Posts Tagged adventure

Baby, I’m Back!

Did you miss me? I missed you too. Yes, both of you!

Fantasy Football Draft

My brother and Mr. HalfFull drafted a San Diego Chargers player, so of course the jerseys came out for additional shenanigans. Too bad you can’t see Mr. HalfFull’s ridiculous championship ring in this photo. The commissioner wears three massive rings, so don’t start a fight with him during the draft!

Realistically, I knew I hadn’t blogged here in quite a while. But it really hit home last weekend before Mr. HalfFull’s Fantasy Football Draft.

He and his crazy friends do a live draft every year. One year, three of the guys (and some wives, including me) flew to Indiana for the draft!

But this year, the draft was at our house. Before the appointed draft time, I went out to dinner with the guys (and then disappeared until the following morning to spare my sensibilities). As we were chatting and catching up over dinner, my husband’s friend said that he reads my blog…or rather, he used to read it when I posted. Woah!

Two things struck me during this conversation. First, on the half full side, it’s awesome to have a third reader! Now I can address my readers as “all of you” instead of “both of you.” The second overwhelming feeling was embarrassment at my dearth of blog posts.

Posting Apathy

Why haven’t I posted more regularly? Well, there are lots of reasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

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End of the Journey

Last year, Mr. HalfFull and I embarked on our 30/40 World Tour:  Quest for Passion.  But it all came to an end 10 weeks later, and we returned to the real world of jobs and schedules.

Sailing in Fiji

Our sailing adventure in Fiji was nothing like that of Robin Lee Graham. I prefer to take airplanes between countries.

A few months ago, I read Dove, the true story of a 16-year-old boy who sailed around the world.  My trip was nothing like the solitude he experienced on his sailboat, but the wanderlust and thrill of adventure on land are similar.  During his journey, he met his wife, Patti.  This passage about her really struck me; it reminded me of my writing here and thoughts as my journey was coming to an end:

There are gaps in Patti’s diary, which was written to remind her of days that meant much to her.  She knew as I knew that we had got too close to heaven too early, that our time in the islands must come to an end; that we would soon have to return to the real world again.

One day I noticed that she had stopped typing.  She had put the typewriter back in the locker where she had found it.  I asked her why, and she smiled and said, “I don’t want to write the last chapter.”

Robin Lee Graham

Well this is the last chapter and it’s been written, like it or not.  As they say, all good things must come to an end.  But the memories will last a lifetime.  Perhaps those memories will continue to inspire me, and help me on future quests.

Recently, I was telling a friend about my Quest for Passion.  He stared at me incredulously and asked why I had to travel to find my passion.  I explained that travel wasn’t required, but it’s a good way to get out of normal routines and change thought patterns.  If you are in the same place, with the same schedule, interacting with the same people, you are less open to new possibilities.  But when you throw yourself into new environments, you are forced to make it work and challenge yourself in different ways.

Mauritius

Mr. HalfFull practicing mental relaxation and flexibility. But he doesn’t need as much practice as much as Ms. HalfEmpty!

This is part of the reason why vacations are so important.  They help to free your mind from chores at home, and give you the opportunity for mental relaxation and flexibility.  Stay-cations can be useful to accomplish projects at home, but they don’t have the same freeing power as getting away and changing your environment.

We are generally creatures of habit.  Many of us say we like change, but change can be hard.  Perhaps we like the idea of change, but the work to get there isn’t always enjoyable.

I think the Quest for Passion is lifelong for many of us who are not innately drawn to something.  My trip is over, but I think my quest will continue.  Patience is not one of my virtues, so I need to learn to appreciate the journey and live my way into my answers.

…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.  Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer…

Rainer Maria Rilke

I hope you stick around to find out what life is like after the 30/40 World Tour.  Or perhaps you have found my passion, the key to the locked room, or can translate the very foreign language for me.  If so, let me know in the comments.  Living my way into the answer seems like it could be very frustrating!

  • When your trip nears the end, do you worry about writing the last chapter?
  • Has travel helped you think in different ways?
  • Are you a creature of habit or spontaneity?
  • Have you found your passion?  Was it a struggle or did it come naturally?
  • Are you patient?

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Dubai Whirlwind

Yoga in the Desert

Mr. HalfFull and I arrived in Dubai at 4:25 AM for the start of our 36-hour whirlwind tour of the United Arab Emirates.

You may be wondering why we spent less than 2 days in Dubai.  Valid question.

Travel Plans

We wanted to minimize airport layovers during the 30/40 World Tour.  But sometimes there are no direct flights.  Usually, we were able to make week-long layovers in a separate country, as we did in Fiji and New Caledonia.  But sometimes it just didn’t work out.

International flights only entered and departed Mauritius on Wednesdays, so that was a limiting factor.  The original plan was to fly from Mauritius to Munich to visit my cousins, and the best flight was via Air Emirates with a layover in Dubai.

We really had no intention of visiting the desert in the middle of the summer.  But my mom’s cousin, Sir Expat, a British gentleman (in the most chivalrous sense of the word) living in Dubai was willing to host us!  He has lived there for years, speaks Arabic, and has a car and an extra bedroom.  What more could we ask for?

We figured we could handle 104° temperatures for 36 hours and booked the layover.  It turned out to be a great decision!

Dubai Airport

Ms. HalfEmpty at the baggage claim in the Dubai airport

Airport

We experienced one of our best flights on Air Emirates and arrived in Dubai very early in the morning.  The UAE customs agent was perhaps the least friendly we encountered.  He didn’t seem to think traveling around the world was a valid reason to visit Dubai.  Perhaps it was because we were spending such little time in his country.  But after some stern looks, he stamped our passports.

The airport was expansive and modern with cultural touches.  For example, there were huge rugs with cushions and trunks in various locations like baggage claim.

Please don’t blow up the picture and look at my sleepy expression after our red-eye flight.  I kept wanting to cuddle up on those cushions while waiting for my luggage.  But after the encounter with the customs agent, I thought it was probably best to wait for an invitation before sullying a ceremonial area.

Despite being before 5 AM, Sir Expat was waiting for us at the airport to shuttle us back to his flat.  As we stepped outside the heavily air-conditioned airport, the blast of heat hit me.  The sun wasn’t even up and we were in a covered parking garage.  What had I gotten myself into?

Sir Expat asked if we wanted to drive with the top down.  Ordinarily, this would have been a rare treat.  But it just seemed too hot.  How does anyone drive with their top down in Dubai???  I guess they can only do it in the dark before 5 AM in the summer.

Driving Tour

Driving in Dubai

Driving toward Atlantis, The Palm Resort

Thankfully, Sir Expat invited us to nap for a few hours before setting out to see the city.  The city is filled with skyscrapers and lush manicured lawns surrounded by desert sand.  It is decidedly non-environmental.  But it’s an architect’s dream.

One of the trends in the UAE is land reclamation.  Basically, they create more land by filling in the sea.  But they don’t just dump the rock and sand in a circle or rectangle.  Of course not!  This is Dubai.  They do things big.

No Boat Parking

It seems like they are really big on rules in Dubai!  (In case you can’t make it out, those are a bunch of boats around the No Parking For Boats sign.)

Dubai is home to the Palm Islands, where each man-made island is in the shape of a palm tree — a tree trunk with a crown of fronds surrounded by a separate crescent-shaped island.  The original plan was to create 10 islands, but the real estate bust hit and they only completed 3.

Sir Expat drove us to the first palm island — Palm Jumeirah.  The trunk is populated with apartment buildings, while the fronds are filled with private villas.  We drove through an underwater tunnel to reach the crescent island that surrounds the palm and is home to Atlantis, The Palm Resort.

Armadillo Subway Station

View of the subway station on the left nicknamed “The Armadillo” because of its color, shape, and scale-like exterior

The next artificial island project in progress is World Islands, which will be a map of the world in the ocean.  How crazy is that?  We were able to see some of the progress looking down from the top of Burj Khalifa — the tallest building in the world.  But I wasn’t really able to make out any specific country.  Pretty soon, I guess you will be able to say that you live in Japan — Japan Island off the coast of Dubai!

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Mr. HalfFull and Sir Expat marvel at the architecture in the Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Next on the tour, Sir Expat shuttled us to Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a traditional Arabian souk with wind towers and lantern lit hallways.  It’s filled with boutique shops and restaurants throughout the beautifully adorned hallways.  We sat down to enjoy iced coffee and a snack before proceeding on our 36-hour whirlwind tour.  Plus, it provided a great view of another architectural icon — Burj al Arab.

Burj al Arab

Sir Expat found the perfect photo-op location to capture Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull with the Burj al Arab

Remember how I told you about the heat? It’s so hot that it’s illegal to labor outside between noon and 3 PM. Sounds a bit like Spanish siesta time, but I’m not sure that’s the custom. I’ll tell you more about my Spanish siestas when I update you on our trip to Spain in a post to come.

Dubai Creek

Ms. HalfEmpty along Dubai Creek with the sacks of goods and crazy painted boats

Sir Expat also took us for a drive along Dubai Creek where we were able to see the import/export business. We saw fleets of decrepit multicolored boats that didn’t look especially seaworthy. But apparently, these ships travel back and forth from Dubai to India carting all sorts of goods including refrigerators, car parts, and sacks of unknown goods. It was crazy to see stacks of all these items along the shore. I was only out there for a few minutes before I was too hot to move — and I wasn’t even lifting goods!

Shopping Mall

Dubai International Mall

Look at the tile work on the ceiling of the mall!

Since it’s so hot in Dubai, malls are a favorite hangout. These malls are magnificent…if you like that sort of thing. I don’t really find malls to be exceptional havens of culture, but when in Dubai, do as the Emiratis.

Dubai International Mall (Spain section)

Ms. HalfEmpty and Sir Expat walk around inside the mall designed to look like Spain at night

We visited a couple impressive malls over our 36 hours. One had each section decorated in the style of a different part of the world – China, India, Persia, Egypt, Spain, etc. It was almost like a museum. We saw ships, elephants, and impressive tile mosaic work. Don’t worry, the mall has stores and restaurants too. I even saw appropriate Muslim swimwear for women.

Mulism Swimwear

Ms. HalfEmpty finds swimwear for Muslim women

Matt wanted to hold my hand in the mall.  Ordinarily, this would not have been an issue, but Dubai has fairly strict PDA rules.  In fact, Sir Expat told us about a recent case where a British couple was jailed for kissing in a restaurant.  I only had 36 hours; I couldn’t end up in jail!  When Mr. HalfFull tried to be funny and touch my booty in the mall, I just about lost it. Why is he such a rule flaunter?

Desert Safari

What trip to Dubai would be complete without a desert safari? Sir Expat booked us on a tour at the hotel next door. He knows about everything!

Mr. HalfFull, Sir Expat and I piled into a Land Cruiser with our driver, Ahmed, for the drive out to the dunes. First there was a stop at the gas station so we could caravan to the dunes with the rest of the fleet of Land Cruisers. Little did we know how important it would be to have those other cars with us.

Sand Dune Driving

Roller coaster ride through the sand dunes

Before driving on the dunes, each SUV pulled over to let air out of the tires for optimal sand driving conditions. Of course, I sat in the front seat to truly experience the thrill of the drive. It was a bit like a roller coaster, but without the safety features. At any time, this SUV could flip over. I’m not sure my already battered neck appreciated the ride, but how could we not do it?

Climbing up the Sand Dune

Sir Expat lends a hand to Ms. HalfEmpty as she ascends a sand dune. It was a workout!

Remember how I told you that my mom would have freaked out on the narrow, curvy roads along cliffs in Australia? I’m not sure she would have survived the sand dunes. She’s the type of person who would grab the “oh sh!t” handle in a car on a normal drive and use her pretend passenger brake pedal. But even I was grabbing the “oh sh!t” handle on the sand dunes. I’m not sure I would have been able to stay in my seat otherwise!

Sand Dune Jumping

Mr. HalfFull gets mad air

A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned how being in a fleet of vehicles turned out to be a good thing. Our driver had only been driving the dunes for 6 months. One of the keys to driving on the dunes is never, I repeat NEVER, drive along the top ridge of the dune.  Or you will get stuck!  Like we did.

Our Land Cruiser was straddling the top of the sand dune with the undercarriage resting on the sand and the wheels touching nothing.  Ahmed tried several times to move, but we were stuck.  Fortunately, another vehicle from our group was nearby.  We all hopped out while they towed our Land Cruiser (in case it tipped over).  The first time, the belt came loose.  But eventually, our wheels were back on the sand.

Dining Bedouin Style

Sir Expat and Mr. HalfFull dine Bedouin-style at a low table in the desert

We drove further into the desert until we reached the camp.  There, Mr. HalfFull and I rode a camel together.  It was pretty much what I expected until it was over and the camel made an abrupt drop down.  Perhaps they should have told us to hold on.  But this was more about adventure than safety.

The camp was also our dinner location at low tables surrounding a stage.  Apparently, the camel knew where the food was too.  After we all got through the appetizer line and the camel rides were over, the camel decided he would enter the walls of the camp and help himself to a few hors d’oeuvres as well!

Henna Tattoo

Ms. HalfEmpty shows off her “poop finger” tattoo

I also got a henna tattoo in the camp.  My original idea was to get my name in Arabic, but the woman doing the tattoos didn’t know Arabic.  Instead, she had her own style of tattoo swirls.  It all looked fine and dandy until she got to the end of my finger close to my nail.  Instead of a nice elegant line, there was a blob of paint.  For the rest of the trip, Matt called it “poop finger.”  Of course, “poop finger” was the darkest and therefore, the last part of the tattoo to wear off.

Burj Kalifa

Burj Kalifa

Mr. HalfEmpty and Ms. HalfFull pose outside the Burj Kalifa

Sir Expat made us a reservation to go to the top of the Burj Kalifa on our final day.  Yes, it’s the same building of the Tom Cruise stunt in Mission:  Impossible — Ghost Protocol.  We only went on the inside of the building, Tom was on the outside.  Minor difference.

Gold Machine

Mr. HalfFull discovers the gold vending machine at the top of the Burj Kalifa

Have you ever seen a gold vending machine?  We encountered one at the top of the Burj Kalifa.  It only takes cash and this one contained gold nuggets in the shape of the building.  So it’s a souvenir AND and an investment!  No, we didn’t actually buy gold to cart around in our duffels.

The entrance to the Burj Kalifa is actually in a sprawling shopping mall.  So after our building tour, we walked around our second mall of the trip.  This one had a wing of super high-end stores, an aquarium, and a skating rink!  One of the most interesting things for me to witness was women in full veils, with nothing showing but their eyes, eating in restaurants.  I’m not sure I would even want to eat out if I was so encumbered.

Apparently, we also exported Kim Kardashian to this Dubai mall.  There was a larger-than-life poster announcing her appearance at the grand opening of a new milkshake shop in the mall.  Aren’t they lucky!

Kim Kardashian at the Mall

Ms. HalfEmpty poses next to Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, La Toya Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, Pamela Anderson, and the larger-than-life Kim Kardashian in the mall

After our final mall adventure it was time to grab our bags and head to the airport for our afternoon flight.  Dubai reminded me a bit of Vegas.  Both are deserts filled with skyscrapers and the craziest things.  When considering if they should build the next outlandish feature, they probably ask why not rather than why.

  • Excluding airport-only layovers, what’s the shortest amount of time you’ve spent in a country? 
  • Have you found customs agents to be generally friendly or gruff?  Did the length of your stay matter?
  • Have you visited super hot climates?  How did you fare?
  • What crazy things have you seen in a shopping mall?
  • Have you ever required a tow out of an unusual place?
  • What atypical item have you acquired from a vending machine?
  • What American “exports” have you been surprised to see overseas?
  • How do you feel about turning a desert into a lush, green oasis with air-conditioned skyscrapers?

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1 Bus, 3 Days, 1000 Kilometers

Oz Experience Bus

Squatter walking back to the Oz Experience bus, which acquired quite a bit of dirt along the journey

Australia is a big country.  We knew we couldn’t see it all on our schedule, so we chose a small part.  We flew into Sydney, and knew we were flying out of Melbourne.  So Mr. HalfFull decided that it would be fun to see the part in between from the ground, and booked us on an Oz Experience bus tour.

Squatter

Squatter breaking for lunch after our hike to the summit on the final day

Our driver was an ex-military officer named Squatter.  Even though he currently owns his own house, I think he got the name from squatting at his mom’s house too long.  Anyway, he was a great storyteller and made the ride a lot of fun.

We arrived early at the meeting point in Sydney.  Everyone was just hanging around outside the bus, so we decided to get coffee.  It turned out to be a fairly complicated street to cross with inconvenient crosswalks and fast traffic.  By the time we got back, everyone had selected their seats on the bus.  One side had double seats and the other side had single seats.  Of course, most of the singles had reserved double seats for themselves in the front of the bus.  Mr. HalfFull and I wanted to sit together, so we were relegated to a double all the way in the back.  This was not a good start!

Australian Capital Territory road sign

Our whole bus group posing for a photo on the side of the highway

One of the first stops was on the side of the highway.  I was quite confused.  Was the bus broken?  Did someone need to pee?  No, Squatter thought it was a good photo-op with the Australian Captial Territory sign.  He gathered all our cameras as we huddled and shivered behind the sign.

Oz Experience bus on highway

Walking back down the hill to the bus on the side of the highway

Then he commenced talking about Australian war history. I suppose this was interesting to him because of his military background, but I was beginning to wonder if he ever talked about anything else.

As we slowed down in the capital city of Canberra, the bus repeatedly stalled at low speeds in traffic circles.  I was not impressed.  Already I was in the last seat listening to war stories… and now the bus didn’t even work properly!

War Memorial

Red flowers next to the names of the fallen at the War Memorial in Canberra

I soon learned why Squatter was telling us so much about wars.  Our first stop in Canberra was the Australian War Memorial, which is also a museum inside.  Mr. HalfFull enjoyed the exhibits, but I’m not a huge fan of museums.  So a museum about war wasn’t my cup of joe, but I could appreciate that it was a beautiful memorial building.

Canberra

View of a Canberra promenade from the War Memorial

Canberra was a strange city.  Apparently the citizens in Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t agree on which city would be the capital, so they created Canberra as the capital in between.  Canberra is a planned city (actually designed by Americans).  Rather than the usual grid of streets, Canberra follows a wheel and spoke model, so all the main promenades flow into the center of town.  These wide streets are huge and seemed strangely empty.  But Squatter said they were designed for the influx of millions of people for celebrations.  The normal population is much smaller; plus many of the ministers of Parliament don’t even live there full time.

Old Parliament

Old Parliament House with Aboriginal Embassy on the lawn including the word "SOVEREIGNTY"

Our next destination was the Old Parliament House.  When Parliament was in session here, the Aboriginals set up a tent city on the lawn across the street to demand their own embassy.  The tent city has become their embassy, but must be manned to remain so.  Squatter warned us not to take photos of them because it might start a fight.  I didn’t actually see any people at the camp and we took our photos from across the lawn, so I guess that’s okay.  It reminds me a bit of the Occupy DC camps that were recently dismantled.  However, the Aboriginal Embassy had a lot more green space and fewer tents (and no expensive name-brand camping gear; it was pretty decrepit).

Australian Parliament

Ms. HalfEmpty sips coffee in front of Parliament House in Canberra

Queen at Parliament House

British lad on our tour kissing the statue of the queen at Parliament House

After seeing the Old Parliament, we were off to the current Parliament building.  Squatter gave us a tour of the inside and made sure to add a lurid detail about each political figure as we passed his/her portrait.  The design for the building was selected through a worldwide architecture contest.  While the final result is impressive, it’s not terribly practical.  The flag that flies 81 meters high gets so tattered in the wind that it must be replaced every 2 or 3 weeks at great expense.  On our tour, Squatter dared the 18-year-old lad from the UK to cross the ropes and kiss the statue of the queen.  As he knew (and Michelle Obama learned), you can’t touch the queen!  Shortly thereafter, our group was reprimanded by a security guard.

Australia

View from the bus

The rest of our day was spent driving to our overnight accommodation.  After the decrepit nature of the bus, I was rather worried about where we would be staying.  But as we pulled up, I saw the word “hotel” and was relieved it wasn’t a hostel.  I already knew that we paid extra to have a private room, rather than be in a dorm-style hostel.  But if they had both types of accommodations at the same location, I figured I would be roughing it a bit.

Snowy River

At least the hotel had a nice view of Snowy River

I was right.  This was unlike any “hotel” I’ve ever encountered. We did have a private room, but it was so tiny.  It was basically just big enough for the bed and to swing the door open.  At the foot of the bed was a bookcase.  When I say at the foot of the bed, I mean touching the mattress so that the lower shelves were inaccessible.  This also made the far side of the bed inaccessible without crawling over your companion.  There was a small TV on top of the tall bookcase — far too high to watch.  It was plugged into the cable outlet, but not electricity.  So I brought it down and looked for an outlet.  There was only one, but the cord didn’t reach that far.  I had no idea why they had this TV in the room since it was unusable in the current setup.  We also shared a bathroom with the other room in our block.  Unfortunately for us, it was a dorm style room with 10 people!  The bathroom was a single toilet, single sink, and single shower all behind a single door — such a poor design for so many people.  Our dinner and breakfast were included in the “hotel” dining room mess hall.  Dinner wasn’t so bad, but breakfast was terrible.  They served military style powder eggs.  I was glad when our night was over!

Remember how I told you that the bus was stalling at low speeds in Canberra?  It continued to do this all day.  There was another Oz Experience busload staying at the same “hotel.”  That group was doing the reverse of our trip and would end up in Sydney, the location of the fleet’s mechanic.  So we switched buses with them and were on our way.  I wonder how they fared with the stalling bus.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it would become very important for us to have an operable bus for the terrain we would encounter the next day.

Toboggan Hike

Mr. HalfFull with his toboggan in search of a sledding hill

The “hotel” was mostly inhabited by skiers and boarders since it was at the base of a mountain.  We drove up to the ski area, but only had an hour, so it wasn’t enough time to actually ski — super disappointing!  Instead, we rented toboggans and practiced our most daring sledding moves.

Sledding

Looks like Mr. HalfFull found some snow. Did he leave any for the other kids???

We were a little out of control standing on the toboggans.  But it’s not our fault they don’t steer well!  There were only a few close calls with small children, but we didn’t take any out.  Although, we did see some of them take their friends out.  The real problem was that no one was telling the children not to walk up the middle of the hill where the sledders should be.  We tried to set a good example by walking up the sides, but the children never followed us.

Weighing Options

Mr. HalfFull weighs his options (with two rocks) in the wilderness. Don't fall in!

Back on the bus, our next adventure led us to remote mountainous roads that require a special driver’s license.  These are narrow dirt roads with curves and cliffs — no guard rails.  It was rather exciting at times.  (My mom would have been screaming.)

Squatter & Friends

A koala and other furry friends help Squatter drive the bus through harsh terrain

We stopped periodically to admire the landscape and take photos.  After one such stop, we all piled back on the bus.  But the bus wouldn’t go.

Apparently, there is a safety feature that if the door is ajar, you can’t accelerate.  So Squatter asked the person near the door to shut it.  This shutting process went on for minutes.  There were gentle closes and hard slams, but nothing seemed to allow the bus to accelerate.  Squatter was able to override this safety feature by using the hand brake.  But he knew he couldn’t drive like that for hours on these roads.

Tinkle Tour

Mr. HalfFull goes in search of a tree to tinkle behind

This location was so remote that there is no cell phone service.  So in addition to requiring a special driver’s license, you are also required to carry a satellite phone.  Squatter set up the satellite phone and called the mechanic, who conveniently never answered.  Fortunately, a Mexican girl in her early 20s had similar problems with her old car back home.  She suggested that we remove the fuse to disable the door safety feature.  It worked!

After getting back on the road, the microphone started acting up.  Squatter spent much of the trip telling us great stories about what we were seeing, and also about his experiences working with Aboriginal kids.  So the microphone was essential.

Fixing the Microphone

Squatter breaks out the toolbox to fix the microphone

The microphone was also essential for another reason — making sure all parties were on the bus.  Squatter told us a story about a previous trip where  a guy went into the woods to “hide an Easter egg.”  This trip included two buses with every seat filled, but no one bothered to do an actual count of passengers when they departed that particular stop.  The guy in the woods had been sitting in the back of the bus (I feel his pain) and no one alerted the driver that he was missing.  Apparently, this guy heard the bus engines start, which made him start running with his pants around his ankles and “Easter egg” all over.  He did not catch the bus, and the drivers didn’t realize he was gone until much later.

So on our trip, we would check in on the teams from each country.  Squatter, would ask for Team Germany and the two German girls would respond.  Team Mexico consisted of one girl.  Team Canada sat directly in front of us on the bus and consisted of a 30-something woman, her boyfriend, and her parents.  Team America was me and Mr. HalfFull.  When Squatter would call out, “Team America?” the Canadians thought it was hilarious to scream, “F*@# yeah!” in response.

For a while, Mr. HalfFull abandoned me to go sit up front and hold the microphone wire for Squatter so it wouldn’t be jostled on the rough roads.  Eventually that workaround was no longer effective and Squatter broke out the toolbox, and I got my husband back as a travel companion and seat pillow.

Remember that I told you about my applicator-less tampon experience?  It happened on this day of the journey out there in the middle of nowhere.  But at least there was a port-a-potty with toilet paper, and I didn’t have to use a tree for cover like Mr. HalfFull.

Dirty Bus

Ms. HalfEmpty is incredulous reading the message on the back window of the bus: "I wish my girlfriend was this dirty!!"

It was a dusty, bumpy journey and the bus certainly looked like it.  Remember the British bloke from above who kissed the queen?  He also decided to leave a note in the back window of our bus.  (See photo at left.)

Kangaroo & Joey

A kangaroo with a joey in her pouch

The next day was the final leg of the bus tour and included my favorite part — kangaroos!  I had seen kangaroos twice on the trip so far, but those were only in passing as we drove by.  This time we were in a field of kangaroos.  We were so close; some people in our group even touched the tail of a kangaroo.  It was amazing to watch them spring into the air in person.

Emu

The emu posed for a photo

We also saw an emu in the same field.  It was impressively large, but at least it wasn’t so close that it towered over us.  It fled pretty quickly and I never saw another one, unlike the swarms of kangaroos that allowed us to close in.

Our final adventure of the bus trip was a hike in Wilsons Promontory.  At the summit, we had a picnic lunch on the rocks and enjoyed the view.  From our vantage point, we could see two oceans!

Australian Poop

Can you guess which is emu poop and which is kangaroo dung?

I complain a lot about conditions like the bus and the accommodations.  I’m just not that rugged, and I do enjoy my creature comforts.  But I know we couldn’t have done all of that on our own.  The number of hours behind the wheel was insane; I don’t know how Squatter does it.  But that also meant that we had to wake up early, so he could cover lots of territory.

Kangaroo & Emu Crossing

Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull pose with the quintessential Australian roadsign

Three days was certainly enough for me, but there are people who take a series of these trips all the way across Australia and back.  In fact, the British lad did a 31 day tour across the United States!  I know that’s not my half empty cup of coffee, but we did have some great experiences and meet interesting people during our Oz Experience.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Where do you prefer to sit on the bus?
  • Do you ever stop on the side of the highway to take photos?
  • Do you enjoy war history?
  • Are you a fan of museums?
  • What do you think of the Aboriginal Embassy?  Does it remind you of Occupy DC?
  • Do you enjoy sledding as an adult?
  • Have you had vehicle issues while traveling?
  • What wildlife did you see while traveling?

Related:  All posts in the 30/40 World Tour series

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Period.

Period.  Full stop.  The end.

NZ waterfall

The lovely Whangarei Falls in New Zealand are not the flow I'm talking about

Nope, not that period.  I’m talking about that enjoyable time in the heroine’s journey, whether she is home or traveling abroad.  You know, the one that comes monthly — or 3 times in 10 weeks if you’re super lucky (or perhaps half empty).

If you read my packing list, you know that we had small bags — certainly not enough to last for 10 weeks.  The plan was to do laundry frequently and replenish toiletries along the way.  This included feminine products.

Our quest for feminine products ensued late one night after driving all day through New Zealand.  We were starving in the wintery darkness, but I wanted to make sure we found a store before closing time.  Thankfully, the first shopping center we stumbled upon contained a huge store called The Warehouse, akin to Target in America.  We found the appropriate aisle with a wide array of products.  Most of the brands were unfamiliar, but I wasn’t too worried because they all seemed similar to the products that Mr. HalfFull buys for me at home.

However, I did find it odd that the tampon packages were so small.  I checked the count on several boxes of various brands, which all seemed to be about the same.  I was slightly suspicious, but at this point I was too tired to care and figured it was a first world country with similar products; everything would be fine.

I didn’t end up opening those Kiwi tampons until Australia, nearly a month later.  Yes, they were indeed different; these did not include an applicator.  What?!?  I’ve NEVER seen a tampon without an applicator.  I’ve seen cardboard applicators and plastic applicators and even ones that collapse into smaller packages, but never NO applicator.  Hmm…this seemed a bit tricky.

bus safari

Ms. HalfEmpty midair in a remote, restroom-free area of Mount Kosciuszko in Australia

We haven’t told you much about our adventures in Australia, but it included a bus safari through the mountains between Sydney and Melbourne.  What’s along the twisty, winding mountain roads from Sydney to Melbourne?  Exactly, my point — not a lot of towns.  For much of the safari, we were bouncing along dirt roads on mountain cliffs that require a special driver’s license.  In other words, we were in middle of nowhere.

You might be asking, “What kind of bathrooms do they have in the middle of nowhere?”  Answer:  the porta-potty sort, with no running water.  So no running water and no applicator?  Way to think this safari thing through Mr. HallFull!  The same man who convinced me to walk out of an international airport had now stranded me in the rugged wilderness along the banks of the Snowy River during my visit from Aunt Flo.

At least I had the foresight to save hand wipes from airplanes and brought along antibacterial gel from home.  But yes, it was gross and uncomfortable, especially with one porta-potty and a busload of people waiting for me to figure out how to use an applicator-less tampon.

maxi liner

Fun facts on the maxi liner!

Although I didn’t run out of my American tampons until Australia, I needed the new maxis in New Zealand.  These too were different than the ones I’ve seen in the US.  But this time, the difference was fun!  The throw-away sticker liner included trivia; Mr. HalfFull and I learned all sorts of silly facts.  For example, did you know that in Pacific Grove, California, it is a misdemeanor to kill a butterfly?

So I guess my experience with feminine products in the South Pacific was half empty and half full.

  • Does your husband/boyfriend buy your feminine products?
  • Have you ever seen a tampon without an applicator?  Is this typical in foreign countries?
  • Do you think the lack of applicator is for environmental reasons?
  • Do you travel with hand wipes and antibacterial gel?
  • What products (or lack of products) have complicated life while traveling?
  • What products have made you chuckle?

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A Week-In-The-Life of Mr. HalfFull & Ms. HalfEmpty

Nora

Nora, The Professional Hobo, in Spain

Nora, The Professional Hobo herself, asked me to write about a week of our 30/40 World Tour.  She is a full-time traveler who knows about the fun and the work of long-term travel.  Through her Week-in-the-Life series, she hopes to enlighten her readers about the mundane and sometimes trying parts of travel.  It’s not all lying on the beach, room service, and lattes on demand. (Sometimes all you have is instant coffee…the horror!)

I alluded to this post when we wrote about Fiji, and now it’s finally here!  Please click over to A Week-In-The-Life of Mr. HalfFull & Ms. HalfEmpty to read more about our time in Fiji and the start of our adventure in New Zealand.  Thanks to Nora for this opportunity!

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Road Tripping N-Zed

Unfortunately, watching old episodes of Flight of the Conchords didn’t provide me with much useful cultural immersion training before venturing into land of the long white cloud.  But it didn’t take much research to determine that NZ (pronounced /ˈɛn/-/ˈzɛd/) did not have a transportation infrastructure comparable to the ones that make touring Europe so easy.

Rental Car

Rental Car

Ms. HalfEmpty inside our trusty little rental car

Surfing Google Images at home for luscious snapshots of the NZ countryside stoked the adventurous fire in my heart.  But looking at our travel agent’s simplified tourist map, it seemed obvious to me that we would either need to join a tour or rent a car to see the NZ terrain.  As you can imagine, touring for over a week in a confined bus would not help me keep Ms. HalfEmpty full, so I suggested the idea of renting a car.  She loved the idea of being chauffeured (since it was very expensive to add a second driver) and I love road tripping back home in the US; it seemed like a natural win-win.

By our second full week traveling the globe, I found myself behind the wheel of a tiny silver Hyundai Getz in the drizzling rain at a rental car lot just off the motorway in Auckland.  After nearly 30 years of driving experience, my brain was convinced that I was sitting on the wrong (passenger) side!  For several days, I would walk to what I thought was the driver’s side, only to realize that the steering wheel was on the other side.

Fortunately, I had enough foresight to splurge on the automatic because shifting gears with my left hand seemed like it could be a dangerous proposition.  Thankfully, the gas and brake pedals are on the same side as in America.  But we had to laugh every time the windshield wipers sprang to life when I meant to use the turn signal, telling Ms. HalfEmpty, “Yep, the wipers still work!”  But other than that, the mechanics of driving proved to be a rather mundane affair, much like at home.

Road Tunes

Jessie-J

My name is Mr. HalfFull, and I’m a Jessie-holic.

As with all great road trips, great music is a must.  NZ really only has about five radio stations broadcast across different frequencies as you move around the country.  But I can confirm that eighties music is alive and well all across the dial in NZ!  I got a kick out of it each time the announcers would say that they were playing music from the “eighties, nineties, and naughties.”  In the US, we really don’t have a term for music since 2000, so it piqued my interest when I heard Kiwis refer to the 00s as the naught years.  Constantly hearing the word naughty made me giggle every time.

My weakness for pop music (despite the fact that I’m clearly not the demographic) was absolutely fueled by NZ radio!  I admit that Katie Perry’s “Teenage Dream” lyrics continue to haunt me, though Jessie J’s addictive “Price Tag” finally bumped her as my favorite guilty pleasure.  My boy Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song” finished a close second, with LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” rounding out the field.  After hearing the same radio songs for days, Ms. HalfEmpty found an inexpensive iPod plug so we could satiate our inner nerds and listen to downloads of my favorite show, Car Talk, and her favorite, This American Life.

Rules of the Road

I can report that, on the whole, NZ is a country of conscientious drivers, much more so than at home in Northern Virginia.  As expected, things were a bit more tense in the cities, but nowhere near the level of aggressive road rage experienced daily while commuting in the greater Washington, DC area.  The speed limits are pretty cut and dry:  30 km/h in towns and around construction (there seemed to be cones everywhere, for road repairs during the low tourism season), 50 km/h as you approach and leave towns,  and 100 km/h out in the country and on most motorways.  The suggested speeds around fast curves all seemed to be reasonable (usually 80 km/h) and there were no billboards to muck up the views.

Rainbow

Sometimes rain from the long white cloud provides a beautiful rainbow afterward, as we discovered in Pukenui.

If you’re contemplating a NZ road trip, there are only two major differences beyond the obvious side of the road issue to learn.  First is how Kiwis give the right of way, which can be a matter of life and death entering any of their many traffic circle intersections.  Right of way is super easy, but counter-intuitive to the American driver:  always give way to any vehicle making a right turn or coming from your right in a traffic circle.

In practical matters, this is most difficult when you are waiting to take a right across traffic at an intersection and the oncoming car politely waits for you to make your turn before he makes a left turn.  This has the brilliant side-effect of reducing congestion at intersections, and I must admit, feels very civilized.  I am happy to report that none of the Kiwis honked at me while waiting for me to turn as I became accustomed to the right-of-way rules.  As a matter of fact, over the course of 10 days of driving, I was only honked at once while waiting to enter a busy traffic circle during morning rush hour while transiting an industrialized city just south of Huntly (but more on that later).

Give Way

One way bridge on the Twin Coast Discovery drive

The second major difference is the scheme for giving way on one lane bridges.  The entire coastline of the North Island seems to be connected via a series of quaint one lane bridges that appear to have been built a hundred years ago while NZ was just becoming a country.  As you approach one, you immediately notice a sign with a big arrow and a little arrow, just before the road funnels from two lanes to one.  If the arrow pointing in your direction is much larger, you have the right of way and local drivers seem to maintain speed as they enter the bridge.  If you are giving way, definitely make sure you stop at or before the white line or you will probably be blocking the oncoming car’s exit off of the bridge.  The system works well because NZ drivers are so conscientious, despite the fact that many of these bridges seem to have a blind curve immediately before, after, or both!

Double-Edged Sword

Pahia

Gorgeous Pahia

Eventually, I found road tripping NZ to be a double-edged sword.  On one hand, you have the freedom of the open road, and of making your own schedule.  On the other hand, when do you stop and actually enjoy your holiday outside the car?  A big challenge for me was the fact that the landscape is so utterly beautiful that my mind would tend to wander while driving; I earned a few half empty glances after crossing over rumble strips.

Cape Reinga, New Zealand

Cape Reinga where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea

After a few days, I had become comfortable with NZ driving habits, but in the back of my mind I was wondering if the car was becoming a barrier to us fully experiencing the half full side of Kiwi culture.  One day we would find a quaint beach town like Pahia (where, with hindsight, we should have spent a few more days) or the breathtaking magnitude of Cape Reinga’s coastal reserves and iconic light house.  The next day, we would be on the outskirts of a mountainous national forest, the twists and turns of which we quickly learned were zero fun to drive through after sunset…and in the rain!

Tāne Mahuta

Mr. HalfFull is tiny below Tāne Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest known living kauri tree

After visiting Cape Reinga and trying to find a place to stay for the night, we learned about the curse of the car.  We ended up in Kaikohe, which seemed to be the only place with accommodations.  However, it was quite an economically depressed town with abandoned stores and hotels on the main street.  We considered eating at Subway for dinner, but instead opted to find out what the locals were serving.  The only options besides McDonalds, KFC, and Subway were Chinese restaurants.  We picked one, soon realizing we made a grave error.  I’ve never seen a Chinese restaurant not serve rice with an entree, but apparently it happens.  The food was terrible and we left without eating much.  On the walk home, we stopped at Subway for cookies to try to wash the greasy taste from our mouths.

The next day, we were determined to stay in a nicer place with better food options.  But once again, the curse of the car struck!  We almost stayed in Helensville to avoid another super long driving day.  But it looked a bit industrial on the outskirts even though the town was quaint, so I opted to keep driving.  We then came upon the town of Kumeu, where I spotted a restaurant that I was dying to try.  Now all I had to do was find a place to sleep.

We went to the Kumeu Information Center, like we did in most towns.  But we were about an hour late for their early winter hours.  They all have 24/7 touch screens for tourists, but of course those were locked up inside.  We weren’t too worried; how hard could it be to find a hotel?

After driving up and down the main road and finding nothing, we ventured onto side roads and still didn’t find any accommodations.  Usually signage in New Zealand is quite good for tourists, but we weren’t seeing anything.  Finally, Ms. HalfEmpty remembered that she had spotted an accommodation sign on the way into town.  We went back and followed the signs for a home stay, which turned out to be a bed & breakfast with no vacancy.  So we got back on the road to find the next town…

We were hoping to find something before Auckland, but that didn’t happen.  We ended up right the middle of Auckland’s rush hour traffic.  By this time it was dark and we were tired after two long days of driving.  We stopped at a rest area cafe just south of Auckland to jump online and search for hotels.  After finding a few options in the next town, we got back on the road.  We stopped at each one, only to find they were all booked.  We went to the next town and they were booked too.

How was I supposed to know that a professional rugby match combined with a lawn bowling tournament would result in every single accommodation along the motorway two hours south of Auckland being fully booked?  For the most part, road tripping in NZ winter was awesome because we could literally pull into towns where we wanted to stay, find Wi-Fi, and book a nice room (usually at a discount) within walking distance to sights and restaurants.  Not this time!

Huntly

Huntly’s claim to fame is this power plant

Nine hours of bleary-eyed driving later, we ended up in Huntly.  Ah, Huntly, the sad industrial power plant town that I was able to show Ms. HalfFull because “playing things by ear” had gone awry.  It was late and we had to eat so we headed downtown.  The options were as depressing as the previous night; we settled on fried take-away.  I ordered a steak burger.  Little did I know that it would actually be a hamburger topped with strips of steak!

New Plymouth

The art gallery across the street from our hotel was a delicious place to eat in New Plymouth

After that greasy cultural immersion, we implemented what turned out to be an excellent rule of thumb:  we would use Trip Advisor to find a nice room the night before, and limit our driving to approximately 4 hour legs.  The twisting mountainous roads of NZ make it difficult to guess driving times based on map distance, which led me to discover the priceless feature in the corner of all free Jason’s NZ travel maps –  a table of cities that you can cross-reference to learn reasonable driving times.  We became a well-oiled road tripping machine, which (despite a landslide-narrowed road) enabled us to “discover” my new favorite Kiwi city, New Plymouth, which had not been recommended in any of the tourist literature from our travel agent.  We enjoyed our first night so much we decided to stay a second (thankfully) despite the double-edged sword of seeing our car idle in the motel’s lot.

Getting Lost Can Be Good

Plume

Ms. HalfEmpty enjoying the spread @ Plume

In defense of “playing things by ear” (and despite Huntly), I will say that one of my favorite afternoons of our early road trip was the direct result of getting ourselves lost in Matakana wine country in search of lunch.  Because we were on vacation and love our sleep, we were having breakfast and getting on the road around 10 AM every day.  This resulted in the hunger for lunch not setting in until well past noon, which is fine if you’re in a big city, but we were meandering about the NZ countryside.  It was only our second day of driving, and we were happily lost in the gorgeous mountainous/beach landscape north of Auckland.  Every tiny restaurant we stumbled across had closed by 2 PM, and we were getting a little crotchety, resulting in a wrong turn down a secondary (perhaps tertiary) road.

Plume Winery

Plume Winery

Low and behold, we saw a gorgeous winery and vineyard with the word Plume in a nice cursive scrawl across a barn, and more importantly their open sign.  Poking our heads in, a lovely German girl notified us that the kitchen was closed but that if we tasted a glass of their scrumptious red wine, she could put together a platter of cheese, bread, fruit, and a small bowl of Manuka honey, which is now one of my culinary obsessions.  Let’s just say that the nice folks at Plume winery did a wonderful job keeping Ms. HalfEmpty full, and we give two big thumbs up to the Matakana wine country for a perfect combination of hospitality, scenery, and deliciousness!

The Glorious Dead

Picton, New Zealand

Mr. HalfFull at a monument to the Glorious Dead in Picton

US Marine Corps Flag in Wellington

Red US Marine Corps Flag prominently displayed in St. James Church

In the end, we discovered that every town and city we passed through had a war memorial prominently displayed as you passed through.  We later learned (in Australia, oddly enough) that these war memorials are so pervasive because soon after New Zealand became a country a majority of their boys and men were swept up into World Wars I and II, in some cases losing one generation in WWI and then the next generation in WWII.  So many men were lost so fast that the U.S. Marines were actually sent to defend NZ from the Japanese during WWII, which explains why you will find an oddly located US Marine Corps flag proudly flying inside the Old St. James Church in Wellington.  As a tourist, it felt weird at first to keep reading the words “To The Glorious Dead” upon entering every town and city, but once it was put into context, the sacrifices earned a place of deep respect in my heart.

Unraveling the Mystery of Cookie Time

Cookie Time

Mr. HalfFull lasciviously eyes his first Cookie Time cookie

On a final and lighter note, the other thing besides war memorials that we noticed in most towns was a big sign on each of the small roadside grocery stores advertising fresh NZ milk (of course) and something called “Cookie Time.”  Being a lover of ice cream, it took several days before the siren song of the Cookie Time sign lured us into a store.  Up until that moment, I would simply see the cheerful signs with the big red monster and scream “cookie time!” much to Ms. HalfEmpty’s chagrin, since I’m known to be quite loud.

On one of our last days with a car, I turned to her and said, “We have got to unravel the mystery of cookie time.”  The girl behind the counter seemed to give my wife a sympathetic glance as, grinning from ear to ear, I placed my container of NZ milk and giant Original Cookie Time chocolate chip cookie on the counter.  In an unscientific survey of two Americans in a rental car, it was discovered that 100% of the people who tasted an Original Cookie Time cookie thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that Mr. HalfFull hereby declares it his official must-have road trip food of New Zealand.

  • Would you rather rent a car or join a tour group on a bus?
  • If you’ve driven on the other side of the road in a foreign country, how long did it take you to become comfortable?  Did you have any mishaps?
  • Which driving tunes are critical to your road trip enjoyment?
  • Have you found renting a car to be a double-edged sword on holiday?
  • What treasures have you found as a direct result of getting lost?
  • What were you surprised to find in almost every city/town while in a foreign country?

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Radio Silence

Earthquake

No, this isn't warning Virginia residents that we are back in town; it was an earthquake!  I felt like I was balancing on a surfboard in huge waves as I heard things falling and clattering around me.

Dearest Readers (yes, both of you), apologies for our month of radio silence.  Mr. HalfFull and I are alive and a little more half full, having safely returned from our 30/40 World Tour over a week ago.  We arrived just in time for the first earthquake I’ve ever felt, and now a “once in a lifetime” hurricane to come!  Awesome.

You may have wondered why you’ve only read about our adventures in Fiji and New Zealand since we advertised that we would be visiting eight countries on a trip west around the world.  Fear not!  We will be telling you stories from our full trip in due time.  Perhaps our posts will be even better now that we’ll have the benefit of time for reflection.

Kohimarama, New Zealand

Ms. HalfEmpty gets internet time on her makeshift duffel bag desk in Kohimarama, New Zealand

Why we were such blogging slackers?  Bottom line, consistent posting turned out to be much more difficult than expected.  As I mentioned, internet access was limited.  On top of that, being on the move and changing accommodations (nightly, at times) made it imperative to book rooms and pay bills when we were able to get online.  Sadly for you (and my Mom), email and blogging came in low on our travel priorities list, thus falling by the wayside.

But on a half full note, we are back home with many stories to tell!  Stay tuned…

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Stumbling Out of the Gate

We landed at Fiji’s Nadi (pronounced “nahn-dee”) International Airport before sunrise. Mr. HalfFull booked the first week of our trip in the South Pacific, so I expected him to know every detail, or at least the next step that would get his booty from Air Pacific’s airplane to the beach hammock he’d been raving about during his last week at work. He was fairly certain that we could walk to the marina from the airport, but he grabbed a map at a rental car counter just to be sure.

I waited outside for Mr. HalfFull, who reported that the woman at the rental car desk said it was a half hour to the marina. I asked if he was sure she understood that we were walking and not driving, since she worked for a rental car company. He was convinced that she understood.

Mr. HalfFull also asked her if it was safe to walk along the main road. He meant safe for pedestrians, with a sidewalk or at least distance from traffic. Interestingly, she assured him it was safe due to the abundance of military personnel in town. Hmm…

Nadi Landscape

View of the Nadi landscape as we walked away from the airport

We exited the airport on foot and saw a couple of the armed military men she mentioned. It felt great to walk after being on an airplane for so long, and Fiji’s lush mountainous landscape was gorgeous in the morning sun. We found ourselves in Nadi’s rush hour, with lots of decrepit vehicles and many pedestrians including children in school uniforms.  Smiling people greeted us on the sidewalk with a cheerful “bula!”

After we passed our first traffic circle, a Fijian man started walking with us. We definitely stood out as pasty white people walking along the busy street lugging our backpacks. He asked us where we were going, telling us he was on his way to work as a local pilot who flew between Fijian islands. We told him a bit about our trip, and he replied that it was nice to see a father and daughter traveling together. Hello!?! I quickly responded that we were married and showed him my ring, and we soon parted ways.  Mr. HalfFull must have been looking pretty haggard after 27 hours of flights and layovers!

We continued our walk and were soon joined by another Fijian man. This guy was much older with a full graying beard and gruff demeanor. I thought he wanted to pass us on the sidewalk, but he started walking in step with us and asked where we were going.  I was a bit scared at this point because the new guy did not appear to be as friendly as the pilot.  But we told him we were headed to Denarau Marina, which he said was a long way. We replied that it was okay because we needed a good walk after flying, and the woman at the airport said it was thirty minute walk. “Bullshit!” he exclaimed. According to him, it was a two hour walk from the airport. I knew she meant driving time, Mr. HalfFull!

We further explain our destination to John, the gruff man on the street, and he informed us that our boat doesn’t even leave from Denarau Marina! What? How could Mr. HalfFull be so utterly wrong? He claims that we need to drive an hour south to Likuri Harbor. (We later learn that our second accommodation was scheduled to leave from Denarau Marina, and Mr. HalfFull mistakenly thought that both left from the same harbor. This poses an even bigger issue because now we are not sure we will be able to catch our second early morning boat four days later, since we will be an hour away.)

John guides us to a taxi in front of a nearby hotel and instructs him to drive us to a hotel with bus transfers to Likuri Harbor. We are very uneasy at this point. Where are we going? Why did John help us? Did he have our interests in mind, or was he in cahoots with the taxi driver? How could we have gotten into this mess? What is it going to cost?

The taxi driver was very engaging and wanted to tell us all about Fiji and the sites we passed. He even played a burned Bob Marley Legend CD in the car, which he offered to us for FJ$2.  Needless to say, we didn’t invest in dead pirated technology.

He said he could drive us directly to the harbor instead of the hotel. At that point, we had no idea what we were supposed to do, so we went all in and agreed to let him drive us directly to the jetty.

Hindu Temple

Largest Hindu temple in the Southern hemisphere

Along the drive, he stopped at a Hindu temple so we could take a photo. I did not get out of the car for fear that he would drive off with our luggage. He stopped again at his friend’s souvenir store so he could get coffee and we could spend money. This was rather awkward since we were at the start of our journey and traveling light, not wanting to carry extraneous items. He asked if I wanted coffee, so of course I said yes. After some commotion, the shop owner presented us with a glass of Coke, saying his coffee machine was broken, but this was just like coffee. Ha!

Finally, we arrived at a clearing next to a wooded river in the middle of nowhere. There was no town, no houses, no boats — just a small, rickety, wooden dock with an old shack nearby. There wasn’t even a sign to inform us that we were in the correct location. Suffice it to say, I was nervous and not happy with Mr. HalfFull.

Fisherwomen

A haggard Mr. HalfFull with Fijian fisherwomen

There were a few sturdy Fijian ladies at the dock and we asked them if they were going to Likuri Island, but they were going fishing. They explained that the powdery black substance on their faces was natural sunscreen. I guess a mud mask can be sunscreen, but it looked reminiscent of blackface and made me uncomfortable until they explained the purpose.  We bid the ladies farewell as they boarded their canoe and paddled away; we were left alone at the dock.

Fisherwomen Float Away

Fisherwomen floating down the river

We still had no confirmation that we were in the correct location or if a boat was ever coming. Thankfully about fifteen minutes later, a van showed up with another passenger heading to Likuri Island. We had been in Fiji two hours and this was the first independent confirmation that we were in the right place!

Ms. HalfEmpty meets Ms. Holland

Ms. HalfEmpty & Ms. Holland watch the boat arrive

The girl who arrived (dubbed Ms. Holland), was traveling the world alone after graduating from university. We were relieved to find her and became good friends on the island over the next few days. She was almost done with her five month trip, which included some of the same places we planned to visit, but in the opposite direction around the world. So we were able to glean a few tips and insights from her experience. We chatted for a long while before the boat arrived.

After another half hour, a car pulled in with an older Australian couple driving and a Fijian guy with a Robinson Crusoe Island t-shirt in the backseat. After a few hours lost in the fog of travel, things were finally starting to look promising! About fifteen minutes later, two boats pulled up to the wooden dock, and we grabbed our luggage in preparation to board. But the Aussies informed us that we were waiting for two more buses full of people. Apparently, there was a schedule, we just had none of the details, which drives me crazy. It’s not like I’m a control freak; I’m just a realist. After all, I had allowed Mr. HalfFull to plan this segment of the trip. (Note to self: always check fine print after he books anything!)

Eventually, we boarded the second boat and arrived on the island to singing and guitars. Of course, I did not arrive in a state of relaxation. That sneaked up on me the next day, when Mr. HalfFull was relieved of his travel implementation duties. More details of our (mis)adventures in Fiji and the start of our trip to New Zealand will be published on September 12th as a guest post on theprofessionalhobo.com.

  • Have you experienced travel (mis)adventures?
  • Have you ever departed an international airport on foot?
  • How detailed are you when planning a trip? Is winging it part of the fun?
  • Are you fearful of strangers in foreign countries?
  • How long does it take you to relax on vacation?

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Fiji Time

Air Pacific

Our Air Pacific flight landed early in the morning in Nadi, Fiji

Bula everybody!” I probably should apologize for not posting since leaving the United States, but actually I’m on time. Let me explain. Within an hour after setting foot on the main island of Viti Levu, we were quickly indoctrinated to Fiji time. As we learned repeatedly, there is “your time” and “Fiji time.” When the 9:30 AM boat to Likuri Island motors up to the rickety wooden jetty at 10:45 AM, it’s on time in Fiji time. When we were told to be ready for snorkeling in 2 minutes, about an hour later we’d board the dingy headed to the reef.  Thus, we would often clarify if a stated time was our time or Fiji time. This blog post is right on schedule, considering I’m on Fiji time!

Island Lodge 4

Our lodge -- perhaps the most opulent hut on Likuri Island

We roughed it a bit more than I expected at the beginning of our 30/40 World Tour. Mr. HalfFull offered to book our Fiji accommodations, which seemed awesome until I realized that he considers me to be Ms. HalfRugged. This week taught me that I’m a little more resilient than anticipated, but perhaps only a quarter rugged.  In fact, my new found rugged side felt like we were totally wimping out by checking into a posh hotel for our last night in Fiji.

Sofitel

Our chic bathroom at Sofitel

This guilt quickly subsided as I enjoyed my first hot shower since leaving the safe confines of Northern Virginia. It felt so luxurious! Mr. HalfFull was even able to do our laundry (not in the shower). Plus, we experienced feeling cold again in air conditioning, which will hopefully help us transition to the winter temperatures in New Zealand.  (We’ll have to remind ourselves of the heat and mosquitoes while shivering next week!)  And of course, my favorite treat was freshly brewed coffee! I’ve been making do with instant coffee since arriving in Fiji, so I really savored the perfectly prepared cappuccino after dinner. It was glorious!

Bush Walk

Local Fijian took us on a bush walk to search for coconuts

Our travel misadventures began shortly after leaving the airport in Nadi, Fiji, but I’ll have to fill you in after we get settled into Auckland, New Zealand.  Suffice it to say, the overarching theme of our week has been the friendliness and generosity of the locals – pedestrians in Nadi, Hindi taxi drivers, fisher-women at the dock, tribal villagers, pretty much everyone. The landscape is certainly breathtaking, but the Bula spirit truly sets Fiji apart. We have been welcomed into the family with huge smiles (some with more teeth than others). The Fijians have certainly set the hospitality bar high for the rest of our quest. For now, here’s a small batch of my favorite photos, each of which has a story from our first week in Fiji.

View from Likuri Island

View from Likuri Island; these awesome sitting hammocks are made in Fiji

Bonfire on Likuri Island

Bonfire lit singers to welcome boat of dinner guests

Warrior Paint

Mr. HalfFull was invited to go native with warrior paint

Dance show

Evening show included dancing, machete twirling, and even fire dancing (in an amphitheater made of highly flammable dried coconut leaves)

Ms. HalfEmpty eats breakfast

Ms. HalfEmpty eats cereal by headlamp because electricity is off until 7 AM, but we had to catch the 6:30 AM staff boat (with the island's trash bags)

Sunset on Drawaqa Island

View from Sunset Beach on Drawaqa Island (it's not just a clever name)

Mr. HalfFull atop Drawaqa Island

Mr. HalfFull (sans warrior paint) practices machete dancing atop Drawaqa Island

View of sailboat from village

View of our 108 ft. sailboat from the tribal village island we visited for a kava ceremony and dancing

Native Fijian village

Native Fijian village in Yasawa Islands

Vinaka vakalevu!
(Thank you very much!)

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