A little hindu hideaway

Bali is hardly a hideaway from anyone or anywhere in the world, but it is a place one could escape to from impending reality and gasp a last breath of fresh, travelling air before one resumes their seat at their workstation. Yep, I did it again. The Hindu oasis that teems with tourists, most of them Aussies, is currently stowing away two Atlas Vagabonds for a final hurrah before this mama goes back to the grindstone.

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I’d like to think it was written in the stars. The planets aligned and our fate was predetermined: that we would depart our hometown in Darwin only days after we returned from a year away. In fact, it was written, but actually just in an email from my dad who had booked a flight to Bali with some of the Darwin fam and suggested the Wittys come along.

At first I guffawed the idea when I read his audacious email from the Philippines. I wasn’t even back in Oz yet, and there was my travel-mad-dad trying to get us out of the country already! Ridiculous, I thought, and closed the email with a huff. But there, the idea was planted in a mind fertile with wanderlust. He’s a clever man, that Gordo.

It only took a number of days before I couldn’t resist the proposal. Some digging around quickly revealed that the person acting in my work role was leaving the job mid February. I love a solid handover, but since I had planned to start work today, on the 1st of Feb, two weeks handover just seemed like overkill! This sense of this excess was bolstered, of course, by the fact that my mob of Darwinites were heading to the island of tropical smiles at said time.

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To figure out whether I was crazy or not, I floated this ludicrous Bali holiday idea with Witty, mentioning, of course, the serendipity of my handover situation. He said he really needed to stay home and work, but I didn’t… necessarily.

“Do it!”, he said. “When are you ever going to get this opportunity to spend time with Finn, your parents and your aunties again?”. Goosebumps, right? Well, in truth, the answer to that is “often” but who needs frivolous truths to tie you down when you’ve just scored a leave pass for frolicking with your fam? With a couple of swift emails to adjust my return date to work, Finn Atlas and I were booked on a midnight flight with the Darwin mob: destination Bali.

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Now we are here and soaking up all that is delicious, monsoonal Bali. We have a villa in which to relax, a quiet Sanur in which to explore. The sound of bristled-brush brooms sweep the paths and in the early morning. Scooters honk and we ding our bells as we ride our pushbikes through sun showers. The smell of incense from the offerings perfumes the moist air and the skinny dogs with their curly tails lap up the rice left over from daily ceremony.

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Now hold on. I did actually do some work before I left my poor, darling husband in Darwin and slapped our exhausted passports on the customs desk once more. With 10 days in Darwin we managed to get back into our house, get most of our belongings from storage unpacked, get tenants into our empty apartment and start getting some finances flowing again, despite a rather flat-lined rental market. We also started to feel like we were home. We got to hold close a bunch of dear friends, laugh, chink glasses and celebrate Australia day like every Aussie should in 30 degree heat: with ice sledding.

Contrary to popular belief, I haven’t run away from Darwin. I loved coming back, and I will come back again. I’m just wringing the best and last bits out of maternity leave- up to the very end! I’m nervous and excited about this time as a full-time mama that is coming to an end. I’m nervous and excited about that time as a professional that is about to start again…

This time next week I won’t be typing away travel tales from my little travel keyboard. Instead I’ll be running around in the office of the Top End Health Service, organising forums and engaging with stakeholders. On that note, which makes my blood pressure rise ever so slightly, I’ll take leave from vocational preoccupations. May these next seven days in the countdown to work go slow. With my stakeholders being the bouncing Darwin family I have around me, may our forums be focused on the where to get the next nasi campur, may our organisational skills continue to be laughably non-existent and may our engagements with those smiling Hindu beauties be bountiful beyond bliss. Terima kasih, Bali. You’re a great last dessert.

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The Philippino transition

We are flying back to the homeland today! I’m excited because the uppity of the silly season and all of the family festivities that await give me something grand to look forward to. This Christmas inertia flies in at a perfect time, because I might otherwise feel miserable that this journey is coming to an end.

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To be honest, it’s a soft landing… we are still mooching around for a month on the East Coast with friends and family before we head back to Darwin in January. We will still be living out of our bulging suitcase and Finn will still only know his travel cot as his home. But once we step up to that customs desk, the great unknown will be closing down for the vagabonds. At least for the meantime.

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The Philippines has been our final destination. It’s been a month of mostly work for Witty, and for me, the place has given me time to transition toward home. In between the high-rises of Cebu and Manila, there has been beach, and it was beautiful. There have been sweet explorations, delightful sunsets and a few surprises here and there. We even got a yaya for part of the time, which is Tagalog for nanny. It meant that I could have someone with me instead of Witty for that time, and of course, find time to catch up and transfer the rambling thoughts from my mind to my blog. In fact, that’s how I’m finding time now!

The highlights of the Philippines are not so much the beaches we blissed out on but the people we met. We made friends with cool Kiwis, (one who shared the same birthday as me) and we celebrated like rockstars. We scooted around Boracay with a wild Scottish pair and lived it up in our resort pool after hours most nights.

Meeting Witty’s staff was also very special. For one, they know how to sing! And they showed us their talents on a night of Karaoke christmas partying. For a team who work remotely from one another, they are a very tight crew and they make serious efforts to support each other in lots of ways. I saw that a lot in this country- people don’t work just to improve their own lives. Life and the quality of it is guided by the network of people they have around them. Family is everything so how they support that family (emotionally and financially) dictates their overall happiness. They are a hard working nation (which we see all over the world) and when they actually get to be home, they love the closeness of their community.

Now I’m looking forward to returning to my community. After almost a year of listening to many accents and languages, Finn will soon be surrounded by people who sound like his parents. That will be unique. And since he’s now on the cusp of forming words from his many beautiful sounds, I’m sure a month on the East Coast will guarantee we hear that delightful Queensland twang come through. Finn Atlas, the Aussie?

Beaches, summer, family, Christmas. Have a happy one, my friends.

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Sint Maarten’s singers farewell the Vagabonds

The lanterns are lit. Children are skipping through laneways and streets, singing at strangers’ doorsteps in the night. With a little luck, their performance will result in a grab at that tantalising tray of chocolates… Halloween, right? Wrong. Welcome to Holland in November. Welcome to Sint Maarten’s Day.

Before we left Europe this year, we zipped across from Berlin to see a gorgeous Darwin friend of mine and her tall Dutch family in Holland. It was here in the coastal village of Haarlem that we soaked up a week of Dutch magic, dining in with friends, riding bikes along the canals and singing in the streets for Sint Maarten.

 

Sint (Saint) Maarten’s day is celebrated by the Dutch on the evening of the 11th of November. As the Autumn daylight dissapears, kids and light up their hand-crafted lanterns and step out into the chilly streets, knocking on neighbourhood doors to sing the song of St Maarten’s. These days they are hoping for candy. In the past it was the farms that people visited: the poor hoping for a good stock of food to get them through the winter.

St Maarten sounded like a pretty nice bloke. He was a Roman soldier who became a monk, and one evening while he was traveling around he came across a beggar who was freezing. Overcome with empathy, he cut off half his cloak and gave it to the beggar to warm him up. The rest is history and apparently that’s how nice guys become saints!

 

I’m not sure the history (or story) is as highly regarded as the candy these days… but that’s the case with most religious celebrations now: Merry Christmas, shoppers! Nonetheless, while it was pretty reminiscent of Halloween, it was new for me, and this highly regarded Dutch tradition was delightful. Finn and I joined Mia’s two beautiful daughters and we walked with them through the laneways of Haarlem. Their excitement was palpable. We giggled. We sang. We collected sweets. And the smiles on the faces of people in their windows and doorways warmed up my heart, even on such a chilly night!

 

We loved our last week in Europe and I recommend Haarlem over Amsterdam for anyone heading to the Netherlands soon. This seaside village is lined with canals like its booming big sister, Amsterdam. The ornamented façades of its buildings reveal funky bars within and the town centre lights up with action most nights of the week. However, Haarlem retains a delicate romance about it that may have since evaporated in a cloud of smoke for Amsterdam.

We loved our train trips into the big A and we made the most of museums, rooftop bars, the wild street life as well as the animals at the zoo. However, the christmas lights that sparkled in Haarlem’s streets, the family-friendly cafes and the aromatic farmer’s markets on Mia’s doorstep made this quaint little place the perfect spot to round off a European tour.

Aussies and Ossies: East Germany in the Fall

Wait! I thought we were chasing the summer around the planet! Did we really sign up for this? We definitely hadn’t packed for it. But there it was on the itinerary… bloody cold Berlin!

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Most of my friends know I’m a tropical baby, and generally I like to keep it that way. Humidity, sweat, bit of breeze- I love it. Sunless days with icy winds hovering around 5 degrees- not so much. Still, we couldn’t let ALL of our North European buddies down.

We’d had a good stint basking on the beaches in Mallorca and although we couldn’t catch up with all of our friends spread across various parts of Europe, there was a fair swathe of them living it large in Berlin. We layered up in our cotton threads, found a jacket to shunt out the cold, and fully equipped with a new bag of op-shop woolies for Finn, we mustered up the courage to beat it up to Berlin. And let’s face it: rain or shine, Berlin can deliver some bedazzling times!

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About ten years ago, Witty had rented his Gold Coast home to a bunch of German backpackers. A decade later they were all still in touch with one another, and impressively, with Witty too. You see, when they’d rented from Witty he had been more than just a landlord. He was passionate about life on the coast, and he wanted to show them how good life was. He would pop around on a Friday arvo, pack the German crew into the back of his van, and take them to places like Byron Bay for a weekend of backpackin’ bliss. The Germans, who were still learning English, fondly (and slightly awkwardly) called Witty ‘their owner’. This sounded a bit odd to strangers at the pub, but it made for a good giggle. Often bridging the linguistic divide with free-flowing Fourex (beer), their ‘owner’ would take them to the beach, take them clubbing, ‘make barbeques’ with them, and by the sounds of it, often end up passed out on the couch that he was allegedly renting to them! Suffice to say, they all became great mates on the Gold Coast, and you could feel the friendship firing up again when they finally reunited in Berlin.

This reunion was really special. I didn’t know any of these guys but I got to see them all come together again, hear them reminisce, laugh and revel in the many memories they still had together. We got to meet the families they’d since created, learn how life had changed, and clink glasses many times in a few short days. Of course, because they knew us Aussies so well, we even ‘made a barbeque’.

During our time there, we made it out of Berlin to visit the icy but hauntingly beautiful Ost See, which is known by most Anglos as the Baltic Sea. Autumn is a great time to get out into the wilderness here. The forest fires up with in vivid shades of yellow and red, wakening the senses

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We hung out at a friend’s fabulous hotel on one of the many lakes in the North. As we sipped schnapps and waxed long evenings away, I learned a helluva lot about what life was like for these East Germans before and after the Wall came down. Known as Ossies (from Ost-Deutschland) it really was amazing to hear these personal accounts of a thoroughly unimaginable but very real and recent history that each of these friends experienced.

Berlin was also that bubbling pot of culture and history that we wanted to sink our teeth into. Museums were full of frightening and humbling truths. Street art could strike you through the heart and of course, the East Side Gallery created a collage of emotion as you wandered along kilometers of muraled wall.

Lucky for me Berlin was also harbouring a few of my friends. I was able to catch up with a dear gal from my Darwin childhood who is now making magic in the screen scene, and another German friend who I last saw 17 years ago! On top of that, a very dear man (who I met when I was 6 years old in Alaska) took a bus all the way from Nurnberg to see me in Berlin and meet my two Witty boys. Now that’s dedication to friendship!

I’ll love Berlin for the taste I got. I hung out in an Anarchist cafe and wandered through a bustling Turkish market. I played with my kid in strangely stark but refreshingly unembellished playgrounds. I clubbed with my Darwin girlfriend in an underground club: it was Berlin beats shaking shanty town infrastructure, complete with a crystal ball and just the right mix of crazy dancers. I dined on a canal boat with swans ‘swanning around’ to my son’s delight. And I took it all in, as best I could.

 

 

The art of cross-continental sun tanning

I was clearly having way too much fun to sit down and blog about the hottest months of our year away! We had been chasing the summer around the globe, and while you wouldn’t necessarily pick Canada to sip beers in your boardies, we found out people actually do it! After swanning around in parks for a week in Montreal, we hooked up with some Cool Canadians in Ontario.

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Team Ontario: Monty the dog, Meg, Owen and Will

Meg and Will were mates of Witty’s from his Gold Coast days. This cheeky bunch took us into their home in Barrie (near Toronto) and showed us how to get our Ontario on. Oh yeah! And on top of that they also saved our holiday: they helped us teach our baby to sleep through the night.

The sleep cracks were really starting to show on us Witty parents since young Atlas had turned into a ‘night negotiator’, but when we saw how their cherub knocked off to bed and zonked through til morning without bother… we had to have it. It took some tears but with bitter perseverance (largely on Witty’s watch) we went from sleep deprived to slept-and-alive in a matter of days. It was a game changer for us, giving us a renewed sense of certainty that we could now survive another six months on the road with a moving and shaking toddler. I assure you, every friend who has hosted us since (whether they know it or not) would be grateful for the gift Meg gave us. And if anyone else wants it, she said I could share the PDF love!

In between fun nights out on the town, hanging out with friends and taking us to our first ever “Stag and Doe” fundraiser for a family wedding, we got treated to a typical Ontario Summer vacation: the cabin on the lake experience! The lakes of Ontario are incredible. Locals all hit the water when the sun shines- whether tenting or luxuriating in their mansions, kids are squealing and splashing, the barbeques are roasting away and Canadians are getting as hot as they possibly can- it’s summer after all!

Since we had two kids in tow (and a bunch of luxuriating to do ourselves), the ability to ‘glamp’ instead of camp was superb. Nestled gently in the woods, we spent salubrious days and nights in the comfort of their family’s holiday lake house. We wakeboarded, canoed, and soaked up the water (with a bit of wine) in every way we could! What is truly mind-boggling for a troppo kid like me, is that those bikini-friendly lakes I experienced in June will now be crusting up into hardened ice skating rinks as winter descends upon the flat lands. The truly distinguished 4 seasons in this part of the planet is remarkable. I hope I can experience them all one day.

Once August hit, it was time to taste summer of another flavour. We farwelled our beloved Canada and the people who make it awesome, and hauled ass to the next great continent: Europe.

While I’ve spent a lot of time in Mallorca, I’d never actually visited Southern Spain, and because I was long overdue a catch up with a beloved friend on la Costa del Sol, we thought we’d better stop in for some good energy.

In case you didn’t know, my friend Maria Teresa is the Universe’s answer to good energy. Everything’s on the up, and it’s fun, fun, fun! On her breezy, sun-lit balcony, Finn learned to dance to Jamaican beats. From her modest kitchen emerged mouthwatering delights and we indulged in the joys of Spanish cuisine. We laughed, we swam: repeat! And when we stripped Finn down and he paused his naked dancing to take a crap on her carpet, Maria just laughed, congratulated Finn… and turned up the music. Some people walk on the bright side. I like to walk close by this sort.

10 days was not enough for us, but we squeezed in a lot of good times. Maria took us to Malaga one night and we took a Tapas Tour through town. The old city was amazing, but relaxing in Benalmadena in her seaside apartment was pure gold.

When we sat on her veranda high up on the 8th floor and looked across the calm seas of the Mediterranean, we could see the African coast. In the evenings when the waxing moon rose over the water and lit up a pathway across the sea, I would fantasize that the luminescent passage was real. I liked to imagine that was how all the Nigerian street salesmen wandered over, toting their gucci bags and inflatable penguins across the waters surface. They are gorgeous, those guys, and damn, they work hard for a buck.

As a final hurrah to the high season in Europe’s south, we hit Portugal. Exploring the Algarve was the itinerary, but really it was just a great excuse to catch up with some gorgeous friend from Ireland. This way, instead of drinking Guiness and whining about the cold weather, we were slathering ourselves in suncream, sipping Mateus and playing with our matching babies (only 3 weeks apart in age). We had an incredible time with these gorgeous ones… so much so that we did actually get the guts to face the wilds of an Irish summer and visited them in West Cork in September. Friends: they really are good craic.