Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More 10 observations about Africa

This blog is horribly out-of-date, but the trip is still going very, very well. From a communication aspect, the internet links in East Africa have been shockingly poor.
But stories abound. For the moment, here are 10 more observations.

1. Rock hyraxes sound like terradactyles -- at least what they ought to sound like.
2. Lions are extremely lazy. You could probably have one as a pet as long as they get fed regularly.
3. Whitewater rafting is fantastic -- so is skydiving. Do both when you have the chance.
4. The Ethiopian calendar is seven or eight years behind. They celebrated their millenium not long ago.
5. The Ethiopian clock is out too -- it's six hours behind so the internet cafe I'm sitting in opened at 3 a.m. today.
6. The side of a taxi van may say it is limited to 14 passengers, but that's a fib. How about 21! And that doesn't count two enormous sacks of potatoes.
7. The most interesting restaurant in Africa is near Mount Kenya. It's called Trout Tree and is in a treehouse. The food is sensational.
8. On the topic of food, Haandi's Restaurant on the main street in Kampala, Uganda serves the best Indian food I have ever eaten. The Goan fish dish is a must.
9. Leaf springs can break. We managed to ruin the two on our truck in two days.
10. Baboons are thuggish.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A little lie down

In the Cameroon, we travelled from Yaounde to Ebolowa to Kribi. That last stretch of road -- Ebolowa to Kribi -- was horrible and the truck had a little bit of a lie down. No, it didn't fall over - the road actually caved in. It took more than three hours and a kindly passing truck to get it/us out. Almost 100 locals got in the act -- either digging, advising or observing.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Markets are magical places

I love the markets – big and small, well-stocked and empty. They are full of peope, animals, colour, noise and sometimes the truly bizarre. Some of the most enjoyable and lively markets have been in Ceuta (North Africa, but considered part of Spain), Tetouan and Marrakech (Morocco), Bamako (Mali), Kumasi (Ghana) which is the biggest market in West Africa, Lome (Togo) and Wuse (Nigeria).
Small markets may sell only onions and tomatoes and some unknown spice mixtures, while others are abundant with the weird and wonderful.
I'll post some photos. when I next have a connection.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ten more observations

1. Cross-walks are where you race across the road when there is a slight break in traffic or if someone looks as it they MIGHT slow down.

2. You could make sturdy workboots out of most of the meat sold in Africa.

3. African women have a very clever and efficient way of carrying their babies (you can even dance while you carry them) -- see photo.

4. Everyone seems to have a mobile phone. They skipped the handset version and jumped straight to mobiles. It's not uncommon to see a telecommunications tower standing in the middle of a village with mud and thatch huts.

5. A vehicle is considered unroadworthy when the horn doesn't work. All other faults are ignored.

6. People don't die in Ghana -- they are 'called home' or 'promoted to glory'. Wonder what you have to do to define the difference. I hope to be promoted, but not too soon!

7. Grasscutters are a food -- look it up.

8. When you buy eggs in the market, find out whether they have already been hard-boiled. We lucked out the day we made egg salad sandwiches for dinner. Glad we weren't planning to do scrambled eggs for breakfast.

9. Some remote Nigerian villages give such a warm welcome that you might believe you have won the World Cup.

10. Border crossings are where you try to get rid of one currency before switching to another. That means you buy some weird stuff. I've bought roasted peanuts, laundry soap, bath soap, bags of water and coconut liqueur. All the peanuts and water are gone, but haven't yet used any of the rest.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ten observations

After three months on the African road, I have some useful comments to pass on. Bet you never knew that --
1. Goats squat to pee -- both boys and girls, I think.
2. The colour green indicates a pharmacy/chemist shop -- usually a green cross.
3. Small medical problems quickly become big ones.
4. Mosquitos are just one of the many, many bugs that bite. In many ways they aren't the worst.
5. Fresh, good quality water is frequently available -- a big change from the 1970s. You can even buy clean water in a 500-ml bag (about 2 cups).
6. When water quality is uncertain, beer is a good, clean substitute. Wine works, too, but this is not wine territory! Way too hot.
7. Your personal thermostat changes in Africa. We think 25 degrees is cool now, and 20 degrees is freezing. Will someone please bring me my coat?
8. Even just a bit of French and Arabic can be extremely helpful in West Africa. Take classes before you go!
9. French-speaking countries in West Africa have excellent bread (and Cameroon has the best so far). Don't even ask about bread in the English-seeking ones. Blech!
10. I still really, really hate doing hand laundry and I need to do it all the time. Watch here for a laundry update which may depress you -- it will depress me!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Getting around – pedaling as fast as we can

All this talk about the truck, I should probably explain how we are powered. There’s enough sun around that we could/should be solar-powered, but we aren’t. Instead we carry 1500 litres of diesel. There is a main tank and two auxiliary tanks. The first big fill (in Ceuta which is in North Africa, but considered to be part of Spain) took more than an hour and cost a fortune in euros (see photos). We have ‘topped up’ several times since then, but no fill has ever matched the first one in terms of time and expense.

Supplies – what’s for dinner ma?

Ceuta is also where we did our big shop for food. It also took hours to complete, filled several huge trolleys and cost a fortune. There was a mad flurry to get it all packed into the truck and it was a day or two before we got it organized into some sensible pattern.
So what does one buy for an expedition? We got plenty of non-perishable staples and tinned items – rice, pasta, instant mashed potatoes, baked beans, mushrooms, tuna, tomato puree, corn, lentils, chickpeas, couscous, packets of soup, honey, jam, cereal, powdered milk, instant coffee, teabags, sugar, salt, pepper, herbs and spices, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, tomato sauce and oil.
Eleven weeks later, the supplies are quite depleted. Everyone needles me that there are still plenty of lentils, couscous and chickpeas. I asked to buy them and I am about the only person who uses them, but I swear they will be gone before the trip is over. Heck, I used a kilo of lentils the other night and everyone wolfed them down.
But our main source of food are the markets – large and small – where we can buy fresh food. Some markets are colourful, well-stocked and wonderful to wander through, while others have next to nothing.

Low hanging wires – getting in a tangle

Wires (electrical, telephone, etc.) are supposed to be strung five metres high – and the legal ones usually are. But a vast array of low hanging ‘pirate’ wires zigzag across the roads, making it very hard for us to pass by without leaving a certain amount of destruction in our wake.
We are more likely to down wires at night, when we can’t actually see what is going on. But during the day, we usually have people with brooms hanging out each side of the truck, ready to prop up the offending wires so we can scoot under. We still managed to bring down an important wire in a village near Green Turtle Lodge along the coast of western Ghana. The locals were very aggressive about it (not surprisingly) but Chris, who is also an electrician, promised to return and fix it. He is a man of his word and they were all most impressed that he honoured his promise. He did better still, by creating a connection that was stronger and telling the villagers how to maintain it.

More storage – but is it enough?

Is there ever enough storage? Probably not. But we are traveling in a customized truck, so there is space dedicated for the many things needed for a trip of this length and the occasional remoteness.
Below the seating level and from the outside only, we can get at the plastic crates for condiments, herbs and spices, breakfast items and fresh foods.
Other compartments hold cookware, cutting boards, hand and dish washing basins, utensils (yes, Chris did buy decent knives for the journey), cutlery, cups and dishes, kindling, jerry cans for water, and an array of truck tools and supplies. Wood for cooking fires is carried on top. There WAS a wood tray on top of the back until it was unceremoniously biffed off by low hanging tree branch in Nigeria. We agree the forest must be getting back its own. Chris plans to replace the tray when he has a chance.

Under the floor – buried ‘treasure’

There are six storage compartments under the floor in the back. Three are used mainly for food and some books and the odd can of beer – remember we are riding around in a beer truck. One compartment is for our unused/not needed luggage and backpacks, while another carries general equipment such as camp stools, spotlights, laundry tubs, shovels, axes and some other tools. And the last houses Trevor, a large esky (cool box) and some bulk staples such as rice, sugar and the like. The missing extra black pepper is supposed to be there, but I can’t find it.
Access to most of this storage is from within the truck and from the outside, too. For the inside access, we have to lift large planks of plywood and keep them propped up so they don’t crash down on your head or fingers.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

More truck details

Given that the truck – along with our tents – is ‘home’ for about 11 months, I think it needs more than a passing description.
The inside back has 14 seats down each side. Seats are on two levels, with the forward eight being referred to as ‘first class’. The seats are pretty firm and the bottom of every two seats covers a storage locker. Each person gets half of a locker for their possessions – clothes, shoes, toiletries, some food and WATER (we have 12 liters of water in our locker). Luggage is stored underneath the floor and is not all that easy to get at.
The truck ‘windows’ are tarpaulins that can be rolled up when weather permits. We leave them up most of the time, unless it is cold (happened in Morocco) or raining. When the tarps are down and secured with bungee ropes, the truck is reasonably secure.
There is a safe (Trevor) for the most precious belongings – money and passports. Trev has two separate locks (and four keys) and people take turns being a ‘friend of Trev’. I had hoped to make the trip without being Trev’s friend, but got outwitted the other day. I managed to pass the key on to someone yesterday, but I fear it will be back soon. The problem with being a friend of Trevor is that people want to get access at odd times, and never usually at the same time. So it makes for constant traffic in and out of the truck and under the floor.

Beast 2

Beast 2 is Chris -- the man behind the wheel and a cantankerous old sod – sorry Chris, but I couldn’t resist. Actually, he is a very gentle soul with nerves of steel (just watch him in traffic) and what seems to be never-ending patience. Chris is a brilliant driver, and he doesn’t know this blog address, so he can’t accuse me of buttering him up. He’s the only fellow I know who could drive a truck through the eye of a needle.
He's also good at finding water and has a hat that might make the Bush Tucker Man jealous (see photo).
Chris did his first Trans-African tour five years ago (as a passenger), and now he’s addicted – or something like that. He’s doing this trip – or so he says – because he is still cranky that he (as driver) couldn’t get visas to Angola on the trip he did in 2007-08.
In fact, our lingering in Abuja Nigeria now is because we are waiting for the Angola embassy to even open its doors to us to get visas. Now that I think about it, the visa matter makes me cranky too, but I digress.

Beast 1

Beast 1 is a 1990 Mercedes truck that has been converted to carry up to 30 people. This year it is carrying 28, including driver and sidekick and 26 passengers – many of whom are still trying to figure what in the world they are doing on this trip.
Some details for the petrol-heads. The truck is a 10-metre-long, V8, 1400cc, two-wheel drive, left-hand drive number, that is painted (according to its documents) green and ‘straw’. Those colours are going rather well with the flags that are getting painted on the side of the truck as we enter each new country. Chris (driver/expedition leader) started adding flags when he picked up the truck in Jordan, so it is a history of its travels.
Chris says the truck is ‘growing’ on him and that he appreciates its power, but he is still a Scania fan. I’ll let you know what he thinks as time goes by.
The truck remains nameless, which doesn’t seem to bother anyone. I’ll pass on any name suggestions, but can’t imagine one that might appeal to Chris.
Oh, and Chris thinks the truck might have been a beverage delivery vehicle in a previous life, so just think of us driving around Africa in a beer truck.

The man and the machine (the two beasts)

Let me introduce you to the two beasts. hehehehe

Where to start

I’ve finally figured out a direction to take with this blog. Forward would be nice, but I have settled on logical (at least logical in my mind). Obviously, the whole success of the trip depends on the truck and driver, so I’ll start with them.

Time for some updating

We have several days in Abuja, Nigeria – camping on the edge of the Sheraton Hotel’s staff carpark. There are internet connections around town and I decided it was a great opportunity to either a) update this blog, or b) run an internet scam. Guess I’ll do a), unless of course you are keen to send me all of your banking details. Let me know!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Best camping
Chefchaouen and Fes have great campgrounds – level ground, lots of space, sheltered, warm showers, enough trees to tie clotheslines to. We’ve also had some amazing bush camps – one in a pine forest, a beach and several in the desert. You ‘chew’ a lot of sand all night when sleeping in the desert..

Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauratania

We had almost four weeks in Morocco, the Western Sahara and Mauratania, so here is a rundown on some of the highlights.

Best scenery
Toudra and Dades Gorges are sensational. So are Ait Ben Haddou and the High Atlas Mountains. In the Dades Gorge, we drove through some rushing water. The water was sort of sandbagged to keep it off the road, but we plowed through anyway.
Essaouira is a lovely beach town – all blue and white. The desert of Mauratania is breathtakingly desolate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Interruption to programming

We are in Morocco now. Country is gorgeous; but internet connections are very unreliable.
I will update when I can.
It is especially frustrating that blogspot does not let me cut and paste from a word file. So I have to always type new. Am looking for a solution. Do not give up on me please.
Cheers and love

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wisconsin -- the Big Cheese

Wisconsin has a special place in my heart -- and it was our last proper stop in the USA.
I spent most of my childhood summers in Lake Geneva -- and now my oldest niece, Katie, lives there. Not in Lake Geneva, but in Wisconsin. She is in Madison -- home of wonderful lakes, food and some quirky art.
It snowed while we were there, and we were mighty relieved that we were taking the bus back to Chicago for our flight to Europe.
I'll be back tomorrow to update this space.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The two Ms -- Max and Molly

It was wonderful to see Max and Molly in Indiana. I hadn't seen them for almost six years (in North Carolina) and they have both grown up so much. Max is getting ready to go to university. He's a whiz at the saxophone and the clarinet and hopes for a full-ride music scholarship to Indiana University. I'm sure he'll make it. Molly helps her mum a lot and is a great cook, but I was such a bully that I took over the kitchen while I was there. Bad Peggy.

Indiana and the ice storm

From Dallas, we flew on to Lexington Kentucky and then drove to Columbus Indiana. The drive was very scenic, but we were stunned to find that the Ring Road around Louisville Kentucky is not a complete ring. Contrary to John's policy, I stopped at asked questions, so we finally found our way.
As an aside, they wanted $186 for us to drive from Lexington and leave the car in Columbus, so we opted to return the car to Kentucky the next day (followed by Julie's car that had a scary danger light on that really meant nothing). I've forgotten what we finally paid, but it was much less that $100.
The scariest thing about Indiana was the freezing rain and snow on the last day we were there.
I offered to drive Max to school in the early morning. As we breezed out the front door I saw there had been several inches of snow overnight. As I drove, I realised the snow was hiding a thick layer of ice. Yikes, I skidded here, there and everywhere. Freezing rain creates the worst possible driving conditions. At one stage Max said turn left and I turned right -- knowing there was no way I could cross a lane of traffic and cross safely.
Of course, the whole thing was scary and thrilling. It reminded me that I can still drive in hair-raising weather conditions. Just wish I'd thought to take a photo or two. Silly me.
How about pictures of her friends and house instead.

Visiting the Big D -- Dallas

Dallas was new territory for both of us. In fact, it was our first time in Texas. The most amazing bonus was the chance to meet and spend a fair bit of time with my dear Potsie (Pot Scrubber), my buddy from Recipezaar. Gosh we had a fun time together. We left a trail of evidence in the Dallas area, including an introduction to Potsie's pooches.

Omaha -- My hometown

Omaha was our other Nebraska stop -- and it provided a focus on catching up with family and friends. John hasn't been to Omaha for 20-plus years, so everyone was keen to see his face once again. A nice bonus was having a cousin, Jean, and her family drive down from Minnesota. We didn't do anything touristic and John was thrilled to be able to have his first pair of SAS shoes in 15 years. He swears they are the most comfortable shoes in the world -- and now he is ready for Africa.

Of course, we caught up with dear Dodger -- the biggest cat in Omaha. Dodger weighs 26 pounds (about 12 kilos) and that's after being on a diet. Here's Dodger with Patrick and with my shoes.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stopping in the Cornhusker State -- Kearney

You know you're from Nebraska if every trip to the USA includes at least one compulsory stop there -- we made two. Soon after landing in Omaha, we were sent straight to Kearney because Jane and Mark, a sister and brother-in-law, had to work. Jane kindly loaned us her car and we headed west for a few days.

I spent about 11 years in Kearney so it is another home for me and filled with many dear friends. We stayed on the farm with the Roeders (pictured) and thoroughly enjoyed that relaxed feeling of 'being at home'. Carol's stove caught fire recently (luckily the house didn't burn down) so we ate out and took it easy on the cooking front.

It seemed so very strange not to have Bud (Lowell) there, but we were able to visit his grave. His tombstone is a wonderful tribute to his love of his family and his farm. We felt blessed to have seen it. It's pictured above.

A big plus of the visit was catching up with many friends. I'll post a link to photos as soon as I figure it out.

Another bonus was being re-united with my certificate that declares me an Admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska (also pictured). I've bragged about this honour for years, but never had the actual proof. Sue and John Morrissey have kept it safe all the years since I received it in 1973. And, yes, my real name is Margaret and my maiden name is Austin.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Travel tips -- Part 1

I will share travel tips from time-to-time (usually in lots of 10). Someone might as well benefit from my experiences, observations and goofs. Thankfully, some of these tips (including the first one) I learned from others' mistakes.

1. Don't lock your bags when flying (unless you have security-friendly locks). Security people will just break any other locks so they can peer into your bag. They usually leave a note to say they peeked, and my bag has been very popular. So much for the claim that they make random checks! I was checked at every USA leg.

2. American and Iberian Airlines do not serve food. Plan ahead. In other words, eat before you go or bring food.

3. Post offices can be very hard to find. I still have a mitt-full of postcards to send and no stamps in sight.

4. Good postcards can be a little to a lot cheaper when they are bought AWAY from the tourist centres.

5. Most libraries have free internet. Sometimes it's available in 15 minutes blocks only.

6. Don't stop smoking just before going to Spain. The whole country smells like smoke. The restaurants even have signs posted -- saying you CAN smoke inside.

7. You can still find lots of wonderful non-fast food in the USA. You just have to look.

8. A cable-car ride should be compulsory in San Francisco, and so should a visit to Alcatraz.

9. Watch out for bike paths in some European cities. Bikes are serious business in flat places. If someone rings their bike bell at you once or twice, you are probably on THEIR turf, so move aside.

10. Wherever you are, be sure to take a tour through a supermarket or two. You'll learn heaps more about the local preferences, food and culture.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Don't ya just love Denver!

Denver is the Mile High city and a gateway to the Rocky Mountains. I always tell people visiting the USA that if you want a diverse taste of the country in three stops, then visit Denver, Chicago and New Orleans (apologies to anyone who disagrees -- although I have to admit the San Francisco region has a lot going for it).

For me, Denver means Dave. Dave was one of my journalism students back in the 1970s. We've kept in touch all these years. He's visited Australia many times and we've been good about dropping in to Denver.
Dave treated us to dinner at the amazing Cafe Brazil. What a memorable meal! My Angolan seafood dish (with the tastiest prawns I've had in years) was most appropriate given our coming trip to Africa.
We had another bonus this year -- catching up with Kathy of RecipeZaar fame. She agreed to join us on a jaunt to Estes Park. So off we went in Dave's Jeep to visit the windiest town in Colorado -- at least it seemed like it that day.

Lunch was at a great restaurant that served the best reuben sandwiches ever (Kathy and I are pictured ouside the restaurant). If my brother-in-law is to be believed, reubens started at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska. A fellow named Reuben used to play bridge there and would instruct the chef on how to make his sandwich. A legend was born. A reuben has corned beef, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing on rye bread. There's probably something else, but I'm not sure what it might be. The Estes Park version was sensational.

After Estes, we had enough time to make a detour to Golden so we could visit the Coors Brewery. Coors has a mystic importance for anyone my age from Nebraska. Although Colorado and Nebraska are neighbours, back in the 1960s, Coors was the beer you had to 'smuggle' across the state border. Now you can buy it almost anywhere. We enjoyed the tour and the free samples.

Kathy and I sat in the back seat and spent most of the car time talking up a storm about Zaar. We didn't solve any problems, but we had a lot of laughs and gritted our teeth quite a few times. It was funny to realise that John has heard enough Zaar gossip to half-know what we were talking about most of the time. He tried to fill Dave in on some of it. What a wonderful day we had.

And don't forget Herbie. This stoic dachshund joined us on the trip. He looked just too pitiful to be left behind. And his little legs wore out long before ours did.

Flying to Denver

You forget how big the USA is and how empty some parts of it are. Flying from Los Angeles to Denver is a good reminder. On the way, you cover hundreds of miles of uninhabited land. It wasn't until I reached Denver that it dawned on me that we must have flown over the Grand Canyon. Well, of course, we did. I also noticed a ski town southwest of Denver. Everyone assured me it was Telluride. Later I saw a tourist guide that confirmed it must have been.

The pics -- assuming they work -- are of what I think is the canyon and Telluride.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

News flash -- crime report

I´m in a complete rage today. I´ve just realised that a pair of my jeans and two tops have been stolen while we have been in Spain. Don´t know whether it happened in Madrid, Toledo or Cordoba, but I am livid. It´s most likely been housekeeping staff somewhere we´ve stayed. Wouldn´t matter so much if I wasn´t already living on next to no clothing. I had two pairs of jeans -- now I have one and they are filthy. One top was a jumper (sweater) and the other was a deluxe, lightweight merino thermal from New Zealand. The latter is irreplaceable. At least no one took a bra or a pair of shoes. Those who know me would realise I would be in BIG trouble on both/either ´front´.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


California always reminds me of strawberries. That's because the first time I ever visited Elias in southern California (in the early 1980s), we drove by fields and fields of strawberries. Those are long since gone, but the memory remains. Fortunately, you can still buy beautiful, huge, plump and delicious strawberries at the weekly market in Huntington Beach. Obviously, I'm still thinking about food!

More sights at Huntington Beach

We were there at nice times of the day.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

On the pier

The pier at Huntington is interesting, with lots of people fishing and helpful signs all over the place. John and Elias had plenty to talk about -- including their long-time interests in the Middle East. I may have known Elias for almost 40 years, but John has only just met him.

Huntington Beach

Usually when we visit Elias and Jessica, we spend time at Seal Beach, but this year we diverted to Huntington Beach. It´s not far from where Jessica teaches kindergarten, and it´s got a very pretty shoreline.

Figuring out the blog

I´m beginning to figure out how to control these posts.
No more long ones with several photos. I´ll keep them short and a photo each and see how that works. Right now I don´t have my photos handy, so be patient for a day or two.

Friday, February 27, 2009

More California Dreaming

You must be wondering when we're getting on that darned truck -- in a few weeks, I promise. But if I'm going to keep a real record of our trip, I need to include another stop for California fun. We caught up with Elias and his daughter, Jessica, in Cypress (near Anaheim). I've known Elias for almost 40 years and he's the ONLY person who still calls me Austin. That makes him pretty special in my book. He'll always be an important part of the Austin family.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Overdue news

Sorry for the silence. Haven't meant to ignore you, but I guess the stars were aligned badly for the commentary, internet and photos to come together. I'll do a quick installment tonight while I have a Mac connection (gosh, I miss my Mac), and then do more in the next day or two.

As already mentioned, we made a memorable stop in northern California. They couldn't contain us in Alcatraz, so we moseyed up to Mountain View by train (John was very pleased to get a senior's discount) to catch up with Nona and Brad. Together we cooked up a storm and then saw the sights around Mt. View, Half Moon Bay and the great Yosemite. 

Assuming that everything works, the pics here are of Alcatraz, Yosemite, Nona's gorgeous cats and whatever else appears. And then I'm going to bed. 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Out of Australia -- but not yet in Africa

It will be a few weeks before we reach Africa -- we meet the truck in Gibraltar on 11 March.

But we're doing a fine job entertaining ourselves along the way. First stop was San Francisco where we 'escaped' from Alcatraz and tramped all over the city. We even climbed Nob Hill. Trust me, it's steep. The Hotel Carlton on Sutter Street was a reasonably priced and conveniently located place to stay. Highly recommended. So is Scoma's Restaurant. Fisherman's Wharf is loaded with restaurants, so we asked a fisherman for some advice. 'Only Scoma's.' he said, and he was right.

Next stop was Mountain View, California -- home of Google as well as our welcoming hosts Nona (Rinshinomori) and Brad. Nona is a RecipeZaar buddy. We had a great time sharing duties in the kitchen and never ran out of things to talk and laugh about. Her recipes are sensational and her pets are terrific entertainment. Nona and Brad showed us some of the sights including a day in Yosemite. The weather was perfect -- in the low 70s in winter.

Here we are!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm packed

Do you think I'm taking too much -- or travelling too light? Should I have sturdier bags? Will I look too feral?

Sorry, I couldn't resist. In reality, these bags are going to charity. The pile has grown bigger since I took this photo. 

The travels are especially good because they have prompted/forced me to 'clean house'. In fact, I've done two houses -- the one in Canberra and the one at the beach. As you can see, I have bags and bags and bags of clothes that no longer fit or flatter. Hope many others can make use of these offerings. 

About half of the bag contents have come from the coast. I hadn't cleaned out there for years. I pulled everything out of the cupboards there, but so much smelled so musty that I brought it home and washed it all. 

I feeling very righteous, but that won't last long.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What a doggone production

The dogs are ready for the trip. Oh, they're not going, but they're physically (perhaps not mentally) ready for us to be away. 
On Boxing Day morning -- why do these things always happen on public holidays??? -- Aggie was in a frenzy. He was rubbing his face along the carpet, scratching like mad and chewing on a front paw. He managed to knock the top off a wart on his neck (causing a bloody mess), and it looked as if a tick was locked onto his paw. And I couldn't get that to budge. 
Fortunately, we have a great vet at the coast. When I called, Paula was already in the clinic -- checking on two tick victims who had 'checked in' the night before. God bless vets. 
Based on my description of Ag's behaviour, Paula thought something may have bitten him and caused an allergic reaction. She cauterised the wart and removed the tick (which actually turned out to be a little growth). 
And that's when it dawned on me to book both dogs in for the works. 
So Aggie and Chiyo had all their annual injections and their nails trimmed. They were also knocked out and had their teeth cleaned. This turned out to be especially worthwhile for Aggie. He's 12 and his 'old' gums were harbouring a collection of polyps that would have caused problems a few months down the track (probably on Easter Sunday!). 
Thankfully, Libby and Petra won't have to deal with that drama, and Aggie won't have to be miserable and unable to 'explain' the problem.
Paula also removed five other warts from Aggie. He has stitches everywhere, but has not had to wear the dreaded cone -- that horrible plastic collar thing that keeps them from chewing. Paula said she'd kept an eye on him and he hadn't seemed interested in the stitches, so she thought the cone wasn't necessary. Lucky and smart dog. Ag hates the cone and obviously had the sense to ignore his wounds. Good dog, good dog, very good dog. 
P.S. Aggie is the schnauzer and his full name is Agadore Spartacus.

You missed mugging us

Paying for the air tickets was an exercise in the ridiculous. 
The travel agent adds 1.9 per cent to credit card payments, so we decided to arrange for an EFTPOS transfer. This meant asking the bank for a one-off increase in our daily withdrawal limit from $1000 to $8400. The travel agent said most banks are happy to do this. At the bank, we were able to say the withdrawal would be made within 20 minutes and the recipient would be so-and-so, and would they please let it go through. 
For heaven's sake, that wasn't good enough! The bank said that 'for our protection', it could only let us withdraw $2000 electronically (did they think we weren't who we said we were?). It was, however, quite fine for us to withdraw $8400 in cash on the spot and walk across town to the travel agent. 
If they were really concerned about protecting us and our money, they could have offered an armed escort.
Either way, you missed your chance to mug us.