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!

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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:

the inca trail – it begins…

If someone had told me how hard, scary and puff-inducing the Inca Trail was going to be, I’m honestly not sure I would have done it. Rich and I had several moments along the trail where we would stop to catch our breath, look at each other, and shake our heads in a ‘What the crap are we doing??’ fashion. It was a tough slog – the toughest, most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I’m so glad I did it. I’m feeling pretty chuffed, in all honesty.

Our Inca adventure started a week ago. On Monday night we met half of our tour group – a Canadian army fella, a luvverly couple from Sydney, and two Danish chaps – in a Lima hotel for briefing, got our plane tickets for our flight to Cusco the next day, that sorta thing.

Next morning we were up bright n early for a tres borink breakfast (cold toast and jam) and  bad coffee, and we were off to the airport. The flight to Cusco was pretty hair-raising. Cusco itself is at an altitude of around 3,400m above sea level. It’s surrounded by mountains that are even taller (I’ll tell you about those) and it’s windy and it makes landing aeroplanes a leetle beet tricky. Our plane came in, the wheels lowered, we were about to hit the runway and then suddenly… The plane sped up and we were up in the air again. We did another circle of a mountain and a valley and came in again for take 2. This time the plane dropped suddenly. Sheesh! I gasped (loudly) and clutched my armrest and the man next to me said “That’s the trouble with these winds”.

After a bit more lurching and bumping and dropping, we landed. Safely. A little shaky, but OK. Phewf!!

Our leader for the next six days – Abel – met us at the airport and took us to our hotel in a mattress-lined street in the city, then the eight of us went on a tour of the old part of town and then to lunch. Ingredients for Pisco Sours were brought to the table, and we each shook up our own lemon and egg white cocktails. Delicious, yes, but probably not the wisest move. Drinking alcohol on day one at such high altitude is kind of a recipe for disaster. Later in the day, Rich and I were both afflicted with monster headaches, nausea and squashy lungs that made breathing a little tricky… It was a fairly unpleasant night.

The next day we packed up our bags – 3kgs of clothing, toiletries, ponchos into a duffle bag carried by a porter, and whatever else we needed we carried in backpacks – and got into our little tourbus, bound for Ollantaytambo. We were a full group now. Along with the five peeps we met on Monday in Lima, we were joined in Cusco by a family of four from Castlemaine, a mom/daughter duo from Canada, and three uni lads from Melbourne/Perth.

Along the way to Ollantaytambo we stopped at an artisan village where, after receiving hugs from three Peruvian ladies as we stepped off the bus, we watched as wool was spun and blankets were weaved (or is it wove?) and deft hands knitted socks and hats and miniature llamas. That’s right – MINIATURE LLAMAS!!! With aloof llamas faces!!! Needless to say, I bought four. Don’t even get me started on the llamas and alpacas just milling about in the carpark. THERE WAS A BABY!!! WHO HAD A BIG FREAKOUT BECAUSE HE COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO USE HIS LEGS!!! Clearly, I almost collapsed from the cuteness. Sigh.

Big alpaca, little alpaca

Peruvian ladies, doing their thang

After lunch (where the speakers blared a panpipe band covering Guns N Roses and Bryan Adams as we ate) we headed to a chicheria, where chicha is made. Chicha is a fermented fruit beer that has an alcohol content of about 2%, is served in ENORMOUS glasses and smells revolting. We weren’t allowed to taste it, because it would almost certainly have made us ill. I’m kinda glad. It really didn’t look good. The chicheria also housed a (gulp) guinea pig farm. I won’t go into details – I’m sure you can guess what they were fattening them up for. Wah!

The Guinea Pig farm. O dear...

We arrived in Ollantaytambo at about 4 o’clock and took a stroll around some Incan ruins. They were quite beautiful, but the steps to the top were very steep and narrow and did nothing for my fear of heights. I was starting to get a little bit worried about the Inca Trail… What if it was gonna be like this? All stairs and steepness? Surely not. I googled ‘Inca trail fear of heights’ not long ago, and everything came up roses. Things would be OK. This was just a particularly vertigo-inducing site. Nothing to worry about.

I hobbled slowly down the stairs, as Rich helpfully guided me along, and admitted to a few others in our group that I was a little scared of heights. More than a little. Quite terrified.

Carmel – the mum from Castlemaine – looked a little surprised and said “Well, good on you for facing your fears and doing the Inca Trail!! By the time we climb all the stairs at Machu Picchu I’m sure you’ll be right as rain!”

Super gulp.

I went to sleep early that night. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay awake forever so tomorrow wouldn’t come. But as Annie once sang: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow”. And as Silverchair once sang: “Yooooooooou way-ait, til tomorrooowwwww”. And as The Eurythmics once sang: “When tomorrow comes!!” So I guess there’s no escaping it. Whatever time I went to sleep, the next day was going to come and I was going to hike the Inca Trail. May as well rest up.

reading machine

I’ve always loved books and had a bit of a saucy love affair with reading, but being on the road has put this into overdrive, and I feel like I’m embarking on a new relationship every few days.

Some are amazing, like Paul Auster‘s ‘New York Trilogy’ (which went around and around in my head for days after finishing it, and still has me thinking “wait, so was he actually THAT guy all along?”) and ‘Timbuktu’ (written from the perspective of a dog – A DOG!!!), and Jennifer Egan‘s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ (funny and sad and intense and kooky and so crafty and twisty…).

Some are, well, not so amazing… Some have been down-right disappointing… I’m looking at you, ‘Harbour’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist (yes – he of ‘Let the Right One In’ and ‘Handling the Undead’ genius – I flippin’ LOVED these books…). You are by no means a small book – you are, in fact, the size and weight of a brick. And I carted you all the way to Sweden so I could read you in your hometown, and what did you do? You were a total fizzer. You made me want to throw you across the room. You made me want to give up then and there. You made me want to leave you behind and sneak off in the middle of the night, no phone number, no polite chit-chat. But I persevered, and then Rich got in on the act too, and we were both in agreement that the best place for you was on a bookshelf in Dubrovnik.

Some have crept under my skin and kept me awake at night, like ‘Blindness’ by Jose Saramago. I’m about 60 pages away from the end, and it’s so creepy and yuck and violent and thought-provoking and… incredible… I’m usually not one to cry in books, but this had me sobbing like a wee bairn on the plane yesterday to San Jose. And I keep thinking “What if?”… Nightmarish and brilliant and, well, I should probably finish it before I rave on even more about it, lest it end with “… and it was alllllll just a dream.”

I’ve been saving two books that I’ve been dying to read for yonks for this leg of the trip (which I like to refer to as ‘The Adventure and Reading Leg’).I read about ‘The Happiness Project’ on Meet Me At Mikes a wee while ago; I am, for the most part, a happy lady and an easy person and a pretty go-with-the-flow kinda gal. But  between you and me, I feel like I am getting a bit snippier as I get older. A bit narky about silly things. A bit complainy about things that don’t really bear complaining about. I know we all get a bit like that, but I’m hoping to stop sweating the small stuff so much and, like Jay Z once proclaimed, ‘git… that… dirt off yo shoulders…’ (I don’t have dirty shoulders – I believe it’s a ‘rap’ reference to ‘lightening up’. I’ll cross-check that with a quick google search/ask Rich**).

I’m not sure if I told you this yet, but when we were at Piebird in Canada, I turned vegematarian. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while – kinda due to gut issues (TMI? Hope not…) but mostly due to a bit of inner turmoil I’ve been feeling lately about, well, animals. I feel like I can no longer really justify swooning over cute pics of baby pigs in gumboots and then get stuck into a pork chop. Or scratch a goat on the nose, and follow it up with an Indian goat curry. Or walk into a barn full of cows, bopping their heads up against the bars of their pens, looking at me with their big cow eyes, and then go to a restaurant and enjoy a medium rare steak. I’m not gonna get all ‘Meat is Murder, yo’ but it’s something I feel like I need to be way more aware of, and I think ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer is a good start.

I’ve got a few more books to go after these ones too, then I’m at the mercy of hostel bookshelves and street-side markets (Da Vinci Code for a dollar, guys? – that’s a joke, BTW… I’m hoping that, karmically speaking, the books I’ve read and loved and left along the way will be paid back to us (except for that whole ‘Harbour’ incident – hopefully that has stayed exactly where we left it) – fingers crossed.

O – if you’ve got any suggestions for other books I should seek out, please please please add a comment!

** According to Urban Dictionary, ‘brush your shoulders off’ is a term for ‘trying to forget’ or ‘forgotten’. ‘The Brush’ can also be used in any occasion where you feel ‘it aint no thing’. Zing!

flying to newark

The air hostess on our flight from Raleigh to Newark on Friday morning was surprisingly chipper for such an early flight. I fell a little bit in love with her Tammi Taylor-type demeanor, the way she asked “How y’all doin’?” when we boarded the flight; the way she asked “What would y’all lark to drink?” when she brought around the beverage trolley; the way she gave Rich an extra bag of peanuts because the lady sitting beside us was asleep (“Y’all can have herrr peanuts”).

My favourite thing about our air hostess was when we landed in Newark. She got on the loudspeaker and said “Y’all please stay seated until the plane comes to a starp at the gates… Once the seatbelt sigh has been switched off, feel free to take everything off… (long pause) … The plane, that is!”

My friend Brian sent me a link to an even MORE entertaining airline employee – I would love to see this guy and my Tammy Taylor-type on a flight together!

immigration – an afterthought

So when I was going through immigration at Melbourne Airport on Monday, a funny thing happened. Here is the dialogue of what went down between me and the immigration officer (a man in his mid-fifties – let’s call him Peter):

Enter: me, passport and immigration card in hand, beaming, twinkling eyes, full of excitement

Me (approaching the desk): Hello!

Peter: Hello – THAT’S a winning smile! You get the winningest smile of the day award!

Me: *blushes* Thanks – I’m a bit excited about my trip today!

Peter (looking at my immigration card): 5 months… 5 months? You’re away for 5 months? How does anyone manage to get that much time off work??!

Me: I don’t know! <this dialogue is not working as well on paper as it did when it went down – I promise it wasn’t as ditzy as it sounds>

Peter (smiling): You must have made a mistake. Let me change that for you to 5 days…

Me (flashing that winning gold star smile in return – laughing intonation): Ho ho ho – yes OK!!

But then – Peter the immigration officer DID change my immigration card to 5 days. Was he joking?? I thought he was! I thought my ‘ho ho ho’-ing made it clear that I was joking!! Let this blog post be a testament to ‘the joke’ and that it WAS a joke and that I am SERIOUSLY away on this adventure for 5 months, not 5 days.

A 5 day adventure would still be an adventure, but not quite this adventure. Should I be nervous? Eep.

one flight down…

Not down, as such (nobody panic!!), but we’ve just stepped outta the airport on the first stop of le trip. Singapore is hot and sticky and the air smells sweet and the trees are luscious and green and everything seems perfectly manicured and tidy. And WARM!!

We flew here on a great big DOUBLE DECKER plane. And yet, despite the ginormous size  and illusions of grandeur, I was still cramped and uncomfortable and squashed. We were sitting right near the kitchen (is that the galley? I feel like it is… if we were on a ye olde fashioned airship I would know these things, but the new Qantas Airbus is a whole other kettle of fish), so the majority of the flight was filled with weird smells, loud talking from the stewards (one seemingly uptight steward announced, quite boldly “I was a bit drunk, wasn’t I? I had quite a bit to drink before I got there. Actually, I was spastic” – it’s strange hearing a flight attendant talk like that), and a particularly unpleasant man who requested cans of beer every 30 minutes or so. Gotta pass the time somehow, I guess… As each beer was imbibed, he got friendlier and friendlier with the staff, until it got to the point where he was told the bar was locked and no more alcohol was being served.

My inflight entertainment (in addition to the drunk fella a few rows ahead) was a WHO Weekly (not actually particularly entertaining), 8 episodes of The Office, 2 episodes of Glee (kill me), and half a game of Scrabble with Rich.

This is my first big trip. I’ve been away before – with Rich and on my own – but this is the biggest adventure. With the most stops. And for the longest time. Seeing sights. Trying new things. Saying yes more often. I feel like I’ve been pretty calm in the leadup to all of this, but for the past few days my stomach has felt like it’s had an avocado tree growing inside it. It started with a heavy stone-like feeling in the pit of my guts (not indigestion…), and then the roots started to spread into my legs and branches into my heart and chest and head, and this morning, as I put the finishing touches on my packing and organising I felt as though I could faint or be sick.

It’s a weird thing though. As soon as we were on the plane, that little plant of anxiety vanished and things feel fine again. I’m sure it’ll return on the eve and morning of each leg of this trip, but it amazes me that it was so quick to disappear.

The first night of our world tour is in a funny hotel in Changi with a pool on the roof and a bar that sells no beer. We are sitting in our room listening to Aloe Black, drinking room service Tiger beers, and we are in single beds. A tres romantic start to our trip! There is a window from the bedroom looking into the bathroom – also very romantic. What could be better than gazing lovingly at your fella/woozer while they brush their teeth or clean their ears, or…. (I won’t say it – let’s keep things nice!).

Tomorrow we’re booked on a ferry to Bintan. I plan on drinking a cocktail from a pineapple (a coconut will also do) every day we’re there, and defrosting my Melbourne winter bones in the Indonesian sun.