Tag Archives: Australia

Sacred rocks and pebbles

If you have ever gone to Australia and you missed visiting Uluru then you need to go back. For me it was the best – people rave about the Opera House – meh! It’s a building – and a pretty nice one at that – but nature is the most amazing architect. It is a hassle getting out to Uluru – or Ayers Rock as it used to be called. You have to fly there because – guess what? – it’s in the middle of nowhere.

You have seen the pictures I am sure – as had I. Nothing prepared me for the “feel” of the place. No wonder the aboriginal people of the area regard it as extremely sacred. I felt like I had to whisper when walking around the base of the mountain. And as you can imagine legends and stories abound about this place. Australians refer to it as “The Rock” – no not Dwayne Johnson, The Rock – this is the real Rock!

I had seen the tourism pictures of Uluru at sunrise and sunset – yes they were pretty impressive but in this day of photoshop do you ever really believe anything you see on a tourism website? Wow – all I can say is it was one of the most amazing sights I had seen – the rock seemed to almost glow. It is definitely magical and spiritual.

It is sometimes reported that those who take rocks from the formation will be cursed and suffer misfortune. There have been many instances where people who removed such rocks attempted to mail them back to various agencies in an attempt to remove the perceived curse.

The rangers at the National Park there receive stones, pebbles, rocks and twigs on a daily basis from tourists who are worried about being cursed. They call them “sorry rocks” and place them back in the area. Some of the letters are fascinating – As reported in an Autralian news site –

“One traveller from Hong Kong posted a 300-gram piece of Uluru with the note: “When I received the rock I was so worried that I want to return it as soon as possible. [In] just one week, my brother broke up with his girlfriend, my father went to hospital and he will do heart surgery on the 20 January. Anyway I just want to return the rock to its rightful place and say good bye to the bad luck!”

The returned rocks are placed in a neutral space and are used to assist in repairing areas of erosion in the park. Some raw material has even been geologically identified as coming from another region and recently the park received a package of seashells. Tourists caught trying to take rocks or sand from the park can face hefty fines of up to $8500.

So those of you out there who have this habit of collecting little rocks, pebbles or shells when they travel – beware! I have to confess guilt here. My daughter loves to have a special stone or shell from anywhere I visit. My favourite one is a stone found on a muddy country road in Co. Cavan, Ireland, outside the now crumbled little farmhouse where my mother was born.

But if I go back to Uluru – I won’t be bringing any rocks or curses home with me!

Five months – one suitcase

Ever had the wish to quit your job, pack a suitcase and take a five month sabbatical to seven very different destinations?  My sister made this happen and just got back to Calgary last week (good timing by the way – just in time for some flurries).

I will tell you how she did it, the highs, the lows, the what the hells….
(with her permission of course)

My sister!

First thing you need to know that my sister is very organised.  She planned most of her trip flying business class with points – kudos for that immediately.  I know how frustrating it is and get asked often by clients what is the best way to do this.  My advice (via my sister) is to phone in.  Don’t try to do it on-line.  You need a person – a qualified person – to help you string all these flights together.  So she will make herself a cup of tea and get on the phone and prepare to spend a couple of hours but it’s worth it.

I asked her what the best thing about travelling for months with one suitcase and she told me the sense of freedom and liberation from “stuff”.  She was quite shocked when she came home and realised how much stuff they have that they probably don’t need, won’t use.  They travelled with packing cubes and compartments so they could be up and packed in half an hour and on to their next destination.

For us ladies – the thought of living for five months with one suitcase might be intimidating.  Minimalism and comfort are key.   A little black dress can go a long way.  Just team it up with nice sandals and a scarf and you are done.  Most of the time she dressed for comfort as every day was spent out walking and discovering.

You might think you would grow tired of travelling after five months – maybe a couple of months in you start yearning for your own bed, your own bathroom.  Not so, says my sister.  Every day was a new day – a new place.  If they liked a place lots they would try to stay a bit longer within the confines of their air tickets.  It was an exhilarating and liberating experience.

All those flights …. what did she think?  Well Jet Star was apparently fantastic.  Easy to deal with, very reasonable change fees, superb service on board, in comparison with Qantas which she described as “crap”.  Six hours on an overnight flight and not even a cup of tea.  This is what I call one of the “what the hell” moments.  Unfortunately American Airlines seems to be closely related to Qantas in the level of non-existent service.

Of course on any trip of this length there are going to be the highlights and then the “omg get me out of here” moments.  They had one such night in Auckland . There was a big convention on – no room at the Inn.  So eventually they went to the tourism board who got them into the Hotel from Hell.  Now one thing you need to know about my sister (and me) is that we are very particular and I would rather sleep in a tent than sleep in a crappy hotel.  When they arrived at the hotel there was water running down the walls of the elevator.  My brother-in-law told my sister “Don’t look.  Walk straight to the bedroom. Take a sleeping pill and go to bed.”

Needless to say they checked out the next day and then managed to rent a room in someone’s house.  Not my best I am afraid.  They didn’t have an en suite bathroom but in the true spirit of travelling the world they sucked it up.  It was in a beautiful area of the city and the best thing (according to my sister) – no TV in the bedroom.  Wow – six nights without having to watch sports on the TV.  YAY.

After touring both Australia and New Zealand from coast to coast they started to make their way back to North America.  Because of how the flights worked out they ended up with a few nights in Waikiki on their way to Maui.  Waikiki was a big shock to them after Australia and New Zealand.  I know it is a common sight even on our streets – homeless people, litter – maybe after a while we become inured to it.  But after having spent so much time in Australia and New Zealand they were shocked.

In Australia and New Zealand the beaches are clean.  There are bike paths everywhere with lots of trees and green space.  Every 100 metres of so there are stainless steel tables and benches and big square stainless steel BBQ tables. People clean up after themselves and every morning the parks people come by and check and hose down everywhere.
bbq Filtered water in stainless steel dispensers where you can refill your water bottle.  Beautiful high-end deck chairs positioned along the river (not chained down in case someone steals one).

deck chairs

This place sounds like Utopia.  Why can’t we be more like that.  We are supposed to be a first world country.  Compare the public BBQ facilities in Waikiki….
Waikiki bbq

So after all her months of travelling would she do it again – in a heartbeat!  Calgary will be home for the next few months but after that who knows?

What are your tales of long long long vacations….do tell!






Tipping me over the edge

Tipping – how much is too much and how much is too little.  Is a tip expected?  In countries like Australia and New Zealand hardly anyone tips – it is just not expected.  Same thing in the Cook Islands.  So what’s a poor traveller to do and how much should you tip if at all?

According to the website http://www.thisismoney.co.uk a survey of British travellers showed that 70% of them didn’t research tipping customs for the destinations they were visiting.  This leads to over-tipping – which I guess is not a bad thing from the recipient’s point of view.  My philosophy has always been rather over-tip than under-tip.

The whole tipping thing though does sometimes get out of hand and a good example of this is the cruise line industry.

“There are exceptions, but most mainstream cruise lines pay the men and women who serve their passengers a low base wage (by Western standards). As such, on nearly all big-ship lines, crew members are dependent upon the generosity of travellers for a good portion of their income.” (except from Cruise Critic website).

Now that’s a shame.  But it is also frustrating for guests on these cruises.  For a whole week you have your waiter and bus boy all over you – BFF’s – and then on the last farewell dinner you give them The Envelope!  Next morning at breakfast it’s every man for himself as waiters are getting ready for the next wave of cruisers.  And I understand why they act like that – it is survival.

That’s why it is always surprising and charming when you try to tip someone and they refuse to take it saying that it is their pleasure to assist.  True story – happened to me on a Uniworld River Cruise.  Now they did tell us beforehand that tips are included but this girl had gone out of the way and I just wanted to show my appreciation.  As a traveller there is something really good about being on a trip where you are not taking advantage of other people and that everyone receives a living wage.

I have to admit -I am not very good at this whole tipping thing – probably because my dear husband takes care of all that side of things but I can be a bit of a dope sometimes.  In India last year we were at a fabric warehouse and had watched a demonstration of weaving just in the courtyard.  As everyone was choosing fabrics and shirts I needed the ladies and as this was a pretty smart facility I figured I should take advantage – after all in India you never know!  As I passed through the courtyard the weaving man was still there sitting in front of the loom.

So with a waggle of his head in true Indian fashion he signals me to come over and sit next to me.  Oh that’s sweet I think.  He starts showing me how to weave the wool and I did a couple of lines (or whatever you would call them).  I gave him and nice smile and said thank you and then of course he signalled that you wanted some money.  At the same time he put his finger to his lips to indicate that it would be a secret because clearly he wasn’t allowed to do that.  So of course I gave him some money – I was so embarrassed at being caught in this old trick that I didn’t even check how much.  So much for me – the seasoned traveller!  On the plus side however I hope it made his day and he could go home that night to his modest little hut and show his wife – “Hey look what I got from this stupid English lady today!” and his wife will clap her hands and jump up and down and tell him what a smart and clever husband she has.  Wish I could have been a fly on the wall!