Borneo! For me, it has always conjured up images of the wild man of Borneo, headhunters and orangutans. Having said that, I must say that prior to this trip I did not really know much about this place. Borneo is actually the third largest island in the world, lies north of Australia and is administratively made up of three countries, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Indonesia. Sabah and Sarawak are the two Malaysian states and Kalimantan is the Indonesian one. Confused? So was I! Spending a bit of time there, however, helped me to wrap my head around it. Borneo proved to be an exciting as well as interesting place, and we didn’t spend nearly enough time there. This is definitely a place that I would like to come back to and explore.
C’mon, give me a break…it was ABSOLUTELY time for another trip! Hey, we didn’t go anywhere last Christmas, and we’d been to Ecuador way back in mid-1999, so we were about due. To be fair, we’d already booked this trip to Malaysia with our friend Linda back in September 2009. Keen, hey! What can I say…if you can’t physically travel immediately, the next best thing has got to be making the booking! OK, OK, I don’t even try and hide it anymore…I’m a travel junkie!
This triptook us to Borneo and Brunei Darussalam
Linda had told us about the Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo and it all sounded very exciting to Alex and I. The Rainforest World Music Festival is a unique festival that brings together renowned world musicians from all continents as well as indigenous musicians from the island of Borneo. It has been going for approximately eight years and its success has largely been due to all of the volunteers, both international as well as local, who freely give up their time to help out.
Linda asked Alex and I if we would be interested in volunteer…HELL YEH!!! That took hardly any convincing at all; Linda showed us the website (she also has lots of contacts there, and the Andean band she manages in Australia, Inka Marka, have played there before)…and we were immediately sold! Linda then proceeded to use her contacts, and in no time at all, it was official…Alex and I would be volunteers! It was an easy sell – whilst I had been to Malaysia, I had never been to Borneo (part of which is Malaysia), and Alex had never been to either. Of course, I am always up for a new country and a new experience.
Linda also mentioned Brunei and the Empire Hotel and Country Club…Where?…What? The Sultanate of Brunei is a tiny Muslim country nestled between Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo, and the Empire Hotel and Country Club is its 5-star hotel centrepiece. Whilst I have never had a huge desire to travel to Brunei, we decided to go there, as we were already going to be so very close. Staying in a 5 star plus hotel? Linda had been there before with her band (Inka Marka), and said it was worth the splurge. With some really decent online deals, we decided to “OTT” (over the top) it, and act like royalty, well at least sultans, for a day…or two.
Good old’ Air Asia. Flying ain’t what it used to be! Once we booked our Melbourne – Kuala Lumpur return tickets, we were able to get our internal tickets quite cheaply, which allowed us to see a fair bit of Malaysia (Sarawak in Borneo and Penang on the mainland) and Brunei in just two weeks. As usual, we packed a lot in. Cheap sometimes comes at a cost, however, with Air Asia changing the internal flight times so often that we lost count. It’s all good if there is no urgency to be at a certain place at a certain time, but if you have a tight deadline, I would definitely recommend another carrier.
Linda drove to our place, where she left her car, and Dad drove us all to the airport. We had pre-flight drinks (coffee!) and then boarded the plane. We’d done our homework – food isn’t free on these flights, so we came armed with sandwiches wrapped in foil and a host of other delectables which would hopefully keep our taste buds happy. I reminisced about my primary school days where the “wogs” would try and hide the foil and want to spear their parents for giving them salami or prosciutto in continental bread rolls…if they were lucky they could swap with one of the Aussie kids and score a vegemite sandwich (sliced, doughy, white bread). I laughed out loud..these days, WHO would swap salami in a continental bread roll for vegemite in tip-top bread? Multicultural Australia…we sure have come away!
The Empire Hotel…no luxury spared flight was good, no problems at all. Once we arrived in KL, we had to wait a few hours before flying on to Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), the capital of Brunei (whose official name is actually the State of Brunei Darussalam). Linda had her laptop with her, so we filled in our time by sitting in a cafe, and sipping on coffee (as you do), whilst using the free wireless provided. You can never have too much coffee or wireless internet access for that matter! Soon back on a plane, we were on our way to Brunei.
We arrived in BSB late in the afternoon, and promptly caught a taxi out to the Empire Hotel and Country Club. I had seen their website and read up on it, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see. OMG…OTT!!! Translation – Oh My God…Over The Top! The Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei guide got the description down pat – “Imagine a zillion-tonne hunk of Italian marble dipped in gold and tossed into the rainforest – you’ve just picked the fanciful Empire Hotel and Country Club”. Couldn’t have described it better myself! We entered the grandiose gates, passed a lot of highly manicured lawns, the entrance to the golf course, the quote, health club, unquote (health club I said, NOT gym!)…and they were left outside the grandiose doors of the hotel. And there the three of us stood, looking very much the backpackers. What can I say? Oil and water? Never the twain shall meet, or mix at least. I felt like I had been dumped outside Buckingham Palace in my bikinis!
|Beachfront view from the Empire Hotel|
Once inside I couldn’t help but be overawed by the opulence (our three-day stay here would provide me with many more OMG moments!) of the place but decided that, hey I was here, so just enjoy it. As the saying goes…if you can’t beat ’em…join ’em! We were promptly taken to our oceanfront rooms, and I must say they were luxurious indeed. The hotel really did have it all…various swimming pools, ocean access, various restaurants, massage, spa…just to name a few things. It truly was a city within a city. The only downfall was that it was far enough from the city centre to make taking taxis in and out rather expensive, and buses were quite infrequent (A) because the number of cars per person in this small country is astounding and (B), which is actually a result of (A), public transport is scarce and infrequent.
On the Empire Hotel: It was built in the 90s on the same scale as a Las Vegas Casino, and was commissioned by Price Jefri, originally as lodging for the royal family (talk about putting a new spin on private accommodation!). Construction costs were estimated at US $1.1 billion, and the property was quickly transformed into an upscale resort to recover some of the construction costs…word has it that this will never actually happen! Amongst many other things, the hotel boasts two camel-shaped lamps made from pure Baccarat crystal, topped with solid gold…they cost a mere US half a million each! Now that is an extravagance!
|Linda and Ombi – wining & dining at the Empire Hotel|
Apart from soaking in the many outdoor pools, we actually had a lovely time in Brunei, spending a bit of time in the city centre, and checking out some sights. Whilst Muslim, it is not as conservative as many of its middle eastern cousins. Having said that, it is always both polite and courteous to observe the dress code of those around you. When in Rome, do as the Romans. We were very lucky to get a personalised tour on our second day, as Linda has a friend who works in Brunei Tourism. Chris Robles met us at the hotel and then spent a day driving us around the main sites, which meant that we got to see quite a bit, including the main sites. Without a car, for reasons previously.
|Royal Regalia Museum|
explained, this would have been really difficult. Some of the highlights were the Royal Regalia Museum (basically a celebration of the sultan and all the trappings of Bruneian royalty), the Brunei Museum (giving a great overview of the country and its people as well as the brilliant Islamic Art Gallery) and the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, which was built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of the current sultan’s reign. The sheer volume of the place was amazing and the myriad of woven rugs scattered across the men’s prayer hall astounding. Amongst all of this we stopped for both a buffet lunch and some decent coffee. When Chris dropped us off back at the hotel, we were knackered. We thanked him for his kind hospitality, and made our way to the pools, for a relaxing finish to our day.
|Which side of the Yarra d’ya
reckonthe mosque is on?
|Homemade boat & paddles – Kampong River|
The next day we made our own way into the city centre and wandered around. We seemed to not only be the only tourists, but the only ones walking around, and I must say, it was pretty hot. That couldn’t possibly have been the reason! We visited the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, (built in 1958 at a cost of about US $5 million…then! They don’t go by halves in this country!), another very aesthetically pleasing monument. Alex and I also walked around Kampong Ayer. Right in the centre, this water village is an amazing juxtaposition to the many lavish buildings which surround it. Just minutes away from the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, is a jumble of wooden planks and shacks, considered to be the biggest water village in the world. Housing an estimated 20,000 people, Kampong Ayer is made up of 28 water villages. As we wandered and meandered around the walkways, and on many a broken plank high enough above the water to make the idea of tripping over positively frightening, I couldn’t help but be amazed how poverty could reside so close to luxury. I alternated between looking at the rotten planks below me, and then looking out to the city from which I had just walked. What a contrast!
|Brunei water-taxi service|
It was mid-afternoon and getting rather hot (hmm, well, hotter!) We walked back to the centre, where we met Linda, and then just browsed around, stopping at some shopping centres, as well as refuelling on coffee. I cannot say that the shopping was overly exciting, and we didn’t really buy much apart from some food.
Our three nights and four days in Brunei passed in a flash, and before we knew it, we were on a plane flying out to Kuching, where we would be volunteering at the Sarawak Rainforest Music Festival. Whilst I was glad that I had seen Brunei and had seen and done some interesting things, I cannot say that it tops my “5 places to re-visit” list. Interesting enough it’s kind of more in the been there, done that category!
What am I reading?
The Havana Mob – T.J. English
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less travelled by” – Robert Frost
|How people on “the other side” live – Kampong water village|
|Outside wooden house – Kampong water village|
|Boy going to school – Kampong water village|
|Opulence – Empire Hotel & Country Club|
|Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque|
|Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque|
|L to R: (Back) Narelle, Jane, Natarsha, Ombi &(front), Linda, Karen & Kirrily|
As I tap away, I am acutely aware that we are almost in the month of November, which would not normally be such a big deal, except for the fact that the last time I updated my blog was months ago! I have been meaning to write for weeks, months really, yet that elusive thing called time always seems to somehow, well, elude me! Having said that, I have decided this fine Sunday morning that “the woman on a mission” has a new mission, which is to write a series of blogs that will update you on mine and Alex’s comings and goings over the last few months or so!! So, let me get cracking.
In Late June my close group of friends that I fondly refer to as the “South America Contingent” collectively organised an Inti Raymi Party. Inti Raymi, or the “Festival of the Sun” (to be exact, “resurrection of the sun” in the Quechua language) was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire to honour the Incan Sun God, Inti. It also marked the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere. As a bit of an aside, since 1944 a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has been taking place at Sacsayhuaman, a sacred site only two kilometres from Cusco, on the 24th June, attracting tourists and visitors from all over the world….I was one of those visitors in 1999, only months before I met Alex. The energy was intoxicating, and it is a memory that will always remain in my heart and soul.
|Linda beating to the rhythm of the drum|
Meanwhile, back in Australia…our dear friend Linda, aka “Ms South America Melbourne”, was involved in the organisation of this event in Melbourne (one of many), with a contingent of mostly Andean, and to be specific, Peruvian friends. It was an invitation only event, to be hosted at the home of our also dear friends, Mick and Claudia Benham. Let me tell you, that night it was definitely the Rain god and not the Sun god that was present, as there was an alluvial downpour to rival all downpours. The backyard would have made a brilliant mud-wrestling pit, but alack and alas, the ceremony went on, rain, mud, slush and all!
|Mud-fest at Inti Raymi|
Despite the rain, a great time was had by all, as most of the attendees have some connection to South America, the Andes or its people. We were all asked to bring along a plate to share, but before we all got stuck into the food, a shaman took us through the ritualistic part of the ceremony. This ceremony transported me back to Peru, or even to outside the churches of Chichicastenango in Guatemala…a world where cultures, traditions and religions are mixed. In moments such as these, I desperately want to be anywhere but Australia, as I long for that deep-rooted culture and tradition that I find so lacking here. I suppose yearning is the word. My physical body lives in Australia, but my heart and soul are constantly travelling the world – neither seems to want to settle in Australia!
|Shaman conducting Inti Raymi ceremony|
Despite the continual rain (the Rain god was NOT going to give in!), we danced to Andean music and conversed with our peers. Unbenownst to others, I was floating in and out of my own little world….before backpacking through South America and meeting Alex 11 years ago, I knew not a lot about South America, its traditions or its people…but traversing this continent would change my life forever. My travels and experiences there have touched me in the most profoundest of ways. It turned me into a “culture jockey”…ever since, my life has consisted of straddling two cultures!
|Shaman making offerings to Inti, the Sun god|
Whilst I love Australia, and am proud of being Australian, not a week goes by where I do not yearn for South America. I love the vibrancy and passion of its people, many of whom have nothing, yet have everything…and then I think of my own country…where many people indeed have everything, but who spiritually have nothing. Love, passion, spirituality and few material goods versus a plethora of material goods yet a spiritual void? To “have” or “not to have”…that is the question!
Dedication: For South America and its people – you are my second homeland! Thanks for the great love and passion you have instilled in me. Knowing you has changed my life…forever!
What am I reading?
Conversations with Tariq Ali – Speaking of Empire and Resistance, by Tariq Ali and David Barsamian
“Before we work on artificial intelligence, why don’t we work on natural stupidity?” – Steve Polyak
|L to R: Dino (my Dad), Ida and Ombi|
As part of my work at Inclusive Leisure Victoria (ILV), which does policy and advocacy work around the inclusion of people with a disability in the recreation and sport sectors, I attended a meeting yesterday at YDAS, or Youth Disability Advocacy Service. I know, the acronym is a bit of a clanger, but the work they do is amazing. The first few lines on their home page state:
“The Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS) is raising voices, expanding choices and creating change for young people with disabilities in Victoria, Australia.
|L to R: Effie (my “Greek mum”), Ombi & Vicky|
What was I doing and who attended the meeting? May I begin by saying that Dr George Teleporos, who is the coordinator of YDAS, runs monthly Saturday meetings with a group of young people to discuss a range of issues which may affect them. Last year, before I began work at ILV, my organisation did some work with the YMCA around people with disabilities and positive body image, culminating in some posters which showed a range of people doing exercise that sat a tad outside the size 8, hot body image! YDAS wanted to take this a little further and ask the youth (with disabilities) themselves how THEY want to see youth/ people with disabilities depicted and portrayed! Thus, I was invited to come and speak to “the group”, and what a dynamic bunch they were! This is where I have to ensure that I don’t sound patronising, but as I walked into the room, surrounded by 15-some people with disabilities ranging from deafness to cerebral palsy, and including a couple of people who couldn’t talk, and have to tap out what they want to say on a keyboard, I suddenly felt very overwhelmed, and could feel a lump rising in my throat. I rode that wave, and sat and listened to them talk for a while!
Quite frankly, I was blown away! Blown away by their passion, drive and determination to make a difference! Blown away by their heartfelt desires to try and make a change in a society which is often so very black and white. Some spoke through an Auslan interpreter, others tapped on a keyboard, others spoke very slowly but very deliberately, but ALL made a point and ALL were heard. I sat back and listened to them talk about sexuality and sex, and decision making and caring versus support. I heard various people explain how they were not often seen as sexual beings due to their disability, but how in essence they were just like “everybody else” in their needs and desires. And as I sat there ( I clearly hadn’t spoken yet!) I felt a mix of admiration, inspiration and humility! These youths were banding together to chat about issues, in order to change their lives in a positive way, and for the better!
|Vicky and Ombi|
I have always been very open-minded about disability, especially having worked in the area on and off for most of my working life, as well as having grown up around my “Greek family” and my “sister” Vicky who is in a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy. My family and Vicky’s family lived only doors apart, so Vicky was always a part of my world, as was the rest of her family, of course. When I was studying at La Trobe, I also went on to work part time at a few leisure centres where I taught youth from special schools how to swim, and then later I worked for many years in some CRUs (Community Residential Units) as a recreation officer/ carer for people with intellectual disabilities. So, people other than “normal” have always been a part of my world and experiences. They have also helped me think outside the box, which I generally think I am pretty decent at doing anyway. They have taught me an incredible amount, and many have been a huge source of inspiration.
|Ombi and Effie|
Inspiration…why inspiration? The reasons are many, but I will go back to the group at YDAS yesterday. In the face of adversity, in a world where they are not seen as “normal”, they STILL push through the barriers and try and elicit change. Why is this so amazing? Because Mr Joe and Ms Susie Average does no such similar thing. The “Averages” plod along in their lives, with nothing really to worry about, but no real desire to make a change. And these are the very people who usually whinge about their lives! May I remind you that most of us have NOTHING to whinge about! What…you have put on half a kilo? Or, the hairdresser put the wrong shade of red in your hair! Worse still, the shop down the road didn’t have the shoes you wanted in your size! It’s all about perspective and relativity. I know, but all of this regularly seems banal to me, and was especially so yesterday, when I saw a group of people who despite their “disabilities” were out to make a difference.
|Dino, Ida & Alex|
What I saw in this group of people yesterday was the ability, not the disability; the desire and drive to make a change and simply have a sit back and “cop it sweet” attitude; I saw what people could do rather than what they couldn’t…and I felt very, very, very humbled! These are the people and situations that help shape my life, my world and my dreams! My dreams of a better and more equitable society!
I am often told that I am “too radical”, that I can’t make a difference, and that other individuals can’t either. I will not and can not believe that, and will spend the rest of my life trying to make a difference. In that group yesterday, I saw a bit, well actually a lot, of me…and I felt at home.
Together, we can change the world…although I admit, it’s going to take a little more time!
|Effie, Ombi & Vicky|
Dedication: This is for my “sister” Vicky. Thanks for being a part of my world and experiences. I love you lots.
What am I reading?
The Final Call, In search of the true cost of our holidays by Leo Hickman (finished)
The Media We Deserve – David Salter
“We must become the change we want to see” – Mahatma Gandhi
|Alex and I at Jarrod’s 21st, April|
You may recall, only a couple of blogs back, another blog entitled, “2009…Going, going…gone!” Well, only a few months on, it’s not just 2009 that seems to have gone, but what is soon to become a sizable chunk of our money…as after months and months of searching, Alex and I FINALLY bought a town house! After “seriously” taking up looking from November last year, we found out how truly time -consuming the quest for a home could be, including attending auctions that would go ridiculously and obscenely above the reserve. Weekdays seemed to be spent looking FOR properties, and Saturdays looking AT them, which really didn’t leave much time to do much else. The rest of the story will soon follow.
Buddhist Temple at Yuroke
Fed up of house-hunting, I’d read that there was a Buddhist Festival at a Buddhist Temple in Yuroke, just under 30 kilometres away from the CBD. Alex and I went with Linda, and had a really relaxing Sunday afternoon. It was lovely to just stroll around the gardens, breathe some fresh air, look through the market stalls and simply forget about all the things that usually consume our brain space. It truly was just what we all needed!
|Matt and Alex at our local Vietnamese restaurant|
We’d been trying to catch up forever with our friends Matt and Mae, and their two little cuties, Freya and Nayte, so we organised to go to one of our local Vietnamese haunts in Preston…good food and good company…what more can one ask for! Again, it was lovely to just hang around, take it easy, and catch up on the latest happenings.
|Auntie Rina (R) and her friend Concetta (L)|
My mum’s oldest sister, Rina, lives quite close to both where I live and work, and I try and visit her as often as I can. Auntie Rina is now 88, and I must say that if I look like that at her age, I will be stoked…well…if I make it to her age! I love going to visit, as she always has some story or tale of her life experience to impart. She has had a rather colourful life, but let’s face it, with 88 years behind you, there would surely have to be tales to tell! With a life that started near Naples, in Italy, and ended up with her travelling to Australia after the second world war, Auntie Rina has often kept me entertained with her anecdotes. I often feel saddened when I hear of people dismissing the elderly…we have so much to learn from them, and their life experiences are meritable…if people would only realise this. They should be the building blocks of our society, as in essence, and with any luck, we will have learnt from them, making us the people we will one day become. I often look at those who have no respect for their elders, and wonder what their level of respect for themselves, and in general, is!
|The three “novias”: L to R: Linda, Karen and Ombi|
|Esther Williams eat your heart out! With Karen at Peninsula Springs in Rye|
Before Karen and Jesus had come back from overseas, we decided that we’d have a “novias” weekend away ( girls’ weekend away). I must say, Karen, Linda and I had a blast in Sorrento. It was just the girls… eating, chatting, chatting, chatting, chatting, oh, and runs on the beach, going for walks and visiting the Peninsula Hot Springs in Rye. It was an opportunity for us to gas bag to our hearts content, and believe me the three of us have a combined gas bagging prowess that is beyond belief. The boys (Alex and Jesus, Karen’s husband), have recently devised a “hands up system” for when the three of us are together, as otherwise it’s pandemonium. Did the boys come? The poor fellows wouldn’t have got a word in edge wise! Or any wise, for that matter! It was great to be able to take the time out to do this, as the three of us truly are three peas in a pod. Whatever brought us together will now keep us together, as we have formed a friendship and bond which although cliched, can only be described as special!
|Congrats Jo! Munching on pizza. L to R: Alex, Jesus, Jo Karen|
Speaking of special friendships, you have often heard me chat about our other most special friends, Jo and Richard de Meester (www.thedemeesters.blogspot.com). I want to congratulate you Jo on your new job at Alphington Grammar School. I am sure that they will love you as much there as at every other place you have worked at. Who doesn’t love you Jo!? Needless to say, a celebration was in store…so we all lobbed over to the de Meesters and had celebratory pizza.
|The Garcias L to R: Sisters Esther and Rita, and mum, Aida|
In April, Rita also visited from Dubai. Yes, Rita too is special, but she is more like my sister than a friend. I have known Rita since we met in Year 7 at Santa Maria College in Northcote, and I have since long been the “fourth Garcia sister”. Did they adopt me? I adopted myself… a long time ago! Whenever Reet’s in town, her mum and dad’s house (who I consider my family) becomes my local hangout! And time is never enough. You know how much I love, and miss you Reet! Whilst she was down we also went to visit her father-in-law, Harry, whom I also have grown very fond of. Harry is an articulate and intelligent man, and we have had many an interesting conversation. We talk a lot about books, as it’s a shared passion. Most of you know that I am a voracious reader, and culture vulture. The problem is that I never have enough time to read all that I want to…I do give it a pretty good shot though!
|L to R: Andrew, Ombi, Alessandra (Anita’s daughter) and Anita, at the fundraiser|
I may be stepping backwards now, but I think it was in late March that we had a fundraiser for my friend Phil West’s foundation, Renew the Spirit, which I help out with from time to time. The organisation helps to heal the hearts of child survivors of war and terrorism. I was the master of ceremonies for the night, which had a Colombian food and dance focus. It was a both a fun and profitable night, and I was also able to catch up with my good friends Andrew and Anita, whom I had not seen in ages.
|L to R: (back) Margi, Marion, Fran, moi, Clare, and front, Pauline with Fran’s baby Kieran & Mel|
April also saw a reunion with my “old mob of mates” from Santa Maria College; Margi, Marion, Clare, Melinda, Frances and Pauline. We all see each other from time to time, but it had been ages since I saw Pauline. Nothing had changed! That same night I had my cousin, Jarrod’s, 21st. It was held at the Kew Boathouse…a black tie affair, and with jazz musicians, it was a night enjoyed by all.
|Ombi and Dino with Ida|
Most of you would also recall that I worked for years at an organisation called CAST (Community Accommodation Support Team), which is now called Northern Support Services, looking after people with an intellectual disability. I am still in touch with many of them, especially with Ida, who I still have over for coffee or dinner. We recently had her over for bowl of pasta, which she loves!
|L to R: Ombi, Rosie, Bel, Tara, Emma and Em|
Another reunion, of a different kind in May…with Bel of Mundo Maya, and some of the other girls I met through the Cuban Dance Academy, when I was going to salsa classes a few years back. Well, I actually met Em in Ecuador…but that is another long story! (read: not now, or add on a few more paragraphs!) Rosie and I co-compered Cubamemucho in September last year…we had a good laugh then, and we had a good laugh on our catch up. It was actually a great night, with laughter abounding!
|The wild men of Borneo, aka (L to R) Alex, Mick and Jesus|
Finally it was Easter, once again! Hadn’t we just had Christmas!? Alex and I once again (last year was our first time) went camping near Glenrowan. Latin Camping Abancay has been going for more than 25 years now, and it basically consists of a bunch (quite a big bunch!) of both Latinos and their family and friends. It’s a few fun filled days of camping on Freddy’s land, whilst spending the days chilling out and the nights entertained by Latin bands, music and shows. I am not sure who provided the better entertainment…the entertainers or the entertained! Mick Benham, you are a crack up, and personally you get my vote as “Entertainer of the Weekend”! Our group was a bit of a United Nations. Not only did we have a number of people from various Latin American countries, but we also had a mix of other nationalities from
|Master Chef Matt with apprentices, L to R: Sophie, Kasha & Freya|
Malaysian, to New Zealand. Matt (originally from New Zealand) proved to us in his second year running that not only is the host with the most, but the chef with the best! Your food rocks Matt! This weekend away was yet ANOTHER opportunity for the girls to gas bag shamelessly!
|Going, going, gone!|
Back to going, going, gone… on the 9th April we attended…yet another auction! I had been to the gym (yep, still go regularly) in the morning, followed by two open house inspections and a visit to Rita at her parents’ house. We still had “the auction” to go to, but besides throwing my cheque book in my bag, I had low, if no expectations, and wasn’t really holding much hope. As I mentioned prior, watching houses go way above their reserve had been quite normal in recent months. I nonchalantly placed a few random bids, and to our surprise, after placing a bid that for us was definitely going to be as high as we would go…we won! I was stunned and gob-smacked! I know that it’s hard to believe, but YES, me, gob-smacked! As I stood there in my gym shorts, and looking totally dishevelled (who had a shower…I was only about to view yet ANOTHER auction which we would have no hope of winning, right?), it started to sink in…we were now home owners! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We went into the house where we proceeded to sign the contract, and even meet the owner. Now, all the “stuff” (paperwork, looking for a mortgage etc) that goes with buying a new house is a (continuing) chapter unto itself! Are we excited that we have a new house? yes, but…much more excited that we do not have to look for one anymore!
|Hasta la vista…babies! With Amanda and Al|
Amanda and Al’s farewell…yes, the “little girl next door” and her boyfriend Al (Alister) are off around the world for ten months or so. I remember when the Leveridges moved in next door and Amanda was a cute little six month old baby…she is still cute, but now she’s in her early twenties, and about to do something that is very close to my heart…travel. Am I jealous…of course I am…I always am when others travel…in a good way, of course! Lizzie and Gary (her parents) had a little get together next door. It was a fun night. I kept looking at both Al and Amanda and thinking about how much this trip is about to change their lives. They are both forward and progressive thinkers, and I know that this will shape who they are about to become! I will be following you all the way guys!
Dedication: First of all to my beautiful “sister” Rita; thanks for being a special and wonderful part of my life. I will always be here for you, as you have been for me! Secondly, to Amanda and Al: May you be safe and protected on every step of your journey. I will be with you every step of the way. I am so proud of both of you! Alex and I are here whenever and however you need us!
What am I reading?
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (just read)
Adams vs. God, The Rematch by Phillip Adams (just read)
The Final Call, In search of the true cost of our holidays by Leo Hickman (currently reading)
|Having a gelato at Fritz, with James (L) and Ben.|
|Maccas = crap. It’s a bit like 2 + 2 = 4!!!|
|Those dancing feet (Latin camping) belong to Mick and Jesus! Guess whose are whose!|
|Este es para mi cunada Karen en Ecuador: Estoy baillando con mi amiga Karen en el camping Latino…Que Verch!!!|
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends” – Maya Angelou
|Me and my spunk!|
|Ombi and some hot Mamita Rica! aka Jesus|
|Jarrod’s 21st.; Jarrod with “Nonna”, Uncle Dino and Ombi|
Labour Day! Yes, it’s taken a public holiday for me to be able to “find the time” to sit down and tap away, but thus far, it’s been quite an eventful year, to say the least. On the 4th of January my mum’s first cousin Giovanni, affectionately known as “Giovannino”, flew here from Las Vegas (where he lives) to spend three weeks with the family, staying with my mum’s oldest sister, Rina, with whom he grew up with in Italy. My auntie is 87, and whilst in very good form, I am sure the visit shaved another 10 years off her life. As anyone that knows us would know, my auntie’s house was a hub of activity for the entire three weeks that Giovannino was here, with family around and visiting and family dinners happening virtually around the clock. The “activities”, however, did not stop there, and so there were lots of outings, day trips, invitations to visit other friends and the like. As my auntie Rina only lives literally minutes from where I work, I popped in as often as I could. I first met Giovannino as an early 2o- something on my first overseas trip to the USA in Las Vegas. We forged a very strong bond and have remained close ever since.
Only days after Giovannino arrived, we had Moz and Marie’s wedding. Moz is Auntie Rina’s son (and my cousin). They have lived in Mildura for years. It was a beautiful day and perfect weather for the outdoors ceremony which was held at the Darebin Parklands in Fairfield, followed by select close family and friends back at my auntie’s house. It was a small and intimate affair, with lots of love and laughter; a day enjoyed by all! Marie and Moz’s honeymoon was a one-nighter in a hotel close by, followed by the next three weeks at my auntie’s with Giovannino.
I had actually just had almost two weeks off from work, and Giovannino arrived on the day that I went back to work, so I was not able to take much time off. Having said that, between all of the relatives, we did lots of different things with him ,and he was able to visit or revisit several places, as he has been here several times before. One day, along with my Dad and Alex, we went to Phillip Island…to be honest, it had been a while since I had been there too. It was a fun and relaxing day, and we revisited all the must-see sights and things to do. I packed a picnic lunch, which we had in San Remo, before going across to the island. On another occasion, Giovannino took a big group of us to Brunetti’s for coffee, and sfogliatelle. You don’t know what sfogliatelle are? You have got to try them, an amazing sweet from Naples. I must confess that I virtually “od’d” on them when I was there a couple of years back…and probably the time before that as well! Giovannino owns a company in Las Vegas called Italcream, which produces and wholesales “made from scratch” Italian ice-cream; it’s certainly some of the best that I have tasted.
The three weeks went by all too quickly, with me taking a day off just before Giovannino went back to the USA, just hanging out with him and helping him to do some souvenir shopping. It was really nice to just chill out and shoot the breeze. And really, just as soon as he had appeared, he disappeared! This is the way of the world, people come into it, and then go out of it, like water ebbing in and out, and then there are only the memories…until the next time!
Early February it was Miss Linda’s birthday (one of my “partners in crime”…more later), which she had at hers (and my) favorite Thai restaurant, Thaila Thai. There’s only one thing better than great food…food that’s great… and cheap! How can you go wrong with an $18.00 banquet, whereby you can order more food until you have had enough? Couple this with good company and it’s a recipe for success. After our meal, a few of us went to a bar across the road, where we spent a few more hours. It was a terrific night, as any night with Linda always is!
Giovannino left the day after Australia Day. I must say, we are pretty lucky here…we do get lots of public holidays! Alex was suitably impressed when he first came here (which by the way will be 10 years this year!) It was almost February, and I had something else to look forward to…Karen and Jesus were coming back from Ecuador, after a year of travelling Ecuador and South America. Was I jealous! OF COURSE! Despite my incessant travelling, I am always jealous of others travelling…in a nice way, of course! A little bit of background info: I had only known Karen and Jesus for six months before they left, and I met them through my “novia” Linda who manages Inka Marka (whom I had actually only known for a few weeks before I met Karen and Jesus!) Karen is Australian and her husband Ecuadorian. Basically, Linda, Karen and I became inseparable, and even whilst travelling the three of us were in constant contact. We all became so close that Alex nicknamed Linda my “novia” or fiancee…and when Karen came back, he dubbed her my “other novia”. It’s true, we are as thick as thieves!
Linda and I were soooooo excited, I don’t think we even gave them a chance to breathe, and we were on their doorstep! Well, Karen’s brother’s family’s doorstep! They arrived on a Sunday and were picked up by Karen’s brother Michael…back at the family home, we got a call from Karen…OF COURSE we could make it over for a BBQ!!! Alex, Linda and I went together, and our excitement was uncontainable! When Linda and I saw Karen, we started screaming and doing the group hug thing…it was such a marvellous reunion! For me Linda and Karen represent two soul mates, and I know that our friendship will be forever. It took merely minutes, and it felt like they’d never left. What’s worse than an Ombi who doesn’t shut up? An Ombi/ Linda? Karen group who doesn’t shut up! Boy can we talk, I think we surprised even ourselves! Oh yes, we managed to shove in some food between the infrequent gulps of air that we were forced to take whilst speaking non-stop! The boys didn’t get a word in edge-ways…or any ways for that matter! Needless to say, the weeks since Karen and Jesus have come back, have been filled with frequent catch ups and dinners…there’s a lot to catch up on. Some of these catch ups have included a welcome back BBQ in a park in Richmond, and a wonderful dinner at our friends Richard and Jo’s house…fun, friendship, and food! Does it get any better than this?
It suddenly dawned on me sometime that Malaysia, Sarawak and the Rainforest Festival really weren’t all that far away. We are going for two weeks in July and will also visit Brunei (the country), and Penang. How much can you pack into two weeks? Just watch us!
I have now been working at Inclusive Leisure Victoria (ILV) for four and a half months, and am really getting into the groove. As the manager, my role is around policy and advocacy for the inclusion of people with a disability in the sport and recreation sector. It’s funny how I have gone full circle, and am back working in the disability field. I must admit that making a difference in the lives of others gives me a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction. My indicator of success is seeing others successful! Alex continues to work at Melbourne University, in the Law School. His “computer boffinry” never ceases to amaze me, but being a “techno-slexic” that isn’t too hard to do! We are also back on the “hunt for a home” to buy, but that whole saga is rather depressing, as prices seem to increase by the week. When I find myself asking where time goes, I also need to consider that I spend my weeks looking for houses, and my Saturdays going from one inspection to the next, as well as auctions. I have been left mortified on a number of occasions, as I have watched the bidding go above and beyond the reserve. Just to give you an idea, last Saturday we went to the auction of an apartment in Coburg whose reserve was 450 thousand, but which sold for 551! How depressing! For those of you who have done it, I am sure that you would understand both how time and emotionally consuming this process is! OK, off the whinge bandwagon.
Whilst writing this blog, I quickly checked my email account, and watched a short film (not quite six minutes) that Linda sent me. It made me cry! It very much ties into compassion and humility, and made me think how very lucky I am to be healthy, alive and well, and that indeed I have nothing to whinge about. I am so thankful that Alex and I have compassion and that we genuinely believe that the little things we do, both personally and metaphorically, can make a difference to the people around us. A “small” act can have such a “profound” effect. Please make the time to watch this short film, called “The Story of a Sign”.
So, there are some highlights from the last week, or two, or three or…my only promise this time is that…there will be no more promises! Well, at least until I can work out HOW and WHY one day rolls into the next, and how one week becomes two, then three and then four. If I am indeed missing out, or if I have not been enlightened, I welcome your letting me know…exactly where all “that” time goes! Until the next blog, I bid you all farewell.
Dedication: This one is for my two “novias” and “partners in crime”, Linda and Karen. If there were EVER three peas in a pod, we are it! It has been such an absolute pleasure to meet you both, to laugh with you, and to share my persona and self with you. You take me back to the child within, the lover of excitement, connectedness, and adventure. “Blood sisters foreva!”
Photos: 1.- Ombi and Alex at Marie and Moz’s wedding. 2.- Giovannino and Auntie Rina. 3.- Congratulations! Moz and Marie tie the knot! 4.- Giovanni enjoys a “traditional” beer at San Remo. 5.- The gang at Brunetti’s. 6.- Ombi and Linda at Thaila Thai on Linda’s birthday. 7.- At Auntie Iride and Sonya’s place, tucking into some good old fashion “roba buona”! (Italian food) 8.- Welcome home! Ombi, Linda and Karen, (“the partners in crime”) at Karen’s sister’s brother’s house on the day of their return. 9.- L to R: Jesus, Jo, Alex and Ombi at Karen and Jesus’ welcome back BBQ (another one!) 10 – L to R: Hwa, Madame Geisha..oops Jesus, and Alex at a dinner at Hwa’s house. 11- Another gathering with some very special friends at Jamo’s house. L to R (bottom):Ombi, “my friend Kelly Jones” and Leeanne (Jamo). L to R (top): Zoe and Julie. 12.- Ombi and Nayte (Nathaniel) at Linda’s birthday. 13.- Heard of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” ? Well, this has got to be “Gossiping at Hwa’s”! Ombi, Linda, Karen and Kirrily gettin’ right into it! 14.- Dad, Giovannino and Alex at The Nobbies, Phillip Island. 15.- Mali Zeta Kihi Jones – Kel’s daughter. How cute! 16.- Sonya, Giovannino and Aunty Iride. 17.-Teah Precious Aroha Jones – Mali’s big sister, and equally cute 18.- At a cafe in the city: Moz, Ombi, Giovanninio and my nephew James, in the front. 19.- L to R: Bianca and Linda…second cousins who look like sisters! (Bianca is Moz’s daughter, and Linda is our first cousin) 20.- Family united – The Brady Bunch, oops the wedding party! From L to R: Bianca and Jarrod (Moz’s kids) and Rebecca, Raechel and Claire (Marie’s girls), and…Moz and Marie!
Siginagi, Georgia. Hi and welcome to veryitchyfeet.com. We are Ombi and Alex an Australian/ Ecuadorian couple who have, between us, visited some 90 countries and speak three languages; English, Italian and Spanish. We are intrepid travellers at heart. Follow us as we passionately share 30 years of travel know-how, adventures, exploration and detours with you. We want to motivate you to experience this amazingly diverse world we live in and show you how to do it!