Thailand – take 2 – Diving with MANTAS!!

Upon leaving Australia, Laney and I made our way back to Thailand.  As you may know, we had been in Thailand before and had planned to come the second round for a longer stay. However, because we decided to extend our stay in Australia,  by three weeks, to attend the surf academy, this visit to Thailand would actually be shorter than the last.

One thing I had read about and was excited to do in Thailand was to dive and hopefully see manta rays. I have always been fascinated by this creature and could not imagine the joy I would feel being in the water with one. A creature so huge, so much larger than me, yet harmless and reputedly curious. So, Laney and I hopped a few flights and landed in a town called Khaolak Thailand which is on the west side of southern Thailand. We stayed a few days and relaxed at a mid-level resort which was quite nice. We had some wonderful food, particularly from a tiny shack of a restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. OMG green curry, panang curry! And my favorite – meat with basil and chili. I’m hungry thinking about it!!

Like many places in Thailand, it is completely open – no walls really, no roof less you count the tarp overhead. This takes some getting used to. Yes, of course, there are more western looking establishments around, and we go to those too, sometimes-  but the best food and the best prices are at these little places !!

Above – sharing a smoothie. The ladies who cook and serve got a good laugh when Laney made my ‘sharing straw’ by linking two straws together.  Ha!

Above- you will see one of these Sporit Houses at nearly every home and business. The idea is that there are spirits all around and you make this house for them so they don’t bother you. Each day food or drink or gifts are left. Fanta is a common one. Red I think not orange. And there is speculation about whether a person should drink the Fanta after a day or two or not. Some say it’s very lucky.

Beautiful flowers remind me of birds of paradise

Our patio.

While some building is Thailand are shacks- ok most are, with corrugated metal roofs or just a tarp – other buildings are quite beautiful. And they may be right next to each other.

Above an adorable Coffee house not far from our hotels.

The gardener/grounds/maintenance guy at the resort handed this to me one morning. He had picked it from the garden. He didn’t speak any English and I wasn’t sure at first. But I ate it. Ha. Can’t be insulting the staff you know. It was like a green apple but more tart. Quite good.

Nice small quiet pool.

After those few days we were picked up and driven to the Headquarters of the SCUBA shop where our liveaboard trip would begin. Scuba Adventures. In my opinion a great company. We were booked on a three night cruise leaving one evening and arriving back also in the evening. After the usual rigmarole of registering, storing luggage etc. we picked up some snacks at the grocery next-door and hopped in the truck to drive to the dock. We boarded the boat, were given the usual (somewhat long-winded) instructions and were ready to go. This boat was much more heavily staffed than the one we had done in Australia. There was, I think five or six crew to help with diving gear, driving and cooking – plus six dive instructors – all for about 18 people or guests on board. Pretty good, nearly one on one. And the guys who helped with the diving!! They put your fins on for you!! Ha. Never have I had such service on a dive boat.

That evening we drove out a ways to reach the famous Similan islands. While we were driving we ate dinner and got to know one another. There were some lovely people on the boat from all over the world. Including some from Vermont in the USA some from China, Korea, France, and even Pakistan. I think everyone went to bed early in anticipation of the 4 dives the next day!!

Above, this is nearly all the guests on the boat. Having fun.

Above, Cathy and Perry from Vermont. Loved spending time with these two.

Because Laney has a junior advanced open water certification from PADI we were assigned our own instructor just for the two of us. There are depth limitations with her age and so we were separated from the rest. This suited me just fine, as a smaller group provides more personal attention and, in my opinion, you see more because there aren’t multiple people waiting to look at the same object or creature when the instructor points it out. Plus With fewer people in your group, it’s less likely that anything will go wrong or have issues that hold up the dive time. If you’ve never been diving, it might be interesting to know, that each dive is generally only about 40 minutes long. And that includes time to get down and back up again. In a large group, if someone has trouble with their ears, or some other issue with equipment, the entire group generally has to wait for that person before they can proceed with the dive. As you can imagine this can waste a lot of time. So, I was quite happy it was just the two of us. Especially because we’ve been driving very recently and frequently so the chances of issues were minimal

The next morning, we had an early wake up around 6 AM for our first dive which would happen before breakfast. This day we would do four dives, including the last, which would be a night dive. The second and third days we did three dives each day. We saw many wonderful creatures including  nudibranches, flatworms, blue starfish, crabs, an insane amount of beautiful fish, including puffer fish which were at times very friendly and curious.

During one dive, both laney and I, separately, were bitten by cleaner fish which are very small fish that help other fish in the ocean by cleaning parasites and dirt off of their bodies and from inside their mouth and Gills. Apparently, this fish determined that we were dirty. Ha! It doesn’t hurt, in case you’re wondering.  I guess this fish has no teeth, but it is a bit startling. It’s a bit of a joke, actually, because most times your dive buddies can see the fish following you and checking you out, But they don’t tell you, because they want to see the surprised look on your face when the fish finally decides to take an nibble. Ha. Dive humor. Same policy for sharks. Just kidding.

Here is Laney, Jessie and I in the water at the end of a dive. Photo courtesy of my new friend Cathy from Vermont. Funny, the dive instructors in the boat called her and her. Husband Katy Perry because her name is Cathy and he is Perry. Ha.

Over the 3 nights at sea we saw some amazing scenery. Beautiful islands and rocks rising from a vast blue sea. Some great sunsets and sunrises. Just beautiful.

Our dive instructor Jessie, was amazing. Always energetic, patient, and excited to have us as her dive group. We became somewhat close her and to the couple from the US. I guess birds of a feather, and all that. It was nice to have Americans around, for a change. I was particularly impressed by the dive instructors on this boat. Each of them speaking a minimum of three languages!!! Allowing for this dive operation to accommodate any and all nationalities and countries.

I’m including some pictures that were not taken by us however they are indicative of what we saw in our dive trips on this trip

Above, this is a nudibranch. It’s about 3 inches long

Above a box fish, only about 3 inches long

Above is another kind of box fish

This is a puffer fish  we didn’t see them puff up  I’ve caught a few in NJ though and they puff up when you bring them out of the water.  Puffers can be very small, like the ones I caught in NJ, or rather large like 10 or 14 inches long like some of the ones we saw on this trip. We saw small ones on this trip too. It was the large ones at the last dive site, at the wreck, that were so curious.  One swam right up to my mask and looked at me, then followed me

Overall the diving was really amazing. The visibility was incredible. And so many things to see. And I’ve never been so relaxed in the water. Well, I wasn’t relaxed on one dive but that story is coming.

They were a few specific experiences that I feel are worth mentioning on the dive trip. One was watching an octopus that our instructor spotted. These are particularly hard to see if you do not have a trained eye, as they are heavily camouflaged and look very much like the coral rocks that they live around. Anyway, Jessie spotted the octopus which was not very large, smaller than a volleyball. We watch the octopus crawl around and hide inside his rock. Then we patiently waited, being as still as possible, and he came back out again. The way they move is like magic.

Another interesting find was during the night dive when I spotted an enormous red reef crab hiding in a rock. At first I only spotted his claw. But then moved and saw the entire thing. It was bigger than a dinner plate.

I also managed to spot a few Nudibranches as well as some boxfish. The box fish are so tiny and so cute with their square bodies. And they come and some of the most beautiful colors. Also, of course, we saw lots of clown fish. Some, of the black variety, which I like very much. And eels. Lots of eels. Some of the giant morally eels. Some of the colorful eels.

We also saw some flatworms. One was swimming through the water. They are so adorable! Wiggling their entire tiny body in what seems like a fruitless effort to get anywhere. Such a tiny vulnerable creature trying to swim in an enormous ocean!

Another cool sighting was the black and White Sea snake. We saw him up pretty close and watched him swim away. Very beautiful. Very fast. Very poisonous too although we were told that, while their venom is deadly to humans, you would have to inject it to die because heir teeth aren’t long/strong enough to penetrate our skin. Ha. This one was at least 4 feet long. Very impressive.

Jesse also pointed out some tiny tiny creatures like a spearing shrimp and a sea horse type creature called a pipe horse.

Most importantly, WE SAW MANTA RAYS!! Not one but two!!! It was the most amazing experience possibly of my entire life. Yes even better than child birth. I mean, we all know that’s got some downsides. Ha.

We were swimming out into the blue, as they call it, which means away from the reef and toward the open sea – like the drop off in Finding Nemo. We were hoping to spot some sharks. We had been told that it was not a good season or year for the manta rays and that hardly any had been spotted in the last few months which was peak season for them. I have not been very hopeful about seeing them and had resigned myself to enjoy the diving for what it was. But, we swim out to the blue and all of a sudden, coming from far away out of the blue, I saw something — big swooping wings!! A FREAKING MANTA RAY!!! . I frantically grabbed both Jessie and Laney screaming into my regulator to get their attention. I pointed and they saw. Jessie grabbed both Laney and I forcing us to stay still. I guess, fearing we would swim towards it. We sat there suspended in the water as the manta ray swim towards us. At first it swAm overhead so close, Laney could’ve touched it. But of course, she did not. That would be improper. Then, as we stayed in the same spot, the manta ray met up with another manta ray. About 10 yards away. They came together, belly to belly, facing the sky, and twirled around each other and what looked like a dance, or maybe it was a challenge. Then they swim away one on top of the other beyond where we could see. Of course, we were ecstatic, over the moon excited. But then, one came back!!  He came back, and swam in front of the three of us and very specifically and obviously trained one of his eyes on us within 5 feet of our faces. Examining us, maybe trying to figure out what we were. He hovered there for at least a minute then proceeded to swim around us a few more times. Unfortunately, my excessive excitement caused me to breathe heavily. My crying, not just tears but actual sobbing – underwater, may have had something to do with my air consumption. I was running out of air. Jessie, our instructor, obviously had stayed calmer than me, and she had air to spare, so we were able to stay down a little longer. I never ended up needing her air, but I probably came back to the boat with very little.

I can’t even describe to you what an amazing experience it was. It brings me to tears just writing this. I hope I get to do that again someday. I’m told in the Philippines they see them often. I’m definitely gonna make it there.

Upon completing the dive trip, we return to land and once again to Khaolak. This time, we would stay in a different hotel, which I thought was a little further away. Much to my surprise, it was a mere block away from the original hotel. Ha! And – happy days- near that little shack of a restaurant that we loved. With all the food and banana smoothies to boot!! Laneys fave. Both of these small resorts were somewhat hidden and on small streets at least one kilometer from the main action. Which is kind of how I like it. In both resorts,  I was able to rent a bicycle for 100 baht per day which is about three American dollars.  This proved to be the best way to see the sights. Although, one evening when Laney and I rode to dinner the pedal of my bike kept coming off. Yikes! Ha!! Challenges.

A side note in food and drink in Thailand. There are several places that we have visited that we cannot drink the tap water. We are also told no uncooked food of any kind. Unless we wash and prepare it ourselves. Not only is this extremely limiting, and annoying (try to brush your teeth and remember not to use any water) but it also just give you an icky feeling all around. At least for us it did. And then there is all that gray area. Like, washing dishes and can you use them if they aren’t dry? Wash your vegetables in bottled water? No mixed drinks in the restaurant because they have ice? Or lime?

On our first visit to Thailand we ate at the resort restaurant and mostly avoided uncooked food. However at the lunch lessons with our instructors everyone was ordering drinks with lemon and fruit so we did too. Hence the start of Laneys banana smoothie obsession. Ha. We had found. Good cheap restaurant that we didn’t have to worry about eating at.

Now In Khaolak, same thing. We saw a recommendation in the resort reviews for this restaurant so we tried it. Banana and watermelon smoothies included. We felt fine so we continued to trust that restaurant. And we were fine.

Then in Vietnam, we stuck to restaurants our guide suggested. Or hot food. And at times branched out to other places. Banana smoothies and passion fruit mojito were our best friends. Ha. My conclusion is that as long as it’s a reputable place, either by a personal recommendation or by looking nice and being busy with foreigners – it’s ok. We took some chances. But we used our judgement and it was fine.

But brushing teeth with bottled water is still annoying!! Ha.

Overall, we did spend quite a bit of time relaxing at the hotel before and after the dive trip as spending three days on a boat is tiring enough and doing 10 dives besides – it’s practically exhausting. Ha.

A couple interesting random things

One was this takeaway carrier for drinks, like smoothies. I have not seen these in the US have you?

And these. Crackers? No I did not try them. Ha.

Out of Thailand and off to Vietnam.

Vietnam

Our arrival in Vietnam was probably our most eventful yet.  Not really in a good way. Ha

For starters, the Visa on Arrival process is a little disconcerting. We  had all our paperwork in order, photos printed, paperwork filled out and the approval letter in -hand.  We turn it all in, along with our passports, and wait on some benches nearby to see our name come up on a screen.  We were one of the first people off the plane so there weren’t too many people waiting but it was unnerving to hand over our passports. Laney had questions and concerns. I had no solid answers except that this seems to be the process and we can see others doing it. HA. That is as much assurance as you can get sometimes in travel.

We got called, we paid our money in USD because we had no access yet to an ATM or currency exchange, we got our passports back and THEN went through immigration.

Got our bags and grabbed an Uber to our place

the Uber ride was great  our driver was young and spoke a little English. We passed over the beautiful bridge that was lit up in changing colors. As he pulled off the main road he seemed confused  turned around once or twice. At one point the car hit a bump and I think was stuck judging by the crunching sound. He ordered us to get out. We reluctantly did. Did I mention it’s 10 pm and dark? And things look a little sketchy by US standards.  And our luggage is in the trunk.  He gets the car unstuck then tells us our place is a 100 meter walk down a narrow road that he cannot drive. I confirm that google shows me the way, and we set off. When we get to the spot that google tells us it’s looking kinda rough, but I see women and families walking around so it must not be too bad . I tell this to Laney to try to keep her calm. We are looking for #22 and we see #19 and #25 in front of us. Right next to each other. No 22.  Uh oh

We walk a bit down the road/ alley and I see a family with a little girl and baby unloading their car. I approach them and thank goodness they speak some English.  I ask them by showing them the address and the woman says it’s 1km away and tries to tell us how Tom walk there. I ask her if she can help,us get a taxi I don’t want to try to find our way and we have big bags. I am a bit hesitant to walk in this unknown area in the dark and I’m certain we will get lost. No way we will find the place without the help of a map and google has failed me for the first time.

She walks up the hill/driveway with us and flags down a taxi. A complete miracle this is because we are on a very quiet back street with hardly any cars. The driver is off duty but agrees to come back in 5 minutes. He has food in his hands as he walks away from the car so he is either delivering something or eating his dinner.  I am relieved. Laney is still freaking out. IDO eyeball a guy standing near us in workout clothes, but soon the driver comes, loads up our luggage and takes us to the right place which looks a little better but not much. Ha.inside our place is immaculate, gorgeous and HUGE! And the door man is kind enough to help us turn on the AC. (because it’s not in English of course). HA!

WHEW  Welcome to Vietnam!!

The next day I do my usual exploring and grocery shopping. On my own, Laney isn’t feeling well  – a fever, yikes.

In my wandering I see a few cool spots including Furbrew which I tell myself I’m coming back to later, and i do, and it’s awesome. The staff is a handful of college students, mostly women but one guy. They are friendly and speak good English and we have a great conversation about their lives. One wants to work in travel. The other wants to be a translator. They all want to travel. They ask where I’m going in Vietnam and give me pointers. I ask where to get pho and they suggest a place and I go the next morning (pho is eaten in the morning) and it’s awesome

I also looked up a restaurant nearby for dinner one night -and enjoyed a wonderful experience and meal.  Poor Laney stayed home. I think she would have even if she wasn’t sick. So far, based on our arrival, she was not liking Vietnam. Ha

LOOK at that beer list!! Yay!
Condiments available for adding to your pho. I used soy and the red pepper sauce and some fresh chili’s.
Pho choices. Thank goodness there was an English description.

Being near the flower night market I think there were more of these in this area than others. Women selling beautiful flowers from a bike.
Gorgeous right?

I attended an Airbnb experience which was a dinner in the old quarter. I had some trouble with the Uber getting there but finally made it. The food was vegetarian and good. The company was partly American and partly German. Nice folks but we didn’t hang together long.
The entrance area to the Forest  restaurant.
Inside the restaurant
Beautiful inside the restaurant.
Delicious meal of fresh spring rolls and eggplant
Entrance
Cool restaurant in our neighborhood in the skirts of Hanoi

Aa few days later, we moved to our tour hotel in the Old Quarter.  I could not Believe how busy it was !! And loud! Constant honking!!

My friend Leslie suggested I stop by this posh hotel to see the pool bat and have a drink.
I asked, and the waitress suggested this fancy drink – the most expensive one there but still only about fifteen American. I had no idea what this would entail.
It’s hard to see in the picture but the liquor is being poured through 3 cups of spices and caught at the bottom. It is also on FIRE! Cool. It is caught at the bottom in a steel pitcher and while still on fire in the pitcher it is poured back through over and over.

The drink was very unique – the flavors were so amazing and different without being sweet. It included chili pepper so it also hd a kick. And it was served with lovely munchies.

Walking around Hanoi,  especially in the old quarter, is quite an experience! There are so many bikes, mixed with some cars, and there are no real laws regarding traffic. What we would consider a law, the Vietnamese consider only a suggestion. For example, which side of the road you should be driving on.  At times, I thought I was crossing a one-way street. But, not so! It is a 2 Way Street! only, if there’s no traffic the other way, people drive on the full width of the street.  Also, traffic lights. It is absolutely not unusual for cars and especially motorbikes to continue driving through a red light.

Crossing the street, especially in the old quarter,  is a little different for Local’s versus tourists. Locals will literally just start walking, completely trusting that the traffic won’t hit them. Tourists, on the other hand, wait for traffic to lighten up, a little bit. However, there is never a time when you can cross without traffic. You are always walking slowly, making eye contact with the drivers, trying to better the chances that they will drive in front or behind you, instead of through you.

Of course, my favorite trick, was to follow the locals across the street. Particularly, the older women in the traditional Vietnamese pointed hat. It seemed like the Red Sea would part for them. So if you align yourself with the right person you are much better off.

As usual, we met with our tour group at 6 PM in the lobby, and then headed out to dinner. It was a mix of people, some older, some about my age, and one young person, Lila, who is 21 and traveling alone. She immediately expressed gratitude at being with the group, versus the first few days on her own in Hanoi and other parts of Vietnam.

Lake at the center of Hanoi
Cool statue in front of a building. There were two, and they were about my size!
Narrow hallway to our hotel room
First dinner with the Vietnam tour group
Pumpkin soup was really good and pretty common in Vietnam.
Fish with dill ina banana leaf
Traditional Vietnamese hats – apparently come in many sizes, including tiny ones for tiny people? HA
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Laney and Laila at the post it cafe.
Jim, Jackie and I at the post it cafe where we had our first egg coffee! OMG so good I can’t wait to make it at home!!
Beautiful – not even sure what it is! HA!
Perfectly aligned motorbike parking! Vietnam is the self-proclaimed motorbike capital of the world! In Ho Ch Minh City (formerly Saigon) there are about 11 million people, and 8.5 million motorbikes!!!
Gorgeous enormous tree growing in the middle of Hanoi.
Statue at the water puppet theater.
We attended the obligatory water puppet show which was pretty cool.
Crabs for sale on the streets of Hanoi.
My favorite meal here next to lemongrass chili chicken. Pronounced Boon Chow.
Bun Cha and a Hanoi beer. Known as the Obama combo because this is what obama ate when he was here!
Selling chicken on the street. Heads included!
Street food tour!! One of my favorite things of the whole dang trip! Great food, great fun and I learned a lot. The Bun Cha was on this tour too, that’s how I learned about the Obama combo.
Pronounced Bang Me. I laughed when the girl said it. She said it’s important that Me be lower than Bang. Tone of up or down has a lot of meaning in Vietnam.
BIA. In Vietnam, you say beer like a Boston guy. This is the beer lady. This beer is made fresh every day and only lasts 24 hours. And costs about 25 cents per glass. But it’s good!!
Chicken feet for sale!!
This is a snack, kind of like donut holes. We were advised not to eat them from the women selling them in the streets as they could be old.  These are cut up.  They are savory, not sweet. They have pork and I think green beans in them.
Vietnamese Apple. Looks like the thing the garden guy gave me in Thailand. Tastes about the same too.
EGG COFFEE AND EGG HOT COCOA! So so good!!
Ok so weasel coffee is coffee beans eaten by a weasel then pooped out then cleaned and sold for grinding and making coffee. I shit you not. Hahaha.

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As per our tour itinerary, we were to leave the next evening to take the overnight train to the north west of Vietnam, close to the borders Of China and Laos. We would be Viking a nearby minority’s village, then spending a night in a SaPa hotel, then trekking to a remote minority village for a homestay, then coming back by van and heading back to Hanoi for another night

Drums that are hand made by the people in the small minority’s village we visited.
Our cabin on the overnight train! A little old but clean. Sleeping was interesting, as the turns of the train Almost rolled you over and would have tossed me out of bed a few times but for the rail holding me in! I thought I slept well but got really tired later so I guess I did not!
Beautiful flowers are supposed to have medicinal powers. I think to help with hangovers. Bean sprouts, by the way, are supposed to help men, like Viagra.
The rooster is outside the cage, seemingly patrolling or guarding the hens inside….hmmm
A group of kids playing Chinese chess
A quick shot of a cave we went into at the top of the hill at the village.
Beautiful views from the bus on the way to SaPa
Beautiful
Outside a small local restaurant in SaPa
White rooster perched outside a hotel entrance.
Grapefruit tree outside the same hotel.
Beautiful shot looking down on SaPa
Hot pot dinner with the group. They bring all the food uncooked and you put it in the broth to cook it. Kinda like fondue. Same same, but different – as they say in Vietnam.
Church at SaPa lit up,at night.
Small children dress up in traditional costum and sell their wares. This was not during school hours but we were warned not to buy from kids because then they don’t go to school
Hot wine!! All of Vietnam was hot and humid butnSaPa was COLD. this hot wine with fresh fruit after dinner hit the spot! Supposedly a specialty of SaPa
Beautiful views on our trek. It was about 10 km
Beautiful
These ledges are built by hand with shovels. The government owns the land but allocates a certain amount per person to farm the rice and eat it or sell it. Families work together to divide the work of farming while others work in tourism or construction.
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Beautiful homes on stilts.
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At our rest spot on the trek we chewed sugar cane to extract the juice and then you spit out the fiber. Obviously it’s very sweet but quite refreshing!
We see how rice and wheat were ground into flour. I tried it, it’s not easy! Those parts are made from stone and they are HEAVY!!
Pretty flowers on the trek
The trek group with the local women.
End of the trail I meet Laney at the homestay… and she wants to take a walk. HA!!! I’ve been walking all day but I go anyway.
Pretty river near the homestay
Dinner at the homestay, with homemade rice wine. It was SO good tasted strong but smooth and clean.
Food at the homestay dinner. So so good. I don’t have a pic but we had crepes the next morning. PILES of crepes.

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Laney and Laila at dinner
The local women pulled leaves and branches from the bamboo on the path to make us figures. I thought it was a chair. Ha. Laney says it’s an animal.
Hard to see in this pic but these are supposed black footed chickens who also have black meat, and they are supposed to have medicinal powers. Imagine a black chicken breast? Doesn’t sound very appetizing to me.
This cat was in a bar in SaPa. He climbed down from the chimney when we arrived. Maybe fearing someone would light a fire? We called him squeaky because he NEVER SHUT UP. HA.
Squeaky.
Cats around the world.
Pretty
Love this photo
Back in Hanoi for one more night, I decided I must try the popular beer snack. Chicken feet with dipping sauce.
Time to try a local specialty, fried chicken feet. They had pickled too but I just couldn’t do that. Best part of this photo is Laney in the background, cringing.
Have to say the fingernails, rather toenails, freaked me out a bit.
Not bad!! Tastes like fried chicken. The colnel should get these going at KFC!! Think they would be a hit? HA.
Only Stan and I tried it. He’s one first guy on the left.
Cooking eating on the sidewalk is normal in Hanoi. In Vietnam in general. Seats are small so they can be moved quickly. Technically you aren’t supposed to sit on the sidewalk. Forces pedestrians to walk in the street and I’ve already explained about the street traffic. Nonetheless, the sidewalks are crowded with people and chairs. If and when the police come, everything must be moved off the sidewalk. Although I think this may depend on the ‘relationship’ you have with the police if you know what I mean.
Another person cooking. Not just for businesses, but how they cook their own meals as far as I can tell.
Next day on the way to Halong Bay we stopped at a place where disabled folks make crafts like needlework and carvings from stone. Some of these folks are born disabled supposedly due to the lingering effects of agent orange. Either environmentally or passed genetically.
I so want this Buddha.
A candy/cake meant to be eaten with unsweetened green tea. This cake is rather sweet and supposedly made from green beans.
Our room on the Halong Bay boat. So much nicer than the dive boats! Private bathroom! Who boo.
Beautiful flowers, prickly stem. Relatable for me.
Beautiful Halong. I have to say it would have been prettier on a sunny day. And it’s rather crowded, boats everywhere. There is a nearby bay that is not as crowded, and I would have gone there if I was on my own but sometimes it’s just so much easier to let someone else be in charge, like Rocky at G Adventures. . Ha.
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There. Are 1,969 islands in Halong Bay and the area is over 1000 km!! If you stay overnight for 2 or more nights you go out further and there are fewer people
This is the other bay.
After our stay on the boat, we went to a pearl factory. Where they raise the oysters, and pearls and then make them into jewelry. Did you know a cultured pearl is made by putting a seed made from oyster shell INTO an oyster? Then toss him in the water and wait a few years. Pull him out and harvest the oyster. Who knew? Before this process, only naturally occurring oysters were available and thus were much more expensive.
Harvesting pearls. Imperfect ones are sold and ground up for cosmetics.
Oyster surgery. She is inserting the seed in JUST the right place.
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Laila and Laney.
Dinner with the group. Notice Laney is sitting as FAR AWAY from me as possible. Ha. Yes, we spend a lot of time together so when we can, we separate. Ha.

After Halong Bay we made our way back to Hanoi for a few hours, picked up our bigger luggage and hopped on another overnight train to Hue. Pronounced something like We with an H at the beginning  HWE.  In Hue, we had a nice dinner and everyone opted for the motorbike tour the next day.  ‘Professional’ drivers would drive us around Hue to see all the sights  I have to say, this was one of our favorite things in Vietnam.  So much more interesting and interactive than traveling by car or bus. And you get around faster too!  We were mainly out of the city, Thank goodness because the bit where we came back into town to our hotel was a bit crazy! We loved it but I’m not sure we were all that safe.  Ha

First stop on the motorbike tour is this Japanese bridge.
BABY DUCKIES!! For sale in the market.
Fruits and vegetables in the market many I cannot identify with any certainty
Bridge
Bridge
Beautiful field of rice. In the north, Sapa, it had not yet been planted. Because of the cooler weather they do one planting per year up north. Two per year in central Vietnam, and three per year in the south.
Green as far as you can see.

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Fish at the kings residence, no longer in use. We learned about the mandarins and the concubines. THe king could declare any woman a concubine if she caught his eye, and she was required to live in his compound and be his until he chose to let her go. Usually upon his death. Even if she was married it’s children, she was required to desert them !!

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More sights inside the imperial city.
Inside the imperial city.
The motorbike gang. Ha.

hen biking it was suggested we wear masks due to the air quality. Many many people in Vietnam wear these when riding a motorbike. Ours were disposable but quality ones are for sale on the street by the thousands in every conceivable color and pattern imaginable!

Beautiful Buddha at the temple we stopped for lunch.
Beautiful orchids at the temple. I think Vietnam has the perfect weather for orchids. Hot and humid.
Pretty!!
Also at the temple.
Buddha at the temple
Laney and her motorbike guide.
Crazy cool looking Jeep.

Above, display of incense for sale.  Each color is a different scent.

Laney took a turn at rolling the incense onto the stick. It’s like a dough-like consistency and you roll it onto the stick. It takes 24 hours to dry after that before you can use it.

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I saw this painting and I wanted it so much. I just love it…

Beautiful river

Our motorbike gang, HA.

Beautiful stairway at the king’s burial place.  According to Rocky (our guide), most likely the kings bodies are not really there – they are buried by very few of their closest guards, and likely moved to a secret location.

Can one BE cool, with a face mask? HA I gave it my best shot!

Lunch at the Budhist temple.

Laney makes it look cool. hA

Drinks with the rowdy group after motorbikes and dinner. Some are saying the Vietnamese ‘cheers’, which is Moat, Hi, Bah, ZO (spelled phonetically). For one, two, three, cheers.

This is either the shrine I stepped on, or one that looks a lot like it.  In my defense, it was basically right behind my chair when I was sitting having my drink.  I was SO MORTIFIED when I did it. But the waiter says it happens a lot.  Perhaps they should find a different place to put it.  HA

When in Hoi An, we took bicycles around the countryside. Between the rice fields.

This is a photo of a famous post card in Vietnam. Its supposed to be the oldest couple in Vietnam.

Cool statue. We stopped at a lookout point when traveling from Hue to Hoi An.  The top of the Hai Van Pass.  I bought a Buddha stone necklace (for about $3) and snapped this photo of a cool statue.

A cool bike in Hoi An made of bamboo. Bamboo and coconut are so commont, they are used for many many things.  

 

Beautiful table setting for our group dinner.

Beautiful lanterns

One of Laney’s favorites – dragon fruit. Everyone in the group knew, if they didn’t want theirs, Laney would eat it. HA

Beautiful wildflowers growing along the rice fields.

AND, here I am with that famous old couple from the postcard. We visited their organic farm and got to try a few things like watering the garden manually.  He’s like 97 and she is like 90 if memory serves. Obviously, that’s a pretty long time to live – for anyone, but more so when you consider the average lifespan in Vietnam is less than 60 years! that’s like someone in the US living to 120..

Beautiful homes that border the farm.

Water buffalo were very common in Vietnam. Grazing in or near the rice fields. We had the opportunity to have a photo taken while ON the buffalo. I chose to take a selfie. HA

Beautiful beaches of Hoi An.

A snack served before our ‘boat’ ride. We were to ride on coracles, which are small round boats powered by paddle

 

Gorgeous palms (I guess they are some kind of palm) on the edges of the waterways.

 

A grasshopper ring that my boat ‘captain’ made for me from a leaf!

and a beautiful flower!

 

 

 

HA! This guy nailed it. A fishing pole and fish for me! Again, he made it in 5 minutes from a leaf nearby. So cool. I couldn’t take it with me so I gave it to Stan (friend on the tour) for his grandson

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We went to a noodle making class in Hoi An. It is sponsored by the tour company G-Adventures. Its such a cool concept, I could see coming back here. The organization, Streets, takes young people from impoverished conditions and trains them in the food and restaurant industry. They teach them too cook, or serve, and graduates from here are much in demand at the high-end establishments around Vietnam. The course INCLUDES learning English and it’s an 18-month program. This may be a great volunteer opportunity for me in the future.

 

 

This is launching the boat – but on the way back to the ‘dock’ / land, we raced, and, of course, my boat won. Well, because I had to. HA. I paddled as hard as I could, with absolutely no mind to steering. The ‘professional’ probably had a hard time keeping us on course. Steering a ROUND boat is pretty tough! HA.

Lanterns around Hoi An. So beautiful day and night.

Laney trying her hand at being a Vietnamese street vendor. It was HEAVY! Good, go to college. HA.

Oh Look, an Irish Pub. How shocking. I swear there is one everywhere. AND, we were in Vietnam on St. Pattys’.

My favorite motorbike I saw in Vietnam. This was in Hoi An.

 

Pina colada for Laney

Most expensive drink I had in Vietnam. And the cheapest dirty martini I’ve ever had in a bar/restaurant. Maybe $4??

A common sight – restaurants serving on the sidewalk.

While in Hoi An, we floated some lighted lanterns on the river for some special people in our lives. Laney and I each did one for my Mom, and I did one for Mai Hong, a Vietnamese girl in my class in grade school, who was killed in 8th grade. Jackie, a Canadian woman we became close to on the tour, and her husband, Jim, lit one for their moms too. We definitely bonded over missing moms.

Beautiful sights from the river

Another Irish pub. Not a seat in the house on St Patty’s night! Live Irish Music and everything.


This is a dragon fruit tree. FREAKY LOOKING right?? We visited an island in the Mekong Delta where the residents grow fruit. The Mekong experience was SO much fun. Boats, and tuk tuks and sleeping al fresco.

Dorian fruit tree (I think – they look similar to Jack fruit so I’m not 100% sure)

Special tea they served on the fruit island.

These urns, as you can see, collect the rainwater from the roof of the home.

 

Durian fruit

Small pineapple plant. For decoration.

I think the small fruits above are eaten by the locals and give a booze/cigarette kind of high. If you eat like 50-100 a day. HA

Snacks served with honey tea that remind me of peanut brittle. Same same but different. HA.

Crazy flower growing at the bee farm

 

Honey tea served at the bee farm. We got to hold the hive ‘drawers’ which were crawling with bees, and get a fingerful of honey right from it! Very cool. Laney, of course, passed on that experience.

 

This is also a pineapple plant, and also one for decoration. Personally, I think this looks AWFUL! Some kind of abomination of nature. Yuck.

 

Making chocolate. These are the cocoa seeds. We were each allowed to ‘eat’ one, which is really just sucking the soft/slimy stuff off of the inner hard seed, which is where the cocoa comes from. We saw the process for making chocolate and were able to try some.

 

Another pineapple abomination. HA

Probably Laney’s favorite part of the Mekong Delta trip – holding this (king?) python. It’s a constrictor, so not poisonous. It was SUPER HEAVY though. She wouldn’t touch the bee hive, but THIS, well, this is OK. HA

 

OK I liked it too.  HA

 

Cocao pods

 

Making coconut candy.

Man fishing on a tributary of the Mekong

Women hand-wrapping the coconut (and other flavor) candies.

Snake Whiskey. Yes, we drank some. It was good!

All of these are made with coconut wood. SO beautiful, wish I could have brought some home!!

 

Laney and Laila in traditional Vietnamese hats. Laney doing this somewhat under duress. HA

Beautiful flowers growing from this old tree.


Awesome place we stopped for lunch

 

Pond and decorative stones at the restaurant.

 

Yup. Butter fried. Frog legs. Tastes like chicken. But smaller. HA

me and my travel buddy.

 

These beautiful plants were growing on top of the water, when a boat when by, the whole thing moved, like a green plant-wave.

 

Getting around the Mekong, between the islands, we had a motor boat. But to get to our homestay for the night, we left one of the islands in a canoe type boat. Followed by a walk, a (rather exciting) tuk tuk ride, and a bit of a walk again. Jackie and Jim joined us in our little boat. And yes the hats are helpful for keeping cool! They really keep the sun off your face and shoulders and are much needed! Funny how we were cold in SaPa and then hot most of the rest of Vietnam. It’s a very long country.

 

A very unique looking coconut that grows on these trees.

Close up of that crazy coconut

Tunnel of palms as we a ride a small boat on a tributary of the Mekong, on our way to our homestay

Tuk Tuk rides with sugar cane juice

The rest of our group in the other tuk tuk

Home for the night! Basic beds under cover, open air, with mosquito nets.

Rocky taking a rare breather. Rocky was our guide on this G Adventures tour.

Chilling in the hammock at the homestay

The tiny rickety bridge we walked over when we left the homestay.

Its not very big. Or very stable. But it’s not a long fall and probably not deep water, so no biggie. HA


Beautiful flowers. Same as our cannas but different flowers.

 


Thoren, Stephan and Laila.

Cococut milk on the way. back to the mainland.

Map of the Mekong Delta and the islands we visited

 

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Display representing the Cu Chi Tunnels as they were used in the Vietnam War (as it is known in the US). In Vietnam, it’s called the American war (although the French had a lot to do with it, they aren’t mentioned). There are multiple levels. Meeting and eating rooms at the top could be used unless there was bombing, in which case the lower tunnels had to be used. In a worst case scenario, the Viet Cong had to exit via the tunnel far lower right, into water.

 

One type of entry into the tunnels, the most common, is a very small hole in the ground, covered by a small platform and leaves. Almost impossible to see when closed.

This is the cover still slightly raised. And it’s nearly invisible.

Another type of entry, much more visible. Were used under cover (tarp, etc,) in main areas where the Viet Cong were based.

We saw MANY of these while there. Different types of traps set up by the Viet Cong in the jungles. Our guide ‘admitted’ that they were short on manpower and weapons and so they had to use what they and and emphasis was put on psychological warfare. Not only to eliminate the enemy but to make it ugly and painful to destroy morale. Falling into this, with spinning bars with spikes, which puncture all over your body – would definitely accomplish that. And, like I said, this is only one of many examples that we saw.  Pretty gruesome and scary.

 

In HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon) there is a great street food market, which was very near our hotel, so we went there a few times.


Laney’s Cheesesteak from the Street Food Market. Served with CHOP STICKS??

Beautiful building in HCMC

Lemongrass mojito on our farewell dinner

Highest cocktails in HCMC, the round platform at the top is a helicopter pad. Pretty cool.

View from the tower

my fancy drink

Random photo, but this is the ceiling of a car I drove in to go to a cooking class. It was not unusual for cars and vans and even buses in Vietnam to have the ceiling covered in plastic.

Cool multi-colored lights on the building next to the tower where we had cocktails.

Unusual vending machine fare. Fruit!

After the tour ended, Laney and I had booked an airbnb for a few nights. It had 2 bedrooms, so we had some extra space, which is nice. What was also great was our friend Laila from the tour joined us for a night.

The airbnb we stayed in HCMC had a locked door AND a gate to be locked every night! we were quite secure. HA.

Our airbnb in HCMC, where we went after the tour was over, was down this small alley lined with local restaurants, which are basically food trucks and seats. Our coffee shop, right outside our door, made amazing coffee, and we had 3 for less than what we paid for 1 coffee near our tour hotel.  I thought SEA was pretty cheap when paying tourist prices. But local prices are crazy cheap! HA

We didnt plan much for our extra nights at the Airbnb. As usual, after a ‘always moving’ tour, we were pretty tired. I went for drinks with Laila and met a few from our group at the tower I mentioned above.

A day or two later I attended a cooking class I had booked a while back. It was a bit of a drive out of town (like an hour), which I could have done without after all the driving and traveling we had done on the tour, but it was SO worth it!! I went in the afternoon and I was the ONLY ONE in the class!

Garden where the cooking class was held. A lizard is at the top of that middle sunflower. As an organic farm, there are no pesticides used, and, as a result, there are lots of frogs and lizards to take care of the bugs!

 

Above a front view of the mushrooms. My guide explained a complicated mixture of ingredients that go into these bottles, and explained that, once that is done, the amount of mushrooms you see here (the big ones) will grow in 24 hours!! Can you imagine? I bet if you sat for a bit, you could actually SEE them grow

Close up of the mushrooms at the farm where my cooking class was held.

Some of my fresh ingredients from the garden for my cooking. (my mouth is watering thinking about the food).

This is how peanuts grow… underground!

 

These are the spring rolls I made. So good. Deep fried, which is not normally my thing, but I was told if the temperature is right, hardly any oil is absorbed. Plus, they are served with LOTS of fresh greens. The traditional way to eat them – pile up a bunch of greens, wrap them around the spring rolls – so there is really more greens than anything.  SO SO YUMMY!!

Beautiful garden.

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There is a big frog near the edge of the patio here. If you can see it.

 

The amazing dishes I prepared in the cooking class. SO YUMMY!



Many houses in Vietnam were very tall, and not wide. We were told this was because when the French imposed taxes, they were based on ground floor square footage – so you could go higher without paying more taxes.  HUH. Makes sense  now. HA. Buildings in Vietnam were VERY varied. Like all of South East Asia, I imagine. Beautiful, perfect ones next to run-down ones.

 

 

Laney and I went out to dinner and met this nice woman, Sasha, from South Africa. Sasha got certified in Thailand to teach English and the company sent her to work in HCMC. She is provided a salary, plus a place to live and a motorbike. Hmm might be a good early retirement plan! Sasha and I have stayed in touch on Facebook.. I hope to visit her in South Africa or somewhere else in the future. She’s fun! HA

I so wanted to get one of these painted hats. Doesn’t pack or ship well, though. HA.

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That was it for Vietnam! Off to Borneo next! More jungle. Laney, not happy. HA!

Australia Part 3 – Melbourne, The GOR and Mojo Take 2

This is the third and final post on Australia!!  Been a long time coming I know. It’s busy out here exploring the world!! Ha!

Arriving in Melbourne, we took an Uber to our apartment, which was in the University section. Our apartment definitely had a ‘university’ feel to it, which is to say it had a single/twin bed in each room and it was very basic. With a bit of an odour. HA. Oh well. It was clean enough and we had our own rooms which was nice. I spent some time with a nice bloke (ha) that we had met in Airlie beach, and I also met up with Andy, who was one of our assistant dive instructors in Thailand. I went to some nice restaurants. Had a walk around downtown, which has a river and some nice bars along the river near the botanical garden. Because of the river and bridges over it, I was reminded a bit of Chicago. Except much much warmer. For January anyway. Laney relaxed for the few days we were in Melbourne. I think she even got some school work done. Maybe.

We headed out to the Great Ocean Road on a Monday morning. Good coincidental timing since it’s busier on the weekends. We drove a few hours, stopped for lunch in Lorne And then continued to Apollo Bay where I had booked us a room at a hostel, per a recommendation from Polly at Mojo Surf. The place was really nice. 2 huge kitchens and nice upper and lower decks and a comfy and clean lounge/living room. The only downside, no en suite. Laney NOT happy. HA.

On the way we saw this cool house (room? Apartment?) on the cliff attached to the main house by an elevated walkway. It was tough to get a photo because we were moving on a two lane road.

Cooking chili! Happy Days as they say in Australia. I’ve got my wine and my music and I’m COOKING Ha. Really enjoyed it. And I felt good knowing that, after I left, they had a few sharp knives in the place. They were SO DULL I was really glad I had my sharpener. Still so glad I brought it.

That evening we went out to the brewery for dinner and the next morning headed out for the drive to the best sites of the GOR. 12 Apostles. The Arch. London Bridge. The Grotto. It was a lot of driving for a couple days. I would suggest one more day, and maybe stay closer to those sites – like maybe in in Port Campbell – one night. But overall, it was really amazing and I’m so glad we did it!

Above – the 12 Apostles. Only 8 or 9 left.

Alternate view – looking the other way from the 12 apostles. The one above is called The Arch

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Above -London Bridge. There used to be two arches but one fell.

The Grotto

Hilarious that the sign says not to walk close to the cliff but that’s the only place you CAN walk – all the way down the steps.

Of course the pictures are amazing but it was so much better in person.

On the way back we saw a family taking photos with this guy – apparently they had spotted him in this tree by the road. So CUTE!!!

Back to Melbourne the next day for our flight to Sydney, and back to MOJO. Laney SO excited. Funny thing about Melbourne. There’s more than one airport. When looking at our flight, I noticed that the airport name was Avalon. I might not have paid much attention except that Avalon is a town near my home. “HUH” I thought ‘The Melbourne airport is called Avalon”. As we got closer, I saw a sign that said Avalon Airport 12km. But the car nav was taking me to the Avis car rental at Melbourne Airport, which was 65km away. “Houston, I think we have a problem”. I pulled over and checked my google maps about 4 times and called Avis the car rental company. Indeed, the car was due in one place and the flight was from another. Techcnially I probably had time to return the car and get an Uber to the appropriate airport. But I didn’t want to do that, from a time and expense and aggravation standpoint. SO, the Avis woman on the phone checked and confirmed. There would be no ‘one way’ fee if I returned the car to the Avalon airport instead of the main Melbourne airport. It happens sometimes if they need a car in one place more than another, I guess. WELL, we arrived at Avalon, returned the car and then I got a charge alert on my phone (the Capital one app literally alerts me for every charge. I walked back to the Avis counter (we were very nearby because we were too early to check in and get to the gate) and challenged the charge. The guy at the counter called me back about 10 minutes later, we were still in sight of the counter. HA. And told me the woman on the phone had made a mistake but they would not be charging me for the one way fee. WHOO HOO. It’s the little things. HA. Sometimes the travel gods smile on you. And you are grateful.

Off we flew to Sydney from this small (think AC airport) airport.

In Sydney, we picked up our rental car and headed to another Ibis for the night (it was late evening), and the next day we embarked on the 6 hour drive to MOJO. I really should have looked into flying into Coff’s Harbor – I just didn’t think of it. Oh well.

Driving around Australia I notice that there is genuine care and concern for wildlife. Of course there are signs indicating koala crossing or cossawary crossing. And kangaroo crossing. Once I saw a horse crossing. Not like someone riding a horse but WILD HORSES. I mean, I don’t want to hit a koala – they are so cute. And kangaroos, also cute but the damage to your car!! A HORSE? It’s like the worst of all worlds!! A beautiful creature AND MASSIVE DAMAGE to your car and likely yourself!!

In addition to signs , though, warning of crossings and suggesting you slow down (like for Tasmanian devils in Tassie) there are hotline numbers to call to report injured animals. This is for the animal hit and, even if the animal is dead, for the babies! Marsupials carry their babies in a pouch remember. And if mama dies, well, I guess the baby starves to death if help doesn’t come. It seems so nice that people try to help this situation.

Further, in koala crossing areas of high traffic, we would see these (below). It took me a few times but I realized it’s a narrow rope mesh path, over the highway, to allow the koalas a way over the highway. So they don’t cross the road and get hurt or killed.

SO here we are at MOJO. Laney is as happy as a clam. Surfing every morning with the Academy at 6am. Then usually again at 830 with the Surf and Stay lesson/people. Then many times again at 130 for ‘Expression Session’ which is just surfing, no lesson. Practice time. Laney and I are staying in a cabin on the beach, we move cabins about once a week based on availability. And Laney is eating meals with the Surf Academy. I’m cooking on my own. We have LOTS of time apart, which is actually a good thing after traveling 7 months together. HA

There are lots of really nice people in this area. There are locals who live in the few permanent or semi-permanent camping sites (with trailers, and add ons etc). There are locals in the ‘village’ which is the neighbourhood of houses just outside the camp (the campsites and cabins are on the beach, the houses are just ‘inland’ of that, but very easily walkable – and those folks tend to walk the beach at night, usually with dogs). There are the long-term Surf Academy folks. Some are Cadets which means they work at the Surf Camp/Hostel to cover some of their costs. There are a few management folks that are ‘permanent’. And then there are the ‘Surf and Stay’ kids who are here 3-7 days. Almost everyone at Mojo (the Surf hostel) are 18 to 25, a few up to 30. The locals in the camp and village are mostly retirees, so 60+. Its an interesting combination. I enjoy both ‘sets’ so to speak. Everyone is extremely friendly. The young people are generally travelling long-term. No one less than a few months that I have met. Some on a 2 year plus plan. Sure, they party, but they are here to surf so its not too crazy. And, as you might imagine, this is not your average group of young people.

Side note. I would love to kick start a trend of US youth doing this kind of international, long term travel. It is so rarely done and not remotely accepted in our culture. I think it’s an amazing experience and I so admire these young people. Mostly, they are not spending mom and dads money. They saved this money and are many times working their way around the globe while making friends and seeing the world before they get tied down to a job or house or family. They live cheap because they have to but they are all in the same boat and it fosters incredible camaraderie. This trend needs to come to the US. I see pitifully few Americans doing this. Ok rant over.

There were a few key people from Mojo that Laney and I were looking forward to seeing again, upon our return. One was Joe, an instructor-in-training, and Josh, also a Cadet. Both of them were guides which means they show you around when you first get here and help out in other ways. Like night duty, etc. One person told me that they overheard some of these guys saying “Our munchkin is back!” When they heard Laney had some back. HA. So sweet. Obviously, Laney is younger by far than everyone here and they treat her like a kid sister. So nice.

For our first week here we stayed in a small cabin, waterfront cabin 1. It’s about the size of a shipping container, slightly shorter. Then I decided to upgrade to the Villa, which is much bigger. We were there for a week. Then back to WF3, a bit further back from the beach, but all of them with a view from the porch. Its nice being close to the bridge. All the surfers walk in front of WF1 and the Villa on the way to the beach. And it’s a bit of a hangout spot, so I get to see Laney and her friends going to and from the beach all day.

At night, everyone hangs out by the cafeteria where they play music and do games and have a campfire every night. Its a fun vibe.there is some kind of entertainment every afternoon like kayaking the river or ocean rafting or a kangaroo walk. Also activities at night. After the bottle shop run. Like limbo. Pool. Or a trip to the local pub for trivia night. Transportation is provided since most people don’t have a car. Laney usually would hang out at the picnic tables in this area or go to the bus area where some academy and cadets stay. They are school buses converted to have 9 or 10 bunk beds each. Told you these kids are living cheap. Ha. Laney learned lots of new card games with her friends here. And a few quirky sayings in Swedish.

Unfortunately, Laney has had some slightly bad luck here. She got washed in a wave and had a suspected concussion, so I kept her out of the water for 48 hours. (That was painful. She was so upset ) Then a bonk in the eye with a surfboard, which resulted in a black eye. Then a big toe stubbed on a nail. (Insert eye roll here). She’s plugging along though, and none of it has slowed her down. Ha. Tough kid.

I’ve done some surfing myself while Im here this second time around. The conditions are great. It’s hardly ever crowded in the water. Not too much anyway. And lots of beginners so you don’t need to be embarrassed about not catching a wave or wiping out. Everyone is SUPER encouraging. I got into a routine of ‘wake up, have coffee, go surfing’. Then chill the rest of the day because I’m so tired. HA. It’s exhausting.

It was a very chill time for a few weeks. Although it was hectic at the same time. I felt like I was constantly in a social situation. People stopping by, inviting me to happy hour at their house, I even hosted a casual dinner party for some locals. It was great fun. I met some really great people. Bruce and Maria especially made me feel welcome. It felt good to give Maria my hat when I left. Though I warned her that Mojo people might think she was me at first. I had gotten to be ‘known’ for the hat after the first week or so. Bear, the manager of the whole operation, said “I love your hat, wish I could pull that off!” Ha. High praise! I also spent a lot of time with my friend George – also a local. Even though when I first met him I could only understand about 60% of what he was saying. It got better over time .. ha. I also spent some time with Neil, an Australian doctor (radiologist actually) who surf’s on a waveski like Laney’s dad. He was camping with some mates one weekend and came back a couple weeks later.

above- these two pictures are same spot about an hour apart. The change of the colors is amazing.

Below – the first night I met Bruce and Maria. I met Bruce by the bridge and he invited me up for a drink with he and his wife and their fur baby honey. I ended up staying for dinner. Oysters and crabs. Bruce even showed me how to shuck a few!!

Below -the seaweed. Or kelp. So huge. Below – another kind of seaweed. This one you pinch at the skinny part and it shoots off. If you are good, or lucky, into the face of a fellow surfer. Helps pass the time between sets. Ha. Below. Mini Uno. As my friend Leslie knows well. Passing the time while Laney was on concussion watch. Ha.

George took me ‘worming’ – we only went once, and I only saw their mouths in the sand, not their whole bodies. But their mouth coming up through the sand made me think of the old Kevin Bacon movie Tremors. Ha. George says Sometimes they are very large and I might have to help him pull it out of the sand! 5 feet long is not unusual for these. And some as big around as your finger. UNDER THE SAND AT THE WATERS EDGE! You would never know they were there. Kind of creepy.

There are also lots of small crabs. And some big ones like blue claws at home. But the small crabs pick up sand, or dig it out of the ground to create their homes -holes in the sand. They then roll the sand around and eat any and all organic material from the soil, then leave behind a round ball of sand. It creates crazy patterns on the sand. Up the river a bit, of the water hasn’t come high in a while, the sand is COMPLETELY these balls.

Above – all the sand has been balled up by crabs. Wow.

Miscellaneous Australian things

Australians don’t waste a lot of energy with their speech. Lots of things get abbreviated. It seems sometimes like they are talking to a toddler. But these things are seen in writing too. Fast food places encourage you to ‘stop in for Brekkie’. At the bar, you watch ‘footie on the Telly while eating chicken parmie”. Ha. Send your 5 year old to Kindey. In Tassie ( Tasmania).

Also chickens are chooks. Sounds like a derogatory word but it’s not. It’s sometimes used in good natured joking when someone does something stupid. You call them a chook. Ha.

Also, I saw lots of interesting mailboxes while in Australia. Most I couldn’t get pictures of because I was DRIVING. ha. I saw a bigger than life COW made from metal, painted black and white, standing on two legs. I saw a 9 foot long shark. Also made from metal. Lots of old fashioned milk jugs, converted. A surfboard. A 6 foot tall minion. Welded together and fully painted. An outboard boat motor. And a barbecue grill. Very creative!!

I also saw lots of signs about my safety on the road. Particularly about falling asleep.

Rest or RIP

Take a break. Free coffee at rest areas. That’s nice

My favorite? “Don’t sleep and drive.” Wow thanks for the life tip. Ha!!!!!!

Also lots of signs for the Cane Train. Lots of sugarcane is raised in Australia. Along with other produce like mangoes. And raspberries. Many young people I met had worked on a farm. It’s a requirement for a long term visa, to work several weeks on a farm. Usually it’s produce but I met one poor guy who worked a sheep and cattle ranch. With no experience. Interesting. I guess it gives you perspective. I learned a lot about what I did, and did not want to do, while working summer jobs in an ice cream parlor and convenience store etc. imagine your perspective after 8 weeks of picking mangoes in the Australian summer heat. Or herding sheep??

Well with a very sad Laney in tow it was time to say good bye. Good byes are mixed at Mojo. Some people slip away quietly. Not so in this case. We had a crowd of 30+ waiting for us at checkout. Lots of hugs and even some tears from these young men and women that Laney had gotten so close to over the (almost) month we were there. Laney is still in touch with a few and wishes she had contact info on some others. I hope we see some of them again. Maybe in Ocean City.

Goodbye Australia, time to go back to Thailand for scuba diving – to see manta rays!!!!!!!!

Australia Part 2 – Surfers to Tasmania

Continuing our Australia Adventure.

Our trip to Surfers (as the locals call it) was pretty uneventful. Arriving there, it was pretty much what I had come to envision in recent days. When I first booked it, I thought it would be more like Agnes Water, a small surfing town. Talking to locals in the last few weeks of travel, though, I realised it’s a bit of a small city. With apartment towers and a central shopping area. More similar to Atlantic City than Ocean City. Not what I usually envision a surfing town to be. But nice nonetheless. I managed to grab a few items for Laney for surprise gifts for Christmas. And we even had a tree, thanks to Brett, our Airbnb host. We were quite comfortable in our 2 BR 2 BA apartment which was decorated in a 60’s style. Very cute. Our Tree was a tinsel tree! HA! We bought Laney a surfboard after Christmas and she spent a day or two surfing. Of course, I lounged on the beach. HA.

It was in Surfers that I first started spotting the colorful lorikeet birds. Sitting on a wire where you expect to see pigeons and seagulls. So beautiful.

Our next stop was to be Byron Bay. I had heard so many people rave about this place I had pretty high expectations. We were staying in a room in a woman’s townhouse just outside of Byron. A few kilometres. Mostly, this was a budget decision. Byron Bay is a pretty popular, and thus expensive place. Plus we were to be there over New Year’s so probably it was peak season.

The first night, we went out for some Japanese, and had some of our favourites that we enjoyed in Japan. Of course it wasn’t quite the same but still it was pretty good. Particularly the sake. HA.

There was one place Laney refused to eat at Byron. HA

The next day we headed to the beach (after some struggles with parking – for those of you in/around my home town, think of OC on 4th of July. HA). Anyway, Laney surfed on her board that we bought, but when we stopped for lunch, we decided to rent a longboard, so I could have a go, and Laney also thought it was more appropriate for the waves. I was pretty pleased with the waves and the board and I surfed for about an hour or so before I got too tired. Laney surfed ALL DAY. Unfortunately, she forgot to reapply her sunscreen after lunch – so the next few days were, shall we say, low key. Poor Laney. I used the down time to do some shopping – Byron has some great shops and boutiques and surf shops galore. I picked up a few dresses and a bathing suit bottom. I figured I would need them for the cruise.

We also took the opportunity (in an English speaking country) to see a couple movies. We saw the new Start Wars movie and also saw the new Jumanji film. It was lovely!!

Another night in Byron, we headed to a nearby town for dinner. We sat outside on an upstairs deck and right around sunset we saw TONS of HUGE bats flying, I think from the trees in the area. We couldn’t get a good photo (they weren’t very close) but they were very cool to watch.

A bit of rest, I felt, was a good idea anyway, since we would be headed to surf camp next where my biggest fear was lack of energy!! Surfing can be exhausting you know, especially for me, as I tend to fall a lot. HA

SO, we departed the Byron Bay Area. And headed to the Mojo Surf Camp at Arrawarra Beach, which is about 30km north of Coff’s Harbor (and 6 hours drive north of Sydney, to give you a measure).

Arriving at Mojo Surf Camp. At first it was a bit confusing, we weren’t sure where to ‘check in’. There was an office type building (kind of) but it was for the Holiday (Caravan) Park, and we were staying at the surf camp, Spot X aka Mojo, with their Surf and Stay package. We got checked in and then Joe gave us the tour. He walked us around the kitchen area (cafeteria style food is included in the surf and stay, so breakfast, lunch and dinner), then showed us the ‘sweat box’, a room full of couches and a TV with no AC. Hot and smelly. Yeah. Pass. thanks. Then the surf school area and the beach. WOW so beautiful. He showed us our room (bunk room, 4 beds, with a bathroom, thank goodness because Joe also said there were some big snakes seen near the women bathrooms at night. HA). And then we chilled until dinner time.

The next morning was our first surf lesson. They took Laney and one other person in a separate group. Because they had some experience surfing. I stayed with the newbies, figuring even though I could ‘get up’ on a long board, I could use some actual instruction. Well the water was not just beautiful to look at but also SO WARM and the waves were PERFECT and PLENTIFUL. Our whole group mostly caught white water waves for the first couple days, but it was really great. None of the crowding I have generally found in OC. There was plenty of room for all 30-40 of us!

Laney was further out catching the nicer, green waves.

We both had a crazy great day and we loved it.

That night, I received an email from the manager of the surf school offering to include Laney in the Surf Academy, which is for more advanced surfers and generally is a one-week program. Laney was really nervous, but I convinced her to go talk to Jimmy P in the morning. Well, she hardly slept (I could tell, she was in the bunk above me – eye roll). But she did go to see him and then promptly, immediately, surfed with the Academy ‘kids’, at 6am. HA. Have fun with that.

SO, I was surfing with the newbies. Laney with the advanced folks. Perfect.

The surfing school is technically a surfing hostel. This was our first real hostel experience and I have to say it was really great. I think because of the surfing school, which is the only reason people would be here, people were even more friendly and social than usual. You are surfing in groups every morning for lesson and every afternoon for Expressions (basically not a lesson, just surfing) so you see people over and over, and obviously have common ground to talk about. How’d you go today? Did you get up? etc. Plus the instructors are super friendly and nice. Plus all the meals are together. Laney and I met so many great people from all over the world while we were here. Sara from Germany. Sophia and Brandon from the UK. Polly from Melbourne. Aggie from Ireland. Matthew from Scotland. And about 15 people from the Netherlands and Sweden. HA. Don’t ask me to spell their names.

One guy we met, from Poland, it was his birthday and his friend had gotten him a cake. Everyone sang happy birthday (Laney and I were playing pool, which is how we met him). Anyway, we went out to see about some cake and Laney and I decided someone should sing sta lat to him. So I mentioned it. I said “in my family, when it’s someone’s birthday, we sing Sta Lat, do you do that?” He and his friend looked at us and said “You KNOW STA LAT?”. Yeah, of course. So we sang it. Only about 4 of us knew it, but it was good, and a great memory. Made me think of my mom.

So we spent 5 days surfing. At night there was entertainment like pool or ping pong tournaments. Also a campfire most nights. One night was trivia night, where they take everyone by bus to a nearby bar for their trivia game. They also have afternoon activities. Kayaking down nearby rivers/streams, or ocean rafting, or kangaroo trek/golf. Definitely a place geared toward young people with LOTS of energy. And they party too, but I think less than in a non-surfing place because most times lessons are at 8 or 9 am and that IS the main focus of why people are here.

So, with Laney’s heart very heavy, we left after 5 days. And Laney started angling to come back. She wanted to do the Academy. Well, making that happen was going to take some effort. Most of that span (immediately following Australia) had just been planned and booked. Hmm.

Lots of large lizards around!

This will be funny. Put the old lady in the middle. Ha! Not my choice – believe me I was MORTIFIED!!

This was our home for 4 nights. If it looks like a shipping container that’s because it IS A SHIPPING CONTAINER. And not even a whole one. Like part of one. But it had a bathroom and AC so I wasn’t complaining.

Lizard.

..

Chow time at Mojo. Everything plastic. Cafeteria style. Nothing like being treated like a kindergartener to make you feel like a kid. Ha.

After Mojo Surf Camp stopped at Port Macquarie for a night to break up the drive. Based on a suggestion from a fellow Mojo we stayed in the cutest hostel and played pool and football and air hockey. And I had this amazing mushroom dish with egg for breakfast at a nearby restaurant. The food was so good that later, when we needed to leave Mojo for a couple nights, we came back to this place pretty much just for the food. Ha!

After breakfast I wanted to walk to the water and don’t you know there was a sea plane there. Both Laney and I had never flown in a sea plane so I asked the pilot “If we wanted to go for a ride, could we go right now?” “Sure!” He said. And off we went. It was gorgeous and a really cool experience. I love spontaneous things. No planning or scheduling just do it! Ha

Then, we were in Port Stephens for 4 or 5 nights. I chose this place because it has some great beaches and surfing. Unfortunately, we did none of that. HA I think we were both tired from going so hard at surf camp and we were preparing for the cruise. We did a bit of shopping to buy clothes that were ‘allowed’ at dinner time on the cruise (eye roll) and had some chill days and nights. We had some great Thai food, and also good Chinese. We cooked a few nights, including something Laney had been craving. Her father’s fake fried chicken (coat with sour cream, cover with crushed corn flakes and bake for a long time at a fairly low temp).

In the Port Stephens area, we stayed in a ‘mother in law’ type of apartment, meaning it was a small apartment attached to the home of a couple. They had a dog, and were long-term cat-sitting an adorable cat named Holly. Such a sweet girl, we loved her.

We had a couple nice meals out too. Yum food. Ha.

From there we headed to Sydney, and spent the night in another Airbnb. This one was a room in a house hosted by Esther and Jim. What an amazing lovely young woman. A young teacher (mid to late 20s). She was kind enough to agree to hold some luggage for us while we went on the cruise, so we could take just what we needed ,and we cut down to one suitcase. WHOO HOO.

We didn’t See much of Sydney but we did see the harbor at night and we had a great dinner at a place recommended by Joe who is an American we met in Cairns a few weeks before.

Now it’s time for our big relaxing break. All this travel is hard! And exhausting! But awesome of course. We were booked on a Royal Caribbean cruise to the New Caledonia Islands for 8 day. we had heard there would be some good snorkeling so we brought snorkel gear.

The cruise was lovely and relaxing, but in some ways not quite right for the two of us. Part of this might have been timing and our own ‘hang ups’ so to speak. I met some nice people but mostly people were there on holiday (it was summer holiday time in Australia) – with families or with really big groups/families, so they pretty much kept to themselves – after all, they were there to spend time with each other. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed some nice cocktails, and Laney had a few days on the Flow Rider, but overall I’m not sure I would do it again ‘just the two of us’. Perhaps if we each brought a friend it would have been better. There were some highlights. Arcade games. HA. And some of the restaurants were actually pretty good. I was disappointed the first night in the standard dining hall fare, so we bought the dining upgrades and ate at the Japanese place twice. They had hot rock meals, where they bring you meat/shellfish and veggies, and you cook them on this rock that they bring to the table. It was very good. As was the sushi. (Though I questioned how it could be fresh after a few days at sea?). We also ate at the steak house (good!) and the Italian place (OK). My favorite part of the cruise was the live entertainment. They had a guitar/singer guy that played at the pub pretty much every night for a few hours. He was pretty good, and I met some nice people while there. I also enjoyed some new music, as there are some Australian classics (as in, bar type classics) that I really enjoyed. Mostly Jimmy Barnes ‘Khe Sanh’ and ‘Working Class Man’.

At a couple cruise stops I/we enjoyed some really good snorkeling. As expected, being several hours from land or airport by boat, the locations were very good for coral and colorful fish and more blue sea stars. At one place, Mystery Island, I was chased by a small trigger fish. It was a little scary even though he was small. He was very aggressive and when I thought I was out of range and he had stopped chasing me I slowed down my swimming and he started chasing me again as if to say ‘keep going lady!’ HA! The other place we snorkeled was Jinek Bay on the island of Lifou. (Le Foo)

After the cruise we headed back to Esther’s place to get our stuff. My plan was to ship some stuff home and to New Zealand (I had bought a couple nicer dresses for the cruise, which I wouldn’t be needing anymore), before heading to Tasmania (a flight). Unfortunately, the post offices were closed! On Saturday afternoon. Weird. Oh well I ended up with an extra carry-on, which wasn’t an issue (thank goodness) and we had 5 hours to spare at the airport until we got a FREE change of flight, to an earlier one. Free because we had been on a cruise. Hmm. Interesting. Good Karma from the travel Gods!! Anyway, I was really grateful to get to our place on the Tasman Peninsula early. I was tired!

Tasmania was pretty awesome from the time we got there. There were cool statues in the small airport in Hobart, and people were even MORE friendly and nice than in Australia. We stopped at the General Store, as our host had suggested, for some food staples, before heading to our place. We found some great locally made foods and just about everything we needed in this tiny place in the middle of nowhere. HA. As we were paying the woman said “you’re the ones staying at Stuart’s place”. I said “how did you know?” She said “Your accent gave you away!”. HA. I guess Stuart had told her he was having guests from America. The next day I called to make a reservation at a restaurant that was also suggested, and the SAME THING happened. HA. Well, apparently, there aren’t any other places to rent in that area. It’s just not touristy at all. But the place, and the view, so amazing! It was rather remote though. You see at least 100 cows before you see a person. HA.

The next day I was keen to do a hike – down to Ship Stern Bluff where, at times, there are Maverick waves (Giant). The surf prediction for the time I was going was 10-14 feet. Cool. Well, I got a bit of a late start on the hike. I was talking to friends at home. Laney didn’t want to join me. Hiking isn’t her thing. (HA wait til we do the Inca Trail). Plus it was hot (by her standards) and that’s not her thing either. She had some homework to catch up on, anyway, so I left her to that. The hike I wanted to do had a short run, about 2 hours, or the full thing was 5 hours. The short walk was to the lookout, and it took me less than an hour one way, and I really wanted to see those waves from the ground. So I headed off. Jogging at times, knowing I needed to do the 5 hour trek in 3. Yikes. Well, I made it, but barely. I had to be back because of that dinner res. I will say this, Walk is Australian for Hike, and the signs that suggested ‘some bushwalking experience’ were spot on. This was TOUGH! I don’t know what the overall elevation changes were but it was a LOT of incline/decline and a lot of steps, on a 9km return hike. It was really great though and it felt good to get some good exercise. The TRX is good, but not like this.

Before going on the hike you are instructed to wash your boots to avoid transfer of non indigenous plants into the area. I also scrubbed after -my boots haven’t been this clean in quite a while. Ha.

That night Laney and I had an amazing dinner at a restaurant recommended by our host. Once again we were recognized as ‘Stuart’s guests from America’ when we called for a reservation. Ha!

After dinner we joined a ghost walking tour of Port Stephens which was a prison that was particularly brutal. Prisoners had no complete protection from the elements and were forced to do heavy labor felling trees and hauling them long distances by hand. Punishments included severe beatings and confiscation of blankets and or clothing.

Our guide told of his personal experiences with ghosts on site as he showed us around by lantern light in a long trench coat. It was quite creepy and fun though we didn’t have any encounters.

The next day we had to check out of Stuart’s place and we headed up the eastern coast of Tasmania to a town called Bicheno

Getting there was an adventure in itself. Google mapped out our route, we hopped in the car, and followed the directions. Well, 25 minutes later our rural road turned into a dirt road. HA and stayed that way (thank God, I was worried it would get worse) for about 20 more miles. There were occasionally 20 yard patches of pavement. I have no idea why. HA. This was inland, so the lesser populated part of Tasmania I guess. Perhaps I should have studied the route a bit more. Oh well.

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The next morning before leaving the area we decided to visit the Unzoo and pay homage to the honorable resident, the Tasmanian Devil. The Unzoo monitors Tasmanian Devils in the wild and attempts to vaccinate them, for the cancer that is killing them. They have only 2 residents in an enclosure – due to their advanced age and medical issues. We enjoyed seeing them and learning about them. We also had some wallaby encounters and tried to understand the difference between wallabies and kangaroos. Not very successfully. Ha. Wallabies are definitely smaller.

After driving a few hours we arrived in the town of Bicheno, which is near an area called Coles Bay where there are also some great hikes and sites, including Wineglass Bay which was clearly calling my name. HA. PLUS, in Bicheno, they have a penguin tour, where you go see the penguins in the wild as they come out of the ocean at night after a day of feeding. YES! HA

So, I immediately booked the penguin tour, and told Laney about the hike. She didn’t love it, said she wanted to walk around ‘town’ instead. I laughed. Town is exactly two blocks long. No Kidding. Another tiny town.

Our place was adorable. I was a bit concerned about some of the reviews saying it was ‘dated’. Well, it was dated for sure. Older cabinets, stove, style, wood paneling, etc. but it was VERY clean and freshly painted. It was perfect. With a balcony, which I love.

The view from our porch. It looked better in person. Ha.

The first full day we were in Bicheno, we went to the hike at Wineglass Bay. Laney didn’t love the hike up, but she did enjoy the view in the end. And climbing on/around some rocks when we got there.

That evening we went to see the penguins and OMG they were so ADORABLE. They call them fairy penguins, also known as blue penguins and they are TINY and the waddle up the beach in groups in the dark to their little hut/burrow homes in the dunes area. We even got to see some baby ones. No photos were allowed, partly because of flash and plus I think people act stupid and do dumb things when they try to get a good photo. But they send you photos after, and this is very representative of what we saw. So cool.

The next day I told Laney I wanted to take a drive up to the Bay of Fires, which is another couple hours north. Laney has learned to love road trips. Despite her motion sickness. I think partly from our trips to North Carolina every January, a 9-12 hour sprint. Plus she’s so happy to have a car and not be travelling by BUS! (Or ferry, or taxi, or….).

Anyway, the scenery up the coast was amazing. And the Bay of Fires did not disappoint. As always, it’s a little hard to capture in a picture, but it was interesting enough that Laney wanted to get out of the car. HA.

On the way home we stopped for Linner (lunch/dinner), and then had a quiet evening at home.

The next day, sadly, it was time to go. I had booked us one night in Hobart, as I made the mistake of booking the rental car to be ‘back’ at 10am at the airport (and our flight wasn’t til 3 – oops – and no changing it because of the Australia Day holiday). Ah well.

SO, I returned the car a day early and we spent one night in Hobart, at an Ibis, which has become one of our favourite hotel chains. Simple. Clean. Inexpensive. We had a nice dinner out and a relaxing morning at a coffee shop then off to the airport.

Next adventure- Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road

Australia – Part 1 – Cairns to Agnes Water

So I have decided to break Australia down into multiple posts because there is SO much to share and frankly it’s just easier this way . Overwhelming otherwise. I mean it ended up being nearly 3 months after we added the return to Mojo Surf Academy.

We are back in Thailand now – sorry for the delay. . We were, well, busy having fun . Ha

I also apologize if this is a bit messy. . I don’t have as good editing abilities on my iPad and laneys laptop is on the Fritz. As in broken . Yikes!

Cairns

First of all, let’s talk pronunciation. CANS. Like cans of beans. Many town names in Australia look complicated and hard to pronounce. Some are. Most of the time though, the pronunciation is simplified compared to the spelling. Australians don’t waste energy on complicated or long  pronunciations. Football becomes footie. Breakfast is brekky.  Kindergarten is kindy.  Parmesan like chicken Parmesan is parmie. The list goes on

Our arrival in Cairns was mostly uneventful. We took a taxi to get our rental car and the driver was very engaging. We laughed at how awful I will be trying to drive on the left side of the road. He said I will be fine just follow the cars, that I might struggle a bit going the ‘other way’ around a ‘roundabout’. I asked ‘are there many roundabouts?’. Uh Yeah!!……. He was NOT kidding – there was a roundabout at like EVERY INTERSECTION!!

At our place in Cairns, we mostly recovered. It had been a long way travelling (12 hours in the Singapore airport alone!) and I was still recovering from my sickness. Laney must have been fighting it too.

I did some cooking, which was great because the grocery store had all the familiar foods from home. Including rotisserie chicken (with STUFFING!) and sour cream, which we had missed terribly. And I was able to make some of our favorite recipes from home.

While recovering, I also did some last minute ‘tweaks’ to our travel plans. I had booked places with full flexibility so I checked for ‘better’ accommodations and in some cases found great deals. I even changed a location or two, with some advice from our hostess (asking based on Airbnb availability- which is better, X or Y place). That’s how I ended up in Trinity Beach and Magnetic Island. Two of my favorite places.

After a few nights in Cairns, we moved ourselves about 45 minutes north to Trinity Beach. We had the most adorable little igloo cabin right across from the beach. This area was beautiful! Unfortunately, like all of the northern coast of Australia at this time of year, swimming in the ocean could only be done inside the ‘stinger nets’, as deadly stinging ‘jellyfish’ like the box jellyfish and man-of-war are present (even common) during the warmer (5-6) months of the year. We also had a pool,though, so no worries!

In Trinity, we spent a bit of time walking the beach, and we visited a local hike/park a bit inland called Crystal Cascades. It’s an uphill hike along stream with swimming holes and waterfalls. It’s basically in the rainforest, so very tropical and full of beautiful plants and trees. We really enjoyed (though were a bit freaked out by) the fish that swam with us in the swimming hole. They would basically SWARM around us. We learned later, when we tossed them some of our tortilla wrap, that they must be used to humans being a source of food. HA Literally. At one point, one fish tried to bite a birthmark on my thigh. HA. Scared the bejesus out of me. HA!

These slow motion videos of the fish are pretty cool. Seeing them flip out of the water. They varied in size from small, like your palm, to about the length of my forearm.

fish movie 1

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We must have started feeling better because we managed to take a scuba trip. Yes to the Great Barrier Reef! Not only did we have a great time and see some great stuff but we also met some great people!

 

 

Also while staying in Trinity Beach, we took a day to visit the Daintree Rainforest. That was an adventure of a drive. There’s no real highway driving in Australia, not in the north anyway. The driving can be very scenic though. A ‘WOW that’s beautiful’ at nearly every turn on this drive. Truly amazing. Once you get far enough north, to the town of Daintree, you take a car ferry – all of about 100 feet across a river- shortest ferry ride ever – to get to Cape Tribulation. And the drive from there gets even more interesting. It’s two small lanes surrounded on both sides (and sometimes from above) with beautiful, huge trees and other foliage. It feels very ‘Indiana Jones-like’.

We took one of the many marked walks in the area, and saw lots of cool trees and plants, also a huge (but dead) spider, which almost made Laney turn back. HA. And then a gorgeous green snake. Laney saw him on the side of the path and stopped us. He started to slither away, off the boardwalk and into the sand and greenery. I started to walk slowly toward it again, and he reared up. Laney said “Mom, that means he’s not happy. I think you should back off.” Well, thank you captan obvious. HA.


 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way back from the walk, I decided to stop on the side of the road (there was a LITTLE shoulder and hardly any cars), to check out the beach and the view. I’m telling you the entire way was so picturesque, but so much greenery you couldn’t really see without climbing up/down through it. So that’s what we did. We climbed about 10 feet down to the beach and it was amazing. I have to imagine this is what they call a shale beach. It was like instead of sand, there were smooth black and grey stones covering the beach. And then some huge formations of rock that looked like slate. When I was a kid, some sidewalks and walkways were made of slate. This structure looked like HUGE slabs of that, lined up on their edge and shoved into the ground, vertically. They were all about 1-2” wide and stacked together. Very unique in my experience. Anyway, we climbed, we took photos, and were on our way. It was really cool. I mean, NO ONE ELSE was around.

 

 

On the way back from the Daintree rain forest we saw a lookout and there were two guys paragliding off a cliff. Very cool!

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The next day we were off to Magnetic Island. To get there we drove a couple/few hours south along the coast. Like most of the driving north of Brisbane, we drove on A1, which reminds me of Route 40 in NJ. It’s a variety of farmland, with small towns scattered in between. So LOTS of sugar cane (and cute signs warning of the Cane Train), followed by a traffic light or slow speed area.

We drove south to Townsville at which time we were scheduled on a car ferry to take us to the island. This was my 2nd ferry of my life. And the 2nd one in 2 days. HA

Magnetic Island (known as Maggie to the locals) is a lovely resort town. It’s a mountainous island with lots of lookouts and beautiful beaches. I would definitely call it more on the sleepy side. Not a lot of partying or anything (though there is a hostel and lots of young people come and make their own fun).

On Magnetic island, we enjoyed the pub nearby where we met some locals. The pub had good food, great beer and pool. It was also right on the beach near these AMAZING HUGE trees. I tried to capture them in photographs but they just don’t do it justice. There were vines hanging down that kids would swing from. Very very cool.

 

 

I was also WAY overdue for a haircut so I asked a young woman bartender and she recommended the place next door. I managed to get an appointment the next day which was great luck because they were extra busy. Their lease had been terminated and they were getting ready to shut and take a year to explore Australia with their kids! HA. Awesome.

Laney and I had planned a scuba trip from Magnetic Island, and had hoped to do some snorkelling, but both were no-gos because of the weather. It was sunny but very windy. The scuba trip was a few hours out by boat so it was too rough to get there. It’s a shame it was supposed to be one of the best dives in Australia. A wreck dive. Youngala Wreck. I guess I will have to go back some day. HA!

The things I enjoyed most at Magnetic Island were the rock wallabies which you can see at the old ferry pier. There are some cool rock formations there that lead into the water. The wallabies live there and you can see them and even feed them. We brought some lychees but they didn’t like those. Fortunately, we ran into a group of young men who gave us a carrot. They definitely liked that! Laney fed a mom with a baby in it’s pouch. SO cool.

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Side story about the lychees. When we were driving in Queensland we kept seeing signs for lychees. I had no idea what they were, and I wanted to get some fruit (usually mangoes, which are in season and HUGE and GREAT here) so we stopped at a roadside stand. I asked what Lychees were and they looked at me like I was crazy. You don’t know? I don’t think so I said, unless its a different word for something that I have had (which happens sometimes). The woman gave me one and I said ‘just eat it?’ It had a leathery prickly looking skin so I was skeptical. She said yeah! I started to take a bite and she said ‘no you have to take the skin off’. Ha. People in line laughed good-naturedly with me. I peeled it with my teeth and fingers and it was a white translucent wet-looking thing. Like the inside of a big grape. I ate it, spat out the seed. It was AMAZING, so I bought a kilo. HA. At least I amused them with my stupidity. HA.

A day or two later, still on Maggie, I walked the Forts walk (part of it anyway) where I had heard I might spot a koala sleeping in the trees. I was walking rather slowly, looking up and through the trees. Several people passed me, walking back to the carpark. One couple stopped and asked if I was looking for koalas. YES! Well, they said, there are some up ahead about 100 meters. One with a baby. WOW. They also said I probably wouldn’t miss it. There are other people there and someone had drawn an arrow on the ground. HA! OK then! I walked a little faster and did see a few people looking into a tree, where a koala was surprisingly close to the path and close to the ground! I could not only have touched him/her (which I didn’t) but I could have LICKED him/her, they were so close. HA. And sleeping.

 

 

 

I walked further and saw the mama and baby, and another adult. Up close you can see they have some pretty vicious looking claws. Lots of people, myself included, got up close for pictures and selfies. The koalas were mainly asleep but the first one I saw woke up, looked around and rearranged himself before going back to sleep. He was not at all concerned with the people there. Within like a few feet of him! HA. YAY! Koala sighting DONE! Koala SELFIE DONE! I can go home now. Just kidding.

That evening, I took my fishing pole and drove down a long, forbidden, dirt road to a supposedly very remote place for fishing from the beach. When I got there, there were lots of people there for the sunset. It was very pretty but I didn’t catch anything. HA. I did meet some friendly local guys, also fishing, but it was getting dark and they were packing up, so I did too.

Here are some other random pics from Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

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That was about it for Maggie. We took the ferry back and headed to Airlie Beach!

We arrived in Airlie and checked into our Airbnb. It was a little tough to find, but we managed, and it was up a very steep driveway. The place was absolutely gorgeous though. The owners are French and they have their main house, plus this separate house, and a detached garage on their property, which faces the harbour area of Airlie Beach, and backs to a park or nature preserve of some kind. Everything about this place was great. It was all wood, inside and out, and decorated with a mix of styles including some Asian, French, and others. It was beautiful. Also, there were lots of windows and French doors that opened with screens so even being inside it felt like outside. Great for me. Not so great for arachnophobia Laney. HA. Plus, the master bedroom was upstairs, away from the main part of the house, via steps outside. I have to admit I was a little freaked out making this trip at night. But, we survived.

In Airlie, we looked around downtown. Had a nice dinner where we met Steve, from Melbourne, who Kindly invited us to his house for Australia Day, since we would be arriving into Melbourne from Tasmania on that day. Australia Day is like the 4 th of July for the US. It’s a big BBQ day in a country BIG on BBQ’s, so I can’t wait to see what this is going to be like. HA!

Speaking of BBQs  – I noticed that most picnic and park areas where you would see a picnic bench -much more often than in the US -you would also see a public BBQ! Very cool.  These are publicly available during reasonable hours and I think gas powered though they are more griddle than grill. A flat smooth surface for cooking .  And they are in the best spots  near the beach by the water. Gorgeous! This is a common theme in Australia  That the best beach spots are for everyone to share. Camping and caravan parks near the ocean  beaches that are national parks  that cannot be built upon.

We did a couple fun things in Airlie. We learned how to wakeboard !! What? Yup. It was awesome. It was just Laney and I taking the lesson so it was done on a wave runner. Of course Laneynwanted me to go first so I did. It took me a few tries but I managed to get up  Laney struggled a bit at first and had to take a break but when she got up,she was SO AWESOME. Our instructor said she was a natural  I think her surfing and skateboarding ability gave her the edge.

Also, we went on a fishing trip. Whoo boo!  I booked a smaller boat. A center console similar to Rosebud. The captain picked us up in his truck and we drove to the ramp  he put the boat in and we headed to a nearby island to pick up the other fisherman. Funny story. When we first arrived at that island for a beach pickup (no dock) the older (German) man said it must be the wrong boat…. because he saw women on board. He was looking for his FISHING boat…HA! Well, we showed him! We out-fished him by far. He was anxious to take home some fish I could tell. So he was keen on my big grouper and even asked me what I plan to do with it. I said “share it with you, of course”. Ha. A magnificent day and a great fishing captain.

Our main mission in Airlie was to take our trip on the liveaboard sailing and scuba boat, Kiana. We were to spend two nights on the boat, visit the Whitsundays, and the Great Barrier Reef. The trip on Kiana was great. It was a bit too much ‘instruction’ for me the first few days. Here’s how you eat, here’s how you take care of your assigned mug, don’t do this, don’t put on sunscreen here, don’t eat there, etc. Plus I was a little irritated that I had asked for a private area for us to sleep (teenage girl, you know) and we got pretty much the most public space. People had to walk past us to get to the head (bathroom). Laney dealt with it surprisingly well, though. It was annoying getting dressed in the bathroom. Especially after a shower. There’s no shower stall, as is normal for a boat, so you’re standing where you showered. It’s all very wet and humid. Plus, I had been told we would have AC but we didn’t… (eye roll). Whatever.

The people on the boat were very nice. A family from Australia, one from England. Some extended family from France. Another couple from I don’t remember where. HA.

The first day at Whitsunday was great, but I was really on the trip for the diving. Whitsunday is a white sand island and it’s known for its views and sightings of rays and sharks in the shallows. The view was gorgeous, and we swam as well which was beautiful once we got past the idea that we had to wear stinger suits. HA. We saw a ray swim past us. And the water was insanely clear with completely white sand so it was truly like a pool.

The diving the next morning was terrible. I think they took us to a place that was very safe and easy in order to check everyone’s skills and get some ‘rusty’ divers reacclimated. The visibility was terrible. I think we saw a lobster and a moray eel. Pretty cool, but not amazing. I think the best sights might have been the travalli and the bat fish that lingered under the boat. HA. Oh well. That was the ‘free’ dive anyway.

Then we headed out to the GBR, and did another dive. MUCH better. HA. I was hoping to see sharks or turtles but we didn’t. We did see lots of fish and some sea slugs (which are quite beautiful). That night we went to bed, and woke up on the GBR. No other boats or land in sight. It was pretty special. I even saw the sun rise, which was beautiful.

Diving that day was much better. We saw lots of fish, nudibranchs, a sting ray, and a turtle. We saw the turtle up pretty close actually. When I first spotted it, it was below me so I grabbed Laney and pointed it out to her then dropped down. The turtle was so afraid at first it tried to hide under a small cliff but it was definitely too big. I backed off and it relaxed and just chilled there, looking at all the divers. After a while it swam away. Very cool.

I have some pictures and videos from the dive but at the moment no way to upload them here.

Around midday we sailed back to Airlie Beach. It was a beautiful ride back.

Cruise Control

When we got back to land we stopped back at the airbnb to pick up our food and drop off their towels, and we were OFF. It was a long way to Agnes Water (and Town of 1770) so we stopped part way at a place called Mackay. A nice stay ‘along the way’ at an airbnb that was basically the first floor of someone’s house. We had leftovers fo dinner, and eggs for breakfast, and had a great sleep. And we were on our way again.

Arriving at our place in Agnes Water, it was a little bit remote, which I thought it would be. An actual B&B, in fact, called Hideaway. The owner and hostess Jen and I got along great and spent some fun hours talking by the pool and on the porch. Jen was a model when she was younger and I’ve seen some of the pictures. WOW. She is now married to a man from South Africa (where Jen is also from, and where they lived together for several years). This style is obvious in the B&B, which is so wonderfully, and tastefully decorated with an African flavour. Gorgeous. While in Agnes Water, we rented Laney a surfboard and she surfed an entire day. It was the first surfing she has done in quite a while. Agnes Water seems to be the ‘sweet spot’ where there is some surf, but yet there is still access to the GBR, the southernmost point – Lady Musgraves I think it’s called. And not much threat of stingers. We didn’t stay long, we were on our way to Surfers Paradise to celebrate Christmas! We did meet a lovely couple from the U.K. and we spotted wallabies, a huge iguana, and a kangaroo while we were there! Right outside the B&B. Very cool.

Amazing scallops at Agnes Water – Cody’s Cafe. Just enough spice and a gorgeous presentation

Beautiful breakfast at the Hideaway.

Next stop Surfers Paradise!,

Thailand – Round 1 – Diving and WHALE SHARK!

Arrival in Bangkok from Tokyo. Not as nice a flight as some others we have had. Oh well. We survived!

While driving to the hotel in a taxi, we saw our first Tuk Tuk and an insane number of people on a scooter.

 

That’s two women, three children PLUS a baby. WHAT??

In Bangkok we booked a hotel. With a gym and a spa and a pool. We were near the famous Koh San road which is a bustling street of shops bars and food carts.

Of course, I had to check it out. It was very entertaining. As were the shops on the route there. There were silver shops too. Some were just wholesale. Others retail. I saw some tempting foods being sold by the cart vendors on Koh San Road – Mango rice and sugar cane juice and fresh fruits. And of course beetles, and scorpions and other various bugs. ON A STICK! HA! I was a tad concerned about cleanliness so I didn’t eat anything from there. I had a nice dinner at a restaurant across the street from our hotel. And a very expensive bottle of wine. Beer is pretty cheap in Thailand. But wine is expensive. Even for the crappy stuff ha

One thing I found shopping was this bag. Laney had wanted one in Japan but they cost $90! In Bangkok, $20. WIN! We also bought what I call ‘harem pants’. Thin cotton baggy pants with elastic waist, very comfy for travelling in hot weather.

 

Mainly in Bangkok we recovered. The two tours in a row exhausted us. It was great spending the few days doing some casual wandering. Going to the gym, getting massages and sometimes eating room service. I mean, when room service costs about $5, why not? Ha. Sorry Bangkok. Even extending our stay by a couple nights we didn’t see much of anything. Yes, we should have seen the reclining Buddha, etc but honestly we had seen so much in the way of ‘man made wonders’ in Japan, we were worn out.

Yummy Room Service above. This time Indian, with NAAN BREAD YUM!!

 

Above, and below, is the door to the massage room at the spa at the hotel it’s a clever, simple door lock and I thought it was neat!


 

Laney and I getting pumped. HA!

I really liked this display in the hotel gym. Representation of all the Olympic Games and where they were held. It was motivating and educational. We noticed that two ‘games’ were missing. Cancelled due to WWII. Very interesting.

There was this really beautiful zen/chill area also on the gym/pool/spa floor of the hotel. Like a rooftop area. There were very friendly Koi fish, and beautiful platforms just for chilling.

A towel elephant on our bed. So cute.

 

 

Above, check out that ‘scaffolding’ – it’s two pieces of bamboo and the guy balances on them in bare feet. Him painting that was one thing. The other guy carried up 3 bags of cement that same way!! YIKES!

This was the view from the gym/pool area. There were a variety of shops along the street, some what ‘shanty’ style.  You can see that some buildings look brand new, while others are looking a little rough.

Laney and I did have a nice dinner at a nearby pub/Bar and had some nice conversations there. As well as some really good beer. I was entertained at the list of American Beers.

 

 

 

The cashews were SO GOOD. Basically sautéed in a pan with some chilli sauce (I think) and some Thai peppers. They were spicy and SO GOOD. I did NOT eat the peppers. HA. The Cashews alone were hot enough to encourage lots of beer drinking. I bet these could be easily made at home though. YUM

 

 

 

 

 

The first few nights in Bangkok, there was a celebration outside the hotel so I got to see this cool dragon that sprayed water and spat fire. It was controlled by multiple people. You can see in the pic below there are people at the bottom and people all the way up to the top. Very cool.  Unfortunately with all the spotlights getting a good picture was nearly impossible.

 

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One cool thing we did in Bangkok was a ‘Airbnb Experience’. This is a new version of booking a tour/excursion with TripAdvisor (or Viator). Only the Airbnb Experiences are supposed to be more unique. This certainly was. We attended an authentic Thai dinner, cooked in-the-home by our hostess and her helper. Even better, the evening starts with a tour of the hostess’s garden, where she shows you some of the ingredients growing. Including Kaffir leaves, and some fruit, and other herbs. There were 5 courses – some things were familiar and some were not. One unique item was fried flowers! Very cool. They are dipped in a batter and deep fried. I guess this just proves that anything fried tastes good. HA!  The food was amazing, the hostess so gracious. We shared the evening with a couple from Singapore and (his or her?) parents. The parents didn’t speak much English, but everyone was really nice. Our hostess also had 4 cats (her listing for both ‘staying’ with her, as she is also an Airbnb hostess in the traditional sense, and for the dinner included the phrase ‘for Cat Lovers’. HA. Good idea. these were some pretty friendly cats. Laney and I enjoyed having the cats around.  Can you believe the one cat ate pumpkin? Weird. The pumpkin was part of our pumpkin custard dessert, which is custard baked inside of a pumpkin (in this case not an orange pumpkin but a green striped one). It was amazing! YAY FOOD!

This (above) is the fried flowers being made. Flower, batter, fryer, done! And the flowers are so pretty too!!

These are the ingredients before she started cooking.

One thing I noticed, the bowl of slightly brown liquid had contained dried mushrooms, which were soaked in water, and she added this water to the soup later – similar to how the Polish recipe is done for Polish Mushroom Soup.

The dishes include sautéed cabbage, fried flowers, meat with basil (darker in colour), shrimp pad Thai I think, and lastly a curry soup. It was all amazing.

This is the custard which is baked inside the pumpkin. First you cut a hole in the top (of a raw pumpkin), and clear out the seeds, then you fill it with the custard and bake the whole thing. Our hostess said it’s tricky to get it to the right ‘doneness’.

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A cat that eats pumpkin. HA!

Our hostess mentioned that, between her own Airbnb ‘rooms for rent’, managing a few other Airbnb rentals for people, and the cooking, she is planning to ‘quit her day job’ soon. Awesome. She says she can manage the properties remotely so she’s looking to do some travelling.

After Bangkok we were due to get to Koh Tao for our scuba certifications. I was told the overnight train was the way to go. Unfortunately I hadn’t booked enough in advance to get a first class cabin, but was told the second class could be fun because you get to meet more people.

Another adventure awaits. HA

So we attempted an Uber to the train station but after 25 minutes of the Uber app telling us he was 5 minutes away we gave up. And took a taxi. HA.

The taxi dropped is at the train station, but we needed to get across the street to a “gray building” to get our tickets that we had ordered online. Well. Not just a street but a few streets. And quite busy ones!  With our luggage! And we knew this because a nice Thai man took pity on our obviously confused faces and asked something like ‘pick up tickets?’ And pointed to the building. I thought Laney was going to killl me for our attempted crossing. It was pretty crazy. At one point we got stuck in the middle of the road (between lanes). YIKES. We got there. Alive and well. We waited a bit. Got our tickets and then I asked if there was an easier way to get back to catch the train. Yup. Around the corner. No streets to cross. And go underground. Yay!  (I got death look from Laney, though). Hey you don’t know what you don’t know right!!

I had planned to get something to eat in the train station. That turned it to be a mistake. Nothing in the food court looked particularly clean to be honest. So we settled for packaged food of some kind from the convenience store in the train station. I think nuts and water, or a candy bar. HA.

We waited a while for the train. During which there was some kind of ‘hail to the king’ thing that happened. Music came on and everyone stood and faced the big picture of the king on the wall. Around Bangkok there are many pictures of the king. We learned later in Koh Tao that the king had passed away about a year ago. And the country mourned for nearly a year. Including a serious restriction on tourist partying – so some of the southern Thailand tourism business suffered greatly. Hmmm.

Anyway the train was definitely interesting. I had booked seats for Laney and I next to each other. Our seats would convert to a flat bed, this would be the lower bunk for me. And a top bunk would fold down from the ceiling for Laney. The staff supposedly handled all of that. Including fresh linens, pillows, etc. I was curious to see….

These are the bunks, to and bottom, with fresh sheets and blankets. Not too shabby considering

This is me sitting in the lower bunk (with my kindle)

After a short time someone came through asking for food orders. I knew we could go to the food car for food –  but honestly we were just so tired. And frankly a bit nervous about leaving our stuff behind unattended. A lovely Thai woman brought the food to our seats. A nearly-toothless guy kept wandering up and down  the isle offering beer. Which we turned down – I wanted to have all of my wits about me being surrounded by strangers and sleeping. Ha. The guy nearly insisted Laney have one though. Almost forced one into her hands with a toothless grin. Ha. He was being nice I guess. Laney managed to turn him down nicely.

Well, after getting past some motion sickness (night/dark/movement = nausea) Laney ended up sleeping on the lower bunk with me. It wasn’t even as big as a twin bed so we were shoulder to shoulder. We managed to sleep some. Ha. Pretty well, actually, considering!!

Travel tip for everyone. I was told by Matt that antihistamines can help with nausea. Twice now, on this train and on a ferry also in Thailand, I gave Laney a Claritin and it seemed to do the trick! Best part is, you can take it after the nausea sets in, and it doesn’t cause sleepiness!!! WIN!

13 or 14 hours later, we arrived at the train station, and Checked in with the transport company counter at the station.

Side Note: It’s a great system they have, this transport company. They put together the train and a bus and a ferry in one package/price/plan, and they align the times for you. A huge help when trying to get from Bangkok in north/central Thailand to the southern Thai islands.. Also, when you check in (in this case, after the train ride) they put a sticker on you. It’s color coded for where you are going. Same for your bag. It seemed stupid to me at first – I was feeling a bit embarrassed to be treated like an idiot….but then I realized it makes good sense. Even though the staff all speaks English the accent sometimes gets in the way and you don’t entirely understand what they are telling you. This way (and this happened to us one one of these types of journeys) when at a ferry stop, and they instruct certain passengers to get off (by destination name) they can look through the cabin and see if anyone has remained that should have gotten off. So everyone gets where they are going. In my defense – when it happened to us –  it was a ferry transfer and we didn’t know we HAD a transfer or where it was.  I thought the ferry was going to the island we were headed to. And there is no map like a train of stops etc. and no one was able to explain to me in a way I could understand.(i.e. language/accent barrier) Ha. So I was humbled. And I understood why we were being treated like kindergarteners on field trip (marching t shirts etc). Ha. And I was grateful. !!!

Here’s my ‘travel for dummies’ sticker. HA

Anyway, we waited a while for the bus (during which Laney saw a rat, or so she claimed, in the garden bed behind where I was sitting. HA) – the bus ride was maybe 40 minutes then check in again, get on the ferry, and that was a couple hours with a few stops before ours. Then, we got there, found the driver for our resort in the chaos, and got a ride on what I would call a tuk tuk ‘bus’ (drives many people, kind of golf-cart style) to our room.

Our room turned out to be pretty crappy even though we paid for the upgrade to AC. Apparently that just gets you the OLDEST room where they have slapped an AC unit on the wall. UGG.

We explored the area a bit then rested.

We visited the onsite bar and restaurant for dinner and attended our first ‘meeting’ for our scuba class. Our instructor was immediately hilarious and engaging. I could tell it was going to be fun. We had an interesting mix of people in a relatively small class of 6 students, and we had the advantage of a very experienced instructor and 2 ‘instructors in training’ which is awesome. We did some video watching that evening, and then the next morning we did some instruction next to the pool (plus the reading on the night between), then we were IN THE POOL swimming and practicing with the equipment. All went well. Laney did amazing. She seemed to master bouancy so quickly (the goal being a balance of your weight, additional weights, air in your BC/vest and your breath to stay suspended in the water, neither on the bottom nor floating up).

The next morning, we took our first training dive! Out on the boat we went!

The course was great, so much better than when I took it in NJ. It seemed then, we had like 4 Saturdays of instruction and testing before we got in the pool and my instructors were so high strung it made me nervous.  Not the case here. Andy thought that experience was the best teacher and he was so right.

We made good friends during that course. Each day instead of sitting in the classroom for our ‘out of water teaching’ we went to a nearby restaurant/bar and ate AMAZING and CHEAP food and had a few drinks.  Needless to say, each afternoon resulted in a nap and most times dinner was unnecessary. HA.

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One night, I went out after dinner with the other ‘grown ups’. Got to see the fire dancers. Pretty cool

 

These beautiful buildings were near Bingo’s – that great restaurant we met at every day. We also got to see some ADORABLE baby chickens there, as well. Lots of chickens running around ‘wild’ in Thailand. ha.

There was a pretty nice beach near our resort, which is called Ban’s, and some nice sunsets from the bar and restaurant. Most nights there was live entertainment too. They’re no Melanie and Tony, but it was still nice.

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Oh, and we decided to take the Advanced course, with the same group of people (minus one) and the same instructors – all 3. AND, the instructor spoke to the office and got us a MASSIVE upgrade to a LOVELY room. WIN! YAY! Oh and now we had room service. WHOO HOO!!

Of course, I had to shift a few things ‘forward’ to accommodate these additional days on Koh Tao.  I had to shorten our stay in Ao Nang, Thailand,  (west side of southern Thailand) but it all worked out OK. Turns out, after all the diving, (like 9 dives in 5 days) I got sick and spent the Ao Nang time in bed anyway. Hello Ramen noodles for Thanksgiving. HA. No, I’m not kidding. It was the only thing in the apartment when we got there on Thanksgiving and I didn’t have the energy to go find something else after a rather long day of travel and feeling ‘punky’, as we say. HA.

But I’ve skipped over some really cool stuff.  Back up! During our first ‘Advanced Open Water Course’ dive, we got to dive with a WHALE SHARK! WHOO HOO! I was over the moon. This is such an amazing creature. In case you didn’t know this creature is more whale than shark. It eats krill and plankton, has no teeth so isn’t dangerous at all.  But it is a fish (not a mammal). The one we saw was relatively small but still was 4 Meters long!! WOW. Magical. Our instructor took the pic. The two guys in the background are our ‘Instructors in training’, Andy and Nicolas. Laney and I were equally close to this amazing creature, though. What an experience. I have lots of video, but haven’t had the time or patience to cull through it all yet.

 

 

THEN, we did a deep dive – and I’m glad to report that Laney and I don’t get loopy at 30 Meters deep. HA.

FINALLY we also did a night dive. This was the 3rd dive of the day and I was EXHAUSTED. We started at about 630 pm when it was getting dark. It was the most amazing experience though. We were each given torches (FLASHLIGHTS), and we dove a while with those turned on. I have to say, perhaps due to my inexperience, I didn’t see much with the torches on. I’m sure there are certain things you are supposed to look for at night (like lobsters maybe?) but I didn’t see them. BUT, THEN WE ALL TURNED THE TORCHES OFF and the real fun began. First, you could still see a little bit. Maybe 10-15 feet so I could keep track of where Laney was and where our Instructor ‘in training’ was (with 3 dive masters, we had one for each pair of divers, so awesome) – but the best part was when you wave your hand through the water, or watch behind the fins of the person in front of you, you see STARS. OK it’s BIOLUMINESCENT ORGANISMS, but they are everywhere and it’s like swimming in the night sky with stars swirling around. SO SO SO SO COOL!

OK, so back to Thanksgiving. The next few days, really 7, were nothing. I was bed-bound except for absolute necessities like food and medicine.  Somewhat self-imposed, mind you. I just know myself – and if I rest when I’m sick, I get better. If I don’t, the sickness lingers and/or gets worse. And I know I didn’t want to get any worse. We were headed to Australia next and I know it’s no good to fly when you’re sick. I was very pleased, though, with the pharmacy. I showed up with a picture on my phone of Mucinex (or Mucinex D, I can’t recall), which is what I would take at home for my symptoms. An employee with very good English talked me though the options and found me something pretty much exactly the same as what I needed, she wrote down instructions, and sent me on my way. And it was all quite reasonably priced. DONE!

Fluids, rest, meds. That was it. And a run to the grocery one day (via tuk tuk, hilarious) and take out another day or two from the place literally 30 feet away, and we chilled and rested. I think Laney was pretty tuckered out too, and needing some rest. She gladly did nothing for the entire 7 days. We had some rainy days in there, anyway. And the one day I DID venture out for a walk on the beach, I was not impressed. A lot of people stay in Ao Nang to get a longboat to some of the remote beaches that can only be reached by boat. They are very pretty. And there is good diving from Ao Nang, I believe. But overall I didn’t love the area. Too backkpacker-ish and touristy in my opinion.

We did manage to pull together a nice dessert in Ao Nang. All bought at the grocery store. Whipped cream, strawberries, and CAKE!

I found this sign amusing regarding what to do in a tsunami scenario. I’m not sure you have much of a chance, unless you can get to some REALLY high ground. I read recently (based on this sparking my curiosity) that the tsunami that hit Indonesia was 50 METERS HIGH. WOW!!

After rest, we took the glorious journey back across southern Thailand, and a ferry to Koh Samui (where the airport is) and spent the night in a cheap hotel in town. I have to say, though, for $25 American, I could not BELIEVE how big and how nice our room was. Clean, fridge, big bathroom, two double sized beds, really nice! And around the corner a great beach and restaurant area. We had one of our best meals. Laney fell in love with Tuna Tar Tar, and had an amazing steak. I had fish that was OK, but the apps and cocktails made up for it. There was a pumpkin soup (I think) and the Tuna Tartar with avocado. And for DESSERT chocolate something cake, which was actually quite similar to that amazing chocolate cake with the chocolate sauce in the middle that they serve at Applebys. HA!  No, not really Thai food, but we were due for some comfort food.

 

 

 

 

The next day we took a taxi ride to the airport and we were OFF to Australia!!

This time, we had a 12 hour layover in the Singapore airport. There is SO MUCH to do there. A movie theatre, free tours of Singapore, TONS of shopping (which we took full advantage of ) and tons of restaurants. Also, these AMAZING resting areas with recline/lounge chairs. I took a full 2 hour nap during our stay and I swear I could have slept more but I think Laney was bored. HA. So great.

THEN, we arrive in Cairns! Our Australia Adventure Begins!! WHOO HOO

Japan – OMG THE FOOD!!!

Hi everyone! thanks for checking out the blog on Japan!

I’m going to apologise in advance that this is a LONG blog. HA but it’s mostly pictures.

Our travel to Japan was a bit of a long haul. Ha. First an 8 hour flight then a more than 10 hour flight with less than 2 hours between. Yikes. However I have to say international long haul flights are so much better than the domestic flights I’m used to. For one there is more space; and then there is great in-flight entertainment. Literally hundreds of movies to choose from. Not that I watched much. I slept SO much. Laney enjoyed them though.

Arriving in Tokyo at 11 pm – knowing we have to do a final hop the next morning – we stayed at a simple airport hotel and had our first Japanese experience. Ha. For starters,I thought it was just the airport hotel but every single hotel we stayed in (in Japan) provided toothbrushes and toothpaste. Then of course the slippers. You’re not supposed to wear your shoes in the room.  Then there’s the 100 buttons on the toilet. Ha. And warm toilet seats. I swear almost everywhere we went except the most basic of public bathrooms had a heated seat and usually a bidet function. Oh and the Japan sizing of the rooms. Ha. Yes, quite small in most cases.

 

The next day we take a quick hop flight to Osaka where our tour begins. We are a full day ahead so we head out for some Kobe beef. Which was so good – but not nearly what we experienced in Tokyo at the end of our trip – but more on that later. On the way home I had to try these octopus dumpling looking things they were selling everywhere.  Takoyaki.  They were OK, but I didn’t love them  HA. We also stopped at a convenience store and Laney – my favorite child- spotted my favorite sake – the same one that I buy at home!! Whoo hoo score!

 

 

 

 

The next day we walked around Osaka a bit and rested some. We met our tour group at 6 pm for the kickoff meeting,  and it was quite a varied crew. I was afraid of it being a bunch of older people but it was more young by far. We chose not to do an Osaka walking tour with the tour CEO (chief experience officer as they are called at G Adventures) so we headed to a Japanese restaurant. I had sushi. I think Laney had noodles. The sushi was SO Amazing. Ha. So was the sake! We also picked up these crazy good cookies. YUM!!

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning we met in the lobby at 8am to start the tour. When I booked the tour I thought ‘Express’ meant short tour. It actually means you do A LOT in a short time. Ha. Here we go!  Not like we’re tired from that Africa thing. NO Not at all! Ha!

We headed to a to a subway then train station to get to Koyasan –  Mount Koya  – we were going to stay at a Buddhist Temple. Our CEO Natsu said  it was going to be cold because of the elevation . She wasn’t kidding – it was freaking COLD and our walls were made of rice paper!! Fortunately, there was a space heater in our room so we CRANKED that and hoped for the best as we dressed in our kimonos and headed to dinner. We had a traditional Buddhist vegetarian dinner called shojin ryori. It was good although Laney and I didn’t much care for the jello-ish texture of some of the tofu.

The temple was beautiful inside and out. Particularly with the leaves changing during the fall. Our rooms were traditional Japanese, so no beds. HA. They come in during the evening to lay out futon mattress and the bedding. It was quite comfortable!

This is the entrance to the temple where we stayed

This is the doorway to our room, from an outside wooden walkway

This is the same spot but ‘turn around’ so with my back to the paper door to our bedroom, this is our view. A garden with beautiful fall foliage.

This is also in the entrance to the temple where we stayed. The man building is to the right.

These are the futons they put in our rooms for us at bedtime. they were quite comfortable.

This is multiple place settings for the dinner.

Here is the food for the evening. I really enjoyed most of it. I would hate to be the one doing the dishes though. ALL THOSE DISHES!!

Laney and I worked on making our paper cranes, which we were given by our CEO (paper and instructions) We had quite a few laughs about our mistakes. But it was fun. Paper cranes are the symbolic gift that you are to bring to the Children’s Park at the Hiroshima Peace Museum. There are thousands gathered every year. The story behind them is here.

After dinner some people went for a tour of the Okunoin cemetery, which is the largest in Japan. We had seen it during the day, though, and with it being SO COLD we opted not to go and we spent the time warming up in our room instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning we were invited to attend a fire ceremony, which was very cool.

 

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We learned that all everyone in Japan is either Buddhist, Shinto or both. Many times both. People practice both religions, believe it or not. Shinto is the original religion of Japan, and Buddhism was introduced in the 6th century. They now coexist peacefully and in some cases have blended a bit in Japanese culture, as with shrines and temples.

We visited both shrines and temples in Koyasan. We utilised a purification trough to cleans our hands and mouth before entering. And we saw the shimwnawa, which is a rope with paper tied to it, representing the entrance to a sacred place. We saw pagodas as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loved these sand/rock gardens. It was so peaceful

 

 

 

 

 

We left after the fire ceremony and headed via bus, then train again to Hirshima to the Peace Park and Peace Memorial Museum.  I didn’t take any pictures inside the Museum because it seemed disrespectful.  I did learn about why the bombing was deemed appropriate by the allies, but the effect on the people and the devastation was heartbreaking. This probably affected me more than the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camps – probably because in that case I felt we were on the ‘good’ side. In this case, while still the ‘good’ side, we caused something terrible. I learned, though, that the bombing was chosen as the solution because it was estimated that war would cause significantly more casualties on both sides. Still, it’s hard to see.

Children’s Monument

 

This building still stands from before the bombing. It’s interesting how it was left to show the damage and remains there today.

Near the center of the park is a concrete, saddle-shaped monument that covers a cenotaph holding the names of all of the people killed by the bomb. The monument is aligned to frame the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome. The Memorial Cenotaph was one of the first memorial monuments built on open field on August 6, 1952. The arch shape represents a shelter for the souls of the victims

The Peace Flame is another monument to the victims of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, but it has an additional symbolic purpose. The flame has burned continuously since it was lit in 1964, and will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed and the planet is free from the threat of nuclear annihilation

After visiting the museum and the parks, we had a group dinner. It was one of my favorite dinners of the whole tour. We met and Natsu took us to a building that contained MANY Okonomiyaki restaurants, but ours was supposedly the best. Okonomiyaki are basically a type of pancake filled usually with cabbage and noodles and other ingredients. They are usually cooked in front of you, as they were in this case. The food was amazing and the restaurant owners were great too. Of course, I had sake with mine. HA.  The picture with all the ‘banners’ – each of those banners is a different Okonomiyaki restaurant – and that was just on one floor. Each restaurant is literally an L-shaped grill with seats on the opposing side. As others did, I left half my Okonomiyaki on the grill while I ate the other half. This kept it hot and fresh.

This was towards the beginning of the cooking process

This is the finished product, only some of it on my plate with some ‘special sauce’. OMG so delicious. I can’t wait to have these again. My friend Karen says she knows a place in NYC that makes them. YAY!

This is the line of restaurants, each one its own banner.

As we were leaving, they cooked some scallops on the grill. I had to take some pictures because the scallop contains a muscle/piece that I’m not used to seeing.

Later that night, the group rented a Karaoke room and we enjoyed some bad singing for a while. HA. It’s a Japanese thing. It was fun!

Our next stop was Kyoto, which I expected to be a smaller city, but actually was quite big and bustling!

In Kyoto we saw The Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, which contains over 5,000 Torii gates. This intriguing shrine was dedicated to the god of rice and sake by the Hata clan in the 8th century. YES!  A shrine to SAKE!! My kind of place. HA!

 

 

 

 

 

We also saw Daisen-in’s Zen Garden, which was really amazing and peaceful, but sadly we couldn’t take any pictures.

We saw the Bamboo Forrest, which was a little bit damaged from the recent storm that hit the week before we were there. But it was still pretty incredible to see!

 

 

 

We saw with Kinaku-ji Golden Pavillion. The entire garden and ground were amazingly beautiful

These are not ‘real’ geishas. It’s common in this area particularly to rent the ‘costume’ and get hair and makeup done to match.

After the Bamboo Garden, we got some ice cream and tried one of our favorite things we had in Japan. Taiyaki. It’s a dessert. A soft cake/cookie shaped like a fish with filling and another cookie. The filling could be chocolate, or custard (our favorite), or even ice cream. All other flavours too.

 

 

 

Finally we saw the Nijo Castle and Gardens.

 

 

WHEW. BUSY BUSY

After that, some of our tour mates went to do some ‘experiences’ like a traditional tea ceremony, learning samurai skills, and dressing up like a Geisha. Unfortunately, we were just too tired and Laney was feeling a little punky so we just chilled in the room until dinner.

The next morning we visited the Buddhist temple Kinkaku-ji also in Kyoto, Japan. This is translated as “Temple of the Golden Pavilion” or “Golden Pavilion Temple” in English. The views all around were completely spectacular.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also visited some additional temples that day, and had an amazing dinner at a Japanese ‘tavern’ so to speak. Like a pub. HA. It’s called an Izakaya – a type of restaurant.  Ironically, probably my #1 favorite restaurant in the US is Izakaya’s (asian infused restaurant) in the Borgata in Atlantic City. HA!

Tuna over avocado. SO GOOD!

Dumplings

Octopus

The visual menu outside the restaurant. This is pretty common in Japan.

Name of the restaurant (I forget what it means. HA)  Something like Happy Heart or something.

The next day we took a trip to Hakone, where we stayed in a Japanese hotel with a traditional Japanese bath, fed by a natural hot spring.

And we donned our kimonos again for a multi-course Kaiseki meal (not vegetarian this time). I think this is where Laney discovered her love of salmon sashimi. And of course the miso soup was amazing as was the beef! YUM!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last but not least we landed ourselves in Tokyo. We enjoyed exploring the city with our tour mates and we spent quite a bit of time in the Shibuya area, and got some good film of the famous crossing.

The meal below was quite interesting. I had heard of these but this was the only time we ‘did it’. Some casual restaurants in Japan, at or near the door, you place your order in a machine, like a vending machine, and pay through the machine as well. It prints you a receipt which you give to the hostess and she seats you and brings your food (and drink) to you when it’s ready. This was a noodle type place and it was SO GOOD!

Most exciting for me (Laney opted not to go) was the Tsukiji Fish Market. We saw both the retail and the wholesale area (where, technically, we aren’t supposed to go or it’s discouraged).  What an amazing array of food here. And do you know there is $13 MILLION of fish and shellfish sold here EVERY DAY?? That’s a LOT OF FREAKING SEAFOOD! WOW.

 

This, above, is a sunfish. I didn’t think people these. It’s a HUGE fish.

Those white things are frozen tuna. Frozen to something like negative 60 Celsius and then the guy is cutting them with a band saw (I think it’s a band saw, it’s been a long time since my shop classes at OCIS). CRAZY!

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A famous green tea shop was also in the Tsukiji market area, and this is the different types of green tea. They made us hot tea of two different kinds, including Macha, which is the best, to compare.

 


Dried octopus. Saw this everywhere. No I didn’t try it. It just didn’t look appetising to me.

OK, so this may be where my food fascination started (If you saw my recent post on facebook asking people to identify a food in it’s natural state). Above, this is rice. It was being sold for decorative purposes. But its interesting to know that it needs to be taken out of the shell before it can be eaten (cooked, etc.). I had no idea how rice was grown.

The guy above is cooking scallops in their shell with a butane torch. I wasn’t hungry at the time, but when Laney and I came back a few days later I had these. They were AMAZING!!

Giant tuna head.

SO, along the food lines, this is wasabi in it’s natural form. Who knew?

More amazing food on offer at the Tsukiji fish market.

With our tour mates, and then again a couple days later on our own, we had the BEST BEEF OF OUR LIVES here. If you’re in Tokyo you HAVE TO GO to this restaurant. It’s not EASY to find, but you can google this name (starts with the Han….) and then look closely for this sign. The restaurant is in the basement.

 

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Also in Tokyo with our group, we visited an English pub, called Hobgoblin. Rather ironic since a few people were from England. HA. Laney and I visited a few days later on our own as well. We really enjoyed playing darts!

 

 

Pretty good shots for me considering I’d had quite a lot to drink. HA

Cool Guinness labels.

LOVED this IPA!!!

 

I took Laney back to the Tsukiji market a few days later to see the sights, try some foods, and pick up these HUGE crabs I saw.  The pictures don’t really do them justice. They were ENORMOUS.

Sweet potato ice cream, I believe

 

Healthy street food at the fish market.

Got my scallops!

This is a traditional Japanese dish, made slightly differently by region. It’s mostly egg, and it’s VERY FLUFFY. This on (Tokyo region) is slightly sweet.

 

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Check out these crabs – didn’t by these. they look like ugly spider crabs!

 

 

The claws were spotted and slightly less bulky than crabs in NJ/MD.

 

 

Laney and I mostly vegetated the last few days in our Airbnb once the tour ended. We were PRETTY TIRED! HA!

Here are some random pictures and descriptions. I can’t recall exactly when/where they happened but I don’t want to leave them out. Some are kind of cool or funny


Above – tiny crabs. Cooked, I assume and dried I guess. Sold unrefrigerated and when I asked, yes, you eat them like potato chips. Just pop them in your mouth.  I wish I had tried them but I didn’t want to buy the whole bag. .


Vending machine – the item with red below them are sold HOT and items with blue are cold. Took me almost a week to realise this. HA.  At least once Laney was surprised that her tea was hot.

A funny visual about keeping your hands clear of the door of the subway train.

Vending machines are everywhere in Japan. You don’t need any kind of license to put one on your property. The vending machine company will bring it and install it and supply it regularly for free. And you get something like 20% of the profit for having it on your property. Free money. No wonder they’re everywhere.

A cool railing. It matches the steps. Makes sense. HA

 


Laney next to the Honey Toast statue. not actual size. Though, doesn’t seem far off when they put it in front of you. HA.

Above – actual Honey Toast. This was a random lunch with a couple tour mates (Patrick and Izzy). We had no idea it was going to be bigger than our head! And SO INSANELY GOOD. Like slightly sweet bread, fluffy, but not as sweet as cake. Drizzled with a honey-like liquid but a thinner liquid. topped with all kind of good stuff! It was to die for !

Mochi. But filled with all different things (in my experience the US they are filled with ice cream). The white strawberry is a specialty, not an unripe one. A special white strawberry supposed to be very good. Tasted like a red strawberry to me. HA.

This darker panda is a sweet one – filled with chocolate I think.

The white one, which Laney had, was a pork dumpling, similar to the ones we had at 551, a famous place for dumplings in Japan.

just a cute sign in a train station

OK so I have always thought this. We should use sink and shower ‘dirty’ water to flush toilets. This isn’t quite there but pretty cool. There was another sink in the bathroom but this one ran after you flushed, to fill the tank and to wash your hands as well. PRETTY FREAKING COOL.


Bento Boxes. Great food on the go in very neat and tidy packaging. Very Japanese. Loved these. They are sold (and consumed) at room temperature. And perfectly fine!

 

Amusing toilet instructions.


Interesting translation of instructions.


Every day, pretty much, Natsu would give us a written detailed agenda like this. Including weather forecast and exact train times. She was INSANELY meticulous and detailed and energetic and wonderful.


At a bus station. I think it’s just a calendar. I think it was Nov 1.


Famous dumplings from 551 (Go Go Itchy. Go is 5 in Japanese. Itchy is One).

Itchy. Knee. Sun. She. Go. That’s 1, 2,3,4,5.


More of Natsu’s instructions. Wish I had take a  pic of them all. I would have had everything I needed for this blog HA. Don’t compare, I probably got some things/days mixed up.


Reality of travelling. Laundry drying on the patio. I don’t think I’ve had/seen/used a dryer but one time since I’ve left home. Crazy right? but it’s worked really well. I actually prefer it now.

Laney bought this candy (along with ‘Russian roulette iced tea’ – several bottles of unknown tea type) when we first got to Japan. And proceeded to buy a few more packs of this crazy purple taffy-like candy.

 

 

 

South Africa and Swaziland – Safari – The BIG FIVE!!!

The most important thing about the South Africa trip was that Jeannine joined us!!! Big freaking YAY!!!

Before I proceed, I will tell you this was the HARDEST BLOG to write. For starters, it took me a while to get TO IT because the destination after this was also a TOUR (a very busy one) AND WIFI started to get more spotty. Also, in this blog, I added LOTS OF PHOTOS and I started making them ‘enlarge-able’ if that’s a word. HA. Also, I put in some videos, which I very slightly edited in iMovie (I mostly just shortened them and/or shrank them to make them a reasonable file size). And, of course, there was just SO MUCH TO WRITE ABOUT on this blog! Let me know what you think and if you have any trouble with the videos? Sorry in advance if you think this is too long. I swear it’s mostly pictures. HA!

Well, our South Africa experience started with a bit of a downer. Jeannine’s luggage didn’t arrive. Not that surprising, since she literally RAN – with a flight attendant – from her plane in Doha to the one Laney and I were already on, to take us to Joburg. The luggage apparently doesn’t move as fast as Jeannine does! HA!

We arrived at our ‘lodge’ in Joburg. I think lodge is South African for ‘crappy hotel’. HA. It wasn’t BAD, really, but it wasn’t good. HA!

We had a very small room that the 3 of us would share for 2 nights. Laney graciously took the futon on the floor.

The only place to put our bags was on the floor and we had to be EXTREMELY STRATEGIC about where we put them so that we would all still be able to walk and – say – get to the bathroom or the exit. Ha.

Jeannine and I headed out that evening to the nearby Santon City, to Nelson Mandella square, which is a nice shopping and restaurant area. We had been told NOT to walk (by our airport transport) so we hired a car to take us there and bring us back. The Nelson Mandella square itself was quite lovely, like an upscale shopping mall, with restaurants outside with great indoor and outdoor seating. It was definitely safe. We had an INSANELY delicious meal, including ribs and wings and filet and 2 sides and a bottle of wine  – for like $45. Total. Crazy good.

The next day the tour offered a half day around Joburg – a bike ride to a nearby Township, but we skipped it as we were waiting for Jeannine’s luggage.

That night, we did some last minute shopping. A shirt for Laney, and some pharmacy necessities (like bug spray/lotion, etc.). Then the three of us had another amazing and inexpensive dinner. Yes, more meat. I had fish. LOVING South Africa so far!

The following day, we left early and embarked on a long drive from Joburg (that’s common ‘short’ for Johannesburg) to Hluhluwe, where there are 2 national parks, Hluhluwe and Imfolozi. On our drive, we saw lots of beautiful purple flowering trees, and also a huge area of forestation, where a non-indigenous tree is grown specifically for harvesting for wood. We also saw lots of pineapple farms. I had no idea how pineapples grew, but I know now!

On the way, we stopped for a great lunch at a beautiful BnB in Piet Retief. The restaurant was called Munch. The Chicken salad sandwich was amazing!

I noted at the hotel – and verbalized at the restaurant, how the other family on the tour with us had no reservation drinking tap water and drinks with ice and fresh fruit and veg, unlike what the US doctors had told us (NONE OF THOSE). It took me a few days but I started following their lead. I still didn’t drink tap water but wasn’t afraid of some lettuce and tomato on my sandwich, or an apple here and there. It all turned out fine!

The roadway was paved most of the way to Hluhluwe. One part (say 30 minutes?) was very much NOT paved and rather rough. In Africa, they call this ‘African Massage’. HA. Not so soothing.

We had lots to look at along the way. Cows, with babies, and goats, all around, wandering ‘free’, sometimes in the road! HA. We saw lots of schoolchildren walking to and from school, all of them in uniform. At one place, the school let out and kids were walking near a bus stop, and right next to the bus stop was a cow with a baby calf. So adorable.

We arrived at Hluhluwe park in the middle of the afternoon, after a stop for some supplies (food for meals, which Colin and Gordon were buying), snacks and drinks for us. 🙂

Our first experience at the park was awesome. To set the stage, know that the parks are large areas in various sizes, with fences to keep the animals in the designated area, for their own safety. There are roads through the parks, where the cars drive, and the animals wander roads and non-roads alike. This particular park is the oldest in South Africa and is 960 sq km in size.

The first animals we saw was a family of warthogs (Pumba, from the Lion King) – a mom and a few babies, very close to our vehicle. We also saw a group of buffalo, fairly close. Then a group of rhinos at a distance. Maybe 3 or 4 of them. We saw zebras as well as giraffes (we saw more of both, closer, later in the day). We even spotted 3 male lions, napping under a tree, and apparently bothered by bugs – they were getting irritated, flicking their tails, etc. The pictures of those lions are by our tour mate Andy. He had an incredible camera. We could see the lions like this but only through binoculars.

The giraffes above are babies. That is why they are smaller than the zebras. Ha.

. We saw groups of impalas and inyalas. These are both gazelle-type animals. Impalas have a black M on their tail which they use to follow each other during the day. At night, they flip their tails up, to show white, again to make it easy to follow each other. Very cool. A South African joke is that impalas have an M on their tail because they are like McDonald’s – ‘fast food’ for the lions. HA. Inyalas look a little different, they are striped. Male impalas look similar to the females, but with horns. Inyalas, the male looks completely different.

We took a break in this park, at a place with a beautiful view. It overlooks a huge expanse of the park. There is a lodge there as well, and it would be amazing to sit and watch this area while eating dinner or having coffee. As soon as we arrive, I spot an ornery monkey messing around in a nearby parked vehicle. He’s inside, on the mirrors, on the hood. Of course, it draws a crowd and we all take pics. SO CUTE! We learn later how ANNOYING they can be (but they are still cute). We take a few pictures of the view, have some coffee, and get back in the car for more animal spotting.

We are now on the way to our campground, and I am wanting to spot an elephant! This is Jeannine’s ABSOLUTE FAVORITE ANIMAL SINCE SHE WAS A KID! We didn’t see any that day. We saw rhinos very close to the road. Inyalas too.  And a lone buffalo who is likely old and will soon be a lions meal. So we are told. Lone animals don’t do well in the wild.

We get to our campsite, set up our tents. We learn we have access to the small cabins as our ‘bathrooms’ and decide to leave our suitcases in those cabins because I’m not sure we could fit in our tents with our suitcases anyway. Yikes, this is going to be interesting!

Around the campfire after dinner that night (turns out Colin is an amazing cook, and I think I may have put on a few pounds, HA!) – we hear owls talking to each other. So cool. We made up some ‘dialog’ for the owls which ended with them ‘hooking up’. HA. We also hear another sound and decide it’s a big bullfrog in the distance. There are monkeys everywhere in this campground. In fact, someone needs to be in the kitchen area at all times when food is out because otherwise, they will invade! HA!. If you look in the trees you can see the limbs moving from the monkeys jumping around. They aren’t hard to spot at all.

The next morning we pack up camp and head to a traditional Zulu Villiage. We ‘ring the doorbell’ by banging a drum, are allowed entrance. We are taught a few words in Kulu, like “hello”, “I’m good, how are you?”, and “thank you”. We are shown around, and we see how they live and dress. What married women wear (red hats and conservative clothes) versus unmarried women (show more skin, like shoulders and legs, and no hat). We see the Medicine man. We are shown the creation of weapons and shields. Here, the roles of women are still quite traditional, and Laney is not allowed to pose for a photo with the full-body shield and sword. Only the smaller one and only because women sometimes hold them in a wedding ceremony. The Kulu traditional homes are round with thatched roofs. We see some traditional dancing and a mock wedding ceremony. We also drink homemade Kulu beer, which tastes very yeast-y.

After visiting the Kulu village, we head to Kosi Bay Lodge. When we get there and check in we meet the local pets. A dog and some cats. Laney loves the young cat who is very soon chased into a tree by the dog. Ha. Now, she’s freaking out and I can’t get her to leave the cat – she fears the dog will hurt it. HA.

YAY! Rooms and Power! And an attached bathroom! HA! We are offered, and elect to go on, a boat ride and look for hippos. We are lucky, we see 3 right away and another 2-3 later on. They are mostly submerged to stay cool and out of the sun. When they start to feel threatened or have had enough of our presence, they open their mouths. We got some great pics. I can’t imagine what kind of damage those teeth would do. Very intimidating for an herbivore. HA. We also see some cool birds like cormorants and kingfisher. And we learn about the fishing methods of the Tonga people.

We have dinner and drinks as a group at the lodge.

The next day we head out for kayaking and snorkeling at Kosi Bay. First, it’s a bit of a drive to a lookout point, then down to the bay area. It’s all dirt roads, and a 4-wheel-drive is essential. Sugar Sand, they would call it in NJ. Deep, dry sand that is easy to get stuck in.

In the picture above, off the tip of that driftwood tree, in the ‘sandbar island’  is what remains of a dead whale. It was pretty awful when you were downwind of it. Local people walked miles in the crazy heat and hacked off pieces of bone to bring to the medicine man for money. I couldn’t get within 50 feet of it and they were knee and elbow deep!!

The bay is beautiful and feels SO remote. The kayaking isn’t too fun because it’s so windy. Going one way was good, coming back was impossible. HA. We have a box type lunch then head out for snorkeling.  The snorkeling is great. We saw probably 40 different kinds of fish. Including triggerfish, lionfish, lots of eels (white spotted and red), angel fish, lots of tangs.  Supposedly 200 different species of fish live here.  Laney also found a crab in the sand.  It was a little chilly, both the water and the air because it was so windy.

Laney got some great underwater shots with the go Pro.

After we’ve snorkelled the area a few times (the current takes us inland, we walk back toward the sea each time to take another pass – swimming against the current is just impossible and we’re also not wearing fins) – we take a  swim in the Indian Ocean – it is beautiful blue and  great but so VERY rough. Big waves. Big rip current. We don’t swim long, the tide is coming in, and the ‘bay’ we are in is getting filled up with water rather quickly. What was a ‘walk’ from to the shore/mainland is now a swim to get back. With some fast-moving water. It’s a challenge to get back to the shore, and a bit scary at times. The water is rushing so much that, at waist high, you can’t really make progress walking against it. We walk perpendicular to it and get there eventually. WHEW!

A group of people who stayed at the beach longer than us needs to be ‘rescued’ by some locals in kayaks. The people are brought back but their belongings are left on the beach.

Unfortunately, we are little late getting back to the lodge, so I miss out on the massage that we had booked. Jeannine manages to fit hers in and I am glad it’s her. I plan to get massages OFTEN in Thailand. HA.

Notice the band-aid on my toe. I was not the only one to sustain injuries during the snorkeling. It was a bit difficult walking back to the starting point. Laney fell at one point and got pretty scraped up from the oyster beds and coral. At one point we were swimming above the oyster beds and Laney grabbed my legs and I promptly gashed my thigh on the oysters or coral. Not to worry though between our guides and my first aid kit and people nearby we were easily patched up. Ha! This is me chilling by the pool before dinner.

Once again dinner is great. We eat at the lodge and I have shrimp curry. YUM. And a great white wine. South African of course. Some Chardonnay, some Sauvignon Blanc. And so cheap. Like a couple dollars per glass. LOVE SA! The wine is from a winery called Spier. Get it if you can.

The next day we are back in the car headed to a campground with no power. Yikes!!

We are headed to Hlane Royal National Park in Swaziland. Swaziland is a small kingdom bordered by South Africa and Mozambique. The border crossing is mostly uneventful. As it was coming into South Africa, they require special paperwork for Laney, as a minor traveling with just one parent. Seems I have it all so we’re all good.

We arrive at our campground and it’s beautiful. There are even some game animals (impala, inyala types, not lions) wandering around the tent and restaurant area. We learn there are no evening/night game drives available, so we opt to sit by the waterhole in Adirondack chairs with a drink! TOUGH LIFE!  I couldn’t be happier as we watch hippos in the water. Elephants wandering around. Inyala. Waterbucks. Rhinos. Amazing!

The next morning we have signed up for a rhino drive. Never did I even imagine we would get OUT OF OUR VEHICLE and stand within 10 feet of rhinos. It was one thing when they were laying down sleeping. When they got up and walked towards us I thought I was going to die!!

Above, the Rhino behind the dead tree, this picture was taken by my iPhone. No Zoom. So you know how close this one was! Crazy! I was a little nervous. HA.

Later in the day we go for an evening drive and see LIONS! 5 of them. It’s a grandma, a mom, and 3 young males. So close they could eat us!! At one point, they have surrounded the vehicle. This made me a little nervous. It wasn’t in an aggressive way – as far as I can tell, but what do I know???. Two of the young males were lying in the road ahead of us. The other 3 lions had wandered off and were behind us. We started to turn around, but the young males in front of us moved, then, so we headed forward. Little did we know they would CHASE THE TRUCK! OK, little scary. I mean, these things can jump into the truck at any time! Perhaps they were just playing, perhaps not. The only other thing we saw in the lion section of the park was ‘lion food’. Yup. impalas, inyalas. Just a couple.

In the picture above, you can see how this male lion is not yet fully developed – he has something like ‘half’ of a mane of a full grown lion.

In the video below, the lions were closer when they started chasing. They were both beside and behind the truck.

It’s interesting to know that, in this park, they arranged the animals one way, originally, then had to change. Due to rhino poachers, the rhinos, elephants, hippos and other game animals were moved into the circle immediately surrounding the camp. And the lions were moved outside of that, so the park staff could keep close watch on the rhinos, and be able to care for them – without worrying about the lions 🙂

At night, in Hlane, we can hear lions at night. It’s not really a roar, but more of a growl or a grumble. We hear it every night and it wakes me up a few times a night. I must be exhausted though because I don’t stay awake for long. I fall right back to sleep. HA! Worried? Who me? HA! Later, in Kruger, I understand what the sound was.

The next day we leave for Kruger National Park. On our drive into our campsite (which is inside of Kruger, though surrounded by fences) we see LOTS of animals, including LOTS of elephants – I am overjoyed with happiness for all of us – but mostly for Jeannine.

We also saw some very large crocodiles. We were on a bridge looking down at them. This was the biggest of them

We arrived in our camp as the sun was setting. By the time we registered for our campsite and arranged tours for the next day it was seriously getting dark. YAY – setting up tents in the dark! HA! Well, it turned out to be even MORE interesting because there was no space for us. The campground was ‘full’. We eventually were assigned an area and managed to set up our tents in the dark, with lots of flying beetles around. In case you didn’t know, Laney is not a big fan of insects, bees in particular, and although I could show her these were beetles, she was still pretty much freaking out. #challenges.

We had a quick dinner and went to bed. The three adult women had signed up for a morning bush walk, and needed to be at the meeting place at 4:15am!! YIKES! That would be followed by a day game drive (8/9 to 4/5) and then a night drive (8-10/11). LONG DAY!

What a wonderful experience it all was! The morning walk we saw elephants from a distance. Unlike the Hlane park, these guides carried rifles and were much more hesitant to get near the animals. I think this is because of the size of Kruger, it’s not as likely that the animals have had regular contact/interaction/sight of humans and thus are less predictable. Anyway, in addition to elephants we got to see some cool flowers, and spiders, and a pair of dung beetles in action. I know, doesn’t sound like much compared to lions, etc, but it was actually really cool watching these dung beetles try to get the ball of dung out of the hole they had made. HA!

We also saw a beautiful sunrise!!

The day drive was a lot of driving, our guide was desperately seeking ‘cats’, which are the hardest animals to see. We saw TONS of impalas. It got to be like National Lampoon’s European Vacation – only instead of ‘hey kids, look, it’s big ben’ – it was ‘hey look, impala’. Seriously, they were everywhere. We saw more elephants, and monkeys, and baboons, and zebra. Unfortunately, no lions, though. Can’t say we didn’t try.

Literally, the cutest thing I ever saw in my life was the small elephant running to catch up with his/her mother, and its trunk started swinging wildly. Flopping about. It was obvious that the baby had little control over the trunk but was enjoying the experience nonetheless. It was so adorable to see these animals wild, free, and happy. Nothing like seeing them in captivity.

Also very cool, as you saw above, was watching baboons and monkeys carry their babies around

And the hyenas you see, some of those are babies, which just makes them so CUTE. Though they are not known for being attractive animals.

Another great dinner by Colin and we headed out on our night drive. I have to say I was pretty tired and a little cranky by this time (I’m not that good without sufficient sleep, HA). Laney was even falling asleep on the drive. I had no idea what to expect of this trip – and my phone battery was low, so I left it in the shared kitchen are to charge (no opportunity to charge while I slept as I usually do – no power in our tents, obviously).  So I didn’t have my phone/camera. Fortunately, Jeannine did, because we saw LIONS!  EATING THEIR PREY! from less than 10 feet away! Our guides were smart enough to know that when we saw hundreds of buffalo moving a bit urgently in one direction, that something had clearly spooked them. Looping around to where they were running from, we found the loins. They had killed a small buffalo.  THEN, after watching the lions a while, on our way home to the campground, we FINALLY SAW A LEOPARD! We completed the Big 5 and we were all so so excited!! WHOO HOO! I think it’s pretty unusual to see them all on such a relatively short trip. Colin and Gordon kept saying how lucky we were!

WHOO HOO! We all went to bed feeling so happy and fulfilled. We did it. Well, it was done for us. HA. I firmly believe that Doris (my Mom) and Ray (Jeannine’s Dad) made this happen for us. Both Jeannine and I teared up more than once during this trip thinking of them. They were both powerful in their own way.

The next day we were up and out and on our way to Blyde River Canyon, the 3rd largest canyon in the world. AND, we were to stay in a LODGE! En Suite! WITH POWER and EVERYTHING! HA!

Blyde River Canyon we visited 3 main viewing spots and they were all beautiful. We saw God’s Window, the Three Rondavels, and Bourke’s Luck Potholes.

In the pictute above are the 3 Rondavels. These are 3 natural formations that look a lot like the traditional Zulu huts. They are round with a peaked roof (though, on the one on the right still looks peaked). During the ‘viewpoint sightseeing’ Laney mostly tried to find shade, wherever she could HA! Above Laney is another tourmate, Alex. It was good for Laney to have someone her age for a while.

These round holes in the rock are formed over time by swirling water and are called the potholes. Aptly named, I think. We also had a chance to do some shopping from the locals selling various crafts and wares at those spots. Perfect. Jeannine and I had decided to buy a suitcase to get them all home so for the first time, I was able to buy some souvenirs. YAY. After the Blyde River Canyon viewing, we headed back to the lodge and the kids were stoked to do the zip line and swing. The swing is like a bungee jump only it’s not bouncy, and it’s mounted from the centre of the canyon. You jump from one side of the canyon, so when you stop the free-fall, the momentum sends you swinging, at the bottom of the rope, to the other side of the canyon, and back and forth until it’s only a small arc and you get lowered to the ground. The free fall was CRAZY!! Like maybe 4 seconds. So scary falling from that platform. SO exhilarating. I love that I did this with one of my BFF’s Jeannine. The whole trip was made SO much more amazing by her presence, but this in particular!

This, above, FAVORITE PICTURE EVER!! HA!

The next day, we decided to do the swing again. HA! Yes, we’re that dumb. You know that NONE of the guys who works the swing has ever done it!? What does THAT tell you?! HA. Anyway, it was just as great the second time.

Then, we were off to head to Joburg and wrap up our trip.  Once again, Jeannine, Laney and I shared a very small room. HA. Rather amicably if I may say so. Laney’s long-awaited movie had just come out (Carmilla) so she stayed in the room while Jeannine and I headed out to another great dinner (and a bit of shopping) at Nelson Mandella square in Sandton City, I believe a section of Joburg.

The next day, Jeannine’s flight was a little earlier, so we saw her off, got ourselves ready and packed, and went to the airport to ready ourselves for a LONG DAY OF TRAVEL. Of course, we’re at the airport like 3 hours before our flight (Joburg struggles with occasional bad traffic, so the trip was 30 minutes but could have been 2 hours) – and our flight to Doha would be 8 hours, with a 2 hour layover, then a 10 hour flight to Tokyo, with a 12 hour layover, then a 1 hour hop to Osaka. WHEW! This is going to be fun! Who booked this anyway, and what was she THINKING???? HA.

Santorini – Beaches, views and kitty cats!

Getting to Santorini was a bit of a challenge. It all went smoothly but it required a 10 hour layover in Geneva. I debated alot about whether it was worth it to get a room for some sleep or just tough it out in the airport. Considering baggage and immigration/ passport control and getting to and from the airport and being there 2 hours ahead it wouldn’t be MUCH sleep…but some. And spending the night in the airport cannot be fun. Plus in my research I learned that the airport does close and I wasn’t sure if that meant we had to get out. So I booked us a simple room on Airbnb for a cheap price. This way we could Change our minds and hang at the airport if our flight was late or if we just changed our minds.

The room we booked was in the house of a family who lives near the Geneva airport but is actually in France. Ha. So we would be adding a another country to the mix.

BTW – they had this sign in their bathroom. I think it’s hilarious. I’m going to put one like it in my house!! LOL

Landing in santorini we could see the beautiful island and water. Gorgeous!!

Our host offered to pick us up at the airport which is always a nice luxury. As promised, Gesparis (he told us it was pronounced Jasper. I think he dumbed it down for us Americans, HA!) – was there waiting for us with a sign with my name. Yay!!

It was a beautiful drive to our mini apartment.  The air is super dry. The landscape mostly like a desert. Santorini is a volcanic island after all. There were beautiful white Houses and churches everywhere.

We arrived at our beautiful little place. And you know what happens next. I assess the supplies. Go to the store. Come back, drop the stuff. Then instead of a walk I head right to the beach. It’s SUPER quiet. There are hundreds of empty lounge chairs at the beach. Each group of chairs, it seems, is affiliated to a restaurant on the row along the beach. I don’t waste time being fussy. I pretty quickly pick a spot and settle into a chair. With a towel my music on the speaker. It was a hot day. Probably the hottest we had there. I swam in the water a few times to cool off. I ordered a drink when the nice waiter came by.

 

 

 

After a while I went home to get Laney and we went to dinner. We chose a place called Forty One. The menu here is almost 100% seafood – not good for Laney but good for me. Ha.  The restaurant is mostly empty at 8 pm but fills up before we leave at 10. I had a wonderful filet of grilled sea bass. Laney had a steak. As usual it’s not the best. But it’s enough. The host and waiters and waitresses are very helpful and friendly and English isn’t an issue at all. At the end of he night the host relays a message from what appears to be the owner that we are welcome to use their lounge chairs tomorrow at no charge. The host says he doesn’t do that often. I’m not sure if this is genuine or not. I’m sure the offer is good but is it unusual? I had used chairs for free other places. I bought drinks or food. Because I wanted to more than felt I needed to.

 

 

The next day is a chill day. We intend to get to the beach but most of the day is spent in the apartment.  Research on South America. Blogging. Catching up with my travel plans. We finally get to the beach around 3 or so. It was a bit chilly and cloudy anyway. We have to walk a bit so I can get some cash from the ATM down the road. As we walk there we come across an idyllic looking spot it’s like resort pool with lounge chairs, sun beds (like a king bed by the pool) lots of tables and chairs and, of course, a bar. The place is empty as are most places. The host tells us to come in and use the pool for free.  We are tempted but Laney hasn’t been in the Mediterranean yet so I say we will come back.  A little time at the beach and it gets chilly so we head up to the pool. We take over the only spot in the sun. A big sun bed. The host comes to ask us of we want something to drink. Like most of Europe he’s not pushy or rushed about it. We have plenty of time to settle in first. We get mojitos (Laneys is a virgin). The host tells me he loves me. Ha.  For ordering something I guess. They are so desperate for business. We hang a while and enjoy our drinks. We consider eating there but decide it’s too chilly and we don’t have warm clothes so we go home to get changed.

 

Then we head out to have dinner. We pick a place called Vega and sit at the biggest table in the place. Just the two of us – the table just called to us!

We ordered a cheese plate and enjoyed that while we decided on dinner. We had a friendly cat visitor. Cats are all over the place. Some friendlier than others. A fair amount of young cats at least where we were. We share some of our cheese with this cat we named Hollister.

I ordered some baked eggplant and Laney got a Caesar salad.

At the end of our dinner, the host came over with complimentary shots of some kind of liquor. It was very good. He drank one with us. Perhaps this has a specific meaning or maybe he was just being nice. I had a similar experience years ago in Paris with Jeannine and Bob.

The next day I’ve asked Gesparis to help us rent a car. I have heard it is easy to drive around the island. Especially in this season when the roads are relatively quiet.  Seems lots of people have scooters or rent quads here (4 wheel off road vehicles) but I think we will be more comfortable in a car. Especially with the changing weather. It’s hot in the sun but cold when the sun goes behind clouds. And it’s windy. And I notice as we drive around its dusty. Makes sense. Volcanic island and all.

I get an automatic transmission just so I have one less thing to think about. It has a huge fabric sunroof. WIN!  It’s an adorable little car. We drive around the island seeing great views and the high spots like Red beach, Fira and Oia. We don’t even get out of the car in Fira. It looks like a hectic strip of stores and food places. I’m sure there are quiet spots but we just didn’t feel it

At Oia we parked the car at a random place and wandered up the hill on a sparsely travelled road. We found a great little bar with a pool and a great view on the edge of the island. We enjoy some drinks and soak up some sun.

When it turns chilly we head out. We look for a place to eat. I’m thinking gyros! We find a roadside place and manage to park. We have a nice meal and finish off with some fruit.

Then we are off to our wine tasting reservation at 645. We have some time to waste and I see a sign for a traditional villiage. So I head off to see what it’s about. Every thing I looked at I wanted to take a picture. It was just so quaint and beautiful. Towers with Bells and adorable restaurants. Cool architecture and quiet cobblestone paths. And there was hardly anyone there. I definitely need to come back here someday.

 

 

I joined Laney back in the car and we drove up to Santo Winery just as the sun was starting to go down. I splurged a bit on the 12 wine sampler. It’s not 12 full glasses, but still, it’s a lot of wine. The waitress said less than a bottle but I don’tbeliever her. HA I definitely didn’t finish it. Ha. Unfortunately, I had to drive home but I really enjoyed the variety!!

The sunsets from the winery were amazing. This is the main reason we’re here (OK the wine too). Our friend Amy that we met in Porto recommended this place. WOW what a view.

The next morning we returned the car and hopped on a tourist bus for a boat tour. This was recommended by our host. It would take us to a few of the islands near santorini and drop us back at Oia for a sunset. I had very little information on this trip, but it wasn’t too much expensive and our host recommended it so we did it. It wasn’t our cup of tea, exactly. A little to touristy and somewhat contrived – and too many people – oh well. It was a beautiful boat and we saw some of the cliffs up close and there were some amazing views. We made 4 stops in all.

We got to jump into the water from the side of the boat. I had an amazing grilled fish for lunch and we met some nice people –  so I guess it wasn’t all bad. Oh and we went back to that pool bar in Oia.  Ha they remembered us and were happy to see us again. It was much more entertaining getting there this time, though. The boat dropped us at the bottom of the cliffs (on the water, obviously) at Oia. And, I had no idea before we took the boat tour – getting to the top of the cliff, where the town of Oia ‘IS’ involved either a very long vertical hike (OK it was a windy road, but it was steep!) OR a Donkey ride. I gave Laney the choice. Initially, she said walk. But by the time we walked the short distance to where the donkey’s were ‘for hire’, she changed her mind. SO YUP. We rode the donkeys.  Laney’s was rather well behaved and cooperative. MINE? NOT SO MUCH! He (or she?) refused to move most of the time and stopped to eat weeds on the side (even though there was a guard over it’s mouth) and then would get some gumption and GO, but would head toward the tourists who had chosen to walk. YIKES! I kept telling people I had absolutely no control over this thing. It’s not like a horse. You don’t even have any reins!! Ha!!

After our evening by the pool in Oia, getting back home was via bus – somewhat disappointing for a boat trip- and that was an experience too. We headed toward the ‘touristic bus stop’ (where we were told to get the bus home, and we got general – very general – directions from the waiter at the pool bar) – early because we had no idea what to expect. The boat staff had said the name of the bus was on our ticket/receipt but there was no bus we could see that matched anything on our ticket. And there were like 35 buses in this crazy parking lot that didn’t seem to have any method to its madness. We were early so we walked around and looked at all the buses. Nothing was right. So we waited a while and did it again. We only saw one bus with “boat tour” on it. It wasn’t the company name we had booked with, but we approached the driver anyway.  With our ticket. We were told to follow him as he walked us across the crazy parking lot where buses were pulling in and out. It was a little scary. Ha. He walked us to this other guy and showed him our ticket. He asked where we were going and I completely forgot the name of our beach. Ha. Fortunately when we had left on the tour I had asked the people at the ticket office about getting home. Because we were picked up from the car rental place. They wrote down the name of a resort near our apartment. This is one thing about staying at Airbnb that’s a little different and more challenging than the usual hotels. When you stay at a resort or hotel people in the tourist industry tend to be familiar with it.  You just need the name of the place. This is true of tours, and taxi’s, etc. In an apartment you need the full address or some other landmark – because to them, it’s just another house and they’ve never heard of it. Anyway, when I told them the name of the resort the two men seemed to make an agreement.  The bus driver who had walked us over said he would take us. “You come with me I will take you” but the other guy collected our slip.  I asked for it back but he said he needed it. This had happened before. We originally had the ticket in 3 colors. The bus driver took one for the ride there. The boat guy took another and now apparently we needed to give up this last one. I turned to the guy who would be driving us and asked “you will drive us? Now? To this place (pointing to my slip of paper with a resort name on it)? In the bus?”  “Yes!” he said, with a smile. OK!  He did seem like a very nice friendly Greek man. Ha. On the bus we went. And when we sat down – the guy next to me was the same one as was next to me on the way to the boat that morning!. Ha. Ok then!

I had to pay attention to where we were so I knew when to get off the bus. Thank god for google maps once again. Because it was dark and I couldn’t see much of anything (not a lot of street lights in Santorini). I tracked our location and when it got close to the star on the map marked Home Santorini we got off. Another successful day!

As I walked into our house that night it occurred to me that traveling is a lot like a night of binge drinking. When you get home, you’re just happy if you have your wallet, passport,  phone, and keys. As long as you have those it’s All Good. HA!

Seriously. Most days involve a lot of moving parts, people, and places. Lots of room for error.

Well – we weren’t overly thrilled with the day but it wasn’t awful either. We made the most of it. And the next day? Sleep in and hit the beach – nothing to do!

And that is just what we did. It was a wonderful day on the beach. We got some sun. We swam in the crystal clear water. We made a kitty cat friend. (Doc we named him) We ate, we drank and, come evening, we played 4 games of pool at Kellys. Laney won 3 of the games 🙂  I had stuffed grape leaves. For dinner. Two orders. Ha! Laney declared it the perfect day.

The next day we were off to Prague. Where it seems it might rain for the first few days.  Time to pull out the sweaters, jeans and parkas. Ha!

Porto – Canyoning!

Arriving in Porto from Barcelona was a bit of a let down. Had to say good-bye to Matt, and plus, I was EXHAUSTED.

We arrived to the most adorable and CLEANEST Airbnb I have seen yet. This woman was maniacal about cleaning. HA.

We had a lovely outside seating area, which I promptly relaxed in (right after a trip to the store for food, beer and wine of course.).

The next day we literally did nothing. I knew we had a busy day coming up (Canyoning) so I used this to add to my justification. I did some blogging, some planning, etc. and I think we finally left the house around 7 to get some dinner.

We ended up eating at a place around the corner. The choices weren’t great because it was Sunday and lots of places are closed. The food was OK. I had pork pizza bites (a local specialty, I think) and some sautéed mushrooms. Laney had lasagna bigger than her head. It was SO MUCH!

The next day we were picked up at 9:00 for our Latitude41.com canyoning tour. I had no idea what to expect. I had actually booked this without completely knowing what canyoning was, but the reviews were good. HA. We did get a bit of a description from Lee, who showed us rock climbing, in Edinburgh.

We were picked up in a big, beautiful, black pickup truck. Our guide/driver didn’t speak TOO much conversational English, but it was enough. AND, our soon-to-be-new-friend Amy was in the front seat. I didn’t catch it before I asked her but realised quickly that she was from Australia. WELL, there’s a whole realm of conversation THERE, considering we’ll be there in a couple months. AND it just got better from there.

It was a LONG drive up some crazy windy, small, one-car wide (in my opinion) roads. OK it wasn’t that long. About an hour. We stopped for coffee/pee break/food, though the bathroom was closed (HA), and then finished the drive. We met up with the rest of our group too. First I thought I was seeing double. The driver of the other (much smaller) car looked just LIKE our driver. Twins. Yup. Twin guys in probably their mid-to-late 40’s? And the other 4 people in the tour for the day. Those all in their late 20’s. We got geared up – we were given climbing harnesses, helmets, a VERY thick wetsuit (even though it’s like 75 degrees outside), and water shoes. We were told to only put on the legs of the wetsuit because the walk would be uphill and hot. YUP. It was. I should mention, all this was on a small turnout on the side of a dirt road. We had left paved roads behind like 30 minutes ago. Since then, all dirt, all on a cliff. Very cool.

After we all geared up, we were led up the mountain, basically. The walk was pretty darn tough. Pride kept us going at a good pace, though, even then I thought we might die of heat exhaustion. The ‘small’ amount of water we brought with us (we were told we were unlikely to want it) was gone before we even started the canyoning part. HA. just the walk up and gearing up we drank it all. No worries

SO, we get started. We repel down about a 40′ cliff. The last 10′ have no rock to push off of (the cliff curved inward at the bottom, which we didn’t see from the top) – so, just fall into the water. HA. GLORIOUS COLD WATER! We were SO HOT at this point. The water was insanely clear.

SO it went, down this river in the middle of a mountain. Walking, rappelling, zip-lining, jumping. SO much fun. The weather was about as perfect as it could be. Sunny and warm, dry air, with cold water to keep us cooled off. At the end, we had a little bit of a walk (some of it uphill, much to our chagrin) and then a walk through a cave. Much larger than the caves in Galway, but still pretty cool. this one looked man-made. I didn’t have a chance to ask.

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We got changed by the truck (yes, all of it) – it was relatively private. HA. only the chickens were watching. Then, we were told, there is a bar up the road (more uphill?). It wasn’t far, and now ranks as my favourite BAR of all time. I had a few beers, some mystery meat sandwiches (hot white meat, probably chicken, maybe pork, with a light coating of some kind of red sauce, on a warm bun). DELISH! Or maybe I was just STARVING! HA!  We chilled out in the sunshine for a while, getting warmed up again, then we drove back to Porto and were dropped at our Airbnb. We made a connection with Amy and hoped to see her the next couple days, which we did 🙂

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The next day I forced us out of the house to see something of Porto (this can be a struggle at times. I know you have no sympathy but travel is TIRING and so is canyoning :)) . Anyway, we wandered a bit, went to this museum that was supposed to be fun and educational. It was not fun, ha, but maybe a little educational. Then we met up with Amy, for a port wine tasting. AWESOME. Then we went to a bar/restaurant for sunset and a drink, then to dinner. I had this very traditional dish called Francesihna It’s basically a sandwich with multiple kinds of meat, including some that looked like chicken/pork, and some that looked like pepperoni! Covered in a layer of melted cheese, with brown sauce drizzled on top, with a fried egg on top!  It was great spending all this time with Amy. She is a very smart, independent, traveling woman of only 26 who is moving from Australia to Scotland for a new job. And took 5 weeks off in between. Awesome.

 

The pic above I took along the way to the river in Porto and to the museums.

This, above, was a famous library (now bookstore) in Porto that is claimed to be the inspiration for the Harry Potter library. JK Rowling was a professor here at the time the books were started so it’s certainly feasible.

Below is one of many plaques in that same library.

 

 

This is a famous Porto train station, beautiful artwork all around.

This is that crazy Portuguese dish. Fancesinha . SO FREAKING GOOD!

This is an official description: Francesinha (meaning Little Frenchie or simply Frenchie in Portuguese) is a Portuguese sandwich originally from Porto, made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries.

 

 

 

 

Above, see how the people are below and the ‘grass’ and trees above? Very cool looking. This was right across from the famous library/book store. 

Cool place recommended by our canyoning guide for the famous local sandwich. 

That’s the meat of the sandwich cooking in the broth. It was a little spicy but not too much. SO Delish. 

 

We walked the mile home, exhausted, and got a good night’s rest.

The next day, we had to GO! Off to Santorini for us! YAY!

By the way, check out this crazy bottle cap-thingy. HA!