DO this don’t: Travel with your parents

I haven’t been on holidays with my parents for a VERY long time. And because it was my first year back in Australia and first Christmas at home for more than a week, we decided to plan a trip to Cairns.

My mum had recently seen travel photos on Facebook from a friend of hers who travelled to North Queensland and I think she was slightly jealous that they (being Americans) had seen more of Australia than they had. Up until the beginning of last year they had always used their leave to go back to the Philippines to see family, and it was probably their 5 week sojourn to the USA and Canada in mid 2011 that they finally caught the travel bug to see something more than just their homeland (as lovely as it is). So when mum suggested a Christmas trip to Cairns, I was a little bit hesitant, but thought it was a good chance to get them to indulge in the travel bug and show them how I travel.

The planning process was a bit mental to be honest. Me, being a non-planner, was frustrated by mum’s incessant questions about booking flights early, wanting to stay in a resort with a pool because there were killer jellyfish in the ocean, debates about hiring a car, and if shops were open at Christmas and maybe, no- we should- bring a Christmas ham on the plane just in case shops are closed and there would be nothing to eat and do you think the weather will be good because I hear it’s cyclone season… and so on, you get my drift. Mum’s have a way of being over paranoid so I was forgiving in this respect, but god forbid I was going to let her actually take a Christmas ham as hand luggage on a 3hr flight up to Cairns. Dad and I did eventually convinced her a Christmas ham wasn’t necessary, but when we arrived and were unpacking our bags I did notice she had smuggled across the state border some canned goods and meatloaf (maybe in preparation for that cyclone).

Holidaying with the parents wasn’t as bad as I initially thought. Sure, they’re going to want to eat dinner early, take pictures of everything, over-anaylse the touristy sights and they’re never going want to stay up late for cocktails – but I found that by having tons of patience, a bucketload of compromise and a preparedness to make time for thoughtful answers to all the questions, I actually really enjoyed their company and even learned a thing or two.

My parents are in their mid-fifties, and despite my perceptions that they were old, conservative and boring, I saw quite an adventurous side to them for the first time.  Whilst my siblings and I shivered timidly at the water’s edge of a river in Mossman Gorge, mum and dad both dived in head first into the freezing waters, giggling like school children, and egging us on to jump in.

During our boat trip out to the barrier reef, my dad surprised me by wanting to try diving and loved it. Mum went snorkelling on her own for hours, mesmerised by the rainbow of corals and intent on capturing about 87 underwater photos of the same fish.

When we suggested going jungle surfing in the Daintree rainforest, Mum – who was not particularly comfortable with heights – was terrified at at the thought of ziplining through trees 20 storey’s up, but by the end she was ziplining upside down and screaming in delight – even confessing that she’d conquered her fear and would love to do it again.

Of course when you’re in close proximity to family 24/7 tempers will undoubtedly flare (the most memorable disagreement was regarding having a photo taken with a koala!), but I suppose my point is that I never realised my parents were so fearless and open-minded.

After the trip I realised that it would have taken a lot for them to want to travel with me as well – knowing that I’m a seasoned traveller and can be pretty stubborn about my way of holidaying. In the end I discovered that travel doesn’t discriminate by generation (and why should it!). My folks just happened to get bit by the travel bug later in life. And the symptoms of the travel bug is the same at every age – the desire to get away, try something new, see the sights, be adventurous, meet people and maybe even conquer some fears. To experience a holiday with your parents as an adult makes you see them in a different light – I only hope that when I’m in my mid-fifties I can jump into frigid cold lakes, fly across tree canopies, discover underwater worlds, and put up with stubborn adult children who think they know everything about travel, who stop you from smuggling Christmas hams across state borders which results in having to order pizza and Thai takeaway for Christmas dinner.


My favourite sunsets!

There’s something pretty special about witnessing the end of the day which leaves me inspired, invigorated and breathless. The way that the sky changes hues from blazing orange to splashes of reds and pinks before casting shadows of purples, deep blues and greys as the fiery glow of the sun sinks lazily below the horizon. Here’s a collection of the beautiful sunsets I’ve been lucky enough to photograph. Enjoy!

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

San Francisco, USA

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Sydney, NSW

Dubai, UAE


Idiots Abroad

They’re loud, aggressive, showy and just plain annoying.

They spend all their travel money on booze, tattoos and weaving their hair.

They embarrassing. Particularly if they’re of the same nationality as you, or even worse, from the same hometown.

Normally travel in packs, are on their first big overseas trip, with the aim of trying every local beverage in copious amounts and vomiting in a different bar each night.

They stay at party hostels, sleep all day & attempt to pick up a fellow bogan of the opposite sex every night of the week.

They get drunk on the flight over and annoy other passengers with their boisterous attiitudes that have been amplified by ten JD & cokes they had at the airport bar.

Their best attempt at a cultural souvenir is by buying a foreign beer t-shirt singlet and, if they’re tough enough, perhaps a foreign language tattoo on their left bicep.

They haggle street vendors as ‘part of the experience’ for half an hour to save 50 cents on fake Gucci sunglasses.

They can’t help but update their Facebook status every day of their holiday about how hungover they are and post mobile photos of them falling over on sidewalks, flashing out of a taxi or vomiting in the hostel the night before.

Argue with other travellers that ‘Straya have better beer.. weather.. girls… beaches… surf… shopping… food

Yes, they are the bogan traveller.

But I tell you what, don’t WE ALL have a little bogan traveller in us? Think about it.


Why do we travel?

“There is psychological pleasure in this takeoff, too, for the swiftness of the plane’s ascent is an exemplary symbol of transformation. The display of power can inspire us to imagine analogous, decisive shifts in our own lives, to imagine that we, too, might one day surge above much that now looms over us.” P. 38-39”

Alain de Botton (The Art of Travel)

Travel is my middle name. I obsess about travelling on a daily, no, hourly basis. Where I’ve been, where my friends have been, where I want to go next, how much leave (and funds) I have. I could probably say it’s a borderline addiction. I’ve been very lucky to visit a lot of the places I have, but I always feel like there’s more to be explore.

I’m in the middle of reading Alain de Botton’s “The Art of Travel”.  It’s not a travel guide about the outward journeys that a traveller takes, but more an inward reflection and analysis of the psychology of why we travel.

I’ve endured hours of bus, plane and train journeys and often contemplated during these journeys of why I have such a neverending thirst for seeing the world. People travel for all sorts of reasons – to learn a new language, meet new people, to surround themselves in history, to live for the moment. For me, travel has always been a part of my life. I’ve lived in 5 different cities in four different countries and have visited every continent. My recent jobs have been involved in travel marketing. I write about travel. I photograph my journeys. I dream of my next destination. I live and breathe travel.  I love the feeling of knowing I’m about to embark on a journey into the unknown, into an unfamiliar situation, far away from every day comforts.

With travel, all my senses are heightened. I relish at the thought of tantalising my taste buds with foreign spices and flavours; inhaling scents that range from the fragrantly delicious to the mysteriously repulsive; straying off the beaten track and challenging my map-reading skills – only to discard the guidebook and follow my (pretty impressive) sense of direction.

As de Botton describes in the book, the excitement and anticipation of a new destination occurs at the precise moment that you step into a foreign airport, bus or train station. You see a sign. The sign is foreign, may be in another language or bilingual, probably with strange fonts and embellishments; but the sign delights you because automatically it serves as the first physical and mental signpost that yes, you have now arrived elsewhere. How many times have you seen ‘Exit’ signs in local language in the foreign airport you’ve just landed in and tried to mouth the pronunciation to yourself as you wait for your bag to come around on the carousel? Uscita. Ausgang. Salida. Sortie. I would try to roll each strange syllable off my tongue as coolly as a local, and make a mental note of my newly discovered word in the hopes of using it when trying to converse with locals later. But its not just about the foreign signs.

I travel to experience the magic of living beyond the every day. I travel because I want to feel.

I’ve felt insignificant when I’ve looked up into a clear night sky in the middle of the English countryside and watched all the stars shyly wink at me from a thousand light years away. I’ve felt empowered and inspired when I soaked in the changing twilight hues of a mighty African sunset melt away into the horizon in the Botswana wilderness. I’ve felt energised and immortal when I’ve strapped on my snowboard at the top of a snow-covered slope in France, drawing in a breath of crisp mountain air to ready myself for the exhilaration of carving through deep fresh powder. I’ve felt peace and tranquility as I listened intently to the soothing rhythms of crashing waves reaching the shore as I lay in my hammock outside my beach hut in the Pacific Islands.

All these little moments are gentle reminders that I am a living, breathing, human being. That I can see, feel, hear, taste and smell things in their simplest yet most magnificent forms. And all these moments and feelings are carefully stored in my memory bank – fiercely guarded by my subconscious in an effort to never forget –  because in times when I’m frustrated, helpless or stagnant these memories remind me to feel as close to true happiness as I know it.

This is why I travel. What are your reasons?

All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.


At one with nature in Bariloche – photo essay


Bariloche is incredibly beautiful. So beautiful I could’ve cried the first time I laid eyes on it. The kind of beautiful that makes your heart full and want to sing from the mountain tops, Sound of Music style. I didn’t quite sing from the mountain tops when I arrived, but I was in total awe of the place. My stay was short, but very memorable.

Lake Nahuel Huapi

I arrived from Buenos Aires on a very chilly 7º day (having come from 35º) and decided to go for a walk around the lake, camera in hand. The air was crisp, and the skies clear, the wind picked up and the lake was whipping up some spectacular waves.

Kayaking on Lake Guitterez

This lake is part of the Nahuel Huapi National Park in Bariloche. I had quite the kayak adventure as the weather was rough that day. The the other kayak in our group capsized and due to them losing their paddles in the process, our guide tied the two kayaks together, and I was tasked with paddling all four of us back to the beach. Luckily after half an hour of paddling against a very strong current (and making zero headway), a rescue boat arrived.

Horseriding

Horseriding

Our guide didn’t speak English so conversation was limited, but it didn’t matter as I was firmly transfixed on some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever come across – open meadows, trickling streams, imposing mountains rising from crystal clear lakes. However after a few hours even the view couldn’t distract me from my sore arse.

Lake Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Otto

A quick 10 min bus ride from town, and a short gondola ride, is the viewpoint of Cerro Otto. The town of Bariloche hugs the coastline of Lake Nahuel Huapi, surrounded by towering peaks of the snowcapped Andes in the distance.

 

All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.


Ten ways to die in South America

As anyone knows, going to South America is fraught with dangers. This is by no means a macabre list; but a few observations of how close one can come to ending their life during their travels in this continent, if they’re not careful. Take heed; these are (my) top ten ways to die in South America.

1. Death by walking

Being a pedestrian is a tough job in South America. You are at the bottom of the traffic food-chain. In the western world, a zebra crossing means a car must stop to let someone cross the road. There; its a mere inconvenience. In Brazil, 38% of all traffic accidents are from pedestrians, in Chile this is 46%.  To cross a road in a Latin country, you cautiously step out onto the road into what may be a break in the traffic, close your eyes, run like hell and hope for the best.

2. Death by taxi

I’ve been in many taxi’s around the world, from the polite, knowledgeable London cabbie, to the odour-challenged cabs of Dubai. South American taxi drivers are indeed polite and sweet smelling, however their aggressive driving skills make you wish you would rather be walking instead. It’s no surprise then, that despite the region’s reputation for being the crime & murder capital of the world, traffic accidents are actually a larger cause of death.

3. Death by beef

No, there is no outbreak of Mad Cow disease in South America, but it is very easy to die of meat overload. You wouldn’t want to be vegetarian in places like Argentina; red meat is pretty much a staple and can be eaten at any times of day. And it is an absolute sin to say no to asado.

4. Death by buses

If there’s anything worse than a taxi, its a bus. Particularly in Bolivia. I once took a bus from Uyuni to Villazon for an overnight ride, and made the mistake of peering out of the window. The bus was clinging onto the side of a high mountain pass, in the rain, still doing about 100km/h. You would think that Argentine and Chilean buses tend to be a lot newer, thus safer, however the drivers all must think they are in a Ferrari judging by their driving.

5. Death by Dulce de Leche

The buttery, caramel spread from Argentina (a staple for breakfast) that is oh-so-sweet on the tongue but oh-so-deathly for the arteries. Indulge in enough and I’m pretty sure you could die from the sugar content alone.

6. Death by ATMs

No, ATM’s don’t jump out of the walls and attack you, but there are some horrible stories of attacks that happen inside the glass boxes that ATM’s are housed in. You swipe your card to get in, type away at the machine (sometimes in Spanish so it takes twice as long), and as soon you get out, thieves pounce on you to pilfer your hard-earned cash. Another story I heard around the block is of thugs who stop you at gunpoint on the street, force you to a (or several) ATM/s to withdraw every single cent you have, then dump you in the middle of nowhere. Yikes.

7. Death by alcohol

As any backpacker knows, sampling the local beverages is all part and parcel of getting acquainted with the culture. Whether it is caipirinha’s in Brazil, fernet in Argentina or a pisco sour in Chile – we know to well that too much can lead to a visit to the nearby hospital for a good old stomach pumping (not that it’s ever happened to me!). Know your limits, and never try to keep up with a local!

8. Death by ice cream

I’m specifically referring to Argentina for this one. Their ice creams are unbelievably smooth, creamy and entirely addictive. I think I managed to have one every day in my stay; anymore and I probably would’ve had a coronary.

9. Death by kissing

No, Im not talking about transmitted diseases, I refer to the Brazilian male species practice of ‘kiss rape’. Normally occurring on a dance-floor, a foreign female can be bombarded by over friendly Brazilians who think it normal to surround a girl and try to ‘kiss rape’ her while all she wants to do is dance with her friends. It’s considered quite normal behaviour for men. They like to move pretty fast – it goes from a “Ola” to “I love you” within a matter of minutes. There’s small chit chat for about 30 seconds, they then go in for the kiss. I reject, they try again. I reject twice, three times, they still try. I’ll walk away and they’ll follow me. I go to the bathroom and they are there waiting for me when I come out. How on earth do you get rid of them? Even if I tell them to f!@# off they still give me a dazzling smile (OK, there’s no denying they are cute) and try again for a kiss. Is this what it’s like to be female in Brazil? I’d rather be dead.

10. Death by dancing

You can’t write a post about South America without mentioning dancing. It’s in their blood. Every night, in any country, there is something dance-related happening. If you try to keep up with the locals however (especially the frenetic samba!) I’d say you could probably die. Did you know there was something called the Dancing Plague that killed numerous people in Europe in the 1500’s? I’m surprised Brazil hasn’t had an outbreak of this yet.

 

All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.


DIY asado in Mendoza

Argentines have a reputation for three things, “malbec, Maradona, and tango.” Malbec is their widely recognized wine. Diego Maradona is their equivalent of Pele. And, tango, of course, is the sultry dance performed in the milongas and cobbled streets of San Telmo.

Yet, walk anywhere in Buenos Aires, Mendoza or Salta on a Sunday afternoon, and you’ll discover that there’s a fourth passion in this region. The aromas will direct you straight to asado. Large slabs of meat, seasoned only with salt, roasting slowly over wood embers while hungry guests wait patiently.

No meal is more interwoven into the South American way of life than the grill fest known as the asado. For an Argentinian, the asado is an all day affair of shopping for food, preparing the fire, and catching up with your very large family while feasting on a myriad of barbecued meats and aided by the likes of baked empanadas, bowls full of salads, fresh vegetables and countless bottles of wine. It’s like having Christmas lunch every weekend.

On my arrival into Mendoza, my travel companions and I decided we too could create an asado at the hostel. We even bought a paddle pool for the occasion, as our hostel didn’t have a pool and the weather was a sweltering 35º. Seeing as none of us had any experience starting up an asado, I, being the only Australian (which automatically qualifies you as a BBQ expert apparently), was tasked with the job of starting the fire. All I had was a bag of wood, matches, some newspaper and a few rocks. That was it. Right then,  I longed for the convenience of just turning on the gas on the Weber. But my years of watching Survivor finally came to use, and 2 hours, and three attempts later, I finally got a decent fire going, complete with billowing smoke rising upwards into the humid Mendoza air, crawling over the rooftops of our neighbours – who had probably been watching us from their balcony for mild entertainment as I fumbled around with the wood and matches. We had bought enough meat and sausages to feed a small army, and as the smells wafted throughout the hostel, one by one, other travellers appeared on the rooftop terrace, salivating, and wanting to get involved in our gluttony of meats.

Let it be said that the asado is no dietetic exercise, and you wouldn’t want your cholesterol tested the morning after. But there’s no denying the satisfaction that comes from indulging in huge amounts of perfectly grilled grass-fed steaks, sizzling sausages, succulent ribs or maybe even a spit-roasted lamb or goat accompanied by either a Malbec wine or Quilmes beer. Our meat wasn’t exactly perfect (nothing like the bife di lomo I had at El Boliche de Alberto in Bariloche or at La Cabrera in Buenos Aires), but then again we aren’t expert asadors (grill masters). But it was suprisingly good. The beef was juicy, succulent and flavoursome despite not being marinated. Add a dash of chimichurri, and you’re in meat heaven. Our small group of 9 ate through masses of meat, chicken, sausages, salads and vegetables, as well as polishing off every bottle of wine and beer our hostel bar had.

The great thing about asado, as with anything Argentinian, is that it’s not just about the meal itself, but also the company, conversation and camaraderie. As a solo traveller, I relish the opportunity to talk to other travellers and bond with them over mishaps and triumphs of our journeys so far. For that evening, we were like any Argentine family, sharing not just food but also personal stories, in the mountains of Mendoza.

As our first asado, without any Argentinian assistance, we did ourselves proud. And it isn’t all that hard to recreate for yourself. All you need is to grab a bunch of friends, uncork some malbec and fire up the barbie.

 

All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.