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no place like home

Reminders of homeThe original family farm truck

It’s hard to believe that is a month ago at this exact moment that I was saying ‘see-ya later’ to some of my amazing friends that I had made whilst I was living in Calgary.

It was an emotional time, but I have to admit I suprised myself and contained the majority of my tears.  I’m not sure if this was because I was tired and lacked the energy; because I was coming home and would see family and loved ones that I had not seen for the last year and a half; or simply because I knew that this was the beginning of the next chapter of my life.  Secretly, I think it was a combination of EVERYTHING.

Getting home was not a quick trip.

Calgary to L.A.  A 12 hour layover in LA.  LA to Melbourne. 5 hour layover in Melbourne. Melbourne to Mildura.

In total I think it was around 30+ hours, but walking across the tarmac in Mildura and spotting my niece Tamsin pressed up as close as she could get to the entrance turnstile with one of the biggest smiles on her face, made the entire journey so much more worth while.  Of course there was the rest of the homecoming crowd including my Mum, complete with a ‘Welcome Home’ balloon.

It was good to be home!

Golden Fields of Wheat

Golden Paddocks of Wheat

The last four weeks have passed by almost in a blur (thank goodness I have photo’s).  I have witnessed 2 amazing friends get married. Enjoyed a day in the beautiful Grampians. Celebrated a hen’s day floating down the mighty Murray river. Played, painted and laughed with my neices and nephews. Met the newest addition to the beautiful McLean family – Jorge. Become a ‘cricket Mum’ for our four farm kids and simply enjoyed the peace and quite, warmth and beautiful sunsets and simplicity of life that exists in this untouched place that I love and that I call home.

 There truly isn’t no place like home!

Beautiful day in the Grampian's

A beautiful day in The Grampians

Watching the kids at cricket
An evening on the pitch
Oops.. was I in charge!!
Oops… was I in charge??
Sunset at the Farm
A picture perfect sunset on the farm

First impressions if Havana Vieja.

One of my favorite quotes is:

 Dance like no one is watching,

Love like you’ll never be hurt,

Sing like no one is listening,

Live like it’s heaven on earth.   

Purkey, William

Ever since February I have regretted not having photos’ or a video clip of that ‘one night’ in Havana.

The one night that Laura and I found our brave-ness (or realized our stupidity) and ventured out of our casa after dark onto the streets of Havana Veija.  When the music started and the true side of Havana came to life. Where Cuban’s, young and old lived their lives according to this motto and where for one night, we too forgot about the world around us and enjoyed the moment.

There is so much to fall in love with in Cuba.  It’s simplicity that is wrapped up in so much complexity. Their love for EVERYTHING and absolutely EVERYTHING and of course their LOVE of Salsa.

I may not have the pictures to go with the written word, but not long after we returned from our amazing week in Cuba, I submitted the following to The Amazing Travel Stories competition…and was just recently advised that I won third place.  I hope you enjoy and can put your own photographs to this night!

A dream to dance

Author : Janine

I had watched him from across the room. I was relaxed and comfy on the brown leather couch. He was moving to the music and entranced in his moves and the way he guided his partner around the dance floor.

A and I had come here to escape the tourist flooded night spots of Havana Vieja. We had hoped for a place that was intimate, yet enabled us to experience the sensuality and thrill of salsa dancing. According to the guide, ‘Piano Bar Maragato was a chill lounge with cool music and a place that attracted s Havana’s well-to-do intellectual crowd’. After wandering the streets of Havana that day, it would be nice not to be harassed by Jineteros all night.

We had been told to come early, but like everything in Cuba, this bar also ran on Cuban time. It was just after 9:15pm when they opened the heavy glass doors. The room was cool when we entered; a small yet classy bar curled around the corner to our left, while comfy leather couches relaxed the atmosphere to our right, behind the intimate tables for two. The small dance floor, with its hard wood flooring stood empty before us.

We were amongst the first few to enter the bar and taking a seat at one of the couches and sipping our mojito’s, A and I reminisced about the last few days that had passed since we had arrived in Varadero. Our bartering skills to secure a classic car ride from Varadero to Havana for $75 CUC with the wonderful Rayner in his old dark blue ford. Arriving into the hustle and bustle of old Havana, where locals walked on the roads and the oneway streets between the two and three-story buildings caused confusion and mayhem to extranjeros like us. Sitting in our Casa Particular last night, too afraid to venture out into the nightlife, feeling sorry for ourselves and disappointed that we didn’t believe in ourselves to venture out and enjoy what Havana had to offer to us. To listening to the evening pass, the laughter of children playing in the streets below, the idle chatter as locals walked home and their voice’s echoing up the side of the stone buildings and in through our louvered windows, the sounds of bici taxis winding through the darkened streets in the middle of the night, their Cuban music blaring from their transportable stereos strapped just below the seat.

Music was playing, but the band had not yet started. The room started to fill. In front of us three young women and their male friend laughed in anticipation of the night ahead. A couple sat directly in front of us at an intimate table for two. The area beyond the archways further left of the bar had become crowded, and a young couple had taken to the dance floor. Their moves were swift and precise. Her hips moved with the sound of the music and he twirled her with grace and led her to the sound of the beat, as if at one with the music.

Before long the room was full, two African Cuban brothers took a seat beside us on the couch to our right, smiled and introduced themselves. The band began to play. The soft beat of the drums and the sounds of salsa echoing around the room.

One by one, A and I were both asked to dance. Our polite response ‘no, no, I not dance’ expressed with both a smile, a shake of our heads and our hands held up open in defense, as if apologizing.

Again and again we were asked, again and again we apologized.

The dance floor had filled and A and I watched in awe as the Cuban’s moved with the music, secretly wishing we had not been shy and cursing ourselves that we had not taken salsa lessons before tonight.

To our left, away from the dance floor a young man was moving to the sound of the music on his own, his moves almost choreographed to the sound of the beat, lost in a world where nothing else existed except for him and the music.

The guy I had watched earlier across the room had just re-entered the bar. Like a magnet he too started dancing to the music. At first it was slow, as if in appreciation of the music, in appreciation of the moves that his fellow Cuban was undertaking. In an instant it seemed as though they clicked. Together they moved in tandem, each edging the other on. The smiles on their faces reflecting the happiness they felt inside. The rest if the room seemed to empty as all eyes focused on them. Their moves somewhat striking, as if never attempted before As though they were meant to be here, meant to be dancing this dance.

If I wasn’t totally in awe before, I was now. As the song ended and they finished dancing, the others returned to the dance floor. I was wishing I had recorded this amazing impromptu performance, but for now it would have to remain a memory.

As the Cuban brothers left, two Russian couples took their spot on the couch.

Before long, A was again asked to dance. With her hands held up, her head shaking in the usual ‘no, no, I not dance’ we had become accustom to saying; one of the Russian women pushed her and said ‘you will love it’. It was all she needed to take the chance.

With A on the dance floor, and in a room full of mostly Cubans, I felt like a sitting duck. With comments like ‘your friend is dancing, why not you dancing?’ and ‘come on, I teach you dance’ it was getting harder and harder to say no. Before I knew it, the second guy that had been dancing to the left of us was standing beside me asking me to dance. I politely again said ‘no, no, I not dance’, when I felt A grab my arm and say ‘come on, this is fun’.

So amongst the Cuban’s, we tried our best to salsa. To be taught to dance to a beat that requires relaxation and movement of the hips. While we may have failed on the dancing front, we succeeded by laughing, by enjoying our partners, by having smiles on our faces and stepping out of our comfort zone and into the unknown. Now that; that I wish I had a video of.

I first saw the Grand Canyon out the window of a plane….a small plane.

In 2010 I spoilt myself with an hour and a half flight in a little 10 seater aeroplane.  Back then though I thought that I was landing at the Grand Canyon and that I would get to spend the day taking in all the wonderful and amazing views.  It was not to be.  Somehow I had incorrectly selected the ‘flight only’ option which included simply, just that.

At the time I was disappointed.  Really disappointed, but I have since learnt that there is a reason why these things happen and in late September I found out why!.

After exploring the Valley of Fire with Fi, I got to spend the next day exploring the West Rim of the Grand Canyon with Laura.  And what a day it was.  I’m not sure how many times we said ‘this is amazing’ to each other as we wandered around the various points at Eagle Point (see above – can you spot the Eagle Kaylene??) and Grotto Point. But they simply were and I thought that I’d share some with you, just so you can see for yourself.e

(Test yourself on the first pic.. once you spot the eagle, can you spot the dog and his ball – it’s amazing what the natives can see!)

First stop – The Ranch.. complete with snake warnings.. thank goodness I never heard any ‘rattling’

Always the way! 

The Grand Canyon Skywalk.. Yes we did!

Enjoying unbelievable views at Grotto Point

 

Quite simply ‘Trail Closed’

Some places are just made to meditate

Lady Liberty

Christmas 2010 was pretty special.  Not only did I get to experience my first EVER white Christmas, but I also got to spend it with some amazing friends from back home and together we traveled to New York and enjoyed the sights around Manhattan.  I have to admit. It’s pretty hard not to fall in love with this city.. so to help you do so, I thought that I might change it up a bit and create a photo essay rather than write a million words.. so here goes.. I hope you fall in LOVE too!

Working on the new 911 memorial park on the original site of the Twin Towers

 

Relaxing at the current ‘small’ 911 memorial park

Enjoying a pretzel for breakfast from one of the street vendors in Battery Park

The view of Manhattan from Liberty Island

A secluded spot in a snow-covered Central Park

Watching over the ice skating on Wollman Rink – Central Park

Falling in LOVE with New York

The neon lit Times Square – where everything happens

New York had received a large dump of snow just days before we arrived which practically shut down parts of the city… This Corner of Central Park is still covered in the left over snow

I have come to realise that sometimes you just have to stop.

You have to stop living the fast paced life that you live. You have to cherish every moment and you have to live. You have to take the time to ‘smell the roses’ as they say.. take the time to enjoy.

Recently I was in Las Vegas for the wedding of my friends, Tannis and Dave (watch for post to come) and decided that sometimes there is more to Las Vegas than just the neon lights and high rolling gambling tables (yes there is also awesome premium outlet shopping too).  But the ‘more’ that I’m talking about is the beautiful nature that lies within the desert not to far from Sin City.  The beautiful, amazing ‘Valley of Fire‘.

I won’t lie.  When most people think of Las Vegas they think of The Grand Canyon and I did too the first time I went there.  But some other friends had also told me about the Valley of Fire.  A smaller park not to far from Vegas that was full of stunning red rocks and simply one hell of an amazing drive.

Given that I had been to Vegas twice before and this time I was staying for a week. I didn’t fancy my chances of enjoying the full week on the strip so I suggested to Fi that perhaps we get out-of-town one day and take a road trip.    Well, plus there was the added incentive of this:

Living Life

Who says you can’t live the life of luxury in Vegas.. after all, what happens in Vegas…..

Quite simply our day was truly amazing. I flick back over all the photographs and am still amazed that I have been lucky enough to have witnessed such amazing scenery and I live in awe that landscapes such as this. In such an unknown place exist.

I am simply grateful for the opportunities, the sights and the ability to be able to enjoy such amazing landscapes..

Picture Perfect Sunset Over Seeley Lake, Montana

 

Part of my love of road trips is being able to experience things that you may never have had the opportunity to see before.  The freedom to set your own schedule and do what you want to do.  To spend as long as you want or as little as you want and the opportunities to enjoy every single moment.

The first day of our road trip from Calgary to Saint Catherine’s had been a long one.  We had hiked the Bear’s Hump in Waterton National Park and driven the spectacular, amazing and absolutely awesome Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park.  As much as the drive is breathtakingly beautiful, it is also mentally taxing.   Tight corners, narrow roads and 1,000+ foot cliff drops. But I would still do it over and over and over again.

With no real plans on where we would stay, let alone, where we would eat, we basically drove until we got hungry.   We arrived in Seeley Lake around 8pm and the sun was just beginning to drop.

Rather than ‘searching’ for food we decided that the Hamburger Cafe beside the lake would be a nice enough option.  Something casual and a chance to sit outside and enjoy our surroundings.  Unfortunately the cafe was closed, but the steakhouse next door was still open and still serving meals.  It would have to do.

After taking our seat we were presented with the menu.  Literally a sign that stood 4ft tall and listed 3 items:

The ‘extensive’ menu @ Linsday’s Steakhouse

We both guessed that sirloin was on the menu for the night :-), which caused some snickering between the two of us (don’t worry.. this was just the beginning of our nightly laughs!!).

After dinner we wandered down to the lake with enough time to take in the beautiful sunset.

Chance just happened to land us in Seeley Lake at the time that it did. And Fate just happened to provide us with a beautiful sunset over the water that truly cannot be described.

The tourist brochures all describe Montana as ‘big sky country’…. I think this picture proves it correct.. What an absolutely stunning view..

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