Wednesday, March 11, 2020

We're "Down Under" in Australia

View from the river of Melbourne
Another country for us and a different world. We left the motor home life to enter the life of beautiful homes, reconnecting with good friends that we met traveling the world.

Bestie Anne - we love you
Our first 10 days were in Melbourne, on both sides of the city. First we were with Anne and Michael who we met in Portugal, walking the Camino from Porto to Santiago in Sept 2017. We've stayed in touch via technology and a year ago made plans to walk with them on a pilgrimage in Japan. Once the plan was made, we decided to add NZ and Australia, and then Spain beginning tis long trip.

As I write, we are up in the air about Japan - will the country be closed because of the Corona virus? Will the trips be cancelled? Will we cancel in order not to be stuck in Japan? Don't know - perhaps I will answer this before publishing the blog and perhaps not.

Anne and Michael have included us in their lives as family and we have continued talking, walking, eating, laughing, singing, playing games and just living together. We have bonded as the "besties" that we called ourselves when we met.

Aboriginal people art
We concentrated on two themes during the first few days - The indigenous - the Aboriginal Australians and the animals of this continent. We started with the Aboriginal Tour in Royal Botanical Gardens with our guide Jacobi who introduced us to the culture and the local plants. At his suggestion we went to the Koorie Heritage Trust in Federation Square learning more about the culture and some of the Aboriginal art. I am quite taken with the details of this art and their design and color elements. We also visited the Marlborough Museum seeing the "First People" exhibit which was excellent and more aboriginal art, both traditional and modern. At the museum we saw an IMAX movie about animals of the Northern Territory. The museum was in the area of Melbourne called Carlton and we had dinner at a vegan restaurant that has been around for many years and delicious - Shakahari.
Modern using traditional
basket weave technique
Note: Just like NZ, there are amazing restaurants always with vegan and gf options noted on their menus. The world is changing in that the options are so plentiful.

We also visited the Heide Museum of Modern Art and sculpture garden with Anne's son Erin his daughter Nive, (2 years old). Visiting places along with being with family is a wonderful way to experience more of the culture than just being a "tourist". We are grateful for our friends.

Cute Koala
Now to the animals - on Bonds Road in their neighborhood, Anne showed us a mob of wild kangaroos. We saw them from a distance, laying in the sun for their afternoon nap while a few hopped around. It was my hope to see these and the other native animals to AU and the following day Anne took us to Moonlite Sanctuary where we saw kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and kookaburas. How many years have I heard about these animals and finally seeing them up close and feeding some of them was a treat.

We spent one night at their beach house in Somers, walking to see sunset at night and then a nice beach walk the following morning. Our taste of Melbourne through the eyes of Anne and Michael is outstanding.
View of Melbourne from Williamston
Soon we were off to the next family - Lauren, Ra'naan and their children. We met these folks on a train in Spain on the way to Granada in 2015 and spent several days together touring that city. As happens, we made friends and they said that if we ever come to Melbourne that we should visit and that has come true. BTW, it is Lauren who used my drawings for a large installation to thank the financial advisors in Australia at their annual convention last year. It was quite an honor to have my drawings hanging all over the "Garden of Gratitude".

Our "family"
Again we enjoyed being with a family which has given us much information about their lives, their work and visiting some of their favorite places. Lauren and her family live in Malvern and we were able to travel from their home by tram into the city on our last day for a walking tour, catching all the details that we hadn't heard about in our first 9 days.

We walked in the Dandenog National Park seeing the gum (Eucalyptus) trees and fern trees and a chance to go to Abbotsford Convent, a former convent now art community with galleries, studios, gardens and restaurants - a community experience.

At Somers on the beach
To both our "Bestie Families" - big thanks for your amazing hospitality and generosity and we hope to reciprocate when you visit us in Mexico. Muchisimas gracias amigos.

And from Ricardo....

Here we are in Australia for 3 weeks. We are now in Melbourne living with good friends, both north and south of the river that divides this city. Both families are of different generations, one being Generation X and the other are Baby Boomers like us. I always like having people around me and these two families have given us not just good friendship but an opportunity to share with us their families and stories of their past. We have much in common such as travel and adventure. 

Art of the first people

Melbourne is city that is growing in population and has the same growing pains as one finds in other cities. Melbourne is known as the arts and cultural center of Australia and we have seen art from aboriginal times to the present as well as a night at the theater. The country is open to tell their stories and history concerning the past tragedies with the native peoples called the First People. I have come to see that our past tragedies mirror theirs. 

We just arrived in Sydney and then heading north along the coast to a few more places so stay tuned.

Friday, February 28, 2020

"Kia Ora" from the South Island of NZ

Napier on the waterfront
Wow, we thought it was beautiful at the North Island but found it equally amazing on the South Island. All in all, we are on a trip of scenery and words and pictures hardly describe what we are seeing daily.

I am keeping track of where we go and what we see and will do my best to describe the many places so we remember. If I didn't write them down, I would have a hard time remembering which photo belongs to which beautiful site.

Along the way we had to change our plans a bit because of weather forecasts in the south and west. The Milford Sound was already closed due to flooding from a storm and we were going to go to the Doubtful Sound instead. These are both fiords in the Fiordland National Park area. A cyclone was expected the day we were to head there so we moved northwest instead. A cyclone is the same as a hurricane or a typhoon, depending upon where you are in the world. We did get a smattering of rain here and there but nothing overwhelming - glad we made the plan to avoid the south.
We spent a short time in Wellington (N Island) walking around the harbor and a quick stop in Te Papa Museum before crossing the strait to Picton and promised to return on the way back.

Kaikoura Peninsula - walk along the beach
Kaikoura Peninsula
ROur first stop on the So Island was Kaikoura where we stayed two nights. It is the place for whale watching so we were up early to the boat with high hopes. They rarely have a time with no sightings but ours was it - no whales so we received an 80% refund on the trip. It is a lovely coastal spot and we walked the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway one day and the following day up a mountain before heading to Christchurch.

Christchurch is a city in transition due to the terrible damage of an earthquake in 2011. Many were killed and many more were injured and the city is still recovering. We met Tom's friends Georgie and Sebastian and had a fun dinner with them and coffee the following morning.
Akaora Beach

Akaroa harbor
Next we headed to Akaroa at the suggestion of several people as this was the time we were avoiding heading south because of the storms. We enjoyed this area -  Akaora is a cute little French town with lovely restaurants and tourists galore. The scenery was amazing, from the campground and around every curve. (This is mostly true of the majority of places we visited.) Our second day included a hike to Heritage Park above the city with amazing views. We enjoyed dinner in the campground with neighbors from Switzerland, Martin and Daniela along with a sunset view from the campground site.
Devil's Punchbowl at
Arthur's Pass
Happy 65 to Ricardo

Then to the west coast crossing the southern Alps at Arthur’s Pass where we stopped for a hike at the Devil’s Punchbowl Track on our way to Greymouth which was a stop on our way north to Abel Tasman National Park.

Now it was Feb. 18th, Richard's birthday when we stopped to walk at Pancake Rocks and another walk along the river in Paparoa National Park where we were caught in heavy rain, all getting soaked. Having our "home" right at the end of the track allowed us all to get into dry clothes upon arrival. Thankfully it wasn't too cold.

Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks

The following day in Abel Tasman NP we went to Kaiteriteri Beach for a little walk and Susie and Richard went kayaking. We celebrated Richard's birthday on the 19th (really the 18th in some parts of the world) with Tom making Richard's favorite meal, pasta with oil/garlic.

Tom preparing one of  his
special vegan meals
Now would be an excellent time to mention that we have enjoyed excellent meals just about every night by Tom, our chef. Very creatively he cooks us something special after we shop together in one of the great grocery stores here in NZ. The two that we frequent are New World and Countdown - with all kinds of specialty vegan items. Tom owns a vegan restaurant in San Cristobal de las Casas, MX (where we met him) so you can be sure that we enjoyed our favorite cuisine every day. I should have written each meal to make a motor home vegan recipe book!!!

On our third day in this park we took a boat ride with Abel Tasman EcoTours which was informational and showed from the water the whole area of this beautiful national park. We enjoyed a short beach walk with a view of a harbor, a picnic lunch and loads of history and information.
Split Apple Rock at Abel Tasman NP
picnic in Abel Tasman

Go Susie and Ricky

Beautiful beach

Off we were to Nelson, a lovely town with Queens Garden and a walk up to the lookout - the center of NZ, and then to Picton for an early ferry back to the North Island and second visit to Wellington to return to the museum that we enjoyed several weeks ago - Te Papa.

We are winding down with a visit to Napier, an art deco town) walking along the harbor and up to Bluff Hill Lookout. Each of these NZ towns are special in their own way and all with focus on outdoor activity and beautiful vistas.

Redwood Forest
Redwood Forest Tree Walk
We returned to Taupo for a quick visit with Mick and Valda before heading to one more important area that we planned for this time - Rotorua where there is a giant Redwood forest and we walked among the trees and did the "Tree Walk" on paths suspended off the ground from one redwood to another - a way to see up and down and witness the forest from another viewpoint. Lastly we visited Whakarewarewa - A living Maori village and learned of their history, culture and artwork. For me, these last two activities in Rotorua were highlights of our trip.

Maori Anglican Church
painting of Maori Jesus in
window with Lake Rotorua
in the background
Whakarewarewa - The Living
Maori Village

Blue Lake, Rotorua

Sadly we will be saying goodbye to each other after a wonderful time visiting both islands and living closely in our "Tane Mahuta", our home for the month. I would recommend this country to anyone loving nature with time to enjoy traveling. Would I recommend a motor home trip? I think it would depend whom I would be talking with - in NZ this was luxury compared to many backpackers living more simply but to others, it is roughing it. I am happy to have experienced it and would surely opt for a little more luxury another time. After a few days we all found our comfort zone, our tasks to support the trip and our ways to find a little "alone time" each day. I managed to draw some days and completed another accordion book of NZ.

Now we plan for the next adventure with several friends in the land of the Aussies for much of March. For those who wonder....we are monitoring with the tour companies in Japan where we plan to go after AU and so far, all is a go. Stay tuned!

Thanks for traveling these islands with us and more to come in a week or two.


Our New Zealand adventures are ending. After a month of traveling with my cousin Susie (cleaner and copilot), my friend Tom Pratt (driver and cook) and Susan (navigator) we all have come to know and understand each other better. I have never seen a more beautiful place in all of my travels.  The people here have been super friendly and always happy to help us find what is needed. Great hikes and great food experiences were plentiful. Living with 4 people in a 21' motor home has it challenges but after 4 weeks we have developed a communal routine. We are diverse in some ways .... two vegans, one vegetarian and a carnivore.
Today we are back in Auckland and have returned the RV we called "Tane Mahuta" after the famous tree here dated more than 2000 years. As we wind down our time now in the magical land we have great memories and a better understanding of how people can inter-relate in a very small space with nature just outside the door. I have come to respect the Kiwi’s and how they cherish their north and south islands. The kids here play outside and people may have iPhones but prefers to have social time together. They are very proud of the Maori past and it shows itself to us almost everyday. 

If it wasn't for the distance New Zealand would be like other over populated places but here it is wide open spaces. Thank you for traveling with us as we are now off to Australia for the month of March.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

We're down under - the north island of New Zealand

Ombu tree in Albert Park
First news from Ricardo down under.... 

New Zealand is very far from home. From Spain it took 3 flights and over 24 hours - so much better then Magellan’s  boat. We are leaving the North Island tomorrow for the South Island. I have been told that it is more dramatic so stay tuned for our next blog.

So far every thing has been more then expected from scenery, food and the best hikes ever.  We are four people moving across these islands. My cousin Susie, Tom my buddy from San Cristobal and my very adventurous wife who has been keeping you all up to date with her posts and blogs.

We have been with old friends Gail and Athol and new friends Mic and Valda not to mention the kiwi hospitality which is marvelous. We could live here easily except for the distance which I believe keeps the immigrant population low.

The weather this time of the year is perfect - cool nights and sunny days in the 70's.

Below is Susan’s fuller description of the places and things that we have visited and done.Sending love,Ricardo     

Another new world here in New Zealand. We've been here over one week and are enjoying the North Island.  We'll head to the South Island soon and report from there before the end of the month as we have the whole month to enjoy this country. How lucky can we be?

First thoughts about NZ definitely go to the friendliness of the people. We are used to traveling and finding kindness and openness however here it stands out more than anywhere I have been. For example....our first night with Susie (Richard's cousin who is traveling with us) we went looking for a restaurant and came upon Hernebay Thai Cuisine with owner Nai. We asked to be seated and she informed us that it was a family run restaurant but wouldn't open for a few days and still did not have their credit card machine. We hadn't yet been to the bank for NZ dollars so we said we would go out for money. She asked us to sit down and they would prepare us a meal and we could come back and pay the next day. She was happy to have us as her first customers and then went ahead to make us special and very delicious meals - prepared by her Thai mother. We went to get money that night, but she had totally trusted us. Then she invited us for the Sunday special dedication by a Buddhist monk who was coming to bless the restaurant. We went and experienced this special ceremony as if we were friends or family for life. A long story to demonstrate this first acts of kindness.

Glass window at Auckland Art Gallery

Auckland is a beautiful modern city with lots to do - being a port city it is surrounded, or seems so, with water and boats. We visited the harbor, sky tower, ferry to Devonport with a walk up to Mt. Victoria, Auckland Art Gallery with tour of museum and some of it's collection and Albert Park right next to it. A highlight for all of us was seeing Richard's nephew Max and having lunch with him - a fine young gentleman enjoying his first months working in NZ.

On Feb 3 Tom arrived from San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico and we all met to pick up our RV, learn the basics and head north for 4 hours to visit friends of ours, Gail and Athol that we know from San Miguel in Mexico. They invited us years ago to stop by if we were ever in NZ and you all know that telling us that means we might take you up on it. We spent a lovely two nights with them doing our first visiting and experiencing once again - the kindness of the kiwis. They live on a cliff in Omapere overlooking the entry to the river on the west coast. We had a little mishap as we arrived hitting a strainer post (post that holds up a fence)....entering a driveway with a little damage to the side of the RV. It did not hinder our driving so we went straightaway to Gail and Athol's and enjoyed an amazing sunset and dinner. The house is beautiful with a magnificent view. The next day we went to their friend's body shop and he duct taped it together for us so we are good for the month! 
View from Gail and Athol's house

From their house we went to the Waipoua Kauri Forest and saw Tane Mahuta - the oldest tree in Oceania - over 2000 years old. We left for the Bay of Islands boat trip including the Hole in the Rock and lunch in the cute town of Russell. 

Hole in the ROck

Tane Mahuta
I will mention at this point that we have eaten lunch out everyday and found restaurants with well marked veg, vegan, gluten free, etc. items on their menus. It is common everywhere and all with very creative meals. 

Off to Orere Point for our first night together in the motor home - which we have named Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest in Maori). We survived and were still friends the next morning. We'll have many more, though some nights in friend's homes - all makes the trip fun and adventurous. After a beach walk at the RV park we headed to Taupo.

I am writing from Taupo, home of Mick and Valda who are very warm and generous to open their amazing home to us. We have beautiful rooms and are here for 4 nights. These are longtime friends of Tom with lots of shared stories. Mick is a horse owner and a highlight was watching one of his horses (he bred and trained) race in an important race and come in second. This was a first for me - watching a horse race and watching people watching a horse race.
Watching the horse race with Mick and Valda

Huka Falls
Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo is in the caldera of the Taupo volcano with a surface area of 616 kilometers. It is the largest lake in New Zealand. There is much to do - all types of water sports and boating as well as walking on paths along the lake. We visited Craters of the Moon which is a geothermal walkway with lunar landscapes - hence its name. Craters of the Moon showcases the natural thermal activity of Taupo including bubbling craters, steam vents and colorful soils. Next was a visit to Huka Falls. Saturday included a farmers market and the horse race on TV mentioned above. Our last day Tom took us to other friends, Wally and Karen who own a horse and dairy farm (1300 cows for milking twice/day). A new world for Ricardo and me.
Craters of the moon
Off to Tongariro National Park where we hiked to Taranaki Falls through beautiful volcanic scenery to tall waterfalls. After lunch at the Chateau, we took a gondola ride at Whakapapa Ski Area. We drove on to Whanganui, a lovely river town where we met Tom's longtime friend Karen for dinner. 

We are now used to our life on the road - driving, pulling into our Top 10 Campground, hooking up electricity so we can all plug into our devices, figuring out dinner either out at a restaurant or cooking in the campground kitchen, getting our sleeping stuff organized and usually bed fairly early to be ready for another day.
We are now in Wellington and tomorrow will ferry from here to Picton, on the South Island - a four hour ferry ride. 

New Zealand is awesome! Thanks for following us and we'll report soon from the South Island.