…holding pattern

Just submitted an application for a job – a promotion that I don’t want but will probably get – while waiting to hear about an unexpected job opportunity that I didn’t realise I wanted so much until today. At the same time anxiously watching the timer tick down to my “end of June” deadline for action.

I am the pause at the top of an inhale at the moment: my first step off the ledge. Caught in an anxious moment of breathless anticipation.

Ill hear about all of these opportunities in the next 2 or 3 weeks…

Weeks!!!! 

Tick tick fuck.

All my careful planning and orchestrations over the past year have made May/June this year the crunch months. I’m trying to control too much outside my sphere and its doing my head in at the moment.

All I can do is wait until these opportunities are either ticked off or taken – and I really hate waiting. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely grateful to have so many exciting opportunities given the current state of the world. But hey, it’s me. Activity is my heroin, remember? Complacency can suck it.

At least the Green card lottery results are in. No luck there and can tick that off for the year.

It’s actually quite an exciting time.

USA, Romania, Antarctica, South America, Dubbo. One of these things is not like the others.

More on these later as things develop. I’m being intentionally vague but there are massively exciting games afoot.

…yes its a tease, but the Interweb’s digital walls have ears.

**I found a heap of old Biggles novels at a book fair today – being a voracious reader as a kid I devoured all these titles and any other series I could find – Famous Five, Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, moving on to Tolkien, Conan-Doyle, Fleming, Doc Smith, Zane Grey, Asimov and Wilbur Smith and more. Perhaps it was these early literary adventures that set a book and movie geek on his meandering path an age ago. 

Anyway some things never change … Book Fairs rule…

img_9531-1

 

trapped…

There a war of sorts going on here in Thailand. Its an urban battle fought house by house, corner by corner, street by street. Every man, woman and child armed to the teeth, ready to engage.

Pickup trucks full of masked combatants prowl past the safety of the hostel windows. The wail of ambulances echo through the streets which are starting to fill again after an uneasy ceasefire overnight. 

Here in Chiang Mai today, shellshocked Chinese tour groups wander aimlessly – all colorful dazed and confused – dragging large clattering suitcases on wheels over the rough concrete roadways looking for escape much like a gaggle of geese crossing a busy freeway.

Don’t panic.

It’s Songkran 2017. Thailand’s New Year Water Festival celebrating the end of summer and the start of Wet season – and the largest shit water fight on the planet. 

The only way to survive is to submit.

IMG_9009

Songkran is a 4 day party where most Thais head home to their families and celebrate a New Year. Tourist (and drunken asshole) numbers swell unbearably. Many shops are closed but the bars are open late. Alcohol runs freely even as hostels run out of fresh water.

Seriously, Thais take this water festival concept to a whole new level of batshit crazy.

The Moat surrounding the Old City drops a foot from the water consumption as the streets and gutters run ankle deep wet from the water fights. 

High pressure water cannons, fire hoses, bathtubs and garbage bins, massive 44 gallon plastic drums of iced water, blow up swimming pools, large eskys – anything that will hold/throw water – line the streets and are set up on most street corners and traffic lights where a pedestrian, scooter or Songtaew must stop. Then the flouro-coloured cackling crazies descend and a watery battle ensues.

IMG_8992

Riding in a Songtheaw (red truck)? Tough luck. the driver will pull up at a corner/traffic light/roadside and let his passengers get completely ‘blurged’ (thats my new word of the day). 

Riding on a motorcycle? Too bad – you will cop a thorough ‘blurging’ at 60km per hour . It’s deadly but hilarious to watch .

Chaotic doesn’t adequately describe the level of dangerous mayhem.

The papers post a Songkran daily death tally – last year over 400 people died (mostly in Chiang Mai area) and over 2,500 people injured in traffic accidents directly related to Songkran celebrations.

This year’s stats are in and its not looking great (although deaths are down. Yay less death!).

Sobering, you would think . Nah. Each year it’s about the same.
In Chiang Mai the entire Old City Moat several kilometres around – both sides – is filled with little booths and stalls selling food, drinks, water pistols, plastic bags and hats as everyone tries to make a quick baht and have a good time.

Roadside stalls sell huge blocks of ice to make sure the water freezing cold.

All the alleys and side streets are covered. There is absolutely no escape.

And this shit happens all over the country!

Amazing.

IMG_8995

What to do?

Firstly – Pray to your Gods.

Secondly – Prepare.

So Day 1: (quick cut ‘gearing up’ montage here)

Phone wrapped in cheap plastic bag. Check

Quick dry t-shirt, shorts and sunglasses. Check.

Wallet and cash in a cheap plastic bag. Check.

I head out onto the packed streets with the aim of my usual walk from Nimman down to the Old City, around the moat and then back, just to see what the fuss was about. Usually takes about 90 minutes there and back.

A few steps out the door of the hostel I was hit in the face with a bucket of ice cold water – and this kept happening for pretty much the rest of the day.

IMG_9052

2 hours later I stumbled into the Starbucks at Thapae Gate and gave up. It wasn’t even 1/3 of the way. Sunbaked, crowdshocked and soaked to the skin in a fruity cocktail of warm green mucky moat water and freezing cold ice water, my inadequate plastic protections leaking and damp, and feeling ill from the gallon of green moat water that had been forced into my nose/mouth/ears.

IMG_9080

I lasted 5 hours on the unforgiving streets and then retreated to the hostel, slinking back through alleys like a gunshy dog. Unfortunately, my sleepy hostel Bed Addict – Nimman ( 350 baht/night, close to Maya, my beloved cinemas, vegan eateries and some cool coffee shops) had been invaded by a group of loud party hard American students that had trashed it like a college dorm room.

With no dry clothes and no escape, I was trapped in my hostel kitchen – the quietest place I could find. Outside, the artsy part of town had turned into a techno-pumping foam-partying disco-lit aqua-nightmare.

Add to that the several competing foam parties, massive dance parties, and a dude in a tuktuk with enormous WHOOMP WHOOMP speakers parked just outside my dorm window and my night did not improve.

The walls of the hostel were vibrating as was my head. I jammed in my earplugs and tried to tune everything out – the thought of engaging and going out into this nightmare was unappealing. I wasn’t here to party.

But I’d finally figured out the main problem – I was resisting.

———————–

So Day 2. (slightly less enthusiastic quick cut ‘gearing up’ montage here)

Recheck my attitude. The key? – gotta get involved.

Upgrade the plastic bags to waterproof cases for phone and wallet (on sale everywhere). Check

Get a cheaparse sunhat for 25 Baht. Check

Buy a kickarse water pistol. Check Check Check.

Fillup, lock and load.

Lasting 6 hours on Day 2, I had a much better time of it. The best advice is rather than fight it, just go with the flow. Accept that you will be wet and hot and cold and covered in white paste for hours on end. Its all in good spirits and is actually a ritual blessing, so feel free to return it as often and to as many people as possible.

The lovely Thai people will (mostly) respectfully splash you or gently anoint your face with white powder or paste, the kids will love a waterpistol fight, and the littlest kids will giggle and smile like angels (right up til the point that their older siblings sneak up behind you and dump ice water down your back – after which everyone bursts into hysterical laughter). It’s so much fun.

It gets trickier with the tourists though.

IMG_9066

Usually some screaming psychotic tourist (see example above) with a massively expensive water cannon will run up to you and blast you in the face, knocking your sunglasses off or half drowning you before yodelling off into the crowd. Best to steer clear if possible.

But if you are up for a water war, then there are plenty of other soldiers here that will accommodate you.

IMG_9086

Day 3. Flick to Saturday morning and its an uneasy ceasefire – the celebrations are winding down but the odd water-pistol bearing straggler refuses to let go. Its still impossible to rent a scooter in this city as there are so many tourists, but the traffic to the airport is increasing as the tourists vacate.

The crowds are still there though and accommodation still hard to find. The mood is high but the celebrations are winding down from crazyassed to an almost manageable level.

*Still no sleep as the partying Americans have been replaced by partying Chinese students.

Day 4. Ahhh better. Now is the time to hit the Sunday Walking Markets, chill and explore the spiritual side of the festival as the craziness abates, with early morning happenings at the 50 or so temples around town, or better still up on Doi Suthep peacefully overlooking the city.

img_9205

Songkran 2018 – it was so much crazy fun, but next year remind me to be on top of a tall mountain, anywhere but here.

P.S

*so tired today I rinsed my glass in a sink and then drank a glass of tapwater today without thinking. Lets see how that goes.

**written over the 4 day festival but finished on Monday morning after no sleep for 3 days and totally stressed out by the frenetic pace of the holiday weekend.

***reminder to self  – never do this again.

re-entry…

So I’m back at work now. You can imagine my excitement.

Back in Dubbo, Australia now for 10 days, spending the last 5 days locked in an office, glued to a phone and computer, staring out a distant window at the sunlight, wishing I was somewhere else. Its ‘Luke Skywalker Syndrome’ at its worst and it’s easy as my office walls are now lined with new travel photos – a quick glance left takes me away to the forests of Olympic National Park and a distant view of Mt Rainier, a bit further takes me diving in Koh Phangan, to my teacher training class in Bali, or the Giza pyramids, or to Carthage.

I’ve led a charmed life this year no doubt about it.

IMG_8357

Now that’s in the past.

Settling back into Dubbo hasn’t been a lot of fun – the numbness and “dead inside” feeling has persisted and the episodic disconnection (almost disassociative at times) is still present but slowly waning. I’m getting out and about, getting as physical as I can on my current prepayday budget. I haven’t wanted to settle back in though, avoiding people and doing my own thing as usual. Walking a lot as I can’t sit still (the restlessness persists and as you know stillness is always an issue). There’s like a constant pressure in my head that I’m attributing to the instant onset of extreme hayfever (yes that a real thing  – there have been people dropping dead of asthma in Melbourne over the past few weeks).

The water here tastes like mud (algae in the river water we drink apparently), the dry heat and hard water has turned my skin to flaky crap and my hair to a dandruffy hair helmet, but the clear blue skies and sunsets in the evenings have made everything worth it.

Almost.

destination_map_dubbo

In the grand scheme of things though, I can’t complain. Decent job, great money, good conditions, new work car (hopefully flame proof after the last one), semi-autonomous and self managing to a large degree. I work alone in a regional area of New South Wales, my immediate supervisor (now retired) is a 3 hour drive away, my team Manager 6 hours, the remainder of my team spread all over New South Wales. Perfect.

Almost.

You might recall that I mentioned that nothing had changed here in the past year. Well that holds true for work as well.

Starting back last Monday, a few people were surprised but most were welcoming (It was a sad day as a colleagues’ son had committed suicide over the weekend so the mood was low). I wasn’t expecting a parade but people passed by in the corridor, a few remarked that they hadn’t even realised I’d been gone.

Nice.

Walking back into my office after 11 months I expected at least SOMETHING to be different. But nothing was (except someone had stolen my 2 x new 22″ monitors and had replaced them with shitty old ones).

I settled back in, checked the few emails filtering in from colleagues who finally realised I was back, and then started catching up on mandatory training that been missed  – online talking head videos about terrorism or radicalisation or somesuch “fear fear fear warning warning warning’ nonsense –  (I suppose to be fair one of our own colleagues had been assassinated/shot point blank right outside the front door of Headquarters last year so a little paranoia is to be expected).

After a few calls from my colleagues, I was again getting drawn into the same corporate bullshit, the infighting and office politics that I’d been happy to leave in the dust. All the same personalities involved, their low morale, negativity and backstabbing once again hurled at me as the corporate factions struggled to find support and numbers. Tiresome and sickening but not entirely unexpected. I usually try to stay above it but sometimes its hard when it catches you off guard and it finds a way in.

It was then I started to feel the psychological load building again as all these familiar things reasserted control over my mind and began manifesting in my body. Pain free for the past 12 months, in this 2 day period things started to happen again. The crunchy shoulder muscles, the hypertension, irritability and anxiety. The shoulder and neck pain came back in 1 day. By Day 2, the tingling in the fingertips and wrists started up again, and lower back pain started to fire up. These things had spilled over and caused Hell  in my personal life and even in the first few weeks of my holiday, had caused aching pain and a lot of discomfort from sitting (especially touring around in Jen’s little 4WD for 3 weeks)

Usually I’d just go and stretch, chillax for a bit but ultimately put up with it. But “Bugger this” I thought – my health is important to me now – and got the local Workplace Health and Safety manager to come in and check out my office equipment. Sure enough, he measured and tested and moved things around, eventually ruling that every single piece of office furniture and equipment I’d been using for the past 4 years was totally unsuitable, too small , or needed changing out.

SO – now I have a standup desk! (at least temporarily)  – IT’S THE BEST THING EVER…and it’s gone a long way already to stop the aches and pains.

Short story is I’m doing ok. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Daily, I’m examining and reframing all the negative thinking, watching my mind, meditating and breathing purposefully. Flicking my gaze to next year while staying rooted in the present. Its a skill for life : less crystal ball gazing and more staying open to opportunity, but luckily I have some amazing friends in other countries that are still traveling and they are keeping me level – <Shaye, Megan, Kate, Anna, Megs, Christina, Connie, Bronnie especially> – if it wasn’t for the support of these guys (albeit remotely) I’d be a real mess.

The tiny OCD part of me still needs a plan ABC to settle down though.

So plan B is off to Bali in February to complete another 2 modules in the Svastha Yoga Therapy program. It’s something I really want to finish and after Bali there’s only 2 more modules to go and I’m certified.

Oh and I’m learning French! – met with a local tutor and shes going to help me over the next 5 months. There’s a plan bubbling away in my head to use Language study to travel the world – get an education visa for a year, study at a language school, move on. French first, then Thai in Thailand or Arabic in Tunisia at Bourguiba Language School.

It’s my plan C if the USA goes up in flames with Trump in control. (Did I mention I’m moving to the US next year?)

Next week brings Doctors visits, assessments and some work related travel to Bourke, Brewarrina, and probably Walgett. Today, I’m enjoying the Sunday sunshine, a decent coffee or two at Dahab Cafe, my new Jack Reacher novel and then who knows what the future may bring.

 

reframe…

“Whats Next?” is a big question that’s been driving me forward for a while now.

 Sometimes you can provide the answer, but most times you cant and the universe decides on your behalf. For me, circumstances back home have aligned unexpectedly to give me a small window to return and cut short my year of travel.

Its been 2 weeks of anxiety, sleeplessness and indecision but I’ve made the call to head back to Australia, even though I still have 8 weeks of “make a decision” time before the deadline to return to my old job lapses.

My reluctance to walk back into the cage of my old life and relinquish this magnificent freedom is manifesting itself physically and mentally. I’ve been sick, tired, happy, depressed – every emotion struggling for dominance. If it wasn’t for the planned 2 week safety net of Chiang Mai to settle my head down I’d be lost. Being able to prepare for reemergence into the real world is invaluable especially when you’ve been existing in an absolute freedom dream state, living for almost a year abroad. The comfortable calm that this city brings me is immediate.

Chiang Mai has been the place that I gather my strength after this rollercoaster year – get my chipped tooth fixed and some overdue dental work , a new tattoo, read a few good books, see a few films, catch up with friends, and meditate on lessons learned over the course of the year.

A friend asked me a few days back what has changed about myself in the past year, and I couldn’t really answer the question. It’s hard to pin down. I thought this would be a year of answers but I have only found more questions. The only thing I’m sure of is that I am not where I am supposed to be. 

What did surprise me is that when it was darkest, I found comfort and strength in a spiritualistic Faith I didn’t realise I had. 

*Notre Dame Cathedral minus Quasimodo.

Anyhow…I’m sure it’ll pass. 

Much like going to the dentist and distancing yourself from the pain, this week Ive completed the process of reentry in a numb,  detached state: contacting my old employer <shudder>, seeking accommodation, transport, flights, logistically getting from point A to point B etc etc ad nauseum. Inside I’m screaming at myself to stop this madness and head West again, but luckily the rational part is in control for a change and has made all the arrangements for reentry into what has become a new Global World Order in all of the worst possible ways.

I am extremely grateful to have had the chance to experience the world over the past year, meet amazing new friends and experience life fully but I am not ‘lucky’ as some have said. It was just good management. I planned and worked hard to save enough money to see me through the year, then tried to roll with the punches as they landed. It was a massive gamble, but it wasn’t luck.

Now for some reason my ‘live to work’ ethic has flipped to ‘work to live’ completely and I’m embracing the concept. We all only get one life and it passes all too quickly. It’s for this very reason I’m never going to be trapped in a meaningless job nor rot in an office ever again.

But as of today, unlimited freedom-wise, it’s done. At least for a little while.

This is my last Sunday in Chiang Mai and Monday afternoon I fly out.

In a week I go back to work.

There is a longer term plan however and this is a temporary means to an end. That has been the only thing keeping me on track. Rationalisation and reframing the negative.

It’s not all bad – I’ll get to see my Mum, my beautiful daughter Isabel, and some of the few remaining friends that I feel close to. But that’s about it.

2016 has been a trial run with a mix of success and failure but more importantly it’s been a year of exponential personal growth.

2017 will be my year and I’m getting excited already.

Reframe. 

 More about Paris tomorrow.

a day at the museum 2…

Audio Tour locked and loaded!

Deciding where to start was the hard part. The audio tour recommended several options – a 2 hour “greatest hits” tour of the big ticket items, a random walkabout tour where you could punch in the exhibit numbers for a commentary, and a full guided A – Z tour.

Or you could just wing it.

There are approximately 38000 items on exhibit in this wonderful museum that take you from beyond ancient Egypt up to post French Revolution.

This link gives you a lot of useful info re visiting this wonderful museum and is well worth a look (also it saves me typing) —> Louvre Guide.

Now the problem with any of these options is that there are literally hundreds of people with these audio tour devices, doing the same tours, at the same time, at the same pace which equals big crowds at key points along the way.  If you want to jostle your way to the front to get a nice pic of the Mona Lisa or the Venus De Milo then fine, but I was already tired of the crowds and I’d just walked in.

So I did the logical left handed thing and went the opposite way : essentially doing the audio tour backwards and manually. Surprisingly it mostly worked and I avoided the worst of the crowds and at some times had entire galleries to myself.

Starting in the Denon wing, I wandered through European sculptures and found myself lost in exquisite works by Michelangelo, Donatello and the other ninja turtles, and by the end of that I was completely adrift in time. Gone. Out to lunch.

I’m not even going to attempt to recap everything but wandering the Grand Gallery, examining works by Leonado da Vinci, Raphael, Gainsborough, Goya, Botticelli, Carravagio, Reubens, Rembrandt, Delacroix…other Spanish Masters, French Masters, Italian Masters…so many more all up close and personal – (my GOD the art is amazing) – and exploring the sub basements of the Louvre were my absolute faves.

Then dove into extensive Egyptian collections (more than even the Cairo museum and so well curated), artifacts from Africa and the Middle East, Islamic art, French Art, Near Eastern and Egyptian art, Italic and Etruscan antiquities, Roman, Greek, Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

I’d walked many kilometers already and traveled thousands of years through time, but I hadn’t even scratched the surface. My mind was humming.

*heiroglyphs and their translations. This was apparently some junk mail.
*zombie animals!!!! I mean mummies of animals.

**zombies would have been so cool also.
*extensive papyrus collections. This was an early sext message.
*the finest sarcophagus collection I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a few now.
*ancient broken things.
*early hunting porn.
*french women – they also classify as a work of art just quietly. Dear sweet Lord, French women. It’s not ALL about the artworks people. Jeez.
*Archangel Michael vanquishing Satan – by Raphael – this was mesmerising and I stared at this for far too long. **This ones for Meg.
*a whole lot of dicks (better known as King Leonidis at Thermopylae). I did NOT stare at this for ages.

**Dicks and the naked male form are common themes in the Louvre. Be prepared for uneasy questions from the kiddies and uncomfortable silences from the spouse.
*more Goya than you can poke a stick at.
*some Rembrandt guy.
*a prolific Camille Corot. Seriously this chick churned out work.
*this lovely but overrated creature. The real one. I trampled an old lady to death to get this close.

*tourists doing stupid things in front of classic paintings – like re-enacting them while people are trying to appreciate them.

**MANY people wanted to hurt her badly this day.

***Her “Crucifixion of Christ” was flawless though.
*Footloose Latrec.
*drunken party animal selfies from ye oldey days.

All these and so many religious artifacts, icons and artworks that even a hardcore athiest like myself started to believe in God. Almost.

But I’d barely gotten started, I was getting tired and dizzy (skipped breakfast to line up) as it was 2pm so I had a quick bite of lunch in the ground floor cafe: going for a tasty baguette, a bad coffee and some people watching for a while.

As luck would have it, the French President was touring that day and so the place was in lockdown for a short time over lunch as he toured parts of the building. An enforced 45 minute lunch break restored my equilibrium. 4 man Army patrols covered every entry and exit while other squads roamed the crowds. Snipers looked down on us from the top floors and every angle was covered by serious men with big guns.
IMG_6103.jpg

So naturally I stepped up to the balcony, whipped a camera out of my bag without thinking and snapped off a few shots . Then I remembered the snipers, froze and quietly shat myself.

It’s not all about the art as I keep saying. There are tours of the Louvre itself, delving into the subbasements and the early history and construction of the complex from medieval fort to today.

Up above, there are Napoleons apartments, King Louie IV’s apartments, Marie Antoinette’s apartments, restored ballrooms, gilded dining halls, royal silver collections and snuff box collections and cameo collections, and every inch of the walls and ceilings covered in gold, exquisite artworks and antiquities from the ages.

There are so many beautiful works here though that the crowds largely ignore in favour of the big ticket items : The Winged Victory of Samothrace (below) is barely mentioned, as is The Virgin of the Rocks. The Dying Slave. Liberty leading the People. Orphan Girl at the Cemetary. So much more and right under your nose…and away from the crowds.

*The Winged Victory of Samothrace (or the Goddess Nike of Samothrace)
img_5939*A typical ceiling – always look up in the Louvre.

IMG_6047.jpg*Orphan Girl at the Cemetery by Delacroix

The big tickets items like Mona Lisa and Venus De Milo are always super crowded –

img_5944

But there is so much more in this room and people just stream past most of it. Opposite the Mona Lisa is this, for example – you might recognise it.

img_5943-1*Yep its only the Last Freaking Supper. Mind blown.

**I’d hate to dust in this place.

or how about the Sword of Charlemagne!

Or how about Napoleons Chambers and Dining room (the highchair is up the back)

I stumbled out of Napoleons apartments 11 hours later with my mind completely overwhelmed by the wealth of history and art that I’d tried to cram into it over the day.

That’s right 11 hours  – I exited at 9pm –  and I hadn’t even come close to seeing everything let alone appreciating it all. I’d walked 17 kms according to my iPhone Health app and also had to change the little audio tour device over twice as I’d run 2 sets of batteries down.

So I guess the point I am trying to get across is that if you plan a trip to the Louvre, an hour just ain’t gonna cut it. Take your time and explore properly for at least a day if not 3 even. It so worth your time.

Exhausted and mentally drained I retreated to the hostel via Cafe Du Comedie for a red wine, a cigarette and then bed.

End of Day 1.

 

We’ll always have Paris…

… which is lucky as I never made it to Casablanca.

With the watery ghost of the viral infection/food poisoning still lingering, I was physically exhausted. On the plus side it was great for losing weight, but the minuses sucked. Sleeping was difficult and I couldn’t venture far from a bathroom. Although I’ve a generally robust immune system even it was struggling to cope.

My daily wanderings around the city had slowed and I was barely leaving the house. I couldn’t even walk across the street to the supermarket without feeling dizzy, which was annoying considering I’d averaged about 24 km per day walking on this trip.

Damn you Tozeur. You and your dodgy camel hotpot.

Usually its a simple fix for a gut bug – just load up on medication – but this year I’ve been experimenting with natural remedies and relying on my own immune system. So hot water and vinegar, garlic and ginger tea, and rest. After 3 days straight in bed (sleeping sometimes 14 hours a day) I’d finally started to bounce back. 

Unshackled from the toilet, I began exploring again but already Tunis was losing its sparkle. Yosra was busy with assignments, Hasna was in France on vacation, Arianna was getting ready to leave, and Dianna was busy with study. I was going over old ground, the same places, the same markets, even the food was annoying me (meat, meat and more meat). I chipped a tooth on a piece of gravel buried in a makloub – the first actual real food I’d had in days  (grrr)  – and that was the final straw.

It was time to go.

Still recovering, the thought of battling Morocco (which was even more aggressive to tourists than Egypt, I’d heard) did not fill me with joy. With my birthday plans having changed for the better, why was I going to Morocco anyway?

I needed a softer option.

With Europe quite literally on my doorstep, and airfares cheap ($55 to Paris one way…c’mon!) once I started looking the decision was really easy. For the cost of an airfare to Marrakesh I could fly to Paris, then Rome, then fly back to Tunis if I wanted.

*also I don’t speak French, but fake it til you make it, I say. Besides, I’d faked my way through Tunisia with my terrible high school French – how hard could France possibly be?

Screw Morocco. Decision made.

I was off to Paris!

img_5333

Getting out of Tunisia was a breeze – booked a Tunisair flight online for $55 one way, grabbed a taxi for 5 dinar to the airport (now that i know the real fare and can argue with the cabbies its a no brainer), early check in, bag drop and then an hour of grace to relax and review. A quick round of thank yous and goodbyes then Bam – I was set .

First job was to find a place to stay, so I hit the Hostelworld app and Airb’n’b (the usual suspects) and discovered the bleeding obvious – Paris is expensive!

After trolling through countless sites and internet travel blogs, I discovered a hidden gem – tucked right in the city, only 2 blocks from the Musee de Louvre in the cafe district, was the BJV Louvre, a youth hostel with the bare basics but a stupidly cheap rate. $24 AUD per night. Now this place had mixed reviews but the location and the price was a complete winner for me so I booked in for a week and trusted the travel Gods that it wouldn’t be a complete dump.

Arriving at Orly (or the crappiest no services airport Ive even seen), I picked up my bags and absolutely breezed through security and immigration. I was really surprised how fast – the airport was practically deserted, the immigration cop barely glanced at my Passport and made little comment except “Hmmph…you are Australian? Why are you traveling alone? This city is the most dangerous city in Europe – be very careful here. Have a nice day”.

Wow. Lucky I have my trusty climbers knife still  (Thanks Sean it’s been really handy)

Not a great introduction to Paris be sure, and Orly Airport certainly didn’t impress. Nor did the weather. After Tunisia’s bright and sunny 30 degree days, the dull grey 9 degrees of France in Autumn was a cold but ultimately refreshing slap in the face. Luckily I’d lugged cold weather gear around with me since Washington ( yes I may not have even unpacked) so I rugged up, popped on a beanie and my hilltribe scarf and was set. Very chic.

Getting from Orly to the City  was a breeze (ORLYVAL plus a RER B change at Antony station), then a quick METRO ride and I was there. Traveling through the French countryside by train, listening to the grey haired gypsy-like accordian player busking in the carriages, and watching the transition from autumn forests into urban cityscape was simply wonderful. The babble of French was champagne to my ears and not speaking any,  I was blissfully unaware of peoples lives and conversations but full of a growing excitement. 

Paris! My God. How on earth did I get here? It’s a long way for a kid from Wombat, NSW (pop 120). Grinning like a fool I leaned into my backpack, settled in and gazed out the train window as Paris City zoomed into view, the sun setting and the rainy grey cityscape disappearing into the dusk.

After a few lines changes, some confusing station signage and a slight wrong turn,  I found myself on the Metro heading into the city through the Paris underground system.

Eventually I was spat out at Palais Royal Musée du Louvre – quite literally right in front of the famous museum.

Reaching the top of the stairs at the Metro station, I turned and looked up through the adjacent passageway. My jaw dropped and remained there for the next hour.

I was here.

img_5357

In Paris.

img_5364

At the Louvre.

img_5408

OMFG.

And there I sat for an hour or so. Leaning back against my trusty rucksack, against a massive statue of Louie XIV. Feeling…odd. Emotionally flip flopping. Elated. Defeated. Lost. 

The transition from North Africa to Paris was unsettling and had caught me completely off guard. A literal culture shock and it floored me. 

Sitting on the cold concrete, watching the families and tourists mill. Grounding myself or at least trying to. Surrounded by people but very much alone. For the first time in weeks I wished Jen were here. Should be here.  Wasn’t. I recall taking a long, shaky breath at that moment.

Dammit. Fuck.

“Just breathe it out” I told myself. Let it out. Let it go. But I felt wrong. Askew. A massive emotional mass was shifting and stirring, an uneasy sensation from some thing slithering deep in my darkness; sniffing at life, sensing insecurity, seizing opportunity – breaking loose from imaginary bonds and hungrily making for the surface.

Taking away its power is the trick. That takes a little focus and control but is easy enough once you know the signs. And I do, now.

Just as suddenly, it let go and the moment passed. (Overly dramatic? Maybe. Looks like I still have some work to do though)

img_5385

But still I sat quietly. Just observing. Feeling. Unbelieving. Watching myself at first, then the honeymooners, the lovers young and old, the photographers framing shots and the artists sketching wildly away; the families roaming, hearing their kid’s laughter echoing loudly around the plaza. My eyes swept the space, noting the lions and the lambs: the hawkers and the scammers versus the tourists – finally glancing up to meet the cold judgemental gaze of the many statues perched on the rooftops of the Louvre, frozen in space and time. Like I was, pinned there by the weight of this reality.  Breathing in the cold Parisian night air,  mesmerized by the spotlights from the Eiffel tower playing over the city, gazing into the reflective pools, marveling at the sheer beauty of it all. The history here had such a palpable weight and I felt the briefest moment of connection, an earthing, to this place.

I sat there for a bit longer as the crowds dwindled and the night got colder. A little in shock, a little sad, painfully lonely, but somehow still connected and feeling very much alive.

Alive!

This is how it must feel.

I like it.

🙂

to be cont.

…Far far away!

I’m at a turning point in this trip. Bingo funds.

Push on or turn back but as my Dad always said “It’s bad luck to turn back”.

Leaving the chaos of Cairo far behind, I was heading for Morocco for my birthday. Megan was staying in Cairo, D’ had gone home and it was time to go.

Iris my Californian patents lawyer/Star Wars geek travel bud had just visited some original sets in Tunisia before heading off with her Tinder “boys” into the Balkans. She had planted the seed in my brain however for a small detour on the way to Marrakech.

So I booked the flight and landed in Tunisia – a place apparently scary and very dangerous according to our governments website.

Firstly – what a load of fear mongering crap.  I’ve felt more in danger walking down the Main Street of Dubbo at 3am.

FU travel warnings.

*there ARE a shit ton of heavily armed police, national guard and take-no-bullshit military units around with full body armor, big arse truck mounted machine guns, and tanks but hey…that only spells security to me.

Landing in Tunis a few weeks ago was like emerging into a virtual paradise.

Immigration? Smashed it.  Pssst… you are Australian… NO VISA! Welcome!! Wtf?…then 3 steps out of immigration … Pssst… wanna free Orange SIM card? HERE!…just 20 dinar ($11AUD) gets 3gig data and unlimited calls for 30 days…want to top it up now?… Hell YEAH 🙂

Then I stepped outside. Huh? No scammers or sellers? No garbage? Fresh air? No pollution? No crowds? No traffic?

So this is Tunis? But its all so…so clean and so…so quiet? Am I really in North Africa?

Am I lucid dreaming?

Ok the airport taxis were tricky and I only got a tiny bit ripped off  but lesson learned. The lesson is ignore the taxis and the predatory taxi touts, walk out of the airport case park to the road and hail a cab off the street (with a red window light – green means booked), check he turns the meter on and the rate is correct  (1 usually, after 9pm the rate 2 surcharge starts). Typically airport to the French Embassy in town is under 5 dinars as a benchmark…and off you go.

I’d “Plan B”‘d (yes go on…giggle those that know me) the accommodation as the hostel appeared to vanish after my booking and never returned any calls, answered emails or even their phone. Even by their own admission were hard to find AND they advised never walk in the Medina after dark as it was too dangerous.  So in the 11th hour with not even a booking response I went to Plan B.

Plan B was the best thing ever – an Airbnb with a lovely local lady with some amazing housemates – staying up and letting me in after wandering around the Medina at midnight like a lost lamb.

And so, disheveled and slightly in shock, I met Hasna (eventually), Arianna (+ Dino), and Diana – three amazing Tunisian, Italian and Moldovan women studying and working in Tunis that allowed me to share their home for the initial 3 day trip that’s turned into 3 weeks so far and counting.

Arianna was studying Law here for a little while, and Diana had just arrived a few days earlier but was itching to explore the city.  Day 1 was explore day for me so Diana and I set off and began losing ourselves first in the Medina, then Carthage, swimming in the Mediterranean, then the city at large.

Here to study Arabic and already fluent in several languages (including French and Arabic), she was awaiting her partner to arrive and was the perfect travelling companion to ease me into a completely alien Arabic/french speaking Muslim country. I unashamedly picked her brain to help me get oriented and comfortable with some basic French and Arabic.

We also accidentally broke into the Carthage site via “a secret way” but that’s another story.

**note : ALWAYS explore a hole in a fence, especially the one near the roundabout overlook at the base of the site…shhh

We dove into a local Couchsurfing group meeting and met so many friendly and open people who just welcomed us into their fold.

So much so we ended up on a 2 day camping and hiking weekend with about 30 of them way out west near the Algerian border where we endured endless border patrol and police checkpoints but man oh man, was it worth it.

Best birthday memories made so far in Tunisia:

  • spending my birthday weekend hiking into incredible terrain and traveling with a joyous bunch of Tunisian/Egyptian people:  campfires, singing folk songs, dancing and enjoying life well into the night
  • getting more than a little paranoid by being mega close to the Algerian border then getting surrounded and followed in a dodgy border town by the ubiquitous white Toyota trucks that we know all the terrorists drive.
  • driving through each border town with M.I.A “Paper Planes” on repeat,  blaring out the windows and laughing our heads off at all the white trucks. It became our anthem for the trip
  • Meeting and making many new friends.

But SO much better then sitting alone in a bar in Casablanca and proceeding like I’d originally planned.

*Plus waking up with sticky notes all over the house just totally made my day 🙂

There’s so much to see and do in this small but historically rich country.

It’s been a wild few weeks so far.

*breaking in to and exploring historical archaeological sites at Carthage and Sidi Bousaid.

* wandering the Bardo Museum marveling at the mosaics and weeping at the bullet holes.

*spending days wandering through Punic, Roman and even older ruins.

(I MAY have also snuck into the Les Villa Romaines via the paddock and the thorny hedge next to the large Mosque – hey I was exploring!!! )

*wandering lost for hours in the massive Medina.  (dangerous? …pffffft… night is awesome in there)

*Spending an afternoon at beautiful Sidi Bousaid and relaxing by the Mediterranean.

*a 7 hour bus ride to Tozeur and visiting Star Wars and Raiders movie sets.

(I look smug for a reason – I’m on a freakin Star Wars set!!!)


* the 4wd drive through the Sahara that was incredible.

*a virus/food poisoning that laid me so low in Tozeur I missed Star Wars Canyon and had to fly home. Slept for 2 days and have just now gotten over it.
*the possible source of the camel tagine that brought me undone … Dear God the humanity 😦

*and the general weirdness of being in a completely ancient and totally foreign culture.

I’ve also learned that no matter where I go, people seem to generally like me. Perhaps I’m not as awful a human being as I’d convinced myself I was.

To be continued …