Tag Archives: Modes of transport

Final 2008-2009 Carbon Footprint

I am now settled in Geraldton, Western Australia and have done the calculations on my final carbon footprint from April 2008 to April 2009.

My target was to get it down to 6 tonnes, which was a target my fellow CRAGers and I all agreed to.

My actual carbon footprint was 7543kg!

[This is a combined total for all my work and personal activities, which is slightly different from most people’s calculations that are purely personal.]

The numerous trans-Australia train trips in the last-month added a few hundred kilograms, as I actually traveled 1.5 times the distance in Australia  by train as I had done the whole way from London to Darwin!

It’s a bit disappointing that I didn’t get the overall footprint lower, but think it is still a significant improvement from the previous year’s total of 19533kg, and puts me well below the average despite having traveled a lot.

2009-10 should be relatively free of travel, I will be pretty much vegan, in control of the water and energy usage of my house, and living 5 mins from everywhere by bike…so will see if I can get below 5 tonnes. Which is still incredibly far from the 2.2 tonnes that would be my fair share!

Considering I have now offset my footprint, I guess you could say my footprint is zero…but we all know offsets are a little flawed.

You can see the details of my calculations here: Custom calculator_Actual 2008-2009_ao


Australia – Darwin to Sydney (the long way)

Well, I made it through Australia. From Darwin to Adelaide, (3000kms south) then on to Sydney (2000km east of Adelaide) and out onto the golden sand and salty sea.

Australia is big, both in drought and flood, wealthy (but with loads of crazies and poor people), and utterly confusing. How did a country and people get so wealthy when the weather suggests barely anything / anyone could live here? Where the heck does everything we have here come from? China is one answer, and probably a quite accurate one. But at points in my journey it really did strike me how utterly inhospitable this place seems compared to lush India, fertile SE Asia, or even Iran.

I arrived in Darwin on Australia Day at 3am, slept in the airport for a while, swam, then generally cruised around the town. I had one beer and nearly fell over – my alcohol tolerance is down to about zero. The following day I spent reading Australian newspapers and magazines in the cool, spacious Northern Territory state library, then hunted down some books for the long journeys ahead. I swam laps in both mornings I was there, which was a treat. I was slightly disappointed to miss the crocodiles which seem to occasionally turn up lost in the pools ; )

The Ghan departed Darwin at 10am, and I was quite happy with the spacious compartment which offered plenty of ways to sleep even if I did only have an upright seat allocated to me. My wondrful 3/4 length ultralite thermarest has been an absolute life-save on this trip….


There is not much to say about the scenery from the three days – that part of Australia (I.e. Most of it) is quite flat, very dry, and covered in a vegetation mix that transitions from sparse forest with an understorey of grasses in the north into low scrub for the greater part of the journey. Bud Tingwell (Australian actor) provided a pre-recorded voice over for parts of the trip, filling us in on some of the history and sights to watch out for.  The clouds are a real highlight – seriously.



We stopped in Katherine and Alice Springs for decent amounts of time (enough to take a tour), and I had a good time in both spots.

Katherine has a beautiful gorge, which I have already seen and which was out of bounds due to flooding. I just wandered around a bit, and went for a swim. Despite the lady at the tourist bureau warning me the water in the pool might be ‘a bit cold’, the 29 degree water was fine for me. Apparently they close it when the water temperature drops to a too-chilly-to-swim 20 degrees. Crikey.

Katherine also held some degree of fascination for me because I had just listed to a couple of podcasts on the ‘unintended consequences of the intervention’. The intervention was where the Federal government sent the army in to Aboriginal communities in northern Australia to control drinking, child-abuse and other social problems. They did not really think this through, and it hasn’t really worked well it seems. You can listen here, and also to Fiona Stanley’s emotional and intelligent reflections and call to action after decades of strategies and reports and too little action on Indigenous health (far worse than indigenous people in equivalent developed countries, and with life expectancies lower than many developing countries).

Alice Springs was also great, beacuse I like it a lot already – mountains, culture, arts, red dirt, it has a lot going for it. And this brief stop was especially good thanks to a lovely German girl (Veronica) lending me her bike so I could ride out of town to the Desert Knowledge Centre and CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems to see the solar arrays and other eco-stuff. Interestingly Veronica worked on the ‘intervention’, and amongst other part-time jobs drives the ‘bush bus’ to remote communities. She has probably seen far more of Australia’s interior and its people than all but a few thousand Australians I think.


I had met Veronica on the train before she got off in Alice, and I had a few other conversations with the young and old Germans, Dutch, English, and Australians sharing the lowest-class Red Kangaroo seats. I think this service could have been a little better – it felt like it lacked some little touches that would really mean it lived up to its title of a ‘Great Train Journey’.

Arriving in scorching Adelaide (44 degrees) my main interest was in going for another swim. Upon making it to the aquatic centre, I paid the relatively expensive $6.50 entry, plus $3 for secure locker to then walk into a total circus. Being a hot day, I was expecting it to be busy, but this was fantastic! People of every imaginable cultural heritage (Asians, Aboriginals, Lebanese, Africans, Australians, Greeks, Italians…everyone) were all splashing in every puddle of water in the centre, from the kiddies pool to the chaotic lap pool. It was quite cool to be literally swimming in a diversity which I have not seen since leaving London. And what joy I got from the diving boards – kids of all races and backgrounds having the time of their lives trying to impress their friends with their spins, flip and splash.

The cultural diversity on the bus from Adelaide to Sydney (via Melbourne) may have been slightly down from the bus, but only just. It was very comfortable and seemingly popular route. Sure, there were a number of weirdos, but that’s public transport for you and nothing a good set of earplugs can’t deal with. And, yes, I definitely have some characteristics of a weirdo myself.

Quite a journey in the end, and far preferable to the bus (and cheaper). I also really enjoyed getting through a number of books on Australia’s social trends, Outliers, Blind Faith.

In a way, I am glad the Mt Isa – Tennant Creek road was washed out, meaning I couldn’t catch the bus from Darwin to Brisbane. While I had to cancel meetings with some really great people in Brisbane, it was a unique opportunity to do this train trip. And, yes, the 4 day train/bus combo from Darwin-Adelaide-Sydney still produces far, far less carbon than flying. Which is important I think, given the infrstructure failures in Melbourne caused by recent heat-waves and continued water shortages and general ecological collapse that seems to be plaguing Australia now…

Although, a quick dive into the sparkling waters of an inner city beach seems to be great at washing all those worries away. Well, except for the worry that someone will steal all your stuff while you swim…



Now in Sydney, the pace has picked up, and I am glad to have had a few quiet last days on the train and bus. Now I am busy catching up with family (Mum!), old friends from around the world, and making new friends as part of the Hallbarhet2009 learning journey I am responsible for. More on that soon, here, on the Hallbarhet blog, and on Worldchanging.com

Sumatra, Java and Bali – Indonesia

For such a large and diverse country, I did it no justice whatsoever. Since doing some planning in China, I knew I would have to rush through Indonesia to make Sydney in time (it was going to take me at least 5 days to get from Darwin to Sydney). I tried various things to squeeze a few more days in Indo, at the very least to see some volcanoes, forest and go surfing, and here is what resulted.

In between boarding the boat towards Sumatra on the morning of the 16th, and midnight on the 22nd of January (nearly 168 hours), I spent all but about 24 hours sitting on my bum on some form of transport.

First, a ferry, then bus, then 60+ hours on the bus to the ‘cultural capital’ of Yogyakarta, then 11 hours on the bus the next day to Bromo. Arriving in the evening, not sleeping, then leaving at 4am to watch the sun-not-rise over a volcano in the mist. At 8am I walked down off the volcano and back into a jeep, then bus, then an expensive 3km in a 4WD, then ferry (Java to Bali), then bus, then shared but relatively luxurious taxi for the final 19km into Kuta.

I was, at times during this journey, quite pissed off. It was hot, humid (it’s summer here) crowded, people were continuously trying to steal my stuff, or sell me rubbish, or rip me off (and sometimes succeeding). I’m not exaggerating about the proliferation of dishonourable people – and have missing sunglasses, a shirt, money and a few good stories as a result. My saving grace through all this was that I always asked to choose my seat in advance – for the 60 hour trip this was the difference between having my knees around my neck, or stretching out across the stairwell while sitting, then sprawling across the back seat to sleep.

Pekanburu to Yogyakarta gang with goats

Pekanburu to Yogyakarta gang with goats

The view for 60+ hours

The view for 60+ hours

And, at times, I was really happy. As in life always, whenever I wanted to be somewhere else, I was usually not happy. And, if I thought everyone was trying to steal stuff, then it is so easy to notice all kinds of things that reinforce this perception, and so the opposite. I was happy when I loaned out all my clothes to other cold people in the bus, then unhappy 24 hours when one of them had left and taken my shirt with him, and another was hiding my jacket hoping I would forget it. I was happy when guys with guitars or girls with karaoke machines would get on and sing for money, but not happy when the girl expected me to give her ‘money, money, money’. [I’m destined to be sad if my mood swings so much in relation to external circumstances, aren’t I!?]

I must mention some of the transport. It’s worth saying that you will pay more for an A/C vehicle, but I suspect not get one, or one in which the A/C is not working. I am fine with heat and humidity actually, but not when I am expecting the A/C to work. The ferry was great. Superficially, if you squinted, it looked like a quality ferry that would do the crossing to Rottnest from Perth. Open your eyes and you start to see the rust, and patchy repairs to the hull. Step onboard and you see the odd welds, and realise that what looks like metal (e.g. hull) is actually all fibreglass. Sit inside, and you learn that fibreglass is pretty bloody thin as the whole wall of the boat flexes inwards a foot when docking against the jetty. I never used to understand how these Indonesian ferries just ‘sank’, now I know.


The food along this whole journey was OK. But only when I tended to explore other options apart from the one the driver was directing us in to. The designated stops on the local buses were ok, but on one with only fellow tourists the driver directed us to a place that was literally ten times as expensive as the little local place 30m around the corner.

Anyway, rushing through Indo like this was not really going to give it a good chance to impress me. Nor was I going to many destinations (I.e. bus stations) that are set up to impress. Some things did, however, leave a positive impression:

  • great street food in Yogyakarta, including a breakfast that competes with my yoghurt/banana/many grain/muesli/porridge in Kolkata for the best meal so far


  • being entertained (and bemused) by the shadow puppet show and distracted gossiping puppeteers and musicians at the Sonobudoyo Museum, Yogyakarta


  • the run-down but still cool ‘kraton’ (palace), then Buddhist monuments (Borabudur) in Yogyakarta and hanging out with two great Indonesian guys, both with amazing stories (one is like the winner of Indonesian idol, the other has been lifted out of poverty and it at Univeristy thanks to the generosity of a Dutch woman)



  • stumbling upon an amazing (funeral?) ceremony at the southern end of Kuta beach amongst the heart of sunburnt tourists


  • wondrous Balinese architecture, even on new-ish hotels,

  • beautiful and handsome Balinese, with women sporting an attractive combination of bright saris and fitted tops

  • totally awesome tailor in Kuta who impeccably re-created two pairs of my favourite pants/trousers, but in a way that means I can wear them to more formal meetings

  • enjoying moments of genuine friendliness (heart-warming), adoration (weird) and laughter (the universal language) in between the hassles and nastiness

  • early, early morning worshipping and locals doing their thing  everywhere before it all gets busy, smoky and nasty

My last couple of paragraphs can be devoted to Kuta.

I arrived late, found somewhere expensive, slept, looked around, then found somewhere cheaper. I then went to the beach! I had heard it was beautiful, and with very consistent waves – perfect for relaxing, but also getting back into my surfing. But being Dec/Jan the winds are blowing the wrong way, which is not so bad for the waves, but awful for pollution. I surfed several times, but in a thick soup of plastic, rotting fish, and all kinds of things that made my eyes water and make my skin crawl, even now. It was really awful, but I still got some alright waves.

Having lost my drivers licence on a German train a while back, I didn’t want to rent a motorbike (which EVERYONE else does), get hurt, then be in trouble with travel insurance. Having no board, I needed to surf wherever they rented boards. Having some meetings and wanting to just relax a bit and catch up on sleep, I didn’t have a whole lot of days to wander to other parts of Bali or Nusa Lombongan. Not being confident about my surfing or paddling, I was reluctant to get a lift to somewhere that the surf guides suggested might be crowded and unrideable.

So Kuta was a bit of a loss for me. I wandered the streets quite a bit, doing chores and checking out temples, different parts of the long strip of development along the beach, and confirming that every single shop sold exactly the same crap as every other. I did get back into the groove or surfing (it’s like riding a bike!), and felt much more aware of my weight, and what the wave was doing than ever before. And, I did get to see Uluwatu the day I was due to leave. I paid the guy from the surf shop to take me out on his motorbike. It looked ok, considering it was the wrong season, and I could have totally handled surfing there! It was a beautiful loooonggg wave, and I enjoyed the ride back into town (read upcoming ‘size of reality’ post).


So, that was Indo. I think I will be back, and may be even more likely to learn Indonesian than Mandarin when in Oz. Afterall, it is Australia’s closest neighbour and therefore lowest-carbon overseas travel destination. It really does have the best waves on the planet, in warm water, with great food, beautiful people, amazing landscapes covered by much of the world’s remaining tropical forest, a wondrous range of languages, stunning and wearable art. And a warm friendliness and sense of spiritual reverence (whether Hindu, Muslim or indigenous) that still shines past even the worst rubbish, brazen hookers, sleaziest drunks, most aggressive salespeople and rudest bumper stickers you can find in Kuta.

Transport SE Asia – China, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia Singapore

I have posted this brief survey of several thousand kilometres of travel, because much of it was a blur of days and nights spent on trains and buses. Soon followed by another blur through Indonesia.

Yuanyang (China) to Luang Prabang (Laos)

This was actually very, very interesting. Slow, bad roads, but absolutely amazing scenery with rice paddies and plantations (tea, palms) climbing high up remote and incredibly steep valleys. I enjoyed a day of this journey in the company of an intelligent, muscular, young Dutch doctor.

It takes a good three days to get from Yuangyang, to Luchun, then Jingcheng, then Mengla, Mohan and into Laos. The buses range from small, local mini-buses to the luxury sleeper that got me across the border and right through to Luang Prabang. The roads on the Chinese side are variously washed out and bumpy, but the works being done at the time I went through suggest it should be smooth sailing sooner rather than later. The necessary stops in two small towns are fine because they are worth a wander for an hour and the accomodation is really cheap.

More on the Laos side here.

Luang Prabang (Laos) to Nong Khai (Thailand)

An overnight buses of varying quality are available- I took the cheap option which had hard seats, and additional locals jammed on plastic stools in the aisles. The bus dropped us in Vientiene at 6am, where it is a short shared tuk-tuk ride to the local bus station in the centre of town. From there you can get a taxi, bus right through to NongKhai, or local bus to the border. I chose the latter, and it was quicker, and cheaper than the other options. It is then another bus for the short ride across the bridge (or tuk tuk), then tuk tuk to the train station where I bought my ticket for the overnight train that night.

I was quite happy with how quickly and easily I did this, but only because at every single change I knew exactly where I was going and how much it would cost, so could bargain hard or move quickly. By refusing to buy the train ticket from the agents in Luang Prabang, getting the local bus, bargaining etc. I reckon I saved at least 2/3 on what I could have paid for this 18 hours of travel.

Nong Khai to Bangkok

A lovely sleeper train with crisp, clean sheets (I MUST buy myself some beautiful linen sheets when back in Australia, and hire a maid to wash and iron them everyday), helpful attendants, clean bathrooms and sink area, and good airconditioning. You sit opposite one or two other people, and your facing seats convert into upper and lower beds. More expensive than trains in India, but still great value.

Bangkok to Butterworth

1100 Baht. Again, a comfortable, air-conditioned cabin with similar set-up to the previous train, although I think the seats were a bit wider to accommodate two people for just the daytime part of the journey. Third class isn’t even available, so you just have to go for something nice. I think you could sit, but that would be a bit awful. I even scored a berth adjacent to power supply (exactly mid-cabin in seat 13 I think, so choose that if you are booking online), so was able to work while also enjoying the warm evening light over the countless fields and plantations of southern Thailand. Ends at Butterworth which is a compulsory stop – the connections are not immediate. The train station is immediatley adjacent to the ferry across to the island of Penang, and everything on the other side is walking distance.

Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur

Same same (sami sami), after the better part of a day wandering Georgetown (Penang).

Kuala Lumpur to Singapore

The train from Butterworth arrived early morning via a smoke-clogged tunnerl, and I then waited for two or so hours in the terminal at KL. I only moved about 100 metres from where I got off the train, with toilets, food, newsagent, a quiet spot to meditate and powerpoints all nearby.

The KL to Singapore train is just a day journey, and when booking online go for the seat at the very end of the cabin. There you get leg-room, and a table right in front of the TV: first-class while everyone else is in third. Exccept, of course, when what’s on the TV is utter shit, like the scratched, skipping Harley Davidson doco and American princess movie I got. The scenery is also not that interesting – endless palm plantations.

If you want any more details of these trains, do check out seat61 for every little detail of timetables,  how to book, through to the style of bedding

P.S. Spread across these trains I worked a lot. While not producing much new of value, I was in a good mood (tired) for sorting out the piles of ‘reference’ and ‘reading’ material stored in email folders, folders on my desktop and scans of notes and mindmaps from the past three years. While not directly conducive to happiness in itself, it is something I have been wanting to do for a long time.

Bus from China to Luang Prabang – Laos

This ride was a winding journey through the mountains of souther nChina and northern Laos. The bus was not empty, but very roomy, and I enjoyed the views from a double sleeper bed. The border crossing was straight-forward, and probably took one and a half hours all up. I spent some of that time inquiring into an older American’s perspective on his nations foreign policy (he started it!). Safe to say his perspective wildly differed from my own, and from one of his countrymen who approached me after to make sure I know that the older man’s views were not representative. His views were, however, probably shared by the maker’s of an unbelievably crap military action movie that was playing for too long during the bus ride.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the movie though, with the scenery being quite amazing. Village after village of wooden and bamboo huts on stilts set mongst dense, dense forest (full of unexploded ordinance from the US’ ‘secret war’). Every hut was also accompanied by a satellite dishes whose metal construction contrasted with the more permeable feel of the house. Laos was definitely an order of magnitude less infrastructure than in China – this was the main road, and it was pretty bad. And much of it was even less developed than what I saw in India. But apparently the north-south highway link with China will soon be complete and everything will change as Laos hosts the main road links between all of SE Asia.

Other sights worth sharing included the teenage children on the side of the road playing the mating game. This involves pairs of girls and boys throwing a (bamboo) ball back and forth with one hand. It was quite surreal to see them playing this dignified and beautiful by the road-side in brightly coloured clothes, their spare hand holding an umbrella to shield them from sun.

The other less savoury sight was a road-side market selling fried rats and guinea pigs. I actually thought it was ok, as why wouldn’t you eat them. But one of the fellow vegetarians on the bus was pretty distraught at our bus driver buying a large, aggressive guinea pig in a bamboo cage, and slab of meat from the leg of a small pig then leaving it on the floor in the middle of the bus.

Transport in China – all sorts

For anyone coming this way, here are some short thoughts on the transport available. Strangely, I took no trains the whole time – this mountainous, ‘backward’ corner of China being better served by buses.

Buses in Kunming

Fantastic, modern, clearn, bi-lingual with LCD televisions and LED signs displaying the name of the stops.

Bus to Lijiang

Clean, free bottle of water, rest stop at an expensive and not-so-good roadside place. The bus was only about 10% full., but it was mid-day, mid-week in the off-season. It did show a Jackie Chan flick and  some other worthy movies, which distracted me from practicing Mandarin. The bus went past ‘Dinosaur Valley’ where ancient remains had been found while building a road. The whitewashed traditional houses all had caricatures of  dinosaurs painted on them. All the dinosaurs, on all the houses actually looked the same, so I can’t help but wonder if they were all done by the same person(s) as part of some tacky, organised government initiative.

In that few kms arond Dinosaur Valley, there were some really sharp contrasts: the  massive angular concrete structure housing the Dinosaur exhibit, with protubances suggestive of a brontosaurus head VS. the terraced fields growing rice, canola and vegetables with dramatic peaks in the background VS. the race-track-perfect, smooth three lane highway carved (recently) through the whole show…


Clean, mostly leaving when full. E.g. Lijjiang to Tiger-Leaping Gorge. The Bus stations are consistently modern, and enough English is understood to compensate for my poor Mandarin.

Little vans

Again, cheap, leave when they are full e.g. Jinchuan to Shaxi. Although, I got a shared ride for a total of 100Y from the start of Tiger Leaping Gorge for two hours back to Lijiang. This is the same price as a shared 20 minute ride from the middle of the gorge back to the start. Same deal as any transport really – you pay $10 to go 400kms, then another $10 to go the last 4kms…


Didn’t get to ride in one, but did see one slide down the road on its side, depositing several tonnnes of limestone rocks across the road.They are basically a truck, but the engine sits way out in front, in the open. Often the front wheels are narrower than the rear.

Apart from obvious design flaws re: safe steering down steep hills, I think they are super-cool. Single-piston, easy to repair, and can be made to look as mean as hell. There are also smaller versions, where it looks like a small engine used for tilling soil is attached to a trailer behind with huge handlebars trailing back from the engine to the driver seated on the trailer.


Sleeper Bus

What excitement! A favourite mode of transport for me, andone that should be more widely used (IMHO). Sleeping about 40 people, on two levels, in a mixture of three or four across the bus. There was  always a DVDplayer and screens on board, warm bedcovers, comfy cushions, and the beds were just long and wide enough for me to sleep ok. There are belts for you to wear, so I guess it is as safe as sitting. A pretty cool way to travel I think, and perhaps something that will be more common? One downside is theft though, apparently a few things have been stolen on the Kunming to Dali sleeper bus.

I got these buses from Jinchuan to Kunming, Kunming down to Yuangyang, and then from Jingcheng to Luang Prabang (Laos). In the (half-empty) Laos one, I got a double bed! Sweet!

Pedal-rickshaws in India

Within cities, I often tried to get these rather than the default auto-rickshaws. They obviously pollute less, are cheaper, and I just like them. They are, however, most frequently steered and powered by skinny old guys, and who literally have to stand one-footed on the pedal nearly every stroke to leverage all their weight to get the crank to spin. They are always in flip-flops, meaning power transmission is relatively inefficient and must be uncomfortable. I always have this overwhelming desire to

a) ride the thing myself to give them a break

b) fit some better pedals and give them stiff shoes

c) buy them a decent seat

d) change the gear ratio so they can ‘spin’ instead of blow their knees out with so much effort on every stroke

e) punch the idiots who get in their way and force them to brake and lose so much hard-won momentum ; )