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We all know that Christmas is a special time of year. Family, friends, wining, dining, and gifts. Yeah, it’s special, no doubt. There’s the flip side to consider, as well. Stress and all that mumbo jumbo….so-busy-bad-weather-unexpected-expenses-hard-to-buy-for-too-much-to-drink-to-eat-to-wrap….yadda. Yadda. Blah blah.

Bah.

My advice? Start watching the chaos and find humour. Just give yourself a little extra time and sit back and watch the insanity ensue. You can’t change the crazies that come out of the wood work and emerge in droves at your local shopping venues. Instead of getting annoyed at the person who takes eight minutes and a nine-point turn in order to back into a parking spot, give these people a break. Everyone shops this time of year (with exception of those overly down-to-earth types who have found the true meaning and all that..or the really crafty types that are so prevalent here on the west coast). So it falls to reason that unskilled shoppers come out at this time of year. This makes it that much more adventurous for the rest of us!

Actually, I think I’ve over simplified these characters. They aren’t unskilled at shopping – they are more-or-less unskilled at basic social interactions and sometimes even logic in general.

Watch the person in front of you try to explain a specific book to the lady at the cash register – while not knowing the title, the author, or even the genre of book they’re in such dire need of. Take note as she get more animated and frustrated, starting to lash out …. “nobody in this bloody store knows anything about literature!” She storms off feeling vindicated knowing she is better-read than anyone else in the shop and also that it’s run by illiterate morons. Now instead of letting their negativity rub off on you and your retail experience, just take a moment – realize you’re just very lucky not to be that person. Smile at the cashier. A knowing glance can do wonders. Now you can feel vindicated in your own right – and the camaraderie of like-minded, socially-adjusted people is exactly what this season is about.

Love thy neighbour… and your local customer service associate.

In all seriousness, I’ve really had to embrace being back in the real world for this time of year. My battle is not with the general public, but with my memories. I thought I had it all figured out – I got a job at the ski resort in order to fully wrap myself up in winter. Being up on the heavily snow-covered hill, surrounded by people who love being outside – it’s the perfect way to get through the long dark winter. Yes…all figured out – I knew this sort of job would ensure I worked through Christmas and I could slog through this very emotional holiday by working hard and feeling exhausted enough to sleep through the night. I could avoid Christmas… again! What luck.

Luck comes in oh, so many forms. I truly believe that each one of us is lucky, it’s just a matter of perspective.

So I guess I was one of the lucky ones – my schedule gave me both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. As I was about to volunteer to take my coworkers’ shifts, I held my tongue and thought about the opportunity at hand. This could be exactly what I need. I’ve stated before: some of the best outcomes have been from situations that are difficult and way, way, way easier to avoid. It dawned on me that I need to face the holidays; the traditions, the ups and downs that come hand in hand with this time of year.

It’s been pretty sweet so far, and even with a few tears there is some sense of accomplishment.

I can’t even begin to count the ways in which I’ve been lucky. Life happens, sh*t happens, some of it’s heavy and bad and life-altering, but we do our best to pick ourselves up, and when we do – whether it’s luck, or determination or sheer grit, we, hopefully, can look around and begin to see the love surrounding us.

My love and thanks to everyone who has been part of my life these last few years. I have met so many special people. I have travelled with each and everyone of you whether it’s through airports and foreign countries, written word, or shared memories.

We’ve arrived here …right now. It’s pretty good, isn’t it?

Keep each other laughing. Share music. Hug to stay warm.

Merry Christmas.

“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?

”Uh, Canada.”

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?!

Sneaky.

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.

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!

Wow!  I have fallen in love…  Perth is just amazing!  We have packed so much into three days that is feels like two weeks. 

The plane ride  over was pretty uneventful.  I had a bit of cry on the plane – something about being at 15,000 ft…. it gets me every time.  I guess I needed the release, that and it’s been my first alone time since landing.  I realize I constantly carry the conflicting emotions of sad, and very, overwhelmingly happy emotions.  Where do I go from there? How can I hope to reach these strong levels of emotion again in my lifetime?   Will I become more numb as I go?  Will I find new levels of both happy and sad?  I guess it will change.  I will continue to experience life and, hopefully, find new layers of depth; grow older and wiser….

I have the feeling that I have, through the events of the last year and a half, become very attuned to what’s happening around me.  I am maybe more sensitive, more empathetic…but in the same breath, I am seeing my life from the outside a little more. 

I’m excited to travel, meet new people, connect, experience.  I think my challenge will be to figure out how to personally invest in these events and interactions.  Don’t get me wrong, when I am talking with someone, I am fully present.  I feel like I may be looking through a third person’s eyes.   I may be taking refuge in the safety  of an ‘outside’ self as a way of self-preservation…  I want to connect but I don’t think I have much of myself left to give.  The parts that remain must be kept for myself. 

I have loved and lost in a VERY extreme way.  I am searching for emotions to counter-act my past experiences, no small feat…all this, without giving myself over in any substantial way. 

mmhhh….that was a bit of a tangent.

On an entirely different note: my computer has a virus, and until I can clean it up, I have limited time on the Internet.  This isn’t so bad is it?  A major drawback is that I can’t post pictures…but I will get that sorted in the next week or so and then I will have some visuals to check out.

So what have we done in Perth so far?  What haven’twe done??  I arrived at around noon on Tuesday.  My friend Kim and I hopped in the van and headed north to her place.  WE stopped and one of the countless beaches here on the west coast and I had my first swim in the Indian Ocean.  From there we met up with her friend Jenny and drove up the coast to Yanchep National Park.  Wrapped around a beautiful lake, this park is home to kangaroos, koalas and birds.  We watched as the lazy koalas slept in the trees above us. 

We headed back towards the city and stopped at, of all places, the cemetary.  Someone in the know had told us to check it out, as there are quite a few kangaroos there and you can actually get pretty close.  We saw eight of the grazing on the grass.  I hoped along beside them (yes, there ARE pictures).   Wow!

We watched the sunset at a beach near Kim and Stu’s house.  Amazing

The next day we headed south to a small city called Freemantle.  We toured the shops and cafes and then went on a tour through the prison.  It was horrifying but fascinating as well.  The prison was actually used up until 1991 when they were permanently closed down.  At the time of closure they still used buckets for latrines.  Something else that we all found amazing is that punishment by whipping  was still legal until 1993.  It was simply an over-site (the last person that had the experience of the cat o’ nine tails was in 1943).  When Western Australia abolished corporal punishment in ’93 they realized that the ‘whipping legislature’ had never been removed.  Quite the over-site.

After the gruesome but educational tour, we headed to a local microbrewery called Little Creatures.  The venue is an old wearhouse that has been converted to a funky bistro/brewhouse (much like the Canoe Club in Victoria).   All us roomates had a great time chatting and eating and then we headed over to Clancy’s Fish Club where we watched the Battle of the Bands: West Coast Blues and Roots.  It was a fun night.

The next day found us at the beach.  We spent a few hours surfing and then headed home for naps.  That evening Kim had a surprise for me:  she had tickets for Cirque du Soleil: Dralion...!!!  AWESOME!

We dressed up and headed into the blue and yellow tent.  The show was phenomenal.  I believe we both shed a tear of joy at the end of the performance.  It was beautiful and funny and awe-inspiring – I’ve never seen anything like it. 

It’s hard to belive I haven’t even been here four full days.   The next adventure begins tomorrow as the two of us head South towards Margaret River.  We will hit some wineries…beaches….anything and everything, camping along the way….why not?  We should all be so lucky to hit anything and everything along the way – that’s what life is all about!

 

Theme Songs for the day:

OH! OH! OH! Trouble –  An Angle, from the album…I’m not sure…

Where is My Mind – Pixies, from the album Surfer Rosa *(and if you haven’t been lucky enough to listen to this song but sort of recognize it – it’s the closing-credit song from Fight Club)

FortressPinback, from the Album Summer in Abaddon

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