One to Grow On

December 31, 2010

Kindness of Near Strangers

Filed under: animals, children, Great Britain, New Zealand, travel — midway2go @ 3:17 am

Those of you who have been following this blog since last November (or anyone awake and reading) must have noticed a drastically increased frequency of posts.  I mean,  I posted NOTHING for almost four months and now I’m writing something every couple of days?  Weird, huh?  Well, I’m suddenly in a hurry to get to the main event of our storyline.  In most ways our trip (and this story) starts and ends with Brandon’s leaving for Iraq and Brandon’s returning from Iraq.  Clearly, he’s home, and I’ve got photos, and stories, and I want to see this thing through in the same calendar year that it took place.  By tomorrow.  So, here goes.

When we last saw our heroes (that’s Rory and Nora and I) we were lounging around the home of the Pilbeam’s somewhere outside of Edinburgh.  Our time was short.  We knew Brandon was due home sometime in October, and we meant to be there, household established, waiting for him.  That gave us about three more weeks in Britain, then about three weeks at home, trying to settle in and get a house ready.  Out of our three travelling weeks we wanted to wring all the satisfaction and joy and  adventure and fellowship we could.  We wanted to make them count.  We wanted to spend our time with  friends.   And I absolutely, positively had to sell our car.

The Pilbeam’s pointed us toward the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on our way south to York.  Just like Mont St. Michel in France or Skellig Micheal in Ireland (both of which, due to lack of prior planning, we viewed from afar) Holy Island was a religious community separated from the secular world by thought and deed and the tide.  Now the ruins of an abbey, a National Trust property and some shops lure travellers over a wet road twice a day at low tides.   And, thanks to the Pilbeam’s, we got there just in time to roll in, stroll around, and leave again before the sea reached our rims.  Thanks, Ian!

We had also planned to go by Alnwick Castle, which was used as Hogwarts in some of the Harry Potter movies, but once there I calculated that it would cost us more than $70 to stroll the grounds and try to see exactly where Harry learned to play Quidditch.  Hmmm…  we backtracked to an overview, had a good look, and kept the money.  No regrets there. 

I have to admit, I have long wanted to see York.  The cathedral, the old town, the Viking museum:  I wanted to stay days and days and really take it all in.  We set up the tent by the loveliest little river imaginable a few miles outside town.  The plan was to stroll into town and take a bus back.  Well, we never once left the campsite once we settled in.  Those were our last few days in the Snug Bug, and that had a greater pull than York Minster.  

Here’s where the Near Strangers come in.  Long, long ago, early in the trip, we literally ran into another RTW family in a hostel in Queenstown, NZ.  That family, the Price’s, kept an excellent, timely (hpm-hpm) blog which I read every chance I had (as should you:  www.globalprices.wordpress.com)   After our meeting we stayed loosely in touch, and they invited us to come for a visit if our itineraries allowed.  So, strangers?  Not really.  Friends?  Well, they are now.   Tim and Kirsten and I stayed up late comparing notes and swapping  tales and discovering one freaky coincidence after another.  Ready?  In addition to the biggie ( finding ourselves with our children on the opposite side of the world in the same hostel on the same day at the same minute, obviously!), we both own really old houses on High Streets, we both had (or have, in our case) a cat named Phoebe, and there was one other one I forget.  It was quite late.  Anyway, it was fated.  I love those guys.  

One of the many kindnesses they showed us was helping me to get the car listed on eBay.   Kirsten gaped but held back the tears as the contents of our car were disgorged into her entryway.  She gamely helped me to sort, repack and donate our stuff.  And we are talking PILES of crap.  And Tim did such a top-notch job guiding me through the car listing that it sold in five days for more than I paid for it.   I’m still smiling about that. 

We loaded up (a much reduced load, mind) with a few days to go before we could burst into Lucy and Thomas’s lives again.   We had just enough time to zip down to Cornwall to visit a family we met while camping in New Zealand. 

Now, of all the omissions of this blog, and they are legion, I just did a quick search and nowhere have I mentioned these folks.  That is shocking.  Rory really made these friends for us.  We were in the very south of New Zealand, camping on Purakanui Bay at a Department of Conservation site (kind of like a National Park, but no park or facilities).   Rich and Fiona and their girls were on a five or six-week trip over from England, and we all, kids and grown-ups, and Rich, hit it off right away.  Our evening watching sea lions frolic while the kids danced in the sand for joy is one of our highlights of the whole year.  Not only that, but we showed up on their doorstep in April, and they showed us a fine time.  We drove across Cornwall to see the sun set over their favorite beach, and when we go home they opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  The best part?  Unbeknowgst to them it was my birthday  

You can see how we headed straight back for a repeat.  In the interim they had had the good sense and amazing fortune to move from town to their favorite beach, so we got to see them in a new setting.  Thanks, Rich and Fiona and Edie and Megan and Ruby.  You guys are super star.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me tomorrow…  stay tuned.

December 23, 2010

Christmas Card Conundrum

Filed under: children, Food Allergies, France, travel — midway2go @ 11:00 am

Here’s the conundrum: I can send out Christmas cards (late, but, still…) and mention the blog, or I can use that time to update the blog, but then I can’t mention my newly updated blog in the cards because I don’t have time to send them.

Solution? I’ll take it one country at a time and keep it simple.  How about a few photos and no long, rambling stories?  Do I hear a hearty chorus of “Thank God”s out there?  Gee, thanks.   So, here they are,  highlights from France:  the Loire River (so much more interesting than the valley), Paris (from our miniscule balcony we watched the lights twinkle from Sacre Coeur across the skyline to the Eiffel Tower and beyond) Versailles (where we zipped through the Chateau to spend hours riding bikes through the gardens- Nora mastered the two-wheeler there!), and an evening spent watchng the sun set at Mont St. Michel.   Even without bread and cheese France is something like heaven.

May 22, 2010

Africa, almost

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Spain, travel, weather — midway2go @ 11:22 am

We were really close.  I mean, really, really close.  We had reservations in Fez, I had the train connections from Tangier to Fez copied into my notebook, and the ferry tickets were bought.  We left the house in La Herradura right at 10 and made good time to Tarifa.  We even thought we might be in time for the 1pm ferry and not have to wait until 3pm to cross.  We could see the Rif mountains of Moroccoo across the Straight of Gibraltar.  We were so close.

Well, the woman in the red FRS ferry compnay jacket told us, screaming to be heard over the wind, the 1pm ferry was cancelled due to weather, and the forecast for the 3pm ferry wasn’t looking good.  The decision to go or to cancel would be made by 2pm.    We explained, with big eyes, that we had made arrangements (indeed, had spent most of the previous day making arrangements, but I didn’t tell her that), that we had reservations.  She offered that we could drive back to Algeciras and take a boat to Ceuta, or wait until the next day.  She was quite gracious and kind in explaining that our tickets would be valid on any crossing their company made, on any day.  By the time this was all shouted back  and forth it was 11:53am in Morocco, and we had until noon to cancel our hotel reservations.  In 45 seconds we cancelled a sidetrip planned for days and dreamed of for years. 

I got through to the hotel, who couldn’t find my reservation anyway, and we made the most of our afternoon in Tarifa.  We were literally blown from one street into smaller and smaller alleys, trying to get out of the wind.  My hair looked like I’d teased it for the prom, and Nora was almost blown off some rocks she was scrambling around on.  I was grumpy and irritable and my skin hurt from the wind.  I told Brandon, Seems like we’ve been somewhere else where the wind blew like this and I was miserable.  He said, Yeah, we lived in Kansas.  Oh, right. 

If we didn’t have reservations in Morocco, we didn’t have them in Spain, either.  We spent a few minutes looking for our good Iberian atlas (it’s gone), then a few more looking at the large, useless map.  We made a couple of calls to hotels in various towns in Portugal and settled on staying in Spain and going to Arcos de la Frontera, a great Andalusian town built on a knife’s edge of land with cliffs falling away on either side.  We got a room in the Parador, counted ourselves lucky, and headed out for the 60 mile drive.  Well, the car battery was dead and we had to be jumped,  our map turned out to be incorrectly labelled not once but twice, and a section of the road was closed, necessitating a 20 kilometer detour.  More than three hours later we pulled into Arcos, tired and hungry but glad not to be driving 4 more hours into Portugal. 

Our balcony at the Parador literally hung over the side of the gorge.  One wrong step would have meant a perilous plummet to a pulpy death.  [Brandon put in that last sentence about pulpy death.]  I had imagined  Brandon and I sharing a bottle of wine out there while the kids  drifted happily off to sleep.  Well, more dreams gone with the wind.  Instead we sat for hours over plate after plate of yumminess at a little restaurant in the dungeon of the palace.  By the door was a tiny little barbecue.  We ordered everything off the menu that we could eat:  favas cooked with atrichoke hearts in garlic sauce, mushrooms in a spicy sauce, pototo salad, freshly roasted red peppers with onions, mixed salad, spicy pork on skewers, stewed lamb, pork loin wrapped in bacon on the grill, tiny lamb chops…  We rolled ourselves uphill and straight into bed.

Today we’ve poked around, looking in shops and eating at small metal tables.  I think I could devote some serious time to the study of olives.  Yum.  I had a glass of sherry at lunch so rich, so sweet, it was like icy velvet in my mouth.  Nora has been flamenco dancing her way around the city.  She is constantly moving, snapping, stomping.  We found her flamenco shoes for her birthday, red with black polka dots and squat little heels.  She can’t wait- 11 more days.  And Rory asked great questions in the church today.  The Spanish altars are so elaborate and ornate, but some of the statues and paintings seem to breathe.  Young Mary is a doting nursing mother;  a beaming Joseph holds young Jesus.  An eldery bearded man holding a large sceptre we decided was supposed to be God, but we had reservation (I think he looks more like King Triton, Ariel’s father in Little Mermaid).  Mary stands beside Christ on the cross, crying gemstone tears.  We saw not one word of scripture nor one Bible, but there was message a plenty.

Tomorrow we head to Seville for a couple of days before Brandon has to go back, but We Are Not Talking About That.  What’s next for the three of us?  I don’t know, but it’ll have to be good.  We are going to be three sad sacks in need of distraction.  Maybe we’ll try again for Africa.  I really, really want to go, although I would much rather go holding tight to Brandon’s hand in the medinas.  Still, it would be fabulous.  And we are so close!  Courage, mon enfant!  I tell myself.  We’ll see if it works.

May 20, 2010

Alhambra, almost

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Spain, travel — midway2go @ 10:25 am

Tuesday passed hopping in the water, getting out and warming up, then getting back in.  Brandon perfected his rock jumping, and even I thought about getting in the sea.  I sat there, watching the water surge into the little tiny cove, thinking of the feel of the salt on my skin, drying in the sun, and getting used to the feel of the algae slick underfoot.  I wanted to get in.  Then a big wave crashed in and soaked me up to my waist, and my desire to immerse myself was sucked out to sea along with the wave.  Oh, well.

Wednesday was to be our big day in Granada.  We had been talking about the Alhambra and the history of the Moors in Spain.   Just think.  This  part of Spain was under Islamic rule for 800 years.  Then, think that it’s less than 700 years since Isabella and Ferdinand gave the Moors the boot and brought in the Inquisition.   Incredible.   So, we were off to visit the Alhambra, the last bastion of the Moors in Iberia, and it felt like a great car trip.  We turned up the Bon Jovi and the soundtrack of Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, and sang ourselves hoarse as we crossed the Sierra Nevadas heading one hour inland.  The sun was shining, and it was a glorious day to do some sightseeing.  Now, the last time I visited the Alhambra, in my post-college backpacking days, you just walked up and stood in line for tickets.  These days, you can buy tickets a year in advance online (but we knew but hadn’t done), so we were hoping to get lucky and get our tickets the old-fashioned way.  Well, no luck.  Carol, get your stinking tickets NOW! 

 We couldn’t get into the palace rooms, but we were able to visit the Generalife, the Alcazar and the palace that Carlos I built in the 16th century.    Maybe we just didn’t know what we were missing (and I was keeping quiet), but we loved it all and thought it fabulous.  Correct me if I’m wrong but Islamic art relies on patterns and celebration of the written word rather than images of people and animals.  Rory and Nora found the idea of that really strange, but in the churches I grew up in we didn’t really have so many paintings or “images” either.  The emphasis there was on the Word, singing it and speaking it and memorizing it for stickers in Sunday School, so in that way I really get that about Islam.  Going through the Museo de Artes Bellas in the palace of Carlos I was a fascinating contrast of the celebration of the image in Catholic Spain with the celebration of the word in Islam.  Rory and Nora loved the small collection there.  They were suitably horrified by the pietas, with Jesus sprawled across the lap of his grieving mother, and awed by the altar pieces.   They quickly became experts on nail wounds and crowns of thorns, and they had lots of questions about death by crucifixion.   The power of the Word is one thing, but going through the museum with Rory and Nora I could see how potent those images are, especially for the less literate.  Very clever, those Catholics.  We spent the evening strolling around the small streets and alleyways of Granada and had a perfectly forgettable dinner in a hugely memorable square. So, you could say we saw the Alhambra.  Almost.

April 25, 2010

The Cotwolds and Singapore: Strange Bedfellows

Filed under: animals, children, food, Food Allergies, Great Britain, Singapore, travel — midway2go @ 7:28 am
  
When I imagined, from the relative luxury of my kitchen in Georgia, what this blog would be like I thought I would keep up with it nightly. I would sit down at the end of a full day, the children happily asleep in some other room, and recount tales of great adventure and humorous anecdotes of Rory and Nora on Foreign Land. My stunning and insightful photos would effortlessly fit into the narrative of my tale; indeed, they would be knitted seamelssly together. Well, ha, bloody, ha, as some fictitious Brit would say. I don’t think there has been one time when I’ve sat down and recounted the day afresh. Most nights I’ve collapsed into bed with the kids, falling asleep before they do (well, at least before Rory does). Other nights I’ve bemoaned the lack of internet access, although like now I can write on WordPad and copy and paste to WordPress later, so that’s a weak excuse. Mostly, I think, I just don’t have enough left at the end of a day filled with parenting two kids, planning ahead for travel and coping with the demands of day-to-day life on the move to record the miracles and nightmares as they happen.

 

So, here I sit, in a bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds in England, trying to change all that. I’m in a folding chair, hunched over the keyboard in the dark with the netbook propped on the side of a small dresser to be nearer to the eletrical outlet. Why am I here and not downstairs at the large, well-lit table, now that the kids are asleep? Good question. Be right back.   Okay, here I am. Our B&B, Tall Trees, in Stow-on-the-Wold has turned out to be not only comfortable and convenient but an amazing value. We have the whole upstairs of an annex to ourselves, and, since we’re the only guests, we have full run of the living area, the kitchen, and both patios. Perfect. I love this place. The town, like the whole region, is too cute to be believed. Honey-stoned buildings line each narrow street. Tiny purple flowers cascade out of chinks in drystone fences. Clipped grass, so green you want to nibble it alongside the sheep, fills every hollow. It’s lambing season. Daffodils and hyanciths bloom. Need I say more about the cuteness? It’s almost too much.   

Today we went to Snowshill Manor, the home of a collection of objects of a man named Charled Paget Wade. I say the home of his collection: he never lived in the house. He lived in a small home adjacent to the manorhouse. He bought the manor for his things to live in. He wanted to create a series of rooms in which the 22,000 objects in his collection could settle. He wanted to create another world to delight and enthrall his friends. He began collecting at the age of seven (this makes an enormous impression on Rory, aged eight). His grandmother had this old red Chinese cabinent filled with little knicknacks and treasures. If he was a very good boy the whole week and did as he was told and ate all his porridge he was allowed after church on Sundays to open the cabinent and touch some of the wonders within. From this grew his love of things.    

Charles Wade collected anything form any place and any time, provided it met three criteria: excellence in craftmanship, excellence in color, and outstanding something else (maybe design?). The resulting house was incredible. I had read that the rooms were crammed full with all manner of stuff with no plan or design. Now, to me, that means toasters piled up to the ceiling beside plows and saints reliquaries. Total chaos. But the roms didn’t feel that way at all. Maybe they would to a museum’s curator, but to me they made wonderful sense. All the things that were wheeled or moved or transported were together. All the oldest hand-woven rugs and coats of arms and saints relics hung in a foyer. In another room Chinese snuff jars and Japanese picnic boxes stood around bejeweled dressers from Italy. I thought it was wonderful, even though we had to leave halfway through to get Rory to a toilet and Nora pitched a fit, crashing after eating half of a pink mouse made entirely of sugar, and yelled her way through the amazing gardens.    

For those of you still reading, not just skipping on to the photos (so, my husband and his mother- thank y’all) you may wonder how we got to be here in the Cotswolds from North Carolina? What came before? Ah, well, that may have to wait. I want to go back even further to Singapore, our destination when we left Perth and the clear, logical flow of this blog. We had planned to spend maybe three nights in Singapore, but we stayed eight. Our first three days we spent just getting used to the idea of being in Asia. Our hostel, the Betel Box, was perfect, and Rory and Nora met some of the nicest folks in the world there while I tried to catch up on the Australia blog. Isn’t that funny? A group of (and I am not making this up) students from Uraguay who are doing their undergraduate degrees in Taiwan were there on break from classes, and they played Wii with Rory and Nora for hours. A couple named Rey and Eva from the Philippines showed the two of them incredible kindness. Really, the people we have met on the road have been the best part.    

After three nights we moved on to central Singapore, trading fabulous friends and facilites for location, location, location (and our room was no longer available). At Backpackers Central Hostel we had no windows in our tiny room, but we were just up the street from the Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling, across the street from a very convienent shopping mall, and walking distance to lots of places, like more shopping malls. It was alarming and oddly seductive. We became regulars at the Starbucks across the street (with the money we were saving in accomadation) and ate so many meals at the yellow plastic tables around the corner that the woman rolled her eyes when she saw us coming.    

I’m just about to it. The thing we had to face at least three times a day was Food. Singapore, mind you, is a city desgined to eat out in. No one cooks. Food is abundant, cheap, and delicious. It is also not dairy nor gluten free. I printed off cards carefully translated into Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai and Vietnamese that explained what we could and could not eat. I would show them to a prospective waiter or waitress. Usually we were asked to leave. This poor woman with the yellow plastic chairs foolishly agreed to take us on like a project, and we haunted her door. Before our time was up in town, though, it was clear we were all reacting to something we’d eaten, but who could ever say what? We’d had yummy vegatables swimming in brown sauces, boiled eggs so runny we had to crack them into a bowl and drink them, and coconut rice with a dried fish head and chili sauce for breakfast. Rory and Nora are still sniggering at the fish ball soup. We spotted in the grocery store a selection of of other balls: pork, beef, or beef tendon. Beef tendon balls? Food there existed in it’s own sphere. We were tourists, wierd Americans whose tastes and fancies could not be reckoned with. Why would they change a perfectly good recipe, made for ages just like that, for us? One time I ordered the vegetarian soup off a lunch menu. It had rice noodles and no soy sauce, so that seemed fine. Well, when it came it was full of rice noodles and tofu, yes, but my vegetarian soup also boasted shrimp, fish and chicken. Eating was definately a challenge. We’d be eating something so yummy and good, Rory would say, “you just know this is going to make us sick.” And it did.    

Still, we loved Singapore. We’re still talking about our day at the zoo. And, for the record, when I snapped the picture of the baboons in front of Rory they were not doing THAT. I also cannot say enough good things about the weather. I LOVE that climate. My skin, so tempermental and fussy, was creamy and soft and happy. My hair was almost curly (well, that may be a stretch). The back of the hostel, where the toilets cubbies and shower stalls were, were open, walled only to the waist. No glass, no screens. It felt like the rainforest or like camping. We’d stand there at the end of a long day, fresh from a cool shower, and we’d brush our teeth with bottled water, leaning our elbows on the wall and looking out at this huge city, this nation-state given over to high-rises and shopping and lattes. The air would be full even then of the sounds of bugs and birds calling in the heavy wet air, over the sounds of horns and voices shouting down the alley, and I couldn’t what world I was in. First? Third? Who cared? We loved it.   

    

April 4, 2010

Silence Explained

Filed under: children, Food Allergies, parenting, travel — midway2go @ 2:07 am

Blogging is kind of a tricky thing.  At least, it is with me.  Just about every post I’ve written has been delayed.  Maybe I was writing and posting about that day’s events in Japan, when we were young and enthusiastic and the internet connection was fast and free.  Ever since then the delay has waxed and waned like the moon.  And, now, here I am, with six weeks of No Blogs, and three continents of distance to account for.  How to begin?

Well, when we left Perth, Australia, on January 31st we headed to Singapore, thrilled but with reservations (no, not at a hostel…).  I was worried.   I knew from Japan that eating in Asia was going to be tougher than I had hoped.  In fact my cheerful optimism about coping with our food allergies was beginning to feel distinctly foolish and naive.  Despite weeks that were enjoyable in almost every other regard our time in southeast Asia was defined by trouble with food.   Darn that glutinous soy sauce.  Rory ended up with his food allergies triggered, then on top of that unhappiness picked up a case of traveller’s diarrhea by the time we got to Kuala Lumpur.  [More blogs to follow-soon!- on these places, I promise]  By Penang, in northern Malaysia, he had to get checked out by a doctor and was admitted to the hospital for monitoring.   We spent 3 nights in the hospital, and with every frenzied rush to the toilet my dreams of floating down the Mekong and strolling the streets of Llasa got dimmer and dimmer.  We spent 5 days at a luxury hotel in Penang, hoping that Rory would plump up overnight and waiting for Chinese New Year to blow over.   I think it was on the third day out of the hospital, when we were still struggling to get food that was “our kind” that Rory would eat and he was still losing weight, that I gave up and called Qantas to change our flights.  Rather than flying from Beijing to London in late spring we flew from Singapore to London February 19th.  We had 2 nights in London and on February 22 we arrived at my parents’ house in North Carolina.

For the last 6 weeks we’ve been on what Nora calls our “vacation” from our trip.  In many ways she’s so right.  We’ve slept in late, lazed around, eaten anything we wanted.  I’ve gotten a shockingly small amount of anything done. I haven’t managed to spruce  up my iPod or get to the dentist.  We have accomplished a few things.  Rory has regained some, although not all, of the 10 pounds he lost.  I got to see my children laugh with my grandmother one more time.   I cuddled with my cat Phoebe until my eyes were swollen shut from dander.  We were able to be here to support my parents when my father had knee replacement surgery.   We spent met up in the mountains with Brandon’s dad for a ski weekend (no skiing took place, though, thanks to a virus).  We got just enough snow for the kids to make a couple of tiny, tiny snowmen.   And my friend Jill’s baby just might recognize me; he lets me hold him, anyway, for which I am grateful.   These are not small things.

In three two days we set out again.  We’re flying into London to begin the third leg of our trip.  In my mind I used to think of this as one huge, year-long gig, and so this coming home in the middle was a big failure.  I think I’m starting to see that we’ve been going and coming for almost a year already, and that our travelling style may be a few months gone, a month home, over and over.   As we head out this time I’ll be going with bags packed a bit differently.  Rory and Nora will be going more confidently.  We’ll all be heading out with a more immediate sense  of connection to family and friends, and that’s fine by me.

February 13, 2010

New Zealand: 3 weeks of photos

Filed under: animals, children, New Zealand, travel — midway2go @ 11:12 am

I’d given up posting about our last three weeks in New Zealand, but I hated to miss it.  We had a blast.  Christmas with Rachel’s family (board games galore- I love those people), whale watching in Kaikoura with Louisa and Sean, museums and botanical gardens and art galleries and kids playing and camping with Bodie and Dylan and Rachel and New Year’s Day with Michaela and Nils and other people’s tents that made us think of the Quidditch World Cup.   Too much to leave out; too much to write about.  The photo of the plane and the mountains:  that was leaving from Queenstown.   How did we ever go?

Real quick:  I’d love to recommend some other blogs:

Louisa and Sean take the photos I wish I took- dreamy, ethereal, tactile…  plus they say nice things about my kids.      www.louisaandsean.blogspot.com

Our last morning in New Zealand I walked downstairs in the hostel, and there stood a family whose blog I’ve been reading since September.   They had come across ours, too, the world of RTW families being small, and it was a funny and delightful meeting.  They update daily (ah, the luxury of two adults) and are currently in Australia.  www.globalprices.wordpress.com

February 11, 2010

Advance, Australia Fair

Filed under: animals, Australia, children, travel — midway2go @ 10:04 pm

Walking around the giant tingle trees and the karris I had lots of time to think .   Thoughts like, What kind of a name is tingle?  And, How far can I get Nora to hike without a popsicle or chocolate as a bribe?  But then I saw the sign about burls, and that got me thinking along different lines.  So, these trees suffer some kind of trauma, maybe minor like a bug infestation or something more major, like an axe hacking partially through it.  Then, it makes this special coating around the injury, healing itself and making this big knob.  And (this is the really good part), that scar tissue, when see from the inside, is beautiful. 

Maybe people are that way.   Except, hopefully we’re not singled out and hacked down in our prime for our distinctive personalities.

So we kept on going (even without chocolate), and these tingle trees got better and better.  They’re huge.  THey can live 400 years, grow to be almost 300 feet tall and (get this) 85 feet in diameter.  That’s a big tree.  But that’s not the best part.  They have very fragile root systems, which sounds really weak, right?  But it makes them perfectly suited for this little corner of Australia.  They can survive forest fires, pests, and almost anything except humans walking around their roots.  They can be eaten by bugs from the inside out, torched in a bushfire, and as long as there is a continuous living link between root and bark and leaves, they will live on.  Isn’t that incredibly hopeful?  I’ll tell you, to a woman missing her husband and family and friends and wondering if she had the resources to keep nurturing two kids, these trees were a Godsend. 

So these Tingle trees grow only in one swath of land within the Walpole-Nornalup National Park.   In order to make these trees accessible to the public while sparing the root systems (and providing a great tourist attraction in one fell swoop) the park built a tree top walk.  It was stunning.  And nauseating.   THe walkway is like (gulp) a suspension bridge through the tree tops, running from one platform to another over what they call “spans.”  Ugh.  At its highest point it’s 131 feet above the forest floor (that’s high) and the whole thing sways with the wind.  Rory and Nora, charming and inquisitive children that they are, quickly figured out that by working as a team they could rock the “spans” from side to side, enough to make me freeze up and scuttle quickly at the same time.  Cute kids.

Thanks for listening to the Sermon on the Tingles.  I’ll try to finish up with some photos of Walpole’s Australia Day celebration and some beach photos.  Yet another beautiful, dangerous beach.   And that’s Australia as we knew it.

February 9, 2010

Southwest Corner of a Big Ol’ Continent

Filed under: Australia, children, homeschooling, travel — midway2go @ 12:32 am

I have to admit, Perth has always intrigued me. It’s a city of over a million people, the capital of the largest state in Australia (Western Australia, probably one of the largest states in the world) but it’s so far from anywhere. I don’t know by what measure, but it’s said to be the most remote big city in the world.  

Well, aside from waiting more than an hour for the airport shuttle and then being overcharged, I liked Perth right away. It’s big, but really bright, with a huge park in the middle and blue water everywhere you look. The Swan River, which is massive, runs right through it, emptying into the Indian Ocean.  We spent a dreamy afternoon in Cottesloe, a little town with beautiful cottages and great cafes and an almost perfect stretch of beach.  Remote or not, it’s no mystery why people want to live here.   

 We took the commuter train from Perth to Fremantle, a cool town twenty minutes south, packed with bookshops and cafes and neat old buildings lined up in the vibrant center. We stayed in a hostel which was run by very friendly people and had great facilities but was also something like a half-way house. Lots of folks were living there while they worked; still others seemed to be living there while they considered maybe working at some point in the future. At any time of day they could be seen smoking and drinking in the tiny courtyard. I felt a little like my kids and I were crashing an ongoing dorm party. We stayed only 3 days, and split.  

We had been looking forward to Perth for AQWA, the Aquarium of Western Australia. Rory and Nora list it as one of their top 5 things we’ve done on this whole trip, but they are awfully partial to aquariums to start with. The place is set up to cover the coastline of Western Australia, from the tropical waters and estuaries of the north near Darwin to the coral reefs of Ningaloo National Park to the rough, cold waters of the southwestern corner where the Great Southern seas meet the Indian Ocean. There were crocodiles, a huge open tank with sting rays, and a whole wing called “Deadly Encounters,” where we spooked ourselves looking at stonefish, ringed octopi, and the super-venomous sea snakes. Did you know that there is a shell that can kill you? Yikes. We loved that part and had to go through it twice.  

No doubt the highlight of the aquarium was the Tunnel of Doom. That’s just what I call it. I can’t remember what they called it, but Rory and Nora squealed and bounced and oohed and writhed in delight BOTH trips through. We stood (well, I stood- they raced back and forth) on a moving sidewalk and passed through a tube inside an enormous tank. All around us swam sea turtles, giant rays, sharks, any number of fish. I can say that’s as close as I ever want to be to any shark, I don’t care how harmless it’s supposed to be. Rory and Nora thought it was heaven. A big, toothy, predatory heaven. Hmmmmm…  

We rented a car (bigger than the tiny red thing) and headed south. I had my heart set on four weeks languidly exploring the shore north up to Broome, but time schedules and the vicious unfairness of airline ticket change fees kept us closer to Perth. We cruised down to the Margaret River area, driving south on a road that paralleled the ocean but never revealed it. Why would anyone plan a road that way? I think we got spoiled for sweeping ocean views and stunning cliff-side driving in New Zealand. This road passed through a few towns and some scrubby looking farm land. Around Margaret River we turned off, heading across the peninsula. We drove past vineyard after vineyard, and then suddenly I spied a sign for Flinder’s Bay Vineyard, a label Brandon and I used to buy as a treat at Earthfare in Greensboro. We loved it, but they stopped carrying it, and it was one we always looked for in wine shops back home. And here it was! Here I was! At the source! I slammed on brakes and turned right around. We went in, hoping to have our photo taken in front of the sign for Brandon, and the lady there couldn’t have been nicer. I told her our story, and she gave me a poster of wine labels from the region to send to Brandon in lieu of a bottle of wine, which is on the no-no list for deployments. I’m sure he’ll love the poster just as much. I’m sure. Really. And it was very kind of her.  

We were determined to see kangaroosthe wild, and we did! They have the good sense to stay tucked away quietly under trees for the heat of the day, but as dusk came on we spied them nibbling on the edges of fields and lazing in groups under the gum trees. We watched this mom and joey for a long time, until we finally scared them off. The next day an emu crosssed the road in front of us. An emu! I nearly wrecked out of sheer delight. Let me tell you, that is one big bird.  

We spent the night on the coast on the tip of Australia. The next day we visited the lighthouse there, where the two oceans, Indian and the southern reaches of the Pacific, meet. It was breathtaking and very, very windy.  

Stay tuned: Musings on trees! Lots of pictures! Not as dull as it sounds!  

February 6, 2010

Uluru

Filed under: Australia, children, travel — midway2go @ 11:30 am

Talk about hot.  I stepped off the plane and felt the dry heat suck deep down into my lungs.  Hot mama.   Surprisingly it turned out to be great weather for tent camping.  The days were blistering, and we hid in our air conditioned rental car or floated in the pool, but the nights were crisp and clear and perfect for sleeping without a rain cover, open to the stars.  We found, again, that our tent site was a bit modest compared to our neighbors.  Some of the families we met had driven 2,000 miles, mostly on dirt roads, to get to Uluru.  I guess I take some extra gas and a spare trash can, too.

Did we climb Uluru?  Heck, no.  Not only was it too hot, but the original owners ask visitors to respect their sacred sites and not go wiping their feet all over it.  We cruised around it a couple of times and admired it endlessly at all times of day.   We did try a walk at the other famous rocks, formerly known as the Olgas.  It didn’t really go that well. 

 See, we had gotten up hours before dawn to leave Cairns, and the kids were so tired they both fell asleep in the rental car.  I drove around, deeply impressed with the redness and the fierceness and the permanent feeling that the landscape had and the impermanent feeling I had there as a person.  I mean, the land all around feels so old, and you really fell that people here are just a blip.  Anyway, I killed two hours waiting for these kiddos to wake up so we could get out there and be a part of it.  Of course, when they woke up they wanted a few minutes to get themselves together.   We ended up hiking the gorge trail at the Olgas at 4pm.  Basically, I force marched two drowsy kids a half mile back into a bakingly hot canyon to see a dried up trickle of water.  The upshot was that we met two other moms travelling with their kids.   Naturally, they were cool with terrific kids.  The people always turn out to be the best part.

 We ended up hanging out with Simone and her daughter Laura and Jenny and her son Jack for most of our stay.  We scored some time at their hotel’s gorgeous swimming pool and kept bumping into Simone and Laura on the dunes, watching the sun set, then rise, over the outback.  They even introduced me to the concept of a grill-it-yourself BBQ buffet dinner.  I love Australians, but I’m still a little confused about why anyone wold pay to go out to dinner only to cook their own food.  Simone and Jenny were similarly baffled, but we had a great time together.

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