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Well this is definitely the time of year I feel compelled to write. It’s been two years since I lost my husband to brain cancer. Looking back on some of my previous postings, I realize I don’t come out and write these words very often. I skirt around them; I allude to them and paint a water coloured landscape where things are vague and it’s more about big-picture ideas than detailed events. This is how I have liked it up to this point.

As this anniversary approached I had a few friends ask me if it’s gotten easier now that a bit more time has passed…now that there’s been two whole years between me and that other reality I was living.

Time – that old cure-all.

The easy answer – and the one that everyone is looking for is yes… of course time has helped. I have had two years of experiencing people and places and events, between me and that other world in which my husband was battling for his life. Time helps get over any traumatic experience. It dulls the edges.

Well this is what I thought – that the edges were supposed to get duller. The sharp blade of loss wearing down slowly. Maybe I had heard it somewhere once? Maybe it just seems logical; the general consensus.  I don’t know. But after having more that a few people ask me if it’s gotten easier, I started to think about it. 

And here’s the thing – for me, time has proved invaluable in that it gives me longer stretches of relief. I think about Kevin every day and I smile. He was so f*&king funny. He just had this way about him, and he shared it with everyone. I don’t need to tell those of you who knew him. I swear he had this sort of smirk behind his eyes – like he knew something you didn’t and it was hilarious. He brought people together. A lot of the time he was just ridiculous. Most of the time, really. To me he was the best friend in the world. We were lucky like that.

So now when it hits hard, it still hits just as hard. I could use the word emptiness, and although it’s strikingly painful, it’s usually fleeting. It comes less often now, and I can pull myself out of it pretty fast. I just think about how much it would hurt him to see me like that and then I pick myself up.

If you’re reading this and you were lucky enough to know Kevin, please think of the best and most funny moment you shared with him… maybe it involved minotaurs? nerd capes? some sort of limerick?

If you didn’t know Kevin, but have had loss in your life, then remember the people you’ve loved and all of their lovable qualities. If you haven’t had loss in your lives, then hug the people around you tightly, and start laughing.

Something that makes me feel better? Realizing that Kevin did, indeed, know something we don’t. Let’s hope it’s hilarious.

Theme Song, One of Kevin’s favourites:

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You know those moments when you feel like everything is as it should be? That all the good, the bad, the confusing, the funny, the in-between moments – that it’s all happened – is happening – in the just the perfect ratio? Like all the happenings have led to this point. Good and bad and neutral…it’s brought you to the exact spot you’re in, and that spot is exactly where you’re supposed to be?

I’m not talking about the physical spot either; I’m speaking more about one’s state-of-mind. I’m talking about growth and I’m talking about experience.

You know?

Some may call it wisdom – although I’m not feeling overly wise – definitely not.  But I’m feeling like I’ve come to a point where I am okay with myself and my feelings and I’m proud of the journey I’ve been on and it’s okay to be proud.

And although I’m not necessarily speaking in physical terms, the physical journey is not to be ignored. It’s been astounding! I’ve seen a whole heck of a lot of Australia and New Zealand. I’ve made my way through South East Asia and some of the South Pacific. I’ve even stopped off in Canada for a visit! This is some substantial travel. Considering my original trip was planned as six weeks in Oz and two in NZ, I think flying by the seat of my pants is an understatement. What an opportunity, and a gift.

I’ve kept my head on straight (or as straight as it’s ever been…this is all relative.. it’s a sliding scale). So many ups and downs; SO so so many decisions to make everyday. No routine means I can’t turn my brain off too much. Maybe this isn’t true, but I’m using my brain in very different ways than I did when I lived in a house, went to work everyday, and came home to a husband and cat. All these decisions I’ve been making have led to this spot. All my interactions, on the road and at home, have helped to bring me to this head space. And you know what? I can honestly say, for the first time in many, many moons, that it’s a good head space. The galaxy in my mind is good. It’s accepting and filled with positive ions. I’ve disproved dark energy…no antimatter here! (oh, oh…now I’m on an astronomy analogy tangent….this can’t be good for anyone…it could be never-ending..doppler effect…escape velocity….let’s change the subject, the trajectory, if you will).

Someone wise once said that we are never given more than we can handle (this is actually based on a passage from the bible [Corinthians 10:13] but I didn’t know that until I just looked it up). I heard this a long time ago, probably when I was a teenager, and it was one of those ideas that made sense to me at the time, but its poignancy was fleeting and quickly vanished into the aether. Well this small piece of wisdom was brought back into my life, by someone I love, when Kevin and I were battling that insidious f*#ker we call brain cancer. Kevin and I latched onto this idea; we embraced it whole-heartedly and it kept us going, especially through some of the tougher moments. I still think about it and I believe it and I hope that it brings some sort of peace to people going through something difficult. We, as humans, are tough and capable. I feel tough and capable.

I also have a headache, but I guess that’s to be expected. Gamma-ray bursts and supernovae have that effect.

“There are two mistakes that one can make on the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting”

~Guatama Siddharta, The Buddha

So I’ve taken a short hiatus from writing – a small break.  I’ve not felt the overwhelming urge to share these past few weeks.

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My mind has been busy and private.  January 10th was a big day –  a very important day – and significant to so many people who read this blog.  I think I’ve needed some time to sort out exactly what this anniversary means to me; sometime to regroup and look at what I’ve (we’ve) been through.  I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out…

There are moments I still find myself in disbelief at the chaos of the last couple of years.  I have a feeling these shock waves will strike for a long time to come. How do we get through this stuff…how have I made it?  One thing I know is that this year is extremely significant to me as it is both an end, and a beginning  Funny how that works, hey? …(it’s science).

Getting through the holidays was a triumph unto itself and frankly I  feel like a huge balloon of air has been expelled from my chest.  Definitely a lessening of pressure.  What sort of pressure? Well I’m not too sure, but the build up to that year was insurmountable.  I have made it and I’m still going.  I surprise myself sometimes.  I guess we all do.

Greens PoolsMy last couple of weeks in Western Australia were just great.  After New Years we packed into a friend’s caravan and hit the road.  We would travel ~500km southeast of Perth, cutting diagonally through the bareness of NoWheresVille, Australia, to hit the coast again and check out a little place called Denmark near the city Albany.  With absolutely no regard for its namesake – all that this small community lacks in European charm, it makes up for in abounding natural beauty.  Our hunt for waves proved fruitless, but we had fun exploring the beautiful coastline.  The water was so clear! The terraces and rocky cliffs ever expansive.  We cut across through Margaret River and found our own private beach – the kind of beach that comes to mind when you picture Australia but you’ve never been here.  No people, just sand and waves and sunshine.

We arrived back in Perth it was time to get to work.  I had located a small Christmas tree farm in the far Eastern suburbs that could use a helping hand in exchange for room and board.  Jann – the family matriarch – and I had been in touch and hit it off right away.  Claiming there was little work to be done around the property – due to the dryness and soaring temperatures – we agreed that I would do as much as I could, work-wise, and then spend the rest of my time swimming in the pool.  These are work conditions that I can feel confident in accepting.

Well my week with the family was just amazing.  I was accepted into the family with open arms.  Richard & His AlphornThis is one cool clique, and between their short bouts of conversing only in Swiss-German I was let in on their colourful history. Stories of living in Nigeria, and traveling the world kept me entertained at every meal.  We ate well, and talked well, and it was sad to leave.

This leaving stuff has to be the downside of traveling.  The connections we make as we go – this is the whole point of travel.  Scenery can be fantastic, awe-inspiring.  New cities and towns are (usually)  fun to explore. This is all fine and good,  but the relationships we create, both on the road and at home, are the core of the journey. With the freedom to pick-up -and-go comes the other side of the coin – saying goodbye…it gets old. There’s a reason we naturally settle down and get those roots in the ground.  Only a very special kind of person can keep up the transient lifestyle.

Jill 'n Kim Making the Most of the Final Days! So with only a few days left in the most remote capital city in the world– we planned a going away shindig and it was perfect. Altogether I have had the good luck and fortune to spend more than two months in Perth and the surrounds and have come to consider some of the people I have met there to be the type of friends that are life-long.  A barbeque on the beach…. guitars found their way to nearby laps….the astounding talent of my Western Australian friends was given the limelight.  Damn it – another goodbye.

The Rocks, SydneyAnd with the end comes a new beginning – this time the east coast    I touched down just in time to celebrate Australia Day in the country’s biggest city.  Old friends and new, we had a great time,  After years of practice in Canada, I feel I’m a bit of an expert at this type of celebration.  The sunshine, swimming, beer, and chaos of families running around – I felt right at home. ..

But I’m not….not yet.

Theme Songs of the Day:

Theme Song for the Day:

Iko IkoThe Dixie Cups

Where was I? right….

Froests of Eua

Froests of Eua

Tonga was a fantastic way to start my next adventure abroad.  With the beauty of the natural surroundings and the incredibly friendly people, I couldn’t help but believe I had landed in paradise.  I was so very comfortable and in jaw-dropping awe, at times (although I tried to keep my mouth closed, as I already stood out a bit), as I explored just a portion of this tiny oasis.

My comfort and feeling of belonging were a big deal.  As confident as I am in knowing that ‘travel” is the right thing for me right now, I still face times of doubt (don’t we all?).  There are times when thoughts swirl through my mind… what the hell am I doing? WHERE am I going – the middle of nowhere? Oh, right…! Who am I going to meet… anyone? Will I be exhausted…bored…or worse: indifferent? Should I be settling down? Am I too old for this? Too young? Too too too?..

[*note: these bigger thoughts are intermittently intertwined with thoughts of a slightly lighter inclination…: will there be coffee?…should I bring powdered milk?  Should I have brought another pair of socks? How many times can I get away with wearing this shirt before I start turning away potential friends? Is it too early for a beer?]

Uh, yes, I digress. Anyway…I had explored most of the main island of Tonga: Tongatapu.  I decided to make my way, via ferry, to the small island of Eua.  The ferry ride was uneventful which was perfect.  Actually, we did spot some humpback whales in the strait between the two islands.  Hundreds of these beautiful whales come to breed each year and it’s easy to spend hours watching them play from the shore (which I was sure to do).

A Cave in a Cliff - Eua

A Cave in a Cliff - Eua

Eau is renowned for its hiking and caving and I was excited to be somewhere new.  Not only was I staying in a beautiful little fale, a self-contained sleeping hut, just minutes from the ocean…but I was sharing my accommodation with two great girls that I had befriended days earlier in Nuku álofa.  Gabi from Slovakia, and Heather from California; ski instructors who follow the winter season around the globe.  They take short breaks in warmer climates between seasons.  Tonga was one of these ‘breaks’.  Tough life eh?

Our first day out we also met up with a fellow from Vancouver and we all spent an entire day in the national park on the Eastern side of the island.  The views are breathtaking and although a lot of the trails are overgrown, it was easy to make our way through the undergrowth of the ancient forest (with the help of a hand-drawn map, from one of the locals) and we spent a bit of time in a cave on a cliff.

Hidden Talent Abounds

Hidden Talent Abounds

That evening we met up with some women from the small village nearby and they taught us the basics of weaving baskets from coconut leaves.  This is very practical in Tonga, as these baskets are used in lieu of shopping bags.  It’s an interesting skill to have for someone from a northern temperate climate…I’m not sure how the city of Victoria would appreciate me scaling the few palm trees we actually maintain (painstakingly taken care of as they have such a tough time in winter) in order to rip down fronds.  …mmhh…my plans was to make Christmas presents for people with my new-found skills, but I may need to re-think this.

Fantastic!

Fantastic!

This is when things went a bit funny.  I went online (the islands are amazingly well-connected to the internet although the roads are not paved, hot-water is an absolute luxury, and I couldn’t find cheese to save my life) and was surprised to see there was a huge earthquake south of Samoa (7.9 on the Richter scale).  This means it was between Samoa and Tonga – north of the island I was on.  A tsunami warning soon followed.   Now it’s common sense to stay away from the water and find higher ground in these instances – we had enough time to prepare …we weren’t worried about being swept up in the wave.  What was more worrying is that the infrastructure of the small communities can’t necessarily handle events like this.

Everything closed – all the kids were sent home from school – boats were moored.  People shut their doors and spent the day with their loved ones.  Although there is no official warning system in Tonga – everyone knew within the hour and we were soon wandering a ghost island.  Needless to say, the tsunami didn’t make it as far south as us.  There were some fatalities in both Samoa and very far north Tonga.  This little paradise has been through the ringer of late.  Tongans are a resilient people who continue to smile through even the toughest time.  My kind of people.

My flight to Australia left from the big island the next day.  I spent the night wondering if the ferry would leave in the morning.  It did (and it only backed into the dock once…everyone was silent). I made it to Oz as planned.  I wouldn’t have minded being “trapped” in Tonga for another week though.  I could have worked through it.

My Tongan Family

My Tongan Family

That evening, before I flew out, my new friends and I were invited by Julie and Aki (locals that showed me around in my first couple of days in Tonga) and their family, to have a Tongan feast.  This was a perfect way to end my adventure.  We got to spend time with a beautiful family in beautiful surroundings.  The food was amazing, the dancing was graceful.  New friends and new experiences…I felt that I had everything I needed….there was even coffee.

Julie, Aki, and Jill

Julie, Aki, and Jill

Theme Songs of the Day:

90-Mile Water Wall – The National

Pigs of Tongatapu

Pigs of Tongatapu

Anyone who thinks that roosters only crow at dawn has obviously never stayed on a farm and has definitely never been to Tonga.

I awoke every 20 minutes from about 3:30am onwards, as my feathered friend hoarsely announced even the possibility of the sun rising within the following few hours.  As I grew accustomed to the cock-a-doodle doing and was drifting back to sleep, I heard the beautiful sounds of church bells.  Tonga is an extremely religious country and over 98% of the population attends religious service.  It was still dark but the sound was pleasant….at least the first twenty rings or so.  As the bells continued – 25…35…50… I started to wonder if this was some kind of warning system – was something wrong? …would someone come get me in my lone room in the upstairs of my out-of-the-way guesthouse?

I decided that at the first yell I would evacuate – to where, I’m not exactly sure.

View from Pangaimotu

View from Pangaimotu

Well as it turned out – the bells topped out at about 60 rings and only moments later I heard the beautiful sounds of a church choir.  All was well.  I didn’t get back to sleep but I was happy to know that nothing too exciting was going to happen on my first full day on the island of Tongatapu…little did I realize the poignancy this dose of foreshadowing would hold.

My ten days in the Kingdom of Tonga were amazing.  I have never been anywhere quite like this little south Pacific gem.  Although its four main island groups are some of the least visited in the region (everyone goes to Fiji), this is a county that retains its natural beauty and culture.  The people are so friendly!

One of the highlights of my trip was watching fire dancers leap around while I enjoyed a feast of traditional local foods (including the delicacy of roast pig cooked in an umu, an underground oven).

Fire Dancing at Oholei

Fire Dancing at Oholei

All of this took place in a huge cave on the beach.  As I sat there watching the beautiful dancers and eating my roast tapioca and fresh fish soaked in coconut milk, I wondered if I really needed to continue on to Australia…could I eke out another few months in this paradise? Would it be so bad to spend maybe another few weeks going to the market for fresh vegetables and reading my days away?

Then I remembered that damned rooster.  A couple of weeks was probably enough.

After a few days of exploring on my own via bike and foot, I was honoured to get a personalized tour of the entire island by new, local friends.  It’s not hard to see all the sites (albeit briefly) in one or two days.  Tongatapu, the main island (meaning: Sacred South) has an area of around 260km² and is home to over 70% of the population (approx: 73,000).

The Trilion Near Niutoua

The Trilion Near Niutoua

To put this into perspective for all you folks living in BC – Togatapu is not even double to size of Saltspring Island.

My tour was fantastic and I was given an abundance of information from my exuberant tour guide Julie and her personable fiancé, Aki.  At one point we stopped at Julie’s aunt’s house and picked up an array of roast vegetables and meat.  The four of us (Milo the driver, provided bread and corned-beef) parked at the beach and enjoyed our Tongan picnic before I went for a swim in the surf.  You don’t get this on every tour, but I was lucky to meet such fun and friendly people. My trip wouldn’t have been the same without them.

The next day I made my way, via ferry, to a small island 2.5hours off the southeast coast.  Eua was meant to have exceptional hiking and caving.  It was going to be an adventure, I was sure of it.  And I wasn’t wrong.

Theme Songs of the Day:

Within You – Ray LaMontagne, from the album Till The Sun Turns Black
Lesson No. 1 – Viva Voce, from the album The Heat Can Melt Your Brain

Cook Strait

Cook Strait

As I write this, I’m enjoying my last solo night in New Zealand before meeting up with friends for one final adventurous week abroad.  Tonight I’ve decided to camp next to a little out-of-the-way geothermal hot spring.  I wanted to avoid the crowds and commercialism of some of the bigger, more established areas further north in Rotorua.  I made the right decision.  I feel I have my own private nook – a little piece of cold paradise (apparently it’s the coldest winter they’ve had here in quite a while).  It’s peaceful and natural and smelly (like eggs). I have spent hours in the water and when I’m done writing, I will hop right back in….ahhhh….

What an incredible country!  The people I have been fortunate enough to meet are fantastic!  I have belly-danced and learned the basics of medieval sword fighting.  In Christchurch I met a fascinating couple who took me in and were so hospitable – we ate too much seafood and made a break for the mountains.  I received insider information on the best powder in the area (not to mention the use of full gear! – thank you M. Lucas).  I met a friend of a friend and not only had a tour of the village and a hike through the surrounding hills of Lyttleton, but also had the pleasure of partaking if some great conversation (she’s walked thousands of kms all over the world and she makes the idea of biking from Melbourne to Sydney out like it’s not a big deal).  I was made to feel right at home in their lovely little cabin (thank you Joan & Bryon).  I was invited to accompany a beautiful family up to some thermal pools on the South Island. We chatted amongst the steam while looking up at the surrounding mountains – their three little boys keeping me entertained the entire time (thank you Angel family).

Hamner Springs

Hamner Springs

The people here are fabulous and the scenery isn’t bad either.  My drive over the last few days has been incredible!  First, I have my own music because of the ingenuity of an iPod adaptor.  Second, the campervan is free as it’s a ‘relocation’ which means I have five days to get from Christchurch (on the South Island) to Auckland (on the North Island) and I simply pay for petrol.  Third, most of the 1800km+ that I’ve covered in this beautiful country have been magnificent.

I have witnessed vast horizons, towering cliffs, the rugged snow-covered peaks of the Southern Alps, inlets and sail-filled harbours, black sand beaches, white sand beaches, and sprawling volcanic plateau.  I’ve seen more sheep in the last few days than I’ve seen in my entire life prior to this.   Wooly cows, lamas, pigs, ostrich, deer, porpoise, baby seals,  mama seals, hawks and a large variety of birds… lakes, hills, valleys and rivers – this lone exploration has been a time of beauty and reflection.

So what to think, or to do, as this chapter of my travels winds down?

I’m not sure how I feel right now.

I guess I’m caught up in trying to be in the present moment; enjoying my last few days in New Zealand with good friends…

All the while I feel as though my brain and my heart are being pulled in opposite directions – a conflicting feeling of numbness and painful sensitivity.  Actually “pulled” isn’t even the right verb…it’s more like my brain and heart are contained in that rare state we learnt about in science: homogeneity.  Everything is dispersed evenly – neither floating nor sinking (thanks high-school, for these random references).  I am not fully present in this moment – or really any particular moment; ‘not 100% in the room’.  I feel I am suspended.  I don’t even feel caught or stuck…I just am – just hanging out in that beaker back in science class.

What are the thoughts and feelings I see suspended beside me in this beaker – these particles that all take on the same weight – the same gravity?

A View of Picton from the ferry

A View of Picton from the ferry

I am thinking of home…of a home that is different now.  I am thinking of the logistics of travel and getting back to the island.  I am thinking about how I will spend my time back in Canada; seven weeks will fly by.  I am thinking about my journey up to this point: where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, who I’ve met, how I’ve felt, how some experiences have affected me more than others- and the reasons for this.  I am thinking of Kevin.  I am thinking of family, and friends that are family– many of whom I haven’t seen since the wake.  I am thinking about summer on the beautiful West Coast. I am thinking about my cat.

I am thinking of continuing forward, like we all must do

through all these incredibly hard things that punch us in the gut

they crosscheck us from behind

tear us apart

strip us down to the basics

and give us a chance to rebuild

to find strength from hidden sources

delve deep to locate power-buried

and rekindle our faith in the human spirit.

*A huge thank you to everyone who has taken the time to travel with me in real life and also via this website – your support is invaluable.

*My plan is to continue writing and sharing during my trip back to Canada – the journey continues…

Can’t wait to see you all.
Love and many hugs,

The Successful Traveler
~just a girl who has somehow managed to find a way to gear down to first~

Helmets!

Helmets!

Whale Watching in Byron Bay

Whale Watching in Byron Bay

Theme Songs of the Day:

Remember Me – Blue Boy (this song is for you, Alice)
Go It Alone – Beck, from the Album Guero

After spending many months with friends travelling through the vast and varying country of Australia, I find myself craving some ‘me’ time.  I’m ready to venture out on my own for a bit. 

On a contradictory note: this entire journey has been an individual one – there’s no denying that.

I am choosing my direction as I go and I’m making decisions on a daily basis that point me towards the light at the end of the tunnel; whatever trail my intuition deems best at the time.  With a few exceptions this had lead me to meet up with people I have known previously: the luxury of a large network of friends – I’m very grateful.  I have been able to get to know these special people so much better because of the time we’ve shared…the places we’ve ventured to together.   I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Now it’s time for me to do some exploring without the harness.  It wasn’t long ago that the idea of venturing out on my own created some anxiety.  Although I do feel strong and independent, I have low moments.  It’s at these times when I have really relied on the support and understanding of friends – new and old – I’ve needed that support.

I have now reached a point where I trust myself to get through the rough patches without a safety net.  The lone traveler makes decisions on a whim without consulting anyone.  They are alone – but only as alone as they want to be.  Another potential friend is never too far away; it never takes long to meet good people, if you’re open to it.  Saying this, there’s no substitution for long-term friends that know you inside and out.  Confiding in strangers is easy and you may get some interesting and poignant perspective, but it doesn’t hold the weight of a hug from a good friend when you need it.

The most Eastern Point in OZ - Byron Bay

The most Eastern Point in OZ - Byron Bay

My last week in Australia was bitter-sweet.  I had some quality time with my buddies in Brisbane and had a blast down in Byron Bay with the girls.  We saw some kick@ss live music (True Live) and when we weren’t chillin’ on the beach and wandering the town’s haunts, we were out on the water, watching humpbacks do their thing – a great last hurrah before my departure.

When we got home I realized how I have really come to associate Brisbane with ‘home’.   I will miss it, but I will be back.

New Zealand: land of the long white cloud.… I sensed an adventure when I made the booking, and I haven’t been disappointed so far.   Trying new things, meeting locals – this is excellent.   I have made some new friends and I have fallen for NZ in a big way.  Life is good….great, actually.

 

Looking up at Mt. Hutt, Canterbury

Looking up at Mt. Hutt, Canterbury

 

Not Bad!

Not Bad!

After a short recovery and a few extra days rest in Melbourne, Matt, my current travel cohort and partner-in-crime, and I decided it was time to head to Sydney.   Although cheap domestic flights beckoned us, we felt the call of the road and rented a car instead.  What a great idea!  An ugly, but zippy little compact we dubbed Glow Bug transported us eastward.

The trip across Victoria was complemented by good coffee and fantastic conversation.   What better way to share stories and laughs than with the open road spread out before you?  Having always been a big fan of road trips, I simply love facing outward, in the same direction, with my travel companion(s).  Listening to great tunes just sweetens the deal. 

On this day It was sunny, and although it takes the better part of an hour to actually leave the sprawling suburbs of the city, we were greeted by beautiful, bright rolling hills (they call them mountains here).

Our next few days would consist of casually driving through impressive scenery dotted with forest, ocean, rivers, and hills (mountain ranges?!?).  We explored little fishing villages along the coast and made various attempts at catching dinner along the way.  The fish we caught were too big to take in the small compact so we settled with eating at pubs and joined the locals in their favourite past-time (Eden, a small town along the border in NSW, claims to be “a drinking town with a fishing problem”).  

Old Tom - The Amazing Killer whale of Twofold Bay

Old Tom - The Amazing Killer whale of Twofold Bay

We gasped in the beauty of Lakes Entrance, a small town tucked into the east corner of the state of Victoria.  In Eden, farther north over the border, we sought out the Killer Whale Museum (and aforementioned pub).  It was here we got the chance to see Old Tom, the famous Orca that used to assist the whalers in Twofold Bay in their hunt for baleen whales.  He would herd the baleens into the bay and lead the whalers to the catch.  If the whalers proved too slow, he would actually grasp the ropes of the whaling boat and tug them!  After Old Tom passed away, the orcas never returned and soon the whaling industry collapsed.  A great story and local legend.

Eden, NSW

Eden, NSW

In Bermagui, probably my favourite stop on this part of my journey, we spent the entire afternoon fishing (I was more of a support network: singing loudly, if intermittently, to attract fish – and keeping an eye on the fairy penguins as they efficiently stole our catch from around the break-water).   

There is a place I get to when I’m traveling extensively for any amount of time.  I inherently recognize this place, and the timing can seem quite random, but it’s at this pinnacle moment that I actually see myself as a Traveler

In the UK, back in ’99 this moment came about very quickly.  I knew I had a year abroad; I was a Traveler from the moment I received my visa.  It was reaffirmed when, mere hours after we landed in Glasgow, as we were getting ready to go to bed – a bunch of mad Dutchmen swung into the hostel and stole us away to a rocking seventies club.  We danced all night (assisted by the ever-so-helpful jet-lag and a wee pint or two).  The next day we caught a ride with our new friends to Edinburgh.  We would end up living the better part of six months over the following year there. 

It was one of the most relaxed times in my life…I was living each moment by the seat of my pants (albeit in tandem with my friend Racheal, whom I was attached to at the hip).  We settled for a while in Edinburgh, but really, I (or we, at the time) could have picked up at any moment and, on a whim, made our way to Spain or Finland or India, had we the funds.

Maybe it was easy to see myself as a Traveler right away back then because I didn’t feel I was leaving much behind.  At nineteen I had my job, school, and a haphazard social life, but I was very much ready for crazy change.  I knew I would find it as soon as I hopped on the plane. 

The Wombat is Smiling!

The Wombat is Smiling!

On this trip in Australia, with so much of a life left behind (or put on hold at least), I realized this pinnacle moment as I sat in the car on a road trip through the beautiful countryside of NSW.  With a like-minded friend beside me, we watched the scenery pass and we smiled.  It was a moment shared, yet also something very private.  I knew – I felt in my soul, that I was not a vacationer or a guest anymore; I was a self-defined Traveler.

I realized I had survived, have survived, something huge and all-encompassing.  I am coming out the other side – I can make that cumbersome hook-turn we discussed back in Melbourne –I’ve got the skills.  

I appreciate that I had the chance to see so much beauty so far off the beaten track.  The knowledge that it’s my track… I’m choosing which way to turn… this is precious.  I am strong.  I belong wherever I am.   

 Theme Songs of the Day:

Guaranteed – Eddie Vedder, from the soundtrack Into the Wild

One Crowded Hour – Auggie March, from the album Moo, You Bloody Choir

I’m Good, I’m Gone– Lykke Li, from the album Youth Novel (Alex D, this one’s for you)

Ramble On – Led Zeppelin, from the album Led Zeppelin II

Eden  - So many pelicans!

The Bedfords call this Home

The Bedfords call this Home

I know there is an absolute abundance of vivid, descriptive words that could be used to attempt an accurate portrayal of the Bedford’s property in Loongana, Tasmania. Now I just need to figure out where to start?  Wondrous, natural, fantastic?  All good, but not painting the entire picture.  I’m not sure I can do it justice, but this 70 acres of land is beautiful and worth the journey.  It’s less than an hour’s drive from Ulverstone which lies on the North shore of Tasmania, West of Launceston.    

Matt, my American-Aussie travel companion, had found the Bedford’s on Couchsurfing.org. After some correspondence with Peter, the man of the house, we had been invited to stay a couple of nights.  As we got comfortable, we knew that we would end up staying the remainder of our trip in and about the area.  What a welcoming, comfortable piece of paradise.

Matt and our host Peter looking down on Leven Canyon

Matt and our host Peter looking down on Leven Canyon

The property is more or less self-contained and self-sufficient.  The Bedfords have spent years building the property from the ground up.  A great descriptive word for this family: industrious!  A gorgeous (secret) waterfall and small river supply hydro power.  There are gardens, chickens, some miniature horses, a small lake with trout, a tree fort, and my personal favourite: the outdoor, fire heated bathtub. 

This is a real treat – you actually light a fire below the tub and must be careful to add cold water on a frequent basis in order not to be slowly simmered!  Can it get any better?  It’s cold enough for frost in the mornings, so a hot bath outside is a virtual heaven.  Even better?  Our last night there, as the hand-picked hazelnuts roasted on the bonfire, I sipped homemade honey mead in the tub, and the others stood around chatting and throwing vegetables in to make the stock perfect (mmmhhh, Jill soup? – yeah, I might not remember the night with complete accuracy, the honey mead packed a powerful punch). 

They sure are friendly in Penguin!

They sure are friendly in Penguin!

Although the entire first day was spent on the property, by the second day it was time to explore a bit further out.  A trip into Ulverstone was highlighted by a coffee at Smiley’s.  The scones and jam, and friendly atmosphere made allowance for the atrocious attempt at a Canadian accent (although I was flattered Smiley tried, and it came across in a lovely Irish lilt with ‘eh’ planted at the end of each sentence).  

Fresh fish for sushi

Fresh fish for sushi

We took the van West to a small town called Penguin on the quest for fresh fish.  Penguin is charming (sort of like Qualicum for you Vancouver Islanders) but contrary to popular belief (and logic) contains no penguins.  Oh, and no fresh fish….sigh (one might bring the other, no?).  We continued on to Burnie and our fresh-fish-success meant sushi night at the Bedfords. Yum!

The river running through the Canyon

The river running through the Canyon

Hiking through Leven Canyon, biking, late-night wildlife excursions in the Ute, eating way too much, drinking, sharing stories, just a lot of hanging out…this was the bulk of how I spent my time in Tasmania.  This is how everyone should spend their time in Tasmania! 

It’s always so nice to get off the beaten track a bit.  It feels real and wholesome and valuable.  Tasmania is a lot like home, more so than any place I’ve been so far in Australia.  I think the vague familiarity and the vast differences are intriguing and were a little unexpected.  I felt very at ease in this little state (yes, it’s approximately the size of Ireland, but it’s all relative, isn’t it?).  The landscape was inspiring, and the company was pretty great – no two-headed people to be seen… although, you know, we never did make it right around the island…

        …                                                                                              

Theme Songs of the Day:

Brainy – The National, form the album Boxer

Messages – Xavier Rudd, from the album

Gone Away From Me – Ray LaMontagne, from the album Till the Sun Turns Black

Sunset in Tasmania

Beautiful AND close to the Cadbury factory!

Beautiful AND close to the Cadbury factory!

Mainland Aussies have one of two answers when you ask them if they’ve been to Tasmania…..”Oh, yes, it’s absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!” or, alternatively: “What, why would you want to go there?”…  Let’s just say, there is a bit of a stigma associated with the state.  It’s ‘common knowledge’ that Tassies are inbred and tend to spout two heads.  Now, I’m no expert, but the Tasmanians that I met were perfectly lovely and very friendly, no extra appendages to be seen – and the state itself WAS absolutely beautiful.

We arrived in Hobart and after picking up our deluxe camper van, and made our way into the city for some food.  Research (reading the in-flight magazine on the way over) had lead us to seek out Chodra, a beautiful little tea house owned by the former basest of the Violent Femmes.  What a beautiful introduction to the least-visited-state in Australia (only 2% of visitors to the country make it over). 

We found a beautiful spot to camp and the next day the only thing that inspired us to get up was the fact that we were mere minutes from the Cadbury chocolate factory!  YUM!!  We drank hot chocolate, watched a movie and then spent $50 on chocolate….but only paid $20!!!  Wow, I LOVE Tasmania!

Cliffs at Devil's Kitchen

Cliffs at Devil's Kitchen

They look smarter when they're stuffed!

They look smarter when they're stuffed!

Although our eventual destination was the far north of the island, we decided to head south and check out Port Arthur.  The drive was awe-inspiring with valleys, and hills dotted with sheep and the odd cow (the cows weren’t all that odd, just their frequency, but, again, I’m no expert).  Port Arthur looked very interesting, but we saw it only from the parking lot.  It was cold and wet and late in the day…and a little pricy to boot.  Instead we went to check out the infamous Tassie devils.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing these funny little creatures, I would seriously suggest checking them out (Youtube has a couple of good clips).  They run around in a happy daze and it’s as though they forget what they’re doing every minute or so…”oh, sh!t, what was I gonna do…mmmhhh?  Maybe I’ll go this way – yeah, that’s good – oh wait…er where was I going?”  I didn’t get to see them eat, supposedly quite the site: they start spinning and get exceedingly aggressive, but I like my first impression of them:  funny and dumb; the big toothy grins complete the picture.

The next day we made the trek north.  The gently sloping hills through the heart of rural Tasmania are reminiscent of Ireland, although due to a fairly dry season they weren’t quite as emerald green.  Launceston, the second biggest city in the state, was charming and offered free internet at the library (the city takes a two-star jump when one can find access to the web…it’s a gift).  A long-time friend from Scotland was in town and we had a nice catch-up over a quick lunch.  The sun shone brightly as we continued North West and the light from the sunset gave off that flattering orange glow that makes everything clear as day but better.  We would be driving through the bush in the dark.

The colour palette of the trip: green and blue

The colour palette of the trip: green and blue

After a little detour 16km past the house, on a dirt road, we finally made it to our destination.  Luckily those extra kilometers had allowed us the chance to see possums, wombats, Tasmanian devils and a great, stoic bird called the tawny frogmouth.  Did I mention: I love Tasmania? 

Anyway, we eventually made our way to our host’s and he greeted us with a glass of wine and a smile.  We stayed up until 5am getting to know each other.  What a fascinating man – we were in for an unbelievable next few days! …

 

Theme Songs of the Day:

Putting on the Ritz – Taco, from the album After Eight

True Affection – The Blow, from the album Paper Television

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