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Daria Salamon
Saturday
Jul112015

It Was An Expensive Week Down Under

 

Who knew a speeding ticket could cost this much?

 

  

Nice picture of the world's ugliest rental van. 


Oh, and if a $759 speeding ticket in Australia wasn’t bad enough, we opened another email to find a second one for $1,138! 

 

 

Yes! You read correctly – that’s $2000 for two speeding tickets! That was practically our travel budget for the month.

You’d think we were doing 80 kilometers over the speed limit. Nope – a 9 and 13 kilometer offence. 

We’ve been renting vehicles for 3 months to tour New Zealand and Australia.  We were careful about speeding. In fact, people were mostly passing us because, really, when you’re traveling for a year, you’re just not in that big of a hurry. (When I say we I should mention that in the 15,000 kilometers we drove – I probably only took the wheel for about three hours—total.)

 

And our cheap rental was so loaded down with crap it could barely make it up a hill anyway. And, to top it all off— with me in the car, we were stopping at every single pull-out and look-out so I could snap my 75th pic of the hour. Australia’s a big country and there’s a lot of stuff to photograph! We’d hardly even get near the speed limit before I was piping up, Pull over- Kangaroo! Slow down- ocean! Hold up – big tree! So, we just weren’t going that fast.


 

I remember exactly when I saw the radar flash go off.

 

The kids were losing their shit in the backseat about something or other— they needed food, or naps or weapons. I needed wine. It felt like the car was going to implode – and quite frankly, by that point, who cares if it did? (It'd have been cheaper than these tickets.) If you have kids, and you’ve been on a road trip, trapped in that car for 14 kazillion hours, this scenario is familiar. If you don’t have kids – use protection.

Anyway, with all the chaos in the back of the rental van, we missed the sign indicating the reduced speed limit as we were entering into a town.

In our defense –  a kangaroo and a piece of tumbleweed at the side of the road constitutes a town in Australia. Even though there wasn’t a soul in sight and there was far more action in the back of our car than this “town” – we needed to drop our speed. And we didn’t. We got one ticket going into town and another in the town a few minutes later. Double radar. Zing. Zang. Zoing. Thank you, Canadians, for funding the resurfacing of the new road we’re building. Please come again.

The week didn’t get a whole lot better. A few days later we got an email alert that someone had used our credit card to purchase a $2000 Luftunsa Airline ticket.

Somehow we’d spent four grand in four days.

Thankfully, it all mostly worked out in the end.

"Working out" , of course, means my happy-hour needs were met .

 

Rob called Australia and got the speeding infractions reduced to a few hundred dollars. (The tickets in no way diminish my love for Australia. I might try a train next time round.) And our credit card was cancelled and VISA is picking up the tab for the airline ticket.

Ironically, we’d moved onto Bali where there's not a traffic light or stop sign to be found. We see un-helmuted families of four--including young children- along with the three-legged dog and some recently slaughtered chickens, all packed onto one scooter, cruising along at 70 km/hr.  But we got a $1000 speeding ticket in Australia for going 9 km over the limit- in a van where we were all wearing seatbelts.

 

I'm pretty sure cruising through dense traffic on a motor bike with my five year old seated behind me would get me tossed in jail back in Canada.

 

I'm not being sarcastic when I say-- God, I love travel. 

 

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller


Monday
Jun292015

Plan? What Plan?


We were standing in the check in line for our flight from Cairns to Bali. When we got to the front of the line, I saw the sign. I cringed. In order to board the flight you must have an onward ticket out of Bali. Shit. Seriously? It’s not like we’re going to defect to Bali or anything. We just want to soak up the sun and culture, maybe get a cheap pedicure, see the temples, do a little yoga. Apparently the Indonesian government doesn’t agree with this method of travel. They want you to have a clear exit plan.

Rob turned to me because I am in charge of booking Asia and this is our first stop.

"You didn’t look into this?”

“Ugh, where’s the adventure if you have to book and plan out every little detail? I kind of wanted to check out the country before we plan to leave.” I privately admit this might be more than a minor detail.

 

So there we were, at the front of the check out line, waving people past, as we fired up the laptop so we could book some flights, and be allowed on the damn plane. Anywhere would do, really, since it was getting close to boarding time.

“Hey, look at that! Fights to Singapore are super cheap! I’ve always wanted to see Singapore!” Rob rolled his eyes, shook his head in exasperation as he scanned the flight possibilities.

He planned New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji. It was meticulously organized; flights were booked 6 months in advance, cars were rented, travel visas secured. We saw all of the sights – but honestly it lacked a certain je ne sais quois – adrenaline, maybe?

Okay,okay, I'll admit New Zealand was fun-- even with all the planning.

We were just finishing a one-month, unplanned detour through Australia.

Prior to leaving Canada, Rob didn't really want to go to Australia. But we’re literally flying through en route to Asia and we have a tent? Why don’t we get a car and tool around a little? I argued. All Rob could see was crocs and snakes and spiders.

Our friend, Bitey, enjoying a sunset with us.

I saw wild adventure.

We ended up staying a month and absolutely loved it. In fact, so far, it has been Rob’s favourite country. Na, na, na, na, boo, boo.

Had we pre-bought our tickets, pre-planned every destination, we never would have seen those stoned, non-biting animals...

Or snorkelled in The Great Barrier Reef...

Or sunbathed on one of the most famous beaches in the world...

The WhitSundays

Back in the Cairns airport, Rob almost had a nervous breakdown having to buy tickets as we were checking in. (Me, I get off on this kind of stress.) But, alas, we had onward tickets (to Singapore!) and boarded the plane.

While everyone slept peacefully on the flight, I started to get a little nervous about the accommodation and driver I’d booked in Bali. Or, thought I'd booked. 

We were leaving Cairns on June 19th and arriving in Bali on June 20th at 3 am.  I booked the house from June 20th-27th – because technically we were coming in on the 20th – but it occurred to me on the plane, that, they could interpret this as the night of the 20th  going into the 21st.

I had flashbacks to when I arrived in Africa late at night and no one was at the airport to pick me up then either. I was sure I’d given them the right date. Either way, I was stranded in a developing country, in a city of millions that was suffering from rolling blackouts-- with nowhere to stay.  In the end, I found a place to crash and it was one of my best nights in Africa. It was such a great exercise in resourcefulness and independence.

We were on a cheap Jetstar flight, so there were no perks like movies or magazines to distract me from spending four hours imagining the look on Rob’s face when we didn’t have a place to stay. Could I sell this as an exercise in resourcefulness and adventure?

"Okay, mum, where we staying tonight?" "Um, the airport."

The last time on this trip I’d been charged with finding us accommodation was in Franz Joseph Glacier, New Zealand. I found a hostel that the guidebook described as a “gem”, but I missed the irony. We camped on a 4x4 piece of astro turf in the parking lot, up against the back of the hostel where I actually saw someone urinating out of the window. Not on the tent! Go left! Go left! Not on the tent.

The place was overrun with twenty-year old Swedes and Germans whose main drive was to get laid. Ya, do you like to paaatee? I like to paaatee.  They finally left at 10 pm, only to bring the paaatee back to the hostel when the bars closed 3 hours later. The final straw was waking to a station wagon that had wheeled in beside our tent, a used condom pitched out the window. 

Well, that place was fun! I said optimistically. I will probably never live down Franz Joseph. And that will be nothing compared to this if there’s no guy called Wayan to pick us up at the airport.

When we landed in Denpasar, Bali at 3 a.m., miraculously, Wayan was standing there with a placard with my name on it. I owe the Travel Gods I’d prayed to for the last four hours one of my children. (I’ll let them sort out who gets to go with a few rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors.)

I happened to give Wayan our flight number so he sorted out when exactly we were arriving and would need the house. Thank god, someone was paying attention.

We woke up in our environmentally sustainable two-story house to the sun rising, amidst the surrounding rice fields.

 

All was well.

(Ironically, this was another example of my “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants booking” of the past few weeks. We met a French family who were also traveling the world and they had spent a few weeks here, loved it, and recommended it. I never would have found this place trolling Booking.com, back in Canada, eight months ago.)

We swam in the pool, rented scooters and explored the incredibly funky and fun town of Ubud where we ate in good restaurants, visited the temples and the Monkey Sanctuary.

...where Rob acquired yet another monkey on his back that isn't me.


 

Unlike Franz Joseph, this time it all worked out brilliantly.

Right now we’re staying on the ocean, in an off the beaten path town in Northern Bali. I was told about this place by a potter whose studio we’d visted in Australia (that country we weren’t supposed to visit).  These are interesting places and digressions recommended by real people who are out there traveling right now.

 

Much to my husband’s dismay, I will forever be fan of “winging it” – but maybe I’ll look into travel visas and onward ticket requirements before arriving at the airport for the next flight. But wait, looks like I won’t have to-- Rob is booking the shit out of Singapore right now.

 

Rob, Daria, Oskar and Isla Blue are shlepping around the world for a year. This blog prides itself in posting about their debacles and mishaps! 

Other places you can find us; we like stalkers.

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Wednesday
Jun102015

We're A Close-Nit Family



I looked down at Isla's head. It was teeming with bugs. 

If you're a parent you've undoubtedly opened your kids' Frozen backpack and found that disturbing letter from the school announcing the presence of head lice at the school. Please check your child accordingly. 

And then you gingerly sift through her hair, hoping to hell you won't find any. Back in Canada we'd always dodged the lice bullet. Well, let me just say, after what we've just been through, it would have been a cakewalk dealing with the little fuckers privately, in the luxury of your own home, with a water source that doesn't involve a bucket and a stream and without marauding turkeys chasing you around. 

We were at a campground in Australia when I first saw the lice festival happening on my daughter's head. There were loads of live bugs crawling around. And, they'd gone and laid eggs on pretty much every single strand of her hair. No one had sent a letter to our campervan telling us to check for lice. Who knew? (This lice fiasco is particularly annoying because we haven't even been around kids, let alone rubbing heads with any.)

Since we're all sharing the same campervan and tent, if Isla has picked up hitchhikers, chances are we all have. I checked Oskar's head and sure enough he was hosting a little lice nest too - albeit, not quite as bad as Isla's. But, by some stroke of good fortune, neither Rob or I were stops on the lice tour. 

I trekked off to the chemist to get the lotions and combs. And we rolled into a holiday camping park that had showers and laundry facilities to begin Operation Lice Removal. 

The lice goop had to stay in their hair for an hour - I left it in for three, so the kids were trotting around the campground in shower caps. And the only place to rinse out the licey goop was in the shared showers.


 

We suspected people were tipped off to our little lice operation when we hauled out the lice combs and started picking through their hair for 2 days smack in the middle of the campground. It didn't help when we'd gone through our fourth roll of campground toilet paper and sent Oskar to the bathroom to get more. He couldn't get the whole roll off, so he pulled out reams and reams of paper.

 

"Hey, kid, what are you doing?" one of the many senior citizens who seemed to populate the campground asked.

"My mom needs this to get the lice off the combs," he replied in earnest under his mop of greasy, medicated hair. 

 

To compound matters, the campgrounds in Australia are rife with wild bush turkeys. And who knew they'd be so attracted to the smell of the lice medication? The whole thing took twice as long because I spent half my time shooing away six curious turkeys.

When I left the combs and shampoos outside for the night so as not to reinfect our tent, by morning the turkeys had hauled off with the entire bag. Fuck. Seriously? So, it was back to the store with another $50 to buy the second dose of treatment and more combs. And a turkey baster. Who cares if they're a protected species. Not as far as I'm concerned. 



This is how the campground looked when we arrived.



A day after we began this whole procedure... we noticed we were the only people in our section of the campground. Although, many more turkeys had moved in. 

As a reward for sitting through hours and hours of nitpicking (I'd actually never thought about where that expression came from before), we caved and broke our "no McDonald's" rule. Happy Meals all round, kids. What the hell!

But, as some sort of sick joke, the toy in Isla's happy meal was a pony with blond hair and a comb.

F-you McDonalds. The last thing my cramping hands and aching eyes needed to see was another mini-comb! I bet if your blond little ponies got nits you wouldn't be handing these out so freely.

As of the writing of this post, I'm happy to report we are no longer a close-nit family! Also, if Isla so much as sees a lice comb, which I occasionally pull out as a precautionary measure she runs in the opposite direction screaming I DON'T HAVE LICE! I DONT HAVE LICE! I DON'T HAVE LICE! 

And we continue to be a very popular Canadian family abroad. 

Care-free, lice-free and happy at Rainbow beach in Austraila.

 

Tuesday
May192015

The Conversation With My Kids That Justified This Year of Travel

It was nice to see an 8 year old conclude that there might be more to life and happiness than your next iTunes purchase.

Bula!!! Hello! What’s your name? How are you?

Fiji is paradise, but you can find crystal blue waters and balmy beaches in a lot of places. What makes Fiji special is not the warmth of the sun, but the warmth of the people- friendly, laid back, incredible people.

Lennox, one of the boat drivers, plunked the kids on the nose of his boat and then hopped up there to chat with them, driving with his feet. Obviously friendship trumps safety in this country!

Fijians seem to take so much pride in their culture and who they are. Not once was I approached for money, or did it feel like someone was trying to scam us (we've been warned we'll be baby turtles in a shark tank once we get to South East Asia).

It was quite the opposite here –everywhere we turned someone wasn't trying to steal our bags, they were trying to carry them for us. (And that's quite a feat since, as year-long travelers, we have 6 gazillion things hanging off us at any given time.)

We just came from Samoa where, with the exception of that magical place Lalamano – which I wrote about in my last post, people were either: 

 

  • indifferent
  • hostile (kicking and punching our car)
  • laughing at us
  • trying to charge us money for driving or walking down a road they claimed they owned.

 

(It was a little unnerving at first. I chalk it up to them simply not knowing what to do with foreign visitors. But after a while the utter indifference kind of grew on me.)

BULA! BULA! BULA! But it was refreshing stepping onto the Fijian islands.  Fiji is designed for tourism and visitors…almost to a fault. It is set up so that most people won’t ever leave the beach of their beautiful island resort.  In order to see the real Fiji, you actually have to seek it out.

 

An outdoor dinner at Octopus Resort on Waya Island.

The kids and I went to see where these great people actually come from. We visited a village and school. The four of us even took in a church service one blazing hot Sunday morning.

 

No laughing I didn’t have proper church clothes— which means something that went down to my ankles—  so the Fijian women lent me some traditional clothes. I don’t think I quite managed to pull off this look! Thoughts?


 

 ME:                 What did you think of the village?

ISLA:               Kava is GROSS! I am never drinking THAT again!

 


We participated in a kava ceremony in order to be welcomed into the village and to be able to freely go into the school, homes and church. Kava doesn’t taste great; but on the plus side, if you drink enough of it late at night with the locals, you start to feel pretty damn good!

ME: Tell me one thing you learned in the village?

OSKAR: None of the houses have doors or if they do they are always wide open.

ME: Why?

ISLA: Because they’re friendly here!

OSKAR: And everyone is always welcome into everyone else’s house.

ME: How come we don’t keep our doors open in Canada?

ISLA: It’s way too cold!

OSKAR: And everyone would steal our stuff. Like we have a Wii and TV and iPads and things. You can’t just leave your door wide open.

ISLA: Yeah, they just had beds and those big woven mats in their house.

ME: So what do you make of all this?

OSKAR: I guess in Fiji they’d rather have people in their house instead of a whole bunch of stuff.

 

It was nice to see an 8 year old conclude that there might be more to life and happiness than your next iTunes purchase.

I’m not going to presume that the people are so warm and friendly because they don’t seem to be consumer-driven. But, we saw they are really community-oriented villages. People were calling us into their very basic homes from the doorway; I loved it.

Fiji has stellar people, values, beaches, and, of course, kava.

 

 

 Farewell Fiji. We will definitely be back!

Wednesday
May062015

Travel: Who Knew There Was So Much Snot and Heartache?

It’s the people, the heart and the story behind the place that define an experience. And as much as it aches to say goodbye, and causes the occasional snot-storm, – that’s what this trip is about.

Left and Leaving. 

It’s a little embarrassing how attached I get to people and places that I love. (My local gym and dentist can expect postcards any day now.) The week before we were embarking on this year-long trek around the world, anyone who ran into me was left ringing my tears and nose slime out of their shirt after the briefest of good bye hugs. 

Um, exactly why are you so sad? I was heading on this amazing adventure and I wanted to take everyone with me.

As we've been traveling, I keep falling in love places and then we have to leave, or we cross paths with people I really, really like and then we move on, or they move on. There’s a constant left and leaving that happens and it wrenches at your heart.  I think the idea is that you are supposed to get used to this, but I never do.

Before we arrived in Samoa I booked us a stay at a fancy resort a few weeks down the road. We’d been living out of a tent for two months in New Zealand and we were about to spend the next few weeks in fales – very rustic open huts on the beach with shared facilities. 

 


 

We arrived at a place called Tau Fua in Lalamano Beach (Lonely Planet ranks this as one of the top beaches in the world). While this place would be considered very basic by most people’s standards, it knocked my socks off.

 

Food was served communally in a dining fale, so you had no choice but to get to know the people next to you.  We met a lovely young French couple who were exceedingly tolerant of our regularly miscreant children.

 

We’re actually a traveling promotional campaign for birth control and Trojan is sponsoring our trip,” I explained.

“Too late for us!” Morgan smiled. 

They had just found out they were expecting a baby. Just as people’s stories start to unfold, they move on. We met another family from Sweden --also traveling for a year; they were ten months into their adventure. We were only two months into our escapade. As the kids became instant friends, the adults exchanged a plethora of information about life on the road. You guys get any good infections yet? Yeah, what is it with boys and streaky underwear, anyway? But alas a few days later, we had to leave.

Also, this is the most beautiful family ever!

Left and Leaving.

After spending a week at Tau Fua - the rustic Samoan “resort”, we came to know the staff, their children. We learned that in 2009 a tsunami decimated the place and nine people died, including guests, family and children. 

And yet they rebuilt it. They are so positive and kind and on their game, you’d never know the place was destroyed a few years ago. Only when you drive up the coast do you see the tsunami carnage; abandoned houses and desolate resorts all over the place – wreckage from the wave. 

Tau Fua is full of guests who keep returning because you can’t help but fall in love with the place. When we pulled away, clutching a wood carving they'd given us a gift, surrounded by many of the staff, and Jon, the Swedish boy, I had a massive lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I said we’d be back, but I know we live half a world away and it wasn’t likely. 

 

The kids wrote thank you cards to Bruce - who took great care of all of us at Tau Fua.

Left and leaving.

A few hours later we arrived at the fancy resort I’d booked long before we set foot on Tau Fua. It had an infinity pool and a bar fully stocked with wines I love.  I won’t lie, the outdoor stone rainwater shower and luscious soaps were divine – especially after months of cold, shared showers at campgrounds and fales.

 

But I missed Tau Fua. It wasn’t luxury – but it had a soul and a story. I thought this expensive bungalow on the beach with all the frills was what I wanted, what I needed.

But it’s the people, the heart and the story behind the place that define an experience. And as much as it aches to say goodbye, and causes the occasional snot-storm, – that’s what this trip is about. That's what life's about.

Left and Leaving.