1 week down many more to go

Well it is Monday of week two and our lives have shrunk so much and yet not. I had such a busy week with learning to run Zoom sessions, multiple Coronavirus jokes and songs and news about new restrictions almost every day. Then the kids invited me to Houseparty App which was their video group chat of choice. Another learning curve.

I managed three gym sessions in the park which was a lot of fun and hard work. It was so pleasant exercising outside. I experienced an online Pilates class which was also great, except for the dog wanting to lick my face!

Two virtual cocktail hours was a great way for us all to catch up. I even dressed up and really made cocktails. A potent mix of Peach liqueur and vodka with a dash of lemon juice over ice.

The next event was a virtual dance class on Friday night for an hour. Now that was a workout, and hilarious. My body rolls were not as liquid as I would like but nonetheless ( I convinced Hazel, my niece to join in), we managed to get the routine almost down pat if not entirely in time. We laughed so much I am sure it released heaps of endorphins!

The cupboards finally got a look in. I needed some red wine so after buying six bottles I sorted the wine cupboard. Then the handle fell off the pullout pantry. It had got too heavy and despite reducing the weight by shifting groceries to other cupboards, the handle still came off. Exasperated i have improvised with a belt until I can get to Bunnings hardware or a good handyman!

Everyday I have walked the dog longer and longer distances and it has been quite delightful to see so many families out in the park or on bikes. There were still groups of mostly young people not practicing social distancing and as a consequence the councils have closed the beaches and reduced the number allowed in groups from 10 down to two.

That was the end of the park gym and now we will be doing virtual classes instead. People over 70 have been urged to stay home and those over 60 to reduce their interactions and stay home as much as possible also.

We are allowed to go for a walk in twos and I have seen so many people out on the streets it is really rather nice. The suburbs are alive with people working from home and taking the kids out. No shopping centre trawling just home games and the park!

I think some people might find it hard to get back to the old style of life if this goes on for months. One thing I notice is that while we are all a bit anxious, people still smile and chuckle as you do the Coronavirus shuffle to keep your distance on footpaths.

The weather is beautifully autumnal and I have noticed the trees are starting to change colour. The annual invasion of Corellas is happening and they are wheeling and screeching overhead in large flocks. This afternoon they were in extreme distress for some reason. I eventually realized there was a bird of prey ( falcon, hawk or larger I could not discern), circling above the flock.

I decided to wash Alfie as he was very doggy smelling. If he is in the bed he has to stay clean and there are no trips to the groomers any time soon. He is not impressed but he does feel so lovely afterwards that I will do it more regularly from now on.

A further Zoom training session on Sunday left me feeling quite tired. Added to that was the effort to finish with the book on life in prison on Manus island (No friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, beautiful but haunting writing) and the series Stateless, also about Refugees, I suddenly felt very tired and unsettled. I couldn’t sleep last night.

I took Alf on a 8 km walk and started to think how last week was like the first week of a Camiño. All excitement and new experiences, the unknown unfolding day by day, no routine but just managing what comes everyday. At the end of the first week you suddenly realize what you are in for and doubt creeps into consciousness. Can I do this? The end seems a long way off. You feel tired. Then you have a glass of wine, a chat with someone and a good night’s sleep. One day at a time is all you need to be concerned about.

Life during CoVid 19

Okay, so all my plans for travel this year have gone to hell. Fortunately I was refunded my China trip because Bunnik’s pulled the tours themselves. I have to say they operated so professionally and I would highly recommend them in the future. Their tours were well balanced with organised and free time. China will have to wait for another time.

Next came Africa. It is still in the mix but who knows where we will all be in August. Will we be still struggling with the virus or maybe we will have come out the other side. It is too soon to call. However even if the pandemic has passed our savings and the dollar have taken a hit with the fall of the economy and it may be all a bit too expensive. My savings may be going to help my sons who have both been affected by the slow down of work and had their hours cut. It all seems pretty grim.

Then there was the long walk along the Ruta de laine in Spain from Alicante to Burgos. Spain is a hot spot for the virus and while it too may be over the worst by September, it is all looking pretty much like a no go this year. I will be disappointed but life has other priorities when the world is in meltdown. One of those is looking out for each other, family, friends and neighbours. A couple of friends have had serious illnesses diagnosed and that really shows what is important. It is heartwarming to see so many people being thoughtful about others. Sure there has been panic hoarding and some displays of appalling behaviour, but there has also been some surprising initiatives to balance this. Humans aren’t all selfish. We are all in this together and we are working together.

Another upside is that I have been in more regular contact with so many people via Facebook, Whats App and I have even started to run my book club via Zoom group conferencing. With the relative success of that experiment I have opted for a virtual happy hour with friends using Zoom. We had planned a dinner but our government has requested people ( particularly we older Aussies) to keep a safe distance from each other and to stop socialising pretty well everywhere. We are not yet quite as locked down as the UK but it will probably happen.

The economy is in free fall, the restaurants and cafes have shut down overnight and unless they can survive on takeaway and home delivery they are out of business for the foreseeable future. Lots of people are working from home. About 20,000 people became unemployed overnight in Melbourne alone. There will be heaps more like my sons who have jobs but such reduced hours that they are almost unemployed. It is a scary state of affairs.

Everyone is in shock. I have started to refocus on activities to do at home and have been upping the Spanish studies as well as French. I have taken up crochet after probably 20 years! I am making a cowl scarf out of gorgeous Alpaca. I have got the skein in a mess but still able to crochet. All those little tips I used to know are coming back. It is something I can do in front of television while I am bingeing on Scandi Noir or French and Spanish films!

Alpaca wool for scarf

I have been walking the dog and when I meet my dog owner friends at the park we all stand about 3 metres apart. Our dogs are still sniffing tails and noses so we probably should be extra vigilant about washing our hands after patting everyone’s pets too. I have been still able to go to an outdoor gym class with gloves and appropriate distances between us but that may come to an end if the UK is anything to go by. I have already signed up for on line Pilates with a former teacher and can also follow my gym instructor through an app and possibly Zoom as well.

It will be such a novelty to hug someone after all this. My grandson is off limits too. Virtual chats the way to go there. Fortunately while the shelves of supermarkets are lean it isn‘t for lack of produce but lack of delivery. I was kind of hoping I might have to ration food. It would probably result in a few less kilos over the period rather than an increase due to reduced activity!

Through all this I had a bit of a melt down and it came to me – this is another Camino. The lessons I learned on those walks were to take every day as it came, just be in the moment and put one foot after another. I don’t always remember to practice this lesson but when ever I hit a rough spot it comes back to me. Bam!

And a lesson from when I was a stressed mum with twin babies. This time will pass. Breathe deep for calm, look at the sky or something beautiful, take a break from listening to all the news and talk, sleep well and wash your hands.

Alcohol is the great deterrent to germs so I am hoping a daily dose of Champagne will work just as well on the inside! It will certainly lift my spirits anyway. That is all for the moment.

Home in Melbourne 5 th June

I am back in wintry Melbourne adjusting to dark cold mornings and early nights. It is a bit of a shock from 40 degree temperatures at the Dead Sea. It is good to be home nevertheless and I am now trying to update my blog to make it easier to navigate and so I can continue to add to it with my next adventure.

I was to be having a 4WD trek through Central Australia but it has been put on hold due to uncertainty about roads. The outback has been subject to inundation and roads are blocked. It could make for a later date to explore and that won’t suit as I am off to South America shortly after. I couldn’t afford to get bogged and stuck out there and not be able to get back in time for the South American departure.

Also my friend’s Mum is not in good health and she doesn’t want to be too far away in case she is needed. We are all at that time of our lives when if it isn’t grandchildren needing care it is our parents. The cycle of life makes all the trips more important.

I believe in doing them while I am able and relatively free. Time will come soon enough when such adventures will be curtailed.

This last holiday or more accurately group of holidays where so different from my usual freewheeling travels. They were wonderful and it gave me a current benchmark to measure against. I loved them and enjoyed the companionship, the organisation and the ease of travel. I missed the independence and free time of my own travels. I feel so empowered if I have to negotiate travel independently. It is not as efficient sometimes and has more stress probably, but I do feel energised by the challenge.

Staying in hotels had great advantages, not the least a private bath in the private bathrooms, room to spread out, towels and toiletries, and power points! What I missed was that many were not right in the heart of things, or there was little communication with other travellers. I find people interesting and love to hear their stories so I enjoy meeting new people and that is certainly made easier when you are in close quarters or sharing the same route so that you bump into the same people more often.

Of course I did meet new people who were part of my group and that was a delight and special in a different way. I mean meeting people outside my usual circles such as locals or other international travellers.

So I have enjoyed and gained so much from this holiday and will look forward to adding this style of travel to my repertoire depending on the destination in the future.

Dead Sea 25 th & 26 th May

It seemed strange not to have a timetable after weeks of being on the go. We didn’t even have to sit together to eat which left us feeling a little forlorn. We had become a family of sorts and it was a strange feeling to be loose!

Anne and I had made appointments for massages and were then at a loose end. I was trying to finish the blog after several days of bad internet. Time went quickly and we were back at the Beach for a swim or more accurately, a float. This day the water was mill pond calm which really added to the dreamy feeling. We were on our way back to the room when Julie called us. She and Jan and the other Kathy were at the poolside bar so we joined them. Our skin was smooth from the salt but our pockets were skinned by the prices at the poolside bar! Still it was delightful to sit around in the water talking.

Dinner was a varied and delicious buffet. We had got a bit sick of the buffet meals but here there were more choices. I was amused to see beef bacon at breakfast! Alcohol has been expensive ( though beer was not) and hard to get because it was Ramadan. Here we were not restricted to after 8.00 pm. And they had a great deal of $24 a glass of wine but refilled as much as you like! Mind you we hadn’t been drinking much so we didn’t want to over do it.

In such a large hotel we barely bumped in to each other so there was a sense of the group dismantling with everyone going their own ways. Some of the group are continuing on to Egypt and Sth. Africa, while the rest will split up in Dubai when Mary and Bill take their plane to Perth and the remaining group go on to Melbourne. We have been a very cohesive group so we are hoping to keep in touch.

Several of the group wanted Father Dean to bless their presents, something Anya did quite frequently whenever there was a priest and we were visiting a church! We had our last mass and he blessed all the gifts.

Everyone is glad of the rest after our constant early starts and packed days. Just mooching around had been reviving. People look so strange when covered in mud. There were all ethnicities on the beach when the mud was washed off and I had to laugh at a young guy who was covered in mud all over, except for his pink ears! I covered my ears and it took two days to get the mud out!

Our minds had turned for home and we were packing and printing tickets for the plane. I get a bit like the riding school horse ho when turned for home just wants to get there.

On our last morning our bags had to be out by 12 and we were on the bus by 2.30 heading for Amman airport. It was a fairly quick trip and uneventful through check in, and immigration. The men in immigration seemed bored witless and were not going to smile.

Our flight to Dubai was pleasant and then we had nearly 4 hours to kill. A group of us women were duty free shopping and all got our eyebrows done and a trial of a primer. We all looked pretty glamorous and of course we bought the deal and divided it!

When we boarded our flight Julie and Anne were keen to sit where there were more spaces, so they grabbed some unoccupied seats hoping to bag the four across. Unfortunately neither succeeded but did get extra spaces on one side. It was an easy, long flight back.

We arrived on time and were met with very cold temperatures. BRR. We were home!

We said our final farewells and disappeared into the night.

Jerash 24 th May

What an eventful morning. The good news was that Bill who had been hospitalised for Gall bladder issues was well enough to be released to continue his trip. We were on our way to collect him from the hospital when we discovered the roads were being closed and the bus had to take a circuitous route. When we asked why the road was closed the answer was because they can! It seemed to be just to make it difficult for Muslims to go to the Mosque because it is Friday.

The next drama was Julie thought she had left her passport at the hotel and due to the road closures had to walk back. Matthew took her and with great relief discovered it I was in her suitcase instead which was actually on the bus. We set off again only to have Mary feel sick and throw up. Anya came to the rescue quickly with a plastic bag. Then it was Julie’s turn to be sick. We pulled into the Oasis Hotel at Jericho to collect a swimsuit Anya had left behind when we stayed there, and Julie jumped off and rushed into the hotel.

We left Israel and entered the West Bank, where we went through a checkpoint before the border crossing and we were not allowed to take photos. We were going across the Allenby Bridge crossing. They were asking lots of questions about who we were. Australian was the only thing I understood. Once clear of that checkpoint we continued to the border. Then we were through and it was the immigration where we had to pay our exit tax of 182 shekels. It seemed pretty expensive to me. Our bags were checked through the scanners and we were then in Jordan. These crossings can be quick or very slow. On the way in Matthew had been questioned for about 30 minutes and some of the bags were checked twice but this time it was fairly uneventful.

We were very sorry to say farewell to our tour guide Khalil. He was exceptional. If anyone wants a guide to The Holy Land I would recommend him wholeheartedly. His knowledge and perspective was truly educational. On the other side we met Anton our previous guide in Jordan. He was also amazing. We gave our last precious shekels as tips. It had taken us days to get small change for tips and toilets and now we had it we were leaving! I changed my last 20 shekel note into 4 American dollars, the only American dollars I had had all trip!

I recommend taking American dollars for this trip but get them before you arrive because they are near impossible to get once in the countries. They are traded as alternative currency but you can’t get them from ATMs as a rule.

There is a heat wave and we are going to visit Jerash, which is north of Amman, where there are fantastic Roman ruins. They are supposed to be the best preserved ruins outside of Italy. Because it is so hot a few people have decided to stay on the bus or in the shops and visitor centre. We are getting a bit blasé about ruins but I never want to miss anything so I loaded up with water and sunscreen and joined the other intrepid explorers.

It was certainly worth it. The town has been around since the Bronze Age at least and the Greco-Roman era saw it flourish. The ruins contain Hadrian’s Arch, built to commemorate his visit to Jerash in the 2nd Century. We passed under the arch to enter the ruins and visited the Hippodrome where they run fake chariot races and gladiator sports in the summer. The building was remarkable because they were able to build tiered seats for audiences even though the land was flat. Under the seats were shops or stables.

Further along we walked a road with manholes into the drains below and bordered by Corinthian columns which led to an beautiful oval Forum also surrounded by columns. Along the way we saw the remains of a marketplace where there were fish ponds and a butcher. On the hill overlooking the street stood the Temple of Zeus and an auditorium which had perfect acoustics. They hold a summer festival here using the stage and the forum for performances.

It was blazing heat and we were all guzzling our water and seeking shade but we pushed on along the Cardo a street lined with columns and where the Nymphaeum- an elaborate fountain stood. This street also led to the Temple of Artemis but by now we were all flagging in the heat. My backpack was leaching the red dye into my shirt it was so hot. Mid 40’s! Jerash was part of the Decapolis,/ a league of Roman cities in what was then called Roman Syria.

It was with great relief we all returned to the bus for our trip to our final destination of the trip, the town of Salt, and the place of the Dead Sea. We passed through the outskirts of Amman and back into the countryside past farms of olive groves and the few Bedouins grazing goats and sheep.

On our arrival at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort we were all gobsmacked at our spectacular the place and the view was. The receptionist said it was 48 degrees. No wonder we were hot! At home we would stay holed up at the movies or at home with the air conditioner not waltzing around looking at ruins without shade!

We took our bags and promptly got lost trying to find our room. The complex had about 800 rooms and different wings and we went up and down lifts until we found the correct wing in which we were supposed to be. All outside! The air conditioning is confined to the rooms and the corridors were open to the heat. There were a few exasperated sighs from the little group trying to find their room.

Once settled and revived we went for our first swim in the Dead Sea. It is an amazing feeling to be able to float without effort, like a baby in amniotic fluid in the womb. Having prepared our skin, we wandered up the beach to the mud bowl where we applied lots to our body and let it dry a bit before returning to the water. It is supposed to have healing properties but the lady who gave Anne and I a massage the next day is a bit sceptical. What it does do though is leave your skin silky smooth.

The water is about 34% salt so if you get it in you eyes, as a few of us did, it is extremely painful! The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, about 430 metres below sea level and has no outlets. The Jordan River is the largest contributor to it plus some small springs on the shoreline which create a type of quicksand. A part of the main roads around the lake collapsed a while ago and is now diverted due to the instability of the soil close to the edge. The Dead Sea is shrinking and there are moves to bring water from the Red Sea Gulf but that process is slow.