a cuppa tea with me

So I think I told you about my recent toe-dip into the world of online courses? Where I signed up for the wonderful Blog with Pip eCourse with the supernice Pip Lincolne? And I actually kinda sorta did it? You might have noticed a few little changes around here – a bit of a spring clean, if you will – like my fancy new banner (thanks so much Katie!!), and a whizz-bang updated About Me page, and a few other little bits and bobs.

Anyhoo. The other bloggers and I are partaking in a big ol’ cuppa-tea-and-a-biscuit sesh. In the VIRTUAL WORLD! And I’d like to invite you too! You can get to know a little bit more about me, and if you like, you can do the same on your blog, or post a comment about what’s happening in your part of town. Hang on a tic, Imma gonna pop the kettle on and get us some donuts.

Let's have a salted caramel donut instead

Aforementioned donut (it’s salted caramel)

So! I’m Wembolina (obvy), I live in Melbourne (in Victoria, not Florida), and I’m a researcher & writer by day, a social-media-type person for a few different companies after hours, and a cook/dog-walker/cat-patter/reader/crafter/writer/downloader-of-great-TV-shows by night! I live with my luvverly fella and his two (teenage) daughters as well (but I haaaaaaate the term ‘stepmum’, because I don’t have warts on my nose and I don’t lock them in the cellar and we actually all like each other quite a bit). I’m trying to be better at going to the gym and I secretly love the big crossword that comes out in the summer newspapers… I’m also weirdly protective of our wheely bins.

My favourite things to do are eat (!) and drink (!!) with people I love, and people I am getting to know. Having giant Jenga parties with new friends, where we chow down on excellent food while drinking white wine spritzers is in my top 10 things favourite things to do, along with strolling aimlessly with le pooch, watching Degrassi with the girls, and having excellent adventures with my fella.

Some nerds playing giant Jenga.

Some nerds playing giant Jenga.

My favourite place to be? Eeep, am I getting old? It’s in my backyard… Watering plants and eating tomatoes and chatting to whoever might be around.

Favourite food and drink is a toughie for me, because I love just about ALL food and drink! But because we’re in the midst of a heatwave (so it’s sadly not ideal tea-drinking weather) today my faves would be an icy cold beer and a big slice of watermelon. Maybe not together though.

Remember this guy?

This guy was so evil I had to eat him…

I find in-spa-ray-shon in many, many things; weird things I see, conversations I have, and things I read. But the best inspiration comes from people around me – I’m pretty lucky, because I have some wonderfully ace people in my neck of the woods, who make me think differently and outside da box ALL the time!

This year I made a resolution to educate myself more. I want to know more about how brains work and how people operate, so I’ve been reading books on thought processes and the like. I loooooove learning new things, so I’m keen to do more course-type things too (especially around WRITING!).

Some favourite blogs… Well, there are blogs I’ve been reading for aaaaaages (and always love) like Meet Me At Mikes, My Darling Lemon Thyme, banana meet-cute, Gourmet Girlfriendand nothing matters when we’re dancing and ‘Voir Tales (among others!!) to blogs that I’ve discovered through doing Pip’s course, like Grow.Cook.Sew, Little Wolff, miss and misters and Think Big, Live Simply. There are SO many MORE incredible bloggers who have done this course, and I’m super excited about getting stuck into what everyone’s been doing!

So that’s me! What about you? What are some of your favourite things to do, food to eat, places to be, inspirations and blogs, and what do you want to know more about in 2014? And what would your reaction be if you discovered your wheelie bin had been INADVERTENTLY TAKEN BY A NEIGHBOUR/THIEF ON BIN DAY???

Advertisements

wembolina’s melbourne list

Bucket list. I don’t really like that term. It makes me feel a bit sad. One of my all-time, absolute favourite magazines has a section in the front, where they interview chefs and foodie-type peeps and they ask them what they’d want their last meal to be. People salivate over this stuff (literally!), but it always kinda makes me feel a little bummed out. I don’t wanna think about my last meal. Or ‘things to do before I die’. I just wanna eat and have adventures and be happy and when my time’s up, I hope it’s quick and that there isn’t a giant pavlova I have to get through before I give life the ol’ heave-ho.

That’s not the most appealing opening paragraph, is it? No… But since ‘that’ movie came out a few years ago, bucket lists seem to be popping up all over the place. Time Out recently had a ‘101 Things To Do Before You Die’ feature in their magazine, which made me think “Hmm… Having adventured about the world over the past few months, there are so many fun things to do in this fair city…. Maybe I should make my OWN ‘Things to do’ list (without the morbidity factor) that might inspire activity and adventure for Wembolina readers?”.

So here goes. This is a list of things I’m super keen to do, and things I’ve done that I would whole-heartedly recommend to ANYONE – visitors and locals alike!:

Kayaking at Studley Park Boathouse

Hire a kayak for one – or make a date of it with yo beau – and paddle up the river towards Fairfield. Once you get past the ‘Sunday Driver’ row-boaters, you’ll find yourself virtually alone in the bush (which is weird, given you’re about 5 kms out of the city) – just trees and birds and the occasional ‘pro’ kayaker. On hot days you might see (gulp) a snake slithering across the surface of the water. YUCK! I don’t think they can leap into your boat though, so you should be safe (should be). If you go far enough, you’ll find yoself surrounded by sleeping fruitbats, which is eerie and creepy and kinda like something out of a horror flick… And it stinks a bit too. But it’s totally worth it.

You can also kayak through Docklands at twilight, which I’ve never done, but am SUPER keen to!

Horseback Winery Tour in Red Hill

I did this a few years ago with a bunch of peeps I didn’t really know, and now we’re all totally besties, so I HIGHLY recommend this. You head to the stables in the morning, get paired with your horse, don some tres fetching Drizabone jackets and a helmet, and then you’re off! Most of the trail is along dirt roads through farmland, but you do a few canters and the like through vineyards and paddocks, which is pretty spesh. We hit up three wineries, got a little sozzled, and finished the day with lunch at the Red Hill Brewery. Woot!

Peninsula Hot Springs

We went to the Hot Springs after our horse-riding booze-fest, and it was pretty nice, but VERY busy. There were a few moments where I felt like I was in a bowl of Human Soup, rather than having a ‘relaxing unwind’ in a thermal pool. No matter. If you went on a weeknight or in winter, I reckon it’d be quite a bit more sublime. Would deffo recommend cooking yourself in the sauna and then jumping into the icy plunge-pool – totes invigorating!!

Warburton Rail Trail

O snap, this is ANOTHER adventure I had with my new gang of besties (we are actually a real gang – I’ll tell you about it some other time!) and a fun weekend away if you are sans car. Ride your bike to Flinders Street Station (or some other station), get on a train to Lilydale (a charming ‘burb that has neither lilies nor dales), and cycle your way along 38kms of old railway line to Warburton. There are a few cafes and pitstops to make along the way, and it’s a relatively easy ride (until you hit the mofo hill on the way back – but if I can do it, anyone can!!). We spent the night at a house in Warburton and moseyed back to Melbourne the next day, but not before filling up on scones and coffee at The Patchwork Teahouse.

Having a little rest on our way to Warburton

Penguin Parade, Phillip Island

Do you know that I have lived in Melbourne my whole entire life and I’ve never even been to Phillip Island, let alone seen the penguins strut their stuff along the sand in front of 8000 snap-happy tourists? This must happen. Because penguins are in my top 5 favourite animals of all time.

(Thanks to Chris Cohen for his genius penguin translation; please note that these guys are NOT fairy penguins, you won’t see them doing this on Phillip Island)

Women of Letters

Why have I never been to this? I love sassy ladies, I love writing, and I love letters! Held once a month at the luvverly Thornbury Theatre, WoL celebrates the lost art of letter writing with some of Melbourne’s finest creative lady-folk – writers, musos, politicians, et al. I’M PUTTING THE NEXT ONE IN MY DIARY!!! I’M DEFFO GONNA GO!!! Plus, at the end of the afternoon, you get to drink wine and pen a letter of your own.

No Lights No Lycra

A good friend of mine went to her first No Lights No Lycra thinking it was a yoga class, and wondered why every one was dancing up a storm to bangin’ 80s tracks when she walked in. Warm ups? Not very zen. Not very relaxing. But once she got into the swing of it – following the ‘dance like no one’s watching’ mantra, because NO ONE IS because THE LIGHTS ARE OUT – she cut loose, Kevin Bacon-style, and has been going to the weekly classes ever since. I love dancing, and I love 80s n 90s tunes, so this is definitely an evening I could embrace!

Volunteering at the Collingwood Children’s Farm

In my quest to brush up – nay, perfect – my gardening skillz, this is a great way to learn about dirt and compost and what to plant and when. AND! You’re surrounded by behbeh cows and goats and guinea pigs, so it’s a pretty sweet venture. The last time I was at the Children’s Farm, I saw a cat with no ears bite a small child. But that kid was pulling its tail, so I think it’s warranted.

Learn to crochet

Well helloooo, I just did this TODAY!!! Learning the art of the granny square has been on my list of things to do for about 4 years. Fingers crossed I’ll be well on my way to completing a ye olde woollen rug in no time! There are a ton of places you can wield a needle around town, but I did it at Thread Den. Morris and Sons also looks like a pretty great place to partake in a few lessons, and they have wool and needles to die for. 

Look at what I did!!!

Be an extra on Offspring (or be discovered and offered a leading role – I’m not fussed)

Since my all-time favourite Melbourne-filmed TV show RUSH was sadly AXED last year, I have had to focus my Australian drama sights on another show. Offspring. Which is quite a bit better than Rush, really. Less guns and car chases and loud music, but not enough Sgt Joshua *swoony sadface*… Offspring is filmed in my neck of the woods and I always seem to be stumbling across shoots (I promise not in a stalky way – it’s just that I walk my dog a lot, and your two main shooting locations are across the road from my work – HONEST!!!), so it makes sense that one day I should be asked to ‘sit at the bar with a friend, laughing into your white wine spritzers’ or ‘stroll with conviction down Smith Street, with your eco-friendly shopping bag tucked tightly under your arm’ or ‘cycle gaily down George Street, but MAKE SURE YOU’RE WEARING A HELMET!!!’. But seriously, this is a great show. Well done, writers. Well done, cast and crew.

Picnic lunch at Heide Museum

Make some salad and sammies, jump in the car, and head to the Heide Museum in Bulleen. On a nice day, you can sit on the grass amongst the sculptures, soaking up the serenity (and art) as you munch on yo lunch. On not-so-nice days, book a table at Cafe Vue, have a little tipple, then stroll through the museum admiring the luvverly artworks… A nice activity to do with your folks, if you’re after something parent-friendly.

Sign up for a Broga class

My ace pal Jennie started up Broga a few months ago, following a trip to Thailand where she got her Yoga license – yay! Geared towards the fellas – but ladies are most welcome (phewf, so I can sign up!) – Jennie works with small groups, and posts handy tutorials on her blog. I’ve done a bit of yoga and pilates over the years, but always feel like a bit of a brittle ol’ stick when I’m surrounded by elasticky pretzel ladies. The small class size – and Jennie’s hilar sense of humour – are mega appealing to me.

Foodie things

What would a Wembolina post be without some food references? As the world’s biggest lover of a good meal (not proven), here are a coupla places I’m DESPERATE, on-the-edge-of-my-seat to eat at, plus some others that are a bit special, or just a bit great:

Loam, Drysdale – they FORAGE for food, then they cook it!!
Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld – all I know about this place is that the food is flipping incredible. And they often post photos of echidnas on Twitter. Food + Australian wildlife = perfeck (as long as the wildlife ain’t on the plate. Which I’m sure it is on occasion, but I don’t need to partake to that extent).
The Estelle, Northcote – order the degustation (WITH dessert), get your friendly waiter to match wines, and sit back and relax. The food here is ridonkulous – in a deliciously splendid way – but it’s the presentation that’ll knock your socks off.
The Everleigh, Fitzroy – go here and order a martini. Just do it. If you wanted to dress up like a flapper, it would not be frowned upon. This would be a nice place to have a drink with Morgan Freeman.
Afternoon tea at The Windsor, Melbourne – When I finally get around to doing this, I’m going to dress up like Elizabeth Bennet and tut at Mister Darcy’s lateness. While I eat sandwiches and little cakes.

Dirty martinis....

And so ends my ‘Things to Do’ in Melbourne post. Are you a Melbourne-ite? What are YOUR top things to do in our leafy town? Or what are you bursting at the seams to do? Tell me, tell me, so I can add it to my list!

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!

all you need is… carrots?

So one of the first things I did when we got home was some GARDENING! I weeded and dug and swept and donned a tres elegant pair of gardening gloves and I got scratches and insect bites on my ankles but what I ended up with was a pretty nice looking weed-free backyard. Sweet!

About a year ago I tried my hand at making a vegie patch. It was not very successful. Some slugs got to the broccoli, a bug chewed all the leaves off my orange tree, and my parsley went yellow. I’m not much of a gardener really, but one of my resolutions for 2012 is to become one. Even if I have to colour it in with a texta, this year I plan to have a green thumb. I’m going to learn how to make good soil and I’m going to fertilise regularly and I’m going to prune and water and hopefully (fingers crossed!) I will have a thriving patch of green and colour and flowery fragrance in a few months.

Anyway. Along with the broccoli and the parsley and the orange tree, I also planted some carrots. I tried to be “super urban gardener” and filled a polystyrene box with soil and cronched up eggshells and planted my tiny behbeh carrots and then I watered it with Seasol and then I waited. I was filled with excitement about using my very own home-grown carrots in a salad or a stir-fry or a cake. Four to six weeks later, I pulled one up, expecting a carrot of epic proportions and was met with… a behbeh carrot. Pretty much exactly the same size as the carrot planted a few weeks prior. Clearly, carrots were not my thing. Dejected, I let them run wild, along with the rest of the garden.

So when I put on my gloves a few weeks ago to pull out those carrots, I was shocked at what I found.

LOVE carrots!

So 2011 was not my year for cultivating vegetables. But I have a good feeling about 2012. Along with learning how to make dirt and keep my herbs from going yellow, I’m going to learn how to crochet and how to bake (without burning the bottom of my cakes) and how to dice an onion and how to use my camera. I’m going to learn how to do some amazing magic rope tricks (actual magic, but I couldn’t go past this clip…) and how to jog. I’m going to learn how to treat my plants well and keep them from dying and hopefully, in a few months, I’ll have a regular, edible carrot.

 

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.

day 2 – dead womans pass

Tents are not very comfortable, are they? Our first night in a tent was a bit restless – there was lots of thunder and rain during the night, and dogs barking and howling, and loud snoring from our neighbours, and then roosters crowing and tent zips unzipping and then…. it was time to get up. We were greeted at our tent door by a smiling porter bearing cups of coca tea and a bucket of hot water to wash our faces. After a sleepless night, it was a pretty nice way to start the day.

Breakfast consisted of bread and jam and… PANCAKES!! With mountains and ‘Machu Picchu’ scrawled across in a squeezy nutella-type spread! Yummo!

We bundled up our things, and Abel gave us a briefing on what to expect today. We were headed up to Dead Womans Pass. It was going to be hard. We were to take things at our own pace. There would be a lot of steps and we would be going up very, VERY high. It would be hard to breathe. We had to chew coca leaves (it helps with the altitude) and drink plenty of water and take plenty of rest stops.

So. Up we went. I’m not gonna get all technical and talk about angles and gradients and what-not. Sometimes the path was steep, sometimes it had steps, sometimes the steps were small and narrow, like they’d been laid for a gnome, and sometimes the steps were huge, like they’d been laid for a giant. As I struggled up, hobbling along with my walking stick through moss-covered trees and great big bushes, the porters rushed past me with their backs laden with our belongings. I felt awful – seeing them lugging our stuff with such seeming ease while I laboured along with next to nothing in my backpack.

The higher we went, the harder it got. Rich and I took several stops for water and jubes. At one point, we took an extended stop and handed out jubes to everyone who huffed and puffed by. I think this could be one of my favourite parts of the trek (apart from finishing it, of course); it was mostly porters who took us up on our jube offer, and seeing them smile as they munched on sugary treats, sweat pouring off their faces, on their way up the hill made me feel pretty happy.

llamas llama-ing about

We had a snack stop with our group at a flat plateau halfway up the mountain, where llamas roamed freely munching on grass and leaves, and dogs ran around in search of cheese sandwiches and discarded biscuits.

From here, the top – which is referred to as The Big Nipple, because, well, it looks like a big nipple – didn’t look too far away. I could see the path the whole way up. It didn’t disappear behind any mountain bends or behind any trees or anything like that – it looked fine. It looked easy.

Ha!

Once we started up the hill after our snack, things took a turn for the muy difícil! Rich and I shuffled along at a pensioners pace, looking even more elderly with our walking sticks. Strategically placed boulders along the path made for excellent rest stops, which we took every ten metres or so. When we finally made it close enough to the top to make out the guys from our group and hear snippets of conversation – when the end to this leg of the trek would be over – it still took another hour or so to actually make it to the summit. Even getting up the last few steps was a major struggle. When we finally made it, we both guzzled water, high-fived our team-mates, and collapsed at the edge.

Hooray!! We did it!!

Good job gang! This is the hardest bit OVER!

O Wembolina, how wrong can you be?

With the clouds rolling in around us and a chilly wind gusting in, we made our way down the other side. One would think it would be much easier heading down a mountain than it is going up, but they’re kind of on par with each other. While it’s easier to maintain a conversation and keep your breath steady on the way down, your knees lock and your ankles jar and your toes ram into the top of your shoes. It’s easier to make the wrong step and fall. It’s easier to lose your balance. It’s easier to sustain an injury. Ouch.

We took it slowly, chatting with Carmel and Jim about music and politics (like why is it that it’s always the Premier’s son who seems to get into trouble and/or become a model?) and travelling. We took breaks. We admired the scenery. It was a tricky business at times but twas a nice way to end day two of the trek.

We arrived at camp at about 2, had lunch, and collapsed into our tents. I’d been told that day two was the hardest day and we’d done it. Woot! Tomorrow would be smooth sailing. Andean flats were ahead, as Abel was wont to say. Beautiful scenery. And we were more than halfway to Machu Picchu.