Month: November 2014

Life Doesn’t Get Much Better than Habibi in the Whitsundays

When I left Cairns on an overnight bus for Airlie Beach I was excited. It was time to start my adventures. First stop: a 2 day, 2 night sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands.

I boarded Habibi with 19 other travelers from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, England, Canada, and France, as well as our Aussie skipper and 3 crew members. Together we sailed off into the expansive blue ocean. Or more accurately, we motored off. The wind wasn’t in our favor so the skipper mainly used the motor to get around. We were convinced that the few times the sail went up was more for show than practical application. I didn’t care either way though, we were still out at sea living on a boat and it was amazing.

The boat was an older model with wood benches above and even more wood bunks below. As we set off we were told our sleeping arrangements. Claire and I apparently won the lottery; we were given “the orgy bed” – it was almost the entire back of the boat and could have easily fit more than just the two of us, but we were happy to be able to starfish and not even come close to each other. Our boatmates that were assigned the small bunks were not as happy as we were.

I got lucky with a good group. There’s always an element of risk when you book a tour like this, especially as a solo traveler. As I walked to the boat I wondered what kind of group I would be with: partiers? couples? awkward people? What I got was a friendly group who was happy to hang out on a boat in nature. By the end of our few days together I wished we could keep the group together for the rest of my time in Oz, and I know I’m not the only one who felt that way.

The Whitsundays are paradise. Deep blue sea dotted with uninhabited, green tree-covered islands lined with thin white stretches of sand. In one case we stopped at an island that was only a thin white stretch of sand. It was quiet, relaxed, sunny, warm, beautiful.

Our days on Habibi went as follows: Day 1 was spent just getting out to where we would spend the night. We played a get to know each other game but didn’t stay up too late since we knew we had a full day ahead of us.

Day 2 we were woken up around 6 am for breakfast and then shuttled off to the island that was home to Whitehaven Beach, famous for being the most pristine beach in the Whitsundays. We were first to the island and from a viewpoint above the beach we saw it empty, devoid of the throngs of tourists that would soon catch up with us. We had 3 hours to play on the beach. We walked in the shallow water with sting rays all around us, took pyramid and jumping pictures in our attractive stinger suits, played soccer, and lounged on the sand. Some people practiced yoga and I took my now-traditional cartwheeling picture.

We returned to the boat for lunch – Habibi has really great food – before our snorkeling afternoon. Stop 1 was all about fish. From a school of striped fish right at the boat to George the gigantic parrot fish, we were never alone. Stop 2 was all about turtles. We had seen some turtles bobbing their heads up around our boat where we stopped the night before, but at the second snorkeling location we actually got a chance to swim with three of them. There’s not a single person who wasn’t smiling after this encounter. On our way to where we would drop anchor for the night we learned how to summon eagles from an island we were passing: whistle very loudly and wave some meat. Twice we were able to successfully throw a piece of meat in the air and watch an eagle swoop to catch it. This is entertainment in the Whitsundays.

We watched the sunset, sending it below the horizon with a cheer, and in the darkness we played a game and watched for shooting stars before another early bed time. I slept on deck with a handful of others. My bed was a bench covered with a yoga mat that cocooned me like a wooden hammock. Surprisingly I slept pretty well.

Day 3 we had one final snorkeling stop before motoring back to shore. This ended up being my favorite location. The reef was colorful, varied, with tons of different coral and fish to keep me entertained for the entire hour or so we were in the water. I even saw Nemo! Or at least the blacker cousin of Nemo. If it wasn’t for the jellyfish we had to swim through to get out and back it would’ve been a perfect location. We just hoped they weren’t the kind of jellyfish that could kill us (they do exist in the Whitsundays).

As we made our way back to Airlie Beach everyone was quiet, gazing out at the water or napping in the sun. I sat with my feet dangling off the side of the boat and watched the islands pass by, soaking in the happiness of the past few days on Habibi.

The Whitsunday boat was a last-minute decision when I got to Cairns and turned out to be a highlight of my time in Oz. It was a relaxing few days with great scenery, nature and people.

It’s worth mentioning that this is where I met Pascal, Chris and Marie, three Germans who were doing pretty much the same trip as me. We had actually all been at Asylum in Cairns at the same time but didn’t know it; we met on Habibi, where we figured out we’d be on the same Fraser Island tour, and that our timing would align in Byron Bay and Thailand for Christmas too (minus Marie who had to go home after Fraser). When we returned to Airlie I spent the day with them before our overnight buses to Rainbow Beach, where we would reconnect in our hostel before Fraser Island. Their names will come up again in future posts. I was no longer alone in Australia.

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The Great Barrier Reef: The Best Worst Decision I’ve Made So Far

From day 1 I knew I wanted to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef. On Wednesday Nov. 5th that day had finally come. And then I fucked it up.

Let me rewind for a minute. I booked my boat and 2 introductory scuba dives through Poseidon, a company that had been recommended to me by my kayaking buddy Martin; it had good reviews and reasonable prices in comparison to some other places (this is not a cheap adventure) so I went with it. Error 1: if I’d booked it through my hostel they could’ve given me a discounted price and I would’ve gotten a free night accommodation. Things I didn’t know. But I’d been anxious to book this tour since it was the only thing I knew I wanted to do for sure. Oh well.

The day before they called to tell me that the Poseidon boat had to be serviced, so was I ok with being put on Silversonic, an identical trip that was actually a little bit better; newer boat, more time in the water, better food included. I’d looked at this one too but the dives were more expensive; they said they weren’t going to charge me more so I said ok.

I was picked at 6:30 am from Asylum; for an extra AUD 24 the package came with a ride from my hostel to the pier in Port Douglas and back. Maybe this early departure is why I wasn’t thinking clearly when I boarded the boat and filled out the medical information form for scuba diving.

“Do you ever get dizziness, loss of vision, blackouts, or faint?” Yes, this happened just two weeks ago. In truth, this happens to me all the time – I frequently lose vision for a few seconds when I stand up, but I don’t usually faint (minus the one time when I woke up on the tiled bathroom floor of my childhood home happy that I hadn’t seriously injured myself). I always figured it had something to do with dehydration or my awful circulation, even though I’m not always dehydrated when it happens, but now that I know it’s not as common as I thought maybe I should get it checked out… I recover quickly though so I never thought it was a big deal.

Australia thought it was a big deal. Why did I check this box? I don’t know. I had a momentary lapse of judgement and told the honest truth. They didn’t let me dive. I tried to protest, saying it really wasn’t a problem, I’ve scuba dived before, and I shouldn’t have even checked the box. It was too late. My dream of scuba diving the GBR was gone and I was stuck with just snorkeling for the day. At least they promised me a refund for the dives.

I sulked upstairs and took a seat at the back of the boat, watching the ocean race by underneath us as I listened to my iPod. What the hell was I thinking? How could I let my dream go like this? I stewed for about 10 minutes, letting myself be angry at myself, and then I let it go. I was going to be refunded over $100 that I could use for other parts of my trip. That’s a lot in backpacker money. And I still had the chance to snorkel at three different locations. I’d heard snorkeling was actually better here than diving, so maybe it would be ok.

It was completely ok. Not just ok, but it was actually an absent-minded blessing. At our first location of the day I eagerly jumped into the water, determined to make the most of my snorkel time, and within seconds was inches from the reef and its inhabitants. We had an hour and a half at this location and I spent almost all of it in the water paddling around the reef. I also used this opportunity to teach myself to dive without inhaling snorkel tube mouthfuls of water. As I did this, I caught sight of the introductory divers. They were nowhere near the reef; they were over by the boat holding onto a rope, practicing breathing and clearing their masks.

I realized something: the reef is not a place to introductory dive. The point of the day was to see the GBR, and the introductory divers had just a fraction of the time that the snorkelers had to do this. Between going through the learning process of how to use the equipment and only having 20-30 minutes of air in their tanks, their time to see the reef was minimal. I, on the other hand, had well over an hour in all three locations to see the coral, fish and one shark. The reef was my playground while the scuba divers were in class. (If you are certified though it’s probably worth it; you don’t have to go through the lessons and get to actually swim around the reef at a lower depth. Although really most of what you want to see is so close to the surface that I’m not sure it’s even better as a certified diver.)

So how was the reef? Expansive, interesting, full of a variety of coral and its residents – fish, giant clams, sea cucumbers, anemones, starfish, at least one shark, and apparently turtles, although I wasn’t lucky enough to see one. The three locations that we explored all offered something different, the third being my favorite due to it being the most colorful underwater landscape of the day. All in all though, I admit, I was a bit disappointed.

The GBR is supposed to be breathtakingly gorgeous, and it didn’t quite have that effect. It was beautiful and I’m so happy to have seen it, but this section of outer reef honestly wasn’t my favorite diving site (something I would discover in the Whitsundays). And the fish weren’t nearly as numerous and vibrant as I expected them to be either.

So in the end, with the impression I got from the GBR and the realization that learning to dive is better done not at a Natural Wonder of the World, my lapse in judgement to say I get blackouts ended up saving my day.

And it didn’t hurt my budget either. Remember how I said I’d booked through Poseidon, which had cheaper dives, but was actually sent out with Silversonic? Well they refunded me for the Silversonic prices, so I actually ended up with a cheaper day than they even offer just to snorkel. I’d count that as a win for me.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Bangkok Airport

Thanksgiving. A holiday meant to be spent relaxing with family and food, I was spending it alone on a plane and in an airport.

I had booked my flight from Australia to Bangkok on November 27th not realizing what day it was. Maybe this is why flights were cheaper? But really it doesn’t matter if it’s Thanksgiving when you’re not in the US, no one else celebrates it anyway.

Except that I was reminded of this holiday by friends from home, talking about their long weekends and asking what I would be doing. The year I was in Peru for Thanksgiving our porters on the Inca Trail made us a cake and wrote “Happy Thanksgiving” on it. I would not have the same international Thanksgiving celebration this time.

Instead, I spent 9 hours on a plane. With no entertainment. I flew Jetstar, so the perks of international flights – food and movies – were missing. I had swapped my last book, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, for a lighter read in the hostel book exchange: Hunger Games 2, Catching Fire. I figured I deserved something easier after making it through Don Quixote and The Satanic Verses.

I started Hunger Games as we taxied away from the gate in Melbourne. I finished it somewhere over the ocean, with 2.5 hours left in my flight. I can’t remember a time I opened a book and didn’t put it down until I turned the last page. Now what? I watched the last 2 episodes of Season 2 of The Sopranos. We still had an hour left. Music and an attempt at a power nap got me through to landing.

I disembarked without much excitement, knowing that I was planning on sleeping in the Bangkok airport. I had a flight to Vietnam the next morning so getting out to a hostel for a quick restless sleep and then back to the airport didn’t sound worth it. What a way to spend a holiday.

But then I was walking through the airport surrounded by signs written in type that made no sense to me. Thai. And it hit me: I was in Thailand. I have never been to this part of the world and even though I wouldn’t see any of it tonight I still made it here. Finally! My spirits lifted a little.

I ended my Thanksgiving day writing blog posts while sipping on an Americano in the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in the Bangkok Airport. My American tribute to Thanksgiving.

This is where I am now. I’m trying to get as many posts written as I can before I get to Vietnam tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll get most of Australia cued up to publish once a day while I’m enjoying this next location.

Because in Vietnam I know I won’t be writing much. I will be joined by familiar faces for the first time since Andy came to Colombia in August – this time, it’ll be family! My aunt, uncle and cousin are meeting me in Vietnam and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a great way to start the third and final part of this journey: Asia.

Cairns

When I got to Cairns I had no plan. After Sydney I knew that I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef and my options were to start from Cairns or Port Douglas. I chose Cairns as my base for 2 reasons: 1) after a little research I realized that Cairns was more the backpacker town and Port Douglas the small resorty town for an older crowd; 2) price: hostels were cheaper in Cairns and I didn’t have to pay AUD 30+ just to get to Port Douglas and back. Much like Sydney, I ended up in Cairns longer than I meant to be there.

I had a day in Cairns before my GBR day to try to figure out where to go next so I talked to a few different travel agencies about my options. Australia still uses travel agencies; it’s the main way travelers book anything here, from backpackers to normal tourists. On the one hand it’s fantastic that these agencies still exist somewhere. They know the places to go, how to get there, and get deals on prices through the relationships they have with different companies. On the other hand this means that everyone is following the same trail down the coast, most of the time from Cairns on a hop on hop off bus down to Sydney.

I had a general idea of some spots I wanted to see in Australia based on more friend recommendations – Fraser Island, Byron Bay, potentially Whitsundays if I could fit it in – and my own personal desire to see Uluru. I approached the agencies with these places in mind and it was quickly made apparent to me that Uluru would be hard to do: flights one way were around $400, plus the three day tour itself, it was looking like a $1000 trip. Instead I could use those days to fit in the Whitsundays boat, something they told me was really a highlight, for $300 give or take depending on the boat. Sadly, I dropped Uluru. It has become my Patagonia of Australia. I will just have to come back one day; it’s for another trip. After some strategic scheduling and price negotiation, I left Happy Travels with a package for the next 12 days: a hop on hop off Greyhound bus pass from Cairns to Brisbane, stopping for a Whitsundays boat, Fraser Island tag-along tour, and Noosa canoe trip.

Again I was conflicted about this process. On the one hand, after over 4 months of planning myself, it was nice to have someone figure it all out and book it for me. So easy! On the other hand, I felt like I had been forced into a schedule I didn’t really want. I was hoping for flexibility and now had reservations through the 19th (it was the 4th). Unfortunately though without a car flexibility wasn’t much of an option, and things like Whitsunday boats seemingly booked up. So I went with it.

This is how I ended up in Cairns longer than planned – I couldn’t get on my Whitsundays boat until Sunday the 9th, so I now had the rest of Tuesday, all of Thursday and Friday in Cairns before my night bus down the coast.

The problem is, there’s not much to do in Cairns. And it’s hot. Humid, sweating for no reason hot. One night I went to a free bouldering hour, which resulted in meeting a friendly Aussie med student who invited me over for a BBQ dinner and travel talk. One day I went to the lagoon, aka the public pool, and then out with my hostel for their famous Pants Down Party (which was happily not as ridiculous as it sounds, and actually quite a fun night). And my last day I was productive with blogging and last-minute errands before the adventures began.

Cairns was my hangout time before the East Coast trip commenced. It was a good place for it – first because it was too damn hot to do anything else, second because you really need a car in Cairns to do the good stuff anyway (which is all outside of the town itself), and third because my hostel was a really chill place.

Despite being called Asylum, the hostel was not as nuts as it seemed like it might be when I first booked it. It had some great outdoor shaded hangout areas and functioning wifi (once you paid for it; I got it with my Pants Down Party payment (AUD 15 included unlimited wifi for a week, dinner, and 4 drinks)). Plus everyone there made me feel like I’d been there for months not just a few days. Even if I did spend these days responding to “California!” instead of my real name. Chill people, chill hostel, and a more chill town than I expected based on some nightlife reviews I’d read, Cairns was a good launching point for the next 2 weeks.

Jetstar Price Beat Guarantee

When I was looking to book my flight from Sydney to Cairns, and unhappily facing shelling out over $200, Peter told me about a helpful Jetstar trick.

When you find a flight on a competitor airline that is:
1) Cheaper than a Jetstar flight
2) Within an hour of said Jetstar flight
3) More than 72 hours from the day you find it

You can contact Jetstar with this information and, once they verify you’re telling the truth, they will give you their flight for 10% less than the competitor’s price. Seriously. It’s a great trick that helped me save over $50.

So the next time you’re thinking about flying with Jetstar do a quick search to see if anyone else is flying cheaper. It may just save you a day’s worth of money.

A Day Trip from Sydney to the Blue Mountains

When asking for suggestions for what to do in Sydney Josi adamantly told me I had to visit the Blue Mountains. More than once. So from the beginning of my time in Sydney I planned for a day trip out there. She was right to tell me to go.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love cities that have easy access to nature. This adventure, in addition to all the beaches, solidified Sydney’s place in that category.

The Blue Mountains are so easy to get to from Sydney, contrary to what it may seem like from the tourist information center. When I asked the Sydney info center about going there I was presented with day trips that would take me and a bus full of other tourists around to the highlights for the reasonable price of about AUD 100. No thanks. When I asked about taking the train out myself they said it was possible and my best option then would be to do a AUD 40 hop on hop off bus to the sites. I didn’t do this either.

Here’s how to do the Blue Mountains the backpacker way: take a train out to Katoomba and walk about half an hour to the information center at Echo Point, at the edge of the Blue Mountains. This info center is actually super helpful – the woman there helped me plan my day, showing me the different routes on maps and explaining how long they would take. If you want to continue in my footsteps, from there, hike your way to Leura, a small town where you can take a not-so-cheap lunch break (your most affordable option is a $7 gourmet bakery pie), jump back on the train heading in the Sydney direction for no extra cost, and get off at the next stop, Wentworth Falls, for a short walk. Then back on the train to return to Sydney. (A good thing to know: you can go back to Sydney from any of these stations with your return ticket or just use your Opal card.) It’s as easy as that, no tour needed. And this way you can hike at your own pace, choose to stay on the Katoomba/Leura side or go to the Wentworth side like I did, and just have a wonderful nature day without spending an exorbitant amount of money to be herded around with the rest of the tourist cattle.

As for the Blue Mountains themselves: gorgeous, of course. There really is a blue sheen over the treetops, which look like a foresty blanket stretching for miles over the valley. The surrounding cliffs add to the majestic appearance. At almost every viewpoint I stopped and let out a jaw-dropped “wow,” occasionally accompanied by “so fucking pretty.”

I definitely recommend hiking down into the valley. The views are amazing, but descending 1,000 steps into the forest surrounded by towering cliffs, giant trees, and random bird noises made the whole experience even better. The only problem with descending 1,000 steps into the valley is that you have to climb back up to get out. At least the trail planners were nice in putting these paths next to waterfalls, providing a pretty and cooling distraction.

The whole hike down, up and around from Katoomba to Leura took about 3 hours and was just strenuous enough to feel like I got in some good exercise. The decision to do a short Wentworth Falls hike again came from Josi’s suggestion. She said it was her favorite side because it was quieter; she was right. I did a simple 2 hour return hike out to the top of the falls and back for one final view. It was easier but a pleasant way to end the day.

I went back to Sydney happily tired and a little sunburnt from a great day in nature.

The People in Syndey

Sydney was a testament to two things: the travel community is wonderful, as are Kiwis.

I know what you’re thinking, “Kiwis again? Aren’t you in Australia?” Yes I am, and my first 6 days in Australia I spent a lot of time with a bunch of Kiwis, and it was great. Here’s how it happened.

I met Jesse in my hostel in Manaus, Brazil in July. We overlapped for just a day, but in that day we chatted a bit and swapped travel plans before going on separate Amazon adventures, hoping we would meet up again in Colombia. As I waited for my flight in Leticia I ran into Jesse in the airport. We talked excitedly about our Amazon experiences but were again going different ways, and unfortunately never did see each other again. But as you do with all new travel friends, we kept up on each other’s travels through Facebook. Jesse is from Sydney and had told me to let him know when I was going there, so as I got closer to my arrival I messaged him for suggestions.

The first thing Jesse said was, “do you have a place to stay?” No, I didn’t. The next thing I knew Jesse had messaged me and his friend and former roommate Amit, and I had a place to stay in Sydney. Amit was incredibly friendly, happy to have me stay at his place for however long I was in town. I learned that when Jesse left Amit had told him to send any travelers his way, ones that he thought would be cool to have around (thanks for thinking I was!), and I was the first one that had made it to Sydney. Amit opened up his home to me and I cannot thank him enough!

Christmas for Halloween

Christmas for Halloween

Adding to this great friendly situation was the fact that Amit had three of his best friends in town; they all grew up together in Auckland. I shared the living room, as well as a really fun Halloween night, with Phil, Pierre and Peter. Our last-minute costumes were purchased at the local grocery store, where thankfully they had out Christmas decorations insanely early so we went with this theme: Phil was Santa, Peter was a reindeer, Pierre was a present, and I was the tree. It surprisingly worked! Pierre and Peter were also my brunch, Botanical Gardens, and bar hopping companions on my last day in Sydney.

Going into this situation I had no idea what to expect; I was going off of a pretty quick impression of Jesse that he was cool so anyone he would send me to stay with would be too. It was the right impression. This group of fun-loving, friendly, hilarious Kiwis made my time in Sydney that much more enjoyable. And as always, they will all have a home in SF any time they are in town.

In addition to these guys, Karim from Wanaka and I followed through on our parting words to meet up for Sydney beers. He also needed to get his Vietnam visa, so we met up my first morning in town at the consulate and hung out all day at Bondi Beach. Karim was also my drinking buddy the next evening in Newtown. We had a fun two days hanging out in Sydney and have kept in touch, hoping to hang out again one day in Europe.

And lastly, my entire plan in Sydney came from recommendations. I reached out to Tom from BA for suggestions and his awesomely long and detailed response became the backbone of my time there, from which bus to take out to Bondi, Bronte and Coogee to the ferry to Manly to what bar to go to in Newtown or for a rooftop view in The Rocks. In the same vein, my trip to the Blue Mountains came from Josi’s adamant suggestion in NZ (as did the basis of my plan for the rest of my month in Oz).

I knew none of these people before I left for this trip. I can’t say it enough: I love the travel community and feel lucky to be a part of it. You’re all fantastic.

I Made it to Australia! First Stop: Sydney.

From the window of my plane I watched the sun rising over Sydney. I spotted the Opera House and smiled. I made it to Australia.

I’ve wanted to go to Australia for as long as I can remember. The big island on the other side of the world held an appeal for its laid back reputation, its surfer culture, its chill no worries attitude, its exotic animals, and its supposedly stunning scenery from ocean to city to desert.

My first location was Sydney, the major metropolis on the coast. I had heard mixed reviews on Sydney, some people saying it was the best and others telling me to not spend much time there. I had no idea how long I would stay there, first and foremost for a logistical reason: I had to get my visa for Vietnam at the consulate in Sydney and I wasn’t sure how long they would need my passport. So stop one on the itinerary, after dropping off my bags at the office of my gracious host (more on him soon), was the consulate. 15 minutes later and AUD 90 poorer I was told I would have my passport back in 2 days, on Friday. Fantastic. And such an easy process, thank god! This meant I could leave Sydney as early as Saturday, but I ended up staying until Tuesday morning.

I could write this Sydney post in two ways. First, the city itself. Second, the people who I hung out with there. This seems to be a trend in my posts and I don’t see it stopping. So for now, let’s start with the city.

Sydney has everything: tourist attractions, cultural institutions, great food options, fun bars and nightlife, beaches, parks, and a public transportation system that easily gets you around to all of it.

I enjoyed my time just walking around Sydney. I dedicated days to different parts of the city: Day 1 on Bondi Beach, Day 2 being a tourist in Circular Quay and The Rocks then hanging out in the hipster neighborhood of Newtown, Day 3 back to the beaches for the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk and out that night for Halloween at a club in Darling Harbour, Day 4 at Manly via the ferry, Day 5 out of the city at the Blue Mountains, and Day 6 again in the city for brunch, the Botanical Gardens, and some bar hopping in The Rocks.

Instead of going into detail on all of these, which could lead to a short-story-length post, I’ll just focus on some highlights.

1. Tourist wandering. I opted to be truly the backpacker and not pay for the tour of the Opera House (unnecessary when I’ve studied it in architecture class anyway) or the Harbour Bridge Climb. I walked up to, into and around the Opera House and was satisfied. I had no idea it was tiled! The patterned blue and white ceramic tiles totally surprised me. They’re beautiful up close. I could only go into the lobby and the bathrooms but for me that was still worth it just to see the mixture of wood and concrete that composes the interior. As for the bridge, I simply walked across it and back, enjoying a spectacular view of the harbor for free. I ended the walk at The Rocks to see the colonial architecture and wander through the free Museum of Contemporary Art (one of two free museums I went to, the other being the Art Gallery of New South Wales by the Botanical Gardens, another beautiful place to wander around for a day). It is totally possible to see wonderful tourist and cultural sites like this without paying exhorbitant amounts for it – a sentiment I will echo in my post about the Blue Mountains.

2. The beaches. There’s no way to talk about Sydney without talking about the beaches. It is just incredible to have a thriving city so close to such a beach culture. Bondi is great but I enjoyed the walk down past Bronte to Coogee more, the beaches getting less crowded and more chill as I got further away from the city center. But to me, Manly takes the cake. The ferry ride out is a nice start, and the beach itself is a perfect sand arc. I happened to be there on a crazy weather day, alternating between sunny heat and storms, but the lightening bolts just a few kilometers out to sea didn’t deter the dozens of surfers hovering in the water, waiting for their perfect wave. I watched them from behind the row of beach volleyball courts where a tournament was taking place. I was tempted to forget the rest of the East Coast and just take up the beach life of Manly, becoming a surf and beach volleyball bum.

3. The gastronomic scene. Sydney’s food and drink scene is like most major cities in the US. I was a follower of the gastronomic scene in SF and NYC during my time living in each, a lifestyle that doesn’t work with being a backpacker, but I enjoyed being around it all again. From healthy salads in Bondi to the best brunch I’ve had in 5 months at The Grounds in Alexandria (seriously go here, it’s got amazing food and coffee that is roasted right on the premises, indoor and outdoor seating, a bar and great Italian food market next door, and even a small petting zoo) to a simple burger and glass of red wine at a corner pub, I had some great food moments in Sydney. My evening in Newtown probably wins this category. Thanks to the suggestion of a friend I had a great night out in this neighborhood, starting with beers in the beergarden of The Courthouse Hotel then moving to a 2 for 1 dinner at Coopers Hotel (surprisingly fantastic considering the deal) and back to the Courthouse for more beers and pool. This is definitely the kind of neighborhood I could see myself spending a lot of time in if I ever lived in Sydney.

Looking back, I am happy to remember how much I liked Sydney. I didn’t mean to spend 6 days there but I’m glad I did. Why did I spend 6 days there? Well, I knew I wanted to be there for Halloween (Friday night), that I wanted to get to the Blue Mountains for a day trip, and that I had to get my Vietnam visa sorted, so this meant I would leave Sunday or Monday. By the time all that was figured out, flight prices were not in my favor for those days; my cheapest option was to leave at 6:00 am on Tuesday morning (thanks to a Jetstar insider tip from a friend that will get its own post). It was my first week in the most expensive country I’m going to in this trip, so the cheapest option had to win.

I don’t regret staying there longer at all. Sydney was fantastic, and now that I’ve finally written about my time there I want to go back. One day maybe. For now, I’ll just work on the second post about the people there, keep the nostalgia going.

Indie Flight Help

When I was in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile I received an email from Indie: your flight on November 27th from Sydney to Bangkok has been cancelled. It was the end of August and I was in a remote town in South America. Normally, this would be an “oh shit I have to waste some time at the hostel finding a new flight” moment, but not with Indie.

The email included the alternative flight that the airline carrier was offering me, which happened to necessitate an overnight in Manila, and asked if that was okay with me or if I would prefer a refund and a new flight. I responded that I would rather not have an overnight in Manila and my days were flexible, and after a short correspondence the team at Indie was able to cancel and refund that flight, and book me on a new flight now out of Melbourne to Bangkok (so I didn’t have to return to Sydney on my way out of Australia).

Just a few emails and that was it, problem solved.

Thank you Indie. I can’t say enough about how great this website is for flight planning. I already raved about it when I found and purchased my itinerary through it, and now it helped me solve a flight issue completely painlessly.

If you are thinking about booking a RTW trip, or really any trip, take a look at Indie. It may become your new best flight booking friend.

Looking Ahead

I’m anxious to get to Asia.

Don’t get me wrong, New Zealand and Australia are wonderful countries. But after South America and knowing I have Southeast Asia coming up, this isn’t the kind of travel I really want to be doing.

Australia is full of gap year Europeans hopping along the East Coast from one goon-filled tour to the next. I admit, I got swept up into an East Coast plan too – how can you not when you’re offered things like spending 3 days sailing around the Whitsundays or driving a 4WD around the largest sand island in the world? There’s a reason this is a popular route: it has great activities.

But I’m ready to get out of this route. I miss the travelers of South America, the people who took a chance to go somewhere completely different from home and discover adventures along the way instead of having them laid out in a travel package. The solo travelers who unite in their love of backpacking around that continent and embrace a flexibility that allows them to continue their travel together across new borders.

I miss the challenge of South America. Every day was unique, filled with language barriers, transportation questions, distinctive environments, and new stimulants for all the senses. The warm showers and drinkable water are great things, but I will happily trade them for the excitement of making the unknown known.

I hope that Asia will be the experience I am craving. It will be different too and have its own perks, quirks, and lows, and I am excited to find out what they are.

I realize this is a strange post to write before I even start talking about my time in Australia, but it’s where I’m at right now mentally and it would be wrong to not mention it for the sake of chronology. I will write plenty of positive things about my time here soon, but with just 10 days left until I leave this country I can’t help but shake this anxious feeling.