…downtime

So I’m in Hobart now.

Hobart Tasmania, the Island state of Australia located due south of Melbourne and thrown back about 25 years in time.

The whole state has less people living in it than Portland, Oregon.

What a weird place it is.

Almost not like Australia at all – at least until someone opens their mouth. An aussie boofhead sounds the same in Tasmania.

Shops close here at 5.30 pm every day and the city is deserted apart from a few hole-in-the-wall takeaway joints and some dodgy bars.  There is no late night shopping – it doesn’t exist here.

Luckily there are tons of boutique pubs and breweries, cafes and craft beer places. I even found a decent Nepalese eatery. But there just aren’t many people.


The waterfront is beautiful, quite expensive and as generally waterfronty as waterfronts tend to be. Lots of craft beer, trendy beards, tattoos and bottle blonde women. Which may not be a bad thing.

But I’m more interested in the other wildlife 🙂

**meet my new friend Alex, scrounging for scraps amongst the fish and chip punts.

​Also I think this is where the Sydney to Hobart yacht race finishes. That’s a sport so just guessing here.

Downtown does come alive on a sunny Sunday though. Crowds appear and flock to the markets. There’s a City organic market happening at the moment – it’s pretty damn good with loads of organic produce, food stalls and music galore.

I even saw Koshie from Sunrise wandering around with his wife. Yay.

This single sunny day aside, my initial impressions from flying in and living here over the past few weeks hold true: Hobart is generally sleepy and the people ruggedly outdoorsy with stunning wilderness areas and oceans to explore – not a lot of Subaru’s but despite that it reminds me of Washington a little. 

A cashed-up version though and no homeless people (or at least haven’t seen any yet).

I can’t really explore – no car –  so am at the mercy of the elements and the daylight. Its good to get out and walk my ass off though.

*these two were so good.

It’s Fall Weather here 6 days out of 7 and today is a rare but welcome sunny one.

There are a lot of beards, yoga pants and everyone else is in adventure wear – loads of bike riders out and about. The outdoor stores do well here for a reason I guess.

…anyway.

Day 1 at the Division was giddily exciting – the bus picked a group of us up outside an old sandstone building near the hotel, all of us strangers and nervously wondering who the others were. A few “first day of school” comments, some IT crowd in-jokes and the 3 IT people (my colleagues bound for the other 2 stations) gravitated towards each other – inherent geekiness drawing us together.

Walking into the Division HQ is cool cool cool – all “Get Smart” automatic doors and security – I’d find out why later.

The most thrilling thing is being part of Australia’s incredible history of exploration, and assisting science in the Antarctic region – following in the footsteps of the great Explorers as it were.

Ross, Amundsen, Shackleton, Scott, Hillary, Mawson –  in no particular order. Their faces look down from the walls of the Antarctic Division headquarters, their exploits and adventures inspire.

Relics and photographs of their expeditions pepper the offices and buildings in silent memorial to their achievements and give us newbies hints at what is to come.

Its just mind blowing how much history is here.

But this is Government – some things never change.

I expected a well oiled machine of IDs, induction, paperwork, maybe a briefing…after all they do this every 6 months.

Hmmm. Nothing of the sort. IDs sorted and then we just kinda… wandered. Had a few short welcomes and then left to our own devices. Clock watched til 5pm when our bus arrived. We were all exhausted from doing nothing, said little and just stared at Mt Wellington on the way home.

Being in a human petrie dish / office environment again I immediately picked up a flu bug on Day 1 and have been sick and out of sorts since.

Day 2 was kitting but started the same way :  early morning bus, wait til the workers wander in around 9.00am, then more hurry up and wait. Kitting was really exciting and fun – getting all of my allocated polar survival gear and PPE: masses of gear, protective equipment, parkas, ice chains, crampons, gloves, hats, sunnies, boots, more gear than I’d ever expected.

Then the pace slowed to a yawning crawl. The training program stalled and we would spend hours trying to fill in time productively. Once again IT was on the absolute bottom of the priority order and we were largely forgotten.

With no access, and little documentation, there was little we could do despite asking constantly for work or training.

My colleagues were struggling as well – it wasn’t just me. Struggling to stay busy, struggling to stay awake. With all of us coming from extremely busy private sector technology backgrounds, this change of pace – moving from 100 miles and hour to virtually zero was jarring to say the least.

This would change when we were deployed but now it all seems to be just wasting time til we go. Id rather be outside.

Despite the boredom, my start at the Antarctic Divisions headquarters in Kingston was a shock to the system for another unexpected reason. Not only was getting back into the rhythms of a 9-5 working life again hard, but being indoors is much much tougher than I thought it would be. Feeling a little trapped at the desk. The lack of movement and momentum is excruciating.

I really don’t like it at all. Downtime sucks.

So anyway as of Friday, 2 weeks in and we’re only just getting access to the systems we need to manage and the scope of my role seems to diminish the more I dig into it.

GOD government process takes forever.

***UGH – IT…

Look my coworkers are nice, the IT side of things interesting at times, but there’s an element of uncertainty in this role that troubles me.

It’s all far too casual.

Don’t get me wrong, its still going to be an incredible experience and I’m extremely grateful for the chance, but now my year in Antarctica has been shortened to a summer only (November til April) but “SORTA KINDA MAYBE PERHAPS a winter but nothings certain and only if they get funding but don’t worry you can just get extra gear sent out on the resupply voyage at the end of March – we’ll let you know”…

I’m mindful I tossed a job for this but the attitude here to my predicament is “meh you’ll be fine”

Grrr.  I gotta roll with it.

We toured should the ship a few days back which was fascinating and will be my home for a few weeks from the end of October.

I love being at sea almost more than anything ( except my mountains and rainforests of course) . It’s been almost 15 years since my last stint on a ship,  but it felt very familiar stepping aboard – the smells, sounds and constant vibration under the feet was comforting – I wondered aloud “ how the fuck did I end up on a ship again” … a few people glanced at me with odd expressions but I didn’t feel the need to explain myself.

But I always need a Plan B.

Ive been applying for other jobs next year, dusting off the crystal ball and looking into the future – getting my famous Plan B up and running in case I’m back 6 months earlier than planned.

So today, Sunday, I’ve finally found a nice cafe with good coffee and thought I’d plug this update in just to keep the record up to date.

Coffee first. Gotta get my priorities in order.

Anyway I’m shortly off to find a bookshop if there are any open and maybe wander down to the wharf.
Still 2 weeks to go before I head off!

All will be well, I’m sure.
*the “Get Smart” doors are there because so much kit is carried around between the buildings – everyone has their hands full all the times. It’s super cool though 🙂

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…FREEEEEEEEEE!

Monday morning I fly to Hobart for the next part of my journey

So far I have packed 4 times (not unusual), stopped myself from buying shit I don’t need (highly unusual), and caught up with friends (lucky as its a long weekend and everyone’s away). Totally running out of time but still procrastinating massively today. The jetlag and alcohol means sleep escapes me, and when it does come my dreams are a confusing mess of self doubt and worst case scenarios.

I am Jamie’s rampaging insecurity.

Of course I’m going to write about it…but for today there’s this.

Getting back into the country on Tuesday was much smoother than I’d expected, even when I lost the usual day with the time zones weirdness. It was 5am Sunday morning – my farewell-induced hangover was barely in check, the flight from Seattle to Honolulu was on time, and traffic on the i5 was light. Shay dropped me off at Seatac dead on 6am after the 55 minute drive up from Olympia.

See you in Nepal next year, Shayster 😉

Check in was a breeze and even the TSA lines weren’t unbearable. On time all the way,  the 5 hour flight to Honolulu passed in a blink – even the 35 minute transfer in Hawaii went perfectly, giving me 4 entire minutes to buy a Hawaiian shirt on the way to the Gate. The only worry was luggage transfer, but I’d convinced myself it would be ok and as usual had packed all the essentials in the carry on.

God I love Hawaiian Airlines.

Arriving in Sydney 11 hours later, the luggage met me at the carousel and passing Customs and Immigration was ultra fast. Ooops  – totally forgot the beef jerky in my bag!

Now only one thing was left.

Survive Sydney Airport.

Once the decision to keep my money in my pocket was made, Sydney Airport transit became a challenge more than a financial crisis. Usually the vampiric cash drain starts from the moment you set foot there and a cash sacrifice to the Goddess of the City of Sydney is needed to survive at every step.

The City of Sydney (at least in my minds eye) is a vampiric old barslut in Victorian lace that sidles up, quietly slips her grimy hands into your pants and while dazzling you with technique, steals your stash, shivs you in the kidney and then leaves you bleeding out in an alley.

I wage a constant war to stem the flow of cash from my wallet into her voluminous coffers. Look the harbor is nice but this hoary bitch sucks the State of NSW dry revenue wise. And Sydney people – jeez don’t get me started.

Anyway…we’ve been over this.

Due to the odd flight schedules and curfew, I got in at 7.30pm, but couldn’t fly out til 7.30am the next day. Sydney International Airport (pssh) closes at 11pm and if you have en early flight, you are fucked only have a few options : these include book a $300+ hotel room at the Airport hotels nearby, catch a $20 taxi and book a $200+ hotel room 1.5 kms away (if there are any), book a city Hostel at $45 a night and then take a $16 train ride (each way) and then HOPE the return train arrives on time or the flights aren’t cancelled.

You get the idea. Sydney is expensive and Sydney Airport doubly so and there are little services offered to the budget traveler.

BUT – I found out that they do put aside a small waiting area inside the main terminal near the train and taxi entries for “transit passengers’. You can sleep there for free, on a chair or on the carpeted floor. There’s free internet and an internet terminal (till 11pm when they turn it off), a phone recharge station, there are toilets available but no shower, and you have to sleep with your bags tucked under your arms etc as there is no real security. There were about 5 transit passengers sleeping there when I arrived, and after an hour or so that grew to 40 so get there early.

But its FREEEEEEEEEEEE!

So I thought, why the Hell not! I found a spare leather chair (mmmm worn sweaty pleather) and flopped down, wearily hatching a duffel bag and nursing a backache/headache from the 15 hour flight from Seattle/Honolulu.

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Its cold, the security guards will harass you at odd hours and demand to see your ongoing ticket or at worst kick you out if you don’t have one. I arrived at 8pm, and flew out at 7.30am (well within the acceptable 12 hour window) so was ok to stay.

*They don’t like doing letting people do it apparently, but it’s definitely available.

After a less than optimal but FREEEEEEEE! night in Sydney, I began the new day by fudging my carry on and baggage weights as best I could.

Coming from an International carrier (Hawaiian Airlines) that allows 2 x 16KG bags and 2 carry on bags I’d loaded up on gear in the US.

REX on the other hand allows only 1 x 16/20KG check in and 1 x 7kg carry on.

Their excess baggage fees completely freaked me out so I spent the morning putting on multiple t-shirts, 2 beanies and several pairs of heavy pants plus 3 jumpers. Strapped every heavy Item available to my body, and finally slung the Beats headphones around my neck. Walking like John Wayne, looking like the Michelin Man and sweating like a Muslim at a Patriot rally.

Waddling over to the T-Bus stop, I boarded for the Domestic Terminal, which is minimalist but efficient and at 7.30 am sharp was ready to roll (after a minor panic about timezones and missed flights) .

Convincing Airport Security that the massive metal Slackline winch in my bag was a delicate instrument that couldnt be checked was a challenge ( I can actually act a bit, it would seem) but I eventually boarded the world’s prettiest, narrowest and most insecure aircraft and headed West.

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Before long, this narrow aluminum bullet was winging its way out to the dry dusty plains of Dubbo, and as the landscape below shifted from green to dirt, my spirits drooped as expected.

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Back again. FFKS.

Luckily it’s only for 6 day…its only for 6 days…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…care factor

Last night I saw one of my teenage idols – Pat Benatar – live in a small Indian Casino close to here (SO good), then met a friend at a local bar to catch up after.

That turned into another post 3am night out. As a result I am slightly hung over today and my thought processes aren’t quite firing so this could be a total waffle – bear with me.

My drinking bud told me last night that one of the things she likes about me is that I don’t give a shit (in context the conversation was about toned cute-as-a-button PT instructors getting constantly hit on/competed with by guys in bars <or at least I think it was – things get hazy after 2am>

Yo Hayley.

I hadn’t thought much about it until my second coffee this morning to clear my foggy head.

Replaying last night as best as I could, this little thing stood out.

When did I stop giving a shit? 

More importantly how come people can see it? What’s happened to my masks? Hmmm…

There was a time where the thought of sitting in a bar and talking to people frightened the Hell outta me (that was a while ago admittedly), but these days – pffft – easy peasy Japanesey (sorry about the casual racism – its a generational thing).

Now I comfortably jump onto a plane, live in a foreign country for months, make new friends and form connections almost as a byproduct of just being there.  (ok so its not beer and skittles all the time but generally its pretty good)

So WTF? When did that happen?

I guess quitting work and striking out in a new direction has really been the last bullet in the head for my care factor levels and it must be showing.

Warning : Overshare.

This social anxiety thing that I’m hoping most of us feel in a strange situation was really amplified when I was a kid. Super shy and quiet,  I would rather read, wander or talk to my horses than interact with people.

You can imagine how that went down once I hit school. 

Overwhelmed, I ran away on my first day of Primary School and climbed up high into a tall tree out the front of the school – the Year 6 boys had to climb it and get me down. That happened more than once and the tree’s still there I think, at Wombat Public School.

*my sister and I back in Ye Olden Times.

High School wasn’t much better (less tree climbing though) and opened a whole new can of worms. Who exactly was I? How to fit into this micro-society, an odd shape that didn’t quite belong anywhere (at least in my head that’s how it seemed).

So I settled on being ‘clown’ : a funny/smartass camouflage developed as a survival mechanism at school, a sarcastic shield of protection and emotional armor, a way to overcome paralysing shyness and low self esteem – a product of many factors that I’m not going into. Today.

Girls? Not a chance. Baffled. Clueless. Completely oblivious (well at least ’til High School). Embarrassingly so. Head up my ass introverted.

Looking back, so many “Ohhhh so THATS what that was about” moments that I had no clue about at the time.

*my favourite school Photo – the last one I ever smiled in.

So anyway it’s taken a while to overcome all that – remember my ‘fake it till you make it’ motto?

So whats changed lately?

Well many things, but I think its basically the “care factor” – caring about how you look, how you dress, what you say, what the future holds, whats happened in the past, what people think of you (that’s the killer one). Money, career, marriage, houses, fancy cars, stability, conforming, fitting in, following the rules. It’s all a trap.

So the lower the care factor, the freer you become. So simple! 

Is it the same as confidence? I don’t think so but perhaps it can be mistaken for it.

Maybe reducing the care factor brings you closer to the actual person that’s buried underneath all the layers of bullshit – letting go of the emotional armor, masks and defence mechanisms that keep us emotionally separated from other people, that stop us creating actual real soul-to-soul connections instead of only temporary insubstantial surface level encounters.

Derrr… of course it is. You know this already. Everyone knows this, right? Feel free to bail out.

But I’ll continue my thought regardless…

Let the ‘this is me’ of you peek out from behind the curtain and take a tentative step forward and be. To the ‘real’ if it.

Other real people will respond. They’re hungry for it just like you are.

(All this is assuming you aren’t really an asshole underneath and in that case, all bets are off)

There’s to much bullshit in this world already. Why contribute to it? That’s just sad.

We saw a lot of masks at the BroHo last night. More in the late night diner after, even more outside the clubs and bars in downtown Olympia as the 2am crowd oozed out into the chill air, hunting for the next club or burger. 

Reality and bullshit clash after 2am, hungry for a fight or a fuck or a hotdog in the dim alleys or neon lit streets, queuing in club doorways and dark places smelling of urine and dogshit where the hopeless homeless live, hidden in the clouds of cinnamon vape smoke or in the pungent wafts of weed enveloping like warm spots in a cold swimming pool as you dodge through the crowded sidewalks milling with circus freaks and pretty party people .

An unrehearsed ballet of bullshit – all pretenders and posers, creeps and creepers, homeless and hopeless, the lit up and the hyperactive, the happy and clueless all lipstick, glitter and laughter, or the sobbing high heeled dripping mascara tears, tattooed with torn black stockings , cats eyes and smeared facepaint. Everyone masked up and parading at the Ball. This is who I want you to think I am.

It sounds like I think I’m different from them but I’m no better or no worse – definitely less fake than I used to be and still a work in progress.

The realest person I met was a dog that some dude brought into the bar. He was just happy to be there.

Anyway, my meandering point is that I think my care factor has finally dropped to a level that can set me free.

Care Factor Zero achieved and I’m just happy to be here.

 

Wow this coffees kicked in I think. thank God. That was quite a rant.

Sorry about that! 

Still here? Here’s a pic of a cute chipmunk on Mt Rainier as a reward.

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time machine…

Few positive events in your life burn themselves into your minds eye so deeply that whenever you return to that moment, your body immediately reacts – chemically, viscerally : your heart races, your breath catches in your throat, nerves tingle -racing up and down your spine. Even the tiniest hairs on your body prickle into goosebumps like you’ve been caught outdoors naked in monstrous electrical storm.

You are there, transported.

It’s actually a post traumatic stress reaction, in a way. One that is not debilitating but can be addictive. Taking pleasure in past experience to escape the present. Trauma doesn’t have to be ‘bad’ to have a lasting effect, I guess. 

Hmm…discuss.

I’ve been living in the past a little bit lately, purposefully re-examining some events with the benefit of a year’s emotional distance.

OK. Stay with me. I aim to wander.

Flip back to mid May last year. 

One of the highlights of last May was getting to watch a pod of killer whales transit the Hood Canal near Union WA – followed by a flotilla of small water craft. The pod were virtually chased out of the area by excited locals. There hadnt been a pod here for years.  But Killer whales! Man!

I was staying with my ex gf at their family’s cabin on the Canal at Union.  Oysters, whales, seals, forests, mountains…luckiest guy in the world no doubt. 

Beautiful place. 

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I didn’t know it at the time but the relationship was winding down – she was heading in another direction, I was definitely in denial. Maybe I wasn’t. That’s a longer story for another time.

Anyway…

Jen had a job interview in Portland as an archaeologist for one of the big Utility companies; an unexpectedly awesome opportunity and everyone was excited for her.  I’d gone with Jen for support (and shopping) and we’d stayed in Portland overnight. After spending the day shopping, the evening apart and staying in separate hotels (she needed to prepare) it was an odd night. The next day as it turned out the Interview had gone well, and she was elated. We decided to do a road trip out to Eastern Washington where she had gone to college, lived and worked for a time. Explore more of her past. Long story short, I met more of her friends and saw even more of her WA life than before.

To be honest the trip confused the Hell out of me, but I got see see where they filmed Northern Exposure (Roslyn) and Twin Peaks (Snoqualmie, North Bend…coffee and Damn fine Cherry Pie at Twede’s cafe) so, you know : swings and roundabouts.

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Anyway…

We’d gotten back after our weird 3 day road trip, talked our asses off and our issues to death, endured the awkward silences that followed, but ultimately had a good time. We visited her parents in Shelton on the way back through. Then it was late and we were heading back to the cabin.

Still with me? I’m setting the mood here hopefully.

It was past 11pm when we got out to Union.

The canal was moonless dark, winters day cold and unusually silent. Apart from the odd barking of a seal and the distant “shHHhh” of a passing car, it was graveyard-still. 

As we were in a little cove, so the road curled around the waters edge, following the shoreline. The streetlights threw long rippling shafts of soft amber light out along the surface of the black water – delicate grasping fingers that reached blindly out into the darkness. A mile away on the other side, the scene was a perfect mirror – distant pinpoints of houselights, rippling reflections, softly glowing streetlights, and silence.

Jen went inside and jumped in the shower. I stood out on the deck and rolled a cigarette, contemplating the Universe and marveling at the night.

I leaned on the deck rail and took a drag of the cigarette, enjoying the nicotine buzz. Pale smoke curled out over the low deck railing down to the dark water lapping a few feet below.

…now: take a single big breath, hold it. Purse your lips, and exhale forcefully, push all your breath out at once…

‘WOOoosh…’

Soft. Sounding like it was a million miles away but crystal clear in the night air, the deep sound whispered across the canal…

Did I imagine that? What the Hell was it?

I couldn’t see a thing in the inky darkness so I froze – held my breath and waited.
It came again. Closer this time.

‘WOOoosh…’

A massive exhale, followed by the tiniest series of tinkling splashes. Another, further to the right. then another even further along. Right out in the middle of the canal but definitely coming closer.

The hairs on my neck stood up.

I forgot to breathe.

Oh my GOD!

The whales are back…

tbc

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the present…

I’m travelling overseas more and more frequently now as my last real anchor to a conventional life was buried with Mum in February. 

All that remains now is a need to keep moving, and the notion of settling down and making do is vanishing behind me.

So… this ‘Travel’ thing eh? 

I’m totally lost to the addiction and it seems to be the only way to stay really connected to the present.  

When I’m “home” I’m unsatisfied/unsettled and constantly planning an escape but when travelling I can easily slip into the “now” of things. It effortlessly brings me back to the moment. 

Travel-based yogic mindfulness, maybe.

So another quick catch up – after 2 weeks of Svastha Yoga Therapy training in Bali, I came home and felt the familiar dip begin.

Luckily a good friend Shay was travelling into South East Asia for the first time (we’d talked about it for ages whilst I was in the US last year) , and she was so close to Australia – I made the call to take some leave (yes somehow I still have a job), bought my one way ticket to Chiang Mai, booked some dental work at my favourite dentist (is that a thing?), counted the hours, and then after several weeks of listlessness, finally left. 

Chiang Mai was instantly welcoming, smoky and hot – but no more so than a Dubbo summer. I caught up with a few friends here and settled in. Walked the familiar streets, caught a First Class movie ( Ghost in the Shell – really good actually),  found my fave coffee shops and vegetarian eateries, took a breath and finally relaxed. 

There was a brief window of opportunity to fly to Cambodia and meet Shay there instead – she had a girlfriend leaving and her partner coming over but there was a 10 day period in between that we could reconnect. 

So…easiest decision ever.

A quick flight to Siem Reap via Bangkok , and voila! 

Hello Cambodia!


What a fascinating place. 

I won’t go into the politics: Pol Pot, the genocide, Killing Fields, land mines and cluster bombs or the aftermath  of it all – it’s relatively fresh and has scarred this country deeply. I’d recommend you do some Googling before visiting if you aren’t familiar with these terms and get a solid dose of perspective on the horrors that occurred here in the 70’s. 

At first glance,  it’s an unusually weird amalgam of American icons and SE Asia. The US dollar rules the streets, prices are high (this is a real tourist town), scarred and limbless land mine victims haunt the tourist areas, cars drive on the right hand side of the dusty roads, tuk tuks and scooters “meep meep” and dash madly around confused pedestrians, trash and plastics cover the roadsides and floats along the sludgy surface of the Siem Reap river, mingling with the rainbow coloured oil slicked algae and water weeds. 

Parts of the city are charming but a lot of it is not. The amount of garbage is surprising, as is the dust and spotty internet. Neither the Hard Rock Cafe, Palacial 5 star resorts with plastic bag shanty towns, or the ubiquitous McDonalds and Starbucks improve things much, but the more you explore away from the tourist traps the more interesting it gets. I’d love to head to Phnom Penh, but Siem Reap is it for me this trip.

Someone asked me today about the food there and how was it different to Thai, but to be honest I couldn’t answer the question. I can say generally it is EXPENSIVE (all in USD$) and that the markets have a massive variety of dried, fried, fresh and absolutely toxic foods available – (like deep fried spiders, crickets and snakes). There are plenty of Western style coffee shops, quite a few French Boulangeries, and plenty of other upmarket options. 

We were railroaded into a small cafe at Angkor Wat for a $1USD soda and a $5USD fried rice with vegetables/Khmer sausage which we only survived by ditching the gelatinous weird pale red sausage pieces (whew!) but was otherwise yum. $1USD Draught Cambodia Beer was the drink of choice and wasn’t a bad drop at all. 

I tried a few traditional Khmer dishes at The Peace Cafe  (http://www.peacecafeangkor.org/ – an awesome vegan and vegetarian spot in Siem Reap ) that were amazing but I can’t recall their names…damn Draught Beer again. 

At dinner in the second night , there was a mango-like fruit that dropped from a tall tree with a SPLAT just near our table  – the waitress picked up the split pale yellow/orange splatted fruit but when Shay asked what is was, it didn’t have a English name but she kindly  offered us some to eat…it was yellow/orange flesh – sweet but chalky and totally delicious.  

The nicest food I’ve had so far : a simple stir fried Morning Glory Salad with some boiled rice. Next time I’ll explore the food side more for sure.

We’ve been travel buddying around for the past few days now though  –  Shay, Dick, Puk and myself – Angkor Wat at dawn, tuk tuk rides, Dr Fish Massages, Siem Reap arts, crafts and shitty tourist markets, off track Hare Krishna compound, smiling kids – always wandering and discovering, roaming the back alleys and secret nooks of this dusty city.

… and the temples. My God – the temples.  Stunning ancient ruins and a history lesson in one, swarming with tourists but somehow still accessible – allowing space and time to find a quiet corner and experience their ruined beauty.

*ditch the shoes and flip flops – climbing the treacherous steps and exploring the temples barefoot is both safer/easier plus the feel of the sandstone is incredibly grounding and connecting.


It’s not hard to connect to the places and the people here in this busy tourist spot, even though this city is a revolving door for tourists – the hostels turn over backpackers of all ages every few days. Last night was games night at the bar, which was a great way to meet and greet – then most people went out for a big night. I stayed in – boring but I don’t like to fly hungover.  The parade of arguing couples and loud rambunctious drunks returning at 5 am is always a bit of fun to watch though.

I’ve made many new friends in the hostel here and as usual HostelWorld recommendations are proving the best way to find a bed. (The Living Quarters in Wat Bo Road is excellent – No. 543, Wat Bo Road, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia )

Anyway I’m back to Chiang Mai today for the next week of two. Getting a wisdom tooth pulled and a crown done tomorrow so that should be a lot of fun.

Shay and her partner are coming up to Chiang Mai in a week or so – itll be cool to explore northern Thailand again, especially Pai.

Then I have to think about booking a flight back at some stage.

Oh !!! I’ve been fortunate enough to get shortlisted for an IT job working in Antarctica next season (with the Australian Antarctic Division) – interviews, psych tests and medical are in May. 

I hope I’m the right kind of crazy . Wish me luck!  

If that comes through for me, then I think I’ve finally won the Oscar for best  “Get Me The Hell Out Of Here” performance for 2017. 

I’ll keep you posted.

wall…

I’ve hit a brick wall with my creativity in the past few weeks. A dry spell to match the 36+ degree days and hot summer nights here now that summer has kicked it into high gear.

I’ve run out of stories to tell and the fancy words just aren’t there. They are definitely in there and are aplenty but they ain’t coming out easily like they used to.

Being back at work hasn’t helped, although its nice to have a paypacket again see the bank balance increase for a change, I’m certain now that its time to move on. March 2017 is the month and all I have to do is make it through Christmas and New Years intact and save, save, save.

My works’ Christmas lunch was Friday, out at Lazy River Estate – it was nice to see my coworkers together but I felt like an outsider and left fairly quickly – shouldn’t have gone but I committed so…meh… my own fault really.

It was my daughters birthday on Friday and I’d finally gotten hold of her after weeks of silence (her Mum and I don’t communicate well) and we chatted for ages. She’d been in Thailand!!! Of all places to be, her and her Mum had gone to Phuket for 2 weeks and we’d probably been at the airport at the same time at some point. Shes a traveler also – been to the US, Fiji, and now Thailand and shes only 12. Maybe that damn restlessness in me is in her as well. Happy Birthday Bella.

French lessons are going well and so much fun to learn something new, but apart from long walks, I’ve been virtually hibernating at home. It’s been theraputic to pick up the guitar again and doodle though  – I’d forgotten the joy and flow that music gives me. I’m also toying with night photography and star trails again – recently discovered some functions of the GoPro that were surprisingly effective for that.

But for now, I need some greenery and mountains soon as this dry dusty place isn’t for me.

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My office is wallpapered with photographs from my travels and many people seem to like them. It easy to get lost in them and that’s why they are there I guess.

Maybe I should pursue that as well.

I don’t know.

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I was asked to write something for the local newspaper last week (happens from time to time when they need a piece quickly)  and I threw something together from a brief they provided – basically who am I and my travel motivations etc etc – I think I’ve overshared but its too late as its gone to press – what do you think? To much drama? I did take a little literary license at times with some things I guess (apologies Steve and Sandy)

“Adopted at 6 weeks old into a loving family was probably the best that I could have hoped for at the time, even if I had been given a choice. It was in an era where such things were kept behind closed doors and nunnery walls. My biological parents were 19 and 18 at the time – a beatnik hippie artist from Melbourne and a cute neurotic private school girl from Adelaide –  and although they at least waited for me to arrive, they hit the road shortly after and got on with their lives.  I got lucky though with my adoptive family, growing up in regional bliss on a small farm in the South West Slopes of NSW, near the village of Wombat (population 102)

 As most people will tell you, farm life can be both tough but enormously rewarding. I can’t think of a better place for a child to spend their formative years but there was always something missing for me.  My sisters and I spent our childhoods working on the farm; droving sheep for months on end during the droughts (living in the back of a truck), breaking and training horses (hence the broken nose), competing at country shows and gymkhanas, tending market gardens, shearing sheep, drenching and marking lambs, plucking meat turkeys and picking cherries for pocket money at Christmas.  You know, all the normal stuff kids do.

 We weren’t a particularly close family – not having blood ties will do that to you I later discovered. It was that disconnection and a general dissatisfaction with my place in the world that fueled a search for identity that I hadn’t even realised I was on.

 A total bookworm as a child, I was never a farmer at heart and always knew it (much to the disappointment of my adopted parents). Spending too much time immersed in books, film and science to ever be satisfied on the farm, I needed more. I left small town NSW a few years after High School, gravitating to Canberra and the lure of Public Service work. It was the 90’s. There falling into IT at a time just before the Internet was booming. Working for Dept of Foreign Affairs and Dept of Defence in specialist roles, I was able to travel internationally for the first time and immediately something ‘clicked’. Experiencing new cultures and exotic places opened my eyes to many truths and the experience quickly became addictive.

Eventually headhunted into private sector consulting, I volunteered for every travel related project I could get, lucked out and deployed operationally with the Navy, sailing around Australia, Bahrain and the Persian Gulf implementing command and control systems and training their personnel at sea. It was this last stint of risky and slightly dangerous travel that locked in my permanent condition of wanderlust. But then I met a girl (as you do) and the next decade was spent focusing on things that ultimately didn’t work out. Marriage, houses, money, possessions, a nice lawn, fancy car. Social norms. You know the drill. 

 Skip ahead to 2012. 

 After multiple career hops and several different lives, I’d met my biological families and sorted that out, had a wonderful daughter, moved cities and states, fell in and out of love, but the traveling had stopped.

 I ended up here in Dubbo, working for City Council and caring for my adoptive parents as they transitioned into a retirement village and eventually Aged Care. Dad passed away in 2014 and Mum is still hanging in there albeit at the mercy of a devastating dementia thats robbed her of speech and mobility. The experience with my parents in their declining years had driven home the importance and the fragility of life. I’d also realised a few critical lessons: that my parents were just people, that life was short, and that I wasn’t immortal. Time was short.

 Wanting to keep my brain alive in the unholy dullness of country NSW, I began a Sociology/Psych degree at Charles Sturt University via Distance Ed. I embraced local theatre with the Wesley House Players, took workshops and acted in play festivals, got involved in the Midnight Cafe Committee for a few years, even tried my hand at playwriting.  It wasn’t long though before the restlessness kicked off again and the day to day travel of my work wasn’t enough. I needed to address it.

 A now ex-girlfriend introduced me to yoga by way of me being a guinea pig for her Yoga Class programs. It resonated immediately, and through a progression of coincidences I found myself on an unexpected path. I took time off and jumped on a plane for the first time in 10 years. Traveling through the Himalayas, I stopped in Pokhara, Nepal for a time and was turned on to Tibetan Buddhism at the local Buddhist Centre there. The 3 day philosophy course with traditional yoga and pranayama practice was really only an Intro, but it raised more questions than it answered. There were many elements that rang universally true to me. More lightbulb moments, like attachment leads to unhappiness, finding meditation and mindfulness practice useful in daily life, and to do no harm. Or is that last one Google. I always get the two confused.

 From there on my travels became more focused as my life became less complex – I began looking for answers in other cultures and religions – I knew it was the key – moving through Nepal and India exploring Buddhism and Hinduism. Needing a shortcut, I jumped into a more traditional Hatha (Svastha) Yoga practice by undertaking an intensive teacher training in Bali. I didn’t totally drink the cool-aid but it did give me a solid backgrounding and more importantly the language or vocabulary to unlock key concepts of the practice.

 After the Teacher Training my perspective on yogic practice shifted course. Originally aimed at helping myself heal and getting answers to life’s big questions, now I wanted to know more about using yoga and mindfulness training as a theraputic tool to help others – specifically dealing with mental health issues (stress and addiction, anxiety and depression in particular).

 I started on a well respected Svastha Yoga Therapy training program under Dr Ganesh Mohan and the sheer practicality of the course captivated me, illuminating yet another pathway. Asana, meditation and pranayama practice were essential not just for physical but also emotional well-being. Not in a ‘hippie bell ringy flower child’ way but a practical “Hey I’m moving and breathing and Wow! I feel good” way. My new goal was to start a Men’s or ‘Blokes Yoga’ practice initially in Dubbo and then perhaps take it overseas.

This year I have been particularly fortunate to have taken a sabbatical from work – to get ahead on my degree and do more travel to broaden my experience and to help deal with the restlessness.

 Earlier in 2016 I strayed from my chosen path a little while living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest up near Seattle. I faced some challenges there that ultimately turned me back in the direction of my neglected yoga and mindfulness practice. I bolted halfway around the world to Chiang Mai and reconnected with my yoga buddies there to reframe my life.

 Living in Northern Thailand for the next 4 months was a powerful perspective changing experience in many ways. I volunteered briefly alongside Burmese Refugee Support workers: helping out by hand building adobe mud brick housing with a local Women’s group who were providing a refuge centre for burned out Foreign Aid Workers up in Chiang Dao. Sharing their powerful stories and life experience while slogging away in the heat, mud and cement was such a challenging but uniquely rewarding experience as well.

 When Asia got a bit ‘same same’ – the restlessness had kicked in again – I jumped on a cheap flight to Egypt and travelled the Nile valley to explore for a while and play tourist, before tiring of the noise and pollution, moving on to Tunisia for my birthday.

Living in Tunis for several weeks I was in heaven: exploring the clean modern city, its cathedrals and museums, the Medina and then stunning Roman and Punic ruins. Roaming ancient Carthage and then abandoned Star Wars sets deep in the Tunisian Sahara, camping in the mountains near El Kef, hiking remote Jugurtha’s Table near South Western no-go zones on the Algerian Border, making new friends and learning so much but ultimately I barely scratched the surface of this rich traditional Islamic culture. I’ve fallen in love with this country and its people. North Africa has set yet another path for my future and reignited the wanderlust in a big way.

Being used to being alone was so useful! Traveling solo has allowed me to join and leave groups of travelers on similar journeys, buddying up and going it alone when it suited. The disconnect and lack of roots actually came in handy for this nomadic existence – it felt so perfect for me as everywhere was home.

 Recently I’ve met many amazing people from around the planet who were of a like mind; artists and musicians, doctors and psychologists, from physiotherapists to surfers. Everyone I’ve encountered having much the same questions or were on a similar journey.  Who am I? Why am I…? What is my purpose?

 It was a “found my tribe’ moment of the purest kind for me – a global community of like-minded gypsies, connecting through shared experiences and in many ways more of an actual family than I’ve ever had. 

 I’m using my time back in Dubbo to prepare for the next stage of my journey. Learning French to prepare for a trip back to Tunisia sooner rather than later (hopefully). Rebuilding my personal yoga practice and getting my ducks in a row, so to speak, until I feel I have something concrete to offer others.

 I’ll be hitting the road again soon, exploring still but this time with a more defined sense of purpose.”

Yep definitely an oversharer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

homecoming…

I’m back where I started 11 months ago and the only thing that’s changed is me.

Leaving Chiang Mai on Monday was just another flight, just another airport and I guess didn’t really even register as a “this is over” moment as far as my travels for 2016 was concerned. I’d tried not to dwell on it but the shadow of real life was a threatening figure looming over my sometimes forced positivity.

Fake it til you make it, remember?

So my AirAsia X plane out of Chiang Mai was 3.5 hours late, which gave me about 15 minutes to make my connection to Sydney at Kuala Lumpur International – just enough time to run to thru the transfer hall, 2 security checkpoints, and quite literally to the opposite end of the terminal. I made it without breaking a sweat. Settling into my economy seat, surrounded by young families and crying babies, it occurred to me how lucky that I made the plane. It also dawned that there was no way my bag would and so I had a 7 hour flight to prepare myself for the inevitable.

Arrival in Australia was a bleary, early morning red-eye experience as I was jolted awake by a dazzling dawn over Lake Ayre and its tributaries, which was either full of water or deathly dry (I couldn’t tell), reflecting the early morning sunlight and melting my corneas as I yawned and glanced out the window.

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Drifting in and out of snooze mode, I was aware of the aircraft coming to life around me but tried to imagine I was elsewhere – back in Chiang Dao listening to the morning rain, or in Tunis listening to the 5am call to prayer. Here the 5am call was a crying baby and a hawking cough from my neighbor. 

Something inside me was off but I didn’t catch it at the time. 

Flying in over Sydney I usually get a patriotic buzz about seeing tiny Botany Bay, the miniature Harbour Bridge and the toy Opera House sweeping by, but this time it left me cold. Flat. Nothing was coming through and I was completely numb. 

“Weird” I thought, gazing out at the city below and wrote it off to lack of sleep. Sydney grew larger and more substantial, until finally the wheels hit tarmac and with an anticlimactic puff of smoke I was back.

Sydney Airport was as bad as I’d remembered – expansive, crowded, unfriendly; efficient but largely uninteresting. Smiling photoshopped Australians glared at me from the advertising posters, inviting me to come and swim with dolphins, or climb a mountain. Customer service, politeness and good manners vanished. Anonymous Uniforms yelled rudely at people.  Airport security, black domed cameras and warning signs were everywhere. “Don’t do this – Don’t do that. Don’t stand here. Warning Warning Warning. Fear, Fear, Fear…The terrorists are coming”.  I could already feel the doeskin jackboots of fear and oppression that New South Wales wears proudly pressing down on my throat and chest.

Why so much paranoia? So many rules and regulations? After the freedoms of the road, this was becoming stifling already.

As some aussie ex-pat army guy told me in a dentists waiting room in Thailand a while back,  “We are a nation of laws and need all this to safeguard ourselves from the terrorists.”

No dude sorry Australia isn’t a “nation of laws”, that’s stolen from America and you are confused. Australia seems to becoming a backward nation of ignorant, drunken, racist fools masquerading as “aussie larrikins”, of slow expensive internet, extraordinary taxation, human rights abuses, poverty, homelessness, corruption,  overpriced real estate, and rubbish overrated food. Of course I didn’t actually SAY this to him – but I thought it at him real hard while smiling politely and trying to disengage.

Fingers crossed, I waited in the baggage area for my backpack. Who knew? I might have gotten lucky and the bag made it. A waify Japanese lady had the gall to take out her phone in the baggage claim area and a pompous slicked-back-hair uniformed guy (who could’nt even be bothered to go over to her or check that she spoke English) screamed at her across the hall to “put the phone down” like it was an automatic weapon or a knife and he was Supercop. She of course ignored him which further fueled his rage, and so the saga continued.So rude and unnecessary.  The carousel stopped, the passengers for the next flight started arriving. Still my bag didn’t appear.

Dang it.

Naturally the airline had lost my bag somewhere between Chiang Mai and Sydney.

After 11 months of travel through countless dodgy airports and several dangerous countries, it took an Australian crew to lose my bag.

Coming in through Immigration/Customs was easy (electronic passports make it a 5 minute thing) after which I had to do the mandatory “lost my bag” reporting at a desk where the Aussie “larrikin” (who couldn’t be bothered to tuck in his shirt or brush his hair) barely smiled, nor glanced at me or even said “G’day Mate”.

So feeling strangely calm – numb – I wandered through the airport, caught a train into Central Station, and listened to the sudden clutter of English conversation that invaded my headspace. It’s amazing how much you tune in and out to other peoples conversations. The luxury of not hearing English spoken everywhere was gone and the Aussie accent was like a powerdrill boring painfully into my brain.

It still didn’t feel real. I was in a homecoming state of denial and culture shock.

Of course Sydney started picking my pockets immediately : $20 for an Opel card, $4 train fares, $3 for bottled water, 2 bananas and a takeaway coffee $10. My last $100 was disappearing fast. 

I picked a dirty cheaparse hostel ($34 a night) close to Central, went into Police Headquarters in Parramatta to pick up some gear for work next week (meeting my new managers and doing some schmooze groundwork for my return to work)  and then wandered into the city to meet my good friend Kate for a drink at some inner city bars.

Walking between the bars I realised how pretty Sydney can be, especially at night. This time of year is lovely and for a change the city didn’t disgust me. It was a fun way to end the evening but after 3 drinks  ( $30+ – thanks Kate) I was slightly hammered.

The next morning, after stepping over a few random backpackers on the hostel floor, a 7.18am (what an odd time) train to Dubbo – 6 hours – would give me time to reframe all the negativity that I’d been projecting over the last 24 hours. It was time well spent.

Some meditation, reframing, read my books, peace. ahhh.

6 hours later.

Alighting from the train at Dubbo train station just after lunch was very, very strange.

As I walked down to Church Street Cafe to get my regular Americano, nothing had changed:  the streets, the smells, the sounds –  all instantly familiar. Little gangs of aboriginal kids roamed the streets on bikes and scooters, a few scattered drunks were camped under the shady trees in Victora Park, a young kid called me a “white cunt” before I’d even made it to the main street.

Ahhh. Now it felt real. Too real.

It was like the past year hadn’t happened.

I bumped into many people I knew and they seemed genuinely happy to see me, which was a welcome surprise and helped. But I’m struggling. Everything reminds me of Jen here. So far, at least. I wasn’t expecting it to hurt so much. The last few years came flooding back. The house, walking past Jens old work, then my workplace, my normal walking path home. Magpies. Jasmine. Hayfever. Cats Eye burrs and stickers, familiar and painful. Sorting through all this and discarding what will hurt the most is going to be hard. It was good to see the housemates though and the weather is great.

I went to see Mum in the Hi Care facility and she recognised me at least, but the dementia now has upped its game and robbed her of coherent speech – her tongue is constantly flicking in and our making everything messy – communication is hard but I think she understood I was back.

Coming back has been harder than I’d imagined and I’d drank myself to sleep last night with the last of my duty free Jamesons, feeling adrift in the world.

This feeling is still with me today, and its Thursday. A deep detachment and numbness that I can’t shake. I don’t belong here.

I know now that this place isn’t my home, Dubbo and Australia.

I am not where I’m supposed to be.

This isn’t a homecoming: its just another stage of a larger journey I’d never realised I was on.

Early days yet I guess. Lets see how work goes on Monday.

 

**airline found my bag!!!!! shipping it to Dubbo from KL “in a few days”. Fingers crossed eh?