Currently on a year long travel sojourn with my husband, Chris, and our two children Anderson and Sabine. Real life involves running my cafe and catering company in Toronto. These days I am exploring, writing, cooking and trying hard to love the 24/7 parenting. Still figuring it all out just in a hotter climate.
Since returning home last August the job of wrapping up and completing the blog has been tugging like a balloon attached to a string around my wrist. At first I felt compelled to complete the Fiji portion of the blog – we had essentially no connectivity while we were on Taveuni so I have paragraphs written but not posted. For some reason I couldn’t tackled the wrap up of the blog first with Fiji skulking in the corner. The life laundry of re starting our lives kept me distracted and then school started and back to work and all those little activities and it felt like a million times harder to even organize my thoughts let alone go back to Fiji time. SO I guess it takes a pandemic. Of course the real truth is we are more than a month into the home lock down and although I have sat down to write many times – I have been largely unsuccessful in completing more than a paragraph at a time. The balloon has stayed with me faithfully. Sometimes it is filled with words or the beginning of a post but mostly it is just a steady tug and reminder of unfinished work.
the mess of re starting our lives
“Oh my god! How was the trip?” “Was it just amazing?” I was greeted with these questions along with huge smiles and expectant faces for months after we returned. My standard response became,” I would say living through the trip was a 5/10 but I’m hoping the reliving of it will be a 10/10.” Obviously not the response that people have an easy time taking in and digesting – except for those who always thought it was a bad idea to begin with. Those few people would nod sagely and say, “I just could/would never do what you guys did!” So this lock down makes me smile a little when I think of that. We are now unwittingly very prepared for self isolation. In fact it feels luxurious to have a home with our own rooms, all our things and a kitchen.
On the trip I worried that we had broken the kids for travel
Upon returning Anderson embraced school and friends and activities like a, well like a child who had been starved of those things for an entire year. I tell you – if you want your children to appreciate school just remove them from school, take them to a very hot (or a series of very hot) countries where they will meet almost no other kids and the kids they do meet will not speak their language. This tactic works like a charm. The main hurdle upon re entry to school was when the principal suddenly decided that we needed to prove that Anderson had completed 700 hours of french…. I am still not quite sure how we fudged our way out of that one….We got him a school “coach” who tutored him in french and math and reading for 4 hours a week and by his first report card he was all caught up. Sabine just slid right into junior kindergarten as always eager to make friends and so happy that they all spoke English. And slowly over the fall my prophecy started to come true. Lying in bed one night Anderson revealed that he was disappointed in himself for not embracing everything on the trip and wishing that he hadn’t missed certain things. The most shocking reveal was when he casually said,” On our next year away…… ” I didn’t even hear the rest because all the blood had rushed into my face and ears and it took everything in me not to scream,” If you think we are EVER taking an other year off with you you are sadly mistaken!!!” I am still shocked that he is entertaining thoughts of more long term travel and even perhaps living in an other country for a year. This is the boy who refused to even eat rice for the first six months back in Canada. I thought we had broken him for travel for ever. The other day he welcomed an Indonesian dinner of sticky rice with peanut sauce. So slowly slowly in pieces we have come back together as a family. The truly dark days of the trip are not being joked about yet but we are replaying the fun memories and even some of the not as fun memories.
using the new pasta maker – cooking in lock down
A little over a month ago the lock down began. We had planned to stay with Penny (Chris’s mom) over spring break and ski at Mansfield. A few other families from the ski club had cancelled their plans to leave the country for spring break so we thought it was going to be kid activity fun filled spring break at “the club”. I woke up with a cold on the last day of school so we decided to stay in the city to keep Penny safe and over the weekend while I rode out the cold ( I’m pretty sure it was just a cold but who even knows these days) everything closed and the lock down happened. On the first Monday of Spring Break I hit Value Village for board games, The Dollarama for art supplies, I ordered a ton of fruits and veggies to the shop and raided the cafe dry storage for rice, noodles, flour, sugar, yeast and cans of all varieties of beans and then I ordered an ice cream maker and a stand mixer from Amazon. I’m not going to lie I was feeling pretty cocky, very ready and even a little happy about being able to muck around in the kitchen between horizontal bouts of screen gazing. I felt like we had just lived through a year of isolation and we had spent the fall and early winter rebuilding and coming out stronger and more connected. This shelter in place was going to be a piece of cake.
new normal lunch routine
homemade hamburger buns – might actually make these in real life
This I have now labeled the Optimistic phase of isolation. I certainly didn’t make any schedules, I didn’t force school work or limit screen time. I kept the outline of the day – breakfast, lunch and dinner with some outside time the same. We did chug along nicely doing little projects, eating delicious food, taking walks. I reread all my cookbooks and sketched out plans, joined an online dance class and played dolls and legos for hours. I counselled friends to relax over the amount of screen time their kids were engaging in. I even encouraged tik tok as being somewhat creative. Slowly we started getting up later, going to bed later, the weather turned ugly and I started to lose the will. I would have the will in the morning but it would ebb away and then over the seemingly endless blustery rainy days the will rushed away. I looked at all the plans outlining things I could do around the house and felt panic and then dismay and guilt over all that I wasn’t doing. We had a few days in a row where we didn’t even get outside. The world contracted and became a scary place just outside the door. The reality settled in. This was going to last much longer than we could ever have let ourselves think.
cinnamon buns….. my only baking tin
healthy dinner – not what the kids ate
playing together because there is no one else
a little dress up
Then the online school work started. Again there was what I now see as the second optimistic phase. We had a clearer schedule, some more focus and achievable goals. Before that week was up not only was I was wearing pants with elastic waistbands and sporting uncombed hair I was also failing grade five math. And I know how lucky we are – safe and healthy in our home with food and at least one income. But it was getting very hard to motivate myself and my kids. I am trying to “forgive” myself, “take it easy” “don’t stress” and “relax” but I feel like this isn’t helping us. It has sent us into a free fall towards total lethargy. Yes, the house is peaceful but it’s a deadly quiet, the sound of ideas dying up and the desire for eating crispy fat snacks growing.
Somewhere in there I turned 49 – on April 28 is exactly when – we had a glorious day. It was in fact my favourite birthday in recent memory. Obviously very low expectations helps. It might also be that everyone and their dog has nothing better to do than send you a message during a lock down. I was well loved and we GOT OUT! We went to Niagara Falls where we encountered no people. Just a lovely walk along the falls and into a little park. We snacked on hummus and veggies, chips and salsa and then returned home. We picked up sushi (the first meal that I haven’t cooked for my family in 45 days) and ate cake. Angel food with whipped cream and strawberries – what my momma made for me every year for my birthday. It was perfect.
Rainbow on my birthday
boy and rainbow
over the falls
Social distancing at Niagara Falls
The following days there were flares of temper over homework and getting outside and the familiar feelings of just wanting to let the kids stay on their screens to keep the house peaceful returned. But the homework was due so I pushed on and broke through – after his project was completed I could tell Anderson felt so positive. I realize that my natural inclination to avoid conflict seems to steer us downward instead of propel us forward. As much as I want to relax I have instead to fight. Fight the urge to pull the covers up over my head, fight the urge to pour a glass of wine, fight the urge to binge through more shows. I know, like all of us, I do better when I get up, exercise, eat properly, clean, attend my class, school my kids and try to connect with my friends. As endless and boring as cleaning and laundry are – they do give me some feeling of accomplishment. I can’t expect my kids to get through this if I don’t pull it together. So at this time I have launched the fight. I am not feeling optimistic. To be perfectly honest I am feeling a little angry and frustrated but more determined. I will take any advice on how everyone is keeping their ships moving forward.
We have been to many spectacular places this year each with special parts but there is no telling when you book what is going to capture your heart and why. Things can look so gloriously perfect online or even upon arrival but then reveal themselves to be lacking – or maybe just lacking in what we need. Sometimes after initial disappointment a place captures me completely. This has been Indonesia for me. This last week on Sebayur Island really was the cherry on top. Well not cherry more the perfect shell uncovered at low tide.
Who knew that after a little bit of a rough entry, made worse no doubt by our incredible entry at The Drop In Surf Camp, that Xpirates would be one of the most special stops so far. What makes the magic?
Ten steps before arrival – bike, boat, taxi, plane, taxi, walk, boat from Gili Trawangan to Lombok then fly to Flores and then an hour and a half boat to Sebayur. Our boat is wedged up against the huge pier between a giant tanker and more tour boats stretching the length of the pier. We have to slip between the roof of the boat and the pier balance on a small outcropping about four feet down the side of the pier and then slide over the rail and onto the deck of the boat. It’s advanced boat entry for sure. Once the boat navigates out of the harbour we spend the trip chasing down the sunset. It lasts almost an hour. We arrive in the dark and the boat ties up to a buoy and we again negotiate a tricky entry into a smaller boat with an outboard. We are deposited the longest jetty that leads to a sandy stairs up to a terrace built out over the beach. We are told to grab a table and dinner will be served then we will be led to our rooms after which we can tell them what we would like to do the following day. It’s hectic and a little confusing – dive masters skip between tables along with tour leaders. Everything is undecided until the last minute. In a way it’s great because you have a say in what you want and what dives are happening but you can also be out voted or just flat out denied by the dive masters. This with no promise of when the said dive or tour that you want might happen.
From two bedroom villa to mosquito net glamping with no AC and shared toilets. There is a million dollar view, the sound of waves and a bazillion stars. No beer pong. Very basic dinner buffets with food served in glass lasagna pans, the condiments in squeeze bottles. Boho chic wooden pallet style furniture with peeling paint in a variety of blues and whites. A sign reading – Hurricane evacuation plan – grab a beer and run like hell. I guess we are waiting on a similar welcome to the one we had at The Drop In on Lombok but alas XPirates is totally lacking. We sign up for two dives the following afternoon but discover that they do not allow children (aka Sabine) on the boat without a caregiver. This after an email from who we thought was the owner stating it would be no problem to have her on the boat. Then ensues a circular round about where an other guest offers to come on the boat to stay with Sabine – her sister is diving so she wants to go. Then they tell her she can’t go unless she pays the park fee of $30. She is a student traveler so doesn’t want to pay – we offer to pay and she gladly accepts.
The next afternoon, moments before we are set to leave, the dive master says no one extra on the boat and absolutely no children. They claim it’s too wavy and dangerous. Luckily for us Melou (the student) offers to stay with Sabine and a staff member also offers to play and help with her. So we are off!
Our first dive is called turtle city – it is filled with turtles, swimming, sitting, floating about. We follow them, float above them and, in general, just bask in the turtleness of it all. The second dive, a drift dive, is like a fast ride over a disco coloured array of giant coral and so so many neon coloured fish. One of the best dives I have ever been on – we were all high when we emerged – talking a mile a minute and Anderson even said does anyone want to spend an hour snorkelling right now. The current was incredibly fast it really was slipping past us so quickly. But also it’s the lazy gals dive as you just get to float on by. Of course I had a few moments of fear as the current would suddenly push you toward the surface and Anderson definitely drifted a few times with the dive master signaling for him to make his way back – then I just kind of stuck as close to him as I could.
The next day we opted for an all day tour with a couple of other families that were staying at the camp. We had the boat to ourselves – with soft mattress up on the top deck to lounge on while we sailed to our first snorkelling site. Manta point – where surprise surprise there is a good chance of seeing a manta – was packed. It was windy and fairly choppy. Sabine didn’t want to get in the water and I was more than happy to leave her behind – it’s really hard trying to snorkel with her on my back especially with the waves. Anderson was a little nervous so Chris was trying to calm him and encourage him to get in – the Aussie kids were ready in a heartbeat sitting on the edge of the boat waiting for the signal. The signal came and I hopped in – Anderson wasn’t ready and Chris was trying to convince Sabine to get in the water. I called to Anderson and our guide said don’t worry the boat is going to move forward and they will can catch up then. So off we went fighting our way across the choppy bay toward where people on other boats were pointing. Then the guide grabbed my arm and pointed in front – swimming toward us was a beautiful manta! Bigger than me at least seven feet across. We followed it kicking madly and drifting along on top with a dozen other snorkelers in mad pursuit. Sadly the boys missed the manta. You snooze you lose. But I felt guilty because I was just so easily able to abandon them all. The next stop was at turtle city – Chris and Anderson were first in the water this time determined not to miss out. We were rewarded with many turtle sightings as well as the mostu enormous and beautiful coral bed stretching further than the eye could see. The coral here looked like giant and colourful brassicas. Huge deep green broccoli, waving purple tipped kale, pink tinged cauliflower all sized for giants. Mostly greens and purples with rainbow fish darting about. I’ve never seen anything like it. Huge table coral and barrels as well. Next up was Rinca Island to see the famed Komodo dragons. We saw the dragons, huge and small, dinosaur claws and serpentine tongues. It was mid afternoon, smoking hot with very little breeze so the ones we saw were doing what any living thing does in the heat – laze about. We did see one that had just eaten – Komodos eat every two weeks – they prefer to take a whole dear or split a water buffalo but they will eat anything with meat. The recently satiated dragon was fairly exploding out of itself skin stretched taught over its sides, lying in the dust halfway up a hill where it had given up the ridiculous task of dragging its swollen self up. We carried on up – Anderson and I, Chris balancing Sabine on his hip as usual. Our tour mates children voicing the same refrain as Anderson – it’s too hot, when can we stop, I do not want to go on. So it’s not just my kids who find hiking to be a violation of their human rights. We get an incredible view of the bay, the tour boats waiting patiently. We have a leisurely ride back to the island for yet an other meal of rice, vegetables cooked with ketchup and some form of stew. Three meals in and I can see how the food will be the main disappointment of this week.
The next day we do two more dives helped out by a wonderful staff member, Christine, who offers to watch Sabine so we can go. Over the rest of the week Christine is our saviour – intuitively knowing when to hop in. She loves Sabine and engages with all her dolls and LEGO and play. Sadly Sabine is less enamoured of Christine and seems, rather, to be drawn to other guests namely the younger pretty blond women. It’s challenging. I know she has felt scared being touched and poked by strangers and so gravitates to people who look safe to her – meaning they look like Barbie. Luckily the women she tries to attach herself to are both lovely and accommodating and I am able to intervene to give them their privacy and time. It’s a touch tricky because no one hangs out in the “rooms” which are just three walled shacks on stilts with bamboo curtains and mosquito nets. There are two common areas – the beach and the patio where people hang between dives and trips. Plus we all eat together so there is no real escape.
Pink beach dreams
The dives are spectacular – sometimes a little scary. On one our dive master, Edward, who accompanies us on all the dives and was the most senior diver there at the ripe age of 22, hooks into the coral and we cling to him as the current pulls our bodies straight. For five minutes we watch a manta flap staying in place in the current, mouth open capturing the bounty. Finally Edward unhooks and we float off along with the current -blowing over glorious coral and fish to then hit that weird wall of current and get swept up and over and then suddenly we are going in the other direction floating back over but at the same time totally discombobulated.
Over the course of our dives we see manta rays, eagle rays, sting rays, giant turtles, cuttlefish and sharks. It’s some very seriously incredible diving.
The pink beach in all its glory
Coming around the corner into the pink beach
Halfway up Padar
top of Padar
Fishing off the dock classic Vacay shot
I take a day to hike and explore with Sabine – I have read about the pink beaches of Indonesia and we didn’t get to visit when we were on Lombok so I am determined to get to see one. Chris was less enamoured with the idea of a pink beach and warned us that they don’t really look pink unless you see them at sunset and sunrise. But I’m willing to take the risk. This excursion is on the same boat as the first but now there is just a couple along with Sabine and I. The couple includes the beautiful Barbiesk Joanna, originally from Queens now living in Hong Kong with her boy friend Chris, originally from the UK. We lounge up top on the soft mattresses and visit while Sabine does her best not to touch Joanna’s hair the entire time. Xpirates has also sent along Finlee, a lovely student and intern at the camp, to play with Sabine as we snorkel. Our first stop is at Padar – a small island with a stunning view over Komodo National park. Finlee joins and when Sabine tires they station themselves under a tree to play so I can hike to the top. Then we head over to the pink beach. It’s a half hour boat trip and we pull around a sheer cliff to a perfect crescent beach and clear lagoon, turquoise water and pink sand!!!! It is seriously stunning and almost completely deserted save for a few people snorkelling – one of whom emerges au naturel from the water. Sabine yells, “ Hey why is he nudie kazoodie?!” We spend a couple of hours snorkelling, floating with turtles, mesmerized by the intense blue, red and orange coral. This coral is completely different than the giant vegetable gardens we have been exploring. It’s more like little tree branches and super vibrant – interestingly the fish are less colourful. Sabine plays in the pink sand and Joanna and Chris play with their drone. We are dragged away for lunch on the boat and then a brief sail over to our last stop Manta Point. We hop in the water pretty much on top of a giant manta – ten feet wide – it proceeds to circle and swim below us for ten minutes giving us the best show that we can just float and enjoy. Then it heads off toward the deep and we carry on over the coral beds. We spot a shark in the distance and then two more giant mantas flashing their white underbellies and curling their wings upwards. So beautiful. It’s a perfect day. The next day we are back to diving – more drift dives, and walls to explore – more turtles, sharks and eagle rays.
I love emerging in the late afternoon light, the water tinged with silver and the sky pink, islands on top of each other layers of greys and blues in the distance. Once back on the little dive boat we get cups of hot sweet tea and crisp coconut biscuits. The water is always quite choppy as we head out in the afternoon and we get soaked with spray most days as we ride to the dive sites. But the rides home are spectacular as the sun dips and the sky turns rosy. It’s so magical we don’t even care that we are heading back to an uninspired dinner. Our last night we climb up the hill behind the buildings to see the sunset. I stop half way as the path is rocky and very steep, the light is quickly fading and I know it’s going to be harder coming down than going up. Sabine and Christine are waiting at the beginning of the trail and we head to dinner. As we are waiting for dinner, the sky now pitch black except for the stars someone mentions they saw a flashing light at the top of the hill and maybe people are stuck up there. A search party heads up – three guys from the resort bare foot run up to help guide Chris and Anderson back down. A little drama for our last night. I am so sad to leave – Sebayur Island and our little hut on the beach stole my heart. The colours of the sunrises and sunsets, the tides, the moonlight and stars. So many beautiful shells and fish. The extraordinary dives with mantas and giant turtles and the magical pink beach. It all proves again that you don’t need much – a little hut and some mosquito nets and of course a gorgeous environment. We rise with the sun and make our rounds hugging and saying goodbyes. Both Chris and I are a little teary. We walk down the long jetty, hop into the little white outboard that zips us to the larger boat for the hour and a half return to Flores.
The ride from Ekas to the little boat launch was dotted with Monkeys, framed with sweeping jungle views and broken up with a quick stop for what turned out to be some delicious sate. We left the kite bags at our drivers house so we were left with a classy rag tag assortment of shopping bags overflowing with snorkels and sand toys. A stunning winding ride through lush jungle with steep sides overlooking the sparkling blue waters. We arrived at the harbour – which was just a little jetty shooting out beside a pearl farm. It’s a fifteen minute speed boat ride from Lombok to Gili Trawangan and three minutes into our ride just past the pearl farm and into the open water the boat stopped to refuel. The “second mate” opened the gas cover and pulled it out unscrewed the top grabbed an other huge plastic Jerry can and proceeded to siphon the gas from one to the other. Chris had to politely ask the “captain” to cut the engine while this was going on. Nothing blew up and we went on our way.
Heading to our boat
The sea worthy green machine
We pulled right up onto the beach on Gili Trawangan eschewing the jetty. The captain and the first mate carried our bags to the top of the beach. There are no motorized vehicles on the island only bicycles and horse drawn carriages called cidomos. The carriages bump over the cracked cobblestone roads using small clown horns to warn pedestrians and bikes. Many also have small bells on their harnesses giving an incongruous Christmasy sound making me think, “Santa?!!” Every time one rumbles past.
Our little Christmas carriage is jammed to the rafters with our bags and our bodies. It’s drops us at The Trawangan Resort where we find we have rented a villa! It’s a little closed in compound with three rooms opening on to a private pool and terrace with loungers, a large covered pagoda with pillows and padded floor and a small bistro table. There are outdoor bathrooms off of the bedrooms. Yes two bedrooms! It all seems very posh and the kids are bouncing around and super excited. We order dinner to our room since we have a nice table and our own pool. Unfortunately the food is not that yummy but that will get us out and about for dinners.
Sweet smelling frangipani on the pool
The next morning Anderson starts his padi certification and we have a lazy breakfast at the vegan cafe next to the dive school.
Gili T is known as the party island and there are all the trappings. Bars with beer pong tables set and ready to go at 8am. Many happy hours everywhere. It’s strange to see everyone walking around in bare feet and bathing suits not covered up while the call to prayer rings out – it seems Gili T is it’s own little place. We sped our days cycling around and meeting Anderson for lunch and then dropping him back off for his afternoon dives. There are day trips that can be booked to snorkel or dive but we are helmed in with Sabine and Anderson’s schedule so we tour about, looking for snorkelling spots off the beaches. Interestingly enough we meet Edmontonians twice both times at dinner. Strange having almost no Canadians around and the two we meet are from my home town.
Breakfast at the vegan cafe
Removing the fruit from her pancakes because pancakes.
Bike at the beach
Frangiapani hair do
Sunset at dinner
Dinner on the beach
Remains after the earthquake
Chris and I each get to take a dive with Anderson on the final two days. It’s pretty crazy seeing him all geared up and so cute watching him do his safety check with his instructor. Of course with the new certification he has become a stickler of all the rules and regulations surrounding diving and PADI. He is convinced that Chris and I are not still certified because PADI requires recertification every six months. He behaves with the zealot of the newly converted.
Learning with Nick
Getting ready to do in for the first time – no kid sizes here
My little dude!!!
Big crashing surf!
The day we dive is very windy with crashing waves on the beach in front of our hotel. The boat ride to the dive site is quick but very wavy – in channel between Gili T and Gili Air and the swell is pretty big. The dive is beautiful – lots of fish to see and some lovely coral, mostly I watch Anderson and repeatedly check in to see if he is okay. We also circle a small wreck – usually not my preference but this was a platform and was covered with coral and holes you could see fish darting in and out of. The ride back was equally waving and it took the captain a few tries to get us to the beach successfully and then it was a mad scramble to leap from the boat before the next wave slammed in. This started a little niggle of worry in my stomach thinking about our small boat crossing the next day. Especially after a local waiter exclaimed wow it’s really windy today. After all the reading about fast boats between Bali and Lombok sinking our little motor boat seemed like it would be a bath tub toy. Chris down played it and I thought if it’s not safe the boat won’t go right?
For our last night we decided to ride across the island to the sunset side for dinner on the beach. It was a beautiful, bumpy and mostly peaceful ride through the centre of the island. Passing hostels, cell service kiosks, waryngs and corner stores. Anderson taking little jumps and all of us occasionally moving over for the cidomos. The ride turned out to be a little longer than I had remembered. No doubt this was due to the intensely uncomfortable bike seat. Apparently Anderson lost his desire to bike as well beginning to question repeatedly.” Can we go home now can we go home now?”. And so began another in our series of tense dinners while we try to placate and disarm Anderson and he tries his best to make us want to toss him into the ocean or bury him in the sand. Chris is unerringly patient while I stay quiet and calm myself with meditations in how angry children are hurt children and how he must really be frustrated, sad, lonely and bored to be behaving this way. Sometimes these meditations boomerang around to angry admonishments ringing in my head – we are trying to give you so much you ungrateful ingrate. Tonight he is particularly mad because we brought him out for dinner with nothing to entertain him – Chris’s knee was bothering him so he didn’t want to wrestle. I mean there is a whole beach and ocean….. at least the sunset was stunning. After we get back to the villa and settle the kids into bed we sit by the pool to try and strategize and understand why and what else we can do.
The next morning I am extra tense about the boat trip – the wind is still up and the waves are still crashing. My tension is driving Chris and Anderson crazy. I mean I really wish I could relax but 1. I am a crazy person/perpetual over worrier.
2. I do not really understand the waves and the danger – they look big – our much bigger boat was getting tossed around yesterday and couldn’t land.
3. I spent from 3am onwards googling safety issues crossing between Lombok and Gili T so I have read many many accounts – mainly about unseaworthy vessels, over crowding and not enough life jackets.
4 We are in Indonesia where safety standards are visibly lower.
The funny thing is that I thought I was hiding it well. We set off – with our luggage on the cidomo and us on bikes. We get back to our beach launch and the little boat is there bobbing happily away. The captain and crew of two bring it to shore and hurl our luggage inside and we scramble in well to be fair I scramble and lose my flip flop in the waves which further annoys Anderson – Chris at this point has just settled into “let’s get through it and if I don’t acknowledge it or give credence to it it will pass”. Finally we are off – I ask about life jackets and they smile and nod. I ask if we can have a life jacket at least for the kids they say they do not have kid sizes. At this point we are well on our way speeding along and skipping over the waves that in fact are not big. It turns out to be smoother than our ride over – all that worry for nothing which seems to be the general case.
Final sunset – I have left the others for a moment of peace
We arrive on the speed boat from Bali – thankfully I hadn’t looked too deeply into transport between Bali and Lombok – because I would have discovered that these speedboats sink all the time and most people suck it up and pay to fly. But we waited to book and there were no flights available on the day we wanted to fly so Chris booked a fast boat with the hotel. Then in a moment before falling asleep he decided to look into the company and lo and behold – every review says “Whatever you do DO NOT TAKE THIS BOAT” so he madly tried to find us an other way – no flights, other boats but he spends time reading all the reviews and finally manages to book something at 2 am. Turns out to be a very well run and efficient fast boat service and we have perfect weather so it’s not too wavy. We stop and load and unload at two other islands before arriving at Lombok.
Bright light reflecting off the clear waters. The boat launch is a super casual affair just some crumbling steps that you squeeze over to on the edge of the boat – Sabine was just placed directly on the pier. Or rather jetty as they say here. We immediately see the damage from the earthquake that happened in August 2018. The top of a mosque lies by the side of the road waiting for the bottom to be rebuilt. There are piles of rubble, sheets of corrugated metal lie twisted, plywood boards hastily nailed up. Five hundred people died. Anderson asks if there is a place to volunteer to help rebuild. He says that he can just lift rocks or hammer nails.
Lombok is predominately Muslim, and I have to say it seems so unfair in an incredibly hot place to have such a covered up way of dressing. We stop for lunch and walking into the restaurant I feel my bare shoulders. I am excited to see all new foods, sauces like taliwan. There are fruit stands lining the streets and the call to prayer rings out. It feels different and new and Chris and I have big grins on our faces. Lombok is also known as the island of a thousand mosques and the domes do glitter and sparkle in the sunshine poking up out of everywhere near and far. Rice paddies and mosques. At this point in our travels the dusty bumpy roads are now comfortable and I breath in deeply and relax – as we wind our way past the blue bays, white sand opposite the little villages with piles of rocks. It feels so nice to be away from the shops and chocked roads of Sanur on Bali.
It’s a two hour ride where the roads get progressively smaller and if possible bumpier, rubble lines the roads beside villages and our driver Ahmed explains that the worst of the quake was in the north where entire villages were flattened. There has been a lot of rebuilding but many roads are still damaged the government is only giving building supplies to people whose houses were destroyed. We can see many bamboo mats quickly nailed up to create shelter with new builds happening beside.
Then the road widens and suddenly it’s brand new with round abouts and then we turn off the new road onto what is just a series of potholes. We lurch about and down some steep hills and come to a stop in a cloud of dust in front of a sign market The Drop In Surf Camp. We emerge from the car to a choir of dogs. Scott, one of the managers, greats us and gives us a brief tour – chill out zone, class area, pool, chillax mattresses and bean bags, free flow coffee, tea and water, sofas and beers are help yourself and mark down what you owe – honour system. There will be a buffet dinner and introduction that night for the new “campers”. There is a white board with various information about tides, surf times, lessons and photo review.
That night over a simple dinner of Indonesia favourites – Tempe, chicken sate, peanut sauce, veggies and rice we meet our fellow campers – Felix from Germany, Manu and Julien twins also from Germany, Simone and Matis also from Germany not a couple just friends and then Maya and Roman a couple from Germany and then a couple of single dudes – Jonas and Tom also from – you guessed it – Germany. Not really a surprise since the owner is a German woman. Part of the introduction involved a little run down of dos and don’ts in a Muslim majority Island – I thought that was very thoughtful. Then Scott talked about surfing, why he loves it and what it means to him and we all got to do the same. No one got into it quite as much Scott.
The grounds in the evening
Sabine and friends in the chill out zone
View from the coffee station
Give us this day our daily noodles
The next day camp really began with morning lessons and then two sessions in the water. Maya and Roman lasted one session because it’s pretty scary surfing at a reef especially if it’s your first time. Anderson has had a few scares in the white wash – he is light so he can ride easily and pops right up but that works against him when he is trying to get out after a fall – he just gets tossed around. So began a week of big wins and little losses – sometimes he was excited to go out but early morning in the dark was never his favourite and took a lot of patient guiding from Chris. Sabine and I went for a couple of rides in the surf boat, we swam in the pool, played with dolls and made a few pilgrimages to the fancy Novotel hotel to use their kids zone and meet other kids. We lucked out meeting a great little gal named Roxi from Bali and Sadie from South Africa. The Drop In Surf Camp grew on me as we spent more time together as a group.
Arrival at the surf boat
Twins Manu and Julian
Trip to the city to get our visas extended and stopped at the
Mosques mosques everywhere
Father’s day fell in there and we decided to do a snorkelling trip to the Western Gilis. It was a bit of a long drive to the boat but then only a short fifteen minute ride to amazing snorkelling. So many fish, big and small, huge balls of fish schools that Anderson swam through, bright blue starfish and tiny little sliver blue babies. It is a little bit of a challenge snorkelling with Sabine on your back but we tried to take turns. We had a second boat ride to an other island for what was the best lunch of this entire trip!!! We sat on the beach and ate grilled fish, gado gado, corn cakes and rice while sipping fresh coconut water. Amazing. Then we spent sunset on an other tiny little island where we saw more starfish, wrote a Father’s Day note to Chris in the sand and saw the moon rise and the sunset simultaneously! Pretty magical.
Swing on the local beach post snorkelling
Boat views on the ride to sunset island
They are getting away!
Barbie on the beach
Making our mark
The twins from Germany were great and everyone treated Anderson and Sabine like family – talking and including them. I was worried at the outset because we were the only family and it was more of a young persons camp but it was needless worry. It seems that most of my worries turn out to be needless ……and yet she persisted. Felix was particularly struck with our journey – he is a straight edge living guy – no coffee, no alcohol, lots of working out and yoga. He designs his own clothes, Djs, and basically lives to better himself. Like many people without kids have said to us, he wants to do this to when he has children. And he definitely has the determination but it would greatly affect his constant me time. As the week was drawing to a close and people started moving on it was genuinely sad saying goodbye. Soni, the German woman who owns, designed and runs the camp has really created a very special place – inclusive and supportive. We knew everyone on staff and they knew us by name. We cheered and celebrated all the successes on the waves and actually spent time in the communal “chill out” areas talking and getting to know one an other. We ate together at a communal table and despite our age, marital and country differences we became a little group invested in each other. The following Sunday a new group arrived this time almost all women with more diverse backgrounds. An army officer from Australia named Katie , two traveling friends Sonia from Germany and Morgan from New Zealand, a couple Lorelei and Micheal from the UK. The vibe changed again well maybe more the music vibe changed. Quieter and more serene with less beer drinking and no rap music. We stayed on for three more days before it was time to move up to the north east part of the island. Anderson was particularly sad to leave – he bought the hat and talked about coming back. He had an epic surf the last session which was a great way to cap it all off.
We hopped into our “taxi” which was just a mini van/suv with most of our luggage strapped to the roof and headed out on the “road” which is really just a series of potholes. Then up we wound through a fishing village, past tobacco farms and up the coast then inland through more little villages and a narrowing road – more potholes appearing, more rubble aside the road. Then the road became gravel and narrowed to be able to only fit one car. We whizzed along like this for a bit admiring the fading light in the sky. And as it turns out – you can get two cars along the road – one car just needs to slip into the field on the side for a little moment. We finally arrive at Ekas Surf “Resort”. The resort has five rooms. We had the balcony suite overlooking the main town road in the town. Dusty, rocky and mostly empty save for the occasional wheelbarrow, scooter or chicken. From the vantage point of our balcony we can see the bay where the surf and beach time happen but it’s almost dark so we hit the restaurant. I am very sceptical and missing The Drop In. I miss the beautiful landscaping and our spacious grass topped bungalow with the outdoor bathroom and the pale green Moroccan style tiles. This new place is remote and tiny! Our room is antiseptic. Clean and humourless. We have a middling wifi connection and it seems like there is nothing but tiny village and beach around. I know that Sabine and I are going to be hanging beside a tiny walled in pool or walking/I will be carrying – down to an empty beach. Our room in tiny – we have to lean the kids mattress on the wall so we can get out of the door. The owners are South African and very hospitable. We talk about possible outings and low and behold I can learn weaving across the street and I can head over to the next village to see a real local market. Bedtime finds me falling asleep while putting Sabine down on the floor mattress and I wake up around midnight because I am sleeping on what feels like a sand pile. Sigh. Needless to say I wake up early and decided to make my way through town and to the beach for a little time alone. It is perfect. The dusty road past the houses, absolutely everyone I see smiles and waves hello or greats me with “Jek em kembi” – “how are you?” There are chickens everywhere and piles and piles of rubble and new tiles and rebar. Many houses were levelled in the earthquake and the government has finally given those people with no homes building materials. I walk past a small pen holding goats and also see a goat standing on the kitchen table of an other house. I walk past the Mosque that is being rebuilt and hear the call to prayer. Then it’s down an even dustier road or rather sand covered road to the beach. I am alone on the beach with the most breathtaking views. The water is calm and flat. It’s one of the first times I have been alone in months and I feel weird. I feel like I should be doing something or watching someone. Luckily I get over that very quickly by reminding myself that I am finally alone. I have a perfect walk on the beach with a little swim and then a slow walk up the dusty hill to home. Maybe this place isn’t going to be as bad as I thought. Hmm more needless worrying.
The main road
Literally all this chicken does is cross the road
Goat on the kitchen table
Father daughter ❤️
I was there
Pretty much my only exercise
Maybe the prettiest Chris carrying Sabine pic
The following day Sabine and I get our butts out of bed and join Chris and Anderson for the morning surf sesh. I’m that cool I can call it a sesh.
Boat to the reef
So pretty much where we are is heaven. There is an actual resort that looks onto the beach called Heaven on the Planet. This place is magic. Crystal waters, cool but not cold just refreshing – high cliffs jumping out of the surf, powdery silky sand. Sky that ends in peach pink around the mountains in the distance. The villagers are incredibly sweet and open, smiling and calling out hello as we pass. Monkeys leap from the trees and follow Chris and Anderson down the path to the beach for the six am surf. It’s beyond peaceful save for the 5:30 am call to prayer and the don’t give a damn roosters.
Heading to the reef
Back on the beach
I take the kids to weave with Anni who lives across the street from our “resort”. She is delightful, funny and engaging. She teaches us how to weave baskets – traditionally they were woven with bamboo but now are done with rattan and plastic strips used to secure boxes. I guess it’s like recycling. The other bonus are the fun colours from the recycled plastic.
Anni and Sabine getting organized
Barbie makes friends
Finished these in as much time as Anni can make 3 whole baskets and lids
We are here so Anderson can surf more and there is kiting as well so Chris’s plan was to surf in the morning and kite all afternoon. Sabine and I were welcomed to all events along with the knapsack of toys. Of course – it’s not perfect- Anderson gets scared at the reef and holds back a few sessions and the same happens at the kite beach. But for the most part he is enjoying and learning.
Sabine’s bald patch on display – the stitches have been removed
One morning I take Sabine to the market a few villages over. We have a driver and a guide. Our driver Nan is married to Anni who taught us to weave and our guide is Addi. After the predictably bumpy and dusty ride we arrive at the market. It’s mazelike with tarps hung for sun protection. The tarps are hung at a height suitable for Indonesians and I am not a height suitable for Indonesia. It’s a little awkward and stoopy and our forward motion is made even slower by the celebrity like commotion that surrounds Sabine. Everyone reaches for her, calling baby and Barbie. Hands pat her hair, pull on her nose and rub her cheeks. It’s very overwhelming and Addi says it’s best to keep moving. We try. Inching along, I have Sabine on my hip and I’m bent over trying to not drag my head along the tarp. But I want to see what the women are selling – yes it’s all women merchants. But every time we stop people surround us and along with touching they are trying to give us things like jackfruit and bananas and rice crackers and candy. Then a few want pictures. It’s all done with genuine curiosity and doesn’t feel dangerous or even rude. I encourage her to look at people and to say hello. Addi is also good at talking to people and with a smile moving us along. The market has fruit, vegetables, dried beans, fish and chicken. There are clothes – here I can see it really is a local market because all the dresses are heavy and long, there are rows and rows of headscarves and a few stalls of batik sarongs. Surprisingly they also have tons of plastic kids toys and backpacks with all the Disney, Sponge Bob and superheroes….. it’s inescapable even in the middle of a tiny market, in the middle of an Indonesian Island. We survive unscathed and on the car ride home Sabine says, “That was a busy market!”.
All eyes on Sabine
They are actually watching a woman pat Sabine
Now they see her getting a selfie with the patting woman
Flowers for prayer
The days unfold with morning surfs and afternoon kites. Chris does a lot of gentle prodding and encouraging to get Anderson on the kite or into the surf sometimes to great success and other times to tension and anger. We vacillate between wanting to just say – fine – do what you want and shrug our shoulders and carry on or wanting to scream “what in the world is wrong with you?! You have your entire life to watch YouTube or FaceTime your friends get your butt to the beach. Why can’t you appreciate this?”.
I love this part of Lombok. I love the people in the village. I love the beach and I love the solitude. I try stand up paddle boarding – I know I know I should have tried it so much sooner but we were just not in the right places. Unfortunately the board they have is for surfing so it’s crazy tippy and I end up kneeling and paddling which isn’t very efficient especially with Sabine on the board. We are lucky enough to see a wedding procession – all the local villages march behind the bride and groom wearing their traditional dress from their villages, there are hives speaks and drums and singing. The brides face is painted white and she has flowers in her hair and a black dress with gold details. We see a celebration for a boys circumcision. This happens when the boy turns three! Our days whip by and before I am ready it’s time to go over to Gili Trawangan and get Anderson certified to dive.
Bali time flew so fast I almost don’t even know how we got to be on this speed boat hurtling across a body of water, whose name I can’t remember, towards Lombok. Bali passed in the blink of an eye. Right….the body of water we are currently skipping across is the Bali Sea and we will make a few stops at Gili islands before we will arrive on Lombok.
The metaphor of speeding across the water as we head into our final months of this trip is loud and clear.
Time has sped up as it does nearing the end of a vacation or between birthdays as I age. We are in our final two months and I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface yet – right along with looking forward to a little routine and autonomy.
Beautiful beautiful Bali I didn’t even get to see a tenth of what there is. We plunked down in the family haven of the Prime Plaza Suites in Sanur for nine days of kid centred activities. It turned into more of an Australian escape complete with a final night of cheering on the Adelaide Crows as they beat NSW in Australian rules football. A game that closely resembles what I look like playing any type of football – a lot of fumbling and tossing the ball sideways. The resort was filled with Australian families and we met a great one on our second day. I was floating with Sabine in one of the kid pools. One entire side of the resort was dedicated to children’s activities with a water slide, various shallow kid pools, an outdoor playground with swings and a seesaw as well as an open air covered play area with pool tables, ping pong, darts and video games. They have attendants and organized activities like face painting, tug of war and scavenger hunts. This wide open face with bright blue eyes, dark lashes and blond hair popped up beside me and started talking. He introduced himself and didn’t stop for about an hour, questions, queries, comments and stories. Mick is nine and from Adelaide. He was at the hotel with his sister Tatum and his mom and dad – Shan and Roger. Soon we planned a surf morning and a trip to the water park. We had dinners out and afternoons lounging while the kids played.
Day two we got the homemade popsicles going
Frustratingly, even with all the amenities and distractions and kids, we still faced some of the same struggles with the screen time and not wanting to join into our planned activities. It was to a lesser degree and with other parents to share with and I think I was finally able to see that the struggle is not unique to us nor is it solely brought on by our travels.
I did get some solo time with one morning dedicated to a vegetarian Balinese cooking class with a trip to a small family run Tempe factory. This class was the first I’ve had over here where I really learned some new recipes and techniques. I love/am obsessed with curries of all sorts and there aren’t too many that I haven’t tried to make, plus I really prefer to eat vegetarian and most classes (and cultures we have visited) are heavy on the meat. The class took place at a beautiful home stay in Denpasar. A family compound with five house surrounding a courtyard and two small family temples. They had a traditional carved wooden door and raised platform with some folded banana leaf bowls dotted with flowers and small offerings sitting on the stoop. I got to cook with bitter melon, use lava rock mortar and pestles, make crispy sweet and sour Tempe chips and the most delicious salad of steamed greens and charred coconut. where I really learned some new recipes and techniques. I love/am obsessed with curries of all sorts and there aren’t too many that I haven’t tried to make, plus I really prefer to eat vegetarian and most classes (and cultures we have visited) are heavy on the meat. The class took place at a beautiful home stay in Denpasar. A family compound with five house surrounding a courtyard and two small family temples. They had a traditional carved wooden door and raised platform with some folded banana leaf bowls dotted with flowers and small offerings sitting on the stoop. I got to cook with bitter melon, use lava rock mortar and pestles, make crispy sweet and sour Tempe chips and the most delicious salad of steamed greens and charred coconut.
The next day we hit the beach with our new best friends for some surf time and then Anderson and I grabbed a cab to our Graffiti Street Art Class in Canggu. It was a very long cab ride despite actually only being about 4 kilometres away. Bali, especially around Denpasar, Sanur, Kuta and Canggu is densely populated with narrow windy roads that seem to go in circles, the streets are lined with Billabong and Huxley surf shops, colourful sarong stalls and all manner of trinkets and souvenirs. It actually made me feel a little claustrophobic. We found the art studio – a turquoise blue wall spray painted with ethereal and cartoonish mermaids surrounded a little courtyard and a squat building adorned with the same mermaids and bubbles. Inside we found Patrick, an expat from France, wearing a sarong his curls wild and a few patches of beard on his face. He built the studio a few years ago where he now makes his music and teaches art there. He showed us the basics and then we were off on the back of his scooter to the beach. There we discovered the remnants of an art festival a few weeks past. A huge octopus made from wire and bamboo was a gate to the sand and water populated mostly by locals with fishing boats and little huts at the top of the sand. Patrick slapped a coat of black paint on the wall of a hut and we sprayed away. I had a loose idea of what I wanted to do that involves a maple leaf stencil and negative but unfortunately we left those things behind so we just freehand drew. The result was pretty cute and we had a blast doing it. We got home to find out that Sabine had four stitches in her head from a swing wipeout – her and. They had spent the afternoon at the hospital! They don’t use disintegrating stitches and because it was on her head they could use a bandage so they tied the gauze with the ends of the stitches – leaving her with a big white gauze pad and some black string on the top of her head. She also needed yet an other course of antibiotics and a latex swim cap.
Yes penis beer openers – stay classy Bali
Gotta spray close!
Giant octopus sculpture
Paint it black
The following day I escaped solo again for a batik class. This was fun but a little rushed even though I was the only one taking the class. This was a shop and small factory with seven batik artists working at stations outside the back of the store/ museum. They sat at small chairs with little stoves beside keeping the wax warm. They had block prints and then would trace around in wax – dip and dye and then retrace and colour in with wax and repeat the dip and dye. The fabric was beautiful with traditional patterns and colours. But I was given the choice of some more basic patterns drawn/traced in pencil on the fabric then I traced over the lines in wax and painted in the dye. So it wasn’t totally authentic and honestly I would have preferred to just freehand a pattern but by the time I realized the entire process and got started it was too late to change. I asked if I could just draw on my fabric but they said it would not work. I’m not sure if it was a language barrier or if they were concerned that I would know how to draw so that the dye was contained and would not run – I’m not sure. It was still a meditative morning and I loved walking through the art gallery part and seeing what the modern batik artists were creating.
Drawing with wax
Traditional colours and style
Hot wax and pen
Some more blocks
Applying the wax
The next day was spent at the water park with our friends – it was fun and fast – these rides were not kidding!! The first slide I went on was so fast I couldn’t lift my head up – gravitational force was pushing it down. It was actually pretty scary since I wasn’t expecting it and with contacts I have to keep my eyes closed. So it was off to the lazy river with Sabine for a hundred floats around the course. I got over my fear watching all the kids flying headfirst down the twin racer slides – I forced myself to go back to the rides. All was going well until l found my self with Chris, Anderson and Mick at the boomerang – an up and down affair where on a two person tube you spiral down to a long chute that deposits you back up an almost vertical wall – you slow and then go backwards back down. It looked terrifying. Anderson wanted to go with Chris and that left me with Mick. He looked up and said, “Please!!! I really want to do it!” What could I do? I did the boomerang – despite how insane it looked it turned out to be my favourite ride. It was a whirlwind day that we were certain the kids would be exhausted from and fall asleep the second they got in the taxi. Unfortunately we ended up with a taxi from the water park and the inside was bright orange and purple – something happened – it was like they had all done a huge hit of cocaine. Absolute insanity and a wall of sound from the back seat!
We had a few more days by the pool. One of those days was Sabine’s birthday!!! My baby turned four and she tried immediately I bargain up to being five or six. Despite a very thorough scouting of bakeries I could not find one to make me a vegan cake so I did what any good parent does – I made one. Normally no problem – however the supermarket was a little light on cake making things and I’m pretty sure I bought something other than baking soda because it was bar none the absolute worst cake I have
Learning to fly the kite
Dance show at the resort
We had a few more days by the pool. One of those days was Sabine’s birthday!!! My baby turned four and she tried immediately to bargain up to being five or six. Despite a very thorough scouting of bakeries I could not find one to make me a vegan cake so I did what any good parent does – I made one. Normally no problem – however the supermarket was a little light on cake making things and I’m pretty sure I bought something other than baking soda because it turned out to be – bar none – the absolute worst cake I have ever made. But it was decorated with strawberry marshmallows and jam (like I said missing a few key ingredients like icing sugar) and mini strawberry Oreos. It looked pretty cute but tasted awful. The kids didn’t seem to mind. They did face painting with paints from an birthday present lol doll painting kit made in China so most likely made with lead. Sabine got a beautiful dream catcher from Tatum and a frangiapani flower hair clip from Mick. I caved and got her a rainbow hair Barbie and the most hideous dress ever – it rivals the Elsa and Anna mesh tank top and short set that Chris got her in Cambodia. But I told her it was pyjamas so hopefully they will never see the light of day. Then suddenly it was our last night! We went to the Australian owned pub to cheer our new friends’ team to victory. A perfect ending to the kid friendly resort week. I feel like I want to go back to Bali to see the west coast and the north coast. I would love to do a home stay and check out Ubud but we are booked into a surf camp on Lombok so we have to go.
The first thing that you notice about Singapore – is that it doesn’t feel like the rest of SE Asia – more bluntly it doesn’t look like it or smell like it. Pristine, modern and glimmering. Towers and manicured gardens replace squat concrete and old country European wrought iron dripping with overgrown greens and flowers. There are no piles of garbage and on our first little walk around a couple of blocks in little India we do not see even a single crawly or skittery thing. Our home for the next three nights is a shoebox with one bubblegum pink wall and two bunk beds. There is a small leatherette pouf as the single piece of furniture. A transparent green drape flickers in the air conditioned breeze. Our beds are clean and fairly comfortable save for the weird blankets that look and feel like giant tea towels.
Singapore is plastered with these little helpful reminders
Strange jerky kiosk at the airport
Sleeping girl – she’s buried under the strange tea towel sheets
Some more helpful Singapore tips
Breakfast buffet decoration
Orderly street crossings!
For our first full day in Singapore we have decided to go all tourist. So we head to Sentosa Island – a playground of waterparks, luge rides, 4 D cinemas, Universal Studios and casinos. Sounds horrible! But we have decided to pile on the modern fun while we are here – buttering the kids up for our planned overnight up the volcano camping excursion and three day village stay we have booked in Indonesia. Plus Singapore is a modern miracle especially after spending months in SE Asia riding in the open backs of trucks and on dusty tuk tuks. Our “hotel”, and I use the term loosely – it’s really a hostel, offers a “free breakfast buffet all you can eat” insert classic Indian accent with a gentle head bob. While our hosts are over the top friendly and smiling the all you can eat buffet is six packages of wonder bread, a tub of margarine, a tub of peanut butter and a tub of chocolate spread, instant coffee and instant tea (cuz somehow tea isn’t instant enough) as well as bananas. It’s funny that now mini bananas are the norm and I’m sure we will all freak out when we see “Canadian” bananas.
So after our breakfast delight we head out to find the bus stop – Singapore has incredible public transportation and we love seeing the city this way. Again I am struck by the cleanliness and the the ordered traffic. It’s how we drive – in lanes, obeying lights and signs – to be fair there have been very few lights or signs in the other places we have traveled. We find our stop – hop in the super air conditioned bus for a harrowing – I am not joking – harrowing drive to the bay. The bus was going easily 60 with fast stops and dodgy turns. I was pretty much sitting on Sabine to keep her from flying off the seat. We did get some great views of buildings – so beautiful and modern and we flew past a mosque that I had wanted to see so that was a bonus. We arrived at the gondola 🚠 to take us to the island. This turned out to be FUN!! So much fun. It was a beautiful ride and we saw ritzy yachts and huge ships – the island of Singapore makes nothing so everything is shipped in and the harbour shows that. We flew over the water park – spotting dolphins and rides and the luge. The day was spent consuming – popsicles to keep cold, fast rides, candies from the most giant candy store in the world, dumplings, more rides and then a few 4D shows. Exhausted we made the last gondola back to the mainland and crawled into bed.
View over Sentosa
She wanted a picture with the m&m even though she has never had one
Outside the candy store!
More helpful posters
For day two we planned to go a little more educational with a visit to the art and science museum. But first we dodged the all you can eat wonder buffet and hit a cafe Chris had found online. It was amazing – crazy breakfasts with ice cream and sauces but also super healthy and delicious options. It was fast and friendly and for sure the most money we have spent on breakfast this trip – like double what dinner cost in Cambodia at the fanciest place. But that is Singapore. We headed to the museum – we had to walk through a mall to get to it. It was one of those super chi chi fancy malls with Cartier and Louis Vuitton. We did get distracted by the incredible French speaker store as well as the giant Marvel Cafe. Then we spent sometime dancing on the digital interactive floor. Finally we made it to the Art and Science Museum where we stayed for the entire day! So much for going to the Cloud Forest. We rushed through the Floating Utopia exhibit – it was incredible and I could have just sat under the giant moon conceived by UK artist Luke Jerram, entitled Museum of the Moon, for the entire day. It is a huge internally lit moon – 7 meters in diameter- featuring detailed NASA imagery of the surface. Jerram designed The Museum of the Moon to travel the world exploring the diverse cultural, scientific and religious relationships that different societies have with the moon. Yet somehow with all the differences the distant glowing orb connects us. It was very mesmerizing – just like the real thing – I have spent so many nights in some of my favourite places staring up at the moon and the night sky – as we all do. So when I look up in the sky in SE Asia it surprises me with its unfamiliar moon! The moon is not crescent shaped here – it grows upwards from a smile as it waxes. It’s always surprising. And it always makes me think of home. There were so many interesting interpretations of floating utopias – from giant air filled animals that arrive unexpectedly to lounge between apartment buildings in giant cities – to giant air balloons made from plastic bags, complete with a work station to build an other one. There were a few exhibits about pneumatic protest. The Yes men who are an activist group who use humour and trickery to highlight what they believe to be the corporate takeover of society. They provoke with elaborate hoaxes that they film. Hilarious and frustrating. I love going to museums – it was so nice to be challenged and surrounded by art.
This coffee was $6.00 It was delicious.
At the fancy mall I kept getting being handed testers for old lady skin….. sigh
Museum of the moon
More digital magic
Design your own hopscotch interactive digital floor mat
Sabine in Wonderland
Mad Hatters tea party
Making a giant balloon from plastic bags
The pneumatic art – this piece just appears in regular locations like beside buildings and markets to remind people to play
The kids loved the Future World exhibit that was fully interactive with a slide, glowing balls and walls that you could design. By the time we got to the Alice in Wonderland exhibit we were all a bit worn out – but I am so glad we pushed through because the tea party was beautiful. We finally emerged around 5:30 and Anderson was done with exploring and desperate to cash in on his birthday promise to see The Avengers movie – so we headed to the theatre. Speeding across Singapore during rush hour was nuts but it gave me more time to marvel at the real roads and manicured greens that spread out around and before us. Unfortunately the movie was sold out so we were left enjoying The Secret Life of Pets 2. By the end of the movie a small cut on Chris’s leg had blown up and turned angry so we spent the next few hours finding a clinic and getting some help. Luckily a super lovely couple walked us the few blocks through a twisty maze of apartment complexes to a clinic unluckily it was closed but we found an other a short cab away. We ended up back in our little dorm room by 11pm. The next day our flight to Bali was in the afternoon and I was keen to explore Little India – right outside our door. Of course with the exhaustion from the day before and the late night Anderson was not interested in anything other than his screen. Chris offered to stay behind and Sabine and I headed off. We had picked up a stroller for the long walks we knew were taking in Singapore so I was strollering her along through the smells and colours and heat. Such incredible heat. We lasted about an hour and then I melted back to the hostel drenched in sweat. Definitely feel like we could have used an other full day of exploring – but I am ready to see Bali.
In the best way we do – suddenly we are leaving Kampot barreling down an indescribably dusty road under construction. Huge trucks and rickety tuk tuks veer into view out of the obstruction of terracotta clouds. We thought we were leaving our little happy home in Kampot tomorrow until I realized what day it was while bumping down the road from Kep. Immediately I was disappointed to be leaving a day early even though for the last few weeks I have been solo parenting while the guys kitesurf.
My favourite view across the river
River boat cruises by
More of my view different angle
The kitesurfing spot
Chris going pro
I seems Kampot captured my heat somehow. The dramatic ever changing sky with clouds lit from behind like some sort of biblical prophecy. The sleepy pace we got ourselves into. Rising after 8 and reading in bed until padding down to dip in the pool before ordering breakfast. The amazing food – so many great little spots with passionate cooks. I have spent all my days with Sabine playing dolls, making art, bouncing in the trampoline – well I haven’t bounced on the trampoline – I mean I’m not a masochist – but it’s been fun watching her. There have been a few families stopping in for a couple of nights at a time and a few day trips. Most notably to Climbodia where the boys climbed and caved and Beanie and I lazed with the dolls and the ants. We did venture a little into the cave and it was spectacular – open ceiling with cliffs raggedly climbing fifty feet up. But my heart wasn’t in going any deeper. I hit my cave quota in Vietnam. Sabine and I also day tripped into town for a pedicure and once for lunch. We day tripped to Kep, a seaside town about twenty kilometres away. But there wasn’t anything spectacularly amazing just an overall quiet and gentle place.
She wasn’t big enough to climb so she was the spotter
Kampot country side
Land and sky
I did get a small glimpse into an other side with our tuk tuk driver. On what turned out to be our last day he drove Sabine and I to Kep and gave us a little tour. We went to a butterfly farm and explored the hills above Kep overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. Stunning hillside with million dollar views dotted with crumbling mansions built in the sixties before the war. They were abandoned and occupied by the Khmer Rouge during the war and the land now belongs to the government. Sep, our frequent driver and guide that day, explained that Cambodians are prisoners of their government – it runs all the business and deals in nepotistic ways. It’s impossible to make anything more than a meagre living unless you are connected and it’s impossible to leave if you don’t have money. He said he depends solely on us, meaning tourists from the west. He spoke eloquently and it was difficult to listen and to really understand what he was saying. He said that if you speak up the government takes your land, your job anything – he said he knows of some who have fled and are trying to get the world to understand what is really happening. This whole time we have been going to see shows and exhibits that promote the regrowth of Cambodia and the celebration of art and literature after the war and Sep claims it is all for show for tourists but has very little validity for the everyday Cambodian. That the government is corrupt and normal citizens are hostages.
Crumbling mansions on the hill
One more with sky
Dramatic round about
View from a tuk tuk
Going in to the butterfly farm
Inside the butterfly farm
Trolling the market
Lunch with my girl at the hippie yoga cafe
Saying goodbye to the night market rides
“Fast food” at the night market
Dinner with dolls
So here we fly under yet an other drama of rain and sun and cloudy skies, sun umbrellas lining the road back lit clouds, round abouts, people standing three deep in the flat beds of tuk tuks. Layer upon layer of green with firecracker sprays of red and orange flowers. He are hitting it for Phnom Penh and a night in a villa – currently occupied by our new friends who work at the American Embassy and are back in America so have generously offered us a free place to sleep.
We arrive at the Villa and are let in by the 24 hour guard in duty. The place is palatial! With 20 foot ceilings, a sweeping spiral staircase, a ping pong table, every board game ever invented and a huge play room filled with toys, princess dresses and mini high heeled shoes. Heaven for a night. The beds were deliciously comfortable, the air con was crisp and we went out for sushi. So we were feeling very posh. Our only job was to feed the two cats – Ju Ju and Peanuts. They were suitably rambunctious and fun. The only bummer was forgetting our passports in Kampot and needing to organize an emergency delivery for $40 bucks.
Dress up at the embassy Villa
Dinner out with Frozen
Sushi with dolls
Insane drive to Phnom Penh
The morning came quickly for Chris who had to fly to Bangkok to retrieve some bags of kiting equipment and extras we had left there two months ago. I had the morning in the palace with the kids and then a flight to Singapore – solo parent travel day!
We started out well – a million fun things in the house so we stayed in until 11:30 when I ordered a Grab (Asian Uber) to take us to the airport. Things started to unravel – Anderson thought he had left his stuffy, Maggie, in Kampot – luckily we had it and then the Grab texted it was there but it wasn’t – I dragged all the bags to the curb along with Sabine to discover the Grab wasn’t there. The guard offered to talk to the driver so I gave him my phone and headed back inside to get Anderson – I discovered the front door wide open! WE HAD ONE JOB – to keep the cats safe. A huge free palace with just ONE JOB. I’m yelling at Anderson to see if he saw anything – he jumps into action and heads outside, I run to get a tin of cat food and return to find Sabine, shoeless, standing at the door that is once again OPEN! Jesus the other cat. So we did in fact have TWO JOBS! Anderson spots one cat by the side of the driveway and heads out. Thankfully I see Ju Ju inside so the new focus is getting that cat inside and finding Sabine’s shoes. That’s when Anderson says – I don’t think that’s the same cat. I look again and realize with a pit in my stomach that the cat on the driveway is most likely NOT Peanuts – I’m not certain because I don’t really remember Peanuts in the moment and I really want that cat to be Peanuts because at this point the Grab has arrived and the guard is loading the bags in the car. I find Sabine’s shoes – bark at her to get them on and glimpse Peanuts INSIDE attacking JuJu! Heart soars and we climb into the car. I’m sweaty and elated that we didn’t lose a cat and also that we didn’t ADD a cat unnecessarily.
The rest of the travel day is remarkably easy. Filled with all the foods the kids love and many small bribes along the way. We make it to Singapore without incident. No yelling no begging. Generally it’s me begging. Didn’t have to. Feeling cocky I get us into a cab and on the way to our cheap and cheerful hotel/hostel in Little India. It’s cheerful if not cheap – at $100 a night we are killing the budget. It’s a two bunk bed affair with bubblegum pink walls reminiscent of our house when we first bought it. Chris joins within an hour and we are ready for dinner – CURRY!!! But no, Anderson says he isn’t “feeling it” …….. but we are in Little India and everything smells soooooo goood. Instead we hit a weird comic character cafe for some strange fried hotdog dish. Of course we get back late and the kids are unbearable until they both pass out from the exhaustion of driving us to homicidal ideations.
Airport side of broccoli
Stop eating my chips
Oreo and Oreo donut
Budget airline in Asia
Must be Singapore
The Temple beside our hostel
We have two full days in Singapore anything more will break the bank. It’s going to be a whirlwind.
The days are drifting dreamily by here in Kampot. This is a true expat haven. It explodes on the weekend with working expats from Phnom Penh and meanders gently with retired expats during the week. We have met a few families who have decided to raise their kids here, preferring the free range parenting, it takes a village style. The expat necessities, like housing, food and beer, are cheap. More than cheap the food here is amazing – Kampot has drawn in a large number of chef’s who just want to live a simple life, cook with passion and exit the rat race. We have read this on countless menus – introductions from chefs explaining why they have chosen to live and cook here. We have eaten some extraordinary food – Japanese, Italian, French and Indian and are resisting the urge to return again and again to the same spots because there are just so many tempting choices. The only downside is that the Khmer food is not the best. Anderson and I took a cooking class that turned out to be a little disappointing – we did learn how to make amok (delicious fish in coconut milk and curry steamed in banana leaves) and beef lol lak (lime and pepper spiced beef with onions) but they used store bought sauces like ketchup, oyster sauce and sweet chili sauce. A French expat gave this opinion – a lot was lost in the war and many traditional ways were lost. He thinks there are chefs in the larger centres that are trying to bring back the more traditional ways of cooking and spicing but mostly people go for ease. All the food carts and stalls use premade sauces and dried Raman soup noodles.
Our fancy French dinner
Super safe play structures
Playground with a few missing pieces
The view to our room by the river
People are exceptionally friendly, helpful and nice – you just have to get used to the slow pace of everything – I think it’s the heat. Many hot climates seem to produce cultures that are not in a rush. The usual dirty underbelly of old white men with young Cambodian girls/women is here – although to be fair the women seem slightly older than in Thailand. The men are the same – at least the most obvious ones are – white, English or French speaking, aging or of retirement age and usually nursing a fifty cent draft in an open air cafe accompanied by a younger woman much better dressed than he.
This expat artist from France told me he was contemporaries with Toulouse – Lautrec…… um?
ride into town with Bunbun
Colour after the rain
Building on the beach
Durian round a bout in Kampot city
Night time is playtime
It’s very easy to get around – by that I mean that tuk tuks are plentiful and always cost around $3.00. The roads on the other hand are a little more challenging – not as budget gravelly as Costa Rica but dusty and bumpy. We have a pretty good thing going here – nice resort with free rides to the kiting spot available everyday. There is a small playground next door. There are two pools one with a small slide, the other with floaters and they are both actually refreshing. The restaurant provides endless plates of rice and mango available to Sabine who is eating a 💯 mango and rice diet broken up with occasional scoops of strawberry sorbet. So I am definitely winning as a mom there. Chris and I have may even drift into the next level of marital intimacy – chin hair plucking. The lights here are beyond dim and I haven’t had my own car for almost a year – that was the best light for getting the job done. Growing closer together all the time.
We made a light lunch
Sour shrimp salad
Pork and eggplant cooked and plated by Anderson
Artful onion arranging
Peppers and spices
Truthfully we are all loving Kampot and the rural quiet and beauty. The light and the sky changes dramatically and keeps me captivated. We are however still in a two step forward one step back with Anderson. He loves being in a country environment and he loves kiting. The kiting has been going so well that we are extending our time here further until our visa runs out at the end of the month. This last weekend a wonderful family from the states who work and live in Phnom Penh were at the hotel for the weekend. They had a boy Anderson’s age as well as two girls willing to play with Sabine. What a great break. It was heaven for a day and a half but then because it was a weekend Anderson was able to talk to his friends from Toronto so suddenly he didn’t want to go out with the new friend – named Emerson. I tried to talk to him about it but he just refused. Then after Emerson left he was in a bit of a funk. It’s been a fighty and unpleasant few days. Chris is good at helping me keep my temper at bay and keeping things moving in a positive way but it’s incredibly draining and I feel like I am failing. I just so don’t want him to miss out on the opportunities we have but at this point I am tired of having him around when it’s against his will. It feels like he won’t ever just suck it up and carry on – it’s always a tirade of anger – the best pre teen anger – everything is dumb and boring and he won’t ever need to know about it. What does history have to teach anyone? Although at the same time Chris and I have recognized and acknowledge that we are where we are – we have what we have available to us and it’s not going to be what Anderson wants right now. So we will let him talk to his friends until the wee hours of the morning – we will let him play fortnight and other games. Chris will take him kiting as much as possible. We will try to help him self regulate through it all. Through it all I have been reading so many family travel blogs and “world school” blogs and I’m feeling such a disconnect there. It’s all sunshine and roses with people describing how much their kids loved learning about ancient Greece and were so thrilled to walk through the ruins in the burning sun. How they just love being able to school their children their way and to be able to spend all their time with them. No one ever talks about the difficulties or challenges that full time travel present. But that’s social media for you. Maybe I focus too much on what’s not working instead of the things that are working.
Siem Reap was a slow burn. Anderson was sick and the extreme temperatures along with Sabine’s open wound made it very hard to do anything for two days. Finally we made it out of the hotel for a late afternoon tour and some food. Siem Reap is busy, extremely touristy – it seems that it’s entire reason for existence is Angkor Wat and the thousands and upon thousands of people that traipse through. Our place was off the track – through the most “authentic” market I have seen. I bracket authentic because really how am I to know except that there were no tourists there and nothing to buy except raw meat, vegetables and fruit all buzzing with flies. It was a narrow passageway that was rammed with motorcycles, scooters and tuk tuks all but on top of the stalls. There was no room to move freely. And the smell was intense. I had read the the reviews of our place and all had mentioned having to go through a market but I thought how bad can it be we have been to a lot of markets! I quickly realized this was different. It was fine, we made it through daily, holding our breath and trying not to see the giant rats scurrying underfoot and sometimes overtop of the stalls. I didn’t even want to think about where the food we had been eating at the hotel a mere 50 feet away was coming from.
Morning at the pool
We started the next day with a 4:30am pickup. I chose a tour company from Air BnB excursions – mainly because they were small, had an air conditioned van, water, cool towels and had excellent reviews. Reviews that specifically mentioned how the tour took a slightly different route than other big tour buses. Surprisingly the kids were in good spirits. We parked on the east side and walked up a long pathway flanked by trees and jungle it was dawn light pale and slightly misty. The temple emerged from the jungle. Honestly it might be impossible to describe. It is totally awe inspiring. Angkor Wat is a huge temple that is surrounded by a moat. It is essentially a microcosm of the Hindu universe, mystical and moving. The carvings, etchings and reliefs tell the story of creation as well as depicting other teachings. Unfortunately the kids were not awestruck which is something that we had sort of guessed would happen. I held out hope but it just wasn’t to be – this was keeping in line with many other parents descriptions of kids at Angkor Wat. It was just too hot, the distances to walk were too long and the stairs were too steep. On top of this we got separated – Chris with Anderson and myself with Sabine and none of us with our group. When that minor fiasco was cleared it left Chris in a frustrated mood that was exacerbated by the tour taking the EXACT same route as all the giant Chinese tour buses. There is no love lost between the Cambodians and Chinese. This we heard frequently from Cambodians – always big loud groups. Directing us to stay away from places that are over run with Chinese. It’s never nice to be confronted with blatant racism. I think it’s more of a volume issue – the tour busses are full so of course that many people are loud. We got a little taste of the sheer volume. This sardine like atmosphere combined with the extreme heat and total assholery of the kids set off Chris further because he had specifically not wanted to follow the tour. This is also combined with his desire to stay off the beaten path – which I felt was nearly impossible if not totally impossible at a world renown historical site….. anyway it was one for the books – the highs of seeing these beautiful and impossible to fully take in temples coupled with my intense annoyance with my family. We honestly didn’t even debrief through the experience for a few days. We just got home – hit the the pool and lay in air conditioning until going to the circus in the evening.
Angkor Wat cropping out people to get the shot
Crowds waiting to take the iconic shot
People enjoying what I came to enjoy how dare they
Sure he looks happy ….. also I need a hair dye
Looks peaceful – it is so stunning in real life
Nothing like some monks strolling around Angkor Wat
Lotus flowers and lily pads
This guy just watching and waiting
Story of war fought
I would put this face on a temple
Trying to learn in the heat
The circus was amazing – no animals it was more of a cirque de Soleil style. What I have seen in Cambodia is a very strong drive to foster the arts and to provide places to learn and grow as artists. The country is still actively healing and growing after war. We were asked frequently if we had been to the Killing Fields or the museum – I always felt the need to explain that we chose not to take the kids – we want to focus on the positive and peace building side. People nod in agreement but I felt like part of the healing for them is having that horror seen and exposed. To better understand Cambodia and the strength of the people. We did stop at Apopo – a nonprofit humanitarian de mining agency that trains and uses giant rats to sniff out land mines. The was a big stop on our “peace” tour and even though the rats were cool – it was so hot the kids were more cranky than enlightened. This circus was similar to the dance show we saw in Siem Reap in that it was funded and supported for working with disadvantaged youth and providing a place to foster and grow talent as well as keep some art forms alive. The performers were incredible and it was a great night for all of us.
The street outside our hotel
We worked through some of our temple trauma to manage two more trips back to the temples. An evening drive past rice paddies and lotus fields with perfect rows of thatched roofs, restaurants with hammocks adjacent to every table led us to Banteay Srei. Temples atop a small mountain or really more of a large hill. We hiked up carrying some street food snacks that our wonderful driver had helped us procure. Rambutan, mango salad and bbq chicken. The best part was seeing the countryside stretch out from the base of the “mountain”. Patchwork of rice paddies with huge fires burning – at the end of the dry season the farmers burn their land to fertilize the soil and prepare for planting. Unfortunately we didn’t get a crazy sunset because is was overcast and a little smokey from the fires. The temples at the top were crumbling and closed off to the public but we could hear them teeming with bats. Just about a minute after the sun dipped below the horizon the bats winged out en masse through the dusk air. Anderson spotted the huge wave of them cutting through the sky and exclaimed loudly enough to gather people nearby to watch the excitement.
On the road in Siem Reap
Mystery fruit – maybe rambutan maybe lakum
Thatched roofs spanning a field
So so hot
He has literally carried her across SE Asia – deserves a giant medal
Can’t go wrong with mango salad
Looking for the sunset
Detail of altar
In case you are wondering what Sabine wants for her birthday
The following morning we did an other 5am rise but this time we had our now trusted driver Leung to take us to a few temples not as popular as Angkor Wat. This was so much better. Despite my misgivings Chris was totally right – we were able to get off the beaten path. We walked about 60 meters up to a temple undergoing some repairs but with an incredible view down to Angkor Wat and only about five other people there. As opposed to our other morning of hundred and hundreds. Then we drove through the complex of temples past Elephant terrace and across the bridge lined with giant statues depicting the tug of war creation story. We got to Ta Prohm before it officially opened at 7:30. Anderson had zero desire to see an other pile of rocks and statues exactly the same as every other temple so we left him with Leung and the tuk tuk and walked around the wall surrounding the temple – we could glimpse inside and see the cleaners along with their children sweeping and picking up garbage. We came all the way around to the back where there was an other entry way – an archway with a tree growing over it. We started through hoping that once we got closer to the front it would be 7:30 and okay for us to be inside. Just through the arch we met a woman and a small child and it turned out she was a vendor – she was with her grandson and heading to her booth – she had been a vendor there for twenty years. She paid $20 USD a month for her stall but was having troubles since they had allowed new vendors to open just inside the archway. She said the Chinese tourists didn’t travel past the other vendors to see the archway. She complained that they were loud and rude. We bought some water from her and headed in. This was my favourite temple. It was like a hallway of mirrors with yoni and linga alters in building all perfectly aligned so you could look down this straight line. There were no other people there so we were able to feel that feeling of being the first explorer – to image the life that flowed through there hundreds of years previously and the hands of the builders and artists putting it together piece by piece. By 9 we were drinking fruit shakes and on our way home to relax in the air conditioning. We had a final night checking out the night market – by now we are a little saturated with the night markets and this one was the classic tourist trap lined with beer parlours, American foods and cheap trinkets. No real food stalls once inside – sort of like Bourbon Street at West Edmonton Mall.
View down to Angkor Wat
Crane – they are repairing all over Angkor Wat
I guess this guy gets cold at night
Rare eyes open shot
Leung has to get up really early to get us at 5am
The cleaners and children inside the temple before opening
The gate and wall
Vendor helping Sabine
Her face right before she asks for a crappy plastic trinket knowing we will say no
Peaking at sleeping baby of the cleaners
Warm morning light
We struck out for Kampot the next day. Hiring a taxi for the day as the morning bus was sold out and the night bus had some sketchy reviews. Our driver, Piet, was a friendly man and an aggressive driver. The roads operate on a totally counter intuitive set of rules with the onus on the guy behind to make certain they don’t hit the person in front cutting them off. It feels lawless and scary. Everyone merges by just driving in – no checking to see if someone else is there or moving along faster than you – just drive on into the road and who ever you cut off better be ready. Giant trucks barrel along beside scooters and bicycles. Swerving around tuk tuks. Scooters and motos turn into oncoming traffic and then swerve over to the other side of the road and it is the drivers that they are cutting off responsibility to not hit them. It’s crazy. Chris was asking about accidents – if the roads really are as dangerous as they seem to us. Piet said that he drives his kids to school and will not let them ride their bikes. Not more than half an hour later an accident happens right in front of us. I cover the kids eyes as Chris says, “Don’t look!” I see a truck bearing down on us as it travels diagonally across from the wrong side of the road. There seem to be two forms lying on the road not moving. I closed my eyes and we went past. I opened my eyes to streams of people running toward the scene. Chris assured me it was one person on the road not two. Although he had said – in the moment – “that is someone’s child” he also assured me it was an adult. Piet explained that if the driver of the truck had remained at the scene he most likely would have been beaten by the crowd that was gathering. Horrific. We just carried on. The kids asked no questions and seemed oblivious to the fact that I had slammed my open palms over their eyes while gasping. We carried on in silence. After sometime Piet said, “that is why I don’t let my children on the road.” We just carried on.
Flat earth, terracotta dust outlineing every rib on emaciated white cows. The black soil and tufts of dry grass circling farmers plots. The landscape dotted with lollipop palms.
Road snack of sticky rice and beans cooked in bamboo
One of the things about being in a foreign country is the language barrier that is often also compounded by customary behaviour. This came to full light on the drive from Siem Reap to Kampot. I listened to Chris booking the taxi – which took no less than two hours – don’t even get me started on his methodology of question asking and digging and digging – I hate when it’s directed at me – it makes me incredibly uncomfortable when it’s directed at service people and yet – when he books things they generally go smoothly. While my bookings tend to end in some form of frustration like the first morning temple trip. I keep taking people at face value when they say yes they understand and will do what I am requesting. Chris doubles down on the questions. This time he had been assured that we were getting picked up in an air conditioned taxi to take us to Phnom Pehn – it was to stop on the highway outside of the city and there we were getting a second taxi to take us to Kampot. We were picked up at our hotel and then ten minutes later we pulled over and were transferred to an other taxi. So the questions started and the answer was always, “Yes, yes.” As it turned out – no, no – we ended up being driven into the city of Phnom Penh and then changed taxis in the city adding an hour to the drive. Sigh. But at least I know that I’m not crazy – I ask the questions once and accept the answer. It doesn’t matter how many times you ask the question the answer will be yes but the truth is frequently something else.
The final three hours of the drive to Kampot was a little harrowing. The gravel road was under construction and the taxi would just veer into oncoming traffic or veer off onto the “shoulder” which was perilously close to a ditch. There were trucks filled with people standing in the flatbed – I’m talking at least six maybe even seven of these “public transportation” trucks also veering around tuk tuks and motorcycles. There were also – completely unmarked and unlit piles of gravel like speed bumps that the driver would have to slam on the brakes and slow down for. Plus it was now dark. So we white knuckled it until finally arriving at our hotel.
Pool with lollipop palm trees
Dripping with mangoes
First morning in Kampot
Villa Verdici. Our room was far from the main building but a good size and modern and clean. When we woke up the next morning we realized what a gem we had hit upon. A breathtaking view over the river onto the national park. The pool is ringed with terraced rooms, a pool and ping pong table and a lounge with couch and tv. The guys went kiting and Sabine and I headed into Kampot to get Anderson a birthday present. Kampot, the city, is small and Sabine and I stayed on the main drag so it ewas mostly restaurants and tourist shops. Each open aired restaurant had at least one if not two retirement aged men – usually fairly unkempt, sipping beer – 0.50 cents a glass – no other customers. I imagine it’s the Thailand of 30 years ago or Mexico where you can live out your golden years cheaply, warmly and treated like a king. We managed to find some good gifts and snacks. We returned that night for dinner and were treated to a magnificent dinner from a South African chef. Pork belly, coq au vin, pate, sea bass, a meal that would have cost at least $30 a plate in Toronto for $9 dollars. As it turns out there are many great restaurants here – chefs from all over hanging there hats at little twenty or thirty seat spots open to the street. Then it was Anderson’s birthday – he so wanted his traditional birthday morning which is chocolate covered strawberries a giant ballon and one birthday gift. Strawberries were not to be found neither were balloons so he started the day playing hot and cold for a present – a Toblerone bar – then having Nutella pancakes and heading out to kite. Sabine and I shared a tuk tuk with a fellow Canadian from Moncton to La Plantation a pepper farm an hour away. Of course I didn’t realize that it was an hour away when we started but there you have it. Parenting my way – blindly jumping in and not asking any questions. Luckily I had a roll of Oreos in my purse and the farm had food. It was a beautiful and incredibly bumpy ride through farm land and past a secret lake and a little way up a mountain to the farm. The rainy season has started and just like that the temperatures are dropping – the rain feels glorious. I love the moody grey skies that highlight the greens of the trees and jungle. The roads are terracotta dirt that seem to glow under stormy skies.
Dramatic skies on the way to the pepper farm
Gal with a pebble in her shoe
La Plantation is owned by a husband and wife from France and Belgium. It is incredibly well run and employs over 100 people from the neighbouring rural villages. They grow pepper, pineapple, passion fruit, kefir limes and banana. We got to tour through and see the picking and processing as well as the packaging. Then we had a pepper tasting. I loved every minute of it. The pepper was so delicious and all the ways they processed it made it even more delicious. Some was fermented, some smoked, some mixed with other seasonings. The farm also sponsored a school in the area and awarded three scholarships a year to send students to private school.
Fresh apple juice
Walk after the rain
So many frog and toad noises here
My boy is ten!!!
How they do nachos in Kampot
Fisherman returning home
We returned along the bumpy road playing eye spy – sorry Matilde from Moncton! Chris and Anderson had not gone kiting because of the rain so we resumed the birthday celebrations with late lunch, movie and popcorn and then cake and an other gift. Anderson had decided that he wanted his other gifts the moment he turned ten which would be at 8:59 am the following day. The kid can delay gratification unlike any I have ever known. He seems happier. This place on the edge of the river with kiting and a safe, calm and rural vibe is perfect for him. He has even said, “Next time we go traveling….” that have me giant pause and – I’m not going to lie – a little shock. I feel a slight – no more a real trepidation thinking about an other year abroad. But that he spoke of it made everything seem better even just for a moment.
It’s my birthday and even though I can’t even manage the number on my life dial I feel really great. I always feel rejuvenated after meeting with my goal group women. Even if it’s just virtual. I was able to articulate what I am passionate about doing even though I don’t have a clear plan toward it. I realize this travel has impacted me and is changing me even though it feels like a treadmill of fights and recriminations. I want to lean into this time with my kids – it has felt so overwhelming day in and day out to keep them occupied and learning and happy. I feel like I have failed so much of the time and I don’t know what their take away will be. But it’s okay. We are together. I am so lucky to do this so I will enjoy it for all of us. I’m just going to break down our return into manageable bits. Three month increments. Until then I’m going to enjoy every free day. I’m going to let go of the frustrations. I’m going to go back to loving my kids unconditionally.
All lovely sentiments and very true at the time of writing – and – of course almost impossible to hold on to. I guess that is why mindfulness is such a big business because it is such a monumental task to stay present with our hearts open. My birthday was a travel day and one of the most stressful travel days we have had. It had all the tension of an action movie okay maybe more like a thriller – no one jumped in front of any trains and Tom Cruise didn’t make an appearance. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time only to discover that we needed to have $2000.00 in USD cash to enter into Cambodia because we didn’t have a return ticket. They would not accept bank statements. So either withdraw Vietnamese dong and then convert them into USD at the airport or buy some bus tickets out of Cambodia. Obviously the bus tickets are better – even if we don’t use them they won’t be as much as we would lose on converting money. The only hitch is that my cell phone has no more time left in it and once connected to the wifi won’t let me use google because it’s unsecured – when Chris figures out how to get around that the connection slows down and we can’t see any of the train options. There is no where to physically buy tickets at the airport and we don’t have time to go to the train depot. We do have one top up for the phone so we head outdoors to get the best connection and Chris proceeds to book train tickets or at least attempt to. Finally when he has loaded all four passports, birthdays and full names and addresses into the tiny phone he gets to the payment page and after putting all that information in the phone times out!!!! We have exactly 20 minutes to present ourselves and the tickets at the check in or we don’t fly. He reloads the phone and manages to get the tickets with about 11 minutes to spare. We race back to the desk and get ourselves checked in. Our boarding passes read that the plane is currently boarding even though we aren’t supposed to leave for an hour we are processing this when we come to the customs line that is comically long. The kind of long line that terrifies me when I know I have to stand in it just by myself – my body likes to get all low blood pressurery when I know I have to stand under fluorescent lights for any length of time. The kind of line I dread more with the kids and the heat and finally the kind of line that is a serious time restraint on making the flight. Miracle of miracles the kids are relatively good – maybe they feel and smell the fear sweat dripping down our backs and puddling in our underwear. Drips beside our noses to slowly roll around our mouths over our chins and down our necks. Chris, as usual, is super calm. Maybe a little quicker to snap. We make it through customs to find – if possible – an even longer line snaking around toward security. Sabine chooses this time to point out all the different people – wondering aloud with her little finger poker straight toward each person, “Is he from Africa?” Or a more definitive and happy exclamation “He is from India!” We are doing all the “Pointing is rude” “People are from everywhere” luckily one of the pointees in question laughs and we are able to strike up a conversation. The clock is seriously ticking and the sweat is seriously rolling. Then miracle of miracles we are plucked from the line and ushered through security until we are stopped or rather Anderson is stopped and his bag double searched….. WHY! Then we sprint to the gate and end up waiting. It’s a fast 45 minute flight on a super lux huge plane – that ends with the hardest landing I have ever felt on an airplane – there were actual gasps and not just coming from me. Then we need to get our Visa’s but my bank card and Visa card will not allow me to take any money out. Chris has lost his bank card and we are waiting for a replacement. Luckily he manages to get money out with his visa. Finally our Visa’s are bought and we make it through customs. The arrivals lounge is outside under a huge metal canopy with a fountain in the middle and the usual smattering of people holding signs, kiosks for SIM cards, coffee spots and a million go getters offering taxi and tuk tuk rides. It’s raining and hot. Finally I manage to get money from an ATM finally we buy our SIM cards and get a taxi to our little hotel in the middle of Phnom Penh. The hotel is nice – nothing fancy but clean and with a good pool. It’s surrounded by busy streets and taller buildings. We are informed that the power goes out between 6am and noon on even days of the month and noon and 6pm on odd days of the month. This is happening all over Cambodia as they build their own infrastructure for electricity. They have been buying electricity from Vietnam. We find a restaurant that looks yummy and is right around the corner from the hotel – so I can have a birthday dinner. Anderson doesn’t want to come because he will miss out Sunday FaceTime with his friends. Not going to lie – that hurt my feelings. After this travel day I’m loosing my YEAY I am older but wiser and going to have a great year and am thankful for all that I have in my life feelings. When Anderson chooses his friends over me – which I do totally understand – I get that distinct what’s the point feeling. Luckily it’s a great restaurant and we have a delicious meal and even a FaceTime with Paul and Nisha holding their new nephew Dion. So more family AND a ridiculously adorable new baby. When we return Anderson is suitably sorry.
Rainy arrival to Phnom Penh
View from Breakfast at the hotel in Phnom Penh
The first day we book a walking tour/ tuk tuk tour – we end up having to tuk tuk it because the heat is too much for the kids. Then halfway through the market Anderson turns white as a ghost and is too sick to continue. He and Chris hang back as Sabine and I climb endless stairs up to the main temple at the centre of Phnom Penh. It’s a very active temple so we get to see everyone praying and our amazing guide even teaches us how to pray and greet people in the Buddhist way. He points out that since I am his elder he would have his hands together over his mouth whereas I could keep my hands together under my chin. It always surprises/annoys me when I realize that I am in fact older and people can in fact tell. I hate him for a few minutes. Then we wander around the temple and down the backside to see the giant clock in the hill and snap some tourist shots. We get back to Chris and Anderson and discover that Anderson is worse and they are returning to the hotel. So Sabine and I carry on to the Royal palace. By this point in the travels she is not excited about Royal Palaces because she knows that they contain zero Princesses. But she gamely joins. By gamely I mean she gamely eats the Oreos I bribe her with every half hour or so to keep her going. The Royal Palace is spectacular – well the grounds are – we only get to see one building and it’s where the King entertains other big wigs and royals. It’s entirely gold and is most likely the inspiration for Trumps golden penthouse. It’s all French courtier style Louis XIIII – ornate chairs with intricate gold brocade and inlay and gleaming golden surfaces. Chandeliers dripping with twinkling crystals. There are many doors – each for different people – one specifically for the king and one only used during war. Our guide is very knowledgeable and easy to understand – Sabine could care less and just wants to touch absolutely everything all the while squealing with delight when she spots any monks. We then visit the silver pagoda and the costume hall and are spit out onto the street at precisely 5:01. Then we go for an authentic Cambodian snack. A version of my favourite Vietnamese rice pancakes and a bowl of fried things – chicken feet, meatballs, embryo eggs, and a fiery papaya salad. I avoid the fried bowl – taking an innocent looking meatball and nursing it for as long as possible. Neither Sabine nor I are able to drink the sugar cane juice no matter how much ice is in there.
These guys look mean
Heading into the market the building was built in the 30’s
Walking up to the central wat
Guide photo with all the feet and a crane
Beanzie and I at the big clock
Bummed we can’t get a bird
Offerings for the temple
At the Royal Palace
Painting on the wall – three blocks long and took sixteen painters a year to finish
Prep for a big celebration with the king the following day
Sutpa with flowers
Bowl of fried bits
Mother daughter tuk tuk
That night Anderson is feeling better so we go see a dance show. I’m a little hesitant because the water puppets weren’t a big hit and the Thai dance show ran a bit long to hold the kids interest. But this show is amazing. The performers are incredible, the costumes and Apsara dance is so beautiful. It’s evolved from Hindu ceremonies and dance and this company is taught by a former Prima Ballerina from The Apsara ballet who almost single handedly helped revive the art that was all but wiped out during the war in the 1970’s. This company was founded by a man who’s intention is to put musical instruments in children’s hands instead of the guns that were put in his hands. They have evolved over the last 20 years to reinvigorate and revive art forms lost during the war and starvation period that followed. They mentor writers, teach poetry, art, dance and music. It was a beautiful show that enthralled Sabine and kept Anderson laughing. A great night.
The next morning we were up bright and early for a cycling tour of the villages surrounding Phnom Penh. We decided to take the tour with Grasshopper the same company we used in Vietnam. This tour was not quite as polished – maybe reflecting how Cambodia is still more rough around the edges. Again the heat was insane! It felt like cycling through an oven with the breezes blowing dry and hot while we were drenched in sweat and humidity. Our stop at a cafe with a silk worm farm and weavers was beautiful but so so hot. No fans, the water bottles were barely cool and the expansive array of fruit was hot – well fine room temperature but actually hot. Annoyingly when we returned from the oppressive back room after watching silkworm wriggle around on some green leaves I discovered our tour guides drinking from giant take out cups – like freaking big gulps – filled with ice and some kind of juicy looking drink. Rude. We then hopped back on the bikes to meet some lemongrass farmers, tamarind farmers and cycle through a banana plantation, we crossed the river at three points and finally were greeted at a van with cold towels and cold water and driven to a lunch spot. Obviously my favourite part of any excursion is the eating part. It’s so much fun to sit down with regular folks and eat what everyone else eats. Although I’m sure we got the “tourist” version it was still pretty tasty! We were back at our hotel by 1:30 where we all passed out for an hour in air conditioning. I have to say being able to cool our core temperatures down is invaluable. Even more amazing than the heat are the clothes that normal Cambodians wear! Hoodies! Long pants! Sleeves! Socks! Unbelievable.
Lemongrass farmer 61
Guides need to be trained in how to take a picture so you can see faces and not feet
Our tour group
25 cents a kilo
Beautiful fruit break
The gods and their animals
Simple lunch – soup and fiery chicken pieces
We only stayed in Phnom Penh for three nights – our hotel along with being centrally located was also crawling with giant cockroaches – they sprayed every morning and collected the upside down leg curled carcasses frequently. But we saw them and had to remove a few from the room. Just part and parcel of being right in the action. Phnom Penh is big and very smelly. More garbage than anywhere else we have been and the smells are intense as it seems garbage can just be left where ever there is already a bag. We saw rats and bugs on all the streets. Although not in the actual restaurants so Hoi An has Phnom Penh beat there. I was happy to get into the Giant Ibis bus that was heading to Siem Reap. Angkor Wat has been on list of must sees since we started planning this trip. I can not wait to get there. We actually booked a sunrise tour for the morning after our arrival. We have learned the key to keeping the kids happy and us learning is to have a good tour guide but to also have an air conditioned taxi and lots of cold water. We found a tour that has all of those things – plus great reviews and a schedule of temples opposite of other companies to hopefully ensure a less packed experience.
From the bus on the road to Siem Reap
Cambodia is flat and almost desert like
The view from our balcony in Siem Reap
Nothing is better than clean folded laundry – that I didn’t do!!!
An hour into our five and a half hour bus journey – Anderson got sick again. This time he spiked a fever and horrible headache – he moaned and slept and moaned for the remainder of the trip. We arrived and his head was hurting so badly that he threw up. Luckily into a plastic bag. But it was one rocky rocky tuk tuk ride. On top of the fact that we discovered our tuk tuk was being held together with a little glue and some well wishes Sabine had had to pee so badly when we got off the bus that she had dribbled a little in her underwear and was now loudly announcing that was my fault. So between her high pitched complaints, Anderson’s moans and the time we had to stop the tuk tuk to retrieve our bags that had fallen off into the road after the side of the tuk tuk had given away on a particularly big bump, it was an anxious ride. And then totally out of the blue Sabine tried to pat Anderson to help him feel better but ended up actually poking him right in the eye. Not our best ride. Finally we made it to our little oasis just outside of the city centre. Sometimes it’s really worth it to book the bigger nicer room and prettier hotel just a little out of the way. This has worked for us here since we are now on day two of being trapped here with a sick kid and a bandaged kid. Sigh. Luckily we were able to rebook our sunrise tour of Angkor and tack on some days to our time here. Fingers crossed we can make an excursion out tonight. We have tickets to a “circus” show – an other company that works with youth to revitalize the arts.