Back to Life, Back to Reality

After 348 nights of living out of a backpack, we’ve finally made it home.

The first week has been an absolute whirlwind of seeing long lost family and friends; a frenzied and relentless need to keep unpacking; the panic buying of school uniform and shoes; working 2 days in a brand new job; studying 5 days in a brand new class at school; doing about 67 loads of washing; dedicating an entire room in our house just to our unopened post; making scores of phone calls to reconnect various utilities and services; and finding a new appreciation for very simple things, like soft pillows and tap water you can drink.

What has really made it special though is the kindness of friends and family who have helped us. We’ve had a birthday cake EACH for the children (thank you Nana Avril); there were brownies, cakes, biscuits, tea, coffee & milk on the doorstep (thank you Sam); a lift from the bus station and a home-made lasagna (thank you Kate); a car full – FULL – of redirected, unopened post that my parents have stored for us, including a rather large number of parcels that we posted home to ourselves (thank you Mum and Dad); and a trip to toy shop for belated birthday presents (thank you Uncle Kieran); not to mention the countless people who have stopped us and told us how happy they are to see us back. It is very moving to have people around who show you that they care about you. We feel very lucky.

So how does it feel to be back? Somehow, it manages to feel both utterly bizarre and completely familiar at the same time. It’s so quiet, so well organised and so clean. The cars move in straight, orderly lines along the roads, like they’re on tracks or controlled by robots or computers. There’s no chaos, no crowds of people or shouting in the streets. Where is everyone?

The colours are different. Muted, like if you turn down the colour on the TV to almost black and white, yet beautiful all the same. Walking out from our home you can see fields and hills, cows grazing and birds in the trees. It’s really nice round here. I don’t think I’d noticed that for a while.

And our house: it’s enormous! I keep walking from room to room, wondering at the luxury of having a choice, of having personal space again.

I know I’m going to miss some things about being on the road. After we dropped the girls off for their first day back at school, I thought I’d gone deaf. I could count the number of hours I’ve been without them during the last year on my fingers. I think we’re all finding that a bit hard. Plus, after all that time away spent craving English food, I’m already craving Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) for breakfast. Ah, that greener grass is calling again!

We have another milestone to come this week. Ferg will turn 40 on Thursday, marking the official start of the slippery slope into middle age. Some birthdays just seem to mean more than others; and coming at the end of this trip I guess it’s made me think about how little time we actually have to call our own. It seems unlikely we’ll ever get another year like this one. And our children will never be 8 years old again.

But right now the overwhelming feeling is one of being incredibly lucky to have seen the things we’ve seen, been the places we’ve been, and have all amazing luxuries and friendships we have to come home to. And one thing is for sure: it’s better to have gone and come back than to never have gone at all.

Five Funny Things That Happened Whilst Travelling

By Evie Hadley (Age 9)

BIG Fishing!

One funny thing that happened whilst travelling was when, in Sri Lanka, out of the bus window, we saw some Asian people sitting on bamboo (very thin) poles fishing in the sea wihout even holding on! Mummy explained that to us that they were stilt-fishing and that these people were very practiced at balancing and fishing at the same time. Clever and funny.

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No stilt fishing captured on camera, but a lovely beach shot where you sometimes see the fishermen

Monster Ahoy!

Well, the story starts when we are swimming in the sea at Komodo National Park, Indonesia. Diving down to look at coral, playing with Christmas tree worms and chasing fish. Then suddenly Mummy came up screaming that she had seen a hideous monster with a human sized head, shiny, colourful skin, two slit-like eyes and no nose. A couple of days later we were watching a marine wildlife program and we found that Mummy had seen an octopus. Poor Mummy!

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Mummy, blissfully unaware that she’s about to experience utter terror

Faking An Elephant!

This story starts when we were sitting in Chitwan on the verandah outside our large, cosy room.

We were chatting (about Tettie’s broken leg) when we all heard a strange, trumpeting sound and look around. Assuming it was an elephant (probably the one who lived in our resort) and carried on chatting. Then the noise came again and (once again) looked round to see a western man walking along blowing his nose. He sounded so much like an elephant!

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The resident elephant at Travellers Jungle Camp

Just Keep Plodding

We were trekking in the mountains of Nepal walking, walking, walking, “GET OUT OF THE WAY OF THE YAKS!” Jingle, jingle, jingle, yaks coming through! The yaks were clomping along on the thin mountain ledges where they probably wouldn’t fall off due to their stale, gripping hooves (although they were being whipped quite hard on the bum!)

The yaks were followed by donkeys (also being whipped on the bum). Did you know that yaks get low altitude sickness?!

Yak (or maybe a Nak)

Yaks Ahoy!

Crocodile v’s Elephant

Yes, Mummy let us swim in the elephant and crocodile infested river in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. (We had to wear life jackets though). There were two types of crocodile. Most were gharials, which only eat fish; others were marshmuggers which eat people and fish but are scared of elephants. We had a game called silent gliders where we glided silently along in the water (pretending not to be able to see each other). FUN!

The Crocodile Game

A game of silent gliders during our first trip to Chitwan

Homeward Bound

Tomorrow is our last day of travelling.

This brings mixed feelings: part of me could carry on this lifestyle forever; part of me pines for home comforts. The grass, as they say, is always greener.

No more packing up our troubles in the old kit bag; no more roaming the hot, dusty streets in search of a big family room for a small family budget; no more wild animal adventures; no more 17 hour bus journeys; no more removing fear inducing insects from the bathroom; no more sleeping on top of each other.

No more seeing my girls every single minute of every single hour of every single day. It is a very, very sad thought.

As for the children, they are incredibly enthusiastic about returning home. They can’t wait to taste fresh, creamy milk again, and to see all their ‘dodo bears’ (soft toys). We’ve allowed them to input into our first UK supermarket shopping list, which is going to be delivered to our home just hours after we arrive (what luxury!) so it now contains all the ingredients to make trifle, a number of crisp based snacks and most of the dairy aisle. It also has our favorite Malbec wine, real ale, chedder cheese…all the things we’ve missed eating and drinking. After managing not to gain weight after a year of eating out, we are in danger of ballooning in our first week back!

But ask them if they’ve enjoyed it? “SO much!” is the reply I got last night. I wonder if they can really remember what our old routine was like, or appreciate how much freedom they’ve had this year.

For now though, we are all very excited about going home. For the first few days our house will seem like a mansion, the cold weather will seem refreshing, English food will seem delicious, and it will be amazing to see our friends and family again. We even have a new family member, a baby girl cousin to our girls. I am so excited about meeting her! The challenge is to carry on appreciating these things in the weeks and months to come.

Here’s a quick list (shouted out by all of us, in no particular order) of all the things we are looking forward to:-

Megan

NanaRara

Nana Avril

Rara Rob

Uncle Kieran & Auntie Yeni

Reuben

Our new family member, Wren

Auntie Kate

Mac & Daisy (Auntie Kate’s dogs)

Grandad Alan

English milk

Squirty cream

Trifle

Nachos

Cream

Our big house

Our own TV

Our own kitchen

A bed each

Our garden

School

Bouncing on the trampoline

Slide

Sofas (although we don’t currently own one)

Space, more space and more space

Dodo bears

Our own car

All the days out e.g. Cannon Hall Farm, Golden Acre Park & Hall Park

Going to a shop that has things I might want to buy in it

Drizzle

Snow

Fast internet

Being cosy under a duvet

Oven cooked stew

Cooking our own food

Feeling safe

Smooth roads

Safe transport

Cheese

Dentist

My bike (all of us)!

My ukulele & music

Water from the taps

Buying a recorder

Dairy milk

Mince pies [Ferg]

Board games

Roleplaying games [Ferg]

Decent red wine [the kids – only kidding! This was me.]

The NHS

It’s a pretty comprehensive list… I wonder how much we will really remember to appreciate once we are actually there?

For now, we’ll try to concentrate on enjoying our last 24 hours of hot sandy beaches, warm sea, a swimming pool, a resident monitor lizard in the canal outside, friendly locals, eating unidentified food, and enjoying being together as a family.

The Most Useful Thing We’ve Taken Travelling Around Asia: Waterproof Cast Cover

By Scarlett Hadley (Age 9)

We didn’t exactly take a waterproof cast cover, but…

Well the story really started when we began to climb for the second time in the Anapurna region. After 3 days of trekking it happened.

I broke my leg. Luckily, a helicopter came, soaring into the air with all five members of our family inside, and at last came to rest in Kathmandu, on Vayoda Hospital’s helicopter landing place. When we left Vayodah (me and Mummy in ambulance, Daddy and my sisters in a taxi) my leg had been set into a big full length cast.

Scarlett Onboard the Helicopter

Scarlett being a big, brave girl in the helicopter

The waterproof cast cover was delivered several weeks later in Chitwan National Park, where elephants are the great kings.

After one and a half weeks in Chitwan the cast cover because useful. My sisters were off to wash the elephants, my Nepali friend had to go to a funeral and so me and Mummy had to stay at our hotel, Travellers Jungle Camp. We went to the bathroom ad for the first time put on my waterproof cast cover. Woops, splash, the showers got out of hand! Water – war!

Me and Mummy had a waterfight until my sisters came home and we all played cards. It began when I threw a bucket of water at Mummy, big mistake! She threw one back at me. The bathroom got soaked as water went flying back and forth, having quite an adventure. Splashing back at Mummy all I could see was thousands and thousands of tiny droplets of water soaring to and fro around me. A lot of fun was involved in the weird and wonderful water fight. At last, after 2 and a half hours, both dripping, we left the flooded bathroom to drain, just as my sisters and Daddy came home.

Our Room Name (Rhyming SLang?)

Our room in Chitwan where we stayed a total of 41 nights while Scarlett recovered

Sublime Swimming

On the first day in Thailand we swam in the Hotel Malaysia’s big, deep swimming pool. Me and my sisters played mermaids and used the rubber rings as boats, sailing around and often falling off…

The swimming pool was 3-4 metres deep and very fun. The cold refreshing water had a well tiled floor, which was painted a light shade of turquoise, as were all four walls. My cast cover floated, allowing me to plow easily through the water.

Waterproof Cast Cover in Action

Scarlett in action with the waterproof cast cover

Sandy Samui

After I had my cast changed there was a different tale to tell…

This was swimming from Mummy to Daddy in the wild raging waves of Ko Samui. The water was deep and green but yet my waterpoof cast cover floated above the surface, bobbing gently with the waves. We had a very good time in Ko Samui. I could not get in the sea without help. I could not do this because I only had 3 legs (when I was on all fours).

Scarlett Literally Island Hopping

Broken leg on the beach, Ko Samui

Bad Bubble Maker:  Waterproof Cast Cover is Good.

When we went to do a bubble makers course [an introductory scuba diving course] it was a disaster!

The air tanks were too heavy and the wet suits were too big. I only had one flipper, but the cast cover didn’t sink. It floated along like a good little cast cover and we managed to swim the huge distance (Mummy pulling me half the way). My waterproof cast cover saved me that one big day.

Ready to go diving

Nothing stops Scarlett joining in, not even a broken leg!

Hua Hin

In Hua Hin, I had my cast taken off but my leg was so sensitive it couldn’t touch the water…

Hua Hin was an extremely nice place with an open, public swimming pool right next to our hotel. As my leg couldn’t touch the water I put on my waterproof cast cover. Then we all swam. We played for a very long time until I could take off the cast cover and slowly swim without it. YES! I didn’t have a broken leg!

Scarlett enjoying the freedom of no cast on her leg!

The early days of freedom!

Having a Whale of a Time

Blue whales:  the largest creatures on earth, bigger even than the largest dinosaur specimens found to date.  It’s got to be worth getting up at 4.30am, right?

We’ve had some very mixed results when attempting to see wildlife on this trip.  We must be the only people ever to have spent 41 days in Chitwan National Park and not seen a rhino.  Most people stay 2 nights and manage to see a few.  And the dugong watching trip was an exercise in patience, resulting in a 4 hour boat journey where we saw nothing but sea, and then 2 dolphins swimming in the sea right outside our guest house when we got back!

However, this has to be balanced against the amazing pod of dozens of dolphins we were surrounded by in the Philippines; the awe inspiring close encounters with orangutans in Borneo; and the rather alarming abundance of komodo dragons in Komodo National Park.

On balance, it had to be worth a try, and we selected a more expensive, (hopefully) ethically sound company who work to protect the whales, and (again hopefully) donate part of their profits towards this cause – Raja and the Whales.  They guarantee you will see whales, by offering a free trip the following day if you don’t (and so on, until you do).  But we were all hoping for just one 4.30 alarm clock, thanks very much.

As it turns out, our luck was in.  Just 30 minutes or so into the journey, we were called upstairs.  The children kneeled on mats around the rail at the front, and I sat with them, while Fergus managed somehow to stand up on the swaying boat, camera poised and at the ready.

“Wow!” said the crowd, and pointed!  I saw nothing…where were they?  Then a big “Oooh!” and everyone was pointing the same way and looking very impressed.  But I could still see nothing!

“Mummy, it just came right out of the water, I saw it’s fin!” shouted Evie.  Damn – I’m going to totally miss this, I thought.  Then, suddenly, right next to the boat and significantly nearer to than where I’d been looking, I saw it – a spout of water, a shadow, and then suddenly, the huge bulk of the gigantic creature, slowly and gracefully arching out of the water, spurting water as it looped back downwards into the depths.  Wow.  It was seriously amazing.

The fun didn’t stop there.  The crew were really knowledgeable, explaining that this one had dived deep now, would stay down for 7-8 mins and then come back up.  The boat moved along to where they predicted it would be, and true to form it reappeared, this time with a friend.  This pattern was repeated over and over, and we had countless opportunities to marvel at these creatures, and to take photos and vidoes.

Once all the passengers agreed we’d seen enough, we made back to the mainland, and were served a very ambitious and bouncy breakfast of eggs on toast en route.  It was very strange to find ourselves back by our normal breakfast time, having had such an amazing day out, and yet having a full day ahead of us.

We took a walk through Mirissa harbour, where sadly, we were reminded that not all the businesses in Sri Lanka are interested in animal welfare by the presence of shark fins being brought in from the night fishing boats.  How sad to see these majestic creatures slaughtered to the point of almost extinction for a status-symbol soup in China.  As long as there is demand for the fins, who can blame the locals for making money from this?  It’s a terribly sad situation.

The rest of the day was spent splashing about in the waves on the exceptionally pretty Mirissa beach, sipping tea in other people’s posh resorts, and eating prawns & chips by the sea.  It’s a hard life travelling (actually, it really can be sometimes), but some one’s got to do it!

 

 

A Change of Pace

We’ve been in Sri Lanka for 6 days now, and I feel like we are only just beginning to find our feet here.

Coming from the cacophony of Bangkok, it’s a bit of a surprise to be back onto what we affectionately call ‘Nepali speed’. During our 3 months in Nepal, we at first resigned ourselves to everything taking approximately 25 times as long as it would in the UK, before slowly growing to love it. However, we’ve actually spent the last couple of months in various cities including Ho Chi Minh City, Phenom Phen and Bangkok, all of which are fairly frenetic. Life moves fast in the city (and so does the traffic), and we’ve grown used to having well stocked shops, an overwhelming choice of restaurants and a busy plan for each day.

It’s going to be different here. The pace has slowed right down, and we’ve had to as well. Life is simpler, quieter and more natural here. People speak more slowly, they move more slowly. The only fast moving thing is the Leyland branded buses, which make me think of my Dad every time one comes hurtling down the road, which is at least 20 times a day.

Sri Lanka is, in places, much less developed than Thailand or Vietnam today, and there are still huge stretches of un-spoilt coastline and unexplored trekking opportunities in the hills. For us, this country is going to be all about the wildlife. We’re planning whale watching, turtle spotting & a wild elephant safari, as well as seeing the tea plantations, and doing a little trekking in the hills, before we head off on our final long haul flight of the trip: Sri Lanka to Oman, Oman to London Heathrow, and home.

It’s almost hard to summon the energy to really get the most out of this final leg of the trip. We are all feeling a little road weary, and looking forward to sleeping in our own beds again. However, with the infinite possibilities for exploration that Sri Lanka offers, I’m sure we’ll find that our last 21 sleeps will fly by.