A room of our own

When we surprised everyone with our arrival, the question of where mi novio and I would sleep came up.

The solution was we would sleep in his mother’s bed with his 8 year old son (who usually shares his grandmother’s bed) and his mum would share a bed with his brother since his girlfriend (who normally lives here) was visiting her family in another city. Musical beds! This was just a solution until the following day when we would go to buy a fan so we could share mi novio‘s single bed, as without a fan sleeping is pretty rough. (Although mi novio always used to sleep without a fan!)

The next day mi novio and I bought a fan and some paint to start work on transforming the storage/junk room into our bedroom. I wish I’d taken photos of how the room looked before we moved out all the car and motorbike parts belonging to mi novio‘s brother, Christmas decorations belonging to his mother and all other odds and ends you find in the junk room. I wasn’t quite sure that mi novio‘s teeny tiny room with space only for a single bed and small shelf would fit all the stuff from the storage room, but it did.

Mi novio set to work with the promise that the room would be read for us to sleep in that night.

We’d probably left our start a bit late in the day but with the help of his mother we cleaned the room thoroughly and mi novio fixed up the holes and dents in the walls and set to painting the roof and walls. Painting is not my forte, even less so painting ceilings and the roof here is made of a kind of ceramic corrugated plasterboard which is even trickier to paint. Lucky for me mi novio is quite the painter. Apparently he can also paint fancy, swirly feature walls that only people with money have in their houses because not many people know how to do it and it is quite expensive to commission. I have never seen these types of painted walls in Australia, nor can I imagine them being popular there, so I think it must be a latino thing.

Though we ended up sleeping in his mother’s bed again because I’d been struck with a bout of gastro and had to go to bed, mi novio finished painting the room that night, two walls white and two walls orange.

Mi novio suggested laying tiles on the concrete floor, but as I was keen to give la suegra (my mother-in-law) back her bed, I just wanted to move in and start unpacking the 7 bags we brought with us. So we moved in our luggage and the single bed for starters whilst we looked to buy a bed. Our new room had a closet space that was nothing more than a cement wall and roof but it needed a rail. So my increasingly handy novio installed a rail to hang our clothes. He also fixed up a hole in the floor, replaced the wood covering the door between our room and his brother’s room, filled in and painted the holes between the roof and the wall and added a plastic concertina opening door (to save space and give us privacy since all the bedrooms just have a curtain for a door).

A couple of days later we finally bought a bedroom setting which came with two bedside tables, a chest of drawers, a mirror and little seat that fits perfectly in our room.

Finishing off the fitout of our room are an Aboriginal artwork and an Argentinian tango print that we had framed, a couple of boomerangs, a bag rail and fab jewellery board mi novio made for me.

So now we have our privacy. We have a space to call our own and somewhere to keep our things. And mi novio did all of this with the minimum of tools, a drill, spatula, hammer (that has had the head cut to a stub), electric drill, screwdriver, roller and paintbrush, saw and a plasterer’s scraper. I’m very impressed and so thankful that we have our own space to inhabit until we find our own apartment, it makes the adjustment to Colombian living so much easier.

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Back in Colombia

We’d kept it a surprise. No one in Colombia knew we were coming back earlier. They were all awaiting our arrival on the 21st of October.

The decision to come back sooner came from an intersection of a few thoughts and feelings. Mi novio missed his family. He’d been away from them for 4 months and he was keen to see them again. The travels we were doing in Argentina and Chile just exacerbated his desire to go  get back on home soil. We also realised we were spending far more than we had budgeted. I had underestimated how expensive it was for two people to travel.

Unfortunately to change our flights was also super expensive. We virtually had to forfeit our flight and buy new ones. So we looked at travelling to Colombia by bus. Money can be a strong motivator and in a move away from my normal logic, mi novio convinced me that taking the bus was a sensible financial option and that it wouldn’t be the nightmare of my imagination.

After 11 days en route from Argentina, 4 border crossings and 7 nights sleeping in buses, we arrived to the tropical heat of Santa Marta.

Loading bags in Chile
Loading bags in Santiago. Even an excess baggage charge doesn’t compel people to travel lightly.

Laden with 2 suitcases, 2 large backpacks, 2 small backpacks and a carry-on bag we walked the narrow street to mi novio‘s house and opened the gate. From inside the house there the was a flurry of excitement and shouts as the realisation of our early arrival dawned.

Almost two weeks after arriving and with the flights we have booked set to fly tomorrow, I can look back and say it was a good decision to come back earlier than planned. What we’ve accomplished in this time here and the money we’ve saved are just two small benefits when compared alongside the reunion of family and the happiness I saw on his son and mother’s faces.

Although the 11 days of travel and 7 nights in buses faded into a distant memory as soon as we left the bus terminal in Santa Marta, it is an experience I am not keen to repeat and I still think we are slightly crazy for giving up the airfares that would have got us here in 8 hours.

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Are you also looking to do an international bus trip in South America?

Here’s some details of our trip to help you out.

Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile > approx 19 hours. Most companies offering this route stop in Mendoza. Cata Internacional has a daily direct bus. We took Pullman Bus which leaves Sundays and Wednesdays and was $450 Argentinian Pesos each (other companies quoted $500 pesos). This was probably the most attentive service we received on the buses. We were plied with coffee and soft drink, given a snack sack, dinner was provided in a restaurant and a ham and cheese sandwich provided for breakfast and there were good, new release movies shown. The seats weren’t as comfortable as some of the others but we were provided with a pillow and blanket. Our tickets said we could take 20kg of luggage each, but this was not weighed. Note: We went to Santiago to pick up luggage we’d stored and there are direct buses to Lima from Buenos Aires.

Cruz del Sur bus
Crossing the Chile/Peru border.

Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru > approx 52 hours. There are a few companies (Cruz del Sur, Ormeno, Andesmar and more) that offer this service, although they all operate on different days. We went with Cruz del Sur and paid $40,000 Chilean Pesos each. We chose Cruz del Sur for the departure day and also because they provided service on board the bus and most meals and also for the baggage allowance of 30kg. The bus companies seemed to be stricter on overweight baggage than airlines, and we had to pay 800 Chilean pesos for each kilo overweight. I would definitely recommend Cruz del Sur as we received very good service from the dedicated waiter who always advised us 10 minutes before we were to stop and told us how long we were stopping for. He also kept the movies going back to back during the trip and showed a good variety of new-release films (ie not just action films!) and he was also helpful at putting on the English sub-titles when I asked. Blankets were provided. Cruz del Sur have a connecting service to Guayaquil, Ecuador if you are heading further north.

Onboard Ormeno
Enjoying the space on the bus after most passengers got off in Cali.

Lima, Peru to Bogota, Colombia > approx 76 hours. There weren’t as many operators as we had expected, and since Lima doesn’t have a central bus terminal, it’s even harder to find them. In the end we had to go with Ormeno despite having read bad reviews online and hearing that it is just a bus trip, there is no service included. We paid US$180 each (you can withdraw US dollars from ATMs in Lima and there is an ATM inside the terminal. This did not include any meals. The bus stops at various places for you get off, go to the toilet for number 2’s and eat. Two drivers completed the entire distance and they were drivers only. They didn’t advise anything about how long each stop was for and were rather surly when asked anything. The seats were the most comfortable of all the trip with a pillow top cushion. However there are no blankets or pillows provided for a journey of 3 nights (this bus also stops in Guayquil and Quito, Ecuador and Cali in Colombia and some days has an onwards service to Venezuela). We were also only allowed 20kg of stowed luggage and 6kg hand luggage. Each extra kilo was charged at US$1, however they were slightly less precise about the weighing process and didn’t charge us for the full overweight baggage we had. Ormeno definitely wasn’t as good as other companies and the movies were sporadic and seemingly of the one genre, but also it wasn’t completely horrible.

Teary farewells

It’s so much harder to say goodbye to loved ones when you don’t know when you’ll see them next.

The final week at home was chaotic, stressful and packed full of preparations, not just for mi novio and I, but for Dad’s birthday party which was the day before we flew out of Mildura.

I really can’t believe how much paperwork and sorting out of affairs is required to go overseas for an indefinite period. I had so much stuff going on and unfortunately had left some of it way too late to get finished. However I was far more packed up than when I moved to LA last year, where I pretty much walked out of the house with everything I’d left behind in the same spot. I got more ruthless this year. I took more to the op shop than I have in all my combined visits before. I threw out mountains of irrelevant papers and organised the remainder of everything into several plastic containers

Dad’s party was a good opportunity to bid farewell to family and family friends. I was upset that one of my grandmothers couldn’t make the trip to the party and so I missed saying a proper goodbye to her, although she rang me to wish me well in Colombia.

On our final day at home, we got busy packing everything properly. I already knew I was going to be a bawling mess when saying goodbye to my family, and even typing this now brings tears to my eyes and a sob to my throat.

We had a final barbecue with Mum, Dad and my siblings, soaking up the beautiful day, before some photos and the farewell to my siblings. Whenever each of them would start to say bye and reach for a hug, fat tears would start rolling down my cheeks. I’m going miss them so much.

At the airport we checked in our mountain of luggage and then a parade of family and friends started to arrive to see us off. As the boarding time was announced, I started my rounds of everyone, hugging and kissing goodbye. I was just saying how I hadn’t got to farewell my grandmother at the party the day before, which started to add to my level of upset-ness, when her and my grandfather rounded the corner, just in time for me to give them a big hug.

Lastly, just before we left to board the plane we farewelled Mum and Dad, who have been just marvellous. They have done so much for mi novio and I these past two months and I enjoyed being back home and helping out. I am going to miss them desperately. But they are planning to come and visit us in Colombia, and hopefully we can get back home for a visit within two years.

All I can say, is thank goodness for Skype. It certainly makes being on the other side of the world to your loved ones so much easier.

The smell of LA

When I moved to LA last year it was as though all the moisture got sucked out of my skin. My friends and I all marvelled at how dry our skin had become, seemingly overnight, and the enduring nature of it was more than could be blamed on a 14 hour flight over the Pacific.

I wandered down to my local CVS Pharmacy on Glendale Boulevard and spent a really long time looking at all the beauty products, most especially moisturisers. I still remember comparing all the different brands, the prices (calculating currency conversions in my head) and features until finally deciding on Alba Botanical natural very emollient body lotion. It had a pump pack which I thought was a bit different.

After bathing myself in the moisturiser for more than a week, I managed to bring back my skin’s normal smooth appearance.

I loved it so much I made sure I brought some back to Australia and now every time I apply it to my arms and legs I am taken back to LA, to our cool apartment in Silverlake and to the vivid feeling of excitement I had while living there. I love that certain smells can instantly transport you to another place and another time and am glad I have a strong association to take me back to my memory of LA.

Do you have a special scent that takes you somewhere else? What is it and where does it take you?

Dust storm

The dust storm coming in from the west

The magnificent force of nature where I grew up is best demonstrated by a dust storm.

A tsunami of red sand billowing towards you from the west, gathering dust particles from wheat and sheep paddocks, blocking out the sun and giving a rosy haze to the sky is quite spectacular. From the vantage point of the family home, perched atop a red sand dune is truly quite awe-inspiring.

A few years ago a major dust storm crossed Australia from west to east and arrived in Sydney carrying the legacy of our deserts. This caused widespread amazement and many photos of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House bathed in a red hue. But where I’m from, this isn’t so unusual. Granted, it’s not an everyday occurrence, but you get a handful of big dust storms each year that make you hurry home to close the windows.

The dust storm dominating the sky

I was with my parents in the truck on Good Friday and as we travelled back home, we drove into the dust storm. The sky darkened and the windswept red rivulets of sand across the highway. As we turned off the highway we started to come out the other side od the dust storm. The mirrors were filled with a stormy red sky and in front of us lay a wide expanse of blue with some wispy white clouds.

“We’d best get home quick to close the windows,” my parents said.

Arriving at home we ran to make sure all the windows were closed and take the clothes off the line and then we were enveloped in the storm.

Water tank in the dust storm
A water tank stands sentinel during the dust storm

There is something so ethereal about the light and a quiet eerieness to a dust storm, there is a palpable sentiment to the westerly winds carrying the desert. I wandered around the house, searching for the best lookout point and occasionally coughing at the gritty sand that was drying out my mouth.

As I’m about to move to a hilly green seaside town in Colombia, I really appreciated the red sand show nature put on for me.

A couple of things happened while I was away

And I’m not referring to any of the local and family tidbits my mum shared with me while I was on the road.

Window signs
There's not really room for three of these LCD signs in this Ascot Vale shopfront.

There are two things I saw while in America that made me think to myself “Look at that. I’m glad we don’t have that in Australia!” It wasn’t banking related, or anything nearly as important as healthcare. But they were:

  1. Family stickers on cars that include all family members, pets and the kitchen sink
  2. Flashing LCD signs in store windows saying “Open”

Every time I saw one of these things I would have a slight inwards gloat that we wouldn’t be that cheesy back home.

So you can imagine my surprise, my disgust and my feeling of foolishness when those two things haven’t just taken America by storm but Australia too.

I think the first time I saw a car back home with a family sticker emblazoned on it, I actually said “Nooo” aloud in disbelief. I struggle comprehend why people feel the need to display their whole family, cartoon style, on their vehicles. I guess we’ve moved beyond “Baby on Board” signs and bumper stickers telling people to back off if they can read it. Do we blame Facebook for this? Are people wanting to extend beyond their online social network and instead post about themselves and their family in a moving billboard style? I’m not sure what to think, I can only shake my head.

I justified the flashing LCD open signs in the US when I realised that this would be helpful for people during a snowstorm. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder leaving a light in the window to help Pa find his way home in a blizzard in the Little House on the Prairie books. However that logic does not apply to Australia where there are really only a handful or two of towns above the snowline. Here these signs are just tacky attention grabbers from DIY marketers.

To remind myself that yes, I am really back in Australia, I have indulged in sausage rolls, meat pies, pavlovas, Vegemite and regularly catch the tram.

The chore hostel

I’d never encountered a hostel where, in addition to paying for your bed, you had to do some other cleaning task to qualify to stay.

Sure I’ve come across plenty of places where you work in exchange for a bed, but not where the sole cleanliness of your room relies on the effort of the person who stayed there before you.

For me, this wasn’t such a big deal, I was happy to clean up after myself. Unlike at home, while on the road I’m quite pedantic about cleaning up after myself and drying my dishes rather than letting them drain in the communal kitchens. However, when the initial state of the place is pretty tatty and the chores are said to be “to engender community” I kind of get a bit affronted.

You wouldn’t think it is a hostel with all the broken down old cars and ancient caravans waiting to be restored in the carpark. As I marketer, I know that’s not how you present your business. The verandahs in front of the rooms all had planks of wood and other bits and pieces caked in dirt cluttering them up and the kitchen looked like an explosion had gone off.

In the kitchen’s defense, that was after a veritable truckload of donated food past their sell by dates had entered the hostel. Something they get for their non-profit status. So while it was a bit scungy yet oozing potential, the free food is a bonus to backpackers always on the lookout for a cheap feed.

This hostel feels like home

I’m staying at the most beautiful hostel in Durango, Colorado. It is so chilled and homely that I don’t want to leave it to see anything.

It is more like a b & b that’s how nice it is. Super clean, quality utensils in the kitchen, a cosy lounge, a deck looking out onto the bush, shelves for those sleeping on the top bunk, fluffy towels, soft sheets and an even softer blanket. A five out of five on my TripAdvisor review.

The kitchen inspired me to bake brownies, from a packet, but still my first bit of baking since I left LA. But I don’t want to think about baking for too long though as I miss my KitchenAid beaters and my pav plate from Goodwill. I’d love to just whip up a pavlova for the hell of it, but it is a finicky business that requires all the right equipment, and most hostels don’t have it. Needless to say when I’m camping there definitely aren’t the facilities for pav making.

A parcel!

Arriving home after a day of sights and shopping with Movie Lass, I had the elation you get when a big box with your name on it is waiting for you.

Contents of care package
Yum!

My friend Cathy had posted a care package to me filled with all sorts of goodies from home. It was so lovely.

It included:

  • TV snacks
  • Uncle Toby’s muesli bars
  • Wagon Wheels
  • A tube of Vegemite
  • A pack of Saos
  • Wizz Fizz
  • Anzac biscuits
  • Vanilla essence
  • 2 packs of Chocolate Ripple biscuits
  • Recipe for chocolate ripple cake

Topping it off was a lovely card emblazoned with the Mae West quote

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!

So now I can make a chocolate ripple cake (love, love, love) for our upcoming Easter lunch and have an Anzac bikkie or two on Anzac Day next week.

Thanks Cathy, you really brightened my day and I can’t wait to share these bits of home with my friends.

A friend has come to stay

Today I got to be a tour guide in LA as my friend from home, Movie Lass, arrived to stay with me for a couple of weeks.

After being in LA for two months it is so nice to have a friend around to talk about goings on at home, catch up on what’s new and to show around my new home. It’s surprising how much I already know about LA, America and general goings on. I have been able to explain lots of things like there only needing to be one number plate (called license plates here) on a vehicle, the awesome Californian rule that allows you to turn right on a red light if it is safe, how jaywalking is a big no-no because cars are obliged to stop for you even if you wanted to wait in the middle of the road for a break in the traffic and how all bread feels hard and stale.

We had a great day driving around, taking the carpool lane on the freeways back from the airport, wandering down Sunset Boulevard, hitting the supermarkets and then dollar fish tacos at 7 Mares (Seven Seas) on Sunset.

Movie Lass and I have big adventures planned for the next two weeks and I can’t wait to get out and about in LA with the really good excuse of helping my friend enjoy her holidays.