Traaana……..that’s Toronto in the local lingo!

Well, well, well, hasn’t Toronto grown up since I was last here sometime in the early 90’s? The only thing that appeared somewhat familiar was the CN Tower. With it being both Canada and the world’d tallest building, it’s the kind of land mark that you cannot help but recognise. It looks somewhat like the Telstra Tower in Canberra, or as my friend Bec (from Canberra!) fondly calls it, “the Hypodermic Needle”. Yes, it does look a little like a big needle jutting out into the skyline.

As most of you would know, the USA/ Canada part of our journey has mainly been catching up with friends and family, many whom I have not seen for years. But yes, we did manage to go to the top of the CN tour, where needless to say we were afforded panoramic views of Toronto. www.cntower.ca Alex is the photography aficionado, so views from tall buildings are always good. And I must say, despite the fact that I often joke about how he always seems to be taking photos, it always seems to pay off as there are some exceptional ones amongst them. I have taken some too, as we have a camera each, but I think Alex is over me chortling, “Aleeeeeeeeeex, flash or no flash? Scenery? Macro? Red eye reduction?”, which usually precedes a fairly large portion of my attempting to take a photo.

I definitely need to find the time to read the camera manual…….after the several other books I currently have on the go. At the moment, they are: “The Lost Realms” (The long-hidden secrets of the lost civilisations of the pre-Columbian Americas), “The Heart of the Buddha’s Path” (by the Dalai Lama), “Travel Writing” and Lonely Planet’s “USA and Canada on a Shoestring”. Nothing like a good mix, is what I say.

Again, some of you may recall my very special friend, Annie Cervantes, whom I met whilst living in Ecuador in 1999. She was one of my best friends in Ecuador, and moved to Toronto just under two years ago. She is very dear to me, and has remained someone very special and close to my heart. Although two years had passed since I had last seen her in Ecuador, it only took a soul-felt hug and a few seconds to realise that nothing had changed, and we were able to pick up where we had left off. It was great to also be able to meet her new partner, Dale.

We shared a wonderful six days together: laughing, crying, reminiscing, hugging. We were also honoured to be able to share a very poignant moment in Annie’s life – We went to Canadian Immigration with her, and she was finally granted Canadian permanent residency. As Alex too went through this a couple of years ago, we both know what such a day signifies. Many doors close, but many more open! One never forgets that South American passion of their mother country, but those feelings are always mixed with the knowledge of the opportunities that a first world offers. This is when I close my eyes and envisage utopia…..no first or third world, no difference between black and white, straight and gay, no poor and rich, equal opportunity in all places and for all people, and above all peace, love, freedom, shelter and food for all.

All good things must come to an end, and as Alex and I jumped on the bus outside Annie’s apartment, we hugged goodbye before boarding, and I cried all the way to the Greyhound bus station. I must say, I felt so very truly sad. I have some spectacular friends, but they live all over the world, and so goodbyes are part and parcel of seeing them. The amazing friendships I have formed and the love and joy they bring me, however, by far outweighs the sadness.

Annie, thanks for your unconditional love and support, and for always standing by me. Please know that I will always be here for you too. Each goodbye is not the end at all, but simply a beginning!

Our bus was not leaving until 1.00am, and we had also organised to meet my friend Mari Alvarez at 10.00pm (at the Greyhound station). Mari is a Canadian woman I met whilst working in Japan as an English teacher in 1997/98. We actually shared the sameapartment when I lived in Tokyo. Mari, you are as beautiful as I remember you, and although it was brief, I am so glad that we were able to connect again. Thanks for making the time to come out and see us, when I felt that we were almost on the verge of not being able to after such a long time!

Paolo Cristante and Renee Knarr-Peev are two other friends from the Toronto area that I met on one of my several sojourns around the world. Paolo I met in 1999 in Patagonia, Argentina and Renee in 1994 (I think! Help me here Renee!) They are both married now with 2 and 3 children respectively. Unfortunately, we were not able to catch up on this trip, but we did manage to connect via e-mail. Next time……and with the way I travel , I expect that there will always be a next time!

Ombi

(Images: 1. Ombi, Annie & Alex city center Toronto 2.CN Tower 553.3mts (1,815 feet, 5 inches) 3. View Fron top CN Tower SkyPod 4.Ombi & Anie. 5. Mari & Ombi)

Break the Chains of Illiteracy.

You may recall that in a recent entry (From New York to Philly) I mentioned my friend Erin, her jewellery making and her involvement in educating young Maasai women from Kenya. As most of you would know, I do not normally pass on letters or frivolous information, but what I am about to write and talk to you about, is a topic very close to my heart – Education, and empowering people. I have already become involved, and I hope you will too. Involvement is not difficult, the easiest being in the form of a donation.

Erin and I sat down, and she printed me out a lot of information as well as thouroughly explaining what it was all about. I can absolutely guarantee that it is genuine and that the money does and will indeed go towards a brilliant cause. Knowledge and education are the building blocks of making the world abetter place for all, as opposed to the current “few”; we can thus appreciate why it’s falling apart, with so many governments conveniently NOT making it their priority. Education is power indeed, and utopia is a world where we are all able to ahve a slice of this “enlightenment”.

In January 2007, Beads For Education will hold their second Annuual Walkathon – a 100 mile walk from Isinya to Ambroseli National Park, in Kenya, Africa. Many African women and girls will do the walk, as well as people such as Erin. BEADS currently sponsors more than 250 girls, including several who have graduated high school, are attending college, and in some cases have even managed to avoid female genital muitilation (also “politely” known as female circumcision). Last year more than USD $36,000.00 was raised and the Walkathon 2007 goal is USD $100,00.00.

In addition to raising money, the Walkathon also:

Draws attention to the issues of women’s status and education, and their rights both locally and nationally.

Promotes pride amongst the sponsored girls and their families.

Enhances self-worth and a sense of accomplishment amongst the wakers.

ALL BEADS sponsored girls who are in 8th grade and high scholl graduates WALK. This is a rare oppotrtunity for the girls to participatein an extraordinary event which is SOLELY about them and their advancement.

I urge each and every one of you to go to the BEADS web site, www.beadsforeducation.org and meet and greet the walkers- Maasai warriors, parents, teachers, sponsors and their girls. I urge each and every one of you to and learn more about this vital program. Knowledge is power, right? And in empowering others we empower ourselves!

To donate, click on the WALKATHON on the web site. The person I ask that you “sponsor” is Erin Gonzalez-Hicks. Donations of USD $15.00 or more will receive a beautiful keychain which has been hand made and beaded by the Maasai mamas.

Finally, yes Alex and I both donated. We beleive in leading by example, and that change begins with each and every one of us.

Ombi

(Images: www.beadsforeducation.org )

The world is NOT your ashtray!

Yes, the time has come for me to have a really good bitch about how some (please note the some, as I do not want to implicate every smoker here) smokers seem to have adopted the motto of the “The World is my Ashtray”, either wittingly or unwittingly. I cannot quite understand it……I ask both smokers and non-smokers alike: Where do you think that a cigarette butt ends up once it has been thrown it on the floor, road or pavement?

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Alex and I visited the Niagara Falls a couple of days ago. Here we are, standing infront of a thundering cascade, one of the world’s most outstanding natural wonders, taking in the breathtaking sights, and all around us, besides tourists from all over the world, and a lot of them, are butts everywhere. Let me add that there were more butts than tourists! I am absolutely serious here! At one point, I was so disgusted that whilst Alex was taking photos and admiring the awe-inspring beauty of the falls, I was counting cigarette butts! And I could not help but wonder why they were there?

I would like you all to consider this: It takes over 200 years for a cigarett butt to decompose! You would actually be far better off throwing a tissue or piece of paper on the ground, as it biodegradeable…..but you don’t….so, why a cigarett butt? Also consider this: Where do you think that a cigarette butt ends up once thrown on the floor? When it rains, a normal and common worlwide phenomenon, it washes all of these butts into sewers, waterways, rivers, streams and oceans, not only polluting our waterways but also killing and damaging fish and wildlife. Some of you may have heard my cries of “Please don’t be an environmental vandal”, but I am urging each and every one of you to be aware and conscious of your actions.

If you smoke it is absolutely your choice, but each and every one of us has the right to enjoy this earth as it was given to us, without garbage and butts scattered everywhere. Especially in first world countries, there are rubbish bins everywhere, and never one too far from where you are standing…so next time you have a cigarette, walk to the bin and butt it out!

Ombi

My bit…Really when I think of developed countries I think: organized, educated and aware of where they at, but in reality they’re totally different. The more I see the less I want, the more you have the less conscious you become. I ask to myselfe ; Does developed means aware? And does aware means conscious? Let’s start being more conscious and aware of what is happening around our lives and the world the we live in, our kids will benefit from it!!!

Alex

Those were the best days of my life!!!!!!!!

Back in the summer of ’89!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Next destination – Indiana USA. I was going back to the summer of ’89….this was my first overseas trip ever……when I was only 22! Now, that certainly makes me feel old. As some of you may or may not know, just after I finished my university studies, I travelled to Indiana in and worked on a Lutheran (Christian) summer camp for children, where I worked as a lifeguard. It was certainly one og the best experiences of my life – I learnt a lot, shared special moments and made some friendships which still stand strong and firm today.

On that camp, I met a very special individual called Karen Johnson (then Ibholm), and she along with her entire family, became the people whom I still today call “My American Family”. Most of her family now live in Fort Wayne , Indiana, and in a manner that only Karen and her wonderful family would get away with, insisted on picking us up from Detroit. We caught a bus from Toronto to Detroit, and then drove a further 3 and a half hours back to Fort Wayne. Consider that although the bus ride to Detroit had taken under 5 hours, we arrived at 6.00am, and that Karen and Lucy (her mum) were there before 9.00am.

We had been hanging out in the arrival/ departure area of the Greyhound bus terminal when I saw Karen and her mum pull up. We had not seen each other in 14 years (as I returned to work on summer camp again in the summer of ’92), so I did the only thing that you would expect me to do……..ran out, virtually pulled Karen out of the car and hugged her. As I hugged her and cried, I felt 14 years dissolve, and what had seemed such an endlessly long time, suddenly became only yesterday. THIS is one of my greatest pleasures, watching time disapate, and then realise that true friendships withstand anything and everything. Karen’s brother would later go on to tell me that it would present a huge struggle if he were to travel like Alex and I….saying goodbye when such a close bond had been formed! I cannot possibly describe, however, how amazing these friendships are….and although I too find it hard to say goodbye, the euphoric feelings of such genuine love and friendship certainly fills the chasm in my heart, that I will not deny I sometimes feel when I say goodbye, not knowing when we will see each other again.

After introducing Alex to Lucy and Karen, we drove back to her place in Fort Wayne, where we spent a “touching” 4 days. That very day, we had lunch at Karen’s as her “family” (and, yes, we felt honoured Karen!) where all about to meet Tom, the new man in her life.

Please, allow me to introduce the family:

Karen Johnson: My amazing friend, who lives with her “babies”, Gracie and Melbourne. I am including a photo of them. (above)

Camille and Troy Bartell: Karen’s sister and husband. Camille, you have always been beautiful, both inside and out, and you have what you deserve, a spectacular husband, who made both Alex and I feel very much at home. Congratulations on your pregnancy and we will be with you in spirit. We did not get to meet Chris, Troy’s son, but we hope to do so one day. (karen

Teresa and Tom Ibholm: Karen’s brother and sister-in-law. I love your warmth and affection! You have not changed at all! You just have 4 children since the last time I saw you. Allison, Kyle, Emily and Blake, it was a pleasure to meet you all, and you are all a product of your outstanding parents.

Lucy and Roger Johnson: Lucy, you are my American “mom” and I always remember you affectionately. Roger was always so loving with me, and I was thankful to have been able to visit his grave, and say my proper farewell. As I did so, I felt his embrace, as close as when I saw him last. Thank you Roger!

Paul Johnson: Karen’s brother. We chatted over the phone, and it seemed like no time had ever passed!

Grandma Ann & Grandpa Bob: Lucy’s parents and Karen and mine’s grandparents! Grandpa Bob died 3 years ago, and I can still fondly hear his, “Hello Ombretta” in his mid-western drawl. Grandma now has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home. Karen was a little worried that she would not remember me…well, she did, and I felt such warmth and affection as we embraced. She took a real liking to Alex too! Grandma had loved having me stay over all those years back…..she made great “cookies” and neither Karen nor I are willing to confess as to how many we could down in a solitary sitting.

Our time in Indiana was mainly spent re-connecting with my family and Alex thoroughly enjoyed watching this re-connection. Needless to say, by the end of our short visit, they had all taken as much a liking to him as he had to all of them.

Along with Karen, we also had the opportunity to catch up with JD and Sue, our Camp Director and his wife when we worked at Lutherwald in 1989. I want to say to you both of you that I have never forgotten you, and that is because you were brilliant in the values and morals you helped instil in me, which I have continued to carry out throughout my life. It was my very first overseas travel experience……and I did not stop there. I have continued with passion and gusto, always trying to leave a positive impression or mark wherever I go.

And yes Tom, as you saw, it certainly was hard saying goodbye! Thanks to you, Camille and Lucy for driving us to Chicago, and for showing us that you will always go the extra mile for us. As I close my eyes Tom, I can picture your eyes and your somewhat sad smile, as you drove away saying goodbye………I have no doubt that it was indeed sad, but tell me that it was not worth it! We will meet again!

Ombi

A day in the (transport) life of a traveller!

How do backpackers and travellers get from point A to point B when they are travelling? No, it’s not all 5-star hotels and flights, when it’s a year long trip. So, let us give you a day in the life of Ombi and Alex on the road: making our way from Quebec City to Toronto, Canada. Before I go on however, I would like to mention that, direction wise, I have NO IDEA as to how I used to do this alone….I do not have a bad sense of direction at all…I simply do not have one! Alex is definitely the GPS in our team. I have delegated myself to the mouth-piece of the duo.

Here goes:

6.00am Wake up, shower, pack backpack, have breakfast.

7.15am Josee drives us to “Allo Stop” stop (remember that I mentioned this system, which is like car share). Although relatively close by, we are all worried that we will miss our 8.00am departure. We make it….just. Car leaves at 8.03am.

10.30am We are dropped off at a metro/ subway station in central Montreal. We know that the next two buses going to Toronto are at 11.30am and 1.30pm….will we make the earlier one? Remember…we have to get to the bus station.

10.45am We catch the subway to the bus station….it’s looking good – only 7 stations away, and we were able to catch the train immediately.

11.05am Made it to the bus station, also close to the Montreal city centre, and are able to get tickets for 11.30am. Yes!

11.30am Sharp! The bus leaves. It’s a 6 hour and 50 minute ride to downtown Toronto.

6.20pm We arrive in Toronto!

7.00pm We are picked up by our friend Annie (she was one of my best friends when I lived in Ecuador, and she now lives in Toronto), and we take a taxi to her place, which is about 12 kilometres away from the city centre.

8.15pm We arrive at Annie’s place…in the burbs.

You’re tired reading this….you should have tried doing it! Seriously, it’s not that bad at all. You see a lot, do a lot, meet lots of different people and…….you definitely learn how to sleep anywhere, trying to grab a bit of shut eye here and there.

So, would you do it, or does a direct flight sound easier? Ah, a day in the life of a (transport) traveller!

(Image: Old Quebec City)

Ombi

Beer Lao or Pad Thai?

As every astute traveller will know, where there’s a will, there’s a way…….a cheaper way! We were on our way to the bus station in Montreal, to organise a ticket to Quebec City, when a guy came up to us and asked us if we needed help. I should add here that Canadians are an extremely helpful people, who always seem eager to help you out. All it seems to take is a couple of seconds staring at a map (and in my case, as I have no sense of direction, vacantly!) before someone is asking you if you need any help. In this case,it was a guy called Dominic, who tells us that we are close to the bus stop but that there is indeed a cheaper way to get to Quebec City and that is with a company called “Allo Stop”, and at a quarter of the price.

What is “Allo Stop”? It is a car share ride company, whereby you are hooked up with a driver who is already going to that destination. We promptly made our way to the office close by, and in a matter of minutes we had paid our $6.00 Canadian registration fee (which lasts you a year), and then we were told that te trip to Quebec City would cost $16.00 each – $6.00 to the company and $10.00 to the driver on arrival at the final destination. Where do we meet. As there are many drivers, leaving at various times across town, a metro station close to the driver’s house is chosen. Easy! And as a price comparison, the bus would have cost us around $50.00 Canadian each. Unfortunately, due to priovincial/ state laws, we would not be able to later use this system to go to Toronto!

We arrived in Quebec City on Friday night (15th September). “Allo Stop” has a couple of drop off points, which are easily accessible. Here we would be meeting our friend Dan, who Alex and I met whilst travelling through Laos and Thailand mid last year. For those of you who don’t know, we forged a great friendship with Dan. In Laos, the three of us actually visited an orpahanage and gave out some food and toiletries. I have always thought of myself as a “conscientious traveller”, but the visit was Dan’s idea, as he had also done something similar in Cambodia. It has since made me think how important it is to GIVE to the world as well as TAKE from it.

So, we were picked up by Dan, and his beautiful partner Josee, who we had heard so much about! Now, I say beautiful as she proved to be so, both inside and out! Although it was a short visit, and we left on the Monday morning, both Dan and Josee ensured that we had a brilliant time, and we got to see the city’s highlights. Thank you to both of you for making us feel so at home, and for going out of your way to help us to feel and taste French Canada…..

Yes, on the topic of tasting French Canada……the maple butter was exquisite, but it never seemed to make it onto a slice of anything….the spoon which seemed to glide so easily from the recipient to my mouth had me thinking that I had an elevated form of hand to mouth disease! And then there was the “Poutine” at a take away place called Ashton’s, which we were told only existed in the state of Quebec….a bowl of chips (or fries as the Canadians and Americans would say), topped with gravy (aka English style actually) and chunks of cheese…….what can I say, caloric fat attack meets Mr. Cholesterol! Apparently, it’s unique to the area, so of course we tried it. I must say, although a little heavy (no pun intended) it wasn’t too bad!

Our favourite meal, we must admit was the Pad Thai that Dan made us on our last night. Dan had learnt this doing a cooking course in Thailand. That meal rocked Dan! Alex thought it was even better than all those Beer Lao you shared in Laos!!!! And I must say, not only did it taste truly authentic, but it has been my favourite meal since leaving Australia…..of course it helps that I both love Thai food and Pad Thai!

Our experiences in this beautiful city were not only food related, although it may appear so…..we walked through the quaint and cobble-stoned centre,Vieux Quebec (Old Quebec) with rewarding views of the St Lawrence River below, and we also visited the Montmorency Waterfalls, which are actually higher, but obviously not as voluminous, as the Niagara Falls.

Our final word is on how friendly Canadians are, and thus far we have only visited French Canada. And NO, it is NOT true that people are not helpful if you cannot speak French! We have found French Canadians to be unreservedly helpful, polite and eager to help! But hey, it does not go astray to try and speak a little French either! Each and every human loves when another person makes an effort with their language and culture! You receive what you give!

Ombi

Montreal, the tragedy and the Chinese buffet from hell!

After Philly we made our way back to New York, where we spent another two days with Alex’s mum and little sister Angie, before flying out to Montreal in Canada. Of course both parties were sad to see the other go, and saying goodbye is never going to be easy. The most importtant thing will always be remaining in touch.

As we had a flight at 11.30am, and Alex’s mum had to begin work early that morning, we got up and made our way to John F. Kennedy Airport, via metro and sky train. That was fun in rush hour! We asked ourselves if we were up to a year of carting around backpack one (the larger on) on our backs and backpack two (the smaller one) on our chests!? ……Let the adventure begin!

When we boarded I, well yeh, kind of semi-freaked….this was no boeing or air bus…..it was …..I don’t know, but very small! I must admit to having felt rather uncomfortable until the plane took off, and with that feeling or semblance of “fresh air” at least I did not feel so claustraphobic.

In true Ombi form, and my Dad knows only how true this is, we landed in the middle of a disaster – the Montreal high school shooting! I seem to have this penchant of landing in areas that are are affected by disasters, either natural or inflicted by humans.

Both Alex and I are “itching” to get to some countries where we can immerse ourselves in culture, you know…the Ombi and Alex kind, but are very excited that we have had the opportunity to have been able to catch up with so many wonderful family and friends. And we still have not seen them all!

The “highlight” of Montreal was having a buffet dinner at a Chinese restaurant called “Jade Garden”, which was vile! In true Ombi form, yet again, I told them so, and they told me that as we had barely touched our plates that we would only have to pay for one! I will not bore you with details, but after an ensuing argument, we were told that we either paid, or that the police would be called. I was not in the mood to “go em” that night or get involved with the police, so I settled on telling them how “shit”(verbatim!) their food was to their faces, and asked (ever so politely, of course!) if I was able to have a business card so that I could let everyone else know how “shit” it was. Just in case you didn’t get it…..the food was horrendous! She pointed to the stack of business cards…and I grabbed the whole stack….telling her that I would need them! And…off I walked…..somewhat elated that I had had the last say!

Ombi

9-11 May we never forget……all world atrocities!

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to go to the World Trade Centre site in New York, the place where part of the September 11 atrocites occurred 5 years ago. It was a coincidence that we went on the anniversary, as we were not planning to necessarily do so. Alex had already seen it a couple of weeks ago with his family, and I had not and wanted to do so.

Overwhelming! Sad! Confrontational! These are a few of the adjectives that I would use to describe the atmosphere and ambience. As you would imagine it was full of people, and of course agendas. Besides the many photos and signs and letters of rememberance, there was the small group with the sign, “9-11 Inside Job”…..the Jewish Evangelist preaching his stuff……several with t-shirts that read, “9-11 Investigate”…….the Christian who with hands on someone’s head was trying to rid him of the devil…..the man silently meditating……the two men who were hotly debating whether “Bush knew or not” whilst being filmed by a National TV crew…….but what really hit me with gut-wrenching precision was the little bunch of flowers, with a note attached which read “I love you Mum. I love you Dad”. Well, I just bawled! I touched Alex lightly on the arm, and as he looked over at my tear-streaked face I simply pointed! Words were not needed!

Did I feel sad? Absolutely! Whenever somebody innocent or their loved one dies it is sad….it does not matter what country they are from, what nationality they are, what their sexual preference is or what their religion is…..all that matters is that they died, that they were innocent, and that what happened NEVER needed to have occurred! And whilst there will NEVER be any any excuse for all the people who innocently died on September the 11th………I quietly closed my eyes and visualised the message that I had seen on so many t-shirts today, “9-11 Investigate”…..and I thought about ALL the people in the world who had also died so unjustly….the slaughter in Rwanda in Africa, the tens of thousands who had died under Pinochet’s regime in Chile, the massacres in El Salvador, the Bosnian war……and I silently wept as I wondered where their t-shirts with “investigate” had been hidden!?

Everybody in this world has the right to live in peace and happiness without fear from persecution. This is the theory, but as we can see this is not so. In utopia, all such atrocities would be investgated with the same stealth and rigour, but this is also not so.

My personal wish to each person reading this is to send positive energy out to humankind and the universe. Some of you may call it prayer, others may meditate. What is important is the intention. And for the record, YES I do beleive that each individual can make a difference.

Love and light

Ombi

Philadephia, and back to New York.


It was an early start, as we got up and ready, and made our way to Manhattan to catch a Greyhound bus to Philadelphia, known as the “Birthplace of America”, as it is the place where the Declaration of Independance was signed. On our arrival, the overwhelming feeling was how totally different it was to New York. Only two hours away, but so much more tranquil, relaxed, and slower. Having said that, Erin reminded us that it also has the highest murder rate in North America? Do I have that right Erin?

Alex and I spent the early hours of the afternoon doing the usual touristy stuff, like the Declaration of Independance Tour, which included the place where the final declaration was signed, as well as going to see the famous Liberty Bell. That is another story unto itself, but over time has come to represent freedom. I am sure a google search will give you greater insight.

The highlight of our day, was definitely meeting up with our beautiful friend Erin, whom I had the opportunity of meeting in 1999, in Bariloche, Argentina. As any fellow traveller would know, with travelling comes a lot of opportunities to meet a plethora of people, but there are always some who simply stand out, for whatever reason. Erin is one of those people! I was inspired by Erin’s love of life, and zest from the day I met her, as well as her ability to just “follow your heart”. Besides being a highly efficient and prolific business woman, Erin also makes spectacular jewellery, which she also teaches how to make, in classes all over the USA. Take a look at her web site, www.mateharidesigns.com

On top of all this, (to all you Aussies out there….yes, 5 more steak knives!!!) Erin is also involved in a project called Beads For Education, which helps young Maasai woman become literate, through education. I will be devoting an entire blog entry to this soon, but in the meantime, please take a look at the web site: www.beadsforeducation.org I cannot possibly stress or overemphasise the power of education, as it is ultimately what gives each and every human being power. We have all seen, on a day to day basis, how ignorance breeds fear. I truly beleive that education can overcome this. The flip side is, we all know how so many groups and governments like to keep people uneducated, and thus ignorant, and the fear that this breeds……..surprise, surprise, leads to the increased power by the very people who supress them! Alex, and I have made a steadfast resolve that on this trip we will be “conscientous travellers” – to give something back to the world, which by simply travelling it for a year, we are taking so much from!

We did have some great food in Philly, and met some wonderful people. Friday night at “La Vez”, a contemporary Mexican restaurant was great, as was the company of Brandon and Rosae, as well as Erin, of course! Hey Rosae, you keep in touch girl, your exuberance blew me away! We can change the world yet!

On Friday night we caught the train out to Chester Springs, where Erin lives. What a breath of fresh air – now this indeed was relaxing. Chester Springs really is deer country, and not very populated. Nothing like a good night sleep in the country! We packed lots of things into our weekend, including a trip to the Longwood Gardens (www.longwoodgardens.org), a huge area where we could walk around a number of differently manicured gardens, glasshouses and see some amazing flowers. The day was delightful, and perfect for a stroll.

On Sunday we visited the Brandywine River Museum, in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (www.brandywinemuseum.org). Beautifully set on a river, it had several paintings from various members of the Wyeth family, probably the most famous being N.C. Wyeth, whose illustrations are famous for children’s classics such as “Treaure Island”. There was another temporary dispaly on the works of another famous character in the world of Modern American Art, Andy Warhol.

Back in Philly late Sunday afternoon, and sharing another great meal with Erin, at a place called “Pietro’s Restaurant”. The pizza was great and the eggplant parma better! A walk to the train station, and we all bid each other farewell!

We felt very sad seeing you walk off Erin! Please know that you have two special friends in Alex and I, and that no matter what, we will always be here for you. Thanks for being part of our most special University of Life!

“As you walk, eat and travel, be where you are otherwise you will miss most of your life” – Buddha.

Ombi

Love On the Rocks!

Another big day in New York City, and another early start! We got up quite early and made our way to La Guradia Airport, which luckily is very close to where Alex’s mum lives, and only a 10 minute bus ride away. Moz and Bianca were flying on to Houston, and we wanted to fare them well. As brief as it was, it was wonderful, and it was so good to see my cousins so relaxed and happy, if not tired and overwhelmed! Now you get some of what my travel passion is all about Moz!


We had a fun day with Alex’s mum, taking her out for breakfast (loved those buttermilk pancakes!), and then on to Manhattan, to do a bit of shopping.

Finally, the highlight of the day: Our trip to the “Top of the Rock”. With an open-air observation deck on the 7oth floor, at the top of the newly renovated Rockefeller Plaza, in downtown Manhattan, the views can only be described as spectacular! Take a look at the website, www.topoftherocknyc.com . Yes, much better than the views from the from the Empire State Building. We arrived at 5.30pm and did not leave until 8.00pm. The 360 degree views were breathtaking, and as we walked around and ummed and aaahed at the breadth, depth and size of the city before us, we were also afforded the views of sunset, and late afternoon turning into dusk. And one by one, all those lights, of all colours, sizes and description, started to go on, whilst more followed in succession. And the city seemed bigger! Brighter! More explosive!

And just as dusk arrived, I witnessed a truly beautiful and magical moment; A profession of love, as Chris pulled out a ring and asked Maria to marry him! No, I do not know this couple, I was simply standing infront of them, and so my hearing ears could not help but hear! I had tears in my eyes, and as most of you know I am so un-romantic, in the traditional sense of the word. I felt touched, by the magic of the moment and, as I later stood back and observed, the magic in Maria and Chris’s eyes, as they looked into each others’ eyes! I couldn’t help myself, I went over and introduced myself, and asked if Alex could take a photo so that we could put it on our blog. Coincidentally, Maria has a similar background to mine, being of Italian parents, and Chris is Colombian. I revel in those moments, where I am able to meet someone new, and this case, wish them all the best. It is what makes travel so special for me!

Chris and Maria, this is our wish to you: That you live an amazing and happy life together. That you love and respect each other, and that you stay together as long as it is your destiny to stay together. That you find in each other your best friend and soul mate. Yes, it is possible, so when it happens treasure it!

Off to Philadephia tomorrow morning. It’s midnight and I need to pack!

Ombi