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!

 

 

Birthdays Abroad

Pooltime delayed due to discovering just how much fun you can have with bouncy beds, balloons and ceiling fans.

Pool time delayed due to discovering just how much fun you can have with bouncy beds, balloons and ceiling fans.

We’ve been building up to today for weeks. Months, even. We’ve booked into a posh (for us) resort in Tangalla, Southern Sri Lanka for three days of swimming pools, huge buffet meals, comfy beds and aircon because today, all my children turn nine. And, being my children, they love buffets. And they’ve always loved nothing more than splashing about in water. And, well, the comfy beds and aircon are just a bonus.

As they slept last night, we did our best to transform the room into somewhere exciting. We hung up the “happy birthday” banners and bunting we bought in Bangkok on the walls, and blew up the balloons we bought in Cambodia. Janet had already snuck back to the room earlier to wrap up the presents we’ve been squirrelling away whenever we saw something suitably portable, and I had added several new books to their kindles (virtual presents being the most portable of all).

At breakfast, Evie came back from the buffet with a plate piled high with cake and chips which I thought summed up today rather well. These few days are a break from budgeting and eating cheap local food.

We bought the girls boomerangs so we’ll head down to the beach to try them out later, too. And little plaster of Paris moulding sets that well have to make very carefully in our posh hotel room. Between that and the pool and gorging ourselves, I think the rest of the day should contain lots of nine-year-old fun. Plus we managed to pick up three Swiss rolls and some “9” candles so we can sing “Happy Birthday”.

We’ve been anxious that being abroad for their birthday would make our girls homesick but now that it’s here, and they seems happy and excited, I’m starting to feel excited, too. When Scarlett opened her eyes and saw the sparkly banner over her bed, she squealed, “How did you do that?!” And her sisters popped up from their own beds, wide eyed at the decorations and balloons everywhere and, all piling into our big bed for happy birthdays, I think we’ve made it ok for them.

Since turning eight, my girls have only spent one month in the UK. Eleven countries and all kind of adventures and accidents later, their birthday feels like a milestone. Once today is over, we only have 14 days of travelling. Turning nine marks the beginning of a year where we’ll be going home, returning to jobs, school, home ownership and all the normal routines, rewards and responsibilities of a sedentary life.

But today, that can all wait. Today we splash around in the pool, play on the beach, eat ourselves silly at the hotel buffet and play with presents. Worrying about coming home and coming to terms with the idea that my babies can possibly be nine years old and on the cusp of teenagerdom can wait for another day.

Five Reasons Everyone Should Go Travelling with Their Family

Snake on a Stick

Evie about to try snake on a stick in Cambodia

By Evie Hadley (aged 8)

Delicious Food

One reason everyone should go travelling with their family is because it means you can try a lot of different foods like fried insects, snakes, amazing Thai fried rice and Vietnamese phô.

Strange Asian Languages

You can learn a lot of different languages such as Thai, Bahasa Malay/Indonesia, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Nepali and many more besides. Now I can say “three twins” (meaning triplets) in five different languages: fet sam (Thai), tumba tika (Bahasa Malaya/Indonesia), gom blua bai (Cambodian) and sinba (Vietnamese).

Happy Family

Another thing I really enjoyed was spending a lot of time with my family because I don’t get to see Mummy and Daddy as much at home. I miss my friends quite a lot though. I also miss NanaRara*. My Mummy and Daddy are our teachers whilst travelling which I really love.

Trekking

I absolutely love trekking because there was an amazing view of white-peaked Mount Everest through a curtain of trees. There were many more mountains such as Gokyo Ri (which we climbed in the snow).

Elephant Land

You should come to Nepal and see Elephant-roamed Chitwan where you might make a large friend!

* Nanarara is the phrase Evie and her sisters use for Janet’s parents. They got Nana and rara (they couldn’t say granddad) conflated when very little and it’s stuck.

Five Things I’ll Miss About Travelling Around Asia With My Family

Hero in a Half Cast

By Scarlett (aged 8)

  1. I think I’ll miss having a broken leg because of all the special attention. Still, I wish I hadn’t had the accident. I say this because it was very painful at the beginning, also it went on and on and on for 2½ months. It never saw the sun, consequently it grew paler and paler.
  1. I think I will also miss having a lot of time with my family. I will miss having nearly all day with my sisters to play. Also having little school as you will hear about in the next paragraph. We do not have much time at home because of all the different things that we do not do here such as Mummy and Daddy’s work, going to school, and diving lessons.
  1. Homeschooling I will also miss because it is much shorter than normal school and still I think I learn just as much.
  1. I will miss trekking because it is good fun and it is an amazing maze of cliffs and steep drops. At first it was tiring to the legs and shoulders but it got easier and easier as we walked. The places to stay were cheap and an exciting experience.
  1. The views of Nepal are stunning as are the birds of prey. We saw golden eagles flying below us, great blue-looking mountains soaring above us and scraggly, old, dying, dead-looking trees grew around us. Beautiful views stretched out surrounding us. Views appear all over the place: sunsets, beaches, mountains, jungles and islands.

Five Tips to Stay Safe and Happy While Travelling

Definitely look before crossing the road in Bangkok

Definitely look before crossing the road in Bangkok

By Jemima (Aged 8)

Get a Rabies Injection

I think you should get a rabies injection if you are going travelling to stop you getting a disease named rabies. Also to avoid it you should stay away from street dogs and monkeys unless you are on a tour to see them – the monkeys, not the dogs. This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.

Look Before You Cross the Road

Always look before you cross the road. If you do not look before you cross the road you might get run over. Sometimes cars can go the other way to the way they go in England. Sometimes you need to look left then right then left and sometimes you need to look right then left then right again before you cross the road. Sometimes there are tuk-tuks, motorbikes or even elephants to look out for! This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.

Use Trip Advisor

I think you should use Trip Advisor to think of places to stay. It is very helpful and tells you if places have bed bugs, how nice they are, if you should stay there and if they are too expensive or not. Use it to help you decide where to stay and then you can write your own review. This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.

Book Places Before You Stay

Once you have decided where to stay, book a room or they might get full. Only book the room for one night in case you don’t like it. If you don’t like it then look for somewhere else to stay on Trip Advisor and book in there for one night and so on. If you do like the first place, ask if you can stay however many nights you want to stay. This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.

Put Suncream On Every Day

If you put suncream on every day. It will stop you getting sunburnt. If it is an extra hot day (for Asia) put suncream on regularly. Also, if you are in an extra mosquito infested kind of place you should put deet on.Also carry a bottle of deet and a bottle of suncream around with you. If you get bitten by mosquitos, put Anthisan on, and carry a tube of Anthisan with you. Deet is a liquid that you spray on your skin to stop mosquitos biting you. This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.

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.