Indonesian Solitude and Ecstatic Dance

So, after coming up with a million different overzealous itineraries for the 6 weeks I had allotted myself in Southeast Asia, I got to Indonesia and decided instead to just relax and see what experiences might come my way (as opposed to chasing after them like a chicken with my head cut off). I used up my allotted one month for the initial visitor visa, and now I’m en-route to Thailand where I will headless chicken my way around northern Thailand and northern Laos before making my way home in time for Christmas.

I want you to feel like you’re right there with me when I tell my stories though, so firstly I need to feel like I’m still there too and not trapped in this glass cage of emotion (read: airport).

<<Exaggerated knuckle crack>>

Ok, close your eyes.

Um, no wait that’s not going to work. I may have been able to channel my last name to Clint (previous post: Channeling Elizabeth Gilbert in Ubud) but I’m pretty sure I can’t read this to you with my mind so you are probably going to need your eyes.

Let’s try this: No, that’s not carpet patterned with various sized blobs of primary colors, it’s the golden glow of a seemingly endless field of rice as it sways in harmony with an early morning breeze. That’s not the white fluorescence of artificial lighting making people’s skin look like corpses, it’s the soft warmth of 4pm sun playing hide and seek with shadows as it disappears and remerges between temples, trees, and terraces. And no, that is most certainly not Christmas muzac playing incessantly over the loudspeakers between announcements of boarding gates and delays, it’s the soothing sound of water trickling down into a koi pond through the mouth of a stone frog as you make your way into the spa for a Balinese massage.

Mastapa Garden

Ok, are we all there?

For me, Indonesia was a good place to relax and enjoy some time alone.  Most people travel on vacation or holiday, but when you make a lifestyle of it things can get pretty chaotic. I need space to retreat into my own head, reflect and regroup every once in a while. In the same way a camel stores up on water before trips through the desert, it was as though I had stocked up on enough social interaction through three weeks of constant (and awesome, don’t get me wrong) company in my camper van trip in Australia and therefore didn’t mind the solitude I found in Ubud. It’s all about balance though, so I’d supplement my days of mind and trail wandering with various classes at Yoga Barn, as otherwise I would often go entire days uttering hardly more words than a handful of “no, thank you“s to the constant solicitations for transport (“Motorbike? Yes? Vroom vroom! Miss! You need transport? Yes? Where you stay?“).

Ubud is a great place to spend some time learning new skills, be it cooking, weaving, or even Thai boxing. I kept myself entertained with various yoga classes, chakra meditation, and even tried an African dance class (I learned that I am white. Oh so very white). Then one Friday night I decided hell, why not go ecstatic dancing??

You may be thinking “What exactly is ecstatic dance?” or “How does one dance ecstatically?” Well, I am certainly no expert, but I will try to explain. Essentially, you just dance. But not well, you dance hard. This happens to be my favorite variety of dance. I had asked a friend who had been to the class before what it was all about, and she explained that everybody just lets go of all their inhibitions and dances as freely and wildly as they feel in an environment free from judgment. People jump off the walls and crawl on the floor and do whatever the hell the music moves them to do. My natural response was “So is everyone just tripping out on drugs?” She laughed and assured me it is a completely sober environment, so I decided this was something I needed to see for myself.

At first I was a bit surprised by the turn-out. There were probably 50 people of all varieties. You had the people you’d expect to be there (like the long-haired shirtless guy from South America with the flowy linen pants, or the 70 year old woman with silver hair in a transparent white pants/shirt combo sans undergarments whose body was immortalized at 25, presumably due to strict yogic practice), and all the people you wouldn’t (like a 35 yr old couple that clearly live in the suburbs and desperately want to prove that they are not as boring as they know they have become, and the 60 year old man in khakis who most likely left his New Balance orthopedic trainers out front with everyone else’s sandals).

Next I was concerned about the lighting. I had assumed this would be a dark environment. If I were to spontaneously start “popping and locking” as I have been known to do it would be best if the lights were off. Unfortunately, the music started and the lights remained on. There was no instruction, and everyone just began moving, some more freely than others. Some people got into it straight away, jumping around and contorting their bodies to music that appeared to be different than that that was being played to the rest of us. After a few minutes, a woman began instructing us to “let go of your judgments, let go of your pride, forget about your concerns of how you look and release yourself in the music.”

I immediately had to get myself in check as I realized it wasn’t so much worrying about being judged that I needed to focus on releasing, but it was my own judgments that I needed to stop. I didn’t want to judge, and I certainly didn’t want to laugh, but it was hard. One guy was spinning himself in circles on the floor while someone else  kept screaming out animal noises. I tried at first to keep my eyes closed to avoid distraction, but then I kept bumping into (or tripping over) people so I decided to face out and stare at the rice paddies instead. After a little while I noticed everyone in the class had started to loosen up, myself included. Dance is a beautiful form of expression, and I had to keep reminding myself of that as I watched people squirm and spasm, jump jive and wail, roll, crawl, karate chop, ninja kick, and mambo # 5 their way around the room, encouraging myself to follow suit.

I had started the class tired and hungry as I had come straight from a long yoga class and hadn’t had a chance to eat dinner. Next thing I knew I was jumping higher in the air than I thought myself capable as though it were the only way to release the explosion of energy surging through me. All of the sudden I became aware of my body and realized I had no idea how long it had been since I last paid attention to what it was up to. The music began to slow, the lights dimmed, and people took to the floor as the energy continued to dance in air long after our bodies had stopped.

I no longer felt it but remembered my hunger and took myself to dinner in a daze after class, where I first looked at a clock and saw that I had been “ecstatic dancing” for over two hours. I stared out at the view in a bit of a daze as I started to eat my curry (no matter how many times I got sick I always made sure to reiterate in my order that I did indeed want my spicy such and such dish to be spicy) .

View from my post-Ecstatic Dance dinner

I knew I might be eating slowly, but I was getting a bit annoyed by the fifth time someone came over to clear my plate when I had hardly taken a few bites. When I finally did finish, I looked at my watch again and realized why; the 5 or 10 minutes I thought I had been sitting there was actually an hour and a half. Well look at you Ecstatic Dance, you dance-tranced me you sneaky little rascal.

Aside from a peasant skirt phase somewhere around my freshman year of college, I never fancied myself as much of a hippie, but here I was meditating and trance dancing like it’s 1964. That’s the power of a place like Ubud I guess, I wouldn’t recommend it to people who don’t like to, yanno, feel things, and, think and stuff.

Now, a camel can’t survive in the desert without water forever, so after another week or so I decided I was getting bored of my own company and headed to an Indonesian Island near Lombok called Gili Trawangan.

Longboat on Gili Trawangan Shore

It’s so small you can walk around the whole thing in just over two hours (I didn’t actually test this myself I just took Lonely Planet‘s word for it). It is one of three islands commonly referred to as The Gili’s, with Trawangan being the most social of the bunch. They don’t have any cars or motorbikes on the island, so people use the old school horse-drawn cart to get around.

Horse Cart in Gili, or “Cidomo”

Knowing it would be a while before I was near a beach again, I used these last few days in Indonesia to sit in the sand

Tough Life

Enjoy the crystal clear water that defies logic

As Clear and Warm as Bath Water

and drink to the sunset with new friends

Gili Specialty “Vodka Jus”

You don’t know what a hangover feels like until you spend a night drinking petrol (or, “lokal liquor” as they called it) then have to spend the next day on boats and buses in 100 degree heat en route to the airport. As always, I survived to tell the tale. No rest for the wicked, so I’m off to Thailand and Laos!

Bali Buddah

I arrived in Bali November 6th, exhausted and disoriented with no plans for what I was going to do for the next six weeks in Southeast Asia. I followed advice from friends in Australia, and headed straight for Kuta as it is the main place people seem to go when they are in Bali. My flight got in late and it was raining as my taxi from the airport dropped me outside  my guesthouse. (There are no hostels in Bali, just homestays, mid-range guesthouses, and the occasional hotel. I had decided to splash out and go flashpacking in a guesthouse for my first few nights there, but at $30 a night it hardly seemed like a splurge). As I wandered around I felt like Leonardo Dicaprio in The Beach when he travels back to Bangkok to get supplies from the hidden paradise he’s been living in off the shores of Ko Samui, finding himself overwhelmed by all the lights, traffic, people, touts, and loud noises swirling about him. I find that every city and town has a personality, and I knew Kuta was not one I was going to be friends with.

Trying to give it a chance, I wandered about the area for a few days, checking out nearby Legian and Seminyak, and found myself more confused at how so many of my friends said they loved this place. The streets were crowded, the touts were obnoxious, the beaches were dirty, and the shops and restaurants all looked like a drunk Australian had thrown up on them (I mean that both figuratively and literally).

The Kuta your guide book doesn't mention

Now to be fair, I now know that people go to the Kuta/Legian/Seminyak area to surf and party, but when I was there the weather was crap and I was ready for a detox so I didn’t see the allure. The upside of my time in Kuta was meeting an Australian surfer named Dwayne who has been coming to Bali for over 20 years. It was fortunate for me the swells were not good (ya I totally know all about surfing don’t worry about it) which left him with a lot of downtime to serve as my personal tour guide. Dwayne took me around on his motorbike to all the best places to eat, showed me the night markets, helped me barter, and answered my endless stream of “I’m a foreigner and didn’t bother to learn a damn thing before coming here” questions. Bless him.

Best Smoothie of my life for $.60 at the night market

When I said I needed to get out of Kuta and was heading to Ubud, he offered to take me on his motorbike as he needed to go there to pick up a cat statue (I tried to figure this one out but I’m still very confused on the whole situation. It’s a wooden cat and it says “Welcome”. My campervan told me to never trust a smiling cat…) Wanting to save money on the taxi fare, I agreed to the ride, despite obvious logistical issues. How were two people, my guitar, and my giant backpack going to fit on this tiny little motorbike? We ended up with the backpack on my back, hanging off the back of the bike, and my guitar between Dwayne’s legs in the front. I couldn’t feel my feet for most of the 2 hour trip and thought at every bump in road that I was about to fly off the back of the bike. But what a way to see the country!

Cat in hand, Dwayne headed back to Kuta that night, leaving me all smiles as I soaked in the artistic and spiritual hub that is the mountain village of Ubud. Many people think of Bali as one place; a specific destination, when in actuality it functions almost like it’s own country. While it is an island in Indonesia, it has it’s own language and culture, as well as many diverse towns and landscapes. There are touristy seaside areas, active volcanoes, black sand arid beaches, mountain villages, cliff side surf breaks, and areas with miles of temples and rice paddocks. Where Kuta is for drinking and surfing, Ubud is for relaxation, healing, and meditation. There is an amazing energy in this place and in the type of person that it attracts. I initially stayed in a place called Jati homestay, where I walked off a central road in town through a narrow alleyway to find myself wandering past a yoga studio and the family compound, complete with multiple art galleries, to get to my bamboo bungalow overlooking a rice paddock.

Jati Homestay

View from my bungalow

Just a two minute walk from a busy street, the only sounds from my room  were that of the often heavy rains, the water trickling through the irrigation canal in front of the rice paddock, and the roosters running about through the palms. Now, just in case that sounds a bit too perfect, I will admit these were like owl roosters; nocturnal little shits. (Reminds me of the episode of Family Guy where they make an offensive yet hilariously left field reference to disabled roosters, then show 5 all lined up cock-a-doodle-dooing to the sunrise until they span to the last one who says in a drunk voice ‘goodnight everybody!’ Jamie, at least I know you’re laughing).

I spent my days wandering the streets (oh how I love a good wander!), getting lost in road after road of shops with little Balinese artists displaying their work while actively creating more. I try to avoid the places that have too much on display, as I don’t like the stuff that is mass produced for tourists, which is how I stumbled upon Komang.

My new friend Komang

Through very broken English I learned that Komang had been working on the piece in front of him for 6 months, and it would take about a year to finish. He showed me an impressive variety of paintings throughout his gallery and, to my initial hesitation, his bedroom attached out the back. I felt awful leaving him without buying a painting, but I forgot to factor into my Asia budget money to buy and import massive art pieces to the States. Rookie mistake.

One day I decided to explore more of the the village on the outskirts of town, setting out to follow a long road that supposedly would loop around and get me back to town in about 1.5 hours. I started walking, getting lost in my thoughts amongst the quiet countryside and vast rice fields, but eventually began to wonder when exactly I was going to start looping back to town as the hand drawn map I was given had directed.

I have no phone or watch and therefore on an overcast day I also have no concept of time, but felt I had been walking a while. The further I walked, I began to notice the reaction to my presence changing, both from the villagers I passed as well as the stray dogs that roam the streets in abundance. More and more people stopped what they were doing to point me out to their children, who would in turn laugh and wave, making it clear to me I must be lost as these people obviously didn’t see many tourists their way. One group of kids adorably begged me to take their picture, and thanked me profusely for doing so, even though I obviously had no way of giving it to them.

Posing for the Camera

It was the dogs that became more of an issue. In town, the strays are used to loads of people walking about and therefore keep to themselves, but suddenly I would have one dog barking, who would therefore alert the next 7 dogs down the road, and if they were feeling extra territorial, they would all gang up on me and follow at my feet barking. Bali has had a lot of issues with Rabies, and I’m pretty sure all of my shots, for almost everything, are out of date. Feeling calm despite my situation, I managed to channel my alpha dog and keep the strays at bay, finally finding my way back to town almost six hours later. But this is why getting lost is awesome (there has to be some upside to being directionally retarded), look at some of the amazing countryside I never would have seen had I been able to read a map!

Rural Simplicity

Geese Love Rice

During my few days in Ubud, I had been in touch with Dwayne who had told me about his friend Sticky. Sticky is a Balinese guy Dwayne met when he first started coming to Bali who was now running a homestay in a place called Bingin. As Dwayne was leaving Bali for Taipei in a few days, I decided I’d have to leave Ubud before I was ready to check out Bingin with him so he could introduce me to Sticky and show me around. I knew that I was not yet done with Ubud, or rather, it was not done with me, so I would have to return.

Bingin is a place I never would have known to go to if Dwayne had not told me about it. It’s a tiny little strip of beach with Bungalows and Warungs built into the cliffside. People come here to surf, talk about surfing, look at other surfers, and surf some more. The surf is based on a reef break, which is too dangerous for beginners, so I just took part in the third option: looking at surfers. This is the type of beach I had expected from Bali but Kuta had not delivered to me, with clear waters crashing into the whites of the cliff face, gently lulling back at low tide to reveal colorful reef and the hollowed rock platforms that will one day be sand.

View from my Balcony at Sticky's Place

Bingin Beach

Attempting to explore beyond my cliffside bungalow one day, a  friendly Californian named Willie saw me walking and offered me a ride on his motorbike. After chatting, he invited me to dinner with two of his friends. We went to a place about  20 minutes away by motorbike called Jimbaran. Famous for its seafood warungs, we got there just in time to stroll along the water as the sun was setting before settling in to our meal in the sand. It was here that I met Jennifer, a 51 year old divorcee from California. Fresh out of her marriage, recently retired, and having just sent her youngest off to college, Jennifer came to Bali hoping to figure out what the hell she wants to be doing with her life. I ended up meeting back up with her when I returned to Ubud, but I’ll save that for the next post.

The next day I wanted to check out the temple at Uluwatu, and rather than get a taxi I decided to have a go at driving my own motorbike. At this point I had been on the back with a few different drivers, and despite the seemingly chaotic whirlwind that is motorbiking in Bali, I never found myself the least bit concerned for my safety, finding it easy to space out and enjoy the scenery whizzing past. Driving one turned out to be an entirely different story. I was white knuckled and sweating as I made my way to the temple, slowing to almost complete stops at every bend on the winding, mountain roads that made up the journey. As I started wandering around the temple, I began to feel a little bit off, but assumed it was just the stress of the ride and the overabundance of tourists encroaching upon my personal space. Between the prominence of the temple itself, the monkeys playing about, and the view looking over the water as it crashed into the cliffs, you can see why so many tourists flock to Uluwatu, but unfortunately this has now become its greatest drawback.

Uluwatu Temple

The Money Shot

At sunset I went to see the Kecak dance, which is performed nightly at the temple. The dance tells a story in Balinese folklore, set the music of the voices of 70 men, no instruments. Again, I spent most the time feeling more and more ill, blaming it on the heat and kicking myself for being overly hungry and unable to enjoy what should have been an impressive performance with an incredible backdrop.

Kecak Dance

I bolted as the performance ended, thinking I just needed some food in my stomach. Terrified, I biked in the dark to the nearest warung, and one hour later found myself only two bites in to my Nasi Goreng (essentially it’s fried rice). I gave up on solid food and ordered a banana smoothie, drank it down and waited to feel the wave of relief as my blood sugars restored.

Burp.

Uh-oh.

I ran to the bathroom as casually as one can in such a situation and made it just in time before chucking my brains out. I knew everyone in the restaurant must have heard me, but I knew I had to cover my embarrassment, walk out front, politely ask for my bill and get the hell out of there. I had been hit by the infamous Bali Belly, and now I had to get on a freaking motorbike and drive myself back to Bingin, where I would then have to make it down the cliffside in the dark to get to my room by the water. Climbing down the giant cliff steps, I kept feeling like I might faint, a feeling immediately followed by terror as fainting would mean imminent death. Death via head cracking on ragged rock followed by body falling down the side of the cliff. Luckily, I made it back to my bungalow successfully, where I then spent the next two days in misery as my body ejected life and shook with fever.

The morning of the second day, I desperately needed water and knew I should try to drink a smoothie or something as there was nothing left in my stomach. I felt more alone than ever as I realized I was going to have to go back up the cliff and get it myself.

Cliffside Bungalows in Bingin

I couldn’t even sit up straight, how the hell was I supposed to get up the cliff? Never in my years of travel have I wanted my mommy more. Not my mom, but my mommy, as this was a basic, child’s desire to be nourished and protected.

Food poisoning kept me in Bingin a few extra days, but as soon as I recuperated I headed back to Ubud, where I knew exciting things were about to happen…

This is my Bali Buddah

The New-Age “Moving On Up”–From Campervan to Private Island Resort

After Lanie  and I ditched the campervan in Airlie beach, we left the next morning for a three day/two night sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands. Off the central coast of Queensland, this is where people come from all over the world to dive the Great Barrier Reef. When we went to the marina in the morning, we wondered whether or not we had accidentally booked ourselves on a lesbians getaway, as our boat was comprised almost entirely of females. We resigned ourselves to the lack of man candy and figured we could use this opportunity to work on our personalities and bust out some friend-making skills. Throughout the course of our camper van journey and the many meaningful and meaningless discussions that come along with such ventures, we came to the conclusion that in terms of self improvement, our time would be best spent honing some super sweet personalities, as trying to out-babe all the babes on the market is far too tiresome and futile a mission. It involves things like hair straighteners and, yanno, showering regularly.

We spent our days at sea, stopping at various islands to snorkel the clear blue waters, scuba dive, and bask in the sun (or at least the hot Swedish babes did, my freckles and I spent a lot of time cowering in caves and other peoples shadows in search of respite from the relentlessly harsh Australian rays).

Loving the underwater camera

Lucky for me, I was the only one who opted to go for another scuba dive on the second day, so I got an extra long dive with just me and the instructor. Bargain! The first time I went diving in New Zealand I went with some stoner dude running a sham of a company. My ears killed on the dive and I couldn’t hear properly for over a week afterward. I thought I would give diving one more shot, especially as I was in the Great Barrier Reef, and if I couldn’t do it then I’d have to accept that I was just one of those people who can’t equalize . I’m so happy I gave it another shot because with proper instruction this time I was able to see some beautiful sights. Ahem.

Spot the Babe?

Oh right, and there were some cool fish and stuff too…

Fishies!

A few different points along the trip, the crew would point out different islands we were going past, and when they pointed out Hayman Island, Lanie and I mentioned that we were going there after the sailing trip to meet up with our friend Ash as she works there. The response was, “Are you sure you’re going to Hayman Island, not Hamilton?”

Not actually sure, we let it go. Then when we arrived back in Airlie beach after the trip, we went to collect our bags from the travel agency and in chatting told the receptionist we were heading to Hayman Island the next day. Again,

“Are you sure you’re going to Hayman island?”

This time Lanie checked her messages from Ash to confirm it was indeed Hayman Island we were supposed to be going to, at which point we were met with shock and disbelief as the girl told us as far as she knew the cheapest room on Hayman Island was 600 a night, and it costs something like 200 just to step foot on the island if you are not a resort guest. We immediately contacted Ash to see what the situation was, and were assured that she had sorted a deal for us and that our names were already on the manifest for the boat to the island. Next moment of panic: what the hell are we supposed to wear? Our bags were full of a typical backpacker wardrobe; all ratty, wrinkled, and readily disposable. How were we supposed to blend in with the other private island resort goers? Answer: we weren’t. Instead of worrying we went to meet up with some people from the sailing trip in town that night. Lanie went home a bit ahead of me so I gave her the room key, but soon after she went in the hostel shut its gates for the night, leaving me locked out of the whole building. Not having a phone, I had no way to contact Lanie to have her come let me in, so being the classy, resourceful lady that I am, I found the nearest park bench and went to sleep.

I woke up early to a group of guys chatting nearby but pretended to keep sleeping until they had passed to avoid any awkward “good morning, yes I was just sleeping on that park bench, meant to be great weather today” conversation. Seeing that the hostel gates were open, I ran inside to our room, not having any idea what time it was, to find that Lanie’s alarm had not gone off and we had 30 minutes to get all of our stuff together and get to the marina before our boat departed. We were meant to be checking in at the marina right then, meaning we had missed the bus that we needed to catch to take us there. No time to do anything with ourselves other than grab our bags, we ran out of the hostel and just started running down the road. Soon realizing we had no chance of getting a bus, we were frantically hoping a taxi might magically drive past, but soon gave up and stuck out our thumbs. Two minutes later a black car stopped and we threw our stuff inside and told him where we thought we were supposed to be going. He drives us to Abel Point Marina, and it only takes a minute before Lanie, at this point on the phone to Ash, realizes it’s actually the marina on the complete other side of town that we need to be at. In three minutes. The angel of a man who picked us up was nice enough to turn around out of his way and take us to the other marina. We pull up just as giant yacht is pulling out of the harbor, so Lanie bolts out of the car and runs down the dock, arms flailing over her head, yelling “Hayman Island!!” Surprisingly, this tactic worked. It’s not just in movies, the boat actually came back to get us. I grab our bags from the car and run towards the boat. Two deckhands are waiting there to take my baggage, at which point the skipper actually yells down from the top deck

“Are you sure you’re going to Hayman Island?”

What, this isn’t how most of your resort guests arrive? Carrying backpacks with sleeping bags, wearing last nights clothes and makeup, making you turn around your boat to come retrieve us? What gave us away?

“Yes (asshole), I know we look like backpackers, but yes we are sure we are going to Hayman Island.”

So they take our bags and guide us up to the top deck where we soon realize this entire yacht is for just us and one other couple. Finally having a chance to calm down and be thankful we made it after yet another ridiculously close call, we are met with salmon sandwiches, chocolates, and champagne. We accept, trying to pretend that this is obviously what happens to us all the time when we travel, then we wait until the deckhands go back downstairs before bursting out laughing. What the hell was happening? I just slept on a park bench and now I’m on a private yacht taking me to an exclusive private island resort.

Thank god for sunglasses

We arrive at the island and are driven in a resort cart up to where we meet Ash. After taking us on a tour of the island, where Lanie and I did our best to be the biggest embarrassments to Ash possible, we checked into our room. Our glorious room.

View from the Balcony

Just in case anyone wanted to question if we were actually staying there, we decided to wear the slippers and bathrobes we found in the closet everywhere we went. To the pool, to the beach, to the restaurant, to the bar. All in bathrobes and slippers.

Robes are the Swiss Army Knife of clothing

After parading ourselves around the island all afternoon, we went back to the room to get cleaned up for dinner. But three of us have to shower. And there’s only one bathroom. Well that’s inconvenient isn’t it? I leave Lanie in the bathroom to go hang up my beach towel, and I walk back in to find her sitting on her knees in the bathtub vigorously shaking a bottle of hotel “bath essence” into the water as she fills up the tub. Problem solved! We’re all taking a bubble bath!

Making use of the hotel's amenities

Honestly you’d think we had been living in a cave for the past 20 years, not just living out of a camper van for three weeks.

After living the high life for a few days, the three of us headed up the coast to Cairnes where we went white water rafting through the rainforest on the Tully River, then sadly said our goodbyes before flying off to different destinations. Unfortunately for them, they were going back to work, while I was lucky enough to be flying to Bali, just getting my trip started. Magical Bali. Oh how excited I am to write about what’s been happening to me here!

Amateur version of Amazing Race

Lanie and I were pretty much masters of our domain after the first night in our camper (well, aside from the fact that I couldn’t drive the thing as it was a manual and we didn’t want to die). Our conversations in the van went something like this:

ME: “Lanie, have you seen my phone charger?”

LANIE: “Ya I think it’s in the electronics department, do you know where my sleeping bag is?”

ME: “Check the bedroom, can you chuck this in the kitchen for me please?”

LANIE: “Ya, I’m just heading to the wine cellar do you want another drink?”

All of this took place, meanwhile, without either of us moving an inch from our respective positions in the back of the camper van. Yes, we truly thought we were living the high life, until we met up with our friend Ash that is. But I’ll get to that in the next post.

So after Byron Bay, we continued up the coast, stopping to check out Surfers Paradise, Coolangata, and Brisbane along the way.  Tourist trap, tourist trap, city. Next please. Then we got to Noosa where we met up with our friends Danny and Lola, two more people who also did the snow seasons in Wanaka. Noosa is a super cool little surf town, but unlike Byron Bay, people here live for the surf. Byron was better for beginner surfers and people who wanted to chill out by the beach, but in Noosa you find the people who sleep in a Swag (its an Australian invention, a sort of pimped out sleeping bag that you unroll and it has a mattress and a tent cover if you need it) by the beach so that they can catch first breaks at dawn. People who live and breathe for the surf. Lanie and I obviously opted not to surf here. We didn’t want to show people up with our super sweet skills and make them feel bad about themselves.

Lanie, Danny, and Lola heading to the surf

Because everyone is so obsessed with surfing, there is not too much  night life in Noosa aside from chilled out jams on back porches. Lola and Danny wanted to take us out though, so we went to the one place that was open. It was basically my idea of hell on earth. An over-crowded backpacker bar filled with 18-23 yr olds off their faces, dancing to blaring top 40 playing at uncomfortable volumes while they anxiously awaited the wet t-shirt/wet jocks (yes boys, your turn in the pseudo-nudie arena has finally arrived) competition.  We gave it a good effort but in the end all looked at each other and decided to bolt. Maybe that makes me old, but I don’t think I mind. The next night we went for the chilled out jam on back porch option and had a much better time. Lola and I used to play every Sunday at a Wine bar in Wanaka called Uno, but we realized that night that we had never actually played together before, so it was cool to get our Taylors out and mess around.

Twin Taylors

After Noosa, we headed to Rainbow beach were we would depart for our Fraser Island adventure the next day. Needing a place to park our camper for the night, we drove around the National Park where we saw loads of people with flash campsites set up. Trying to hang with the cool kids didn’t go as planned, as our camper was not 4wd and we got it stuck in the sand. Having just come from the beach, I was wearing a sundress and Lanie had a pretty much non-existent tank on over her bikini, clearly the ideal costume for crawling around on all fours trying to dig your tires out of the sand. After a few failed attempts to get the van out, night had fallen and we realized were going to have to enlist some help. Feeling like massive tools, we wandered about for a while, stopping around various tents then chickening out and running away before we finally asked someone. A little boy with a Toy Story head torch leading the way, we showed the curious man and woman in the tent our pathetic situation. A few feeble attempts at pushing later, we conveniently found ourselves in the way of a giant 4×4. We asked the man in the drivers seat if he could possibly help, getting more and more embarrassed at the scene we are causing. He hopped out of his car, looked at our van, and disappeared into the darkness, only to return a few minutes later with an army of men (where were they hiding??) who got our van out in one swift push. By this point in time, half the campsite had gathered around to have a good chinwag and discuss the fishing and our general stupidity. Lacking social graces and not particularly interested in either conversation, we said a few emphatic thanks, waved goodbye to our egos, and bolted back to town and paved roads.

The next day we did a 4-wheel drive trip of Fraser island, famous for its untouched sands, rainforest drives, and blue water lake. It’s only accessible via 4wd vehicle, and we learned why the hard way the night before. It was a fun day, but we had bad weather so we didn’t get to see the stunning blue water we had been promised on the brochure. Also, word of advice to the ladies (or guys with moobs) make sure you wear a sports bra if you decide to do this trip, or you’ll miss half the scenery like we did trying to reign in the children.

We got back from the trip in the evening and began our mad dash up to Airlie Beach. It turned out to be our own version of amazing race. We had 12 hours of driving to do, had to return the camper by 3 the next day (but we thought it was 5) and check in to our hostel before that so we could drop off all our crap, and check in for our Whitsundays sailing trip by four. As we had spent the last three nights parking our van on the road to sleep, neither of us had had a shower and all of our electronics were dying. My phone had kicked it about 2 days into the trip, so we were depending on Lanie’s iphone for outside contact and google maps. We were on schedule (for the 5 oclock return, already two hours behind) until we ended up getting delayed 2 hours because a massive truck overturned on a bridge on the only road to our destination. In true Australian style, the guys in the car in front of us got out of their car, cracked open a beer to wait out the traffic, and opened up a trailer attached to their car to reveal a portable bbq. I seriously think Australians could bbq their way through nuclear warfare.

Portable BBQ and ball, key items to get through an emergency

Once traffic began to move again, we used the last of Lanies phone battery to call Wicked campers to tell them we’d be a bit late as we didn’t want to get charged for an extra day, at which point we were informed of the 3 oclock return time. Making a mad dash for it, we arrived in Airlie just before 4, desperately trying to decide in what order to accomplish everything. We had 5 minutes to check in everywhere, no more google maps for directions, and no phone to call anyone to tell them we were on our way. Oh, and the empty light had been on in our van for about a 30 minutes. We went to the wrong travel agency to check in for our boat trip, finally found the right one and stopped the receptionist just as she was on the phone to the boat captain to report us as no-shows, then sprinted across the street to our hostel to drop off all our bags while we had the van (no, I do NOT want a tour of the kitchen facilities just give me the key damnit!!), then got to the Wicked camper depot just before five, thinking we had actually succeeded. But wait, surely that was too easy. Turns out no one thought to tell us when we rented the camper that before you return it you have to get it fully detailed. They shooed us away and sent us 20 minutes out of town, back the way we came, to a gas station where we then had to manually power wash and vacuum the whole vehicle. And this whole freaking time we never had a chance to go to the bathroom. Or eat. Or drink. So what did we do?

We laughed. We cursed our lives and we laughed. We returned the camper, went to the hostel, looked in the mirror, and laughed even harder. Dear god how many people had we talked to that day looking the way we did??

Luckily, little did we know it, with the campervan ditched our lives were about to get a whole lot more glamorous. G-L-A-M…O-R-O-U-S

Never Trust A Smiling Cat

So, after months of laying low in Melbourne trying to save up for my next adventure, I am finally back on the road again. I just finished a 2.5 week road trip up the east coast of Australia and now I am waiting in a crowded airport in Darwin for my connecting flight to Bali. They have basically quarantined anyone with an international connecting flight into this tiny waiting area, even though some of us have layovers of over 5 hours. Some lady next to me has been pacing around screaming at her husband/partner/man friend for the last hour because he obviously should have known that this particular airport has now closed its smoking balcony due to new laws and in her nicotine deprived haze he is the source of all evil in the world and her failure overall in life. You can immediately see the toll this cage has taken on everyone in here as the place looks more like a brewery than a check-in gate, with empty bottles of beer and glasses of wine overflowing off tables. It doesn’t help that they don’t seem to have the a/c on and we are in the tropics. If this post ends randomly its probably because my computer has shorted due to all of the sweat dripping on it while I type. From the fat guy next to me of course, obviously not from me, I’m a lady…

So I have no idea what I’m going to do once I get to Bali, but I’m thinking serious amounts of sleep will be required. The last 16 days have been full on, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I first met my friend Lanie in Brisbane where we picked up our camper van for the first leg of the trip. She’s a kiwi chick that I worked with at a ski resort in Wanaka. We went with the cheapest rental company, Wicked Campers, who are famous for their fleet of colorfully painted vans with sometimes insightful, oft offensive sayings/life mantras written all over them. Even knowing this, ours still managed to surprise us.

It said “Never trust a smiling cat” and had a picture of Garfield on the side.

<pause for effect>

Now, while I wholeheartedly agree with this advice, I would not particularly say it is the mantra that I wanted to spread throughout the streets of Australia as we drove up the coast. We found that as we would pull up to some tourist destination, we’d be looking out the window and start to point at something, and realize about 5 people on the road or in cafes were already pointing at us. That’s one way to travel in style. I mean nothing sayings “I’m a free-spirited hippie traveler” like Garfield giving a thumbs up right?

Ah, that’s roadtripping at it’s finest.

So we first headed down to Byron Bay, where we planned to then make our way back up the east coast of Australia, ending our trip in Cairns where we’d go our separate ways. Byron has made its name as a hippie surf town with a relaxed atmosphere and good people, and it lived up to its reputation.

(SIDENOTE: OK seriously everyone around me is drinking; old men, women, children. Well, maybe not the children but you can never be sure what’s in their sippie cups. Judging some of the parents around I wouldn’t be surprised. I may need to get myself a beer. Hey, if all the toddlers are doing it…)

Sitting on our back porch (the patch of grass behind our camper) having some wines before what we had intended to be a big night out in town our second night in Byron, we got convinced by a crazy man with flyers that we should do a surf trip with him the next day. Instead of going to bed, we proceeded to stay up til 5 am talking absolute shite (a favorite pastime of mine) with our neighbors (i.e. the van parked across from us) before having to wake up at 8 for a full on day of surfing. Lucky for us, the water was less “gnarly waves bro” and more “splish splash I was taking a bath” so we managed to pull up alrite.

That is until I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw a large gray fin emerge from the water about 15 feet away from me. Calm, cool, collected woman of the water that I am I immediately began flailing about, squealing incoherently and doing a mixture of simultaneous swimming, surfing, and body boarding that got me all of two inches closer to the shore than when I began. When I finally got to the shore, I ran up to the waters edge, winded and panicked, only to find my instructor doubled over with laughter as my close encounter with a shark attack actually was just a dolphin coming over to see what we were up to. The instructor tried to tell me the difference between when you see a dolphin fin emerge versus a shark fin, but I’m sorry, I see a fin pop up when I’m in the water and I’m not stopping to analyze the swim patterns, I’m getting the hell out of the water.

Obviously we’re naturals.

Next up, Brisbane, Noosa, Fraser Island, and the Whitsunday Islands…