Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The adventures of Sla and Migaloo...

The past two weeks were spent traveling the east coast of Oz (a trip I have learned a good portion of Aussies have not even done yet) with my best mate La. We made the trip in a hired Nissan X-trail we affectionately named Migaloo, after the well known white whale of Australia, in symbolic reference to our trek from the northeastern coast to the southeastern coast, migrating alongside our whale friends. The first few days I was able to sit and find time to write far more details about the trip than I was able to capture as the epic road trip continued. Therefore, my first few entries will be a bit lengthy and detailed, whereas from about day 3 and forward, the thoughts will be shortened and plugged with more entertaining material for those who's attention span will be understandably challenged. That being said, bare with me and here we go..

Saturday 9/10/11

Today was an absolutely beautiful day. I felt as I had the unreal opportunity of time traveling as I left the USA in the peak of a blazing hot summer to find myself in a lovely, crisp autumn morning (even though it is technically Spring in Oz). The morning was "fresh" as the Aussies would say for a cool morning. La laughed as I could not help but continually point out the endless shades of flowers along our walk with their colors brighter than even my favorite Seattleite greeneries. We strolled leisurely to Manly Beach (about a 15 minute walk) where I was greeted with a picturesque view of an ocean built up onto the horizon as we came off a hill. The waters were a translucent blend of blues and greens, speckled with surfers and boards catching the early morning waves.

I am sadly reminded every time I strap on my pack and begin an uphill trek of just how out of shape my americanized booty is. My legs are a sore bit of jello and I find myself panting a tad more than preferred, but I gladly take a deep breath, inhale, stretch it out and press onward toward a healthy and active lifestyle (I hope;)

Two lattes later we headed back home to finish packing. Destination: Cairnes. Flight time: 2:25 pm. Now if only we knew which airline we were flying on...

The 2.5 hour plane flight from Sydney was just enough time to drink some red wine and do some prime planning for the road trip. We flew into cairns just as the sun was beginning to set over the eastern coast of Oz. The pink and purple silhouette of the mountains against a tropical backdrop made for a perfect greeting. Renting the car was easy enough. Once I found the steering wheel and re-educated myself on the layout of all the important buttons and handles, learning to drive the car on the wrong side of the road actually proved to be a little less difficult than I had imagined (although it of course came with it's fair share of panicked squeals from mine and Las mouth - thank goodness for insurance!). Parallel parking in front of the hostel was next up, but thanks to life in Hoboken, I parked it like a pro with only a few attempts even from the wrong side of the car:)

I'm sitting in my first hostel on the top bunk, perched above a German who just questioned the "bless you" I doled out to Laura after she sneezed. He says "what's that she says? Bless you?" He's never heard the term but quickly equates it with his more familiar gazuntite and wishes good health to Laura as well. The hostel is both what I expected but also not quite what I expected. Its quiet at the moment, with Laura, me and the German all lounged on our own bunks, doing our own thing. It's a decent sized space with room for 3 more roommates, who have all gone out for the night. Not much on the to do list for the night - just chatting with some backpackers about the must sees and must dos for the road. The make up of tonight's company included primarily German boys with a few French ones mixed in as well.

As I learn about a backpacker's life in a hostel, I'm pondering the life that's up ahead of me for the next 4 months. Wondering if I'm the right fit for the part. I have a thousand questions about the etiquette and entire process and poor La has to sit and listen to me wade through each one of them. Here's hoping I've got what it takes.


I woke up bright and early (a new and quite strange habit I'm developing). It was about 5:30 based on the lack of sunlight. I awoke completely confused with a foggy head from the remnants of the lurking jet lag and a malfunctioning internal clock. I moved around the room quietly - wouldn't want to wake the Germans, Candadian or the unidentified person who arrived late in the night. I'm sure I looked a bit foolish as I'm still learning the etiquette of hostel living, but I didn't see any sense in making enemies that early on. The morning began with a jog along the shore in Cairns.

On the road again, but this time for a longer time frame. Gotta get used to this backwards driving bit. There are new conversions to consider, like the km/hr, Celsius to Farenheit, feet to meters, and as if it wasn't already tricky enough let's talk about the roundabouts that are present at nearly every intersection. Also present are the Roo crossing signs..a tad different than deer crossings:) Biggest lesson of the day: STAY LEFT and you'll be right! Blinker on right, wipers on left. The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas was lined with the ocean on the right and tree covered hills on the left. Quick stop off to climb down the rocky hill and take pictures on a sand island across the water where we met an American Phd student who taught us about Blue Ring Octopus and how to do the sting ray shuffle. Fact: only way to survive a bite from the blue ring is for someone to pump your heart for 90 minutes after the attack. Hope La is up for the challenge if needed!

A few more Km down the road and we stopped off for a crocodile adventure. Here we watched these massive creatures snap their jaws shut as they were fed huge pieces of cow hide and chicken. Fact: when a croc snaps his jaws together it sounds eerily similar to the sound of a gun shot. Learned enough facts about these guys to make me walk on my tip toes with both eyes wide open when near the Australian embankments. I got to check Feed The Roos off my list as I knelt down to pet and fed several little kangaroos and wallabies. Roos: cute. Wallabies: creepy. Spotted several Koalas, but haven't cuddled one yet.


We parked in a tiny parking lot right above the 4 mi beach at Port Douglas. After a fairly decent nighttime ritual of getting ready for bed, we nestled into the car for a good, free night's sleep at the Sla Crocodile Nook car hostel (the first of six). I only woke up a few times to get comfortably rearranged but then drifted back into a nice sleep. I woke around 5:45 with the sun seeping through the windows, brushed my teeth, gathered my sketch pad and journal and headed the 50 meters to the shore. The sand was soft and pale brown and the sun was just rising over the horizon. This is where I stop and breathe deep. I stop and say countless thank yous to my God for all the blessings I am given. I cannot say it enough. Blessed is the overwhelming word of the day.

All day Monday was snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef! It was brilliant. Boat name: Posiedon. Level of anxiety as I plunged into the deep ocean waters: extremely high. We geared up with snorkels, wet suits and flippers and jumped in feet first. The first time I placed my head underwater I literally gasped (and then choked on the water:) because of just how much natural beauty was in front of me. Think Finding Nemo in hi-def in real life and you may come somewhat close to the reality of what I was seeing. Sooo many colors and sooo many fishes! We also had the opportunity to see 3 whales on our way out to the reef. Quite literally a breathtaking experience. Next up is our trip up the coast to Cape Tribulation: the only place in the world where the rain forest meets the reef....

Everything we look at has a story..this is mine.

As I am traveling, I take the time to contemplate life and the lessons I am meant to learn. I feel this type of internalized pressure to gain something significant in knowledge and personal growth, which I am certain will happen..but, what I am not certain of is what will happen and what will be the events surrounding this growth. It is this uncertainty and thrill of the unknown that excites my heart, fills my dreams at night and wakes me each morning.

It is a well known cliché that an underlying purpose of traveling is to find ones self. While I am not fully subscribing to that bandwagon idea, I do know that this journey I am on will certainly entitle me to a decent bit of self-discovery. When thinking on what it is I am looking for I have decided my inner quest will be just that..I am searching for what I am searching for. The true challenge is to leave my heart, soul and mind open to all that this life has to offer..to view every opportunity and experience as a blessing, regardless of the emotions that accompany the time..to embrace every moment and encounter as an opportunity for learning and growth. We are powerful beings, capable of making or breaking the spirit of another. I believe that true happiness comes from doing for others, building others up in love and believing in the goodness of others. In order to do this however, I need to know myself better. I want to acknowledge my own strengths and weaknesses, and be content with who I am inside. This is also part of my journey.

I spend a good portion of my days with head phones plugged in, listening to the playlist of what best fits my mood for the day. I have learned however, that the best way to do this is with one headphone in and one out, leaving one ear tuned in to the world surrounding me. For me, this is how I learn the rhythm of this life. I met a musician on Fraser Island who's insight into life was incredibly inspiring. One line from his lyrics reads "when you look back on your score of life, did you dance to that symphony, do you think you got it right?". I want to dance to this life; I don't want to miss a beat.

As I sip my coffee, I am sitting at a table with two lovely elderly ladies who have ordered chips and tea. I can't help but smile when I catch the shy exchange of a smile between one woman and the older gentleman who enters the shop just after her. How beautiful is it that the heart can still blush at the possibility of love beyond youth and even adulthood. My hope is that I never give up on love and I never lose sight of the power of a smile.

My blogs, for those who find them interesting enough to follow:), will be dedicated to my attempt to capture the beauty and mysteries of life as I travel a small portion of the world. The vastness of this world never ceases to amaze me and I hope my words can do justice to all it as to offer in knowledge and experience. Cheers to flying free and living in the moment:)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Let it begin...

The plane ride was fabulous and actually went by rather quickly with no problems. The people are truly friendly down under and made the traveling solo experience painless and great. I discovered that international flight food makes me happy, especially when you are given hot tea with cream and sugar in addition to a surprisingly fantastic caramel cream cake, followed by an extra offering of fresh hot cocoa with marshmallows. Sleeping quarters are tight but a wisely purchased neck pillow helped ease the discomfort a bit. I did effectively lose all sense of time while flying and decided that well, if the lights were off and everyone else was sleeping, I suppose I should be too!

If it hadn't been for Ameera, a super friendly South African/Australian girl sitting next to me on the plane I might have been a bit worse off. My phone for whatever reason was not picking up service once I arrived at the airport (and is actually continuing to refuse service at this point), so the detailed emailed instructions to find Laura's place were a mute factor seeing as how I had no way of accessing them. Ameera offered me her phone to call Laura before we deboarded the plane, and I was able to write down my navigational cues to reach my final destination. If it hadn't been for her, I might still be sitting at Sydney International Airport wondering what step to take next!:)

Simple jargon differences: 'give way' instead of 'yield' and 'way out' instead of 'exit'. The accents are rich and inviting. I laugh as Laura easily slips in several of her new Aussie terms in common conversation and smile as her voice turns up with the slightest bit of Australian inflection. Words such as keen, cheeky, clever, straight away, and phrases such as "Oh, I'm not fussed" make their way into regular chatting and amuse me. I've already spotted and heard at least three different birds that I don't recognize, one of which I was almost certain was a flying skunk.

My first night in Australia was spent sitting on Manly wharf, with my best mate and a 7-11 paper cup filled with red wine, musing over life as we listened to the waves crashing into the bay. I feel a tad guilty to report back to my fellow desertonians that the temperature was in the cool 60s with a light mist falling. The sky was vast and held different stars than my American night sky, but the moon remained the same. How incredibly blessed I feel to be taking this journey, to have this opportunity. We are each given one life to live. We have the power to choose to make it great. I can not wait to soak up all the beauty of the one I've been given:)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Live the life you love and love the life you live:)

Three plane rides, one train ride, one bus ride and a short walk later, I have arrived at my destination. With the weight of my pack off my back and the tiniest bit of jet lag, I am sitting comfortably in Laura's apartment in Australia:) And, I'm proud to say I made it with not one directional casualty or mishap!

Let's take it back a step to LAX:

I find myself with my feet temporarily planted on the ground, awaiting my next flight with my passport and my final boarding pass clutched tightly. Here I am, chanting and muttering things to myself (and sometimes not so much to myself) about random flight and gate information, so the details don't slip my mind and I don't accidentally end up on an African or Asian bound plane. I am laughing at the already present, quirky accents emitting from my foreign fellow passengers. I am currently standing as I write this entry, so as to give my legs and back a sort of pre-travel treat of extended stretching time before I fold and squish myself into a 16 hour flight. My mind is racing with thoughts and my journey has not even fully begun. I am about to board my first international flight solo, I am completely out of my element and I am in love with it. Any pre-formed fear or worry that might choose to present itself is met with an equally challenging counterpart of the assurance that this is where I am supposed to be. This is a road toward a personal growth like nothing I've experienced before. My mama prayed for me before I boarded my first plane, that this would be the experience of a lifetime for me and that the angels would protect me and keep me. Well, let's do this guardian angels...I'm ready for adventure:)

Cheers to growth, knowledge and experience.