Singapore (5 days)

We arrived at the massive Singapore airport on March 3rd. We had downgraded our accommodations to a hostel called Ace Lodges Residence located about 10 kilometers from down town Singapore. It looked pretty good on-line and it was pretty cheap, so we booked it in hopes it would be OK. On our way from the airport to our accommodation, we were amazed at how clean Singapore was and how extremely nice and helpful the people were. We were also pleasantly surprised that English is their official language. It was evening when we arrived, but it was very warm and humid. We got to our place and we were very pleased with the facility. The staff/owners were very nice and greeted us with a warm welcome. The hostel practically brand and had only been open for three months. In our room, we only had four beds with a little night table crowded in, but there was an excellent TV/computer room, a decent kitchen area, and clean bathroom facilities. The city bus stop was right outside our door and the network of buses took us everywhere we wanted to go for a dollar or so each. There was a McDonalds restaurant right beside our place and Drew was pleased about that, as well a grocery store, 7/11 convenient store, all within a block. Perfect! Interestingly, the McDonalds was a 24-hour restaurant with delivery! They employed no less than three drivers at one time all with motorized scooters and they seemed to be constantly strapping on their hot packs, jumping on their bikes and speeding off to another emergency delivery.

The next morning we jumped on the giant double decker city bus and headed for downtown Singapore. Our fist stop was a five-story massive electronic store complex that must have over two hundred stores of computers, cell phones and cameras. Our goal was to purchase two cameras in Singapore, because they are apparently the cheapest place in the world to buy a brand name electronic item, tax-free along with global warranty. Earlier in the trip, Drew had camera issues and ended up sending his back to Canada for warranty only to find out it was unfixable, and ended up with a credit to purchase a new one. And for our stupid camera, our underwater Sanyo video camera failed in the water while snorkeling when water entered through the battery chamber shorting the camera out.  Sanyo claims this is customer error and not a malfunction. Brutal!  Anyway, we bought our cameras and headed further downtown to just take in some of the sites of amazing Singapore. We came to a giant monument of a lion that was spewing water out of its mouth into the bay and learned that the lion is the symbol of Singapore. Sing means “lion” and “pore” means port.  There are several impressive buildings in downtown Singapore, but none more amazing than the newly built hotel casino. It is this massive three building structure with a humongous ship structure on top of them, joining all three structures together. Simply, it looks like a huge ship sitting on top three parallel buildings. Check out the pictures on Singapore(soon to come). Downtown Singapore is noticeably very clean and he laws of Singapore are a contributing factor to this cleanliness.  The strict enforced laws will get you a hefty fine for littering, spitting, gum chewing, and anything else that generates litter or filth. The kids were particularly astonished at law signs posted at the airport and other major facilities that said “ PUNISHMENT FOR POSSESSION OF ILLEGAL DRUGS IS DEATH.” That got all our attention and we all locked our luggage while in the airport or public place.

The next day we had to fulfill Jessica’s request to go shopping for clothes. We asked around and ended up at this huge market in an area called Bogie Street. We stayed there quite a while, but the shopping was not that good and there was so many people and it was extremely hot. After that we walked to Singapore’s large China town to have a look around and get some traditional food. The kids loved China town because once again the shops were full of cheap unique tourist junk. Drew bought another flute, Jessica bought a cool little statue guy shaped like an umbrella that was made out of Singapore cinnamon wood and Lyane bought tax-free name brand perfume. We then wondered into a giant food court where Drew immediately began to pinch his nose and commented that the food smelt like Teddy’s breath. Teddy was a Pomeranian dog we dog sat last year for two weeks for a friend! Admittedly, Teddy did have pretty bad breathe and the Chinatown food court did remind me a little of the forgotten dogs breathe.  But we all sucked it up and ate there anyway, just to say we did. The food was actually pretty good and the service was outstanding.

Day three was Drew’s twelfth birthday and we gave him several options to celebrate his day, and fortunately he picked Singapore’s Wet and Wild massive water park. It was a great choice because again, the heat was stifling that day. The park had the usual wild water slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river you float around the park on a tube, but the highlight was this two-story high half-pipe water slide that you slide straight down on in a two-man tube. You go flying straight down and then plane out and then straight up the other side. The kids loved it, but Lyane and I are really getting to old for the stuff and we were just relieved we survived it! After we were all slided out, we went out for Drew’s favorite restaurant Pizza Hut. Speaking of food, I forgot to mention that, that morning the residence staff bought Drew and our whole family breakfast for his birthday from McDonalds. They didn’t want to disturb us placed so they just placed it at our dorm door. Drew was very grateful and happy about that. Thank you so much Alice, Eddy and Colin for breakfast and everything you did for us, we will forever remember your kindness.

The next day we went to the Singapore famous island of Sotosa. It is a spectacular island with literally hundreds of activities. Our goal was to visit the Aquarium and to take in the aquatic show with the rare Pink Dolphins. We arrived an hour early for the show, so we were able to walk right across the street and go to the beach for a swim first. Where else in the world can you go to an adventure park and go to the ocean beach for a swim as well! Again, It was so hot that it was the perfect thing to do. An hour later, the show began with a splash (haha) and the seals first and the dolphins last put on quit a show! During both shows, there was audience participation and Jessica was picked to hula-hoop with the pink dolphins, and was rewarded by being allowed to pet them after the show. Fortunately, we were able to add Drew in on the dolphin interaction and they both enjoyed another unforgettable event! After the dolphins, we went to the aquarium and saw giant sea turtles, huge 6ft wide Japanese spider crabs, dragon sea horses, and these cool miniature angle like fish that are so tiny they have to be magnified and actually do look like heaven angles as we know them. Next, Drew had always wanted to go luge carting (it’s like go- carting, except non-motorized and is on a steep downhill windy track). It was actually pretty scary and Jessica and I had to break a few times to avoid crashes, while Drew and Lyane finished ahead of us and claimed they did not break once. Crazy buggers! After that, we walked around the massive complex and peaked in at the brand new soon to be opened Universal Studios. Apparently, we missed the grand opening by a week, but you could see through the gate a giant state of the art roller coast and several other cool rides. The addition of Universal to the already impressive Sotosa Island will definitely boost Singapore’s tourism. There are many tourist that do visit Singapore, but the city is known to be an airport hub for tourist traveling to and from other destinations. The last and final day can and went pretty quick as we took the bus downtown for one last look before flying out in the evening to Phuket Thailand. We took a stroll down the popular waterfront area and visited the oldest temple in Singapore, then headed back to our residence for our luggage.

In reflection, we all really liked the city Singapore and we will always remember its cleanliness and the awe of the city sites, the friendly people, the very hot weather and of course, the pink dolphins.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef (Cairns Australia)

We arrived in Cairns Australia for a short three days on Feb 26th, where we were pleasantly surprised with our online booked apartment. Those online bookings can be so deceiving, but this time it worked out. It was a quaint clean little place located just a kilometer from downtown Cairns, with a small but unique little swimming pool, complete with a nice covered barbeque area. The next day we woke up late and just walked to town along the boardwalk and browsed around the little tourist town stores. For the most part, the downtown is all about The Great Barrier Reef tourism and is teaming with restaurants, souvenir and camera shops, markets and loads of tour booking businesses.
The next day we took the city transit bus to Cairns most popular beach called Palm Cove beach. Australia bus transportation is second to none, but it is not cheap to use and the bus fare was a whopping $25 dollars return for the four of us to go a few kilometers! When we arrived at Palm Cove beach, we were a little disappointed. The beach sand was OK and the water was clean but dark in color. There was a sign right on the beach warning swimmers only swim in this bordered quarantined area they had or else you are at risk of jellyfish stings. Unbeknown to us, it was jellyfish season in northern Queensland Australia and hundreds of thousands of the little buggers float aimlessly along the top of the water and apparently give you quit a hurtful nasty sting administered by their long floating transparent tentacles. So we looked at the situation and as the Australians say….we, “ gave it a go” and swam in the protected area for a short while and left. On the way back, we stopped at an Opal factory outlet/museum and learned about the geology and history of Opal gems. We learned that 95% of the Wolds’s  Opals are found and mined in Australia and therefore Australia is the cheapest place in the world to purchase them. So after the big tour and the sell job, we were persuaded to purchase a few opal pieces. The moral of the story here is……, “don’t stop at places that have tours and outlets combined, unless you are in the market for the product they sell!” The staff are often highly skilled sales people that have a way of making you feel guilty if you don’t by their product. Then it was back on our high priced transportation and we went to finish our downtown Cairns exploration. We walked around for a while and found this really cool market that had several really neat unique shops. Typical of market style retailers, the merchants were great presenters of their products and really spent time with you if you were interested. One guy owned a fabulous gem shop and he spent at least a half an hour with us educating us on precious gems. It was actually really interesting and entertaining, because the guy had tremendous passion for gems. He brought out and showed us this huge polished natural opal stone that had so many amazing colors in it. We should have asked him if we could take a picture of it, but it didn’t seem appropriate. Down the way from the gem store, was a lady in a booth that specialized in Iridology, which is the study of the eyes iris to identify your body ailments. The lady was well educated and had a lot of experience in the field. The kids were really interested, so we decided that one of us would “give it a go.” Of course, I was voted the guinea pig. First, a close-up picture of my eye was taken with a digital camera and then printed on 5X7 photo paper for examination. Next she placed a transparent chart over my eye photo and proceeded to read my results. Well, according to her, I am on my last leg!  It wasn’t horrible news, but bad enough. She basically told me to change my entire diet immediately or face the consequences. Drew and Jessica were fascinated with it and Drew took all the information she could give him. We hope he puts the info to good use.  Next, we wondered into a store that sold didgeridoos, which is a 6 foot long pipe like instrument that ancient Australian aboriginal instrument that has been popularized today. The guy working the store was really great, explaining the history of the instrument and proceeded to teach us how to play them. They are really cool, but just like any instrument, it takes a lot of practice before it sounds good, but when you hear someone who can really play it, it sounds fantastic! The trick is, to vibrate your lips at the top end and down the stock blowing with consistency like a trumpet, and if you do it right, a wonderful deep reverberating sound that is indescribable comes out the bottom. We really should have bought the CD that was playing in the store because it was a catchy mix of modern music accompanied by a didgeridoo.  After that, we continued along the large market and looked at the other hundred or so unique stores. Most were selling unusual trinkets and souvenirs and Jessica bought Drew a really neat game for his twelfth birthday. Kids eh, they all love that those trashy gizmoish type junk stores. After shopping, we headed back to our apartment on foot and suddenly a torrential down pour of warm tropical rain came down. The rain did not slow us down from continuing on because it was so warm out and the rain was warm as well. We were obviously soaked to the bone when we reached the apartment, but I think we all really enjoyed it!
The next day was the BIG day where we climbed aboard a giant tour catamaran to go snorkeling at the world famous Great Barrier Reef. The trip to the reef took about an hour and the staff took full advantage of the sail time by attempting to up sell you with other more attractive activities. As I politely declined their offer, I noticed in the corner of my eye that Lyane had that funny calculating look in her eye, and I knew she was sold on one of the expensive activities. The next thing I knew I was standing in chest high rough water with a rubber suit on with heavy scuba diving gear strapped to my back and learning how to breathe through a scuba mouthpiece. Then about minutes later, the four of us were plunging 20 meters down onto the Australian ocean floor. It’s pretty freaky but obviously amazing, as hundreds of colorful fish suddenly appeared swirling all around us. We were fortunate to have an awesome professional diver named Mark all to ourselves. Mark lead the way and swam us to incredible coral reef and did a good job keeping us calm with our underwater artificial breathing apparatuses. It is really bizarre that they allow you to dive in the ocean so soon, without diving certification because it is not all that easily. The kids did amazingly well and took to the challenge like a fish to water (no pun intended), while Lyane and I were uncomfortable and panicky at times with our breathing. When the dive was finished and we all reached the surface, we could hardly get our mouthpieces out of our mouths and we all started shouting with excitement about what we had just seen and how amazing it was. We didn’t see anything extraordinarily unusual, but we did see a monster size grouper, a giant size clam (like on cartoons) and thousands of colorful fish and vibrant coral. On many dives sea turtles are spotted, but unfortunately we did not see one on our dive. We then surfaced and striped off our scuba gear and discussed further our amazing underwater adventure.  Lyane was pretty shaky after the dive and I wasn’t too much better, however like good soldiers, we sucked it up and got in line for the ships buffet lunch. Then, no sooner did we finish lunch, a young staff member came up to us and explained that there had been a dive cancellation and asked us if we were interested in a second dive! Well the kids thought that was fantastic and were very excited, while Lyane and I were less enthusiastic and we contemplated passing on the offer. Well, to make a long story short, the next thing I knew, there we were, “again” standing in chest high rough water with heavy scuba gear strapped to our backs taking final instructions before the big plunge. This time the dive was somewhat easier, but longer because we skipped all the introductory safety part. The kids were totally comfortable and they immediately swam independently and freely around the reefs, while Lyane and I stayed close to our pro-diver Mark. Again, the dive was indescribable, and this time we brought an underwater HD camera to capture the experience. Drew and Jessica took turns with the camera and both looked like professional divers weaving through the coral. Amazing! On average, the dives last approximately 30 minutes including the safety procedure, but since we skipped that part, it was almost the full 30 minutes under the water. Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes I started having breathing problems, mostly caused by my moustache hair allowing water to leak under my mask, which in turn affected my breathing rhythm and caused me to have a couple slight panic attack. The guide tried to calm me, but after a few times, it was no use, and I gave him the cutthroat signal that I was struggling and we both swam to the surface. Man, what a terrible feeling. Fortunately, when we surfaced, I was very near the boat and it was and easy swim to the boats platform, which allowed Mark to quickly rejoin unguided Lyane, Jessica and Drew under the water. A few minutes later, they re-surfaced from the second dive and again we rejoiced about the adventures. This time Lyane and I really felt ill, but we again shook it off and celebrated with resilient kids.  We did manage to squeeze in a little snorkeling as well, but it was very rough at sea that day and really it didn’t hold a candle to the diving experience. I can see now why snorkelers progress to diving and never return back to snorkeling. Believe it or not, when we returned to Cairns, we ended up going swimming in a really neat large public pool/ beach combination called Cairns Esplanade located in the heart of downtown Cairns. Again, the kids are truly amazing and apparently can’t get enough of the water. As for Lyane and I, I think we were plum water logged by the end of that day.
That night, we set the alarm for 6am the next morning to watch the Olympic gold metal hockey game between our beloved Team Canada and Team USA. We all cheered wildly when Crosby scored in OT and we will always remember that we were in Australia eating corn flakes when the red light came on and ended the game. We stayed tune and watched most of the incredible closing ceremonies while we packed our bags for our evening flight to Singapore.
Although the stay was short, Cairns or as the Ozzies pronounce it “Cans” will be forever remembered as one of our greatest experiences of our family lives.
Singapore tomorrow!!!

FIJI

We arrived in Nadi Fiji on Feb 13th to a very hot day. When we arrived at our timeshare resort located on Denerau Island, called the Wyndam Resort (which our home resort The Elkhorn Resort helped us book. Thank you!) we all got very exited because the resort’s exterior looked like paradise, compared to some of the places we had recently stayed. Fortunately, the inside matched the outside and it was truly spectacular! The kids didn’t even unpack their bags and ran to the resorts magnificent slightly heated pool and we were not too far behind them as temperatures were in the high 30’s. The resort pool was enormous and it boasts being the longest of it’s kind in the southern hemisphere. I am not sure about that claim, but regardless, it was a massive resort style pool with three large swirling sections and a cool swim up bar. It was great to stay there and just recharge in one place for a couple of weeks, especially after just driving the entire country of New Zealand and staying in campsites. So, the first few days, we just hung around the pool and swam, drank and ate. On about day four, we started getting antsy and we booked a full day tour to one of the Fijian Islands  called Mala Mala Island where we snorkeled, fished, and road self-propelled single passenger glass bottom seadoos and paddled kayaks around the island as well. The island was an unhabited island used excluseively by that tour company.    The water was amazingly clear and small colorful fish were all around us. Jessica and I were the fishing champions on the short fishing expedition we took, out catching everyone on the boat including the local Fijian fishing guides. I think the two guides were a little annoyed with us as we kept score of the fish caught and we pretended it was an Olympic event Canada versus Fiji. Each time we would catch a fish we would announce the score… “Canada 13- Fiji 9!!!”, and the guides would force a painful smile and jig their fishing lines with more attention. Not that it matters, but we won! The snorkeling was pretty good and Drew and I followed a guide out deeper into the ocean waters and we saw two Bat Rays and a small Reef Shark. Meanwhile, Lyane, Jessica and Grandma went a different direction with their guide and they spotted a very large Reef Shark. We all saw brilliant colorful fish and vibrant coral along the reef, including the famous little fish called Nemo.

Then it was back to the resort for some more RR for a couple more days, occasionally going to the closest town of Nadi to do some light shopping. Jessica and Drew really liked this one department store called Jacks and they both opened up their dusty wallets to buy stuff there. Drew really liked this big bongo drum and he got grandma to buy it for him for his birthday. Jessica bought a Roxy bathing suit for $30 bucks, which I assume by her excitement, was a really good deal. Then the day came when Grandma left us and started her own adventure and she departed for another Fijian resort called The Uprising located 3 hours down the coast in an area called The Pacific Coast. After she left, we went back to our lazy resort routine of swimming, drinking and eating.  A couple of days went by, and we decided to rent a car and check out Grandma’s new resort. We got up early and started our long touristy drive. We really took our time stopping in several local towns and villages along the way. It is always cool to drive and take your time in places like Fiji and meet the real people of the country. Rural Fijians are predominately not very well off, but in spite of that, still very nice people. When we arrived at the Uprising Resort where we found Grandma reading a book at her dorm. She said she really liked it their and we thought the resort was nice as well. The resort was quite small, but very nice and well run. The staff was extremely personable and so we decided to rent a room (or buree as they call it) and stayed overnight. The buree was a quaint newly constructed oceanfront cottage style building that had an external very cool outdoor private shower facility with rounded high walls and no roof. Lyane thought that was so cool and she insisted that we all have a shower in the moonlight. There were several activities to do in the resort and surrounding area, but when we woke up in the morning, the weather was rainy and most of them were cancelled. The only available activity was a zip lining place that zipped lined people through the Fijian Rain Forest. The staff was fantastic and the four of us zipped through the lush mountainous forest in the tropical pouring rain. The kids really enjoyed it and ended up going a second time with the zip crew for free. That’s one great thing about traveling with kids is most businesses and staff really cater to them and often times go beyond the call of duty to make them happy. It’s great to know that there are still people like that all over the world. After the zip line, we drove Grandma to Fiji’s capital city, Suva to pick up some supplies. It was pretty cool to see, but once again it was just another big city with big city problems. It was a bit dirty and run down with a lot of shady characters walking around the downtown area. One thing I will remember about Suva, is that it was one of the most confusing places I have ever driven in. Later, we dropped off Grandma at her nice little resort and headed back to our relaxing, cushy resort to…. you guest it….eat…drink and swim.

On our second last day a really nice couple from New Jersey invited us to visit a nearby city of Lautoka.  It was great that we accepted the invitation because we soon learned that our friends had extensive knowledge of Fiji’s past and present. We first visited a cool little fish market where local fishermen sell their spear gunned catch. One guy speared a big fish that must of weighed 80 pounds and we wondered how he ever got it to the surface. We tried to ask him but he only spoke Fijian. We then drove by a massive sawdust plant that exports the product via ship container to Japan by the megatons. We also saw a big mahogany lumberyard and we learned that Fiji is a major exporter of this expensive hardwood as well. Lastly, we drove by an abandoned sugar refinery that used to produce Fiji’s own sugarcane product. There were smaller scaled train tracks leading up to it and hundreds of unused mini rail carts. We asked our friend Keith if he knew why the factory was closed when Fiji still grows massive amounts of sugarcane. The complicated answer is the result of the departed British and de-colonialisation. Apparently, the British had built the factory and the train network 60 years ago and subsequently brought East Indian people in to manage their interests. Then in the early 1970’s, Fiji gained independence from Britain and a Fijian revolt soon followed that saw 50,000 East Indians flee Fiji. This revolt and sudden exile collapsed many industries and the unique sugarcane train system ceased and subsequently closed the sugar refinery. Like most countries the history is complicated and Fiji is still recovering from colonialism and the departure of. Since, Fiji has suffered several corrupt governmental parties that have led to the present day military rule of a popular Fijian military dictator leader named   Josaia Vorege (Frank) Bainimarama. It seems that most Fijians believe he is an honest integral leader that is moving the Fijian nation in the right direction. Some interesting facts about present day Fiji is that there is a higher population of East Indian Fijians called Indofijians than native Fijians. The Indofijians are still prominent in Fijian business and often you will see native Fijians working for them. So, I guess like many countries in the world, the balance of equilibrium still has a ways to go. And THAT…. is our history lesson for today. The Fijian’s number one industry is tourism and the industry is strongly built on Fijian pre-contact history. One of the tourist Fijian themes is cannibalism. Apparently, pre-contact about two hundred years ago, native Fijian avidly practiced cannibalism. The sacrificed victims would be killed and cooked in an underground cooking method called gangi and then fed to the tribe members. Most of the victims were captured from other enemy tribes. The chief would eat the human brains, so that he my gain the knowledge from the persons brains he ate and subsequently gained the knowledge of that person and hence be smarter than everyone else. Makes sense to me! Consequently, the souvenir shops are loaded with cannibal related items like cannibals tools such as neck breaker and head smasher as well as special cannibal eating utensils. Cool!

Kava is another Fijian tradition that is a must for all Fijians and tourist alike. It is a root based beverage that is traditionally consumed daily for calming nerves and stress. It is offensive if you do not participate in the ceremonial drinking of it. This is important to know because it tastes like crap! It tastes and looks like dirty sock water and you have to down it in one gulp and pretend you like it. EEEKK!!!

Our last night was a much anticipated event at our resort. The frog races!!!!!! A large symmetrical circle was chalked out in the middle of the facility, and then Fijian frogs (really they were toads) were selected to represent all the countries staying at the resort. Each frog was tagged with a country’s flag on their backs and then auctioned off to the highest bidder. All the proceeds went to a good cause children’s charity. Then it was time for the race! The frogs were released in the middle of the circle and the first frog to cross over any part of the outer circle wins. It was a lot of fun and the frog representing Fiji won! Home field advantage I guess. The stupid Canadian frog came in dead last without hopping a single time. What a surprise! Later, the night ended with a traditional Fijian dance complete with fire breathing and fire juggling Fijian performers. It was really good and a perfect end to our two week Fijian holiday.

Reluctantly, early the next morning, we left our most excellent Fijian resort and wondered if we will ever stay in another place as nice as it again.

In conclusion Fiji was truly awesome. Great weather, warm crystal clear blue water, white sand, good food, cheap booze, nice people, and beautiful scenery. What else could you ask for!  Bula!!!

New Zealand (Home of the Kiwis)

New Zealand

Wow! It’s going to be hard to cram all the three week New Zealand adventure into this little blog.
We landed in Auckland, New Zealand on the evening of January 15th and we rented a really bad cheap motel room for the night. We all slept in a one room stinky filthy room with no air conditioning. The next day, we picked up our Jucy Rental van and started our adventure.
Day one we drove to a place called the Coromandal Peninsula, where the famous Hot Water beach is. Unfortunately, we arrived late for low tide and we missed the opportunity to enjoy the mud baths. However, we did walk the beach and saw the reminisce of mud hole baths that are dug out everyday at low tide by hundreds of tourists. There is hot springs under the sand and sea and people dig down at low tide to access the hot waters, creating their own make shift hot tub. After the Hot Beach visit, we drove up the coast to an awesome beach called the Cathedral Cove. The Cove is a 45minute trail walk that leads you to a magnificent private beach. The trail is a long tought walk, but it was well worth the effort as we were rewarded by a beautiful secluded paradise with giant cliffs guarding each side of the white sanded, aqua water beach. The same day, we decided to make an unscheduled stop and we took a tour of a really cool Butterfly and Orchid Garden that was filled with exotic colorful butterflies. We stayed there longer than expected trying to get the perfect photos of the little flyers, but unfortunately, when we viewed the photos later, only a few turned out worth keeping. Oh well, the memory will have to replace the pictures this time.  The next day, we ventured out on a mini tour of Auckland city. We went to the downtown Sky tower building and watched thrill seekers bungee jump off the top of tower. Man that is high! You gotta be pretty brave to step of that baby with a rubber band strapped to your leg.  We didn’t stay downtown too long, but long enough to know that Auckland is yet another beautiful city with a very nice harbor that is full of expensive yachts and funky restaurants.
The day after, we drove a couple of hours south and went on a tour the world renound Waikato Caves were hundreds of thousands of phosphorescent filled glowing worms have lived in the dark caves for millions of years. They are truly a freak of nature and have a very unusual existence. These brilliant little worms use their glowing attribute to attract small insects to their glow, then the prey gets caught in their slimy secreted string matter that hangs down from them on the caves ceiling. When they feel the vibration on their sticky line, they pull the prey up and eat them.  Really Creepy cool! The tour is half walking and half boat ride. The boat ride portion is so amazing and abundant with Glow worms that is looks like you are looking in space at the Milky Way.
The highlight of the trip for the kids came the next day when we arrived in a town called Rotorua. There, we took them to an amusement park that offered bungee jumping and another terrifying ride called the Swoop. The Swoop was this big pendulum style ride that swings its victims down from a ridiculously high height in a free fall pendulum motion. The kids were strapped in this worm like gear, so they obviously would not fall out and then released. It was way scarier than they ever anticipated. You could see the stress and fear on their face as they swung by us at what seemed to see light speed.  That was good warm up ride for their bungee jump. Well, that was really something to see them jump because I didn’t think they had it in them. It takes a lot of guts to do, but they did it and loved it! As parents, are hearts were in our mouths as they took the dive, but thankfully, everything went smooth.
Next we went to a place called Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland where there are fantastic colorful volcanic hot pools. The sulfur-based pools are very hot in temperature and emit hot steam and an array of beautiful colored waters of orange, red, white, green and blue.
The next day, we decided to take in a local annual fair. It was a great experience to meet the locals and learn about their livelihoods. It was a typical small town fair with outdated kiddy fair rides and games, cattle and alpaca competitions and a red ribbon award system. There was tree climbing and log sawing competitions, a small showcase of old farm machinery and some vintage cars.
The following day, we took a guided tour of an authentic native village called Whakarewarewa Village. In the village, they have several boiling hot pools, which are used for cooking, washing and bathing. The main cooking pool is over 100C at the top and over 200c below. Apparently, scientists have attempted but have never reached the bottom of the main hot pool. Weird. We watched the locals method of cooking corn on the cob in the boiling pool. They tie corn in a bag and lower it with a rope into the boiling hot steaming water. The steam is so intense, at times you can’t see 2 ft in front of you! We then attended a traditional Maori tribe dance and we all enjoyed it because they really have a fun time with their traditional dancing. At the end of the show, we were all invited down to the stage to have our pictures taken with them. Everyone posed in the traditional Maori posture displaying big popping eyes and sticking out our tongues. It was a fun time for all. That night, we attended another local event at the Paradise Valley raceway. It was really cool because the races had a real small town feel. You just knew that almost everyone new everyone there, including the drivers. We watched the races from the stands for a while and then, we were able to visit the racing compound and take pictures of our favorite cars. No security and the racecars roared by us as they headed for the track.
Funny story: Near the end of the race night I asked the kids if they wanted a picture of themselves standing beside the racetrack while the cars raced by them. As they stood posing for the picture, there was a major accident right in behind them and a car crashed right into the wall and then was launched straight up into the protective screen right where they stood. Wow, it scared the crap out of us all, but everyone was OK including the driver of the car.
The next day, we departed from New Zealand’s north island via the Island Ferry to its south island. It is said that this commercial transfer is one of the most scenic ferry rides in the world.  And it was beautiful with aqua blue water and mountainous green islands throughout.
Our first south destination on the south island was a town called Kaikoura. Klikoura is one of New Zealand’s large tourist attractions, because it is home to the Sperm Whale (the Moby Dick kind of whale). The whales are so popular that tours leave twice a day, everyday to see these amazing giants. On our tour, we learned that sperm whales are very rare to see in most parts of the world because they live in very deep ocean waters. Interestingly, New Zealand has a very steep drop right off its coast of Kaikoura area and subsequently serves as a perfect natural home for sperm whales, and allows tours to travel a short distance to watch them.  I can’t think of a greater experience than to watch these graceful giants in their natural habitant with your arm around your children. It was incredible!
Then next day we hired a local fishing boat in Kaikoura to take us out in a much smaller vessel to fish. We climbed aboard the fishing vessel and were introduced the perfect captain, Captain Nick. Captain Nick is a local New Zealand native Mori Indian, whose life story is displayed all over his body with tattoos with ancient Mori images. He also sported a beat up old peg leg with no fingers on his hands except for his two thumbs, he smoked cigarettes like a chimney with is finger stubs, all while manning everyone’s fishing rods and bait. Amazing! What else or who else could possibly wish for! The only things missing were an eye patch and a parrot on his shoulder. Professionally, it turned out, he was the perfect captain. He took us to a fishing place out in the ocean and we caught about 40 fish in less than two hours. Drew was the luckiest, catching 3 sea perch in one cast. Jessica caught the biggest fish and we all caught fish until our arms were worn out from reeling in. Then, Nick took us to a little island inhabited by seals. We were so close to them in the boat, that we could almost touch them as they lay sunning themselves on the island rocks. Then we buzzed off to another location where Dusky dolphins jumped all around us in the hundreds. They are very playful dolphins that do amazing flips right out of the water. Again, just an incredible experience, as they too were in almost touching distance right at the side of the boat. The day ended at Nick’s Crayfish trap where we were each to pick a crayfish to eat on shore.  When Nick started hoisting up the cage, we all expected to see a few crays. Well, when the cage surfaced (with great effort I might add) there were over 50 giant crays slashing around the container. We all picked the biggest one we could and Nick put them in a pale and then re-bated the trap with the fish heads we had caught earlier, shut the cage, and lowered the remaining crayfish back into the water. I was surprised that he didn’t take all the crayfish out of the cage and bring them to shore to sell. So I asked him why? He replied,” crays are just like people mate, they all like a good party, and if you wanna get more, ya gotta leave’em in cage, so the other crays think it’s a wild party.” That was Nick. We got to shore and we boiled crays in a big outdoor pot, then we barbecued them right on the beach with butter and garlic salt. Honestly, that was the best seafood I have ever had. They are similar to lobster in looks and taste, but much sweeter and tastier. Yummy yum yum!! Oh ya, while we were fishing, Nick immediately fisted every fish we caught and put them in a bucket. At the end of the day we had 40 filets of sea perch bagged and iced and we ate fresh fish for the next three meals. And all this adventure and food for a cost of $50 Canadian each! That has to be the best deal of our entire trip! Most of the restaurants in town specialized or sold crayfish that were definitely smaller than ours for approximately $60 to $130 each!!  We got a bargain!!!!!
Next day, it was time to continue our journey south a pretty town called Dunedin. We were all especially anxious to get there because it was the meeting place where we met our very good friends from Stony Plain Alberta. There we met and partied with Clint and Leanne Carpenter and their son Derek, his girlfriend Annie and Derek’s buddy Matt. We didn’t do much touring in Dunedin, but it was sure a nice town and it was great to spend time there with good friends. For two days straight, we did some good ‘ol Canadian drink’n and visit’n. At times, it felt like we were back home and for us, the visit came at just the right time, and gave us the strength and energy to carry on with our journey.
The next day the road took us to our most southern New Zealand Destination to a town called Queenstown. Queenstown is simply an unbelievable, gorgeous, picturesque town. It reminded me a little of Vernon B.C. Most of our time there we just walked around and marveled at the beauty of the town and it’s mountains, but we did take the opportunity to attend a Kiwi Bird Sanctuary. The Kiwi bird is the national symbol of New Zealand and is now an endangered species. We learned that Kiwis are nocturnal and are non-flying bird and they lay the largest egg in the world in relation to their body size. Ladies you think childbirth is tought, just be glad you are not a Kiwi bird!!!  Funny thing about the Kiwi bird is that it is New Zealand’s national emblem, but 99% of New Zealanders have never seen a wild one!!  Once they have reached adulthood, they surprisingly, have no natural enemies due to the fact that they are fierce fighters who can kill attackers with a single kick! The reason why they are declining in numbers is because their eggs are easy prey for predators. The sad thing is, their predator enemies, such as weasel are not native to New Zealand and were brought in by the British to control rodent population. Anyway, they do well in captivity and they are really neat birds. Another resident at the sanctuary and exclusive to New Zealand, was a lizardly reptile called Tuatara. They have survived for over 200 million years and are the only survivor of their kind and are actually a closer relative to the dinosaurs than to any other species on earth.
It was now time to start heading back north to our departure city Chirstchurch, but not before we stopped at a really cool place in Wanaka called Puzzle Land. There Grandma, Lyane, Jessica, Drew and I entered a large human maze where the object of the task was to find your way through fenced mazes to four separate towers. Sounds simple enough, but it took us about two hours to complete it! The second portion of the attraction, is based on illusions, such as 3D stuff and amazing architected illusion rooms. It was pretty neat and worth mentioning because the kids absolutely loved it.
Then it was off to our final destination, the city of Christchurch, the home of the award winning Botanical gardens. We took a little train tour through the gardens and the girls really enjoyed all the flowers, plants, trees and the excellent commentary given by our guide. That evening the girls, (Grandma, Lyane and Jessica) bought tickets to an outdoor play of Shakespeare’s, Midsummers Night Dream, while Drew and I searched for anything else to do but attend the play. As luck would have it, we found a self-serve golf course! It was cool. They post there rates, you put you cash in a provided envelope, place it in a security box and away you go! The best part was, they even had rental clubs for free!  How’s that for good luck! So we golfed 8 holes in beautiful New Zealand and left early to pickup the girls from the play. They absolutely loved the play and we really enjoyed our golf. A win win situation for both genders!
The next day it was time to leave New Zealand. I would be remiss if we did not comment on the overall experience. New Zealand is the most beautiful, diverse country we have ever seen. Like Canada, it has so much natural beauty, condensed into two small islands. It is the place to be with temperate weather and every landscape you can imagine. The population is only four million and the highways and cities are peaceful and tranquil. We loved it.
Fiji next.

Aussie Land

Australia Dec 23/09

We arrived in Brisbane Australia feeling under the weather. I had caught a flu or virus in India and subsequently passed it to the rest of the family. Fortunately, we had pre-booked a really nice apartment for the Christmas week, so we were all able to rest and recover in comfort. Consequently, we did not do too much the first couple of days in Brisbane and before we knew it, it was Christmas day. Drew was at the peak of his flu and spent most of Christmas day with his head in a bucket. Lyane and Jessica had gone shopping a few days before Christmas and they surprised us with some small Christmas gifts. They wrapped the presents and cut out a paper Christmas tree with the left over wrapping paper and then taped it to our patio door and placed the gifts underneath it. We opened our gifts in traditional fashion and pretended to be really surprised with the gifts we received. That night, we had soup and crackers for Christmas dinner. I think it was the first time in our trip that we all missed home. Boxing Day we finally felt healthy enough to venture out.  We took the city transit bus to downtown Brisbane, to take advantage of shopping Boxing Day sales. The kids were pretty excited and they went a little over board on their budget buying clothes, shoes and junk. We all really enjoyed the day and the beautiful clean city of Brisbane. The following day we all felt even better and we decided to visit one of the most recognized Koala sanctuaries in the world called Lone Pine. When we arrived there, we saw a photo board of all the famous celebrities that had visited Lone Pine who came to see and hold a koala. The list included people such as Phil Collins, Madonna, Steve Earl, Taylor Swift, Marilyn Manson, Pope John Paul, The Dhali Lama and many more. It truly was a great experience as we were each able to hold a real live koala bear in our arms. They are really neat to hold and feel and we all realized that this was to be remembered as one of the highlights of our entire trip. One bad thing we learned about Koalas is that the males really stink! They have a gland in the middle of their chest that emits a stinky skunk like odor and is visible by a big yellowish stain in the middle of their chest. It is a natural gland that marks their territory. The guy that we held was indeed a male and Drew was particularly disgusted with its strong odor. Lone Pine also had many other animals native to Australia, and after the koalas, we spent most of our time feeding and petting the kangaroos that roamed freely in the park. It’s cool to watch Jessica and Drew with the animals because they both truly love animals and can both can spend hours just petting and feeding them. Other native animals in the park included the whambat and the famous Tasmanian devil.
The following day, we left Brisbane and took a shuttle bus one hour south to an area popular resort area called The Gold Coast. This is where all the action is. I guess it would compare to Florida’s Fort Lauderdale with white sand beaches, aqua water, big hotels, bars everywhere, and young people in skimpy clothing everywhere…etc….etc. The first full day there, it was a beautiful and hot and we were all pretty excited to get out of our apartment and get to the beach. We went to a store and bought cheap boogey boards and hurried to the beach to hit the waves. It was great time, but three hours later we suffered our second misfortune in Australia. With all the excitement of the beach, waves and body surfing, we neglected to put enough sunscreen on to protect ourselves from the intense Australian sun. When we realized that we were burnt, we headed up the beach to the main land for our apartment, and that is when we realized just how hot it was. The heat was stifling and the bright sun baked the down on the streets. That has to be one of the hottest days I have ever experienced. When we got back to our room, we could see we were pretty burnt, but not to the extent we really were. The next morning Jessica woke up blind and her face severely swollen. Yes, blind! It scared the hell out of us, but to our relief, a minute or two later she regained her site. Of course, Drew suffered the most damage, and large painful water blisters began to form on is face. To add to his problem, his back was pretty burnt too. Lyane didn’t fair much better than the kids and I was burnt, but not as severe. So there we were, all out of action again! We all went to the doctor and got loads of medication and headed back to the apartment to hide from the sun. We literally shed our old skin for weeks and left traces of us in all the places we stayed at for the next month after that.  New Years Eve came and we were able to venture out into the night and enjoy a restaurant dinner followed by spectacular New Years Eve fireworks down at the main beach. It was a strange feeling to celebrate New Years in Australia because of global time, midnight strikes sixteen hours earlier than at home.
The week went by very slowly as we had to stay inside to protected our burns. Fortunately, there was a giant shopping mall across the street from our apartment and we were able to scurry across the street and shop, eat and entertain ourselves with movies at the theatres and video arcades. But still, how unfortunate to be at The Gold Coast and not able to enjoy the outside. Live and learn I guess.
Our next stop was the city of Sydney and by that time our burns had mostly healed and we were excited and ready to get back outside. We ended up renting a beachfront apartment on the world famous Bondi Beach, located about 25 minutes south of Sydney city center. Bondi is well know in Australia for it’s surfing and it’s humongous people capacity. On a busy day the beach came have as many as 30,000 people on it! It is so massive that it even has its rescue TV program and camera crew scour the beach for action everyday. The weather was again very hot, but this time we were ready and we slapped on gallons of high power, impenetrable, waterproof sunscreen. We all looked like a bunch of zombies invading the beach, but we were safe from the UV’s. The kids were really excited and determined to learn how to surf. I told the kids I would rent them boards, but as luck would have it, our next-door neighbor at our apartment loaned us hers for free! We were very grateful as the board was of high quality and the perfect size for the kids. The first day of surfing the kids struggled to even standup on the board. It appeared dangerous as the kids got pounded into the 7foot waves, so Lyane and I took turns watching them. By day two they were both standing on the board for a few seconds before falling and supervision was not necessary. By day three they were surprisingly surfing pretty well! For those who have never tried surfing, it is very difficult. I did try a couple of time, but never even came close to a standing posture. In no time, I was so flippin tired, I surrendered the board back to Jessica and Drew for the remainder of the trip. Lyane (the smart one) did not attempt to surf. For the next two weeks, we stayed in Bondi and most days was like groundhog day, getup, eat, go to the beach and surf, go for lunch back at the apartment and go back to the beach again. Fortunately, we met some really nice people from Sydney on our cruise months earlier and they offered to picked us up and tour us around for a couple of days. That was really great as we went to the their place for a home cooked dinner, had some drinks and ended up spending the night there. Boy, it was sure nice to live two days in a normal home setting with good friends. It was really neat to see that their beautiful backyard was home to many wild exotic birds such as parrots and cockatoos. Out of all the countries that we had traveled, that was the first time we had seen exotic birds in the wild. Thank you for your hospitality Jeff, Sue, Lewis, and Brent Hazelton. A few days later, Grandma Tremblay arrived (Lyane’s mom) to spend the next 6 weeks with us. Again our friends Sue and Jeff offered to tour us around town. They met us in beautiful downtown Sydney and toured us around to sites like the famous Opera House and the Sydney Harbor. It was another great day and we said our goodbyes to them and went back to beaching and surfing routine for the last couple of days. Then it was off to our final destination in Australia, the city of Melbourne.
After a long search for affordable and suitable accommodations, we ended up renting a house in a quaint little tourist based suburb of Melbourne called Williamstown. The house was a one floor huge property that was a nice change from apartments and hotel rooms. The metro train was within walking distance and we road it a couple of times to get to Melbourne city. The weather was very volatile in Melbourne. When we arrived in the afternoon of Jan 4th, it was 14C degrees, very windy with light rain. At first, I thought the plane had gone off course and landed in Newfoundland! The very next day it was suffocating 35C degrees hot and sunny, and the following day it was a high of 19C, sunny and cool. The whole week was a like that. The first few days we hung around Williamstown and enjoyed it’s small town charm. Day three we took the metro into Melbourne and toured the city on a turn of the century electric streetcar. No surprise that Melbourne too is a lovely city. Something about cities on the waterfronts I guess. We discovered that the Australian Tennis Open was in full swing and Lyane and I decided to attend while Grandma and the kids went back to Williamstown. It is truly a first class event with amazing facilities exclusive to tennis. Our seats were great and saw both Serena and Venus Williams, back to back, kick the crap out of the respective no name opponents. After, we walked around the grounds and watched several other lower profile games in some of the smaller stadiums. I think they said there are 32 tennis courts on the grounds.  Some courts sat as few as 50 people and went all the way up in the big 15,000 seater. Even the little matches were cool to watch and the level of talent was hard to tell the difference from the top seed players. All the professional players were fast and powerful and played with great intensity.
We then decided to rent a car and take in the touristy sites in south Australia. The first day we drove to an island called Phillip Island to visit amazing beaches and witness surfers surf on some of the largest and most dangerous waves in the world at Woolamai Beach. It was amazing to watch the surfers wipe out, and then disappear, consumed by a massive 20ft wave, and then reappear what seemed to be minutes later. At times we really thought they had drowned, but then, their heads would suddenly pop up somewhere in the water where you would least expect. That evening it was off to a part of Phillip Island to experience a wild life natural phenomena. Every evening after a full day of hunting fish in the ocean, the smallest penguin in the world called Fairy Penguins, gather in the shallows by the thousands forming large black pools in the ocean. Once all of them have returned to the group and the safety of nightfall arrives, they begin to exit the sea up a narrow path to their little nests called borrows. They wait until it is completely dark in attempt to avoid their predators, which are predominantly fox and hawks. It is a really well run tourist attraction. Audiences sit in fenced bleachers with soft lighting strung along the side beginning of the penguin’s main natural path and like clock work, the little penguins surface at nightfall and walk right past the bleachers home to their borrows. Penguins are very social animals and do their socializing after a hard day at sea, so while you are watching them, many stop and chat with other penguins coming along the path. You can tell that they have social groups just like humans. Some hang around in larger social groups; some in smaller and some are loners who just keep walking (or waddling) and just want to get home. Some penguin borrows are right by the ocean and they have a quick easy access to their home, while other less fortunate penguins walk to their borrows as far as two kilometers away! Tourist fenced paths follow along side the penguin’s paths and people are encouraged to choose a penguin and follow it (with your eyes only) to it’s home.  It was a very cool experience to see them in their natural habitat and behave as if no one was there. Maybe they are able to ignore us because the Phillip Island Fairy Penguins have been visited and watched by tourist since the 1920’s. It was a truly a fascinating experience.
The next day we drove to Melbourne’s most popular beach resort called St. Kilda. It was nice, but the beach was not has nice as we thought it might be. The highlight was the day beach houses, owned mostly by Australian and handed down from generation to generation. They are side by side on the beachfront and are about the size of a garden shed. Each house was unique in color and was painted in a bright, often artistic fashion. See pictures of Australia to view them.
The last day we drove down the southwest coast of Australia down the world famous highway called The Great Ocean Road.  It rates as one of the top 10 scenic drives in the world and it did not disappoint. The curvy narrow road follows the beautiful south Australian coast displaying its white sand beaches, brilliant aqua ocean water and quaint little tourist towns. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at one of the larger towns called Lorne. It was absolutely gorgeous there with lots to do and we all agreed that someday we would like to return and spend some more time there. After lunch we continued south down the road and were fortunate and surprised to see wild Koalas in the Eucalyptus trees. They do not move very much and in fact they sleep up to 20 hours a day! However, we did see some action as one Koala jumped from one branch to another, and we all cheered with excitement. We then got back in the car and headed across country to save time in getting back to our house in Williamstown. The drive turned out to be one of those great, unexpected journeys. The countryside was extremely lush and very jungle like with giant leaved plants and massively tall trees. Later, we found out that South Australia is home to some of the tallest trees in the world! As we weaved through the jungle, Lyane saw a little highway sign for a lake she had read about called Lake Elizabeth. Apparently, Lake Elizabeth is one of the last places in the world that the rare Australian Platypus still lives in its natural inhabitant. So we made the decision to follow the road signs and try and find this mysterious lake. The road kept getting narrower and the highway signs faded into small tree nailed directions. It was late afternoon and we started to think we had made the wrong decision, but eventually we did arrive to the remote Lake Elizabeth campground. It was a strange little campground seemingly cut out in the middle a forest valley in the middle of nowhere. We walked around the site and found a sign that said that the lake was a 1-hour walk away by trail. While we were debating whether we should do the walk or not, a young French couple appeared off the trail and told us that they had gone to the lake and did not see any Platypuses/Platypy?/ Platypussies?/ Platypoos? Anyway, whatever the plural is, they didn’t see any. They said, when they got there, they were disappointed to see the lake had turned into a remote tourist haven that was full of kids and teenagers playing in the water. Weird. Our journey had ended in disappointment and our romantic vision of seeing a wild platypus was crushed. But, the day was full of adventure and the drive was amazing and certainly will be remembered as one of our best days in Australia.
After five weeks, it was time to say a reluctant goodbye to Australia. For the first time in our trip, we really did not want to leave, but fortunately pretty New Zealand was next and we were all excited about that.
We say good-bye to our good friends, the Koalas, Kangaroos, Tasmanian devils and all the beautiful tropical birds. We will miss the Australian friendly salutations like “ No worries ” and “How you going?” (pronounced: “Uow u go’in”) or “you all right mate” both meaning how are you? And last but not least…… we will miss the weather!!!!!

India

India

We arrived at Koshi India airport on December4/09 to begin a 14 days group based tour holiday with a Canadian company called GAP Adventure. Including the staff, 17 of us began a scheduled adventure around South India in a 20 passengers bus. We were a bit concerned how we would enjoy the group tour and the scheduled departures because we had been traveling on our own terms for 4 months. At first look at the itinerary, the schedule was very demanding and the number of places we were to visit in two weeks seemed overwhelming. Some days were very long, as we were to visit as many as 4 different sites in one day. We would have to leave early morning, and then arrive at our next accommodations in the early evening. At times the tour was too long and too regimented, but we soon realized it was the best way to see India, as the driving was horrifying. I was soon glad that I decided not to drive there. For example, it was not unusual on the highway to see four vehicles passing each other at the same time on a two-lane road. It’s common for drivers to pass if they determine that there is enough space for all vehicles to squeeze by during the pass. Our driver would then swing out into on coming traffic and force the on coming driver to head for the shoulder to avoid an accident The first couple of passes really freaked us out, but we learned to cope with it by simply not watching! It is hard not to look because all the drivers involved honk their horn repeatedly until the dangerous pass is over. They love their car horns in India and they use them all the time to communicate different messages. For example, when we were walking down the streets, drivers would constantly short double honk their horn at us, so we would look at them and in turn they could see our rare and odd white faces. We were kinda like a freak show for them. It took a while for us to figure out what they were honking, and then we realized and it became very annoying. Just like Africa, Drew attracted the most attention because of his blond hair, fair complexion and the fact that he was a child.
Anyway, we were introduced to our group and we all ventured out on our first activity together. We took an evening stroll from our hotel down to the nearby ocean to see the ancient Chinese fishing nets. Chinese fishing nets are a land based netting system that is known to be thousands of years old and still being used by many Asian countries today.  Big fishing nets are attached to a large framed structure and the nets are manually lowered and raised in and out of the water by a simple boom system. The boom operators hoist the nets out of the water and the fish fetchers run up the tilted structure to retrieve their catch, then the nets are lowered again for the next catch. The sunset sky was an amazing reddish color and the archaic Chinese nets made for a fantastic photo. This first little group adventure made us aware that again the street vendors and baggers were going to be a problem. Every time these people see white tourist they flock to them and start harassing, and most times, they don’t give up easily. One vendor, I asked casually, how much his memory cards for cameras were, and he followed me for hours to three different site-seeing locations. He obviously knew our tour bus schedule because he was already at our next stop waiting for me! I couldn’t believe it! I told him a hundred times that I was only curious about the memory card prices and I didn’t need one!  I was starting to think that in India… no means yes! Lyane really struggled with the vendors. She constantly engaged in conversation with them and she attempted to explain why she did not want to buy from them. This proved to be futile as the vendors interpreted her communication as an increased potential to make a sale! The more she explained her position, the more hopeful the vendor became. We soon discovered that the only way to get by them was to simply not to acknowledge them, so we developed a method of just walking and looking straight ahead and repeating the words no, no, no. They still tried to sell and beg, but they gave up much sooner. Rude, but effective! Surprisingly, the kids did really well coping with the street people. Drew did so well, we appointed him chief negotiator whenever we wanted to buy something. He had no problem initiating a price negotiation with a vendor at an insultingly low price. Low even by Indian standards! Jessica loved the street jewelry and quickly learned the haggling skills as well. One street vendor we hired and really enjoyed was a snake charmer performer who fluted four cobras out of their baskets. It was shocking and kinda funny to see the snakes lunge at him and occasionally successfully biting him. The venom from the snakes had obviously been removed, but it still looked like the bite hurt. We videotaped his performance and the kids watched it several times and laugh every time he got bit! Morbid little buggers.
The Indian currency was difficult to adjust to because you got 45 Rupees for one Canadian dollar. It seemed relatively worthless to us, but every rupee counted to the Indian people. For example, to hire a tuk tuk (a small three wheel taxi) the average costs would be 50 rupees or one dollar. Cheap! However, it is expected in India that you negotiate the price, so sometimes we would be haggling over 12 cents Canadian! Like it or not, you have to bargain or you could pay as high as 80% more for a product or service. At times it was a bit maddening if we were in a hurry because their culture demands a lengthy barter first!  Strangely, the barter system does not exist everywhere in India, because a few of the states are communist governed and there all prices are fixed, and there were no street vendors. That was weird. India is a hard country to understand.
Back on the bus, we continued to travel through South India. It was pleasantly beautiful and very tropical with lush green mountains that were covered with palm trees. The roads were fairly narrow and winding and the driving seemed pretty speedy. We then arrived in a nice little town (Fort Kochin) we were to stay in for a couple of days and there we hired a tuk tuk for 100 rupees to tour the sites. This nice local driver took us to the towns spice factory, then to a ginger factory and to an Indian antique store as well. The spice factory was amazing, as it was a huge complex with thousands of different spices. There we learned the history of the Indian spice trade, and the many uses of spices, such as medical and cooking.  Next visited a big ginger factory. We watched the interesting process from end to end, but we were most fascinated with the sorting method. We entered an old covered silo type building where three very old women were sitting on top of huge piles of ginger root, each sorting the roots into different piles of quality. It was very hot and dusty in there and you could tell the old women were very poor. Our guide told us that they probably got paid about 40 rupees a day or an equivalent of under a dollar a day Canadian. That evening, we attended a traditional Kerala Indian dance performance with our group. It was pretty good and the face paintings and costumes were amazing. It was called a face dance, or something like that, and the performers performed a play predominately using their facial expressions and the odd physical movement. It was a bit boring to watch their facial expressions for hours, but nonetheless, another ancient Indian tradition that was part of their history and somewhat interesting.
The next day it was back on the bus to travel higher into the mountains to visit the tea plantations. This was probably the highlight of the trip, as the tea plants on the mountainside were very picturess. It was early morning when we arrived and the weather was perfect and the workers were already working in the tea fields. It was so tranquil and beautiful it felt like we had arrived in paradise. As we walked along the paths of the fields, the local workers would stop for a moment, smile and give us friendly hello. One guy took a liking to the kids and he took the four of us into the heart of the field to let us try cutting the tealeaves using the manual tea cutters. That was very cool. Although it seemed to be a nice job to have, most the workers were women who obviously worked very hard. They would cut the tealeaves with their sheers and empty them into a large gunnysack. Once sack was full, they would tie it and hoist the large awkward sack on their head and shoulder, and carry it to a main building located some distance away.  I was easy to feel a bit of sorrow for them, but they seemed quit content and they all smiled as they worked. Next, we drove to a tea factory to see what happens to the tealeaves that were just cut. It was again very interesting and we watched the process tea making process from end to end. One of the last functions to produce tea was a giant wood furnace that they use to dry the tealeaves. The furnace is stoked with wood 24 hours a day to keep the intense heat up. This process was well organized and huge piles of cut wood were pilled in front of the furnace ready to be fed by five or so workers. It was truly fascinating and a ton of work! All for a bloody cup of tea!
The following day, we took a walking tour and we climbed up a mountainside into a cave. There on the walls of the cave were ancient writings and drawings that dated back over 8,000 years. The cave was well covered and naturally lit and therefore the ancient writing and art were visible and in perfect condition. The ancient figures on the walls are pre-Hinduism and are the people of the times religious worship to their five natural gods Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Space.  Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest modern practiced religions today, but it is only 6,000 years old. These hieroglyphics pre-dated Hinduism evolution by 2000 years! Eery!!
Then it was back on the bus to visit another temple or church. If you love old temples and churches… this is the trip for you! We must have visited twenty of them. The architecture and history of these historic buildings is incredible but virtually impossible to describe. For example, the ancient temple (Channakeshava Temple in Somanathapur) had over 100,000 individually carved figures that took 500 men 54 years to complete. Now that’s dedication and perseverance! Visiting all those Hindu temples did help us understand the religion a little better, but it is a complex religion to comprehend in two weeks. They worship many different gods, perform many unique rituals and like all religions, they have commandments to abide by.

One tradition that we did not know about India was the fact that the majority of marriages are still arranged. There is a religious mixture of Hindus and Christian, but both still practice the arranged marriages.  The marriages have strict guidelines such as a person can person can only marry another within their own social class, called casts. There are several levels of casts that range from extremely wealthy to very poor. Once you are eligible for marriage, your horoscope is used to match you up with your future mate. Parents of each candidate sit down and review the potential couples horoscopes, their profiles such as, age, occupation and education, and then decide whether it is a match and whether they should proceed with marriage plans or not. I kinda chuckled under my breath when our guide told me and he asked me what was so funny. I explained that I thought it was a little outdated and confining. I could tell our usually calm cool and collected guide was annoyed with me and he sharply responded back, “What is your divorce rate in North America?” He caught me off guard with his aggressive sharp reply and so I, simply responded “good point!” I think he was a little touchy on the subject because he himself had recently been happily married to a women he only knew three months before they got married. Can you imagine? As our friendly debate continued, he did explain that if you absolutely unhappy and you need to leave the marriage you can, but your options are quite limited. One, you can run away and never return disgracing your family and yourself. Or two, you can commit suicide. Family is so important and entrenched in their culture that it even influences their governmental laws. For example, if you ran away from your marriage and family and you wanted to apply for post secondary education, your application will be rejected because of your estranged status. Bizarre but effective!
When we visited  the Bridhadeshwara Temple, we witnessed a Hindu ritual that few tourist see. They were worshiping this big black egg shaped granite rock and were pouring gallons of coconut milk over it as an offering to the gods. Didn’t seem like a big deal to us, but when they saw we were watching, they hastily shut a large curtain so we couldn’t see anymore. In the Hindu temples there is always a lot of activities going on and many rituals and praying are constantly going on. For example, one of the gods they pray to is Ganesh (the elephant headed god for luck). The worshipers come and stand in front of the statue’s pedestal and begin praying ritual.  First, they begin by crossing their arms over their shoulders and then reach for their ears, and then they pull on them several times, and finally completing the praying with a good couple of firm knocks on their head with a closed fist, all while bending and kneeling at the same time. We watched a few people do it and we found it difficult not to laugh, but out of respect, we did not.  Another ritual the kids were shocked about was the fact that the dot or mark on Hindu people’s foreheads is made of cow pooh. They also learned and were disgusted that sacred cow pooh is used to wash the floor of Hindu homes every Friday. Yes, every Thursday a fresh cow patty is displayed outside the front door of their houses, ready for Friday application. Other unusual Hindu rituals include, washing your face with cow piss to wards off jealousy. Hindus who build or purchase a new house must have a sacred cow enter their new home and wait for it to urinate to bless the house. I know all religions have their unique rituals and traditions, but Hinduism have some tough ones to swallow. Literally! Our favorite ritual was the sacred Elephants that were at temples. There the elephants were trained to take money from your hand with their trunk, then drop the money in a pot, then proceed to bless you with their trunk by laying it on your head. It was a win win situation because the temple made a little money and the kids got to touch an elephant.

Then came the dreaded day when our bus dropped us off at the Indian train station for a scheduled overnight trip across South India. Train riding is very traditional mode of transportation in India and apparently an important part of experiencing the culture. Well it was an experience all right. Cramped in our tiny berths, I think Lyane and I slept about two hours all night. The train constantly stopped at stations throughout the night causing our bodies to roll almost off the bed. Then once we got going again, the train swayed us back and forth like a washing machine and then the whole thing started all over again. The kids were excited to be on their first overnight train ride and when they finally fell asleep, they slept like babies.
No trip to South India is complete without a visit to The Gandhi Museum. And, there is no better way to get there than by arriving in style on a tradition Indian rickshaw. Our rickshaw driver was a very nice man and he even let Drew peddle the two-passenger rickshaw around the museum grounds. Most of the museum was filled with information boards of Indian/British history documents and Gandhi’s readings. It was interesting, but there was a lot of reading and not enough museum articles. There were a few interesting artifacts though, such as Gandhi’s last pair of little round glasses as well as his garment he was wearing on the day of his assassination.
The last few days of our tour, we stayed at a traditional Indian homestead, on South India’s backwater. For hundreds of years, large grass roof boats were built and used in the backwaters to transporting goods. Today, these large boats have been transformed into houseboats and they are very popular with local tourism. They are pretty cool and are fully equipped with, bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, barbeque, and come complete with a captain/cook. There is so many of these boats that at mid afternoon, we could see hundreds of boats passing on the river of our river front residence. During our homestead stay, we also took a walking tour with a guide and we learned about the history of the area and we were staying on and discovered that the land was man made by local Indian settlers. It was pretty impressive as it was approximately10km square and was designed especially for growing rice. Back at the homestead, we were fed locals Indian food for all our meals and we tried our best to eat it. It was tough on us though, as all the meals were a little spicy and mostly foreign to us. I’ll tell ya, I have never been so happy to see and eat a bowl of corn flakes after that adventure! On of the coolest experiences we had at the homestead was taking a traditional paddled boat ride down the backwaters at night accompanied by local people, who sang traditional Indian songs while they slowly paddled down the river. It was very soothing and surreal listening to their traditional Indian songs as we floated down the calm moon lit backwaters.

In conclusion, India was a great experience, but very difficult to put into words because it was such a cultural experience versus a site seeing adventure. And, we saw and did so many things in two weeks it is impossible to write about them all. In general, some of the things we will always remember about India is that the shopping was cheap, fun and always an adventure. We also will remember all the entertaining wild monkeys that seemed to be everywhere we traveled. We will also never forget how we felt to be a minority in India. It was almost like being a celebrity as we rarely saw other white people. Now that I think about it, we never saw any other white children the entire trip! It was not unusual for locals to stop and stare at us. Some people even asked us if they could take a picture of us with themselves and their family. Once again, blondie Drew got the most requests for pictures. There were times when our popularity got a little scary and we really had to watch out for the kids. We also will never forget the spicy curry based Indian food and the struggles we had adapting.  Our transportation experience was very cool, as we traveled by bus, train, tuktuk, rickshaw, bicycle, taxi, car, motorboat, canoe, and even by raft! We toured enough amazing churches and temples to last a lifetime. We really enjoyed our group tour and the people we traveled with. It enhanced the experience and spawned many new friendships. Having said that, we would like to express a special hello and thank you to our tour group friends, Ishbel from Scotland, Chris and John from England, Sara from England, Chris from Wisconsin, Steve and Ruth from North Carolina, Fred and Sheila from New York, Emma from Montreal, Canada and our guide Ravi and our bus driver and assistant.
And finally and most importantly, we will always remember the Indian for it’s special people. They are a wonderful people who are very kind, calm, humble and friendly. We never had a negative experience with any body during our adventure. There is much to be learned from the Indian people.

Good bye to India and now off to Ozzy land.

New pictures uploaded

To our friends and  followers,

Writing a blog and uploading pictures while traveling is not as easy as one might think.  Remember we are 4 to share the only one computer we have and in order to upload as many pictures as we have, it takes days and our internet access is always limited.  However, we now have uploaded Africa and working on India.  We would like to write a description on our photos so you know where we are or what you see, again it will take time.  Patient! we are presently on the Gold Coast of Ausrtralia and the weather is definetly not beach weather, it’s been raining for a week now, one good thing is,  it beats the cold weather and it gives us a chance to keep all of you informed on where we have been and planning to go.  Keep in touch!!

Lyane and the Gang