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Postcards From The Edge

A picture tells a thousand words, right? Well, let’s hope so. Because I’ve run out of words! I’ve been talking so much these last few weeks that I am literally losing the ability to expel new words from inside of me.

So what I’ve decided to do is dazzle you all with the photos we’ve been taking – ones that have missed the cut so far, and not made it onto Facebook or the blog. Partially this is because I don’t post photos as often as I should, and partially it’s because I take pictures of really weird sh*t that amuses me, and somehow it doesn’t seem nearly as funny five days later when I find the photos…

It’s a context thing. That’s my excuse.

So in celebration of that, I will attempt to give you a brief context for each picture. You may even gain some insight into the inner workings of my mind… in which case, BEWARE! It’s not a particularly wholesome environment in there…

Paperwork

I’d like to begin with a salute to the sheer amount of paperwork I brought with me on this trip. Having struggled to get into the US a few times before (see ‘Don’t Need The Whole Dog!’, for example) I needed to make SURE they couldn’t refuse us. So I bribed the boss at work in Perth for a letter saying we’d be coming back, I printed out bank statements, offers of accommodation from 200+ people, our schedule, our flights, our train tickets, the receipt for the car we were buying… even a screen grab of my Spider book at the top of the charts, in case they had any doubts about what I was up to here.
And you know what? The bastards didn’t look at a single page of the stuff. So I’m including this picture to illustrate the anguish I felt when I had to abandon all this in a nameless motel room, on the grounds that it was making my rucksack over a kilo heavier. DAMN IT!!! (The many hours all this took to create is part of the reason why the rest of this trip is so badly organised…)

Shower slimed

And this is what I mean by taking photos of weird sh*t. This is actually the results of a slight accident I had whilst taking one of my first showers in the USA. I slipped (I’m known to do that) – and I liberally decorated the walls in shampoo in the process. This amused me, of course, because I have the mind of a twelve-year-old boy. (It’s in a box in the car). What amused me even more is that I refused to clean it off, and left it for the cleaners to find the next day. I like to think I was giving them a laugh, too. Or spreading the love, as I call it 😉

What Road?

Next we have a road sign we passed on the way to Las Vegas. I know it’s the middle of the desert, but come on! Someone was taking the piss when he named this road. I can just see him putting it forward to his very bored superiors, and them cracking up over the thought of people trying to pronounce it…

Large Mantis

Next up is this rather large preying mantis sculpture, which we discovered on the far end of Fremont Street in Vegas. It’s over 40 feet long, articulated, and it blows fire from its antennae. Well, of course it does! This is, after all, Las Vegas. But the weirdest thing was being told by the giant mantis, in a Star Trek-style computer voice, to “Take lots of selfies, and upload them to Instagram,”. Whilst blasting massive gouts of fire from its deely boppers to reinforce the point. If you’ve never been commanded to take selfies by a 40-foot tall fire-breathing mantis, then clearly you’ve never been to Vegas…

Down Sign

Next we have a rather self-explanatory shot from my Amusing Signage folder. Does it surprise anyone that I have an amusing signage folder? Really? Anyway, this one had me in stitches – quite possibly because I was very drunk at the time – but I’d LOVE to know who decided that the direction ‘down’ was so confusing to customers that it needed pictorial explanation. Roo had to physically restrain me to prevent me adding, “No shit??” in biro. My poor stupid head is already abuzz with potential Facebook memes for this one… anyone else want to have a crack?

Bowl of Baby Heads

Here we have a photo I call ‘Bowl of Baby Heads’ – for reasons far too complicated to explain. Suffice to say, I found this selection of decapitated dolls’ heads for sale in possibly the best Antiques Store I’ve ever been in, in Astoria, Oregon. In terms of Halloween decorations, this is right up there with those severed limbs you can get for hanging out of your car boot – but personally, I’d just like to have this sitting around on the coffee table, as a conversation piece. Or stopper. Imagine showing in guests… I’ve never wanted a house-warming party so much in my life! Or a house, come to think of it.

Alas Poor Yorik

“Alas, poor Yorik!” What can I say? The frustrated actor in me just couldn’t help it.

Not Dairy

Next we have something far more scary than a bowl of baby heads! It’s the ‘milk’ they provided at a hotel buffet, for putting into my coffee. I damn near did it, too, before realising that it was ‘Not a Dairy product.’ But… WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS IT, THEN? A closer inspection reveals it to be a concoction of soybean oil, corn syrup, three kinds of acids, four kinds of salt, and ‘Artificial Colors’ for good measure. So, much healthier than that awful cow’s milk crap people have been drinking for decades! Honestly, why do we even need dairy in our diet, when we can so easily replace it with man-made chemicals? Perhaps all those non-dairy folks have got the right idea after all. I mean, compared to the shocking and well-known side effects of drinking milk, what possible harm can come of replacing it with this?

Anyway. Because this blog has mostly been me moaning about or laughing at the general stupidity of this world, here’s a bit of relief from all that, in the form of one of Roo’s photos. Because they say you should always end on something cute. Well, assuming something cute will still let you, if you’re so close to the end…

Anyway! Enough of such nonsense. Here’s a racoon. Enjoy! And don’t forget to leave your comments in the box that’s named after ’em  😛

Love from Tony.

Racoon

Leaving Las Vegas

Right, where were we?

Next stop was on our grand USA adventure was Death Valley Junction. We checked into the only motel anywhere near there, finding it delightfully knackered and ‘quaint’. The ladies who ran the place were very friendly, but as we were leaving the next day they were reporting a guest to the police. An older man, staying in one room with a young girl – when the cleaners went in, they found her long hair had all been cut off and left in the sink… Definitely something strange going on there!

Death Valley Motel 1

We spent that evening exploring some awesomely creepy abandoned buildings over the road. This was an activity Roo called ‘testing the low-light capabilities of my new phone’ and I called ‘breaking into shit’. We’ve since agreed to call it ‘Urban Exploring’ – and to do lots more of it 😉 

Death Valley Buildings

In Death Valley we had a slight mishap. Roo wanted to get a closer look at Twenty Mule Canyon, so veered off the road onto what she thought was a lay-by. In fact it turned out to be a one-way 4×4 track, which we ended up following for 20 minutes, along a crazily twisting, narrow rocky track. Eventually we came to a steep slope down, covered in sand and gravel, bristling with hairpin bends between rough outcrops of rock…

“Uh… No friggin’ WAY!” we said in unison, and Roo managed to turn the car around and head back – praying the whole while that nothing would come the other way. As we made it back to the road, we noticed a VERY SMALL warning sign, suggesting this might not have been the best track to follow…

Warning Sign

By the time we arrived at Badwater Basin, the lowest (and hottest) spot in the continental US, the sun had already set. Which was probably for the best, as it was still 118 degrees F (48 degrees C) – at 8pm!

We walked out onto the salt flats, and I had to find out whether or not it really WAS salt.

Licking Salt

It was!

And it was rough, too – I even cut my tongue 🙁

Still – one hell of a beautiful, desolate place. Roo couldn’t help herself!

Badwater Basin Sunset

See? Told ya so 😉

Our next reader visit was Dave in Simi Valley, just north of Hollywood. Dave and his daughter (and her boyfriend) took us on an epic hike into the hills, looking for a hidden cave full of graffiti artwork, where sometimes there are giant ropes nets to hang out in.

Simi Cave

The ropes were gone, but due to a slight wardrobe malfunction, I did enough hanging out for all of us… particularly for Dave, who was walking directly behind me. He now sees my flabby white bum-cheek every time he closes his eyes…

Split Shorts

By the sight of mine ass, thou shalt remember me…

Sorry Dave!

The next exciting event in our lives was the arrival of our car – which we still haven’t decided on a name for! All suggestions gratefully accepted 😉

The car, a bright red Nissan Versa, cost us a staggering $10,000!!!

And no, before you ask – I don’t have ten thousand dollars. Not even close. So I bought this car entirely on a credit card, and am very much hoping that when we sell it, I’ll be able to pay the card off. Otherwise it’ll be beans on toast for dinner when we get back to Perth. For at least a decade…

Beepi Car

As we travel around the US, I’m planning on doing talks about my books, about writing, about self-publishing, and about traveling in general, to writer’s groups, university classes, in pubs… anywhere they don’t shut me up quick enough!

My first try was at Anacapa Brewing Company in Ventura, organised by Lily, one of my first readers. It was a rip-roaring success, with a sell-out crowd of almost ten people…

It was the perfect opportunity for me to practise my patter without the stress of a large audience. I promised to talk until people started throwing fish – luckily, they weren’t serving fish that night, so I managed to get through my entire act.

First talk

My notes guided me through, and were written several minutes before the talk on a piece of cardboard that Roo tore off a box. People sometimes ask how it’s possible to be so unbelievably crap at organising things, and now I can cheerfully point to Roo and say, “Well, that’s HER job…”

Speech notes

Yes – that’s the box from a Star Wars windscreen cover my speech is written on…

We had a pleasant stay in Ventura, running on the beach with Lily’s dogs. Evidently there’d been some kind of party there the night before – ever feel like you’ve just missed out on something truly weird?

Beach Chair

And there are these cool little tunnels under the highway. I REALLY wanted to come back an explore some of them with a head torch, but apparently the homeless people who live in them can be a bit rude to visitors…

Creepy Tunnel

And on that note, I’ll end yet another update! I’m struggling to find much time for blog writing, what with all the homeless people’s tunnels I’m invading (amongst other activities) – but I promise to get the next one up soon 😉

 

Catch you in a few days!

Tony

USA Take Two!

Hi folks!

So, some of you may have noticed that I have a new book out!

Shave My Spider Cover

I know, I know. FINALLY! Yes, well, after taking me almost a year to write, ‘Shave My Spider!’ turned out to be a monster at over 180,000 words. That doesn’t seem to have deterred people though, and at the moment, over a month after its release, ‘Spider’ is still hanging in there at no.1 in all its Amazon categories.

Bestseller Screen Shot

Look! Proof! Because no-one believes me when I say this stuff!

Now, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the book ends with my death Roo’s brilliant idea that we should go to America, visit some of our readers, and explore as much of the place as possible.

Aha! The eagle-eyed amongst you may recognise this proposal as the genesis of my now-infamous Secret Plan™ which I blogged about HERE.

And a damn fine plan it was! Alas, real life intervened in the most horrible way possible, and we ended up not making that trip. On the upside, we did get to spent five months playing with my two tiny nieces, Hazel and Holly!

Holly Hazel Combo

Hazel, ready for her digger lesson, and Holly wondering why she’s been christened Baby Spice…

And now, almost exactly a year after we originally planned to invade America, we’re almost ready to try again.

So – once more, this is my rallying cry! If any of you American types fancy hosting Roo and myself for a pair of nights, feeding us a bit, and listening to me waffle on about the adventures too boring to make it into the books – here’s what to do:

  • PLEASE DO send me an email! Last time it got SO complicated, with people replying on blog comments, Facebook posts, private messages and emails to 3 different addresses, that a strange, mucus-like substance started dripping from my ears… That’s almost never a good thing, so emails, please, to: Tony@TonyJamesSlater.com
  • PLEASE DON’T offer us a place to stay if you just want to eat us and wear our skin. You know who you are! Unfortunately I don’t, so this is bound to happen at least once…
  • This is where the plan gets so sneaky you could put a wig on it and let it run for president: I’d like to spread the word about my books in each place I visit. That way I might actually sell a few, and we’ll be able to afford to eat when we get back to Australia! So please let me know if there’s a local paper or radio station that might be interested in doing an interview, or a local library, book club or college that might let me do a talk. Eventually I’ll have to ask you to get in touch with them, because if I do it they call it ‘advertising’, and try to charge me for it… But for now I’m just keen to know what the options are  🙂
  • Also, let me know if there’s anything cool, unique or interesting we’ll be able to do/see/fall off/accidentally damage near you. Ideally not expensive attractions, as Roo and I tend to travel on a pretty minuscule budget. Likewise, fine dining is out I’m afraid – well, unless you’re willing to pick up the tab!
  • AND THAT’S IT! Once I have a big list of people and places, I’ll whittle it down by… ah… trial by combat? A day-long rock-paper-scissors marathon? Honestly, I dunno. I’ll figure something out. Last time it took me three weeks to do it – which coincidentally is exactly how long we have before our flight to LA…

I do still have a list of folks who offered to let us stay the last time I asked. You’ll all be getting an email from me to check that you haven’t come to your senses! Feel free to reply with creative excuses. I won’t mind – after all, you hadn’t read about our Asia trip when you made those offers…

Oh, and you might want to check your insurance will cover this visit.

Nah, I’m only kidding!

It definitely won’t.

😉

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Tony

Book Five Progress Update

Welcome back blog readers, and apologies for the incredibly long wait between posts! Sometimes real life gets in the way of travel and blogging and stuff, so we will ease back into it with a short one  🙂

Tony has been furiously working on his fifth book for the last few months – in fact, he started this book at the same time as the fourth one, but soon realized that six months in Asia AND a wedding were simply too much for one book to handle! (To be honest, it’s still a bit too long at just over 150,000 words – but we did have some pretty crazy adventures in those six months!)

Some of you may have seen the sneaky-leaks about the title of book five, but in case you haven’t, here it is:

Shave My Spider

Yes, I know this is a weird title for a book, but let’s be honest – most of the content is a little crazy too. My advice: expect the unexpected!

Orangutang Toy

Here is a little teaser of something that will be on the front cover…Anyone have any ideas what it could possibly be?  🙂 

Tony is a perfectionist, so unfortunately his books can take a lot longer to be completed. For example, he has been known to stare at a sentence for hours on end, and change just one little word… only to change it back hours later! (Yes, this is frustrating… so I am withholding wine and bacon in these situations 🙂 )

However, I feel like it pays off sometimes – like in this brilliant turn of phrase he uses while we are in China:

China Book Text

Six months of travel has been hard to fit into one book, but Tony has selected the weirdest and most amusing adventures to include. Now, to whet your appetite, I will share some photos of our time in Asia – and leave you with the promise that the book will be available by the 15th of May 2016!

(It better be, or I will be having stern words with Mr Slater 😆 )

Tony at Preah Vihear Temple

Tony holding up the walls of Preah Vihear Temple in Cambodia.

We have also started up a professional Instragram account at @AdventureWithoutEnd and we have a personal one each @TonyJamesSlater and @Kristaroo85 which we will update regularly with photos of our adventures.

 

Vicky holding Golden Eagle

My sister Vicky holding a stunning Mongolian Golden Eagle!

 

Roo on the Great Wall of China

One of the highlights of our travels in China was our 3 hour hike along the Great Wall of China….which truly is GREAT! 😛

Mongolian Horse and Cart.

We caught a lift with this lovely Mongolian horseman to the local bus stop.

Tony with Mongolian Horse

Tony with his rather small Mongolian Horse – Lets just say these saddles are NOT built for tall westerners or long distance riding…

Tony climbing Hua Shan Stairs

This was the highlight of Tonys trip to China – Climbing the infamous Hua Shan Stairs!

Orangutang

Handsome young Orangutan at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Borneo.

Red Panda

We had to wait ages for this little Red Panda to come out at the Chengdu Panda Base in China.

Also, recently Tony received his 800th review on Amazon.com, which is absolutely amazing, and humbling, and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for your support.

Until next time!

Roo

x x xx  😉

The Twizy Experience

Roo has always had an obsession with small things. Sometimes I think that’s why she married me gets so excited about hamsters. Ahem.

In China, we spotted THIS:

Chinese Bubble Bike

And Roo was besotted. She talked about the weird bubble-bike-thingumy for days, eventually mapping out a grand adventure all around Australia in one – or possibly in two, seeing as how they weren’t big on luggage space. Or big period. She ranted on to anyone who would listen about converting the bikes to solar energy, getting sponsorship from a big solar company, and doing the whole expedition for some charity or other.

Anyway, we were stymied in our efforts to import a pair of bubble bikes because neither of us speak Chinese… and, well, to be honest, importing vehicles did seem a bit grown up for us.

And then Roo saw the Twizy.

Twizy at ASDA

It was parked outside our local supermarket, and I couldn’t drag her past it. The owner came out with his shopping, saw us staring, and said, “Oi! You lookin’ at my Twizy?”

To which a variety of responses occurred, but fearing bloodshed was imminent, I simply said, “Ah, yes.”

“Well come on then!” he beamed. And before long we were sitting inside, as he explained some of the more peculiar features, like clip-in windows and the immensely long power cable that is fitted with a regular UK-style 3-pin domestic plug. “Charge it anywhere!” he explained, which was good as the thing could only go about 40 miles before it ground to a halt. “But perfect for about-town driving!” he enthused.

So, not ideal for a month-long sojourn across the Aussie outback then, I realised – although town driving would surely come with its own challenges. Particularly in England, where kids tend to throw bricks at things they don’t like.

But then we picked up a free magazine – in the same supermarket where we’d first spotted the Twizy – and inside was an article about an exciting scheme only 3 hours south of us; the New Forest Twizy Hire experience!

Row of Twizys

To say Roo was excited… well, let’s just say she had to be restrained for her own safety.

And so, with our time left in England rapidly diminishing, and a whole host of things still to do – like packing, visiting friends, writing books – we instead opted to ignore all that crap in favour of navigating our way to the New Forest, in search of a mini-adventure. I haven’t seen Roo so excited since we got married… no, scratch that – since her hamsters arrived, a year before the wedding.

roo in twizy

From here on, I’ll let the video do the talking. We’re trying to do more filming of stuff as we travel around, and the result will inevitably be more of this kind of rubbish – Video Blogs, as all the cool kids are calling them. Or, “Why do I sound like such a goon?” as Roo calls them. Personally, I can’t stop looking at the size of my nose. Good God, if the camera adds 5lbs, that’s where all mine went!

Oh, a few things I should mention: we’d planned on camping the night after hiring the Twizy. Suffice to say, we didn’t.

The company doing the hiring had recently gone bust, and all the Twizy’s had been bought up by the boss of a VW camper hire place – you English types can get hold of them on: 01590 624066.

And in case it isn’t obvious from the video, we had an absolute blast!  🙂

An Unexpected Journey

Roo and I have been back in England for a couple of weeks now, and I still haven’t managed to write anything about our month in Wanaka. I guess because the memory is still so sharp; our time there was, to misquote a popular novel, the best of times and the worst of times.

Well, mostly the worst.

As many of you may know, the reason that Roo and I changed our plans at the last minute and flew to New Zealand was because Chris, my sister Gill’s husband, was starting to lose the battle against pancreatic cancer.

Chris Ice CreamIt’s hard to believe that less than six months ago I was writing a book about his wedding; he wore blue, insisted that I wore blue too, and looked like the happiest man alive as he stood next to Gill in the gardens of Polquhorn Fort in Cornwall, and said “I do.”

Gills Wedding

Gill and Chris – as happy as I’ve ever seen either of them.

And now… well, six weeks ago we laid him to rest in a wickerwork casket, in a narrow plot in Wanaka cemetery. Chris passed away on the 29th of May, aged just 38 – leaving behind not just my sister, but their two beautiful daughters, Hazel and Holly, aged 18 months and two months.

Even now, as I sit here writing this, tears are falling freely onto my keyboard. That’s been happening a lot lately; I might have to invest in some kind of rain cover for my laptop…

Anyway, it’s not like me to be so doom-and-gloom, and I’ve always prided myself on finding the positive in every situation. And here in Wanaka, the positive is impossible to ignore – it’s all around me, everywhere I look.

Because Wanaka is, beyond shadow of a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Wanaka Beauty

It’s beautiful alright – this is the view from our hostel. Which is in the centre of town.

Even Chris has a spectacular view. If I had to spend eternity contemplating one particular vista, well, I could do a lot worse.

Graveyard View

We laid Chris to rest overlooking the town where his girls live, and the mountains he spent his life on.

We’ve visited Wanaka before, of course. Back then Hazel was just a baby, and Wanaka was in the grip of a deadly epidemic – of drive-by knitting?!?!!? It’s still the town’s biggest mystery – no-one knows who is responsible, or when they will strike.

Knitted Tree

Random bits of the town are regularly discovered wrapped in colourful knitting. Truth!

That kind of says it all about Wanaka. It’s a placid place, like something out of a fairy-tale; stupendous mountains, incredible scenery, friendly folk, healthy and wholesome almost to a fault. People here don’t lock their doors. Even when they go on holiday. It would be a thieves’ paradise… except, there aren’t any thieves. Which is ironic, really, as it’s one of the most expensive places on Earth to live!

And the only downside? Well, other than a loaf of bread costing $5? The town is the central hub for three of New Zealand’s most popular ski resorts. So every winter, scores of penniless ski bums just like Gill and Chris show up, taking jobs on the mountains and living anywhere they can – three to a room, sleeping on floors, in vans, in garden sheds… and the town becomes party central for the next six months solid.

So, you know, major bummer  🙂 

Wanaka Dawn

They get plenty of snow here – this is the view we woke up to on our second morning in Wanaka.

Yes, it’s fair to say, I like it here. As for Roo, well… if you’ve read anything about our time in Canada, you’ll know that anything even remotely involving snow turns Roo into an eight-year-old.

Roo Kissing Snowman

Obviously I wanted to make a giant sculpture of a penis, and leave it in the middle of the park – but Roo demanded we make something she could kiss.

Gill and Chris had just bought a new house when we arrived, so we moved into it on their behalf. Predictably, I broke at least one thing per day, so that by the time Gill set foot in the place there was already a lengthy maintenance list…

Broken Shower

Welcome to your new house Gill! Here’s your shower door handle…

Broken Knife

I have no idea how I broke this knife. Just don’t know my own strength, I guess…

Broken Table

And I’m sure this table isn’t supposed to look like that… I also broke a shelf in the fridge 🙁

I try to take something, some message or life-lesson, from everyone I know who passes on. From Chris, I have taken a timely reminder of something which is all too easy to forget, especially for a struggling, self-published author.

Chris wasn’t about money, not in the least. He was happiest fixing skis, barely scraping by, and many times stated that life was not about abstract concepts like success, or the accumulation of wealth.

It was about fun. That was why he left a promising career in genetics to spend his life ski-bumming around the world, earning sub-minimum wage, and loving his life in the snow, and his growing family.

So the next time I find myself obsessively checking my sales, or carefully weighing out the financial cost of an adventure, I’ll remember this: life is too damn short to be stingy.

You never know, ladies and gentlemen, whether or not you’ll live to spend it, so take a piece of advice from me, and – posthumously – from one of the cleverest people I’ve ever known: enjoy what you’ve got, while you’ve got it. Money is only as good as the enjoyment you can get out of it, so squeeze every last drop of fun from those pennies! Because you never know when it’ll be too late.

Mum Sky Dive

Grab life by the balls! This is my Mum, doing her first sky-dive – at 62 years old. Apparently, it’s never too late!

Anyway, to conclude the tale, we all retreated to England to spend some time together as a family, helping Gill with the girls and hopefully giving her a safe space to grieve. It was a fairly daunting prospect – taking one baby and one toddler on a series of long-haul flights totalling over 24 hours in the air – but amazingly, we came through it all unscathed. It wasn’t until after we’d landed in Heathrow Airport that Hazel decided to projectile-vomit, Exorcist style, emptying her stomach of everything she’d eaten since we left Singapore. Made a fair mess of the landing gate, I can tell you.

Happy Holly

Baby Holly, on the other hand, rather enjoyed the flight!

But we did it! And now here we are, in England! Facing the same journey back again in just over six weeks’ time… Like I said – life’s all about the fun  🙂

And while we’re on the subject of fun, I’d like to take this chance to invite everyone else who is in England to a ski-event we’re holding in Chris’s memory. It will be at Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre on the 29th August, from 8-10pm, and we’ll be raising money for pancreatic cancer research. The plan is to try and make 1977 runs down the ski slope (Chris’s birth year), so we’ll need all the help we can get. Entrance costs £40, including 2 hours on the slopes, ski/snowboard gear hire and a meal at the restaurant. Non-skiers are welcome, and there’ll be a sledging slope set up for a bit of fun. Let me know if you fancy coming along! And for anyone who’d like to contribute without getting their asses cold and wet*, Gill has set up a Just Giving page – all proceeds go directly to Pancreatic Cancer UK:

https://www.justgiving.com/robinsonskichallenge

Hope to see you there!

*Snowboarders have to sit down at the top to fasten their boards on. This is why my ass gets wet, NOT because I’m so afraid that I pee myself – no matter what you may have heard.

Leaving Nova Scotia

So, the time has come to leave our little bolt-hole in Nova Scotia, Canada. We’re flying out to New Zealand, postponing our US trip slightly for personal reasons. We’ve really enjoyed our time here in the Bay of Fundy – home of the world’s highest tides, and… um… ah…

No, sorry, that’s it.

But man, is it ever beautiful!

Nova Scotia Cabin

When we arrived, the whole place was still buried under a thick blanket of snow – much to Roo’s delight. She set about building a snowman, then hollowing out a snow cave… you know, the kind of stuff that non-Australians generally get out of their system by age 10.

Roo Snowman

Meanwhile, I settled in to write about Asia. It was a little odd, filling my head with scenes of steaming jungles and sprawling concrete metropolises – only to look out of the window at the pristine snow every time a car drove past our cabin. Which happened roughly three times per day…

Nova Scotia Deer

We had plenty of other visitors though!

Most days, we took a stroll down to the beach – a rugged and dramatic location, the sand black beneath the white snow, and strewn with boulders and great chunks of ice. An awesome place for photographs; sunbathing, not so much.

Icy Beach

Overlooking the beach was (and still is) my favourite house in the area – a delightful little cottage with a bay window and panoramic views over the bay. Snow ramped up, covering the front door, and we could tell that no-one had visited the cottage in months. It was obviously a holiday home, and one I was rather jealous of.

Port Greville Cottage View

In a tantalising twist, we happened to be walking past it again a few days ago – just in time to spot a real estate agent, taking photos of the place. The owner had taken ill, and put it on the market; “Needs a bit of redecorating,” he admitted, “but it’s in great shape!”

Port Greville Cottage

The price? $98,000. That’s Canadian dollars, by the way – putting the UK market value at a tad under £50,000. (It’s HERE if you’re interested!)

“It’s the view,” the lady who runs the local shop told me. “Any house with a view like that shoots right up in price.”

She was right – a quick check of the estate agent’s website revealed a house on 7.5 acres for sale nearby – for $30,000 (£15k). That’s the price of a decent car in Australia…

And speaking of the shop, there is just the one; a tiny place that sells bread, milk, eggs… and not much else. Not much of those either, to be honest – in the last two months we’ve bought three cartons of eggs from them, all from the same batch. They expired shortly before we bought the first lot, and by the time I bought the last pack I had to point out to the owner that I was now paying full price for eggs that were two entire months out of date. She apologised, and nipped out the back – returning with a pack that was only one month out of date. Score!

The shop also has one of those Kuerig coffee machines that posh people have in their kitchens. This has become a bit of an addiction, and I make an excuse to go there every couple of days to buy one. But, other than that, we haven’t been to a single shop – groceries or otherwise – in eighteen days.

I think that’s a personal record.

So, yesterday we borrowed our landlord’s car, for the third time since we got here. It’s a knackered old wreck, squeaking and shuddering the 20km to the nearest town – but it’s still a lot better than walking.

Buried Camper

Nova Scotia winters are seldom kind to vehicles…

Roo and I flipped a coin for the driving privileges, and I lost, which meant it was my turn. My first, actually, and as Roo pointed out, I was badly in need of the practice. Roo and I will be sharing the driving on our US trip – so far that’s in the order of 10,253 miles, split evenly between the two of us! But so far, I’ve never actually driven in this part of the world. Or in an automatic.

It took me a while, getting used to that auto transmission – bunny-hopping down the road with one foot on each pedal, while Roo gently reminded me that I was still on the wrong side of the road. I suffer left-right confusion issues, which to be honest doesn’t stand me in the best stead to be a driver. Or a navigator. In fact, it begs the question, “What the hell good I am going to be on a three-month road-trip around America?!” I frequently find myself driving on the wrong side in England, and I’ve never had any continental experience to confuse me… just my crazy old brain, up to its usual tricks.

Left Right Hands

I used to do that thing where you make an ‘L’ with your left hand – until I noticed this…

So we made the first turn (there are only two turns on this 20 minute journey), and Roo convinced me to move over to the opposite side of the carriageway. I started to speed up, and amidst the myriad clangs and squeals of tortured suspension, I was sure I could hear the regular thud thud thud of a flat tyre.

Roo was also listening to it. “Might just be a stone in the tyre,” she said.

So we carried on.

Then we came around a bend in the road and saw, in front of us, a police blockade. One cop car, lights flashing, on either side of the road, and a handful of vehicles queuing through the gap in between them.

Roo and I exchanged a look of horror.

“Thank God you’re driving!” she said. Because her license had expired a month ago. The new one was still en route from Australia, and hadn’t arrived yet. This hadn’t stopped her driving on our last trip to town, but thankfully this was the first time we’d seen a police car in Nova Scotia.

“We still have a bit of a problem,” I pointed out. “This isn’t our car. We’re not insured to drive it. I don’t know if it’s even registered. Hell, I don’t know if it’s even roadworthy…”

It was a long, dead-straight road down the hill to the cops. No way out. I fumbled on the back seat for my jacket, groped in the pocket for my wallet, and gave it to Roo while I slid my licence out of it. Then my hand twitched; the license fell from my nervous fingers, clattering down the narrow gap between the passenger seat and the centre console – the single hardest-to-reach place in the entire car.

“CRAP!” said Roo, “You’ve got to be f’ckn’ kidding me!”

I pulled up behind the driver who was currently talking to the cop.

The voice inside my head was going, “SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT!”

When it was my turn, I inched towards the cop, leaving an almost suspiciously large gap between myself and the car in front.

Just don’t hit the wrong pedal, I told myself. Don’t kangaroo the damn car right past the guy. That almost always looks bad.

The policeman was inspecting the tyres of the car opposite me, which didn’t bode well.

“Morning sir,” I said, as cheerfully as I could manage. Roo dug my license out just in time and I held it out before he could ask for it. This was because I was terrified he would ask – like every traffic cop in every move I’ve ever seen – for my “license AND registration.”

I had no idea where the registration was, or what it looked like, or if there even was any – and if there was, it sure as hell wasn’t in my name.

The officer was frowning at my UK driving license. “You don’t have a Canadian license?” he asked.

“Ah, no, we’re just on holiday,” I explained, “staying back there in Port Greville.”

The officer winced in sympathy.

Port Greville Beauty

Don’t know why he wasn’t keen – Port Greville may be boring, but it’s absolutely stunning!

Then he walked around the back of the car, studying something. He bent down for a closer look, then reached for his radio…

I was braced for a shout of “Step out of the VE-hicle!”

But it didn’t come. He just handed back my license, wished us a pleasant day, and let us go.

I don’t think I’ve moved off as carefully as that since the day of my driving test.

But we made it.

My fears of being stranded beside the road, several hours’ walk from our landlord’s house, with no phone to call him – and him with no car other than the one we’d just had impounded…

I was suddenly reminded of this moment:

Droids meme

“I can’t understand how we got past that trooper,” I told Roo, “I thought we were dead!”

Roo got the reference straight away, because Roo is awesome like that.

“The Force is strong with us,” she explained. “I just hope they’re not still there on the way back…”

* * *

Right well, that’s enough waffle from me! Next time I promise we’ll have Roo back, and you can look at some of her stunning images instead of reading my rubbish. 🙂

USA Trip Update!

Well, it looks like this USA trip is a go!

First off, I’d like to say a massive THANK-YOU!!! to everyone who replied, with offers of food, accommodation, adventures, and advice. Every one of you is fantastically awesome, as well as super-generous with your time, your food, and your bedding/garden/sandpit/daughter’s tree-house.

So, like they say on TV: APPLICATIONS ARE NOW CLOSED! (which doesn’t mean you can’t send me any. But if you do, I might cry.)

Couch Surfing

I also got sent some natty graphics! 🙂

To be honest, I was a bit worried I’d only get three responses, one of which wanted to put me in a dungeon and one of which was only interested in Roo staying over…

So it was quite a relief, as well as a bit of a shock, to receive almost 170 replies. WOOHOO! Again, thank-you SO MUCH, everyone!

It’s taken me quite a while to transfer all this information from emails, Facebook messages and blog comments, and to put it in some kind of shape that I can understand. By which I mean, a zonking great list which is currently covering the dining table. So if you haven’t heard from me yet… don’t worry! No bugger has. 🙂

Planning

BEWARE my pencil case!

Anyway, I’ve been struggling with the problem of how to organise the trip so that we can see the maximum number of people, and do as much stuff as possible. (NOTE: ‘Stuff’ is a technical term for the wide variety of activities we could potential be involved in – which so far includes an all-day wine festival, a police ride-along, urban caving and some SAS-style manhunt training…)

Now, several kind folks sent me a link to this map, which has been doing the rounds on Facebook:

USA trip map

It gave me a pretty good idea about how I should start, so I dug a bit deeper, to discover the original article it was based on. And that’s when I discovered why planning this trip is giving me a headache.

Apparently, finding the best (or most efficient) route between several different places, is a popular logic problem known as ‘The Travelling Salesman’ or ‘TSP’. It is classified as one of the hardest puzzles to solve, because of [some crazy-assed science stuff that I didn’t understand], and of course the exponentialismness (or something similar).

Here’s a quote from the article’s original author, Randy Olson:

“With 50 landmarks to put in order, we would have to exhaustively evaluate 3 x 1064 possible routes to find the shortest one. To provide some context: If you started computing this problem on your home computer right now, you’d find the optimal route in about 9.64 x 1052 years — long after the Sun has entered its red giant phase and devoured the Earth.”

Now, he’s a PhD Computer Science candidate who specialises in ‘biologically-inspired artificial intelligence and evolutionary processes’. So we can probably trust him.

What this means for me is, I’m still stuck in the planning phase – which, as anyone who’s read my books will know, is normally the non-existent phase. There’s a reason for this: I suck at planning. It was the same before my trip around Asia – I maxed out my library card, hiring at least two books for every country we were hoping to visit. And I never opened one of them.

Asia Planning Books

Okay, so ONE of these books DID get read from cover to cover. Anyone who can guess which one wins a lollipop!

I appreciate that so far this has been an update that hasn’t actually updated anyone on anything. Yeah, um… sorry about that.

To make you feel slightly less cheated, here’s a comedy sign Roo snapped on the way into Perth:

Amusing Sign

A few seconds later is said ‘…PRAWNS $14.99 PER KILO’, but for a while there we were seriously considering calling the WWF.

Now, there are a few things I can tell you:

1) I’m sorry to say that, unfortunately we won’t be able to see everyone on this trip. Even if we had six months instead of three, I doubt we’d get round them all. Of course, as with all good books, there’s always the possibility of a sequel…

2) If you are unlucky enough to have us show up at your door, we’ll probably be imposing for two nights. By my calculations (and by the Power of Grayskull) we’ll be spending a day driving between places, spending the night we arrive, and getting to spend one full day boring the life out of our hosts with stories they’ve already read about, before toddling along the following morning.

3) We’ve both always wanted to go to one of those crazy college parties we see in the movies – you know, where everyone drinks beer from those red plastic cups and dances on tables and stuff. It’s, like, the iconic pinnacle of American culture for us. Honest! So if anyone has any suggestions about how to make this happen, we’re eager to hear ‘em!

4) Talks n’ stuff: I’m really keen to talk (just ask Roo – she can’t shut me up!) – so book clubs, libraries, etc – anywhere who might be interested in having me over for an hour, please get in touch with them and find out if they’re interested! Obviously I don’t charge anything, and I’m not trying to sell books (though I’ll keep a box in the car in case anyone wants one). I’m less about actual ‘book signings’ than I am about giving talks, as very few people will have heard of me – a signing at a proper book store is likely to be graveyard quiet, and, well, that would be pretty awkward…

Paul Carter

This is Paul Carter, author of the funniest book I’ve ever read: ‘Don’t Tell Mum I Work On The Rigs (She thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whore House)’. I met him at a book signing in Perth. His books have sold squintllions of copies, and a major Hollywood movie is currently being made of them. Number of people at the book signing? 6.

So, thanks for letting me ramble on again, folks! I’ll try to convince Roo to share some more of her stunning photos next time, to give you all a bit of a break. And by the time she’s done with that, I might actually have some real news to report…

Imagine that!

🙂

Roo Takes Over! WARNING: Expect Rainbows…

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to do justice to this blog, when a) I’m incredibly busy writing the next book, and b) I’m incredibly lazy. Then an idea struck me – actually, it was Roo that struck me (though I still maintain that it didn’t hurt. It was the surprise that made me scream).

“Let ME do something!” she said. Which didn’t sound like a bad idea. And so, quicker than I could drop my trousers upload a photo, here we have it – our new, combined, shared blog! I know, I know. It looks exactly like the other one. But the point is, nothing has changed – Roo has been supplying me with the best photos for this blog for years, so now I’m making it official: Roo is my co-contributor, co-conspirator, and partner in (occasional) crime. She will now fill the gaps in my busy schedule by posting some of the best pictures from our travels around the world. I’ll continue to post overly-long, pointless rants about the random things that happen to us – and somewhere in the middle we’ll have… well. You. You poor sod! Here – have a biscuit.

So! She’s fabulous, she’s multi-talented – hell, she’s multi-coloured! A genius behind the lens, and not ‘arf bad in front of one; she’s the love of my life, and the only person I’ve ever known who can sing an entire song and not get a single lyric right. Without further ado, I give you my wife! (But you can’t keep her. So stop asking.)

Roo on snowy log

ROO: Well, we all know Tony is busy on his fifth book so I thought I’d sneak over here and have some input on the blog! Some of you may know me from my husband’s books ‘Kamikaze Kangaroos!’ and ‘Can I Kiss Her Yet?’. For the rest of you, I’ll introduce myself – and throw in a couple of my favourite traveling photos along the way 🙂

My real name is Krista but everyone knows me by my nickname of Roo, it makes sense since I am from Australia…

I started out as a shy 19 year-old travelling from my home in Western Australia allllllllll the way to Connecticut USA to be a riding instructor at an American Summer Camp. I was too scared to go actually, but my Mum pushed me to get out there and do something different. I will be eternally grateful to her for starting my love of travelling. I had a pretty tough time at camp… wild horses, sleeping in a tent for 3 months, coping with American teens… and the odd case of E-Coli poisoning! Luckily, I met my best friend Gillian there, as well as some other lifelong friends from all over the world. Gill and I travelled around the USA, Europe and Australia, and eventually we convinced her older brother to join us in Australia. And that, as they say, was the beginning of the end (just kidding!).

But yes, I may have fallen in love with my best friend’s older brother, sorry Gill! 🙂

Tony on Xian city walls at night

Here’s Tony – on Xi’an City Walls, in one of my first attempts at night-time photography! Kind of pleased with how it turned out 🙂

I can’t believe Tony and I have been travelling now for so long, these past 8 years of adventures have certainly tested us in so many ways. Luckily, we are scarily alike in some ways, and despite the stresses of travelling, getting lost and sick in strange countries and living in each other’s pockets, we are still happily married.

I’m not going to lie, travelling with someone as accident prone as Tony can be pretty nerve wracking! He seems oblivious to the fact that he is clumsy and instead believes himself to be a stealthy ninja – and that climbing up that pillar would be so very easy… I like to think that I am now the voice of reason and can (hopefully) rein in his most dangerous impulses!

Borneo Orangutan

Tony actually tried to hand-feed this guy with a mashed up banana he found on the floor! Does that count as dangerous?

I am a pretty colourful person. I have a hoarding instinct for brightly coloured or sparkly things, which is why my wardrobe almost entirely consists of an Australian brand of clothing called Black Milk. The crazy colourful clothes may at times clash with my rainbow hair, but I love it! I always try to be myself, which is great fun but can sometimes result in strange looks…

Traveling Pants beach

These leggings are Black Milk’s infamous Travelling pants – they’ve been around the world, passed on from person to person. I have them now, in Nova Scotia, Canada – who knows where they’ll end up next!

I have always loved photography. I saved for years to buy my first film camera, (with a TEN TIMES zoom lens – pretty good for the ‘90s!) Before we set off on our six-month trip around Asia I did loads of research and invested in a Nikon D5100, with a second-hand Tamron 18 – 270mm lens off eBay. I would love to say it was a good choice… but the lens came with a few issues and was so stiff it took a lot of elbow grease just to zoom in and out. I didn’t mind because I knew we would be hiking in the Borneo rainforests, and backpacking is rough on camera gear. But it was a great starter lens!

Saigon Cart in Rain

This shot of a street vendor pushing her cart through the rain in Saigon, Vietnam, is my first action panning shot – and my favourite picture with this lens!

After a little accident on Cat Ba Island in Vietnam, where Tony dumped me off the back of a motorbike and squished my lens, I was forced to upgrade to a NEW Tamron 18-270. Or rather, he was forced to 🙂

Icy lagoon

This shot of the Icebergs in Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland proves the new lens was worth every penny!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos – they are some of my favourites from the last few years. I hope to sneak onto the blog every now and then to break up Tony’s written ramblings with some cool pictures. As I am still learning the art of photography, please feel free to discuss my pictures and give me any tips you may have; like traveling, this is a hobby I intend to carry on forever! You can get in touch with me via the comments below, or on the Contact Page. Thanks for having me 🙂 xxx

Girl with machete

Great photo to end on – possibly the craziest thing we saw in Asia. I never let Tony play with knives this big!

My Secret Plan™

Top SecretSo, by now one or two of you might have heard me mention my SECRET PLAN on Facebook. In fact, a few of you have already weaseled the details out of me! Let’s face it – I’m crap at keeping secrets, and I can’t keep this one any longer.

So here it is:

I’m coming to America!

In June.

This year.

To write a book.

But that’s not it. Not really. You see, from time to time, I get emails from my readers, saying nice things about my books. Well, some of them. I also get the occasional death-threat, but that’s been happening since way before I was an author, so I try not to take them too seriously.

The idea grew from my last visit to the US – which the hardened readers amongst you might remember from ‘Don’t need The Whole Dog!’ It was a pretty successful trip for me; I met the love of my life there (not that either of us knew it at the time), and I even managed to avoid falling into the Grand Canyon.

But I was flat broke back then, and this ten-day holiday was paid for by my Mum, as a reward for coming home from Ecuador with all my limbs still attached. I always felt that I’d missed out on seeing the real America; rumour has it that it’s quite a big place, and I’d been there – but only just.

Flash forward to the present day, and not a lot has changed. Well, I’m married now, and I write books for a living, and I found a frikkin’ GREY HAIR yesterday, for gawd’s sake – okay, so quite a few things have changed.

But I’m basically still broke.

However! As I said, I’ve been getting emails from readers. Loads of emails. I get like, one, maybe two, practically every other week! Well, what did you expect? I’m not exactly Stephen king, am I?

Now, amongst those emails, people often say things like, “If you’re ever in Ponca City, Oklahoma, you’re welcome to come and stay with me!” They say these things because they feel safe in the knowledge that I am never actually going to be in Ponca City, Oklahoma…

Until now. Because my Secret Plan is threefold;

1)   I AM coming to America;

2)   I AM going to write a book about it, and

3)   I AM coming to visit you all!

Blame Roo. It was her idea, after all. Honestly, I think she was just bored of sitting on the sofa, watching me type.

“We should do you a book tour, like the real authors do,” she said. “We could go to New York and LA.”

“I’d love to, but we can’t afford to travel in first-world countries. Not for long.”

“Why don’t we stay with some of your readers? They’re always asking… that’d make it cheaper. And that way we’d get to see the ‘real’ America.”

Hm… Not a bad idea, I thought. “The only problem is, I don’t think any of those people actually wanted me to come and stay with them. I think they were just being nice.”

“Well,” she said, “hard luck.”

And that was that!

So, anyone who has a place for us to stay – be it outhouse, tree-house, dog-house or bouncy-castle – and anyone who thinks they have a genuine cultural experience* to offer us (or who just wants to try something crazy) – let me know! You might not think it, but I’m always up for an adventure.

Walking on beach

Right then, here’s the nitty gritty:

  1. I can’t come to visit everyone. I wish I could, but the Powers That Be will only let Roo and I into the country for three months. We’ll get as far as we can, but that’s a big-assed country you’ve got there. Ain’t no way we’re going to see it all in one trip. Sorry!
  2. We’ll need a place to stay, but we’re not fussy – having lived for months in a tent, and slept on floors, benches, beaches and the world’s most uncomfortable van, we’re not expecting luxury! But we will need somewhere to sleep while we visit you, as the motels part of our budget will be spent on the nights in-between visiting people.
  3. Food is good! We’d appreciate it if you could feed us at least a little bit while we’re there. This is the perfect time to break out Grandma’s famous recipe for meatloaf, and we’re happy to help with the cooking – well, Roo is. I’d probably burn down your kitchen. And probably your neighbour’s kitchen too. But I’m a mean washer-up J
  4. SHOW ME AMERICA! I’m keen to do as much crazy, fun stuff as is humanly possibly on this trip. If there’s anything cool you can show me (or weird, unusual, exciting, traditional, different etc.) – please let me know! I can’t give you an example, as I’ve no idea what’s out there, but I’m less inclined to go to expensive, well-known touristy things like Disneyland, and more inclined to find interesting stuff to write about – secret places, experiences that not everyone gets to have… anything we can have fun doing, without breaking the bank!
  5. Media Is Also Very Good! Mostly this trip is about me meeting all my awesome readers, but the cold-hearted money-making machine inside of me hates to miss an opportunity. We might not be able to afford to eat by the end of this trip, unless I manage to get some books sold, and the best way to do that is to attract a bit of media attention. I know not everyone has a girlfriend/uncle/friend from yoga class who runs a multinational publishing empire, but if you’ve got a tiny local rag, and it’s a sufficiently slow news week, the story of one of your favourite authors** coming out to meet you might be worth a mention. I’d really appreciate it if you could do a bit of leg work and find out if there’s any interest before I visit, as it’s notoriously difficult to set these things up after I’ve gone 😉
  6. Books are GREAT! I love books. And I love book shops. I also love libraries, and book groups, and all those kinds of places. I’m happy to do talks (or just have tea!) at any of these places if they’re interested. Again, if you think there’s a local place or group that might like to hear me waffle about the topic of their choice, I’d love to include that in my itinerary. I’ve got to get a bit of practice at that kind of stuff before I end up on Oprah! (Hang on – didn’t she get fired?)

Having said all that, please don’t be put off! I really DO want to see you all, and I’m flexible (you should see me do the splits! It’ll bring tears to your eyes.) I just had to put this stuff here to save me writing the same bunch of questions in every email. I won’t automatically choose not to visit you just because you can’t afford to feed me! There’s always room to wiggle. And I LOVE a good wiggle.

And that’s it. As of now, I’m accepting suggestions! If you’d like me to come and visit, please drop me a line, by Facebook, email, or a comment on here. (I was going to allow carrier pigeons too, but that always ends badly.)

Please let me know if you have any ideas for things to do near you, and whether or not you’ll be able to help us out with them.

I do have a Wish List of stuff Roo and I would dearly love to do while we’re over there, which I’ll be posting at some point, but for now I’m open to every suggestion under the sun. And even ones that aren’t.

So! Thank-you to those of you who’ve made it this far. Sorry for the gigantic blog post, and rest assured that service will return to normal after this. Which means nothing for a whole year short, witty blog posts, and lots of Roo’s pretty pictures. I promise!

Meanwhile… stay happy! I’ll look forward to hearing from you J

Tony@TonyJamesSlater.com

 

* Watching Star Wars totally counts as a cultural experience.

** And while you’re waiting for one of your favourite authors to come and meet you, you could have a visit from me!