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Welcome to World Smart Kids, State of the Family

The United States holds a State of the Union Address by the US President every year; the State of North Carolina holds a State of the State speech by the NC Governor every year. I figure it’s appropriate for us to hold a, “State of the Rousseau Household” about every month or two. I checked all the international laws—we’re OK to do this.

So I’d like to take some time to summarize many of the things that you have already read, but in summary form it will take a whole new meaning. A daily update is good; a monthly synopsis puts things into perspective. Plus there are many idle ramblings in this document. I hope that our, “State of the Family” puts our trip into perspective for everyone, including ourselves.

This is an ongoing document that will continue to grow. Please reference the dates.

May 10, 2006

We have been on our vacation for a little more than two months. We are all healthy, happy, and excited to continue. To this date we have experienced the following, in no particular order:

  • Authentic Thai markets smell both bad and good. Actually more bad than good. Thai people want to touch the girls’ skin, which makes the girls a little apprehensive, but the Thai people are wonderfully friendly
  • We rode elephants and camels; we swam with penguins; we petted cheetahs and fed kudu; we had close encounters with wild rhinos, buffalo, hyenas and elephants. Dominique also road on tortoises. I cannot help but think that the zoo experience is forever dead to us.
  • Thailand bathrooms are different. For women, there is no toilet seat on which to sit—just a hole in the floor and crossed fingers to help your aim. The toilets do not flush (you put water into the toilet after you finish your business); you use water to clean yourself. Actually, I think the latter is a good thing.
  • Even in the winter months, Thailand is unbelievably hot. There is only a couple of degree difference between the winter and summer temperatures. But strangely enough the nights are fairly cool, which lulls you into a false stupor until you’re hit with molten-lava like heat the following morning.
  • South Africa toilets are very clean, and the doors to public toilets go from floor to ceiling. I like that they are shy about their bodily functions, as am I.
  • Door handles in South Africa and Namibia are much higher than I’d expect. In both residential and commercial buildings. I estimate that the handles are about five feet from the floor. And most of the locks that we've experienced are of the old-time skeleton key variety. Huge keys, huge key fobs. I guess you need large pockets in South Africa and Namibia.
  • We’re been renting cars from EuropCar. No issues here. They give us good cars that drive well. We had a battery issues in Knysna and they came out to give us a jump. So I’d give EuropCar a thumbs up on the Rousseau scale of recommended vendors.
  • After looking at the Namibia map, I figure that about 85% of their roads are dirt. That’s a lot of drivable dirt. Their national roads (i.e. main national roads B1, B2) are paved/tarmac, but make up a very small percentage of their total drivable roads.
  • I'm so happy that all of our electrical equipment is dual-wattage. This means that we don’t have to carry any transformers; we just need to carry plug adapters.
  • Water is a questionable issue. As a safety precaution, we assume that all the water in the continent of Africa is bad for U.S. people. But we've visited places that are so far out of our norm that they have to get their water from wells. They call it boer holes (we call it a well), which is water from a natural well, which is VERY clean water.
  • My father has been the recipient of all our mail and bills. He scans all the bills that we need to pay that are not already setup in some kind of automated payment process. He’s also the go-to guy for all disputes or questions for any of our financial issues. This is working quite well.
  • My older brother, Kevin, is our webmaster. This too is working quite well. It allows me to focus on the content and not the format. It’s amazing how time-consuming digital videos can take in terms of editing and formatting. I assume if you’re reading this that you've joined the millions who have changed their default to World Smart Kids, and check in daily in order to keep up with our travels, right?...
  • It’s difficult to plan our meals even if we’re at the remote lodges that supply everything. Actually it’s more difficult to plan our meals when we’re at the remote areas. So we’re held hostage to our kids, “Mommy, I'm hungry…” But we soon learned that a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and jelly will save the day! We were at one place that didn't serve breakfast until 8:30am and didn't serve dinner until 8pm! Yikes—that’s childhood hari kari.
  • At many of the places we've visited, especially in Namibia, there are no quickie marts, no food markets, and no gas stations. If you don’t get the huge water reserves and gas reserves and hope that you’re car will go at least 200 km, you’re in trouble.

May 14, 2006

We’re in Mauritius now and we decided not to get a rental car. Great call. I have a good bike rented at $3/day, and the local internet cafe' and grocery store are only a mile away. We have a really good taxi driver at our disposal that is extremely helpful, knowledgeable, and very affordable

STATE OF THE ELECTRONICS: I've talked a bit about the challenges of our electronic gear and keeping it all healthy and fully-charged. So far, we've been extremely fortunate that we have enough tape for the camcorder, enough memory for the digital camera, and enough batteries for all our appliances. Looking back over the 2.5 months of travel so far from an Information Technology perspective, I'm not sure we’d change much. We have all the appropriate electrical adapters; I'm very happy that we have extra batteries for all our stuff; I might upgrade our camcorder for a newer model just because ours is almost two years old. But outside of that, everything continues to work very well. If we can continue to keep the kids from breaking the laptop and the cameras, I think we have a good chance of withstanding the year with our current electronics.

Air travel: To date, we've almost circumnavigated the globe (see below for details) and have logged more than 50 hours on planes. Say to any parent of a 3-6 year old child that they have to travel on a plane for 3-8 hours and I'll bet they will scream in horror. I have to say that our kids have been GREAT. The longer flights are serviced by individual video monitors on the back of every seat. Who says that TV can’t baby sit a child for 12 hours?! But more than that, they understand the security and passport and backpack-screening procedures and they are willing to undergo all the rigorous testing/viewing/screening that’s needed with a smile and a good attitude. Yes, they get cabin fever at the airports, especially when we have a 4 hour wait at Port Elizabeth or an 8 hour layover at Johannesburg. But they’re still alive, as are the parents, as are the fellow travelers.

Food continues to be a constant point of interest. Bland noodles are the taste the kids prefer everyday. But we've had to eat in lodges for the past month in South Africa and Namibia and they've adapted surprisingly well. As a family, here is a partial list of things that we've eaten since we started our trip on March 8, 2006:

  • Calamari, bok choy, Thai noodles, grilled nameless fish wrapped in some sort of nameless Thai banana leaves.
  • Tasteless pizza in Bangkok
  • Cup O’ Noodles on Thailand Air
  • Rice. Lots of rice. And noodles, lots of noodles.
  • Lots of pasta at the self-catering places
  • Game: Kudu, Zebra, Hartebeest, Warthog, Springbok, Crocodile, Ostrich, Oryx
  • Termites. OK, I just made that up, but I wanted to eat some termites. In fact, our guide Ben in Honeyguide Khoka Moya said he’d stop by an active termite mound to let us taste some. But I didn't follow up with him and I guess he forgot.
  • Nicky had something in Thailand that was reported to be very spicy. She told the waiter to make sure it was Thai spicy, not American-spicy (usually they tone down the spiciness for Americans). It was some sort of coconut soup with hot peppers. Nicky took a bite and she said it tasted wonderful—until her ears fell off. As she tried to re-attach them, her eyeballs started to melt and the skin from her forehead started to droop into her bowl. I’d say that was a pretty spicy dish.

Things are small outside of the US. Small cars, small roads, small food portions. They also have small bellies. You cannot buy a gallon of milk or two liters of coke.

The price of electronics is about the same everywhere we've traveled. Very little difference in the US price of computers, cameras, memory cards and DV tapes for the camcorders. Now if you want some software or movies, Thailand is the place to go. We were in Bangkok the day that Ice Age 2 came out in movie theatres in the US (as a concerned Dad, I follow these things). I noticed that you could buy the Video CD on the streets of Bangkok for about $4 that same day!

McDonald’s? Forget it. The Colonel reigns supreme in Thailand, South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius. Kentucky Fried Chicken (OK, KFC, but you’re not fooling anyone by taking the "Fried" out of your name) is everywhere. We've only seen about 2-3 McD’s. KFC’s are just about in every town. This is a curious phenomenon to me because chicken is NOT a staple in the grocery stores. Ham is the big seller here, if you measure by the square footage that the meat takes on the shelves. Chicken and turkey are very scarce, difficult to find, and usually processed.

If you know Annette, there’s no surprise that her arms and legs are spotted with bug bites and she continues to scratch and rip off the scabs.

Internet access continues to be a challenge, and that probably won’t change during our travels. I figure I need to be sponsored by Sprint or AT&T or some other global telecom/internet company to get reliable and guaranteed internet and mobile phone access. Internet cafes are in the larger cities, but many of them do not allow you to plug in your laptop nor do they offer wireless access. It takes some diligence, but so far we've been able to get at least email access on a periodic basis.

Clothes washing continues to be an ongoing chore that’s more of a chore now that we don’t own a washer/dryer. We've had to hand wash and line-dry our clothes several times. It’s a small pain, but it’s free. Getting your clothes washed at a guest house or hotel or someplace that offers it is quite expensive. We try to find a laundromat that can take our clothes and return them the next day. They usually charge by weight with is much cheaper than hotels or guest houses.

Mileage to date; here are our rough totals both in air miles and road miles

Airline Travel   Miles Hours
Florida --> Hong Kong  
9445
21
Hong Kong --> Bangkok  
1099
2.75
Bangkok --> - Chiang Mai  
354
1.25
Chiang Mai --> Bangkok  
354
1.25
Bangkok --> Doha  
3267
7.25
Doha --> Cape Town  
4608
12
Port Eliz –-> Johannesburg  
640
1
Johannesburg –-> Windhoek, Namibia  
723
1.5
Windhoek, Namibia –-> Johannesburg  
723
1.4
Johannesburg –-> Mauritius  
1930
4
Mauritius –-> Perth, Australia  
3674
7.1
   
22,963
53.4

Auto Travel   Miles Hours
North Carolina --> Florida  
650
12
Bangkok –-> Chanthaburi  
205
5
Chanthaburi –-> Bangkok  
205
5
Cape Town –-> Oudtshoorn  
280
6
Oudtshoorn –-> Knysna  
87
2.5
Knysna –-> Plettenberg Bay  
12.5
.5
Plettenberg Bay –-> Addo Elephant Park  
177
4.5
Addo Elephant Park –-> Port Elizabeth  
37
1
Johannesburg –-> Lesedi Cultural Village  
47
1.25
Lesedi Cultural Village –-> Honeyguide Khoka Moya  
348
7
Honeyguide Khoka Moya –-> Bongani Mountain Lodge  
146
3.5
Bongani Mountain Lodge – Rissington Inn  
65
1.5
Rissington Inn –-> Johannesburg Airport  
250
6
Windhoek, Namibia –-> Eningu Clayhouse  
44
1.5
Eningu Clayhouse –-> Sossusvlei Lodge  
273
6
Sossusvlei Lodge --> Swakopmund Beach Lodge  
213
5.5
Swakopmund Beach Lodge --> Rustig Toko Lodge  
277
6
Rustig Toko Lodge --> Hilltop House, Windhoek  
304
7
   
3,640.5
80.75

-------------------- Updated: 09.03.2006 --------------------

May 02, 2006

Yes, I'm backtracking on the dates, but as the author I feel as though I have the right to do so.

We’re going to Namibia tomorrow. I just saw the headlines in the local newspaper about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt staying in Namibia and having their baby.

ACHT!

Don’t they know that we came here to get away from people like them?!

Don’t they know that there are about 6 places in Namibia that are able to host these guys, and I figure that we’re going to about 2-3 of them. The LAST thing I want to have happen is for us to run into these clowns and their media circus. The only thing I have to say about this is ACHT!

Sunday, June 4, 2006

We've been in Australia for a little more than two weeks so far. Oy! A couple of key observations so far:

  • Australians love our American accents. When asked, "But you see all these American-made movies and TV shows, why do you like OUR accents?" They reply that our accents are different. Oy! I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Obviously it’s much easier for me to pickup hot Aussie chicks if they think I have a cool accent, so I'm not too introspective….
  • Australians tend to like us. They are friendly to Americans. Being an American, I think this is a good thing.
  • We chose to tour Aussie Land in a rental car and do farm stays, which are hosted by small farms, and station stays, which are hosted by farms that are larger than your US county—300,000+ acres! For what we want to do, this figures to be the cheapest and most flexible option. We thought about renting a camper (called a caravan here) or renting a mobile home, but the price of gas here (about $4.48 US per gallon, or $1.40 AUD per liter) did not make either of these options viable.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I'm extremely frustrated by the telecommunication systems in Aussie land. For being a first world country, they have a 5th world communications system, akin to the US about 10 years ago. Thailand and South Africa had more advanced systems, and Mauritius is about 2 years ahead of the US:

  • The leading mobile phone carrier (Telstra) has a virtual monopoly on telecom services. I think that the telecom industry here has deregulated just a couple years ago.
    • There’s a pretty good reason for this. Australia has about the land mass of the lower 48 US, but only 1/20th of the population. Australia is the 5th least densely populated country in the world with 39 square hectares per person in 2002. A square hectare is 100 meters by 100 meters. Take 39 of these squares and call it yours. By contrast, an acre is about 70 meters by 70 meters.
    • It stands to reason that with much less competition and a very spread out population (90% of Aussies live near to the coastline), mobile phone coverage is spotty and costly.
  • I was told by several people that Telstra had the best coverage in all of Australia, and my experience is that they do. But you pay for that coverage--25 cent connection charge for each call, plus a 77 cent/minute charge. And this is for a local call. I later learned that competing mobile phone carriers have much better rates in the 15-20 cent per minute charge range. Either way, mobile calls are extremely expensive. Oy!
  • The only way to get around this is to subscribe to a phone calling plan, but you only get a break in price at the $60/month level, AND you have to commit to at least one year of service. Oy!
  • To call internationally you can purchase an international calling card. I purchased one that promised ½ cent per minute, but didn't post the connection fees or per/minute connection costs. Apparently, the ½ cent per minute charges ended up being about $5.30 per minute. Unless you use a landline, you still pay for mobile phone minutes, or the 50 cent/minute charges at the pay phones.
  • If you use the pre-paid calling cards with your mobile phone, then you’re adding 77 cents per minute on top of your international charges. Oy!

If you’re baffled by what I wrote, I think I can boil it down to this: calling internationally from Australia or even Aussie <--> Aussie number, will cost you about Tutankhamen’s entire burial treasure plus two dozen eggs. That’s a close approximation of the cost, and complexity of the Aussie phone system. Oy!

I went to several telecom places to make sure that I was using the cheapest calling methods. I even went to the Telstra office and they confirmed all my understanding. So unless there’s something so huge that I'm missing the trees for the forest, every call in Australia costs about $1799.00 plus 5 socks.

AND, their numbering system is mind-boggling—some numbers have 6 digits, some 7 digits, some 8 digits. I can’t figure out their area codes because some areas don’t have codes that I can figure out. And the phone company (ie. Telstra) wasn't able to solve this puzzle for me. Here’s what I've figured out so far:

  • They have toll-free numbers that work even at pay phones. Good on ya, mates! OK, so far, so good.
  • They have 1-300-XXXXX numbers. I THOUGHT these were one-time 50 cent charge calls, and many of them are, but some of them are one-time charges and some are per-minute charges. How can you tell the difference? I dunno, and I can’t find anyone that can tell me.
  • When you call the Aussie operator for directory assistance, they'll forward you to an automated attendant that will give you the number that you require. But the Aussie way of giving numbers is VERY different than what we’re used to in the States (assume each operator is giving the number 1-800-443-5500):
  • States: The number you require is one-eight-zero-zero-four-four-three-five-five-zero-zero
  • Aussie: The number you require is one-eight-double naught (HUH!?)-double four-H-double five-double naught
    • H!!!! I got an H!!! Where did THAT come from!!!?
  • Lastly, the number system here is different than what I'm used to. In the states, we have a 3 digit area code, a 3 digit city code, and a 4 digit, uh, number. I'm not sure what the last 4 digit numbers stand for.
  • In Aussie land, for the number 1232456, I've seen:
    • 123 456
    • 12 34 56
    • 1 234 5
    • Happy Happy Joy Joy #!56

I'm sure that it’s much easier than the picture that I paint, but I have been unable to find a knowledgeable person to explain it to me. But the people here seem to be OK with the 77 cents per minute on their mobile phone charges and the weirdness in their phone numbers. It’s in the Aussie spirit. It’s in their blood. No worries, mate.

Seriously, that’s not only a catch phrase here, it’s really a way of life.

TELECOM UPDATE JUNE 18:

Since I posted the above, I've found some better services and options:

  • Regardless of your carrier, the coverage is very poor. According to the Australian Board of Tourism, mobile phone coverage (or lack thereof) is the largest complaint by tourists.
  • Vodaphone has MUCH better mobile phone plans than Telstra. You save about 80% on all calls.
  • I heard a radio advertisement this morning about Virgin Mobile’s rates—they seem to be about 50% cheaper than Vodaphone’s rates. But I've already paid for a Vodaphone SIM card with prepaid dollars (in the States we pre-pay minutes; in Australia you buy phone dollars. Minutes are MUCH better…)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Eggs

Since we left a little over 3 months ago, one staple in our diet has been the hard boiled egg. They’re cheap, easy to purchase, healthy if you don’t eat the yolks, and easy to cook. Many times we've just thrown the eggs into the coffee pot to cook them. But the curious thing that I've noticed is that hard boiled eggs from Thailand, South Africa, Namibia, Mauritius and Australia are extremely easy to peel. Eggsellent!

But why is this? What is the science behind this mystery? I cannot Google the answer as Internet access is more miss than hit and I have so much more important things to Google during the infrequent online times (like swimsuit models, World Cup scores, and latest banjo trends).

To peel the shell from an egg in the US takes a battalion of green berets, 3 putty knives and 2 gallons of turpentine. Anyone care to shell out some wisdom on this topic?

Historically, hard boiled eggs are easier to peel if they are older, generally 7-10 days old. The albumin doesn't form as strong a bond to the shell the older the egg. OK, got that. But the eggs in these countries are very fresh, and they are very easy to peel.

Any ideas?

Shopping carts

The shopping carts in South Africa, Mauritius and Australia have swivel wheels on both the front and back. Huh, you say? Verily, it is so.

Now with 4 swivel wheels it makes it easy to move from side to side; what it does not allow you to do easily is make turns.

In the US, the two back wheels are fixed and front wheels are moveable, like a car. This allows you to use the back wheels as pivot points with which to make a turn. If you don’t have these pivot points, then the entire cart moves to the side in which you want to turn. Oy!

I see people fighting to make turns that allow them to go from one aisle to another. Don’t the retailers get it?

Radio in Australia

The radio stations in South Africa, Mauritius and Australia are about 20-30 years behind. This is, I think, done on purpose. I'm sure they know about Pink, Gwen Steffanie, James Blunt, etc. But they just don’t play them. When I’d turned on the radio, here’s what I've heard:

"I Put My Blue Jeans On" by David Dundas

"Escape" (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes

Songs by Annie Lennox

Heard some REO Speedwagon, some Styx, and some Foreigner (specifically, "Eye of the Tiger")

Debra Harry with Blondie with the first rap song, can’t remember the name of the song

"Breakfast in America" by Supertramp

"Everybody Dance Now" by C&C Music Factory (OK, this isn't the 80’s music, but it’s a bit old by US standards)

I actually heard several J. Geils band tune.

I thought that during my stay in Down Under that I’d hear lots of Men at Work’s tune, "Land Down Under" or a lot of, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down." Surprisingly, I haven’t heard either tune, and when I tried to sing the kangaroo song several times to children and they looked at me like I was trying to sing something from Frank Sinatra.

Socceroo Soccer

OK, it’s a horrible name for the Australian National Soccer team (if you haven’t kept up with the World Cup scene, the Australians have qualified a national team named “Socceroos”), but the entire continent (yes, Australia is one of the continents…) is in love with the fact that Aussie’s are back in the World Cup after a 30-odd year hiatus. And they’re pretty good, ranked about 42 in the world. Good on ya, mate! Oy!

I've been following them when I can and they ARE pretty good. I saw the Aussie-Japan match (3-1) and it was fantastic. We were at a caravan park in Exmouth (in Western Australia) and they closed the bar at 10pm. But the game wasn't supposed to end until around 11-11:30pm. They let the outside TV stay on so we could enjoy the game. So there were about 40 people outside, all beers-in-hand, to see Aussie beat Japan. After this game the US was playing the Czech Republic, so everyone was excited to see that. But the TV was turned off immediately after the Aussie game! Man, what a downer. Bad on ya, mate!

Exercise

In Thailand, we ate extremely healthily (mostly veggies and chicken or fish, with some rice) and we did a lot of walking/hiking (the difference between a walk and a hike is if you’re sweating or not. That means that I'm hiking all the time). We felt good and ate well.

In South Africa many of the places at which we stayed were food-inclusive so we were captive to their menus and eating times. Not a horrible thing, but we weren't as active in South Africa, and so the slippery slope began.

Namibia—all restaurant food, and very little exercise.

Mauritius, we had a self-catering place and we started to do better on the exercise part.

Western Australia was mostly hit or miss on both menu and exercise. We really can’t blame it on anything except our poor planning.

Now that we’re on the eastern coast of Australia, Nicky’s been bitten by the Yoga bug. We brought a Yoga DVD with us, and she bought a book as well. She and the girls have been doing yoga now for the past couple of weeks. Dominique continues to call it YOGO. I continue to ask Nicky to do her YOGO exercises naked. To date, it’s still a no go on the nudo Yogo… (HA! I've been dying to tell that joke!...)

But I've taken part of the Yogo thing as well and I've learned a couple things:

  • If you’re not breathing hard, or sweating, or your muscles are not shaking, then you’re not doing it correctly.
  • If you follow the prescribed breathing patterns that they say to follow, "Breath in deeply now, then do XXXX, now hold, now do YYYY, now hold, now exhale slowly" then you'll end up hyperventilating with your spouse calling 911 for emergency help.
  • The DVD should come with Cardiac defibrillators, which are always a plus to have around.
  • I've tried Yogo several times and I've come to a couple of understandings. Once I reach my limit, I do the following:
    • I calmly get out of the impossible stance, get into a new stretch
    • This stretch is aimed at getting me close to the reach of the refrigerator
    • I use my newfound flexibility and strength (thanks to my YOGO exercises) to grab a cold beer from the ice box.
    • Now I sit back on the couch and give my legs a nice long, soothing stretch that reaches to the coffee table. Every once in a while, I stretch my arms to grab the TV remote control. I've even been known to place my beer in a position in which I am forced to reach/stretch for it. Thus, YOGO BEER is borne.

June 11, 2006

Trash

I just don’t get trash with other countries. So far, Thailand has the smallest trash cans that I've ever seen. In the four places that we stayed in Thailand, some rural, some touristy, and some in Bangkok, the average size of the trash can is about the size of a match stick box. I think they must eat their trash in Thailand.

One of the places that we stayed had a trash can the size of a thimble. They had to place huge placards on the walls to point to it. I thought it might be like a toilet on a plane—when you place something in this thimble and press a button, the suction would take everything away to some unidentified and nebulous place that fairies and disgruntled demons work to create magical things like rainbows and blue diamonds.

South Africa and Australia places have something a little larger—about the size of a pint of paint.

Are we Americans the freaks?! When we downsized to our 800 sq. ft. log cabin in the Appalachian Mountains, one of the first things we did to “upgrade” our kitchen was to purchase a trash compactor. Now we proudly visit the county dump on a weekly basis with our 30-40 pounds of home-grown American Rousseau trash. But at least it’s in one bag!

I would think that we Rousseau’s were trash freaks unless I knew of one of our best friends that had a 55 gallon trash can in their kitchen. I loved that idea—a huge trash can that availed them from any room in their house via a short toss or flick of their wrists. How can you NOT miss a 55 gallon trash can when you’re carelessly tossing food scraps around?

Saturday, August 6, 2006

Travel Update

Airline travel totals to date (August 6, 2006):

Airline Travel   Miles Hours
Previous Travel to date  
22,963
53.4
Perth – Cairns, Queensland, Australia  
1937
4
   
24,900
57.4

Car travel totals to date (August 6, 2006):

Car Travel   Kilometers Hours
Car Travel Previous to Australia  
4286.5
81.75
Car Travel in Western Australia  
4227
49.75
Car Travel in Eastern Australia  
3828
50
   
12,341.5
181.5


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