Relaxing in Wilderness

Hey all! Since Tuesday I’ve been chilling in Wilderness, South Africa. This town sits on the banks of the lazy Touwsrivier and my hostel, Fairy Knowe, is sweetly nestled into the trees. It’s also a short walk to the beach. The hostel actually has several buildings- a small office, a large open area with a bar, and a couple of buildings with living spaces. Everything (except maybe the bar) looks to be older construction. So it all has that worn-but-loved feel. I find it quite beautiful 🙂

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The old house I’m staying in at Fairy Knowe

After settling in on Tuesday, I went for a run/walk through town and to the beach. I chilled by the water for a bit and then headed back. The houses here are both architecturally eye-catching and covered in beautiful vegetation. Ivy and vines hang down from the trees, flowers spill out of planters, and succulents cover the ground. And the birds! Bird watchers, y’all need to come to Wilderness. Five minutes walking on the riverside boardwalk and I saw 5 different kinds of bird. It’s a shame I don’t know more about birds. I wish I had a guidebook, I could spend an afternoon sitting on the boardwalk watching the bids swim across the water and fly against the blue sky. It would be fun trying to guess their species!

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Gorgeous pink flowers seen along the road in Wilderness

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Tunnel leading under the highway to the beach

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Man, I’ve been going to a lot of beaches…

On the walk back from the beach the light from the setting sun was creating the most beautiful colors in the sky and water. The sunrises and sunsets here are really something else. The colors are soft and blend effortlessly into one another. Much different from the Maryland skies where big, bright clouds create sharp contrasts against the sky!

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Sunset Reflections

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I love railroads ❤

Tuesday night I met Kitty, a lovely girl from the UK. She and I hit it off and made loose plans to hike and kayak together over the next couple of days. And we did exactly that!

Wednesday morning was a slow one- I watched the sunrise and then worked on my computer for a bit. After a trip to the market for some food, Kitty and I headed out. One of the employees at the hostel suggested we go to The Cave and see the Caveman. Apparently he needed candles, so we bought some on our way to the beach.

After walking to the end of the beach, we met up with the old railroad track. We followed them along the cliffs, our eyes searching the ocean for signs of dolphins. And we were rewarded! Kitty caught sight of a couple jumping and the next thing we knew there were dozens leaping out of the water.

After enjoying the view, we continued along the tracks and went through a tunnel.

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The best part of this walk was it being along the old railroad track

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Did I mention I love railroad tracks? Cause I do. And I love the tunnels too!

When we came out of the tunnel, we thought we had arrived at a cafe. I thought it was strange, a cafe that was a 15-20 minute walk from the road. But upon further investigation what we had come to was even stranger.

Platforms lined either side of the tracks. To our left was a table with six chairs, a railing, and then the ocean. To our right was a large raised platform in front of a wide cave and then a lower section against the wall of the cliff. The lower section was lined with tables. It made me think of kitchen bench tops. Three guys standing against the tables drinking tea waved and welcomed us. They pointed towards a fourth man who was standing on the raised platform. He gestured for us to come join him. So we walked up to what was clearly an entrance. We had arrived not at a cafe, but at The Cave. And the man leading us inside was the Caveman.

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Entering the cave

Neither Kitty nor I expected the reality of the cave. We though it would be a large cavern that a kind homeless man lived in. But there was much more going on.

The ground was covered in floor boards and walls created various partitions. Sea shell mobiles hung from the ceiling (of the cave) and various constructed supports. There was so much to look at I had a hard time processing it at first. So many colors and shapes. I felt like I had walked into a fairy land or a movie set. It was stunning.

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The Caveman pointed out a donation box and, in an oddly high and soft voice, invited us to walk around and take pictures. He then left us to explore his home.

We walked around the whole place quickly at first, just taking in the big picture. Once the initial shock and awe faded, we started to feel a bit uneasy. We slowed down, looked closer at the impressive collection of colorful artifacts, and understood our discomfort.

(Of course, we did not verbalize our feelings, it was only after leaving that we began to discuss the experience and discover we felt the exact same way)

Masks. Dolls. Dressing table covered in lotions and a hair brush. Impeccably made beds. What I can only describe as a Shrine to the Male Form.

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We walked softly, stayed close together, and took our pictures. For all the creepiness, we couldn’t look away. Eventually, though, it became too much and we walked out of the cave.

We continued down the tracks towards Victoria Bay, discussing the experience. Shivers ran up and down my spine as I realized just how weird the place was. I began to feel even more creeped out, so I changed the subject, thoughts of the Caveman softly walking behind us, hearing our words, filled my mind. I looked behind me and saw no one, but my logical mind could not reason with the uneasiness I felt. We walked faster.

The feeling of being watched eventually faded and I became to again soak in the gorgeous ocean views and general railroad aesthetic that I love. We descended down to Victoria Bay in the most roundabout way, walking along a fence on a path I would barely classify as a trail. Once on the beach we enjoyed our lunches and ice cream, chatting about life and dreams, the way two newly met travelers often do. It’s wonderful how a mutual desire for connection opens up conversation and creates space for honesty.

 

We eventually headed back to Wilderness and our hostel. After the long day in the sun, I drank some tea, read a bit, and retired early.

The next morning (Thursday), Kitty and I packed bags for kayaking. We hired a two man sit-a-top kayak from the hostel and paddled inland along the Touwsrivier. The water was calm, only birds and our paddles breaking the surface. We oo’d and aaw’d over the tall reeds, the soaring mountains, and colorful wildlife. With only the sound of our gently splashing paddles, a peaceful mood filled the moments. My breathing was deep and slow without the need for focused attention on it’s rhythm. Again, we talked about our stories and hopes.

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Taking a water break

We came upon a point where the kayak could no longer continue so we beached our boat, grabbed our things, and began hiking. Our feet freezing cold from the water and shade, we voiced our silliness for leaving thicker layers at the hostel. When we found a sunny patch, less than a meter long, we stood still in the light and talked until our feet felt some bit of warmth again. It wasn’t long after our break that we reached the waterfall.

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Again, I am loving the sun rays. Also, the waterfall looked much bigger in real life. 

We found the perfect place to eat lunch, took the obligatory posed pics and shots of the water, and unpacked our food.

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Glamour shot!

We sat and enjoyed the scenery for some time. Kitty napped and I read. Two young men showed up and began scrambling over the rocks. We watched them climb rocks and build up the nerve to step from one ledge to the next.

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Selfie with Kitty 🙂

The trip back to the hostel held the same peace as the morning.

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Gentle views on the trip back

After enjoying some tea and changing into dry (and warmer) clothes, we walked to the beach with another girl. The time in the sun tired me out however, and I headed back to hit the hay.

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I love the sunsets on this river ❤

Friday morning I packed up my things and checked out of the hostel. Leaving my bags behind the main desk, I joined Kitty and two other girls at the hostel for a walk to the beach. As always, it was fun to chat with and get to know other travelers.

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Beach selfie!

Since I needed to catch the Baz Bus, I headed back while they continued their walk. I read and tried to convince the internet to allow my phone to download some Netflix shows.

I rode the Baz Bus all the way to Cape Town, where I met up with the wonderful Liaan. My next post will talk about all the fun Cape Town has been. I’ll write later, xoxo

 

Storms River Adrenaline

So after the safari I headed from Port Elizabeth to a little village called Storms River. I stayed at Dijembe Backpackers, which is such a cool place. You can just feel the good times from previous guests ooze out of the walls.

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See that white fuzzy thing? That’s a goat. A goat that looks like a sheep and acts like a dog

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After arriving on Sunday, I mostly chilled and read what people had written on the walls. I took photos of some of my favorites

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A French girl, Emanuelle, was also staying there. We played some pool (with me failing hard core- I’m awful at pool) and then planned several activities for the next day.

I also borrowed a bike and rode to the market to get some food. Beautiful village!

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We woke up Monday morning and packed our bags for a long day. We then headed downstairs to take advantage of the free pancakes (well, we had to cook them ourselves, but still. Free food!)

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Cooking free pancakes!

Emanuelle taught me how to flip the pancakes by tossing them in the pan. I’m super proud of this new skill 🙂 🙂 🙂

We then hopped in a shuttle (more of a taxi, really. But they called it a shuttle so who am I to change the name?) and went to the Tsitsikamma section of Garden Route National Park. We were dropped off at a parking lot on the thin bit of land between the mountains and the sea. After applying sunscreen, we started hiking. We went mostly along the coast, occasionally going into the bush (or jungle? It seemed pretty jungle-ey to me).

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In the bush, everything was shades of green, the ground was moist, and the vegetation so thick with trees and vines that we couldn’t see more than a few feet off the trail most times. I felt like I was in Tarzan. Especially when we saw baboons running along the rocks beneath us.

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So many pretty flowers!

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I love the red and white on these rocks against the blue of the sky and the sea

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Seriously y’all, it was JUST LIKE Tarzan

We eventually turned around and headed back to the parking lot. We ate a quick lunch outside the stall for Untouched Adventures, who we would be doing our next activity with.

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Lunch views

Once full, we geared up and met with a guide to go kayaking up Storms River. We picked the perfect time to kayak- there was no one else in our group! So we got our fantastic guide Tate all to ourselves.

We kayaked across the ocean just a bit and then headed into the mouth of the river.

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The mouth of the river- there’s a bridge going across it that baboons like to hang out at.

The walls of the canyon rose above us, covered in moss, mold, and vines. I was in awe the entire time. Eventually we reached a point where the kayaks could not continue. So we jumped on lilos- thick, red inflatable rafts that we just laid down on and paddled with our hands. We went a bit further up the river,, walked around some col rocks, and then headed back to the kayaks. Near the kayaks was a cliff that people often climb up to and then jump into the water. So we did that too 🙂 It was a short jump, maybe 3 or 4 meters. But the water was cold and refreshing. I was most certainly awake after that!

While kayaking back, we saw a bunch of White Breasted Cormorants sitting on the rocks and drying their wings. And beneath the water we saw countless stingrays.

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Emanuelle and I, post kayak & lilo trip

Once back at the parking lot, we dried off, changed into dry clothes, and hopped on a shuttle to our next stop- a bridge. A very very tall bridge. Which we jumped off.

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1, 2, 3, BUNJEE! Photo credit: Face Adrenaline South Africa

So, bunjee jumping is cool, and I most certainly enjoyed myself, but I don’t need to do that again. Nope, I am good. But glad I did it once 🙂

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Before the jump! Photo credit Face Adrenaline South Africa

Not gonna lie, I cursed for the entire first and second drop. At that point I tried to relax my body and focused on my breathing. Basically, I turned into a puppet.

We jumped off the Bloukans Bridge- at 216m high it is the highest commerical bungy jump in the world and the largest bridge in Africa. Face Adrenaline kept us safe and took these great photos and videos! The staff on the bridge are really fun, energetic, and professional.

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After the jump. Photo credit: Face Adrenaline South Africa

And after that exciting event, we headed back to our hostel. Because we signed up for kayaking together, we got a voucher for a free pizza at the pizza place in the village. We borrowed bikes and rode to the restaurant/bar and had a very delicious pizza. A group of six French guys wandered in and ended up sitting with us. Emmanuelle really enjoyed the opportunity to speak French again! We hung out with them for quite a while. I even learned some French! The hard part, of course, is remembering it the day after… Anyways, the evening ended at our hostel, my playing guitar and one of the hostel staff, Ziggy, playing a djmebe. We jammed until 1am and then I had to call it.

Damn what a great day. Pancakes, ocean, jungle, baboons, kayaking, jumping off cliffs, jumping off bridges, pizza, new friends, and music. People, life is pretty awesome 🙂

 

 

South African Safari

That’s right y’all. I went on a safari ^_^

On Saturday, my first full day in South Africa, I joined a guided tour to Addo Elephant National Park and Schotia Private Game Reserve. It was a small tour, just myself and three other young women. So that was really nice, not being in some huge crowded tour bus.

Addo National Park was started in 1931 with only 22 elephants and 2270 hectares (about 8.8 square miles) of land. Today, it boasts over 600 elephants and 164000 hectraes (633 square miles). It’s conservation efforts have also expanded to protect a variety of species, resulting in reintroduction of animals such as buffalo and lions. And boy did we see some elephants! Before we even entered the park we saw one on the side of the road. And we saw many many more throughout the day

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I actually wrote down every thing we saw so I wouldn’t forget. Here’s my list:

  • Elephant
  • Vervet Monkeys
  • Red Heart Beast
  • Warthog
  • Zebra
  • African Buffalo
  • Black Headed Heron
  • Kudu
  • 2 Cheetahs lazing about by the Red Heart Beast carcass they took down earlier in the day
  • Eland

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After Addo we headed to Schotia for lunch and then more safari. We went to a private game reserve because national parks in South Africa can only reintroduce species that were historically present. A private reserve, however, can have animals that are adapted to the conditions in the area but weren’t necessarily there naturally. I think there may also have been fewer restrictions, by which I mean in Addo we had to stay inside the car all the time whereas in Schotia we were in an open air vehicle and got out to walk around a bit.

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Our ride for the afternoon & evening

After driving around and seeing many wildebeest, antelope, elephants, and zebra, we stopped at a termite mound. Apparently they’re a great source of protein!

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My list for what we saw in Schotia is suuuuuuper long. There were so many different animals! And they all coexisted- antelopes and zebra all in the same fields to improve their safety. Here’s the list of what I saw:

  • Wildebeest
  • Red Antelope
  • Water Buck Antelope
  • Zebra
  • Inguni Oxen
  • Guinea Fowl
  • Brown Antelope
  • Nylaa Antelope
  • Kudu
  • Termites
  • Giraffes!
  • Elephants
  • Spring Buck (National Animal of SOuth Africa)
  • White Rhino
  • Reedbuck
  • Buffalo
  • Mountain Reed Buck
  • Sable Antelope
  • Lions!
  • Blesbuck
  • Spring Hare
  • Baby Crocodiles
  • Hippo

Sooooooo yeah. I saw a lot! Here are some pictures and videos I took 🙂

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Zebra!

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Giraffe! We got out of the vehicle to walk closer to these guys. Super cool!

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White Rhino!

While watching the lions I kept thinking of Dash and how much he loves “Daddy Lions.” I tried to get some photos and videos to share with him, hopefully he enjoys them 🙂

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Pretty much the whole day I kept thinking “Is this real life?” Scuba diving felt like The Little Mermaid and this safari felt like The Lion King. And it was just amazing.

More in a bit y’all, I think this is enough for one post. Sending love ❤

See Ya Later ‘Straya

Well folks, it’s done. My time in Australia is over. And after 30+ hours of planes and airports, I’ve made it to my hostel in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Before I talk about anything else, I got to say a few things about my time in Aus. In case you didn’t notice, I had a wonderful time the last 4 months. Yeah, there were tough times, but that’s life and would’ve happened anywhere. I met wonderful people and saw amazing things. I mean, how awesome is it that for months my morning runs included kangaroo sightings? And that I spent my days playing with the two cutest little boys? And all the great sights- the Grampians, Great Ocean Road, Tasmania, etc. And let’s not forget diving along the Great Barrier Reef!

Goodness knows I couldn’t have done all of this without the kind and generous people who gave me a helping hand along the way. There are too many people to list, but you guys know who you are. I appreciate you, truly. I hope to one help wandering travelers as y’all have helped me.

There’s a week of stuff in Australia that I still have to post about, so expect that in a future #ThrowbackThursday post.

I want to quickly mention how fantastic my flights between Sydney and Port Elizabeth were. First I flew 14 hours to Abu Dhabi with the airline Emirates. Now, I always just book the absolute cheapest option, without paying much attention to the airline. And I had never flown Emirates before. Little did I know, they are a “Luxury Airline.” And boy, did I feel it!

First of all, I was the only person sitting in my row of three seats. It sounded like my seat mates didn’t show for the flight, but whatever the reason, I was able to streeeeeeeeeeeeetch oooooooooooout 🙂 I lifted all the arm rests and laid across all three seats. And I’m short enough to make that work. I was so comfortable, I slept for 10 hours with minimal disturbances.

We also got 2 meals and several rounds of snacks/drinks. Lemme tell you what, the entire time I was wondering if First Class felt this good!

After a 4 hour layover in Abu Dhabi, I hoped on another Emirates flight to Johannesburg. And would you believe it, the middle seat on my row was empty. And then the kid who was sitting at the aisle seat moved to seat closer to his friends (big school group traveling together) and, yet again, I had a row to myself. Livin’ the good life over here 🙂

When I landed in Johannesburg, however, it was time to run. Literally. I had less than 90 minutes to get from my plane to the next. Doesn’t seem too hard, expect that I also had to stop at immigration, pick up my checked bag, go through customs, and re-check my bag. Not an easy task. Involved quit a bit of running. But I made it! And so did my luggage! I got some help from a porter, without whom I likely would have missed the connection. And then just a short flight, 90 minutes, to Port Elizabeth.

Whelp, I’m quite tired. I apologize for any gross grammatical/spelling errors. Maybe I’ll come back and actually proof read this later. But now now, cause sleep.

I’ll check back in later y’all xxoo

#ThrowbackThursday Dash’s First Trip to the Climbing Gym- February 24

Pretty close to when I first arrived in Woodend, Juddie told the boys I rock climb. Once given this information, Dash would ask “Is that good climbing rock?” nearly every time we saw any sort of largish boulder or rock wall. It was very sweet! And then he started climbing the banister in the kitchen. So I took him to one of the rock climbing gyms in Melbourne. And we had a blast 🙂

The day started with grabbing a babycino for Dash and a hot chocolate for myself at our favorite local cafe, Il Caffé. We then hopped on the train to Melbourne.

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I don’t know what it is, but I love sitting on trains and ferries drinking hot chocolate

Once in the city, we took a tram and then walked a bit until we arrived at Hardrock Climbing. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the place opened later on weekdays than weekends, so we got there before opening. But no worries! There was a big open courtyard nearby and the two of us ate lunch and raced from one end to the other until noon.

Once in the gym, Dash was a perfect little student, attentive and focused

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Dash learning about climbing shoes and harnesses

Of course, the sillies came out soon enough!

Dash really liked pulling on the ropes so I couldn’t take my eyes off him. But we were there to climb, and climb he did! Dash was so excited to get up on the wall. He didn’t go very high, usually asking to be lowered when his feet were about five feet off the ground. But after some practice and encouragement, he went much higher! He didn’t reach the top of the wall, but that’s not the point.

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Thanks so much for the awesome climber who took this picture! Him and his friends were very encouraging of Dash and his first day of climbing. 

It was a really great day. Definitely one of my fondest memories of Dash, his excitement to try rock climbing and his bravery in climbing higher.

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Love this cutie ❤

Sydney & Scuba

Hey all! Sorry for missing last Friday, I was waiting on photos, which I think was totally worthwhile. I wrote this while riding the train from Cairns to Proserpine on Friday. Hope you enjoy the writing and the photos! 

Man, I needed the last week. I spent 6 days straight in the near constant presence of the wonderful Hanna and it wasn’t until she left that I realized- I wasn’t exhausted. I barely had a minute to myself and yet the continual interaction with another human didn’t tire me out, rather, it energized me. I forgot what it felt like to be around someone I am 100% comfortable with, someone I don’t have to ever act around or worry about judgement.

And beyond the comfortable companionship, Hanna and I had a blast. Last Saturday we went to a Koala Sanctuary. It was more of a small zoo that focused research on finding cures for koalas with chlamydia. But it had a range of native Australian animals- kangaroos, echidnas, wallabies, birds, emus, dingoes. For all that I don’t really like zoos, we had a good time wandering around the property.

We spent a LOT of time talking to the Cockatoo. It may only say one phrase, but like Groot, the one phrase has many meanings 😀

Afterwards we met up with Alex and his friends at a wine tasting. We all tried several wines and then Alex, Hanna, and I headed to a bar that sold local and imported craft beers. Hanna’s goal was to try something local so she and Alex went halfsies on 3 beers. Not being much of a beer person and happy with the wine I drank earlier, I sipped each of their beers but otherwise just ate.

Alex introduced us to the magic that is a Snack Pack. French fries with thinly sliced gyro meat, cheese, and 3 sauces. We ordered two to try different sauce combinations- one with barbecue, chili, and garlic (know locally as The Holy Trinity) and one with garlic, hummus, and mayo. We walked back to Alex’s, passing around the snack packs, doing our best not to spill sauce on our shirts. I think we went to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour that night, but the three of us just aren’t good at ending conversations. One of us always has more to say and then the other two get sucked back in.

Sunday Hanna and I wandered around the Sydney Opera House and the Art Gallery of North South Wales. We took the obligatory photos of the opera house and bridge . At the museum we focused on the gallery featuring Aboriginal art. For those of you who don’t know much about the relationship between Aboriginal people and the Australian government, it’s pretty awful. I highly recommend you research it, it’s hard to describe just how terribly the native peoples were treated. Slaughter, kidnapping, forced assimilation… And to top it off, these atrocities are swept under the rug in this “No worries” country.

The gallery celebrated Aboriginal culture and brought to light the discrepancy between “white” Australia and everyone else. Art has power folks, go visit a museum.

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This was a giant poster displayed in the museum. Powerful, yes?

Sunday afternoon Hanna and I flew to Cairns, a city in northern Queensland. Early Monday morning we were picked up at our hostel and taken to the marina where we hopped on a boat and waved goodbye to land. We then proceeded to spend three days and two nights out on the water. We were scuba diving- eleven dives total for this trip. And we LOVED IT. The whole experience was better than we expected. Our room was bigger than we thought it would be, the showers on the boat had hot water, and staff was super professional, the food was delicious, there were multiple places to hang out between dives, we met some super cool travelers… I could go on. And there’s a reason they call it The Great Barrier Reef. It’s pretty neat, to say the least.

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We were greeted with cake when we got on our liveaboard. Photo credit: Hanna

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Our room! More spacious than we expected on a boat. Photo credit: Hanna

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Hanna as a majestic sea goddess (I mean, look at that hair!) Photo credit: Megan, edited by Hanna

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Photo credit: Hanna

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Shark! Photo credit: Hanna

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Swimming with turtles 🙂 Photo credit: Hanna

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Sunrise dive 😀 Photo credit: Hanna

Two of the locations we went to had the coolest geography (not sure I’m using the right word, but I use it to mean the shapes, caverns, and caves created by the coral). There were canyons, tall pinnacles, small windows into huge caverns… Hanna and I felt like we were peeking into Ariel’s world.

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Photo credit: Hanna

Of course, every now and then the topic of climate change would come up. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a a big problem with coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef (see here and here). There is even talk of bleaching events happening so frequently that recovery is impossible and the coral may soon die, causing a chain reaction accefting the entire ecosystem the coral supports. So there was a lot of “yeah, we’ll be able to tell our grandkids about how we dived the GBR before it died.” And then to see the news coming out of the States about reducing national monuments and EPA regulations… It’s just disheartening. Unless NASA figures out real quick how we can get to and then live on another planet, we have but one earth. And our actions are destroying it. Climate Change is real folks, pollution has victims. To quote a meme, there is no Planet B.

But enough politics (for now), here’s some more cool photos of the GBR.

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Photo credit: Hanna

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Before each dive we would attend a briefing led by one of the staff. They would give us suggestions on places to go, cool things to see, and how to best navigate the reef. Photo credit: Hanna

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Photo credit: Megan, edited by Hanna

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Underwater selfie ❤ Photo credit: Hanna

We made a lot of new friends on the dive boat. Mostly, Hanna and I went diving just the two of us. But twice on of our new friends joined us. Hanna and I both learned a lot from these experiences about the importance of discussing communication and leadership expectations before the dive so we’re all on the same page once under water. She and I fell into a rhythm pretty quickly with just the two of us (I mean, we’ve know each other so long and have over a decade of trust built up) and adding another person to our team definitely shook things up. Not in a bad way, in fact, we both really enjoyed the challenge. But it was a really good learning experience.

While Hanna and I very much enjoyed all the diving (and learned a lot from doing so many dives so close together), we both agreed that it would have been nice to have a bit more variety. Since I’m new to diving, I had been just finding the cheapest or easiest option, no real looking into what the best place would be, what specific qualities of different reefs may interest me. I figured, as a newbie, everything was interesting. And I was right. Everything has been fascinating. But now I’ve seen enough that in the future I want to be more particular. I want to start planning dive trips around what I want to see, like whale migrations. I also think I would like to find a liveaboard trip that involves some island hopping. Not sure if this exists, so let me know if you have any suggestions!

We eventually returned to land Wednesday evening. We went out to dinner with some of the folks we met diving but everyone called an early night- ends up constant scuba diving is exhausting.

Thursday Hanna and I wandered around Cairns and into another art gallery that just happened to have free admittance that day. This one had an interesting show exploring the experience of the Italian immigrant in the 1950s. Francesca Rosa, the artist, was inspired by her father’s life and the possessions he left behind. There were two very interesting pieces- one that put pictures of Renaissance portraits next to the photos of the male Italian immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane fields and one that put photos the artist took on a family vacation to Italy next to racial slurs and other insults pointed towards Italians. Australia has a pretty racist history guys. Actually, they have a pretty racist present. But I said enough politics soooooooo moving on!

Sadly Hanna had to catch a plane Thursday afternoon. We kept stalling, talking in the hostel instead of calling an Uber and then a big long hug just before she left. It’s wonderful having best friends who like to travel. I’m so glad Hanna came to visit me on my adventures. She helped me find my center and ground my thoughts. And in two months I’ll see her (and all my other loves back home) again.

Well, right now I’m on a train travelling towards Brisbane. I’m getting off in Proserpine, where Alex will meet me at the train station and we will drive to an Airbnb we’re staying in for the weekend. Expect more pictures of ocean views 🙂

Thanks for reading xoxo

Things Aussies Ask Americans

I’ll post more about what I’m up to later this week, but for now, here are some questions I’m often asked down under. I think they tell an interesting story 🙂

What do you think of Trump?
Are the school buses really yellow?

Wait, you don’t have electric kettles???

How did Trump get elected?

Why is your health care so awful? 

What’s the weather like over there?
I hope y’all are having as much fun as I am this week 🙂 Will post more later ❤

Old Friends in New Places

LOOK WHO I FOUND

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Hanna, Alex, and myself having Golden Gay Times

Hanna and Alex, that’s who! Y’all, I can’t tell you enough how wonderful it’s been since I arrived in Sydney and met up with these two wonderful friends. Alex and I honestly don’t talk very often and we rarely hung out after high school. But when I messaged him a couple months ago to ask if he wanted to meet up while I was in Sydney, he offered up his home for me to stay in. And when I arrived last night we started talking and just didn’t stop. It’s so amazing to realize that, yes, our friendship is one that stays strong and true even without constant contact. It’s good to know that some things don’t change.

Hanna flew in this morning and I met her at the airport. I wanted to make sure I was there when she got through customs, so I maaaaaaaaay have gotten to the airport way too early. But after a bit of waiting, I saw her beautiful face enter the arrivals hall. Goodness I am so happy 🙂

The three of us spent a long time just talking in Alex’s apartment this morning. Eventually we did manage to leave, Alex to work for the afternoon and Hanna and I to walk around Bondi Beach.

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We meant to go for a long walk along the coast but ended up getting distracted by the way ocean waves crashed against the rocks. We talked about everything, the way best friends do after a long absence. Because, well, we’re best friends and we haven’t seen each other in months.

Goodness it feels good to catch up.

One really wonderful thing about talking to Hanna is I don’t have to constantly provide back story.

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After the beach Hanna and I headed back to Alex’s. He and his flatmates made dinner and afterwards Hanna, Alex, and I yet again started talking and just kept on going.

Wonderful first day in Sydney! Sending love ❤

Wrapping Up New Zealand

Alrighty folks, my flight leaves in 3 hours 20 minutes and I gotta catch a bus to the airport in 20. But first, I would like to put down what I did my last few days in this beautiful country.

Tuesday I woke early to do laundry. It was unnecessarily complicated and took forever, but I did end up with clean clothes. I then got a ride up to Tata Beach in Golden Bay and met up with my couchsurfing host from the other night (Hamish) and another traveler (Katie).

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Weird trees by Tata Beach

The three of us spent what was left of the afternoon laying out on the beach and swimming in the freezing water. But damn, it felt good! My clothes didn’t dry (thank goodness I thought to bring a change) but it was so worth it. After submerging my entire body in the ocean I felt like I had just received the best head massage of all time. And just chatting on the beach with good people was fun. There was lots of laughter 🙂

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Waaaaaaaateeeeeeeeeeer

Ends up, Golden Bay is so named because the sand sparkles like gold. Crazy, right? I wish I could have captured this effect on camera, but it was pretty mesmerizing. Redminded me of the elevator in the Center for the Arts at Towson University. The floor of that elevator was black with millions of tiny silver sparkles. Sometimes, if I looked down on it too long, I would get dizzy. The ocean floor was like that, only gold instead of silver. I could have knelt in the water looking at the glitter all day.

I got a ride back to Motueka with my friends and boy was it beautiful. I’d love to do a looooooooooooooooooong road trip around New Zealand.

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The White Elephant, the hostel I stayed at for two nights in Motueka. Such a quaint, peaceful, happy place! I couldn’t resist altering the colors for the photo 🙂

I went to bed early Tuesday to awake a 6am Wednesday. I packed up my things, called a good friend back home, and then made my way back to Christchurch. It took most of the day to get here, but I made it and rewarded myself with tacos. Okay, so maybe I was just craving tacos. Like, a lot. So very very very much. I typed “tacos” into google maps and it brought me to a restaurant around the corner from my hostel called Mexicano’s. They didn’t make Mexican like I would, but what I got did scratch the itch. AND their sangrias tasted like my mom’s.

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I -may- have missed it the first time and walked riiiiiiiiiight past

So now for today, Thursday. I was actually very responsible this morning. I called human resources for Prince George’s County Public Schools to see how my application was doing processing-wise. Ends up its doing well! So far no complications 🙂 Woohoo! I’m on the train to full-time employment, hopefully I make it to the end of the line 🙂

After a good talk with my mom I organized my things and went for a walk around Christchurch. I wandered into the Botanical Gardens, which were beautiful. However, there is construction nearby and a large lawn mower on the property, so it was not the peaceful oasis it could have been. I tried sitting down and reading a book but the roar of the mower’s engine and the high pitched “eeeee-oooooo-eeeeee-ooooo-eeeeee-oooooo” coming from the construction site carried across the garden and annoyed me to no end. So I found a cafe and ordered lunch instead.

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New Zealand World Peace Bell- A really cool project that you can read more about here

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Things seen in Christchurch

Well, I better grab my things and catch that bus now. See y’all in Australia ❤

The Ups and Downs of Hiking in New Zealand

For a long time I’ve thought about the contrast of good and bad emotions. We must feel sadness to truly experience happiness. We pay for exhilarating freedom with sobs and self-judgement. Every moment of this is where I belong is matched with how could I screw up so royally? 

It’s funny, as I write this Ed Sheeran song “Eraser” comes through my headphones. His words cut through my thoughts and I relate to the line I hear

“And ain’t nobody wanna see you down in the dumps
Because you’re living your dream, man, this shit should be fun”

Now, the song is not at all a perfect expression of my current experience. But Ed, I get you man. I get you.

I do not know when I first began dreaming of traveling the world. I grew up listening to my parents’ stories of living in Germany. Even as a kid in elementary school I knew the plan- get good grades, go to college, get a job, move to Europe for 3+ years. The way some people always knew they’d be a teacher I always knew I’d travel (okay, so maybe I was also one of those people who always knew I”d be a teacher, but that is beside the point).

And here I am, 10 months, 16 USA States, 8 countries, and 3 continents into my year of travel and damn, this dream is hard.

I know, I wrote about this before. And when I finished writing that post, I found peace and contentedness in my choice to keep moving forward on this path. But I still lose my resolve sometimes.

Like when I first got to New Zealand. As those of you who read my last post know, I arrived in Christchurch around 5am Friday morning. I made my way up to St. Arnaud to meet up with a girl I met on Facebook, Anja.

Well, Saturday morning we loaded up our bags with food and all the warm layers we could scrounge and hit the trail. We were hiking the Robert Ridge Track in Nelson Lakes National Park from the parking lot to the Lake Angelus Hut. The hike started in a beech forest- soft green leaves filtered the light and the tree trunks were speckled with fungus (but like, in a pretty way. Not in a gross, between your toes way). As we climbed above the tree line, we were gifted with an expansive view of Lake Rotoiti.

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Looking down on Lake Rotoiti during the hike up to the top of Robert. Photo credit Anja

We hiked to the top of the ridge and there literally was no bad place to look. No matter where my eyes landed I saw something amazing- bright blue skies, mountains in the distance, green grass by my feet.

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Cool rocks along the Robert Ridge Trail in Nelson Lakes National Park

And yet, I felt completely unaffected. I knew I was looking at something stunning, but I didn’t feel it.

My mind was caught in a spiral, trying to understand what was wrong. The thought entered my head- I couldn’t hear the mountains speak.

Well shiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

I have to go home.

I have to.

I. Have. To. Go. Home.

Next plane, let’s go.

My thoughts continued in this direction for a fair bit of the hike. I was hiking so slowly, poor Anja kept having to stop and wait for me. I had no energy to move. I kept saying “I don’t know what’s up, why I’m hiking so slow.” But I knew. I knew my mental state was holding back my body. I couldn’t move forward because my mind was spinning backwards.

Anja saved me with a question, though she probably doesn’t know it. She asked “Meet any good guys on your travels?” And so began a conversation about cute boys. As we shared our experiences with jerks and princes my head slowly unstuck itself and entered the present. I looked around me with fresh eyes. The stoppers in my ears fell out. My feet grounded into the mountain and I started to feel it’s spirit. Suddenly I found the strength to hike smoothly and my lips formed a small smile.

Who knew, all that pain and anguish and all I needed was to talk to another human being.

I feel like I learned this lesson before… Sometimes I can be a real stubborn study.

I’ve decided to make a list of things I can do when feeling blue and missing home. Here it is:

  1. Open my heart to someone nearby and make a new friend. Connect to another person.
  2. Reread my post “A Bit of Truth- Internal Turmoil”. I reread it when I started writing this post and it really made me smile and helped reaffirm my commitment to this journey and remember why I’m doing this- to have fun 🙂
  3. Call home. Talk to to my parents, my brother, my friends. I spoke to Kelsey yesterday and Olivia this morning. Both gave me wonderful support and advice. Love you two ❤

Alright, so enough of the downs. Let’s talk about the ups!

With my attitude adjustment I was much happier hiking down the trail. We passed some cool rocks and I thought “Those would be cool to climb up.” So I dropped my pack and did exactly that 🙂

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Spontaneous rock scrambling. Photo credit Anja

Eventually we got close enough to our camp for the night to look down on it from above. I’m just going to put a picture here because I have no words.

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We headed down to the hut and, after a short break, started hiking again. We hoped to make it to the top of Mount Angelus and back again before dark. Unfortunately, we had to turn back before reaching the top. There isn’t a clear trail to the peak and with all the rock slides we did not want to hike in the dark.

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On break at the hut. Photo credit to that big family staying at the hut that night

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Mountain Reflections, Afternoon Sun

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Mountain Reflections, Sunset

After a filling dinner and hot chocolate in the hut, I headed outside to set up the tent. Even with my head lamp on, the stars shocked me with their brightness. When I was done with the tent I just looked up at the sky. It’s still strange seeing some familiar constellations upside down (I was able to recognize Orion and Cassiopeia that night, in addition to the Southern Cross and Scorpius. Saturn and Jupiter were also shining bright. A lot more was visible, I just don’t know my stars well enough). But damn, the stars shine bright down under.

Anja and I survived the below freezing night with a combination of excessive layers, body heat, and warm water bottles. After a blessedly relaxed morning we sad goodbye to our beautiful lake and started hiking back to the car park. We took a different path, the Speargrass Track. Everyone said it would be very steep, and it was.

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Anja hiking down one of the not steep sections

But no one said anything about stream crossings.

Cause there were some stream crossings

Like, never ending stream crossings

Oh, who am I kidding. I LOVED all the stream crossings. Yeah, I was super slow and relied heavily on my trekking poles for stability, but it was beautiful. As we hiked along it the vegetation, geology, and lighting changed, altering the color of the water.

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Stream crossing! Photo credit Anja

I thoroughly enjoyed the hike on Sunday. Saturday was rough, but Sunday was great. And the end of the hike meant a warm shower 🙂

After we cleaned up we hitched a ride up to Nelson to stay with a couch surfing host. More star gazing ensued and then a fantastic sleep. I felt so rested Monday morning!

Anja and I got out pretty late Monday, after 9:30am. But it worked out for the best. We were hitching up to Abel Tasman and, get this, the guy who picked us up was on vacation, had no plans for the day, and drove us all the way to the park. We invited him to join us on our hike and he did! To top it off, after the hike he drove us back to our accommodations for the night (I went to a hostel in Motueka and Anja went back to Nelson). His name is Brad and he’s a cool dude!

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Cheeky grass stickin’ it to the man in Marahau

But back to the hike around Abel Tasman. The three of us hopped on the water taxi out of Marahau and were dropped off at The Anchorage. We hiked the Coastal Track back to Marahau. The path was well above the water and did go through the inland rain forest a fair bit. But there were paths down to the beaches and you bet we walked down 🙂

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I still can’t get over how clear the water is here

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And isn’t it just amazing how many different colors water can be?

We also saw a cute little weka bird and followed him down the trail for quite some time. Poor guy couldn’t figure out how to shake us!

After the hike we ate the greatest of post-adventure food, pizza 🙂

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We raced the sun, and lost. But this sunset was worth the little bit of hiking we had to do in the dark. I’m telling you guys, I’m obsessed with the way water reflects light.

And those were the three days I spent with the wonderful Anja! I’ll write more about his week tomorrow cause it’s a travel day. Going to Sydney to see Alex and Hanna!

Sending y’all all the love ❤ ❤ ❤

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The only picture of both Anja and I. Please ignore my squinty eyes