Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Counting down

Today I'm home sick with "manflu". In the old days if I had a sore throat that felt like I'd swallowed a few razor blades I'd soldier on, turn up for work, talk all day (something I can't avoid, being in the medical advice business), and probably spread further the germs that I inevitably picked up at work in the first place. These days, however, with over 400 hours of sick leave entitlements, I no longer feel any pressure about letting down the team. I now hunker down, take a healthy dose of vitamin C and espresso coffee, snuggle under the doona with a good book and the choccy dog and give myself some TLC. I think I'm maturing as a person....

Talking about the choccy dog, there is something very endearing about my favourite hot water bottle actually choosing to snuggle up next to mum for an ear rub and cuddle. 'specially when I'm sick. If only she could rustle up a nice hot chicken soup!

Three weeks tonight I fly out to NZ for more ski goddess hedonism. In 10 days I finish work. For six months. Not like I'm counting or anything.

A couple of weeks ago I hit a nasty down spot, when I realised I had slipped back into the depression I've had on and off for many years. Not the debilitating state I got into back in 2008, but down enough that I had no motivation to do anything - work, exercise, cleaning the house (no wait, that's normal!) - and wasn't even looking forward to my holiday. Thankfully, realising where I was helped me to pick myself up again, get out pounding the pavements to get the endorphin levels up, and force myself out of that fug. Yep, insight does help, if you don't deny your depression you damn well have to do something about it.

The final three weeks are going to be very busy, but mostly with doing me things versus all those other things I'm always getting involved in. Not that I want to get out of doing the volunteer activities I'm involved in, it's just quite a juggle finding time for everything. Fortunately, we've finished both our Oxfam and Coastcare duties for the time being, so aside from writing a magazine article and presenting at an upcoming conference, I'm free to spend the next 3 weeks doing house and garden things. Yay!!

I am going to have a go at building my tyre wall in the backyard - nothing like some serious shovelling, lifting and pounding to get in shape for a ski trip. I've about 20 tyres to start off with, if they go well I'm assured of heaps more. It costs a lot to send them to the tip, so the local tyre retailers are all too happy to offload the old ones for free. Yep, I'm such a hippy...

I also want to sort out the reticulation now I've managed to get the rain tank stand up for the fourth time (the one up the top of my property that gravity feeds the vege patch, but has fallen down a few times, OK 3 times already!). This time it's on sturdy wooden piles with the load spread properly. The tank has been full for 3 weeks with no imminent lean, cracking wood, or loud thumps in the night. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click here.

I'm already semi packed - a pretty easy proposition when everything I take with me (aside from underwear) I would never ever wear here as our winters are too warm for fleeces and what not. OK, I do put a jumper on in winter, but it's usually over a t-shirt!! And yes, the onesy is packed and ready even if I do have a spanking new pair of Colombia skipants for this season. I mean, the goddess has to have a wardrobe en piste too, and once the luggage goes over the limit, it's the same price for the extra bag whether there's two kilos, or 23!!

But the real countdown is till Saturday, mum's birthday, and the start of a few weeks of falling asleep in front of the telly watching my favourite sporting event of the year. I'm starting early watching the highlights from last year's show, quite nostalgic and enjoyable, and particularly looking forward to the footage I missed out on last year when flying over the ditch to geoblocked NZ. And come Saturday night I'll be all ready for the prologue in Liege!

Ah, vive le tour!!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Things you do...

Imagine you are in the middle of summer, it's 40 degrees during the day, and overnight it cools down to the mid 20s. You are on a windsurfing holiday to Western Australia and have just discovered the thrill, and the sheer terror, of wave sailing. Actually, you haven't at this stage encountered huge waves closing out over your head because you are a pure novice in this discipline. Sure you can windsurf, but slashing it in big gnarly waves? You're a babe in the woods!!

You are on your way home to the other side of the country and decide to do a little sightseeing en route. I mean we are talking about a 4500km road trip here, a few side attractions are welcome. You decide to visit a well known landmark 600km inland. It's hot, humid and there's no water in sight.

Said landmark just so happens to bear a striking resemblance to a wave. Only it's made from the effect of weathering on rock over thousands of years. In the grand Australian tradition of naming something after the bleeding obvious - Snowy Mountains, Great Sandy Desert, Great Barrier Reef - this particular one goes by the name of Wave Rock. And it really does look the part.

Picturing the sweltering weather, imagine traipsing your windsurfing gear a few hundred metres from the campsite to the rock. Then rigging it up. Then somehow managing to get into your wetsuit, with sweat pouring off you, not an easy feat...

Set up tripod and camera, and take the shot.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I'm no number cruncher

I was just thinking today: how many countries have I been to? And I have no idea. Not even a ballpark figure. So let's count them:

Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Greece, former Yugoslavia, former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Germany (both bits), Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Dubai, Tanzania, USA.

Wow, that's a tidy 40 countries, but so what? What does it tell you about me, about my travel philosophy, my likes and dislikes? Am I well travelled because I can reel off a long list of places visited? Am I somehow more experienced than someone who has only been to 10? Of course not, and anyway, it's not a bloody competition!

Here's a few reasons why I think the notion of counting is totally irrelevant.

1. A city visited doesn't necessarily provide a window into the psyche of the country.

I've only been to New York. I flew to NYC in 2004 to stay with a friend and spent 3 wonderful weeks exploring that amazing city. For a girl who loves the country life, living by the beach, it's one city I'd happily spend some time living in, if I ever had the opportunity. But NYC is so not like the rest of the USA! In fact you've only gotta jump the Washington Bridge and you're in New Jersey!! Suffice to say, three weeks in NYC does not make me qualified to have any real experience of "America".

2. Some visits are fleeting.

Some places are on that list because I spent a bit over 24 hours there, grabbed a quick tour of the city, then jumped back on a plane somewhere. Took me three trips to Singapore before I gave myself a few days to soak up the atmosphere properly and start to let it get under my skin. Then again, being forced by circumstances to see a city at odd times of the day has its advantages as well.

3. What you do there could maybe be done anywhere.

I'm a scuba diver, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say I used to do a lot of scuba diving. Places I've scuba dived in Australia are pretty varied, but I've also dived Fiji, Vanuatu, Red Sea, Thailand, and Indonesia. And sad to say that my trips to both Fiji and Vanuatu, as well as to a number of places in Indonesia, have been ONLY to see the underwater delights. Sure I've been to Irian Jaya, but only to dive. Aside from minor interactions with the locals I stayed in my little bubble, and got some pretty nice underwater footage while I was at it. And then one trip I did a mix of sightseeing and diving and, well, the genie got outta the bag...

4. How you travel makes all the difference.

Everybody has different comfort levels and I feel people should travel at a level that suits them. If you can get a good sleep, can wash when you want to, have the level of privacy that you require when away from home, then you're in just the right mood to get out there and interact with the locals. I've seen cheapskate backpackers spend less time exploring their surroundings and the people inhabiting it than a well heeled tourist staying in a five star resort. It's not about how much you paid for your bed, it's about whether you actually spend your trip engaging with the environment you're in. When I cycled around Europe in 1990 I met so many beer drenched Aussie/Kiwi/South African crews doing the identical Kombi tour, recounting the same experiences, it was like listening to a broken record. To this day I wonder about that crazed man with the gun in Yugoslavia, who seemed to spend every night moving on stray travellers trying to snatch a freecamp on their way to Oktoberfest. Was it one man or a team of them?? That I'd camped in fields and had fresh coffee brought to my tent by friendly Germans each morning, that I'd met local cyclists and been shown beautiful monasteries not in a guidebook, that I'd had my bike chain repaired by a helpful Alsace farmer, and shared pancakes with a concert flautist in Weimar, were so far removed from their experiences I just didn't bother mentioning them. But I did enjoy hitting the beer tent with them!!

5. The places you keep returning to say a lot about you.

I've been to Indonesia five times. Here in WA, that's not much at all, given that Bali is a popular holiday destination for so many, and often more than once a year! But I consider myself a bit more adventurous than the frequent flying Bali crowd - seeing as I don't really do the lie around on a deckchair kind of holiday. Since that genie popped up on the Sulawesi trip back in 2007, I've had a fascination for the place, its myriad cultures, and of course, its food. I've learnt the language, I keep my leftover rupiah for the next trip, and spend quite a considerable amount of time planning further forays.

Another country that has so got under my skin is China. There's been a good 20 year gap between visits, and a lot has changed in that country between times, but again, it's the places, the people and, yep, the food. I suspect I may get similar feelings when I manage to return to India. Seeing a pattern here?

6. Knowing your own country gives you perspective.

I've travelled pretty extensively in my own country. I've circumnavigated it a couple of times, I've travelled to a lot of very remote places, and I've even been to Tasmania. Twice!! Knowing your own land, its people, its customs, not just your little neck of the woods, can prepare a person well for foreign lands. Hopefully you learn respect for difference, that Queenslanders aren't all stupid, Canberrans aren't all public servants, and West Australians aren't all bogans, though Victorians really are appalling drivers!! I am extremely privileged to also know many of the indigenous people of my country and to love and respect them for their courage, pride and persistence in the face of our often brutal treatment of them over the last 200 odd years. In fact, I am appalled to discover that many of my fellow Australian travellers speak in only derogatory terms about Aboriginal people when discussing them with foreigners, something this one woman band is doing her mightiest to dispel. A piece of advice: if you don't actually know any aboriginal people, when a foreigner asks you about them (because they are often genuinely interested in Aboriginal people and culture) tell them the truth, that you don't know any. Stop dispersing filthy derogatory propaganda that all aboriginal people are drunks and thieves and not to be trusted. It's bullshit, and yes, I can prove it!!

So, there you have it. You probably know a little more about me and my travelling ways than if I'd told you I'd ticked off 40 countries hey??