Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What a circus!

It's been an absolutely crazy week since Christmas. Emma came up from Melbourne on Christmas night and we had a ball for a few days. This included the whole family heading to Le Grande Cirque, which Greg's friend Devin was the producer of. Amazing Chinese acrobats...I've never seen such flexibility!! And there were picnics and walks around Burleigh Headland, and up to the Currumbin rockpools, and a bit of shopping here and there, and pedicures...too much fun!!!

The past few days have been spent in Briz Vegas, hanging out with Julz, Vardy and Adam (i.e. the Stinky Rat brigade), and generally just enjoying this unemployment business!!

I can't believe that it's the end of the year already. And what a year it's been. It seems like a lifetime ago that I left Bangladesh, but it was only just over three months ago. I've been to 14 countries this year, I'd say that's a bit of an achievement. All I can hope for is that 2009 brings just as much fun, excitement and challenges as 2008 has.

Happy New Year everyone!!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

We've all done very well for ourselves...

On one of our many adventures in the Middle East, Jez told Emma and I that his Dad used to say the subject line to him and his sister every Christmas, and I think it's a great way to sum up the day. Not that any of us were spoiled at all, but we did get a few nice bits and pieces. My haul includes a beautiful new watch (that I picked out yesterday at Mum's shop), an easel for my spray painting, lots of chocolates, a little locket, one of those crazy voodoo toothpick men, some earrings, and a much needed foot scrub kit for my poor tired tootsies. Oh yeah, and my new dressing gown (MUCH NEEDED!!)



Dad was extremely happy with his annual present of a computer magazine...



Greg got some new books,



And Mum got all sorts of wonderful things...



And then there was the lunch...



And having more than just the usual four around the table (Greg's friend Devin on the far left, and family friend Matt in the middle with his girlfriend Ambre)



Just generally, happy as flamingos in borax (that's the new saying I've made up, obviously inspired by my recent travels - beats 'happy as a pig in mud' don't you think?)



Feliz Navidad everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Things I didn't see at Quarantine

While my handbag was sniffed by a cute little beagle, I didn't catch any of this action...

funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more puppies

I love I has a hotdog!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Home is where the appetite is

It was a bit of a long, boring, uncomfortable journey home, but I made it home. Adam, formerly known on this blog as Sneaky Little Bastard, very conveniently had a meeting at the airport and then near my house, so he picked me up and drove me home. What a relief to not have to get the train!!

So, I'm now back on the Gold Coast, very much enjoying Mum's baking (I can't stop eating!!) and trying not to think about being an unemployed bum!

I'm pretty sure this blog will be a bit quite over the next week or so...in very exciting news, Em (my best mate from Bangladesh) is coming up to visit me from Melbourne for a few days. Yea!! Hopefully after the excitement of Christmas and New Year's some good news on the job front will come along.

In the meantime, here are some pics from Bolivia.









Sunday, December 21, 2008

A new game

Step 1: Put your music player on shuffle.
Step 2: Post the first line (unless the first line reveals the song title) from the first 50 songs that play, no matter how embarrassing.
Step 3: To get credit, be sure to clarify title and artist. :)
Step 4: Looking them up on Google or any other search engine is CHEATING!
Step 5: If you like the game post your own!

I've had a bit of time up my sleeve to prepare this one...

1. When you're walking down the street and a man tries to get your business
2. Suddenly I can't stay in this room
3. Well he shouted out his last word and he stumbled through the yard
4. We passed upon the stairs
5. Remembering the warm summer nights
6. Up so early feel so bright
7. I've been up and down
8. This will be an uncertain time for us
9. Paint no illusion, try to click with what you've got
10. Sara spelled without a "h" was getting bored
11. Can't explain all the feelings that you're making me feel
12. Do you think, everything, everyone is going mental?
13. Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya
14. What a drag it is, the shape I'm in
15. I don't think it's going to happen anymore
16. Baby when I met you there was peace unknown
17. You say yes, I say no
18. Hey girl, is he everything you wanted in a man?
19. Sometimes I feel like I can't move on
20. She came all the way from America
21. The snow can wait, I forgot my mittens
22. Joseph's face was black as night
23. Take a minute girl, come sit down
24. It's funny how, even now
25. Time goes by, so slowly
26. Shotting from the hip
27. High on a hill with the lonely goatherd
28. My girl, my girl don't lie to me
29. Physic spies from China try to steal your mind elation
30. I know I stand in line until you think you have the time to spend an evening with me
31. Sometimes, is never quite enough
32. You're all I have in this teenage twilight
33. Got caught daydreamin' again
34. Johnny wanna be a big star
35. Hello everybody, welcome today to the wonderful world of you
36. Caroline, see Caroline all the boys would say she's mighty fine
37. You sit there in your heartache
38. It's the perfect time of year somewhere far away from here
39. Pop, six, squish, oh oh, Cicero, Lipschitz
40. My last girlfriend didn't like me
41. I want to, I want to be someone else or I'll explode
42. The gold road's sure a long road
43. She spends too much time with herself every night
44. I just want you close, where you can stay forever
45. Here we go again with the beats
46. Tonight you're mine, completely
47. Coming out of my cage and I've been doing just fine
48. We got stars directing our fates
49. Street's like a jungle so call the police
50. Well now, we call this the act of mating

Hmmmm, 30 points to the person who gets the most correct...

Oldest Friend Birthday Wishes

A BIG happy birthday goes out to Katie who's birthday is tomorrow. That makes it about 21 years we've been friends...hopefully she likes the masses of super stylin alpaca clothes I bought her...tehehe! Kidding!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

All my bags are packed...

...I'm ready to go. I've done pretty well with my limited packing, I still only have the carry on bag I bought with me, though it probably weighs around 10kg now, rather than the 6.5kg it was when I left home 3 months ago. I also have my (second) handbag, which is chock full, and one extra little hand carry bag that's stuffed with Christmas presents. This travelling light business has been fantastic, I highly recommend it!

My flight out of Lima is at 1:40am tonight/tomorrow, and then a fabulous 16 hour stopover in LAX, can't wait for that...I'm sure there will be a couple of "I'm bored, entertain me" posts during that time, otherwise, I'll be home on Monday morning. Most of me is excited to be going home, but it's a close second to the part of me that wishes I could keep going!

Lunching in Lima

Yesterday, after Sally and I had left the catacombs, we found a lovely little piazza with cafes, picked a spot in the sun (well, in the shade for me) and sat back enjoying a frozen orange juice while watching the world pass us by. It was another crazy cab ride back to our hostel, where we then headed for a 20 minute walk down to the ocean.

There's a fantastic mall called Larcomar which is built into the cliffs above the ocean, and again, we found a great place to eat with a fantastic view out to sea. Very pleasant indeed.

This morning, after a very successful (and cheap) shopping trip in Topitop (2 bikinis for the price of 1!) we walked down to Punto Azul, a very very popular restaurant with the locals, to try ceviche - the national dish of Peru. I knew it was fish, but that was all. For some reason, I thought there might be rice involved...I was wrong, oh so wrong. I ordered the 'mixto' and out came a large plate stacked with basically raw fish, squid, prawns and octupus, all covered in a really tangy orange sauce. The cooked sweet potato on the side mellowed out the tang, and it was really tasty...I just wasn't too keen on eating almost whole baby octopie!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Photos

I've managed to fill up my 4 gig memory card...and this is after deleting the first part of the trip!! Good thing I've got another 1 gig handy. I was just about to upload some more photos for you to check out, except the 4 gig card is downstairs locked away safe and sound. Unfortunately for me, I'll be home in 4 days (not that I'm not looking forward to seeing everyone!) and will have super duper fast internet to upload them all, so I think you can hold out till then...

Bones

I met a lovely British girl named Sally last night, and this morning we met up to explore the catacombs under the Iglesia de San Francisco, a monastry formed 500 years ago following the Order of St Francis of Assisi. We had a lovely tour guide named Jose, who showed us around the cathedral and cloister. The library was incredible - the first thing to catch your eye is an absolutely massive book, which was designed for the choir to read from quite a distance, the pages were made of leather. It looked like a smaller version of the library in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where they find the entrance to the tombs...circular staircases and everything, but only 25,000 books.

We were then led underground to the catacombs, where 20,000 people had been buried over 300 years. When it became too full, they stopped using it, destroyed most of the coffins and then later arranged all the bones into different bins and formations. There are mostly femurs and skulls left, as these bones are the toughest and take the longest to decompose.



The ceilings were very low, and winding tunnels, stairways leading off in different direction all contributed to a creepy atmosphere, which escalated when the mass going on in the cathedral above suddenly broke into a hymn.

We'd noticed a lot of police, and "SUAT" personnel (that's the Peruvian equivalent of SWAT, but the acronym is Servicio de Urgencia, Asistencia y Traslado rather than Special Weapons and Tactics) hanging around everywhere.



We'd asked Jose if there was anything in particular happening today that had brought them all out, but he merely said, "no, it's just because Lima is a very dangerous city." Dangerous enough to have APVs sitting on street corners in the main plaza???

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The joys of travel part 2

They say that bad things come in threes: first it was the stolen money, then I stepped in gum (granted, not much of a doozy) and then the kicker...

Cecila, one of the Danish girls I've run into in various places on my travels in Argentina and Bolivia had mentioned to me yesterday morning that there were roadblocks in place between Uyuni and La Paz, due to big protests. Surely they wouldn't carry on through the night though, we both agreed.

Ha! We got to our bus company just before 8pm to be told that the roadblocks were still in place, and that the bus wouldn't be going to La Paz. We could be dropped in either Ororo (or something like that), which was 3 hours from La Paz, or another place that was 11 hours away. We obviously chose Ororo. After receiving a very small refund, we got on what was the worst bus ride in living history. The roads, for six hours, were all dirt and extremely bumpy and noisy. I was trying to play solitaire on my ipod and the screen kept changing perspectives, as if I was turning the whole thing 180 degrees.

Poor Yenni had been sick during the day, and the bus ride did her no favours, so when we finally made it to Ororo at 2:15am, her and Cecila made the decision to stay the night there. Luckily, there were a few Bolivians on the bus who offered to organise a mini bus for the rest of us, to take us to La Paz. For 30 bolivianas ($7.50) we made the three hour trip, thankfully on tarred roads the whole way.

The Loki hostel is absolutely awesome, I've only left once today as I've been trying and trying to change my ticket to fly to Lima instead of back to Buenos Aires, a massive saving in price and time. But so far, no luck. I'm waiting for another hour to go back to the LAN office to get them to do what the travel agent here couldn't...hopefully it works out!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Australian, a Scotsman, a Mexican and a Dutchy get in a jeep...

Sounds like the start of a very bad joke, but in actual fact was perhaps the best four days of my trip. After a stunning train ride to Tupiza from the border of Bolivia, Judy and I met up again with Neil, the Scotsman, who we'd met in Humahuaca. He'd met Roberto, a Mexican guy, and together we booked a four day, four wheel drive tour, leaving the next morning.

Our intrepid driver, Xavier and cook Sylvia joined us in a 20 year old Landcruiser (though if Top Gear has taught us anything, it's that these cars are indestructible!) and off we went. Absolutely breathtaking scenery. First red jagged rocks (and a lot of mud), then onto some incredible mountains. What was most amazing was how quickly the scenery could change completely - from rolling hills that looked like they were draped in velvet, to jagged snow capped peaks. It was only 2 hours in that we got a puncture in the tyre, but Xavier had obviously fixed this problem more than a few times before, and we were back on the road before we knew it.

When I say 'road', I mean dirt roads. A lot of it was very hard going, very bouncy and poor Judy suffers from motion sickness so it wasn't always fun for her. The altitude got to us all - at the highest, we were at 5,000 metres. The second day, I was an absolute mess. We'd reached a thermal spring and after a welcome hot bath (there were no showers for the first 3 days!) I started feeling quite woozy and tired. I think I got into bed at 6pm that night and slept the whole night, awaking fresh and ready to go.

There was just too much to describe - wildlife included many many llamas, flamingoes, crazy rabbit things called vizcachas, that moved like wallabies and looked like Confucious, small foxes called zorrandinos, and camely/deer type things called vicuñas. Then more different scenery - the multi coloured lagoons, often covered in white borax, full of bright pink flamingoes, more mountains, and a few volcanoes. At some point, we had to stop because of a clutch fluid leak, but again, Xavier sorted us out in no time.

On the last evening we reached the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flats at 12,000 square kilometres. White as far as the eye can see, which looked like ice. Our accommodation was a salt hotel, that is the floor was covered in chunks of salt, the chairs, tables and beds, all made of salt...and most welcomed, a hot shower!! It was on this night that we learnt we'd been travelling with a celebrity. Roberto is a Mexican cross between Steve Irwin and David Attenborough! He's a biologist but has made a few tv series on different animals and natural things. He showed us one of his DVDs and it was so cool! We are now all proud owners of our own copies, unfortunately no subtitles, but most enjoyable!

On our last morning we went to one of the 'islands' in the flats, which was covered in ancient cacti (the oldest being 1200 years old). It was a bizarre sight, looking past massive cacti into a sea of white salt. After breakfast, the fun began. As the salt flats are indeed flat, there is a lot of fun to be had with photography and perspective. We were all close to crying with laughter at some of the results, Xavier being an extremely enthusiastic stager and photographer. Our trip ended with a visit to the train cemetary in Uyuni, lots of old rusted out carriages surrounded by blue skies, golden sand and plenty of rubbish.

It was quite sad when it all came to an end in Uyuni, an absolute ghost town, but popular with tourists heading for the salt flats. Judy left me this morning at 3am to head to San Pedro in Chile, which was sad. It was great travelling with her, and Neil and Roberto as well. I've glossed over this experience, there are many many photos for those at home to sit (suffer?) through when I get back, but I'm so glad that I took the opportunity to do it.

I've decided to take a chance and travel up to La Paz to get a flight back to Buenos Aires, to save spending (at least) 3 days on busses. Hopefully this chance will pay off. Not to worry though, I can always head for Lima and pick up my connecting flight there, but hopefully it won't come to that. I'm travelling overnight tonight with a couple of Swedish guys, an Englishman, and the two Danish girls I've run into on a couple of other bus trips...a good group for sure.

Fingers crossed I can sort it all out in time, and my credit card works fine. I discovered this morning that someone in Brazil had emptied my savings account, I don't know where my card was cloned but the money is gone until I get home and file a complaint. Grrrrrrr!! Oh well, if that's the worst thing that has happened to me, then I'm not too annoyed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Humahuaca ooga chucka

Judy and I left Salta early this morning, expecting to reach Humahuaca around 10:30. We had the best seats in the bus, right at the front up the top with a stunning view. Now, of course, not the best seat in the bus in an accident, but let's not think about that!

The scenery was stunning. It transformed from lush and green, to suddenly spartan with giant cacti spotted all over the mountains, like an army at the ready. And then there were the mountains themselves. Many many years ago the area was flooded with water, which changed the colour of the rock to red. As the water receeded and then stagnated, different shades of reds and oranges were left behind. Really incredible stuff.

The town of Humahuaca (hoo-ma-wah-ka) is very small, and not a lot going on. Our first impression wasn't pleasant as it was muy dificil to get a cab. People kept jumping in front of us and cabs just drove straight past. We thought they mustn't like gringos that much. But the people at the hostel are lovely, even though we could barely understand each other.

We went for a stroll about town, posing with some cacti (HUGE! And these things only grow 2cm a year, so they're probably older than the incas!)

It didn't take much for Judy to convince me to come with her to Bolivia for a few days, to explore the salt plains there. So we head up to the border first thing in the morning, then a couple of hours on to Tupiza, which we've heard is a really nice area. Can't wait!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Big Senior Citizen Birthday Shout Out

To Steve who turned 30 today (well, today in Argentina time, but already yesterday there).

:-)

Inconceivable!

Long term readers may remember a post on my old blog about my friend Aara leaving Bangladesh, and the contributions she´d made to my own (and many others´) personal entertainment over the course of a year. One of these was what we thought was her coining of the term ´gut rot.´Alas, I have just found evidence that suggests Aara wasn´t the first to come up with this very useful phrase.

Sometimes, among the six or seven tangos he sang a night, one or two would come up that the oldest of his listeners could identify, though not without effort, like ¨Mucked up with Yeast¨or ¨I got Gut Rot from your Manger¨. That´s from page 31 of ¨The Tango Singer¨by Tomas Eloy Martinez. Now even if that is a completely made up song title (it´s a fiction novel), the book was published in 2004, putting it a good 3 years ahead of Aara at least.

But how awesome a title is that: I got Gut Rot from your Manger...

Something I´d not noticed

Some people may tell you that I´m not the most observant of people...they´re often right. But today I noticed something that has gone unnoticed for far too long...taps. You heard me, taps, faucets, things that allow water to flow...

Anyway, normally taps are coloured blue or red, or have a C or H on them. Well today, in my hostel in Salta, I noticed the taps had a F and a C, for frio and caliente, cold and hot respectively. This was a revelation for me. How odd that a foreign language speaking country would label their taps in their native language!

My taps in Bangers weren´t labelled T for thanda (cold) or G for ghorom (hot) - even they conformed to the standard blue and red colouring system. Now I couldn´t help but wonder, how many other countries have I been to that label their taps with different letters to what I´m used to??

No bailar for Carly

Unfortunately, after getting all dolled up and eating our amazing BBQ dinner at 11:15pm, the girls who´d promised to take us all out never showed up. Very disappointing. A big group of us headed for a nearby bar, and drank the local special of red wine mixed with coca cola...couldn´t really taste the coke. It wasn´t nearly as fun as dancing would have been, but we still managed to roll home around 4am.

Judy, my lovely new Dutch friend, and I jumped on our bus (half an hour late) and spent the 3 hours to Salta trying to sleep but not succeeding. The hostel here also has a pool, and that´s where we spent the remainder of the afternoon. It must have been around 8pm when we decided to head to the supermarket to cook something for dinner. Even though dinner is actually included in the hostel price, they weren´t serving until 10:30! It was the perfect time of day, still sunlight but a lovely cool breeze blowing through the town. We came to a lovely park where there were lots of people, balloons, and market stalls. Very pleasant to stroll through. By the time we finished enjoying ourselves and cooking and eating our yummy spinach pasta, we weren´t that far ahead of the others eating dinner!

Today, we walked further into the city centre, and were amazed and somewhat bemused at the pale blue and pale pink churches we saw. Beautiful, but a bit kitchsy as well. We stopped in the main square for a coffee (my first real cortado since I went to Spain - fantastico!) and on a whim decided we should go to Cafayate, thinking it would only be an hour by bus max. We headed to the bus station, only to discover that it was actually a 3 hour 45 minute trip, and since the bus didn´t leave till 1pm it just wasn´t going to be possible. So we headed to the cable car/gondola that goes up a ´mountain´and it was a lovely view of the big mountains bordering Salta city and the city itself, which is much widely spread than I had originally thought. It was also lovely and cool and shady up there, the perfect place to take some rest for a while.

We´ve booked tickets to Humauaca tomorrow morning at 7am...it´s going to be tough to get up (considering the bottle of wine that we´ve got cooling in the fridge) but hopefully we´ll see some more interesting natural sights there - getting a bit over cities and towns. And condors - must see condors!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tinea free!

A big group of us headed for a public pool this afternoon, to get some respite from the heat. What a process! First we had to go into an office to announce our names and pay our ten pesos. We were then greeted by the sight of the pool, full of kids, and surrounded by a whole lot of concrete.

The next step was a quick visit to the doctor. Yep. In a little room, the girls filed in first, presented our toes and fingers for examination, our armpits, (we assumed for any sort of obvious fungus) and then our hair for lice. And paid another two pesos for the privilege. The doctor didn´t seem to mind Chris´s gigantic scabby knee or John´s peeling shoulders. Then we had to present our reciept to the lifeguard and shower before we could actually get in the damn pool!!

But much fun ensued, and it was a very enjoyable way to while away the hours. Tonight, an asado (traditional BBQ...can´t get enough of that Argentinian beef!) and then dancing. But a nap will be much needed after last night´s revelries and an early morning trip to the bus station to change my ticket.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winning friends and influencing people....or just having fun

I didn´t do much during the day yesterday - it was far too hot for that. Well, I did manage to finally finish reading ¨Middlesex¨ which was quite a read. Muy interesante. Anyways, as the afternoon rolled by a few of us headed down to the park, bought a soccer ball and had a bit of a kick around. This of course, was preceeded by some syncronised sliding...although I was the only one who managed to push off on ´go´ - the slides were tiny!!


A couple of hours flew past and as the mozzies started attacking we headed back to the hostel to make empañadas. Our teachers were two lovely Argentinians girls, who had already prepared the majority of the ingredients (the old line "and here´s one I prepared earlier" didn´t quite translate) so all we had to do was roll the dough into little balls, roll them flat, and then stuff and fold them into little pasties. The most fun I´ve had in a kitchen for a very long time!




In the end there were over 50 empañadas, so it was a good thing there were a few extra people sitting around the table to help us out. Our new Argentinian friends invited us to go dancing with them tonight, but I´d already booked a bus ticket out of here...it didn´t take long to convince me to change it, as I´ve been waiting for an opportunity like this: to hang out with the locals and dance with gorgeous Argentinian men with rhythm! And as Judy, a lovely Dutch girl, is planning on heading to the same place, it will mean someone to travel with...though it´s only a 3 hour bus this time!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Photos on Facebook

I´m now pretty up to date with my photos on facebook, so if you´re a friend of mine, you´re probably already opening it up right now...because that´s how keen I know you all are!

And here´s one of me and Machu Picchu


Alright, enough photos for today!

A glimpse down the Devil´s Throat

Turn the sound up!

video

This is just a quick view of the Devil´s Throat and surrounding falls, there are plenty more which I have in other photos and videos...but this was the one that took my breath away (and hurt my eyes to look at!)

More photos are up here

Iguazu Falls in one picture


Wait till you see the video - the sound is astounding!

The critters

Here you go, finally, photographic evidence of the cute little buggers from Machu Picchu.




I´m in the process of uploading a select few pics to picasaweb and facebook...it´s taking a while

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Things I like about hostels:

  • Meeting new people from all over the world
  • Hearing accents and languages from all over the world
  • Free breakfast
  • Cheap drinks
  • Hot water
  • Learning of places that are worthwhile visiting and otherwise
  • Book exchanges

Things I don't like about hostels:
  • Girls who take too long in the bathroom and leave the floor soaking wet
  • People who have to leave early in the morning and leave it till then to pack their bags
  • Top bunks
  • People who spend far too long on the internet when there are only three or four computers
I'm off to Tucuman today, it's another 18-odd hour bus trip, but it sure beats the 27 hours to Salta that I was initially thinking of!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Extraordinario!!

Wow. I was impressed by Machu Picchu, but the Igauzu Falls just (literally) blew that out of the water. Incredible. I went on my little adventure with two lovely Canadian sisters, and we started our day in a big open top jeep, with a cruise down to the river, not spotting any wildlife whatsoever, but enjoying the beautiful forrest.

It was then into a big speedboat down the river for a few minutes before our first waterfall sighting...it was pretty piddly. But then, my goodnes, they just exploded out of nowhere. And our kind, caring boat pilot, (after providing us with a waterproof bag for our things) took us underneath the falls for a proper soaking. It was exhilirating, even if we couldn´t see a thing.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the various boardwalks and islands admiring the views from different angles. There were too many falls to count, and stretching as far as the eye could see...well, at least to Brazil!

We stopped for our packed lunch outside a little kiosk, and got really excited when we spotted a Coatis. Now for all those playing at home, a Coatis is very similar to the critter I saw in Peru. Oh, it´s so cute, we thought. Until about four of them started circling our table, and we had to pick our feet up to avoid any contact. And then, one cheeky bugger jumped up on the table, grabbed the half roll I hadn´t eaten and made off with it! Little bastard.

Anyway, we continued on till we reached the ¨devil´s throat¨fall...inconceivable! It was so huge, and loud and played havoc with my eyes...I can´t imagine how much water flows over that thing every minute. Particularly when the water that feeds it looks so calm. How much electricity could be provided by it...30 points to whoever finds out.

Only a little bit sunburnt but still in marvel of the day, I´m awaiting a traditional Argentinian BBQ for dinner...mmmmm, meat....

Monday, December 1, 2008

Imaginary texts to Emma

On the usually six hour bus trip from Chittagong to Dhaka, I would send Emma many a text message about my fellow passengers, or the movie playing, or just general boredom killing text messages. As my phone isn't working in South America, I couldn't actually send Em any texts on my 18 hour bus ride, but if I could've they would've gone something like this:

18:00 - oooh, v. nice bus, big seats. Michael Hutchense gyrating on tele...better than 'wrong number'

18:08 - dude behind me is singing along 2 old school live Madonna clip - sounds like fat soprano choking out an alto part

21:30 - just got shoved awake 4 dinner. On a tray and everything! V. yellow mash potato...not bad.

22:06 - who lets Adam Sandler make movies anymore? Zohan is ZO bad

00:00 - time 2 test out reclining seat...nice...

02:43 - stupid baby crying, who brings babies on 18 hour busses?

09:12 - waiting 4 bus dude 2 give me breakfast. Everyone else has theirs, why not me?

11:30 - made it! And half an hour early as well. Most awesome bus ever, felt more like a plane!

12:01 - hostel is heaven - resort-esque pool, lots of couches, pool bar, 2 for 1 capirihinas, cute boys...miss you!!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Keeping track

According to the facebook application that I've got that keeps track of the cities I've visited, I've now been to 21 countries! I'm pretty happy with that, considering I've never done a Contiki tour around Europe. And, 20 of those countries have been in the last five years. I can't wait to get rid of the photo I've got, never again will I get a 10 year passport!

Anyway, this evening I'm getting on an 18 hour bus to the Iguazu Falls - should be pretty awesome once I finally get there!!

Day trippin´

I can´t remember if I´ve used that subject line already on this blog, or the old one. Anyway, after a wasted day yesterday (I was out till 5am drinking rum with an Aussie rum conniseur - or that´s what he told me) lying in bed wishing to die, I woke afresh this morning excited by my day trip...

to URUGUAY!!

Yep, caught a nice speedy boat over there, meeting two American girls from my hostel and started off with a bit of a walking tour around Colonia, the oldest town in Uruguay. Very pretty with both Spanish and Portugese influences (you can tell a Spanish street from a Portugese by the drainage systems - the Portugese declined the streets on an angle towards the centre, while the Spanish put their drains on either side of the street like we do now.).

We then decided to hire a golf cart to drive around the area - it has a stretch of beach 5km long. Unfortunately, the weather was quite bad, and when it was my turn to drive back, I got absolutely drenched. Not to worry, a few stops in at the 5 museums around the main square (some taking as little as 2 minutes to walk through, great for people with short attention spans like me!) and a bit of Christmas present shopping and we were all dried out.

It was a fabulous day trip, and yet another stamp in the passport! I love it when immigration people flick through the pages trying to find a blank spot, and keep flipping, and keep flipping...not too much longer till it´s all filled up!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Kamal was right to ask: why are people so unkind?

I went on a crappy city tour this morning. We were in a big coach (though the air conditioning was nice) and were only able to get out at a few places, for 15 minutes at a time. After stopping in the main square, and at the local football team's stadium, we stopped at Camanito Street, which is full of brightly painted houses and now a big tourist trap. I walked down one avenue with lots of restaurants and one of the waiters started his spiel, trying to get me in to eat. I politely smiled and said "no gracias" and kept walking. He called out to me and said I was very beautiful...not reason enough for me to eat there. On my way back, he tried again and again, I said no. He grabbed at my arm and asked me where I was from. Perhaps I shouldn't have said 'bugger off' but that's no excuse for him clapping his hands loudly and calling me a bitch. Not impressed.

Eventually the tour ended, after getting just a taste of a few of the neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires. I jumped out at Florida Street, which is a huge pedestrian avenue running at least five blocks. I enjoyed my stroll down the boulevard with a slight breeze blowing the air conditioning droplets on me, cooling me down slightly. I called in at a little snack bar to get some salami for the lettuce leaves I'd bought, and the young guy there was so much more charming and patient with my muy terrible espanol! I didn't mind the wink he gave me.

So far, not particularly in love with the place, and more than keen to get out into the countryside and up to the Iguazu Falls...it's only a 20 hour bus ride away!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I'm in Buenos Aires!

And in the words of Miranda Priestley, "that's all".

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Machu Picchu

As if I'd withhold a story about my day at Machu Picchu!! I'm not going to outline every step I took, because frankly, we'd all be here all day. Suffice to say, the whole place is amazing, breathtaking, awesome, mindblowing etc. So I'm only going to tell you the story of my trek to the Sun Gate.

If you do the Inca Trail trek, the sun gate is where you get your first view of Machu Picchu. The guide I'd had on my tour in the morning had said the walk up to the gate was an easy incline and should take about an hour. Well, I definitely wouldn't call it a slight incline. The city is at 2,350 metres, the Sun Gate is 2,720...it took me about 45 minutes to get up there. Red faced, dripping with sweat and puffing madly (though the few others up there were the same!) I turned to finally enjoy the view I'd been restraining myself from peeking at on the way up. Spectacular. The city looked so small, dwarfed by Waynapichu, the peak that overlooks the city.

I found myself a shady, grassy spot and settled in to enjoy the view, a big drink and some biscuits. From that high, I couldn't really see the detail of the city, but knowing what was down there, and trying to imagine how it had all gotten there was mind boggling. I started the descent with an American guy, who reminded me very much of Putin from this photo...



Anyway, he was a bit scared about going down, even as buff as he was, so I left him in my dust. I was about half way down when something jumped out of the bushes on my left, and raced across the track in front of me. Something red, something with a fluffy tail and long nose. At first I thought it was a fox. Then I thought perhaps I shouldn't stand around in case it jumped out and bit me, as a course of rabies medication wasn't an attractive thought.

Then I heard a sound - sort of a clucking then whistling. I imitated it. And waited. And then...a little head poked out between two stems of bamboo. It was the most precious little face, with a long nose and big eyes that were looking right at me. In a split second, it jumped just as the first and ran across the track. I got a better look at its body - red and brown on the face and body, with the same colours in a stripey, bushy tail, about the size of a normal to small house cat (not a fat cat like Sam...just kidding Rowan!). I settled down on a nearby rock to wait for more, and I was rewarded for my patience. There must have been another 5 who came out nervously, stopped to look me over, then jumped the trail.

Eventually, I continued down the track - going down almost as hard as going up - and when I reached the bottom, and looked out over the city again, I quickly asked a tour guide what it was. He said the name in Spanish too quickly for me to catch, but said it was a native raccoon-type animal. He also said that I was very lucky to see one, and couldn't believe it when I said I'd seen over five. I've done a quick google search, but can't figure out what it is. Very unfortunately, the computer has decided not to let me upload any photos, so I can't even give you a visual clue. I will give 30 points to the person who can discover what it is from my description - with a link to a picture of it of course.

So, in conclusion - I've wanted to go to Machu Picchu for as long as I can remember - and like my visits to Petra and the Taj Mahal, it didn't disappoint. My day there coincided (give or take a day or two) with a year of being single, and the same feeling I got walking across the Golden Gate Bridge struck me again - it's a liberating thing to be able to go to the places I've always wanted to go, and do it on my own, and do it the way that I want to.

An incredible day, an incredible experience - I just wish I could share the 100+ photos I took with you right now!

I know a valley, a sacred valley

There must have been about 20 people on the bus with Lilliana, our annoying guide, for a trip around the sites of the Sacred Valley. After a quick stop at a tourist trip market, our first (real) stop was Pisaq (pronounced Pisa), which had some interesting ruins, and an excellent example of terrace gardening. The view from the top was spectacular, with a sighting of some snow on the Andes.

Then it was lunch at another tourist trip place (but conveniently, it was the only place around so where else could we go??) and onto Ollantaytambo (pronounced Oy-an-ty-tambo), which was pretty cool. As my little map says "a beautiful town that preserves vividly Incan urban planning of houses, streets and waterways, safeguarded by a breathtaking fortress with temples, hillside farming terraces and walls."

While I had originally wanted to take the train from Cusco straight to Aguas Calientes (the town below Machu Picchu) I'm really glad I got the bus tour included. It was a great way to see the stunning Peruvian countryside, and good to get out and stretch the legs. I left the group in Ollantaytambo to get the train to Aguas Calientes, but had quite a few hours to kill. I hung out with three kids - Fernando who was 9 and his 11 year old twin sisters, Clara and Maria. They were playing elastics in between flogging their wares to passengers heading to and from the train. They were playing slightly differently to the way I had as a kid (their way was easier), and they were absolutely delighted when I showed them my way - which they quickly swapped to.

Clara had an Australian 20 cent piece and asked me how much it was worth in soles. I did a rough calculation and asked if I'd swap. I said she should keep it, and instead gave them all some biscuits, which they were pretty happy about.

The train ride reinforced how good the bus had been - we were crammed in like cattle! But we all made it in one piece, and I was delighted when I arrived at my hostel to find I had my own room. Anyone who's jumped from hostel to hostel will understand how wonderful that is! And the shower...water pressure!!! I fell straight asleep, excited about the day ahead.

And the inspiration for the title - well, being stuck on kid's TV I remembered the following - again no volume on this computer, so hopefully this works!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oi!

Can people please leave my spelling and punctuation alone!! I will defend my usually perfect grammar by reminding you that I have limited time to do these posts, on computers where the keyboards are all wonky, so youse (go on Steve, you know I'm right on that one!) can all put up with it!! Otherwise I might withhold my post on Machu Picchu...

To set the scene

Hopefully this clip works - the computer I'm on doesn't have sound. But behold - one of my favourite shows as a kid (Greg and I knew all the words and I distinctly remember us recording ourselves singing it), and something I was humming the past two days...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Taking it easy

Cusco is 3400 metres above sea level. I knew that this was 'altitude' and that you should acclimatise before doing, say, the 4 day Inca Trail trek to Machu Pichu. I knew I wouldn't be doing the Inca Trail (unfortunately, not enough time and not doing exercise for a year has left me quite unfit!), and didn't really think that acclimatising would be so bad.

I haven't really done much in the past few days (besides wandering around the markets, eating great Peruvian food etc) because I've felt really lethargic and dehydrated. I've been drinking litres and litres of water, and chowing down on the cocoa tea leaves that apparently help, and I finally woke up this morning feeling alive. Which is good, because tomorrow I start my journey to Machu Pichu.

In other news, I was reading my old housemate's blog (A Year in the Shit - it's linked on the right there) and had to post the same link she did to a story on Bangladesh's Rickshaw Idol...awesome.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A photo!

Of Cusco

From South America (Nov-Dec 2008)

A special happy birthday shoutout

To James, it´s the best that I can do - it´s not like I was going to buy you a present!
Have a good one old man!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Alpacary goodness

I'm staying in a lovely hostel in Cusco, Peru, based around an open courtyard which walks out onto a nice big square. I had a wander around town this afternoon, and it's a gorgeous city - cobblestoned streets, plenty of lovable strays roaming the street, and a tiny tiny woman leading an alpaca around.

I tried not to think about this when I went out with two Canadian guys for dinner tonight, and we all ordered the alpaca tenderloins. So delicious! Like a cross between pork and steak. Nom nom nom.

In other exciting news, I've finally been able to upload some photos to my site - these are just a mere fraction of the photos I've taken (1116 and counting). I'm up to New York, so there are still a few more to come. There are plenty of tourist shots, plenty of me (thought you'd appreciate that Mum!) and some of the more artistic ones I've tried to take. You be the judge!

An open letter to American Airlines and its passengers

Dear all,

Firstly, American Airlines, your ongoing selection of me for additional security testing on every single flight I've taken with you, and your complete and utter inability to explain why, sucks major eggs.

Secondly, serving a single cup of the non-alcoholic beverage of my choice does not constitute a "refreshment".

Thirdly, your inflight entertainment is woeful at best. "Meet Dave" was bad enough the first time around - it did not get any better on second or third inspections.

Finally, is it too much to ask to hire flight attendants who actually look like they give a crap about their jobs? Or who actually do their jobs?

To my fellow passengers - a few suggestions if I may be so bold:

Please. Please, when it comes time to find row 31 (hint: it's not right at the front and all the rows have the numbers on each and every arm rest), there is absolutely no need to piss fart around - putting your boarding pass bag in your bag, reapplying your lipstick or searching through your bag to find your earphones/ipod/lucky rabbit's foot - all the while blocking the aisle and causing a pile up of people behind you. Chuck your handbag on the seat (any seat in your row will do), get your carry-on into the overhead compartment, and get the hell out of the way.

When getting out of your seat for your fifth bathroom stop, or any of the ones preceeding it, you really don't need to grab the headrest of the seat in front of you. This causes that seat to be pulled back, and then released with some force when you let go, causing minor whiplash.

After you've done step one in reverse, and proceeded to cause another pile up of people wanting to get off the plane, please do not walk your family of four all abreast down the corrdior leading into the airport. There are people that don't need to walk at a snail's pace that really struggle to get around you.

I hope you'll consider my suggestions.
Best,
Carly.

P.S. To the somewhat spunky paraglider (obviously going through an early mid life crisis) who tried to chat me up at the back of the plane where the hosties had set out self service water - your "so do you come here often" line was inspired.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mardi Gras baby!

I decided to check out the island of Algiers yesterday, after strolling through the French Market (stopping off for another serving of Beignets at Cafe du Monde) and along the waterfront. While on the free ferry across, I checked my map to see where to go. An ad at the bottom of the map caught my eye - for "Mardi Gras World". I'd read an article about Blaine Kern in an in flight magazine, but had forgotten all about it.

In a nutshell, Kern inc. makes over 70% off all the floats in the New Orleans mardi gras (which, incidentally, had its' inception the day before New Orleans was named) and Mardi Gras World is a working workshop, where floats are built or stripped down and altered. They also build a lot of giant 'props' - statues I guess - from pappier mache, styrofoam or fiberglass. It was a lot of fun - dressing up in mardi gras costumes, watching the artists at work, and simply admiring the craftsmanship.

I decided to forgo the free shuttle and wandered back to the ferry terminal, past a lot of really cute old houses. The ferry ride back was just as short and pleasant as before. I walked down to St Charles Ave to get the streetcar down there. Beautiful, beautiful houses (former plantations) lined the street, plenty of big old trees, and basically, a very very rich part of town. I only saw one house that had a board with a giant X on it - a sign that it was damaged in Katrina and that at least one person died.

All this had really taken it out of me, and I decided on another quiet night in. I was having an interesting, though shallow discussion with some people around the table, when we were joined by Sheely. A brassy blond from Texas, with the concentration span of a goldfish, she somehow weaved it into conversation that she wanted to be a mortician, a writer, and in marketing. She said she worked in a cabaret. A few minutes later, she somehow weaved in to the conversation that stem cell research is atrocious, and that it should be stopped because, not only is abortion abhorrent, but there's a black market for foetus arms and legs in China...not for stem cell research, but as a fountain of youth type cuisine.

Well, that kind of threw us. What do you say to that? A few seconds later, she asked me if I wanted to see her 'outfits'. I wasn't sure what she was referring to, but since I may have hurt her feelings in my questioning of her beliefs, I agreed. When she said she worked in 'cabaret', she actually meant 'strip club'. And was very excited to show me the new outfits (read: lingerie) she'd bought (all tax deductible too) to wear that night. She lives somewhere in Texas, and has two kids, but comes down here once a month or so to earn better money. Lovely lady, just a bit ditzy.

This morning, I found out how it pays to be friends with the chef. I'd been chatting to John last night, and he'd offered me a bowl of his homemade granola, which was delicious. This morning, after doing a few bits and pieces around town, I got home absolutely starving and was delighted to find out he was still serving breakfast. I asked him for the pancakes, and I couldn't tell if it was one extremely thick, or two quite thick pancakes the size of a dinner plate, with banana cooked in, and a sprinkling of granola on top. Delicious. The going rate for such a dish? $4.75. My price? $2. Sweet. Of course, I gave him a couple of bucks for his trouble, but that's why it always pays to know the chef!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Secret Katrina

Emma sent me a text with the suggestion for this post - the full title was actually "Pork s'wich & gut rot in New Orleans: Carly's Secret Katrina", which cracked me up and was too good not to use.

My afternoon was pretty awesome, barring the obvious. Greg's friend Michael's girlfriend Deanna, and her friend Kaylee picked me up and we headed to Frenchmen St, where the alternative book fair was taking place. I had thought it would be confined to one venue, but it was actually spread out in a few different bars, with lots of stalls set up. There were people selling comics and graphic novels, interesting homemade postcards, and even a stall where people could adopt shelter pit bulls. There were two extremely cute little pups, that didn't look like pit bulls, and were perhaps the best part of the day.

The street atmosphere was a lot of fun, lots of musicians and groups playing an eclectic mix of instruments, from a wonderful soprano sax (notoriously difficult to keep in tune) player, to a guy playing a saw like a cello, and a group of people who looked straight out of a Dicken's novel with accordions.

We wandered around for quite a while, and were joined by Michael, who was taking a break from recording an album with a band he's in. We decided to get some lunch at "13", an obviously popular spot, and I chose the pulled pork po-boy (that's a type of roll like a baguette but not as crunchy). It was absolutely delicious. And then, a disaster akin to Katrina struck...gut rot!! Six whole weeks, my stomach had almost forgotten the scourge of gut rot, only to fall victim once again.

The afternoon wound up soon after, with a quick stop in at Kaylee's house to drop her off. I love the different architectural styles in New Orleans, with the predominantly French and Spanish influences. Her place was 'shotgun' style - narrow, but very long. And if you were to open the back door and the front door, you could shoot a shotgun straight through. That, combined with the high ceilings, ensured a good airflow during summer before air conditioning was invented.

It was a somewhat a shame that it was me who got to meet Michael and go to the book fair, as it was something that Greg would have really enjoyed. And apologies Greggles, I've got no room in my bag left, so couldn't buy you anything!

Where every night is New Year's Eve

I had an awesome night last night. The build up was long, with the first beer cracked around 5pm, and the evening stretched out at the hostel with an epic game of "Lord of the Rings RISK"...very different to normal Risk, which is what I blame my second last finish on!!

Around 11ish a group of nine of us headed into Bourbon Street - a very different place in the evening as opposed to the day! It was crazy - neon everywhere, people packing the streets, and music of all genres pumping from different bars. One of the best things about New Orleans is that you can drink in the street, and carry your drinks from one place to the next (for the most part). So the street has just as much of a party atmosphere as inside any bar. I managed to catch some beads, thrown from a balcony - can't come to New Orleans and not leave with some beads!!

Our first stop, after picking up a huge Margarita in what looked like an extra large take-away coffee cup, was the Funky Pirate to see Big Al Carson - the man is huge!! We got there just in time for his last set of the evening, and while he's a big man, he can sure sing high! The Danish guys I was with had seen him the night before, and he'd played a bit of trumpet, but for the last set, obviously he was too tired to do that. We downed some test tube shots and moved on to the next bar, which I can't remember the name of, but was the originator of the infamous New Orleans "Hurricane" cocktail. By this stage, I'd had quite enough to drink, so didn't sample the house special, but there are still two more nights for that!!

Got home around 3ish, and was woken early by the poor girls who I'd been out with who had to pack and catch and early flight. Today, I'm off to the New Orleans alternative book fair, with a friend of my brother's. It's the start of the Fringe Festival today, so there should be some interesting things going on...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Links

I've just put in a lot of links in the New York post so that if you don't know Magnolia, or FAO Schwartz, you can actually see what I was talking about.

Nawlins

Well, here I am in the Big Easy, New Orleans. Spent last night drinking beer and playing cards with quite a few Danes, just taking it easy. The hostel I'm at "India House Backpackers" is full of charm, lots of art on the walls, courtesy of previous guests, and a very homely feel about it. And of course, more characters to add to my collection (like Mike, the ex Special Ops ranger who was part of the rescue mission for those guys that got shot down in the black hawk in Somalia)...good times, good times.

This morning I jumped on a cable car (I love that they're just a normal form of public transport here) and headed to Cafe Du Monde - the oldest cafe in America...apparently. They're famous for their New Orleans coffee, which is brewed with chickory (charred hickory), but I wasn't much of fan. Their other specialty are these pastries, kind of like a donut with no hole, that are absolutely coated in powdered sugar. Very rich, very delicious.

I then spent a couple of hours wandering aimlessly through the French Quarter, which is very charming. A sudden huge crash of thunder gave about a minute's notice of a gigantic downpour, so I took refuge in another delightful cafe, and watched the world (and the people) go by - quite possibly my favourite holiday activity.

The rain abated for a while, so I continued my wandering, but when another thunder boom sounded, I thought I'd head for the hills and rest up for what is sure to be a big night tonight. I jumped in another cable car, and the conductor apologised for a car accident on the tracks just in front of us. He said there'd be a short wait for a tow truck and then we'd get going. But then, about 4 police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck came wailing up behind us. The conductor got the news on the radio that there was a person threatening to jump off the roof of the building directly in front of us. We could see him up there. The tow truck arrived and removed the crashed car, and we moved on. I hope he didn't jump - it was a derelict building, I hate to think that it was the last thing someone saw, climbing all those stairs in a junked out building.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Her life, in a nutshell

This trip is absolutely crazy, I can't believe how quickly the time is going. I'm currently in transit at Dallas airport, and have about 20 minutes until boarding, so I'll do my best to encapsulate New York in that time. I have to get my camera out of my bag to look back and remember what we actually did and saw, because we sure crammed a lot in!! I think a list will be easiest:

Day 1 (with Katie)

- Breakfast at "Balthazar"
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art (incredible!)
- Strolling through Central Park (very beautiful in Autumn!)
- Jazz set and martinis at "Next Door" bar

Day 2

- Walked across Brooklyn Bridge
- Cupcakes from Magnolia bakery
- Wandering around Greenwich village, Chinatown - much shopping
- Improv comedy at the "Upright Citizen's Brigade"

Day 3

- The bull statue
- More shopping
- Heaps of stuff I can't remember
- Waiting in line for Phantom tickets
- PHANTOM ON BROADWAY!!!

Day 4

- A visit to the American Girl store (it's a scary scary place)
- Veteran's Day parade on 5th Ave
- Tiffany's to see the Tiffany diamond
- Lots of window shopping on 5th Ave
- Mucking around in FAO Shwartz (there were too many kids playing on the giant floor piano - from "Big" - so I couldn't have a go)
- Apple concept store
- More fun and games in Central Park
- Drinks at Buddha Bar in the meatpacking district

Day 5

- Shopping at Forever 21
- A visit to the Flat Iron
- Backroom bag buying in Chinatown
- Saying goodbye to Katie
- Lunch with my friend Julian, who's doing some interesting work with the UNFPA
- Looking in the atrium lobby of the Ford Foundation
- A quick glimpse of the UN buildings, unfortunately closed to the public due to Bushy and other world leaders being in town.
- Wandering around The Strand bookstore - 18 miles of books!

I know I've forgotten a lot, and haven't described how all those different things made me feel, but it was an absolutely fantastic week. I was so glad Katie was able to come over and share it with me (and also for her amazing sense of direction!), it's definitely an awesome place.

10 points for the band responsible for the song title...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Freezing fingers

So I can't type much. I've just spent over an hour in line for discount Broadway tickets, Katie and I are going to see Phantom of the Opera tonight!!

NYC is pretty awesome, I've seen and done a lot, will have to write more at a later date!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

In ole New York

I set off this morning with no firm plan of what I was going to do, and made my way to Times Square. I'd like to say that I was blown away by the craziness of it all, but I guess at 9:30am on a Thursday, there's not a lot going on. But I did get very excited about all the possible Broadway shows I could see (Wicked is at the top of the list).

From there I jumped back on the subway and headed down to get the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. As soon as I got out of the station, it started pouring...thankfully I'd put my gore-tex jacket in my bag, so the top half of me remained dry. The Statue of Liberty was pretty cool, even though I had to go through ANOTHER security check (I had to get rid of my water bottle and go through an air spray machine - it's hardly an airport!!) and since it was such a crap day, the view to Manhattan wasn't brilliant.

The Ellis Island Immigration Museum was really interesting, and heartbreaking at the same time. Just imagine spending 2 weeks on an overcrowded boat from Europe to be turned back for one reason or another.

More heartache followed when I headed to the World Trade Center memorial centre after that. Thank goodness they provided tissues! Some of the things that had been salvaged from the destruction, including a child's teddy bear, and a fireman's ripped jacket and mangled helmet were extremely moving. It's hard to believe that it happened seven years ago.

I walked from there to Wall Street, which is hardly the bustling hub of finance I had expected it to be. Where were all the spunky investment bankers?? (I guess in their offices, doing spunky investment banker things) I walked down to the end of the street and had a squiz at the Brooklyn Bridge, but it looked like rain again, so I wasn't going to chance walking across today.

Tomorrow? Who knows! My friend Katie is arriving from London tomorrow night - after I've moved out of the rather nice hostel and into an old uni friend's apartment. That'll save me a pretty penny on accommodation! I just checked out how much money I'd spent already and got a bit of a shock...but c'est la vie, I'll be somewhere much cheaper soon enough.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Start spreading the news...

I'm leaving today
I'm gonng be a part of it...

An historic night

I was glad when I went up to my room yesterday to find Alex, a nice Brit, who was getting ready to go and meet her friends at a bar to watch the election. She didn't have to work hard to convince me, so we set off, thinking the bar was a bit of a hike from our place. Of course, when we got to Pennsylvania Ave, between 3rd and 4th like we'd been told by her friends, there was nothing there. Turns out Pennsylvania continues past Capitol Hill and the numbers start over. It was a good hour we walked for, but that got us up and awake and ready for fun.

And it was a lot of fun! Everytime a state was called for Obama (by my dear friend Anderson on CNN) the crowd absolutely errupted. And errupted in boos for McCain, but there weren't too many wins on his end.

The moment the Californian electoral college votes were added to Obama's total and he was declared President-elect, the place exploded. I've never witnessed anything like it. I saw a huge black man break down into sobs. Amazing stuff. We hung around for the speeches and then headed out to find a cab. We started walking, figuring one would have to show up eventually, and not concerned about anything else as there were so many people out on the streets. Cars were honking their horns, people were screaming, blowing whistles...it went on for hours!

I was really glad that I'd unknowingly ended up booking my time in D.C. for election night...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

RAOK

or, random act of kindness. I got talking to a guy from Puerto Rico the other day, who's led a pretty rough life. Grew up in NYC and was in the gang the Bloods for quite a long time and saw a lot of terrible things. To get out of the gang he joined the army and spent 3 years in Afghanistan, 2000-03. He's now a self taught spray paint artist.

Anyway, when he told me he was going to do a painting for me, I didn't think much of it. He caught up with me this morning as I was about to head out, and presented me with a gorgeous painting. It's not small, and is a forest scene at sunset. I was absolutely stunned and blown away. He said he'd appreciated me actually sitting and talking with him, as he tends to scare most people away. I was so touched. It had only taken him about 6 minutes to do, and he tip-toed me through each step of the process. I had him sign the back for me.

So my first stop of the day was the post office, where I spent over half an hour trying to wrap the painting in a cut up box to post home. I went through an entire roll of sticky tape, to make sure it was safe and sound, that it won't break open or leak. Hopefully it makes it home in one piece.

I then continued on my journey to the Arlington Cemetery...it's incredible. Row after row of plain white marble headstones. I can't remember how many people are buried there - anyone in the armed services, their spouses and dependents under 21 can be buried there. First stop was JFK's grave, where there is an eternal flame. He's buried next to Jackie, and two of their children. A boy who lived for 2 days, and a still born girl - her gravestone simply reads "Daughter" and the year.

Then it was on to the tomb of the unknown soldier, just in time for the changing of the guard, which lasted about 7 minutes and was interesting to see. They have 3 memorials set up nearby - two for the astronauts that died in the Challenger and Colombia disasters. The third was for those who were killed trying to rescue hostages in Iran in 1980.

The last stop was Arlington House, which has a long history with slavery. It had a spectacular view over Washington DC, but the rain had really settled in (which added to the atmosphere of the cemetery) and I couldn't see a lot.

Now I'm back, a bit wet, a bit tired. I had really wanted to find somewhere happening for the election results, but I'm not sure if I can be bothered to brave the weather on my own!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Birthday

to my Mum!

Lions and Tigers and Bears (and dinosaurs and diamonds and...) oh my!

I started my day at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - I could have spent a lifetime there. There were some very cool things, I can't even remember most of them. Perhaps the most memorable was the Hope Diamond. Stunning. Potential suitors - this will do me just fine!

I then headed for the National Archives, saw the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They also had many other cool bits and pieces there - old reports from the Cuban Missile Crisis, the patents for the telephone and the first submarine, and all the records of Vietnam war POWs, including one Mr McCain.

Um, then it was the Air and Space Museum - which Dad would love. They've got the Hubble telescope in there, too many planes to count (including some unmanned spy planes which looked outer space-ish) and heaps of display items from the Apollo missions. I had to laugh when I got to the special pens that NASA designed to write in space - it didn't say this on the display but I remember hearing, that while NASA spent years, and a ton of money, developing these pens, the Russians just took pencils. Oh, those Ruskis, clever till the end.

I then hiked up Capitol Hill to the Library of Congress, and felt like I was back in Europe. It's an amazing building, paintings on the roof and marble everywhere. I was almost tempted to get myself a library card just to see what they had in the shelves (apparently the world's largest collection of comic books AND erotica!!) but was starting to fade.

On the way, I stopped to play with Brutus, the baby British Bulldog (say that 3 times quickly!) who was 14 weeks old and absolutely adorable...and so was his owner!

Time to take it easy for a while, maybe enjoy a bit more of Mr Cooper - I thought I'd try to recommend some more books to Anonymous, who wanted more of Anderson but unfortunately, he hasn't written anything else. I consulted the amazon section "customers who bought... also bought", to see if that showed up anything worthwhile.

There were those that were relevant:
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (I haven't read this yet, but really want to)
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (as above)
  • A Mighty Heart by Sarah Crichton (I have the Angelina Jolie movie version of this but haven't had a chance to see it)
And those that weren't:
  • Marley & Me by John, Grogan (a wonderful book though nowhere near the same sort of thing, I bawled my eyes out at the end - and coming soon to a movie theatre near you with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston if I'm not mistaken)
  • The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls (she's now a gossip columnist but grew up very very poor - good book, but nothing like Anderson)
  • Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs (a great book about an absolutely unbelievable childhood, made into a film with Ralph Fiennes and Annette Benning)
  • Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler (I heard about this book on one of my favourite blogs and think it sounds hilarious...but related to Anderson...not so much!)
So Anonymous, there are lots of good books on that list, but whether they're what your looking for, well, who knows?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Another book

Ok, I'm just devouring the books. But I actually lashed out and bought a book at the airport yesterday. Anderson Cooper's "Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival" - he's the silver fox of a CNN anchor and former foreign correspondent (his mother is Gloria Vanderbilt). I haven't finished it yet (the subject refers to yet another Janet Evanovich book I found on the hostel shelf), I'm taking my time with it so I can actually stretch out the enjoyment.

Cooper's good. He intersperses experiences from Iraq and Niger, for example, with times he spent early in his career in Somalia and Vietnam. He did something crazy that I once flirted with the idea of - just rocked up in a challenging country and made it work for him.

I'll let you know how it goes (the book that is, not the showing up in a random country!)

Culture Vulture

Picture a beautiful elongated domed roof, in a rectangular room with columns flanking either side, green trees in wood chips and a sculpture of angels and a goose in the middle. Got it? Well that's where I spent my evening, at a free concert (the 2,691st concert to be exact) by the National Gallery Vocal Arts Ensemble and the National Gallery Chamber Players. The seating was squared around the outside of the statue, and then in rather odd places - I was stuck behind the statue, but could see a few of the singers and the viola player.

The first half of the program was religious pieces, but it really heated up after the intermission with the Dutch pieces (to tie in with a current exhibition). I particularly one piece, "Lascia Filli mia cara" or "Come, My Dear Phyllis".

Come, my dear Phyllis
cast off your rigours
and, wise as you are,
dress yourself in love;
Be wary that you do not imitate the snakes.
Learn to love from the doves,
learn the way of lovers,
with repeated hugs and many caresses,
that one day I will hold you in my arms
and wish to make a thousand doves
feel ashamed.

However, the biggest applause was reserved for an Italian piece entitled "Matona, mia cara" which ended with the following verse:

If you'll love me
I won't be lazy
I will make love all night long
and will thrust like a ram.

I spent the day wandering around the various monuments. I walked up to the Washington Monument (the big obelisk) and got a free ticket for a few hours later. I then headed down through the WWII memorial, which is a nice fountain, past the reflecting pool (refraining from yelling "run Forest run" at passing joggers, and down to Abraham Lincoln's statue. It's quite impressive. I wandered up through the Vietnam memorial - 58,000 names etched in alphabetical order on the day they were killed.

From there I walked past the White House - couldn't see much but I imagine the movers are in there, packing up old Georgie boy's stuff. From there I strolled back up to the Washington Monument and waited in line to go up the lift. The viewing platform is 500 feet up, and the view (though compartmentalised in little windows) was great.

Another big day tomorrow, I'm going to see if I can OD on Smithsonians!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

One more thing

Pinch and a punch for the first of the month!

Even though the date stamp for this says 2 November, it's still very much the 1st in D.C!

Cleetus was more fun

Unfortunately, the Halloween party at the hostel last night was a bit of a fizzer. I still had a great time hanging out with my crazy friends, enjoying the free beer and flowing conversation, but the turnout was pretty crap. My cute little bumblebee went down a treat amongst the skanky nun (Alicia, one of the staff who is heavily tattooed, included red barbed wire eyebrows and dark lines trailing from underneath her lips to her chest...), the numerous cross dressing men, the hobo, the pirates, the Britney Spears schoolgirls, and most pathetically, the green ghost from Ghostbusters - the dude had been creative enough to drape a green sheet over himself...

However, knowing that I had to be up ridiculously early to put a few more items in my bag, check out, walk the 5 blocks to catch the shuttle and get to the airport, I didn't go overboard. And I really hate it whenever I have to set my alarm for some ungodly hour, that I really don't sleep well because I always think it's just about to get up. So even after going to bed at 11:30pm, I swear I got perhaps an hour of sleep. 4:20am of course, came around, and off I went.

From Seattle, I flew to Dallas Fort Worth, happily noting that Qantas hasn't caught up with the fact that my gold frequent flyer status expired yesterday. Of course, my boarding pass had the dreaded SSSS code on the bottom, meaning I'd been selected for extra security testing. I'm going to have to have a word to them to find out why my name keeps coming up if it happens again! I didn't have all that long to kill in Dallas, and was thoroughly unimpressed with the airline lounge, but then jumped on another plane. To Washington D.C. Just think of a map of the US for a second....yeah, it makes no sense that that route was my connection.

Anyway, I'm here, I've got 4 days and a lot to do! Museums, monuments, and the zoo (all free - thanks American tax payers) But what I'm most excited about is seeing the election results announced in real time on Tuesday night...awesome. OBAMARAMA!!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Getting into the spirit of things

I carved a pumpkin for the first time tonight. His name is Cleetus and he's a yokel pumpkin with only two teeth. He now has pride of place on the front counter of the hostel. I think the Halloween party tomorrow night is going to be pretty interesting!

Some more characters to share:

Mike, the ex Marine who went to the Philippines, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He was some kind of laser dude who guided missiles into targets. He thinks the current war is an absolute travesty and will be firmly voting for Obama. He now DJs house music at strip clubs...Florida is where the big money is at people!

Suzanne, also from Florida. She's probably in her late 30s but likes to think she's 18. She's from Boca Raton and works in promotions...she was raving on before how she was friends with porn stars and Playboy models and from the interest she was taking in Mike's strip club DJing, I think she's keen to get into the game. Basically she's the most obnoxious person I've ever been in the presence of - loud, annoying and stupid all rolled into one.

I finally realised what crazy old Bob's accent sounds like - Mr Mackay from South Park....mmkay?

Erin and Carly, two Australian sisters who are also in my room. They're not characters in the sense that the others have been, they're actually very sweet girls. But they were so impressed with my packing effort that they've told all their friends back home who've gotten back in touch with them to find out more details! They're each carrying two huge suitcases.

Ah, just another night at the Green Tortoise...

Venturing out

I wandered down to Pier 52 this morning, to catch a ferry over to Bainbridge Island. I didn't know much about Bainbridge Island, it was recommended in a guide book Canadian Colleen had lent me last night (after the lobotomy conversation). I decided a ferry ride and some fresh air was just the thing for me.

Well, if it was the quaintest little town I ever did see! There was a nice little main street, with lovely orange trees lining either side, and nice little stores (cute but pricey) and cafes everywhere. They had a knitting shop, where a group of ladies sat around having a stitch and bitch. I wish I'd had some needles of my own to join in.

After walking both sides of main street, I wandered back to the nice bakery I'd found and settled in with my book, and the biggest piece of apple pie known to man. I really felt I got my money's worth with that one! At the next table were a group of ladies planning some kind of charity event, and there was one younger woman who was obviously new to the group. She kept making suggestions that were immediately shot down, "Oh no, Sarah Jane, it hasn't happened like that in the past, I hardly think that's necessary" and so on. Poor Sarah Jane, I felt sorry for her. The rest of the bakery was filled with yummy mummies and their precociously adorable children. And a very cute barista that made that second cappuccino all the more enjoyable ;-)

I could see the weather was starting to set in (I knew it couldn't go five days without raining in Seattle) and decided to get the next ferry back. It started raining on the walk back, but nothing catastrophic, it just made the walk more atmospheric. I finished my book on the way back, and spotted a sea lion (or was it a seal?) wish a fish in its mouth, frolicking near the shoreline.

Time to find a new book (I'm reading far too quickly - I only started the last book this morning!) and settle in for the afternoon.

A cast of characters

I think someone should make a film about the characters that are at the Green Tortoise hostel. There are apparently people who've lived here for 4 months, I'm not sure who they are, but I guess it's not the worst place in the world to live. Free dinner 3 nights a week, free internet, a huge collection of books and videos, and of course, a never ending supply of fresh people to interact with. Here are just a few of the interesting folk I've come to know over the past 5 days...

Mark from Arkansas, who's been up working on a boat in Alaska for the past few months. He's a bit of cowboy, always traveling with 2 enormous hats, and likes to tell stories that emphasise what a salt of the earth fella he is, like how he didn't eat fast enough when I lady friend took him home to meet her parents in England. Sure, he's a bit rough, but when he noticed I had a cold he immediately pulled out a brand new packet of vitamin C and put 5 individually wrapped lollies on the table for me. He then checked every day how I was feeling.

Then there's Bob, from parts unknown, who's just come back from Australia. "Oh, I love Australia. I want to live the rest of my life in Australia! The people there are so nice, they got no guns there, I never saw no fightin the whole time I was there. Yerp, I love Australia. They did hurt me though, they hurt me real bad..." I asked Bob who'd hurt him. Turns out he overstayed his visa by 4 days and went into the immigration office in Darwin to admit his mistake. Well, they put him in jail for 10 hours, and then transferred him to a detention facility for 10 days, sent 2 guards on a plane to Sydney with him and deported him. He had to pay for the guards' flights and wages, and now owes the Government of Australia $5000. He also thinks that at the ripe old age of 26, I should definitely not be single, and that I should just scoop myself up a husband before I turn into a spinster like his 29 year old, helicopter pilot daughter. Who he also thinks is a lesbian. And a bitch. Ah, he's an old softy!

Mikael and Christian - zee Germans. They like their Rammshtein (a heavy metal band) loud, their joints fat, and I think have pyromaniac aspirations.

Allen, yet another Alaskan fisherman, who invited me to join a game of Spades. A much easier card game than 500, but there was all this talk about 'bags' and how they'd send you back in points, but he couldn't quite explain what a 'bag' was. Well, it was 2pm and he'd been drinking since about 10am...

Andre, I mentioned in my last post. Yesterday, he told me that I'm "as cute as a barbie doll, and honey, where did I learn to dress so sweet?" He did the whole gay "mmm mmm mmmm" thing and thoroughly approved of my cardigan and pink shirt. He's a classical musician, composing a ballet at the moment...I guess it's not going so well if he's cleaning toilets at the Tortoise...

Colleen, a lovely Canadian lady who's in my room. Last night, when all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and read myself to sleep, she got right into a story about her children, and grandchildren, and then the photos came out (cute grandkids). And then the story about how her husband had left her 10 years ago for another woman, but at least he waited till she recovered from her partial frontal lobotomy. Lo-bot-o-my. I didn't think they still did that, but apparently they do. She now enjoys tutoring little kids with learning disabilities and told me all about some of her students. I didn't get into bed for over an hour.

There have been other characters that have come and gone, and at 5 days in, I feel like an old timer. It's a nice feeling of community here, but I wouldn't stay 4 months.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Showering is awesome

I was having a chat today with Andre, a lovely gay man who came on the 'dead guy' tour, as he was cleaning the bathrooms in lieu of paying for a bed. He first made mention of how cute I looked today, very Banana Republic and how totally opposite Sophie (my dreadlocked friend) and I are and how it's strange that we get along so well. He then said that it was his simple aim to shower and brush his teeth everyday. To this, I said that I can't function in the morning without a shower to wake me up. He said that I was his inspiration to do the same.

My horoscope in "The Stranger" (the free rag in Seattle) had said the other day, that just like my fellow Leo, Obama, I have a power to influence others (though apparently, Obama has the power to give angels orgasms with a single word). And here it is, proof that horoscopes are undeniably, incontrovertibly true...I am an inspiration!!

And so, in celebration of this, I present to you Chicago's "You're the Inspiration", as performed by my dream man, Ed Stevens.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rockin Rollin Dead Guys

Yesterday I jumped in a van with a strange collection of folks for the 'dead guy' tour, operated by one of the heavily tattooed hostel staff. Our first stop was a really pretty graveyard, home for a little longer of Bruce and Brandon Lee, kung fu masters. I didn't realise that they'd both died so young. But they had a lovely plot overlooking Lake Michigan surrounded by beautiful orange trees. They'll soon be moved to a new home in a kung fu museum.

After stopping on the shores of the Lake to take in a nice view of Mt Rainier (and a very hazy view of Bill Gate's land - definitely couldn't see a house) we walked up hill into a very posh neighbourhood to the house where Kurt Cobain killed himself. There was a park bench in a space next to the house where people leave their messages. Whoever owns the house tore down the garage where it happened because people kept breaking in.

It was then a rather long drive to Renton, where Jimi Hendrix is laid to rest...just next to an asian cemetery. He had a nice little gazebo thingy, with some of his song lyrics inscribed into the marble. We watched the sun go down and headed for home.

This morning I headed with my rasta friend Sophie (who's been living in Byron Bay) to the Experience Music Project - an interactive music museum, where they had a huge section dedicated to Hendrix, with his guitars, notebooks and costumes. There was also the history of the guitar which was interesting to see the changes over the past 80 years or so. Then there was the fun stuff - a place where you could play the drums, guitar, keyboard or rock out some vocals. My sexy husky voice, a result of this damn cold I've picked up, took quite nicely to "Smell Like Teen Spirit" - you can't be a music museum in Seattle and karaoke to Nirvana!

There was also a Sci-Fi museum attached, which had some cool stuff, like the T-800 endoskeleton from Terminator 2, and the only 3D model of the Death Star. But there wasn't anything interactive and with my short attention span, I got sick of it pretty quickly.

Tonight, free dinner!