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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Melbourne – Days 124 – 133 – Friends, Pub crawl and work

May 12th to 21st 2011

Arriving Melbourne Southern Cross Station
After I finished shaking with anger over the text message the looney farmer had sent me (please refer to previous post), I waited for my now delayed train. I chatted a bit with an older couple waiting for their daughter, they were from the Boorowa area and were upset at the experience I had had, they said it was a pity I didn’t come to their farm as they had clydesdales and many other animals… They did ask for Mr. Looney’s name and said they knew of the family and might report it to the council. That made me feel better, especially when they disagreed on his assertion that you had to pay gas money and large amounts of it.

Finally the train pulled in. Turned out I though I was waiting for the 1pm train, but apparently I can’t read and in my desperate attempt to escape I had booked on the 1am train and was now getting on the 12.30pm train. Luckily it wasn’t a problem, sounds like it happens quite often. As I sat in an empty seat I asked the lady in front of me if the dining car served coffee and how much it might be. She immediately brushed that notion aside gave me a small packet of cappucino mix, her travel mug and told me to go get free hot water. When I returned she gave me some choc powder to sprinkle on top…now this is the Aussie hospitality I have heard about.

After a 6hr journey we pulled into a very impressive looking train station, Southern Cross, the ceiling was made of all these wavy poles and look very…well, architectual. I sent my mate, Erin, a message to let her know I had arrived and settled down in a corner to charge my phone and read. Since Erin was doing classes it would be about 2hrs before she could meet me. Once she arrived I picked up a week long transport pass ($31) that could be used on bus/train/tram, I love a city with a decent transport system. We headed back to her house that she shared with 4 other grad students, all in various stages of finals and thesis’. My bed was the futon in the kitchen/dining area, and I must say it was the most comfortable bed I had slept in in weeks!

Tourist Bus and Pub Crawl
The following morning I headed out with Erin and she showed me the main drag of the city centre before she had to head to classes. I was planning on spending the day on the free tourist bus with another couchsurfing member, and then doing some work on the computer at the library. Sarah (Belgium) met me at the tourist info centre (must be one of the most impressive ones I have seen) and we headed off to the tourist bus stop. The tourist bus is a free service that goes around the city to the main attractions. We decided to get some lunch in Chinatown before heading out and made our way to a Korean Restaurant I had seen earlier. I got some bibimbap (veggies and rice) and she had some egg soup. I had almost forgotten how much I missed Korean food.

We picked the bus up and headed to the Victoria Markets. These are under cover markets where you can pick up anything from $1 tourist trinkets, to $200 Uggs or maybe even a didgeridoo. It was great fun walking around. Then we went and had some of the richest and most delicious coffee in the world, and at $6 it better be good. Max Brenner’s coffee shops are about as intense as you can get. For my mocha I had a choice of dark, milk or white chocolate and by the end of it all I can say is that I was suffering from an intense coffee buzz and a chocolate hangover.

The best part is the "hug mug" where you have to cup your hands around it to drink and makes the drinking experience even better

Sarah had to head out to go to another meeting and I had had another girl from couchsurfing call and ask to meet. So around 1pm I headed to the library, assuming I had about 20min to check internet and such before Abi arrived. At 4pm she finally strolled over and by then the last tourist bus had already left. (This habit would continue for 2 other outings we met up for). We hung out at the library for a bit longer and then headed over to find the first bar where the couchsurfing bar crawl was meant to be. While we waited we picked up a bowl of chips. Finally people started arriving and as I had put my number down as first pub contact, so did the calls of people trying to find us. It turned into quite the event and by the 2nd bar we had over 30 people. Everyone was great and I made a couple of new friends. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay too late and had to go meet Erin at work so we could head home.

Buddhist Day Fest
Saturday I decided to wander around at the festival for Buddha’s Birthday, this used to be one of my favorite festivals while living in Korea. Again I met up with a girl from couchsurfing and we explored the festival picking up stamps to complete an activity at the festival. I wrote a wish on a “lotus” flower, explored a book fair and “bathed the little Buddha statue”.

Around 5pm I got a call from Abi again asking if I was going to the festival, I told her the fest ended at 5pm and she whined “why didn’t anyone tell me?” she asked if I had been. I was there at 11am like my post said I would be… some people are just clueless.

Great Ocean Road
One of the most beautiful things to see and do on the Southern Coast of Australia is the Great Ocean Road. So when a post appeared on Couchsurfing for those interested in a road trip it sounded great and for a change I planned to sit back and enjoy the ride…or so I thought. I showed up Sunday morning at 8.30am as planned and shortly after 3 of the others showed up. The final 3, Abi and friends, didn’t show up till 9.15am. They were the ones who were supposed to have organised the van, they hadn’t. They had wanted to rent from a place called “Rent-a-Bomb”, which thankfully had no vans. We went to budget to rent a van and it turned out I was the only one with a credit card and along with 2 others the only one with a valid drivers license. I am so useless at going with the flow, think I should just organise things from now on… Dammit!

Even though it took 5 hrs to get to the 12 apostles and it was almost dark when we finally got there and another 4hrs home on the highway, it all worked out well, the views were spectacular, the weather was clear and sunny, I saw koala bears (which were actually rather boring lumps of fur that just sit around all day) and I didn’t kill any of the others, although it came close on occasion.

Remainder of the week
For the rest of the week I managed to pick up some cash work through couchsurfing. $20/hr for data entry on Mon and Tues. Wednesday I explored the op shops (2nd hand shops) and then managed to pick up work for Thursday and a bit on Friday morning. Meaning that I had managed to cover my flight to Tasmania, the one to Perth and should also be able to cover the one to the Gold Coast…woohoo. Not to mention, as crazy as it sounds, it was good to do some work again. Added to that some good friends made and it was a very good week indeed.

Here are some pics from a rather spectacular drive:









 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Australia, RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Boorowa…or there abouts – Days 118 – 124 – Welcome to the Looney Farm!!

May 6th to 12th 2011

Answering the ad…
Well, as I mentioned before, I had answered this ad for farm work. I had done it mainly to experience some country life, maybe meet a few cool people and horse riding has always been a love of mine. So this ad seemed like a great opportunity. I had called up and spoken to, what seemed to be, a very down to earth guy named Ross. He said that the work was mainly a few minor house renovations and some basic farm work. Sounded perfect, I expected to meet other like minded travelers, most likely share meals with the family, feed chickens clean out horse stalls and maybe paint some window frames… The truth was so far from that fantasy you have no idea.

Arriving at the house
Since there was no way to get to Boorowa town on public transport I had to go into the town of Yass, meaning Ross had to come pick me up. We had agreed that I would buy him some wine as compensation, so $20 and 3 bottles later we headed to the farm. The drive was beautiful and Ross seemed like a good bloke and easy to chat to, although he did most of the chatting.

As we pulled into the farm he started explaining how this wasn’t his farm, it was his brother’s and since his sister-in-law didn’t approve of strangers on the farm I must never answer the phone or give the number out… I began to hear a distant ringing of warning bells. He also explained that the house was under a bit of renovation. Turns out his previous profession of marketing meant he was an excellent bullshitter.

The English pair, James and Ari, had got lunch prepared and we headed up the hill to have a bbq, beef patties and bread with some wine. The view was spectacular and the company was great, so I figured it would just be a great adventure…another understatement.

My First 3hrs of Work
I wasn’t even assigned a room when Ross decided to put me to work, which was fine with me but really surprised James and Ari. The chores of choice were fixing out riggers to fencing around baby trees to run an electric line through, thereby protecting the trees from the cattle (which I was yet to see). Then he had me mow a massive lawn, he decided it was too small for the sit on mower, it looked big enough to me. Once that was all done it was time to head in, figure out where I was supposed to sleep and try get warm. I was placed, temporarily, in his brother’s bedroom. It turned out we had no kitchen, only an electric skilled, kettle and microwave, dishes had to be done in the bathroom, the only finished room in the house. The bathroom was rather impressive but with slate floors and below freezing temps at night it made it very difficult to shower or brush teeth or anything without shoes or socks at the least.

That night he made us chicken stir fry but added a variety of herbs, rosemary, oregano and cloves amongst them (how conflicting can you get). As there was no heat in the house and the temperature had dropped below 0 C, James, Ari and I huddled around the fire.

My first night
Ross had given me extra blankets, making a total of 2 thin ones and a sheet, I managed to scrounge up something else as well. When I went to bed I noticed gaps to the outside where the floor met the walls… I went to bed wearing socks, pajama pants, a turtle neck shirt, my jumper, my alpaca sweater, gloves and my big wooly hat and I still barely slept from all the shivering. In the morning I discovered that mice had chewed a hole in my bag where I had had a piece of chocolate. When I told Ross, he said “Oh well, teach you to keep food in your bag”. He had failed to mention the rampant mouse explosion in the area (so bad it had made the news), and to be sure to take any food out of my bag, not to mention the feces left all over the corners and such. Just think positive, just think positive…

Boorowa Races
Today was the biggest event of the year for Boorowa, the horse races. The plan was to do some work in the morning, then get dressed up and head for a day at the races. Since his brother and sister-in-law were coming down from Sydney we had to hide our bags in his room, we would be sleeping somewhere else that night and we had no choice but to go to the races. At the last moment as we left he mentioned there might be a small fee to get in. Turned out to be $15 each, he also made us buy our own food for the day, he was kind enough to donate a bottle of wine, which he promptly opened at 11.30am and drank. Leaving us none… Oh deary maybe this wasn’t a good idea.

The races were great fun, and the whole town showed up dressed to the nines. Ari managed to win 2 of her bets, I came second in all of mine and it seemed as if James came last. My favorite horse was Al’s Mission, she had made direct eye contact when she walked past, and even though she didn’t win she was still a beauty.

Ross was very explicit in his instructions that we pretend we didn’t know him, and that we were not to say where we were staying. Yet he went around introducing us as the backpackers working on his brother’s farm and then would say, but don’t tell him ok. The 3 of us were beginning to come to the agreement that this guy was on the verge of a breakdown or something (he had just spent the last 5mths nursing his father who was dying of cancer, so you can’t blame him, but we didn’t ask to be involved). Around 3pm I decided to stop drinking in case I might have to drive the lot of us back. Please note, the last time I drove a stick was in Alaska 6yrs ago, and before that was learning to drive in South Africa 15yrs ago. So I was not too impressed with the fact that I might have to drive us in a stick shift double cab truck, on unknown roads through kangaroo country… Turned out I was right to stop drinking. When we tried to get details from him as to when and how and what if we got stopped he just brushed us off and said “no worries you are with me”. The truth is we were seriously beginning to worry. Just as we were leaving James bought me a coffee as designated driver. Barely away from the horse grounds Ross started drinking it.

Off to Young
We made it back to the farm safe and sound to pick up a few things, we had to spend the night at his father’s farm in case his brother came to the farm. As we headed out, Ross decided to drive as we were going on back roads. Then he suddenly said “I have an idea, lets go to Young, I will rent a room for all of us and we can go to the pubs listen to music, what do you think!” This was not so much a question as a statement, so we just nodded and went with it. So there we were, trapped in the car with a looney, inebriated guy heading to a town named Young. Turned out the town was dead, no live music, almost no people out… so we all ended up back at the motel by 9pm. What a roller coaster of a day.

The next day we spent the whole morning avoiding Ross until it was time to go to his father’s farm to spend the rest of the day in hiding. Sundays were meant to be our day off to do what we liked but it appeared that was not to be so. After doing a big shop for food, something we were not involved in, he never ever even asked if we were allergic to anything, we headed out of Young. Once we got there we had a quick bbq and then Ross went off to nap and we were left to our own devices and ultimately ended up discussing our situation. We all decided to figure out a way to get out of here as soon as possible.

Finally it was time to leave and we headed back to The Farm. On the way we saw my first wild kangaroos. There is a chance we saw one the night before but it might have been a bouncing fence post…who knows for sure.

When the cat’s away the mice will…plan their escape
Turned out the following day Ross decided to go into town and so left me in charge. I had just woken up and hadn’t even had my coffee when he told me he was showing me what had to be done. The list was as follows:
Sweep the porch
Clean out the fireplace
Paint a gate
Finish the electric fence outriggers
Catch the horses and put them in the paddock

As soon as he was out of sight the 3 of us did a little happy dance. We got all our work done had some tea and then headed out to deal with the horses. James and Ari had been there for a week and hadn’t even seen the horses yet and for some reason Ross felt that me having taken a horse riding class made me an expert. The plan was for James and Ari to have riding lessons from Ross, but at present none of us were trusting his mental stability let alone teaching skills. As it turned out the horses had been out to pasture for months and were not overly enthused about being brought into the paddock, so that made all of us doubt we wanted to ride. Apparently there had been 2 German girls who had spent 5 days twice a day grooming and working with them. It was most likely they were hiding from Ross, because these horses had not been worked in ages.

That evening karma gave us a gift, Ross was spending the night away!!! Woohoo!!! We also managed to convince him to let us drive into Boorowa so we check the internet and get some phone reception the next day. That night we also all moved into the same room and combined blankets. This meant that Ari and I shared a bed and James was on a mattress on the floor. It was way warmer in there.

So come Tuesday we jumped in the truck, before he could possibly come back and stop us and headed off back to the real world. There was serious consideration of just driving till we hit a bus station to get us out of there. In a local cafe we managed to figure out a cover story and get bus tickets.
James and Ari were saying they had picked up paid work back in the previous place they had been and were leaving Friday.
I was concerned about my friend who had a high risk pregnancy (a bit of a harsh one but not completely false as a number of my friends are pregnant and I was concerned about my own health). I would leave on Thursday.

We spent the next 2 days trying not to go crazy, or to stab him to death at night. All of us agreed we would rather be with a serial killer, at least you know how that episode is supposed to go. Instead of with a guy who was slowly losing his grip on reality.

Thats how its done in Australia
On the appointed day of my departure, trying hard not to do a little jig, I said goodbye to my new friends with secret plans to meet in Melbourne the following week. Ross had decided to go into Young again, which was about 30min in the wrong direction from where I had to go. As we pulled in he turned to me and said “You ok to put in for gas then?” Its weird how sometimes you are so shocked at the actions of people you don’t know quite what to say and so I just nodded. But when I told him that all I could contribute was around $5 he went off and demanded $20. Then he said “this is Australia, if you want to make it here you are going to have to learn to do things like put in for gas, so do you want to use your card or do I need to take you to an ATM”. I managed to scrape $19 together and didn’t talk to him for the rest of the drive to Harden where I had a 3hr wait till my train.

While I was waiting I was obliged to receive the following text message from Mr. Looney himself:
“Kath hi. We have had over 2000 travellers thru the farm over the years.
ur prescence although helpful was overall one of negativity and pessimistic.
U were shown care and provided with good food etc. Ur whinging about the
cold was appalling. That’s travelling. its not always great u take the ups and
downs and look at the positives. ur sulking when asked to contribute to the fuel
was childish. My advice be more optimistic and greatful for the help given
instead of whinging like a child..”

After my hands stopped shaking enough from sheer rage I managed to send this back:
“My advice to you is not to lie to backpackers or your sister-in-law. You never
mentioned staying in a freezing construction site and only told me about mice after
they ruined my bag. You should have offered something for that!!”

But lets look at the positives shall we:
– I got this hilarious blog entry
– 2 fantastic new friends
– I got into Melbourne at the right time to pick up a week of cash work
– It gave me the time to spend 10 days in Tasmania

So once you all stop laughing I hope you will join me tomorrow for my week in Melbourne.

Here are some pics from the week on the Looney Farm, it wasn’t all bad:

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Australia, RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Sydney/Canberra – Day 112-117 – I’ve Come to a Land Downunder

April 30th – May 5th 2011

Sydney
Arriving in Sydney around noon I felt like I had been run over by a freight train a few times over. I made it through customs and immigration before the substantial caffeine rush I had been working on all flight started to wane. Then I had to figure out the shuttle to the hostel. Due to a miscommunication on arrival dates my friend turned out to still be in Indonesia resulting in a hostel check in. After wandering round like a lost puppy for about 20minutes I finally figured out where the meeting point was and was found by the shuttle about 10minutes later. After a few stops to pick up others we headed out into Sydney. I was staying at a hostel called The Maze, one of the older and more popular hostels, according to the website. It turned out to be quite large and maze was an understatement. I am sure there are backpackers wandering the halls lost for decades trying to check out.

I was shown a 6 bed dorm and as I placed the key in the lock I relished in the thought of collapsing in a bed… only to discover the lock was busted. Too tired to lug my bags down 3 flights of stairs I left them and went in search of someone. Luckily I found someone only 2 flights down and soon had the manager and assistant manager attempting to open the room. Eventually they offered me a free upgrade to a 4 bed dorm and I was led back into the maze. As it turns out sheer exhaustion appears to have given me a better sense of direction as I found the room before the assistant manager who had argued with me that the hallway, that ultimately contained my room, was not the right hallway. But I managed to open this door only to discover that I would have the top bunk of the squeaky beds, I remember when I used to love top bunks… does this mean I am getting old or smarter??

As it turned out I was too tired to sleep and so had a shower and then headed out to try find a meat pie for dinner. I was directed to an Irish pub and what I got was essentially so so irish stew with a massive pastry dome and some chips. At least the pastry was good.

There were certain signs that let me know I wasn’t in the States anymore, such as:

It turns out that finding wifi in South America was way easier than finding it in Australia, and when you do manage to find some it costs you an arm and a leg. So when I purchased my 24hr internet card (giving me 24hrs from the time of activation) I was determined to use it to the fullest and managed to keep myself awake watching online tv until a whopping 7pm Aussie time. Then I promptly passed out.

Canberra bound
Due to the price of things and general confusion as to what the heck I was supposed to do in the land downunder now that I had made it here, I decided to head to friend’s house in Canberra. Most who I told of this plan looked at me dumbfounded saying “but there is nothing in Canberra”. Turns out there is a beautiful lake, good friends and a free couch… sounded good to me. I spent the week getting over jet lag, fighting off a cold, watching internet TV and working on my blog. All in all a great week.
Some pics from Canberra:

During my recoup time in Canberra I browsed the gumtree posts, essentially the same as craigslist. I cam across the following ad:
Experience Aussie Farm Life
Free accomodation, free food, free horse riding or riding lessons all for only 3hrs of work a day. Set on a beautiful beef farm near the town of Boorowa.

Sounds near perfect, so I called up and headed out… little did I know…

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Australia, RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Flying over the Pacific – Day 105-108

April 28th to April 30th

LA to Fiji, leg 1
My Air Pacific flight left at 11.30pm and would fly for 10hours and 40 minutes into Fiji. I then had a 4hr layover and a further 4hour and 40minute flight before I arrived… 2 days later. Since I was leaving on the 28th of April it meant that I would also miss the Royal Wedding as I flew somewhere over the Pacifc. Got to love the international date line.

I have never been able to sleep on airplanes/buses/trains or any other form of transport where you have to sit up. If I have 2 -3 seats and I can literally stretch out then there is no worries and I can usually get in enough twenty winks to be somewhat with it for the rest of the trip. As it turned out karma was against me and the flight was not only chock-a-block full but also had the token screaming baby… make that 3. I managed to watch a couple of movies but as the screens were micro sized and at a weird angle it wasn’t as enjoyable as it usually is. At one point my neighbor offered to let me try sleep in the 2 rows between him and another passenger. I managed to squeeze in and was just about to nod off when I felt a glare turned on me, turned out the other passenger had just decided she wanted those seats. So I apologised and moved back to mine, where I stared into nothingness, or rather fidgeted and sighed, for the next 5hrs.

Fiji For 4hrs
Arriving in Fiji we were greeted by a blast of hot humid air and a local band of large Fijian men wearing sarongs, playing ukeleles and with flowers in their hair. Definately made me want to stay in Fiji and explore a bit more.

For the next 4hrs I wondered around the airport and tried napping on some very hard chairs. Eventually I made a few bracelets and then finally it was boarding time. I had the exact same seat as the previous flight and I just hoped that it would give me a couple of empties to try sleep…how wrong I was!

Fiji to Sydney, leg 2
I boarded the flight and with 2 empty seats my hope started to rise, only to be dashed to smithereens as first an Aussie lady and then and Indian fella sat down next to me. Add to that the baby with an ear infection one row over and 3 more scattered through out the plane and the fact that I got to hear the entire life story of the Indian fella this was going to be a very long 4hr flight. The final straw was when our row was the only row that had a defective entertainment system. I finally gave up on sleeping and just turned to our wonderful flight attendant and coffee, much to his amusement. Then I started working on a few bracelets. I even had a Fijian guy ask to buy one, but as he had only large bills and I had no change I just gave it to him. It also means I have a contact in Fiji if I ever get there. He also introduced me to another passenger who happened to be from Tonga, so now I have a contact there too, sweet!!!!

The most amusing thing was the condensation leak from the overhead bins in the aisle next to me, led to numerous giggles as we all tried to figure out a way to prevent drippage on people.

Finally the flight landed in Sydney and I wandered through immigration, then customs line one, then stood in customs line 2 for 20minutes only to be waved through at the end… but by that point I didn’t know if I was coming or going anyway and was just happy that I was still standing upright, but I could tell that ability was rapidly coming to an end!

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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San Fran/Eugene/LA – Day 105-112 – Easter Surprises!

April 21st – 28th 2011

San Fran
My friend, Rachel, had to work during the day so I decided to unpack, do laundry, download photos and work on my blog. I also had the chance to go for brunch with a friend I had met in Spain. It’s always great catching up with folks you meet on your travels.

Around lunch time I decided to pop out for some food and opted for something from Safeways. I got about 5 steps in and then froze… artificial lighting, elevator music and so much food and choice… my brain could not fathom the choices. I finally decided on cheesy bread, salami and cheese. The deli lady was from El Salvadore and we chatted a bit in Spanish. Am really missing that aspect of traveling in a non-English speaking country, I truly love the challenge of communication.

The rest of the day was spent trying to sort out the nuclear bomb that appeared to have hit my bag and figure out how to get everything into one bag so that I could get it all to Eugene the next day. After some sorting and deciding and tossing out I finally managed it.
You know you are a backpacker when you can fit a closet into a bag!

Surprise!!!
I had decided to surprise my parents for easter and had managed to find some reasonably priced tickets. Keeping secrets from my mom has always been nigh impossible for me (my brother and father stopped telling me what gifts they bought her when I was 5 as I kept giving it away). But somehow I managed to keep this one under my belt and it was so worth it. My friend Sarah, picked me up from the airport, we stopped in at a store and picked up some blue bunny ears and a bunch of flowers and headed to the folks. The story was that Sarah was going to stop by and drop off something I had left in her drawer at work, this way ensuring at least one of the folks would be home.

Sarah walked up while I hid behind a hedge. Dad opened the door and the conversation went like this:
Dad: hey Sarah, how are you?
Mom: hi there Sarah
Sarah: I am good, this is what I found in my drawer
Kathy: Surprise!!
Mom: What are you doing here?
Kathy: Surprise!
Dad: yes, but what are you doing here? You are supposed to be in SF or somewhere!
Kathy: oh for pete’s sake folks don’t I get a hug!

Got to love leaving your folks essentially speechless and shell shocked! Of course that didn’t mean they would run out to get me the steak I had been craving, mainly because they had just had some for lunch.

Easter Egg Hunt
Saturday I made a store run to pick up candy and plastic easter eggs. Today my best mate, Darcie, was bringing her 2 and a half (one still incubating) kids for lunch and an easter egg hunt. Dad and I stuffed the eggs, he decided some of them should be stuffed with Bob the squirrel’s peanuts (and people wonder why I have a warped sense of life with a father like that).

Side note ~ we have a wild squirrel, dubbed Bob by my mum, who comes and literally knocks at the glass sliding door until we give him a peanut, recently he demands 2.

It was a great day with 2 beautiful girls running around trying to find the eggs and then being very good and making sure each one had the same number and not eating the candy until after lent. Then we had a fantastic steak lunch (mmmmm steak), but all good visits come to an end and it was soon time for them to head home. Its crazy to think the next time I see them there will be 3 little ones.

On the Road Again
After Easter Sunday brunch at friends, repacking and sorting my bag again, it was time to head out again. So often when you are on the road all you want is a weekend at home to recoup but it never seems possible. It was great being able to make that wish a reality, especially as it could be over 7months before Iget to see the folks again.

Living it Large in LA
My next stop was a few days with a friend in LA. I had worked with Alex at the Woodland Park Zoo and when a cheap ticket to Sydney popped up on my radar it was the perfect opportunity to catch up. Since Alex had to teach a bio lab the first day I sat in a local coffee shop and worked on blog entries. Then we went and explored some of the area around Cloverfield (the suburb she lived in). Day 2 we met up with a good friend of hers deep in the LA jungle, went for a pedicure and then headed along the coast.

A stop for some amazing seafood and then a quick break on the beach. The water was beautiful, the beach was stunning… Except for the highway behind us and the freezing temps of the ocean, it was perfect.

My last day in LA was spent relaxing, we went for a long walk to the store and then had nap time and finally finished packing. The flight to Sydney left at midnight, I hate midnight flights as I always have trouble sleeping on planes, and little did I know what this trip was going to entail.

Stay tuned for another full day of travel, this time by plane…

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Lima to San Fran – Day 104 cont… – Did someone say Security?

April 20th 2011

It’s too bloody early…
Having a flight at 6.30am means getting up at 3.45am and heading to the airport at 4am. That’s just too early to be healthy. But I managed to roll out of bed, gather my gear and Fernando walked me to my waiting chariot. Then airport bound for my flight from Lima to Bogota, Columbia, a 3hr layover then to San Salvadore, El Salvadore, a 52min layover then into San Fran airport around 10pm. As much as I love to travel, its the actual traveling part I dislike the most.

Airport tax and pisco
I had perfectly calculated my remaining money to ensure that I could cover the airport tax, buy some pisco for my friend in LA and still have some money for food and snacks. My funds included $30 US and 43soles (Peruvian). When I got to airport tax the conversation went like this:
Clerk: that will be 30 please
Me: excellent, here is 30 soles
Clerk: that would be dollars please
Me: American Dollars??!!??
Clerk: yes
Me: ahhh I have $30 and some soles
Clerk: $30 and 2 soles will cover it
Me: well there goes dinner

I tried to draw some money out of the cash machine just to have backup as soles would not be usable outside of Peru, and the exchange rate wasn’t worth changing it. However, Peruvian ATM’s do not like me and so I figured I would try in Bogota. I found duty free and ask for a bottle of pisco that was 40 soles or less, they had one for exactly 40 soles. Sealing it up nicely in a bag I headed to my gate. There weren’t even drinking fountains around but managed to get a glass of free water from one of the restaurants. I now had a whopping 45c US and 27c Peruvian.

Security round 1…2…3…4
I had already gone through the mandatory security check in Lima, but arriving in Bogota they checked my bag again and had me go through a scanner. Then I attempted to find an ATM, none to be found and so used my credit card to get some grub. Then it was onto my gate where I had to go through a full on pat down and rummage through my bag. They also took the pisco out of the protective tin and swished it around, I was waiting for them to take a sip.

Finally made it on my flight an was a little nervous about my next leg as there was only a 52min layover, but we were on time and there were no worries…or so I thought.

As I was waiting to deboard the flight, the attendant (who up to this moment had made all announcements in English and Spanish) made an announcement in Spanish. It went something like this “blah blah Katty Smidt blah blah”. It is very unnerving to hear your name in the middle of a sentence and have no idea what it is about. As I left the plane I was told to talk to the gate person, who told me to go to gate 53. When I got to gate 53 (which was completely cordoned off with stretchy ropes, trapping travelers at the gate for flight to San Fran), the conversation went something like this:
Me: hi, here is my bag and ticket
Security 1: hola, ahhhh Katty Smidt, hey it Katty Smidt
(well searching through my bag)
Security 2: ahhh Katty Smidt, ok.
Me: yes its me, why??
Security 1: Pisco, mmmm
Me: yes its for my friend
Security 2: you need to put in check in, here look
(very small print on inside bag of duty free bag “some items will not be allowed to be carried on for certain flights on certain airlines to certain countries”)
Me: well thats clear as mud
(confused look from security)
Me: no problem just check it.
Security 1: ok
Me: can I leave the barrier to plug in my computer?
(5feet from the barrier was a plug)
Security 1: mmmm no. But come with me.
(follow security 1 out of barrier, down security only stairs to find my checked bag waiting for me to be searched – just in case I magically transported something into it)
Security 1: mmmm bag full, pisco must go in bag
Me: well yes it is full, but I will take out my hiking boots and squeeze it in
(back up stairs to roped off area)
Security 1: you can sit here with computer right by us

Think I was almost on a first name basis with that guy.

Back in the US of A
After anther 6hr flight I finally landed at San Francisco airport and marveled at the fact that I understood everyone. As exciting as understanding was it also seemed like a bit of a let down, no more challenge when it came to communication, it definately made life interesting. Picked up by my mate I prepared to spend the next day chilaxing at her house and planning the best surprise ever…

Stay tuned to hear details…

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Introspective Review of South America

South America was an after thought, if that is possible, I wanted a starting point and I knew someone in Peru, so why not. In truth I was petrified of the thought of heading down to countries where I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the culture and the only thing I knew was that I had to wait for a canoe at some point to volunteer at a wildlife refuge.

You would think after traveling alone in countries like Cambodia, China and Vietnam, this would be a snap. But at the same time, nerves also mean you keep your edge, even if you feel like throwing up most of the time.

After spending 3.5mths in Ecuador and Peru I can truly say, I want to go back. I wish I had had more time to explore and to learn Spanish. Here are just a few things I managed to accomplish while I was there:
– surviving the altitude in Cusco, barely.
– visiting Machu Picchu, and meeting a great friend in the process.
– Exploring lake Titicaca, insert teenage boy giggling here.
– I survived not dying in a car accident while in South America, although I did become religious on more than one occasion.
– I got bitten by a Spider Monkey, then hugged by said monkey.
– Helped with a tail amputation on a wooly monkey.
– Been pooped on by a squirrel monkey.
– Developed biceps.
– Swam in the Amazon.
– Went horse riding for 4hrs through the mountains, and couldn’t sit for the next day.
– got to see blue footed boobies, insert teenage boy giggling again.
– Fell in love…with the beach of Puerto Lopez.
– Tried surfing, need way more lessons.
– got a tan while wearing a bikini.
– Met amazing friends, said goodbye to friends.
– Cried, laughed and danced.
– And most importantly survived with hardly any stomach issues!

All in all it was an amazing trip and it taught me a lot. I have grown a lot physically and emotionally and I have the scars on both to prove it. Thanks to all I met and all who supported me on my journey. Next leg involves Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Sri Lanka, who knows what I will learn there.

To Cathleen, met in Aguas Calientes, you are like a sister to me, thank you so much for being there when I needed you through a fairly emotional part of the trip. I hope to meet up with you again soon my friend.

To Sarah Hayday, the head volunteer of AmaZOOnico: thank you so much for encouraging me to stay and for giving me the best advice ever – don’t make me coffee, make yourself coffee and surround yourself with people who will share their coffee with you.


At start of trip, nervous and very pale.

End of trip, beautiful vivacious well tanned and not afraid to dance on the beach all night

The scars to prove it

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Return to Lima – Day 101-104 – Bus Rides

April 17th to 20th 2011

Another Bus ride
Leaving Puerto Lopez at 4.30am I had a 4.5hr bus ride to Guayaquil bus station, where, I hoped, I would find an international bus to Lima. The problem is finding concrete schedules on the net, they just don’t exist. So you have to go off backpacker gossip, blog tales and general hope that you haven’t missed the last one for the next week.

As it turned out I was lucky and there was a bus on the Cruz Del Sur line that left at noon, only a 2hr wait. There was an internet cafe so I grabbed some coffee and headed to pass the time.

Below is a photographic diary of the trip:

I am in the top right window.

Waiting to leave.

Just made it through Ecuadorian Immigration no problems.

The road to Peruvian Immigration.

Another night on the bus.

But first Dinner.

Breakfast.


Almost there.

Made it. I have now clocked over 115hrs of bus travel in the past 3.5mths. That is more than the last 33yrs combined.

Lima
I didn’t do much in Lima except recover from the trip, repack bags, run a few errands and then prepare to leave again 36hrs after arriving.

The next leg is Australia with a brief stop of 8 days in the US of A. Stay tuned for more adventures…and a few surprises.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Puerto Lopez – Days 95 – 100 – Return to the Beach

April 11th to 16th 2011

Return to Blue Lagoon… sort of
Having made it back to my beloved beach in Puerto Lopez, the struggle of getting there just making the return all the more sweeter. I set about getting myself settled for the week and found all my old mates, and a few new ones still there. Gustavo, the bartender, was happy to see me and we renewed our language exchange, although it was more like a Spanish lesson than an actual exchange. I have decided I really love the language and would like to return here, maybe at the end of my trip, to spend 3mths living and learning Spanish.. and maybe Salsa and Surfing too (all the important “S” words).

Moving Hostels
Since my friend Heidy was in the process of building a hostel and had a private room for $10/night I decided to move over to her place. the hostel owner of Fragata asked where I was moving to and once I explained a friend she understood, but it was a little awkward. Heidy’s hostel, yet to be named, is half way to being done and is a perfect location. Across the road from the beach, right where the fishermen bring in their catch its a great place to pick some fresh food. At present she has 2 small dorm rooms and a private, she is in the process of building the 2nd level, an outside kitchen/bbq area, and doing the garden. It promises to be a very quaint and comfy hostel. (If anyone wants contact details let me know and I will put you in touch with her).

Dinners and beach
The next few days were a whirlwind of making dinners for large groups, having great get togethers and spending the day at the beach. One morning we bought some fresh fish from the incoming catch and cooked it up for dinner, another day we had fish soup, they were kind enough to give me the best part…the head.

There were also many afternoon frappuccinos at our local Columbian cafe with friends, they truly are the best in the world.

Stung by a ray
One particularly lazy relaxing day with Mitch, Rowena and Hettie at the beach ended in quite the episode. The girls went to go swim and shortly after I saw them coming back, Hettie supporting Rowena. Turns out she had managed to find the one sting ray on this part of the beach. We soon were surrounded by locals willing to help and very concerned. The therapy was to melt hot wax onto the sting site, the heat would draw out the poison. Rowena managed to make writhing in pain look sexy, while Hettie sang to her. Definately a scene out of a tv series. Then we got some antibiotics from the pharmacy and, much to her horror, informed her she was not allowed to drink. What is a 20something English girl meant to do on a beach in Ecuador??? Mitch carried her home.

Surf Lessons
Gustavo agreed to give us surf lessons even though his board had snapped in half a month ago. He went and rented a board from a friend and we were off. Well Hettie was, she got it down almost immediately. I on the other hand floundered, swallowed half the ocean and ended up by tweaking my back on the last wipe-out. I did however manage to raise both my knees of the board and start towards the standing position, for about 1second, but there was still knee clearance!

Salsa and Friends
On my second to last night we had a fantastic time. We went down to one of the bars and almost immediately I was asked to dance. We had them throw on salsa and I got to shake my ass all night long, it was fantastic, even if I had to go soak my toes in the water from dancing barefoot on the sand.

All good things come to an end
I have made so many friends while staying in this little town, and had so many amazing experiences. But once again it was time to say goodbye. As I was leaving at 4.30am I said goodbye to as many people as I could the night before. Gustavo was kind enough to meet me and help me carry my stuff to the bus station. He had become a good and dear friend and saying goodbye was hard, even if it had to be done.

I will miss this beautiful beach town and hope to return, but for now it was Lima bound and another day long bus ride.

Some Random Pics

Farewell to one of the most beautiful places on earth

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Quito & Mindo – Days 91 – 94

April 7th to 10th 2011

Morning’s Catch
Woke up at 6.30am and went to watch the morning catch being brought in. There is something so beautiful and vibrant about standing on the beach, frigate birds and pelicans swirling overheard and the sounds of the fishermen bringing in their haul. At the same time it is often tragic what you might find within their catch. Today it happened to be a juvenile whale shark. The first time I have ever seen one and it has to be dead on the beach. I later found out that it was illegal to catch them, but when authorities arrived the guilty party was no where to be found. At the same time you have to understand that fishing is the sole source of income for most of these families, and often things get caught in the nets accidentally.

On the Road Again
Heading back to the hostel I saw Waka Waka (Jordan). His real name is Ayman but his nickname suits him perfectly. We went and grabbed some coffee and then he helped me with my bags to the bus. Another great friend to say farewell to.

It turned out Michi (volunteer from AmaZOOnico) was also on the bus and so we settled in for another long trip, this one totalling 11hrs. The trip was reasonably uneventful except for the fact that a mother / daughter team sat next to me, ending up with 3 of us sharing 2 seats. I didn’t mind too much but it did make comfort non existent. About half way through there appeared to be an issue with one of the passengers and the driver increased speed to the next town where an ambulance was waiting. A young woman was carried off the bus complaining of severe abdominal pain. Hopefully she will be ok. Then the bus pulled off and we continued on our way.

Eventually pulling into Quito at about 9pm. Michi and I shared a cab into town and I arrived at Tiffany and Jose’s apartment just before 10pm. It is great having friends all over the world, and I greatly appreciated having them there. Shortly after I arrived, Tiffany returned from the airport with Emily (a friend from Eugene, Oregon) and soon we were all chatting about jungle experiences and flight details.

A day in the city
Emily and I caught a cab the next day into town and spent the morning exploring Plaza Grande, around the presidential palace (where numerous late presidents had been murdered in a variety of ways – note to self don’t run for president in Ecuador). We grabbed a bite to eat with Jose during his lunch break and then continued to walk and marvel at the architecture. At the end of the day we met up with Tiffany and Jose and after a few errands headed back to the house for pizza and a movie.

Hi Ho Hi Ho its off to Mindo we go
Saturday we had an outing planned to a town 2hrs north of Quito. Mindo is located in the cloud forest and is reputed to be very beautiful and have stunning bird life. Due to a change in plans, Tiffany ended up being able to join us after classes had to be canceled. A friend of Jose’s, Marco, was our taxi driver, and with Jose, Emily, Franklin and me squished in the back and Tiffany in the front we headed to first do some errands.

I had decided on a course of action for the final week in Ecuador and had bought an air ticket to Manta where I could catch a bus back to Puerto Lopez, the beach and friends just sounded too good to pass up.
So with a short stop to pick up my ticket at the mall and pick up some coffee we were off.

The road to Mindo is through the mountains and it was particularly windy, I think this made Marco a wee bit too happy and it felt like we were on a roller coaster ride. According to Tiffany he actually behaved himself and the ride was not as crazy as one her parents had endured. But as I was feeling a little down (too many farewells start weighing on you) the squished rollercoaster ride started to make me feel a bit car sick, and it took a lot of concentration (and prayer) to make it through the ride.

Mindo was strikingly beautiful, with green hills and lots of waterfalls. Apparently a tornado had tore up the town just a few days before (apparently tornadoes in Ecuador are non-existent, the weather appears to be a changing). We grabbed some pizza for lunch and picked up a ride into the forest where we could hike to a waterfall. A short way down there was a short cut rope and the boys leaped on that in a heart beat.

Half way down there was a zipline option and again the boys were more than willing to give it a try. Although on the video there appeared to be a lot of hesitation by some of the parties. I continued down the path thinking the others were behind me and only realised later that they had stopped to do the zipline. But I got to see some hummingbirds and interesting plants that I might not have seen had we been in a large group.

At the end of the trail there was a magnificent set of pools and a chance to go down a slide into the rushing river below. As the water was freezing and the only thing stopping you from plummeting down the waterfall was a single rope, I declined, but the others were up for the challenge. We enjoyed ourselves at the pools and I played paparazzi for everyone going down the slides and jumping off the ledges. Then we dried off and prepared for the long trek back up the gorge. Thats the only problem with going down, you have to go back up again afterwards.

Back in town we chowed down on some left over pizza and all collapsed into bed feeling very refreshed but exhausted after the day out.

Market Day
The plan for Sunday had been to go to the town of Otovalo, which is famous for its markets. But due to cost of the trip and working around Tiffany’s work schedule we opted for the markets of Quito. It was probably the right decision as Quito’s markets can be overwhelming and are only a 10th of the size of Otovalo, add to that my inability to make decisions and I would most likely still be in amongst the stalls.

I was able to pick up numerous wonderful gifts, chocolate, coffee and even came across a store with beads and stocked up.

In the evening I made dinner for everyone and while Jose watched football (soccer) in the bedroom the girls broke out an appropriately girly movie. Another great day.

Transport Gods foil my plans again
My plans for Monday were fool proof. Take the 2.30pm flight from Quito to Manta, arriving around 3.30pm. That gave me more than enough time to take a bus back to Puerto Lopez and arrive by 6pm in time for dinner. However, this was not to be. I got a call at 10am saying that the 2.30pm flight was cancelled and I was moved to the 6.30pm flight. This meant that I was 1) stuck in the apartment all day (luckily with Emily), as I had no key and 2) there would be no bus after 6pm and I would either have to spend the night in Manta or take a taxi (working out to about the same cost).

I had some choice words for the transport Gods, but I guess it just makes you appreciate it more when you finally reach your destination. Everything went off without any issues and I arrived in Puerto Lopez at 9pm, almost on the dot much to the pride of the taxi driver, and in time to have a beer with my friends.

Ahhh its good to be back at the beach!

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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