Long Distance Relationships

I have said before that no matter where I am in the world, I miss someone I love.  Because I have lived in three countries and have spent my adult life being a traveller, I am fortunate to have forged lasting relationships world over.   Of course, many of those I love are travellers themselves, and are scattered to the winds.  It is somewhat corny, but highly appropriate that the ‘world wide web’ is my primary tool for keeping the threads of these relationships intact.  I may not be able to make last minute dinner plans with these loved ones, but these threads are as important to my life as the relationships with those close by.

First thing every morning, after the wake-up-make-the-bed-visit-the-bathroom thing, I greet my cat, Jessie, and switch on my computer.  Throughout my getting ready routine, I check my inboxes (yes, there are several) to see who on the other side of the world is doing what.  Jessie does her yoga at my feet while I fill her in on the lives of my loved ones.  Sometimes I laugh too loudly for her sensitive ears, and she glares at me and skulks off.

While world news bleat from the television, I flick between several web pages and catch up on the news that matters to me more.

Facebook brings the latest escapades of my American, Canadian and European comrades (plus Geraldine in Peru and Christine in South Africa), pics from my interstate friends, the latest ass-whipping from my Scrabulous opponents, and a poke from Darion.  (I once asked Darion to ‘Quit poking me!’ but soon took it back, because I suspect it is a sign of affection.)

Inboxes bearing emails from far-off loved ones, bring as much happiness as a fruitful mailbox did 20 years ago.  And when I see my mum or sis on IM, I know we can have a quick chat just to touch base.

I love getting an international sms – even those that come at 3 in the morning, as every text I ever get from Sharon, my Irish friend, does.

I indulge in interstate text messages daily.  I will zap a ‘must see’ message to Dad and Gail about a program we all like.  Dad sends me footie scores, or an update on where he and Gail are having a fabulous lunch.   I will tell Mum I hope her day goes well.  And she always replies with an ‘I love you’.

As well as the web and the mobile phone, there is a device that sits in my living room on its very own table, and is connected to the wall by a cord.  It rings from time to time, and the cat and I look at each other and wonder what that sound is.  We then realise it is the telephone, and I rush to answer it, knowing it will be my mum, my dad, my friend Mich (who now lives in OUTER Sydney, and has become one of my long distance loved ones), or Suzi in London.

Actually Suzi called the other night, and although I haven’t seen her since this time last year, and she now lives in London, she still feels close.  She is my doppelganger in life, with parallels and likenesses in numbers too great to name.  Even though she is literally on the other side of the world, when she calls our conversations are like those I have with friends I see all the time.

Threads.

And most importantly, there is the actual ‘long distance relationship’ I have forged with Ben since October ’06.  Because we met overseas and live in different countries, all of these forms of communication have become the lifeblood of our relationship.  We see each other as often and for as long as we can, but when we can’t physically be together, we still feature heavily in each other’s daily life.  Phone calls, emails, sms, IM sustain us as a couple while we’re apart.  We can can fill hours of air time talking about, well, anything and everything.  And nothing.  Sometimes, it is nonsense, which is hellishly fun.

None of this, of course, means that I do not want to defy the laws of the natural world, and move the homes of all these distant loved ones – everyone – into one land mass where we can all live close to each other.  Nothing, nothing (!) beats being able to hug someone you love, or looking into their eyes while they talk to you.  But, we have all these wonderful tools to keep us together when we’re apart.

P.S.  I head west next week for some brilliant face to face time.

P.S.P.S.  Ben and I are working on being on the same land mass.

Travel Meme

Questions and answers about my favourite topic. Play along at home, and drop me a comment if you want to add your own answers.

Where, of all the places you have never been, do you want to go to most?

Southeast Asia – Camobodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam. Intrepid Travel has a 4 week tour I really want to do some time in the next year or so. I have only ever been to Indonesia, and I want to see more of Asia. This part of the world intrigues and invites.

Where do you most want to go back to?

Greece. The Islands. Life slows down. Details are everything. I can breathe there. It is where I fell in love.

Favourite City?

This is excruciatingly difficult to choose just one, so I will cheat a bit. Favourite in Europe: Florence. Favourite in Australia: Sydney. Favourite in North America: Vancouver. I will add to this list as I live it.

Least favourite city?

Tijuana. Hell. On. Earth.

Do you speak other languages?

If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Too true. At times, in the past, I have had enough of the following to get what I wanted from the locals (take that how you like): French, Italian, Spanish and German. I can brush up pretty quickly, but despite studying French at university I know I will never be fluent (all those bloody verbs!), and I care very little.

How do you get by without being fluent?

Smiling, sign language, and some key phrases. Smiling is the most effective.

Best airport?

Once you’re through security, London Heathrow is like an up market shopping mall. Very posh! You will probably be shuttled from pillar to post, because they’ll change your gate 65 times, but the waiting is as pleasant as it can be in an airport.

Worst airport?

10 years ago it was Johannesburg (smoking inside, hot, stuffy, nowhere to eat and a little scary). Most recently it would have to be LAX (see my post on my last trips through there).

Best travel tips?

Before you fly, order a special meal. It will come about 30 minutes before everyone else’s. Take ear plugs and a sleep mask. Block everyone out.

Biggest travel mistake?

Wearing jeans for a long haul flight. Forgetting to ask for an aisle seat.

Best coffee outside of Australia?

Vancouver: Cafe d’Artigiano. BOWLS of steamy, creamy, strong, but smooth coffee. People line up outside in the snow!

Best meal while travelling?

Indulge me. There are three.

One: On Naxos, in a tiny village clinging to the side of steep hill, we arrived soaking wet, and were clothed and fed by Martina. She served us roasted goat, stuffed peppers, Greek salads topped with her homemade goat’s cheese, and rustic bread fresh from her oven. There was no menu, and it cost us about 10 Euros each. Ridiculously cheap.

Two: Flying Fish in Seattle. Three courses. Sublime food. Wonderful company. I cannot wait to go back.

Three: Somewhere in the heart of the Beaujolais wine region, is a tiny restaurant, whose sign is barely discernible from the road. There are four tables, one of which is on a balcony which overlooks a deep and wide valley. I sat on this balcony with colleagues from my touring days for several hours, and we ate four courses of the most exquisitely presented and tasting food. My dessert was a heart-shaped strawberry mousse sitting on a chocolate shortbread crust. We drank more than a bottle each of the local wine, and did not need any dinner.

Most breathtaking view?

Again, it is difficult to narrow this down, but two stand out.
Machu Picchu in Peru, is incredible. It is literally perched on the top of pointy peaks, and sits amongst clouds.
Classic View

Milford Sound, New Zealand. Ben and I did an overnight cruise, so we slept on the sound and then awoke to these stunning views.
Milford Sound
Sound Boat
Milford Sound

And that is a wonderful note on which to end…

More to come…

Pure Glee

I was having dinner with my friend, Patrice, and she described her best travelling moment as sitting on the lawn of a resort in Papua New Guinea, and eating coconuts. It was her first time on grass in three years, because she had lived in a concrete jungle, and the resort lawn overlooked the ocean. The coconuts were fresh from the palm tree, and were sticky and delicious. There she sat, eating and slurping away as she gazed out at a spectacular view and scrunched her toes into the grass. It was pure glee.

Glee is not only a great word (try saying it out loud – you’re smiling now, aren’t you?), it is a wonderful state of being. Glee only comes when you are right in that moment. When you’re in the thick of glee, there is no thinking and there is no worrying; there is only divine joy. There is no real formula for glee either. It is hard to seek out, because it just happens, and before we know it, we are basking in it.

For traveller’s, these are moments that we remember with clarity, the emotional snapshots we file away in our memories to revisit when we need them most.

Since that dinner, Patrice’s story has inspired me to write of my own moments of emotional alchemy, when I have experienced glee while on my travels. I thought I’d start with my encounters with creatures.

Snorkeling off the coast off Maui with green sea turtles was what started my love affair with these serene beauties. They move so slowly and gracefully, as though there is all the time in the world. All fears I had about being in the ocean vanished as I dreamily paddled above them, and I was delighted when a grand old soul popped his head up above the surface about two meters from me. I am sure he gave me a wink.
Ben's Sea Turtle
Ben’s shot of a green sea turtle

Llamas are my favourite land animal. They have spunk, and are damned cute to boot. When traversing Peru on motorcycle with my guide, Geraldine, we stopped at a llama farm. I was still recovering from salmonella poisoning, but my weariness was forgotten as I walked amongst alpacas and llamas. They ate from my hand, and I laughed out loud like a delighted child. “Llama, llama, llama.”
There's something in my eye
There’s something in my eye
Ewok
Ewok
Shall we shag now, or shag later?
Shaggy

Up the New South Wales coast, at Copacabana, my friend Paulie has a beach house (It is his home and it is stunning, and I am jealous, but this isn’t the time or the place). The kookaburras love to come and visit Paulie’s beach house, because they know they will get a feed. This fellow hung around for about 20 minutes and ate raw meat from my hand, which intrigued a fellow party-goer aged two.
Kooka
Look at you
Look at you

For some reason, dogs love me. This has taken some getting used to. I have a long-held fear of big dogs since I survived a childhood attack by a German Shepherd. Regardless, dogs do not know this, and in my travels I often make as many canine friends as human ones. On Siros, in the Cyclades Islands of Greece, this dog met me and Ben in the main square, then took us on a tour of the town.
Our dog
Ben’s shot of Siros, our dog

She was such a lovely spirited dog, and a little naughty too (she chased and cornered a cat, and wouldn’t come until we threatened to leave without her). After a couple of hours, she led us back to the square and we thanked her for the tour with a bag of chips. Many of the dogs in Greece are homeless, but this one had a collar so she belonged to someone. For those two hours, however, she belonged to us.

I love kangaroos. They are almost as cute and cool as llamas. My dad (Ray) and step mum (Gail) live on the south coast of Western Australia in the tiny hamlet of Denmark (yes, that was intentional). Their home is in a semi rural area, where the roads and gardens are shared with the native kangas. When I wake, and before I drink my freshly squeezed orange juice, I go and say good morning to the mob. They look up from their eating, perfectly still, except for their mouths that continue to masticate. After a few moments, they decide that I am not as interesting as I obviously find them, and they go back to their breakfasts.
Breakfasting kangas
In the afternoon, they lounge, or fight if they are boys and are bored, and eat some more.
Lounging Kangas
Dad tells the story of a joey, fresh from the pouch, attempting to hop across the road. He was hopping with all his might, while his mother waited for him on the other side, but for all his efforts, he was only hopping on the spot. Yes, kangaroos are funny creatures.

Lambs like to frolic and there are few things more adorable than a frolicking lamb. I saw hundreds of the things all over New Zealand as we drove the winding roads. Leaping, jumping, running, frolicking. I would laugh aloud, as they are even clumsier than me.

On our quad bike tour I got to pet a lamb, which was probably not as much fun for the lamb as it was for me. He, she, it was bleating like I was choosing it for its shanks, but I just pet its curly little head instead.

Some days later, Ben and I were driving to Christchurch, and found ourselves being unseasonably snowed upon. We stopped at a tiny town – one church, and one abandoned shack – and took in the silence that comes as snow falls in the middle of nowhere. Well, almost silence. I could hear bleating. I went off around the back of the church, and there hiding in the woodpile was this little lamb.
Little Lamb Lost
He came to me like a dog would, and stayed close by my side.
My Little Mate in the Snow
The poor little mite had wandered too far from mum, and like in a lost kid in the supermarket, was scared. I pointed it in the right direction, and it ran off to reunite with mum (who seemed indifferent to her terrified child). I had lamb shanks for dinner that night. Yes, true!

I am not Dr Doolittle, but I do talk to animals. It is a reflex response now. I can’t help it. My voice travels up a few notches, and before I know it, I am having a one-sided conversation with one of mother nature’s creatures.

I remember once in a hotel in New Zealand I asked Ben a question. He didn’t answer even though he must have heard me, so I asked again. “Are you talking to me?” he replied. I looked around the room, empty of people except the two of us. “Um, yes.” He smiled at me, “I thought there must have been a bird outside and you were talking to it.” How could I argue with that?

I guess I talk to them, because I am in a moment that I don’t get to have everyday. These animals intrigue and engage me, and before I know it, I am not worrying or thinking about anything else. I just feel the glee.

More later on gleeful moments in natural beauty, glee in response to human beauty, and glee from loving where I am, who I am with and what I am doing.