Where to next?

Since my last international trip to Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam in May/June 2019, I have not really been able to think about future travel plans. We returned home from that trip knowing that the elder care issues that had kept us (largely) in NZ for the previous six years and that we had thought were temporarily resolved, were not our responsibility once again. So I deliberately didn’t plan anything at that time. Then 2020 arrived bringing COVID-19, and I trained my brain not to think about the future. We were lucky – I was, as you know, about to travel extensively within New Zealand. We went to the far north, and to the deep south, in two longer trips, keeping my wanderlust in relative check. New Zealand is really a wonderful destination, and we loved it. It taught me too that there’s more to my life than travel, and that I’m happy to continue to explore my own small country. But it’s familiar. And we travel for the exotic.

In the last few months, though, we’ve dared to start planning again. We started by thinking that a trip to Australia might be appropriate. There’s a major train trip that runs from Darwin to Adelaide, through the “red centre” of Australia, that we’ve talked about before. When I came to look at bookings, however, I discovered it’s sold out until the end of 2023! Initially we thought we’d still go to Western Australia, where we have . There’s a wine region south of Perth that we’ve always wanted to explore. Plus, quokkas! So for the first time in three years, I started planning again, looking at flights, working out possible itineraries, and no doubt raising the hopes of my sister-in-law who loves to welcome visitors in one of the most remote state capitals in the world. But neither of us could get enthusiastic enough to make the final decision. The ideal time to travel would have conflicted with school holidays both here and there. Flights were expensive, though not terribly bad. SIL’s mother would be staying at the same time. And we knew the trip would end up costing a lot more than we wanted to spend when it was not a priority destination. And we want to return to do the train trip anyway. So we’ve decided not to go this year. I have yet to advise SIL; it must be done, but I fear her judgement!

Rather than this decision being a result of inertia, it was instead a cost-benefit decision. We have wider plans, and we’d rather use the money on some other long-desired experiences. If we are, as it seems, essentially retired, then our money is limited. We have to be careful with it!

So instead of a shorter term fill-in trip, my mind has turned to future travel planning. The last time I did this was pre-covid. The world has changed. And so have our attitudes to travel, in three main ways.

Firstly, we know now that the world can shut down, for years, in the blink of an eye. We can’t easily say “we’ll go there when we’re old” because what if we delay too long, and travel is no longer possible? The go-there-when-we’re-old destinations have always been musts on our travel list (ie ancestral homes of Ireland and Scotland, the Canadian Rockies, national parks of western USA, and US northeast). Now they’ve moved up in priority. A degree of urgency is there, when it was not in 2016. We need to go when we have the opportunity to do so. Anything after that will be a bonus.

Secondly, we won’t be making lots of shorter trips. Even when “shorter trips” to us mean four-seven week trips, making many multiple flights across the world seems environmentally less conscionable in 2022. Whilst we are only two people with a much lower carbon footprint than many of my peers despite our travel, we still want to be responsible. That fits with my own preferences anyway. I’d rather go to Europe or the US (for example) for six months or a year, rather than on multiple short trips. It was achievable back in 2013, after all. And now that we’re not working, we can do it so much more easily. I have plans to make it more affordable. House swaps might be feasible, with friends, relatives, internet friends/bloggers (?), or pet-or-house-sitting. Off-peak travel too makes it cheaper.

Finally, I want to go to destinations that a) enthuse me, and b) that I am sure we will enjoy, rather than destinations we feel we should see, based on someone else’s assessment of desirable destinations. This includes both previous destinations we want to explore some more, and new ones we’ve never really considered before. And it includes experiences we know we will enjoy, whether it is seeking out the so-far-elusive puffins, taking an interesting train trip, or simply visiting friends, learning more about their home environments and cultures.

So after a three year hiatus, I’m in travel planning mode again. Short-term, it means planning a trip that, but for covid, would have occurred for a birthday with a zero later this year. It’s likely to be mid-2023 now. But will be something we both enjoy. I need to make sure I book early so as to avoid disappointment, and ensure that I have travel insurance that will allow me to cancel if covid hits again. I hope that the international travel woes that have beset many travellers this year will be more settled by then. But I hope contingency plans will help.

We’ve started the discussion for the short-term plans. It’s the longer term ones that need to be thought about in more detail, and that are much more complicated. But it’s nice being able to think about it all again.

PS. I really hope I’m not tempting fate with this.

Reminiscent leaps

I feel as if I’ve written about this before, but can’t find anything in any of my blogs, so forgive me if I am repeating myself.

I’ve spent the last week watching the Commonwealth Games, and have had little thought for anything else this week. Even travel. (Though we may have made a momentous and unusual travel decision – that is, not to travel right now! It’s not certain though. I’ll report later.) As always, I have loved watching the athletics. I know what it feels like to be on a track, or out in the field, and relive my not-so-glorious days as an athlete. My earliest memory of athletics is at a school sports day. Once a year, our tiny country school would get together with other equally tiny country schools in the district, combining forces to have a sports day. (It’s hard to run races at your school if you’re the only girl in your year, for example.) I didn’t really know what was going on, was put in a race, they said go, and everyone started running. I loped along, and came fifth. I think I only realised later that I was supposed to run as fast as I could! It took some years before it really sunk in. By the time I was maybe 11 or 12, I had figured it out, and was doing better. I wasn’t a natural, like my younger cousin Stephen, who used to lope around our small school track, looking bored but beautiful and deceptively fast. But I had some power and speed. And learned how to use it.

When I got to the much bigger district High School, I found I was still competitive. By now I was almost fully grown, with the height and speed and hand-eye coordination that meant I could perform reasonably well in most sports. So for a few weeks after the summer holidays, I would train with the swimming team, then I’d switch to athletics, though had been attending a few meetings from New Year or even New Year’s Eve (terrible timing) onwards, before switching in late summer/autumn to netball, where I excelled (as did my younger sister). For one or two years only, I played tennis in the spring. My last year at my local high school (my last year of high school was in Bangkok) saw me win the Sportsgirl of the Year award.

Netball was the only sport where I actually had coaches who knew what they were doing. Everything else (and you can throw in various aspects of netball there too) was self-taught, or perhaps more specifically, mother-taught. We knew little about training, fitness, etc. We did it for the pure enjoyment. But to learn the appropriate techniques, my mother bought a book explaining how to do most athletic disciplines – I remember studying it, teaching myself how to shot put or do a crouch start, running through high jumps etc in my head, and sitting on the floor stretching for the hurdles.

My mother was great at improvising. She took a number of large sacking bales (for wool) and stuffed them with hay, sewing them shut. They became our high jump mats. We set them up under an old farm building, and taught ourselves to high jump, using the Fosbury Flop technique. We had to be careful to fluff up the mats after each jump, or at least every two or three jumps, or we risked a hard landing. We had to be careful they were well placed, or we’d slide off and into the wood pile, or other farm implements or parts of the building. I guess they taught us how to be precise in our take offs and therefore landings. But we always held back a little, so it was wonderful when we went once a week to the local athletics club, where they had real high jump mats. Oh, and we also practised long jump in the former rose garden.

Yes, that’s right. The rose garden. My mother and father had been planning to build a new house for many years, but there was a complication, in that the farm had always been promised to my dad (as he had farmed it since he was 13 for his mother and five younger siblings) but wasn’t yet legally his. My mother spent years planning the house, getting her hopes up then spending months not thinking or talking about it. Finally, though, they knew it was going to happen, even if it took another year or two to complete. My mother promptly dug up the rose garden (where the new house was to be built, and maybe to make a point too) to make a long jump pit for my younger sister and myself. We would start at the entrance to the garden and house by the huge hedge, sprint round a bush and past the swing, down a small slope, past a straggly apple tree, around the corner of the house, and leap into the former rose garden.

We weren’t competing for gold in the Commonwealth or Olympic Games, or even at the National Championships. But I can’t say I didn’t imagine a few moments of golden glory.

Every four years (or so) I write about the Olympic Games. But I haven’t written about the Commonwealth Games. Modelled on the Olympics, and along the lines of the European Games, Asian Games, etc, the Commonwealth Games occur every four years for members of the Commonwealth. For those of you who don’t know, it brings together members of the Commonwealth from all over the world, from tiny island nations in the Pacific or Caribbean (like Turks and Caicos or the Cook Islands) that don’t even have representation at the UN, to the populous (India or Pakistan), to the simply huge (Canada and Australia and South Africa). It includes the comparatively rich and powerful member nations of the UK (individually represented as England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), and some of the poorest countries in Africa (eg Malawi). We have little in common with each other, other than an often contentious background. Yet there is a common language that brings us together more naturally than with those countries that don’t share aspects of our history or culture. Besides, there’s something wonderful about seeing an athlete from Cyprus, the Maldives, St Lucia, or Samoa getting to compete on the global stage, and getting cheers from the crowd.

This year the Games are being held in Birmingham, England, so the time zone isn’t working for me. We get to see some of the morning events in our late evening, and by the time we wake up the next morning, many gold medals have been decided. That means though that I can then pick and choose what I want to watch from the previous night’s offerings, without the tension of not knowing the results!

These Games are known as the Friendly Games, and I do get that feeling. In swimming, when a sole swimmer finishes twenty seconds after the rest, the crowd cheers for them as they struggle the length of the pool. A NZ athlete was ahead in the Triathlon, until he was given a ten second time penalty around the same time as an English athlete caught him. As he went to run into the penalty tent before the final straight, he high-fived the English athlete, a nice gesture given that otherwise they would have been in a sprint for the gold medal. A NZ swimmer won his second gold (a very rare event for a NZ able-bodied swimmer to win gold) to huge cheers from the crowd. Maybe they were just pleased it wasn’t Australia winning again? Or perhaps it was just indicative of the friendly atmosphere.

And I really like the way the Para events are mixed in with those of able-bodied athletes. So in between cycling sprints, there are tandem events for the sight impaired. And between the 200m men’s butterfly and 100m freestyle there is a 50m backstroke event for para swimmers. They are totally a part of these events, not relegated to a secondary event a week or two later, as we find in the Olympics.

When the medals are handed out, there are no “pretty girls” as models in outrageous “feminine” uniforms holding the medals, simply men or women in T-shirts. It’s so nice not to cringe at the sexism. Well done, Birmingham!

In a sign of the times, almost all of the Kiwi gold medal winners have sung our anthem in Maori, rather than the English. I love it in Maori, and it shows how much our society had changed in just 20 years or so.

Some sports have world leading performances, some are globally competitive, and some are niche sports for former British colonies (lawn bowls or netball, for example). It’s interesting to watch all of them, and to see the specialties of different nations or regions. There’s less aggression and arrogance (so far), less antipathy between teams, than you might see in the Olympics. So far, it has all just been nice. And yes, it is uncomfortable to see the wealthier nations top the medal tables. But it’s not really about the medal tables. It’s about everyone getting a chance to compete, under a banner of friendship. And I really like that.