Month: December 2014

I See Dead People in Hanoi

Hanoi is insanity personified, if you replace person with city (is there such a term?). If you thought motorbikes in HCMC were a problem, try Hanoi. It’s utter chaos. Only some major streets have traffic lights so the area you mostly walk around – the Old Town – is just a free-for-all. I resumed my old NYC jaywalking awareness. Whenever it looked remotely ok, full speed ahead, confident that I would make it to the other side. Somehow this worked. It was when cars got involved that it all went wrong. Motorcycles move quickly, much like people, and as long as everyone kept the same speed we were able to time it right and not interfere with each other without missing a beat. As soon as a car appeared, looking like a huge beast compared to the rest of us, the dance was thrown off. Speeds had to change, caution had to be practiced. It made me wonder if we’d all be better off with just motorbikes and pedestrians, something that is impossible in our world.

Hanoi, former capitol of North Vietnam, is now the capitol of all of Vietnam. I started my visit with one of the most important sites: Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. It took a while to even find the entrance but I eventually fell into line with everyone else approaching the impressive structure. Then I got inside and holy shit there he is! I’m staring at a dead man! I can see his facial hair! For some reason I didn’t process the fact that YOU CAN SEE HO CHI MINH. He’s not in a coffin, he’s right there inside transparent glass. I started my day by circumnavigating a dead man. Yup, that happened.

I got over the shock by hovering next to some tour guides outside of the building listening to the history of Ho Chi Minh, the Uncle of Vietnam, main proponent for unification who never got to see his efforts come to fruition (he died in 1969, Vietnam was unified in 1971).

The other highlight of my tourist wanderings in Hanoi was wandering through the Temple of Literature. The temple is dedicated to Confucious and his teachings. It’s a procession through and around 5 courtyards and it’s beautiful. I spent a while making my way through the complex, pausing to take in a temple here or a bonsai tree there. 20,000 VND well spent.

By the time I made it back to the main part of the Old Town I was starving. A nice lady who was running a pho stand on a street corner caught my eye at the right time: “one?” Sure, this place looked as good as any. It was the best pho of my life. I love how they give you a bowl with the noodles, meat and broth, and the rest is up to you. You can make it as simple or as spicy as you want. Of course the way I make it my noise was running uncontrollably and I loved it.

My two nights in Hanoi were different but both enjoyable. Night one I met a friendly dormmate from Mexico who had been in Hanoi for a bit but whose friends had already moved on, so he took me to a cool bar that he’d been to once before, Bar Betta. This would be a place I’d frequent (especially the free Wednesday night beer hour) if I spent more time in Hanoi. It has a very chill retro vibe, huge beers, eclectic seating options, and an expansive rooftop. Of course the guy at the table next to us was from San Francisco.

Night two was my last night in Vietnam and I was alone, which is what I had wanted. I went to a bun cha place that some people on my Halong Bay boat had recommended and it was one of the tastiest meals of my trip. Bun cha is a do-it-yourself experience: you get some fried (I think?) pork and some white vegetable (I think?) in broth, with a side of more of the white stuff in broth, a plate of herbs and lettuce, and a bowl of chilis. Again, as spicy or as bland as you want. Wash it down with a Hanoi beer and it’s the most filling and delicious $4 dinner you’ve ever had. Also by recommendation I had an egg coffee for a nightcap. It sounds like Manhattan’s famous egg cream, which I have to admit I’ve never actually had, but if they’re at all similar I have to get one when I visit Manhattan next. Egg coffee is basically coffee with whipped egg white but it tastes like liquid tiramisu. It is rich, creamy, decidant, dessert-worthy, and delicious. And not the thing to have when you have to wake up at 4 am for a flight. Oops.

Quick shoutout to my hostel, Hanoi Hostel. It’s tiny, just 2 8-bed dorms and one more room that we think may have been private, but for just $5 a night you get breakfast – egg, toast, fresh fruit, tea and coffee – and an hour of free beer every day. Plus huge lockers under the bed, warm showers (bathroom is better in the girls room), and a lovely rooftop on which you can enjoy the freebies.

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Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, land of the motorcycles. When we landed Mer and Lois told me to be ready, we were about to be surrounded. I don’t think there’s any way to be ready. The motorcycles swarmed around us like bees in a hive; the road was theirs, we were intruders made mercy to their whims. But more on them in a bit. It was an entertaining ride in to say the least.

It was my last night with Mer and Lois so we toasted to a great trip with prosecco, red wine, and a much-needed (for me at least) steak tenderloin. Yum. I still had another night at the hotel though, the end of my break from the backpacker life before I would return to cheap multiple bed dorm rooms and shared bathrooms. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Not like Ho Chi Minh City wasn’t great, but a plushy queen bed with movies on TV and a final massage was just what I needed to decompress from the Amanoi experience and get ready to take on the next part of my trip. Again, thank you Lois and Jack. Seriously. I feel so lucky.

So Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon. It’s huge. It’s like any modern metropolis; constantly busy, too big to get everywhere on foot, with different neighborhoods all offering different experiences. There’s a lot of history in HCMC, former capital of South Vietnam (when it was still Saigon). I saw this walking around past the old train station, Cathedral, Imperial Palace, a visit to the Jade Emperor Pagoda, and the War Remnants Museum.

For starters, I’d like to elaborate on “walking around” for a minute. I like to walk around cities without headphones, hear the noises that come with it, but in HCMC you can’t hear anything over the buzz of motorcycles. At stoplights they look like an army ready to pounce as soon as the order is given. Green light, ATTACK! They don’t care if a car is coming or trying to turn, the car must wait until they let it ford the river; the bike is the king of the road here not the car. As a pedestrian you just have to take a breath and move forward with confidence, telling yourself the motorcycles will not hit you. It’s possible to walk around, but it’s not easy. More than once a motortaxi driver mounted his bike just to make sure I got across the street ok. I figured it out though and I started to see it like spiders in the Amazon: if you don’t attack them they won’t attack you; if you keep your pace then the motorcycles will keep theirs and everyone is safe. It ended up being good training ground for Hanoi (which is even worse with the bikes, if you can believe it).

I went to the Jade Emperor Pagoda on a Sunday, which I’m guessing had something to do with why it was so crowded. I enjoyed seeing it this way; instead of quietly walking around an empty temple, I saw people using it as it should be used, lighting incense and making motions in their prayers to Buddha. The smell of incense was overwhelming, unescapable, wafting around me as I roamed through the networks of rooms. From the appearance it’s easy to see that this temple has been around for a long time. I felt like I’d stepped back in time when I was in there.

The War Remnants Museum was a harder experience. It’s mostly dedicated to the American War, or what we refer to as the Vietnam War. The images and stories in this museum I could never imagine being present in a museum in the US. It was honestly a little uncomfortable to be in there as an American. On my way back to the hotel I encountered another American who had trained with forces that fought in Vietnam, the war ending before his own deployment by just a few months. The helicopter he was learning to fly was in the images. He felt obviously much worse than I did, and I already wasn’t feeling so good. It was interesting to see how the other perspective talks about the war. When we were touring around Dalat with Thanh he spoke to us about what was happening when the US entered into war with Vietnam, and we learned things we’d never heard before. We appreciated the honesty. All of this (and more in Cambodia) just made me question what else is left out of our history lessons. Tons, I’m sure.

When the time came to leave Ho Chi Minh City I was ready. I had been told in the past to skip it, but I think it’s worth a visit. On my way back through a week later (between Hanoi and Cambodia) I briefly encountered the backpacker area of the city and it seemed like a bustling fun place to stay. If I ever go back I’d try it out.

We Went for Relaxation, We Got Spiritual Bootcamp

I’ve been wrestling with how to write about Amanoi and have come to the conclusion that there is no right way to write about it so whatever comes out will have to do.

I have never experienced anything like an Aman resort. I don’t want to go into detail about the resort itself, both because I don’t think it’s necessary here and because I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone else, so I’ll just say that it was the kind of place I thought only existed in hearsay, that I would never experience in my lifetime, and I feel very fortunate to have been there. It was another level.

Amanoi was somewhere we went for ultimate relaxation in a remote, beautiful setting. Perched on a hill with no other buildings nearby, it was peacefully removed from the bustle of civilization. Within minutes from our little apartment (bungalow? residence? pavilion?) we could be at the Cliff Pool with an unobstructed view of green mountains cascading into ocean, or we could be at the Beach Pool with just a private strip of sand separating us from the water’s edge (both infinity pools, btw). Even bad weather didn’t ruin the serenity; our private residence felt like it was alone, and being able to order anything (aka cocktails) right to our door helped us find no reason to leave for an afternoon.

What we sought at the Amanoi was an escape for a few days to recharge, which is why what I got out of the Amanoi was entirely unexpected.

It started innocently enough: yoga at 8 am on the pavilion hovering over the lily pond. I didn’t know I could enjoy Ashtanga Yoga, the kind that focuses on breathing and stretching, moving slowly in order to center yourself, but I did. I went to 8 am yoga every morning we were there and would like to keep it going in the future. Then Meredith signed up for 7 am meditation one day and invited me to join. I’ve meditated a few times in the past and always found I had a curiosity for it so I happily went with her. That’s when everything shifted.

Our 50 minute meditation session with the Spa Manager reached both of us in ways that are hard to describe. My experience was not what I expected it to be but had a definite effect on me, which took a little while to realize and evolved as the day went on. It prompted me, with some encouragement from Mer, to speak to our meditation leader – who I have taken to calling “the Yogi” – later that evening. Our conversation was important for me in this trip and in life. He knew things about me that he had no reason to know, and reaffirmed things that I didn’t know needed reaffirming. After our conversation I sat in the bath for a while – I don’t remember the last time I took a long bubble bath – trying to process what just happened. I needed some me time.

What came out of this encounter was hard to understand. On the one hand I felt empowered, gifted an insight into myself that I wouldn’t have readily come to at that time. On the other hand I felt a little turned upside down. Did that really happen? Was I really that affected by the Yogi?

Leaving the Amanoi felt strange. It was like an alternative universe, one that turned my normal one upside down. It led to a lot of self-reflection, a lot of emotional ups and downs, and necessitated some time to myself before I could move forward. I got that in the next few days and was able to move past the slight bewilderment I was experiencing in the days immediately following.

Now I can say that I am still curious about meditation, having kept it up since then. I am in a very spiritual part of the world that has always intrigued me. It is not coincidental that all of this happened here; if anything I should have seen something like this coming. So as I continue my Southeast Asia portion I am curious to see what happens with this side of me. Will I keep going in this meditating inner-self-discovery direction? Considering that I just tried to type “or realize that it was a temporary experience and go back to my closed-off life” and deleted and retyped and redeleted it a few times, I think I probably will continue. At least for now.

This is why the Amanoi was not what I expected it to be, but also why it was an important stop for me in this journey. I realize this could be a kind of out there post for some people, but if anyone wants to talk to me about it I welcome it. This journey has become a spiritual one as well as a physical one, around the world and the self.

Dalat + Easy Rider = Joy

My adoration of Dalat was instant. As soon as our car recklessly overtook motorcycles on bends you couldn’t see around on an uphill mountain road I felt like I’d found my Minca of Vietnam.

Dalat is a village nestled into the hills of Southeast Vietnam. It has a French Colonial history that contributes to its picturesque appearance. The city is busy but not overwhelming, organized around a river and surrounded by lush jungle and farmland. It didn’t hurt that we were staying in a gorgeous French Colonial villa from the 1920’s, one of the most casually beautiful places I’ve ever stayed.

Our first day in Dalat was flat out awesome. Mer and I went on an Easy Rider mortorcycle tour of the countryside with fantastic guides Thanh and Leo. On the back of a motorcycle cruising along winding mountian roads with nothing but open landscape around us I felt my mouth curve into a huge smile. This was pure joy.

We spent all day roaming the countryside, stopping to see: one of the flower plantations, Dalat’s main export; a coffee farm that specializes in weasel coffee (the weasel eats the bean, which is then retrieved from its feces and turned into extremely strong and expensive coffee, which of course we tried and were subsequently wired for the next few hours) and hand-loomed silk crafts; the Elephant Falls, where I scaled down a treacherous, wet, rocky path to get underneath them; a Buddhist temple built only 10 years ago, since this area used to be predominantly Catholic due to its French history; a silk factory, where we saw and were fascinated by the entire process from worm to silk yarn; some incredibly delicious local pho bo; a taste of rice wine, both pure and fermented with snake (I preferred the snake version, it was surprisingly sweet); and the Crazy House, which was indeed crazy, insane really, and totally impractical, as well as unsafe – it was a construction zone with no rails and narrow high staircases.

Obviously we covered a lot but it was all great to see and by the end of the day I felt like we really got a feel for the area around Dalat. When we returned we toasted to the awesome day – yo! – while we watched the video Leo put together.

The next day Lois, Mer and I did a city-focused tour with Thanh, full of history, the beautiful Truc Lac temple, and some riverside chillin’ time. The rainy weather couldn’t hold us back from seeing more of what Dalat had to offer (rain was a trend for us, we had a rainy day in each of the 3 locations we went in Vietnam). We celebrated a fantastic stay in Dalat that evening with wine tasting at the hotel in one of the best locations I’ve ever seen: an attic wine cellar. We even made friends with the hotel manager who did the tasting with us, all sharing a bottle of wine when we were done. I really missed wine. It was all so good.

Dalat is definitely a highlight of my time in Vietnam. The town is charming, the country beautiful, and the people friendly. I’ve recommended it to everyone going to Vietnam. It also helped further solidify that I am a mountains person. Beaches are nice but I’ll take a motorcycle ride around the mountains any day.

6 Months

Today is officially 6 months since I left the US. June 21 – December 21.

Technically, this means I have just 3 months left of my trip.

Realistically, I’m thinking this is halfway.

The past 6 months have been incredible. Setting out on this journey I knew I would have a life-changing experience but I had no idea how it would happen. I couldn’t have predicted the specifics – my reaction to the different locations, the fast bonds I formed with people, the parts of myself that have flourished, diminished, or been discovered along the way – but I could have predicted that at this point I would be addicted to the nomadic lifestyle.

Which is why it is too hard to give it up just yet. I’ve had my ups and downs, complete with “best time of my life” statements and the unfortunate travel fatigue, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Those moments are what make this trip complete. I’ve come to a place now where I am excited about the path of self-discovery that I am on, in addition to the ever-present excitement about the new places I am seeing. It has been a long journey to get here and it’s not over, not even close.

I don’t have any stats to give about how many miles I’ve traveled but I can say that I’ve been to 12 countries across 3 continents so far, all with their own language barriers and currency conversions, and might be adding a few new ones that weren’t on the original itinerary. I can say that there are certain cities, countries, or regions that have meant more to me than others and that I eagerly hope to return to one day. I can say that I have become comfortable with alone time, self-sufficiency, flexibility, embracing the unknown, overcoming obstacles, engaging strangers in conversation, and using hand signals to communicate. I can say that I miss people around the world who I did and did not know when I left 6 months ago, and that I have and will reunite with a handful of them as I keep going. To the people I knew before, you still mean the world to me, and I am so happy we’ve kept in touch. To the people I met in the past 6 months, you have made this experience the absolute best it could be and I thank you and can’t wait to see you all again, in the near or far future.

With the New Year approaching 2014 recaps are flooding social media. It’s hard for me to even process my 2014. It began when I officially declared I would be leaving on this adventure, and at the halfway point I boarded my first flight. Half a year dedicated to see-you-soon’s and half a year dedicated to nice-to-meet-you’s. It’s undoubtedly my most interesting year of life so far.

So cheers to 2014 and to 6 months gone by already. Hard to believe how fast it went, easy to believe how awesome it was.

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The Ups and Downs of Our Time in DaNang

It’s hard to know where to begin writing about my first 10 days in Vietnam.

I was fortunate to have kind, generous family come to see me on this part of my trip who treated me to an unbelievable break from the backpacker lifestyle. Absurdly nice hotels, spa treatments, comfortable beds, amazing food, wine and scotch – it was a perfectly timed break at 5 months in. And really the best part was seeing the familiar faces of family. I hope I was able to express to them how much their visit meant to me, but just in case I wasn’t and they read this: I can’t thank you enough Jack, Lois and Meredith, it was fantastic.

After my night in the Bangkok airport I met up with the fam in the Ho Chi Minh City airport before immediately boarding a flight to DaNang, our first Vietnam location. Meredith described DaNang as Hawaii combined with Las Vegas in Vietnam and I think it’s pretty accurate. A moderate skyline with new towers under construction juts up against a picture perfect beach that stretches for miles. As soon as we spotted the beach on the drive in we all got very excited. Unfortunately though we weren’t able to enjoy it. We had two days in DaNang, one mostly spent in nearby Hoi An and one for the beach, and on our beach day it rained all day. The most time we spent on the beach was between the hours of 11 pm and 2 am enjoying our nightcaps of scotch on the rocks. Typical family stuff.

The day in Hoi An was lovely though. It’s a charming town due to the well-preserved colonial architecture. The market is huge and a great place to find everything from clothes to souvenirs to food to a duffel bag to bring home all the clothes you bought there (yes that actually did happen). I encountered the overly polite Vietnamese selling tactic in Hoi An: instead of simply pushing their product on us, people asked about us or complimented us – where are you from? beautiful family. – initiating a short conversation before getting around to what they would like to sell us. We politely declined but it was at least a more pleasant exchange than expected.

Our favorite surprise of the day was a quiet wine bar nestled behind a jewelry store with drop dead gorgeous items. We had a lot of fun in there before relaxing in a quiet courtyard sipping on a delightful rose. This was followed by lunch, where I had the best fresh spring rolls of my life. The beginning of my love affair with Vietnamese food, as everyone told me I would have.

With so much to offer Hoi An was a great place to wander around for a day.

The rest of our time in DaNang centered around relaxation and spa time. We ventured into town for dinner one night at the Waterfront, a delicious spot overlooking the river that’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the mood for a splurge. From their second floor balcony we could watch the motorbike traffic below (and the helpful man whose sole job appeared to be helping people cross the street) and the main event on a Saturday night: the dragon bridge breathing fire for a few minutes.

Floating Orbs

Floating Orbs

It would be wrong to leave out the story of our last night in DaNang, but I’m not sure how to even describe what we unexpectedly experienced. We had dinner at the Intercontinental. After a pretty long drive out to the other side of a peninsula we arrived at the complex of small buildings nestled into a hillside; the only buildings in sight belonged to the hotel. The isolation in the darkness started the creepy impression, and the rain increased it. We had to take a funicular down to the bar, which operated at a snail’s pace. Where were all the people? The whole place seemed empty and the bar was no different. Back up the funicular to dinner, where we ate in floating orbs over water outside the main building overlooking what is the ocean during the day, but at night in the rain it was just an eerie black expanse. The decoration of the whole place was trippy, overdone, and begged the question, “What drug was the designer on?” In fact the whole place made us feel like we’d been drugged into a hallucinogenic state, a bad trip, a crazy world that we couldn’t escape. Meredith and I started talking about playing in our Grandparents’ house, reverting to the inner recesses of our childhood memories. No one could talk until we got back in the cab. Then we laughed hysterically the whole way home. Strange to the max.

It was a quick visit to DaNang, an up-and-coming coastal metropolis in Vietnam. Overshadowed by its quaint neighbor Hoi An, I don’t know if I would have made it there on my own, but it’s worth a day or two if you’re in the area. The city is an interesting history of modernization; all around the beachfront there are abandoned construction projects from past booming days. Across the road from new mid-rise buildings are fields of crops with small shacks for homes. Every once in a while a modern three-story-high one-room-wide little tower interrupts the landscape; new structures on old small plots. DaNang feels like it’s in the middle of a regeneration but hasn’t yet eliminated its past failed attempts. It would be an interesting place to return to in a few years to see how it’s progressing.

The End of Part 2: My Feelings After Australasia

With my departure from Australia I ended Part 2 of my RTW trip. I always knew that the Australasia portion would be a familiar breather in the middle of disparate South America and Asia, and it was part of the reason I included it where I did. A recharge if you will, with modern amenities and plenty of beach time. Plus I had always wanted to go there, and that was the whole premise of this trip – go to the places I’ve always wanted to go.

So you can imagine my surprise when I left Australasia feeling disappointed, lost, and questioning myself. I had just come from the best travel of my life in South America and I missed everything I had experienced there, from the locations to the people. New Zealand still had enough of a new place feel to keep me going, but Australia was unexpectedly hard for me. The tours, the kids, the prices, the beaches – it all came together to make me miss the unpredictable world I’d left behind.

When I think back to my month in Australia none of it is really negative. Noosa was the low point, but it was short-lived. Whitsundays, Byron Bay, Melbourne, and Sydney were all great locations that I would happily recommend to everyone. But there’s something about the impression of the overall trip that left me with a bad taste.

But I’ve come to realize that Australia served a purpose. I now know without a doubt what kind of travel I want to be doing on this trip. Organized tours and giant party hostels may have been great when I was in a different place in life, but where I’m at right now they are not for me. This was important to learn as I still have a few months of travel left and those types of things will not be left behind in Australasia.

Having said that, I still want to go back to these countries. I would love to go back to Wanaka for a season, with a few trips to the last places I didn’t make it to on my first NZ round. And I already have a route in mind for a 3 month Australia road trip. I bet you can guess none of it will be on the East Coast. I want to go to the West Coast and the interior desert; I think if I had done that trip I would have left highly satisfied. But everyone should see the East Coast once in their lives, and it’s probably better I did it before I had even more distance between myself and the other travelers, so I don’t regret the route I took at all.

Now that I’ve separated myself from those two months I look back fondly. Really I can’t imagine regretting any part of this year, and if I thought I would regret it then I would have left much earlier. There’s no reason to stay anywhere that doesn’t feel right. And I am happy to have learned more about the places and ways I want to be travelling; it is a valuable lesson for me.

So with that, I said goodbye to the familiar and embarked on Part 3. Asia would be a whole new experience with tougher language barriers and spicier street food meals, and I couldn’t wait to see what it was all about.

A Road Trip Reunion for the Great Ocean Road

I had to fit in one last road trip before I left Australasia. Everyone said to go see the Great Ocean Road (GOR) if I had time (advice I will echo to future travelers). Not only did I have time, but I was lucky enough to have a friend with a car and a free Monday who was willing to take me on a day trip. Josi and I were going out on the road again.

As per usual with our road trip history in NZ, the weather was pretty bad. But we went for it anyway; this was the one day we had together for the trip so we were going rain or shine. I’m happy we did.

The drive is beautiful, although I’m sure more so in sunny weather. About halfway down we took a turn off onto the road where we were most likely to see koalas. Luckily there were no cars behind us as we crept down the road scanning the treetops. Then Josi hit the breaks: “koala!” We jumped out of the car and sure enough she had spotted one way up high. As I took pictures it clearly looked down at us. I jumped for joy – I finally saw an Aussie animal in the wild! And a koala, which are notoriously hard to spot.

When we could tear ourselves away we continued at our snails pace and this time it was my turn to yell out “koala!” This one was not happy we were making noises in its direction and it openly complained about t. Koalas make the strangest sound! It’s rare to hear it as a tourist so I felt really lucky. We were also lucky because this one wasn’t alone; another was up in the same tree and a mom and baby were across the street.

We moved on again, already happy with our 5 koalas, when we saw a few cars pulled over up ahead – 2 more koalas, another mom and baby. And this time there were kangaroos too! About half a dozen in a field just hanging out. More animals! I was skipping around like a giddy child. Another couple hundred meters and we had to stop again – 4 more koalas, and active ones. We saw one jump and climb up a tree (and stop for a pee break as I was filming him), and a couple had some lunch. They were all so close to the road. People were all around taking tons of pictures; I was right there with them. The next koala we saw we didn’t even stop for. We were up to 12 now. Even Josi was shocked, she’d never seen so many in a day. Later Gus, her fiancee, told us it was mating season, which explained why they were around and awake.

On our way back out the same road I saw a black kangaroo jumping around. At this point I was happy with the drive just for the animals; I finally saw them and not in a zoo. Seeing animals in the wild is always better.

We drove on, stopping for a quick fish and chips lunch (had to get one of those before I left), and made it to the first of the 12 Apostles just as the weather hit peak shittiness. We still got out and climbed down to the road. The tan cliff face and lone Apostle were imposing sites. This was my favorite vista of the drive. We were alone on the beach surrounded by the sheer awesomeness of Australia’s coastline. It was stunning even in the overcast misty rain.

It wasn’t much further to the main 12 Apostles visitor center, our final destination, which we shared with hoards of tourists. This was supposed to be the peak moment of the GOR but the strong wind, cold rain, and masses of people really took away from the experience. It was still impressive, I get why everyone goes here and still recommend stopping by, but we didn’t linger. We were also very disappointed with the visitor center: it was just a kiosk, no information on the Apostles at all. I googled them on our way out for at least a little history.

We turned around and drove back up to Josi’s. As we reached the end of the GOR we saw a huge rainbow; we were actually able to see where it ended in the ocean. To our chagrin it was too far out into the water to look for the gold, but to me it signaled a happy end to a great day trip.

It was so fun being back on the road with Josi for a day, a throwback to how we got to know each other in NZ. And beyond that, Josi and Gus welcomed me into their home, and I am so thankful to them both for their hospitality and their friendship. The night before the GOR drive I took the train out to Geelong to stay at their house so we could get up early the next day. Josi picked me up at the train station and we greeted each other with a huge hug. When we got to the house I was so excited to meet her fiancee Gus, who I’d heard so much about, and of course he was fantastic too. We all had dinner together and Josi and I finished off a bottle of wine catching up. It felt like I was staying with old friends who I just hadn’t seen in a while. On our way home the next night we picked up kangaroo burgers and made dinner together. Gus is an excellent gardener so I was treated to fresh veggies and salad picked right from the backyard to go with the burgers. It was a delicious meal.

I was sad to say bye to Josi and Gus that night; I really felt so welcome in their home. It’s a testament to how great they are and I’ll always remember them as some of the most kind-hearted friends I met on this trip. I would say I’m sad I don’t know if or when I’ll see them again but I don’t have to worry about that. Josi and Gus I haven’t forgotten – Burning Man 2016. See you there.

Melbourne Felt Comfortable and Apparently that was the Problem

Everywhere I went I met people who told me how much I was going to like Melbourne. Whether they were from there, at some point lived there, or had just visited, the overwhelming opinion was that it was one of the best cities in the world, and as a former San Francisco resident its hipsteresque street art and coffee-obsessed culture, abundance of trams (the cable car’s cousin), and ocean-side but a bit too cold to really enjoy it location would feel a little like home.

There was some merit to this opinion. Melbourne is a manageable city with a lot of appeal. But it was that “a little like home” that everyone said I would like that ended up being the problem. Let me back up…

My days in Melbourne felt different than simply visiting a city; I was hanging out with friends in a city. Four days spent with four friends I’d met across my travels: Steve, an Irishman I’d wandered around Iguazu with for a day back in June; Josie, my German road trip companion from New Zealand; Kelly, an Aussie native I’d met at my Puerto Iguazu hostel also back in June; and Alex, an American I’d met just a few days earlier in Byron Bay. Each friend is intertwined with different parts of the city in my memory. It’s amazing how I knew Steve for a day, Kelly for 2, Alex for 2, and Josi for 12 – and none of them before this trip – and it felt so normal just hanging out with them in Melbourne. It was a nice way to experience the city. A little more normal.

So, back to Melbourne. It has a lot of things I really like. For starters, it has expansive parks for all sorts of recreation (Steve and I biked through them). It’s close to water, both the river and ocean, and as a bonus this ocean has little penguins at the St. Kilda pier that I got to see at dusk one night. It has day markets like the St. Kilda Sunday Market on the Esplanade (where I got my new rings and some gifts) and night markets like the Queen Victoria Night Market on Wednesdays (explored with Alex) – the place I had a sampling of emu, crocodile and alligator (alligator wins) – and the temporary Noodle Market, which I wandered through but didn’t eat at, although it smelled fantastic. These reminded me of SF’s Off the Grid and Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg. It has neighborhoods to stroll around and enjoy a snack or beverage. My choices were a flat white and caramel slice in Fitzroy (the neighborhood I would live in if I moved to Melbourne) and a chicken focaccia and a glass of wine in a laneway in the CBD. Both highly enjoyable experiences. It has extensive public transportation; the trams felt like SF’s MUNI system all rolled into one, like the above-ground part of the T ran on all the bus routes all over the city. It has some history and lots of culture, as I found out on the Free Walking Tour with Kelly (do it! really good one). The street art is abundant and great, and I got to pretend to be a student in the National Gallery of Victoria by eavesdropping on a class lesson in a gallery. And from what I saw, it has a great gastronomic scene. From Mexican-Korean fusion carnitas sandwiches enjoyed riverside (with Steve) to healthy quinoa and kale salad and zucchini fritters enjoyed literally on the river at Ponyfish Island (with Kelly) to a fantastic view over the city at The Rooftop Bar (with Alex), I got to have a little taste of my old home dining life.

What I’m getting to is that Melbourne is a great city. I could have easily spent more time there reverting back to normal city life. But that was my problem – Melbourne felt too normal. It could easily be in the US, they would just have to change the Macca’s sign back to McDonald’s. I was already feeling anxious about the similarity of Australia to the US so ending with a city that felt so much like home was the period at the end of the sentence. It was time to leave Australia. I needed to get back out to the different that I experienced in South America. I needed Asia.

So when the time came to board my flight, I admit, I wasn’t sad. Nothing against Melbourne, I enjoyed the city, but the timing was wrong. I was just ready to move on to my next adventure.