Bali – Christmas and Family – Days 168 – 182

On Day 15 in Bali, my mom (Nan) arrived, and the girls were ecstatic to show her around Ubud and visit the Monkey Forest, which we were saving for her arrival. We were sad to leave Villa Ole but looked forward to Villa Gajah, which was on the opposite side of town and promised four bedrooms with spectacular rice field views. We would be there for Christmas, and my mom had booked the place six months ago, so we were all waiting to see it in person.

Villa Gajah was magical but would not be suitable for everyone. It is right in the middle of a rice field (200 metres by foot from the road). Although the bedrooms are properly enclosed with walls, doors and A/Cs, the common areas have no such borders. In the middle of jungle-like Ubud, no walls can make for an interesting menagerie of guests. My fear of rodents was tested when one ran through the living room on Christmas Eve, and frogs all over the floor became commonplace. The girls loved feeding the fish in the fish pond (which, of course, was in the dining room).

The best part of Villa Gajah was the rice field hike outside our door. It was a good 30-minute walk into town on a path through the rice fields, with motorbikes passing every few minutes. On the walk, you’d meet artists selling paintings, farmers selling vanilla beans, cafe owners serving drinks and everything else in between. Michael did the walk every day and made friends along the way. He and I even bought ourselves “travel wedding rings” from the Silversmith on the route. For those who did not want to do the 30-minute hike, the villa also came with a staff who could drive us into town. Wayan and Suri were the caretakers who managed the villa and made us breakfast each morning – we’ll definitely remember the tropical fruit and pancakes. Being us, we supplemented the breakfast with treats like Nutella and imported cheese and I think those delicious breakfasts may be something I look fondly upon as we move into deeper parts of Asia (without the gourmet ex-pat grocery stores).

Our time with Nan started with the obligatory Monkey Forest Visit. We were careful not to bring any food or anything the monkeys could steal and we did not encounter any aggressive or scary ones – phew! To be completely transparent, one did jump on me, but she was using me for a bridge between two trees, so I stayed calm and she promptly jumped off (glad she chose to jump on me and not a kid).

We also had a visit from Sayo (the daughter of family friends from Canada) and her daughter Mia. They live in Bali full-time and came to Ubud for a visit. This utterly thrilled the girls who finally had someone else to play with. We visited a waterfall together and Sayo taught us a little more about life in Bali. It was great to see them and we were thankful for their visit.

We (mom, Nan and the girls) did a cooking class (letting dad have the morning to himself). Initially, they had only set us up with one stove (thinking that the girls were more spectators). The cooking teacher soon learned that Julie and Isabella did not intend to be spectators and they were given their own gas stoves to cook. Julie remains convinced she will be a “chef teacher” when she grows up and this experience only solidified her plan.

On week two at Villa Gajah, we welcomed my brother Leif and his partner Kate who came for Christmas too. We only had three days of monsoon-like torrential rain during a month in Bali. Unfortunately, all three days happened in the week that Leif and Kate were there. Nonetheless, they were busy on the days without rain visiting rice terraces, temples and the centre of town. Leif also treated us to a great meal at Nusantara, where Mike broke his Vegetarianism to try Bali’s version of escargot and mom discovered a love for Ginger Flower salad. It was so nice to get to see them and we were so grateful that they visited from so far away.

Initially, we had planned to downplay the Christmas thing since 30 degrees in a tropical jungle was so different from the regular traditions. But two sad little girls a few days before Christmas made us realize that we had to do a little more than planned. The tissue paper tree and makeshift decorations were created and Christmas youtube playlists were streamed. We also organized a special floating breakfast (which did not happen as it rained that morning). Nonetheless, the girls were spoiled with gifts as Mike and I puzzled as to how they would fit into our luggage (we ended up sending a suitcase back with my brother – thanks Leif). On Christmas Day, Isabella built her Harry Potter Lego and Julie played with the Templetina LOL (yes Aunt Kate, the name has stuck).

We said goodbye to Leif and Kate a few days later as they headed to Taiwan. Luckily Nan was coming with us to Singapore so we avoided that goodbye for a few more days. A month in Bali is what you imagine – beautiful, restful, healthful and quirky. So long Bali, we will definitely miss you.

Where we stayed:

By the numbers:

  • Number of Suri’s Breakfast Crepes we ate: At least 40
  • Number of Sound Therapy Sessions we did at the Pyramids of Chi next door: 0, Paige has a regret
  • Number of times Mike ate the local Warung (restaurant): 4
  • Number of nights it took before we finally went to the Balinese dance for Nan: 13

Wildlife Spotted inside our House (yep inside!):

  • Croak the Toad: he visited us every night
  • Whiskers the Christmas Rat: unfortunately he visited us on Christmas eve
  • Hiss the Boxing Day snake: a rice field snake who met an unfortunate end
  • Boris the Bat: he crashed into the fishpond and hung out on a reed to recover
  • Countless frogs jumping through the kitchen
  • Twenty four tadpoles: Julie counted them with me one night
  • Geckos galore: One went into my toiletry bag for a visit
  • The loudest frog ever: he gave us at least 2 terrible night sleeps (just click on the link, crank the volume and try to fall asleep to that)
  • All the fish in the fishpond
  • An unidentified animal Kate and Leif heard on the roof each night: they said it had to be quite large
  • 44 trillion ants: they were absolutely everywhere and meant that everything had to stay in the fridge

Melbourne Days 150 – 153

I’m not sure why … but it seems like the last stop in a country is always a bit less exciting than the first stops. This was true of Bogota in Colombia, Vancouver in BC, and we felt the same about Melbourne in Australia. I have been to Melbourne twice before (albeit 20 years ago) and loved the city, but this time it was not our favourite spot. Maybe it was because we had loved Tasmania and Sydney so much or maybe it was because we did not have a great Airbnb (understatement). Or maybe we were just excited to be going to Bali in three days and our minds were elsewhere.

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Time to check some bucket list boxes – Sydney – Days 130-136

First time in Australia for Mike and the kids….check…..New continent….check…..Opera house…..check…..Bondi beach….check.

Australia was for the kids. There’s a Netflix show called “Izzy Koala” and our daughter, Isabella, dreams of being a koala rescuer too. When we started talking about the trip, her little brain came up with the idea that we could visit Izzy’s koala sanctuary. Unfortunately, Izzy Koala does not take visitors but the idea of a stop in Oz was stuck in my head. Since I’d been to Australia already, Michael was going to be hard-pressed to convince me to come on a separate trip just to Australia so adding it to this world trip itinerary seemed like a good idea. We were off to the land of koalas, kangaroo and shrimp on the barbie; the first stop was Sydney.

It was my turn to get the family virus (the one Izzie caught in Colombia) and, for me, it manifested as an infected eye. We had to go to an optometrist for a proper diagnosis and medicine. It took several days to go away and I had to wear my glasses the whole time we were in Sydney – no contact lenses and very few photos of me from this leg. It drove me crazy! So day 1 in Sydney involved an optometrist, school at the library, a walk through the Botanical Gardens and the obligatory visit to the Opera House. It’s one of those world landmarks that does not disappoint (FYI, in person, it isn’t really white).

On day 2, we decided to head to the beach. Mike was feeling better and he felt sad that he’d missed so much Hawaii beach time. We chose Manly beach which seemed to have all the magical ingredients: harbour ferry ride, expansive surf beach, walk to a more secluded snorkel beach and an ocean pool to explore. And we did it all! As we rode the ferry to Manly, we wondered why we don’t live in Sydney. Public transit in the form of a ferry boat always seems so civilized and relaxing. We arrived in the beach suburb of Manly and did school in the library where Isabella did a writing assignment about sea turtles. We opted not to swim with the surfers at Manly (they have big signs warning about rips) and instead walked to nearby Shelly Beach which is part of Cabbage Tree Bay, a protected marine reserve. It took a while to convince the kids to snorkel (in the colder than Hawaii water) but it was fun to putter around and see neat creatures right from the beach.

Sydney has a pretty wild coastline so they’ve built these “ocean pools” at most of the beaches which are publically accessible and often free. They are ocean-fed unheated pools that allow Sydneysiders to swim without the full force of the surf, the sharks or the jellyfish. They are also very photogenic. Mike and the kids tried a few of them and I snapped the pictures.

Michael’s little sister Katie has come to Australia while we’re here. Our itinerary might have initially inspired her visit but she went ahead and convinced two friends to meet her here for an Australian adventure. She was in Sydney at the same time as us and, we met up to go to the Taronga Zoo (we’ll get to spend more time with her when we head to Tasmania together). The animals of the Taronga Zoo have an amazing view of the Sydney Harbour and the setting is probably the most memorable part of the place for me. I also loved seeing the chimpanzees who had a huge enclosure and were very animated when we visited.

Isabella will tell you that the Koala Encounter was the best part. It is illegal to pay to hold and cuddle Koalas in the state of NSW but the zoo does offer what they call “close encounters” with them. You are allowed to go in the cage and see them up close. Isabella learned of this optional zoo add-on and there was no convincing her not to spend her allowance on it. The ticket was for up to 4 people and she asked Aunt Katie, friend Yukari and luckily her sister to join her (this time not asking Julie to pay). Do others find their older child constantly trying to save her money by convincing her younger sister to spend her money? Isabella told me that this was the best day of her life so I guess she has no regrets about cleaning out her wallet. We were also amused by the news in Sydney from a few days before our visit, the lions had actually escaped. Don’t worry, they were recaptured without incident.

The Potts Point neighbourhood where we stayed in Sydney was also interesting. I chose it because it was close to the CBD and I read that foodies gravitate there for new, interesting dining. And the dining was great with lots of yummy restaurants that didn’t break the bank. Apparently, this was a “sketchier” area of Sydney but the pandemic wiped out a bunch of the dodgy bars. It still seemed a bit rough around the edge but the proximity to the city and great food worked well for us.

We chose to save Bondi Beach for our last full day in Sydney. We took a bus to Bronte Beach and did a 2 km walk to Bondi which made for an impressive arrival at the iconic place. We watched the surfers and Mike took the kids for a swim. The kids tried out their new bathing suits and got new sunburn lines.

Now we’re off to Tasmania.

Where we stayed (5 words or less):

  • Holiday Inn Sydney Potts Point: Great transit access and breakfast

By the numbers:

  • Types of eye drops currently in our first aid kit: 3 – don’t ask, so tired of eye-related infections
  • Cost for the koala encounter at the zoo: $30 – Isabella used her own money
  • Ice Creams: 9 – in addition to our normal gelatos, the hotel had free all-you-could-eat-ice cream for the kids 24/7
  • Cost of taxi from the airport: $70 – we must have got ripped off
  • Cost of Paige’s hack bus route to the airport: <$10 – I still have no idea how she pulled it off

Illness part 2 and a lost wedding ring – Hawaii – Days 126-129

Hawaii holds a special place for us as we honeymooned there 9 years ago. Our first trip was mostly spent on the Big Island and Kauai Island, but we did have a layover in Honolulu where we drove and visited Pearl Harbour.

This trip to Honolulu was not always on our itinerary. We knew that we wanted to spend the month of November in Australia but we find ourselves in Bogota, Colombia (those locations are not close to each other). The flight path also wasn’t logical with all trips sending us north and involving at least one stop in the continental USA. The cheaper flight options involved two stops which would mean a 36+ hour journey.

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Zona Cafetera – Here we come Juan Valdez! – Days 119-120

It did not seem right to visit Colombia without visiting the Zona Cafetera (the Coffee Axis), so we added a quick 2-day trip to the itinerary. Although the distance did not seem far, I knew that this might be a long drive so we splurged for a private driver from Medellin to the Hacienda Venecia near Manizales. We were picked up in Medellin at 9:30 and we were glad that we’d had a good breakfast because, once we cleared the outskirts of the city, there were not a lot of places to stop. The drive was very scenic as we drove through green mountains and fields of Avocado trees (a crop that is an expanding Colombian export). I kept waiting to see coffee and kept asking the driver “cafe?” as I pointed in distance. But he kept responding “aguacate”. It was not until we were very close to our destination that he smiled and pointed to a hill saying “cafe!”.

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Cartagena – Finally an Airplane – Days 105-109

Flight #1

We have finally reached the part of our trip where we go somewhere international! We wanted to explore parts of our own country before exploring other destinations. But… oh how excited I am to finally get on a plane again after 3 years of the pandemic. When we decided to come to Colombia, we really knew very little about the country.  We’d heard that Cartagena was cool and we’d watched Narcos – that was about it.  

With Colombia, we did not follow my own rule and booked a whirlwind 21 days where we’ll stay in 5 different places.  Oops….  But the guidebooks suggested way too many cool places to visit.  We decided to start our adventure in Cartegena which we knew was a little more touristy and hopefully a little bit less culture shock for the girls.

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I’m Coming Home – Day 87-104

As we left Ohio, the kids started playing the Diddy song “I’m coming home” on repeat over and over again. We were truly excited to be returning to Toronto after almost 12 weeks on the road. We’d covered just under 23,000 km and almost 300 hours of driving. Leg #1 was coming to an end.

Julie and baby cousin Zoe

So why were we coming home? Well, a few things. We have rented out our house to a Norwegian family and we needed to meet them and get a few things sorted before leaving for 9 months abroad. It was also Isabella’s birthday and we wanted to let her have a birthday party with her friends. Thirdly, we wanted to spend some time with our families and have Thanksgiving together before we left again.

As we drove into Toronto, everything felt strange. We were home but not in our home. We settled into my mom’s basement. Well actually, Mike and I settled into the basement while Izzie and Julie made themselves comfortable in their nan’s bedroom with her. We did many loads of laundry and washed the kids thoroughly in a bathtub. We watched the Blue Jays fail in the playoffs and ate home-cooked food (thanks mom). Isabella even got to go to a real play with nan and see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” (sat on the edge of her seat for three hours). It was a really nice break.

Somehow the kids got to go to school for the full two weeks we were home. I had not put their attendance on hold yet so they were still registered in their classes and were welcomed with open arms. Isabella got to spend a full 6.5 hours a day with her friends each day and I did not have to arrange playdates (which would have been complicated given that we do not have our own house right now).

Here are some random thoughts as this first leg of the trip comes to a close.

We will miss you Canola

We’ll miss you Canola

For those of you who do not know, we normally drive a small electric car which would not have been the right vehicle for this adventure. Instead of renting something, my father-in-law gave us his Jeep Grand Cherokee for the journey. This was a hugely generous gift that I appreciated every day. The girls came up with the name Canola somewhere near Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Canola truly became our home away from home. Especially when we were camping, we felt a sense of security every time we were finally fully loaded in our seats and on the way. We are somewhat scared about what will replace her in leg two. We’ll have no air-conditioned, comfortable home base and we’ll have a lot less room for stuff. Thanks, Grandpa for lending us Canola (and we hope you’ll keep her name!)

School so far

How did we do? Leg 1 taught us a lot about how to teach. We learned what motivates our two kids is very different. Virtual School memories (although painful) also helped us. We adopted the “Mr. Stoch Morning Work” which is independent work to begin the day to get in the school frame of mind. We also used workbooks and some of the hundreds of worksheet pages I had downloaded and printed. Overall we realized we loved teaching geography and math but hated language and writing which is completely related to what our kids like and therefore how they behave when learning.


That’s the full extent of the luggage

My mother was truly horrified when she saw how little stuff we were taking on the next part of the trip. Two backpacks, day packs and one mini suitcase – that’s it. Mike and I are carrying less for ourselves than when we backpacked in our twenties because we now have 2 kids’ stuff to carry as well (plus way too many electronics and school materials). We decided to bring less and buy what we need which meant our clothes and toiletries were halved. We’ll see how it goes

Where we stayed (five words or less)

Nan’s basement: Quality time, Jet Tub, Our Cat

By the Numbers

  • Friends at Isabella’s Bowling 8th Birthday: 9 plus her
  • Thanksgiving Dinners: 2
  • Rides Paige went on at Canada’s Wonderland Halloween Haunt with Sister-in-Laws Katie and Steph: 6
  • Rides Mike went on taking kids to Camp Spooky at Wonderland: 2 (but kids went on many more)
  • Relatives who gave Isabella a Harry Potter Themed Birthday gift: 5 (Grandma, Auntie Donna, Katie, Steph/Andy/Luke/Zoe and Nan)

Isabella’s Harry Potter Lego say goodbye

Pleasant Surprise – Grasslands National Park – Day 77

We woke up and left the dinosaur campground as we continued to make our way back east.  We were on the road by 8 am as we knew that we had a really long ride ahead of us (6 or more hours today). 

We drove to Medicine Hat for breakfast and ate at a little cafe that I had found online.  Then we went to the Medalta clay factory as a little diversion since we had such a long drive ahead of us. The clay factory is over 100 years old and they have staff working onsite using historic techniques, moulds and glazes making reproduction pieces like Stoneware bowls, urns and crocks. I so much wanted to buy a #5 crock but Michael rightfully asked me what I would use it for and where I would put it.  The kids learned about pottery making and ran around the giant rooms expending some of their built-up energy.  I bought some art deco salt and pepper shakers which I will keep for myself (one of the very few souvenirs we have from the trip). 

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Bring on the zoo – Calgary 73-75

Fun playground at the Calgary Zoo

Even though the family was sad to say adieu to the mountains, we were still looking forward to Calgary as the kids would get to hang out with their cousin Lorron. Calgary would also serve as the location where we hopefully put our passport woes in our past. Julie and Mike both submitted passport applications in early spring (and by early I mean March). Mike’s passport arrived in July but kids’ passports are not considered renewals and take longer (the website said 6 weeks when I submitted it). After 20 weeks and many phone calls of nothing, I drove to Calgary to have our application transferred to a local office with my proof of travel. With two visits to the Harry Hays building, two new passport photos and only 3 hours for me in a chair, we had a passport!

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