Delhi Disorientation

All of us woke at 3:30am/4:00am because we’re still on Perth time but everyone fell back to sleep again. I woke up at 7:30am which made Glen wake up, who then went and woke Christine up. We had things to see! Only two full days in Delhi! What were we missing out on?

Over breakfast we discussed our day’s plan. There was a well that we could see that Glen had found. There was also a celebration for Republic Day. We could go to Connaught Place too. And then in the afternoon we’d go to see friends. We could take an Uber and then go into Starbucks, use their wifi, and get an Uber out again. We could DO THIS!

The Best Laid Plans

The Uber didn’t come up to the hotel. At first we thought we’d dropped the pin wrong but no, he was down the road and wasn’t coming any closer. Fair enough. We found him, got in the car and off we went. He didn’t speak English, not that he should, but the directions were being spoken in English. Strange. Then again, Glen had to direct him to take the right turn a couple of times so maybe he wasn’t using them anyway.

We drove through the embassy part of town, past giant complexes with high walls, and buildings done in each country’s style. The US one had a big eagle plaque on the front. All hail the Empire!

Being a Sunday, athe roads were fairly quiet. I was still afraid for my life – added to because our driver’s front windscreen had a big crack – but there was less fear than the yesterday.

We were going to see Agrasen Ki Baoli, an old well that looks a bit like a reverse pyramid. You start at the top and go down a lot of stairs to reach the well at the bottom. At some point, perhaps during monsoons, it must fill up all the way to the top, covering the stairs. Today it was mostly empty.

The well is down a side street, one you probably wouldn’t ever find without a good map. We were a little concerned we’d been taken to the wrong place and would be left in the middle of nowhere, but it was all fine. How easily my mind turns to bad things in unfamiliar places?

The well was stunning, and such a surprise too as you walk through an arch and THERE IT IS. All those steps. All that stone. All that work and those centuries. If we find more places like this, then we’d have an awesome trip.

Christine stopped and talked to a bunch of young Indian men who were learning Spanish. Glen and I took photos. There were lots of pigeons. We could also hear bats squeaking at the top of the well’s roof. We loved it all. Such a good find. What a gem!

But where to next?

My Least Favourite Things

Connaught Place was apparently not far away. We decided to walk and were pretty soon stopped by a Sikh telling us to avoid the area because the shops were closed, people would come and beg or pickpocket, and generally it would be awful. I wish we’d listened to him.

He did, however, tell us to take a tuk-tuk – and here, he waved a driver over – and take this mini-car-truck-taxi-thing around Connaught Place, see it as we whiz past and then go to a market bazaar shopping centre. He didn’t want any money; I think he was a security guard and seemed nice enough. We did take his advice about the tuk-tuk but perhaps should have been more adamant about not wanting to go look at shops.

For 300 rupees (about AU$6) the driver took us around the Connaught Place ring road, which really did look ghastly despite the columns which Christine loves, and then to the shopping centre.

I hate shopping. I hate shopping even more when people are constantly there to try to sell you things. It’s cultural, I get it, and now I’ve done it, I don’t want to do it again. We were guided from room to room looking at soapstone sculptures, jewellery, teak carvings, tea packets, religious statues, fabrics, clothes, musical instruments and marble tabletops.

Actually, the marble tabletops I did like. They reminded me of one my uncle and aunt bought and had to ship from India to France. The ones we looked at weren’t nearly so big but they were beautiful and inlaid with pieces of semi-precious stones to make stunning works of art. Sorely, sorely tempted to buy one for AU$1200 (reduced from AU$1500 after being told the price was government-controlled and couldn’t be negotiated). I didn’t buy one.

Eventually, after buying nothing and going through three floors of stuff, we burst back out onto the street again. The tuk-tuk driver we’d taken was waiting for us. We needed to find an ATM. There was one at Connaught Place. He drove us back but I’m pretty sure he was wondering why we’d want to go there when the shops were closed and we’d obviously get harrassed. Again, I wish we’d gone elsewhere.

Naught but Trouble at Connaught Place

We withdrew money from the ATM – feeling glad we could finally pay cash for things and not get stranded somewhere again – and then walked around the lanes of Connaught Place. It’s a circular colonial building that is now home to lots of shops, all closed until 1pm because it’s Sunday.

We were approached by about three men who ‘didn’t want money’ but were nevertheless trying to direct us places. Glen ignored them, I refused them, but Christine spoke to them and so they walked with us for a while. Christine didn’t seem to mind but Glen and I got a bit worked up by it. Someone else wanted to shine Christine’s shoes. We wanted to go into the park but were warned not to by a man who was also not wanting money and really only directed us to where we might have wanted to go so I think he was legit and just being friendly. Apparently there were pickpockets in the park so we avoided it. I think we should have risked it, anything to get away from the shops, but we didn’t and that was fine.

I suffered sensory overload pretty quickly and it wasn’t even crowded. Just adrenalin keeping me looking here and there and wondering who else was going to come out and talk to us. I really just wanted to be left alone. We wanted to find Starbucks so we could use the wi-fi and get out of there.

Someone helped us, though I’d dismissed him at first, and showed us where Starbucks was. I’m horrified to say but it was like a little oasis, a sanctuary. It was false and fake and totally not what should be here but it was so welcome at that moment. We ordered some drinks. We couldn’t access the wi-fi because we couldn’t receive SMS. I think at this moment panic started to creep in. How would we get back to the hotel? Could a tuk-tuk take us that far? (Though I’m sure it could.)

In the end we reasoned we could take the metro which was somewhere nearby and go down to AIIMS and then walk or take a tuk-tuk to the hotel. A plan! A way out! Off we went.

Taking The Metro Home

New Delhi’s Metro is really good. Perhaps because it’s a Sunday it didn’t feel insanely busy. There were lots of people there but no more than the London Underground on a bad day. We bought our tokens, went down to platform 1 and then caught the train down to our station. Now that we’ve caught the metro – and are a bit familiar with setting prices for tuk-tuks – I’m a little more confident about getting around.

Once out on the street, Glen haggled over the price of the tuk-tuk to get to the hotel. Arriving back, we expressed horror that we’d haggled over the price of a ride, paying about 60c to drive us down the ride, down from the price of a dollar. Is there any excuse for not paying what is asked when it is, to us, comparitively cheap?

Back in our room, Glen and I flaked out. Totally exhausted at only 1pm in the afternoon, neither of us wanted to go anywhere, see anyone, do anything that might involve leaving the hotel. A bit of a problem as we were meant to see people. However, we weren’t really in a fit state to do it so Glen put Christine in an Uber to go visiting. Meanwhile, we stayed in the hotel room like the very particular flowers we are.

We also went to the gym and it was wonderful. I felt guilty for not wanting to explore more, for not pushing my boundaries further than they’d already been stretched, for ‘wasting’ an afternoon, but really, who cares? Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to fitting more in, now that I’m a bit more prepared.

Evening’s Outing

Glen and I took advantage of the canapes in the club lounge for about an hour, guiltily enjoying how lucky we were. At 7 we caught an Uber down to an upmarket shopping mall to meet Christine and Dipika (grandaughter of Christine’s friend). They were keen to go shopping; Glen and I were not keen to go shopping. Nevertheless, Glen bought a shirt.

We had some food at a Chinese-type restaurant, which was nice, then there was more shopping before taking a taxi to Anavinda’s house. It was already after 10 by the time we arrived and I was really ready for bed. But I rallied to do a meet-and-greet. We’re returning tomorrow night for dinner.

Dipu, Christine’s friend, came with us back to the hotel and is staying the night so we can spend more time with her tomorrow. It’s going to be a busy day. Hoping we can sleep in.

Off to India!

We’ve headed off on a two-week holiday to India with Glen’s mum. It’s been a bit hectic to organise this trip as, apart from the flights, nothing was booked until about a week and a half before we were due to depart. Still, who doesn’t love a challenge?

Perth to Singapore

We flew Singapore Airlines, taking advantage of our Virgin Velocity membership levels to get into the lounge at Perth International Airport. I’d been moved up to gold level only a few days before so all three of us could go in.

Our flight left at 5:30pm and was less than half full. Seated towards the back of the plane, there were plenty of rows of three seats to choose from. I moved before we took off an enjoyed all this extra space.

Four hours and two movies (The Accountant and something else I can’t remember the name of. That’s worrying, or else it wasn’t memorable.) we landed in Singapore. We walked through Terminal 3, caught the Skytrain to Terminal 1 and then walked some more to get to the transit hotel.

After a plate of Hainan chicken rice, we crawled into bed and slept for five and a half glorious hours before the alarms went off and rudely shook us out of sleep. We showered and then took the journey back to Terminal 3 to catch our flight to New Delhi.

Singapore to New Delhi

The flight was full. It lasted over six hours. I perhaps should have tried to nap, but I didn’t. Instead I watched Swiss Army Man, something else, Modern Family and Veep to fill the time. Oh, and we ate.

Landed in New Delhi, no problems with visas, collected luggage and then went to meet our pre-booked driver. When the three of us showed up, they asked where the other three people were. I’d accidentally booked twice with the hotel so they were expecting two cars of three people.

No bother though. We left the airport, climbed into the very nice BMW and hit the traffic.

New Delhi

I’ve been in crazy traffic before but it always freaks me out. The mix of trucks, taxis, cars, tuk-tuks, bicycles, motorbikes and then people wandering across the freeway had me on high alert the entire drive to the hotel. And I was already tired before.

I reasoned that my expectation of order is highly unnatural, likening this seeming chaos to what happens in a rainforest when there’s a rush to fill wherever the light hits the forest floor. It doesn’t matter who was there first, all that matters is it’s filled. Such is the way with the traffic here. There’s a space; therefore, it must be filled.

It’s also easy to think that road accidents are rare because they’re not happening right in front of you amid such an onslaught. But really, they probably happen a lot and are horrific, especially in a place with so many people.

It’s also very easy to calm yourself down by thinking, ‘If I die, then I die,’ or Inshallah.

We committed a bit of a faux pas when we arrived at the hotel. I’d forgotten how much was usual to tip here and Christine was the only one with cash. She gave him about 20 rupees I think which earned us a bit of a stunned look. Ahhh, you crazy foreigners.

The hotel, though on the ring road and not really close to anything we might want to see, is really nice. We’re staying at the Hyatt Regency New Delhi. We booked suites and they’re lovely. It’s almost too nice to leave. Our rooms are near each other and are identical, except that Christine has the better view.

Tea and coffee arrived at our door soon after arriving. We had that then went downstairs for one of the most expensive dim sums we’ve ever had. It was very tasty though. The taxes that get added on surprised us. Once fed and watered we went back to our rooms and had a nap for a while.

Around the Bend

After our rest, we roused ourselves and decided that, even though we’d decided against doing anything that required too much effort today, we would go for a walk. On the way to the hotel, it didn’t look like there was much to see of typical interest, which was confirmed by the concierge. Nevertheless we wanted to go for a walk – not to a shopping centre – and we were told it was safe to do so. And so we left the hotel.

We turned left and walked. We saw lots of dogs. This was a little concerning considering I hadn’t got my rabies shot and thought before getting here, ‘How many dogs can there actually be?’ Answer: a LOT.

Apart from the dogs, we saw Indian palm squirrels – something I was very excited about considering we used to have them running feral at the zoo in Perth. And then we saw people with carts on the side of the road selling fruit and vegetables, peanuts, pots and pans and cooking implements, meat (completely unrefrigerated) and live chickens ready to have their heads cut off and plunked. The footpaths were swept clean but garbage littered the gardens. The houses looked in various states of decay but were nevertheless still standing and were probably well furnished and beautiful inside. Cars and tuk-tuks and bikes and men and women and children all going about their business. Here we weren’t hassled. A few smiles or looks as we went past but no one trying to offer a service or direct us elsewhere or beg or pickpocket or any of the things that we were warned about in India. At least here, we could just wander.

However, we didn’t wander far. Unsure of where we were exactly and what we could get to within a decent timeframe and radius we stuck to the block the hotel was on and walked around it until we arrived back the other side. It took 40 minutes and all we did was walk in a circle. Yet that was enough. My eyes were tired from staring so much, and there were plenty of times I just wanted to sit and stare and absorb, but I think that would have meant we’d be approached.

There are worse things than being approached, sure, but most of the time I want to be left alone.

Once back at the hotel we sat and recharged for a bit before going to the club lounge. We had our dinner there, filling up on canapés and champagne. We ate chopped up tomatoes – GASP! NO! – and then lots of other bits and pieces. I think we became those people as we made the staff laugh, though I’m not sure for the right reasons.

Suitably satisfied, we went back to our rooms at 7:30 and were in bed by 9.

Three Weeks in the UK: Week Two

Moving to London

I managed to squeeze in a workout in Southend in the morning and grabbed some lunch before Donna picked us up and drove us to Westcliff Station. She’d been on night shift so we were lucky to get her. Couldn’t think of anything worse than night shift, especially every two weeks for a week at a stretch.

We caught the train to West Ham then to Waterloo and then Pitney where we were staying in an AirBnB. As we still had much of the afternoon and evening to go, once we’d settled in we went into Leicester Square to the half price ticket booth to see what tickets we could buy. The selection was rapidly dwindling, which wasn’t surprising for the time of day. In the end we settled on The Dresser.

It starred one of the League of Gentlemen, Fleur from Absolutely Fabulous and the pharmacist from Doc Martin. I think I recognized the other main character but couldn’t place him. The performance was excellent but I think the story lacked something as it started to feel like a 2 hour and 10 minute production. Dad slept through most of it.

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Fog followed us from Essex to London

New Year’s Eve

We braved Regent Street but surprisingly it wasn’t too busy. Sales were everywhere but I rapidly ran out of energy for checking out all the stores. I bought a T-shirt from Ted Baker, tracksuit pants and chinos from Uniqlo and checked out a few other stores before we decided we’d had enough and needed a rest.

After a few hours rest at home we got ready for New Year’s Eve and headed into Central London to meet my friend, Paul, and Donna at Paul’s hotel. We walked to l’Ulivo, an Italian restaurant right near Heaven, where Donna, Paul and I were going to ring in the New Year.

We walked past a long queue of people who had tickets to see the fireworks from the banks of the Thames. When Glen and I had gone years before, we didn’t need tickets and we managed to stand right behind the London Eye. No way would I want to queue for that.

Dinner was nice, filling too, and went well with a bottle of prosecco. Fortunately the station at Embarkment was still open for two-way travel so after dinner we put Dad on the underground to go home and the three of us joined the queue for Heaven.

We got in at opening, checked our coats, bought some drinks, checked out the multiple dance floors and danced along to pop music. We made a friend – Peter – who was there by himself and made random acquaintances throughout the night. I was unwittingly given a counterfeit £5 note that the bartender pointed out and then gave me a real one to make up for it. How nice.

Donna and I had a wish come true: that they’d play Let It Go from Frozen. They played it as the second last song of 2016. Ecstatic! The countdown happened with the pop bad Steps on stage. They then disappeared without singing anything until 1:30. Donna left just before them as she was fighting a cold but Paul and I stayed.

Steps was advertising the fact that they’d been around for 20 years which was a sobering thought. When I first went to G-A-Y and Heaven, I was 19 and dancing with mostly other young people. And while it’s not yet been 20 years, time has definitely passed. I knew one of Steps songs (Tragedy) and the other five I had no clue about. They didn’t sing 5, 6, 7, 8 which I think was an oversight.

We left sometime around 3 or 4, I can’t quite remember which and headed back to the hotel.

New Year’s Day

Paul was out of the hotel early as he had to catch a flight to Malta, as you do. Donna and I took our time getting up, then headed downstairs to take advantage of their breakfast buffet. We then had a rather tired journey to Putney.

Despite our best intentions, once we were inside again we didn’t really want to go anywhere. In fact, I went to bed and caught up on sleep. Long gone are the days when I can function on minimal sleep after a big night out.

In the evening we walked up to Jackie’s for delicious dinner, some wine and a catch-up. Always a good time. And then we walked home at about ten for some more sleep.

Hampton Court Palace and Wimbledon

Not wanting to waste a morning, we caught the bus out to a Hampton Court Palace for a bit of a look around. It’s been years since any of us have visited. Unfortunately we only had limited time so we only saw about half of it, and didn’t get to go in the maze either. But we made the most of it.

We donned our velvet robes (the hand them out for you to wear during your visit…except not in the gardens) and stuck the audio guide to our ears and followed the Henry VIII royal chambers tour. I really liked the interpretation here. The guide filled in much of it, available in two different styles, with some proclamations and household rules stuck to the walls. There’s also an app and various trails.

I also liked the Georgian interpretation, particularly the games room, where there were four tables that each featured a game from the era. We sat down to play Win or Lose, which encouraged others to take a table too. I won 🙂

All too soon we had to leave to catch the train to Wimbledon to meet Jo and Roger for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. The food was good and the company even better. It was a shame to say goodbye as one afternoon is never enough.

After lunch we caught the bus back to Putney, and Donna packed up her stuff and ran to catch the train back to Essex. In the evening I went to Richie and Jenny’s for dinner. They’re a couple of doctored from back home and Richie is in London to do a fellowship.

They’re living in the new posh part of Kings Cross which looks amazing and definitely does away with the old impression of Kings across. Apartments there must cost a fortune!

I met their six month old daughter Aurora, who, not to sound too conceited, took a shine to me, and I to her. Talk about adorable. The hours past in conversation and eating curry before I caught trains back to Putney.

Getting Our Art On

I finally returned to the gym, signing up for one that’s a couple of streets away from where we’re staying. It’s a good facility, the only slight minus being that it’s spread out over four floors so until you figure out where everything is, it can be a bit confusing. Still, it was good to hit the weights again after a few days off.

Afterwards, Dad and I headed into the city as I was keen to see the National Portrait Gallery, which is one of my favourites. We forewent the paid exhibitions and instead spent our time in the free ones. My favourites are the Tudor Gallery and the more modern gallery. The Tudor gallery just seems so iconic and recognizable to me, while the modern is more relatable.

After about an hour and a half, we went for lunch at Pret then went briefly into the very busy National Gallery. The only reason we went in was so I could show Dad Holbein’s The Ambassadors and its visual illusion with the skull. I have since been told I’ve committed sacrilege by not seeing the Caravaggio exhibition which was on display.

Our dose of culture done for the day we went up to a Regent St so Dad could buy a jacket from Uniqlo and have a coffee from Nespresso. From there we went to Burrough Markets as it was closing, and then I met a friend from Australia for a drink before going to meet Noel and Marcus for Japanese in Soho. Thanks to Marcus, I’ve now bought a copy of Five on Brexit Island.

Kinky Boots

Feeling a little under the weather I spent the day at home. This gave me a chance to do a bit of planning for our trip to India which is in a couple of weeks. Nothing has been booked except flights in and out. Trains book up. It’s a little worrying. A little clearer on what we’re doing and when but still lots to do.

In the evening we headed to Covent Garden to meet Jackie for dinner at Wagamama. The place was busy, we had to queue, but, whether by design or accident, the staff were great at managing our expectations.

The waiter said the wait would be fifteen minutes and food would take 25 minutes. In actual fact we waited for five minutes before being shown a table. Food took about 25 minutes but we were all done well before we needed to leave to collect our tickets. The food was pretty good, considering in the past Wagamama’s has left me a little underwhelmed, but this time it hit the spot.

I collected the tickets from the Adelphi, meeting Donna out the front. She’d come up from Essex to join us for Kinky Boots. The seats were good, although I had a tall guy’s head in my way through the second half. Hopefully I wasn’t ‘the tall guy’ for the person behind me.

The show was a lot of fun. We all remarked on how good the Angels were (the drag queen ensemble), and the guy who was Lola was excellent. I thought the conflict at the end was a little forced but overall the story was fun, different and enjoyable. Some catchy tunes in there and a great performance. Glad we got to see it…especially as Glen saw it in Melbourne at New Year’s.

A Change of Plans

Thursday we were meant to take the train to Lincoln (a three-hour journey north) to stay with friends Ashley and Karen. Unfortunately they’d come down with chest infections following their trip to New York over New Year’s and weren’t feeling very good. We’ll see them next time though.

So, now with a day and a half ahead of us that we needed to fill, we went into the city to the half-price ticket booth and bought tickets to that evening’s performance of Art at the Old Vic Theatre. I’d seen posters for it in the Tube and two lots of friends had said how good either the current performance was or the play itself. And considering it was by Yasmina Reza (who also wrote God of Carnage) I was hanging out to see it.

Tickets bought we went to the Wellcome Collection to see their latest exhibitions, Bedlam and Making Nature. I forget how I’d heard about this place but Glen and I went here a few visits ago and loved it. The exhibitions were interesting, particularly the one about the cultural constructions around nature and wildlife, but after a couple of hours our brains were full and feet were sore.

I bought some books and a couple of things in the gift shop (Glen would be proud that I’d gone into a bookshop) and then we sat for a tea. With time to spare, we went home for a while before setting out to see Art.

What a performance! What a play! We had excellent seats in a packed house. The writing is so damn good in this play that it was just a treat to listen to the words alone, never mind how else it was put together.

The play is about three friends, one of whom buys a completely white painting for 100,000 Euros. One of the other friends can’t bear the thought of this and what it means about their friendship. The third friend is stuck in the middle.

Actually, that’s what happens. What it’s about is the meaning of ‘art’ and how relationships are constructed. It’s brilliant. And at 90-minutes it was sheer perfection. I could easily see it again, especially as it had the same sort of destructive force that was in God of Carnage.

I felt sorry for the actor who played Serge though, as his voice was going, but nevertheless it was an excellent production. Thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m so glad we got to see it.

Afterwards we went to Wahaca for dinner, still busy at 9:30pm, and then caught the train. Serendipitously, Jackie was on the same train and completely by chance sat on the seat behind us, spotting us just as she sat down. We chatted, a nice way to end a really good day.

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One of the examples of strange artefacts in the Wellcome Collection.

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria

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After attending our friends’ wedding in Geelong, we took the opportunity to head along the Great Ocean Road and see the 12 Apostles. It’s one of those things that we probably wouldn’t have done if that hadn’t been a reason to be out of Melbourne so we took it.

We left Geelong on Saturday morning, warned that part of the Great Ocean Road was closed due to landslides. However, we’d been given directions on how to get around the dangerous bit so were not too phased about missing out on a stretch of it.

It rained most of the day so it was with some ambivalence that we left our apartment and headed south, already rearranging our upcoming plans. The original idea was that we’d drive south, stop along the way, go for some walks in the forests, check out the beaches, and then end up in Apollo Bay where we’d spend the night.

The next day we’d drive to the 12 Apostles, which is about an hour and a half from Apollo Bay, then head back up to Melbourne for our flight at 5:30pm. Not having done this journey before and expecting we’d do more than we actually would, we soon realised that the amount of time we’d set aside was too generous. This is also because we didn’t keep in mind the ‘Dan and Glen Factor’.

What is the ‘Dan and Glen Factor’?

The ‘Dan and Glen Factor’ is two-fold. The first is that if there’s something we’re really keen on seeing that everyone else has seen, then it is likely we won’t see it, either at all or in its entirety.

This has occurred on multiple occasions, specifically when seeing Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, Northern Lights and moose. While others are almost assured seeing these things, when it comes to us, some sort of caveat kicks in so we miss out on it.

The second part of the ‘Dan and Glen Factor’ is the speed in which we see things.

‘Oh, you need two hours to see that.’

Really? We’ll be done in 15 minutes.

‘You should really take three days there.’

Thanks for the suggestion but we’ll have finished after a day and a half.

So when we think we’re going to take a whole day to travel a couple of hundred kilometres and go exploring, we should really know that, when combined with a hell of a lot of rain and wind, we’re going to be done by lunchtime.

Zooming down the Great Ocean Road

We got out of Geelong, zoomed through Torquay, attempted to see a lighthouse but the rain got worse, then headed onto Lorne where we chucked a right and went inland, away from the road.

The Great Ocean Road wasn’t as pretty as I imagined it would be. It’s certainly atmospheric when there’s a storm ranging but at least on the stretch we saw, there wasn’t really much that truly grabbed me.

What did strike me as we continued our journey from coast and then inland was the variability of the landscapes. That really impressed me. We went from rocky coastal forest into stringy bark forest where all the bark was peeling off. That amazed me. It was so beautiful. We also went through farmland and then ferny forests shrouded in fog. I loved it.

And, one of the real highlights, was stopping on the side of the road to look at a koala and her joey in the tree above. That’s right. We saw a WILD koala with a JOEY. I couldn’t believe it. How lucky were we?! She seemed unfazed by the crowd below taking their photos and the joey was very big.

We continued on to Apollo Bay, having taken the detour inland, and got to one of their Chinese restaurants were we had a big lunch. We’d booked accommodation in the town but as it was only lunch time and we didn’t really see the need to hang around, we headed for the 12 Apostles.

The 12 Apostles

An hour and a half after leaving Apollo Bay, we reached the 12 Apostles visitor centre with a million other people. We got out of the car, and were thankful that by now, at least for a little while, the rain had stopped and the skies cleared.

We had a bracing walk to each of the lookouts, navigating around clumps of people who were stopping to take their selfies with some of the Apostles in the background. There aren’t 12 anymore as a few of them have been excommunicated.

You can actually see how the erosion is taking place, with the water eating into one edge of it and the strength of the wind blowing away the upper layers. It’s an impressive sight and a great place for a biology lesson (though I was surprised at how little interpretation there was. One sign and even that was small and uninteresting).

We went from the lookouts at the top to the sea level, seeing a washed up blue-bottle jellyfish and watching the clouds roll in again. We piled back into the car and the rain came down heavier. We bypassed seeing the other natural rock formations along the way, and instead took the road back up to Melbourne.

Impromptu Melbourne Visit

One of the reasons for returning to Melbourne on Saturday night was so we could go to Ikea the next morning to buy a sink. We’re getting the kitchen renovated next week. We had to pay for all the stuff on Friday/Saturday but when they rang on Friday it was to say that they didn’t have the sink we wanted and they didn’t know when it would come in. What would we like to do?

We didn’t want a different sink but WA operates separately from the eastern states so even though there was one in Richmond, Victoria, they couldn’t get it shipped across the country. So we decided we’d get it ourselves.

We possibly could have squeezed it all in on Sunday – seeing the 12 Apostles, returning to Melbourne, buying the sink at Ikea and then catching the plane – but we felt it would be too much of a rush and having seen what we came to see, we could spend a night in Melbourne and see some friends.

Glen drove us back to the city (I’d done all the other billion hours of driving) while I searched for accommodation for one night. There were only three rooms left in the whole of the Melbourne CBD. I’m not joking. Something to do with some bloody horse race.

We ended up staying at Pegasus Apartment Hotel, which was nice and did for what we needed, but we couldn’t believe how limited the choice was. We got into Melbourne in the evening, then went out for dinner with Julian, Deanne and Albert, before we caught up with Simon and Shih-Ern and a few us went dancing after.

All in all a packed but fun day (oh my god, we saw two koalas!), and going to bed never felt so good.

Tsukiji Fish Market, (No) Sumo and Akihabara

Up at 8, down for breakfast and then ready in the lobby at 9 to meet Bec for Monday’s adventures. We aimed for the Samurai Museum – which is only a couple of streets behind the hotel – but it didn’t open until 10:30 and so it got pushed down the list to look at later in the day, which we didn’t do.

Instead we caught the subway across town to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This is where tonnes and tonnes of fish is sold. The most famous aspect of it is the tuna auction, which takes place early in the morning, and at times is open to the public to watch. I think it’s closed to tourists at the moment, and we weren’t there at 5am so we didn’t see this.

We also weren’t quite sure whether the markets were open to tourists. It might have been if you knew where you were going and were fast on your feet to avoid the trucks and lifters. Instead, we spent time in the Outer Markets looking at different food and knick-knacks for sale.

Glen was pretty intrigued with a lot of things, keen to try whatever was going around, though surprisingly he only bought two things. The first was a pastry in the shape of a fish that was stuffed with sweet bean paste (I had some, it was tasty) and the second being a fish cake, which he didn’t like very much and I didn’t sample.

We saw a lot of fish and shellfish for sale, in various states from live, freshly dead and untouched, prepared, dried and fried. There were people everywhere, a mix of tourists and locals who just wanted to get their stuff and get out. After a lot of wandering we eventually settled on a sushi place. I don’t think it was the one that was recommended to us as it was too nice looking. There were a bunch of others by the fish market where you’d get your ‘authentic’ sushi but they were small and crammed with people, and with an hour-long line out the front. We didn’t need their sushi that badly.

Instead, the place we settled on was roomy and delicious. We sat at the counter, gave the chef our order and then food was placed on the plate in front of us. I must have annoyed him something terrible as I’d ordered four pieces, and then two, and then three, and then two again. Meanwhile Japanese people nearby ordered one plate and were done with it.

Museums and gardens

After this late morning/early lunch meal, where resting our legs was a major highlight, we caught the train to the Sumo Museum. The museum is inside the large sumo stadium. The museum is one room, displaying photos or carvings of the sumo champions. Unfortunately, there were no sumo matches going on when we were there. If we come back, I think we’ll plan this better as it would be interesting to see.

On the walk back to the train station we stopped into the Former Yasuda Gardens, which are currently undergoing renovations but nevertheless are a quiet oasis in bustling Tokyo. We wandered around the pond where giant koi leapt out of the water and gardeners carefully and patiently weeded the moss. It was a nice interlude.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum was next but, it being a Monday, it was closed. Instead we got a jam donut – field with red bean paste rather than jam – and continued to the next train station where we caught the subway to Akihabara.

Tech, nap, eat

Akihabara is the tech district and is full of, well, tech stuff. We stopped into a Japanese anime/manga store and had a look around, before going to a figurine store that sold things to do with different anime as well as superheroes and Star Wars paraphernalia. By the time we left, our legs were so sore and tired that we decided against doing much else. Glen waited in line for a chocolate tart, which tasted like pre-cooked cake batter, and then we caught the train back to the hotel.

We had a nap – which I was surprised about as I never nap back home – before getting up at 7 to once again go in search of food. We decided to eat inside one of the nearby department stores, Lumine Est, as there was likely to be more options available within a limited space. Department store restaurants are also very popular with Japanese people so it wasn’t like it was a tourist trap.

We settled on a bento-type place that was decorated with funky decor, a bit like an Ikea store. We each got three things in our set, including some vegetables (soy beans mostly), a soba soup and a salad/rice combo. I was full by the end of it and much less stressed than if we’d wandered the streets for hours. After that we had a crepe, then went home to sleep. I had a big travel day planned for Tuesday so was keen to get some more rest.

Haneda, Shinjuku and the Robot Restaurant

We flew Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and then on to Tokyo (Haneda). The flight to Hong Kong was packed. Because I couldn’t check us in until about 2:30pm we were stuck right at the back of the plane. While a little cramped, we downed a sleeping pill and slept for about six hours, waking up for food, of course.

When we landed in Hong Kong we had about 50 minutes until our next flight. Transfer information flashed up on our screens and I took photos of it and read it about five times, anticipating a fast run through Hong Kong airport. Fortunately, when we disembarked, an airline representative was waiting for us and the three other people on the flight to Haneda.

He led us on a brisk walk through the airport, through the crew security line and then to our flight, which we boarded almost immediately. I’d asked whether he thought our luggage would make the transfer (Bec had a similar short transfer and her luggage didn’t make it in time) and he said yes – famous last words.

The flight was only three hours but felt a whole lot longer. I dozed, feeling worse with each passing minute, and vowing never to take overnight flights again. They’re just not worth it. You arrive feeling like crap, even if you do manage to get some sleep.

We disembarked at Haneda, went through customs, with me breaking out a few very rusty Japanese words. I learnt a bit of Japanese in year 7. Only a few words have stuck but luckily they’re the important ones. Also, Swee at work had been reminding me of a few in the lead up to my trip. We got through passport control and waited for our luggage.

‘Oh look, that’s us,’ Glen said, pointing to the sign that one of the staff was holding up. You guessed it. Our luggage was still in Hong Kong and they needed to take down our details. It would arrive sometime that morning (between 2am and 5am). This didn’t seem to faze us much.

We were staying in Tokyo for a few days, we had enough clothes on and some things in our luggage, we’d be fine. In actual fact, it worked out really well as it meant we didn’t have to lug 20kg suitcases through the Tokyo subway (something we were very grateful for later).

We then breezed through Customs and then went in search of Suica cards to use on the trains. Many people have told me over the years that Japan is very confusing because ‘everything’ is written in Japanese characters. It’s not really true, not now anyway. While everything is (and should) be written in Japanese, there’s also a lot written in English. All the important stuff, at least.

Catching the train to Godzilla

So we found the JR East office, muddled through purchasing our Suica cards, and then went off to pick up the portable wi-fi device we’d ordered prior to our departure and got reconnected to the internet. We probably could have survived without it as there’s free wi-fi in the hotel, subways, department stores and probably most other places but it helped with Google Maps and stopped those annoying ‘do they have wifi?’ and ‘what’s the password?’ questions. (Yes, we could just not be connected but it’s not that kind of holiday.) Sadly for us, this wifi device has a faster connection speed than our internet back home, about three times as fast. On ya, Australia.

Armed with our Suica cards, internet connection and a couple of directions, we caught one train line and then another to emerge at Shinjuku Station. The trains weren’t too crowded but they’re a hundred times busier than the Midland line in the middle of the day.

When we got off the train at Shinjuku and got underground to where all the platforms meet, we both went ‘wow’ at seeing the mass of people swarming to catch their trains. I think the large number of coloured signs suspended from the ceiling also added to the overwhelming nature of the place. We found the exit we needed and then walked through Shinjuku to find our hotel (Hotel Gracery), helpfully topped with Godzilla’s head.

We happened to check-in at the exact same time as Bec. I heard her, in her Australian accent, telling the receptionist that she was staying there with some friends, and I turned to see that it was her. Perfect timing! We checked into our rooms at the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku.

The room is small but that’s to be expected (I’m sure there are whole apartments in Tokyo which aren’t much bigger than our room for two). Either way, it was clean, nicely decorated, in a great location and had one of those Japanese toilet seats that has a warm seat and bidet. Tempted to get one at home. Oh, and the shower is its own room where you can either wash Japanese-style over the floor or shower/bath in the bath like a Westerner. It’s all pretty cool and different.

The hunt for sustenance

We didn’t stay put for long. We went outside to look at Godzilla’s head, which roars (screams, in the words of the receptionist) four times a day – though we’ve yet to be around at the right time to hear it. We wandered the brightly light and crowded streets of Shinjuku, trying to find somewhere to get some food. This is, unfortunately, where Tokyo has been a bit of a trial for me.

As I don’t eat red meat or pork, and I’m not super adventurous with things like skin and gizzards, my food options are pretty limited. That is, if I want to eat Japanese. There are quite a few Italian restaurants around but that seems a bit sacrilegious. Ramen is pretty much out as it’s mostly made and topped with pork. There is, of course, plenty of fish to eat but if we’re not going for sushi, then it’s not all the prominent.

Either way, we found a place, encouraged inside by one of the touts on the street. One thing to remember about Tokyo is that because everything is so cramped, you also need to look up. We tend to only look at what’s visible from the street but a four storey building will have about five restaurants in it (basement being one).

The first restaurant we went to we had chicken yakitori. Glen bravely tried the deep brown one, which turned out to be gizzards – but what gizzards we’re not sure. He thinks it might have been heart. Another stick was just skin which I couldn’t eat (oh, how precious I am), and there was one that was meat-like. There were also some vegetable ones and some kara-age. We got through most of it, and then people nearby started smoking so we left.

Smoking in restaurants and bars is A-OK here. Smoking on the street, however, is not the done thing. There are cordoned off areas outside where people go to smoke but you won’t see people wandering the streets with a cigarette in their hand. We’ve also noticed that some restaurants won’t allow smoking over the lunch period. It’s made us realise how deconditioned we’ve become to smoking in Australia over such a short space of time.

From this restaurant we then wandered the streets looking at various shops and generally taking in the brightly-light atmosphere. It’s all a bit crazy and full on, and creates quite a contrast to the mostly plain-clothed and straight-laced Japanese. We did go in search for another round of food but then stumbled across advertising for the Robot Restaurant.

Oh god, why?

Our fiends in Canada, Cam and Vince, had been to it when they were last in Japan. I assumed it was an actual restaurant where robots brought you food. That is most definitely not what happened.

We bought our tickets – ¥8000 (more than $100) – and went through with all the other tourists, a mix of Americans, Australians and some Japanese. Two robots were positioned out the front that we had our photos taken with, and then inside it’s all bright colours, different models of lizards and flowers and other psychedelic things, mirrors and general garishness.

We went downstairs to the basement and took our seats in rows which lined the room, leaving a space in the middle for the ‘robots’ to come in and entertain us. We could order snack type food like fries, popcorn and crisps, as well as drinks. This was definitely not going to be a fine-dining experience. Our 90 minutes of entertainment then began.

The evening consisted of a number of shows with live dancers moving about on the floor, either on their own legs or some mechanised mode of transport. There was a drumming segment at the start (the beat was pretty cool actually), then something else, followed by dancers dressed in black and covered in glow in the dark tubes (also cool), before a robot-like battle began between the creatures of the forest and alien invaders, before the final song and dance of robots moving around the space. The whole thing was one long, confused ‘where are we?’ moment and it was definitely not what we expected.

Some people really enjoyed it, including one guy across the way who was standing for most of it and filmed the whole thing on his camera phone. Don’t really think it was worth it for us and not sure I’d recommend it to anyone, but to each their own.

Afterwards we went to find food, going into the basement for a ridiculously expensive and not very nice meal. This was after about 30 minutes (if not more) of trying to find somewhere that I could eat. Glen was about ready to bite me I think, he was so hangry. After dinner we headed back to the hotel, definitely ready for a sleep after our first few hours in Tokyo.

Northern Lights on a technicality

On Tuesday my Facebook feed was going a bit crazy with photos of aurora Australis and notifications of storm level aurora activity for the northern lights. Ever since we started making plans to come to Canada, seeing northern lights had been on my list of things to see. One of the top things in fact. We went to iceland and didn’t see any. Didn’t see any in Churchill either.

Two hours north of Toronto is the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve. There’s a page for it on Facebook and I follow them to keep track of what you can see from there, northern lights being one of them. Anyway, with the storm level so high on Tuesday, I kept an eye on the alerts but didn’t think we’d actually make the trek out to the dark sky preserve. Not unless it was highly likely we’d see something.

Besides, we had plans to go to the movies tonight to see Second Best Exptic Marigold Hotel with the neighbours. But just before Glen got home, I was looking at the aurora report again. ‘Storm Level!’ it shouted. ‘It’s on!’ Could this be too good an opportunity to miss? When Glen came home, we conferred and decided a road trip was in order. Julian was only too keen to head up there as well. We cancelled movie plans and at 7:30pm (after Glen went to get some road trip supplies from the supermarket), Julian, Nat, Glen and I set off on our adventure.

Distances don’t seem so bad here in Canada. While I’d seriously baulk at the idea of driving two hours to go somewhere (Bunbury springs to mind), it doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea here. Perhaps it’s because I’m not driving or that there’s the chance of seeing the Northern Lights at the end of it.

We headed off, stopping at one of the OnRoute places so we could get dinner (the first for Julian, second for the rest of us), and then continued into Muskoka. The dark sky preserve is a bit of a trek down a long, windy, bumpy road. In fact the road you take when you get off the freeway feels interminable. It’s also going into backwoods country and late at night, my imagination runs away with me. When a car’s headlights appear behind us, I imagine all sorts of nightmare scenarios.

Eventually we make it to the dark sky preserve. We pa so a car that’s parked on the road, then stop and check they’re ok. They were fine. They were looking at the Sky, saying there were a lot of cars in the car park and a lot of people so they were looking for somewhere quieter. Thanks to their comments, we were expecting a great horde of people at the preserve and I was preparing myself for a spectacular display.

When we pulled in there were about three cars there. And about as many people. Because it’s a dark sky preserve, there are no lights and people get shitty if you use any. We asked for directions on where to go and were given a vague idea so we headed north towards the lake. We went down a ditch and into some trees, not exactly a sensible thing to do. Apparently there’s a path. In the summer. At the moment the area is still covered with snow that disappears when you step anywhere and so you plummet up to your knees. Luckily Glen and I had ski pants on,

We then saw people coming from the direction we wanted to go and we realised we’d wandered completely off the path. We scrambled to the right spot, though it was still a massive effort to get anywhere as we kept plunging into the snow. We laughed and squealed a lot. The people we passed directed us where to go and they asked if we could keep the light down because one of the guy’s had his camera set up on a timer.

We’d missed the really big show. About 30 minutes to an hour before there was a lot of activity, with the lights reaching halfway up the sky. What a sight that would have been to behold! As it was we got to see a light greenish hue low on the horizon. Technically we have seen the Northern Lights though they were not doing what I’d hoped they would do, and it’s really only on the camera that you can make out the colour.

Nevertheless, I set up my camera and took a bunch of long exposure shots. I don’t have exactly the right equipment for this and there is a lot to improve on technique wise but for an idea of what was out there, and with the little we had to work with by that time, it’s acceptable. We stayed for perhaps 45 minutes. For all that it’s dubbed a dark sky preserve, it’s not all that dark. There are two dome-like glows on the horizon that signify sizable human settlements, which is a bit disappointing.

On the way back to the car, Glen and I talked to one of the guys and he told us how spectacular it had been earlier. His friend was showing up in a minute and had given him news that it was supposed to be peaking again. I thought it would just be our luck for it to shoot up after we left. However, looking at the aurora reports on the way home made it seem that the storm was over for this part of the country.

More people arrived as we left. I saw their heavy duty camera equipment being taken out of their car as we drove out of the car park. I don’t have anywhere near what they have, and really, I’d much rather see the lights dance than try to take photos of them.

It was a quiet ride home as Nat and Glen fell asleep. Julian valiantly got us home safely, which was a big effort considering he’d worked all day too. We got back into Toronto at around 2, dropped Nat home and then went back to our condo and to bed.

Even though it wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, I’m glad we went. It was a rare moment of spontaneity that, for nothing else, got us out of the city and looking up at the stars in a clear sky. I now know how to get to the preserve and don’t consider it as onerous as I once did so wouldn’t feel too shy about trying again another night if the conditions are right. And plus, we did, technically, see the Northern Lights. Next time will be better.

[The photos are a little misleading. The lights weren’t this green when we were there. They look like this because of the long exposure rate of the shots. Another guy got much better shots but he’s more experienced and has better equipment. For instance, his lens was better and his setup more sturdy – wind knocked my camera around a bit. Anyway, first attempt]

Our first time tobogganing

Because of our late night, I stayed in bed until half eleven on Monday and only got up when it was time to get ready to go tobogganing — an event much discussed ever since it started to get cold. (It was a public holiday on Monday in Ontario.) We got ready, went downstairs and collected Julian and then went to Bec and Alastair’s. There was a bit of a delay as water was coming through the roof of the bathroom in their apartment. Once the concierge had been to investigate, they got ready and we went downstairs to Julian’s car.

Returning from the bottom of the hill
Returning from the bottom of the hill

We didn’t have to drive far. There’s a park called Riverdale Park just over the Don Valley Parkway and down Broadview. We were all rugged up in our ski gear and wearing plenty of warm layers. It was probably about -15°C but thankfully there was no wind or else it would have felt much colder.

We parked and discovered we weren’t the only ones who had the idea of going tobogganing on what was a beautiful clear winter’s day. Julian was our test dummy as he’s the Canadian and done this before, but once we saw how it was done (honestly, it’s not hard. You sit in the toboggan and try not to crack your head open), we were all zooming down the hill in a variety of permutations.

Sitting upright, on our stomachs, lying back, two-and-three to a toboggan, or one lying on top of the other. Bec and I managed to go the farthest using the red toboggans and sitting rigid and upright as we went down. The hill had a lot of bumps in it so the ride was jarring at times, and I screamed through most of the journey down with a high-pitched ‘eeeeeeeeeee’. We also had races which were a lot of fun, if at times a bit dangerous. I nearly clipped Alastair during one of them, missing him by a whisker before I zoomed down to the bottom. It was a hell of a lot of fun. The only downside: having to walk up the hill again. At least it kept us warm.

After about an hour, we called it quits and went to Rooster Coffee House to warm up and have a drink and some snacks. We then headed home.

Glen, Julian and I went for Korean BBQ down the road. Not my favourite, but Glen seemed to enjoy himself. I was started to fall asleep at the table and was happy to head home. Glen went off to work for a while, and Julian went and did errands.

I worked on a video of my trip to Newfoundland (see below) while finishing watching The Killing (not a bad ending) and started The Fall (a crime drama set in Belfast with Gillian Anderson). I’m going to miss Netflix when we go home.

(I’ll put together a video of us tobogganing eventually.(

A Brief Recap of 2014

A Brief Recap of 2014

Here are some of the things that have made 2014 so memorable:

I got married to my partner of 10 years in a beautiful ceremony on the shores of Lake Ontario before family and friends, many of whom had travelled from the other side of the world to take part. It was the perfect day.

I swam (twice) with Beluga whales in Churchill, Manitoba, and was treated during the second swim to a display that even the guides hadn’t seen. I can now say I’ve played with Beluga whales.

My first book was published in May and my second accepted in December. Best of all, people liked it.

I took the train from Toronto to Vancouver, seeing more of this country than most Canadians see in a lifetime. And despite what people say about the prairies, they have their own beauty which made my eyes widen and jaw drop.

I skied for the first time, and as well as enjoying it (I wasn’t sure I would), I’m also not bad when it comes to getting down the slopes. I liked it so much that I can wait to go again this season.

We continued our exploration of the Canadian provinces. We added British Columbia (We went to Whistler like all good Australians), Alberta (Banff and the Dinosaur Provincial Park were highlights), Saskatchewan (a drive-through for me but not Glen), Manitoba (Beluga whales and polar bears), Nova Scotia (amazing fall colours in Cape Breton) and Newfoundland (puffins, Vikings and the Labrador sea being my picks on this 11-day trip). (Quebec, PEI and Ontario were covered in 2013, but re explored (except for PEI) in 2014.

We travelled to the Galápagos Islands and spent ten days in this wildlife wonderland. I never thought I’d get there as soon as I did, thinking it would be something I’d be lucky to get to before I turn 40. But in May we explored what the archipelago has to offer, snorkelling with seals, sea turtles, and penguins, and coming face-to-face with boobies (haha), marine and land iguanas and giant tortoises.

I went to New York twice this year, another place I thought maybe I’d get to once in my lifetime. I’m not as in love with the place as some people, but it’s got its charm and there’s still more there left to see.

We went to Salzburg in Austria for a radiology conference–and went on a Sound of Music cycling tour. Soon after I went to the UK (again), visiting family and friends, going to a writer’s conference and checking out Wales for the first time (with my friend Nikki).

In addition to the guests at our wedding, we also had visitors from Germany and Australia, so got to reconnect with old friends from back home. This included two weeks with my sister, one week of which was spent checking out Quebec, Montreal and Ottawa. We also strengthened ties with our family away from home, and made new friendships, and said goodbye to fellows who returned home in the middle of the year.

And we finished the year in Puerto Rico with friends.

I’m hoping that 2015 brings just as much joy and happiness. We’ve already got tickets to the Eurovision final in Vienna in May, and conferences will take us to San Diego and Orlando. We’re going to start skiing imminently.

I’m also hanging out to see the snake pits in Manitoba in April, as well as at least getting to New Brunswick to see the Tides at Bay of Fundy, and Northwest Territories to see the Northern Lights. Somewhere in there my second book will come out and I have to write the third…and all this before our return to Perth in July. The next six months are going to be packed.

Magic at the Bioluminescent Bay

Relaxing on the Beach? Who, me?

Tuesday started at around 8:30. I didn’t get much sleep, particularly when Glen, who’s body had been chilled by the air conditioning, hugged me and jolted me away with his icy skin. Nevertheless, having little sleep is probably good for encouraging me to spend a little time relaxing on the beach.

Those who know me know that I don’t like being idle and holidays where you do nothing but sit by a pool or the beach sound great in theory, but in reality make me itch and think about how much time I’m wasting. Still, I can’t come to a Caribbean island and NOT spend at least an hour by the beach.

Glen, Julian and I headed down to the nearby beach and rented a couple of deck chairs for $5 each and setup our little relaxation station. Julian planted himself in the sun, lay down with headphones and sunglasses on and baked (while tapping his foot and mouthing along to the words. It was very cute.). Glen and I read books. I then went for a swim.

The water wasn’t hugely warm but after a minute you get used to it. You’re also working hard to not get dunked by the waves so that also generates a bit of heat. The waves were coming in heavy and fast, and while not great for surfing, did get up to a height. Glen came in for a little while and then we both got out.

Bec and Alastair joined us a little while later, smoothies in hand. Glen and I went in search of the smoothie store but didn’t end up finding it (a failure we were berated for) so settled on another restaurant where we had an ok lunch. Glen went back to the hotel and I went back to the beach to join the others. I read, and went for another swim.

The sun wasn’t directly overhead and had slipped behind the high rise buildings that line the beach so we were plunged into shade. There was also a cool breeze so it wasn’t the warmest time to be on the beach. We opted to leave. Bec and Alastair walked down the beach to a restaurant, while Julian and I returned to the hotel to shower, dress and collect Glen.

We walked back to where we’d bought ice cream the night before, and sat at a restaurant called Di Parma. We ordered some cocktails and some food and whiled away a few hours chatting, drinking and eating. This, combined with the beach visit, made me feel like I was really on holiday, something I don’t normally get from other trips. There are holidays and then there are holidays. Perhaps for me they would be termed vacations. Where you do little but relax and indulge and recharge. I could do it for a few days I’m sure. Beyond that?

We then headed back towards the hotel, but first stopped in at a couple of local beachfront bars. The question of what to do on New Year’s Eve had plagued us for a while. There was a $160 per person event at the Hilton which included everything, but it didn’t take us all by fancy. There were others but we were struggling for consensus. We stopped in at Oceanus and asked about their party…and were then given five complimentary tickets (which would otherwise cost $85). It’s also opposite a gay bar so we’d found our winner.

We then went to the gay bar for some more drinks, and chilled by the beach for a little while. Before returning to the hotel, we asked at Oceanus about the dress code, and basically everything I was wearing was forbidden: shorts, singlet, flip-flops and hat. Jeans are ok. As are tshirts. Oh and no hats or sunglasses. We were glad we checked.

Bioluminescent Bay

After a bit of a relax and then a quick run to find some food, the taxi picked us up at 8:45 for the start of our bioluminescent bay tour. Glen and I had both expressed concerns that we might end up being shot in the head and our bodies dumped somewhere. Julian messaged Natalie to let her know who had taken us in case we didn’t return in three hours. Not exactly a nice message to receive.

We needn’t have worried though. We were taken to Fajardo on the east coast to an area called La Cabresas (or something similar). It was dark but there were other people there in a kayak. The taxi driver’s wife also came along so unless they were some double-murder act, we were safe. We waited a little while for the boat to come back. In the meantime we watched as people paddled by going into the mangroves and towards the bay. Watching them ricochet back and forth across the narrow channel brought us a few laughs and also made me thankful we were going in a zodiac boat.

Eventually the boat docked, discharged its passengers and we put on their lifevests. We climbed into the zodiac with two other girls and the taxi driver’s wife, who lives in Puerto Rico but had never been. We all said that she should come and cheered when she climbed aboard.

We ventured beneath the mangrove trees, a sight to see in and of itself, especially with the moonlight coming through. It was so atmospheric — and I expected to hear bongo drums any second. The guide spotlighted iguanas — big ones — lounging in the trees. I ducked when we got a little close to low hanging branches, thinking I really didn’t want to get entangled in a vine snake (if there were any).

After a while we came to an area that was completely dark. The tree branches connected overhead and blotted out the money. The guide turned off the engine and put his hand in the water. The bioluminescent organisms lit up with blue light. We saw them dance around the boat and the roots of the mangroves. We soon put our hands in the water and were quickly ensconced in light. It was like having magic powers. Every time we moved our hand, the water turned blue. It was, simply put, magical.

We stayed and played for a little while before the guide took us out into the bay. On a night with no moon and plenty of cloud cover the bay must look magnificent. Even though conditions weren’t perfect, we still had moments where the bioluminescence lit up. The best times were when the fish swam and the water looked like blue fire as they darted away. They were big fish so they were affected by the lights quite strongly. We sat and drifted for a while, watching them flit here and there. It made me think of brain synapses firing.

We then went back the way we came, stopping one last time in the darkness to submerge our hands and make pulses in the water. It was the closest we’re going to get to having magical powers. One really special thing though was just watching what looked like still water and seeing the sparks flash because they were buffeted by the current.

We then returned to the meeting point and disembarked. Everyone was excited for what we’d just experienced, and with good reason. There are only 5-6 places in the world where this happens, and three of them are in Puerto Rico. I feel very lucky to have been able to see it, especially when our chances seemed so bleak a mere 36 hours before.

The taxi drive home took about an hour, and we arrived back at the hotel close to 1am. We all went to bed as we had to be up ‘early’ the next day for the tour to El Yunque forest.

(I’m hoping at least something came out on the video footage I took but I haven’t looked yet. Will post if it did.)