Staying Put

Ben and I chatted today, and the first part of the conversation was about his eventful flight from the west coast to the midwest (of the U.S.). He had me laughing with the tale of the mother and teenage son, who held up the security line because they had clearly never flown before (the toiletries must come out of the bag, shoes off, and metal things WILL make the metal detector go ‘ding ding ding’ like the “Price Is Right” set.)

Once on the plane there was the mother and daughter who insisted he was in the wrong seat, because surely the ‘ABC’ of the seating begins on the aisle. He was happy to give up the window seat that they clearly wanted, if only they would understand that, in fact, he WAS in the correct seat and the lettering begins at the window. He stayed next to the window, and eventually the women settled in.

He survived all of these frustrating encounters with first timers only to be on the flight from turbulence hell. “I don’t think I have ever heard the pilot come over the PA that many times to make sure people were in their seats.” Subsequently, there was no opportunity to visit the bathroom or for any food service. Then when the plane neared Minneapolis/St. Paul, they were put in a holding pattern due to inclement weather. All of this explains why his text message to me after landing mentioned ‘home’, ‘starving’ and ‘peeing’.

I laughed through his tales – and credit to him, so did he, and then I asked if he would like to ‘guest author’ this blog entry. Not only is he a good storyteller, but I have little to write about for the time being as I am ‘staying put’.

A week ago I finally heard a decision that I had been waiting a few months to hear, only the answer was ‘no’ and I had been waiting for a ‘yes’. In March I applied to go on an adventure that would take me to Africa for two weeks, all expenses paid, and would let me stand on African terra firma for the first time. A tour company I have travelled with twice needed 8 people to complete one of its trips so they could film the trip’s promotional video. The call went out. Over 400 people responded, with videos and photos and stories proving just how ‘intrepid’ we all were. 30 people were shortlisted, including me, and then we waited.

Three months later, after many interim emails asking me to please be patient and telling me I was still on the short list, I received the email telling me, unfortunately, I had not been selected for this trip. It had nothing to do with me – because they believe I am terrific, and great on camera – they just needed to get the permutation of people right.

I did not take their decision personally, but I was still gutted.

In my mind I felt, rather, I really knew, I would be asked to go on that trip. I had started thinking of what to take – that my hiking boots would be perfect, as would my rain slicker and my canvas pants with the zip-off legs. There was no doubt that I would get to go to Africa in a couple of months.

I shed a few tears – mostly of frustration. I expressed to Ben that I know some people perceive me as ‘lucky’, but in reality, although I have lived a wonderfully full life thus far, I am no luckier than anyone else. I just see opportunities, and when I decide I want something, I work bloody hard for it. My ‘luckiness’ comes from the fact that I was raised by parents who taught me to keep my eyes open, to work hard and to enjoy the fruits of my labours.

In this case, I had seen the opportunity and prepared a terrific letter and selected photographs that showed me at my adventurous best. When I was contacted and asked to send a video, I enlisted help from friends, filmed, edited and sent a video. When I was asked to send MORE video, I did – with photos and another letter. I did all I could to get on that trip, which is why although I was disappointed, I did not take too long to get over it. There was simply nothing more I could have done.

As I hate the idea of wasting valuable holiday time, the ‘rejection’ forced me to look ahead to the next few months and really think about what I want out of them. I decided to fly to Western Australia next month, so I can see my parents, and family, and old friends. I am really looking forward to this upcoming trip, basking in the familiarity and love that I will find there. Beyond that, Ben and I will see where his work takes him – and us – but for the short term I am staying put.

And that, is just fine with me.

Five Minute Friends

Last weekend, I went away with strangers. Well, not just strangers. I went away with my ‘foodie’ friend, Simon, who organised a group of us to go to the Hunter Valley wine region for the Lovedale Long Lunch.
Lovedale Long Lunch
Lovedale is a region within the Hunter Valley, and each year a handful of wineries throw a huge lunch. People come, they eat, they drink, they indulge in general merriment, then they pile into cars and buses and drive to the next winery where they do it all again. As well as Simon, there would be Shona and her husband, Dan, and best friends Pelagia and Pat. And they would not be strangers for long.

It being my birthday weekend, I thought that the LLL would be a terrific way to celebrate. So, I packed my overnight bag, ate a light breakfast, picked up Simon and we drove the 160kms to the town of Cessnock in the Hunter Valley. We took the scenic route, which was definitely scenic, but had Simon begging me to return to Sydney via the motorway the next day. Windy roads = nauseous passenger stomach. I slowed down a bit, which did not detract from the stunning drive. The sun was breaking through the trees and burning the dew from the grass. Cows and sheep looked up from their breakfast as we drove past. The road was nearly empty, except from a few motorcyclists who must have been loving the curvy roads.

The scenic route
We drove through the tiny town of Wollombi, where the ‘outback’ has crept towards the city. I wanted to stop and explore this testament to times gone by, but we were on a deadline – there was eating to do – so I will have to go back soon.

Minutes later we were in Cessnock. Ahhh, Cessnock. Yup, that’s all I have to say about that. Nothing much going for this town except its location – right in the heart of the Hunter Valley wine region. There are some shops, some houses, and no character whatsoever. We were staying a motel, which was clean and nice enough, and filled to the rafters with other Lovedale Long Lunchers. We dropped our bags and drove out to the first winery of the day: Emma’s Cottage Vineyard.

As we pulled in the driveway, we were greeted by people dressed as pirates, a theme that was never repeated throughout the day, and baffled us a little. We parked, walked past a small family cemetery, and joined up with the excited crowd of people milling around the entrance. $25 got us a meal, a glass of wine, and our wine tasting glass for the day. And then I met my new friends.
Lovedale Long Lunch
(Thank you to Shona for this pic)
It was that sort of meeting where I knew right away that we would all have a brilliant time, as we were laughing together within minutes. I had made 4 ‘five minute friends’, new friends that seemed like old friends within minutes. Pelagia and I even discovered that my next door neighbour is one of her best friends, which was really trippy, because Sydney has 4 million people in it – what are those odds?

We spent the rest of the day at three other wineries, where we shared bites of delicious meals, and drank tasty Aussie reds and whites. Each winery showcased its wine and its setting, as well as teaming up with a local restaurant and local producers.
Sandalyn Estate
Tasting room at Sandalyn

We planned ahead from our menus, but after two lunches and a dessert, all I could do at the last winery of the day (Gartelmann Estate) was taste wine, gawk at the increasingly ‘sloppy’ crowd, and talk the penned alpaca (cute!).
Gartelmann Estate

At five we wrapped up our long lunch (6 hours) and headed back to our respective accomodation. Shona and Dan were at the Crowne Plaza (NICE!), and Pat and Pelagia were at Pepper’s Resort (nice in a ‘nana’ sort of way). Simon and I drove to the Comfort Inn in beautiful Cessnock, where we stayed for approximately 27 minutes before going to visit Shona and Dan at the Crowne. We took cocktail stuff and settled in for the evening.

I know it may be hard to believe that we wanted to drink anything else that day, but we did and it was my birthday, so we had a room party with gin and tonics and chips from the mini bar. We laughed about stupid stuff, and shared details from our lives, consolidating our ‘5 minute friendship’. And then we went to spa!

I had forgotten my swimmers and so had Shona, so we donned knickers and tank tops, and wrapped ourselves in fluffy white robes. With Simon and Dan in board shorts, we four strolled through the hotel lobby like we owned the place and went ourside to the pool area. A young couple was in the spa, so we would have to share. I was more concerned about the rain. For me, it was too cold and too windy to show my knickers in public. I dangled my feet while the others shivered in a semi-warm spa and avoided the (we soon discovered) naked couple on the other side. It was a quick spa session, but our little gin-steeped adventure, and fun.
Scene of the crime
The tropics?
(Spa and pool at Crowne taken the next morning)

After quick showers and freshening up we went to meet Pat and Pel at the local pub, an Irish pub, which was huge and stuffed with people. We commandeered a table, and ordered light meals. Well, no that is a total lie. We ate pizza and sausages with mash, and a Caesar salad. You would never have known that we had eaten all day.

Then, I was crashing. I don’t know whether it was the long day of driving, drinking and eating that made me want to curl up and sleep on the pub floor, or the fact that I was another year older. I am a partier, but I was pooped. The night continued a bit longer; I know there was some dancing (not by me), a visit to Pat and Pel’s room (at Pepper’s Retirement Village – I mean, Resort) and a dingo sighting on the drive back. Then, at about 11 and with much relief I climbed into the starchy white sheets of the Comfort Inn.

I’d had a full and fun birthday, and met four lovely new friends, and broken bread with my favourite foodie, Simon. I had also spoken to my parents, and my sis, and the next day I would get to talk to Ben. Yes, it was a lovely way to celebrate my 39th!

The next day we were going to do it all again – this time three wineries and a stop at Tempus Two were on the cards. I was completely for all of that, except for one thing. I hadn’t gotten to talk to my favourite boy. Long distance love means Ben is 15 hours behind Sydney time. I wanted to talk to him so much, I said my goodbyes after the first winery of the day, and made the drive back to Sydney along the motorway.
Blue Skies

I know from photos sent on by Shona and Simon that they all had another brilliant day, including a stop at the cheese factory. I am happy that they did, especially as Shona, Dan, Pat and Pel are all parents and do not have the chance to getaway as often as I do. And I am sorry I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to Pel and Pat, but I will hopefully see them soon.

And me? I cannot wait to get back to the Hunter. I hadn’t been there since 2003, and quite frankly, that is just too long between drinks. Next time, I will take Ben so he can see the wide blue skies, the beautiful bush wineries, and taste some of the most delicious wine in Australia. We might even see a wombat in the wild.
Wombats Next 10kms

Oh, and we are sooo staying at the Crowne!

Long distances

Yesterday I turned 39. I spent the weekend with new friends up in the Hunter Valley – a wine region two hours north of Sydney – and I have some great pics and stories to share soon. And I mean not to take away from the fun, friendship and festivities of the past two days (or from those planned celebrations to come) by saying that, on my birthdays I feel long distances more acutely than any other day.

My parents live in across the country. My sister lives in London. My boyfriend lives in Minnesota. I have family and close friends literally all over the world. This means two things. Firstly, it means that I am inundated with cards, presents, calls, emails and good wishes from all over the planet. I enjoy this, because the girl inside me is part princess and loves being spoiled with love and good wishes.

It also means that, on my birthday I miss my nearest and dearest even more acutely than I usually do. I mean not to bemoan my life as it is. I mean only to say to those of you I miss, a lot, all of the time, and especially yesterday, that I love you. And I look forward to the next time I get to hug you, laugh with you, shake a hair shimmy with you, and sit next to you, with your hand in mine, while you fill me in on all I have missed. You see, the best thing about a ‘long distance’ is the reunion.


I teach Drama, and today I went to a Drama class for Drama teachers. In an acting exercise I had to take off a piece of jewelery and state why it is significant to me. I took off the silver ring I wear everyday and said, “This is the ring I bought in Peru, and I wear it everyday. It reminds me always that I am a traveller.”

“I am a traveller.” This is something I know to be true about myself, even when I doubt other things. It has become a constant. This contradiction tickles me, because I have this constant in my life that is about fulfilling my need to move, and my needs for freedom, for newness and contrasts. That assuredness actually guides me, because I have a great fear of playing it safe and becoming stagnant.

To travel is to take risks. It is a leap of faith. We build up expectations and then we go to see how the real thing measures up. It could all go pear shaped. Every time we get in the car for a road trip, or board a plane, we are putting ourselves out there in the world, and exposing ourselves to all kinds of strife, sometimes even bedlam. But, for me, the risks are worth it. They have paid off ten fold: where I have been, what I have done, who I have met, what I have seen. These are now parts of the tapestry of my life.

AND most importantly, in between my travels, I can still be a ‘traveller’: I can be brave, I can embrace opportunities to meet new people, I can try new things, and I can seek out new places in my home city. ‘I am a traveller’ means movement, freedom and contrasts, whether that is here in Sydney or on the other side of the world.

Of course I have those days where I don’t leave the house and stay in my pyjamas – the power of the ‘Doona Day’ is strong – and I have real fears that sometimes cripple me, but ultimately my mantra has the power to steer me back on course. ‘I am a traveller.’ I must go, and see and do.

Falling in Like

I took my heart to San Francisco, but I didn’t leave it there. I tend to fall a little in love with cities. There are cities that I love all over the world. I love Sydney. I love Venice. I love Prague. My love affairs in recent years have mostly been of the north American variety, and include Vancouver (very passionate and too brief), and Seattle (developed over time and rock solid). I did enjoy my brief trip to San Fran, and I can see why people would fall in love with it, but for now I will happily commit to ‘I am in like with San Fran.’

We had two days there between LA and the start of our road trip. Ben and I both know that two days is too quick for such an iconic city, but it is just our first trip there, our taster. We packed as much as we could into those days, so here is 36 (waking) hours in the beautiful San Francisco.

The Bridge Coming from Sydney, another city where the bridge is a draw card, I was looking forward to seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in the flesh, or the steel. We started to walk along the coast from Fisherman’s Wharf, a pathway that took us up steep hills, and along grey sandy ‘beaches’. When it became apparent that Ben thought we were walking all the way to the bridge (about 11 miles), and I thought we were just walking to where we could see it, we had a minor tetchy moment, and then hopped a cab. This was of great relief to me, as I was fighting jet lag and the wind was doing my head (and eyes) in. The cab took us the eight miles remaining, and we were deposited at the lookout area. They have really spent some money here! I am sure at one time, this was just a semi-industrial lump of dirt that just happened to be under one of the world’s most famous bridges. Today it is a landscaped parkland with pathways and lookouts. The Bridge itself is stunning. It is long, proud and bright burnt orange. Yep, it deserves all the hype.
Guess where
The other side

Galleries Ben and I discovered early in our relationship that we both love galleries, and we tend to enjoy the small, boutique galleries most. On the way to the bridge, we happened upon a (what is the collective noun for galleries? A ‘monet’? A ‘picasso’? How about a ‘da vinci’?) a da vinci of galleries, all in a row. San Francisco has a plethora of galleries, and the handful we visited boasted impressive artists, including Dali at Franklin Bowles, and Warhol, Picasso and Rembrandt at Martin Lawrence. But perhaps my favourite, was a smaller gallery exhibiting artists not known to me. At Dennis Rae Fine Art, an artist called Thomas Arvid caught my eye, with his photographic style depictions of wine bottles and glasses.

China Town We wanted to go to China Town for Chinese food, so we caught a cab on our first night. China Town was dead. A few stores were open, and there was only a handful of restaurants to choose from. We walked a couple of blocks, looking for recommended places, and came across a family style restaurant. It was filled with Chinese people, they were eating and they looked happy, so it was as good a place as any. Except it wasn’t. It was bad. We paid, we left, we tried to forget, and scolded ourselves for not having better directions. There are some spectacular things for sale in China Town, at shops with brightly coloured wares crammed into every space. I wanted to buy a silk purse, and maybe a paper lantern, but not then. I was not in the mood to buy something pretty.

Little Italy On the way home from our spectacularly bad dinner, we inexplicably ended up in Little Italy, which we found on Columbus Ave near Washington Square. “Let’s go in a cafe and order dessert and some wine,” I suggested, wanting to resurrect our evening. We chose Panta Rei, for no other reason than it looked warm inside, and had an Italian man sitting outside, who said “Bueno Sera” back to me. It was warm inside, and smelled delicious. We ordered cheescake and a bottle of Lapierotta Sirah, on the waiter’s recommendation. Both were incredible. The flirtatious waiter brought bread and oil when we’d finished the cheesecake, and we settled in. We took our time, and left a little tipsy as we walked hand in hand back down Columbus to our hotel.

Coit Tower On our full day in SF, we planned to go to Alcatraz. Once we’d bought tickets, we had about a two hour wait for the ferry. We wanted to go to the famous Lombard Street – the windiest and one of the steepest in SF, but we were a little far from there. A local directed us, instead, to Coit Tower, which is the highest point in SF. From where we were we climbed up dozens of flights of stairs through people’s backyards and alongside steep driveways. It was worth the climb. We paid the $5 to ride the elevator to the top – lots of Aussies and French that day. The views were incredible, and we could see Lombard Street, where we would go later that day.
Iconic view from Coit Tower
Transamerica Pyramid
Marina and Alcatraz

Alcatraz We paid $24.50, lined up, caught the ferry, and once on Alcatraz, we were free to do as we liked and could catch any ferry back that afternoon. Just as the ferry docked, Bob, a retiree with a gift of the gab, was starting his talk on famous escape attempts from Alcatraz.
Dockside Alcatraz
Bob moved the crowd of 50 a few times, pointing out various places, but the skill was in his story telling. We could just imagine the events unfolding as he described them. None of the stories had happy endings. Officially, no one escaped Alcatraz and survived. The rocks are razor sharp and the currents strong. We took the audio tour of the main prison block.
Cell Block
Jail cell
Incredible. You can stop and start it when you want. It guides you through the whole place at your own pace, and is narrated by a former warden and former inmates. I really enjoyed it. And of course, the most excruciating aspect of being on Alcatraz, is that is it SO close to SF. If the wind was right, inmates could hear the goings on of a city they could not step foot in.
View from Alcatraz

Fisherman’s Wharf We stayed right near Fisherman’s Wharf, so walked its footpaths several times. We ate twice at a restaurant called Tarantinos – once for lunch and once for dinner. The food was outstanding, and we returned for dinner our second day, as it is positioned so you can watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge. Spectacular. Try the chowder!

Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar There is a Tiki bar under the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. No, really. After dinner at Tarantino’s, we grabbed a cab, and headed up the hill. The Fairmont in SF is really impressive, and decorated in a Parisian style. We entered the lobby, ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ under our breaths and started our hunt for the Tiki Bar. Could a bar like this BE is a hotel like this? It just seemed so incongruous, but we went downstairs, turned a corner and there it was. We were two of 6 people in there, as it was a little dead on a Tuesday night, but we made our own fun. We ordered a cocktail for two, with enough alcohol to sedate a bull elephant.
Cocktail for Two
Cocktails for twoBen at the Tiki Bar

Lombard Street We hadn’t caught a cable car yet, so thought we could catch one up Hyde Street and then walk back down the hill via Lombard Street. The queue for the cable car was long, and we had just finished enormous Ghiradelli chocolate ice creams, so we walked up Hyde Street, which is so steep that your body is on a 45 degree angle as you go up. Paying penance for the ice cream, we grimaced at the people stuffed onto the cable car as it clanged past, “Lightweights,” I grunted. We made it, our walk up well worth it to see the novelty of a street where the footpath is steps and the street so steep that it switches back several times.
Lombard Street

A terrific city. And in the immortal words of the Californian governor, “[We’ll] be back.”
Sand and Ben in SF

Heart pounding

I led a discussion in class yesterday, about ‘youth’. “Am I old or young?” I bravely asked a room full of 13 year olds. Without missing a beat, 27 voices chorused, “Old.” I laughed. We went on to discuss how ‘youthfulness’ can be a state of mind. In my heart and mind I am young. My body sometimes has other ideas, but like my 70-something great aunt, my hope is to live a long life with as many youthful assets as I can retain: a curious mind, a thirst for knowledge, a child-like sense of wonder and joy, and may I never lose the desire to laugh out loud. Most importantly, I want always to have an adventurous spirit.

So here I return to tales of my adventures, those endeavours that have thrilled me, terrified me, challenged me, and taken me far from my usually comfortable, urban life. I get grubby, wet, sweaty, cold, and hot, all while my heart pounds from exertion, fear or excitement. This is me in ‘Adventure Chick’ mode.
At Haleakala Crater, Maui

White Water Rafting Austria. Bali. New Zealand. Scariest: Austria. I was thrown in the water, and had to swim against the current while rapids rapidly approached. Hilarious, apparently, to those on the raft. Most fun: New Zealand. I can hear the guide’s voice in my head: “HOLD ON! GET DOWN!” We did as we were told, and we survived, all while I shrieked with gleeful laughter. Cold, wet, and worth it.

Sea Kayaking Queensland. Double kayaks, paddling out to sea and into the coves of Magnetic Island. I worked those back and arm muscles, while synching with Ben’s paddle strokes. Swam in a bathwater warm bay, breakfasted on white sands, and paddled past a sea turtle on return.

Snorkling Maui. Green Island and Magnetic Island, Queensland. Was little scared – out of my depth, but the fear was forgotten as soon as I saw the fish. In Queensland, I hand fed the fish while they swam around me. Best: Maui. Swam with giant sea turtles. Swam with a kaleidescope of tropical fish. Swam with Ben and laughed because with prescription goggles, I realised that ‘fish aren’t fuzzy!’
Snorkling off Maui

Sailing Whitsunday Islands. Cyclades Islands, Greece (8 days). Magnetic Island. My first few times on a yacht, I nervously clung to the railings, fearing a fall into the depths of the ocean. Now I seek opportunities to get back out onto the water, because I love it. Boomnetting is sitting in a giant net off the side or the back of the boat. It is mad, and scary, and fun. Ben climbed up the net, onto the boat, jumped off the front of the boat and latched onto the net as the boat sped past. Crazy.

Firing a handgun Las Vegas. My heart was pounding – before, during and after. It was thrilling, but I do not feel the need to do it again. I wanted to know what it felt like and now I do.

Glacier Climbing Franz Josef, NZ. We donned spikes and we climbed, up and up. It was cold, I feared falling into an endless crevice or toppling down the ice steps, but the icy landscape was otherworldly, and well worth the climb.
Franz Josef Glacier

Mountain Biking Bali. New Zealand. Austria. The Bali ride was a road trek from Ubud, through villages and rice fields. Highlight: slapping hands with the kids who lined the roads to say ‘hello’. Wanaka, NZ: My first time off road, a 30 km trek along bush paths. Muddy, scary, fun, and a windy ride back along the lake.

Water-skiing Swan River and Waroona Dam, WA. Corfu, Greece. My first time was terrifying, until the boat took off and I skied across the dam. I was hooked, and skied every spring and summer for years. Someday I will dust off my ski and get back behind the boat.

Quad Biking Te Anau, NZ. The most fun I have ever had outdoors. These bikes have gears, and they go! We were on a working farm, so rode amongst the sheep and cows. We climbed a minor mountain, and sludged through the bogs. Muddy from top to toe. Exhilarated.
Quad Bike
Post quad bike ride

Paragliding Corfu, Greece. Terrified of being so high, but all that was forgotten as soon as we lifted into the sky. Peaceful and gentle with a great view.

Abseiling Utah. Western Australia. New South Wales. This still scares the hell out of me. Every time. But I do it, because the adrenalin lasts for hours.

Horse riding Western Australia. Paradise, NZ. I don’t have luck with horses – one tried to roll on top of me, one threw me, and one ran me through low branches. I got back on the horse last year in NZ. Wasn’t (too) scary, even though Seth had a mind of his own. The ride was spectacular, and included locations from The Lord of the Rings.
Paradise Valley

Hiking New South Wales. Peru. Hawaii. California. Austria. Blue Mountains. Switzerland. Most spectacular: Switzerland: Hiked from the last train stop before the summit of Jungfrau to Lauterbrunnen on the valley floor. Snow to start, grass to finish, blue skies the whole way. Yodellay-hee-hoo. AND Maui: From Seven Pools, south of Hana, to Waimoku Falls. Hot, sweaty and totally worth tripping over tree roots to get to the spectacular 400 foot falls. Ben and I ran through the bamboo forest on the way back, like Jack and Kate from LOST.
Waimoku and the Sky
Waimoku Falls

Waterhole swimming Western Australia. Maui. Hiking, climbing, crawling over boulders to get to hidden waterholes. Best: The Three Bears Waterfall on Maui. Ben and I climbed under a bridge, over giant boulders, and through trees to get to it. It was so cold that it was hard to breathe, but we did it.

Skiing Mt Hotham and Mt Buller, Victoria. Breckenridge, Colorado. Whistler, Canada. First time: 17, hated it. Fell down the mountain. Second time: 37, loved it. I am better at it now, but have been very scared on blue runs. Whistler was icy and terrifying. Mt Buller had no visibility, so I was more brave and skied blue runs – I have more guts than style.
At Whistler
Mt Buller

Riding Shotgun Greece. California. Sydney. Peru. This is when I ride on the back of a scooter or a motorcycle. I love it. I rode a scooter when I lived in LA, but it is more fun when someone else is in charge. I fell for Ben a little while I had my arms wrapped around his waist and we followed winding roads around Greek Islands. In Peru, I was brave, as the motorcycle was big and the roads were deadly.
Barely Upright

Skydiving Christchurch, NZ. Ben went first, and watching him get sucked out of the plane made my heart stop. The first 6 seconds when I plummeted to earth, strapped to a tall stranger, were the worst of my life. Freefall was exhilarating. The shoot opening brought me relief, until we started spiraling towards the ground, and the final 100 metres was like paragliding, and I loved it. “How was that,” Ben asked, smiling. “That was horrible,” I replied. And most of it was. Never again. But I did it. Adventure Chick did it.
"Surfing" at Hokitika
Thank you to Ben, who took some of these with his camera.

Travel Assurance

Travel involves risk. Some types involve more risk than others, but there is a leap of faith that every person takes when they book flights, find accommodation, and make plans to be elsewhere. The traveller trusts that these plans will come to fruition. Yes, there may be changes of plans, perhaps an unforeseen glitch, but for the most part, the traveller believes that trip will go as planned. For the niggling doubts that something might happen, we buy travel insurance, and for my last trip thank god I had.


Firemen in LA are kinda cute.

I know this because three of them showed up at my hotel room on the day I was supposed to fly home to Sydney.

Ben and I landed in LA on Saturday, late afternoon, and had a quick turn around before friends, Vince and Julie, picked us up for a night out. We’d eaten lunch at the Seattle airport and I was feeling a little off on the plane, even bringing up some of my lunch, but thought nothing of it when the excitement of a balmy LA night and the chance to see friends took over my thoughts.

We were a party of six and we dined at the Second City Bistro in El Segundo. The food was delicious and I enjoyed watching Ben easily fitting into a group of my friends – old friends and new. We moved next door to the Purple Orchid Tiki Bar for cocktails. Vince was all about this; it was the highlight of his night. We supped giant cocktails through six straws.

Sand Julie and Kirsten
We played probably the worst game of doubles pool in the history of North America. We danced to jukebox music, and then Vince and Julie bid us goodnight.

A short drive later, and now a party of four, Darion led us to Beaches in Manhattan Beach. A $5 cover, and another round of drinks and Kirsten, the boys and I hotted up the dance floor.
Shakin' our thang
When the place filled up with under-age girls and excitable boys, we moved up the road to a diner for second-dinner. I am a fan of second breakfast, which comes at about 10:30 on a weekend morning, but second dinner was to serve Darion’s screaming metabolism, and my need for ice-cream.

Ben and I ate through a hot fudge sundae with ease, and took bite of the offered pancakes (Kirsten) and fries (Darion). It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Kirsten saw us safely home and about an hour after we fell asleep, the horrors kicked in. Vomiting. At first I blamed the ice-cream as I am mildly lactose intolerant. Then I blamed the alcohol, but I had had a lot of water and food that night, and not enough drinks to make me throw up. When the diarrhoea started another hour later, and I was sitting on the toilet, throwing up into the tub, I blamed the dodgy chicken salad from the Seattle airport.

The next 6 hours were from hell. I was up two to three times each hour, and after waking Ben several times, with my sudden departures from bed, I decided to camp out on the floor next to the bathroom. It was just easier no to have to run through our suite to get to the bathroom two rooms away.

Ben woke about 7:30, a little oblivious to the night I’d had, and wondering why I wasn’t in bed. He talked me soothingly through the next few emergency visits to the bathroom, and then we decided I definitely needed medical help. I had thrown up over 20 times. Things that hurt when that happens, were hurting a lot.

Ben was on the phone, the third phone call in 10 minutes, when I heard him discussing getting me to hospital via a cab. I kept hoping that I was feeling better, but no, and as I sat again on the toilet and threw up again into the tub, I knew I would not manage a cab ride. I had also started to convulse uncontrollably. This part scared me most, as I struggled to remember my emergency response training. Was I going into shock? People died from that.

This is when Ben called an ambulance.

He helped me dress, and gathered all my vital documents. He had already called about my travel insurance, and arranged with the hotel to hold our room and everything in it.

Minutes later I could hear sirens, and minutes after that there was a forceful knock on the door. I was slumped on the couch, concentrating on remaining upright.

Ben opened the door to three firemen, and then it was all go, go, go.

“What’s your name?” asked fireman number one. I had to think about it.

“Sandy,” I replied, wondering whose voice I was using. I sounded 90 years old.

“How old are you, Sandy?” fired the fireman.

“Um, 38.” I was surer of my age than my name, as I forced my brain to focus. The questions came fast and thick. In the meantime, I was strapped to a heart monitor with those little suction cap thingies, and they pricked my finger to determine my blood sugar. Low apparently. I had a temperature, and low blood pressure. The stats were flying between the three men, and Ben stood by, also answering questions and looking concerned.

Finally it was time to get on the gurney. My first time. On a gurney. In an ambulance. I was scared.

We made it 10 feet before I vomited again, but this time into a bag thoughtfully provided by the firemen. I was worried we wouldn’t fit into the elevator, but we did, and Ben stood beside the gurney, holding my hand. It helped. The elevator stopped at a floor before the lobby, and the guy waiting for it, said “Oh,” with surprise. “You’ll have to get the next one,” I said, my sense of humour popping up to say hello.

The heat was like a wall as we exited the hotel, and there was an ambulance and a fire truck. The firemen handed me over to the ambulance officers and then I was hoisted into the ambulance. Ben would ride up front, and he squeezed my hand reassuringly, before letting go. I was in and out of consciousness as we drove to the hospital. There was no siren, as I was not critical, which in the back of my mind was a minor disappointment.

On arrival at the hospital, we discovered there was no bed for me. I was put into a wheelchair, which exacerbated my symptoms, and after too much answering of more questions, was wheeled into the waiting room where I immediately crawled onto the floor and fell into a deep sleep. I was woken less than an hour later when a bed was made available.

I was treated over the next six hours for dehydration and the nausea. I went in and out of consciousness, and the pain and sick feeling both dissipated. When I was finally permitted to take my first sip of water, it tasted so good I thought I would cry.

I could not fly home that night, and Ben’s scheduled flight out of LA was only hours away. He took care of everything. Our flights were rescheduled for the next day. We would stay on at the hotel, and my costs would be covered by insurance. Julie picked us up late afternoon, about the time that Ben was originally scheduled to fly. At the hotel, all I wanted was a shower, because I felt like death warmed up. And I looked it too.

We had a very restful evening, with room service and TV, and when I laid down next to him that night, he smiled at me and said, “This is bonus time now.” For two people in a long distance relationship, bonus time is a bonus.

I was feeling somewhat better the next day, and we had a good chunk more of bonus time before Ben flew out. We even headed to the pool and took advantage of the stunning LA weather.

Throughout my mini ordeal, I kept thinking two things: thank god that Ben was there to take care of me and everything else, and, no matter how sick I felt, I would get better. There are people in hospital who do not, and I was grateful to be otherwise healthy. It was horrid, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone (especially not Ben, who was subsequently struck down with it two nights later – a bug, not food poisoning after all), but it was a ‘count your blessings’ kind of day.

And I have many.

Thank you to Darion for the shot of Ben and me dancing.