A Cat Named “Dog”

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”

-Unknown Author

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Oh Melbourne. How do I begin? I wish I could say being here has been easy. I also wish it was simple and easy to get here. After taking an Uber with Pino and Bob to the airport, I realized I was a day early. Meaning, I made to to the fucking airport a day early. This provided a pretty good laugh for all of us and I was ready to sleep in the airport for the night. However, I was able to change my ticket so I could leave that night. After begging Expedia to help me out for over an hour and $109 charge, it was all fixed…Melbourne here I come! Bob and I said goodbye and since he was going to head to Melbourne for Xmas we made plans to see one another again. Pino and I had one last cuddle session and we wished each other luck and he headed onto his flight. I had a 2.5 hour flight and then booked an express bus to Southern Cross Station to meet Lisa. I was so sad to say goodbye to the guys, but so excited to see Lisa! When I saw her running across the street to hug me I almost cried I was so happy!! That night we were up until 3 am talking and catching up. I have become really close with Lisa. She has been my rock when I’ve needed her, made me laugh hyste883610_145973439103076_5692151853932753367_orically through the streets of Melbourne and been my sanity. I feel truly blessed that we have been fortunate enough to meet and share this journey together!

 

The apartment I was now calling “home” was a two bedroom place on the 24th floor of Spencer street. The balcony became our favorite spot because we had a fantastic view and fresh air. Six other people were crammed into the space and being alone was a luxury that felt few and far between. I was greeted by a small little cat who was lovingly called “Dog.” Dog had a special diet that her skinny metro Vietnamese father swore was good for her-meat pies. I’m talking straight from the chain restaurant Pie Face meat pies. I’m not sure how Dog wasn’t overweight, but she was tiny and shy. 10258705_929305487144886_7349419243065755774_o

Every morning (and I use this word loosely as we sometimes didn’t roll out of bed until 1pm!) we went down to our favorite coffee shop called Coffee Rush to “take a coffee.” The environment in this shop was friendly and welcoming. We quickly became their favorite regulars and were invited to meet out, given free coffee and provided with lots of laughs. The baristas were very fun and made sure to ask me what design I wanted on my foam every day. My requests ranged from a giraffe to a pineapple and lastly a falic one which was done with perfection. Lisa and I were sad to say goodbye to them and they all wished us luck on the rest of our journey.

10014981_148455692188184_8756640060694345703_o (1)I spent Christmas in Melbourne with Lisa. Bob was in town with his brother, so we all went dow to St. Kilda’s beach for some fun in the sun. Hilarity ensued as I was the only one not drinking that day. There were hundreds of people on the beach partying in Christmas hats. It was fun to watch and being sober ensured that I remembered everything :0) We stayed on the beach all day and Bob, his brother and I fell asleep on Lisa while we listened to several men playing the bongos. We covered ourselves in towels and snoozed for a few hours.

10261984_148313972202356_582477408961267068_nOur roommate, Kevin, was the epitome of a good time. Always with a bounce in his step and some grand idea of how he was going to spend his day he had endless energy. He introduced us to another German guy named Luca. He’s an old soul who appears wise beyond his 21 years and a goofy exterior.

The days in Melbourne were long and felt pointless…wake up, coffee, groceries, sleep, repeat. I quickly discovered that patience is a virtue and one of those skills that is constantly being tested. I also learned that while I can survive in the city-thanks to Google maps, lattes and Lisa- I definitely do not thrive there. Every day felt as though a small piece of me was breaking down…not something you want to feel while discovering yourself thousands of miles from home. I guess all of these situations are self-discovery at their finest, but they sure are uncomfortable to live through.

Brisbane City Lights

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

– Ibn Battuta

12829190_195724754127944_4565601646742449290_oThe city of Brisbane was very different from Sydney. If I could describe Sydney in one word it would be “chaotic”. Brisbane, while still huge, felt quaint and welcoming. Sydney was business, tourism, backpacker central and expensive as hell. The city of Brisbane felt like “come on over and let’s have a chat.” My favorite place to go in Brisbane is South Bank. It sits along the southern bank of the river that winds it’s way through the city. This is where the “B-R-I-S-B-A-N-E” letters are. There’s a community pool on one side and a man-made beach complete with sand and Ibis on the other. The guys and I spent many hot afternoons relaxing in the pools and barbecuing in the park. That’s another thing I love about the cities- most places have free barbecue areas that you can use. People are pretty good at cleaning up after themselves and respectful if you are waiting to use the grills. It’s a very nice way to spend an afternoon. There are many bars and restaurants in South Bank that are relaxed and enjoyable.

When we arrived, I was relieved to hear that the campervan passed inspection (yippee!) thanks for my $1000 back! Pino spent several hours on Airbnb securing us a place to stay- what a deal! An entire house for the price of a room! Good job Pino!

Pino, Bas and I took an Uber to the house, which turns out was a 30 minute bus ride from the city…you’re welcome Uber for all the business! This was the time we all decided to get serious and look for work. We had been in country for over two weeks and hadn’t worked a single day! We were excited to have a place to stay for several days and we quickly turned this house into our home. Bas and I shared a room and bed (totally platonic!) and Pino got his own room. We made several trips to the shopping center with resumes on our brains- several obstacles got in our way…no wifi, no power sources, and as soon as we found wifi, the library closed! The main lesson I learned: get your ass up early, walk to the coffee shop, and wake up the boys so we can all head out because our plans will inevitably change.

12829394_195724537461299_4539219459005670506_oLiving with three men was interesting for sure. As the only older-ahem- more mature (I use those words loosely) woman of the house, I felt very matronly. My self-imposed role consisted of cooking, cleaning and making sure the boys were up on time. They started calling me “mama” and singing to me. We were all very affectionate towards one another, hugging and cuddling like a weird little close-knit family. Bernd moved in after several days. He took over the couch and living room. Slightly older than Bas and Pino, he brought another personality to the equation. After our week at the house ended, we moved into a hostel called Banana Backpackers. This cute little quaint hostel is out of the way of the city, but close enough that we didn’t feel isolated. We were a short walk to Coles, a shopping center and the main bus terminal.

My favorite part about this hostel is the covered patio. It was the place we all got together for meals, to play cards at night with a few drinks bought from the front desk. They had a strict no-alcohol-in-your-room policy. I found out after I moved out that the guys were caught sneaking alcohol into their room for a second time and were kicked out!

I talked with Lisa every day and missed her more and more. She was quickly convincing me that I needed to come to Melbourne because she and Kevin had an apartment and I could stay with them and we would both be happier together. I wanted to go to New Zealand while I was here and she was already planning to leave January 8th to go there for 3 and a half weeks. I bought my ticket late one night and in my excitement I sent her a screenshot…Melbourne here I come!! I spent a ton of time with my guys-Bernd, Pino and Bas and fell in love with all of them. Bas is very silly and sweet, his English was not so great, but he made up for it in facial expressions and hugs. Pino has the funny sweet creep vibe going on and he treats me like an older sister. Bernd and I spent the most time together in the last few days.

After an unfortunate scamming of over $3,000, Bas and Pino were forced to go to work immediately as fundraisers for children with cancer. They stood out on the streets all dressed up in silly outfits with reindeers antlers asking for donations. This left Bernd and I together for most of the day. We passed the time running errands, walking around the city and endless chats. I absolutely adored these chats. I felt a warm fuzzy feeling towards him as we became closer and closer. It’s amazing how vastly different each one of these guys are, yet we all got along and complimented one another. Bas is very resilient and once he got scammed and lost his money, he was working the next day. Pino was always our organizer. He made all the Airbnb arrangements, got us on the correct buses and helped navigate our way through the shopping centers. Bernd was the easy-going calm presence when we needed it. He reminded me to absorb the sights, appreciate the moments and provided me with a lot of laughs. He’s a man of few words, but when he did speak, it was either very profound or hilarious. Saying goodbye was difficult, but he assured me that we would see each other again soon. I’m not sure if that is true, but I hope so!

Bernd, Bob and I spent my last full day in Brisbane riding on the ferry. It’s such a great way to see the whole city. As it got dark, all the buildings and bridges lit up in various shades of red, white, blue and green lights. It was breathtaking! If you know me at all, cities are not my thing. Give me sand and sunshine or desert and sunshine or horses and sunshine anytime over the loud streets of a city. But the ferry ride was a great12841180_195724854127934_8522440157539584155_o way to experience the city in a way walking around could never give us. I feel really blessed to have been able to stop over in Brisbane and find some great aspects to the city. Melbourne and Lisa, here I come!!

Drive on the LEFT side!”

“Wandering does not show that you are lost. It just says you like to explore.”

-Mattias Van Nimmen

IMG_0630OK, NOW WHAT?Surfcamp was an awesome experience, but it ended too quickly. I left there with no plan and no clue where I was headed next. I’m never one to plan my next move, because I’m never really good at following through with the plans I’ve made. I had several options: I could follow Lisa and Kevin to Melbourne and search for work, head to Brisbane with Bernd, or tag along with Bas, Pino, Saskia, Annarijka and Caralijne in a campervan and head up the coast. As much as I love Lisa and wanted to be with her, I loved the idea of a campervan up north along the coast. When we all arrived back in Sydney we still had a few days before we all had to leave one another. Bernd was the first to head out to Brisbane on an overnight bus. I was staying at the Wake Up! for another few nights but Bas, Lisa and Pino had to book a hostel near the harbor. Our last days in Sydney were bittersweet, full of fun and adventures with no direction and no one leading us. I felt like a true wanderer, which is something I really like.

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Talk about getting out of my comfort zone!! No idea where to go, no plan, no work…so scary! But it was something I cherished because all of the worries and stress I had back in New York were gone. It didn’t matter whether I was on time, had my makeup perfect, was on point for one of my clients or that my paperwork was done on time. I’ve really needed this time to get my soul settled. It’s a hard feeling to describe if you’ve never been there. I was torn between feeling fulfilled by my work and wanting to run away from all the hurt I couldn’t heal. I love my family and friends and didn’t want to leave them, but I had to accept that I couldn’t take them with me. And if I stayed, I knew I would have continued down a dark spiral of anger and depression that could only be healed with adventure and sunshine-something that home was lacking for me.

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KANGAROOS ARE CREEPY

On that campervan trip I learned several things: first, driving on the left side of the road is bizarre, but not so scary. Secondly, I learned that it’s very comforting to know you have a place to lay your head at night, even if it is in the top of a campervan next to Pino who is like a little brother to me. I also learned that kangaroos are creepy and I don’t love them as much as I thought I would. It was early morning after crashing hard the night before and I awoke to “Kangaroos! They are fighting!” I jumped up from a groggy state and headed out to a clearing. I missed the fight, but got to see a family of three hanging out. The baby was leaning back on his tail (could have been a she but I have no idea how to tell the difference so a “he” it is) scratching his belly. He looked like a fat old drunk guy itching his beer belly. As I crept up to take a picture I felt as though I could now relate to Kevin Hart’s spiel about creepy ostriches. This kangaroos froze and stared at me and didn’t move at all. No hopping. No breathing, it didn’t even blink. I felt as though I was the butt of a sick joke, like the minute I turned around I would be eaten by this huge ‘roo. No thank you. I backed out of that clearing so quickly with a chill running down the back of my neck. Under no circumstances was my tombstone going to read “she wasn’t faster than the angry kanga!” IMG_0703

We all headed for the water. “It’s just over the dunes…that way!” Said the locals the evening before. “That way” turned out to be a mile hike over brush-covered sand dunes that had me sweating and my legs scratched up. The walk was worth the view that morning. Untouched beach stretched as far as we could see. The crystal blue sky met the sand and water and there were a few clouds streaking across it. We were the only people to be seen and I had a glimpse of what the early settlers must have felt. There really aren’t words to describe that place and the pictures don’t do it justice. As I sat on the sand and felt the water run over my toes I thought about this moment. I was so far from home, surrounded by people who were kind and warm and funny, but practically strangers to me…I was riding in a campervan that had $1000 bond in my name on it, and no job, no plan and I loved every second of it. In that moment I was alive, my belly was full, the sun was warming my face and a smile was splitting it in two. That three day drive yielded several new experiences: yum balls, dunes and creepy ass roos.

Hat Head, Oz.
Hat Head, Oz.

I had been filled with such excitement and energy up to this point that I hadn’t yet had a moment of sadness or regret. Well that moment came on our last day of the campervan. I was sitting in the back alone because we left the girls in Byron Bay. Bas was driving and Pino was up front with him. I felt this wave of emotion come over me and overwhelming sadness hit me. It was such a different feeling that I began to cry. I hated saying goodbye to the girls. We all became so close in such a few short days, saying goodbye was really difficult for me! I get so attached to people and especially now that I am traveling, I form such a close bond with people. A quick video chat with my mom and then my best friends from home had me feeling better.

LESSON # 3: SAYING GOODBYES ARE HARD, BUT THEY ARE REALLY “SEE YOU LATERS.”

Traveling around with people

I did it!
I did it!

you hardly know is intimidating. I realized how alone I truly was while traveling with the Dutchies. I didn’t speak their language and they would sometimes forget to speak in English so that I could understand. It felt very lonely at times and although I would sometimes remind them to speak in English, it was difficult for them. The weird thing is, when you say goodbye to people you have been around 24/7, even though it was only for less than a week, you feel an emptiness inside you. I felt it while saying bye to Lisa a few days earlier, and Bernd and Kevin as well. It’s a beautiful thing, actually missing someone who has quickly become near and dear to your heart. This is the growing part. I was so far out of my comfort zone, I forgot what that zone looked like. Goodbyes suck, but the reunions are so sweet.

Eat. Surf. Sleep. Repeat.

 

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“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

-Neale Donald Walsch

 

LIKE A KID ON CHRISTMAS

I woke early the next day and packed my bags for surf camp! Jet lag? What’s that?! I was pumped and excited, and my whole room (3 Dutchies who later became my closest and most adored friends) knew how excited I was. I woke up at 5am because I couldn’t even contain my excitement. Do you remember being a little kid and waking up on Christmas morning the second the room lit up from the morning sun’s first rays of light? That’s me. 28 years old and still so excited for the morning and new adventures or surprises. So the Dutchies, not so much. They slept through 2 hours of their alarms going off and I had exited the room by 6 am because I’m also like a little kid when I try to be quiet- I make a TON of noise. So I came back to the room after eating and having coffee and trying to contain my excitement. I finished packing my bag and glanced at the time..it was 8:25 and there was a knock on the door. Another Dutchie poked her head in and after realizing they were all still sleeping began waking them up. Those three- Lisa, Tijmen and Bas flew up out of bed, began what I assumed was cursing in Dutch and packed their bags in a fury. At one point I remembered where we were all going and I yelled, “OH MY GOD I’M SO EXCITED GUYS, WE ARE GOING SURFING!!” This of course was the beginning of our long friendship as they were all grumpy and sleepy and I brought some excitement and light into the mix. I ran downstairs to do the only thing I could- a coffee run! And I made sure the bus didn’t leave without them.

I stuck by my new friends and said goodbye to Natasha, promising to keep in touch with her while I was away. The bus ride consisted of me chatting with another woman from Holland and getting to know her better. I was too excited to sleep even though we had a two hour drive south to a small town called Gerroa. I was amazed by the gorgeous sights, winding hills, ocean roads and small towns. The Surfcamp was situated perfectly in a small camping town on Seven Mile Beach. Which now that I am thinking about it, is an odd name because they don’t even use miles here, it’s all metric.  Introductions were necessary and we sat through about an hour of surfer dudes explaining how things worked, where things were and what we could expect while at camp. I adopted the surfer lifestyle and decided that I would not be stuck to my phone while I was there. I quickly sent a message to my friends back home letting them know and set off to experience everything surfing had to offer. I realized on my last day that I didn’t get more than 5 pictures and I felt slightly upset by this. I was reminded that this was a good thing because it meant that I was really enjoying every moment and not worried about capturing it on film.

12491953_10207547353217846_6813224074094232489_oWe were fitted for our wetties and then shown the way to the beach! And oh wait, it’s a mile walk to get to the beach, then another mile to get to where our surfboards could be picked up, then again back down to the beach. It’s funny how my excitement never wavered and as people were complaining about the distance and how heavy the boards were, I was ready and excited. Felix and Tom were our instructors and cracked me up the entire lesson. Our first surf lesson consisted of learning how to paddle, jumping up and where to look while riding the waves. We practiced on the beach for an hour before we were allowed to go out into the waves to test out our skills. In my excitement, I paddled my happy ass out too far and got yelled at (I blame that mistake on Victor and my first surf lesson in Santa Cruz). I was using a shorter board so it took me a few falls before I was able to stand up on a wave. What a feeling! I love how it feels like you float and glide across the water. I caught about ten waves that first day but wanted more. The next day was fun because I rushed out ahead of the pack to ensure that I got  a longer bigger board. Such a fun day of surfing and the weather was perfect!12307477_10153215094096931_4078972120264973918_o

MAKE THE WAVES YOUR B*TCH!

The next day was a devils wind. What the french toast does that mean? It means the waves are choppy and they throw you around like a washing machine. It’s the kind of surf you try to avoid as a surfer because not only are the waves hard to catch, they are messy and break unevenly.  You expend a lot of energy trying to get out past the break, you eat a lot of sand and saltwater and use every muscle in your body trying to stay on your board and your head above water. I know, it sounds like a load of fun, right?

No matter how hard I tried (a good hour) I had a hell of a time catching an actual wave. Even with the help of some of the instructors, I only managed to stand up on one or two waves. Defeated, shivering from the cold and sore as hell I fought my way back to the shore. I hurt everywhere and slept like a dream that night. I woke up with a swollen heel that I could hardly put any pressure on. Great- a pulled Achilles! I tried not to focus on my disappointment or the pain and enjoyed spending some down time with Lisa at camp while the other campers went out to catch the waves. The connection we built that day has been really important to our friendship. We spent pretty much every moment together and I never grew tired of her. I also became close with Tijmen (known as Pino) and Bas and in the last few days of Surfcamp, Bernd.

LESSON #2: WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS, SEARCH FOR HILARITY

I’ve discovered that it’s really important to look for the positives. Not just when you’re feeling down, but even when things are going well. I could have hidden out in camp and felt sorry for myself, but instead I took my time gimping down to the beach with my towel, coconut oil and worked on my tan. I got to watch my friends ride waves and soaked up the sun which improved my disposition.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a tough 4 weeks of backpacking afterwards (you don’t realize how much you use your Achilles until you injure it), but I still had a great time! My pace was slower, and I had a cankle for a few weeks but all in all, it wasn’t too bad.12401643_10207547353377850_3707137337034492773_o

 

 

Australia or Bust!

 

“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

-Nelson Mandala

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I have been in Australia for one month today. It’s amazing how much I have been through in such a short period of time. When I landed in Sydney it was 11am. I was amped from flying for 14 hours, really sweaty and feeling slightly lost. I was able to get through the immigration line very quickly and miffed because I never got my passport stamped. They just scanned my face and sent me on my way. I haven’t been to very many places, so believe me when I say I want that stamp! I earned that sucker after 5 months of planning and saving, I feel like it’s a symbol of my dedication to get here, a badge of honor if you will. Enough of that now- I will revisit this stamping business when I’ve formulated some sort of plan to get it! The airport was surprisingly easy to navigate and I quickly found myself seated and waiting for a shuttle to my Wake Up! Hostel.

I cannot even tell you what I was feeling in the moments while I waited for a friendly airport staff member to direct me to the correct place…mostly contented, slightly nervous and a whole lotta lost. After being told to follow a tall guy with chicken legs who thought it was a sick joke to run through the airport with 20 lost souls desperately running to keep up, I met a woman named Natasha. She was from New Jersey and we quickly became fast friends. I spent all of that night hanging out with her and getting comfortable in my new home away from home.

The Wake Up! hostel
The Wake Up! Hostel in Sydney’s CBD.

I HAVE TO SLEEP WHERE?

Hostels are an interesting breed all on their own. I quickly learned that my naive little American mind was going to be broadened hella fast! Had you told me ahead of time what it would be like, I’m not sure I would have been so up for them. The communal kitchens are a GF girl’s worst nightmare! Hello cross contamination, I’d like to just make a reservation now for feeling like shit for the duration of my stay. In all seriousness, I had gotten used to managing my allergies by buying and preparing my own food, so this was a hard one for me to wrap my brain around.

The Wake Up hostel is set on a busy intersection in the middle of downtown Sydney. It is constantly bustling and there are numerous people going in and out/ waiting to be checked in/ using the Internet or waiting for their transportation. I am not a city girl, so this was quite a shock to me. So many people everywhere I looked. I was checked in and quickly figured out why it is titled a “hostel” instead of hotel. In my brain I thought that was an Australian equivalency to a hotel in the US. I was shocked to open my door and see three sets of bunk beds, and only one bed available. A set of lockers allowed for me to secure my laptop, passport and wallet. I quickly went in search of my new friend who was one floor above me, staying in a ten person room. Natasha and I went for a walk in search of some dinner. My gluten and dairy allergies have been a huge barrier for me and a constant struggle. Every open door we walked by had different food smells pouring out. We were in China town near the Haymarket. The thick and aromatic smell of curry stuck in my nostrils and steered us in the direction of Thai food.

It’s amazing the connections you get with people while traveling. It’s hard to explain it, but it’s almost like you cut through all of the bullshit and immediately utilize new people as your supports. Over dinner, I quickly found myself spilling my guts about the last five years of my life, my failed relationships, what brought me to Australia and what I wanted for myself while I was here. It’s amazing how being all alone and traveling by myself, I craved the support and comfort from home, even though that’s exactly what I was running from. I was so thrilled to have met Natasha and we quickly were what each other needed to feel safe while in a foreign city.

Now I must say, my first impression of Sydney was not so great. Call it jet lag or exhaustion, but I really thought to myself: what’s all the hype about? To be fair, I grew up in the country. By country I mean, we only had 4 neighbors close enough to walk to and only one of them had kids to play with. It took us an hour on our school bus to get to and from school because everyone’s homes were spread so far apart. And we never locked our doors growing up. I literally have no idea if my parents’ house has a key to it or not. Our protection has always been German Shepards and my dad has shotguns. Life was slow and easy where I grew up. We had vegetable gardens and played outside in the dirt as kids.

So it was an incredible shock to me to be in Sydney. The traffic is loud, the streets are busy and the buildings are tall. I was surprised at the amount of people on the sidewalks and the vibe of the city itself. It’s almost electric. By day you feel the frenetic pace of everyone bustling to and from work, shops, sightseeing, and running to catch the buses and trains. By night the city feels like it is vibrating with energy. People are dressed up and ready to party, with too much makeup and too little clothing. There is sound everywhere you turn and music bumps from bars, clubs and people’s vehicles.

I remember how nervous I was that first night. I craved any sort of familiarity to feel safe in my new “home.” My only saving grace was knowing that I would be heading to Surfcamp in the morning.  I crawled into bed exhausted but ready for the next week of fun in the sun ahead of me.

A WORD OF CAUTION TO MY FELLOW GF WANDERERS:

Just a side note to any of those other gluten intolerant travelers like myself- if the person you talk to about their gluten-free options can’t pronounce the word or doesn’t  know what it means, RUN! It’s not worth it…trust me there will be a place two doors down that you can discover with options to accommodate you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been seated with water and left after realizing there aren’t any suitable GF options. Ain’t no shame in my game ;0)

LESSON #1- LET GO, YOU NEVER HAD ANY CONTROL ANYWAYS.

Traveling alone is hard. Especially when you are an attractive American female. Traveling alone as an American female with food allergies, slight control issues and a dash of neuroses on top of an overwhelming fear of getting sick in public- was hard as hell! I had to basically trust that people scrubbed their dishes enough, trust that I would find a bathroom before impending doom and also let go of the idea that I had any control over anything anyways…No big deal right?