Recording with Jesus

The band & Paloma

There’s plenty of fun to be had on the road with children in Cuba. Crumbling aquarium visits, strolls through the vibrant streets and long rides in cycle rickshaws. But, more than anything else, we came to Cuba for the music. And the music’s here, everywhere. No street is silent. Mambos and cha chas and son cubano emanates from every nook and cranny. Havana sweats rhythm. And those sounds are what we want Paloma and Romeo to appreciate as much as we do.

Stopping at the Hotel Sevilla in downtown Havana for another refreshing Cuba Libre, a band is playing beside a fountain in the corner of a chequered courtyard. Paloma and Romeo dance and play hide and seek behind the double bass and conga drums. We watch them and when our drinks come we make a toast to the band and throw some coins in a hat that’s passed around. Afterwards, we befriend the guitarist who has the most encouraging name, Jesus, and invites us around to tea. How can we say no to Jesus?

Later, in the modest home of Jesus and his wife and daughter who is slightly younger than Paloma, my husband Ben proposes that Jesus and Paloma record a version of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. A Bossa Nova, he says. Bossa is not Cuban, but Ben’s obsessed with it and Jesus plays it all the time and agrees. As for Paloma, Twinkle Twinkle is ‘too easy, Mum’.

Paloma recording

Within a day or so we’re in the home studio of Carlos, a friend of Jesus, to record the song. Paloma is a little shy at first, but it’s not long until she’s got the whole way through the song and we’re cruising home in another ’59 Chevvy after paying Carlos with a large bottle of vintage Havana Club. It’s gone so well we decide to come back and do a whole album, or at least another song! Ben is already composing an original piece.

So here, for starters, is our 4 yo daughter singing the ‘Twinkle Twinkle Bossa Nova’ we recorded in Old Havana. There’s always fun to be had on the road with your children. You are only ever limited by your imagination.

 

 

Kaspia’s top 10 tips for travelling with children

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

1. Keep mobile. Prams can be a hassle even in European nations like France and Italy (think cobble stones!) and a waste of time in places without proper footpaths/sidewalks and heaving crowds. We use an Ergo carrier, but you might prefer a sling. Get your baby used to sleeping in this from an early age if you intend traveling with them.

2. Be flexible. While you may stick to ‘routines’ when at home (dinner, sleep times etc), when on the road you need an ability to adapt and to be flexible. You can always go back to routines when you return.

3. Bring play-things/entertainment. Our children have own bags with things they can play with. Sheets of little stickers keep them going for hours. Every child has a different preference. Some might like heaps of videos or learning tools uploaded onto iPhones or iPads. While away, find things to do that they like, too. Not many kids get into adult art galleries, I’m afraid. Find fairs, circuses, parks and shows.

4. Keep onto food and drink. Snacks are vital. Always have a snack supply! Nuts, muesli bars, whatever. In many countries the food can be a bit full-on for kids (masala etc) so have a back-up. Things were really easy while breastfeeding. I didn’t have to think about baby food at all! On that note, be careful not to flash boobs in ultra conservative countries!

5. Get them sleeping rough. No, only kidding! We use a ‘Port-a-cot’, preferably a very light one (Bill&Ted’s T2 is popular and the lightest on the market). Be prepared for your child to end up sleeping in your bed, though. Ah, whatever, we’ll be back home soon! If your child relies on milk to sleep and is no longer breast-feeding, remember almost everywhere in the world has fresh milk (often only available in the mornings though) and if not, Tetra Paks are a back-up if you really have to. Can you share a room? We do, but depends on how well your children sleep with noise. Our daughter, once down, will not wake up if we’re watching a movie on our laptop full-volume on our bed next to her cot, which is lucky.

6. Tolerating lower hygiene. Nappy-wipes or wet-ones are good to have with you always, of course. Handwashing wherever possible is best. But dirt on their hands is unavoidable in some countries (India, for one!). Expect your child to put the filthiest things you can imagine into their mouths while on your travels. They’ll probably survive this. Kids need to build their immunity through exposure. So in a sense, you are doing them a favour by not locking them indoors all day. There is every chance in some locations they will develop a bout of mild gastro. Keep them well hydrated during this, and seek urgent medical aid if it goes on more than 48 hours, if they develop a raging temperature or if they start acting weird/lethargic etc.

7. Share your child. Well to a degree, otherwise you’ll have a terrible time. Traveling with a baby or child as a foreigner in many Asian nations, for example, is such a novelty to the locals. Everyone wants their picture taken with your child, especially at touristy sites. They’ll kiss, pinch, pat, cuddle and sometimes simply take your baby/child from your arms. Try not to freak out too much. Freaking out rarely helps. If things get full-on, politely decline and walk away quickly and keep moving. Unless you are willing to let your child develop their social skills by interacting with locals in way-out places, don’t bother traveling in the first place.

8. Be sensible but not obsessively stupid about safety. Travel with a child is simply not advisable for parents who are highly risk-averse. This is a very contentious point. Here we will use one very obvious example that will bring this fact home; child seats for cars. Outside of high-income nations there is near-to-zero use of the ‘baby seat’ for private cars, let alone taxis. Now, we’re not advocating taking your whole family on a motorbike through central Calcutta. But, you will almost certainly be catching a taxi or rickshaw in places like this. Bearing this in mind, we believe it is up to the parents as to what level of risk they are willing to expose their kids to (within reasonable limits and the law, of course!) It is a very personal thing. But just be aware of this before you book your flights to India, for example. Even if you bring your own baby seat to countries like this, chances are they won’t have the right fittings. If you do choose, as we do, to make exceptions for the time you are overseas, be sure you always hold on to your child in transit. Another tip with an infant is to put your own seatbelt on as normal (if there is one), then place the Ergo baby carrier over yourself with baby in it. We have also heard of parents using seatbelt attachments like the ones found on planes.

9. Bath time with Iodine. Yes, some places just don’t have clean enough water for your child to splash about in. We use hotel-supplied buckets filled with tap water and Iodine solution added. Swish it about and make sure to wait around ten minutes.

10. Plan and co-ordinate. Oh, those great days of free-wheeling as backpackers! How fun and crazy! Now with our children we’re just a little more organised (not too much, though, that would be boring). We book ahead occasionally nowadays; hotels, flights, trains. It’s so easy with the internet to ‘kind of’ know what you’re going to get (the occasionl nasty surprise is part ‘n parcel). We plan long car journeys to coincide with our child’s sleep time and so on.

Well, that’s about it. Please feel free to write and tell me your stories or give me your own tips!

Bon voyage to you all.

Kaspia

How not to catch an Indian train

Most seasoned travellers would never be racing through peak hour traffic yelling at their driver ‘Chello! Chello! Dhanyavaad!’ (Faster! Faster! Thank you!) while the nice man drives as fast as he can, attempting to weave through the notoriously crazy Delhi traffic… with no horn. Yes, the only taxi in India without a horn, right when we need one with a horn.

We accidentally mixed up our station of departure to Varanasi. I thought it was the railway station up the road, but the station in question was, in fact, 40 minutes away.  And now our train was leaving in 30 minutes. We were going to miss it. Lisa looked at me like I was mad, which I am, but she isn’t, thank goodness.

Still in island time from our Andaman Paradise trip, we are never-the-less keen to get to Varanasi, India’s holiest city. Right now Delhi is the last place we want to stay in.

We screech to a halt outside Delhi Anand Vihar Train Station at 6:05pm. The train is set to leave at 6:10. Lisa is half carrying and half dragging Otie who has fallen asleep in her arms while we lug two bags into the terminal. The guard rushes us through security not bothering to check for the grenades in our luggage. We burst out laughing when we see the massive set of stairs in front of us and start to race up them.

In India, there is always someone to help you, whether you want it or not. Today we want it and a good Samaritan has come to our rescue. He whips our suitcase onto his head, grabs our ticket races us down the platform and installs us in our carriage with 1 minute to spare. We offer him a tip but he puts his hand on his heart and shakes his head, backing out of the carriage, never to be seen again.

We can’t believe we’re on the train. But we don’t have time to marvel at this because soon we find ourselves battling through the compartment to our berth with the sweat dripping from us. We are surprised to find the berth is over-capacity already. There are eight people here instead of four. Now, one can’t get mad because one has to spend the next 15 hours with these new friends. So we calmly negotiate with them that at least two people leave so we can sit down.

On it and over it.

Soon I notice a steady stream of people flowing down the aisle and coming back with bedding. In 2nd class AC sleeper you arrive to a berth with only four bunks and the bedding wrapped nicely in brown paper at the end of your bed. We could only manage 3rd class AC Sleeper and here you have to get it yourself. I motion to the people and our new friend Ravi says ‘Run! Run!’ I join the masses with Paloma on my front in the ergo carrier. I didn’t realize I would have to fight for my life, well my child’s life to be precise, just to acquire this little package of linen.

We head into the small hallway connecting the two carriages and immediately get squished on both sides from others desperate for bedding too. I squirm my way to the tiny counter and thrust forward a 50 rupee note, as everyone else seems to be doing. But the pillow wallah dealing in sheets and blankets seems oblivious. At least 50 people are surrounding us and pushing in harder and harder. Paloma is asking nicely ‘Please, Mummy, can we go?’ and then after a while ‘MUMMY!!!! HELLLLPPPPP!’ and screaming at the top of her lungs. ‘Batcha! Batcha!’ (‘Baby! Baby!) I yell at them motioning to her as the temperature rises and she is pulled in all directions. A woman turns her squashed face to me, sandwiched between three other peoples shoulders. ‘Will you control your child!’ ‘Are YOU serious?’ I exclaim. She then softens for some reason and goes nuts, ordering the men to provide me with my bedding ASAP! I reach out to grab at the enormous pile being handed to me but it disappears down the hall on a sea of hands. It is gone. Then all hell breaks loose. The lady who is now my defender starts hitting the crowd, yelling at the pillow walla who yells at me and I yell at him and Paloma yells at everyone. I grab sheets and pillows, abandoning the blankets, offer a quick thanks to my guardian goddess and turn to leave. On my way out of the melee I face the crowd who have been pushing me into a ball from behind for the last five minutes. A passage parts like the Nile.

Ravi, our fellow passenger, questions me as to where my blankets are. And don’t I know there is a blanket racket going on? They turn the AC up so high we freeze, so people buy more blankets, he says. But then at midnight they turn it off so we will all sweat. Luckily I abandoned the blankets.

Before we retire the kids race up and down the carriage loving the adventure of travel. Paloma disappears for 20 minutes and I find her entertaining a berth of Indian gentlemen with her stories and telling them all her name. I love having so many child minders on hand…and all for free! Otis loves the ‘Train Hotel’ and we make cubby houses out of sheets once the old men on the bottom bunks let us go to bed, that is the curse of having the middle bunks.

These bunks feel like they have shrunk since last month when I shared one with Paloma. She hogs the remainder of the space we have. After a crazy afternoon we are finally all cosy and snug and fall asleep to the rock and rhythm of the train.

About Kaspia

Kaspia's Cuba

I’m Kaspia, a stylist and traveller from Sydney, Australia.

Before I could crawl, I travelled. My parents carried me. They camped with me. They crossed borders with me. I still like spaghetti from a tin. But I also developed a very early appetite for adventure, discovery and learning about ways other people in the world spend their days, decorate their living spaces and adorn themselves.

Before my husband Benjamin Gilmour and I had our children, we embarked on many exciting travels, from motorbike journeys across Indian deserts, to daring escapades on the Pakistani frontier. Now we are happy to say our young daughter Paloma and son Romeo already have dozens of stamps peppering the pages of their passports.

Anthropology is not just for academics. By way of journal entries and Instagram images, I hope to share with you my ‘travels in style’, my exploration of the varied ways in which humans express themselves in their environments and through personal beautification. I also hope to encourage those who hesitate to travel with young children, that it’s not only possible to take them with you, but despite the challenges the experience can be truly amazing and one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Kaspia
kaspiascaravan@gmail.com

Khiva to Ayaz-Kala

‘Sunshine of Your Love’ is filling my mind and heart with wonderful images as the music of Jimi Hendrix accompanies us into the desert after our lovely stay in the immaculately preserved old city of Khiva. Ben literally had to drag me away from here after I didn’t want to leave the Tosh-Hovli Palace and it’s tile and gaunch work. To enter the palace one has to duck through a beautifully hand-carved wooden door and walk through a dark passage way. Coming into the light again one is stunned by the many rooms either side of a courtyard, each with an open front and covered from wall to floor with individually hand-painted tiles. Each of the rooms is decorated completley differently. The celing is propped-up with a gigantic intricately-carved wooden column, not unlike the forest of colums one can walk through in the Jama Masjid. They are bulbous at the base and rise heavenward to a fine tapered end.

As Uzbekistan is not high on many tourists’ travel lists (apart from the French, for whom Uzbekistan oddly seems at the top) the travellers we have met have been the most intersting people we have spent time with anywhere in a long while. From the Frenchman Bastian traveling overland from Paris to Thailand, Jonas the Norweigan bloke trekking throughout Central Asia and Ray the vulcanologist from Spain and his partner Stephanie, a dutch chef, on a 12 month adventure across the world, all with inspiring tales to tell. Our paths keep crossing along the way and we trade tips and tricks on working out the quirk that Uzbekistan is.

Out side the taxi window the desert stretches unbroken to the horizon. Then suddenly out of nowhere the ancient Ayaz-Kala fort (4-2nd Century BC) is immense and crumbling before our eyes. We race up the dirt path and survey the ruins of what was once obviously a thriving city. One can still see the foundations of the streets and houses all made from mud-packed earthe and hay, blowing away with the desert wind. Ben, the keen amateur archeologist starts an illegal dig in the wall but comes up with nothing. It doesn’t look as if it has ever been touched.

It could be the psychedelic music we are listening to, or the fact that we are under the middday sun, but everything is kind of surreal here. Or maybe it is just the deliciously fresh desert air. After driving for three hours in this barren landscape we are glad to reach our yurt not far from Ayaz-Kala Fort. Set up on a hill over looking the nothingness and with a lone camel sitting near the door we feel we are home. Paloma is ecstatic and is practically jumping on the camel for a ride. Ben and Paloma mount the bad-tempered camel and disappear over a dune. They come back a while later with Paloma excitedly telling me ‘It was a baddy camel, he went up and down and up and down all bumpy over the desert!’ Ben tells me the camel stood up and sat and stood up again, over and over, then refused to move in the middle or nowhere. If you’ve ever been on a camel you will know that lurching feeling of almost catapulting off each time the camel gets up.

Inside the yurt the softest beds have been laid out on the floor. There are thick layers of handmade felt surrounding the outside of the yurt and beautiful horse hair ropes are decorating the bamboo structure. A feast of chicken soup and fresh vegetables, salad, bread and meat has been laid out for us, and the Uzbek tea which accompanies every meal. Gayrat (yes, indeed) our driver joins us and we demolish the food in no time. It is the best we have eaten our whole trip.

We are told we must see ‘the lake’ and we trek through the dunes and the thorny bushes for an hour to find the fabled lake. On our way I spot a turtle running across a dune. Whoever said turtles are slow has never met one. On arrival ‘the lake’ is more like a stagnant pond. We head back with Paloma trailing through the dust like a little nomad.

As twilight falls we sit outside our yurt watching the stars come out. Our favourite star, the first star we now call our Paloma Star is buring bright. The moon is full but not yet up and as the darkness descends the milky way lights up as only it can to it’s full glory with not one city light to diminish its glow. We watch shooting stars glide across the sky, satelites blink from afar. Our al fresco dinner becomes lively with a bottle of Uzbek vodak which is lovely and sweet. Then the turbaned Uzbek ladies with gold teeth glinting in the firelight bring more delicious food to our low table.

A huge bonfire is lit and some local musicians who have walked hours from some distant village are sitting on stools. A traditional Uzberk dancer is spinning round the fire. Her movements are eccentric and like nothing I have seen before. The few people who are staying here are all up and dancing round the bonfire with Paloma. She loves it and we dance for hours.

Octopussies

There is nothing quite like coming upon a glittering lake set in one of the prettiest cities in India, after many hours and a day traveling through a desert. Udaipur is the glistening gem in the crown jewels of India. Steep alley ways wind down the hill towards Lake Pichola, lined with shops spilling their gorgeous textiles, antiques, embroideries, jewels and every objet trouve for the curious eye. Walls along the way are painted with scenes from the Ramayana or bright yellow Indian tigers. The whole town is enclosed in the craggy arms of the Arvali Mountains and atop the eastern shore sits the gleaming City Palace where the Maharaja of Udaipur and his family still reside. From behind the walls of his private gardens, mustachioed guards – and occasionally his personal band – will emerge for a brief drum roll.

But it’s the Taj Lake Palace we are enamoured by. Ben in particular, has always been obsessed with it ever since it was put on the map by that James Bond film Octopussy. How I wish too I could play on the cushioned swing inside the Maharani’s suite… We spend long hours on the rooftop of our hotel, admiring the mysterious and alluring Lake Palace from afar, watching small boats ferrying those few lucky guests who can afford to stay there.

Ben has surprised me with the Pink Room in the beautiful Kankara Hotel. Settled into our day bed window seat with scalloped carved arches we look our to the scene of beauty unfolding in front of us.

Days are filled with boat rides, visits to the Maharaja’s Vintage car collection, escapes to the bazaar and delicious dinners atop our favorite restaurant. As we watch the dip-dyed sky blink with stars and the buildings opposite us turn from a burnt rose to silhouettes like paper cutouts, we say goodbye to this beautiful place and head to the train station for the overnight express to Bombay.

 

Heavenly Heritage

Hand carved stone vessels, filled to the brim with scented waters and decorated with flower mandalas, have been placed auspiciously to guide our journey through ancient sandstone halls. I dip my head under carved arches and enter a courtyard of rambling bougainvillea in bloom ascending balconies of shuttered windows. I’m in the centre of a giant treasure chest. Climbing stairs to the grand entrance, I turn and survey what I’ve left behind; a spectacle of preserved history, secrets held in rooms and walls, mirrors striated with patina holding memories of ages and faces long gone.

Lilting and melodic Rajasthani music is playing in the main courtyard. We linger here only for a moment before we are swept into a private alcove and refreshed with lime soda and presented with the heavy brass key to the Maharajas Suite, an upgrade, courtesy of the owner, the Maharaja of Samode himself, His Royal Highness Yadavendra Singh with whom we’re conducting an interview. It’s also an excuse, of course, to taste the fabulous life of Maharajas!

There are no lifts in this stunning heritage hotel, and the porters carry our luggage on their heads up narrow stone stairwells, higher and higher, until we are settled in our magnificent room overlooking the dusky, sun drenched Aravalli Range. Eagles circle high above us, and flocks of rock pigeons swoop in formation around the grounds before settling back on the roof above our room at the highest point Samode Palace.

I stare out to the shimmering desert below, the silence, the solitude, the bliss of it all has captured my spirit. This is where I can dream for hours. A pattering of little feet is heard. A squeal of delight, ‘Look Mummy a bath in the middle of the room!’ In front of our four-poster bed is a huge bathtub with shiny old-fashioned taps and plenty of bubble bath that we enjoy immensely later in the night. Our suite also has a lovely dinner table for eight, a sofa you can snuggle on, a walnut-coloured desk at which one can pen letters or type engaging travel blogs.

The palace was home to Indian royalty less than a century ago, and we still feel taken into the welcome fold of a certain humble luxury by the wonderful staff, most coming from the local medieval village of Samode surrounding the ramparts. Every want and need is catered for and a there is a certain romantic magic that is subtly created here. It truly feels like you have come to visit a long lost friend in their house, albeit one of the grandest in India, rather than an anonymous guest at some five star hotel.

Exploring the Palace, we are startled to find immaculately preserved rooms of hand-painted glory depicting Krishna and his consorts in various stages of frivolity and elegant poise. The Mughal Mahal has secret windows and tiny rooms with walls are covered with scalloped cut mirrors, in our opinion the jewel in the crown of Samode Palace. And down in the lavish Dubar Hall, magnificent chandeliers quiver as they await the next imperial reception, a glorious example of Mughal design and architecture.

In the shine of the late desert sun, we sit beneath trees on striped towels, occasionally taking a dip in the marble mosaic swimming pool and later in the private infinity pool on a high up terrace.

Paloma is in heaven, playing with doves in the cool waters, watching out for cheeky long-tailed monkeys on the rooftops of the village below.

Later, under a little crescent moon we feast on delicious Rajasthani cuisine. Paloma is entertained by a traditional spangled puppet show and leaves clutching a pretty Maharani doll. Entering our suite, the covers on our bed have been folded back, music is playing and the lights are dim. Martini’s await Ben and I and we sip them looking out to a starry sky and muse on the goings on here of Rajputs of the past, dreaming of where our future adventures will take us.