The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Tag: Comfort Zone (page 1 of 2)

Adventure in Dalat

If you had told me that I’d be caving, trekking, and rappelling down waterfalls during my travels, I would have believed you. I would have said, “Oh yeah, definitely in New Zealand, or maybe even Montenegro.”

If you had said I’d be doing all these things in Vietnam? I would have scoffed.

And yet there I was, in Dalat, dangling over a churning channel of water that promised to chew me up and spit me out if I let go of the rope. Above me, our guide was shouting “Let go!” The whole point was to get chewed up and spit out.

How did I get here?

You want me to do WHAT?!

You want me to do WHAT?!

I had loosely plotted my time in time in Vietnam — I knew I wanted to work my way north to south, and that I wanted to see the best of the best in the three+ weeks I had allotted myself in the country. Dalat was a question mark to me. I was interested in visiting, and the more I heard about the amazing adventures that were possible in this mountain town, the more it appealed.

Irene and I had no idea that we had timed our arrival in Dalat perfectly with one of the biggest holidays in Vietnam: Independence Day. Since Dalat is in close proximity to Saigon, many city dwellers head to the mountain town to get a break from the humidity and heat of the city. As such, we managed to snag one of the very last rooms at Dalat Family Hostel, and we were very lucky we did. The next morning, there were two girls sleeping in the hallway, and SIX people sleeping in the ‘lobby’ living room on the ground floor.

Sometimes, not planning ahead doesn’t go your way. We were just lucky we got in early enough!

We met several other travelers in our Hostel area through our friendly hostesses. One thing is clear: Dalat is absolutely an up-and-coming destination for young travelers. New hostels are opening, old ones are being renovated, and the town is gearing itself toward Western tourism more than ever before.

With our new group of friends, we went to the town center. At the top of the steps that lead down to the fountain and traffic circle, I was gobsmacked by the sheer volume of human beings that swarmed the area.

I also discovered what Independence Day meant in Vietnam: It was the day American soldiers left the country. 

This means different things, depending on where you are in Vietnam. In the north, it was freedom from tyrannical Western forces trying to impose their ideology on a sovereign nation. In the south, it was the day America abandoned them. Either way, it’s an odd time to be an American in the country. Not that any locals made me feel badly. Quite the contrary, I was always treated kindly and with respect. One old man even stopped me while I was drinking a coffee and starting chatting away about his family in California. But knowing that everyone is in the streets to celebrate the day your country lost a war is an odd feeling, nonetheless. Must be how Brits feel at their first Fourth of July!

We joined in the festivities, trying out Vietnamese pizza (more on that in another post) and mingling with the festivities that crowded the city.

Vietnamese Pizza!

Vietnamese Pizza!

The next day was our canyoning tour!

As I write this, I’ve just heard the news of three young travelers who lost their lives while participating in a tour very much like the one I took. Unfortunately, Vietnam’s tourism isn’t heavily regulated, and many people will take advantage of unknowing travelers to try to make a buck. Which is why this cardinal rule of travel is so important:

Always do your research before participating in anything remotely dangerous.

This is especially true in less-developed nations. I consulted TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, plus did additional research by reading my favorite bloggers and googling the names of companies that offered the tours. I booked directly with the company rather than go through an agent or our hostel hosts. It just isn’t worth the risk.

Irene and I settled on Groovy Gecko, not because it was the cheapest, but because it was the most heavily vetted. When it comes to safety, you get what you pay for. An extra $10 is well worth coming out the other end alive.

There were several other companies operating alongside us as we meandered our way down the Dasar River to the Dantala Waterfalls, and a look at the equipment and group-to-guide ratio assured me that we had made a good choice.

Confident in our safety, there was nothing left to do but have fun and push the limits of our comfort zone! The photos can tell the story better than I can, but we abseiled a total of four times. The first was a ‘practice run’ down a dry canyon, then we floated for a while toward the Big Mama Jama, the Dantala Fall. In addition to the waterfalls, we got to slide down an all natural ‘rock slide’ and cliff jump. It was an exhilarating, full day of adventure, and one I won’t soon forget.

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Til next time, xoxoxo

The Wizardess

Welcome to Cambodia

Cambodia has become synonymous with the 400+ square-kilometer temple compound of Angkor, found just outside of Siem Reap. And it is stunning. But Cambodia is so much more than that, and is worth a lot more time than most visitors give it.

In addition to a few days touring the temples, here are a few of the other places and things worth doing:

  1. Volunteer: I spent a week with children at the Missionaries of Charity in Siem Reap, and it was one of the most heartbreaking and fulfilling experiences of my travels. There is so much need in Cambodia, and so much opportunity to help. I was lucky to spend time with a big group of volunteers from the UK and Australia, who assisted with anything from teaching English to providing legal assistance to an NGO focused on preventing spousal abuse in rural villages. The Cambodians are such beautiful, kind people that it’s almost impossible not to help.
  2. Go Island Hopping: Cambodia’s coast has islands to rival those of Thailand, with easily 1/3 the traffic. Still relatively undiscovered but with enough amenities to be comfortable, Rabbit Island, Koh Rong, and Koh Rong Sanloem are well worth a few days stay. Or you can park yourself in the sleepy Otres Beach or party-town Sihanoukville and take day trips that will hop amongst the smaller islands just off the coast.
  3. See a Different Side of Khmer Rouge Atrocities in Battambang: Phnom Penh is the most famous for it’s killing fields, where millions of innocent Cambodians were ruthlessly slaughtered by the army led by Pol Pot. Because of an increase in petty theft crimes in Phnom Penh, I opted to avoid the city as much as possible. However, I still wanted to experience and understand the history of the country. In Battambang, we took a day tour, which included a stop at a Killing Cave, where Cambodians were tossed 50+ feet to their deaths. It’s a chilling experience, and hiring one of the local students is well worth the cash for the history lesson.
  4. Get a Taste of Local Life in Kampot: This largely rural area isn’t a top ranker for tourists (other than the French), but it is a charming city with heaps of waterfront accommodation options along the Kampot River. Plus, the best pepper in the world is grown in plantations just outside of town, and one of the oldest temples is nestled in a cave in a national park. I had one of the best days of my life on the back of a motorbike zipping through the village roads outside of Kampot.
  5. Learn to Cook Cambodian Cuisine: Thai food is an old staple, and anyone can whip up a curry without much skill. But how many people can say they know how to cook Fish Amok or Beef Lok Lak? These are two typical Cambodian dishes that are really delicious. Unlike Thai food, Cambodian food isn’t spicy, so you don’t need to worry about alienating your capsaicin-fearing friends.

And here are some practical details for a visit to Cambodia.

Getting Around: 

  1. Bus Companies: There are many bus companies that will take you almost anywhere you want to go. The best of these, without a doubt, is Giant IbisEspecially if you’re traveling overnight anywhere, like I did from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, you will not regret spending the extra money on a sleeper bus ticket with GI. The beds fully recline, there is an outlet and lamp for each individual bed, and your own air conditioning vent that you can adjust at will. If you have to sleep on a bus, this is the way to do it. Pro Tip: Get a top bunk, because full buses mean that sometimes someone will stretch out in the aisle… directly next to you.
  2. Share Taxis: If you find yourself in jam, like I did when I wasn’t switched onto the right bus just before Khmer New Year, there is a share taxi option. This is faster, but very tight, and usually a little more expensive than a bus. A typical sedan will cram four people in the back seat, and sometimes two in the front, so get ready to get cozy with the Cambodians! You can try to get more space by purchasing two seats. Recommended for shorter trips only.
  3. Private Taxis/Tuk Tuks/Motorbikes: Jumping on the back of a motorbike is by far the cheapest option to get from A to B, provided you are traveling solo. It’s a fantastic way to really take in everything around you, and it’s the most direct and quickest way to get wherever you want to go. Just be cautious, the drivers don’t always have extra helmets for passengers. Because of the lack of paved roads in many parts of Cambodia, grab a surgeon’s mask from one of the kiosks on the side of the road that sells gasoline.

Money:

  • They use the US Dollar! This makes things so easy for us Americans, since no currency exchanging is necessary at all. However, many merchants will not accept bills manufactured before 1975, and if the bill is ripped or overly creased, it will be denied. I learned this the hard way trying to buy my pass to Angkor with a bill that didn’t pass muster. If a merchant tries to give you shoddy bills as change, hand it back and ask for a new one. It’s a common practice in Cambodia and not considered rude.

Accommodation:

  • I started off staying at the highly-recommended Mad Monkey in Siem Reap, and ended up with the worst case of bedbugs I’d ever had in my life. Because of this, it was the last time I used a dorm room in all of Southeast Asia. Because of my intense reaction to bedbug bites, it wasn’t worth saving a few bucks. In fact, I spent any savings I would have had on medicine and getting my bags and clothing cleaned and treated. Thumbs down.
  • However, I was able to negotiate my way into a hotel room, with air conditioning, a nice shower, and included breakfast, for $15/night. Online, the price was double! It never hurts to walk in and negotiate.

The Back Roads of Kampot

The air was fresh and dewy, the sun not high enough in sky to bring the thick heat that would soon roll over the fields we sped through, a plume of dust feathering out behind us like a golden jetstream.

I watched as bamboo huts, palm trees, small gardens and wide open fields whipped by, scenes from a life so different from my own playing out in montages around me. A barefoot little boy running after a chicken. A thick woman with glossy dark hair falling over her shoulders as she swept a porch. A pot-bellied, shirtless old man smoking a cigarette, crouched over the disassembled motor of a bike.

Everything seemed clean in that early morning light, the promise of a new day stretching out in front of all of us in this dusty back road behind the city of Kampot.

We arrived at our destination, and I hopped off the back of the motorbike. Dozens of little boys ran over, but stopped short a few feet away, brown eyes shyly avoiding contact with me, but giggling with each other. One came forward and asked me in perfect English, “Ma’am, would you like a guide to show you the temple?”

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My friend Dara at the mouth of the cave

With the assurance that I only needed to pay a tip of my choosing, I was led up a steep set of stone steps by an officious-but-slightly-bored Dara and an entourage of young boys fanning out around me, scrambling over rocks, dancing ahead on the steps, trailing behind, afraid to get too close but desperate not to miss the action.

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After much encouragement, they finally crowded in for a photo

It was the start of one of the best days of my travels. There wasn’t any particular reason why it was the best, other than the restoration of a peace, a contentment, that had gone missing for a few weeks. It wasn’t the 4th century temple I visited, but it might have been the mischievous smiles of the little boys who accompanied me there. It wasn’t the pepper plantation or the salt flats I saw, but it might have been the pride of my driver, who explained in broken and limited English how these supply all of Cambodia and most of Vietnam. It wasn’t the roads that we traveled, but it might have been the fresh air in my face and my hair as we sped along. It wasn’t the sleepy river city of Kampot, but perhaps it was wildness of it’s riverfront, or the unworried steadiness of it’s countryside.

I spent the entire day with a man I didn’t know and would never see again, using sign language and a few words of English to communicate.

I glided on the river and watched the fisherman coming in at dark, the trees lit up like Christmas trees from the fireflies.

And as I departed the next day for Vietnam, I knew that somehow I had found my equilibrium on the back roads of Kampot.

Phnom Chhngok Temple

Phnom Chhngok Temple, the ancient temple in a cave in the mountains

Kampot Countryside

Those backroads

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The salt flats of Kampot

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The pepper plantation

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Kampot River Cruising

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Rustic accommodation on the river’s edge

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Pride of Kampot: It’s world-renowned peppercorns

Facing the Beast

We held our paddles aloft, touching them together over our heads like a totem to victory. We were shouting something in Maori, which always manages to sound fierce and battle-cry-esque, though I was told it was a blessing to the river gods.

My heart was thumping wildly in my chest, and my breath was coming in short. A few meters away was the crest of a 21-foot waterfall, and we were about to go down headfirst.

“Paddle!” Our guide shouted urgently. And we all dug into the water with the paddles that just been over our heads.

One stroke. Surely my heart is about to explode!

Two stroke. Ohmygod, is this really about to happen?

Three stroke. Gasp!

“Down! Down!” The guide called over the roar of the beast just a few feet in front of us, as we felt the powerful pull of nature and gravity take hold of our raft. We all assumed our Down position, crouching into the center of the raft and holding onto the ropes inside with every ounce of strength we could exert. The front of the raft started tilting… And suddenly I was looking at the eye of a great white hurricane, hurtling into it at breakneck speed. For a moment, everything was white foam and green water and a shock of cold, and then… Air. We were upright. We had taken on the beast, and had survived. Euphoria isn’t a strong enough word to describe the feeling. We had started our journey as six strangers, but now we were whooping and high-fiving each other like old buddies.

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We were in Rotorua, New Zealand, on the Kaituna River. Earlier in the day we had gotten a crash-course in river rafting basics from our dreadlocked guide, and had practiced down some rapids and small-ish waterfalls. The climax of the trip is the 7 meter waterfall, touted as the ‘highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.’ On paper, it sounded like a lot of fun, and a few travelers we had met along the way said it was not to be missed. The only time I had any doubt was as we were shouting a Maori blessing to the river gods, about to go over.

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But the moment we made it to the bottom, I totally understood. That was a rush I’d experience again in a heartbeat.

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A Vintage Mode of Transport

Have you read On the Road by Jack Kerouac? Of course you have, you little hipster you. If not, it’s a manic love story about life on the highways of America. Jack was the OG travel blogger, and the book will make you fall in love with America, traveling, or both a little. Or at least make you go on a roadtrip.

Either way, in much of the novel, the protagonist is flat broke and manages to get across the country through a series of intense moochings – crashing with ‘friends’ he met once at a party, hopping on and off moving trains, and… hitchhiking.

This was obviously pre-Ted Bundy, when hitchhiking around the US was a common occurrence. But throw in a few serial killers and the modern, sensationalist network news machine, and hitchhiking in America went the way of gluten. Nobody does it anymore.

Hitchhiking was never something that was on my bucket list, nor had I ever really considered it a valid mode of transport. It was from a different time, Jack’s time. When people inherently trusted each other, which is definitely not right now. But somehow I found myself on the side of the road outside Queenstown, New Zealand, holding a cardboard sign that said “Wanaka” while my sister held up her thumb and smiled at every passing car.

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And so began a 523 km/325 mile journey up the west coast of the south island of New Zealand without paying a dime for transport. My friends who were living in Queenstown convinced me I needed to at least try it, with even the ‘cheap’ buses that ply the route being super expensive thanks to summer and last minute bookings. And in a total of five trips, we found ourselves in Greymouth, where we had our very first paid drive.

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Saving some money was nice, but want to know the best thing about it? The people we met!

Frieda and Emma – Queenstown to Wanaka – 67km/42 mi.

Two Dutch (Swedish?) girls picked us up just outside Queenstown, promptly repacking their campervan to make room for my sister and me and our bags. We made the typical traveler idle chat for a while before we tuned into the iPod as we wound over the mountains. We only spent an hour together, but we reveled in the fact that we were sharing our first hitchhiking experience (theirs as drivers, ours as riders) together!

Day 1: Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier

Allan – Wanaka to Haast – 142km/88 mi.

We owe a huge debt to Mr. Alan – he was by far one of the best people that could have picked us up. A Kiwi in his early sixties, he not only waved off our offers to pay for gas, he actually stopped at popular hikes and waterfalls in the area and let us explore a bit, all while giving us a rundown of the history of the place. It was like being on a guided tour, but without the price tag.

I Can’t Pronouce, Let Alone Spell (2 Israelis) – Haast to Fox Glacier – 121km/75 mi. 

These two were Israeli friends from outside Jerusalem who had just finished their turn in the Israeli Army. They loved the fact that we were American (thus I learned firsthand the impact of controversial foreign policy) but weren’t so fond of Obama. Loved Bush, though. We had lots of talks about American films, television, and music, and I told them to YouTube the Hannukah Song by Adam Sandler after we had a long conversation about his films. I kind of wish I could have seen their faces when they listened to it.

Lee – Fox Glacier to Franz Josef Glacier – 23km/14 mi.

The day was getting long and we were worries that we might have missed our chance to catch a ride the short distance between the glaciers, but like a knight in shining armor, DUDE and his cute golden retriever showed up to save the day! He was a construction worker originally from Manchester who had been in NZ for the better part of 20 years, and we squeezed into his tiny two-seater. Beth happily shared the hatchback trunk with NAME, the dog for the quick drive.

Day 2: Franz Josef to Greymouth

Olly and Mom – Franz Josef to Greymouth – 173km/108 mi.

We owe our greatest debt of gratitude to this hilarious pair, a young Maori guy and his chain-smoking, opinionated mother who cursed like a sailor. They happened to live in Greymouth, and had been in Franz to do some painting, which was the family business. Listening to their banter was like listening to a comedy routine, and Olly was an awesome DJ for the stretches between conversations.

New Zealand is probably the last country on earth you can safely hitchhike (that could also be entirely untrue), and I’m glad that we pushed ourselves to give it a try. Not only did it save us nearly $300, but we got to have contact with local Kiwis in ways we never would have otherwise. Afterward, we lamented our failure to take photos with each of the people who drove us, but they will live on in our hearts forever.

Disclaimer: The south island of NZ is safest for hitchhikers; buses or car rental are recommended for the North. As usual, common sense and your intuition are your best guides. Never get in a car with anyone who gives you a creepy vibe, and be especially careful if you are a solo female. 

When They Say “Be Safe,” I Want to Say…

“Uh, from what?!”

Look, I’m not saying that one should foolhardily rush to another country having done zero research, and then run around with cash falling out of their pockets and not expect anything to happen to them. But I’ve been traveling in Southeast Asia. In many ways, it’s safer than Europe!

The number one admonishment I received from friends and family in the US when I set off for my travels was to “be safe,” as if the Yakuza was going to pop out on any corner and kidnap me for ransom. In stark contrast, my Australian friends and colleagues all said, “Have fun!” In a country where international travel is de riguer, it’s already assumed that one will do the necessary research to understand how best to keep one’s self and belongings in (relatively) the same condition in which you left. The only concern, then, is that you milk that travel for every single drop of fun you can get out of it.

As a woman, I’m already always on the defensive no matter where I am – a dark alley at home in Southern California could have the same perils that one in Hanoi could. Potentially worse, considering how much better-armed Americans are vs. Vietnamese! Acting foolishly in either place could have disastrous consequences, which is something that has been drilled into me from a very early age.

So when everyone tells me to be safe, it’s hard not to occasionally hear: “You haven’t properly prepared.” Which is annoying. But actually, what they’re probably really saying is, “I have never been to that place you’re going, therefore it’s scary and unknown, which means it’s definitely not as safe as where I am at this very moment.” I don’t hear it as much when I visit a ‘Western’ destination, but throw in a vast cultural difference and suddenly danger lurks on every corner.

Here’s a quick tip: That is so not true.

As someone who regularly walks the line between fearlessness and stupidity, I can assure you that your concerns for my safety are unfounded. I have followed travel safety tips and made sure to talk to my hotel staff about scams and common crimes on tourists, and by being smart, aware, and listening to my instincts, I have been completely fine. And I’ve been able to have fun! Traveling alone through Asia is not a 24/7 exercise in hiding in corners, scanning crowds for the potential felon. The only city I heard to be extra vigilant was Phnom Penh, city of the bag snatchers, so I just made sure my bra was my purse. I had to do the exact same thing on Las Ramblas in Barcelona 10 years ago, a place even more notorious for thieves! And a place where my own sister had her purse stolen out from under her just a few years ago.

Of course, I’ll have probably jinxed myself and my next post will be a tearful rant about how all my things have been stolen. But I have a feeling I’m more likely to fall victim to an airline losing my bags than a thief from any place I’ve visited here in Asia.

But don’t listen to me! Come find out for yourself. Come see that the Vietnamese don’t hate Americans at all (even in the North), come see how the Filipinos stare at you because they really want to be your friend but are too shy to say hi, be the guest of a wonderful Muslim family in Thailand, and realize that I am safe. It’s the only way to really know for sure.

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Fact

Farewell Sydney

Goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

My departure is bittersweet, like the time I’ve spent with you. Drastic highs and the lowest lows. My throat caught by both beauty and despair, in merciless succession.

I’ve lost a lot while I’ve been with you, Sydney. You brought me despair-filled train rides over tin and terra cotta rooftops in the weak winter morning light. Aching homesickness alone in my beach apartment, having everything I thought I ever wanted and drowning in a sea of tears. You took the bulk of my entitlement and tore it from my white-knuckled grasp. You looked at what I thought I’d become, and stoically pushed me in the opposite direction. I flailed and I fought, and you impassively looked on through my laughter and tears and did what you were always going to do, anyway.

You’ve given me a lot too. You’ve helped me redefine success, and gave me the courage to look at things differently than I always had. You brought me dear friends and the love of my life. You introduced me to the gentlest and toughest people I have ever known, and I have spent the better part of three years trying to reconcile that paradox. You gave me sunsets unlike any I’ve ever seen, a violent hug of color embracing the dark line of the horizon. Like all the colors in world had to cling close to the dusky shape of the west, as though they couldn’t survive without that dark relief to define them.

You taught me that no color is as bright as the one that stands closest to the darkness. And you took me away from everything that came easy and thrust me toward the black. You forced me to make a stand, to say that there surely must be something beyond my wildest dreams. You didn’t let me settle, Sydney, so I won’t.

Instead I will leave my pride and my plans on your golden sandy beaches, in your aquamarine seas, mixed in with the red dust at your heart. I will float my fear over the terraced houses and art-deco apartment blocks, and leave a huge piece of my heart in your wide and welcoming harbour. And while I might think you’re mourning the loss of me, you’re probably just racking your brain, trying to remember my name.

So goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

That Time I Stayed with a Stranger

What happens when you decide to avail yourself of the hospitality of a complete stranger? AMAZING things.

Years ago, I heard of a website called CouchSurfing. I thought it was a really cool idea – you get to meet people from all over the world, make some friends, have a place to crash next time you travel to Europe or wherever. Reviews and social media connections meant you could vet the people who wanted to stay with you or host you and make sure they weren’t axe murderers. I promptly signed up, and made all my roommates do the same (however, they weren’t as keen on the whole hosting idea that I was).

Fast forward 5 years, and as I prepped for my travels I decided to rustle up the old CS profile, partially to help keep costs low-ish, but mostly to meet people in the places I plan to travel and get the ‘inside scoop’. I hosted a couple of people at my place in Sydney (all AWESOME ladies) to work up the good karma, and some January I was ready to be a ‘surfer.’

So when we decided to head up to Airlie Beach, we looked around on CouchSurfing to see if there was anyone who seemed like they’d be able to show us around. We found a guy I’ll call “T”, someone with an overwhelming amount of positive reviews from a lot of people who had stayed with him. I sent a request, thinking maybe we’d get the inside scoop on good bars or restaurants.

What we got was probably worthy of being called: The best CouchSurfing experience anyone has ever had, ever.

T happens to be an avid boatsman of all sorts, and has ready access to a number of marine vehicles. Because he had a few days off from work, he decided we should all go on a two-day private tour of the islands of the Whitsundays. After a day out at Langford Reef to ‘warm the boat up’ (more on that later), we departed on day two for a full tour of the islands, an overnight at a magical place called Palm Bay on Long Island (more on that later too), and an afternoon at Whitehaven Beach before we returned to Airlie for the rest of our stay.

I know what you’re thinking: ‘OK, nothing in life is free. What’s the catch? Clearly he was angling for a way into one of your pants.’

I know, I thought it too at first. I mean, this level of generosity just doesn’t exist. Right?

Wrong.

Our host was a 100% perfect gentleman, never tried anything, never even hinted at anything untoward. And I think he just really enjoyed seeing his homeland (which is STUNNING) through new eyes every once in a while, and exploring with people who he would never otherwise have met. Of course, we cooked dinner for him and his flatmate every night we were at their house, and left them with several parting gifts since we not only saved on accommodation, but also saved the hundreds of dollars that a three-day private boat charter would have cost as well.

I’m not saying every experience will be this way, but I do have to say that I had a little bit of my faith in the goodness of humanity restored by the utterly selfless experience I had with a complete stranger in Airlie Beach.

If you’re interested in Couchsurfing, this travel blogger has a pretty good set of criteria he uses when looking CouchSurfing hosts. As a woman, I usually also require a mix of male and female reviews (only girls is a little suspect), more than 10 positive reviews and no negative reviews, and verification. 

Til Next time, xoxo!

Commitment and a Massive Party

I’ve been accused of being a commitment-phobe, of not taking things seriously enough that should be taken seriously, of not finishing things I start, and was summed up in a word by an ex-boyfriend on my move to Australia: “flighty.”

That said, when I moseyed on over to my lil blog here today to make what are starting to become twice-monthly updates, I was congratulated for successfully blogging for a year. A YEAR! I forayed into blogging upon my move to Seattle and wrote several incredibly boring posts over the course of a few months before the blog finally was abandoned like an unexpected litter of puppies in a drugstore parking lot. Nobody missed it much, including me. But now here I am year later, actually sticking with blogging, and over 50 randoms from around the world are surprisingly interested enough in my writing & life to follow me, plus at least a couple dozen of you dutifully read each post I write (that number triples when I write about dating, and my heartbreak post STILL gets about one Google hit per day, through very depressing search queries).

So basically, go me, and stuff that in your pipe and smoke it Mr. Flighty.

I think it makes sense to reflect on where I was a year ago since I will be back in the US celebrating my brother’s wedding for my actual one-year Sydney anniversary and think it should be marked blogally (yep, just made it up). Trying to convey the vortex of big dreams, great expectations, trepidation and excitement that I was in is tough – I was already nostalgic for the city and life I was saying farewell to, but confident that I’d snap my fingers and re-create it. Overly confident, I see now. My optimism had lifted me out of reality, away from remembering that it’s a long, hard road rebuilding a life. And so the past year has been a rebuild in a lot of ways, a tear-down of my old comforts and a restart with some new. And if I had thought I’d done Seattle on my own, this brought that game to an entirely different level. I’m still working on being proud of myself for what I’ve done, but I’m sure in another year I’ll be mentally high-fiving, booty slapping, you-go-girling 2 years ago Jenn. I have to remind myself it’s not only the pretty colors that make the masterpiece, the shadows are what give it definition, a shape, a structure.

In other news, my flatmates and I are planning a massive housewarming party to properly break in our new abode. I spent a few minutes this morning calling around to get a keg delivered to the house Saturday (to my college frat boy friends, the price of keg here is appalling – you’d have to charge a hell of a lot more than $5/cup to get your cash back on these), and to showcase my American heritage I will be encouraging everyone to binge-drink via flip cup, beer pong, and other such collegiate diversions. I’m afraid my Aussie and English flatmates can’t really bring as much to the table – when it comes to creative drinking Americans have cornered the market I think.

Onward and upward, here’s to Year 2! Xoxoxo!

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Living Isn’t for Everyone

It’s hard to live in a part of the world that is so isolated from everything else. Where things are cooling down but everywhere else they are heating up. To huddle in a blanket and look at the photos of people you love in places you love basking in sunshine and each other’s company. Knowing that part of the departure was for the rebuilding, and knowing it was always going to be work, damnit, but starting to wonder how much stamina you have left in you to keeping leaving all the time.

Yes, the new people have all the makings of the next great, lifelong friendship, but feeling the vastness of the distance you’ve placed between yourself and the lifelong friendships created in years past still stings. Especially with the seasons changing, the cold air creeping into the corners of the poorly-insulated cinderblock, the silence of a beach town Sunday night in the off-season, the newness faded and monotonous, oppressive familiarity loosening questions already asked on other dark, lonely nights when the sky felt like it was falling.

It’s nights like this that create the restlessness, the need to stay in motion to avoid falling over the edge of homesickness and into a pool of despair. The end of a sad novel, a particularly chilly night, a group of friends enjoying their sun-soaked weekend in a city that still has pieces of your heart buried all over it, the shrapnel of your expatriated life scattered across the floor and haphazardly shoved into boxes in preparation for the next movement, the next departure, the next step in the ever-forward march.

I passed a sign in a shop on a blurry Wednesday night that read, “Living isn’t for everyone.” I can understand why simply existing is a much easier choice.

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