We had purchased the Melbourne - New York sector of our flights using our Qantas frequent flyer points, and the routing was: Melbourne - Sydney - LA - New York. We worked out that that was about 20 hours of "bums on seats" time, and didn't include the stop overs! One way! The flight over was predominantly fine. The plane food, whilst no gourmet delight, was edible and the movies excellent (you MUST see the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). Add to that that I am a good sleeper on planes, and the time seemed to go rather quickly. Having said that, by the time we hit JFK Airport in New York, we were knackered, so to speak.
Alex's mum, Rocio, and little sister Angie (who isn't so little anymore!) were waiting for us with open arms. They were so glad to see us, and there were hugs all around! Whilst Alex had seen them both in January this year (you may recall that Alex was in the USA), the last time I had seen them both was in August of 2006, when Alex and I began our 16 month around the world trip. It was great to all be back together again. On the ride back home there was lots of laughter, chatting and story swapping. I was so happy to see Alex reunited with his family again, as I know how much it means to him.
We were blessed with a gorgeous springtime climate, with daily temperatures of between 19 and 23 degrees celcius, and virtually no rain, which was great ( I know, I wouldn't be saying this in Australia!) Jeans and t-shirt weather. We would be spending a fraction under two weeks here, and as always, time was not enough. Not that I ever feel that it is. There is always so much to do, and catch up on. Our first night was spent relaxing, eating Alex's mum's home-cooked Ecuadorian food, and catching up on.......everything! Needless to say, we went to bed in the early hours of the morning, despite the fact that Alex's mum had to get up at 4.00am the next morning to go work!
We spent the first few days hanging around the apartment, relaxing and not doing much at all. Alex had worked up until the night before we left, and I had caught some chesty bug on the plane which had me coughing and wheezing (and.....shock horror.....I virtually lost my voice!) No, luckily no Pig Flu! After a few days, we figured it was time to step out into the concrete jungle. New York, New York! Where does one start? In the centre of course! And the centre would be? Times Square! Wow! Good wow or bad wow, that is the question! Full-on, information overload, crowded with people, flashing digital (I almost wrote neon!) advertisements of every colour and description, frantic energy......just some of the words, I would use to describe this hub of activity. I found it to be a veritable "Consumerism on Steroids"! The who's who of any brand that was worth anything in the 21st century were all screaming, Look at me, Look at me!" Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Panasonic, Swatch, Sony, only to name a few. Right amongst all of this the famous Naked Cowboy was struttin' his stuff. Who's is the Naked Cowboy, you ask? Some long blonde haired American dude, who wears only his white jocks, cowboy boots, hat and strums a guitar. Go figure! (For you Harry, OIFA!!!!!!!!!) But let me tell you, the gals, local and foreign alike, were loving him!
Alex and I sat down close by and people watched as we ate our home-made lunch. Amazing! It really is a jungle out there, and the variety of animals phenomenal! (We even saw a "Naked Cow-girl!). There is a hype and a buzz that is quite indescribable. Having said that, Alex and I felt that we had to get out! The messages, both subliminal and overt, in relation to what we should buy or be seen with were overwhelming. We walked away, as the chaos continued behind us. The Big Apple is bigger than ever. Take the word bigger in whatever way you wish! It's no big secret that New York is not my favourite place on earth (nor Alex's), but as a friend said to me, "Maybe you've just got so much to compare it to!" True!
New York shopping? What can I say...unless you want brand and label stuff (and Alex and I both categorically refuse to wear labelled clothing on ethical grounds), I don't feel that it really has any more to offer than the likes of Melbourne, especially if you live next door to Ms Shopper of the Century, aka Lizzie Leveridge. Lizzie can show you a better bargain than anything you can find in New York! True! Seriously, it's just that Alex and I don't get off on browsing a street lined with Tiffany's, Versace or Gucci and friends, let alone buying their overpriced products, which needless to say are made in China! A little aside here: In Australia, I bought a little stuffed multi-coloured kangaroo for my new little nephew, Thomas, in Ecuador. I had to laugh when I saw where it was made. It read, "Designed in Melbourne, Australia. Hand-crafted in China". Translation, "Made in China"!!!! Let's call a spade a spade! Whose scab labour are we paying for?!
OK back to New York. As an observer, I was also taken aback by the amount of truly obese people, and more to the point, really obese children. Having said that, I have always said that I find American food to be rather unhealthy. Either too much fat, too much sugar, or both! I was bringing snacks from home when we would go out for the day, as the street food just wasn't calling out to me. It looked and smelt like heart-attack material.
A highlight of my time in New York, was catching up with some very dear friends of mine. First with Kobie, Liz and Daniel, and then Joanne, Mike, Alex and Irene.
Kobie is a very, very special friend of mine who I have known for practically half of my life. She is Australian, but has lived in the States (Massachusetts) for years, with her partner, Liz. The last time I saw them both was in August 2006, only months after their little baby Daniel, was born, when I stayed with them in their house. This time, they all came to New York, where the three of us stayed in a hotel, close to the city centre, with Daniel. It was wonderful just hanging out and reconnecting after such a long time. During the day, we would go out and do fun things like walk around Central Park, or other parts of the city, and at night, after Liz and Daniel would go to sleep, Kobie and I would stay up and talk into the early hours of the morning. We only had a couple of days together, but they were so special: full of laughter, tears and re-connecting. Alex did not stay with us, but on the Sunday, he and Angie met us at Central Park, so Kobie, Liz and Daniel were able to briefly catch up with him too.
Catching up with Joanne and her family was also a highlight. We spent a day with her, husband Mike, and son Alex out in Brentwood, Long Island. I met Joanne some 18 years ago, after I had worked on a summer camp in Indiana, in the USA. I remember it clearly; it was in Colorado Springs. We struck up a friendship immediately, and the rest is the proverbial history! After meeting her that first time, I even went back and stayed with her. Hey, she offered, and I accepted. For those of you that know me well, you would also know that if I say, "I will come and see you", that I truly will. I am a woman of my word! Since then I have only seen Joanne a couple of times, but our bond defies both time and distance. I without a doubt, consider Joanne to be one of my most valued friends.
Back at Joanne's house.......we spent a brilliant day, catching up whilst ploughing through the "smorgasbord" that Mike had prepared for us. Despite the fact that Mike is an exceptionally warm, intelligent and kind-hearted individual, he is also a brilliant cook. Go on Mike, show America how it's done! Without a doubt, some of the best food I had on this trip in the USA. We started with bruschetta, prawns, corn chips, potato chips and Mike's own home made tzatziki, and later followed up with a range of barbecued meat, sausages and veggies. Yum, yum, yum!!!! Of course, it wasn't all about the food! Another surprise that day, was a visit by Irene. Irene is a friend of Joanne's whom I met 18 years ago, but had not seen since. I thought that Irene looked just the same....Irene commented, however, that I no longer "looked like a kid"...after all, I was in my early 20s when I met her! It was only a day, but proof that life really is about quality and not quantity! Neither time nor distance can ever take away what we hold dear to our hearts!
Apart from those few getaways, our time was spent with Alex's mum and Angie, and some of her friends, like Isabel, Adolfo, Betty and Samantha. Many a night were spent with Rocio (Alex's mum), Alex and I chatting and swapping stories. There is always so much to chat about, but never enough time. Unfortunately, Rocio was unable to take time off work, so we had to do the best with the time we had. In addition, getting up at 4.00am is no mean feat! (That's the time that Alex's mum usually gets up for work). We really hope that she will be able to come out and visit us some time soon. We skyped the family in Ecuador several times, so we were also getting excited that we would soon be seeing all of them too!
And so, our time had promptly come to an end. Having said that, 12 days are barely enough! Part 2 of our trip would be almost three weeks in Ecuador. As we had organised our Melbourne-New York return trip using our frequent flyer points, we had to purchase the New York-Quito return trip in addition. Thus, after flying to Quito, we would have to come back for a night (where we would stay with Angie and Rocio again), before flying back out to Melbourne. Mind you, whilst we flew into JFK Airport (in NY) from Melbourne, we flew out of La Guardia Airport (also in NY) to Quito. Again, we then flew back to La Guardia Airport from Quito, to then have to fly out of JFK to finally get back to Melbourne! Confused? Join the club! You can add jet lag to that confusion too, but more on that later!
Soon we we were off. My favourite continent, South America, awaited!
It wasn't really that hard to say goodbye, as we knew that we would be coming back, if only for a night!
PS Scroll down to the bottom of this blog to see a video of some guys dancing in a train, as we were travelling from Quens to Manhattan!
Dedication: This is for Kobie and Joanne. Thanks for being such wonderful people, and such special friends. Both of you have touched my life in an indescribable way, and I am a better person for knowing you. Both of you hold a very special place in my heart. Joanne, you know that I will come out and see you again. Kobie, I cannot wait to see you, Lizzie and Daniel in Australia this October!
A few words from some of my friends:
"NY is the cross roads of our materialistic world. Maybe you don't feel challenged when you are there. Make the most of it, goto a quirky comedy club or try to get tickets to David Letterman. I know it isn't the same as the beautiful people that we met and stayed with in Panama! ........ I am still in Hawaii. Have fun!!" - (You know us all too well Paco! Alex and I met Robert "Paco" Steinke in Panama in 2007, where we continued to travel together for several months. Paco is from Alaska......we love you Paco!)
"Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless" - Sinclair Lewis (1885 - 1951)
(Photos: 1.-New York taxi. So, who looks relaxed? 2.-View of New York, taken on train, coming from Queens. 3.-Alex, Angie and his mum, Rocio, taken outside their apartment, in Queens. 4.-Times Square, New York. 5.-The Naked Cowboy, Times Square, New York. 6.-His rival....the almost Naked Cowgirl, Times Square. 7.- So, who IS the trophy? Please explain! 8.- L to R: Kobie, Liz and Daniel, New York. 9.- L to R: Daniel, Alex, Angie and her dog, Juicy, in Central Park, New York. 10.- Ombi and Joanne relaxing in her backyard, Brentwood, Long Island, New York. 11 - Mike, the Master Chef! 12.- Alex and his mum. 13.- Trains running less frequently during peak times in Manhattan....and that would be......Derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 14.- Kobie, Ombi and Daniel being silly! 15.- This kiss is for you Paco...gotta luv those shoes! Quirky enough?!) 16.- Below is a video of some guys dancing on a train we caught between Queens and Manhattan.)