A Window into Latin America – slide show videos

Following on from our last blog, we are posting the video of the slide show, A Window into Latin America, that Alex put together for the Renew the Spirit fundraiser we held in November of this year. In its original format it’s about 35 minutes long. Alex has broken it up into five parts for easier viewing. All of the videos, except for the introduction and the last one, are also posted on You Tube

…so, grab yourself a cuppa or refreshment, kick back…and comment if you wish!

Introduction and photos to the Renew the Spirit Foundation:

Part 1. A Window into Latin America, covers the following countries:
Peru, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands (which are part of Ecuador) , Colombia and Panama.

Part 2. A Window into Latin America, covers Costa Rica, Nicaragua , Honduras, Belize and Guatemala.

Part 3. A Window into Latin America, covers Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Part 4. A Window into Latin America, covers Cuba and Mexico.

We hope you enjoy the videos. Please feel free to check out the Renew the Spirit Foundation website, where you will be able to read about the organisation, what it does and what it is committed to.

We would also like to mention Jo and Richard’s blog again, www.thedemeesters.blogspot.com; co-world travellers, bloggers, and photographers, they provided the other “half” of our presentation slideshow for the fundraiser.

Last but not least, we would like to mention Iosu Lopez, a Spanish traveller and film-maker, who Jo and Richard met whilst travelling. His dream was to travel the Americas from tip to toe. This trip would begin in Alaska, and end in Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, and would cover some 45,000 kilometres, along the “highway” known as the Ruta Panamericana. We would like to share the trailer of his forthcoming film, “La Costura de America”, which loosely translates to “The Backbone of the Americas”. It is something NOT to be missed by travellers, culture buffs and Latino-philes…time for another cuppa…kick back and enjoy this too!

Trailer “La costura de América” from Iosu López on Vimeo.

Comentario de Iosu:

“Antes de cumplir los 30, Iosu López decide abandonarlo todo para cumplir un sueño de infancia: Recorrer América de norte a sur y hacerlo íntegramente por tierra. Un viaje en solitario de 45.000 kilómetros y más de 10 meses desde Prudhoe Bay (Alaska) hasta Bahía Lapataia en Tierra de Fuego (Argentina) a través de la Ruta Panamericana. El cambio en su perspectiva vital, el autoconocimiento y el esfuerzo personal de superación marcan un viaje de descubrimiento de la rica y compleja topografía humana y social del continente americano”.

“Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something” – Author Unknown.

Dedication: I would like to dedicate this blog entry to “knowledge”, as knowledge is power! All too often, we “don’t go there” because it’s too painful, too hard or because we simply cannot be bothered. But, in my humble opinion, “going there” is also immensely rewarding, as it reminds us that there is a whole other world out there, and that as interactive human beings we need to learn to live outside of the box or microcosm that we live in. In order to receive, we must also learn to give!

May 2010 bring you the love, peace and happiness that you all deserve!

In love and light

Ombi (and Alex too, as he reflects these exact sentiments)

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A Window into Latin America

Well, it has certainly been a while since I have blogged. Busy, busy, busy! Well, that’s my excuse. 2009 has been an incredibly full on year for me, with lots of changes and adjustments. But, would I want it any other way? More on this in the next blog.

This blog will focus on the fundraiser that Alex and I are currently involved in helping out with. Like everything else in my life, this too has a story. Way back almost two years ago, when Alex and I returned from our 16 month trip around the world trip, we told our dear fried, Phil West, that we would help him out with some fundraising for the foundation he started and directs: “Renew the Spirit Foundation – Healing the Hearts of Child Survivors of War and Terrorism”. Well, one thing led to another, and nothing ever happened…Alex and I were both looking for work…then it was Christmas… then we went to Ecuador and the USA for five weeks, and then we started to think, “Hey, it’s almost Christmas 2009”. Time…time…there is never enough time! Not good enough! I looked over the events of the last year, all of the natural disasters which had occurred, and especially Samoa, where I had spent last Christmas, and knew of people who had tragically died. I was really feeling that now was the time to give! I feel that in order to go forward in life, I sometimes need to ‘balance things out’ and do a bit of giving too. No more excuses! So, we had a good chat to Phil, and with a solid resolve, we decided that we were going to do this before the year was out, come hell or high water.

The idea was always to do some kind of slide show using some of the many photos (mostly Alex’s) that we have taken on our travels. Latin America would probably be our focus, as it is also our passion. So, we started to organise…our dear friend Christina, director of the Cuban Dance Academy, would allow us to use her studio in Abbotsford, another friend of “Renew the Spirit”, Phillipa, would organise some chairs, Alex would work on the slide show, and I would help do all the other bits and pieces, so to speak. And…we had even set a date: Friday 27th November…yes, of this year!

A couple of weeks ago, as this was all coming together, we were having dinner at the house of our very dear and special friends (who are the only others I know who are as travel obsessed as us, and whom I thus refer to as our ‘travel partners in crime’) , Richard and Jo deMeester, who had only just come back themselves from a 10 month stint overseas, including Central America and Cuba. So, we decided to run our ideas by them. As we did so, I began thinking that it would be fantastic, should they want to help out, as not only are they extremely generous and giving people, but they both have a passion for photography and take brilliant photos. Take a look at their blog, www.thedemeesters.blogspot.com Some wine and some excellent Thai food later (recipes they’d picked up from a Thai cooking course they’d participated in, in Thailand only weeks prior), we not only got some more great ideas but Jo and Richard also decided that they would like to add some of their photos to the slide show. We were stoked!

I called Phil and told him what had transpired, and within days ideas became blurbs, blurbs became the basic outline for a flyer, and the flyer was played with (originally by Phil, and then by Alex) until we had the ‘you beaut, ready to go version’.

So, on the 27th of November at the Cuban Dance Academy’s, Yemaya Studio, at Level 1/ 269 Johnston St, Abbotsford, Renew the Spirit Foundation will present: ‘A Window into Latin America. A photojournalistic exhibition of Latin America – its people, culture, landscape and nature’. The four of us are thrilled to be able to share our love and passion of Latin America to all who come to the exhibition, and in doing so help out a most noteworthy organisation.

We really hope that you can make it. Please feel free to pass this information on to anybody or groups of people whom you think may be interested.

Renew the Spirit believes ‘that a basic principal of humanity is to work toward a goal of reduction of wars, political and religious hatreds, terrorism, extremism as well as state-sponsored repression and violence.’

About the very humble Phil West, and the origin of the organisation:

‘The Foundation was an initiative of Dr Phil West, who, with the support of Walter Mikac, initiated and set up the Alannah and Madeline Foundation in 1997 in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre a year earlier in which Walter’s wife and two young girls were murdered. The establishment of both foundations had the same genesis.

Dr West’s Honours and PhD studies concerned the civil wars in Central America in the 1980s. During his overseas-based research, he saw at first hand the devastating physical and psychological impact of war and armed violence on individuals and communities and was especially moved by the plight of children.

Dr West’s Honours and PhD studies concerned the civil wars in Central America in the 1980s. During his overseas-based research, he saw at first hand the devastating physical and psychological impact of war and armed violence on individuals and communities and was especially moved by the plight of children.’

I, personally, feel honoured to be doing something which will help bring some joy and a sense of fulfillment to the lives of so many children, as I had such a privileged childhood myself. Food, shelter, a good education, protection, love and warmth were never lacking in my household. I say a privilege, because so many children on our Earth have been denied and continued to be denied many of these most basic of things. For me, this is just a tiny way in which I can help a fragment of the many others who are so much less fortunate than myself.

It’s not all about me!

‘See everything with the eye of the heart’ – (written at the bottom of an email of a most dear friend, Anita De Blasio, whilst travelling through Ireland recently).

Dedication: To my father, Dino Zanetti, who has been the most brilliant of fathers. Whilst still alive, he probably still does not understand the depth of my love and appreciation for him. Reading to me from when I was too young to even remember, it is to him that I credit my love of words, writing and the English language. Furthermore, along with my mother, he provided me with the love, food, warmth, education, protection and shelter which are denied to so many children on Earth. I thank you profoundly, and with love.

(Photos:1.- A Window into Latin America; the flyer being used to advertise the event to be held on November 27, 2009. 2.- Kids in a village near Ninh Binh, Vietnam, 2007. 3 & 4.- Richard and Jo taking some cooking lessons in Bangkok, October 2009. 5.- Children in the Dominican Republic, December 2007. 6.- Ombi & Christina (Cuban Dance Academy), October 2009. 7.- Phil West and Catalina, fundraising for Renew the Spirit Foundation at Cubamemucho, September 2009. 8.- Alex on the Tiger Leaping Gorge walk, western China, late 2007. 9.- Ombi, Alex and Dad (Dino) at La Porchetta Restaurant, Carlton, April 2009.)

Goodbye Ecuador; Hello USA beauracracy.

Our last week in Ecuador was a flurry of activity! We were invited to Marcia and Gustavo’s house for Alex’s cousin, Valeria’s birthday; we were invited to both Gladys and Patty’s respective houses for both lunch and “cafe y pancito” (coffee and bread, which is a tradition over there and happens at around 4 or 5pm, after lunch, but before dinner). We were also taken out for dinner by Bolivar and Lily my brother-in-law, Christian’s parents. Prior to this last week, we had also been to Christian’s parents’ house to celebrate Jonathan (Chris’s brother’s) birthday. Everyone had been so open, warm and welcoming. In my last few days, I could feel the walls closing in on me!

Oh, and the list goes on…I caught up with my friend, Manuela and her mum Ana, whom I actually had not seen in years. It was great to be able to pick up where we left off. We were also invited to Alex’s Tia Norma’s apartment (actually his mum’s auntie), with sweeping views of Quito. And of course, no visit to Ecuador would be complete without a visit to CEIB primary school (now called St Patrick School) where I used to tech English to Grade 3 children. All the kids I used to teach have now long gone, but the highlight of my visit there is always catching up with Don Carlitos. Don Carlitos used to be the gatekeeper of the school, and now he is the handy man. Each and every time I return to Ecuador and visit the school, he greets me with a “Hola Teacher Ombi” and gives me a big hug. He holds a special place in my heart!

We had had so many great times over the last few weeks, and now they were coming to an end, all too quickly. Denisse, more beautiful than ever, was a young lady now, at 15 years of age, and 11 year old “Axelin” was no longer a baby. I thought about all the time that has passed in which I had not seen them grow, and it made me feel sad. But what is the solution? This is the story of a love that straddles two cultures and two hemispheres. Regardless of where we live, we miss out on something. The most difficult thing for me this time would be having to leave behind little Thomas. So cute and so small. He seemed to laugh as he recognised my voice, but would he even remember me in a year’s time? This made me feel the saddest of all, and every time I thought about this my stomach would sink to my toes.

Our week was also “made” shorter than we thought, as on the Tuesday morning before flying out, we realised that we were flying out to New York on the Wednesday morning not on the Thursday. In effect, we were chatting to Alex’s mum in New York, who insisted that we were coming tomorrow, on Wednesday! Well, talk about flip out! Karen had stepped out for a bit (as she is home on maternity leave), and when she got back at around 11.00am, we hit her with, “OMG, we are leaving tomorrow”. Despite the initial shock (but believe me, she couldn’t have been more shocked than we were), we got ourselves organised and did what we had to do the day before flying out! We packed our bags, and then thankfully for Karen, we used her as our taxi service over the next few hours, as there is no other way we would have been able to do all the last minute things we needed to do. We quickly went to the Mercado Artesanal (Artisans market) where we bought a few things we still wanted, and also caught up with Maria Antonieta briefly to say goodbye.

Our last night at Karen’s was lots of fun, with many relatives popping in to say goodbye. We got some pretty snazzy t-shirts from Christian and Karen, but I am afraid I cannot translate their meaning on this blog. Here is the picture, but you need to ask me personally for the translation. Karen and Jesus, you will SOOOOO get this! After everyone had left, Alex and I, stayed up talking with Piero and Karen. We got to bed at 2.00pm. Normally, that wouldn’t be brutally late, but we had to get up at 3.00am. Blink! We were up and ready in a flash. We were exhausted! We slithered into all of the rooms and kissed Piero, Karen, Denisse and Axel goodbye. I said my own little farewell to Thomas, but did not touch him, as I did not want to wake him up.Fortunately, we were too tired to feel sad. Christian dropped us off at the airport, and we hugged him goodbye. It was all starting to feel so final. Just before we went through the main doors, Alex’s Dad showed up, so we were also able to bid our last farewells. Then we were inside; very tired and very sad! To make matters worse, it felt like we were lined up for ever! I have never been so glad to plonk my tired little butt onto a seat. In fact, I was so tired, that I slept through take off! Now THAT is hardcore!

I should also mention that Byron and Alex came to visit us briefly on our last night, and gave us a beautiful gift each. Alex’s was a necklace and mine a pair of earrings with a beautiful sun/ moon representation. I know that it’s the thought that counts, but they know us so well; I couldn’t have picked something more appropriate out myself!

Our flight back to New York, would see us pass through Miami, and I only woke up before touch down. Now, it seemed that despite only having 24 hours here, before then going back to Australia, the authorities were going to give us a run for our money! We passed through passport control as a couple, Alex going first. Yep, all good! Ombi’s turn? Nah, something’s a “mismatch” I was told. My passport was promptly handed to a Passport Control Officer, who then placed it into a plastic sleeve, and I was told to politely, “Stand over there!” Luckily Alex was able to come with me. We finally got shuttled off into a room, full of what appeared to be anyone and everyone other than caucasians. OK, it’s a full house, but I’m still not panicking. It’s almost 1.00pm though and we have a flight to New York to catch at 3.00pm. I ask someone if we’re going to miss the flight. She’s not sure. Great! We need this like a bullet in the head. I see some officer holding up a Mexican Passport, and tell another officer that it looks dodgy and like it’s been tampered with. It’s getting worse! Another guy tells me that he’s been waiting for over two hours. It’s going to be a long wait! To my surprise, I am called up after some 45 minutes. Do I live in Australia? Yes. What’s the weather like there? I tell him it’s winter. But it’s hot in the north, right? Yes, I tell him, we only have a “real”winter in the south-east and Tasmania. He seems satisfied with my answers, and then tells me I can go! Go figure! Can’t say that I understood what that was all about, but we did manage to catch our flight to New York. Anybody have any idea? (Harry……OIFA!)

We landed in La Guardia, where Alex’s mum and sister were waiting for us. Our last night together was great, and we filled her in on our time in Ecuador. In a few weeks time, Angie would be going to Ecuador by herself, and staying with Karen. What can you do in 24 hours? The next day we chatted some more, whilst having breakfast, and then lunch. In no time at all, it was time to go to the JFK airport. We thought we’d check ourselves in, before going downstairs for a coffee.

As we went through the usual, check-in rigmarole, “Frances” informed us that we would not be able to sit next to each other on the LA to Sydney sector. (Remember, our flight path was New York – LA – Sydney – Melbourne). Now, WHY would I want to sit next to my partner for the longest portion of the trip, which would take approximately 13 and a half hours? Face, body language…….she was clearly not interested. Frances was clearly having a bad day, but nonplussed, I figured I’d fix it up in LA. I mean, it was our last half an hour or so with Alex’s mum and little sister. I have to admit though, I had not appreciated her attitude! Once downstairs, and having coffee, both Alex’s mum and Alex reiterated my sentiments; “That gal had a baaaaaaaaad attitude!”

Alex was keen to “fix it up”, so back we go to the counter. Now Frances was in luck, and I was feeling rather tranquil. Just thought I would go over and explain the situation, no names involved. So, I went to the counter and simply asked the woman if she could change the tickets so that Alex and I could sit next to each other. At that precise moment, Frances comes along, and utters to the woman helping us, “I’ve already told them that there are no seats together!”. Well, something snapped! You know, poor Frances at the Qantas counter picked the “wrong chick at the wrong time”. After what had happened in Miami, I was over it! I whipped around faster than a flash of lightning, eye-balled her and hissed, “Why don’t you just do a Harry Houdini and disappear! You are clearly useless, so let me continue speaking to someone who’s not!” I’m not sure who was more stunned, Frances or me! She then sat down and smirked at me! Have I ever told you how much I loathe smirking? On a roll, I now couldn’t help or stop myself. Next I blurted out, “That smirk on your face makes we want slap you!!!!!”……….Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! Alarm bells! We ARE in the USA? Did I just “threaten” her? Is she going to sue me? The lady helping me was very pleasant, if not a little thrown back by my outburst, and she listened patiently as I continued to explain that whilst I did not need or require any red carpet treatment, was asking Frances to do her job THAT difficult? The lady helping us made it clear that the changes actually could be made. Despite the fact that I was not raising my voice, the lady behind the counter could see how irate I was. I suggested that Frances may benefit from being locked up in an office away from people, or perhaps they should enrol her is a customer services course, as she clearly had no skills in this department. Well, we were offered two passes into the British Airways/ Qantas lounge. I will reserve my judgement on this for another time, but I really must mention one of the many magazines that were on “offer” (free, of course!! ); “The Private Jet Lifestyle Magazine – Elite Traveller”. Pages and pages and pages of expensive, consumerist, advertising dribble! I mean, one of the ads was for a Private Honda Jet, with the caption, “Is it possible to find a more efficient alternative?” No, but certainly a more stupid, energy-wasting one! Give me a bucket!!!!! Heaven forbid, that one would have to sit in a bigger plane, with the masses! Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease! What is this world coming to?

Once in the plane, we settled down comfortably. We felt a bit sad, as we always do saying goodbye to family. Alex’s mum was OK, but Angie looked sad. That’s always a tough one. The flight to LA was fine, as was the flight to Sydney. Due to our connections, we missed our flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Whilst it was no big deal, we were tired and just wanted to get home. We finally made it to Melbourne by 11.30am on the morning of Saturday, 20th June. As usual, we were picked up by Dino’s Taxi Service. We chatted as we drove home, and all had lunch together, but I was feeling tired. Jet lag? Not sure, as I do not normally suffer from this, but….I did manage to sleep on the couch from 12.45pm until about 11.00pm that night!

I woke up, and went straight to bed. We had missed two functions: Di Baini’s 21st ( a really special friend of ours) and an Inti Raymi (“Festival of the Sun”) celebration at Mick’s house in Croydon. Just a little bit of information for those of you who way not know too much about Incan culture; Inti Raymi marks the winter solstice, and was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire, in honour of the god, Inti. Whilst I was disappointed at having missed both, I was also way too tired to give it much thought!

Ombi

Dedication (English): There are two parts to this dedication. The first part is for my brother-in-law, Christian. You are a wonderful person! I saw you be a wonderful husband, father, son, brother and friend….and of course, brother-in-law! You showed how loving and warm you are, and I would like to above all thank you for the amazing way you treat Axel and Denisse. Respect does not just happen it is earned. Despite the fact that we live far away, you will always hold a special place in our hearts. The second part is for our sister and sister-in-law, Karen. Finally, you got what you truly deserve. You are an exceptional mother and person, and we love you with all of our hearts.Christian and Karen, we wish you the best in life, and never forget that we will always be here for you and your family.

Dedicacion (Espanol): Hay dos partes de este dedicacion. La primer parte es para nuestro cunado, Christian. Eres una persona maravillosa! Pudimos ver que eres un buen esposo, padre, hijo, hermano y amigo….y tambien cunado! Nos demostraste lo carinoso y amable que eres, y sobre todo, quiero agradecerte en la forma fabulosa que tratas a Axel, Denisse y Thomasito. El respeto no ocurre simplemente, el respeto es ganado. No importa que vivimos lejos, siempre vas a tener un lugar especial en nuestros corazones. La segunda parte es para nuestra hermana y cunada, Karen. Finalmente ganaste lo que verdaderamente mereces. Eres una persona y madre excepcional y te amamos con todo nuestros corazones. Christian y Karen, te deseamos todo lo mejor de la vida, y nunca se olviden que siempre estaremos aqui para ustedes.

“There is no calamity greater than lavish desires. There is no greater guilt than discontentment. And there is no greater disaster than greed”. Lao-tzu (604 BC – 531 BC)

(Photos: 1.- Valeria’s birthday. L to R: Sara, Denisse, Valeria, Junior and Volney, in front, Quito. 2.-L to R: Ana Miranda and Manuela. 3.- Alex, baby Thomas and his brother Jean Pierre. 4.- Alex with his aunt, uncle and cousins. L to R: Alex, Israel, Valeria, Gustavo, Ombi , Gustavo Jr and Marcia. 5.-Ombi and Alex, with imprinted obscenities! Karen’s house, Quito. 6.- Ombi and Alex with “La Tia Loca” (the crazy auntie), Gladys. 7.- Alex with his cousins. L t R: Andres, Alex and Ruben (Junior). 8.- With my brother-in-law Christian’s family at Jonathan’s birthday. L to R: Bolivar, Lily (parents), Christian, Thomas, Jean Pierre, Jonathan (Chris’ brother), Naty (girlfriend), Ombi and Karen. In the front, Denisse and Axel (neice and nephew) and Alex. 9.- Locals at the Otavalo Market. 10.- Dad and the boys! . L to R: Alex’s Dad (Hugo), Jean Pierre, Rodrigo and Alex. 11.- This time with Rocio’s (my mother-in-law’s) sisters. Lt R: Gladys, Ombi, Patty and Marcia. 12.- BBQ time! Alex with his sister Karen, outside her apartment in Quito. 13.- Happy family! Karen, Christian and Thomas. 14.- Alex and Karen enjoying an espresso…with Italian coffee machine and ground coffee brought from Australia. When I lived in Ecuador, I left my legacy….a good coffee! 15.- Alex and his mum in New York. 16.- Alex and Angie at JFK Airport, on our way back to Australia…with Aussie paraphenalia. 17.- Christian at home with his family; Thomas, Denisse and Axel. 18.- Alex and his brother Rodrigo). 19.- Diego and Christina (their mother Deisy works in Karen’s house).

Still more to do and see in Ecuador

So, we had spent time with family, caught up with some of our friends, and done a whole lot of other stuff, but there was still so much more to do! So many friends still wanted to catch up with us, but time was a tickin’!

Now, we couldn’t possibly leave Quito without going for a boogie. So, one Saturday night we got a little group together and off we went to Flashback. As the name suggests, the music played was from the 70s and 80s. Our little group was Alex and I, Jean Pierre, Karen and Christian, Jonathan (Christian’s brother) and his girlfriend Naty, and Andrea (his cousin) and her husband Paul. Oh what a night! Oops, no pun intended! It was lots of fun, and we had a great time dancing. In my usual fashion, I was on that dance floor and goin’ for it in no time at all! And Christian was my partner in crime. What took a bit of (more like a lot actually) getting used to was the cigarette smoke! Apart from gross and repulsive, it seems oh so very yesterday to smoke in a confined space! So, here we are almost 3 kilometres above sea level, dancing in a pool of smoke…….at times I thought I was going to go into cardiac arrest. Apart from the smoke, we survived (of course, again, no pun intended), and didn’t leave until almost 3.00am. On the way home we stopped for some hot dogs with the lot (it’s what you do in Ecuador, after a big night out). Whilst it was no thanks for me, all the others went for it! Vegetarian or not, I don’t do mystery bags!

The next day was rather peaceful, and we all relaxed at home, only stepping out to buy some ice-cream.

Whilst we were in Quito, Andrea (Santy’s wife) gave birth to little Samuel. She chose a water birth, which is not so common in Ecuador. Alex, Karen and I went with his aunties Gladys and Patty, and were amongst the first to see the little baby. He was only hours old when we saw him. Santy was at the hospital too, as were several others. The baby, tiny as he was, was being passed around. They seem to have a much more laid back attitude to pregnancy and giving birth in Ecuador. As Alex’s aunt Patty told me some seven years ago when she gave birth to Samantha, “Pregnancy and child birth are not an illness, they are a way of life”. She’s right, and sometimes we can be a bit precious about it all in the western world.

Now, we all know that the world is a small place, but……..after we visited Andrea and little Samuel in hospital, we stopped by a small set of shops close to the hospital …I noticed a little girl in a wheelchair, and I was sure I had met her before. Now, whilst I am hopeless with numbers, I never forget a face, and almost never a name. Memory bank, memory bank! I looked at her father…yes I knew him, and I thought his daughter’s name was Eva….it all came back to me. I had met “Eva” in a shop her father owned on the Galapagos Islands, when we were there three and a half years ago. I went straight up to the father and asked him if his daughter’s name was Eva, to which he replied , “Yes, Evaluna!”. He looked at me as if to say, “How do you know her?” I then jogged his memory, and we chatted about our meeting in his shop in the Galapagos. I reminded Pato that I had met him and his wife Katy, and their gorgeous daughter. We had given her a little toy koala, and had played with her for a while. They now have another little girl called Sol. I went up to Evaluna and gave her a big hug, and reminded her too of how and when we had met. She have me a big hug and even bigger smile! I told Pato how I had often wondered about them all, and especially Evaluna! We swapped e-mails and vowed to stay in touch. Destiny!

We managed to catch up with Edison and Belen too, which was wonderful. Eddy used to work with Alex at El Comercio, Quito’s leading newspaper, when I met him 10 years ago. He is still there and works as a graphic designer. And Belen, who actually also works there now, used to be one of Alex’s students at the Journalism Club in which he used to teach and be involved in. They picked us up fro Patty’s house and we went to La Ronda, in the old part of Quito. It is in the colonial part of the old town, and is one of the oldest and most historic parts of Quito. As it was during the week, it was not that crowded, but there were still plenty of places selling canelazo, a traditional hot drink (with or without alcohol, but usually with), empanadas, and souvenirs. In addition, there were lots of restaurants and cafes. We stopped at one of them, and I had one of the best hot chocolates ever!

There was no way that we were leaving Quito without a meal at his Tia Bebita’s restaurant. Not only is she a wonderful cook but she is also a lovely woman. Every day her father (Alex’s grandfather) Jacinto, goes there for lunch. We surprised him by just rocking up one day without saying anything. You should have seen his face when Alex said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I sit down next to you?” More hugs all around! After lunch we caught the taxi with “Papa Jacinto” (as he is fondly referred to) back to his place, and caught up with some more members of Alex’s extended family. Again, never enough time!

We also managed to catch up with our special friend Aidee, who is still working at Hostal Centro del Mundo in Gringolandia. It’s where I stayed when I first came to Quito. I met her before I met Alex! We truly surprised her when we popped into the hostel. On that same day we also caught up with Ely from Moggely Travel (who run various tours all over Ecuador) and met her cousin Marco who is also working there now. Another friend I was able to see was Iliana; I used to work with both her and her mum (also called Iliana, and who now lives in Chicago). We went to a place called La Tortilla, where we were able to sit down and catch up on 10 years! Iliana’s mum found me on Facebook several months ago and we re-connected. She then she gave me her daughter’s e-mail. I had not been in touch with either since I stopped living in Ecuador 10 years ago. It was great, and like no time had passed at all. Unfortunately, we were neither able to catch up with Alex’s friend Raul, or my Colombian friend, Maria Pia……time just ran out!

I did, however, catch up with Maria Antonieta and her partner Chula. Maria Antonieta was one of my very closest friends when I lived in Ecuador. It was so great to see her once again, and it really felt like no time had passed at all. I went to hers and Chula’s place for dinner, and we chewed the fat for hours! It’s amazing how with good friendships, upon reconnecting, it actually feels like no time has passed at all. I only wish we had have had the chance to spend more time together, but as I have mentioned before, time is not always our best friend!

Now, there was no way that I was coming home from Ecuador not having visited the famous indigenous market of Otavalo. Alex and I took the two hour bus ride north, with Denisse on a Saturday morning, which is market day. Without a doubt, the beauty of the market lies in the indigenous people of the area, who always look spectacular in their traditional garb. The women with long, dark braided hair, colourfully embroidered shirts, and rows upon rows of gold beads around their necks, and the men, with their hats and their ponchos. Think Otavalo, think South America! As soon as we arrived we went straight to Mama Rosita’s for our humita fix (humitas are a type of roll, made from corn and can be sweet or savoury). I first met Dona Rosita (Mrs Rosita) when I was living in Ecuador, as I would go to Otavalo regularly. Unfortunately, it started to rain early on in the piece, and it got to the point where it was no longer enjoyable to walk around. We stopped in a cafe for a hot drink and a snack, after which we bought very little (but did include a couple of really cute woollen jumpers for Thomas), before proceeding to go home. We did manage to see both Don Pedro (Byron’s dad) and Norma (his sister) who have separate stalls there.

For me, Otavalo is like a life line. It epitomises all that I love about South America, and is a fascinating place to people watch. It reminds me of the culture that I love, and for me, no trip to my second homeland would be complete without a visit here. Unfortunately, due to the rain (it was hammering!), I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I usually do.

Mindo, the last bastion. I was determined to see it! Mindo is an area of low lying rain forest just a few hours north of Quito. It’s a bird lovers paradise, as it has one of the highest concentrations of birds in the world, with more than 350 bird species. I just wanted to relax and get away for a few days. We left on a Wednesday and came back on a Friday. We went by bus, and only half an hour out of Quito, the scenery changed and we were presented with undulating hills, covered with lush green trees. So many memories came flashing back to me, and this trip reminded me of what it is about South America that I had fallen deeply in love with in the first place! Indescribable sentiments, lodged deeply in my heart! I would do a backpacking trip again with Alex in South America in a heartbeat. I will…..one day! As we arrived in Mindo, it was raining heavily, but Byron had given us a contact of a place to stay. We ended up calling Elizabeth of Mindo Real, and she promptly came to pick us up with her daughter. If you click here, you will see the picture of the beautiful little cabin in which we stayed for 2 nights. It was only a 7 minute walk from the small town centre, but it was just far enough that the only noise we could hear was the sound of the river which ran through the property.

Each morning we were treated to a sumptuous home-made breakfast, compliments of Ely. Everything was fresh, and everything tasted fantastic! We were in no rush to wake up early on either of our days there, as it was so relaxing. On one of the days, we went on a really long walk, past the Mariposario (butterfly enclosure) and on a little mountain trail, ending up at some waterfalls. There were plenty of beautifully coloured butterflies flying around, and we both felt very serene. It was like having the place to ourselves as we only came across a person or two. Our walk through the mountain trail, was lovely, if not steep, and at one point we literally got attacked by a type of ant that, whilst not poisonous, bites with voracity. Their pincers were closing in all over my feet, and as I was wearing sandals and not shoes, I was jumping around like a grasshopper. I was also screaming expletives, whilst trying to swat them. Yes, I DID freak out! Luckily, no one was around, because I was screaming like someone who was being attacked! Well I was, wasn’t I? After the attack, and with my ankles and legs covered in bites, I slathered them in even more insect repellent, and we continued walking. Insect repellent? All too little too late?!

Soon, we reached a place where there were some waterfalls. We had to walk a little more inland, but the views were worth the walk. Again, we were alone. We had a dip in a pool which was what I would describe as natural, but somewhat enhanced by man. The water was bloody freezing! Just as we were getting ready to leave, the heavens opened and there was an alluvial downpour! We tried to wait until it passed, but this natural phenomena was not going to come to the party! So, we pulled out our ponchos and rain jackets, and walked back in the rain!

We had found a great little street stall on the first night where we bought our dinner, and went back the second night as it was so good. Grilled plantains (savoury bananas), were served with mayonnaise and grated fresh cheese (trust me, if Gino had tried it, he would have said, “‘fully sick!”). Then there was menestra (a type of stew, in this case with lentils) served with rice, salad, and aji (a chilli sauce which I just love). Add to that grilled meat and chicken, which Alex tells me was also great!

No sooner had we arrived, than it was time to go back to Quito. As we caught the bus back, and I once again admired the fantastic scenery, I was brutally reminded that we had less than a week to go! Where had the time gone? We wound our way back to Quito as I continued to both ponder and admire!

Yet another adventure was coming to an end!

Ombi

Next: Saying goodbye!

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” – George Orwell (1903 1950)

(Photos: 1.- Ombi and Alex boogie-ing on the dance floor, “Flashback”, Quito, Ecuador. 2.- The “family gang” at Flashback. Lto R: Naty, Jonathan, Christian, Karen, Andrea, Jean Pierre, and Paul in the front. 3.- Andrea, Santiago and baby Samuel only hours after his birth. 4.- A surprise reunion – Ombi, Evaluna and Pato. 5.- Belen, Edison and Ombi at La Ronda, in the Old Town (historical centre), Quito. 6.- Alex’s family on his dad’s side: Papa Jacinto (grandpa), Alex, Salome, Jacinto (behind), Esteban, Monica (behind), Simona, Soraya, Sandy and Alexandra. 7.- Ombi and Aidee at Centro del Mundo. 8.- Maria Antonieta (front) and Chula at their place in Quito. 9.- Mama Rosita, Ombi and Denisse eating humitas at the Otavalo Market, Ecuador. 10.- Fancy a bit of pork, or a ham sanga? Fare of the porcine kind, Otavalo Market. 11.- Spools of thread, Otavalo Market. 12.- Mindo – loy lying cloud forest. 13.- The beautiful flowers of Mindo. 14.- River running through Mindo. 15.- Ombi and Alex; on our way back from a walk. It was only the poncho that saved me from the wet t-shirt competition! 16.- Eating out at the “local”, Mindo. 17.- (Left): Alex and Ely, of Moggely Travel. 18.- (Right): Ombi and Iliana at “La Tortilla” – reunion after 10 years.)

Home is where the heart is.

We had a great flight over to Quito, with a stopover in Miami. As we checked in, we were told that we would not be able to be seated together on the New York to Miami sector. I was not particularly fussed, as I figured that I would be able to swap with someone, although Alex and I were several rows apart. As it worked out however, I ended up sitting down next to a lovely lady called Louise. After chatting briefly, she asked if I would like her to swap with Alex, so that we could sit together. She seemed like such an interesting person, that I declined the offer and we ended up chatting all the way to Miami. As we parted company, I had a new friend, whom had already asked me to visit next time we were in Miami. I told her to beware, as I often took people up on these kinds of offers!

As we we approached Quito, I began to feel anxious………with excitement! It’s always an amazing feeling flying into Quito, but quite frankly, it’s not the safest! Mariscal Sucre Airport is nestled in the heart of Quito, surrounded by mountains, and only the most skilled of pilots are able to fly into it (having said that, the odd crash occurs all the same, which is why a new airport, well away from these mountains is currently being built). As we neared touch down, a knot formed in my throat, as I recognised familiar landmarks, peaks, parks and many other spots I had come to know and love when I had lived there 10 years ago. Ecuador, and particularly Quito, holds a very special place in my heart, and indeed it is my second home. A little piece of my heart always remains there!

Touch down! It was just on 6pm on the 28th of May. Alex and I looked at each other, nervously grinning from ear to ear. It had been almost three and a half years since we had been here, and if I was excited about seeing everybody once again, imagine Alex! This time, we would be meeting our brother-in-law, Christian, for the first time, as well as our new little nephew Thomas, who was not yet two months old. We were both feeling a wave of emotions…….how would we find everyone? Had Quito changed? The line to get through passport control was extremely long and it seemed to go on for ages. At one point I looked up, and behind the glass panelling I could see Karen (Alex’s sister), Jean Pierre and Rodrigo (Alex’s brothers), Samantha (his little cousin) and his aunties Patty and Gladys waving furiously. I was totally overcome with emotion, and I started to cry as I waved back. Finally, we got through customs and picked up our luggage.

We were surprised to find that before exiting the airport, every single person was being screened by a doctor with some kind of heat-gauging machine……yes, to see if they had pig flu! That was a bit of a surprise, especially as no similar such thing had been done in the USA. Also, everyone here was wearing a mask! After all the hoo-ha of leaving Australia in the middle of the pig flu crisis in late May, we hadn’t seen anyone wearing masks anywhere….up until now! We were virtually the last ones in the line, but once through, I noticed that Alex was not behind me. I turned around to see where he was, and could not see him. Finally, I saw him step out of the toilet, as he had splashed water on his face. I gave him this quizzical, “What the f#$@k look”, and he proceeded to yell out, “Te dijo, soy caliente!” (I told you, I’m hot!). I looked away in this “Gee, I don’t know this guy” kind of way. As it works out, Alex who (seriously) gets hot quite easily, went through the scanners, which detected a high body temperature, and he had to cool down just to rule out pig flu! What a laugh!

Finally out, there were hugs all around, and everyone had a laugh, especially with Alex’s pig flu debacle! (Karen Ivanyi, I know you will love this one!) As Karen (Alex’s sister) lives close to the airport, we were there in no time at all. As we came through the doors both Axel and Denisse (our niece and nephew) came running towards us. More hugs all around, as I adore them both. Then, we met Christian, whom we liked instantaneously (we had already “met” and chatted on skype) and saw little Thomas, although he was sleeping. Alex and I would be staying with Karen and her family. As Jean Pierre (or Piero as he is also referred to) is currently living there at the moment, it really was like one big happy family. That first night there was lots of chatting, hugs, and reconnecting. We also saw Daisy, who works in Karen’s house and her children Christina, now 8 and Diego, 4. Daisy started working with Karen in 1999, just months before I moved in to live with them. I have a soft spot for Daisy. We did not see Alex’s Dad until a couple of days later, as he often travels for work.

Three weeks seems like a long time, but sadly it went way, way too quickly! I met little Thomas the next day and was immediately besotted with him. He became the new love-of-my life in a nano second. Despite his tender age, we bonded immediately, and by the end of our stay he was giggling and laughing every time I went near or talked to him. What a gorgeous looking, nice natured little baby! You can clearly see that I am not at all biased.

There were so many things that we wanted to do, but time just did not allow it. Alex was, however, able to spend some real quality time with his family, which is what it was all about. I am very fortunate in as far as Alex’s family loves me as much as mine loves Alex here in Australia. I am never made to feel like I am holding the candle, but also understand the importance of Alex having time out with his siblings. It was great to see; as Alex is my great love, my happiness is also derived from his. He both laughed and cried with his siblings, and his profound love, especially for Piero and Karen, is touching. It’s moments like these, that I feel very humble and recognise the huge sacrifice that Alex had made to be here in Australia with me. He did it of his own free will, and loves me as well as Australia, but a huge chunk of his heart still lies in his birth country, where all of his loved ones live.

The weekend after we arrived, the aunties and uncles (on his mum’s side) organised a big get together, at his Tia (aunty) Marisela and Tio (uncle) Ruben (Chucha’s), house. They have a large property north of Quito. Here we caught up with everyone, as well as meeting Andrea, his cousin Santiago’s new wife. She was due any day now, and we already knew that the baby was a boy and would be called Samuel. What a day! The boys played table soccer, and a whole heap of us played ping-pong. There was also a spa and swimming pool (too cold to swim though). Lots of music, food and alcohol saw the festivities go on into the early hours of the next morning. Mind you, we had gotten there at midday!

A few days after we arrived, we also opened up two huge suitcases of gifts we’d brought here from Australia. What a pleasure to see their faces. It’s such a delight to be able to give and see the joy on people’s faces. Alex’s family is so big that we never send gifts across, but when we go, we certainly make up for it, with all the things we take across. OK, so I went a bit berserk with Thomas’ things……baby’s clothes are just so cute!

We had planned a family outing the day after the get together, but the best we could organise was a brunch,when everybody got up close to midday. Our weekends were spent with the family, going out for lunches, including Alex’s favourite ceviche (a citrus marinated seafood dish) and ice-cream, which in Ecuador seems to taste so much more natural, than back here. Indeed, their produce and food generally seems to taste fresher and definitely has less preservatives.

But, my how Quito had changed! The area around Amazonas St, or Gringolandia, which is basically where the foreigners hang out, caters to everyone and has everything. Ten years ago, I could barely find a cafe to save my life, and now it’s teeming with them…with foreigner prices to match. The number of bars, restaurants and up market souvenir shops has also increased multi-fold. Where had my “little Quito” disappeared to? The prices of the food in the supermarkets were astounding, and I struggled to grasp how one litre of milk could cost AUD $1.50, when fixing up a pair of shoes and a back pack were only $1.00. Sadly, this is still a country where manual labour is very poorly paid.

The old part of Quito has also really changed. The Plaza de San Francisco is one of Quito’s oldest and most beautiful sights, and is the place where our very dear friends Byron Ushina and Alexandra Aguirre have opened up, “Ari Gallery – Ancestral Jewellery and Art”. (www.ushinajewellery.com) From humble beginnings, with a table at the Otavalo indigenous market, where I met Byron 10 years ago, to an upmarket gallery in one of Quito’s most well known areas……..I was blown away! As we entered the huge plaza, my eyes searched eagerly for the gallery. It wasn’t long before I saw the sign, “Ari Gallery”. I was overcome with emotion, and tears started to well up in my eyes. I started to cry! As we entered the gallery we saw Alexa, who was expecting us, yet I could not talk. I was all choked up as I continued to cry. As I hugged her, the words finally came out, and I told her how proud and happy I was for her and Byron. I was overwhelmed by their perseverance and desire to obtain their goal, which they had worked at for so long. What a most brilliant example that achievements can often be obtained with sheer determination and passion. They never floundered, they knew that one day their dream would become their reality! And there we were, standing in the middle of that very much achieved dream. What an inspiration!

Byron met us at the gallery later in the day, whereby I repeated my behaviour. When I saw him walk in, I was once again, overcome with emotion, and I hugged him whilst I cried and told him how proud I was of him. After some chatting, we closed the gallery and all went to a place called, “Vista Hermosa“, a cafe/restaurant offering spectacular 360% views of Quito. Vista Hermosa means beautiful view……the views were indeed impressive, but the prices ridiculous. Alex coined the cafe, “Beautiful views, ridiculous prices!” So, we all just had a cup of coffee, took in the breathtaking views, and caught up on the last few years.

We also went to visit Byron and Alexa in Sangolqui, only 35 kilometres east of Quito, where they live. My, my how that has changed too! Although nestled in a beautiful valley, the traffic is horrendous. Indeed, Alex and I have noticed how many more cars there are compared to only three and a half years ago. Many of these cars are (expensive) four wheel drives, prompting us to ask, “How do they do it”? That’s another story, but without a doubt, many are spending way beyond their means. It was wonderful to see the children again, Mishell, Amy and Dylan. Such good natured and polite children, and an absolute pleasure to be around. We got them a little gift too, and needless to say, they were very happy and all thanked up profusely. At Byron’s we had fresh cheese, fresh bread and a great home-cooked meal, including the famous “aji de mani” (chili peanut salsa), which Alexa knows I love. The house had grown bigger since we last saw it too, as they had extended. We love coming out here, and the air is so fresh. Having said that, so fresh, that it often puts us to sleep. By midnight I was spent and had to go off to bed. It was an early rise the next morning, and after a quick shower we had another wonderful home-cooked breakfast, before hitching a ride back to Quito with Byron.

We seemed to have done so much, yet we still hadn’t seen many of our friends, nor gone dancing, nor gone to Mindo, which I had never been to and had been wanting to see for years. I want to do it all…some things never change! All of this in the next blog.

Ombi

Dedication:

(English): To our special friends, Byron Ushina and Alexandra Aguirre. We feel honoured to have you in our lives and to call you our friends. We are so proud of you. You relentlessly pursued your dream, which finally became your reality. We feel privileged to have been part of that journey. With humility, we thank you!

(Spanish): Para nuestros amigos especiales, Byron Ushina y Alexandra Aguirre. Nos sentimos honrados en tenerles en nuestras vidas, y llamarles nuestros amigos. Estamos muy orgullosos de ustedes. Persiguieron su sueno, lo cual llego a ser su realidad. Nos sentimos honrados para haber podido ser parte de este viaje. Humildemente, les agredecemos!

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters to what lies within us” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

(Photos: 1.- Quito Airport, smack bang in the middle of the city, surrounded by mountains. 2.- A woman with her children, Old Town, Quito. 3.- The new “love of my life, Thomas – or Thomasito as we affectionately refer to him. 4.- Alex and Thomas, in Karen’s house, Quito. 5.- The whole family having icecream at Heidi’s Ice-creamery. L to R: Jean Pierre, Axel, Christian, Karen, Rodrigo, Denisse and Alex. 6.- Ombi and Spider Man, aka Diego, Daisy’s son. 7.- L to R” Denisse, Karen and Ombi with Thomas in the middle. 8.- Denisse and Alex at our family reunion at Maricela and Ruben’s place, Quito. 9.- Axel, in his bedroom. 10.- Plaza San Francisco, Old Town, Quito. 11.- “Ari Jewellery Gallery; Byron and Alexa’s gallery, Old Town, Quito. 12.- Ombi and Byron at Vista Hermosa Cafe in the Old Town, with resplendent views of the Old Town. 13.- Back in Sangolqui with Byron’s family. L to R: Alex, Mishell, Alexa, Byron, Dylan, Ombi and Amy. 14.- Ombi and Thomas with his new “Melbourne designed” kangaroo. 15.- Alexa, Ombi and Byron at their house, Sangolqui. 16.- Alex having a bad hair day! Family get together, Maricela and Ruben’s house, Quito).

The Apple’s getting bigger!

The time had come; for once in our lives we weren’t rushing around like chooks with our heads cut off, and we were able to get to bed at a reasonable time on the eve before we set of…..well, before the usual 3am, anyway! The days before were certainly a mad scramble (yes, that was the same as usual!) as we finished packing, buying odds and ends as well as buying presents for our family overseas. Time has never been my best friend, and this “enemy” always seems to rear its ugly head just as we get ready to go overseas. Yet, with this whole time love-hate relationship going on, we still managed to pull it all together, and early on the morning of Saturday May 16th, we were off! Ride to the airport, compliments of “Dino’s Taxi Service” (my Dad) – nope, some things never change! Saying goodbye to Dad was easy, as such trips for us are a common occurrence!

We had purchased the Melbourne – New York sector of our flights using our Qantas frequent flyer points, and the routing was: Melbourne – Sydney – LA – New York. We worked out that that was about 20 hours of “bums on seats” time, and didn’t include the stop overs! One way! The flight over was predominantly fine. The plane food, whilst no gourmet delight, was edible and the movies excellent (you MUST see the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). Add to that that I am a good sleeper on planes, and the time seemed to go rather quickly. Having said that, by the time we hit JFK Airport in New York, we were knackered, so to speak.

Alex’s mum, Rocio, and little sister Angie (who isn’t so little anymore!) were waiting for us with open arms. They were so glad to see us, and there were hugs all around! Whilst Alex had seen them both in January this year (you may recall that Alex was in the USA), the last time I had seen them both was in August of 2006, when Alex and I began our 16 month around the world trip. It was great to all be back together again. On the ride back home there was lots of laughter, chatting and story swapping. I was so happy to see Alex reunited with his family again, as I know how much it means to him.

We were blessed with a gorgeous springtime climate, with daily temperatures of between 19 and 23 degrees celcius, and virtually no rain, which was great ( I know, I wouldn’t be saying this in Australia!) Jeans and t-shirt weather. We would be spending a fraction under two weeks here, and as always, time was not enough. Not that I ever feel that it is. There is always so much to do, and catch up on. Our first night was spent relaxing, eating Alex’s mum’s home-cooked Ecuadorian food, and catching up on…….everything! Needless to say, we went to bed in the early hours of the morning, despite the fact that Alex’s mum had to get up at 4.00am the next morning to go work!

We spent the first few days hanging around the apartment, relaxing and not doing much at all. Alex had worked up until the night before we left, and I had caught some chesty bug on the plane which had me coughing and wheezing (and…..shock horror…..I virtually lost my voice!) No, luckily no Pig Flu! After a few days, we figured it was time to step out into the concrete jungle. New York, New York! Where does one start? In the centre of course! And the centre would be? Times Square! Wow! Good wow or bad wow, that is the question! Full-on, information overload, crowded with people, flashing digital (I almost wrote neon!) advertisements of every colour and description, frantic energy……just some of the words, I would use to describe this hub of activity. I found it to be a veritable “Consumerism on Steroids”! The who’s who of any brand that was worth anything in the 21st century were all screaming, Look at me, Look at me!” Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Panasonic, Swatch, Sony, only to name a few. Right amongst all of this the famous Naked Cowboy was struttin’ his stuff. Who’s is the Naked Cowboy, you ask? Some long blonde haired American dude, who wears only his white jocks, cowboy boots, hat and strums a guitar. Go figure! (For you Harry, OIFA!!!!!!!!!) But let me tell you, the gals, local and foreign alike, were loving him!

Alex and I sat down close by and people watched as we ate our home-made lunch. Amazing! It really is a jungle out there, and the variety of animals phenomenal! (We even saw a “Naked Cow-girl!). There is a hype and a buzz that is quite indescribable. Having said that, Alex and I felt that we had to get out! The messages, both subliminal and overt, in relation to what we should buy or be seen with were overwhelming. We walked away, as the chaos continued behind us. The Big Apple is bigger than ever. Take the word bigger in whatever way you wish! It’s no big secret that New York is not my favourite place on earth (nor Alex’s), but as a friend said to me, “Maybe you’ve just got so much to compare it to!” True!

New York shopping? What can I say…unless you want brand and label stuff (and Alex and I both categorically refuse to wear labelled clothing on ethical grounds), I don’t feel that it really has any more to offer than the likes of Melbourne, especially if you live next door to Ms Shopper of the Century, aka Lizzie Leveridge. Lizzie can show you a better bargain than anything you can find in New York! True! Seriously, it’s just that Alex and I don’t get off on browsing a street lined with Tiffany’s, Versace or Gucci and friends, let alone buying their overpriced products, which needless to say are made in China! A little aside here: In Australia, I bought a little stuffed multi-coloured kangaroo for my new little nephew, Thomas, in Ecuador. I had to laugh when I saw where it was made. It read, “Designed in Melbourne, Australia. Hand-crafted in China”. Translation, “Made in China”!!!! Let’s call a spade a spade! Whose scab labour are we paying for?!

OK back to New York. As an observer, I was also taken aback by the amount of truly obese people, and more to the point, really obese children. Having said that, I have always said that I find American food to be rather unhealthy. Either too much fat, too much sugar, or both! I was bringing snacks from home when we would go out for the day, as the street food just wasn’t calling out to me. It looked and smelt like heart-attack material.

A highlight of my time in New York, was catching up with some very dear friends of mine. First with Kobie, Liz and Daniel, and then Joanne, Mike, Alex and Irene.

Kobie is a very, very special friend of mine who I have known for practically half of my life. She is Australian, but has lived in the States (Massachusetts) for years, with her partner, Liz. The last time I saw them both was in August 2006, only months after their little baby Daniel, was born, when I stayed with them in their house. This time, they all came to New York, where the three of us stayed in a hotel, close to the city centre, with Daniel. It was wonderful just hanging out and reconnecting after such a long time. During the day, we would go out and do fun things like walk around Central Park, or other parts of the city, and at night, after Liz and Daniel would go to sleep, Kobie and I would stay up and talk into the early hours of the morning. We only had a couple of days together, but they were so special: full of laughter, tears and re-connecting. Alex did not stay with us, but on the Sunday, he and Angie met us at Central Park, so Kobie, Liz and Daniel were able to briefly catch up with him too.

Catching up with Joanne and her family was also a highlight. We spent a day with her, husband Mike, and son Alex out in Brentwood, Long Island. I met Joanne some 18 years ago, after I had worked on a summer camp in Indiana, in the USA. I remember it clearly; it was in Colorado Springs. We struck up a friendship immediately, and the rest is the proverbial history! After meeting her that first time, I even went back and stayed with her. Hey, she offered, and I accepted. For those of you that know me well, you would also know that if I say, “I will come and see you”, that I truly will. I am a woman of my word! Since then I have only seen Joanne a couple of times, but our bond defies both time and distance. I without a doubt, consider Joanne to be one of my most valued friends.

Back at Joanne’s house…….we spent a brilliant day, catching up whilst ploughing through the “smorgasbord” that Mike had prepared for us. Despite the fact that Mike is an exceptionally warm, intelligent and kind-hearted individual, he is also a brilliant cook. Go on Mike, show America how it’s done! Without a doubt, some of the best food I had on this trip in the USA. We started with bruschetta, prawns, corn chips, potato chips and Mike’s own home made tzatziki, and later followed up with a range of barbecued meat, sausages and veggies. Yum, yum, yum!!!! Of course, it wasn’t all about the food! Another surprise that day, was a visit by Irene. Irene is a friend of Joanne’s whom I met 18 years ago, but had not seen since. I thought that Irene looked just the same….Irene commented, however, that I no longer “looked like a kid”…after all, I was in my early 20s when I met her! It was only a day, but proof that life really is about quality and not quantity! Neither time nor distance can ever take away what we hold dear to our hearts!

Apart from those few getaways, our time was spent with Alex’s mum and Angie, and some of her friends, like Isabel, Adolfo, Betty and Samantha. Many a night were spent with Rocio (Alex’s mum), Alex and I chatting and swapping stories. There is always so much to chat about, but never enough time. Unfortunately, Rocio was unable to take time off work, so we had to do the best with the time we had. In addition, getting up at 4.00am is no mean feat! (That’s the time that Alex’s mum usually gets up for work). We really hope that she will be able to come out and visit us some time soon. We skyped the family in Ecuador several times, so we were also getting excited that we would soon be seeing all of them too!

And so, our time had promptly come to an end. Having said that, 12 days are barely enough! Part 2 of our trip would be almost three weeks in Ecuador. As we had organised our Melbourne-New York return trip using our frequent flyer points, we had to purchase the New York-Quito return trip in addition. Thus, after flying to Quito, we would have to come back for a night (where we would stay with Angie and Rocio again), before flying back out to Melbourne. Mind you, whilst we flew into JFK Airport (in NY) from Melbourne, we flew out of La Guardia Airport (also in NY) to Quito. Again, we then flew back to La Guardia Airport from Quito, to then have to fly out of JFK to finally get back to Melbourne! Confused? Join the club! You can add jet lag to that confusion too, but more on that later!

Soon we we were off. My favourite continent, South America, awaited!

It wasn’t really that hard to say goodbye, as we knew that we would be coming back, if only for a night!

Ombi

PS Scroll down to the bottom of this blog to see a video of some guys dancing in a train, as we were travelling from Quens to Manhattan!

Dedication: This is for Kobie and Joanne. Thanks for being such wonderful people, and such special friends. Both of you have touched my life in an indescribable way, and I am a better person for knowing you. Both of you hold a very special place in my heart. Joanne, you know that I will come out and see you again. Kobie, I cannot wait to see you, Lizzie and Daniel in Australia this October!

A few words from some of my friends:

“Hi Ombretta
It was great seeing you as well. I’m always so happy to see the ease at which we just pick up like we just saw each other. Kindred spirits indeed…………Thanks as always for staying in touch. You and Alex are such special people and I’m glad to have you in my life.
Much love Joanne” (Joanne writing after our visit)



“NY is the cross roads of our materialistic world. Maybe you don’t feel challenged when you are there. Make the most of it, goto a quirky comedy club or try to get tickets to David Letterman. I know it isn’t the same as the beautiful people that we met and stayed with in Panama! …….. I am still in Hawaii. Have fun!!” – (You know us all too well Paco! Alex and I met Robert “Paco” Steinke in Panama in 2007, where we continued to travel together for several months. Paco is from Alaska……we love you Paco!)

“Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless” – Sinclair Lewis (1885 – 1951)

(Photos: 1.-New York taxi. So, who looks relaxed? 2.-View of New York, taken on train, coming from Queens. 3.-Alex, Angie and his mum, Rocio, taken outside their apartment, in Queens. 4.-Times Square, New York. 5.-The Naked Cowboy, Times Square, New York. 6.-His rival….the almost Naked Cowgirl, Times Square. 7.- So, who IS the trophy? Please explain! 8.- L to R: Kobie, Liz and Daniel, New York. 9.- L to R: Daniel, Alex, Angie and her dog, Juicy, in Central Park, New York. 10.- Ombi and Joanne relaxing in her backyard, Brentwood, Long Island, New York. 11 – Mike, the Master Chef! 12.- Alex and his mum. 13.- Trains running less frequently during peak times in Manhattan….and that would be……Derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 14.- Kobie, Ombi and Daniel being silly! 15.- This kiss is for you Paco…gotta luv those shoes! Quirky enough?!) 16.- Below is a video of some guys dancing on a train we caught between Queens and Manhattan.)


What goes around comes around – a visit from Japan

I cannot begin to describe the joy I felt when our very dear friends Yuji (aka Nashville) and Yuko Mizushima told us last year that they would come and visit us in Australia. I mean one has to make the effort to actually come here! Australia is a big and isolated continent, and unlike many other places on earth, you don’t just happen to pass by or through. Yuko and Yuji were actually flying over especially to see Alex and I and we were thrilled.

Our discussions began via the internet and on the phone, but by late February this year, it was all becoming very concrete, as Yuji and Yuko began to plan their trip. By early April, we had fixed dates, so that Alex and I could help them organise their time here. Firstly, let me explain who Nashville (Yuji) San and Yuko San are and why they hold a very special place in my heart, and now in Alex’s too. I met Nashville San (San is Mr or Mrs in Japanese) and Yuko San more than 10 years ago when I was working in an English school called Nova, in Tsuchiura, some 60 kilometres north of Tokyo. It was in this school that I met my (still to this day) very dear friend Sayuri. And it is through Sayuri that I met her wonderful parents. Also in those first few months (Nov 1998 to March 1999) I met Tony Roberts, who ended up teaching English with me…and subsequently became Sayuri’s husband (another long story). I won’t leave you in suspense: In brief Tony and Sayuri got married in Hawaii in June 2002 only months after Alex and I got married in New York….and we actually attended their wedding on the way back to Australia! They now have Kai, who is 5 and Alyssa who is 2! Now, who says I can’t be brief?

OK, so early in 1999, Sayuri invited a select group of English teachers from Nova to her house (an invitation via her parents), in what ended up being one of the most memorable moments in my life! Yuko and Yuji were the ultimate hosts; Yuko spoke very good English (she is an English teacher) and Yuji certainly got by in mixed English/ Japanese and hand movements. We were firstly placed before a feast fit for a king, with the most amazing Japanese food ever. But it’s what came next that would forever remain in our hearts and memories……out comes Yuji with cowboy boots, matching belt, western shirt, stetson hat and guitar, and……wait for it….he starts serenading us with country and western music….in English! You gotta love that! Yuji then proceeded to take us upstairs and show us all of his country and western memorabilia….several more hats, belts, boots, western shirts and guitars. He clearly loved all things western and had been to the southern states in the USA several times. Back downstairs, the singing, dancing and drinking (Asahi beer, sake and umeshu) went on until the wee hours of the morning. This revelry had me dub Yuji, Nashville San! The name stuck and even his own daughter and son-in-law call him this to this day. Nashville San…….yeh, it stuck allright!

The week before Yuko San and Nashville San arrived, Alex and I helped organise their accommodation in Melbourne and Sydney as well as their internal flights between Sydney and Melbourne (they were flying in and out of Sydney with Japanese Airlines). As we chatted we could tell that they were getting really excited, as were we. They were effectively coming to Australia to see Alex and I. You may recall that Alex and I also spent 5 magnificent days with them in Japan in August 2007 when we were travelling around the world. They flew into Sydney on the 20th April and a day later they flew into Melbourne, where Dad and I went to greet them. I was ready with some balloons and a poster which read, “Welcome to Australia Yuko San and Nashville San”. Hugs all around…they were finally here. They were so happy to meet my Dad, as I had spoken so much about him. We went back to my house, and Alex literally arrived as we stepped in the door. More hugs all around. That night we took it easy and had a nice easy Italian meal (ravioli, garlic bread and salad) whilst we sat around chatting. They also brought us some lovely gifts from Japan, but for us, the biggest gift was their presence with us here in Australia! Later we drove them to their hotel in the city centre.

The next few days were full on. That is really the only way I can describe them. They had less than a week in Melbourne, and I would be taking a couple of days off, in order to be able to show them around. Dad and I took them to Healesville Sanctuary, which they loved. Luckily the weather was beautiful. We packed a picnic lunch, and stopped at a park in Healesville before continuing on to the sanctuary (which is basically a zoo of native Australian animals). Needless to say, the highlights were the kangaroos and koalas, which most tourists love as they are so unique as they are native to Australia. That night we had a traditional Aussie BBQ at our place, with my brother Fulvio, his wife Karen and my nephew James. I had also organised a surprise: Nashville San had brought his book of songs along, but had mentioned that we would only be able to sing together as he had no guitar. Nothing a phone call couldn’t fix! I invited my friend Linda over and asked her to bring a guitar. Well, you should have seen the look on his face, when Linda walked in, and I introduced her……and the guitar! He was rapt! In no time at all, we were all singing along to the country and western songs he was belting out. And…..he sang one song in Japanese and another in Spanish, for good measure. Impressive! A great night was had by all.

The next day, Dad took them to Sovereign Hill , a recreated 1850’s Goldfields Township, in Ballarat (just over an hour west of Melbourne). They had a great time walking around, shopping and even taking a ride in a traditional horse and carriage. That night Alex and I took them to Thaila Thai in Brunswick, our favourite Thai restaurant.

The next couple of days were taken up cruising along the Great Ocean Road, via Geelong. We decided that we would go as far as we could on the Friday, and sleep wherever we ended up. Again, lots of fun was had by all. We stopped in Geelong, and then in Torquay, where we had a traditional “fish and chips” lunch, which we ate on the foreshore. Yuko San and Nashville San were truly enjoying themselves. We then passed through Anglesea, Lorne, and ended up in Apollo Bay. The coast line in this area is truly spectacular. I love the way in which your breath is taken away as you come around a bend and see yet another view more spectacular than the last.

The Great Ocean Road is, without a doubt, one of Australia’s treasures, as well as one of the world’s most scenic roads. That night we ended up at the Dolphin Apartments, where all of us shared an apartment on the third floor. It was a funky set up with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and toilets, yet a shared living area and balcony, with sweeping views of the sea. Yuko and Yuji loved it! After the boys shared a whiskey, we made our way to The Vista Seafood Restaurant, which had been recommended to us, as Yuji loves seafood. I had a lovely vegetarian gnocchi option. It was a relaxing night enjoyed by all.

The weather seemed to get increasingly colder, and the next day it was quite windy. After a not too early get up, I went to the bakery, bought some pastries and came back and organised breakfast….on the balcony, overlooking the sea, of course! After we got ourselves organised, we made our way to the town centre, where our friends took a stroll through the shops before we continued on. We stopped at the Maits Rest Rainforest Reserve and took a stroll through some beautiful natural scenery; Giant myrtle beeches tower in this untouched rainforest, creating a protective canopy above a delicate understorey of tree ferns, lichens and moss. Continuing on, it was the Cape Otway Lighthouse, which is the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia. We all walked through the grounds and were treated to further breathtaking views. The piece de resistance was the view from the top of the lighthouse. I think our friends were blown away…both physically and metaphorically speaking. Nearing Port Campbell, we visited the infamous Twelve Apostles, another Aussie icon. The remnants from constant erosion of the limestone cliffs of the mainland that began 10–20 million years ago, these structures never fail to impress.

No sooner had we arrived back at our car, after seeing the Twelve Apostles, than it started to rain. Perfect timing! A quick (late) lunch stop in Port Campbell for lunch, and then we made our way back home, via Colac. I think everyone was exhausted upon our arrival back in Melbourne. We helped Yuko and Nashville get all of their luggage to St Georges Motor Inn, only a block from our house, and whilst they were freshening up and getting unpacked, I whipped up a quick risotto and baked a cake. Dinner was enjoyed by all, but we made it an early night, as all and sundry had had a long last couple of days.

On Sunday morning I organised a buffet breakfast at our place. Yuko and Nashville wanted to spend today doing their own thing; catching a tram to the city, shopping, walking around and whatever else took their fancy. Before catching the tram though, we called Sayuri. It was fantastic – there we were all talking to each other. Much of what Yuko and Yuji said was in Japanese, but I could clearly “understand” how happy they were, and furthermore to be able to share this with their daughter. I felt quite emotional actually. And it suddenly hit me…….I was finally able to repay not only some of the kindness that Yuko and Nashville had shown me, but the kindness that so very many people had shown me on so many trips. This was my way of saying thank you, inadvertently, to so many people. What goes around indeed comes around, and I am a true believer that one has to give in order to receive. I have been given so very much over so many years and by so many people. Now, it was my time to give, and it was my absolute honour to be able to do so.

We briefly saw Nashville and Yuko at the Victoria Market, but left them to their own devices. They did quite a lot that day including going to the top of the Rialto for a bird’s eye view of Melbourne, and of course ….shopping! Later that night we all went to La Porchetta in Carlton, for some traditional Italian fare, aka pizza. Another enjoyable night, yet I felt a little sad as our time all together was coming to an end. It had been and gone so quickly – they would be leaving tomorrow.

Their last morning with us was spent rather tranquilly. Although Alex had said his goodbyes the night before, they crossed paths houses away from our home as Alex was leaving for work and they were coming for breakfast. We sat and did one last round of chatting over breakfast, after which we went and sent off a small parcel to Japan…..and Yuko San fitted in a tiny bit more shopping, buying herself a top at K-Mart. I have given Yuko a new name…….Shopping San! What do you think Tony and Sayuri? Nashville San and Shopping San!

Finally, time to go to Tullamarine Airport, and share one last coffee together. So, it had all really come to an end! I love hellos, but I am not so fond of goodbyes. Dad and I walked them to the gates (although they were only going to Sydney, they were going on an international flight which was bound for Honolulu), and we hugged lots, took several more photos, and waved goodbye. What amazing people! What amazing friends! Just as Nashville was about to walk through the door, he stopped, opened up a bag which had several hats in it, and passed me the hat he wore upon arrival to Melbourne, and asked me to give it to Dad. We eyes welled up with tears, as did Dad’s when I passed it over to him. I gave him a big kiss, and waved them both goodbye one last time. Actions truly speak louder than words! And off they flew to Sydney.

Yuko and Nashville will spend another couple of days in Sydney, before flying back to Japan. I have been calling them each night to see how they are enjoying themselves and they are loving Sydney. They fly back to Japan tomorrow.

Ombi

Dedication: To all the amazing people over the years who have taken me (and Alex) in as we have travelled and given us a place to stay and a meal to eat. Thank you, thank you and thank you again! Finally, I have been able to give to others what others have given to me. No matter what angle you look at this from, what goes around comes around! And thank you Yuko and Nashville San for being our very, very, very special friends. In all of my travels you are two of the most wonderful and special people I have ever met! You are part of our family!

NOTE: This is part of what Yuko sent me in an e-mail upon her return to Japan: “Ombi, Alex and Dino san, you are kind to us and I thank your hospitality. We talked and talked, laughed and laughed, ate and ate together. They are all my good memories in my life.”……..this is what makes travel so special for me!!!

NOTE 2: You may recall our last Samoa blog, where I mentioned Jacques (spelt with a c!!). I promised that I would set the record straight in my next blog if I stuffed up his cultural background. So…to set the record straight, and straight from the horse’s mouth: “By the way I was born in South Africa to South African parents, Great Grandfather was French, Great Grandmother was Dutch.”

“You make the world a better place by making yourself a better person.” – Scott Sorrell

NEXT: On the 16th May, we leave for a 5 week trip to the Americas; two weeks in New York, and three weeks in Ecuador. Only one day to go!

(Photos: 1.- Welcome to Australia Yuko San and Nashville San, Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne. 2.-Back at Dino (my Dad’s) place in Thornbury, Melbourne. 3.-Nashville San doing his thing, Dino’s house. 4.- An Italian meal at Dino’s house…with the cook (Dino) in the background. 5.-Yuko San and Nashville San at Healesville Sanctuary, Healesville. 6.- Ombi and Nashville San singing away, at Dino’s house. 7.- Nashville San checking out the merchandise at Sovereing Hill, Ballarat. 8.- All of us, somewhere along the Great Ocean Road. 9.- Maits Rainforest Reserve, along the Great Ocean Road. Lto R: Nashville San, Ombi and Yuko San. 10.- Yuko and Yuji at the Cape Otway Lighthouse. 11.- Dada…………here we are infront of the famous Twelve Apostles. 12.- Talking to Sayuri (Yuko and Yuji’s daughter) via skype from Dino’s place. 13.- L to R: Yuko, Ombi, Alex and Dino at La Porchetta pizza and pasta restaurant in Carlton, Melbourne. 14.- Yuko and Yuji catch a tram a tram to the city from close to our house in Thornbury, Melbourne. 15.- Saying goodbye at Tullamarine Airport. 16.- Yuji’s new hairstyle (aka Alex’s hair)!! 17.- BBQ at Dino’s house. Lto R: Alex, Fulvio (my brother), Karen (sister-in-law), James (nephew), Yuji, Yuko and Dino.)

Latin Camping Down Under

This Easter was spent on Freddy and Ada’s property, near the township of Glenrowan. So, who are Freddy and Ada, and where is Glenrowan? Freddy, who is originally from Bolivia, along with his Peruvian wife, Ada, were the hosts of “Latin American Camping”, which has now been running for 29 years. They have a little girl called Chaska, and Ada is close to giving birth to her second child. Glenrowan is approximately 220 kilometres north east of Melbourne, and is most famously, or infamously, known as the site of the final siege and capture of bush ranger Ned Kelly and his gang in 1880 (I’m actually quite proud to be able to bring you a bit of Aussie history after so much international one).

Many members of the Latin community have been attending this function for years, as it’s a great way for the community and their friends to mix, chat, dance and generally have some good old Latin American fun! Alex and I had never been before. We had been invited by our dear friend Linda, who I believe is the voice of Latin America in Melbourne, and I have thus dubbed her Ms Latin America Melbourne. If you want any information on any Latin American event in Melbourne, Linda will either tell you first, or she will certainly find out about it. Needless to say, being first timers, Alex and I were really looking forward to it. Linda, who has been going for some 20 years, organised a group of us and we were all to set up camp in a designated area on Freddy’s property. I was really looking forward to it. I’m a bit like that with anything new. It’s the thrill of trying something different and experiencing something new!

Over the last 10 months or so, I have made some amazing new friends, either Latinos or people who have some kind of Latino connection. It all began at Ivan’s birthday party mid last year really. Ivan is Peruvian, and it was there that I met Linda, and through Linda, Karen and her Ecuadorian husband Jesus (who are now in Ecuador; take a look at their blog, http://www.llamasbailando.blogspot.com/). It was also through Linda that I met Kirrily. Linda is a match-maker, but not of the romantic kind. She seems to have this amazing ability to be able to connect the right people at the right time. Coincidence or synchronicity? I have no doubt that meeting Linda was no mere coincidence and it has opened up another wonderful chapter in my life!

Kirrily and Linda would be driving up in her car, and Alex and I in mine. It had been a crazy week at work, and I had been too exhausted to pack the night before, so (as usual, my Dad would say) I packed at the last minute, getting up early on Good Friday to do so. Linda and Kirrily arrived at around 10.00am, as we were still madly packing, organising and stuffing. After a quick breakfast and some espresso thrown into a thermal flask, we were off…to the tune of my Dad shaking his head and saying, “You should have left earlier!”. He was probably right, but yeh, whatever. The drive up was pleasant enough, even if we were stuck in traffic for the best part of the first hour. We wanted to get out of Melbourne, but guess what….so did half of Melbourne! We made a few stops, had some snacks, drank some (bad!) but free coffee at one of those roadside stops which plead you to take a break and stay alive. OK, OK, it wasn’t meant to be gourmet coffee, and the intention of using caffeine to keep you awake wasn’t a bad one! Time seemed to roll pleasantly by, and in no time at all we were in Glenrowan, being greeted by the big looming statue of Ned Kelly, who is almost (I said almost!) as popular as he is! We gave him a wave and kept going, as Freddy’s property was actually another fifteen minutes or so out of the township.

The rollicking hills behind the township were beautiful, in true Australian country form. I wound down the windows and drew back some of that fresh and unpolluted air. In many ways, we are still the lucky country! We probably rocked up at around 3.00pm, by which time many other campers had already set up, or were in the process of doing so. It was great to see everyone banding together and helping each other out. No cabins here! This was strictly a camping-style set up……big tents, small tents, caravans, marquees…….if the Hilton was your requirement, this certainly was not the place for you! We met Freddy almost immediately, as he was driving around a tractor giving several of the young kids a ride. This all looked like it was going to be fun. I wound down my window and introduced myself…..as you do!

We arrived at our “spot” to find Yoni there first. He was already “set up” as he sleeps in his van. Yoni hails from Peru, and is an amazing jeweller, creating all of his own pieces. They are all made with passion, and are centred around the Pre-Colombian and Inca culture (which as most of you would now by now, holds a very special place in my heart). Each piece is individual, and in fact that is exactly what the name of his business Juklla means. Take a look at his fabulous web site, http://juklla.com/.

In no time at all, we had set up our camp site. No sooner had we finished than the others started rolling in. Our international campsite consisted (apart from Alex, Linda, Kirrily, Yoni and I) of Rosa (from Spain) and baby Indira; Raquel (Bolivia), her husband Bodhi (English but of Sri Lankan extraction) and their children Dylan and Naomi; Matt and Mae (Malaysia) and gorgeous baby Freya. Camped up just behind us were the Elsburys with their beautiful adopted daughter Olivia, who was born in Bolivia…….Olivia from Bolivia! It was a veritable United Nations! Parked not too far from us were Carlos and Nury (Peru) and their beautiful girls, Belinda and Rebecca. Naldo too, who is Carlos’ uncle, but looks more like his brother. Staying with them was Tomoko from Japan. Another fun bunch of people…actually Carlos, you are a pisser! You had me in fits of laughter for a lot of the weekend. C’mon, bring the party on!

Freddy and Ada had a great set up, including an undercover area where people could sit and eat, a stage and an area to dance. They had also organised several bands to play over the long weekend, including Inka Marka (which Linda manages), Los Inkas (from Sydney) and possibly Bolivia’s most famous singer, Luis Rico. Here in Australia on tour Luis Rico made the effort to come out all the way to Glenrowan. His music was forged during the tumultuous periods of the 60s and 70s under various military coup d’etats and dictatorships in Bolivia. He was definitely a crowd pleaser! Throw in some salsa and some traditional Bolivian dancers (Bolivia Mia, based in Sydney) and folk music, and they had people moving to various grooves over the duration of the entire long weekend.

On the first night, I boogied my butt off…well, salsa-ed my butt off! When I wasn’t dancing with Alex it was with Naldo (originally from Peru, and another friend via Linda). We seriously danced for hours. I also attempted to follow Andy Jaregui (originally from Bolivia) and now residing in Canberra, of Los Chavos, dance to some traditional Bolivian music. He is a truly amazing dancer! It was loads of fun but much harder than I thought. I did however manage to keep up with him. I never cease to amaze myself sometimes, as I look back and say, “Did I REALLY dance for that long?”…the answer is usually yes!

I want to add that all of the above mentioned groups, individuals and dancers are accomplished both Australia – wide as well as internationally. Please take the time to take a look at their web sites or links.

On the Saturday morning a small group of us went to Beechworth, for the Easter Golden Horseshoes Fesival. It was nice to get out and stroll around. There were lots of crafty type stalls and the usual food, food and more food. It was a nice excursion. Later that night, there was more dancing back at the ranch, so to speak. Now, did I mention that Matt is a chef? Well, he is, and boy can he cook! He was whipping up some pretty spectacular plates with……whatever was available, really. Sunday was a lazy and laid back day, where all Matt seemed to do was cook….and all we seemed to do was eat. Not sure how exciting this all was for you Matt, but we were all stoked! Whilst some people started to leave on the Sunday, others such as ourselves, stayed around until Monday. You know what they say…when you are on to a good thing, stick to it!

Dancing, eating, campfires, chatting, making new friends…it was all so much fun! But you know what else they say……all good things must come to an end. The time had come…to pack up and say our goodbyes! Last but not least, we went to say goodbye to Freddy, Ada and Chaska, and thanked them for a brilliant 4 days. We will definitely be back! It was mid-afternoon by the time we took off, and before we knew it, we were home.

Next week we would be having our wonderful friends Yuji and Yuko visiting us from Japan, and in May we are off to New York and Ecuador to see Alex’s family. I repeat, life really is good….we have nothing to complain about!

Ombi

Dedication: To my “new” friend Linda. Although I have not known you for quite a year Linda, you have been the catalyst for me meeting so many more amazing people. You are a wonderful, bright, intelligent and fun loving person, and I feel proud and honoured to have you in my
life…..as does Alex! Thanks for being you…it’s the very reason I love you! Don’t change for anyone, except for yourself! I see us being “partners in crime” for a very long time to come!

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.” – King Whitney Jr.

Note: Jesus (Ecuador) and Karen usually come camping, but this year they did not, as they are currently in travelling in South America. I thought I would pay them homage by putting up a photo of them the night before they flew to Ecuador in February (I miss you heaps guys!!!).

(Photos: 1.- Ombi and Chaska at Latin Camping. 2.-Linda! 3.-L to R: Ombi, Kirrily and Linda at the camp site. 4.- The beautiful countryside around Glenrowan. 5.- The camp site by night. 6.- Yoni and Cesar at the camp site. 7.-The flags of the Latino United Nations. 8.- Ombi and Carlos having a boogie. 9.-Olivia Newton John and John Travolta move over….make way for Carlos and Ombi! 10.- The girls and the iron chef. L to R: Kirrily, Ombi, Linda and Matt. 11.- Matt making donuts….delish!!! 12.- Saying goodbye. The gang from L to R: Ombi, Carlos, Nury, Raquel, Alex, Linda, Mae, Matt, Tomoko and ? 13.- More goodbyes. L to R: Ada, Freddy, Alex, Linda, Leilina and Raquel. 14.- Karen and Jesus’ last night in Australia. L to R: Ombi, Jesus, Karen and Linda)

Alex does America.

Everything happens for a reason, or so they say! One good thing to come out of the stuffing up of the dates on our Samoa trip was that we would come back one day earlier, actually giving Alex some time to organise himself to fly out to the States (originally, we would be arriving back in Melbourne on the Saturday and he would be flying to the States the next day; the “updated” version saw us arriving on the Friday, which at least gave him a day to pack). In hindsight (which is truly a marvellous thing, most would agree), he would have been pushing to get himself ready and packed, based on the original schedule. Part of the getting ready phase was as much psychological as anything else, as Alex mentally prepared himself for the transition from laying on a beach in Samoa to the snow and minus temperatures he’d read about in New York!

What was Alex going to the States for, and why wasn’t Ombi going? Well, no we’re not velcroed together, but for all reasons pertaining to travel, I wouldn’t mind to be. On a serious note, he was off to San Francisco to attend the “Apple MacWorld Conference & Expo”, on a scholarship he’d won through Melbourne University, where he works in IT. In plain, un-techy language, it means that he went to a conference that delved into all things to do with Apple Macs (to all of you other techno dyslexics…..they are a type of computer, not a new species of apples!) After his week in San Francisco, he also flew to New York to see his mum and little sister, Angie. I was saving my holidays for a New York/ Ecuador trip we had already booked for 5 weeks in May and June of this year.

As I was not there with him, this entry will be short and sweet (a rare occurence!), and I will touch upon some of his highlights. Whilst in San Fransisco, Alex stayed at the Hotel Des Arts, which our friend Richard originally found. Now, you may recall me having mentioned Richard and Jo before. They are two of our dearest friends, and “co-partners in crime” in as far as they love to travel and explore the world on par with Alex and I. We usually play travel tag team, whereby either one of the couples is overseas somewhere. Whilst Alex and I were on our 16 month sojourn, they somewhat grinned and beared it. Now, it was their turn, as they took off in early January to do Central America for 6-8 months. Why would I be jealous? I’d already done it, right? Wrong! Anyway, they would be flying to Central America via LA and San Francisco, and would be in San Fran around the same time as Alex, so…….they would be able to catch up…..and they did….and stayed in the same hotel! Now, you simply MUST take a look at their blog, http://www.thedemeesters.blogspot.com%27/ The photos are amazing!

So, it goes something like this: Ombi (the single girl!) meets Jo and Richard in 1999 on a windswept plain in Patagonia, Argentina. They become friends. Ombi keeps travelling, gets to Ecuador and falls in love with Alex. Upon Ombi and Alex returning to Australia (2000) they catch up with Richard and Jo, and a strong bond and friendship is cemented. Fast forward………in 2007, as part of their trip around the world, Alex and Ombi meet Ricardo, a Mexican-American, in Guatemala, and another new friendship is born. In January 2009, Alex, Richard, Jo and Ricardo (who lives in San Francisco) all catch up and have dinner together! Now maybe I am getting a little excited…..but you can’t tell me that travel doesn’t rock! You have to love a story like this!

After almost a week, Alex flew to New York, where he spent some quality time with his mum and sister Angie. It wasn’t a week of outings or excursions, but just a time for Alex to reconnect with his mum, and spend some quality time with her. I was so glad that he was able to do this, and I know that he was too. He has a very special bond with his mother, especially considering that they have lived so many years apart. Alex tells me that they chilled out, went shopping together, and just relaxed in each other’s presence. Alex’s happiness will always be my happiness, and knowing how much this meant to him meant even more to me. Saying goodbye to her this time, I believe, wasn’t so hard, as we are both going back there in May of this year. I know, you can’t take that travelling “thing” out of us now. It’s too far gone!

As you can see, this is my very brief take on Alex’s two weeks away. Most of what he felt remains in his heart, and without a doubt, what my words (for once!) cannot convey, his photos will!

Dedicacion: Este blog lo dedico a mi suegra y gran amiga, Rocio. Me siento orgullosa de tenerte en mi vida. Eres una persona muy especial, valiente y buena. Espero que todo lo que das te regresa. Gracias para haberme “prestado” tu hijo Alex, que es la gran amor de mi vida. Acuerdate que siempre vas a tener mi apoyo y mi amor. De tu Gringa Loca que te ama montones, y de parte de tu hijo Alex que te adora.

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed”. – (Carl Jung, 1875 – 1961)……… to all the friends, both near and far who have transformed my life……..I love you all, Ombi.

Next: Latino Camping Downunder.

(Photos:1.- Alex and Angie at the Jackson Heights train station in Queens, NY. 2.-Minus 14 degrees celsius in NY. 3.-Alex at the Apple MacWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. 4.-L to R: Ricardo, Jo, Richard and Alex catch up for a meal and a chat in San Francisco. 5.-Ricardo and Alex in San Fran. 6.-Alex and his mum, Rocio, in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY. 7.- Alex and Angie having some fun in New York. 8.-Angie and Alex , with the Empire State Building, Manhattan, in the background).

A walk on the “wild” side – Savai’i

The average tourist on a two week sojourn through Samoa usually only gets to Upolu…..well, we aren’t “average” and we like to think of ourselves as much more than tourists. This, I feel, is glaringly obvious to most of you by now! Being the culture fanatics that we are, we were going to try and see as much as we could (without cramming) in the short amount of time we had, so clearly, Savai’i, was on the agenda!

Getting there proved to be easy enough. It was a half an hour or so bus ride to Mulifanua Wharf, on the west side of the airport, and before we knew it, we were on a ferry going across. It’s only 20 kilometres to Savai’i, and the trip was supposed to take a little less than an hour and a half. The sea was crystal clear, and I was looking forward to kicking back and relaxing on the boat! I….don’t ….think…….so!!!!! I was about five minutes into reading my book, when my guts started up with the same kind of fire dance we had seen only nights before! Chucky was on his way, and I’m not talking about that little horror movie demon! I tried everything….Breathe in, breathe out; sniffing some cure all liquid I’d bought in Vietnam; focusing on the horizon! None of it was working, and so, in between belching constantly like I’d just downed a slab of VB, and hanging over the edge to dribble bile, I counted a very, very, very long 100 minutes or so! Can’t say that I was distressed when the trip was over. I have never been less interested in crystal waters! Give me some terra firma, please!

On the other side, I was a happy little camper in no time at all. OK, so it was scorching, there was no shade, there were no buses, and the taxis were trying to rip us off! Well, they were milking the fact that our next destination was 40 minutes away, and thus expensive….and that the next bus was not going to be around for hours! Alex and I eyed each other off a few times, giving each other that “do we, don’t we” kind of look? We figured that spending the remainder of the day frying in the sun whilst anxiously waiting for the next bus was not really high up on our list of options. We decided to hone in on our negotiation skills, and see if we could get a decent rate via taxi. After asking around and receiving some ludicrous prices, we finally got a really nice guy, who was willing to drive the 45 minutes or so to Manase, in the north, for a reasonable fare.

The drive was spectacular! Straight up, we could see that the island of Savai’i was going to offer us a much more rustic and wilder experience of Pacific life than Upolu. Apart from being the the largest island in Polynesia outside of New Zealand and Hawai’i, it’s also mostly uninhabited. The tropical terrain looked spectacular, and the fact that there were far fewer signs of modern life, made it feel like we were in a kind of Indiana Jones does Polynesia movie. There were fales interspersed everywhere, and it was really apparent that on this big island, this was where most of the people lived and slept. Everything seemed all that bit more traditional here. This was going to be exciting!

Upon arrival in Manase, we immediately started our search for accommodation. Manase is still one of Samoa’s better kept secrets with its palm-fringed beaches, lagoons filled with wildly coloured fish and jungle-covered hills, but its only slowly coming out of the shade of better known Samoan and South Pacific travel destinations. I say…..shhhhhhh, keep it a secret! Manase is predominantly made up of a gorgeous stretch of beach, and no more than five or six lots of accommodation, which consisted of fales on the beach front. For once, we ended up at the first one we visited, Tanu’s Beach Fales.

We were greeted by the fun loving and intensely friendly Peisi (pronounced Bay-C). She won us over before we even got to take a look at the fales. Her right hand person was the equally outgoing Scott, a teenager from Australia, who was here on an exchange. Peisi took us over to a fale right on the beach’s edge, and we were enthralled. Simple, clean, open, and we loved it! It was actually going to be our first night in a typical, thatched fale. No sooner had we dumped all of our stuff inside, than it began to pour. Well, I suppose it was the rainy season, and better rain than a monsoon, I say. It was actually lovely to hear the pitter-patter of rain on our roof as we sat inside and watched the sea through our thatched screening. OK, so I bitched about the rain a bit! Once the rain settled, we met our neighbour, Jaques from South Africa/ Holland/ New Zealand. I hope I have this right Jaques…born in South Africa to French parents, who then moved to Holland and who now lives in New Zealand ( I promise a correction in the next blog if I have stuffed this up!) Jaques would only be spending a week or so here, and he told us that whilst his luggage had not arrived yet (clearly it was supposed to arrive with him!), that it was on its way. Yeh, right! Pacific time that is!

Jaques was great fun, and we had a blast interacting with him. He was interesting, funny and knowledgeable – all the traits that I admire in people. He was also a tranquil and patient guy. I have the proof! That bag that was supposed to be “arriving soon” was taking an awfully long time. Alex is right, I would have lost it! Alex offered to lend Jaques some shorts and a t-shirt, but he declined at first……the bag was coming. After a few days of a “bag no show” (in my opinion, under the circumstances, worse than being stood up by a bloke), he readily accepted Alex’s offer. Yes the bag eventually resurfaced, but it was several days into Jaques stay at Tanu. Well done Jaques, you taught me a lesson in how to keep my cool!

Tanu fales proved to be lots of fun, and a place where we met lots of interesting people, including the gorgeous Heather, from Jamaica. There were certainly lots of times, and copious opportunities to chat about the meaning of life with Heather. Then there were all the people who had come for various reunions – mostly Samoans, or children of Samoans who were now living mostly in New Zealand. Day time was relaxing, and for me included a run on the beach in the morning, followed by a scrummy breakfast. Later we would snorkel, laze on the beach a bit, go for a walk and pull bananas directly off the trees, and deliver them directly into our mouths. What a life! By this time it would be nearing dinner time, whereby we would all sit around the communal benches, eating, chatting and generally getting to know people. It’s a good life, and ain’t nobody gonna convince me otherwise!

Night times at Tanu were lots of fun, with the inclusion of family run fia- fias. It really was a deal that involved the entire family, from grandpa, right down to a grandson who could have been no older than one and a half. In between were all the children, in-laws and their children. Again, the spectacular included dancing, fire-dancing and much, much more. It was both entertaining and enthralling. It’s amazing how families work so communally and cooperatively here in Samoa.

After a few days, we had to move as we were meeting Shivani and Debbie, and there was no room left in Tanu. With only a cluster of places offering accommodation, it wasn’t too difficult to find another place. We ended up at Jane’s Beach Fales, which although close to Tanu, felt a little less crowded and more serene. Both were great, offering excellent, but different experiences and vibes. Jane’s fales were on a grassy piece of land, and offered absolute waterfront. Each fale, unlike Tanu’s also had its own little balcony. It was a little piece of paradise. Bathrooms were shared, as is usually the case in Samoa. Now where Jane’s really let the party down was the food. I rarely, if ever see Alex turn his nose up at food, but when his first dinner there came out, (a big chunk of mutton replete with fat), he instantaneously lost his happy camper look. Needless to say, he didn’t eat it. My meal…..mixed veggies……cooked in the mutton juice! That certainly didn’t cut it for me either!

It was great to see Shivani and Debbie again, and we had a great time just kicking back and relaxing. After night one at Jane’s together, with a shocker of a meal, we negotiated next night’s dinner at Jane’s for a small fee. Well worth it in my opinion. That same night we were treated to yet another fia-fia, followed by lots of dancing. Do you know what it feels like to dance outside, in a tropical country? Perspiration turned into a sweat slide, but we were all in the same boat (no pun intended!), and we were all having so much fun that we didn’t care!

On our last day in Manase, a group of us went on an around-the-island bus trip. It was well worth it, as we got to see some sights that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Our first stop was in the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve, where we did a great canopy walk. OK, so the bridge was missing, but we were still able to walk up a set of stairs that had us looking well and truly above the top of the tree canopy. The stairs wound and were built around a 225 year old banyan tree, which was spectacular unto itself. The views were breathtaking. To name some of the other highlights: the Alofaaga Blowholes, the lava fields around Mt Matavanu and the Afu Aau Waterfall. Watching the white foam soaring up over the black rocks along the stretch of the coast which is home to the blowholes was impressive, but even more so was watching the locals demonstrate the power of the waves. They did this by tossing a coconut into the blowhole at just the right moment, to send it flying up some 60 metres into the air! The Mt Matavanu eruption between 1905 and 1911 created a moonscape in northeastern corner of Savai’i as a flow of hot lava rolled across plantations and villages, destroying everything in its path. What a sensation to not only be able to see this but to also walk over it! The waterfalls were a relaxing respite towards the end of the day, and a great place to people watch, as it was mostly filled with locals.

Alex and I had decided to make our way back to Apia for New Year’s Eve. We thus got up on the last day of the year, had breakfast with Shivani and Debbie and made our way back to Apia. I hoped that the sea was going to be calm, as I certainly was not looking forward to the ferry ride back. Luckily, it wasn’t so bad this time. No, I didn’t say good, but not quite as bad as the trip over. Having said that, I was glad when the ride was over. We were old hats by now, and knew exactly how to get back to Apia. We were on a bus in no time at all. And again, in no time at all, back at Valentine’s for our last night in Samoa, which would also be the last day of the year. Upon reflection, what a wonderful, varied and full -on year it had been! As Alex says, I only know one gear….5th!! (fast and furious).

We had decided that we would see the New Year out at Aggie Grey’s Hotel, an institution in Samoa. The original owner, Aggie Grey was an institution herself, and it’s well worth reading up about her and her life. We figured that on New Year’s there would have to be a bit of a party, but no….. another fia-fia, an excellent buffet, and it was all over by 11.00pm. The fia-fia was great; the dancers were so lively and passionate; the dances talk about their lives, their culture and their way of life. For me, it’s so amazing to be able to be a part of their world, even if only briefly, as it’s a constant reminder that, without all of this, we each and individually live in a microcosm……and our world is so very much more than this! We walked home, as we pondered the meaning of life. Another day, another year!

The next morning we got up early, and packed our bags. We had no intention of stuffing up the flight home! We weren’t going to play “three times un-lucky”! We said goodbye to all at Valentine’s, including the gorgeous Agnes, who was always so pleasant and affable, and told them all we’d be back. Samoa had touched our hearts. Such breathtaking beauty and such happy and friendly people. Our taxi arrived on time, as Debbie and Shivani had organised it for us, as they had passed by Valentine’s before meeting us in Savai’i. The guy was great, and as we drove to the airport he told us that his wife had just had a baby…..just as in the night before! He was stoked! And we were stoked for him! His happy-go-lucky demeanour left us feeling recharged. Just as we took off, the skies opened and it started raining elephants and giraffes. Glad we had not experienced this prior. Good timing! As we were dropped off at the airport, we paid our driver and gave him a bit extra…….after all, he had a great attitude to life, it was the New Year and he was a new Dad! Life was great for everyone!

In no time at all, we were on the plane, flying back to Melbourne. It seemed so long ago that we had flown over to Samoa, yet it had also gone so fast. I love what life has dished out and continues to dish out to me! I closed my eyes during take off, and pondered what I had just experienced. Wow!

Next: Alex does America!

“Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” – Martin Luther King Jnr.

(Photos:1.- The ferry crossing from Upolu to Savai’i. 2.- Savai’i bus. 3.-Fales along the Savai’i coastline. 4.- The clear blue waters and sparkling white sand of Manase Beach, Savai’i. 5.-The view of Manase Beach from our fale at Tanu’s Beach Fales. 6.-New friends and happy times, from L to R: Jaques, Shivani, Alex and a Samoan friend. Front row: Debbie and Heather. 7.-Communal breakfast at tanu’s Beach Fales. 8.- Fire dancer, Tanu’s Beach Fales. 9.- Beach front fale at Jane’s Beach Fales, Manase Beach. 10.- Traditional dancers at Tanu Beach’s fia-fia. 11.-Coconut throwing at Alofaaga Blowholes. 12.- Traditional dancer at Aggie Grey’s Hotel New Year fia-fia. 13.-L to R: Ombi, Tine and Ray at Valentine’s Hotel, Apia. 14.-Ombi and Alex at Aggie Grey’s on New Year’s Eve.)