Day 2 and still here …

Well after the best damn nights sleep I’ve had in ages, we are still anchored just off Port Arthur, sheltering from the massive waves that stopped us leaving yesterday.


Waking up late (9.00am) and having no formal duties aboard (my actual work starts at Davis station ), a cooked breakfast (food here is amazing) and a brewed coffee (did my coffee machine induction yesterday) today was looking pretty damn sweet.

Fed and caffeinated. Weather calm, suns out, guns out !

Still have mobile service so yay for that. They had Sharknado on last night in the little cinema here so that was fun 🙂 

But today has been slooooooow – downloaded more TV shows while waiting for the 12.00 briefing and lunch.

I did volunteer for the phytoplankton sampling project so I’m getting my lab coat on during the voyage and helping out in the science labs, taking seawater samples, filtering, freezing ( woohoo liquid nitrogen) and bottling for return to the boffoms at Kingston. Wohooo SCIENCE !!

So then what to do? 

Thank God there’s a decent library aboard and loads of board games !!! At least learning cribbage wasn’t a total waste of time. Thanks JK.

Also there’s a group of yoga peeps here so I’m going to join them for a daily 4pm informal class. And the small gym is getting hammered so no luck there as far as access.

Lack of physical activity will be an issue so I have to figure out ways to address that. No more 12 km walks per day. Already stacked on too much weight from the US.

Hmmm.

As for meeting new people – it’s been like the first day of high school – a NEW High School where 60 % of the people know each other and you are the new kid in town. There’s a few of us in that same boat but luckily everyone is super friendly so far.

Plenty of time to make new friends and it’s eyes open mouth shut for me at this stage. Learning the ropes here is important and every person here is exceptional in their field. Best I just shut the Heck up and learn.

Tonight is Halloween and they have “the hit mans bodyguard” on in the cinema – I’m downloading a bloody horror movie to get in the Halloween spirit a bit 🙂 House of the Devil – cool cool cool cool.

Awesome sunset tonight. Shame I just missed it.


But for now it’s 7.00pm relax time … read a book, watch a movie, haunt the helo deck. There’s simply nothing else to do.

Aw Damn

😉

*im keying these boring short barely readable entries on my phone and I HATE typing on this Fkn iphone. Drives me insane. Might clean it up later. Might not. Apologies.

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…so long

…and thanks for the 11-20 metre waves ahead. 

**This is a placeholder post in case I lose service. If I do then it’s 2 weeks of no internet and social media blackout. This may be brief but I’ll try to update throughout the day – it is a little hectic. So far so good.

The Comms ladies just messaged me and said “omg the weather ahead looks crap – don’t forget to sit down in the shower” – this does not bode well.

Apparently there are massive seas and rough weather in the Southern Ocean at the moment so we will be spinning our maritime wheels a bit before actually heading due South.

Swells this bad can actually damage the ship and pretty much render everyone on board seasick as heck almost instantly.

So here’s the blow by blow for today. So to speak.

8:00am – I’m volun-told that I check in last and instead help people with their super important IT issues that they couldn’t be assed taking care of prior to lining up at a wharf. Ah the joy of IT Support work.

11:45am – Heading out of harbour at 3pm today, we’ve just been given another “do this and you will die” briefing, a last guided tour and then kicked off the ship for our last 2 hours ashore.

The Aurora Australis captain has decided to weather out the rotten Southern Ocean Weather by hiding in the lee of Bruny Island til this wave pattern passes, then plans to duck out quickly in the relatively benign swells before the next series of 11-20 metre waves comes along and knocks the shit out of us.

*This isn’t our ship but a rather large cruise liner that quietly put in overnight.

Although it would be nice, our accommodation is a little more spartan. We are taking the orange one below.

Our ship is an icebreaker, and so has a rounded hull (much like a bathtub) and apparently rides waves in much the same way. 

Slices through ice like a hot knife through … ice.

Anyhoo, the Doctors recommendation is for everyone to take anti seasickness  medication regardless of experience so I think I might heed the advice.

12:41pm  – Just back from lunch and Wharf 2 is packed with wellwishers and seeofferers, kids and mums and dads and grandparents. Theres a general hubbub of nervous excitement and more than few teary farewells as loved ones and Expeditioners, a mix of summerers and winterers, part ways for up to a year.

Isabel is pissed at me. One word responses to my messages and won’t/can’t answer her phone. I couldn’t make it up to see her in Hervey Bay – the flight schedules from Hobart just make it impossible to do it without taking 4 days off and I just couldnt get the time off with the training schedule and timeframe in Hobart. 

It’s my fault as I didn’t leave enough time from getting back from the US to get everything sorted out before heading down here and once I got here, not enough time off. Nothing I can do now. Sorry Bella.

Shit. I just realised my passport is on the ship – might be able to sneak on and grab it before Customs come aboard. I’ll continue this a bit later – more to come while I have internet…

2pm – made it aboard, cleared Customs with my  water damaged passport ( the Border Force guy went “ Shit this has been through the Wars” but luckily the electronics are still ok) . We just had our first drill – all hands muster with kit and rollcall in the heli deck.

Then back to the cabin to de-kit.

The 4 berth cabin I’m sharing is comfy but close – the next hour or so is stowing gear and settling in before the sendoff. One of the guys has an electric sleep apnia machine that he needs to be able to sleep and live –  freakin yay.

Anyway, lucky I brought ear plugs so all is well. It’s only for a few weeks.

We have a view!!! So posh ! This single porthole that should provide an excellent view of the icy green rolling seas that await us outside the protection of Macquarie Point (providing no one spews on it in the meantime).

2.30pm – engines are started and the whole ship is vibrating nicely. It’s a comforting sensation and wholly familiar. Time to explore the ship and get my bearings across the 5 or more decks – like any large vessel it’s a veritable maze of corridors and heavy watertight doors that all look the same.

Best to figure out escape routes early. The shortest route to the lifeboats is always a personal favourite.

**We were all herded aboard a lifeboat during the tour for familiarisation and continually hearing the words sink, drown, hypothermia, die sorta makes you put some contingencies in place in relation to survival at sea.

The lifeboat was good for 6 days for 70 people – it was squeeze with 35.

I’d much prefer it over the immersion suits that we also had to put on – these are thick fully body heavy wetsuit like beasties that will apparently extend our life expectancy in the icy oceans from about 20 minutes to up to 20 hours or so. Yay.

3pm – Just got trained on the nice coffee machine in the galley – now I can make a good espresso on the way down thank God!! Riding a heady caffeine buzz and watching the world go by outside . The Captain just called over the PA “All ashore who aren’t going to Antarctica”, which sent a small cheer through the galley. Outside the porthole, hi-viz oompaloompas are swarming – taking down the gangway.

Almost time!!!!

3.30pm sharp . We are off!! Catch you later folks.

Catch us all on the Aurora Australis webcam at http://www.antarctica.gov.au/webcams/aurora –

Mainly we hang out on the Helo (aft) deck so check it our – pics updated regularly and my plan is to update the blog as often as I can (dependent on access to internet services once I get down South)

​​

Dinner was amazing and the food hearty and healthy rosy pork and vegetable followed by icecream and a chocolate pudding thing…then off to the helicopter deck again to watch the albatrosses swooping and skimming alongside  the ship – as the evening fell we had 3 dark skinned mottle-brown dolphins racing us to Bruny Island. 

It’s been a long few weeks here and I think it was watching them being simply joyous and alive that finally made me smile.

I’m finally on the way.

** And actually still have 4G phone service so another 3 Gig of TV shows to download thank YOU very much!!! 🙂

…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 🙂

…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.