…f5

One week in already!

Despite a few early teething issues (specifically jetlag, accommodation falling through, and an unnecessarily nasty message from an ex’s sister here) the process of refreshing my memories of this marvelous state is working a treat.

Still in Washington at this stage, I rented a car and then settled into my temporary home in Olympia up near the Capitol Building. Got real lucky with this one and my 3 night Airbnb has now turned into something more long term with a super cool Californian family (zoologist and graphic artist) , their 2 year old son and their houseful of one-eyed and ragged rescue cats (plus Riley the dog).

**More on Amber and her Animal Rescue non-profit to come – living in a cathouse is awesome and Ive never seen such a variety of one eyed rescues in once place  🙂

Slipping back into the familiar territory around Olympia here was a good idea and getting tuned into the weirdness of American life was much easier than I expected.

Day 1 was a tired, confusing tangle of getting shit done, tip calculation and left handed “uh oh” moments, but after a good nights sleep and a few hours walking around, I was back in business.

Day 2 was much better. Rent a car. Get some jerky at the Markets, see the last day of the Olympia Lakefair. Time to explore.

It literally took only 10 minutes for me to adjust to right hand driving again. After the sweaty palms and abject fear of learning to drive here last year it was a welcome change.

So where to start?

Well of course I have to go back out to Union Deli for my usual. 

Heading out to Union again to catch up with my friends felt like I’d never left and the last year hadn’t happened. It was like driving into my home town (which was totally weird) and I don’t think that I’ve ever been made to feel so welcome than here (well…apart from the initial hiccup with J’s sister – although it upset my apple cart briefly, the wheels straightened, springs settled and the horse trotted on).

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Holly remembered my Americano and honey after a year or more away and the coffee was as good as ever. Bless you, Holly Jean.

Anyway my point here is that I’m here for a few reasons.
Firstly, and foremost Ive fallen deeply in love with the mountains, waters and forests of Western Washington. Something about this place vibrates at the same frequency as I do. I feel at peace here and this place has been calling me back from the moment I left. 

I dream about the woods here.

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Secondly, there’s a need to overwrite some of the bad memories from last year and replace them with good ones.  I kinda got the idea from watching a film – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a while back. While erasing memories is beyond me at the moment (red wine aside), I thought that an enforced refresh might work – overwriting old with new memories would be just as good. It seems to be working well so far.

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…so just calm the heck down, Sarah.

 **Maybe don’t read/follow/report on my doings if its going to ‘upset’ certain peeps.

I wasn’t going to mention that but hey it’s my blog so I guess I am, huh. Whomsoever actually reads my social media/blomit now interests me and wtf should people care what I do anyway. 

One last passive-aggressive thing: there’s an unfriend/unfollow button there if you don’t want to be friends with me. I get it – it’s cool. Its not you, its me. Global peace etc. The unfriend button is really easy to use and I don’t really mind either way ( well I do actually but for the point of this argument I don’t).
Personally, I love to stay in touch with people and I definitely stay in touch with people I care about.

Like you kind folks. You are awesome.

Feel free to stay friends.

You’re welcome.

So…just to clarify.
What am I NOT here for?

Chasing ghosts and dwelling on the past. I am here to exorcise them for good and move forward.

As of today, after a week? Same sights, sounds and places, no triggers. No negative reaction whatsoever, so a perfect result as far as I’m concerned.

Mission almost accomplished.

It’s been fun to reconnect with my actual in-person friends here and experiencing this beautiful American summer for the first time is recharging batteries that I didn’t know I had.

So  – what else has been happening?

Hmmm…

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Well exploring Olympia in the sunshine is a treat, but summer nights are a different story all together. For example the Capitol building is simply stunning by night. The views from the Police Memorial over the South Puget Sound in the evenings are breathtaking, taking in the distant Olympic mountains over the water as the sunset purples into clear starry night and the lazy mosquitos fly into every hole you have.

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Ive only done some minor shopping so far (staying in the “keep it light and carryon on only” rule) – updated my worn out Merrel barefoot shoes (they lasted over a year but the superglue is failing and the soles are micro thin). Bought a tshirt and some used Levis at a thrift shop. Saw a movie! Got a mall haircut! Had the best coffee I’ve had for ages. Walked a lot.

Basically haunted the streets of Olympia until I can walk them with my eyes closed (not that you’d want to as you have to dodge the tweekers, beggers and other various loonies)

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A few days back I headed up around the Peninsula – all forests and ocean and Indian reservations and movie sets and isolated beaches..like Forks and La Push beach…(Forks is a dump but La Push area is beautiful)

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Driving around the whole Olypmic Peninsula is always fun…oh and Port Angeles also…

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Its not just going over old ground here. Just for a change Im throwing in some new experiences as well.

Slacklining (thanks Guru Shay, rocking the 1″) is going to be my new thing and so far I suck pretty badly but I’m getting there. Bought my 2″ kit from REI and it’s going to come with me everywhere I can take it.


This weekend we drove up into the mountains past North Bend, dug for quartz crystals and amethysts on the side of a deeply wooded mountain, got real dirty crawling under tree roots and digging deep into the earth (the holes in the pic are from peeps digging into the hillside with small shovels and/or garden tools – sometimes the holes go in 12-15 feet)

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** here’s where we met friendly weed-smoking crystal hunting John and his blue heeler dog (such a cool dude).

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Had lunch at the RR Cafe (Twin Peaks fans will get the significance), and just relaxed and breathed in the fresh clear mountain air.

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Whats to come? This week I’m up to Mt Rainier for a bit (i5 traffic pending), then make my way up to Seattle and see the things that I missed last time. Then driving down to Los Angeles to see my sister Martha (hopefully if shes around) and a few friends i met during my travels last year. Then I’m heading off to get Lost…no fixed itinerary – Glacier National Park, Yellowstone next month (maybe), anywhere the road leads me…

Also I want to see a bear, and a cougar, and some goddamned raccoons this time.

C’mon America – how hard can that be?

The adventure continues…

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**And also a huge thanks to my Cambodia travel buddy and good friend Shay for bailing me out and putting me up here when my accommodation fell through for a few days.

Shes a talented emerging local potter/ceramicist and artist so I’ll point you to her web store when she gets it up. Buy a lot of her stuff.

 

 

 

 

…ker-chunk

I almost didn’t make it to Seattle.

Flying into Sydney early on Saturday morning, I gave my self plenty of time to catch up with people (which didn’t happen) and to do some last minute shopping (which didn’t happen).

I did manage to catch “The Beguiled” in a decent cinema which was a perfect way to spend the afternoon. Great film. Sophia Coppola is a wonderful filmmaker.

Spent the day wandering around Sydney City and Circular Quay for the Bastille day Celebrations. Then, as the day closed out, finally heading out to the airport with 4 hours to spare.

10th in line at the check in counter. 1 carry on bag, no checked luggage. Short queues. Perfect.

The check-in lady was enthusiastic, a smiling young Wonder Woman look alike. She scanned my passport, checked my booking and tapped away busily on the small beige keyboard.

I smiled and finally relaxed, taking in the sights and sounds of Sydney Airport (which I generally despise)

My boarding passes printed out with a ‘phhhht’ and she bundled them up ready to hand back. She looked at my passport again. Frowned. Flicked through the pages. Looked at me. Looked back at my passport.

Her smile widened but I saw it instantly drain from her eyes.

Uh oh.

Looking up with that same dead smile she said “Excuse me Sir, I just have to check with my Manager about something.”

Then she was gone, along with my passport and boarding passes – all whisked away along with my newfound peace of mind and possibly my hopes and dreams as well.

WTF?

Mentally I was buzzing –  ticking off in my head all of the dodgy countries I’d visited lately (surely not), did I owe anyone money? (no), expired? (no way), US visa? (yep full 5 year B2).

Be cool cool cool. Nothing to see here.

I could see her talking to a few people up the end of the counter and they were flicking through my passport with a mix of curiosity and concern.

A few minutes later she returned.

“I’m sorry Sir, but your passport is damaged and we have to check with Border Security if we can let you fly.”

‘NOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ echoed through my mind as I plastered what was hopefully a relaxed accepting smile on my face.

“Yeah sure, no problems…” I said, leaning casually on the countertop as once again my passport and travel documents vanished into the system.

Fuckitty fuck fuck fuck. Internally I was  cursing the carelessly casual Jetstar check-in lady that whipped the damp passport through a scanner a year and a half ago, ripping half a page in it.

Sticky tape in a passport is a bad thing apparently.

The slick cross-fit toned and sunbed-tanned Manager, all crisp suit and buzz- cut hair came over and pulled me aside. He explained “your Passport has a torn page and looks like its been water damaged…it’s in pretty poor shape”.

A heavily sarcastic “Seriously?” escaped my lips before I could stop it.

Ok damage control mode – activate!

“But it works right? It’s just a torn page and some sticky tape. The electronics and the chips work fine. Ive traveled all over Asia and Europe, even the US last year with it in this condition!!” I whined despite my best intentions not to.

“Its not as simple as that…” said the guy, and proceeded to give me the polite but firm lowdown on what could happen with my passport if I tried to travel into the US of A – everything from being turned back AND not allowed entry, held in custody, banned from reentry, fines to the airline that they would pass on to me ($5000 AUD), and the apparent end of my travel world.

Then it took a turn for the worse. A black clad Nazi gentleman from Border Security came over, with my passport in hand, and started to give me the same story but with much less humanity. He was also English, which actually bugged me a little. 

No Australian likes being lectured by an Englishman – it got my back up. 

I interrupted at one stage, and he did the aggressive “stop talking” thing to me, so I shut off my “annoyed as hell” switch, bit my tongue and let him finish his piece.

“If it was up to me, I would seize the passport blah blah blah. Its the property of the Australian Government blah blah blah. I tested the electronics and it scans perfectly ( God knows how)  but the torn page and the sticky tape makes it legally unusable. If it didn’t have a US Visa in it I’d confiscate it” he said. “You have 2 options – take your chances or rebook your travel and get a new passport”.

“How much time do I have to decide?” I asked politely, mentally rescheduling my trips as he continued.

“Under an hour” he said, checking his watch.

At this stage my head was swimming.  Sensing a victory, the Border nazi’s manner softened once he realised I wasn’t going to be a pain in the ass about it. “It’s up to you: travel at your own risk or rebook” he said, handing me back my passport and briskly walking away.

Recalculating and recalibration, I sat down and madly googled alternate flights, costed accommodation changes, weighed up the possible risks, messaged some friends ” what should I do?…” “does this sound right?” etc etc.

Running out of time, I decided to risk it. My rationale was that well I either get in or I don’t and if I don’t, then I’ve never been deported before and it might be an interesting experience at the least.

I spoke to the Service Manager and told him i was going to give it a try. He wasn’t happy about it and that’s when the threat of a $5000+ fine came at me – but regardless he handed back my boarding passes and wished me luck.

I checked in, went to the gate, and quietly balanced my unmentionables on a razor blade of tension for the next 10 hours.

*I did meet Kim though so it wasn’t all bad. More on that later.

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My sphincter about the size of a pinhead, I lined up at US Customs and Border Control in Hawaii. Scanned my passport in the machines, scanned my Visa. Took my ticket to the guy at the Counter. He checked my passport, Visa and paperwork with barely a grunt or a smile.

“Yes Sir, No Sir, Thank you Sir.” said I.

Ker-chunk. 6 Months entry stamp.

“Have a nice day, Sir”

Perfect.

Day 1 – this is why I love travelling 🙂 

These stories write themselves sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

…9 lives.

I’m a cat person. Love ’em. Miss ’em. Identify. They’re magical : a solitary, multidimensional and independent creature existing in a state of unpredictable duality. Peace/Violence, Contentment/Fury. Mostly warm, cuddly and purrrrrry, but never more than a millisecond from becoming a chaotic death dealing whirlwind of tendons, teeth and talons.

Personally, I’m mostly like that cat in the poster but with less fur and no claws.

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These kind of situations bring out the best in me it would seem.

I do have nine lives though. I’ve lived at least 4 of them so far and apparently heading into my 5th in a few months.

That’s about as far as I should stretch this cat analogy.

You might recall that I have been super vague lately…well here’s the thing.

I’m going to live/work in Antarctica for a year or so.

Expeditioner 2017/2018 at Davis Station  and technical officer over summer/winter.

I’ll be looking after all the site IT, dabble as unofficial photographer plus helping out with the scientific research programs as needed. Then I get to be part of the 18 person skeleton crew keeping the home fires burning and the systems ticking over through a dark Antarctic winter. Its going to be a fascinating experience!

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Almost – there’s always a small chance I’ll fail the medicals so its not in the bag yet.

How did this happen?

Earlier this year I was lost : hated my job, hated being here, unhappy and unsatisfied with life. So I did what I usually do – shotgun out applications for work.

A Facebook advert popped up one day. It looks interesting but unobtainable, but regardless I applied for a Technical Officer position with the Australian Antarctic Division. I submitted the application and then quietly forgot about it, thinking “not a chance but Hell – worth a try”.

Then just before Bali this year, in March, I got a call: “Shortlisted?…wow thanks!”

After 2 days of selective testing in Hobart, Tasmania and a technical interview, they called a few weeks later and offered me the job. Out of 3500 people applying globally for 3 positions, they had picked me as first choice for Davis Station. This tickled my withered ego immensely so of course I accepted immediately.

It is dependent on me passing extensive psychological and adapability testing, and ridiculously thorough medicals. I’m waiting on the results of both as I peel the plaster from my elbow from the blood tests (i really really really hate needles).

But I’m mildly confident, hence this post.

So my plans have morphed once again. Rest assured I have a revised Plan B, C and D just in case (some things never change).

I’m currently waiting on the medical result, which will result in a contract being drawn up, which I sign and then thats it. I’ll be in Hobart for 4 weeks pre-departure training early October, and then on an icebreaker heading South for 2 weeks. After that? Antartica.

Once my contract is signed (fingers crossed in a week or so) I’m taking all my leave, resigning and FINALLY kissing this town/job/life goodbye. Heading to San Francisco and then exploring the US for 2 months solo before becoming an icicle. Or Romania. Or Bali for 3 weeks refresher teacher training – I haven’t decided yet.

If it DOESN’T happen and I somehow come up medically unfit, then I’ll be somewhat disappointed but Hell  – I still have my plane ticket. Onwards in any case!

On to life number 5, and whatever surprises that may hold.

Needless to say I’ll be blogging my arse off regardless.

Wanna come?

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…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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

baguette?…

…was about the extent of my French when I hit Paris.

Well maybe not just ‘baguette’…I’d heard horror stories about the legendary rudeness of Parisians (and the French in general) towards non-French speaking foreigners/tourists and I was a little bit worried. In the last few days of Tunis (thanks to my Tunisian friends expert tutelage) I’d managed to progress to the stage where I could confidently greet someone, order a coffee (most important) and a meal, plus make extremely general inquiries. I thought I was rocking it. Obviously I wasn’t.

The first time I tried that in a classy sidewalk Paris cafe, the waiter actually laughed at me. In a sympathetic way, like you would a cute but backwards child (who may wear a bright orange ‘stakhat’ to school). Ill take sympathy over scorn any day, so I stuck with it. As long as you at least make the attempt to say ‘bonjour’ and speak even a little French (even badly) there is a definite defrosting of people attitudes towards you. Although to be completely honest, I never met any one person in France that was actually rude to me.

Maybe I was just lucky.

My first night in the hostel was interesting. After my little emotional adjustment at the Louvre, I wandered up the 2 city blocks to my hostel and checked in. The hostel was great, with dorm accommodation (bunk beds and shared bathrooms) but the building itself was several hundred years old, had excellent facilities, and I was right up top on the 5th floor with a wonderful view of the Paris rooftops. The place was the type of hostel that take large school groups and it was full of schoolkids on an excursion. It was currently a buzzing mass of kids as 2 groups had overlapped – 1 coming in, 1 going out – and instantly unbearable. The poor girl on the front desk was frazzled as she processed 100 excited kids and the wifi was getting hammered as everyone was online.

So a good opportunity to bug out and explore. With the Immigration officers words  – “most dangerous city in Europe”  – still bouncing around my head, I was a little uncertain of heading out at 11 pm, but the streets were full and the sounds of the inner city were beckoning, so I rugged up and headed out.

So where to start? I only had 5 days in this beautiful city to explore.

Retracing my steps back to the Louvre, I turned towards the distant Arc de Triomph glittering 3.5 kms away, thought ” I can do that” and started walking into the cold dark Parisian night.

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I’d gotten about 100 meters before my spider sense started jangling.

Walking through the Arc de Triomph du Carrousel (above) you are strolling down a wide barely lit gravel boulevard, surrounded by dark hedge gardens and statues.  I was wandering down trying to take photos in virtual darkness, when I noticed dark shapes lurking in the gardens beyond the lights. At first it didn’t seem like anything odd, but I then it occurred that there were no tourists in this area, just me.

I stopped and looked around, patting my pockets down looking for my cigarettes.

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Three dark figures detached themselves from the deep shadows on either side of the path and wandered out of the gardens, forming a rough triangle around me. Casually moving towards the spot I was standing. Dark jackets, scarves and beanies. Identical. Indistinguishable.

Ruh roh.

I took a moment, lit my cigarette and looked at my options, then turned and started casually walking back towards the light, and safety of the tourists on the other side of the arch.

They all instantly changed their approach vectors (fuck) and the closest guy intercepted me part way there, babbled something in French, and held out a cigarette. My heart was thumping a little and I thought “Ok here we go”. Watching the others approach closely but casually, I fished out my lighter and passed it to him, all the while still heading towards the light, forcing him to keep pace with me. The 2 guys were closer now, just strolling alongside but never more than 10 steps away.

The cigarette dude lit his cigarette, and paused. Exhaling a cloud of smoke into the night sky, he looked at me and I met his gaze with my best “don’t fuck with me” look. He nodded and held out the lighter to return it. I took it quickly, rumbled a low “merci’ and walked quickly through the remaining 2 guys into the welcoming light of the archway. Turning back on the other side of the arch, the men had gone, melting back into the shadowed gardens.

And then I was back with the laughing tourists, the lovers and the light.

So lesson learned – when someone tells you to not do something stupid in a new city, this is the sorta thing they are talking about.

Day 1 eh?

Deciding to call it a night, I wandered back through the busy Louvre complex, past the Comedie De Paris, passing through the local streets to my now largely silent hostel.

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I’ll start exploring tomorrow.

In the daylight.