This month, we are seeing one of the best blooms of wildflowers in Southern California in recent years, a happy consequence of the past month of rain (usually rare) and sunshine. Fields are carpeted in pretty purple, pink, yellow and white. Trees and shrubs are flowering and putting out their biggest, brightest, boldest. Everywhere we go, we ooh and ahh at spring come early at the Pacific Coast!
Hubs and I were away for most of December, January and all of February, and returning to Santa Monica to such an uplifting sight was a big welcome for us.
Here is a summary of our travels: (pictures in process)
My second trip to NY city, woohoo!!!
I loved New York City the first time I was there a year ago. Then, Scottie showed me the city, where he lived and hung out, and visited with his friends I met for the first time. It was a blast.
This time, the hubs was there for work and we stayed in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the company's residence which was a lovely old manor house with about ten rooms that was thoroughly romantic in a gentle white flurry of snowfall. I think it was my first snowfall. I took the train out to Manhattan everyday when the hubs went into the office.
our PT Cruiser in the snow
The best part about this trip was getting to hang out with Angela, who had moved to NY for a year at this time. We chilled out in her apartment and wrote nonsensical emails to all our friends, walked the cold, windy streets of Manhattan, explored the Grand Central and huffed-puffed in the gym together - a throw-back to the good ol' NJC days.
Angela and I in SoHo!
The second best part was getting to go to a super-chic party at The Pierre, for hubs' company Christmas party. Violinists lined the grand stairs up to the party hall, coats were checked in, waiters gliding around with cocktails on their trays, men and women gathered around the grand piano chatting. I made my way to where the party was (hubs and I had arrived separately - he was chauffeured from his office, and I took the cab from Angela's) and amidst the ocean of partyers, my husband emerged to meet me, smiling broadly, told me how beautiful I looked(my boy is such a charmer) and led me into the crowd. I could tell he was having a good time and I was glad. It was a beautiful room, with huge chandeliers, which always adds grandeur. Well, I didn't think it was NY culture (nor did it look very chic!) to be toting a camera and snapping away at every little thing, so I didn't. Moreover, there was already a photographer with a quirky curly red moustache going around doing his job. There was such a great buffet spread - sushi stations, dim sum stations, pasta choices, and as much lobster and shrimps as you can devour. By dinnertime, we were all stuffed. A waiter actually carried a set of bells out to the hall and struck each one with a stick, from the smallest one to the largest one. I thought that was rather quaint!
At dinner, we mostly chatted and then the live band came on, and the dance floor opened up! And everyone donned pink feather boas and retro sunglasses and danced away to some awesome rockin' music! Wooohooo!
We also flew into Buffalo to spend an early Christmas with the family. We had a BIG CHRISTMAS TREE!!! Complete with dozens of packages in all sizes wrapped in happy Christmas paper underneath it! Ooh Scott and I must've gotten most of the boxes I felt like a very lucky kid! Thank you to Dad and Mom and Grandmas and Chris and Julie for the many presents for Scott and I!
Christmas Tree all the way up the the ceiling!
Buffalo was snow-white everywhere, with about a foot of snow. Early mornings we spot deer tracks in the snow, and looking out the kitchen one midnight, there was a big deer chomping on our bushes right outside the window!
Dad driving through the snow in his John Deer
We visited with hubs' cousin, Mark, who owns a hot-air balloon-flying business, one of those big ones fired by propane that you climb into a basket and fly in. We definitely want to go up in one when we have a chance, and fly over Letchworth State Park, where we got married in!
BAJA PENINSULAR, MEXICO
Soon after Christmas, in the quiet pre-dawn hours, we loaded our car with clothes, tents, sleeping bags, scuba gear, cooking pans, and a big jar of Nutella, and set off south on a Mexican adventure. 3 hours later, we were across the border and headed into the deserts of Baja.
We found the camping spot in the desert just before it got dark that same evening - just 100 feet from the Transpeninsular freeway, under the star-crusted sky. No one else was around, except for trucks roaring past the freeway. Setting up the tent was as hard as it got, the wind had kicked up to a howling gale by that time and our car proffered no respite. The tent barely held up under the pounding wind - one of the poles actually snapped. The temperatures had dropped to the 30sF and the two of us huddled together, still freezing under numerous layers of blankets and sweaters. To top it all off, the howling wind drove me half-crazy with irrational thoughts of being bloodily murdered by axe-wielding Mexicans out in the middle of nowhere. I laid awake all night, almost frost-bitten and mentally terrorised. Boy was it a miserable night, neither of us got any sleep at all.
The next morning, it was like a new revelation: the wind had died, the sun was rising. The morning glow lit up the cactus and flowers all around, the air was fresh and cleaned out by the morning dew, there was such stillness and quiet you could hear your heart beat by beat.
The rest of the trip we decided to convince the manager of a 5-star resort to let us set up camp on their beautiful green lawn, under a grapefruit tree laden with harvest. When we did not camp, we booked ourselves into a motel and took a shower.
One of the intended highlights of the trip was a whale-watching boat trip. Well, we did spot a couple of grey whales, but it was hard to get up close and personal. I guess I wasn't being really realistic when I thought we could actually go up and pet them, like we see on all brochures and commercials. For one, it's against the protection of endangered mammals law to touch these whales; secondly, we're in a little boat and we could put ourselves in some serious danger should the whales decide to play 'toss-the-dinghy!'.
where are the whales...
Other fun stuff: dives off a beach, a cove off a rocky cliff, and a lighthouse, watched flocks of pelicans dive-bomb for fishes, kayaked to a small island in a beautiful cove, drove for miles across the desert and marveled at the expanse of land and vegetation; often, for as far as the eye could see, there were more cactus than you could shake a stick at; yakked our time away in the car and listened to Metallica, The Gypsy Kings and Michael Buble. As we drove along the Californian gulf, we were awestruck by the beauty of the ocean scenery, it so much reminded us of Hawaii.
Miles and miles through the peninsula, by the end of our Baja adventure, our car tires had gone bald.
photos by hubs!
Once we got home, my very restless and resourceful hubs found cheap tickets to the ecological paradise, Costa Rica; barely a week into unpacking, we were hauling another luggage out to the airport.
Costa Rica was an unforgettable trip - hikes through cloud forests and majestic rainforests, guided walks through ecological sanctuaries, spotting numerous wildlife, listening for bird-calls, hitchhiking, dusty bus rides to our various stops, white-water rafting along the way(this is possibly the most fun thing ever, I even flew out of the raft at one of the rapids! it was totally awesome!!), a village of hippies, coastal hikes, staying in a dream villa on top of a hill overlooking the forests and ocean.
Here are some of the creatures we met:
1. SLOTHS are really hard to spot cos they look nothing more than a ball of.. nothing. You don't even realise they are there, they are a neutral shade of brown and mostly just sleep and don't move at all in the treetops. Apparently, they come down the trees just once a week to defecate, and go right back up.
2. COATIS are in the raccoon family, and we met a couple of individuals - they mostly travel in groups so we reckon these loners got too aggressive, or too fussy.
4. AGOUTIS look like big brown rodents
5. MONKEYS - Spider, Capucine, and you can hear the Howlers for miles around
and many species of butterflies, insects and frogs.
Too many, too exotic, too too beautiful.
hummingbird in flight
Tried as we did, we did not spot the elusive Quetzal, the most beautiful bird in the western hemisphere, and supposedly even more resplendent than a camera could capture.
the Resplendent Quetzal
And I met a(nother) turkey named Penelope.
Both the cloudforests and the rainforests were indescribably lush, tranquil, breath-taking, especially when the sun beams down through the foliage and the forest shines like an epiphany. Up north, we walked through the Monteverde and Santa Elena cloudforests, and took a guided walk at the ecological sanctuary with local expert, Eduardo, looking for everything from leaf-cutter ants to toucans to howlers and sloths. Til now we are still amazed at how Eduardo actually spotted a sloth, sleeping on a tree, through the canopies somewhat 5 miles away! Even through his super telescope, all we could make out was a furry butt.
friendly collared peccari named Charlie
The forests were just magnificent, lush and splendorous with ancient trees, giant ferns, snaking vines....through an intense competition to survive, whether to grow, creep, expand, strangle, usurp, flourish..exhibiting a vigour that makes the whole forest seem to move and come alive. It was better than the Omnimax.
lush green forest
(our guide at Santa Elena, who is also a Biology teacher)
the forest shines in the sunlight
the forest shines in the sunlight
birds singing in the cloud forest
WHITE WATER RAFTING
On our way down south to the Caribbean coast, we hopped into a raft and paddled our way down the River Pacuare. This is my first white-water rafting adventure! but years of dragonboating and rowing have made me quite comfortable with handling the paddle, boy I was SO excited!
There were 6 paddlers and the leader who sat in the back and steered, in addition to shouting out commands, 'Right! Right!! Left! Hard left!! Stop!! Alante Alante!!!' And here we go, paddling with all our might, with water splashing all about, scrambling left or right to avoid getting stuck, smashing into boulders or crashing into rockwalls, flying out of our seats in the boat and barely managing to stay IN the boat. We went through 7 or 8 rapids. At our worst it was like a giant baby getting all excited in the bathtub, at our best it was like a scene out of The River Wild. At one of the rapids called Wildhorse, I actually flew over the guy behind me and out of the boat! I crashed into the water and the current swept me along the boat, but just out of reach of my team. I had a hard-hat on and bobbed nicely in my life-jacket, so although the current was swift and my team was desperately reaching out for me, the world came to slow-motion. I was really on a high. It was such a rush. I blinked and grinned like a fool. I felt happy, very, very happy. I now think my white-water experience would not have been complete without getting thrown out of the raft. I highly recommend it.
Although it was a 5 hour trip, we rested often and allowed the river to carry us forward gently, as we went by soft waterfalls raining down on us, through gorgeous canyons and wide open rocky banks, spotting birds and giving rides to children waiting to cross the river, stopping for a sumptuous lunch, jumping into the fresh cold water for a swim.
When we reached the end of rafting tour, our luggage was there waiting for us, and after a quick shower, we continued on our way to our next destination by the Caribbean coast.
By an immense stroke of luck, we got to stay in a villa that was the stuff of dreams, well my dreams anyway.
THIS is it..ALL of it!! :D
Dream villa in the rainforest (with wireless!)
The villa was in a wonderful place filled with beautiful flowers and fruit trees specially planted for the toucans. Dozens of beautiful toucans flock the grounds in the mornings and late afternoons. Every day, we would spend hours roaming the grounds or just laying back in the deckchairs, watching these beautiful, colourful birds flit from tree to tree, amongst many other exotic birds, big and small, listening to their calls and twitters and songs. From time to time, the howler monkeys also staked their presence by roaring through the forests. Sometimes we felt obliged to return the greetings, and joined in the cacophony. The many sloths that inhabit the trees were always fun to spot. Mostly, they just slept or remained very still. Once or twice we spotted one on the move - it was actually much faster than I'd thought it would be, but maybe in was in a bit of a hurry to get to the next branch of leaves..' bit late fer tea, sir?
chestnut mandible toucan
The owners also had several cats and 2 dogs, a spaniel and a german shepherd, that followed us everywhere we went on foot - through the trail behind the house, to the road as we tried to hitch a ride, as far as they could possibly go. The spaniel was particularly adventurous, disappearing into the trees and bushes for most of the time, and emerging all muddy and happy every few minutes to check us out and promptly disappear into another bush again. The german shepherd was a lot more like the guard dog, and stuck by us closely or scouted the path ahead momentarily with her buddy. They were totally awesome dogs. I think their names were Marley(spaniel) and Jessie. Marley had such a stubby tail that when he tried to wag it, his whole hind quarters waggled. He might have been about ten years old. Jessie was the young one, we reckon around 3 or 4 years old, that loved a good wrestle. The cats mostly cried for food and made a nuisance in the kitchen, crashing a plate or so every now and then.
Wireless internet connection in the middle of the rainforest???!!! Incredible? IN-credible! Unbelievable, UN-be-lieeeeee-vable!!! We HAD to JUMP for JOY!! We even watched episodes of House on FOX.com without a hitch!
The last day was absolutely perfect, it rained all day. After 2 weeks of hiking and exploring, we were more than happy to chill out in the big open villa, watching and listening to the rain, and feeling the cool breeze. It was like our very own sanctuary.
This was a dream villa...we contemplated doing a Ripley on the owners.
atop the continental divide in Monteverde Reserve
Home for the new year!!! YAYYYYY!!! We arrived just in time for the reunion dinner, having been stuck overnight transiting in HK.
It was Scottie's first Chinese New Year celebration! Dinner was at Uncle Freddy's where the entire mom side of the family gathered. We had Lou Hei, which was the usual messy affair, with salad flying all over as we tossed enthusiastically with our chopsticks. We had a huge huge feast of hot pot, with all and every one of the usual suspects - prawns, chicken, beef, lotsa veggies, mushrooms, tofu, abalone, scallops, rolls, braised pork etc etc, and also fishballs, cuttlefish balls, foo chow balls, fishballs, prawn balls, meat balls, vegetarian balls, and more fishballs, did I say fishballs??
We ate til we could eat no more, and we ate some more. I was perfectly happy, but the hubs disapproves of the constant eating, which went on for the next few days as we visited with my dad's side of the family.
After a prolonged dinner, we gave out the Ang Pows. More than the monetary value, this practice is a gesture of blessing and good-will. This is my first year giving out ang pows as a married couple! I experienced a pleasant sense of empowerment to be in the position to say a blessing as I handed out a red packet, and a sense of fulfilment as the ang pow was received with both hands. There is a meaningful connection that is now different from when I was the recipient. I was surprised by how this simple tradition touched me the way it did this time.
My report on Scottie's first CNY experience: He loves Bak Kwa and cashew cookies, and had a lot of fun hanging out with the aunts and uncles, finding out more about Singapore and Asian culture, and also trying to pry into the dating/love lives of my cousins. My cousins have endearingly come to the conclusion that he is quite the 'kay poh', which is marked as a very Singaporean trait.
Grandma: Grandma is in good health with memory lapses, and enjoys the company and gatherings at CNY. New memories may be a problem, but old memories stick like glue. She tells me about her life in China, when Grandpa, whom I never met because he died before I was born, was forcibly enlisted in the communist army in the early years of marriage. When he fell ill in camp, Grandma walked from the wee hours of the morning only to reach the camp in the early evening. She would rent a room with a family and cook for Grandpa, bringing the food to him, because their ration in camp was a watery rice porridge, that provided no nourishment for a sick man. Grandma would bring him the food she cooked, and eat his porridge instead. When he was better, Grandma would walk home. She would make this same journey several times, until the day Grandpa escaped from camp. He ran, hid and dug sweet potato from people's gardens for food. When he finally made it home, Grandma said, he was so filthy he was infested with fleas. These are stories I never had a chance to hear before this, because I didn't make the time to sit in her company.
Grandma speaks only Hokkien and has received no formal education, but she tries her darndest to communicate with the hubs with her best vocalisation of the few English words she has come to learn. Her vocalisation of 'Scott', for example, translates from Hokkien to 'one cent/penny', which makes her laugh. Grandma likes to laugh at Scottie's gibber(as she understands it), or when he flashes her a grin. Grandma has episodes of hysterical laughing, when she laughs so hard tears come into her eyes and her teeth pop out of her mouth. Grandma laughs so hard she's wiping away the tears and putting her hand over her mouth to save her teeth. Everyone in the room can't help but laugh with her, and we all turn into one big silly laughing forum for a while. Scottie, like the rest of us, calls her Ah Ma, and gives her a big hug.
ah-ma chio! :D
We were there to dive, and dive we did - 32 dives for me and 35 for Scottie in 9 days. It was awesome, loved the diving variety, loved the crazy currents, loved the peculiar critters, loved the idyllic cottage-by-the-water we stayed in. Hated the mosquitoes.
The hubs has industriously written out dive reports, so here they are for Bunaken and Lembeh.
And then we are home to sunshiney Santa Monica :D