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Taking it easy in laid back Huahine

Fare, Huahine

semi-overcast 29 °C
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The sun was just setting when we reached Huahine airport. What an atmosphere: no clouds and a golden glow with the silhouettes of Raiatea, Taha’a and Bora Bora in the distance.

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We were picked up at the airport by Jocelyne. After a quick stop at the local supermarket, she had lots of recommendations for us on where to eat and what to do. As we turned into the private unpaved road leading to their house, she listed the uncles, cousins and other relatives living in the houses along the road as we went by.
We stayed at Franky’s Fare, a small house right next to their house. Jocelyne’s husband Smith greeted us and both showed us around. We had a kitchen, living room, bathroom and under the roof a nice and cozy bedroom. In addition, there was the large fenced yard with a table, the hammock and an outside shower. What a nice place!

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For quick dinner – as it was already quite late – we simply stayed inside. But the next morning, we went outside for having breakfast. That way we could also see what happened along the road: cars and bikes passing by, the mailman on his scooter dressed in a muscle shirt featuring the logo of the local postal service and the garbage truck.
Once we had packed our picnic for lunch, we headed off towards the beach with the bikes we were allowed to use. Max sat behind Sam, holding on tightly to his seat.

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After a stroll along the beach we got into the water to snorkel and let the current take us back to where we started. We saw lots of fish. There schools of a couple of hundred yellow fish, schools of fifty or more grey fish and smaller groups of fish of lots of different kinds: tiny blue ones, trumpet fish various kinds of butterfly fish and many more. In addition, there were lots of different corals, a sea horse, green blue and purple clams and sea cucumbers. A nice snorkeling experience, also for Max who took advantage of having a body board to lay on without having to worry about staying above the water.

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After almost an hour in the water, it was time to relax and eat. Even though all of the beaches seem to be public, we did not to stay directly at the beach of the hotel, but preferred to have a spot for our own a bit further looking out to the water and observing life at the beach.

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That evening we took advantage of the fact that we had a TV in our living room. We watched one of the videos Jocelyne had given to us ‘Mr. Right’. It was a funny, sometimes a bit silly comedy mixed with a few action scenes. Nice and easy.
The next day was dominated by tropical rain showers. There were several episodes of heavy downpours followed by light rain and short dry periods in between. So we stayed mostly at home, did some writing, photo editing, talked details for the Australia portion of our trip and played with Max – puzzle and dice when it rained, baseball whenever it did not rain.

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It rained during the night as well, but at least the next day we had some longer dry periods between the rain showers. At least Sam and Max made it dry to the supermarket and back. In the mean time I booked flights and Airbnb apartments and confirmed for Rarotonga. I had to take advantage of having wifi – we’d be without one for the next couple of days.
For lunch, we went into town with Max pedaling Sam’s bike – a funny sight!

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And then it was already time for saying good bye to Jocelyne and Smith. What a pity, as we really enjoyed our time in their nice little house and had been so happy to have the bikes to be able to easily move around.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 03:16 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged rain house bike snorkel Comments (0)

The friendly Cook Islanders

Arorangi, Rarotonga

overcast 29 °C
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It was time to pack again. After five nights in the north-east of Rarotonga, we had booked another place for the rest of our stay at the west coast. It proved to be a bit challenging to take the public bus with all of our stuff – three big pieces of luggage, three smaller backpacks and a car seat. One thing is clear: should we spend some time doing proper backpacking towards the end of our trip vs. doing road trips in a vehicle, we’d need to significantly size down our baggage.
The bus trip itself was enjoyable and we got to see some parts of the island we had not seen before. The Tree House B&B with its big garden. proved to be lovely as well. Nestled between enormous tropical trees, we now have a place for our own just two minutes from the beach.
And the beach is where we went. We were almost blinded by the white sand and it did not help that we had left our sunglasses at home. We had a long stretch of beach for ourselves and were happy not to stay at one of two rather large resort hotels to the north and south. This was even more true at sunset, when seeing a number of rather drunk presumably Australian and Kiwi tourists on the beach displaying lots of sun-burnt skin.

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When going into town the next day waiting for the bus, we were lucky to be taken by a German / Dutch couple who emigrated to the Cook Islands. We love the kindness of the locals here! And we also loved the conversations we had with them about vacation destinations in South East Asia specifically Vietnam and Laos.
They dropped us at the harbour where we wanted to get burgers from the local favorite ‘Palace Burgers’. Our disappointment was sizable when we were told that we’d need to wait for about 1.5 hours to get our burgers. After all, it was happy hour with all burgers just costing 3.5 NZ$ - a real bargain considering the otherwise high prices – and consequently they had huge orders in line to be prepared. So, we ordered anyhow and took a stroll in the meantime.
Passing by the end of the marina basin, we passed a small cemetery and then watched a couple of young men doing somersaults and other fun jumps into the water – visibly having lots of fun. When Sam asked if they’d let him take a couple of pictures, he was told off by a bystander. He explained that the men were actually inmates of the local prison. They seemed to be treated nicely and to have fun - better than in many other countries!

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It was worth waiting for the burgers, they tasted really well. With the wait, we ended up just missing the anti-clockwise bus. Hoping for the kindness of the islanders, we just positioned ourselves along the road. And once more, we were more than overwhelmed: already the first car passing us, stopped and asked where we needed to go. And despite the fact that it was a detour for them, they dropped us at our place.
Why? Well, they saw that we had Max with us and having kids themselves, they just stopped and took us. And once more we had lovely conversations: about her home in Aitutaki, about his home Island of Samoa, her brother living in Dresden, their life now in Australia, etc... We just enjoyed and were amazed. Just imagine the average German or Austrian stopping when seeing a foreign looking family standing next to the road. We could probably learn our share of kindness and hospitality from the Polynesians.
Still, as nice as it is here, there at least one thing is rather frustrating: getting an internet connection without paying a huge price tag is nearly impossible. That’s when you realize in retrospect how good of an internet connection we had on all of the French Polynesian islands. Or how cheap it is in Germany to get a flat rate for data volume.
For Thursday, there was no plan at all. Well, breakfast, some snorkeling at the beach just in front of our house. Due to the heavy clouds, the colors did not come out very nicely, but in return we got rewarded with seeing lots of fish, nice purple starfish and some pink sea urchins.

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A nice and relaxing day and also a calm evening, watching a movie and playing a couple of rounds of dice.
That Friday we wanted to go and see Day 2 of the ‘Sevens in Heaven’ rugby tournament. Already the second car which passed, stopped for us. Marny, a kind lady from Papua New Guinea and former physiotherapist of one of the rugby teams, takes us right to the stadium – even though it’s a detour for her. And talking about PNG, she says that people would not nearly be as welcoming there. According to her, there people would rather take blonde ones like us for ransom. Having just watched the kidnapping drama ‘Proof of Life’, this does put a significant damper on our enthusiasm for PNG, even though Marny confirms that the forests are purely wonderful there.
At the rugby tournament, we found ourselves in the middle of a crowd of locals who mostly seem to have one team they are cheering for.

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We cheered for all teams and had to focus anyhow first on more or less understanding the rules. We soon realized how quickly the game is happening. Much faster than American football and much more exciting with lots more action and touchdowns vs. soccer.

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After five men’s matches, it was the ladies’ turn. And wow – that was pure excitement, even more fun than the matches before and an atmosphere at the boiling point.

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But even better than the rugby itself was the fantastic atmosphere amidst the locals. We simply enjoyed being there and seeing the people around us.

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Once the men took over again, it started raining heavily and we were happy that the stands were covered such that we were protected. But once the heavy rain subsided and it was merely trickling anymore, we left to go home. The only bus that passed us would have gone to our place, but only after circling the island clockwise. We decided to rather take our bets at hitchhiking and after about five minutes a lady from Fiji took us home. As usual, the seat belts were nowhere to be found and she had her two-year-old daughter jumping around on the passenger seat. Yes, the maximum speed limit on the island is 50 km/h, but even at those relatively low speeds, this seemed just a bit too relaxed and rather dangerous. We’d probably need to spend years on a small island and would still not feel comfortable running these kinds of risks.
The next day marked already our last day on the Cook Islands. We spent the day snorkeling and at the beach. While we were sitting there, we were contemplating about the South Pacific and when we’ll be back. Most likely that will not happen too soon. After all, from Europe the South Pacific is just so far away and the long flights and the twelve-hour jet-lag make it really hard to reach for just a ‘normal’ three-week vacation. So except if we opt to stop once more in the South Pacific on our way home from this round the world trip, it will be a while. And in case we really would like to experience island life, there are so many other islands we have not seen that are much more accessible and while different, hopefully also nice – no matter if in the Caribbean, Seychelles, Maldives, Thailand or Philippines.

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In the evening, we tried to get a bit of sleep before heading off in the middle of the night towards the airport. After five weeks of island life, we were just looking forward to the empty spaces and distances of Western Australia.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:52 Archived in Cook Islands Tagged beach house harbor snorkel rugby internet burger Comments (2)

Back home

Sorry for the blog post coming so late. I wrote it in July, but have been way to busy an pre-occupied with other things ever since... but finally: here it is!

sunny 20 °C
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After 17 days of staying with our families and spending a fabulous time, we felt the urge to finally go all the way home to our own house. It had been 14 months to the day that we had left our house. Still, it just felt like home. A nice feeling.
As we had rented the house out while we were gone, Sam and I were relieved to realize after a tour of the house that there were no major damages. The only thing that was obvious: we’d need to spend a lot of time in the garden, as there was lots of work in the form or weeds and wild growth waiting to the tackled. Once the house was checked, we headed on a tour to greet our neighbors, to say hello and to invite them for the ‘we’re back home’ party on Friday.
Then it was time to empty the car of all the stuff we had taken with us – just in time for Sam to pick up my dad and Max from the train station and to get some food from the supermarket. In the meantime, I had a surprise visit of the girls of my knitting group (at least that’s the cover name we use for meeting regularly to drink some cocktails). It’s amazing: despite being so long gone, it feels just like a couple of weeks.
The next hours passed quickly: amidst everything we had packed up before we left, we tried to find the essentials: bedding and linen and basic kitchen utensils. And over the next days we prepared for the party. Finding tableware, tablecloths, glasses, outside furniture was a must. But once all of that was in place, we could concentrate on the optional items such as setting up the TV to show pictures from the trip.
The party was great fun. We had lots of neighbors, friends and colleagues over. The big group of kids was having fun in the garden and the little playhouse. And we enjoyed having so many faces around that we had not seen for such a long time.
But we did not only party: there were many things to be organized. Sam’s car had to be started, inspected and registered again. There were calls to be made to our bosses at work, things needed to be organized for Max’ kindergarten, the official handover of the house to be done with the tenants and much more. We did not get bored. But at the same time, we did also not get stressed out at any moment. Even though our efficient German / Austrian minds continue to be wired such that everything should be completed as soon as possible, we have learned to realize that the stress to do so is simply not worth it.
A couple of neighbors commented on the state of our garden and that they would have a hard time accepting the poor state it was in. We agree: there’s much to be done. But everything at its time. Our first priority was to be able to live in the house again and to get the car registered. Then it was about celebrating to be back. And yes, in the next weeks, there’s no doubt that we’ll spend much time in the garden to get it fixed. But I will not feel bad if this will take a while. After all, the garden is supposed to be there for our relaxation and pleasure. And it should not turn into a direction that we’re the slaves of our garden and not able to enjoy life or do what we like to do until it is near perfect.
Despite the many things to do around the house and the garden, I did take the liberty to take a day trip to Kassel together with my parents. After all, the exhibition of contemporary art ‘documenta’ is only taking place once every five years and renown worldwide.
At the time of writing, we have spent four weeks in our house. The garden is back in shape (more or less that is), many boxes have been unpacked (but not all) and Max is feeling comfortable in his new kindergarten.
While everything around us seemed not to have changed too much, we certainly have changed during the last year. Having lived comfortably with the contents of three big pieces of baggage throughout our travels, it feels strange to be confronted with boxes over boxes of stuff. We used the opportunity while unpacking to sort out our stuff. Part of it has already been scrapped or donated, part of it sold or is waiting to be sold.
In that respect, we envy our Swiss friends. They got back from their travels two weeks after us. But as they had sold practically everything before their travels, they now get to start from scratch – being able to define where and how they want to live and work. This part of getting rid of everything unnecessary, is what we still need to do now. After all, there are three important phases of a world trip like ours: the preparation phase, the actual traveling and the re-integration. And if the cleaning out did not take place in the first phase, it will need to happen now.
We hope that that the process of re-integration will continue to be fairly easy and straight forward: we reserved the two months of June and July to spend time with family and friends, to get Max back into kindergarten and to get everything in the house and garden done such that we’ll be ready to start working again as of August.
We’re not at the end of phase three yet – if there ever will be an actual end. As one thing is sure: this trip of a lifetime will be something we’ll never forget. We’ll be thankful forever having had so much time together as a family and being able to see so many parts of our beautiful world. Our experiences have shaped us and made us stronger as a family. Having lived so close together - often also in the limited space of a campervan or tent – was surprisingly easy, but also required the respect of each other’s wishes and needs. We learned a lot about each other and are probably closer now than we’ve ever been before.
We’ve been asked by many of our friends and family what we liked best on our travels. That’s a really hard question, as it’s simply impossible to compare sights as different as the city of San Francisco, Canadian National Parks, the islands of the South Pacific, Australian wildlife, Cambodian temples, the Himalayan mountains or Mongolian nomad life.
And even comparing by theme proves to be extremely difficult. We have seen wildlife as different as deer, prairie dogs, bears, salmon, manta rays, corals, turtles, dolphins, dugongs, sharks, koala bears, kookaburras, possums, spiders, goannas, monkeys, camels, horses, sheep, goats and many more. Every single encounter was special in a way. And while I would not have minded to skip encountering any ticks, all the rest was just simply great. We would not have wanted to leave out any of our experiences.
And the same is true in respect to the various countries and landscapes we’ve seen, the people we met and the cultures we’ve experienced. They were so varied and these contrasts made our journey so exciting. From the lush jungles of Rarotonga to the steppes of Mongolia, from the shows of Las Vegas to the prayers of Buddhist monasteries, from snorkeling the warm seas to the cool glaciers of Canada or New Zealand, from South Korean technology to the buffaloes on the rice terraces in Nepal, from island hopping by plane in French Polynesia to the Transsiberian Railroad, from the depression in Death Valley to the slopes of the Annapurna… Those opposites seem hard to grasp and when looking at the pictures of our journey,
No matter where we were, we were fortunate to meet mostly friendly and open people. There was not a single situation where we were robbed, misled or deceived by anyone (ok, to be fair: there was one: DriveBeyond still owes us the bond we have paid for the rental 4WD vehicle in Australia). Rather the opposite: our hosts made extra sure that we were doing well and were having a great time. There was not a single reason to ever be worried or afraid that anyone would do us wrong. Everyone – no matter of which race, belief, country, language or background – tried to do his or her best in the context of their environment.
We hope that we will never forget that no matter where we were as foreigners in other countries, we were always greeted with respect and a hospitality that often surpasses the standards we’re showing towards foreigners in our own home country. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance of being able to return the hospitality we experienced – towards the friends and acquaintances we made along the way, but also towards people we do not know who might become friends.
There are too many people to say thanks to list them all. We were thankful for the support from our families, friends, colleagues, bosses and the many people we met on the road. Without their help, it would have been much harder or nearly impossible to take up such an adventure.
Those of you who know us, will have no doubt that we’ll continue to explore the world. With Max starting school next year, the trips will be shorter, but for sure no less adventurous. There’s still so much of the world that we have not seen so far, that we’ll probably start exploring countries and regions we’ve not been to. Iceland, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Southern France, the Baltics or Costa Rica come to mind. And once Max will be a bit older, we might take up travel to malaria or higher altitude regions again, i.e. Peru, Bolivia, Vietnam, Vanuatu or African countries will continue to tempt us. And I’d be surprised if the friendliness of the Russian people and the vast Mongolian landscapes would not pull us back to visit again before too long.
And while we love being abroad, we also love the beauties of home, of having friends and family around. And while we’re home, we always like to have visitors over who bring the world into our home.
While this concludes the story about our journey in the virtual world, it will continue in the real world. It will be fun and exciting! And maybe our example will spark the wish to go out and explore also in others. I’m sure it will be a great experience.

Thanks for following our journey and all the best!

Sam, Birgit and Max

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 13:23 Archived in Germany Tagged home house party boxes learning thanks unpacking Comments (0)

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