Canada, 2011

In the Canadian summer of 2011, I travelled to White Rock, Canada to attend my cousin Kate’s wedding. It was important to me to be there as despite the distance of where we both lived, we were the only girls on the side of the family, so were close.

The wedding was held at my aunt and uncles place with a view of the water. Many friends and family had come from all over the world to attend. I had arrived a few days before the wedding, so had time to catch up with Kate- we even fitted in dancing and a movie.

I also met my cousin Glen’s girlfriend at the time, Tara. We got along well and had pre wedding manicures together. My cousin Jay and his family had flown in from Australia too, so it was a full house buzzing with preparations including marquee and stage building.

I caught up with Celina on my first night there over too many red wines at the local pub. She had a toddler now, so it was lovely to meet him and go for ice cream on the seafront on another day.

One night, Jeanette picked me up and we went over to Celina’s place for dinner. I was impressed to learn that Jeanette had started a successful business of her own.

The garden wedding itself was held on a bright sunny day. It started in a beautiful Apex shaped church and ended in dancing, party crashers and a bit too much wine.

It was great to see Geoff and Genevieve there, who now had two boys, and catch up with the groom, Ben, and meet his family. My personal favourite touch were the table centres that were formerly grandmother’s teacups.

I left the day after the wedding to catch the bus to Seattle and an internal flight to visit my bestie in her hometown of Nebraska for 4th July. I had never been to an Independence Day celebration and was very much looking forward to the experience.

Related posts: New Year’s Eve on the Island, 2007Christmas in Canada, 2007, Canada, 2005, Canada, 2002, Canada, 1997-1998, Canada, 1997, Canada, 1990, It’s a Canadian Thing

Real friends vs Digital friends

Real friends are great. They are there for you no matter what, in good times and bad; and all those sticky times in between. They’ve known you forever or are your new best friend. You like doing the same things together and planning for the future.

But life gets busy, people have kids or move away. You may be travelling for work and the time left for real friends becomes that 5 minutes at the end of the day before you collapse into a heap.

So what do you do?

You replace them with online friends! Online friends are great. They are there any time of the day and night and are from all over the world. They don’t care if you talk endlessly about travel, become opinionated or not answer their messages for a week.

Of course there is a danger in replacing real friends with online friends. They could not be who they say they are, they can still be mean and they may even defriend or block you. You also may never meet them in person.

And that’s great if you want to live in cyber space like most of Gen Y. And what about Millennials? Do they even know how to talk to people in real life anymore?

Digital friends can’t provide counselling on past and present issues as they are only hearing your side of the story. They can’t share a glass of wine and a meal with you or give you a real hug.

As a Gen X’er on the cusp of Y, I was very hesitant about social media. I still won’t share very personal pictures with the public. But in the age of digital transformation, does the Gen X attitude even matter anymore? It’s get on the digital train or get left behind these days.

So, no, I won’t be replacing my real friends with online friends anytime soon. But my real friends can take comfort in the fact that they won’t have to listen to my diatribe of travel obsession as I have some digital friends to ease the burden.

Related posts: Who are you?, Having it all?, Reinvention, Universal vs Personal,  Friendship: Great Expectations?

Fiji, 2011

When we were thinking about where to go on our annual holiday, my husband and I had decided upon South America. Then my friend Marnie announced she was getting married in Fiji and we changed our plans to go to Mexico instead. It was one of the best decisions we ever made, not only because we got to attend the wedding of a friend, but because Mexico turned out to be one of the best destinations we have ever been to.

Second time around at Denarau, we stayed at the Sheraton. We discovered the advantage of staying on the peninsula when I found that we were able to use any of the pools at any of the other resorts in the area, as well as eat at any of their restaurants.

The wedding party were staying next door at the Sheraton Villas and most of the guests were staying in nearby hotels, so each night we had a ready-made group of friends to go dining with. Apart from a few mutual friends of the bride that we were already acquainted with, we struck up a new friendship with Dan and Susie, an English couple who were friends of the groom.

Most days were spent lazing at the pool and the beach drinking champagne or cocktails. My friend Vanessa had brought her daughter and there were others who had children, so there was always someone at the pool. The sunsets on the beach were just as lovely as I remembered and the pool bars were even more fun this time around.

The day before the wedding, my husband went for a scuba dive and I went for a manicure and checked out the church that was to be used for the ceremony. It was a beautiful tiny white washed chapel perched on a point looking out into the ocean.

The day of the wedding dawned sunny and the guests were all the colours of the rainbow in their bright holiday dress. Sunset cocktails on the beach were followed by the reception at Flying Fish restaurant with more drinks, speeches and lovely seafood. The dance floor at Chime Bar was packed that night!

Related posts: Fiji, 2008, The Seven Year Itch

It’s an Asia Thing

My first foray into Asia was to India. I marvelled at the temples of Tamil Nadu, spent Christmas in KodaiKanal and saw the sunset at Cape Cormorin. There was a visit to a strange circus in Kerala, a boat trip in Cochin and lots of ice cream in Goa. We went to markets, met Mormons, climbed Cape Rama Fort and left through the gateway to India in Bombay.

Next was a school trip to Indonesia where we were educated in all the traditional arts and crafts from batik to silver making. We travelled through Lombok, Bali, Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan. The highlights were the vast Borobudur temple and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

On the way home we went through Sentosa Island in Singapore. There have been many trips to the land of the Merlion since then to explore the food in Chinatown, the shops on Orchard Rd and visit friends, now expats of the city.

Close by is my favourite Asian destination of Malaysia. The fabulous food halls in Malacca, the life of Penang and the beautiful islands of course. So far I have visited Pulau Kapas, Pulau Pangkor and Pulau Tioman twice. Each island is special and interesting in its own way for the monkey in a hammock, the snorkelling or the sunsets.

The first time I went to Bangkok in Thailand I thought it was a big dirty Asian city. I thought Phuket was incredibly spoilt by tourism and I was sure I would never return. How wrong I was, as the island of Koh Lanta was to become the special place where I became engaged and later married. The little town of Ban Saladan and the beach at Kaw Kwang will forever have a piece of my heart.

Vietnam was a pleasant surprise, largely untouched by the greed of making a buck when I went there. I loved Hanoi, the city built around Haan Kim Lake and was fascinated by the other side of history as the story of Ho Chi Min unfolded before me. Halong Bay was undoubtedly beautiful and the little French colonial hill village of Tam Dao was a rare treasure.

When you think of places to go in Asia, South Korea is probably not at top of mind. However, I found I very much enjoyed discovering the two sides of Seoul. One deep in the traditions of markets, gates and palaces; and the other slightly crazy side of shopping centres, theme parks and off beat fashion.

I wish I had visited Hong Kong before the English handed it back to the locals, just to see how much it had changed. The modern world could clearly be seen here, but there were still the remnants of old. Like the Star Ferry and the fact that the city still had many large green spaces that had not yet been bulldozed by development. The smog of Victoria Peak reminded me that it was still Asia, but back on the ground there was always a drink in Soho to cool you down.

Yes, Asia can be hot, dirty and tiring; but it is also exciting, enticing and an assault to the senses. Riding in tuk tuks, bargaining with the friendly locals and appreciating the simple things in life. Asia has a lot to teach us and I sincerely hope that modernisation doesn’t engulf it to the point where it can no longer be recognised for the glorious cultural explosion it is.

Related posts: It’s a Sri Lankan Thing, Destination Thailand, 2010, Thailand, 2009, South Korea, 2008, Malaysia, 2006, Vietnam, 2003, Thailand, 2002, Sri Lanka, 1998, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, 1994, Indonesia and Singapore, 1994, England, Singapore and Malaysia, 1988, India, 1987- 1998, Part 2: The Journey North, India 1987- 1988, Part 1: The Road South

Las Vegas, 2011

From Cancun, it was an easy flight to Las Vegas. It was the second time my husband and I had been here. Even though we knew what to expect, we found plenty of new surprises.

We stayed in the middle of The Strip this time at the Monte Carlo casino. There were good views from hotel and many Italian statues and fountains out front.

The Cosmopolitan was the newsest casino in town with its open-air nightclub, Marquee, on the roof. We hit the Bellagio and took the time to look up this time at the beautiful glass ceiling and glass sculptures.

We took a closer look at the Venetian on this trip. I was amazed by how much St Marks Campanile, the Brige of Sighs, the Doges Palace and the Grand Canal with gondolas; all replicated the real thing so well.

While my husband gambled at the Mirage, I went to the Secret Garden to see the dolphins, white tigers and leopards. Then we went in to M & M’s World which had four levels, ending in an entire room filled with as many different flavors of the treat that you could think of.

We went to Blondie’s Sports Bar that had a cheerleader as its mascot and tried the tasty Washington Apple cocktail. At Wynn, we ventured behind the waterfall, saw the lake and went to the biggest buffet I have ever been to with cuisine from all around the world. The room was elaborately decorated and the best bit was the toffee apples and other yummy deserts.

Thinking ahead, we had pre booked a sunset dinner at Alize at the top of The Palms. The signature dish, the Lemon Sole, was definitely memorable. On the way out, we passed drenched drunk girls in bikinis at the slots who had just come out from the Rain nightclub.

It was all blue skies above the Pont Alexandre 3 inside Paris. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower for a view of The Strip by night with all the glittering lights. We could see people lining up for the famous Chateau nightclub and the Bellagio fountain show from above.

My pick for a show was Bite at Stratosphere, which turned out to be a lot of topless vampires. My husbands pick, O at the Bellagio, turned out to be a much wiser choice. Cirque du Soliel and water- what’s not to like? The clown also used me as a prop in his pre show, which was fun.

On our last day, we went to Old Vegas, awash with Mardi Gra beads and showgirls with a zipline running through the middle of it all. We saw the famous neon Vegas Vic, Sassy Sally and Golden Goose.

We found the Four Queens and the buffet at Fitzgeralds. My husband had the biggest win of his life with a straight flush at the Golden Nugget, while I was more interested in the waterslides inside the casino.

It was sad to see the neon gallery from demolished casinos and hotels. Here we found the Hacienda horse and Alladins lamp. I guess with a city that is always reinventing itself, there is bound to be some collateral damage.

Related posts: Isla Mujeres and Cancun, 2011, Tulum, 2011,  Chichen Itza, 2011, Campeche and Merida, 2011, Palenque, 2011, Oaxaca, 2011, Mexico City, 2011

Who are you?

How much do you ever really know someone? You can think that you know someone and then they turn out not to be what you thought they were at all. It’s when you find out that they were deliberately hiding their real self from you that you get a little mystified.

Perhaps you are only seeing one face of their multiple personality. I’m a pretty honest and open person myself, but sure, I may act a little differently around work colleagues than I do with my bestie.

It wasn’t always this way, but experience has taught me that it is often not wise to be yourself around certain people that may choose to use this against you. Perhaps this is a wisdom that comes with a little age?

Others seem to be themselves all the time no matter who they are with. Either they don’t know or don’t care what others think and it doesn’t bother them.

I am like this to a certain degree, but also recognise that we still live in a society of people where others may get hurt if you are 100% honest all the time. There’s no harm in a little sugar coating it a little every now and then and modifying your behaviour. Or is there?

You might think you know what it’s like to be in somebody’s shoes, but you can never really know. You can empathise, but you didn’t go through their life experiences and you are not in their head, so you can never really know what it’s like to be them.

You can’t know what it was like to grow up in a particular home unless you were there, and even then you experience of and reaction to it may be different. You may think you know what your husband is thinking (and sometimes you do), but how can you really ever know?

The other day I judged someone I had just met on my first impressions of them, which turned out to be wrong. I guess everyone does this sometimes.

What I forgot was that this was just a small part of who this person was that I was seeing. It was the part they chose to show me, perhaps in nervousness. I think I sensed that they were not being their real self and I didn’t like that.

In reality it takes time to get to know someone, so it was a useful reminder to not immediately judge. After all, aren’t we all weird in our own uniqueness?

Related post: I’m happy for you, Is it just me?, The seven year itch, Relationships: my five (per)cents worth

Isla Mujeres and Cancun, 2011

Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women, famous for the statues between it and Cancun on the mainland which were sunken for the pleasure of scuba divers.

The ferry over from Cancun was quick and the water was even bluer than Tulum.

My husband and I stayed in a lovely little hotel on Playa Secreto, the quiet side of the island, which had a sandy courtyard filled with hammocks.

No cars were allowed on the island, so people got around on golf carts, although the island was so small that you could walk everywhere and didn’t really need one.

The main street was short and lined with restaurants and gift shops. We took a seafront walk along Bahia de Mujeres to see the lighthouse and had lunch in a Cuban restaurant.

My husband wanted to go scuba diving while we were here and I was happy to join the dive boat to go snorkeling. The dive boat instructers were confident fellows and kept me entertained while we waited for the divers to resurface.

We saw the statues of so many different people- standing, sitting and engaged in all sorts of activities- it was like nothing I had ever seen before. We also saw a turtle in the wild, which I had never seen before and was amazing. He was so quick!

That night we ate in a seafood restaurant with tables and chairs on the beach and found a funky bar on the main street that had high ceilings and a mural of a rainforest. We also discovered the La Adelita Tequileria.

You could hire a deck chair at the busier Playa Norte by day, or sit on a swing in one of the many bars that lined the beach, by night. It was on one such swing that we got acquainted with a lovely Swiss girl called Jasmin who was travelling through Mexico by herself, but had met many like minded travellers such as ourselves along the way to keep her company as desired.

We discovered that we were staying in the same hotel and met in the sandy courtyard on occasion to play cards and have a few drinks between beach visits. Jasmin was travelling back through Cancun and didn’t really want to go by herself. We had already decided that we wanted to avoid spending too much time there; so the three of us travelled back to mainland together to stay one night in a Cancun motel.

Jasmin was on a mission to get a one-person hammock and we were happy to join her quest. We found one in a nearby market, squeezed between the many restaurants and closed nightclubs.

And so our Mexican journey came to an end. It really had been the best trip ever, maybe it was the place, perhaps it was the company or just that it was that blissful time between get married and having kids.

Related posts: Tulum, 2011, Chichen Itza, 2011, Campeche and Merida, 2011, Palenque, 2011, Oaxaca, 2011, Mexico City, 2011

Traveller vs Tourist

I really don’t like the debate between traveller vs tourist. Unless you live in a country, you are a tourist. And what’s so wrong with being a tourist anyway?

I love being a tourist in my own city. Exploring the places I love, seeing them through new eyes and discovering unknown places. It’s all in good fun. Especially if you are showing some other tourists around your city and get to feel that pride at living in such a beautiful and/or interesting place.

I guess the perceived difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a tourist just goes to see the main sites, take a few photos and tick it off their bucket list. I think we have all been a little guilty of that at some point.

What I have realised is that the more you build up a particular tourist attraction in your mind, the more disappointed you are likely to be; and the real thing that you love or remember about a trip are the off the radar places or the little details like the great sandwich you ate when you got there.

And, oh- the bucket list- another hated term. Life is not a list of things to do, it’s about experiences; and P.S if it is about lists, you will never finish them. The number of places I want to see just gets longer every year, so I know I won’t get to them all, but I’m ok with that.

In the naiveity of youth, I once told an older and wiser man than I that I wanted to visit every country in the world. He told me that he was 50 and hadn’t even seen a quarter of them and he travelled a lot!

I also can’t stand people who count countries. I could tell you my number, and really it’s pretty high, but it’s not a competition. And it’s really not about the quantity, but the quality.

I have been to a hotel near the airport in Finland for 8 hours between connecting flights, but do I count that as seeing the country- definitely not. I’ve been to most of the capitals in Italy, but does that mean I know anything about what it’s like to live in the Tuscan countryside- no way.

I feel like I’m a bit opinionated with this post today, but sometimes you need to be. It doesn’t matter where you travel, or how far from home you venture; it doesn’t even matter if you call yourself a traveller or a tourist- as long as you do it. But only if you want to.

I am the first person to say, I love to travel, but that’s my priority. Everyone has different priorities of what they want to spend their money on and there is nothing wrong with that- it’s your choice.

So wether you’re a traveller, or a tourist, or neither, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a moot point.

Related posts: Sydney vs Melbourne, Australia vs New Zealand, Memory, Universal vs Personal, People vs Place

Tulum, 2011

My husband and I arrived in Tulum and went straight from the bus station to the beach.

We stayed in one of the separate huts on the beach in a hotel that had a mini statue of the Tulum ruins near the beach bar. The image was very familiar to me as it featured on the cover of our guidebook.

Tulum had the bluest water I had ever seen along with the whitest sand. I understood now why everyone raves about the Caribbean.

We went to an Italian restaurant in the fancy hotel at other end of beach as I had heard it was famous for it’s fresh lobster pasta. We took our sunset cocktails at the deckchairs on the beach before we headed inside the restaurant for dinner, where the floor was also sand. The waiter made us a prawn made out of palm leaves.

Thinking it the safer option, we walked back to the hotel along the road instead of the beach, but it was a creepy deserted country road at night. By day, there wasn’t much to do either, except to go to the local shops for supplies.

I discovered what a real taco was when we had the best fish tacos I have ever had on the beach. No Old El Paso hard shell tacos here, just small soft fresh tacos with fresh fish and some special sauce.

We spent a couple of days lazing on the beach, listening to the other travellers talking loudly, trying to outdo each other; and the regular fruit seller passing by with cries of “Piña, mango, coco.”

One night, we met a group of young Aussie surfers at the beach bar; and on another, an old surfer dude from America who had been living in Tulum for a number of years now. He introduced us to some local friends who proceeded to drink us under the table with double strength tequila happy hour cocktails. We declined their offer to head into a nightclub in town for further drinking.

Instead we went into town the next day for the freshest, loveliest tortillas I have ever eaten at a local restaurant near the bus stop, made while you eat. I really didn’t know what good Mexican food was like until I had been to Mexico. Even the guacamole is made differently here.

On our last day we went to explore the Tulum ruins. While definitely not the most culturally significant ruins, being the newest in Mexico; they are definitely one of the most picturesque as they overlook the beach and the blue waters of the sea.

There were huge iguanas everywhere that roamed around the tourists and the stones. Walls surrounded the site and a small cenote could be found in one of the ruined houses.

We saw the Temple of the Wind God, the famous El Castillo and walked down to the beach. There were many temples, platforms, a palace and a guard tower.

Next stop to continue our Caribbean adventure was Isla Mujeres, and if I thought the water of Tulum was blue, we hadn’t seen anything yet!

Related posts: Chichen Itza, 2011, Campeche and Merida, 2011, Palenque, 2011, Oaxaca, 2011, Mexico City, 2011