Thursday, 20 August 2015

Return from Paradise

About 48 hours ago we walked back into our home in Brisbane after 10 days abroad. The first 24 hours were a blur after our sleep deprived bodies gave into the effects of sitting in Cattle Class of an all-night, budget flight from SE Asia.  As soon as we sat in our comfy recliners, in front of our large screen TV, our eyes lids became heavy, our heads began to droop and soon we were off in the land of nod.

Our latest journey took us to an island in the Andaman Sea, Koh Yao Noi, roughly halfway between Phuket and Krabi in Thailand. It’s great to be able to travel to distant lands and meet a variety of people and learn of their culture and way of life, and to remind ourselves of our good fortune to have been born in this time and place.

In the last 48 hours I have enjoyed drinking water straight from the tap (faucet), brushed my teeth and rinsed my mouth without fear of becoming ill, flushed my used toilet paper down the loo instead of having to place it in a bin by my toilet to remind me of mistakes I made when choosing my last meal. It’s ultimately the little comforts of home you miss most when travelling that remind you of your good fortune.

The island resort was far from your average Thai village, it was mostly secluded from the general public, hence no hawkers to disrupt our peaceful existence. The only Thai people we encountered were employed by the resort and thus paid to be nice to us and to pander to our every whim. Most spoke some English, some very fluently. The resort of Paradise Koh Yoa employs most its staff from the local village, taking them straight from school and teaching and training them on the job. It gives the locals a way of getting ahead that they would otherwise struggle to do. The best wage in the village is as a fisherman, the next as a worker on the rubber plantations. In most cases, whole families are involved in collecting rubber, as the income one person can obtain from tapping is usually insufficient to raise a family.

In the local village the main street is lined with small shop fronts, selling mainly food or touristy souvenirs. Many also dispense gasoline on the sidewalks from drums tapped with hand cranked bowsers or by the litre in recycled soft drink bottles. Work Place Health and Safety is unheard of and has no jurisdiction here. A few have basic safety precautions (note the fire extinguisher in the bottom left hand corner); most have none.

Although, due to its geographical location, this Island was spared the ravages of the Boxing Day Tsunami that devastated much of the region in 2004, there are still reminders and warning signs that Mother Nature can be unpredictable.

The bay is dotted with Limestone islands jutting out of the sea, many with sandy white beaches and azure coves tempting us into the water. Tiny fishing boats congregate on the waters surrounding them, dragging nets to catch prawns, crabs and lobsters. 

National Park officers now control the islands and charge each visitor about $10 USD to visit, as I snorkelled around several of them and saw sparse numbers of fish and only dead, bleached remains of what was once coral, I can only surmise that they have shut the gate after the horse has bolted.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Our first day in Paradise, Koh Yao Noi

The sun had newly risen on our first day in Paradise. I threw back a quick hit of caffeine before grabbing my camera and heading out the door.

As I stepped outside the humidity hit me like a wet washer and my specs fogged over, as did my camera lens, still accustomed to the cool dry climate of our air-conditioned bungalow. It took nearly twenty minutes for it to acclimatise to the muggy tropical morning.

I headed towards the sandy cove where day beds lay in neat rows waiting for the wave of tourist to awake and claim them.

Tiny, translucent crabs scuttled across the sand, diving into the safety of the burrows ahead of my approaching feet.

Butterflies fluttered between the many beautiful flowers that thrive on the island, quenching their thirst on the nectar while a quite minion of workers busied themselves, raking the sand sweeping the paths and generally making the resort picture perfect for the new day.

I met hubby meandering along the path heading to the restaurant and after gorging ourselves silly on the buffet breakfast, clogging our arteries with all the wrong food choices, we spent the remainder of the day by the tranquil pool, dividing our time between dips in the cooling water and vegetating on the comfy day beds, reading and snoozing.

To cap off a very relaxing day we enjoyed cocktail hour at the aptly named "Sundowner’s Bar" by the water’s edge while the sun slowly set, sipping on exotic beverages. Paradise indeed!
It’s a tough job; but someone has to do it.

Monday, 4 May 2015

A Near Death Experience

Today we embarked on a short road trip. We are driving to Melbourne and together with our son, his wife and two grandsons, continuing on to Phillip Island a mere 2,000 km away.  It’s been a long time since we were last travelling across Australia and as usual we find ourselves going against the flow. As we head South towards Melbourne the road, in the opposite direction, appears to be a super highway for Annual Grey Nomads , a term I coined for the older southerners who make the annual pilgrimage north to escape the cold, wet, Melbourne winter.

If it wasn’t a 4x4 towing a caravan with a tinnie (a colloquial term for a small aluminium boat) on the roof heading north then it was road train. A road train are semi-trailers with 2, 3 or sometimes even 4 trailers in tow and can vary in length from about 27.5 m (90 ft) to 53.5 m (176 ft). Combined, they make up about  90% of traffic we encountered.

We have travelled nearly 500 km today from Brisbane to Moree. At one point, as we were flying down the Newell Highway (speed limit 110 k.p.h.), there appeared to be a slow moving road train ahead of us in the distance until, as we got closer, we discovered that it was actually barrelling towards us on our side of the road, overtaking three other road trains in its path. We almost became some grotesque hood ornament on its 2 m high radiator grill before I pointed out to hubby that it was in our lane and on a collision course with us. Two vehicles travelling towards each other at 110 k.p.h would give an effective impact velocity of 220 k.p.h., if both vehicles were of the same size and mass, but the road train was probable somewhere between 20-30 times the size and mass of our new Prius. I didn’t actually have time to do the maths as too the likely outcome before Hubby fairly stood up on the brakes, pulled as far onto the shoulder as possible without hitting any trees as the triple trailer road train whooshed past us. Our vehicle veritably shuddered in its wake as it careened down the centre line of the highway pushing another road train onto the opposite shoulder.

And we lived to tell the tale….only another 1500 km to Melbourne. Let’s hope they are not as harrowing.

Friday, 31 August 2012

It doesn't get any better than this...

I know I have been remiss; it has been ages since I last blogged. I lost my Mojo for a while, & wasn't feeling in the mood to be glib.

We returned to Oz over a month ago after receiving the heart breaking news that my cousin Gillian and her husband, Steve, were tragically killed when the plane Steve was piloting crashed while on a flying safari in Alaska. Their funeral, attended by hundreds of mourners, was a testament to the high esteem in which they were held. Though ours is not a very close knit family, their loss was a deep shock to us all and we will miss them dearly.

I now hold even dearer every moment spent with my loved ones; my darling, long-suffering hubby, our two wonderful sons, their beautiful partners and our two darling grandsons.

Last time I wrote we were somewhere on a road-less-travelled on our way to Banja Luka in Bosnia Herzegovina where we spent two days visiting the family of our younger son's partner, Mirna. They were tremendously hospitable and we were made to feel very welcome. They even enlisted the help of a family friend, Nevena, to act as translator for the duration. She was fantastic and very patient with us.

Here we are with Mirna's grandmother, uncle and great-uncle

The Cathedral in Banja Luka

After returning to Dubrovnik we met up with hubby's two brothers and their wives. We completed a 10 day driving holiday through Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina with them. It was an interesting time with six very different personalities but we all survived to tell the tale.

All of the Segals in the Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

It was a great holiday and the scenery was breathtaking. Though still pock-marked with the scars from the war of the 1990's Bosnia has pulled itself back up and rebuilt much of what was devastatingly destroyed.

the rebuilt bridge in Mostar

 On 9 August, a little over three weeks since the death of my cousin we were presented with the latest addition to our family, little baby Zach, a son to our elder son and his wife, and a brother to Charlie.

Here I am, in my element, snuggling up with Charlie and baby Zach. Charlie declared "I feel happy, Oma" and my heart swelled to near bursting. It doesn't get any better than this!

In this photo, baby Zach sleeps soundly nestled against my ample breast.  Once he would have been the envy of many a young man. Now it is just the domain of infant grandchildren .... and their grandfather, if he's lucky.

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Road Less Travelled

Over the years I have often blogged in praised of travelling with a GPS (Satellite Navigation). Unfortunately in Eastern Europe we have found our GPS to be sadly lacking. So warned, we decided to check with Google Earth and Via Michelin on the Internet before believing our GPS when in decided that we could reach the Bosnian border by continuing along the road from accommodation in the small village of Rastovaca, near Plitvicka Lakes (Plitvitza Lakes) in Croatia.

We had enjoyed a full day at the lakes the day before. There are insufficient superlatives to describe the absolute beauty of the lakes and waterfalls descending between them. I have previously blogged about Krka National Park in Croatia and the beautiful cascading falls there, but Plitvicka surpasses Krka ten fold.

And so having ended our visit to Plitvicka we departed the guesthouse and embarked along the small bitumen road passing the last house on the street. The residents standing in their front yards gawked at us as we drove by. We were blissfully ignorant to what awaited us ahead.

Less than a kilometre down the road the bitumen ended. We were not overly concerned, we had driven on dirt roads before. Over the course of the next kilometre the road diminished to little more than an overgrown goat track and then it got really narrow. In places the grass, flowers and weeds growing between the tyre tracks were waist high. At times Hubby had to get out of the car to break branches from the trees that so that we could pass. I didn't remind him that bears roamed these woods, but I stayed safely within the confines of our car. There was an ominous scratching sound as the trees on each side of the track scraped both sides of the car as we proceeded deeper into the untamed forest. I doubt whether any vehicle had passed this way since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

We had selected the "no unsealed roads" setting on the GPS, perhaps there needs to be a "no machete needed" setting too. Had there have been sufficient room to turn around, I think Hubby would have done so in an instant.
Because of the signs warning us about land mines all around, Hubby was reluctant to leave the less than beaten track, so when nature called I stoically crossed my legs rather than risk my life by "going bush" amid unexploded land mines.

At one stage we even came across a gate; albeit an open one, but it planted a seed of doubt in our minds that there may be others, and what if, at the end of the road, one is locked; what then. I'm sure Hubby would have sooner abandoned the car than drive all the way back again.

I was not very popular as Hubby had asked me if we should inquire about this road before we departed the guesthouse. Being a stubborn Capricorn I waved this suggestion off with the flick of my wrist, it was, after all, only 7 kilometres. They were destined, however, to be the longest 7 kilometres we had ever travelled, rarely getting out of first gear for the majority of the way. It really was the road less travelled.

Eventually, without loss of life or limb, we hit civilisation and a bitumen road again and were soon at the border between Croatia and Bosnia/Herzegovina. Our passports were scrutinised, "Ooo! Ostrahlia...long way!" and we were ushered into yet another country.

We proceeded towards the city of Banja Luka on a wing and a prayer because, while our GPS recognised the overgrown dirt track as a road, it did not recognise 75% of the roads in Bosnia and as far as it was concerned the 120 km long, two lane, bitumen highway did not exist. Go figure!

P.S. my hands were shaking so violently that the photos of this road were too blurry to post, sorry.

Monday, 2 July 2012

I'm in Heaven

Over the past 4 weeks we have meandered up the coast of Croatia, criss-crossing between islands and generally having a great time. Croatia is blessed with hundreds of islands to choose from and thousands of kilometres of coast line dotted with delightful bays and coves of clear aqua water all enticing me to dive in. Unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day to swim in all of them.

But today was one of my lucky ones. We are currently on the island of Cres (pronounced "Tsres") and spent the day travelling the length of the island and over a small bridge to the Island of Losinj where we discovered a spectacular cove only accessible by means of a goat track from a narrow winding road. We were rewarded for our effort by a pristine cove not overcrowded, like most, with pleasure craft anchored bow to stern.

With the mercury hovering around 34 deg C most days, I needed little incentive to take the plunge. I snorkelled blissfully in the cool blue waters for over an hour. With visibility clear to a depth of 10-15 metres I could see all the way on the sea floor.

Although the sea life in the waters of Croatia are not as colourful as those on the Great Barrier Reef back home it was still delightful to swim amidst schools of tiny blue/green fish, glistering, changing colour as they weaved to and fro in front of my mask, seemingly unperturbed by my presence.

I was mesmerised as I floated on the surface; the midday sun sent fine shafts of lights all the way to the sandy bed below, shooting a marine laser light show all around me. Fish shimmered silver as the sun's rays caught them darting in and out of the beds of sea grass on either side of the sandy corridor. I don't know what they're called, but there were several large ones I'd be happy to call dinner.

Time passed too quickly and I had to revert to my life as a landlubber. In my next life want to come back as a mermaid....but knowing my luck I'll be reincarnated as a dugong.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Split to Zadar

Around 300 AD, what is now the city of Split, started life as a retirement village for the Roman emperor Diocletian. With a few quid to spare he built a stupendous villa covering 9½ acres (38,000 m²). After his demise it became the world's first time-share to various expelled Roman emperors and their family members.

Since about 639 AD it has been invaded, robbed and plundered by the who's who of the world's conquering forces, including the Slavs, Hungarians, Turks, Venetians and French.

Like hermit crabs, the various civilisations have colonised the palace with shops, market squares, & even a Christian cathedral (formerly Diocletian's mausoleum) inserted in the corridors and floors of the former palace. Each one making a little modification here and an attic conversion there, the place is now a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, made up of a hodge-podge of architectural styles. With souvenir shops, Pizzerias and B&B's at every turn, today the only invaders in sight are hordes of foreign tourists seeking fun in the sun.
Still the ambiance of a civilisations lost can be felt while treading the marble walkways polished smooth by millennia of weary soles.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from Split and our comfortable apartment, a stone's throw from the walls of the old palace but after bidding farewell to Merica and her fat cat Melena, we ventured forth to the beautiful national park at Krka.

A delightful valley with waterfalls cascading over pools of turquois blue, Krka is a tranquil relief after the hub bub of Split.

Raised walkways meander through the gorge facilitating breathtaking vistas at every turn.

Electric blue dragonflies hover over ponds filled with fish. Swans glide towards tourists on the waters edge, gratefully accepting any morsels offered.

Unfortunately we arrived on a stifling hot day with temperatures hovering around 36 degrees Celsius. Thank goodness for the Gelato vendors who have colonised every part of Croatia, including Krka.

We continued on towards Zadar with our latest rental car. In a period of three days we have changed cars no fewer than three times. The first being the one that broke down on Korcula and then the replacement car we received at Orebic needed replacing when we arrived in Split as the power supply from the cigarette lighter was not functioning. I know; we don't smoke, but our GPS requires 12 volt power to operate; something it struggles to do at the best of times over here. More often than not we end up driving round in circles as we wait for it to give us some direction in life. Streets we need either don't exist as far as its concerned or it simply decides to go out on strike at the most inopportune moments; why should we be the only ones on vacation?

Anyway, we always seem to find our destination eventually and the definition of a true optimist is one who can enjoy the view on a detour.