Posts Tagged ‘Pacific’

83 Places, 5 Continents, 10 Months

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Less than 24 hours after our plane from Heathrow landed in Los Angeles, the four of us walked into a Noah’s Bagels on Sunset Boulevard for an early lunch. Our sense of time and place were thoroughly out of whack from jet lag and from the strangeness of waking up in Southern California, drinking Peet’s Coffee and tuning into the Disney Channel as though we’d never been away.

As we stood ordering bagels, we suddenly remembered we had eaten lunch at the same Noah’s on the day before we flew to Buenos Aires in early October. “I feels like we were just here,” Colly said, and I agreed while my chest hiccuped with anxiety.

It felt as though all those months abroad — which had stretched so elastically and netted so much in a single week, so that on the first of every month I’d express disbelief at how much we had experienced — had snapped back and condensed into a blip to make mental space for the task of reorganizing our lives and getting ready to move back into the house.

Checking out of a hotel in Marlow, England, on our last morning before flying back to California.

I’m feeling profoundly mixed emotions upon our return and need to think more about the transition before trying to write much about it. I got weepy on our last night in Marlow, a lovely town outside of London, as we checked out of a hotel a final time and toasted our trip; then, I got teary with joy as we approached my hometown of Ojai last weekend for a reunion. I also am in the process of thinking through the next phase of this blog, so stay tuned and thanks to all of you who’ve read it regularly!

In the meantime, I’m publishing the following list as proof and as a reminder to myself that we really went to all of these places. We called this our “sleepover list” and had fun updating it as we traveled. Most are linked to previous blog posts if we wrote about that destination. Three places are listed twice since we visited there twice, so the number of places totals 83, but the bottom line is that we moved and unpacked 86 times!

The Sleepover List: August 15, 2009 – June 15, 2010: (more…)

Canberra: There’s Something To It!

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

A great place to start the day: drinking coffee outside the ambassador’s house.

Regular readers of this blog know of the National Lampoon Vacation-esque lodging we sometimes find ourselves in — establishments such as the Blackball Hilton (dorm-style rooms with recycled hospital beds) and the Abel Tasman Barn (two toilets to share with fifty other backpackers). More recently, we became aficionados of flimsy cabins at campervan parks. We now feel as though we’ve scored some fancy digs if we stay in a place that has carpeting made for indoor use only.

Imagine how we felt, therefore, upon arriving at the place we were invited to stay in Canberra: the United States Embassy! (Cue the banjo music as the Smiths, with beach sand still in their hair, drive through the security gates in their bird-poop-covered, packed-to-the-roof dented rental…) (more…)

Cracking Up On the Coast from Victoria to NSW

Friday, March 5th, 2010

We’ve seen way too many pirate-themed mini golf courses around the southeast coast of Australia.

We’ve seen way too many pirate-themed mini golf courses around the southeast coast of Australia.

“Oh no,” Morgan said in a voice suppressing deep, demented giggles. We had just checked into a “deluxe cabin” at the Anchor Belle Caravan Park on Phillip Island and were thumbing through visitors’ brochures. “It says here that Phillip Island has so much to offer, it’s worth a whole day!” He unleashed his manic laughter. “Good thing we’re spending FIVE days here!”

We’re getting punchy on this swing through Australia. Perhaps we’ve spent too much time at mini golf courses and RV parks. Perhaps we’ve had too many budget meals at surf shacks with names like Doctor Food (where Morgan ate a half-cooked burger, dramatically clutched his stomach and said, “Call the doctor — I just ate at Doctor Food!”). Perhaps it’s because all the gum trees and little coastal towns inhabited by white retirees look so similar that we feel we’re driving in circles rather than northward.

The other day we were driving from a town called Lakes Entrance to our current spot, Batemans Bay, in torrential rain. A gummy gray gum tree forest dominated the so-called scenic coastal route. We pulled over to a picnic spot in the squall, where one sad, wet table stood surrounded by endless eucalyptus, and I announced, “Lunchtime!” Then I pulled out our picnic of P&Js and hard-boiled eggs. We all knew without saying that it was too wet to get outside, so we unwrapped our sandwiches and carefully peeled our eggs in baggies while sitting strapped in the car seats.

The four of us sat quietly chewing until Morgan, in the driver’s seat, choked down a bite and broke the silence to declare, “Well, this is fun.” My shoulders started to shake as I looked over and saw that he was overcome by another fit of laughter as well. The kids, observing from the backseat, concluded that their parents were lost in more ways than one. (more…)

The Phillip Island Penguin Charade

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

A couple of penguins on parade at Phillip Island (photo courtesy of wikimedia).

A couple of penguins on parade at Phillip Island (photo courtesy of wikimedia).

I told my family we should drive to the bottom of Australia and spend several days on Phillip Island mainly because of its star attraction: the Penguin Parade. I had this idea that we would stroll along a beach at sunset and watch waves of hundreds of penguins waddle up to burrow with their babies in the sand in quite possibly the most adorable display of loyalty and domesticity.

Predictably, Colly and Kyle said, “That’s sooooooooo cute!”

So we drove 90 minutes south of Melbourne, crossed a causeway and discovered an island about 16 miles long and 6 miles wide. It’s covered with grassy pastures, gum tree stands, a lot of roads used for racing, and a couple of villages with shops and restaurants overlooking the beach. The island has been a tourist getaway for over a century, and for at least half that time it’s been famous for grand prix car and motorcycle races. (Since we arrived only days before the Superbike World Championship, we saw and heard many men wearing padded leather pants who gunned their bullet bikes after every intersection.)

We got our first lesson on the penguins as soon as we checked into a cabin near the town of Cowes. (more…)

Finding the Best and Worst in Daylesford

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Daylesford is a charming little community about an hour and a half north of Melbourne. Set around a lake and ringed by forests, it’s an oasis in the countryside where miles of grassland and gum trees all start to look the same and the country roads seem to go on forever. The town sprung up in the 1860s after gold and timber prospectors flocked to the area, and then it had a second act as a “spa town” when visitors discovered the many mineral springs around it and the neighboring community of Hepburn Springs. Ornately detailed 19th-century storefronts house stylish cafes and day spas. Think of a cross between a Colorado mining town and Calistoga, and you get Daylesford.

Now Daylesford is making a concerted effort to broaden its economic base by marketing itself as “an outdoor adventure destination” for mountain bikers, campers and trekkers — which is what lured our family to spend four nights there.  We took part in a trail run/mountain bike/triathlon “dirt fest” in Wombat State Forest, on the edge of town, and you can read the details and see pics from it on my running blog. (more…)

Byways by the Blue Mountains

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

It's the cliff faces and canyon more than the moutaintops that give the Blue Mountains their beauty.

The cliff faces and canyons give the Blue Mountains their beauty.

We met a family from Sydney who lowered our expectations of the Blue Mountains National Park when they heard we were spending several days there. I can’t recall their exact words, but they sounded apologetic — something along the lines of, “Don’t be surprised to find they’re not really mountains” and, “at least the cliff faces are rather nice.” They also expressed surprise that we wanted to spend more than a day or two there.

Then Morgan and I began to notice that whenever we saw brochures promoting the Blue Mountains, they featured the same photo of the famous Three Sisters rock formation, as if that’s the only thing in the whole national park worth seeing.

Uh-oh, we thought — why did we plan to spend a whole five nights at an eco lodge there? Then we experienced the upside of lowered expectations: We were pleasantly surprised. (more…)

How To Plan A Year-Long Family Travel Itinerary

Monday, February 15th, 2010

After I posted this, I wrote a different — and in some ways, better — version of the story for one of my favorite travel websites, almostfearless.com. That article is called, “The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid While Planning Long-Term Family Travel.” I hope you’ll check it out!

The lookout next to our lodge in the Blue Mountains (click to enlarge).

The lookout next to our lodge in the Blue Mountains (click to enlarge).

The alternative title for this post could be, “How We Ended Up Off A Beaten Path Near The Blue Mountains.”

Our home for the week is at the end of a road in a thick, misty gum tree forest where wild parrots fly overhead and the cliffs of the Blue Mountains plunge into a forested canyon. In the mornings, the parrots flock for a feast of birdseed offered up by Colly and Kyle’s outstretched hands.

"A bird in the hand is worth a loo in the bush" -- the parrots make up for some of the funkier aspects of this eco lodge.

"A bird in the hand is worth a loo in the bush" -- the parrots make up for some of the inconvenient aspects of this eco lodge.

We’re exploring nearby trails, enjoying the offbeat towns of Blackheath and Katoomba, and unplugging at a cabin at the Jemby-Rinjah Eco Lodge, which is deep in the woods with no traffic noise, no Internet access and very few other guests. I love the simple, natural way of life — but I admit I was shocked to discover that the cabin’s toilet lacks what we all take for granted: running water and a flusher. It’s just a seat above a pit, a.k.a. “a roto loo composting system.”  At least I have good reason now to argue that the others should put the lid down when they’re done!

Whenever we find ourselves in a weird and wild place like this, I think to myself, We’re a long way from Piedmont how did we get here? The simple answer is that we reserved this cabin about two months ago. We figured we wanted a rustic setting after two weeks in Sydney, but didn’t want to drive too far or spend money on a flight to elsewhere in Australia. The Blue Mountains National Park seemed like a no-brainer. Our research turned up a New York Times article recommending this affordable eco-lodge, and that was enough to convince us to book it.

As the above example suggests, planning an itinerary is a very unscientific and subjective process that involves looking inward at values and priorities as well as looking outward at the world of possibilities. It’s always a balancing act between dreams and reality — that is, limitless interests versus limited time and resources. Sometimes it’s fascinating, but just as often it’s frustrating. (more…)

Halfway There Together: Surprises and Changes So Far

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Morgan's view of the Sydney Opera House during a recent ferry ride.

The Sydney skyline as seen from a ferry.

As you can guess from the photo, we’ve started the five-week Australian leg of our journey! This past week was a blur as I left Morgan and the kids for a short trip back to California. The three of them transitioned from New Zealand to here, and I rejoined them midweek.

I felt the way this guy looks after I crossed the date line twice in a week. Morgan shot this photo while on a trip to the Sydney Zoo with the kids.

I felt the way this guy looks after I crossed the date line twice in a week. Morgan and the kids saw this koala at the Sydney Zoo.

At first I felt as bushed as a koala who looks drunk on eucalyptus midday. (Little-known fact from Friends of the Koalas: “Contrary to popular belief, eucalyptus leaves do not make koalas drunk. Koalas appear drunk or lazy because they have developed a low-energy lifestyle to compensate for their extremely low-energy diet.” What a bummer to discover — I liked the idea that this lovable species had evolved to be fat, lazy and perpetually buzzed.)

In the midst of the past week, each of us took time to mark the halfway point in our journey by doing the following exercise: write a letter to ourselves and the other family members. Reflect on the trip so far, making note of what memories stand out and our feelings about the past six months. Then imagine the second half of the journey (when we’ll go from Australia to Hong Kong, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey) and write down some hopes and expectations for those months. Don’t share the letter with anyone yet; seal it up and set it aside. Then, on the last night before returning home, open and take turns reading them to one another and reflecting further — not only about where we went and what we did, but also why we did it, how it affected us and what we’ll do next.

I have my friend Carolyn to thank (the one who hosted us in Queenstown, who’s an accomplished educator and world traveler) for suggesting this exercise, because it prompted me to think more deeply about how this trip has changed and surprised us. There’s no way I can fit all those ideas into a blog post, but I’d like to share some.

Here, then, are some surprises and revelations  in no particular order: (more…)

Cheerio, New Zealand

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

On the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy (click to enlarge).

On the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy (click to enlarge).

On a run with Morgan this morning, I wistfully said goodbye to New Zealand and its intoxicating, idyllic landscape. We headed out from our friends’ home near Queenstown, where we stayed for over a week, and took a trail that showcased so much of what I’ll miss about New Zealand: (more…)

In the Backwoods of Blackball, Not Your Typical Hilton

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

When we set out on this journey, I consciously hoped for authentic experiences that would take our family to offbeat, out-of-the-way places. I wanted us to meet locals, learn about their history and culture, and improve our ability to cope with unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable situations.

A recent 24-hour period gave us that kind of experience in a remote corner of the South Island’s West Coast region — in part because I was gullible enough to fall for a joke.

A vintage advertisement for The Blackball Hilton, "Cheapest In the West" (click to enlarge).

A vintage advertisement for The Blackball Hilton, "Cheapest In the West" (click to enlarge).

Many months ago, when I was mostly ignorant about New Zealand and starting to plan our itinerary here, Morgan and I heard of a mountainous trail race that finished at The Blackball Hilton and decided to sign up. The Hilton was part of the draw. What a treat it would be, I thought, to stay at an upscale, familiar hotel chain after so many budget motels and campgrounds — and convenient, too, since it would be right at the finish line. I can still recall the mental picture I had of a typically plush Hilton lounge and lobby.

Only after we registered for the January 16 race did I google Blackball and discover the “Hilton” is a creaky Victorian inn and pub built in 1909, located way off the main road in a dying mining town with only one general store and a couple hundred residents.

“I would never stay here again,” shouted out one TripAdvisor.com reivew. “The rooms had layers of dust and dirty carpets.” Another detailed, “There are many quirky things about this hotel — the dolls staring at you as you turn round a corner upstairs. The poetry in the toilets and washrooms. The gallery in the middle of the upstairs with the drawings and paintings of ladies of the night. The monkeys looking in at you as you sit on the loo.”

In 1992, the Hilton Corp.’s lawyers demanded that the hotel drop the trademarked Hilton name, and the rebellious innkeepers responded by changing the official name to “Formerly The Blackball Hilton,” which it  has been ever since.

Hmmm, I pondered, more curious than appalled — maybe it was meant to be that we stayed there. Perhaps part of the adventure of running the remote race would be staying in a historic hole in the wall. I contacted the owners, Chris and Viv, about our babysitting quandary (initially I erroneously assumed “the Hilton” would have a kids’ club or childcare to supervise Colly and Kyle while we ran the race), and they told me no worries, they’d keep an eye on the kids and let them have the run of the pub. I took a deep breath and had faith it’d all work out. (more…)