A Travellerspoint blog

August 2009

Ciaran’s Hat Trick of Dangerous Activities

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First of all, thanks everyone for the comments you’ve been adding. For now, it’s all I can do to keep up the blog posts and upload the odd photo, so I haven’t been able to reply, but we do all like to see the comments!

I titled this entry “Ciaran’s Hat Trick of Dangerous Activities”—but strictly speaking, it was more than a hat trick. In a nutshell, today he rode in the front seat of an ancient pick-up truck with no seatbelt, later bounced around for miles in the flatbed back of the same truck, and finished off his day with a ride on a motorcycle in the dark with no helmet. He also drove a mountain bike (also without a helmet) that was too big for him down winding roads through several villages alongside all the usual traffic I’ve been describing lately, and accidentally startled a likely-poisonous snake while hopping across ditches near a rice paddy.

Before anyone starts to wonder what finally became of him after all that, he’s now safely tucked into his bamboo-frame bed, snoring away. As we crossed the bridge from Monkey Forest Road to our guesthouse in the dark, reviewing the highlights of the day, he speculated that this might actually have been one of the best, luckiest days of his life. “But imagine how much better it could have been,” he added, “if I got to go play hockey somewhere in Asia now.”

You can take the boy out of Ottawa…well, for a little while, anyway.

All of these most un-Canadian opportunities today came out of a decision we made to join a group of people on a bike tour of rural Bali north of Ubud. The tour was organized and promoted by Augustus, who we know as our breakfast waiter here at Nick’s Pension. Loosely, the program consists of being driven out to a large temple (Gunung Kawi Temple) for an hour-long guided walk around it, followed by nearly three hours of cycling along back roads and trails, stopping frequently at sites of interest, such as spectacular views of rice paddies carved into steep mountainsides or ancient, enormous banyan trees with tiny temples built into their bases. Over the course of three hours, we biked our way nearly all the way back to Ubud, to Augustus’ family home, a traditional Balinese villa complete with its own temple. There we were treated to a tour of his home, a nearly hour-long explanation of Balinese Hinduism, castes and naming traditions, and dinner—a glorious feast consisting of at least eight or nine different Balinese village foods, from plain rice to satays with peanut sauce to chicken curry and a salad of minced jackfruit, chicken, vegetables and spices. And of course, Balinese tea before and after dinner, as well as bananas from Augustus’ own backyard and oranges from the north for dessert.

The day got off to an interesting start when we ran smack into a cremation procession on our way to meet the minivan that would drive us to the starting point for the bike ride. We had been told about this likely procession by a few different people, who seemed to be promoting it as though it were a rock concert or really fascinating busker act: “Hey, you’re going to be in Ubud around August 27? You might get to see a cremation!” Or “Oh, are you heading down Monkey Forest Road around noon? Keep an eye out, you might catch a cremation ceremony!” The Balinese seem to understand that their elaborate ceremonies and rituals are fascinating to outsiders, and are quite willing to share them. As it turns out, the deceased was a grandmother in a family that runs a nearby homestay called Sania’s House. The relatives had assembled just underneath the bridge near our guesthouse to scatter the ashes in the stream below, and they were proceeding back up the alley to the main road when we came across them, with the women at the front all bearing tall baskets of fruit and flowers on their heads. (It’s strange to put it this way, but I guess you could say we lucked into a cremation ceremony.) We brought up the rear, following them all the way up to the main road.

“I think Bali would be a nice place to die,” Chloe said cheerfully, after observing the fruit baskets, the flowers, the incense, the sarong-clad women and the ceremony by the water.

By the time we found ourselves at the meeting point for the trip, everybody else was there already, so we piled into the minivan and got going. It was a bit of a rocky start, since both kids had been complaining of stomach problems, and we were facing a 45-minute drive to our departure point up and down winding mountain roads with nearly constant hairpin turns. Both kids were stuck in the third-row seat where the windows don’t open, with me wedged in between them, so I spent the drive doubting the wisdom of agreeing to this outing. Despite my misgivings (which had more to do with anxiety over being vomited upon in the backseat than with anything else), we arrived with all of our clothes clean and headed off to our temple visit.

To enter the temple, we all had to don sarongs and sashes; the kids loved the ceremony of that. We listened for a while as our guide described the cremation process. When he said that sometimes a family will bury a dead relative for as long as three to five years before exhuming and cremating the body, Chloe abruptly changed her mind about the wisdom of dying in Bali. At the temple she also had her first real encounter with an authentic Asian public toilet. This one was not just any old filthy squat toilet, with mandi and scoop for flushing; it came complete with a wizened little old lady sitting in front of the row of toilets with a donation box. Cost to use the toilet: 1,000 rupiah (about 10 cents). In exchange, you are given a swatch of toilet paper, and had better hope you took enough in with you. I explained most of this to Chloe in advance, so her transaction went relatively smoothly (she tried at first to make off with the entire roll), but she was not impressed with the state of the toilet.

Eventually we exited the temple and hopped on our bicycles, only to find that the one they had in mind for Ciaran was going to be too big. He couldn’t drive it at all at first, since he couldn’t quite reach the handlebars. After some adjustments, he decided he could manage, but it was still going to be difficult going up and down the steep hills. We briefly thought of letting him sit on the back of my bike, but ruled that out when it looked like his toes would get caught in the spokes. In the end, the only solution was to have him ride in the pickup truck that would be shadowing us for the afternoon. Mark hopped in with him, and off we went. We met up regularly at the scheduled stops for explanations and photos. I expected Ciaran to be disappointed, but I think any grumpiness he may have felt about not riding a bike was countered by his excitement at getting to ride in the front seat of the truck. Later, his lucked improved again and he moved to the open back of the truck and, well, you know the rest.

The bike ride was fabulous and scenic, and gave us a different perspective on village life in Bali. Chloe loved how kids her age would yell hello and wave to her as she drove by. I imagine Balinese girls don’t do a lot of bike riding, because our guide marvelled continuously over the way Chloe managed the hills, standing on her pedals with elbows sticking out, refusing to give up and walk up. “She looks like a man,” he said at one point. Meanwhile, Ciaran was high-fived and played with everywhere he stopped.

But the highlight of the day was dinner at Augustus’ house. The kids were champs, and ate nearly everything on offer. We had a chance to meet two of Augustus’ three children, Made and Nyoman, who introduced themselves shyly to Chloe and Ciaran. Before long the four of them were playing, trying to see who could strike the most comedic yoga sitting pose and then wiggle across the floor with their legs all tucked in.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been a typical day if it hadn’t ended strangely. After dinner was over, we were all delivered home separately: Chloe and Mark in different minivans, and Ciaran and I on the back of Augustus’ motorbike. I must say it was a lot of fun zooming down the Ubud roads on the back of a motorbike in the dark with my hair flying in the wind, helmet free. Ciaran and I arrived first, and let ourselves into the room. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that I should wait out on Monkey Forest Road for Chloe to be delivered (from Monkey Forest, you have to make your way down an alley for about 200 metres, then cross a bridge to our guesthouse). I was thinking Chloe would be arriving at the main entrance to the hotel, and could make her way to our room on her own. As it turns out, she was standing around by herself on Ubud’s busiest road for about 10 minutes before Mark got dropped off in the same place. Then they waited together for 10 more minutes for Ciaran and I to show up, becoming increasingly worried when we didn’t. Needless to say, by the time they strolled over the bridge and up the path to our room, Mark was not amused. But all’s well that ends well, right?

P.S. Apparently there are recent news reports that a passenger ferry just off Bali capsized the other day, killing a dozen or two people. You have probably figured out by now that we weren’t on it!

Some photos from the day

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Posted by The Rymans 20:36 Archived in Indonesia Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

On lost ducks, beautiful pizza and Balinese reflexology

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A few more days in Ubud, and the kids are becoming expert traffic dodgers. We pretend it’s all a giant game of Frogger—leap through the motorbikes and other assorted vehicles roaring towards you in a ragged, unpredictable stream with as much agility as you can muster while also side-stepping offerings and stray dogs asleep on the sidewalks, declining offers of “Transport! Transport!” and not falling six feet down into a sewer by failing to notice a missing chunk of concrete in the sidewalk. Yes, okay, I wrote about the traffic last time too, and there is certainly more to life in Ubud than traffic. But what I find interesting is how the kids are adapting. They’re far more cautious and are really learning to keep their wits about them.

Besides, I needed an excuse to mention the strangest traffic scene we’ve yet seen in Bali: a lost duck making its way down a busy thoroughfare at top speed. Chickens, we’ve seen. Dogs, we’ve seen. We’ve seen some strange things, but never, until now, a bright white lost duck weaving in and out of traffic. Rather than using the sidewalk, it was sticking to the road, narrowly avoiding cars and motorbikes, clearly terrified. It looked completely dishevelled, with bits of fluff and down sticking out from its body at all angles, and it was racing madly down the street, careening away from narrow misses and urgently picking up the pace from time to time to avoid being run over. We walked alongside this duck for a good ten minutes on our way to dinner, with the kids demanding strenuously and repeatedly that we do something to save it. The miraculous thing is that while we didn’t save it (we had no idea how), we didn’t see it get hit, either. The car, taxi, bemo and motorbike drivers all went out of their way to drive around this duck. Eventually we lost sight of it. Shortly after that, we passed a field strewn with garbage where half a dozen street dogs were wrestling and rooting around for food, and I wondered if the duck had become their dinner—but I didn’t mention that idea to the kids.

The reason we were taking this long walk was to track down what is reportedly Ubud’s best pizza at a restaurant called Pizza Bagus (“bagus” means beautiful). We knew it was going to be a long walk, but after ten days of mostly mei goring, nasi goring, and more mei goring, it was going to be worth it. And it was: not only was the beer extremely cold, but the kids found mango lassis on the menu, and the pizza was better than anything Ottawa has to offer. More importantly, there was a foosball table in the restaurant. It was an incongruous sight, and we didn’t know what to make of it first. Chloe sized up the situation and told us we had to buy tokens to play – 1,000 rupiah per game (that’s about 10 cents). We played girls against the boys, and the girls won with a near shut-out. Across the street there was a store selling hammocks. We weren’t prepared to buy them tonight, but we’ll probably make another pilgrimage to Pizza Bagus on our last night in Ubud and maybe we’ll come home with some hammocks.

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The kids spent this morning taking a three-hour Balinese painting lesson offered at the Pondak Pekak Library. Their instructor, Sulendra, had them choose from about half a dozen different sketches he’d brought to the lesson, and their job was to imitate their chosen sketches with his help. Chloe chose a portrait of a Balinese dancer in full costume, while Ciaran settled on a close-up of a red hibiscus. Sulendra had a way of sounding incredibly impressed any time the kids did something right. First, he would show them what to do… “And so like this, yes, yes?” and then they would do it and he would say, with deep satisfaction, “AHHHHHHHHHHH.” Over and over again: “Like this, yes? AHHHHHHHHHH.” Both kids were thrilled with their results.

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Meanwhile, I had decided to try out some reflexology while the kids painted, since it was being offered upstairs in the same building. (Whenever getting a massage can somehow profit a struggling library, I say do it.) I’ve never had this done in Canada, so I don’t know what it’s supposed to be like, but I can tell you I’m never trying it again! The massage therapist clearly knew her stuff and it felt like a professional job, but it was the most pain I’ve ever experienced in the pursuit of pleasure. Mark had gone to her a few days earlier for the same treatment, and had come out raving about her strong thumbs, but I spent most of the first half hour suppressing yelps of pain and worried that she was going to pull my toes right off my body. The second half of the session was more relaxing, since by then I had survived the full treatment on one foot and it seemed I still had the use of that foot, which was reassuring. For good measure, she ended the treatment with a series of five sudden, solid punches to the soles of my feet. This was followed by five minutes of head massage that involved her occasionally grabbing bunches of my hair and pulling on them sharply, without warning. All round it was a strange way to relax, but the whole hour-long experience cost just $6, so I really can’t complain.

Posted by The Rymans 07:29 Archived in Indonesia Tagged family_travel Comments (4)

Motorbikes make my hair stand on end

If this is what Bali is like now, Vietnam is going to be truly frightening

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After four leisurely days in Legian recovering from the taxing journey over from Canada, we moved on to Ubud, the so-called cultural heart of Bali, a few days ago. Twelve years ago, Ubud offered a respite from the nerve-jangling traffic and aggressive touts of Legian and Kuta--I mainly remember placid rice fields, comparatively fresh air, plentiful art galleries and those wonderful thermoses of tea brought to our patio at the crack of dawn every morning. All of those perks are still here, but the fresh air is much harder to find and all of the others are harder to appreciate with the constant roar of motorbikes whizzing by. Maybe part of my different perspective comes from travelling with kids. Last time I was here, I only had to save myself from being run over. Now I have to keep two kids from being mowed down, and it's a constant challenge on the narrow sidewalks where the tiny amount of space that was there to begin with is increasingly occupied by taxi drivers hawking their services and shopkeepers trying to entice people into their stores. The motorbikes are like massive colonies of giant wasps bearing down on pedestrians at all times from every direction at once. I think that's the biggest change we've noticed since we were here last. We've started choosing our restaurants based on the volume of traffic, because in some places it's nearly impossible to hear each other speaking.

Of course, it's not all negative. The scenery is still spectacular, the people are still warm and friendly, the massages are still $7 an hour--we can't really complain. But something about the presence of a giant Crocs store on the main street (not to mention two D&G shops nearby) just doesn't sit right. I'd hate to see Ubud become a victim of its own success.

But enough about that, and more about us: the kids are still having a great time. Ciaran finally mentioned today that he misses his friends, but he didn't dwell on it for very long. Always a creature of habit, he's simply transferred his ways to Bali, and is now living on banana shakes and mei goreng nearly exclusively. We're getting a bit of a daily structure established, aiming for an hour or so of "road school" in English (taught by me) and another hour in French (taught by Mark) each day. I'm not sure how seriously the kids take us as teachers, or how resourceful we'll be as time goes by. I'm just trying to work a little bit of reading and math into the day in a way that makes the learning relevant to our trip--like keeping journals, writing postcards, calculating costs and so on. Today both kids had a lesson in Balinese music at the local library, learning the basics of how to play a gamelan xylophone. Over the next few days we'll sign them up for painting and dancing classes as well. The money for the classes benefits the local library, which has a tiny children's section and no librarian yet, due to lack of funds--so local kids can read books in the library, but can't check them out. The children's section is about 7 x 7 and many of the books have seen better days. Yet apparently this is the only library in Bali. At $7.50/hour, the music lessons are a bargain and it's nice to know the money is supporting a good cause.

Our visit to the Monkey Forest yesterday was a big hit, of course. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I think even the monkeys have become more aggressive since we were last here. Mark bought a few bunches of bananas to feed them, and hid them away in his shoulder bag. Every time he took one out, he was stormed by half a dozen squabbling, determined macaques who made it clear they would stop at nothing in order to get one. From time to time we found them stalking us, which was a bit alarming. In the end Mark was forced to grab the last remaining bunch out of his bag and fling them to the little marauders to prevent a confrontation that was probably not going to end well for him.

At the end of our time in the forest we decided to take a detour and walk home the long way, through some rice fields, despite the fact that we'd forgotten the guide book that had the maps of the various walking routes around Ubud. We discovered a narrow stone path that took us alongside a rice field, with tall cement fences and gates to homes lining the other side. It was a much more pleasant and peaceful walk than we would have had if we'd gone home the conventional way, dodging motorbikes, but it was punctuated about every three minutes by the sudden sound of guard dogs barking and snarling at us as they hurled themselves up against the gates. The soporific effect of the rice fields and occasional colorful bamboo-and-flower-petal offerings was offset by regular dramatic bursts of adrenalin every time we passed a pack of these guard dogs, since we were never sure if they could get loose or not. In the end, we emerged in a neighbouring village called Nyuh Kuning, and a dirt road led us back into the Monkey Forest--so we went home the usual way after all.

We'll be here for another week or so, then off to Munduk, reportedly a much, much smaller village in the mountains north of here. I'm still going to try to update this blog regularly, but internet connection speeds are shockingly slow here and uploading photos is an exercise in frustration--so you may have to wait a bit for pictures!

Posted by The Rymans 06:49 Archived in Indonesia Tagged family_travel Comments (4)

An inconvenient beginning

But we're finally here in Bali!

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The evening before our early-morning departure for Asia, I collected my first souvenir: the parking stub for the medical clinic where I got my finger stitched up after slicing it open on a jagged piece of glass frozen to the bottom of the chest freezer, which I had been frantically trying to clean out before we left. I refuse to look at it as an inauspicious beginning, but it was certainly inconvenient: two hours in the clinic’s waiting room when I could least afford the time, surrounded by sick people while Mark was on his own to finish the equivalent of two days of cleaning in about three hours. I left Canada with my right hand spectacularly ill-suited to rummaging around in my backpack trying to find things by feel. Now that I’m finally here, I just look really odd in the swimming pool, with my right hand sticking up out of the water like a dorsal fin with digits as I swim along trying to keep the finger dry.

But all of that aside, the main thing is that we’re finally here, and everything else went beautifully. All three of our flights departed on time, the connection times in Chicago and Tokyo were more than adequate, and our checked bags actually arrived. Someone cut the lock on Mark’s pack—but nothing was missing, so I guess they didn’t find what they were looking for. The kids were spectacular little travellers, amusing themselves easily on the flights, trying all the unusual foods on board and refraining from getting on each other’s nerves too much. They were both delighted with the absence of seatbelts in the taxi that delivered us to our hotel in Legian, where we arrived around midnight after an otherwise uneventful half-hour drive. Ciaran was amazed by the profusion of motorcycles buzzing all around us on the road, and wondered if I knew by what proportion they outnumbered the cars. Chloe was interested to see that the driver was sitting on the wrong side of the car and driving on the wrong side of the road, and has already decided that Bali is far more beautiful than Canada.

We’re spending a leisurely few days here at The Three Brothers Bungalows in Legian, enjoying the pool, reacquainting ourselves with the food (I was excited to find my favourite kecap manis on every table) and recovering from the jet lag. Ciaran’s favourite meal so far has been mei goring, or chicken fried noodles. The jet lag has been interesting—I guess that’s what happens when you fly to the other side of the world in 27 easy hours. We all keep waking up at 2 a.m., wide awake and ready for breakfast. Yesterday both kids fell asleep at the dinner table (as you may be able to see in the photos we took, if I can get them to upload). They fell into bed the moment we got back to our hotel, slept for about 12 hours, and woke up in fine form. Today’s mission is to keep them up until at least 8 p.m. so we can all enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep for the first time in half a week. We have two more nights here in Legian before we’re off to Ubud.
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Posted by The Rymans 06:43 Archived in Indonesia Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

What the kids are saying

An eleventh-hour pre-departure interview with Chloe and Ciaran

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Q: We're leaving in just a few more hours. What do you expect this trip will be like?
Chloe: Well, leaving is really scary and I can't wait to go. It's also unnerving. I expect the trip to be fun, wild, amazing, educational, and just plain awesome. I have a tingly feeling everywhere because I can't wait to go!
Ciaran: I think it will be enjoyable, fun, awesome.

Q: What do you think will be the best part?
Ciaran: India, because of the tea, and Bali because of the monkey forest.
Chloe: I'm not sure, but in Bali the monkeys and in India a really challenging adventure. Also, I'm not going to be going to school for six months.

Q: Do you think it will ever be boring?
Ciaran: No.
Chloe: We've done a lot of travelling, but I don't think we've done anything that will be as fun as this. Oh, and I can't forget... I'm going to love and adore the plane rides! (I'm being sarcastic, of course...)

Q: Will you miss anything about home?
Ciaran: Yes! Our house. Playing mini-sticks. Playing with our friends. Playing road hockey and ice hockey, and being on a soccer and a hockey team. Going to Granny's.
Chloe: I think I'm going to miss everything here, from our house to and all my toys and belongings. And most of all, my friends and relatives.

Q: Are you worried about anything?
Chloe: I'm kind of worried about what if we get sick? What if we start liking Thailand and just decide to buy a house there? What if I come home and the people renting our house out have destroyed all my Littlest Pet Shops and have peed in my bed?
Ciaran: About getting travellers' diarrhea, and if the kids renting our house don't take good care of my books.

Q: Are you ready for this?
Ciaran: Yes. No. No, yes. Yes.
Chloe: I would love to say yeah, no problem, but to tell you the truth...No, not at all! I've gotten to a point where in these past couple of days, I`ve just kind of forgotten we were going. Then it's a couple of hours before we're leaving and I suddenly realize it's time to say goodbye to everything. So I really don't know!

Posted by The Rymans 19:02 Tagged family_travel Comments (4)

One week to go

The whirlwind of goodbye parties and dinners is slowing

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To be honest, we're getting a little tired of talking about this trip and would like to just get it off the ground once and for all—but there's still some more packing and organizing ahead of us.

The good news: we made our final visit to the travel clinic this morning for the last round of jabs. Both kids did a wild "no more needles" dance across the parking lot. They've survived a total of 10 jabs each over the course of six trips to the clinic during the past two months (and that's not even counting the two oral vaccines).

This time next week we'll be counting down the hours. Meanwhile, some photos of the big family send-off.

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Posted by The Rymans 09:53 Tagged preparation Comments (1)

If this trip had a playlist...

Well actually, it does

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You can’t listen to it on this blog, sadly, but we’ll be listening to it as we take off on August 18. If you have suggestions for additions, let us know—I’d love to expand the list. (Some of these songs are included here for reasons that will be obvious, and in other cases the reasoning will seem a bit more obscure….I’m not going to try to explain!)

A13 Trunk Road to the Sea – Billy Bragg
Wide Open Spaces – Dixie Chicks
Don’t Dream It’s Over – Crowded House
Everyday is a Winding Road – Sheryl Crow
Get Out the Map – Indigo Girls
Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
Last Goodbye – Jeff Buckley
Leaving on a Jet Plane – Peter, Paul and Mary
Les Champs Elysee – Joe Dassin
Let’s Get Out of This Country – Camera Obscura
Go West – Liz Phair
Marrakesh Express – Crosby Stills & Nash
Mausam & Escape – A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack)
Miles From Our Home – Cowboy Junkies
Next Year – Foo Fighters
Life is Life – Opus
Paper Planes – M.I.A. (Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack)
Powerman – The Kinks
Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads
Roam – The B52s
Rosy and Grey – Lowest of the Low
Rowing Song – Patty Griffin
Sail Away – Enya
Sand in My Shoes – Dido
Santa Monica – Everclear
Strangers – The Kinks
Take the Long Way Home – Supertramp
Letting the Days Go By – Talking Heads
This Time Tomorrow – The Kinks
Time of Your Life – Greenday
Wild Wild Life – Talking Heads

Posted by The Rymans 07:08 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Out with the Osprey packs

With 12 days to go, we decided it was time for a test run--and discovered the kids' backpacks were just not going to work

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This post is for any of you reading who may be planning a similar trip and wondering what kind of baggage we decided to saddle ourselves with (I know you're out there!). By now you’ve probably read about Mark’s monolithic 90L pack; now for the rest of us.

I had this brilliant idea to get both kids Osprey junior backpacks. They were really attractive, with all the bells and whistles (literally—they had built-in whistles), made expressly for child-size frames and all that. I was so convinced they were just the thing that I actually bought them—yes, get this—five months ago when it was Chloe’s birthday. She used hers a few times and complained that it hurt her neck, but I chalked it up to her not being accustomed to wearing a “real” backpack. Well, two weeks ago we finally packed the bags for a test run, saddled up the kids, and went out for a half-hour walk—more complaining. Both kids absolutely hate the way these packs feel on their necks. No amount of fiddling, adjusting, or lightening the load made any difference—and the packs were just as uncomfortable empty as they were full. The shoulder straps are just strangely designed, and seem to cut into the kids' necks.

So out with the $100 Ospreys and in with the...well, the shockingly well-priced $16 MEC Teeny Genie (the blue one below), in Ciaran's case, and the $55 Deuter Fox (the orange one) for Chloe. Ciaran's is a 25L pack and Chloe's is 35L. We stuffed them full of gear and marched the kids around wearing them—no problems at all. "I could walk around like this all day," Chloe said.

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It'll be interesting to see how I fare with my own backpack....which I also bought about five months ago and haven't really road-tested yet. It's a 60L MEC Brio (the green one on the left, which in real life is much smaller than the black Osprey on the right!). I'm also carrying a Crumpler messenger bag while Mark has a similar shoulder bag from MEC.

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Posted by The Rymans 06:34 Tagged packing Comments (1)

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