Tag Archives: Travel

Just do it. Go.

20170113_140349

Sometimes, life makes you want to throw your arms up in the air in full f%*# it all!

Cue in time to get lost … in a feisty swim under a sun flecking through warming water, yoga on the beach to salute the sun at dawn or a tear along the Great Ocean Road on the back of a bike. Sometimes just being with a friend that lets you blurt out a chain of rants and holds you when distress is too great for your shoulders or sitting with one of those gangly kids who seem so disinterested in anything seriously adult but that care more deeply than you realise, can help the blood reduce its boil.

And generally, within a few pounding heart beats or slamming round-kicks to the punching bag, that little whisper begins to be heard, ‘do whatever makes you happy.’

We lost a dear uncle last night after he suffered a second heart attack, the first being at home before being air lifted to hospital. Easy to write that he’s passed, much more difficult to express the loss. I cried of course, in streaming tears, while I tried to think through my exam document and interviews and battling a virus, even while preparing dinner. Cooking’s always a reflecting time. A gentle man, caring, and the other half to my aunt, he was her doctor she would say, having to insert drops into her eyes every day. I saw him as the quiet achiever, always busy in the basement or outside, shifting wood for the heater and taking food scraps to the compost, even in sub zero temperatures, watching, always smiling, understanding everything, including my English words.

And when l realised l’d seen him only a few weeks ago, l cried even more. He and my aunt lived in the mountains on the other side of the world to me and l’d only just visited them a few weeks ago. It had been six years since the last visit. It was wonderful of course, winter and snow in Austria with my youngest son, sister and her son, and my aunt and uncle and all their family. Quite blissful, like being home.

‘Do whatever makes you happy.’ That little faint whisper persists.

I’m thankful I got to see him but never imagined it would be my last time.

It just so happened too that a few hours before my uncle’s passing, the beautiful Azure Window in Malta collapsed and crashed into the ocean during a wild storm. We were enjoying the Azure Window’s beauty after seeing our family in Austria, my son climbing the rocks, dwarfed by the magnificent jagged formations and the blowing spurts of sea. Now it’s gone, forever. Loss is grief.

Treasures like these are priceless, where they may be gone in physicality but still linger in a soulful presence that never fades. I’m so blessed to have been able to tell my uncle (and aunt) that l loved them when l saw them those weeks ago, to have glimpsed their emotional tears as we said good bye, to feel their love.

Thankful and grateful are my two words for the week. ‘Do whatever makes you happy,’ l say to my sons, ‘as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else.’ That’s in the perfect world of course.

Life’s too short to hesitate. Just do it. Go. Do what makes you happy.

I’m in Sydney on the weekend and that little whispering in my ears is far from softening.

This place

received_10208386816364326

Three strikes of the brass bell. Each strike rattles the frame that holds the bell, sending vibrations into the soles of my boots. Although my feet tingle, they steady and relax into the stone floor. Then comes the ding, as the little brother or sister trying to impress. Only one. It’s 3.15. I give myself half an hour in the Temple of Minerva.

Built in the first century BC as a Roman temple to worship Mars, it was converted in the 16th century to what is today the St Maria Sopraminerva Church.

But you don’t have to be religious to appreciate this place. Sitting in the musty silence, the energy is breathtaking. Grounding and still, with an undeniable strength and dignity that permeates the space. The few wooden pews for 20 or so people are dwarfed by statues gilded in gold leaf of saints, cupids and angels, and columns that support a basic, sarcophagus shaped altar. Colourful frescos adorn the ceiling and pink and orange gerberas sit at the foot of the altar, both adding to the temple’s heart.

Thankful and appreciative to be alone, l shut my eyes and succumb to the wooden seat that supports me. I breathe deep the air of chalk and stone and prepare to soak in every miniscule of everything I can.

Light humming creeps into my ears. My body relaxes, limbs become heavy and soon, l don’t feel them. Another deep breath and a comfort begins to sweep in, triggering an insatiable desire for more.

Although l don’t feel my legs, my left achilles starts to ache, probably from the last four weeks of walking over old cobble stones. My right foot follows in sympathy with a tenderness at the base of my big toe, possibly bruised from climbing the many hills and worn stairs.

But for all the aches, there has been much fun and laughter, crazy falls over slippery and unsuspecting ice, and reminiscing and reconnecting with family. Much food and wine too, way too much.

Another deep breath, a sense of calm washes over and my whole body feels as if it is hovering.

Hes, shes and theys weave in and out, become liquid thoughts of laughter with family and new friends. So much warmth, even in freezing temperatures of snowmobiling under a polar sun and late night scouting for the dancing night lights of the polar north.

My body becomes weightless, I’m unable to feel it. Thoughts are random and mixed, come and fade to nothing, become as fluid as the snowfalls of little balls as we walked up mountains, and as the streams of tears of goodbye.

Three more strikes of the brass bell and rattle of the frame, and two dings.

Thoughts move in and out, linger in a space of infinity and drift.

Here, in this tiny town of goodness and grace, everything is different. The water is crisp, fresh and untainted, lunch earlier of short cannelloni filled with veal and ricotta tossed in a pumpkin and truffle sauce, the Chianti … the flavours are distinct and clean, as gentle and pure as the people in this town and the monks and nuns walking the streets. Calmness and cleansing exude as profusely as the black and white scenes of snow-laden Alps viewed from the train a week earlier.

It’s a purity that can’t be described. It’s more to be savoured as the most sought after wine or chocolate, or softness of the most pristine mountain water.

It’s a calmness in the air, as if the place has its own cone placed over the top to exist in it’s own ecosystem, even with a blustering wind over the Rocca Maggiore on the hill top, a fortified feudal castle from the 1100s AD. The climb today to the top will test my legs in the morning.

This place is like stepping back in time. Not for its life, material value or amenity, more in the goodness and giving of people. In a world full of materialism and self adoration, this place is a haven for old fashioned good.

Another three strikes of the brass bell and rattle of the frame, followed by three dings.

I ease my eyes open, taste my mouth as if just waking. I’m surprised by where l am and realise I must have drifted to somewhere else. A scan around me reveals no one.

It may be time to get back to my travelling buddies but l will return.

Assisi, you have my heart.

Sodden but not stirred

Stormy Heron Island
A dot of a tropical island lazes under daylong sunshine within the crystal-clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef, an oasis with perfect daily temperatures of around twenty-nine degrees Celsius (eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit) … that is, until you’re caught in lashing wind and rain from an ex-tropical cyclone!

We arrived on Heron Island to those perfect conditions and were told within hours that water supplies were low, as the island hadn’t received rain in months. Water would be available for two hours each morning and evening and fresh water in containers would be delivered to apartments daily for use any other time. Rain was coming, monsoon rains should’ve been there weeks ago. That was okay, I thought. We were in a national park surrounded by Pisona forest, that’s nature.

When the water came on that evening, we discovered that we had no hot water. And an hour or so later, the ceiling fans clicked off. No power either. However, it was easy to reason that we were in a place that needed to be self sufficient, in a national park. The mass of Black Noddy Terns with white capped heads flying across and at us from nests perched throughout striking green-leafed trees, told me that.

A walk down to reception, dodging those terns and boards scattered in the middle of the path that covered the nesting holes of Wedgetailed Shearwaters, fixed both problems and gave us the opportunity to book our days of snorkelling and scuba diving for in two days time.

The next morning, we snorkelled those beautiful waters off the beach. Reef sharks and Loggerhead and Green turtles swam with fish of varying shades of purple and yellow, and dark stingrays with white underbellies lunged up out of the water to surprise us before splashing back down. Pure beauty.

Clouds swept in by lunchtime, although the weather remained warm. Not to worry I thought, tomorrow we had a boat booked to take us snorkelling and diving the outer reefs. And it remained warm at night for a walk over coarse shell-grit along the water edge, where we discovered Green Turtles slowly making their way up from the water to nest and lay eggs about ten metres from the water edge. It would take them about an hour and a half to make that walk and nest.

The next day, the rain began yet it was light enough to allow the reef walk after lunch. I collected some reef shoes and gathered with twenty other guests eager to learn about the reef over the next one and a half hours. We set out over slippery rocks and into the warm waters of the reef. Soon, the rain gathered momentum and pelted down on us. The winds grew and I could barely walk against currents that stirred hidden beneath the water’s surface. Within half an hour, we abandoned our walk and struggled against the gales and downpour to get back to shore.

And that was how the weather stayed for the next three and a half days. Boats to snorkel and scuba dive were cancelled; stargazing was cancelled. Some island walks went ahead to finish prematurely, as was the case with our walk to the Marine Research Centre where rains lashed us and winds turned umbrellas inside out.

The next days saw this tiny island that took twenty minutes to walk its circumference, pounded by wind and rain from ex-tropical cyclone Oswald. It became a paradise overtaken by the ferocity of nature. I looked out from the lounge that we had been confined to one afternoon, to where the day before, I sipped a cocktail on the water’s edge looking out to a shimmering, turquoise sea. Now, waves pounded against rocks up to where I sat admiring the view and which had turned stirred grey with a frothy milkshake on the reef edge. If I were there again, I would surely be smashed against those rocks and dragged out to sea. The power of nature and our vulnerability to it struck me, the fine line between life and death overwhelmed me.

Rooves leaked and caused the big screen T.V. hanging in the island lounge to be taken down, and people to be moved from one room to another. Buckets sat conscientiously capturing water from leaks in the lounge, bar, reception and in guest rooms. Toilets clogged and smoke alarms malfunctioned due to the humidity. Trees came down, one crashed onto a building. Palm and pineapple leaves fell and rolled with the wind to be strewn over paths and in large pools of water.

Little Quail with cream stripes that extended from their eyes as masks, across their neck and over the top of wings, walked into the lounge for shelter, and the poor ‘noddies’ struggled to fly against the wind and were often pushed back to look as if they were flying backwards. Even a flock of large, black Frigatebirds hovered lazily in the skies, taking refuge over the island until the storm passed, a long way from their Galapagos home.

Us, we trod through puddles under umbrellas that often turned inside out, between the lounge, the dining room and our room at the end of the resort, where the smell of damp bush undergrowth lingered. I had never been more sodden in all my life and I was sure the noddies hadn’t either. Luckily for some of them, the rain helped to dislodge the sticky flowers of the Pisona that clung to their feathers and that would normally have killed them.

I got to finish a lovely book by Sofie Laguna called One foot wrong, where a child was imprisoned in a house by reclusive, religious parents and who only has Cat, Spoon, Door, Handle and Broom as friends that speak to her. It was so beautifully written and confronting at the same time.

It was also an opportunity to reconnect with people, all one hundred or so guests thrown together as strangers marooned on this island. After three days and no electronic distractions as our connections beyond the island did not exist, we got to know faces well. It was perfect for watching people and eavesdropping on conversations as inspiration for writing too!

And of course it was an opportunity to connect with my family, to watch my boys and other children play billiards and swim outside in the pool while it rained, to play board games that included hours of time in Monopoly. The laughter, and the boredom.

At one point, I noticed much giggling coming from the table where my boys were playing scrabble. They noticed me watching them and tried to hide their mirth. That spelled trouble! I looked more closely at their game of scrabble, which was ‘dirty-word’ scrabble. Boys!

The storm subsided and we eventually got off the island, albeit, one day late and very sodden, but not stirred.

*For the story on our journey home from Heron Island, read my earlier blog The world revolves and not around us.

The world revolves, and not around us

A husky-voiced woman said through her sunshine smile while we sat beside one another on the last leg of a long flight home that the world doesn’t revolve around us, it revolves. It stopped me in my thoughts and I’m sure my heart skipped a beat. After what we’d just endured, her statement rang more true than anything I’d heard in a while.

We have no control over life. We can only command our ship through its waters and hope we don’t hit a reef or too many rocks. We navigate its rocky waters of unseen dangers, dodging and occasionally hitting an iceberg where suddenly we’re forced to sink or swim.

We endured some of those rough waters on our journey home from our family holidays in the sun last week.

The monsoon rains were late to arrive up in northern Australia whilst we were holidaying there. People were desperate for rain. It was only a matter of time before they came.

A cyclone formed half way through our trip, and rain and winds developed to smash the coast. Mother Nature was in control and demanded we enjoy her ride on our island on the Great Barrier Reef until she had finished her almost four-day wind and rain lashing.

Marooned on a tropical island, wonderful! Warm and humid with only three degrees celsius separating the day and night temperatures, tropical, green, beautiful beaches … apart from the rain, perfect. Being marooned didn’t trouble us or spoil our family together time. We couldn’t get off Heron Island and no one or nothing could get on. Great, no bother.

It meant though that we had to change our flights home to Melbourne. That took strong commanding of our ship, particularly with no phone reception, and landlines and internet going down. Eventually, we had our flights changed for departure when we all hoped the harbour would be open and working again. We had an extra day on the island.

The coastguard opened the harbour as hoped after the storms passed. About fifty holiday makers, three-quarters of people on Heron Island, were ferried back to Gladstone on the mainland where flooded lands cut off towns and many people lost everything. Transport and people couldn’t move between places, and flights were delayed and diverted. The airports were chaos and our flight from Gladstone to Brisbane was delayed like all others, which meant we would miss our connecting flight in Brisbane back to Melbourne as we would arrive late at night.

‘No worries,’ the airline said. ‘We’ll put you up the night.’ Reassuring words.

Thankfully we had reception again and texts from concerned family at home were coming through. I was able to update them with what was happening.

So we arrived in Brisbane three hours late with people in nasty moods swamping lounges, diverted and delayed as we were. The airline shut the service desk as the crowds grew, creating more confusion and outrage. Airline staff began to appear among the crowd and said that hotels were booked out because of the delays and diversions and we had an almost hour taxi ride to get to a hotel that night. We were told with many others to see Pete for a taxi voucher and the hotel name but we had to pay our own way back to the airport once our flights home had been organised. And we had to ring a number to arrange those new flights home.

We were in the throngs of hot and tired, disgruntled and confused people. It was almost midnight by now and children were upset and restless, babies were crying and some were sleeping with a parent on hard floors. We queued in the humidity outside for a taxi with the masses, all desperate to leave the chaos.

It was our turn for a taxi van. We loaded bags and plonked into the vinyl seats, slamming the door behind us. The taxi was quiet compared with the airport. Not one of us five spoke.

After fifty minutes of speeding along highways in darkness, we were checking in and getting the three boys settled. Husband and I went to our room, determined not to go to sleep until we knew we had a flight home. The longer we waited to organise our flights home, the longer we’d be laid up in this no-idea-where-we-are town!

We began our call at around quarter to one in the morning and listened to repeated on-hold messages. At times my stomach knotted tight and the husband told me to go to sleep. But I was determined to get flights home and finally at 3.00am, we got to speak to someone. We could get a flight at 6.00am but with a connecting flight in Adelaide, which meant flying away from home first to get back to Melbourne. More being put on hold until 3.30am and finally we had our flights changed. It meant we had to pack up and get out of the hotel in a mad hurry to make our flight.

I threw on clothes I couldn’t see and dashed downstairs to reception to organise a taxi, then rang the boys to wake them. I dashed up to their room and helped them pack up, and boy three to get dressed. He was crying by now with not quite three hours sleep. But we had to get home now or risk waiting another day. We all had work and school to get back to and funds were running low.

We were outside the hotel by 4.00am waiting for a taxi. We had time. We waited and waited, time ticked on. We paced and searched for oncoming headlights. Boy three grew emotional again and I tried to settle him on his duffle bag to sleep. We called the taxi again, waited more, paced more. Still no taxi. We called the taxi a third time. It finally arrived almost forty minutes late. By now, we thought we’d miss our flight.

The taxi driver whizzed us through the dawn, chatting away after his restful night’s slumber, while we dozed for some minutes in between chatting to him, except for our boy three who crashed and slept the whole way back to the airport. I texted family again, to tell them where we were at. I felt comforted that they were on the other end of my phone.

We arrived five minutes late for check in but it didn’t seem to matter, as at just after 5.30 in the morning, the queues were massive and extended onto the footpath outside the airport doors. We found an airline staffer and she said she’d call us up when the flight got nearer. Until then, join the queue. The monitor said the flight was twenty minutes delayed anyway. No surprise there.

After a short time, the monitor changed and our flight was suddenly on time again and due to leave in 15 minutes, yet we were still way back in the queue waiting to check in bags and had to go through security to get to the boarding gate! Very quickly we were ushered up to a counter and as we looked to have some command again, the controller stepped in. The computer system seized and they couldn’t check us in. Frantic phone calls, buttons pressed and steam releasing from frustrated heads …

We walked onto the plane twenty minutes late to the annoyance of many passengers. We sat apart from one another. I had breakfast, hoping boy three was coping, and he was, read the newspaper, and slept for maybe an hour to wake in time for landing in Adelaide.

Off another plane with almost three hours before our connecting flight home. Time to relax a little, with a strong cup of jasmine tea. And time to update family with another text.

Our boy one said he wanted to check the baggage carousel as he had a feeling our bags might be there as opposed to going straight through to Melbourne. You’ve got to trust intuition – three of the five bags were there. This meant time waiting at baggage services while they searched for the remaining bags. A report was completed and we had to check in the three bags again!

Back up to check in and more queues, more huffing passengers and airline staff! More waiting to check in those bags.

Finally and with ten minutes until boarding, our turn for a counter and a terse airline staffer who was not happy that we were bumped up the queue! My huffing boiled over and we exchanged words. With twenty-four hours of straight travel, which should have taken eight, and one hour of sleep, I was in no mood for pretentious people. Yet suddenly, I became self-conscious and thought I must’ve looked like the chaos I’d been surrounded in. My hair, my clothes, I must’ve looked a mess.

We made the boarding call and it was then that we realised, the airline staffer had moved the husband away from the boys and me. Nevertheless, we were safely on our last leg home. And that’s where I sat beside this worldly woman with her most clearest outlook on life, and who blew me a kiss good-bye when we disembarked the plane after our one and a half hour flight together.

Her truism saw us revolve in synch with the world again and when we landed at our home airport, I felt like kissing the ground.

The world certainly does not revolve around us. It revolves and we try to command its controlling waters.

Confetti on the sea

We sail high above the wide salt-water canal, my boy and me, with a green and yellow chute billowing behind us that propels us to fly as high and free as a kite in a sea breeze.  

A smattering of pale blue, semi-transparent circles below us rest as flimsy paper on the water’s surface. Innocent and gentle organic circles of rice paper whimsy. Confetti.

The steel links that connect our harness to the rope on the boat’s winch below, tense and chink.

‘What’s that?’ my boy asks.

‘It’s only the ropes tensing,’ I say as calmly as l can. ‘The boat’s turning us.’

The confetti begin to dissipate and we glide down closer and closer to the water. We bend knees and skim across its rippling surface, splashing as we pick up speed. A refreshing wakening!

Up again we sail, higher and higher and again, spot our floating confetti on the sea. We marvel at the sprinkling of dots that stretch beyond where our eyes can see. 

But all too soon, we’re being winched back down towards the boat. And as we draw closer, the confetti grow larger and rounder, three-dimensional.

Closer still and we see that beneath those rounds grow thick, wobbly tenticles. 

ImageThey’re juvenile jellyfish migrating to the open sea.

%d bloggers like this: