Month: December 2014

One and a Half Years..

December 4, 2014

ONE AND A HALF YEARS! 😳 I can’t believe it’s been so long since I left the States and flew to the Philippines. It seems like yesterday.. Then again it seems like an entire lifetime ago. I still remember landing in Manila at night and trying to find my way to the hostel. Manila sure was an intense place to start and was a highlight for sure as I got to meet some of my friends from Instagram to show me around. The Philippines to date are still the most beautiful islands I’ve ever seen. Ten countries later, I’ve still seen nothing like it. I was still getting acquainted to life in Asia during my time here. I still wasn’t sure how to barter efficiently, nor how to figure out the busses/boats nor other ways to help save money. I took planes everywhere and definitely surpassed the budget. Palawan was immaculate. Boracay was touristy and Cebu was nice to see an old Jesuit friend. When I flew to Vietnam I stared to get my rhythm with life in Asia. I took busses, not planes, ate more at food carts opposed to restaurants and other things to help extend my budget as long as possible. In Vietnam I made my first solid group of friends with whom I would travel and experience this country with. I also unexpectedly ran into Rachel Adams aka Rowdy Rae in Mui Ne and stayed a whole two weeks catching up w my old college friend. Vietnam was learning how to ride motorcycles and drive in the traffic. It was filled with culture activities & sightseeing during the day and wild times at night. Da Lat was a breezy cultural town with kites flown at dusk. Hoi An was my favorite town and Ha Long Bay is in my top five things I’ve seen. The towering limestone rocks of Ha Long Bay is a must see. It ended up with a retreat in Sapa where I experienced my first “being sick on the road.” A week in bed fighting off some sort of bronchitis wasn’t a fond memory for sure. During my two and a half months in Vietnam I bolted over to Singapore and stayed with one of my best friends, Catherine Juliano. That was an epic time as we were able to meet David Beckham & Gordon Ramsey and sit at their table at the nightclub. Long story. Was wild. Most importantly it was nice to see Catherine since she left Colorado nearly 2 years prior and I hadn’t seen her since. Next was my first stop in Thailand. I flew into Bangkok and was greeted by Brien Silver, a Jesuit friend. He told me about Koh Chang, an island near the Cambodia/Thailand border and I went and retreated there for a week with two great guys. We rented motorbikes and explored that island head to toe. Memory are the two oxen that casually grazed up to my hut most nights. Then I headed North through Sukhothai, Chiang Mai and Pie. Chiang Mai & Pai was another definitive time where I met a group of amazing people whom I would see a lot moving forward. Memories of there mainly is the peaceful feeling there as it’s a lot of Buddhist temples, monks and general Buddhist vibes. I did a retreat with elephants in Chiang Mai and spent the day with these gentle giants caring for them. In Pai, my wonderful ladyboy friend Sarah kept us all nice and fat with her spectacular food. Memories include renting motorbikes and driving in one direction through the mountains until we nearly reached Burma. At least the sign said so, I think. After that month passed I headed into Laos on a two day slow boat journey down river. This was my first moment of really getting blown away and overtaken by a culture. The Lao people are the most adorable beings ever. They’re so timid, quiet, gentle and shy it made me want to take each one of them home! I would always take time to communicate w them and at first they would always look down and act real shy until finally feeling comfortable being near this strange looking being in their country. I met Jonh, the boy who was the best teacher I’ve met on this trip. He stole my heart and thinking about him still will bring me to tears. He and his brother, taking me into their homes and the conversations still engrained in my memory is something I can’t explain nor will ever be able to. Going down Laos through Vang Vieng was a party on the river. Not much culture but a good time none the less. Don Det, Laos was rich in culture and I remember exploring the rice fields and playing games w the children. Hoping into Cambodia signals a memory of the longest bus ride I’ve taken to date. I think we left Laos at 7am and arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia around 4am? It was full on bumpy roads and I had a migraine and a neck ache just hours into the journey. Then the tuk tuk driver took us to this dodgy hostel where we got scammed. Ha! Oh the scams.. Siem Reap visiting Angkor Wat temples was also in my top five things I’ve experienced. The energy in that place will make your hair stand up. It’s remarkable. I also did my first teaching abroad here. That sparked a flame, was incredible. Next I went to a small town where I fell ill again over Halloween 2013. I booked it down to Koh Rong which was one if the most prestige islands as well. It was quite a party there on this island that has no roads. The locals here were great and I remember joining a local party where they danced in a circle around a stereo I think as they passed each other bottles of booze. I remember all the local women watching in and only local men were dancing in the circle. I then bolted to Phenom Penh where I learned about the genocide in Cambodia just decades prior. Was a difficult day as you learned the intricacies of events. Next I bolted to Indonesia where my whole world got flipped upside down. My Couchsurfing host scammed me out of +$3,500 by using my cards without my permission to buy phones. Indonesia was stressful because I had no cards and thought everyone was out to get me. It’s a shame. I was saved in Malang by three Instagram friends who took me into their home and introduced me to this community. Next was a stop in Mount Bromo on the back of my friends motorbike. Standing on this volcano I swear my late friend Oli came to visit me. I felt his presence and it still gives me shivers. On my bus ride to Bali I verified it was indeed my Couchsurfing host because, by chance, a friend I made in Laos also had money stolen by a suspected Couchsurfing host.. He send me a photo and it happened to be the same guy. I still remember that moment when we figured it all out. I was trembling. Bali was alright. Probably the biggest time where my expectations heavily outweighed the reality. I think I was in the wrong head space too bc I was waiting for my debit card to arrive and it kept getting held up at customs. Nusa Lembongan and Gili T are the last two islands in Indonesia I visited. Gili T was also a top destination. Fun in paradise as it had quite a good nightlife. Met a great group of people there too who I miss still to this day. Next I flew to Malaysia and spent time in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Malaysia was a quick initial visit as I made my way back up to Thailand, this time doing the Southern part where the islands are. I island hopped like crazy going from Koh Kradan, to Koh Ngai, to Koh Phi Phi, to Krabi, to Koh Yang Nai, to Phuket, I Koh Panyan, to Koh Tao before heading to back Bangkok. These islands were also in my top five experiences. Krabi, specifically Tonsai Beach, was a highlight but so was everything else. Went to the full moon party for NYE, went to Maya Bay where they filmed “The Beach,” and had a family Christmas in a mansion overlooking the ocean. I got my open water certificate in Koh Tao and thought I got drugged in Koh Phanyan (nope, it was just the buckets). Also here is when the Couchsurfing ordeal came back to haunt me. I had posted online about the situation and it gain a lot of attention. Then the guy who stole from me retaliated and had some guy texting me saying he is after me and won’t stop until he finds me. He said he would find my family and take off each of my fingernails. lol. So, yea I was scared shitless for months always thinking I was going to get kidnapped and tortured any second. He said I was safe after I took down the post but who knows. Next, I flew to Burma aka Myanmar where I experienced my favorite country. Burma was my favorite. The people made it. Yangon was a rush. Everyone looked so curiously at us. Mandalay was spent with me playing games in the streets with the kids. Hsipaw channels memories of making friends w the locals and having them take me to places on their bike and refusing any sort of monetary payment. They did it out of the kindness of their hearts. I love them, so much. One of my top five spots is Bagan, a city filled with thousands of temples from centuries ago. I saw the most amazing sunrise with hot air balloons floating over the landscape of temples. For the first time I saw something so beautiful my eyes uncontrollably started crying. I also volunteered teaching English in a tiny mountain village. Their welcoming and incorporating me into their lives and families was a truly humbling experience. My students stole my heart and part of it still is there, never to leave. Htan Sant Village is the name and I hope one day to return. Inle Lake was th next stop where I saw the downsides of tourism. Luckily, a family took me in and fed me and showed me generosity that constantly popped up from those in Burma. Burma aka Myanmar is still under an oppressive governor and I saw first hand citizens being treated as slave made to do forced labor by the government with no pay. Made me county my blessings. I also fell ill a couple times in Burma but all the positive aspects drown out the random negative ones. I went back to Malaysia afterwards and hit a wall. I was tired of moving around and therefore stayed put in Kuala Lumpur for two weeks doing familiar things like going to the cinema, etc. I rested up and headed to Sri Lanka where I had a very difficult time. It was my least favorite country and I don’t blame the country for this was going to happen anywhere. I was exhausted. Everything that was once fun was now a burden. I didn’t want to look at another map, see another temple, barter another deal, make a new friend, change towns.. Nothing. I had no clue what had come over me. I spoke to some mentors and they told me I had hit a wall and it was normal. I had a visa in progress and a flight paid to India and after much difficult debate decided not to go. India for me is the icing on the cake, the epiphany of destinations. You can learn so much in India and really can transcend if you allow yourself to open up and take in all it has to offer. At this point, I was to tired and exhausted to go and realized if I went now I wouldn’t gain all that India has to offer. Therefore, I didn’t go and booked a flight back to Kuala Lumpur and then onwards to Australia in March 2014. I think being in Australia for the past 8 months, not changing countries, cultures and languages made a difference. Since Oz is familiar (yet very different) than things at home, it hasn’t been too different such as it was in Asia. It’s interesting in Australia though, even though we all speak the same language, there is still random times I have no idea what they’re taking about. When I first arrived I had to mentally tell myself to stop saying “what?” and instead take my time to analyze the context clues and figure out what the hell is being said to me. I started an ongoing “Note” on my phone of all the words and phrases that have different meanings than back in the States. It’s extensive. Besides the funny ways of saying things in English, it’s been a long haul up and around Oz. If you look at the country (continent), it’s hard to realize how massive it actually is. It’s the about size of Europe and roughly the size of the States. All of the main cities are near the coast besides Alice Springs.. The rest in between is vast nature, deserts, hills, forests.. You name it.. It may take you a week or so, but you can drive to it. There’s a whole lot of “nothing” in the middle which ends up being a real “something” once you get out there. Starting in Perth, I was excited to stay in one city for a while as it right after Asia. I did exactly what I set out to do.. Stay put, make friends, get a job, etc. So I did this for the first 4 months. Then of course I had the construction job that ended up in an injury where I nearly lost my thumb.. It had it’s ups and downs. The downs were the pain, the initial uncertainty of healing and how it’s still numb now (but improving).. The positive side was shit, I was getting a grand a week from the insurance companies. So since I couldn’t use my thumb to work, I could still get to explore around Perth while putting cash in the bank. It’s every travellers dream! Leaving Perth was difficult at the time, it was the first place I had been for an extensive period of time for over a year. I had made a family there and now it was time to leave. I was due North, up the West Coast thought Western Australia and then over to the Northern Territory before crossing on over to Queensland. The road trip was rough in the beginning. I was sick with fever and body aches. As we were camping alongside the car, the first four nights I woke up in a cold puddle of water in the tent. It was the wet season and our cheap K-Mart pop up tents proved to not be waterproof after all. Eventually, we got far enough North where we were able to avoid the rain. It started with the Pinnacles, a National Park with these strange thin standing rock formations all across the land. The next big spot was Kalbarri National Park with epic hikes, canyons and rock formations. Somewhere in there we stayed on a farm camping and one day helped them slaughter a steer. Monkey Mia was another highlight around this part of WA Western Australia). The dolphins stayed put in this bay and swam freely right off the shore throughout the day. In Monkey Mia, I had a great moment where I walked about an hour down the beach onto a sandbar where I walked out into the ocean and had a family of dolphins swimming nearby. Just the dolphins and I. It was a great memory. After Monkey Mia, the car us four had purchased decided to die on us. We were stranded on the side of the road, with not enough water, in the scorching heat. Luckily, I flagged down a guy to give us water and we spent the night sleeping by the dead car. The next morning, it still wouldn’t run for more than 1km so we left the car on the side of the road. I hitchhiked up to Exmouth, passing Coral Bay. Exmouth was a restart on the journey bc the three guys I was traveling with by car continued onward while I stated behind in Exmouth. I stayed in Exmouth for two weeks. I didn’t have a ride going forth so I stayed there and made some friends. We explored the Ningaloo Reef, drove scooters, drank beer and got tan as hell. I made a solid family there. Next I went North and saw Karijini National Park. This was an impressive National Park filled with canyons and watering holes. Favorite National Park in Australia to date. Next was Broome where I saw the iconic camel beach sunset walk at Cable Beach. Broome was mainly hammocks and beach days. I took the Gib River road next with four amazing people (and one asshole driver) who made it the most impressive outback experience to date. This region, The Kimberly, is my definitive outback experience. Darwin was a party. Dancing until 5am and spending way too much money. I had to bolt, ASAP. Onwards to Queensland which is the first time I took a plane in Australia. I prefer by car because you’re free to explore anything and sleep anywhere in your tent. Cairns was my next stop where I did my Advanced Scuba certificate on the Great Barrier Reef. That was four days and three nights in a live aboard boat on the outer reef. Spectacular. Then I moved to a farm in Far North Queensland. I was a tutor and a cook. It was a lonely experience as I was so isolated with no friends around. I was confined to the farm for nearly all six weeks with no car nor booze. It was rough. After the farm I was back in Cairns where I did some odd jobs and stayed at my Australian Mum’s shop. Then down Queenland with a stop in Airlie Beach to visit the Whitsunday Islands. This was a top five spot too as it’s officially my favorite beach. Next to the Town of 1770 where I started my new obsession with surfing. Next was Bundaberg where we did a tour of the Bundaberg rum factory. Last night we went to see a loggerhead turtle lay her eggs on the beach. It was incredible. Obviously, that was just a slight synopsis of the past 18 months. It’s impossible to sum up what’s happened to anyone except those who were there. All five senses are stimulated at all times and are impossible to transcribe into words. The mind has it’s entirely own different journey. It is put through difficult thought processes and can drive you insane at times. I’ve just touched a few of the outer experiences here, the inner ones are something you hold into yourself and that’s the reason you do this. The inner journey is where the heart of the trip remains. You push yourself to new limits. You fall in love, you get heartbroken, you break hearts. You at times can’t speak because of the beauty bestowed in front if you. This can range from a vast landscape to a simple gesture of a mother sitting with her child. You choke up. You scream out. You laugh so hard it hurts. You analyze so deeply you go insane. You see things you didn’t know we’re possible. You regain faith in humanity. You cry. You get terrible sunburns. You wonder how strong the AC will be. You learn to sleep anywhere. You built tents. You take tons of photos. You have to listen to other people snoring (and sometimes having sex). You learn about exciting (and sad) things at home via Facebook. You miss weddings. You deal with death of a loved one overseas. Your family has issues you can’t help them with. You get physically hurt. You read maps. You bargain, like crazy. You get ripped off. You get lost. You get cold, hot, wet all in the same day. You swim. You dream. You imagine yourself living in places forever. You make yourself vulnerable. You get shit for being American. You listen to headphones. You try new foods. You drink until your blind. You say “I’m never drinking again.” You take up new sports. You experience loneliness. You gain self confidence. You face harsh realities about yourself. You learn. Most importantly, you live and learn to love yourself. I am my biggest fan which is something I couldn’t say 18 months ago. I know myself better than ever and I love every cell in my imperfect body. I’ve never felt more alive than I do now.. I’m excited to grow older and keep unfolding this book of life.. I have a feeling it’s going to be an awesome ride.. I know this, it won’t be boring. I won’t allow it. 😉

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