Saturday, March 29, 2008

My Girl

My constant companion, literally. She's travelled all over Australia with me, taken single engine plane rides out to remote Aboriginal communities with me, been canoeing in Kimberley gorges, out on the boat scuba diving, and to the beach windsurfing. She doesn't like the scuba diving, she starts howling the moment I disappear under water. I suspect she's not too keen on the windsurfing either, but she's learnt to live with it. She just curls up in a ball next to my shoes (which she buries for some reason I haven't yet worked out) and waits, or she finds someone else on the beach to sit with. Most visiting windsurfers from Europe know me as Hazel's mum, some of them have known Hazel for at least 2 seasons before they've actually met me. She's a real hit with the Euros, must be those eyes and the way she sits looking at them while they eat their sandwiches, they just can't help themselves giving her a tidbit. I know what's going through her head: "Another sucker, this is child's play". After windsurfing days her food bowl doesn't get filled quite as high.

She has a camping trick too, of disappearing around breakfast time. Later I meet other campers who ask me if it was OK that they gave her some of their breakfast, she was sitting there so nice and gentle. Sometimes 5-6 people in a day tell me this. She is sneaky! Her sneakiest camping moment was when she was a wee pup. I was talking to friends over a beer when she put her paws up on their camp table and grabbed some pork chops which were thawing prior to cooking. Huge shout from Keith saw her drop them and run off. Yelling and bellowing from Keith along the lines of being sent off to the knackers meant she kept away for 2 hours, slinking back under the cover of darkness to lie quietly at my feet. The pork chops weren't harmed and were washed and cooked up as if nothing had happened. She has never attempted a move like that since. Thanks Keith for teaching her that lesson.

Hazel also comes out with me on my work trips. She's actually a good way to create a relationship with both the kids and the adults out on the communities. Many white people teach their dogs to be aggressive towards aboriginal people, and many dogs in aboriginal communites are barely domesticated, so especially the kids really enjoy that interaction with a friendly dog. If Hazel doesn't come out on a trip (often I don't take her in the summer when the temperatures are high 40s and the flies in their millions) many of my patients ask after her welfare. She's kind of one of the team.
Hazel loves the beach, running around, jumping in the water, rolling in the sand and seaweed, chasing the insects, digging for crabs. And sliding down sanddunes after she's raced up them. But Hazel's favourite thing to do is just hang out with me, or other humans if I'm not around. She loves having visitors, gets all excited, and will play for ages with kids. Especially if they are swimming, she'll go and join them. Doesn't understand swimming pools though, so no chance she'll jump in one of them and clog up the filter.

Hazel loves kids, in fact she thinks they are lollypops. Feet and faces are her favourite parts, particularly slipping the tongue in! I've tried to stop the tongue thing, but she's mighty quick - phlaaaw!!
Hazel was born in Humptydoo, near Darwin in the Northern Territory. She threw up on the way home, and has enjoyed vomit-free car travel ever since. Preferred position is curled up on passenger seat with her head in my lap. Sometimes I wish she could share some of the driving. Tropical living meant she got used to thunder and lightning at a very young age so it's never bothered her. She also doesn't mind fireworks, in fact she once stood on an upturned tinny at Kalbarri looking over the shoulder of some complete stranger, completely entranced by the Oz day show. You can imagine his surprise to have old smelly breath's head resting on his shoulder!!

She's getting old now, going grey around the muzzle and feet, and getting grumpy with young dogs. She has a bit of arthritis which causes her problems now and then, but otherwise she's in great shape. She sure is enjoying those extra walks!

The only thing I'll be missing on my trip is Hazel's company, and I know I'll be getting a thorough talking to when I return. In fact she'll probably have a full on sulk. She'll get over it!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Travelling light

Well that's what I'd like to do, the reality may not be so simple. My number one priority on this trip is going to be photography so that's what gets packed first. A dSLR and 2 lenses plus tripod. That's what I took last year and found it suited perfectly. I mostly used the zoom lens (18-250mm with macro capability) but there were times when the wide angle was a real treat to have in the bag.
The tripod is a new purchase. I carried a very small and light tripod on last year's trip and used it quite alot. I noticed a big improvement in my photos, but it is too light and flimsy and has a video plate and no quick release. So I've gone upmarket and bought the dream model: strong, rigid and light, just not cheap. It isn't quite as light as the cheapy but it is much more versatile so I'll learn to live with the extra weight.
This trip I won't be taking a laptop, something I've got used to taking on my dive trips so I can edit on the go. It's just extra weight that I really can't afford, not to mention the power cords etc etc.
So then the question arises, what to do with all these photos I'm going to take? How many CF cards will I need to bring? Given I'm photographing in RAW this is a real concern as storage gets used up just that bit quicker.
Final solution: a portable hard drive that allows me to store, review the photos and upload them to a computer/internet. It also works as an iPod. Even better, it uses the same batteries as my camera. Costs a bomb!
So I've now got 4.5kg worth of stuff in that backpack. I'm determined to only carry 10kg total, I'm quickly running out of space!!
I've decided to ditch the sleeping bag, afterall I can always hire one along with all the other camping gear. Not worth carrying around SE Asia for the few times it'll get used.
Next step is clothing. Light new age fabrics that wick moisture away and dry easily overnight. Zipoff shorts/trousers, sarong and togs. Good walking boots. Hat, sunscreen and insect repellent. Toothbrush and minimum of personal toiletries. Raincoat.
Journal, pen and a book to read.
Think that's just about it. (oh yeah, money and passport better not forget them)
Roll on August!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Kings' Follies

All over the world there are monuments to the follies of monarchs. One of my favourites is Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, where a completely mad member of the royal family built the typical Disneyland castle in the mountains. Then in Austria there's a fantastic water palace where fountains spout water at you from all sorts of hidden spots - the ultimate water pistol theme park.
Balinese kings are no different, also enjoying the building of water palaces. Water is of course sacred in Bali so these palaces are not merely for enjoyment, but for veneration as well. Once the king has finished channelling the clear springwater through numerous pools and fountains, it flows out into the nearby paddy fields for farming.
In east Bali, the kings got on better with the Dutch invaders, so there are still some intact palaces. One such water garden is Tirrta Gangga. It's on the bus route north of Amlapura towards Tulamben, set in a picturesque valley amongst the rice fields. Upon arrival you will be met by guides offering their services, it's up to you whether you purchase or not.
My guide was mute, couldn't speak at all. He solved this minor problem through excellent sign language and a set of laminated cards with the appropriate facts about the palace clearly documented in English. I suspect he had cards in other languages as well. I don't know whether someone had helped him to get these cards but they certainly allowed him to make not only a living, but to provide us tourists with a little more than the basic facts. Often one engages a guide only to find that his English isn't good enough to really explain more than you can get from the guidebook, or his English is good but his knowledge sketchy. It was indeed a pleasant surprise and with typical Balinese hospitality he took me all over the gardens and up the nearby hill for a birdseye view.
I don't know why he was mute, but I'm glad he has a worthwhile job and he really was alot of fun with his very colourful gesturing explanations. PHOTOS

Monday, March 24, 2008

Flab to fab in 4 months

Well I'm not a complete couch potato but I'm not far off. I've been into outdoor sports since I was a wee lass, cycled to and from school, got into bushwalking, rock climbing and caving in my teens. Took up windsurfing and scuba diving once I had a regular income. Always been a swimmer.
But I've sustained a few injuries over the years, and have been a bit slack in the stretching department. My hamstrings are so tight that I ended up popping a few discs in my lower back one day while tightening the downhaul (windsurf talk). Physio, drugs and time got that better, but the weakness is there and it's really a lifelong daily chore to keep my back in shape. I know this because I've popped my back at least 2 more times, and when my stomach muscles are weak I notice it. I can't sit in soft slumpy chairs or I'm sore and stiff as a board.
Stretching is so boring. Not only have you got to do it before and after the fun bit (the exercise itself) but it takes time that you mightn't have factored in to your exercise routine. That's why I now do yoga. The beauty of yoga is it's an exercise in its own right, and you can spend as long a time as you like at it. Now yoga isn't just a bunch of stretches and wacky poses (called asanas) but it's also about breathing and meditation. The more I get into it, the more addictive it becomes, especially the meditation side of it. And the more you do it the better you feel.
So yoga it is. At present I'm going to classes twice a week, given by my fabulous friend Odette who is a marvellous teacher. She has a calmness and tranquillity which I find inspiring. I then try to do home practice at least 2 other days of the week. I am working up to daily practice, but it isn't a reality yet.
Aerobic fitness has suffered dreadfully over the last few years. Long work hours don't help, but that's just an excuse. I've always worked long hours, and have always made time to keep fit. My darling dog Hazel doesn't get her 2 walks a day like she used to. Being a low maintenance hound, this isn't a problem for her, but I know she does miss her walks.
Last year I bought a bike. Well I've always had bikes, it's just that I bought a new one. This one's a road bike, so I can commute. It's a 30km round trip to work or town so I figured as long as I left in time, it would be an easy way to factor in some aerobic work. Trouble is, I couldn't get out of bed in time (I now realise that was part of the depression and have therefore forgiven myself) so I'd end up taking the car instead. I think I managed to do the cycle about 5 - 6 times before I gave up.
Now I'm not working, the bike has been de-mothballed. I cycle in to yoga classes and home again twice a week. Yoga starts at 9:30, a much more achievable time than my 8:30 work start. Plus I don't need to have a shower when I get to yoga, doesn't matter if I'm sweaty and smelly for that. I plan to do more cycles, but haven't yet.
Hazel is now getting more walks. Sometimes we go for an hour or so, first thing in the morning before it gets hot. Best time is to leave just before the sun comes up, mainly to beat the heat but also to enjoy some amazing sunrises. I really must remember to bring the camera on a few occasions.
In four month's time I will be climbing my first ever volcano. We don't have many hills around here so I'm going to have to do some travel to find some hills to practice on. Though a colleague of mine practised for Kilimanjaro by climbing the local sand dunes. Hazel will love that, she particularly likes running up to the top of dunes then sliding down them on her belly. No joke, she loves it!!
I've still got a long way to go, but I'm a lot closer than I was a month ago. From here it's onwards and upwards to that first mountain. Cheers!!

Saturday, March 22, 2008


I'm a hoarder. Hopeless at chucking things out. I'm always thinking I can find another use for things. Or a new home. In fact nothing gives me more pleasure than being able to find a new home for something I don't need anymore.

Throwing things in the garbage makes me anxious. I hate waste. I marvel at the ingenuity of people in the developing world who reuse almost everything. I hate garbage.

There isn't really anything that I can happily throw away - well maybe the wrapper around the meat from the butcher coz that really can't be reused. I used to shred all the paper waste I had but I've been a bit slack lately. The shreddings get used for nesting material for the chooks, then get composted in the garden. Sometimes I get really annoyed with the unsolicited mail you get from financial institutions, so I rip it up, carefully so you can still discern my name and address, then put it in the reply paid envelope they supply and send it back to them.

Between the dog and the chooks, there's no food waste, ever.

I chop up garden waste for composting, though have drawn the line at the Bougainvillea. Those big spikes stay sharp for years, and will go right through the soles of shoes. They get binned.

Clothes I have a problem with. I'm not a big buyer of clothes but I'm no good at getting rid of them. As a teenager I used to make my own clothes, crazy coloured trousers out of old curtains and handmedown dresses. I was an op-shop tragic as well. In fact people used to take great satisfaction in seeing what crazy outfit I turned up to school in that morning.

It's been a long time since the sewing machine saw some action (it was the first thing I bought with my brand new credit card when I started my first proper job). Working means money, which means buying clothes. 1987 was my first proper working year, and I still have a huge collection from then, though all the shoulder pads have been removed (the shoulder pads are in a bag sitting in the sewing box just waiting for a new use to present itself!!) Of course, if you wait long enough your clothes come back in fashion. Trouble with this is that what looked pretty cool in your early twenties looks rather sad on a forty year old.

The oldest thing I have in my collection is my school uniform from Year 10, complete with signatures that everyone wrote all over it. I also have my high school PE t-shirt, which I actually wore to our 25 year school reunion. Yes it fitted!!

My strategy with clothes is that they fall into different categories. There's the good stuff, the silk suits and formal dresses and the like, then there's the smart casual, then there's the casual and finally there's the grunge. Mostly, I wear grunge. That's the stuff that is to be worn around the house when doing the daily chores, gardening etc. Stuff can graduate to grunge pretty quicly, especially white t-shirts which seem to attract stains like a bear to honey.

And yes, there's life after grunge. Clothes stay grunge until they fall apart, literally. Not just a little bit, but a huge rip in the pants that means my butt is definitely too exposed, or an enormous rip in a t-shirt so my tits are hanging out. Small holes and rips are still wearable, at least around the house. Trouble is I often forget to change when I head off to the supermarket or Bunnings so you can imagine what a treat I look. Grunge is also worn to the beach, so my windsurfing friends get quite surprised when they meet me all scrubbed up in "normal" clothes.

Life after grunge is rags. You just can't have too many rags.

After rags? Compost!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

I've been to Bali too

Took me a long time to make my first trip to Bali. I'd always seen it as the Aussie "Costa del Sol", just a tacky place where young Australians went to party and drop out for a while. Wasn't my scene at all so I avoided the place despite many friends trying to convince me otherwise.
Then, in 2004, I met a New Yorker on a dive trip on the Great Barrier Reef who told me about the splendid diving to be had in Indonesian waters. Before I knew it, I'd booked to do a luxury liveaboard around Raja Empat, off West Papua/Irian Jaya.
I'm a West Aussie these days, so it's only a short plane ride to Bali. The local dive shop owner had a friend in Bali running his own operation on the east coast so I booked in for a week of diving before heading east to the liveaboard. Boy did I get a pleasant surprise! The diving was superb, everything was cheap, and the party animals stayed around Kuta, leaving the rest of the island relatively untouched. On my first trip to Bali I didn't even visit Kuta, spending my time up at Padang Bai and Tulamben, with a couple of days in Ubud. I did stay in Sanur, on the recommendation of friends, and found the laidback scene much more to my liking.
Here's a video from Tulamben, of the SS Liberty. If you get a chance, stay a couple of days at Tulamben and go diving, it's worth it.

My second trip to Bali was merely as a stopover to North Sulawesi where I was heading to dive the famous Lembeh Strait. More on there later. I flew back in to Denpasar, off on a Komodo dive trip then back through for a spot of shopping on my way home.

My third trip I decided to do a little exploring. I was off again to Sulawesi, for a mixture of trekking, sightseeing and diving, and had 4-5 days in Bali prior to my flight. I was staying with friends in Sanur, who were very busy with work, so I left the dive gear with them and headed up to Candi Dasa by bemo. I'm sure I paid too much but I got there pretty quickly and enjoyed a few rather halting conversations with the locals. In Candi Dasa it was so quiet I saw 4 other western tourists in the 3 days I was there!! I got a simple cabin by the "beach" and went off to explore the region.

Candi Dasa is a good base for visiting some interesting historic/religious/cultural sites. Only up the road is a traditional Bali Aga village called Tenganan, which you can visit by donation. It's about a half hour walk up a road just south of Candi Dasa or you can jump on the back of a motorbike for a five minute ride. Inside the walled village are two rows of stone houses facing each other, heading uphill and petering out into a green pasture/playing field. The locals sell their traditional handicrafts, but it's otherwise a normal village, complete with the cows lying around and cocks in cages. PHOTOS

Walking back to Candi Dasa, I noticed a battery chicken farm on the left about halfway back to the main road.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Burnout and get out

Burnout is really just a fancy type of depression. It manifests with all the usual nasties. For me it was poor sleep, panic attacks, lack of energy, decreased productivity, moodiness and an inability to stop thinking about work issues. In retrospect, it had been going on for over a year, with the last 6 months being a living hell, where dragging myself out of bed and to work was a nightmare. I knew I was stressed, I knew I wasn't coping, but I couldn't see a way out. You know, everyone depended on me etc etc etc.

Well lucky for me I had long service leave coming up, and circumstances at work conspired to create a "straw that broke the camel's back" situation. I was so angry with the situation that it gave me the impetus to say enough was enough and apply for LSL plus some extra leave without pay. My employers were actually completely supportive of my plans (I had been honest about my mental state) and have told me to take as much leave as I need. So I have.

That's when the wheels fell off!

It's not until you actually get off the merry-go-around that your body and mind do the falling apart. We've all gone on a hard earned holiday only to come down with the flu 2 days in and spent half the time asleep in bed. Well this was like that only it lasts alot longer than the obligatory 5 days. The energy levels dropped so low I couldn't get out of bed, couldn't cook, just ate convenience food, and drank alot of alcohol. And worst of all, I felt so guilty for feeling so bad!! In the middle of all this I took a quick vacation over to Sydney and stayed with friends on the north coast. I was so low and uncommunicative they thought they had done something wrong.

I had to field alot of questions from friends and aquaintances about what I was doing with my time off. I would tell them I was recovering. Most friends were very supportive, but some had no concept of the hell I was going through and couldn't understand why I wasn't gallivanting off around the world with my newfound freedom. In my mind, I needed to find the energy before I could have that freedom.

After I stopped feeling guilty, I began to recover. I'm not there yet by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm on the right road. I'm taking my time and savouring each day as it comes. And I can start planning for that great holiday afterall.

Could I have prevented it? That's a difficult one. I think some people have the sort of personality that push themselves and push themselves, ignore the signs that they're not coping (I did), and just fall off the cliff. I've spoken to quite a few people about their experiences and I have no answers.

As they say, the retrospectoscope is a marvellous instrument.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Learning Indonesian

Well here's a challenge. Most people go to Bali and learn hello, thankyou and how to order a beer. The advanced speaker can order a large or small bottle of beer! Otherwise, it's pretty easy to find someone who speaks English to help you out (for small fee of course).

Sumatra will be different. The tourist economy has slumped post Tsunami and Bali bombings, especially since the Indonesian government introduced a visa system. People who previously would have arrived with an open ticket are now forced to leave the country after 2 months to get another visa. In the old days there were no visas and people stayed for months. I guess most people now fly in to Bali or Jakarta and end up spending their 2 months exploring Java, Bali and Lombok. Getting to the more isolated places requires a return trip or some adept planning! And with cheap air travel, few people do the old overland routes anymore. The youngsters in their gapyear just want to hang out on a beach in Thailand and party party party and the older traveller is really just trying to do as much as possible in their 2-6 week vacation. I know there are still people out there who take their time, I've met some over the years and they are a real inspiration. More about them later.

I'm not expecting lots of English speaking people where I'm going so I am gonna have to learn the local lingo. I am, according to my own definition, an advanced speaker which unfortunately won't get me past the bar and onto the bus!

I've bought a Berlitz phrasebook, complete with audio CD, which is a start. I've searched the web, which is such a wonderful tool if you have about 3-4 weeks to trawl through links from all sorts of sites. My latest find is a free podcast course.

Here's the link:

I'll let you know how I go with it.

As for the plans, I've found a house and dogsitter for 6 months. She's a lovely lass from Kauai who will really enjoy hanging out at my beach pad while I'm away. Haven't told work yet.

And the exercise routine is working, I've already lost 2.5kg and the hills don't seem so tough as they did 2 weeks ago!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Planning Stage

The job has burnt me out and it's time to get a bit of balance back in my life. I've done alot of travelling in the past and am keen to go back to South East Asia and experience it the slow way. I want to see the places not yet discovered by the hordes of travellers with their LP bible tucked firmly under their arm. We've all seen them, cross referencing whether said guidebook recommends said guesthouse, rather than just checking out the room. I've used LP for years, but mainly to work out the basics of transport and tourist sights. I prefer to turn up somewhere and look for my own accommodation. I've stayed in some real gems, have often been the only western guest and experienced fantastic hospitality.

So go slow it is.

First stop Sumatra, August 2008. It's got lots of jungle, lots of wild animals, some really interesting traditional cultures, heaps of volcanos to climb, rare flora, and not too many of those aforementioned tourists. Though there's a place up north near Medan called Bukit Lawang that seems to be crawling with them, along with the obligatory Orangutan Rehab Centre (read glorified tourist trap). I'm heading straight to Padang, and straight to a dinky di restaurant to start eating the heavenly food this region is famous for. I like hot, so I'm looking forward to a good rendang.

But first things first:
  1. Let work know, find a house and dogsitter. (pending)
  2. Buy plane ticket (done)
  3. Get Indonesian visa. I want to have the full 2 months so will need to apply before leaving as Visa on Arrival is only for 30 days.
  4. Advertise for travel companions. Always nice to have company along the road less travelled.
  5. Learn Bahasa Indonesian. I know a few basics but this trip I'll need a little more. (work in progress)
  6. Get damn fit. Well I'm going jungle trekking and volcano climbing, the pegs are going to need to be in good condition. Lucky for me I don't smoke. (work in progress)