The Wheels on the Bus Go…..

The Brave Man* decided that we needed to escape the chills of Winter and he had his heart set on Hawaii. Hawaii was nowhere near the top of my bucket list but as I have been known to go to an envelope opening, who was I to argue?

By the time the trip rolled around we were both longing for some warmth. We got that in spades on Kauai Island, one of the many islands that make up the Hawaiian Island group.

Gilligan - Mary Ann

Source: Pinterest

It was like stepping onto the set of Gilligan’s Island – swaying palm trees, thatched roofs and a profusion of frangipani. If MaryAnn had stepped out of the jungle bearing a coconut cream pie I would not have blinked. Or maybe that was just the jetlag kicking in.

Kauai is called the Garden Island – picture lush green as far as the eye can see. The main road hugs the edge of the coast, almost completely circling the island, perfect for exploration – just keep the sea on your right or left depending on the direction travelled.

I believe that half the fun of travelling to other countries is the opportunity to experience a place on a whole range of different levels – from the tourist high spots to the local haunts. Nothing enables this more than using public transport. Yes, I could get somewhere more quickly, more easily and in more comfort if I hired a car, but where is the fun in that?

Kauai has a fantastic public transport system with air-conditioned buses almost every 20 minutes. You can ride east or west, as far as you like, for the princely sum of US$2.00. The bus system is pushbike-friendly too and each bus has a clever racking system attached to the outside of the front of the bus to easily and safely transport bicycles. That would be handy if you were planning a cycling tour of the island – simply ride for as long as you like and then pull up at the first bus stop and wait for your $2 chauffeur

We went East the first day to Hanalei Bay. It is lovely to sit and watch the world go, or to idle, peering into backyards, down small streets and dusty lanes, and past shops and buildings giving into age or giving up to the jungle. Not all of it was pretty but all of it was interesting.

Needless to say we were a bit of novelty – a couple of tourists on the local bus and Aussie ones at that. Perhaps it is the gentle rhythm of the road but it seems to encourage people to get to know their neighbours. One fellow passenger shared his concerns about the amount of Chinese investment in the island locking the locals out of property ownership. Conversations like these, eerily familiar, give a small insight into the ‘real’ life of the island rather than just the tourist gloss. The bus driver looked a bit puzzled as we rode the bus to the very last stop. We had nothing better to do and we had to get our $2 worth.

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Source: Wikipedia

Hanalei Bay is the Hawaiian town of your imagination – wall-to-wall sarong shops interspersed with ukulele and surf shops. If you are not interested in any of this kitsch then retail pickings are slim, but the scenery makes up for it. This piece of paradise has been the setting for many movies including South Pacific and The Descendants. George Clooney was nowhere to be seen that day but we did strike up a conversation with a man who “loved the idea of traveling to Australia but there were too many things there that could kill you!” I guess that is one way we can manage our tourist numbers.

After the success of our bus journeys on Kauai, we thought we would adopt the same approach in Honolulu on Oahu Island. This is a completely different undertaking in a large city with multiple bus lines going every which way plus hotel shuttles, trolley buses and taxis. But being over-confident we were not deterred.DSCF4239.JPG

The Brave Man*, in need of some retail therapy, decided we needed to visit the Outlet Centre and bag a bargain or six. The concierge at the hotel recommended a shuttle bus ($10 each) but we were convinced we could navigate the public transport system for $2.50 each. What could go wrong? It was only a short, direct ride out there on the #42 bus.

Starving, dying of thirst and in dire need of a bathroom, we arrived at the Outlet Centre nearly four hours later! We had seen the seedier side of Honolulu, thousands of tents of the homeless and more graffiti and rundown businesses than we cared to count. We had changed buses, we had sat in the sun with the locals at the bus non-shelters, and had had plenty of time to consider our actions. All of which could have been avoided by investing in a 40 minute shuttle bus ride and $10.

A shuttle bus was immediately booked for the return trip to the hotel and we ran to make the most of the remaining 45 minutes shopping time! At least that limited the amount of damage to the credit card.

Lessons learned:

  • Taking the easiest option is sometimes the best option.
  • Take the time to travel simply but be prepared for things not to go to plan.
  • These little inconveniences are ‘first world problems’, so chalk it up to experience and enjoy it all regardless.

July 2015

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Pack up your troubles in your ol’ kit bag..

Sing along with me now….”pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.” While I may not be smiling the whole time I walk, the smiles certainly outweigh the frowns and weight is a  pretty crucial when it comes to stepping out across long distances.

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Thanks David T for this memorable photo.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, the ‘industry’ rule of thumb is that your backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10% of your body weight. This statistic incites feelings of dread, guilt and failure as (without giving away the number that appears on my scales) my backpack is always almost double that figure! How could you walk so far with so little?

“How big is your pack and what is in it?” are often the first questions the uninitiated ask. My friends roll their eyes that I can get away without a hair dryer, hair straightener, extensive make-up and colour-coordinated clothes but I do just fine and blend in with all the other smelly, daggy walkers.

So here is an abbreviated packing list. I have left out a few boring things but this list is my whole world for however long I am walking.

Walking Boots

Casual shoes

Thongs

Walking socks x 2

Wicking socks x 1

Undies x 3

Hankies x 2

Bra x 2

Sleepwear

Sun Hat

Beanie

Gloves

Sunglasses

Reading glasses

Walking shorts x 1

Good shorts x 1

Compress Shorts

Rain jacket

Softshell jacket

Gaiters

Walking shirt x 1

Long sleeve shirt x 1

Good shirt x 1

Bandana

Towel

Face Washer

Journal

Pens/Scissors/Glue

Camino Guide

Language Guide

Map Carrier

Backpack

Hip/Belt bag

Walking poles

Sleeping sheet

Pillow Slip

Head torch

Head torch Charger

Camera

Camera Charger

Camera Card addtl

Tablet/iPad

Tablet Charger

Power adaptor

Bag/satchel

Money belt

Water bottle x 1

Water bladder – 2l

Zero/Shotz tablets

Bath plug

Over door hook

Plate

Knife/fork/spoon

Sharp knife

Mug/Bowl

Old tea towel

Vegemite

Vitamin C

Pegs/Clothesline

Washing powder

Sewing Kit

Hand wipes

Sunscreen

Aeroguard

Shampoo/Condition

Underarm

Moisturiser – Face

Moisturiser – Body

Hand cream

Lip balm

Face Cleanser

Face block

Perfume

Basic make-up

Toothpaste

Toothbrush

Soap

Tweezers

Nail file

Ear Plugs

Eye Mask

Brush/comb

First aid kit

Blister pads

You may notice the limited underwear. The scarcity seems to generate the most interest for some reason. Yes, I only need three pairs of undies whether it be for a three-week walk or six weeks. A handy tip is to take all your all-but worn out undies and throw them out after you wear them – until you get down to your last, ‘best’ three pairs. Yes, I know I am an embarrassment to the female sex.

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Casualties on Camino #1

The same system can work for socks until you have a clean pair on and, hopefully, one clean pair in the pack.

Life becomes very simple when you only have one or two of each thing to choose from. It makes for easy decision-making and the focus quickly turns to basic cleanliness rather than stylishness.

You may have guessed by now that I am not one of those trendy walkers with all the latest gear and high profile brands. Other than my Deuter pack and Scarpa boots the rest of me is a mish-mash of beg, borrow or steal. In fact at the end of each walk I take great delight in throwing away almost all my clothes. At the end of six weeks my clothes are worn out (along with myself) and I am sick to death of the sight of them. Happily, this makes for an even lighter pack for the homeward journey.

Unlike some purists though, I do have a few necessities I simply can’t do without. A girl does have some standards:

  • Pyjamas: some walkers sleep in the clothes they will walk in the next day. Not me! I like to get into my PJs at the end of each day. Old habits die hard.
  • Journal: for better or worse I have created a daily habit of writing in my travel journal. It helps me think a little more deeply about what I have seen, as well as allowing me to record any weird and wonderful sights and experiences.
  • Zero/Shotz Tablets: these are electrolyte tablets that keep my muscles working and me moving.
  • Snacks: Yes, I am a snacker. I can’t walk on an empty stomach and need regular top-ups. I do tend to go overboard with this and realised when I started the Via de la Plata walk (2014) I was carrying nearly 2 kg of snacks! That is a little too prepared – even for me!
  • Water: walking is thirsty work and I carry a two litre Camelbak plus a 750 ml water bottle each day. I normally drain these before the end of the day’s walk and probably average 5.5 litres per day.

All of the above adds significant weight to my load, but these items are important to me. At least by the end of the day the water and snacks have been reduced, making the pack a little lighter – just when I need it.

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Maybe this guy had a better idea…let the poor donkey do all the work

I blame technology for some of the excess weight too. I take a tablet, a camera and a headlamp. These require chargers and other bits and bobs, and all take up space and add grams. I could use my tablet to take photos, or replace both table and camera with a smart phone but again, old habits die hard.

A packing list is personal and mine seems to be refined each time I walk, with a few things added and a few things removed. To me, the most important thing to include in my kit bag is a positive (and slightly insane) mindset, a fair dose of determination, and the willingness to open yourself up to the world and the people in it.

Smile, smile, smile…

2016 and ongoing refinement

Mad Mel in Silverton

Travelling out to Silverton is a commitment, not only in time but also in dollars. But rather than just a commitment, it is also an investment in my Bucket List.

Silverton is 26km northwest of Broken Hill. Flights leave Dubbo twice daily and that is where the financial-commitment part kicks in. A return flight Dubbo-Broken Hill is at least $715, and that is the cheapie, inflexible fare. Perhaps that buys you a share of the ‘x’ in Rex Airlines. The alternatives, though cheaper, are much longer road trips via car or bus, or by hijacking a grey nomad. For the time poor, the plane is the best alternative.

It was mesmerising to watch the colours and terrain change we as we flew ever westward. The patchwork paddocks changed from dusty brown on the edge of Dubbo to vivid ochres closer to Broken Hill. The ‘patches’ became significantly larger and long, straight dirt roads disappeared into the haze of the horizon. The sparseness and bareness of the flat terrain may not appeal to everyone but to me there is beauty in its simplicity. The sense of openness and just plain space is a beautiful thing and, in my eye, ‘is’ Australia.

Silverton is an easy 20 minute drive out of Broken Hill, which provides an opportunity to get even closer to the Outback colours. The dusty blue/green/grey of the low, scrubby bushes contrasts neatly with the red earth and the tawny brown of the emus. It is not as flat as it appears when airborne. A myriad of gullies and small, rocky outcrops add interest and depth to the landscape.

Silverton is a scattering of dusty streets only hinting at the town’s former glory. In its Pub front - old 1heyday in the late 1800s, it was a thriving community, with 2000 people in the town itself and a further 2000 in the surrounding district. Its career was short-lived though, and its boom-to-bust period lasted only eight years. These days, Silverton is home to around 35 dedicated residents.

The reason for my (literally) flying trip to Silverton was a work project related to the Silverton Hotel. How lucky am I?

Patsy and Peter Price took over the Silverton Hotel in 2010. A plumbing career may not be Bar - people 1the usual background for pub owners, but they have taken to their new lifestyle with gusto, improving both the physical facilities of the pub and also reawakening the business. The latest addition to the complex features seven accommodation units sympathetically designed in the style of typical shearers’ quarters but far more comfortable than anything you would normally find adjacent to a shearing shed.

The Hotel appears to be the heart and soul of the community and a natural meeting and rest place for visitors. A constant stream of grey nomads and school-holiday families came through the door from early morning until late evening, all receiving a hearty welcome. Also coming to the pub, but not quite making it through the doors, was a family of DSCF4584 (3)donkeys. You can imagine the interest and amusement their arrival created amongst the tourists. Is this where I say something like, “only in Outback Australia…”

The Silverton Hotel has featured in so many movies it is tricky to know where the pub finishes and the movies start. Throughout its long and colourful life the pub, has been featured in Wake in Fright, A Town Like Alice, Dirty Deeds and of course, Mad Max II, plus many more.

Believe it or not, as I drove away from the pub the next morning the lingerie company Victoria’s Secret was setting up for a photo shoot using the Hotel as a backdrop. No, they did not ask me to help out by modelling a few pieces of strategically-placed lace. Disappointing really….

Silverton falls within the Unincorporated Far West Region of NSW and is managed by a Village Committee. These passionate individuals have worked hard to keep the village interesting and relevant, producing a range of tourism information and coordinating a heritage walk. This 2-hour walk takes in many of the village’s historical highlights and truly gives you the ‘lay of the land’. Make sure you wear a hat, sunscreen and take some water with you.

The remaining buildings in Silverton have stood the test of time and climate. Most of the stone buildings like the Courthouse, Municipal Chambers, and Gaol appear almost grounded in their surroundings – solid and immovable. I can only imagine their glory days and the string of colourful characters that would have passed through their doors.

Some of the buildings are now artists’ homes and galleries, adding a nice creative and DSCF4593cultural aspect to the community. For culture of a completely different sort there is the Mad Max Museum featuring props and memorabilia from the movies shot in the region – or you could get underground and deep down amongst the history of the region by visiting the Day Dream Mine.

One must-see, I am told, is sunset at the Mundi Mundi lookout. I missed it this time, since the crystal clear sky guaranteed an unspectacular evening, but I will keep it in mind for future visits.

I think the bucket list just got that little bit longer again.

April 2016

Talking the Camino

My passion for long distance walking began at a groovy little café in Potts Point. Not the most likely venue to launch into adventure sports I agree, but let’s just say the seed was sown. Over caffeine, a friend described his upcoming Camino Frances and his hope that it would help him sort through some stuff that was going on in his life at the time. I have no more ‘stuff’ than the next person but his trip caught my imagination and firmly burrowed into my subconscious.234

It is weird how sometimes things that are on your radar – even ever so remotely – then start to crop up wherever you turn. Even before my friend’s return from Spain I was spotting books, newspaper articles and hearing stories of this ‘new’ thing called the Camino Frances. My friend’s triumphant and happy return confirmed that this trip was a ‘must’ for me. The thing that he raved about most was meeting so many amazing people throughout the 790km from St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to the final destination of Santiago de Compostela in the north-western corner of Spain.

Hence, it was a matter of talking the camino rather than walking the camino when we finally set out from St Jean Pied de Port on 3 September 2013. I had thought it would be a good plan to start walking in Autumn after the European Summer vacation had ended and school returned. Surely there would not be the crowds I had read about?? Wrong! We were told that there were 500 people leaving St Jean Pied de Port every day and 1000 people arriving in Santiago de Compostela every day. Hardly a stroll in solitude.051

Like everyone else, we set off on Day One bright-eyed and with a spring in our step, ready to cross the Pyrenees. It has to be the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. The Brave Man* soon left me in his dust and I battled on ever-upwards, chatting and commiserating with whoever I passed or passed me. At one stage an Irishman came alongside. He gave me a sideways glance and muttered in a thick Irish brogue, “I thought this was supposed to be spiritual. Where’s the feckin’ spirituality in this?” He stomped off ahead of me and I would have laughed if I had had the energy!

The first day of many things is often the hardest and we soon found our individual walking rhythms and a rich mix of interesting (or not) people to chat to as we walked. Imagine a sea of humanity – a slight exaggeration, I know – all walking towards a common goal. Different life stories, different baggage, different socio-economic backgrounds, but the shared joy, exhaustion and sore feet from walking is a great leveller and a perfect conversation starter.

“Hello, I’m Melanie from Australia – where are you heading today?” We all became known by first name and geography only. “Have you seen Lue and David from Vancouver? Or Ross from Sydney?” No other descriptor was needed to identify new best friends and where they were on the on the route known as the Camino Frances or simply, ‘the Way.’

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The beauty of these conversations was that they could last all day or 15 minutes. If my stride matched another’s and we both felt inclined, we might walk for hours together talking about whatever took our fancy. Many times conversations cut to the heart of the matter as there was no need for pigeon-holing or social one-up-manship. When I finally caught up with The Brave Man*, I would introduce my walking companion and he would introduce me to the ex-Emergency-Room- Trauma-Surgeon-now-Anglican-Minister from a small, rural parish in England or another equally interesting individual.

There are not enough blog words to cover the many insightful conversations I enjoyed and perhaps their impact would be lost in translation. Conversations would continue well into the evening as we shared communal dinners, or until we gave in to sleep. One memorable dinner at an albergue included ourselves, an ER nurse from Sweden, a computer programmer from the Netherlands and Ulrich. Ulrich was a 74 year old German, raised in Barcelona and a resident of Brazil for the past 26 years. He spoke four languages and a warmer, more genuine man would be hard to find. As the wine flowed, Ulrich shared his story. It was the 12-month anniversary of his wife’s death and the 10-year anniversary of their walking the Camino Frances together. As he walked this time, he read his journal from the first trip and savoured their special memories. Goose bump material.

As is the wont of the Camino, our paths crossed a few times over the next few weeks until we got to Santiago de Compostela. I said to The Brave Man*, “I feel a bit sad that we didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to Ulrich”. The next day we stepped off a tour bus, walked around the corner and straight into him. It was meant to be. We both expressed how pleased we were that we had met and Ulrich gave me a small, carved crucifix. I am not a religious person, but I carry it with me everywhere.

Not every conversation was at such a personal level but the openness and friendliness of everyone made each connection special. Glyn and Paul from Wales were like two lads on an over-50’s Contiki tour doing some walking, more drinking and having the time of their lives. Whenever we saw Paul, he had lost something, and he was almost entirely clad in hand-me-downs by the time we parted company.

We had a long and detailed conversation with a Spanish man comparing the cost of living in Spain vs Australia. We couldn’t speak Spanish and he couldn’t speak English but with much arm waving, pointing at ads for white goods in junk mail brochures and laughter, we managed to make ourselves understood (I think) and became firm friends for the rest of the camino.469

Even today, three years on, we are in contact with people we met. I continue to marvel at how we simple folk can get on and be friends even when communication is a barrier. Why can’t our leaders around the world do the same?

Sept/Oct 2013

Read About It: For a copy of Brierley’s Guide to walking the Camino Frances, purchase it from Book Depository

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

On a Bike on the Banks of the Murray

I think I may have mentioned before that I am a late bloomer and as a result, have taken to the art of cycling somewhat later in life than many people. As kids we didn’t have push bikes on the farm – preferring the motorised version – but I have now taken to this form of transport with gusto.

One day I will blog about cycling in Ireland and France but this post focuses on the desire to experience an iconic part of Australia – the mighty Murray River.

My thoughts are constantly on the next overseas adventure but there are parts of Australia that capture my imagination too. ‘How about we cycle from Mildura to Albury?’ I ask The Brave Man*. His eyes widen, he shakes his head and agrees ‘that is a fabulous idea, dear’.

Half the fun of travelling is in the planning and I soon had the route worked out and transport booked. Without a back-up vehicle I had to work out how to get two

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Ready to ride….the bus!

people and two bikes from Mudgee to Mildura and return from Albury to Mudgee on the return trip. Countrylink buses were happy to take us and our bikes (packed in boxes) from Dubbo to Mildura via Cootamundra for around $100 each. Cheap as chips for a long but interesting trip through the Australian landscape. Our adventure got even more interesting late in the evening after a change of bus driver at Hay. I am not sure what the bus driver was taking or where he got his licence but we spent a good portion of the remaining two hours of the bus trip driving on the wrong side of the road. Yes, I was very pleased to see the late night lights of Mildura and yes, I did report the experience to Countrylink.

Mildura is a lovely regional city nestled on the banks of the Murray River, nice mix of river heritage and multiculturalism. Of course we had to sample of the delights of Stefano de Pieri’s café – we would be burning it off in the next 10 days anyway – but we also took in the history of the place. The locals are obviously keen cyclists too as they have a purpose-built bike hub with showers and lockers for commuter cyclists, and secure storage for bikes. If only other communities could be so forward thinking.

We were soon on the road doing our usual early morning bakery raids before putting foot

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A well-earned rest…

to pedal. In the planning phase I had been advised to ride west to east. After the ride, everyone advised that we should have been riding east to west i.e. down river and theoretically downhill. A fat lot of use that advice was after the event! While you might wonder how much difference it can make, experience has shown that it would have helped us avoid a soul-destroying headwind every single &%$#!! day. Yes, we were doomed from before sun-up until we stepped off the bikes, exhausted at the end of each leg.

Despite the headwind conspiracy it was beautiful and, at times, dramatic riding. We did our best to stick to back roads and aimed to ride as close to the river as possible. Most truckies and grey nomads were kind and gave us a wide berth, which was much appreciated by we two flagging cyclists, as the verge of the roadside was mostly non-existent.

Our route took us through the abundance that is adjacent to the Murray River. We rode past and through limitless olive, orange, avocado and almond groves with their heady Spring blossoms and scents. We rode past wheat fields so thick and uniform it looked like you could cut them with a knife. The magnificent Murray River red gums (I am guessing at the species) were surrounded by carpets of wild gazanias, pigface and purple and white statis. A spectacular Spring showing and a welcome distraction from the kilometres.DSCF0761.JPG

Pushbikes allow you to move slowly through the scenery and also give you time to meet some lovely locals. On our first morning out – picture us with very tired legs and sore backsides wondering why we were doing this when other perfectly good travel options were available – we stopped for our breakfast at a deserted fruit stall. Within seconds a little old woman – as wide as she was tall – bustled across the road, making a beeline for us. I thought we must be in trouble for trespassing but she came to see if we were riding for charity and wanted to give us money. When I explained that we were doing this for ‘fun’, she left and returned minutes later with seven avocados and four of the largest oranges I have seen. “To give you energy,” she said in her thick Italian accent. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we simply didn’t have the room to carry all this additional ‘energy’ and we proceeded to juggle and repack our panniers.

Another morning we had one eye on the road and another on the threatening clouds when a lady stopped her car and flagged us down telling us to quickly take cover as wild storms were predicted. We thought that may have been a little melodramatic but took an early break at a rest stop to assess the situation. Our coffee hadn’t even made it out of the thermos before the skies opened with tree-shattering lightening, deafening thunder and a deluge of wind and rain. We grabbed our bikes and wheeled into the His and Hers toilets taking refuge for over an hour. Not the most glamorous spot on the Murray but perhaps the most appreciated by us, and the most surprising to others who dropped in to use the DSCF0766.JPGfacilities.

We took eight days to cover the 680 km from Mildura to Albury and on some days covered over 100 km, necessitated by the distance between towns. A rest day in Swan Hill gave us time to visit the Big Cod and the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum. Who would have thought that we had flying boats in Australia’s World War II arsenal? Another rest day in Echuca allowed us to bury ourselves in paddle boat history. What a magical but tough era to live in.

Australia is truly a magnificent country. So much fascinating history and stunning scenery – not all of it bike-friendly of course, but there are still plenty more cycling adventures waiting for us.

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Still smiling (and talking to each other) after 680 km!

Sept/Oct 2011

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!