Here are a few pictures from my new home!
Notes on a journey towards myself – through travel, friends, music, and living life to the fullest
Here are a few pictures from my new home!
So I’ve found myself in Wanaka – a very small town on a very beautiful lake. It sits, sleepily, amid mountains and rugged hills, on the southern end of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s beautiful; Charming even. It’s sucked me in and hasn’t let go!
After a few days in windy Wellington (first with a really nice Canucks fan who put me up for a few nights, and then at the worst hostel [backpackers’] I’ve ever stayed at. It was like a loud, messy frat house… one must learn quickly that there is a real divide in the world of hostels in this small country. Each type, each company, has a specific feel. Some are home-like, some are sterile, some are boring, some are frat houses filled with eighteen year olds that don’t do their dishes and have trouble cooking rice. I haven’t had the chance to do this interesting research in my previous travels because I haven’t been staying at hostels very often. After my few days in Wellington, I can see why I’ve avoided them…) I decided to head down to Christchurch where I had arranged to pick up a free rental car. I was given three days to make the ~500km trip from Christchurch to Queenstown. EASY! This was long enough, I reckoned, that I could forego the more direct route. Instead I would make my way along the wonderful, windy, wet west coast to explore some glaciers and some forests and get a little nostalgic at the similarity to our own west coast in British Columbia. It was a good decision.
My mind was clear after driving and music and I pulled into Wanaka on a sunny St. Paddy’s Day. I found myself a beer and a local paper and figured that I could see myself living in this little corner for a while. I just had to find a job and a place to stay. Where to sleep, where to sleep? A hostel would have to do.. at least for a night, then I’d find my own place. Right.
I picked a backpackers’ that looked nice, friendly… more-or-less at random, and I checked in. I haven’t checked out!
I couldn’t say no to an invitation to hear some Irish music, eat some Irish stew and drink some Irish beer (it was mostly Kiwi beer and Dutch beer, but who keeps track of these things?). It’s cool ’cause that invite paved the way for me; I found a place to stay, a bit of work, and even ended up with a few new friends as well. Good things always happen while celebrating the Patron Saint of Ireland.
Remember how I mentioned that some hostels are home-like? Yeah, this one tops that. It’s home! The people here are fantastic, the card games never-ending. There’s a hot tub… enough said. I haven’t necessarily met a lot of locals, but there are a lot of people who stick around for a while and a few people who keep coming back. I’ve found my little corner of the world to settle in for a little while and it’s comfy and it’s fun and it’s oh, so nice to unpack.
Who hasn’t always wanted to stay at a “BAR/Hotel/Campsite” in the middle of small town in New Zealand? Well, we stumbled across exactly this. We had been sent on a bit of a wild goose chase by a local….promises of the best campsite in town had us driving around aimlessly for half an hour. Only after realizing there were multiple bridges over the river (we had assumed there would be only one) did we decide we needed to stop for sustenance. A beer would work. Well, look at that – Bar/Hotel/Campsite….perfect!
We made our temporary home amongst the more permanent residences: the converted buses, the odd trailer, derelict vehicles, the goat tied to a rope. We skipped setting up camp and went straight for the bar. Our evening was spent playing pool with the locals, meeting a few characters, and learning the finer points of sheep shearing. Did you know that it’s someones job just to shave around the nether-regions of the sheep? This person has to do the dirty work so that the other shearers can get some “clean sweeps”…not having to worry about the messy bits. Makes sense hey? We spent some time asking all the questions that you, yourself, would want to ask. What a fitting and fantastic ending to our road trip across the North Island.
When Missy and I had set out from Wellington a week earlier we had high hopes of hitting all the Conservation (free) campsites. Just us, our tent, abounding nature…living off the land (canned tuna notwithstanding). So good!
So our reluctance to buy a proper map may have led to our downfall. That’s where I pinpoint the beginning of the end…the constant roaming; the U-turns. Although I’m not sure that either of us even considered using anything but the crappy maps they give out free at information centers. And actually – getting lost proved to be half the fun!
What’s a good road trip without a lot of unnecessary driving?
Our first night was epic. We drove up the windy roads on the East Coast…dusk was setting in, we had planned to be somewhere camp-able hours earlier, but due to a little bit of misinformation, shotty navigation (re: the aforementioned maps) and badly predicted driving time, we were miles from anywhere. We did consider just setting up camp on the side of the road, but the rolling hills enveloped the small road in an oppressive manner and were less than ideal. We persisted. After some swearing and some uncontrollable laughter, we were finally rewarded with a stunning sight. We wound our way down the cliffs to see the rocky beach and the surf and a few fisherman who would be our neighbours for the night. Could it be more perfect? It was cool and windy, but we were able to build a fire…ahh. Never mind that our cushy air mattress had a massive hole in it, and we ended up sleeping in the back of the station-wagon. The achy backs were worth it.
Our trip had many highlights, a few low-lights and an overall feeling of relaxed chaos. We walked away from our adventure with a better understanding of the Kiwi culture, pictures and memories of the beautiful and natural scenery, a few hearty laughs, sore backs, and a personal injury (trampolines are surely a death-trap)! Oh yeah, we also saw a hedgehog – he approached us in our camp – and I think that might be the cutest animal I’ve ever seen. They make sniffy sounds!
You know those times in your life where you can tell you’re making memories as the event is actually taking place? I have a lot of these…maybe it comes with going through something traumatic? Realizing the preciousness of each moment? I think we all do it at times, but I also think that we have more of an opportunity to do it at certain times in our lives. When we travel, our time is perceived as finite; we are experiencing so much in such a concentrated timespan. Every so often it’s nice to step back and get some perspective.
I’ve found from personal experience, that this is harder to do this when trudging through the routines of daily life, but I guess that’s the trick… NOT waiting for your life to start…you know that whole thing we all do? The thought process that confirms we aren’t quite living our real lives until some arbitrary date in the future? That whole: “when I finally get my promotion,” or “when I meet the right person” or “when the kids are older, and we’ve sold the house.” Even worse is when these life-starting events are so small as to border on ridiculousness… “once I get that new car” … “when I have my vacation,”….“when I lose 10lbs.”
Let’s try to enjoy our health, wealth (don’t forget your friends and family as the bigger part of this category) and happiness as it stands now.
We’re always waiting for the future, but it’s a pattern of thought that holds us back from enjoying our lives in the present. The future it so unpredictable, let’s just ride the wave!
“We peer so suspiciously at each other that we cannot see that we Canadians are standing on the mountaintop of human wealth, freedom and privilege.”
~ Pierre Elliott Trudeau
There’s a funny thing that happens when you travel through small rural communities in Australia…you’re actually, usually, mistaken for a local! I know we’d each like to think we’d stick out ; what, with our pulled-together looks, radiating charm, and big-city confidence?… but really we’re all the same.
So the locals assume you’re with them. Either that or, on the off-chance you really are that put together, they can spot the foreigner a mile away. Luckily, due to my wardrobe – or lack there of (I’ve spent months upon months wearing the same stuff and I can’t wait to burn most of them).. I don’t think I stick out much at all. Well, at least until I open my mouth. I will admit there’s something really nice about chatting to a checkout clerk and being told I have a lovely accent.
..a lovely Irish accent. Is it cold in Ireland? Right.
It’s nice not to stick out; to blend in. But then it’s always nice to be able to use your nationality as an excuse to decline unwanted solicitation. Example: While walking on any street, at anytime of day, in any part of Vietnam, one must have quick answers to questions that resemble, but are not limited to: “Where you going lady?”….”Cheap price for you?”…”You buy now?..Yes? Now? …Lady…big sizes lady…cheap for you, you buy?” In most cases a simple direct “no thank you” doesn’t suffice. They stalk on. Shaking your head, waving your hands down to the ground; stern but passive, dead look in the eyes…this works sometimes (in Australian bars as well, but that’s another story). Now, when these street vendors and moto-drivers we speak of realize they’re not getting through with they’re promises of high quality good n’ services at dirt-cheap prices, the smart ones will pull out the big guns.
Their next question, as they follow beside you on the street: “Where you from lady?”
I can’t speak for everyone, but I grew up knowing that it’s only polite to answer when someone asks you a direct question about your native country…especially when you’re from such rad place – it’s like bragging. What’s the harm?
”Oh! CANADA!?! Canada: vvvvvery nnnnnice! Canada beeaaauuuutttiffffullll.” Their wide-eyed awe is hard to hide: they’ve been so very fortunate to have met someone from Europe!
The politeness continues, you can’t help but feel flattered at the reverie. ”Um, yeah…you been?”…
Oh shit. You’re in a conversation. What?!
Well, after a few rounds of these blindsided attack on one’s good senses, it’s easy enough to avoid. You just make stuff up. It’s not hard. Take the name of your favourite animal or food and add -ville or Island. There you have it: a new country! Eggs Island (also in Europe). Unicornicopia is a favourite.
“Oh, Unicornicopia? So verrry nicccce there….”
So it doesn’t actually work, but at least it’s amusing.
Anyway, I digress. I was going to write about Australia. I’m not going to write about Australia now though. There’s time for that. I have another couple of weeks here before I head to the Land of the Long White Cloud. I’m starting to get nostalgic for my year in Oz and I haven’t even left yet. Ridiculous.
Thailand was a treat. Upon arrival we were greeted with fireworks, a parade, dance and light shows…it was amazing. We ate bugs – more than one – and agreed they tasted like the small crispy bits of french fries. We wandered around in awe at the activity, picking small antennae out of our teeth, and only on our way out of the city the next day, did we find out it was Coronation Day. One night in Bangkok …pretty great.
The majority of our taste of Thai – you know, besides the grasshoppers and such – was spend on beaches surrounded by other young westerners. It was quite a change of pace from our experience in Cambodia but it was easy and relaxing.
Our Balinese Christmas came and went and was lost in a sad and happy wave of normality I had never experienced before. It was good to take a break though…no carols, no presents, no freezing temperatures. We had a seafood dinner and I was lucky to share my token Christmas Guinness with two Irish blokes. They kept us entertained with tales of excess and debauchery. I reckon that Guinness pool-side is just as good as eggnog fire-side. And tales of debauchery are a very close second to “Miracle on 34th Street”.
All in all, our last couple of weeks in Asia were a gentle transition – relatively speaking – back into the throngs of the Western world. Both the prices and the touristy-feel increased as we migrated south. We were blessed with exceptional scenery, culture, and religion. This assisted in filling our hearts with a sort of pseudo holiday joy.
And so we made it back to Australia in time to celebrate the bringing-in of a new year. This one will be pretty good I think. A year of new beginnings… adventure, travel, friends, family, new things, new people, old things, and all things in-between.
We are alive and it’s our job to do some serious living. Everyday will be a day of celebration even if it’s small and quiet and personal. We will smile more. Why not? We will forgive – get over it. We will open our hearts and be amazed when others open their hearts to us.
We will realize our faults and forgive them. If we are able to forgive others the very least we can do is forgive ourselves.
We will get excited. There’s a lot to do: we pay the bills and do the dishes, but everyday holds joy, and if it doesn’t then we need to make changes. Maybe we will open up, be honest, and ask for help.
We will find love. It’s everywhere and it comes in oh, so many forms and it starts with you. We will give love and give it freely – that means no strings– none…no exception.
One of the best things I’ve done this year is to remove myself from my comfort zone. I’m not suggesting everyone give up everything they have to travel the world – although I support you 100% if this is the case, and I hope to meet you along the way. The montage of destinations are simply a change of canvas that has helped in removing routine, pattern and familiarity from the equation. The palette.
All the most memorable experiences of the past year are the ones that initially gave me pause. The times that I had to work up the balls to get ‘er done. No shortcuts. I’ve had to challenge myself, ask for help, take the leap. When I have truly done this, each and every time, I have walked away a little bit proud of myself.
It’s important to know that these challenges have resulted in a magnitude of outcomes. The whole gambit; an entire colour spectrum of emotion. Regardless of the greys and browns and blacks, I have surfaced more complete – each experience benefiting the painting-in-progress that is my life.
May 2010 be a more-happy-than-sad year for all of us. A colourful year.
As we make our way over another border, our fellow passengers bob their heads in tandem to the swaying, bumping bus. I pretend my head-wobbling is just the same, but really I am quietly and almost, but not quite, dancing in my too-short seat. My knees dig into the back of the poor person ahead of me.
We roll forward past the onslaught of vehicles, the buildings, numerous electrical wires bundled, en masse, above the houses, the shacks, the people. I nurse a headache resulting from a late night out – hours of dancing in the rain.
So much is going on outside my window. As we travel forward, I travel backwards in time through my music. My on-again-off-again, mostly malfunctioning iPod is a saving grace on a six hour bus ride with delays at the border. Actually, the ride is pretty smooth and easily contrasts the horror stories we’ve been heard about local land-travel. We may have lucked out with our particular bus. Consistency of service ain’t much a priority ‘round here…
Shuffle: my favourite way to go. I’m on a little musical journey. Maybe it’s the exhaustion but I’m feeling each song – each one wraps itself up in my soul. Every song holds my hand and walks with me through a multitude of memories. Does everyone remember people when they listen to music?… I think they do. Maybe places, events, eras? Anyway, this is how it is for me. A personal soundtrack, always there in the background…blaring from the sidelines of my life.
He caught me dancing. It’s a story for another time. A memory wrapped up in a song and an instant. It’s whittled itself into my heart and been coaxed out by sleepiness, shuffled songs, too much time to think.
He Caught me dancing. This was one of those pinnacle moments – never forgotten – that changed everything. I smile and as I remember. The moment was encased; dressed up as a laugh and a look, and it’s never been forgotten. And although we make a thousand choices a day, this was one of those big moments disguised as a small one. It’s a good memory.
Theme Song of the Day:
Dust Storm – Seagull
If life seems jolly rotten
there’s something you’ve forgotten
and that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing
I love my family. We who have family, and friends that are loved as family, we are among the lucky ones.
Missy and I were greeted by the throng of small, beautiful children. Our bikes had carried us down the red dusty road just south of Battambang, Cambodia. We travelled to this small city on a personal invite from a family friend of Missy’s named Len. Len is from Vancouver Island but is spending six months here in Cambodia, helping with the construction of multipurpose building at The Peaceful Children’s Home, an orphanage that fifty-five children call home.
Looking up at us with wide eyes, each of them waited their turn in approaching us. With their hands together, they bowed in respect. Although initially overwhelming, their solemn gestures exuded both grace and welcoming at the same time. Missy and I weren’t sure what to expect… how were we to talk to them? Our limited Khmer: “hello” …“thank you”… “no sugar” …although highly useful and enough to get by on a day-to-day basis, these phrases just didn’t seem to cut it here.
Within minutes I felt a small hand slip through mine. Another one lightly grasped my wrist. Missy and I were being led around the grounds. All the kids that could get a piece of us were hanging on. We were given a tour, meeting the older children as we went. We saw their sleeping quarters, the small kitchen and dining hall, the gardens and the new multi-purpose building, in its early stages – the foundation just being laid, at the back of the complex. The afternoon was spent playing and running around. Duck, duck, goose was an instant favourite.
These kids are amazing. Their histories are varied but they have all ended up in the orphanage due to dark and heartrending circumstances. They have all come from hard, seemingly hopeless lives. The Peaceful Children’s Home gives them a future and a family and they smile though they have very little.
Everything about Cambodia has been amazing. We had originally planned about five days in the country; the Temples of Angkor and the orphanage in Battambang were our two priorities. Thinking we would more-or-less bypass the capital Phnom Penh entirely, we actually ended up spending three nights there and having to tear ourselves away from the beautiful and dynamic city.
Two days of exploring Siem Reap and the surrounding Angkor temples, well that actually turned into four. We spent much longer in Battambang than we had planned because we couldn’t stand to say goodbye to the kids. We also had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in a small village just west of the city. On one of our nightly outing we were approached by the founder of a free English School and we were asked to come see the school and talk with the children. I used a pointer and it felt great! Oh yeah, we figured that we should learn how to cook at least a few of the delicious dishes we’ve been enjoying for almost two weeks.
We spent a morning learning the intricacies of Khmer Cuisine….fish amok, luk lac, and tom yam. Yum.
And finally, it was decided: time to fly to Bangkok and start the Thai leg of our journey. …but then again, you know, we haven’t really explored the south and we’ve heard some great things…? And so it is – we find ourselves in Sihanoukville, on the South coast of the country. Just a couple of days…or five. Ok, six…and then we fly to Bangkok.
Our tickets are booked and we sadly say goodbye to this beautiful country that has managed to spring back, if not ahead, after such recent torments that spanned the vast and appallingly evil side of humanity. We have both laughed and cried many times, and we’re in agreement that these distracted wanderings and detours and are some of the best we’ve made.
…So much has happened, and we have seen and experienced so many things in the last few weeks, that I am having trouble figuring out what to share!
This time around I have decided that a picture is worth a thousand words…
….What else? Oh yeah – we saw Hoi An, on the central coast. The beautiful architecture did not go unnoticed as we roamed the narrow lanes. We spent a lot of time along the Thu Bon River.
From there we went north to the capital: Hanoi.
Our next direction was back to the coast – Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island. We spent the night on a boat and a night on an island and it was beautiful and fun and we met some good folk along the way. Hiking and Kayaking and relaxing on the boat took up most of our time. The backdrop was breath-taking.
This is just a small taste of some of the places we’ve had the opportunity to explore. Vietnam is one of the most diverse and devastatingly beautiful countries I have ever seen. Before my visa expires we will cross the border to Cambodia.
Another adventure awaits…
but then, doesn’t it always?