Thursday, January 21, 2010

"A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles." (Tim Cahill)

Well, we arrived home almost a week ago and have had time to settle in and reflect a bit on our travel experiences. I have decided to format our last blog entry interview style in response to the 'frequently asked questions' we have already had about our trip. I'm sure some of our answers may change over time, but for today, this is how we are thinking/feeling about our three months away:
Q: How was your trip?!
A: Teri - Our trip was fun, exciting, exhilarating, sometimes frustrating, stressful, and even boring at times; always challenging in that it stretched our boundaries, made us more independent, sensitive, grateful, and hopefully better-rounded and mature people for it.
A: Chris - The trip for me was a new experience for us as a couple - doing things we've never done before in places we've never been together. I'm proud of us for just doing it, and I'm grateful Teri and I could share this experience together.
Q: What was the best part?
A : Teri - Honestly, the best part for me was feeling really well-connected to people - both family and friends back home, friends we both made and reconnected with along the way, and some people who we just crossed paths with for a moment in time.
It's kind of ironic that I felt increased connection with some family and friends after I was thousands of miles away, but I guess that distance and the opportunity to miss each other strengthens relationships and cultivates gratitude.
A: Chris - The best part for me was the adventure of being on the other side of the world and often being able to pick and choose an itinerary to take us wherever we wanted. Along the same thread, the trip was so fantastically liberating in the sense that we were not tied down with any burdens other than finding a bus, a room and a place to eat. Often when people are on "vacation", they still have a nagging feeling that they will have return to their job far too soon and then it's back to the grind. Being away for 3 months allowed me to let my job back home completely escape my mind and allow me focus on where I was, who I was with and the experience I was having.
Q: Okay, but what were some of your favourite places you visited?
A: Teri - India, overall, because it is so drastically different from the western world. You don't have to do a thing in India because just being there, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds is utterly intriguing. For example, in Australia, we paid upwards of $65 for each 'activity' we did (kayaking, snorkelling, hiking, etc.) and I don't mean to undermine the fun I had in Oz, but in India a 50 Rs. ($1) rickshaw ride back to the hotel was sometimes just as exhilarating!
India was also overall not 'touristy'; it was very raw and intense and even though it nearly drove me crazy at times, looking back, I have so many vivid memories of my time there, it is imprinted on my soul!
Chris - They were all my favorite places...there was no place I "liked" more than another really. India was really new & entertaining...the people, the animals everywhere, the horrible grammar, the crazy crazy traffic, the religions, the strange customs, the garbage everywhere, the stunning & ancient architecture, the passion for cricket, the goofy kids, the strange plumbing...I could go on and on. It's so incredibly interesting to see how other people live.
Q: What were the highlights of India?
A: Teri - In India, one of my best times was in Mount Abu. Mount Abu is a holiday destination for Indians, so everyone there seemed relaxed and happy. In the evening, a popular thing to do is to walk up a big hill to watch the sun set. Our tour group strolled up the hill along with Indian families on vacation while the young entrepreneurs sold us corn on the cob and offered to give us rides up the hill in wagons or on horseback. There were probably a couple hundred people all watching the big red sun set over the water. As the sun dipped under the horizon there was clapping and cheering and we all joined in and I loved being part of this ordinary but special Indian experience. On the way down we posed for photos with groups of girls and boys who thought we were quite the novelty, but that was fun, too, even if we were reminded of being 'different'.
A: Chris - Hmmm...the highlight of India for me was probably...the traffic. Yeah right!! What a circus! If I had to pick a highlight from India it would be the time we spent in Varkala Beach in the southern state of Kerala for almost 2 weeks. We had a great hotel room only a 30 second walk from the Arabian Sea, restaurants serving fabulous food for less than $3 a meal, a beautiful beach, friendly people, and yoga almost every day. It almost sounds like an all-inclusive resort! But it wasn't...this was Varkala!
Q: What were the highlights of Australia?
A: Teri - We were there for over a month so there were lots of highlights! Off the top of my head, some big highlights were scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, our trip inland to West Wyalong where we first experienced Australia off the tourist trail, and the awesome time we had visiting the Steads and Harkers in Adelaide over Christmas and New Years.
A: Chris - Easily my highlight in Australia was seeing my friends and their families in Adelaide, South Australia. We were able to spend a lot of quality time together and were absolutely spoiled rotten by their hospitality and generosity. I sincerely hope that they are able to visit us here in Morden someday so that we can return the favor! Thanks to them, we were able to do a fantastic tour of the Barossa Valley wineries, go fishing for snapper in in the Spencer Gulf at Port Victoria, view the city from Mount Lofty summit, among others. Besides Adelaide, I really enjoyed our stays with the Floyd's in West Wyalong, seeing Doofus and his family in Newcastle, and meeting Jill In Brisbane. Fraser Island was once again a really cool experience (seeing the dingoes!), as was our 3 day stay aboard the Kiana exploring the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.
Q: What were the highlights of New Zealand?
A: Teri - Actually the drives, or I should say the rides as we were travelling by bus, were the highlights. The South Island has gorgeous and diverse scenery, and it was very relaxing in the last 11 days of our trip, to just sit back and take it all in. I also particularly liked the Monteiths Summer Ale, the hostel in Greymouth, and all the sheep.
A: Chris - The space and the natural beauty of New Zealand was very comfortable for me (as opposed to the frenzy in India and in cities). Riding the bus around the south island was relaxing and most often breathtaking. We were able to see so much of the country in such a short time. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see and climb the Franz Josef glacier since it is so unique. Nelson was a really cool town at the north end of the island, and walking part of the famous Abel Tasman Coastal Track on my birthday was a great experience.
Q: Any lowlights along the way?
A: Teri - Sure. I got tired of feeling sweaty and dirty, repacking the backpack almost every day, feeling homeless, getting sunburned, etc. We were very lucky though; we didn't run into any bad experiences. People everywhere treated us well.
A: Chris - Yeah, it was often exhausting being constantly on the move and wearing the same clothes every day! The unsettled feeling eventually becomes too much to bear and thoughts of being at home in my own bed in my own house become overwhelming at times. Another lowlight was having to deal with shady taxi drivers and endure the incessant hassle from vendors and traffic in India, but this is also what makes India the experience it is.
Q: Would you do it again?
A: Teri - I'm really glad we had the opportunity to do this trip. I learned that I like backpacking in theory more than in reality. There are still so many places I want to visit, but I think we'll limit future trips to one month.
A: Chris - 3 months is a long time to be away from home and friends and family when you're living out of a backpack. I like to think I would do something similar again if the opportunity arose, but I doubt the opportunity will arise again in my current situation so I don't have to worry about that for awhile, anyway! There are definitely many more places I would like to see, though.
Q: This blog entry is getting too long. What else do you want to say?
A: (Chris) & Teri - we want to thank people. First of all, to Mom, Jim, Norleen, and Levi for their parts in checking on the house almost daily, clearing the driveway, watering the plants, getting the furnace fixed, and stocking the fridge for our return!
A big thank-you to our friends in Australia - Jill in Brisbane, Doudles in Newcastle, the Floyds in West Wyalong, and the Harkers and Steads in Port Adelaide. It was so great spending time with you, your hospitality was amazing, and we'd love to host you whenever you come to Canada! Chris would also like to thank those responsible for letting him take 3 months off from his job and also his co-workers who might have had a little bit of slack to pick up!
Finally, everyone who supported us through emails, reading the blog, and just keeping us in your thoughts and prayers and wishing us well. This is what I mean by the trip making me feel really good about people - your support feels like being wrapped up in a big bear hug! Consider yourself hugged right back!

Monday, January 18, 2010

We're Home!!!

Well we made it home to Morden after travelling on 4 different airplanes for over 24 hours from Christchurch, New Zealand!
Please stay tuned for some thoughts as we look back at our 3 months away from home.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Milford Sound

Teri - The countdown is on - only two more sleeps in New Zealand!

This morning we woke up to blue skies in Queenstown. We left the hostel just after 6:30 and boarded the bus to Milford Sound.

What is a 'sound'? you ask. Well, it is a steep v-shaped valley carved by a fast-moving river. But Milford Sound is a misnomer as it was actually carved by a glacier, making it a fjord.

The drive through Fiordland National Park was amazing and the cruise on Milford Sound took my breath away. Check out the pictures and see for yourself...

Here's some more NZ trivia: New Zealand doesn't have ANY native mammals except for two types of bats. The islands were home to many breeds of birds before the Maori and European settlers arrived, but many became extinct or endangered when they were hunted by settlers and preyed upon by rats and possums and other animals the settlers introduced to the islands. NZ is also home to 40 million sheep, some of which forced us to wait while they crossed the highway!

Right now we're in Te Anau, which like almost everywhere in NZ, is very picturesque. Tomorrow we have an 11-hour bus journey back to Christchurch for a final night and then four flights and we'll be HOME! (I'm pretty excited in case you can't tell.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

(Rainy!) Queenstown

Well, we got on the bus in Franz Josef the morning of the 10th - in the rain - and got off the bus in Queenstown late afternoon - in the rain! It's now the evening of the 11th, and it hasn't stopped raining!! What a dreary introduction to Queenstown! Considering that Queenstown is the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere, we were not feeling very adventurous. We managed to go out for supper downtown at a Thai restaurant and grab a beer at a local pub, but walking around checking out the scenery was not on the itinerary!

Queenstown only has a population of about 13,000, but has the most restaurants and bars per capita than anywhere else in New Zealand (and probably Australia). The typical things to do in Queenstown would include bungy jumping, jetboating, river rafting, mountain biking, hiking, skydiving, and hang gliding...but who wants to do that in the rain?? Not Teri. And not Chris. So we ended up going on a boat (covered!) tour of the area on Lake Wakatipu with commentary by Captain Wayne, which turned out to be pretty interesting and scenic. Since there were only 6 of us on the tour, it was almost like a private charter. Captain Wayne even showed us his house as we cruised by the shore!

After the boat ride we decided to do a typical rainy day activity and went to see a movie, then had coffee at one of my favorite places in the whole world - Starbucks (a bit of sarcasm there!) But they did have brewed coffee which I have been craving, considering everything is basically an espresso or double espresso with weird names ("short black", "long black", "flat white"). It's certainly kept my system in a constant state of movement!

We then decided to take the Skyline gondola ride up to a scenic lookout of Queenstown and and do the luge ride while up there. Basically a big skateboard with a steering column that you sit in and let gravity take you downhill on the track (see pics). It was actually a lot less lame than I thought it would be!

For supper we went nostalgic and went to the "Tandoori Palace" and had some excellent Indian fare...some butter naan, basmati rice, Chicken Korma and Bengali Fish. What a great feed! And brought back some good memories of October-November in India.

Next we're off to Te Anau and Milford Sound on the 12th before heading back up to Christchurch and finally make our way back to good old Manitoba and it's winter! Can't wait!!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier

Teri - This afternoon Chris and I were rugged adventurers! We went with Franz Josef Glacier Guides for a walk on the glacier. Initially I didn't want to go because I had already visited the Columbia Icefields several years ago with with my mom, so I thought I'd 'done that, been there'. I'm glad I decided to go because a) there is nothing else to do in Franz Josef and b) rather than driving onto the ice and just getting out of the vehicle for a few minutes to take pictures, we actually strapped on crampons and hiked our way onto the glacier and through crevasses of ice.

Franz Josef is a unique glacier because it comes down close to sea level (+250 m). It was very odd to walk to the glacier's trunk along a path through rain forest!

It rained most of the four hours we were out there, but I think that added to the atmosphere!
We got back to the hostel and warmed up with free homeade vegetable soup.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Zealand at last!

Hey everybody! Sorry again for the long delay in updates...we have spent a lot of time recently in transit or seeing the sights!

So we flew into Christchurch, New Zealand on the South Island on Sunday January 3rd, caught a local bus from the airport, and finally checked into our hostel well after midnight. The next day we checked out some of the nearby sights including Cathedral Square and other parts of downtown. Christchurch is a relatively small city of 350,000 and has a nice small city feel to it.

We decided we would have enough time to see a good portion of the South Island before we fly home on the 14th, and caught a bus out of Christchurch early morning on January 5th bound for Nelson at the north end of the island.

Nelson is a very cool small city of around 40,000 and is the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. Nelson also has the distinction of claiming to be "the centre of New Zealand", marked by a summit not far from the centre of town. We hiked 45 minutes up to the summit and were treated with some excellent views of the surrounding area, and the novelty of seeing them from the "centre of New Zealand"! I celebrated my birthday in Nelson on the 6th by doing an awesome 4 hour hike on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and going out for pizza and a movie in the evening.

The next morning Jan 7th we got on a bus and made it to Greymouth further down the West Coast.

Although Greymouth doesn't have quite the charm Nelson has, it has the Monteith's Brewery. We went on a tour of the brewery and had the opportunity to taste the 7 beers Monteith's currently has in production. We were in fact a bit tipsy by the end of the tasting! We got to pour a beer of our choice off the tap as well. I really like beer.

The afternoon of the 8th we hopped on a bus for a 4 hour journey to Franz Josef, home of the Franz Josef glacier. So far all we have done is eat pizza and drink beer (Monteith's, of course! I have found my favorite - "Black", and Teri has hers "Summer Ale") We are staying in a 4-share room with a couple German girls (ze Germans are everywhere!) at "Glow Worm Cottages" in the heart of F.J. -- there are actually only 2 streets in town! You can tell that the town really only exists because of the proximity to the glacier, but such is the case with so many towns on the tourist circuit anywhere (i.e. Banff).

So that catches you up to this moment on Saturday January 9th 2010 where we are in Franz Josef, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand soon to do a half-day glacier walk and do some ice climbing!

We will continue to update as we go and try to add some pictures when we can...bye for now!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Last Days In Adelaide

Teri and I spent some our final time in Adelaide checking out downtown Adelaide's Central Market - a large farmer's market/fresh produce market; and Rundle Mall - a long pedestrian stretch of outdoor shops. Teri posed with the well-known shiny silver "Mall Balls". I really wanted to get some pictures of some old churches in Adelaide city but the rest of the group was not agreeable, unfortunately. Right Steady?

I was also able to visit the old ball diamond and get inside the Port Adelaide Magpies Baseball clubhouse and was happy to see that very little had changed in 14 years! There is a new mural of the team logo on one of the walls, though, shown in the picture along with Darren and myself.

Teri had her first crack at playing beach cricket down at Semaphore Beach, and we had a great feed at the Exeter Hotel while Steady soundly kicked my butt at billiards (seems to be a theme there!)

Everyone came down to the airport to see us off before our flight to Christchurch, New Zealand on Jan 3rd - Rod, Anna, Darren, Leanne, Jack, Brooke, and Cherril. It was an emotional goodbye as none of us know when we'll see each other next, but we had a fantastic visit between December 22nd and January 3rd, and made up for a lot of lost time. We have to send out a tremendous thank you to Rod & Anna who hosted us the entire time, and to Stead family including Cherril for going out of the way to make our visit so fun and special...we love all of you guys!

(And hope to see you all again soon...!!)