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.)