We made it!

We made it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Day 1 – The long, long journey to India

We all sleep well and awake to the view of planes arriving and departing at Melbourne airport. I ask Bec if she had managed to transfer some funds into our account for us to access while we are away, she confidently assures me that it has all been taken care of, although minutes later I notice her tapping away on her phone o the ANZ online account to which we have a shared chuckle. I am very good at pointing out all the things we should have done in hindsight, one of those very annoying people who manages to ask just the wrong question at the right time. This is the first of many such questions, lucky Bec and I have developed a bit of an understanding about all of this stuff and it kind of plays out now as a bit of friendly banter between us on these trips.

We pack our backpacks, medical case and supplies case, load up to the hilt and down to check out. By the time we have made it down the few floors to the lobby Maggie has made it quite clear that she is not a fan of carrying her new backpack. Whilst she likes the look for the whole aussie backpacker thing the reality of carrying her pack starts to set in and she is clearly not impressed. We check out, check our bags onto our flight and we are on our way, all quite uneventful.

On the way Bec was dancing her way along the path much to Maggie’s disgust who separated herself from what she declared to be an embarrassing site. Not long until we get on our flight, a quick stop at café vue for coffee and croissants. Bec taking snaps and Gus has developed his new line “no paparazzi” whenever someone comes to take his photo, something he will soon find to be a regular occurrence. Poppa, after receiving orders from Gus orders him a purple macaroon, as it turns out was beetroot flavoured, not that Gus seemed to mind. Gus dressed himself this morning to ofcourse pants are on back the front, although he did manage to get shoes on the right feet today. He sits there at the table blowing bubbles in his OJ, looking quite the intrepid traveller.

On our way through security we had our first or should I say next minor dramas of the trip. We realised as we were going through security that Indy had left her Ipad behind, mainly an option for entertaining Gus, so Bec not thrilled. Poppa turned a lighter shade of white as he sheepishly declared he left his new laptop in his checked baggage. This sent Poppa into a bit of a self loathing meltdown as he came to terms with it all. Indy took a dose of her phenergen, to which Maggie decided she wanted in too, and both were gently sedated for their flight. We received a text from Debbie our housesitter to say Grandma Molly had woken this morning in good spirits which made us all a little happier. Bec also received an email from Julia the dog breeder with a photo of our new puppy Jasper which everyone was very excited about, particularly Maggie.

As we go to leave I realise Bec has left her camera behind under the table at the café. I wonder to myself whether it is worth running a book to see how long before and where Bec will lose her new camera. As we sit and wait to board I think to myself about the diversity of airports. So many people, where are they all heading and for what reason. It is a veritable box of chocolates for life and I would love to interview people about their onward journeys just to share in what people have in store for them. Indy comments that she doesn’t like the smell of airports and reminisces about her very dark days flying into LAX where she got very ill. In fact after all of our travels the only time Indy has been really sick was flying to the States and it was bad. About 4-5 days of constant vomiting, all of us severely jetlagged in a hotel undergoing serious renovations, it was quite a story. Indy is now writing in her journal and reading comments from the many different adventures she has already been on. This gives her an immediate sens of perspective and she comments that feels good about doing something on this trip to contribute to improving the lives of some of the disadvantaged children we have met on previous trips, she is quite the deep thinker Indy. Maggie on the other hand is sitting on Poppa’s lap checking his brain (a Maggie and Poppa thing) and she comments she believes it is the size of a pea. Bec is slowly unwinding, it has been such an incredible build up, these past few hours have been a bit of a rollercoaster or leaving things behind, planning for things coming up and trying to stay in the present moment and soak it all up. I can feel Bec slowly starting to get her equilibrium back and you can almost visibly see her start to relax. As we line up in yet another of many many long queues I am carrying Gus and he senses the ability to take advantage of the situation as he pokes me in the eyes, licks up and down my cheeks, puts my glasses on and off my face, never one to miss an opportunity.

We make it on to the plane, flight SQ238 leaving from Gate 9 on the new A380. We find our seats, all quite comfortable, or as comfortable as you can get in economy class. The engines hum, a child is crying further up the plane as the captain gets on the intercom and informs us there is a small technical issue “the service panel is open and needs to be closed for take off, we will await ground crew advice before departing” a few more minutes waiting. Gus decides it’s time to stretch out across three seats, head on my lap and feet on Bec, Indy on the other side next to me and Maggie sitting with Nanna and Poppa. I glance over and note that Indy has written ‘calm’ on the back of her hand. Something I think she has picked up from school to help her focus. Like her dad is she is a born worrier and when there is a lot happening can get herself quite worked up. Time now for all the big decision, what to eat for lunch and what to watch on the movies.

As we sit for a little longer I take a minute to remind myself this is NOT a WORK trip and do a short meditation on the way I want to show up on this trip, relaxed, present, generous and fun. Very rare for me to travel for holidays only and whilst we have a little bit planned on this trip I can really scale back to an on holiday mindset, something I am very happy about given the massive year I and we have all had. I look around and notice the Christmas wreaths adorning the cabin of the plane as Bec leans over and whispers she has been dreaming off this moment for so long, it’s really happening she says to me. We all exchange ‘I love yous’ and off we go, our adventure of a lifetime. As we leave it is a beautiful day in Melbourne, sun shining, mid to high 20’s and as we slowly taxi down the runway Gus leans over and asks are we going fast yet? Not yet, says Bec calmly. Gus’s voice muffled by the nungi (dummy or soother) in his mouth and ofcourse two in his left hand and one in his right just in case – he is well stocked up. Bec is tossing up between the beef curry and pan fried chicken and Indy is trying to rest, starting to relax a little more and staying calm – the hand tattoo must be working.

Maggie and Gus are taking their shoes off, a slight odour wafts it way through rows 42 and beyond. Bec reminds me quietly that this could be the opportunity for me to write my book, an opportunity many years in the dreaming. I often relate to the character out of the movie Mr Hollands Opus in which Mr Holland a musician whose dream it is to write an opus is constantly distracted by the demands of life and family and it is not until his retirement until his life’s work comes together – could this be my journey too? I have in the back of my mind set another quiet BHAG goal for myself to write words that inspire millions of people to follow their dreams and hearts – a quiet goal for me, almost one I am embarrassed about and certainly fearful of but I am of the belief that if you don’t put it out there it will never happen.

Ladies and Gentleman your captain speaking, “panel has been verified as closed, problem resolved”. Gus lets out a muffled “What did he say Dad?” and we are finally off. At this time there are many regular yet fleeting thoughts about what lies ahead of us. I wonder if this is like in the movie ‘The Perfect Storm’ when they are sitting in calm waters making the decision to push on through the approaching storm. It all seems like a good idea when the waters are calm! I share my thoughts with Bec and she gives me a reassuring smile. Flashes of India start to finally run through my head – what is awaiting us? Obvious fears about the kids safety, about my own physical conditioning or lack of, about the logistics of the trip and the many challenges that await. So on day one of our walk when we leave our hotel in colicut and we are standing there looking at each other saying “now which way do we walk?” Might be a good idea to buy a map just in case. Lots of unknowns, the cabin crew are now making final preparations, seat belts on, window shades up, I sit and close my eyes, imagine all of the hundreds of ‘small stuff’ issues slowly leave my mind and it is time for adventure, this is living…..I think???? Gus yells out to Maggie, the Man says we have to turn our tellies off, Maggie, Maggie MAGGIE. We take off, thoughts of work, friends, family, renovations, molly the collie, slowly move out of my mind, the wheels fold up into the wings, as Gus asks ‘What’s that?’ ‘just the plane noises’ Bec calmly advises. Gus snuggles in a little closer for a cuddle and I hold him just a little tighter.

Gussy falls asleep, nungis in hands and mouth. I take a moment to look around me and think to myself how did I get this lucky? I look across at my incredible and beautiful wife as she sits quietly watching her movie, she is quite simply my world and the most beautiful and inspiring woman I know. Together we have experienced the darkest depths and the highest and brightest highs of life’s rollercoaster, certainly more than I would have ever dreamed of or feared, and we continue on stronger for all of our experiences we have shared together. Gus has slept for 2 hours, he awakes with a birds nest in his hair, blonde dreadlocks going in all directions. He is very excited about the lunch tray that awaits him in front of him. Unfortunately he slept a little too well and being a morning sleep he didn’t have his usual night time nappy on, accidents do happen.

Indy reaches over and whispers in my ear – “I am excited about being in India again” lovely to see her confidence growing in a place that can be confronting for even the most seasoned traveller. Maggie and Indy were good girls on what was a fairly uneventful yet uncomfortable flight as you can imagine. Flying economy class internationally (the only way we travel) is not very glamorous, stuck in a very small space for many hours with young children, a recipe for disaster. We are thankful that our kids travel well again. Although our thoughts glimpse forward to a potential 23 hour flight to NY in September next year and it sends a slight chill through us.

As we come in to land Gus is coughing and starts dry reaching. Bec on the other side of Gus is diving for the chuck bag, finds it, but unfortunately doesn’t have the dexterity to manage to open it in time. I stay poised, hands cupped in front of Gus ready to do what I have to. Fortunately a false alarm. By the time Bec opens the bag it is required as Gus coughs up a little bit more this time around. Nothing unusual for us, in fact it is a welcome relief only needing one bag for the trip.

We land in Singapore for our 6 hour wait until our onward flight to Cochin later that night. We walk into Changi airport and Popsy is still stewing about his laptop and decides he is determined to retrieve it before the next flight. As we gather ourselves in the waiting area Mum reminds Bec about her camera so those of you who bet Bec would leave it behind on the first flight scoop the pool. Bec and Maggie run back to retrieve the camera as Gus runs the gauntlet up and back on the travelator. Good news, camera located and Bec learns her lesson, she hasn’t had it off her neck since.

We make the pilgrimage to the orchid garden in Changi and Gus falls in love with the big fish in the pond and spends much of the 6 hours running around the ponds playing with the fish. Aside from the occasional photo with the stray tourist who asks if they can get a photo with Gus, shortly followed by a quick touch of his long blonde hair. Bec is quickly relaxing now and back to the old Buddha mama we know and love. Nearly a couple of hours later Poppa has managed to get his laptop back in one piece although unfortunately in the process Nanna has realised she has left her prescription sunglasses behind somewhere, nowhere to be found. Definitely a stressful and morale dropping event for Mum and we all feel for her as she is definitely disappointed by this.

Six hours has passed relatively quickly and we head to gate E3 to board our flight to Cochin. This is the time you realise you are travelling to India as you fast become a minority at the boarding gate. We are also no longer on the A380 and downsize down to a very small and very old A319. We have been unfortunately seated in rows 23 and 24, one from the rear of the plane. In the check in lounge I am rapidly filling in immigration forms for the 5 of us, which effectively at 1am in the morning Melbourne time is not the easiest or most enjoyable of tasks. It is also in the ‘meltdown zone’ for Gus and it is always touch and go as to whether Gus falls asleep or has a hyperactive meltdown. Fortunately this time around he falls asleep on me and Indy and he and Maggie sleep pretty much the whole flight. I am cooped up on one side of my body trying to keep Gus still and asleep and poor old Indy is constantly awoken by a combination of Gus, lights being on and just general discomfort. The poor thing, I have never seen Indy’s eyes more red. Nanna and Poppa are tucking into their chicken curry as I just try to get through the flight and keep Gussy asleep, we do not want him to wake up a couple of hours out of Cochin. It turned out to be a tremendously uncomfortable flight, bad turbulence and a very long 4 hours. As we were preparing for descent Gus woke up bolt upright telling us, and anyone who cared to listen about the ‘walking with dinosaurs’ show we went to. He regaled the back rows of the plane with stories of bubby T rexs and long necks and an excited surprise that his friend slime (imaginary friend) has joined in for our India expedition.

We land in India to an immediate reality check, landing very tired, middle of the night, and asking ourselves “are we crazy?” I guess we will know the answer very shortly. Car from the hotel waiting for us, feel blessed for small mercies and say hi to our driver Gus, pronounced Gooz. On the way to the hotel, the streets are quiet apart from the wonder of seeing our first elephant wandering along the other side of the road past our car on the highway. We made it to the hotel and slept in accordance with our tiredness, a very deep sleep.

We awoke at 6.30am all together and work up to a strikingly beautiful red Indian sunset and everyone feeling better for a good night’s sleep. Our hotel is built right on the verge of the water and through our windows there is a wide selection of boats streaming by. It is quite beautiful. Gus, fully recharged now is requesting lollies for breakfast – he caught a glimpse of them in the food case last night and now is very excited about the prospect of an in room breakfast. As I look outside our window I see a guard down below, half asleep in his chair cuddling his very old rifle. I often wonder what would happen if they ever needed to fire off a shot. There are long lengths of weed floating down the sea as we sit and have our morning cup teas. I can see now why the sign welcoming us to Kerala called it proudly ‘Gods Own Country’. It is Popsy’s birthday and he gets plenty of attention from the kids who are very excited about sharing Popsy’s special day. I struggle to do a couple of early morning stretches, trying desperately to build up some core strength, without great success I might add. Fair to say after 15+ hours of international travel the body is not in good shape.

We get dressed quickly, very hungry for breakfast and head down to the breakfast buffet, the kids favourite Indian activity. My breakfast consisted of a vegetable paratha, chickpeas, vegetable curry, samosa with tomato chutney, vada (Indian savoury donut) with coconut chutney, mushroom omelette, cashew muffin, fresh fruit and about 5 cups of south Indian coffee (our favourite beverage of all time). Bec and the kids have gotten their money’s worth out of the buffet and Indy and Mags have started to develop a taste for the SI coffee. It is kind of a milky coffee (mum thinks it is made with condensed milk). The closest thing I have ever tasted to it is the milky coffee at SPATS café on king William road in Adelaide. It is quite a treat and we will have our share over the next 6 weeks.

After breakfast we enjoyed a walk around the gardens and along the water’s edge. Large ocean liners and massive ships full of containers cruise by only a stones throw from our hotel. The pool is looking very cloudy much to the disappointment of the kids who we determine should leave it for today, just in case. Gus already has developed a plane cough and a day in the pool is not likely to help. He did however find a trike in the gardens and spent some time cruising around the hotel grounds on his new toy. The crows are arguing over something, squirrels are scurrying up and down trees, Ibis’s sitting on the reeds, coconut trees and frangipanis align the hotel’s garden with the background sounds of Christmas carols faintly streaming out of the hotel interspersing with the Indian pipe music blaring out of several boats cruising by, all somewhat surreal. There is a light haze over the water, thousands of containers visible in the shipyard across the way as the warmth of the sun slowly increases, it is going to be a hot one. As I look up at the balcony above the pool there is an older businessman sitting on the balcony with another man (I assume his servant) standing right behind him. They stay in that position for some time, a site not usually seen where I come from. A Barge chugs by as two young blonde boys run along the path by the water being chased by their mum who has one young baby in her arms. Certainly more westerners in the hotel than we saw at the airport. Maggie is sitting in front of me practising drinking out of a bottle Indian style (wit a frangipani tucked behind her ear. That is holding the bottle in such a way that you can drink without the bottle touching your lips, let’s just say Mags needs some practice but it kept us all amused for some time. Ofcourse Indy takes over and shows her how it is done!

Bec comes running up and informs me that her and Gus witnessed some fish in the water as well as some baby turtles floating by, quite a sight. Nanna has come up with the idea to catch a ferry across to the mainland today and see if we can’t stock up on some supplies, there are many things on our list. We all decide to meet down in the lobby in 20 minutes to head off. We head to our room and experience the first run of the kids (and us) living out of our packs. Well we had hair problems, shoe problems, shorts problems, sun cream problems and a few heated discussions between the kids on which item belonged to which of them. Needless to say as we ran for the ferry we unfortunately did not quite get there. The next ferry was not for an hour. Bec and I headed back to the hotel to put our cash in the safe, which we neglected to do. On the way back a rally was forming for the CPEO and there was a relatively large gathering, many red flags and several people taking in turns giving talks on the microphone. One thing I have always tried to steer clear of us public demonstrations and I share this with Bec and Indy as we walk past it to get back to the ferry. Just as we walk past an incredibly loud bang, like a gun bangs off right near our ear. Head down we keep walking, noone seemed particularly concerned and I couldn’t see anyone or anything that looked like a threat. I look at Bec and she has turned a light shade of white and her heart clearly beating out of her chest.

We get the next ferry, Gus and the girls loved the short ride across to the mainland. We run the gauntlet that is Indian roads and very carefully cross a couple of very busy streets on our quest to find MG road. Long story short we were not particularly successful today in securing supplies. We only managed to get our money changed and purchase a couple of Indian SIM cards for our internal communications. The other 12 items on our list were not secured. It was extremely hot and extremely busy and after a few hours I could see the kids needed to get back to the room for a little rest. India is sometimes best absorbed in small chunks, particularly when jet lagged and tired. We jumped in a couple of ‘autos’ small carriages basically on a trike that sound like they run on dried apricots. The kids love the experience and we are back on the ferry in no time. Back to the room for a little R and R before a birthday dinner for Popsy. Day 1 in India is drawing to a close and we are well aware that we have a very real and very challenging experience in front of us. Tomorrow we head to Kozhikode (or Colicut) ready to commence our walk. Wish us luck, we may need it.


  1. wishing you all the best for your awesome adventure and look forward to following you 'in spirit'

  2. What an amazing undertaking as a family. I love and totally get your spirit of adventure. Good luck. I look forward to reading more. Would you mind if I added you to our adventurous families blogroll? You should be on there! http://www.familyonabike.org/stories/inspiringfamilies.html