i nearly choked on a cocoa cayenne cookie…

… and other things you might say and hear in San Francisco.

“Do I have kale in my teeth?”

“Let’s eat these over by the Yucca”

“CHEESE IS NOT VEGAN!!”

But I’m skipping ahead. There’s still a whole week of LA to catch up on. Let’s start with the morning I went on a tour that, by the end of it, I felt so dirty and weird and gross and full of regret for every bad celebrity magazine and website I’ve ever read…

I coerced my good friend Ben into coming with me on a Lifestyles of Hollywood’s Rich & Famous Blah Blah bus tour the day after we arrived. With a brochure promising to take us through Laurel Canyon, along Mulholland Drive and through Beverly Hills, with sun shining and birds singing, it seemed, if anything, a great opportunity to see a bit more of the city. So I guess that’s one box ticked.

But as soon as our open-top minivan rolled down Hollywood Boulevard, I realised this was not the tour for me. Was it our tour guide, with his knuckle-n-neck tatts, missing teeth and eau d’ganja cologne? Was it when we drove past the hotel from Pretty Woman (SPOILER ALERT : the one from the end, where JR’s getting ready to leave LA and Richard Gere drives down the street in the stretch limo and he climbs up the fire escape and they kiss ON THE LIPS and it’s really romantic?) three times in 25 minutes, with no other notable stops or sightings in between? Or was it when we stopped on Mulholland Drive to see the Bowl and take some snaps of the Hollywood sign? Ol’ Toothy stopped the car (on a pretty steep stretch of road) and jumped out to let us out the back. Except he forgot to put on the handbrake. So we all started rolling backwards down the hill. Thrills n spills in Hollywood, I tells ya!

The remaining two hours were spent looking at houses in the distance, and being regaled with interesting facts like “See that house on top of that hill with the flat roof? Meg Ryan’s house. Beautiful property. Worth $16 million. See that house with the orange wall? Beautiful property. Worth $22 million. Jennifer Lopez got married there. Now Gwen Stefani lives there. She’s a fashion designer. See that house with the black windows? Beautiful property. Worth $34 million. Tom Hanks’ house.”

Snore.

The icing on the cake was when we screamed around a corner and “OH MY GOD THERE’S A CAR IN GENE SIMMONS’ DRIVEWAY IT COULD BE GENE” honk honk honk!!!! The lady behind me said “Gene Simmons? Is that her in the car? Who’s she?”. Gene Simmons was not in the car. I’m not a huge KISS fan and even I knew it wasn’t him, but it didn’t stop Le Tooth from honking a little (a lot!) more and blocking traffic and whistling and yelling.

By the end of the tour, I was glad we didn’t see anyone famous (despite being promised we would; if not on Rodeo Drive then ‘behind the wheel of any expensive sports car driving through the canyon’). It felt SO intrusive and revolting; like being at a human zoo.

Yikes. That was a DOWNER! Let’s remember when Ben and I started rolling down Mulholland Drive and have a little chuckle! Good times coming soon, I promise!

The only picture I took on the tour: Cher's house. And I took it because - well - it's a pretty impressive front gate.

The only picture I took on the tour: Cher’s house. And I took it because – well – it’s a pretty impressive front gate.

As an aside, because I’m sure you’re VERY interested, I DID end up spying a couple of (I hate the word) ‘celebrities’ while I was in LA. Most of them ex-Aussie actors, hilariously enough, but I saw Aziz Ansari getting coffee in Echo Park, and I held the door open for Giovanni Ribisi after a screening of The Grand Budapest Hotel. He looked very sullen and didn’t say thanks or even crack a smile. So that’s the last time I hold a door for a Hollywood moofie star…

p.s. That was ME that nearly choked on a cocoa cayenne cookie as well! RIGHT BEFORE I WROTE THIS POST!! I’m fine though. And I ate the rest of the biscuit too. And it was delicious, despite nearly killing me…

hollywood & la brea

Stuck in a traffic jam from the airport to Hollywood, our cab driver shook his head, in disdain for Oscar. “This… this is ALL Oscar… It’s crazy…”, tooting his horn and swerving around traffic (including into the wrong lane into oncoming traffic too – exciting!). Our bright yellow hotel is minutes away from where the Oscars were held last night, and craziness still abounds. We strolled along Hollywood Boulevard this morning as they were rolling up the red carpet and taking down giant gold statues – I saw two man-sized Oscars, wrapped in plastic Laura-Palmer-style, being driven around on the back of a golf buggy.

After breakfast at a 50s-style diner (because, HOLLYWOOD), we moseyed back to the hotel, checking out various ‘stars’ along the Walk of Fame, belonging to people we’ve never heard of, and those that make no sense (Amy Grant?? Michael Bolton???). We passed a homeless man, who was pacing up and down the footpath, shaking his grey dreadlocked hair. He got us in his sights and said (to Rich):

“Hey! You! With the drop (pause)… dead (pause)… gorgeous (looooong pause)… FIANCE! You better MARRY that woman and stop (another really long pause)… BULLSHITTING YOUR LIFE AWAY!!!!! Excuse my language… Can I have a nickel?”

After over 24 hours of living in the zombieland that is many, many timezones and plane travel and bad food and not enough water, I think I’m back in the land of the living. And I’m definitely ready for some hilarious adventures in the land of LA.

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LA LA LA

Tomorrow!! Los Angeles!!! Here’s to 90210 celebrity sightings, mimosas (what ARE they??), green smoothies, raw everything, rollerskating, tacos, Mexican wrestling, MAGIC, walking-walking-walking, (hopefully) becoming a runner [side note: given it’s my year of signing up to things, I’ve just parted ways with some hard-earned cash and have signed up to THIS – fingers crossed I’ll discover the joy of running in LA… in another side note, Nicole Antoinette – the gem who runs this site – is gearing up to run from Santa Monica to New York – holy hell!!!] and lots and lots of writing.

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We’re gonna spend a week moseying about in the city, catching up with rad peeps and eating lotsa food and seeing music and, as I mentioned already, MAGIC! Then Rich heads to SXSW and I find myself with the world (well, the west coast) at my fingertips! 5 days solo. I’m a bit stumped – do I tourist it up around San Fran, or go DESERT or CABIN IN THE WOODS to write and read and walk and think? Desert and wood cabin both kinda sound like a horror story waiting to happen, but they could make truly excellent blog fodder, no?? I’ll keep you posted.

Either way, bloggy US adventures coming up! Got tips, suggestions, ideas, anything? Please send ’em my way!

challenge: a to z of travel

I visited my luvverly friend Bron’s blog a few days ago, and found this (via Andrew Petcher) and I thought “Holy A to Z Batman, I’M gonna do that too!!!”.

So here it is! My A to Z of travel:

A: Age at which you went on your first trip abroad

I would have been about 11. My folks took me to the UK for a 6 week jaunt through the countryside. I remember one night when we were staying in a B & B (a converted barn near some woods – very quaint!) I couldn’t sleep because something was plaguing me; I got up, went to see my parents (who were enjoying a glass of red wine by the fire) and asked “Does Santa Claus really exist?”. They were a little drunk, and didn’t hold back on the truth… Sadface.

Something else I remember about this trip was having a glass of orange juice on the flight between Singapore and Heathrow and throwing up all over myself. There was a group of high school kids on the plane on an excursion and one of them made a tiny fluffy toy koala for me, to make me feel better. It really helped…

B: Best foreign beer you’ve had and where

ANY beer in Asia is the best. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s the worst beer ever, there’s something refreshing and thirst-quenching and delicious about an icy beer on a sticky, humid afternoon. It’s even more delicious if you’re on the beach, or in a hammock, or both.

C: Cuisine

The most memorable meal we had on our latest adventure was probably at Robinson’s in Croatia. The only way to get there is by boat (or 4 hour hike) and it’s on the most amazing rocky beach… There’s no electricity, so everything is cooked either on a BBQ or in a wood-fired oven (somehow they keep their beers and wines cold, which were equally delicious in the hot afternoon sun!); tables and chairs are set up under the trees overlooking the water. You order your food (freshly caught fish, crabs, prawns, mussels), order your drinks, go for a swim, then you’re called in when your lunch is ready. It was SO delicious and so flipping beautiful…

Our lovely friends Sarah & Ben, waiting for lunch

Some bobbing swimmers

Fish, squid, prawns: nom, nom, nom

D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite, and why

Iceland is definitely up there with the favourites – I’ve never been to the moon (does that surprise you?) but I kind of imagine it to be like Iceland. No trees, just rocks and moss and crazy bubbling pools of mud. The peeps are friendly and wacky and hilarious (and super styling too), and their sense of culture blew me away – I loved how knowledgeable everyone seems to be on their ancestry (so many Icelandians have VIKINGS as distant relatives!!).

Least favourite… Hmm…. Umm… I would say Caracas, and I would say that as a copout. We didn’t actually leave the airport, but had to spend a few hours there on our way to El Yaque. We had NO local money on us, there were no ATMs in the terminal and no money changers (though a LOT of people came up to us, whispering ‘Cambio? Cambio?’. We later discovered that Venezuela has two currencies – the official currency and the black market currency); I hadn’t eaten all day, was hangry and tired and on the verge of a major hissy. After trudging around the terminal we FINALLY found an ATM, got some cash, but when we went to get food, THERE WAS NOTHING VEGETARIAN!!! I settled on a packet of chips and a ginormous cup of lemonade and that tided me over.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”

We arrived in Oslo on a rainy, cold Sunday afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we went for a walk to get some lunch and our bearings. After a salad and a  coffee and a weird pastry near the central train station, we walked further up the hill, turned a corner, and were suddenly in front of a church surrounded by a sea of roses. I’ve never seen so many flowers; the ones closest to the church were brown and withered, while the ones nearest to the street were vivid shades of red, yellow, white. The bombing and shootings at a nearby island had taken place a few weeks prior; I’d had no idea we were staying so close to where the bomb had gone off. Seeing the flowers, the written messages to lost loved ones, the Norwegian flags, the open displays of grief, made my jaw drop. I had to spend a few moments alone after seeing this; it was an absolutely devastating sight.  F: Favourite mode of transportation

Riding a camel through the Saharan desert is pretty incredible. A bit bumpy and terrifying (you’ve definitely gotta trust your camel!!) but amazing when all you can see for miles is red sand and your camels shadow.

camelwalk

G: Greatest feeling while travelling

The greatest – and most terrifying – feeling I felt was not knowing what was around the corner. You get on a plane or a boat or a bus to somewhere you’ve never been (and often somewhere you know very little about) and when you get there, and you see the sights and smell the smells and hear the language and the voices and the laughter – even the cars honking – and it’s really exhilarating. And you’re kinda in the hands of the Gods most of the time as well – you get sick and you miss flights and you can’t find accommodation – and learning to let go of the need for organisation and heaps of planning and all the jazz, just going with the flow, is what makes you a traveller and not a tourist. Don’t you think?

H: Hottest place you’ve travelled to

Like Bron said, Melbourne gets pretty hot (it was 47 degrees a week before our wedding a few years ago); Morocco gets pretty boiling. New York summers are pretty revolteh hot too!

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and why

Definitely Abel and JC and all the porters on our Inca Trail adventure. Their gift of the gab, kindness, hilariousness, bag carryingness, cake bakingness (not to mention all the other incredible meals we had each day), and (gulp) the whole ‘carrying me down the hill’ thing was really above and beyond.

J: Journey that took the longest

Ha. Definitely the Inca Trail. That counts, right? 42 kms up and down, through sickness and health, hot days, cold nights, squat toilets, bruised toes and ALL THOSE STEPS it was definitely the most epic journey I have EVER been on!!!

K: Keepsake from your travels

Probably this blog. Awwww. And maybe this tattoo on my wrist, that I got on a trip to London when I was 23. I had just broken up with a boyfriend and was having my first ever overseas ALONE trip (I started in Japan, then had a few weeks in London, then had a week in Barcelona – with minimal skillz in Espanol); I decided I needed to document the trip (this was before the days of blogging), so popped into a tattoo parlour in Soho. I met an artist called Dingo, who flat out refused to tattoo my wrist. He held my wrist up to me, like I’d never seen it before, saying “No! I won’t do it! I won’t mark this lily-white skin…” (yes, he actually said that) “… what about your job? What are they gonna say if they see a tattoo on your wrist??? What if you want to go to the RACES???” (I’ve never been to the races in my entire life, and I don’t plan on going anytime soon). I finally wore him down, explaining that it would be inconspicuous, it wouldn’t be garish or bright or over the top, and he agreed. Before he started, he looked at me and said “Now listen darl, if you want to yell and scream and call me a motherf****r, that’s OK. You won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last”. He was a nice fella.

No need for name-calling

L: Let-down sight, where and why

The Amazon. BECAUSE WE DIDN’T GET THERE!!! Does that count?

M: Moment when you fell in love with travel

My first trip with Rich cemented how rad travelling is. My solo sojourn mentioned in K was great, but I struggled a bit on my own (more out of loneliness than any actual struggle). Travelling with Rich has always been easy and fun and having someone to share the sights and food and cocktails with, for me, is the bees knees.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

Rich and I had a super lah-di-dah trip a few years ago to the Maldives. It is SUPER cray, yo. Over-water huts, white sand, clear water… you get the drill. We were picked up from the airport in Mali at around midnight, then got in a speedboat (that smelt like frangipanis) and were given refresher towels THAT WERE ACTUALLY TOWELS AND NOT BABY WIPES and bottles of water, and then we sped out into the black night. After about an hour of sailing the high seas at high speeds, the lights of the island came into sight. We were met at the jetty by a man in a golf buggy, who drove us to our hut (which was actually bigger than our house… and then some). There was a plate of antipasto on the table, along with a bottle of champagne and some flowers. Neither of us are hugely into champagne, but we guzzled that baby back, despite the fact that it was after 1am and we’d been flying for over 17 hours. After our champagne and antipasto feast, we took a moonlight swim in our own private SEA GARDEN under our hut which was amazing (but a little bit scary). During the day, puffer fish and baby sharks bobbed around in our sea garden (hence the whole ‘fear’ thang). The staff were divine, the food was amazing, and the digs… well…. I don’t think we’ll ever stay somewhere that fancy ever again, but it was so bloody amazing!!

Are you a postcard? NO! You're a photo from the Maldives!

O: Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking photos of when you travel

Dogs and cats. Hands down. I have hundreds of cat and dog photos. One dog, eight angles.

O hai cat!

Wass that?

Just chillin'

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where

I got a fancy e-passport just before we embarked on le world tour, but I still have a pretty nifty collection of stamps – from the start of my p-port to the back, we have: Indonesia, UK, Iceland, somewhere called Dobova, which I think is in Slovenia and I think we got this on the train, Norway, Singapore, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Croatia, Brazil, Turkey, Canada, Peru, MACHU PICCHU, the USA is in there somewhere too (but I can’t find it – yikes!).

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where

Blood Manor.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience

Hmmm…. The White Night Hike in Iceland is definitely a must (provided you’re there during summer). Strolling around in the daylight AT NIGHT is definitely rad, not to mention eating soup and cake and drinking wine in your bathers in a hot spring. Do it!

S: Splurge – something you have no problem forking out money for when travelling

I have no problems at all forking out cash for an experience you couldn’t have anywhere else; riding a camel and camping in the desert, learning how to make ceviche in Peru, going for a hike at midnight in broad daylight – spending money on things you couldn’t experience at home is important, I reckon.

Ceviche. I MADE THAT!

And. Food and beer. Not all the time. But I think you’ve gotta have at least one amazing meal in each place you visit, and you definitely need to try the local brew (or wine, or cocktail – whatever takes yo fanceh!!).

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

I feel like it’s kind of impossible NOT to do touristy things in New York. The city that never sleeps is the perfect place to take cheesy photos, eat ridiculous food and immerse yourself in BEING A TOURIST rather than a traveller. Hire a bike and ride around Central Park (and stop to watch some beat-boxers or break-dancers or a weird dance troupe who seem to rely on flexing their pecs and psyching out their minimal audience with intense stares and glares); go to Serendipity3 and try to finish an icecream sundae (you can’t); go to Rockefeller Plaza and pretend you’re Liz Lemon; eat a slice of pizza in Greenwich or a bagel from a street vendor; revel in the accents (“I think that baby lady done want her some SOO-SHI”, said a man handing out fliers for a Japanese restaurant in Times Square, when Eva went to take a pamphlet but decided against it…). NYC is the greatest place in the world to be touristy. Yay!

U: Unforgettable travel memory

We had a stupid amount of fun when we were on le world tour, and I’ll treasure every single second it (even the annoying times were unforgettable), but my absolute favourite travel memory is definitely my birthday in Slovenia. It made my love for Rich multiply by about 80,000 (which I didn’t even think was possible but IT DID!!!!).

V: Visas – how many and for where

Just one. For Brazil. And look where that got us.

X: eXcellent view and from where

When we climbed onto the roof of an art gallery (that had a tree growing through it) in Rio and looked out over the favella, my breath was well and truly taken. In a sea of mostly brown and grey square, squat dwellings, there were blocks of red, yellow, purple and green buildings; I’d liken it to a magic eye puzzle, but I feel like that lessens its awesomeness. I’d also liken it to a patchwork quilt, but I feel like that makes me sound like a derb with no skillz for adequate descriptions.

Y: Years spent travelling

32 (age now) minus 2 (age started) equals 30. From those long drives as a kid to visit family in Queensland to my first time riding a horse on the New South Wales Central Coast, to visiting Beatrix Potter’s house in England (clad in my knitted “people finger” gloves), to espying a tank of baby turtles at a market in Tokyo, to moving to Canada to further my career in the film industry, to moving home again because I was too in love with Rich, to the Maldives and Bali and the Philippines and Vietnam, to…. the world tour. Travelling is definitely in my blood. I’m happy to stay put though… for now.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

I feel like Y & Z should really be reversed, because Y is kind of a nice point to finish on. And because the only sports fans I encountered were at a baseball game in Toronto, and… well… I was expecting WAY more out of control fandom and I just didn’t get it. Short of singing their teams song, hand on heart, balancing hotdogs and beers and giant tubs of popcorn on their knees, that was about as passionate as they seemed to get…

Do you wanna have a go? You should! Epic list, BUT FUN and a great way to remember past trips… Woot! Let me know in the comments if you do it on YOUR blog!

heading home…

OMG ZOMG. Did you think that the trials and tribulations of our Inca Trail adventure caused my hands to freakishly stop working, and my fingers – crying out as they were to type up my latest tales of tall and true – to cease their digit-y dalliance with my keyboard?

Alas, there is no such story of numbness or sudden loss of hand-eye coordination or anything like that (which is good, I think!!); instead, our travels have come to an end, we’re back in our Melbourne abode, and I have been busying myself with a frenetic bout of summer spring cleaning and early morning dog walks. Added to the hurricane of 6-month-old dust bunnies and dried leaves in unusual places and weeding and shed cleaning (am I turning into a 45 year old man, preparing his mancave for the coming apocalypse???) I have been without wifi ever since we got home, making blogging a little bit trickier than it should be.

So. To fill you in. When we last spoke, Rich and I were tired and stinky and thoroughly enjoying an agua con gas in the town of Aguas Calientes. Exciting stuff! We caught the train back to Ollantaytambo, then a bus to Cusco, then – in a moment of extreme love and a need for further bonding – our trek group went out for dinner. Beers, mojitos, and a guinea pig was ordered.   Yes, a guinea pig. It arrived at our table on a bed of giant corn with a tomato forced between its teeth, his baked, leathery face still housing a few whiskers and a contemplative expression. I did not partake in the guinea pig feast, but contrary to popular belief, GP does NOT follow the ‘tastes like chicken’ logic applied to nearly every ‘unusual’ meat, and was likened to a tough old boot. After dinner, a storm blew in and we all ran, drunk and exhausted and happy, back to our hotel, where I KNOW we all slept like behbehs. Our first sleep in a real bed in four nights. B to the liss….

The next day Rich and I headed back to Ollantaytambo for a few days of R & R. For four days we ate amazing vegematarian food and slept and read and strolled and that was it. There are no adventures to report here. All the excitement and torment of the Inca Trail meant we had to balance it out with some extremo nothingness.

So after Ollantaytambo we started the long trek (figuratively speaking) back home. We flew out of Cusco (just as terrifying as our arrival) back to Lima, where we spent the evening at the Magic Water Circuit (with about 10 million other people); the next day we visited the gallery and ate a bourgie lunch and wandered about looking at Incan jewellery and crazy sex-pots (no really – the gallery was having an erotic art exhibition, and two rooms were full to the brim of weird ancient pottery depicting all kinds of sex-stuff: people-sex, people-sex-with-a-baby-being-born-at-the-same-time-sex, dog-sex, cat-and-giant-mouse-sex. It was… interesting. And the furthest thing from ‘erotic’ I think I have ever encountered. And I’m not sure telling you about it here is the wisest move either… Do I really want traffic from peeps searching ‘cat and giant mouse sex’ in Google? Hmm…). After the gallery I had a $3 manicure, then we moseyed back to our hotel and sat around until it was time to leave. In our humungous, strangely decorated, 3-single-bed-ed room.

At 8 o’clock that night, our cab arrived, and whisked us off to the airport. Do you know that in Lima, instead of straggly-haired, missing-a-few-teeth window-washers at the traffic lights, there are fire-breathers and jugglers and kids who breakdance on the road in front of your car when you’re stopped at the lights. How good is that?

After the dramz of Miami/Brazil a few weeks ago, I was anticipating similar issues when we got to the airport. Why? Because, despite 5 months travelling around with my fella, and feeling relaxed, and having implemented several tips from the Happiness Project into my daily existence, it is now a FACT that airports stress me out. This stressure (that’s a new word that I just invented) was exacerbated to no end by our good friend (that’s sarcasm, BTW) Mariana at the TAM Airlines desk in Miami, and I figured that if we were going to be faced with another round of bad luck, now would be the time for it.

But guess what? It didn’t. We checked our bags through to Sydney. We were given our boarding passes, which did not have an SSSS on them (did I tell you what happened when we left Toronto? My passport was flagged as ‘suspicious’ and I had to sit in a room at the airport with a scary man with a baton while he asked me questions like “Have you ever lost your passport?” (no), “Have you ever reported your passport as stolen?” (same question really – no), “Are you SURE you’ve never lost your passport?” (yes, I’m sure, no, I’ve never lost my passport) – on it went. SSSS is a heightened security code, so you get pulled aside and questioned like nobodies bizniz, but then you get whisked through security and you don’t hafta stand in the super long lines). We actually had seats next to each other (we had SO many flights where we had to sit next to strange, tomato-eating Venezuelans and middle-aged Poms on their first ever overseas trip…). We spent the last of our Peruvian Soles (on chocolate, FYI). We made it to the gate lounge in plenty of time. Our flight was not delayed. Our take off was smooth. All was good and all was right.

We arrived in Buenos Aires and sat around for 6 hours, playing Scrabble and Gin Rummy and drinking lemonade and coffee and eating those gigantic croissants that only seem to be sold in airports, or in glad-wrapped six packs at rural supermarkets. We went from being the only people in the terminal, to being surrounded by shorts, Crocs and Australian accents as far as the ear could hear. Our fish-out-of-water, overseas adventures were seemingly over. Even though we were in Argentina, we were pretty much home.

The flight from Buenos Aires to Sydney is pretty much the worst flight ever. It’s SO. FLIPPING. LONG. Rich (lucky sod) was able to sleep for most of the flight, but I passed the time watching such cinematic greats as ‘Our Idiot Brother’ (good) and ‘Friends with Benefits’ (not good) and ‘Crazy, Stupid Love’ (Gosling-y!!), along with an entire season of ‘Parks and Recreation’, and multiple episodes of ’30 Rock’. And that only got me through 8 hours. The rest of the time (yes, 7 long hours…) was spent closing my eyes and trying to sleep (unsuccessful), eating (not enjoyable, but at least we got icecream), drinking (which is never a good idea on long haul flights but I managed to enjoy it), and shooting stink eye at the multiple peeps in our cabin who refused to shut their blinds. I realise we were flying over Antarctica, but guyz, YOU CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!! IT’S JUST CLOUDS!!!!

Finally, after a bajillionty hours, we touched down in Sydney. Home soil. Almost there, but still not quite. We went through immigration and to the baggage carousel and guess what? My bag was the first one off the flight!! Hurrah! Which I guess is why Rich’s bag failed to arrive… Boo…. We chatted to a baggage rep and he looked at our flight details and said “You’re gonna miss your flight if you hang around here; file a report in Melbourne” and with that, we hotfooted it to the transfer counter so I could check my bag through to Melbz. A rep there said “Unfortunately your flight to Melbourne has just closed, but we can get you on the next one” which was half an hour later… Boo… But when we got to the ticket counter, a rep there said “Actually, your flight’s been delayed 15 minutes, we can keep you on that one” – hurrah!!! We bussed it to the domestic terminal and arrived at the gate just as it was boarding (hurrah!!). But then. A voice came onto the loud speaker, announcing “Attention passengers of Qantas flight blah blah to Melbourne – there is a mechanical issue with the plane. Please standby until further notice”. Boo…

Tired, narky, in-Sydney-for-the-weekend passengers filed off the plane. Rich and I looked at each other – one bleary, blood-shot eye to the other. Would this day of travel – now spanning nearly 30 hours – ever end?

A few minutes later, another announcement: “Our engineers are working on the issues on Qantas flight blah blah to Melbourne, we hope to resume boarding shortly”. Hurrah!

Then, a few moments after that: “We regret to inform you that Qantas flight blah blah to Melbourne has been cancelled.” Boo…

Passengers yelled and stomped their feet. Others huffily crossed their arms and glared at the desk staff. Rich and I went to the food court and had a beer.

An hour later, a new plane was found, passengers boarded and then… we were off. Again. But this time it was the last take-off, the last safety demonstration, the last mini can of ginger ale of our adventures. After an hour of almost-falling-asleep-but-waking-up-when-my-head-dropped-too-far-forward, we landed. In Melbourne. Hurrah!

We got my bag, stepped into the unseasonably cool December air, got in a cab, and hightailed it home. After opening some mail and putting on a load of washing (and other scintillating tasks I had been DESPERATE to do) we got into our bed with our pillows and our doona; our cat crept onto my feet. We slept the sleep you sleep when you’ve been awake for over 40 hours. Which is pretty much the greatest sleep ever.

So. Our worldly adventures are over. For now. But Wembolina’s adventures will continue. I have LOVED writing this blog, so this will keep going. While I probably won’t be regaling you with tales of mountain treks and overzealous dogs and diving off boats and donkey races, I will definitely keep you posted on country’n’western junkie crooners outside my office and epic bike rides through the country and a weekend in the bush painting portraits of friends and drinking wine and eating cheese, among other things.

Till then, dearies!

Wembolina xxx

p.s. I actually feel a bit teary posting this. So let’s make things a bit sappier and tearier:

day 4 – machu picchu

With the dramz of day 3 behind us, Rich and I woke bright n early on Sunday for our last day on the trail. The path to the Sun Gate, and then onto Machu Picchu. There was no faffing around this morning. Everyone was up and at ’em and in the breakfast tent by 4am, while the porters hurriedly rolled up our sleeping bags and broke down our tents. The ol’ guts were still not 100%, but the thrill of finally getting to MP and finishing the trek was too great to hold me back.

Toast, honey and tea was consumed, followed by one last trip to the (gulp) squat toilet (I’m sorry I said that word… ‘Squat’, for me, ranks up there with ‘moist’ and ‘panties’ when it comes to Worlds Worst Words – bleck!!) and then we were back on the road. Everyone who was feeling ailing certainly wasn’t showing it this morning – it was smiles all round that the end was in sight.

We marched out of camp with around 250 or so other campers, shining our torches on the path to prevent a rolled ankle on a loose rock or boulder step. The sky was just starting to lighten – pretty beautiful time of the day in this part of the world…

Five minutes out of camp, and we came to a standstill. We were at the final checkpoint before Machu Picchu. Which didn’t open until 5.30. It was 4.30. We would be here for an hour.

We rubbed our alpaca-gloved hands together and hopped from one foot to the other to keep our toes warm and our blood circulating. We reminisced about hairy parts of the journey, and hypothesised on what was to come. We high-fived Abel, while JC entertained us with ‘llama/alpaca’ gang-style hand signs.

And finally…

The gates opened and we started to move. Something rushed past my legs and I said “O gosh, I think I’m hallucinating; I think I just saw a dog” but then I realised that it was a dog. I was worried that I was still deathly ill and that my eyes playing tricks on me was the first sign of my impending doom. Over-react much? Sheebers…

Once the gates were open, the hikers were seriously like horses out of the gate at the Melbourne Cup. PEOPLE WERE RUNNING!!! Granted, the sky was light enough now for us to put away our torches, but the path was still rocky and steppy with even more steep drops, and anyway, we were still an hour and a half away from the Sun Gate. Slow down, peeps!

Rich and I strode along together, side by side. Despite being well on the way to the finish line, there were still quite a few precarious stretches of trail; one part was about 7 metres of narrow path which dropped away into the valley below. I think this is where the landslide was in 2010, but I don’t want to check because it would be too scary.

Here comes the sun, do do do do

Up a few more stairs and around a few more corners (seriously – on the Inca Trail, the stairs just keep going. You think you’re at the end of them and then you round a bend and there are MORE!!!!) and then there it was. No, not the Sun Gate. I came face to face with The Stairs of Death!!!** These stairs weren’t even really stairs. They were more like a ladder made of ginormous rocks. Like I said in a previous post, I’m no science mathematician or anything, but my calculations tell me The Stairs of Death were on an 80 degree angle. Fo real (mebbe not actually fo real, but they were STEEP!!!!).

Rich had already scrambled his way to the top – remarkably using only his legs, feet and walking pole to get him up. I, on the other hand, took things a little more gracefully. I turned around to the Argentinian hikers behind me and said “Please excuse my elegant ascent up the stairs” and proceeded to climb up, rock-climbing-style. Yes, I used my hands (it wasn’t the first time… there was actually a set of stairs a few days earlier that I went down on my bum). It really felt like I was climbing a mountain, without a belay!! I made appropriate ‘hoik’ and ‘eek’ noises and guess what happened? I turned around, and the Argentinians were coming up in exactly the same way!!! Hurrah!! I wasn’t the only nancy nerd-burger on this hike after all!

When we got to the top (and exchanged a few more high-fives) it was just a few more steps until we made it to the Sun Gate. Yay! The sky was clear and the sun was up and the view down to Machu Picchu was poifickt and beautiful. We celebrated our arrival with some water, some chocolate (ain’t nothing wrong with having chocolate at 7.30am) and more ‘llama/alpaca’ hands.

JC breakin' out the Llama hands

And from there, it was down the hill to Machu Picchu. Along the way, we passed day trippers, struggling up the hill, red-faced and out of breath. We all exchanged looks as they lumbered past, our eyes saying everything: You think this is hard?

Machu Picchu is huge and beautiful and green and lush. Llamas roam around chowing down on grass. Kids on school excursions jumped from wall to wall (and were promptly told off by SEVERAL guides and groundskeepers). Old ladies hauled themselves up rock steps and our fellow trekkers lay on the grass, absorbing the glory of finally being here.

Abel showed us around and explained what various rooms had been used for, and gave us a bit more of a history lesson, and told us a bit more about astrology as well. After a few hours of strolling and admiring and listening and learning, we bid farewell to our final destination, stamped our passports with the Machu Picchu stamp, boarded a bus and headed down a long winding road to Aguas Calientes. We had pizza and beer. AND MINERAL WATER!!! O agua con gas, I have missed you these past few days! We laughed. We cried (no really, we did). We smelt bad. We didn’t care.

We flipping did it.

Machu Picchu, you little ripper!

** Not their official name. I name them The Stairs of Death because they are revolting. But as far as I know, no one has actually died on them.