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John Harris has absconded from Australia for five weeks with his wife Sandy and eight-year-old daughter Eden. While the true purpose of their trip to North America is to spend Christmas with Canadian friends in the snowy suburban streets of Ottawa, they have extended the front end of the trip and the back end of the trip with so many add-ons that the Norwood City Council is considering sending in the building inspectors. This itinerary is enough to make grown travel agents shudder: Disneyland, Hollywood, the Big Easy, the Bad DC, the Big Apple, the Big Hole in the Ground, Lost Wage and that Pacific island where you get leied on arrival. Will it stand the strain? Will it collapse? Dear reader, I know not, so read on to discover how it all turns out.

Denise GoodfellowBy Denise Goodfellow

When I first received the invitation to speak at the Bird Festival, I thought it was to be held in Columbia, USA.  After all, who in their right mind would run such an event in Colombia, South America?

North Americans participating in my PhD research on birdwatchers who travelled internationally, had elected Colombia as the country most would not visit, several citing friends who had been kidnapped by the FARC, a Colombian Marxist–Leninist revolutionary guerrilla organization. 

And then there were the drugs: everybody I knew had heard of the efforts to rid the country of coca plantations.

But the invitation from Sergio Ocampo Tobon, President of the Colombia Birding Network, certainly was for the South American country: indeed their Government was offering me an all-expenses-paid trip to speak at the third Colombian Bird Festival to be held in Manizales. 

I googled the name to find a beautiful city perched on a ridge in the mountains, a city with no sign of ongoing revolution, but instead twelve universities!

Still I went, heart in mouth, and not only because of the FARC, for very few reviews said anything nice about Aerolineas Argentinas with whom I was to fly – the plane was dirty, seats were broken, the food was terrible and the staff were disinterested. 

But my trepidation was without foundation  - every plane and the one bus I travelled on, was spotless, nothing was broken, and the food and service were nearly equal to that of Qantas.

Still in many ways it was a tough trip - the missing data on the e-ticket, confusing or absent information that nearly resulted in missed flights, the long hours stuck in that tiny space called an airline seat (tough for one who has the freedom of 20 acres at home!), two scary landings, and a bus trip through the mountains that I only just survived with stomach contents still in situ.  But in other ways it was easier than most other international trips I’d taken.   


We arrived in Honolulu, Oahu, late on Monday, 1st June, from Dallas, Texas, and after about an hour's wait, caught an inter-island flight to the Big Island, Hawai'i (Hawai'i is the island's actual name, but was given to the chain by Pai'ea Kamehameha [meaning “the lonely one] who ruled as last war chief/first king).   From above the island appeared heavily fissured with steep verdant razorback ridges.



After Tennessee, Michael and I headed for Charlottesville, Virginia, where I was to give my next lecture.  It would have been an uneventful trip, but for the hundreds of trucks that filled the highway.   They were not as large or as long as the semi-trailers common to Northern Territory roads, but enough to make the trip hair-raising in parts. Lesley had warned us of this.