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:

welcome to the jungle

On Sunday night, Rich and I took a walk in the jungle. Yes. At night. With torches. And a guide. And some Frenchies and a English woman (Axl Rose was not present. Something about being in the jungle makes me wonder if he has ever actually literally been in one himself. And don’t even get me started on Slash – imagine how many mosquitoes and worms and spiders would find themselves entangled in his hair??!). We were picked up from Monteverde at 5pm and arrived at the park just as night was falling… As our taxi pulled into the grounds, a small mammal darted in front of the car, illuminated by the headlights.

“What was that? Coati? Monkey? Capybara???”

No… It was the resident dog. But still. Wildlife!!!

We met our group and, armed with torches and dousing ourselves with insect repellent, off we went into the night.

Our first observation was a line of leafcutter ants, strolling along in twos, fours, and sixes across the path, each carrying huge triangles of leaf on their heads. There were thousands of them, trailing through the night in the thousands. Their purpose? No idea, but they work and work and work and work and only stop when it rains (and then they only stop because the scent of their destination has been washed away).

As we admired the ants and their diligence, the cracking of twigs underfoot drew our attention away. Shining our torches over yonder, we espied not one, but around 25 coatis, scurrying around in the bushes. Coatis are weird cat-possum-monkey-ish mammals (they look a little bit like lemurs, only not as friendly) – I, unfortunately, was so overcome with seeing such a large group of animals (that weren’t ants) that I was too slow to get my camera out. They milled around looking at us for a few moments, then disappeared into the night. We heard them for the rest of the evening, in the trees, squealing and fighting and making sweet, sweet lurve.

Our next stop was at a huge strangler fig. Huge. And strangly. When other trees are wee behbehs and just shooting their little sapling stems out of the ground, a monkey or a sloth might stroll along, happily munching on a fig and then do a little poo on the brand new tree. As the tree grows, the figs grows around it, and when the tree finally gets tall enough, the strangler fig grows down and twists its strangly roots all around it, killing the tree and standing in its place. They’re pretty beautiful and incredible trees (the English lady kept saying “Oooo, it’s very Middle Earth, isn’t it?” and the Frenchies kept muttering “Non, non, tis more, owyousay, Avatar” and our Costa Rican guide had no idea what anyone was talking about, proclaiming that he “hated movies and books and only read about botany”) – but that’s a bit mean, don’t you think? Such is life, I guess…

Anyhoo, when the host tree dies, it disintegrates inside the fig, leaving a big enormous tree with a hollow centre. We got to go inside the tree – a little bit scary but quite incredible…

Down the path a little further, we stopped at a burrow in the ground. A torch was shone into the hole, and we were told to stand back about a metre, in a semi-circle around the guide. He picked a small twig and prodded it around inside the hole (sounds rude – sorry). One of the Frenchies said “Ooo, I can see it!” and I said “What? What? What is it? A bunny? A mole? A…” and the English woman said “A TARANTULA!!!”.

I nearly vommed and then nearly collapsed with shock. Out toddled a massive, MASSIVE black furry spider, with orange knees. She bumbled over the twig and up the side of the path and over the guides hand.

Rich said “Quick quick, take a picture” so I took a photo of the top of the guide’s head as he leant over the beast. I was sure that merely pointing a camera in the direction of the spider would cause it to leap up at me.

Pulling myself together, I got a little closer, zoomed in a bit, and got this:

O gosh...

It was hideous. But also, well, kind of pretty amazing. Although they have eight eyes, they’re pretty much blind, and rely on vibrations to catch food, or get the hell outta dodge and back into their burrows. We stood looking at her for a good few minutes, before she ambled back into her hole.

Everything after that kind of paled in comparison to the monster arachnid. We saw a much smaller (but still massive – the size of a huntsman?) spider making a web between two trees. Saw a few birds that were startled from sleep by our torches. Saw a teeny tiny frog, half the size of my little fingernail, sitting atop a leaf in the rain. And then, like that, two hours were up and we were back in the carpark.

I’d had all my fingers and toes crossed for a monkey or a sloth, but I’m kinda glad we didn’t. Seeing that big huge spider was thrilling enough, even if it WAS in a total ‘Arachnophobia’ kinda way. I think a monkey or sloth sighting would have detracted from that, like a cherry on the top. We have another week and a half in Costa Rica – plenty of time for monkeys and sloths!! And (gulp) more tarantulas…..

spooky pooches!!

OMG!! I just went to the Halloween Dog Parade at Tompkins Square Park. It was mutha-flippin’ CRAZY!!! People have way too much time on their hands. And I am SO in favour of that!!!

Dogs are hard to take pics of at the best of times, but when they’re dressed as buses or cans of spinach, it’s even harder. Factor in that 80 million people are around you, all vying for the poifickt shot. Seriously, I felt like I was part of the paparazzi!!

Dinosaurus Rex

My highland goatee-oatee-oatee-oatee-oat

Prince William Terrier!!

Corgi bus!! There was a small child with him dressed as a bus stop...

This French Bull-Frog was over it...

The Best Behaved Dog Award goes to... The Fireman

Doggy Gaga

Skelator Pooch

Maestro Dachshund (look at his little feet!!!)

Well, DER, it's Spaghetti & Meatballs dog!!

Mario (his owner was Luigi)

Are you torkin' ta me?

Tim Riggins, is that you??

coney island baby

New York seems to be in the grips of a crazy heatwave at the moment – it’s early October and the days are sunny and shiny and 28 degrees. It’s quite blissful!

Yesterday we packed our backpacks, did a little research on Google maps, and trained our way to Coney Island for some rides and fried treats and oversized cups of lemonade.

Coney Island is kinda bananas. I always thought it was one big theme park, but when we got there (and spent an exorbitant amount of cash on wristbands for ‘limitless rides’ at Luna Park) we discovered that there are actually SEVERAL parks, each proclaiming to have the best rides, the best thrills, the best fun. I think we picked pretty well with Luna Park though (even though we didn’t really know it at the time).

Like many things I’ve confessed to on this here blog, I’m not very good at rides. It’s not that I’m a particularly vommy kind of person, but I’m not very thrill-seeking, I’m scared of heights, and I refuse to go on a ride that goes upside down. I was anticipating not only a headache but broken limbs and a punctured lung on the way to Coney Island. What I was not anticipating, however, was a FLIPPIN’ GREAT DAY!!!!

First ride up was the Tickler, which is a disgusting ride. You are strapped into a circular dish, get hoisted up a rickety ramp (with no apparent machinery actually keeping you from flying over the edge), and then you’re hurtled around, spinning and whip-lashing, up and down slides and ramps and bumps and zigzags at breakneck speed. It’s a little bit like the Mad Mouse, only worse. I screamed the WHOLE way. It was amazing.

Just LOOK at that evil face - ew!!

Next up was the Raging River Log Ride. We partnered up (I was with Beev) and got into our logs, that – great – had no seat-belts or straps or anything to actually keep us in. Only bars at the sides to hold onto. Which doesn’t feel all that secure when your palms are sweating like cheese in the sun. Our log, floating on a gushing river of chlorinated water, burst away from the entrance and around some bends, up a ramp, down a slide (water splashing dramatically all around us), around a few more bends, then up a MONSTROUSLY ENORMOUS RAMP and down a slide that was pretty much a sheer drop (note: it wasn’t really). The splash at the bottom drenched our bums and legs and backpacks. I screamed the whole way. It was amazing.

Did I mention that the Raging River Log Ride was actually for little kids (possibly even babies)? How do kids handle that shizz?? It was intense and GREAT! I wanted to go on it again STRAIGHT AWAY!!!

After the terrifyingly exhilarating Raging River Log Ride, I took a time out to gather my thoughts, and my guts, and soothe my screamed-out throat with a little (read: huge) drink of lemonade. Delicious. Rich and the girls went on a revolting aeroplane ride, that scissored up and down and upside down (yuck) and seemed to spin faster than the speed of light. Rich and girls emerged a little wobbly and woozy, but one sassy tween loudly declared “That ride was so boring, I dang near fell a-SLEEP” (note: I saw this sassy tween an hour or so later on this very same ride, and she was indeed SLEEPING!!! What a Sassy McSass Pants! Kids these days….).

"Bein' usside down is so boring, I asLEEP"

After a few other ‘HighThrill’ rides that I was too terrified to partake in, Rich and the girls were ready to tone it down a notch, ready to ride with me on a ‘MediumThrill’ baby-ish-looking train that looked way more my speed. There were lots of 6 year olds on this ride. And a grandma. I was in safe hands.

Except that I WASN’T!!! This baby/grandma-up-&-down train ride went ON ITS SIDE and was just as hurtly gurtly as the flippin’ Tickler. ‘MediumThrill’ my bum – that is a lie. I screamed and screamed (to the point where Grandma got just a little bit more deaf) and had to sate myself afterwards with another lemonade. I am DONE with these misleading rides!!!

But then we noticed that the swingy swing was open. You know the one. There are lots of arty photos of the swingy swing on various websites about the place. You sit in pairs, and the swing swings around, and you kinda swing out to the sides a bit, and it’s gentle and peaceful and a great way to see the sites. I could do this.

The Brooklyn Flyer... (it's really really high)

I’ve gotta stop being so overly confident about my ability (or inability, as the case may be) to enjoy, nay, partake in carnival rides. The swingy swing (AKA The Brooklyn Flyer) is actually not what it appears to be. After being strapped into the swing (and by strap, I mean you lower a bar onto your lap and clip a loose belt between your legs) the whole flipping contraption shoots up into the air about 50 metres, and then you start swinging around. And it’s not a leisurely swing. It’s really really fast. You swing out to the sides. You feel a bit like you’re going to fall out of the swing and PLUMMET TO THE GROUND!!!!! Not everyone feels this though – just me. Because I am SO terrified of heights. As I looked around (Wildly! Nervously! Anxiously!) I noticed everyone else on the ride completely and utterly chilled. The couple in front me had their arms around each other and were gazing into each others eyes. Eva and Scarlett, on the other side of the ride, were chatting and waving. I was gripping onto anything I could and screaming and shouting “IWANTTOGETOFF I WANTTOGETOFF!!” while Rich said soothing things like “Just shut your eyes… Just don’t look down… Woooaahhhh Look at how HIGH we are wooooohhhhooooohhhh!!!!!”

What a compassionate and loving husband.

Fortunately, and obviously, I did not topple out of the swingy swing, and although I nearly vommed my guts out with fear and dizziness, it was also amazing. And fun. And very very very scary. And after the Brooklyn Flyer, I was definitely done with rides.

Rich and Eva and Scarlett were keen to go on the Ghost Train, at which point I put my foot down. Instead, I opted to have my palm read and my fortune told by a lady with long long eyelashes and lots of mascara and a constantly ringing mobile phone (which kinda takes the magic out of visiting a psychic). I held out my palms, thought of two wishes, told her one, and she told me some things that I cannot repeat (bad luck, she said, to relay a fortune outside a reading). Then I paid her, and she pulled my change out of her bra. Amazing!! I didn’t know people actually kept money in their bras.

This creepy grandma did not read my tarot

Pondering my future, I met my gang (who confessed to keeping their eyes shut through the majority of the Ghost Train), we headed back to Coney Island station and made the hour long journey back to Brooklyn for a big bowl of pasta and ice-cream.

young dreams

If you need some more music in your life, you should check out Young Dreams. They played in Oslo a few nights ago at Bla (I don’t think it’s pronounced ‘Blah’ – I think it might be ‘Blor’ or ‘Blew’ or something – it sounds better if you flick your wrist a little as you say it) as part of Oya Festival’s club night – we were told that EVERY band in Oslo, regardless of talent, plays on club night, because they can get free tickets to the festival. With this news in mind, we were not holding out much hope for seeing anyone particularly good…

But Young Dreams were totally surprising. In a great way. In a pretty fabulous way, in fact.

A bit Beach Boys, a bit Fleet Foxes, a bit Kanye, a bit Vampire Weekend. Good-lookin’ fellas, smily yet broody, dishevelled yet preppy, baseball caps and flatcaps, checks and tees. A violin. A big weird percussive coconut thing. Instrument swaps after every song. Cute, catchy and fun.

Bla is a crazy venue that, along with the band, I wasn’t holding much hope for. Described as a ‘jazz venue for jazzy bands’ I was expecting a dark room with lots of velvet and black & white snaps of trumpet players and smokin’ (and smoking) babes. But. Bla is a warehouse on the river, seemingly in an abandoned carpark.

A deck with lights strewn about the place.

Lots of killer graffiti on the walls outside.

A huge outdoor chandelier on your way down the lane to the entrance.

Inside is dark (tick) but spacious, with a low stage (but not too low) and amazing sound. At times it felt like I was having a Milli Vanilli moment and the band were actually miming, but no, twas definitely the real deal.

After Bla, and Young Dreams, we picked up some fellow music peeps and moseyed down the way to Revolver for some dinner. Along the way we passed a park, and of course, it had a treehouse in the middle of it…

Oslo, you crazy town – what will you throw at us next??

bintan – part 1

Where o where can one be blessed with pancakes, fruit, juice, coffee, beer, nasi goreng AND mee goreng for around $15? Yes – Bintan (but only once you get out of the ‘Bintan Resorts’ precinct, where the same will cost about 10 times that).

After 1 hour on a vom-inducing ferry trip from Singapore, followed by an hour long drive, we arrive at the Yasin Nostalgia bungalows, on the east coast of the island. There are about 15 over-water bungalows here, connected by a rickety bridge made of driftwood. Rich and I wonder how much it would take for the bridge to snap and are thankful for not being too much chubbier than we are.

Our room is basic (read: rustic) – a fan, a bed, a mosquito net. There’s a little bathroom that will become the bane of my existence, but that’s another story (and possibly one not to be broadcast on the internetz). There’s a small balcony that looks out over the water when the tide is in, and over wet boggy sand and crabs having a part-ay when the tide is out. The outlook is much nicer when the tide is in.

Most of our time is spent lying around reading books (I’ve just finished ‘Someone like you’ by Roald Dahl and have just started ‘The Fry Chronicles’ by Stephen Fry, if you’re interested) which is a pretty fine way to pass the time on week 1 of le world tour.

On our first night here, we take a stroll to a neighbouring hotel to check out the pool. Walking into the resort is kinda reminiscent of The Shining, if The Shining was set in Indonesia and in really hot weather. A HUGE hotel with lots of weird ‘quarters’ around the place. Multiple pools (with no one in them), a small beach you can’t really swim at, a miniature golf course, A ZOO. It was a bit creepy. I see no sign of a hedge maze, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one.

On our way back we stop to watch a volleyball match at the side of the road. Orange vs Yellow. It seems like the whole town has stopped to watch the match – after around 10 minutes of spectating, we were whooping, clapping and whistling with the locals and men on motorbikes.

We also pass a group of men – perhaps 40 of them – all dressed in black and jogging along the side of the road – SINGING!! It was pretty amazing and made me imagine an Indonesian Friday Night Lights-style sporting team, only I’m pretty sure these guys were soldiers. Which could also make for a pretty interesting TV show, don’t you think?

Yasin Nostalgia does not let me down in terms of restaurant soundtrack (see: Singapore) – there is a far more upbeat selection of music here. Now, I love golden oldies, but it may surprise you to know that I am also quite partial to Pussycat Dolls, Beyonce and the Bieb. Yasin Nostalgia just keeps the hits coming, even playing Doves and Kid Cudi over breakfast. My kinda place.

After 2 nights, we decide it’s time to move on and experience a leetle beet of luxury, so we get into a rickety old bus and head to the ‘Bintan Resorts’ part of the island.