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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dipping Our Toes into Asia

We've been doing pretty well, knocking off continents that we haven't visited before and heading off to Asia ticked another box. It was an impetuous decision to go and those are usually costly, but what we lost in money, we gained in experience.
(Only two to go: Africa and Antarctica)
We knew that this would just be an "amuse bouche" (if you will) of the Asian experience, but we thought some sun and sand might be a good way to finish our 3 month adventure. Little did we realize that we'd be on airplanes for 11 hours to get there, but that's folly for you. Our flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur was a disaster. One baby insisted on screaming for almost the entire 8 and half hours. The layover wasn't much better. There were two security checks and once you got through the second you were trapped in a small international terminal with two restaurants, of which, neither sold bottled water. Air Asia also has a "no outside food" policy, so we were at their mercy for such things as the basic human necessity of H2O, as well. Side note: never (and I mean ever) fly Air Asia for anything but the shortest hopper - no more than a couple of hours. You pay for everything! In an emergency, I'm pretty sure that the oxygen mask would have a coin slot/credit card reader beside it. There is no checked baggage allowance for an international flight. But that's a whole other blog.
Over half of our flights were delayed.
We arrived fairly late in Phuket and a driver was waiting for us with our name dutifully printed on a piece of paper. We hopped in the air conditioned car and watched the lights of Phuket stream by for 45 minutes until we arrived at our hotel in Kata Beach. We were greeted cheerfully, despite the late hour, with a cool drink and bellboy service.We had arrived at our "home" of the next two weeks. 

Hotel Entrance
One of the first things we noticed was their crazy electrical set up. The poles along the streets looked like black spaghetti had been tossed onto them. There were hundreds of cords running on the poles like they'd never considered having a main line and then using smaller wires to run the electricity to the individual shops and residences. It made Ecuador's wiring looked well planned and tidy and that's saying something.
A relatively clean example of wires and no sidewalks
Kata Beach is a tourist town with restaurants, souvenir shops and tailors. (They all wanted to custom make a nice suit for Ron...apparently I didn't inspire their fashion hopes.)  The first day wasn't too bad, with overcast skies and the odd rain shower. It was also HUMID. Now, generally, I like humidity, if I don't have to do much of anything, but walking around a little tourist town (that seemed to forget that sidewalks are really rather obligatory in crazy traffic) was a wilting experience. Did I mention that we were in the beginning stages of monsoon season? The next few days it poured...I'm talking cats, dogs, elephants...and we were stuck in a one room hotel suite. The only redeeming factor was the balcony, where we sat and watched wave after wave of storm clouds come careening in off the ocean.

Then the miracle happened. The clouds parted and we saw clear azure skies for the first time. What we somehow didn't expect was that the humidity had skyrocketed as well, after all that rain, both of us resembled drowned rats when we stumbled back into our air conditioned hotel room. (Yes, even Ron...the man who doesn't sweat!)

We went out to see the Big Buddha, their choice of name, not mine, and I met a baby elephant that was so desperate for bananas that he tried to eat my hand with them. His trunk was strong and prickly and all I wanted to do was break the chain attached to his leg and let him run. He clung to me like I was his mom, but I think that could have been the basket of bananas that I was holding. We went to the old town of Phuket and enjoyed a delicious meal as well as the wacky Trick Eye gallery and did some serious sun bathing by the pool. 

Tempura Mushrooms

Slow Roasted Pork Belly
Steamed Rice in a Banana Leaf
Before we knew it, we were counting down to our final days and looking at a very long trip back to Ecuador. (3 taxis, 5 planes, 5 layovers and two hotels.) We weren't looking forward to it, to be sure. Needless to say we made it back, mostly whole, slightly cranky and horribly exhausted. So ends our epic adventure to the other side of the world, which calls for a bit of a break from the blog...I'm sure you're all relieved to hear that. After 15 flights, numerous taxis and buses, a few boats, a large ferry, trains, a camper van, rental car, a tuk tuk and, lest we forget, a camel, we find ourselves amongst our stuff. Now we have to settle back in, lose the fat, pay the bills and figure out what to do with ourselves.

I'll leave you with this thought from John Steinbeck: "A journey is a person in itself;  no two are alike. And all the plans, safeguards, policing and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us."
A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. John Steinbeck
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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sydney - Simply Amazing

I know, I know, the first thing that comes to mind is the Opera House, and we were actually staying quite close to the distinguished landmark, but Sydney is a lot more than that one building but here are the gratuitous photos (it is beige not white and does look like clam shell)

Click to enlarge and see the tiles that make up the roof
Harbour Bridge only $600 to climb it!
It's also expensive - a hamburger cost anywhere for $20 - 25 at the pub, this usually doesn't include the side of chips/fries. If you want a real meal, you could be looking at $40+ per main course. Be that as it may, we enjoyed the city greatly. Their transit system is easy to use and the CBD (Central Business District, as they call their city centres) is very walkable. It helped that we lucked out with the weather. We enjoyed 25 degree days at a time when the thermometer usually dips down to low double digits.

We did a lot of the touristy things like visiting Bondi (that's Bond-eye) beach and marveling at the opera house, enjoying the soaring view of the Harbour Bridge and strolling the Botanical Gardens. We got out for a nice walk along the seashore starting at Spit Bridge and ending at Manly Beach. (We did enjoy watching the "Manly" ferry cruising on the seemed to make us giggle every time we saw it.)
Bondi Beach

Pool on the beach

Long shot of Bondi

View on the Walk from Spit Bridge to Manly Beach
We visited Chinatown and did some serious window shopping in the lovely arcades and, of course, enjoyed the food. Pub food, Italian, dumpling houses, seafood restaurants - you name it, they pretty well have it. Trying to reign in the budget we also ate quite frequently at our home exchange. What surprised us is the lack of passion for smokies and gourmet hotdogs, considering the Aussie penchant for barbecue. The other thing that amazed us was the amount of smokers. Australia has huge "sun smart" campaigns that are trying to cut down on the incidence of skin cancer, but smoking seems to be alive and well. This was also true in Melbourne, a bit less so in Brisbane.
Middle Eastern deliciousness

Meat on a sword...that's Manly!

We finished off our stay with the quite amazing Vivid Sydney. We only got to experience the first night, but it was quite the wrap up.

It was hard to believe that our adventure was nearing its conclusion. That our epic journey was coming to a close and we'd soon find ourselves back in South America, dealing with the aftermath of our excess (both financially and physically). We only have one more stop and then the trip is done, so next time, on to Phuket, Thailand, with a new suitcase (RIP old one) and a new laptop in hand. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Red Rock to Blue Mountains - the colours of Australia

In my last post, I almost promised not to show anymore rocks, but I knew the folly of that, especially knowing that we were taking a day trip to the Blue Mountains, just outside of Sydney. It was another early start, but we'd planned well and had a plan so I wouldn't have to eat right away, so it was all good.
Controlled burn in the background

We practically had a private tour, with just the guide and potential new hire who was auditing the trip. (It can't get much better than that, can it?) I'm not quite sure where our heads were at, but nothing about the word "Mountains" made us think "cold"...rather un-Canadian, no? Okay, so maybe it wasn't COLD, but it was chilly after days of anywhere from 27 to 32 Celsius. 
Blue Mountains
Despite the chill, the hike was invigorating and the sights were impressive, despite the controlled burns that could be seen in one of the valleys. The Blue Mountains get their name from a mist that is given off by the eucalyptus that grow there. The trees are like Bond Villains, engineering to  take over of the world. Yes, they would definitely have a white Persian cat on their laps. The trees release oil into the air, creating the blue haze that the mountains are known for and shed their bark over the forest floor in either strips or flakes. Why? In hopes of creating a forest fire. They have several mechanisms to survive or regrow after a fire, while their competitors would be mostly burnt to ash. Isn't that so survival of the fittest?
Oil haze in the background right
Anyhow, our guide Spiro, was a font of knowledge and showed us so many interesting things about the flora and fauna. It was a great day and we got to see the Three Sisters and had a very full day.
The Three Sisters

I'm a bit behind in the blogs, I'm afraid. I got super lazy while we were in Phuket and didn't do much of anything on the writing front, but up next will be about Sydney and all it has to offer. Hope to see you back soon!