landscape and fascinating history of the ancient civilisation made the journey “MAGICAL”. Machu Picchu itself was breathtaking, a lost city perched on the ridge of dramatically peaked mountains and the mystery that surrounds it, makes it a very special place.

From there we made our way to Lake Titikaka the largest lake in the world at high altitude and it acts as a border between Peru and Bolivia. Here we saw the floating Islands of Uros where the people actually make their land from reeds that grow on the lake, once a month they lay another layer to the top to make up from the layer that rots away from the bottom. We were then taken to a “solid Island” where we stayed a night with an indigenous Indian family in their mud brick house. Their hospitality and generosity were beautiful, they even dressed us in traditional clothes and taught us to dance.

We then wanted to cross over into Bolivia, but due to political problems and civil unrest there were road blocks preventing our entry. So we decided to sneak in from Northern Chile and crossed the border in the Atacama Desert. We travelled for 3 days by 4 wheel drive through some of the most surreal landscape. Everywhere we looked was like a Salvador Dali painting, with obscure shaped rock formations and fluorescent coloured lakes, one of which was even bright red and dotted with pink flamingos. We then encountered the “Salar de Uyuni” the largest salt lake in the world, where as far as you can see there is salt and it is the flattest landscape in the world. A bizarre but beautiful spot.

We slowly made our way South back to Santiago for some rejuvenation with family before embarking on the next leg of our trip further South to Pategonia. We zig zagged our way over the Andes mountains constantly crossing over between Chile and Argentina visiting points of interest. Then we boarded a cargo ship for 4 days that wound it's way through the fiords in some of the harshest weather and winds. At one point we went out to sea through the “ Gulf de la Penas” (Otherwise known as the “Gulf of sorrows”) where we experienced swells of 8 metres , which needless to say meant that half the ships passengers including me, were green with sea sickness. Duncan on the other hand was having the time of his life in the Bridge with the Captain and crew watching the waves swamping the ships hull.

The ship left us in Puerto Natales, which is the town closest to the “Torres Del Paine” National Park. We'd been advised not to miss hiking a trail known as “The W” (named this because on a map it looks like a W).

Dunc and I were in total awe of the beauty of this place, words can not describe the landscape of soaring towers of granite famously know as the “Torres”, electric blue lakes, fields of wild flowers and mountains that were constantly roaring with avalanches high above us. The “piece de resistance” was arriving at the “Glacier Grey” complete with ice bergs floating in the lake below it. It was during our day hike in this park that we really experienced the “Patagonian winds” where at times we were so close to being blown of the track, even laden with heavy back packs we only managed to stay on the path by clinging to surrounding trees or rocks.

After falling in love with glaciers we decided we had to cross the border over into Argentina to “El Calafate”, the home of the “Perito Moreno” the largest advancing glacier in the world. The day we spent viewing the glacier was by far the coldest I have ever been in my life, which stands to reason as we were standing in front of a 70 metre high wall of ice that spanned 4.5 km wide and 14 km long. We were pretty excited about chunks of ice the size of small cars breaking off and crashing into the water below and can only imagine what it would be like when the whole front wall falls away once every few years.

Now this still hadn't satisfied our hunger for glaciers, so off we went to the Fitzroy ranges and joined a group going on a glacier hike below the “Cerro Torre” which is a favourite mountain among rock climbers. Although the scenery was to “die for” the glacier hike was a bit of tourist trap and we didn't end up spending as much time on the ice as we had hoped, however it still remains a very memorable experience.

We then made our way back to chile to Punta Arenas to see the famed “Magellan Penguins” and then back up to Santiago for a family wedding before saying a final good bye to Chile for this trip. Next stop Buenos Aires via a little wine tasting in Mendoza. Buenos Aires was again about catching up with family and friends of my father's and sweltering in it's 35 degree temps which was quite a climatic shock after the glacial temperatures of Patagonia.

We danced the “ Tango” in La Boca and shopped till we dropped on “Avenida Florida”. We saw the tomb of Evita and the eirie but strangely beautiful “Recoleta” cemetary where she is buried.

The next leg of our trip was going to take us to Brazil.

On the way we stopped at Iguazu Falls which are half in Argentina and half in Brazil and they rival Niagara. A conglomeration of 275 waterfalls nestled amongst lush tropical jungle .

The power of the water and the energy that surrounds these falls leaves quite an impression of awe.

We moved on to the coast and spent Christmas with close friends of my parents, at a beach town popular with Brazilians for holidays. So we joined in the festive spirit and drank “Caipirina's” on the sand.

Shortly after New Year we got on the road again and made it to “Rio de Janeiro”, where we danced the Samba, marvelled at the view of the city from the famous statue of Christ and ventured up the Sugar loaf mountain at sunset.

It was about now, that we were re-assessing our financial situation and realised we were going to have to cut our trip short as we had run out of money. We were disappointed that we were going to have to miss out on visiting the Amazon which we were so hoping to see. I emailed Sacha to let her know that we were still going to make a short trip to Amsterdam, but we would not be able to stay long in Europe or our stop in Asia.

She replied to my email suggesting I apply to the fund for money to finish our trip. You can imagine my excitement, when it was granted, it allowed us to travel for another 3 months!

So off we went to Manaus in the heart of the Amazon jungle where we spent 4 days on a jungle experience with a guide. We slept in hammocks under nothing more than a palm frond roof, fished and ate Piranhas, spotted Alligators, saw a Tarantula the size of a hand and on hike in thick of the jungle our guide Robinson stepped on a 4.5 metre “Boa Constrictor”. Luckily it was in the middle of shedding it's skin so not aggressive.

The Amazon is the most incredible place on earth I think. Not only for it's beauty but as a life force, as the planet relies on it for the air we breath and a huge percentage of today's modern medicines have been derived from a plant source found in the jungle. It really is very precious and breaks my heart to see the toll humans have had on it.

Our next experience was definitely a cultural one which was perfect having just had a pristine natural one. We travelled by river boat for 5 days and 5 nights down the Amazon River from “Manaus” to “Belem” which is on the coast. Being such dense jungle there aren't any roads that link “Manaus” to any of the other major cities in Brazil so the only way to travel is by boat or to fly. So trying to make the fund money last as long as possible and always up for an adventure we decided to travel like the locals and booked in “Hammock Class” So we literally spent 5 days and 5 nights in a hammock along with all the locals. We were packed in so close that when the boat rocked and our hammocks swung we bumped bums with the people next to us. It was very interesting being in such a close situation with complete strangers who we didn't understand and who didn't understand us. It was on this trip that we really realised the warmness of the Brazilian people, always singing and dancing and sharing absolutely anything that they had.

Once we hit the coast again we made our way South, town hopping till we reached “Salvadore de Bahia” the city of Brazil that is the cultural centre of the African Brazilians. Here we spent my birthday enjoying the local cuisine and we attended a folkloric show of dance and theatre and a demonstration of the Brazilian “Capoeira” (A non contact martial art that is done to music like a dance). We travelled further inland to visit a National park called “Lencois” that reminded us a lot of the Australian Landscape. The highlight here was a rock formation that was created by a river of lava that had had water fall running over it for so many years that was smooth and slippery so we were able to slide down it into a natural pool like a water slide.

We then had to make it back to “Rio” pretty quickly for our flight to London. This became a mammoth journey of a 29 hr bus ride, then a 5 hour wait at the airport before the 13 hr flight to London. So 47 hrs of straight travelling later we arrived in London and went to stay with a couple that we had met on a tour in Peru.

That really has to be one of the best parts about backpacking, the people you meet along the way, from all corners of the world, and sometimes the only thing that you have in common is the place you are in and that's enough to form a life long friendship.

So we did “the London thing” on top of a double decker bus for a few days, seeing all the usual sites, that were so exciting to me having never have been there but heard, read and seen so much of on T.V. We then went North to Leeds to visit some friends from Australia before making our way up to Edinburgh in Scotland. What a beautiful place Scotland is with it's castles and lochs and us being major “Braveheart” fans (the Mel Gibson movie) we had to visit the the William Wallace monument in Stirling.

Further north we got a taste of the Highlands in “Pitlochry” where we walked amongst lochs and castles in the snow, and experienced Scottish hospitality at one of it's many B&B's. which served us the biggest breakfast I've ever had.

Next stop Glasgow and then across the Irish sea to Belfast. It was intersting to learn about the political problems that held Belfast in the world news for so many years from the local people. It was sad to see the conflict that has divided a city, so much so that the curbsides of the streets were painted in each sides colours, so that you knew which neighbourhood you were in and the views that they supported. However it was good to hear the peace that they now enjoy and the ways that they are trying to heal the relationships.

We then crossed to the other side of Ireland to Galway and out to an Island off Ireland called “Inishmore” that I fell in love with. A baron windswept, landscape littered with rocks and where the farmers made their soil by mixing sea weed and sand. Dunc and I hired bikes to circumnavigate the Island and to explore the pre-stoneage fortresses that are still in fantastic condition.

From their we went to Dublin and had an ‘Irish Stew” in an Irish pub and a Guiness in the Guiness Brewery. I loved walking around the grounds of Trinity College and popping our heads into St Patricks Cathederal.

Now it was time to head to Holland, where we were treated to incredible hospitality and generosity by Sacha and Andre. We visitied, museums, and windmills and caught the train out to Voorhaut to visit my “Tante Keik”. Unfortunately though it wasn't tulip season (I will definitely have to come to Holland one day in tulip season).
I just love the way Amsterdam has integrated new architecture and kept as much of the old as possible. For us being from such a young country where everything is new in comparison to Europe, walking around Amsterdam is like walking around in a Fairytale.

The engineering that is involved to re-claim land and make new canals fascinates me and being a designer myself I just loved being shown the new modern housing developments that are so unique to the Dutch culture.

Sadly we had to leave Europe but were excited about the next leg of our trip which was to be a few weeks in Thailand.

In Bangkok we visited temple after temple and I never stopped being amazed by their intricate carvings, and gold work on their statues and religeous buildings. We rode in their famous “Tuk Tuk's” and argued constantly with people trying to get money out of us.

It's amazing how quickly you fall into their way of haggleing and before you know it your are arguing with a street vendor over what to us, is probably 20 cents in Australian currency. We had to constantly remind ourselves of that as we bartered our way around Thailand.

We then decided to spend the last two weeks of our 8 month journey on two different tropical Islands in the south.

The first was “Koh Pangan' where we paid equivalent of about $6 Australian dollars for our bungalow on the beach. We swam, snorkelled, hired motor bikes and enjoyed the most colourful sunsets from our balcony. We spent Dunc's birthday in a beach bar watching the locals put on fire twirling show and drinking Whisky and red bull out of buckets.

Then we moved to” Koh Phi Phi” which is famous for it's Limestone cliffs soaring out of the emerald green ocean. The water was so warm here that it was sometimes too warm, and didn''t cool you down. We had Thai massages on the beach and ate fresh beautiful seafood. Again we went snorkelling and for those who have seen the movie “ Finding Nemo”….. I found Nemo !!! All in all Thailand is an idealic piece of paradise, but I was saddened by the way the people are destroying their environment to try and entice tourists. I guess that is as much our fault as it is theirs. I can only hope that the government will start trying to protect their country more in the future.

That brings you to the end of Duncan and my adventures. From Thailand we flew back to Australia where we live now.

In reflection of the 8 months we spent travelling the things I learnt, the people I met and the places I saw were more precious than I can possibly try to explain.

All I can say is if you can, perhaps with the help of the fund go out and have an adventure of your own it will change your life.

The experience we shared was a continual journey of discovery, where we constantly felt like that is what life is all about, getting out there and living it.

Both Duncan and myself will be eternally grateful to the Bouten/Klinkhamer fund for extension the grant gave us on our trip.