Guilt-Ridden Travel: Why I Struggle With My Own Guilty Conscience

One of the hardest things for some people to fathom is that much of your fate in life is determined by the cards you are dealt when you are born. If you are fortunate enough to be born into a westernized culture you will find you will have access to money, jobs, ‘things’ that are deemed to give people status and feelings of self importance and worth in the world because ‘they made something of themselves’. On the other side of this, if you are born into a country that is developing, majority of the people don’t have money, don’t have opportunity to make money and live in incredibly poor conditions.

My guilty conscience again kicked in as I am laid up on a massage table in Bali. $6 for an entire hour of massage. It is really nothing. I worked very little to make that money. I probably made it while I sat there supervising kids doing silent reading for ten minutes. My masseuse Anna is telling me that she works on commission. Of the $6 I pay, she receives approximately 70 cents. If there is no customers, there is no pay. She works 14 hours a day, 7 days a week with no break.

This whole conversation came about when she asked me if I was married. I told her no and she told me she got married a week ago. I asked her if she had a party with her family. She told me that she didn’t have time. Work gave her an hour off to go and sign the papers and then she came back to work. Her husband works down the road as a builder. They have two children that live three hours away in the village with her brother as they cannot afford to send their children to school in Kuta as it is too expensive. They are lucky to have jobs that allow them to afford to be able to send their kids to school at all because many people can’t afford it. They don’t know what they are going to do now though because her brother is very sick and has been in and out of the hospital but they now can’t afford to send him back to the hospital. Rising numbers of tourists in Bali has increased the cost of healthcare here and so it is too expensive to see a doctor.

As I lay there getting my massage I take all of this in. I get relatively cheap healthcare in Australia. I have a job that pays me enough to live comfortably and send any kids I have to school. I don’t have to send my kids away to live with other people so they can get a better start at life. I don’t have to work 14 hour days 7 days a week. And if I want to get married, I could probably get some time off from the boss to organize it if I wanted out of the 20 paid vacation days that most Australians are legally entitled to a year. And yet all we do is complain. And I feel guilty about that too.

I lay there and ponder what it is I can do about it because as much as I want to just open up my wallet and say ‘take my money, I can make more, I don’t need it’, I know that this is not a good fix in the long term. So I made a decision. I can’t help everybody. But I can help Anna by going back every day that I am here, getting a massage to keep her in work and her boss happy and giving her a hefty tip at the end of each massage. At least for this month, she will have a little extra in her pocket to help with the bills without feeling like a charity case.

What is more, this understanding makes me more patient with the onslaught as I walk down the street. “Transport!!”, “You buy sunglasses, one dollar”, “manicure??”. I understand that with each call out, there is somewhat a desperation to survive and make enough to keep their families going. I met one girl who moved from Java to here at twenty because there was no money in Java. So she moved to Bali so she could make the measly $70 USD a month that classes as ‘good money’ here. She couldn’t survive at home with her family.

My options are limitless as I flounder about the world hiking mountains, sitting on the beach and doing whatever I please. In an Australian sense I don’t really have that much money, but in an Indonesian sense I have about a lifetime of their wages sitting in my bank account so how am I supposed to feel OK about this? How am I supposed to feel OK about being on a perpetual holiday when these people get no days off work until they die and sleep only 5 hours a night every day as even sleep isn’t a luxury they can afford? How am I supposed to feel about drawing the lucky straw in this life when billions of others didn’t? Guilty. That is how I feel. My conscience weeps every single time I see something like this and I know that this is reality for so many. I am merely more than just a privileged western tourist staring into the fishbowl from the outside with all my money. And then I will go back to my privileged world and not think about it anymore because it is too hard and uncomfortable to think about. If I was them, I would hate me so much. And yet they don’t. They have a graciousness about them that well surpasses the graciousness of most people I know that have money.

I can’t change the whole world on my own. I can’t change the greedy nature of mankind. I would if I could but there are some things you have to accept that you just can’t change. But maybe, just maybe, I can help one person at a time and try and make my difference that way. Maybe by imparting kindness on all people I meet and choosing where I direct my dollars I can help to make small differences in the lives of few. If everybody in my situation made the effort to do this, then maybe we could make a difference to hundreds and even thousands of people to make their lives a little easier. So I challenge you! Be aware. Don’t sweep it under the rug because it is too big or uncomfortable to deal with. Choose something small and start making a difference there. Because it is with small steps, not giant leaps that we change the world. And the world really does need changing.

The Perilous Summit of Mount Rinjani – Part 2

I barely slept. I rolled around exhausted and as much as my body was exhausted, it would not allow me to sleep. Before I knew it, I was waking up at 1:30am waiting for the moment to get out of bed and to go and summit this mountain top that everybody keeps on telling me is so difficult that it is ridiculous. Way harder than the previous days…. 

I started ‘breakfast’ with a hot tea and a couple of sugar cookies and packed a hydralyte for the way. At 2:30am I started out with Chris up the hill. The others were way faster than us and so they were set to start out later and meet us. The first part of the trek was on a massive incline crawling over rocks and sandy scree to try and get to the crater rim. After about an hour, it was over and we were making our way along the crater rim at a more moderate incline. It was windy, it was dark and even though I couldn’t see much, I could see that the trail either side of me lead to a massive fall either down the outside of the volcano or into the crater. I tried not to think about it and kept on going. As I kept going all I could think to myself was the song ‘ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah’ as I could see all of these tiny headlamp glows following one another up a hill like small ants.

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The view on the way up as the sun starts appearing and it gets light enough to see

We sat and ate some more sugar cookies before what was to be the final hour and a bit. The most difficult part. Straight up to the summit over black sand. It was three steps at a time, then two breaths, three steps, then two breaths. At one point the adrenaline kicked in through all of the hard work and my frustrations and I realized that I was going to make it. I started getting excited. I could see Chris up ahead and he was rounding the corner to where the last stretch of the summit was. Almost there…

And then I saw it… Three French guys and an Aussie in shorts and a singlet at the top of the mountain in a man huddle to try and stay warm and I knew I was there! The view was incredible. Chris and I stood at the top and had a few pictures with the sign at the top over the view of the lake and at that moment I was so elated that something I had wanted to give up after one hour of walking on day one I managed to achieve through sheer will power and mind control. It was one of my greatest achievements.

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Yay! I made it to the top!

The sun didn’t rise properly as there were too many clouds in the distance obscuring the sun. But I could see Gunung Anung on Bali, the Gili Islands, all the way across the northern coast of Lombok and Sumbawa where I was taking a boat trip in two days from that moment. The time up there was fleeting and never enough, but we gradually started to make our way down, taking pictures of all of the things that we didn’t see in the dark on the way up. After a couple of hours we were back at camp, eating breakfast and packing up to start the trek back down to Sembulan.

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Views of the valley on the way down

It was a steep descent. My knees, ankles and feet were killing me. But I kept on plodding along. After ten hours of walking that day, I managed to get out the end of the rice and farming fields to the road where the truck was waiting to take us back to Senaru.

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The rice fields in Sembulan towards the end of the hike

We sat in the back of the truck and waved to the kids through all of the villages screaming ‘Hello!’ at us along the way and eventually got to Senaru, picked up our luggage and headed to Senggigi where we were staying the night. The whole adventure at this point never felt like it actually happened. It felt like a dream…. except I had two giant swollen feet from the rapid change in altitude and a duck waddle when I walked for the next two days to remind me.

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Now dems are some serious cankles 🙂

This is something I laughed about despite my discomfort. Because I took on Rinjani. And despite my own self doubt, I won!

The Perilous Summit of Mount Rinjani – Part 1

From 600m to 3726m in less than 48 hours. It was going to be one of the most challenging feats I had ever encountered. Welcome to Mount Rinjani, Indonesia!

As I sat at the bar talking to a random guy in Gili Trawangan about trekking around the area and told him that I was going to hike Mount Rinjani he enlightens me that it is one hell of a tough trek. Forget the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Basecamp in Nepal, forget the tallest mountain in the region Kinabalu, Rinjani is way tougher. It is purely brutal. And so I started quaking in my pants worried about whether or not this is actually achievable. But the money was paid up and we were leaving in the morning so I was going to give it a decent go.

7am we headed down to the boat docks to try and find our boat. Confused about where we were supposed to be going, we eventually found our travel agent, Andy and he has shuffled us onto the local boat over to Bangsal. I sat at the end of the boat with my friend on one side and a local man asleep on my other shoulder for some unknown reason and we sailed on. As the only white people on the boat we were an easy spot for the men down the beach calling to us “Danni and Beccy!! Danni and Beccy!!” They helped us into a horse drawn carriage where we were taken to our breakfast point for our first meal of the day.

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Off down the road in our horse drawn cart

From here it was two hours in a car driving to Senaru to begin the hike. We madly threw things into our bag so that we could get started with our porter as the rest of the group we were with had already begun walking two hours before us.

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The entrance gate to the Mount Rinjani trek

As I started up the hill, it was brutally hot and quite steep. I remember thinking to myself in that first hour, if this is what the easy part is like, then kill me now because I will never make it. I was ready to throw in the towel, but at the same time I figured my body would become accustomed to it eventually and all I had to do was keep walking and to push through it. During the second hour I was really starting to feel the effects of not having had enough to eat before I started to hike and I am saying to my porter who doesn’t speak English the only thing I remembered in Indonesian from my market visit that I knew he had. “Pisang? Pisang? Terima Kasih!?” I said to him and he shook his head at me knowingly and pulled out a couple of bananas for me to eat. I sighed relief and kept walking.

Further relief came in the form of the torrential downpour of the wet season that could be trusted to begin at approximately 1pm every day. As the rain started teaming down, the trail became a river bed to walk up and the weather cooled down to the point where walking at this incline became more manageable for me. On the downside, my boots and a lot of what I owned had gotten wet, but that was bound to happen at some point anyway.

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One of the rest spots on the way up

Along the way we stopped at the rest points Pos I and Pos II and met some really cool people who imparted advice and gave us left over cookies that were to be pivotal to my quest later. Eventually we made it to the lunch spot and the rest of our group and munched down on some well needed and deserved noodles. And then it was time to continue. At the lunch spot we’re at 1500m above sea level. We started at 600m, we were camping at approximately 2400m, so we were about half way up in the incline stakes. And so the plodding, one foot after another kept on, and I kept on even though I was well further back from the group than the others due to my breathing limitations.

Eventually we made it to the camping place for the first night. The porters had set up our tents in a line across the hill and we all got our drenched clothes off and attempted to get warm. My bag had gotten wet around the sides of my pack cover and my pyjamas had gotten wet also so I took to sleeping in a pair of rain pants…. funny I know considering I probably should have worn them in the rain. Dinner was quickly scoffed down and everybody retired to bed exhausted after a massive first day.


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Tents in a line along the hill

The next day was to offer a bit of relief in the form of downhill, for which I was excited. We were told that it was to be a pretty hairy ordeal though with very slippery and steep rock faces. We weren’t to be disappointed.

The day started with a 200m climb straight up from our camping spot to the crater rim where we glimpsed our first view over the incredible crater lake with Gunung Baru in the centre chuffing hot smoke.

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My first glimpse of Gunung Baru in the centre of the Mount Rinjani crater lake

From here it was down into the crater to the edge of the lake over the aforementioned steep and rocky track before arriving at the bottom. I took my shoes off and had a bit of a paddle in the lake to cool down the feet before we moved on to our lunch spot and on to swimming in the hot springs. The hot springs were the most amazingly warm hot bath at that time ever and a Godsend for sore muscles. We sat in and among the hot waterfalls and relaxed for half an hour while lunch cooked and then it was time to eat.

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The glorious hot springs, amazing for tired and sore muscles

The saddest part about this whole area is the amount of trash lying around. The locals seem to have very little regard for the nature and very little understanding of the effects of pollution. It had drawn in a whole bunch of monkeys and flies around the area that were pests in trying to get at your food. One monkey waited until I wasn’t looking, came right up beside me and stole the chicken bone that I had set beside me when I was done with it. Another of the monkeys approached me while I had a chicken bone and was getting ready to charge me. I screamed and yelled at it, waving my arms about the place letting him know who’s boss for showing his teeth at me and charging at me. It is such a shame that it is getting this way. There is nothing that saddens me more than watching these monkeys ferret through left over plastic bags for food in a place that looks like a rubbish dump.

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Monkey contemplating taking my lunch

And so from here we continued. Another brutal climb up sheer rock face for the next three hours to reach our camping spot for the evening. And while it was difficult, the rain held off just enough so that we could get there without too much swimming uphill into gushing water as we had heard happened to others doing this trek before us.

We set up camp, we ate dinner, we prepared. Tomorrow was the big one. The summit. We were sitting at 2600m above sea level at the base camp for the summit. A gruelling 1100m ascent in 3 and a half hours that is to be climbed over volcanic ash and scree. We were to be up at 2am to start the climb by 2:30am to get there for sunrise.

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The final supper before summit, with amazing view to accompany

For my summit climb and to see if I made it to the top, catch us next week!

My First Week In Indonesia

Ever since I have gotten to Indonesia I have been running flat out. It has been ten days and in that time I have sat on the Gili Islands, hiked the second largest mountain in Indonesia and taken a four day boat ride across the northern coast of Lombok and Sumbawa over to see the Komodo Dragons. While these are going to be huge stories to tell, I have not yet got the time to write about it as I am still running mad for the next week so hopefully there will be some awesome blog stories to fill you in with in coming weeks. However, I shall leave you with a few minor stories of ridiculous things that have happened this week.

 Some of the most random occurrences on this trip happened in the small town of Senggigi, Lombok.  We were dropped here after our Mount Rinjani trek tired and weary. We decided firstly to have a walk around and see what was about the town and go and sit on the beach for a while. As we are walking along we were approached by a woman who asks us if she can have our help. Dubious about people stopping tourists to ask for help, we listened anyway. Turns out she was a school teacher in need of native English speakers to speak to her class for practice. So we agreed and went along to meet the kids on the beach.

The first questions come out to Bec. “How are you? Do you have a boyfriend? How many boyfriends you have? Why you only have one?” Bec just laughed, told them she liked the one she has and palmed them off on me as I don’t have a boyfriend…. great. The kids had all kinds of questions “Where are you from? Do you like Senggigi beach? Do you like Lombok?” We answered patiently, signed our names a couple of dozen times to their notebooks, had even more pictures taken and then we left. It was a really fun experience. Only ten days out of teaching and already back to teaching and correcting people’s grammar! Hahaha!


After the school kids and hobbling around further we were completely ruined. As such we decided that we should go and have the full works done.  So Bec and I hobble over the road to the Orchid Spa (the one in town that is reputable and doesn’t give happy endings apparently) and ordered the works. Full body massage, scrub, body mask, manicure and pedicure.

The ladies take us upstairs and lay us on a table each with no curtain between us pretty much stark naked except for these see through black underpants they gave us. Ummm….. OK then. We proceed to get massaged, Bec yelping every time they went over her knee area. Then the scrub stuff is applied and rubbed off of us until we are lying on a table full of flakes of salt and dead skin. Then comes the mask painted on with a brush,  roll over and repeat.

At the end of this process when we are all dry, we were ushered off into a shower to literally hose one another off naked together. Who knows how this would have went down if 1. I was a prude, or 2. I was alone. We pretty much giggled the entire time trying to get mask and scrub out of ears, belly buttons and any kind of crevice it could find to hide in.

By this stage I was starting to not feel so good so I fell asleep whilst getting my nails done and woke up in a fever that sent me stumbling down the street at the locals saying “pharmacy, pharmacy”. It turns out that the day before I am due to get on the boat I am to get another bout of the tonsillitis that I had before I left…. it was going to be an interesting 4 days on the boat to come….

Boat trip and Mt Rinjani trip to come!!!

Why Wait? Five Hot Tips on the Art of Micro-retirements

“Micro-retirement: noun 1. the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work for extended periods of time on multiple occasions throughout one’s working career.” – from the Danni Dictionary of Good Times.

I was sitting at school one day in the staff room and one of the women there asks me whether I am back next year, to which I respond ‘no’. When she asks why, I inform her that next year I am going on what I term as ‘micro-retirement’ again. I am off to go and travel until the money runs out or I get antsy and need to stop and do some work for a little stability for a while.

She sat across from me and said to me ‘I think this is amazing, and I am so glad that you choose to do this. You never know what will happen tomorrow’. She continued to tell me about how her and her husband had lead active lives and he used to run marathons, was healthy and fit as fiddle. They had spent their entire lives saving for a house, saving for kids, and then saving for their retirement to go and travel, see the world and enjoy their lives. After her husband retired, he went into hospital for a hip replacement from wearing it down through running triathlons. He had a complication in the week following and died of a blood clot post surgery. All of their savings and plans had gone to waste, because he was never going to see or do any of it. And now she doesn’t know how she is supposed to do it on her own.

This to me was heartbreaking. I was almost in tears listening to her talk. Her loss was both abrupt and horrifying. And yet she sat across from me and said ‘You don’t know whether you will die tomorrow. So live like there is no tomorrow. Do what you want to do today if you can. You will never know what will happen, even if you are the fittest and healthiest you can be. You just never know’.

Moments like these inspire me. I hear stories like these from so many people. In the blink of an eye, the plans are gone because their loved ones are gone. These moments remind me of why it is I choose this option of micro-retirements over the conventional decisions that others make. But in many cases micro-retirements can be quite a daunting thing to many. And so here are my tips to living adventurously and like there is no tomorrow by taking a micro-retirements as opposed to saving your whole life for one big retirement.

1. Learn to embrace instability 

Stability-schmility.  There is plenty of money to be had if you are willing to work for it in this crazy world. Who would you be if you weren’t defined by what job you worked, what house you lived in, what stuff you owned and how many kids you had…. an interesting thought in this world that promotes capitalism and excessive need for stability.

2. Become well versed in multiple different jobs

Some people shun me for being “a jack of all trades and master of none”. What I do know is that this particular skill has had me working in every field from science to education to promotions and marketing to forklift driving. As I say to my students all the time “don’t close doors on yourself. Do as much as you can and keep as many doors open as you can”.

3. Be prepared to do literally ANYTHING for work

I am not super proud. To keep me on the road and fund my travels I have done everything from working as a cleaner, a manual labourer and one job I had was sticking promotions stickers on men’s toilet urinals. I have even sneakily collected recycling for bottle collection return.

4. OR choose a career that is supremely flexible. 

My current career as a teacher is greatly flexible. I can teach anywhere in the world and am flexible enough to teach a lot of different subjects. Other friends I have met that travel with their careers are nurses, accountants, scientists, trades people, people who work in hospitality and tourism.

5. Make your money go further

When you are on the road look for deals and do it the cheap way. If you have the time, take the local bus. Eat the cheap food off the street instead of from in the restaurant. Stay in smaller and cheaper guest houses.  Think of the money you spend in terms of “how many nights accommodation” it is worth.

And most of all ENJOY!! If you aren’t enjoying your life to the fullest, then what is it that you are doing? Time to take stock and try something different if what you are currently doing isn’t working!! Good luck!! And happy micro-retirements people!!!

The Emotions Of Leaving

For anybody who has ever packed up everything that they own into boxes and disembarked on a life journey with a one way ticket, this is for you. This is my third time doing this. And I must say, that it doesn’t get any easier. If anything, I believe it gets a little harder each time. The pull between the things you want in life gets stronger and stronger and before you realize it you are getting pulled apart in opposite directions. One direction is towards the road, the unknown, adventure, adrenaline and constant challenge, the other is towards the stability, familiarity and safety in the known.

There are positives in each, as there are negatives. I have sat for the last ten months working in my home town to make the cash to head off on the next adventure and it has been an interesting time. It is hard in a small town to feel like there are people to meet that understand who you are and the experiences you have had when you share none of these common experiences.  Making friends here  was so incredibly difficult compared to the ease of making friends on the road. Friends on the road come from a mutual understanding that everybody is in the same boat and everybody has the same needs. They are open to what  is around them. People not travelling have their friends already, They don’t typically need new ones because they have what it is that they need. The effort you have to put into trying to develop friendships with non-travelling people is so incredibly high in comparison and it can take months to feel like you are even cracking the surface of a real friendship with people. It can feel very lonely and isolating. Your amazing friends that you make on the road however eventually go home and take a small piece of you with them. Then you spend your time pining away on Facebook for all of the friends that you miss from every far reaching corner of the planet that you will never have all in one place again.

It is hard to relate to friends from forever ago that all now have husbands, children, mortgages and the rest and they ask you when you are going to settle down and eventually have these things. It is hard to explain that you are not even sure that you want these things in your life. But you do want a partner in crime. Somebody to live and share your adventure and zest for life with. “You will never find somebody unless you stay here in one place” they say, but at the same time, you feel like you will never find somebody in a place that is so insular. You would have to start again somewhere new and filled with more people like you, and if you are going to do that, then you may as well just go on another adventure. You are more likely to meet people like you to find a partner in crime on the road. But then you find an amazing partner in crime on the road and know that they will be around for only a fleeting time because these things on the road never seem to last unless you get really lucky.

You worry about money. Sure I have enough of it to start. But what happens if there is an emergency, I need to get home, I run out too quickly and I am forced to come home. What if I get a work visa for somewhere and I can’t find a job? What if…. what if…. what if…???

You feel bad about the things you miss. The birth of a niece or nephew and watching them grow, a death of a member in the family or old friend, weddings, Christmases, important milestones. I have missed all of these at some point. Before you know it, you are gone for two years and the baby you remembered is now a toddler you barely recognize.

You are unnerved by all of the lectures that you receive from people telling you that you need to settle down. “You are getting older now, you have nothing and will never have anything if you keep living like this” because majority of society place their value in the accumulation of material possessions. They don’t understand the value you place on memories. But they will also tell you that the memories you are making are the wrong ones. Because they don’t involve houses, children and work. Because they aren’t the conventional memories. Because memories of parties and having a good time won’t keep you warm at night when you are eighty. And yet my fondest memories from travel are not of parties at all.

And yet despite all of this you hit the road. You trade your double bed and privacy for a different single bed every night in a room with seven others. You trade your classy wardrobe for clothes with holes in them. You trade a cupboard for a backpack. Trade a house for a tent. Trade a car for a local bus. You quit your job. And you go.

You can’t explain to those who haven’t travelled before the enrichment that you get from going. The constant state of challenge you live in as you navigate new places, new cultures, new languages and new problems. The way your eyes change as they see everything in this world for the first time. The way your heart opens to new people and emotions every single day. The adrenaline. The freedom. So much of me yearns for it. And the biggest problem with living like this, is that I know I won’t be able to live a ‘normal’ life ever again. It has become a part of my being.

As I go, I am smacked with an array of emotions. Loss of what I have here, excitement at the prospect of new things and challenges, numbness in disbelief that anything is actually changing. But the biggest emotion I feel is fear. I am afraid. Afraid to stay. Afraid to go. But at no point in this life have I ever let that stop me before, so why should it stop me now? Fear is my nemesis that I kick in the arse every single day that I am on the road. And yet this is a fear that I am so familiar with that it is almost home. I almost wonder one day whether I will find the courage to face the fear to stay. Who knows…. maybe one day. But that day is not today. And so it is time to go.


Being A Human Pin Cushion

So this is my fifth week as being a human pin cushion. What I mean by this is that whenever you go into a travel doctors office and say ‘I am going to India among other places ‘, expect to be prodded with needles in your arms until you have needles coming out of your eyeballs. The other thing that you can expect is that it will set you back about a whole months worth of travel dollars just to make sure that your health is in good order before you go. But if there is one thing I have learned in this life it is that you can find new love and make more money but if you neglect your health, it might just be the biggest regret of your life.

So I sit in the office about a month ago with a nurse going over what it is that I need for travel given that I will be going for such a long time and trying to decide on what it is that I will need based on where I am going and what I am doing. Prior to this, I have been pretty well vaccinated. When I was a child my mother used to tell us we were going somewhere fun and then we would wind up at the doctors to get immunizations before we would be allowed to go and do that said ‘fun thing’. My previous history being a myriad of tetanus, Hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps and rubella, polio, yellow fever, old meningococcal ABWY and past typhoid, I figured that I would not really have that much to update other than the typhoid which is out of date.

But noooooo…. apparently when you say you are going to India the ball game changes completely. I am sitting in the chair hearing about three course injections for rabies, more typhiod, more tetanus even though my last one was only 4 years ago, cholera, more polio, more meningitis…. I could see needles and dollar signs flying around my head and an understanding came about that I would be spending at least once a week for the next month in this doctors office getting poked with needles. I do not think that people realize just how much this part of travel costs and just how important it is. On top of this they needed to take my blood and do a test to make sure that all of my past injections had taken and that I had high enough levels of immunity or I would be needing to have more of those too. Turns out my measles, mumps and rubella vaccination from a child has lapsed and I had no immunity to this at all anymore…. lucky I had the test.

And this was just the basic level. I then have to organize my drug kit. Drugs for malaria prophylaxis, drugs for stomach infections, giardia, general skin and chest infections, travel sickness, gastrostop. Drugs for altitude sickness, travel sickness, antihistamines…. My mind is in a semi state of explosion. I guess people don’t realize how prepared a person has to be when they are travelling into countries that are not westernized. While it is eye opening in so many ways, it is also eye opening with regards to how lucky we actually are in our westernized home countries to have basic things like clean water and a good health care system so that we don’t have to worry about such diseases. And so I go in well equipped.

On top of my massive list of needles and drugs, I am also equipped with 2 massive cans of Bushman’s hardcore Australian bug spray and permethrin-impregnated everything, so I think I might be ready to go. I spent my weekend a couple of weeks ago on my balcony getting high on the hydrocarbon solvent the permethrin came in whilst soaking all of my clothes and laying them out on plastic in the shade to dry. It took me a good day because of the space that I needed to lay things out but it is all ready and good to go.

My clothes soaking in the poison permethrin to kill off all of those darned mozzies!

So…. a bit over a week to go, I am feeling somewhat prepared. Somewhat healthy and somewhat like a pin cushion. But it is just the pay off for all the fun to come!


Planning My Upcoming Trip

I have long since adopted this philosophy since I met a very wise and drunk Irish friend in New Zealand that there is no plan is a good plan, but instead it should be an outline. One of those hazy wiggly lines with which you can bend about to fit things in without shading in the entire shape to make it solid and inflexible.

So my flexible wiggly outline this time involves a one way ticket to Indonesia, and a booking to hike Everest Base Camp at the end of March. When originally sitting down to plan my way back off to the glorious travel land, I was going to head back to Canada through Hawaii because it is cheaper to go via Hawaii than direct and then I would head to South America to teach English and learn more Spanish.

My friend Bec then messages me one day saying she wants to go on a holiday and how do I feel about Asia somewhere in the school holidays? So after sitting and researching all of the amazing temples in Java, the spectacular volcanoes, komodo dragons, beaches, I set my heart on Indonesia. And then Bec told me she didn’t have enough holidays accrued at work. So I planned other things and figured I would get to Indonesia on my own when I left Australia and then it would be cheaper to go through the Philippenes back to LA and then down to South America…..

One random Friday afternoon after work, Jetstar announced a 4 hour only sale of $99 one way tickets from Melbourne to Bali. And so I messaged Bec, said ‘will you have enough holidays in December?’ she says yes and on a random whim we book cheap tickets. And so ‘planning’ part one had begun.

I also a couple of weeks after this in amongst the height of other friends carrying on about the giant deal and stress of pending 30th birthdays and how old we are all getting and the rest, another friend messages me with this 66% off Groupon to go and hike Everest Base Camp. So I was like, well, I will be in Asia, that is close enough. I can’t think of anything else better to do for my birthday than hide in the Himalayas where I don’t have any internet and don’t have to deal with the fuss of it. Let’s go hike Mount Everest! So in a random spur of the moment event, I booked that.

At this point in time I realize that I am now further away from Hawaii, the Philippenes, South America… all the places I planned on going originally and that this is going to put me at a point where I will be in my last years of potentially having work visas. And so the squeeze of 30 finally sets in. Not because I feel old, but because the governments of specific countries stipulate that over 30 is too old.

So now I sit with the idea that “Well, I am in Nepal, so I may as well go to India and travel there. Then I may as well go get a work visa for either Canada or the UK again. Hell! Why not get both just to keep my options open!?” And so all of a sudden I find myself getting further and further away from the original plan of South America and yet I am still super excited! I know one day South America will happen, but given my flightiness, my need to get as much done with work visas while I still can, and my constant deviations of original ideas, I guess ‘planning’ a trip is one of those things that I am good at and yet not good at. I somehow spontaneously managed to come up with this outline. What I will do when I get there is yet to be determined, but there is an outline nonetheless…. I am sure that that outline will get more contorted somehow, but either way, it is going to be a fun ride! And you can follow along with me to see just how contorted ‘not planning’ can become!

Hunting Rafflesia In The Malaysian Highlands

I got up and put on my skins ready for the big trek. After a fruit and corn flakes breakfast, I piled into the van with the others and we drove for an hour until we reached a village on the side of the road. We pulled over and got out and started to climb up the very muddy road to the waterfall and the rafflesia flowers. The morning sun was hot, the trek was slippery and the hill was steep which made for some arduous work. After much giggling about sliding all over the place and pretending to be chief with a fern hat on my head, we eventually got to the waterfall where we all raced down. Everyone stripped off into their jocks and Anna got changed into her bathers. I decided I couldn’t be bothered taking off my skins so I swam in those and my crop top. The water was freezing but at the same time really refreshing.

Drinking fresh water from a bamboo shoot

After the swim, we continued up the hill further for another half an hour in a more bush like track until we saw these massive flowers. They are the rafflesia. The one that was flowering was about  80cm in diameter and a deep red in colour. On the inside there was a pad with the stamen and heaps of flies extracting the pollen out all over the flower. The inside also was lined with white spots and it is these spots that they use to determine the species of the flower.

Up close and personal… inside the Rafflesia flower

The flowers are parasitic and they grow on other plants. They start out growing like cabbage plants and spend most of the year this way. When in season, they only flower for ten days. By day  seven they are losing their colours and by day ten they look like a pool of tar from the side of the road. They really are quite fascinating plants. They also are used apparently for medicinal purposes. They give them to fat ladies to help them lose weight by improving their circulation.

Me and the Rafflesia… almost as big as me!

From here we walked back to the starting point.  Once we were back, we were walked through the village, shown to the shop to buy some refreshments and seated for the blowpipe exhibition. After getting shown how to load and use the blowpipes and what each size is for, we got to have a turn. It is a damn shame that nobody taught us how to aim the damn things. My shot was in line with the target vertically, but way too high horizontally on the board. We had a mini Olympics with each country representing and lets just say that Australia came last. If I got caught out in the bush I would probably starve to death.

Bamboo shooting at targets… terribly…

From here we got back into the van and drove to the Boh tea plantation. The tea plants lined the mountainous hills the whole way around the winding  roads and I must admit they were not at all what I expected. The bushes were short, somewhat like a bonsai, and had to be trimmed every 3 weeks to keep them from growing into massive trees. We had a tour through the processing factory  where they explained to us that the leaves are soaked and then they are dried, allowed to oxidise which gives it the flavour and then they are sorted through the machine, dried out and sifted.

After the tea appreciation show, we went and had some tea to drink, mine being peppermint due to the upset stomach and some really bad cake. Anna sampled everyone’s cake and said that they were all crap. We left the hanging restaurant and went for a bit of a wander and a shop before heading to the butterfly farm.

Butterfly farm beauties

I must admit that it was not what I expected. A whole lot of insects and not many butterflies. Not many impressive ones anyhow. Before the not so impressive butterfly enclosure, we got to play with some insects. First was the rhino beetle. I was first up for a hold, but I couldn’t get him to let go of the stick. Following the rhino was a gecko, a massive grasshopper which migrated its’ way from my hand to my head, some more beetles and then the finale, two scorpions that were about three inches long. Carsten and I were dubbed equally brave/stupid as we were the only ones that would touch them. They wouldn’t let us play with the spiders.

Just chilling with a camouflaged bug on my head

The last stop for the day was the strawberry farm. We all ordered strawberry shakes and looked around at the hydraponic plants within the greenhouses. Carsten found a machine where you try and pick up the toys out of the machine with the grab arm. He managed to get two prizes out in two goes and then stuck them on the windshield as a tip to the driver.

Holding large scorpions…. not going to eat one like the guy behind me! That is too much!

By the end of the trip I was totally exhausted so I went back to the hotel for a nap. When I woke up I noticed that I have this weird rash on my boobs that is not normal. I took one of Dave’s antihistamines and then went out for Indian for dinner. It was an interesting looking place and trying to get our food was a challenge because they didn’t understand English well and kept forgetting what we ordered. When the meal was eventually served though, everyone agreed that it was awesome food. We scoffed it down quickly and then headed back to the hotel where the others played more king kong, and I passed out from exhaustion into a restless sleep.

Being Down To Your Last $10 For A Week

Sometimes in this life you need to recognize when the higher powers are throwing lemons at you and saying ‘Come on! Juice me! Make lemonade!’

So on this one particular day I am making my way down the street on my way home after getting little work flyering during the week and having just paid my last rent check for a week. I have ten dollars burning a hole in my wallet and this is literally all I have to my name. That and the eighty one cents that I have in my bank account that I probably can’t withdraw. The plans are wandering through the brain…. “What exactly can I get in Chinatown for ten dollars that will feed me for three and a half days until I get paid? Mmmm…. 5 for $1 rice vermicelli noodles, Mr. Noodles, maybe even splurge and get a banana….. a person does need some vitamins.”

As I ponder these things I walk past a restaurant which has in the window ‘dishwasher for tonight needed’. “Oh hell yes!” I think to myself and I walk inside. “Hi! You need a dishwasher?”

“Yes. Are you a dishwasher?” he responds.

“I can be. What is the going rate?” I say.

“Ten bucks an hour for 8 hours. Maybe more. It is our closing night before we do renovations” he tells me.

“Feed me and you have yourself a deal.” I said.

‘Done! You can start now”.

So before I know it I am hustled up to the back of this kitchen and decked out in aprons and other fun things that are ‘chef like’ that are way too over-sized for me. Then I am shown around the kitchen. “Here is your hose to wash things off, here is your dishwasher, here is your bucket with a cloth, start washing walls”. Argh, shitful…. anyway. That is when the fun started and Alberto says “What would you like to eat?”.

So I tell him “I will eat whatever”. So my new best friend Alberto comes back with this salad with balsamic vinegar soaked strawberries and prosciutto that tastes more like heaven than any salad I have ever had in my life. I ate like a woman possessed who hadn’t been fed in about ten years and got back to cleaning some dishes. Then Roberto says to me ‘before it gets busy, maybe I can make you some food?’ Ummmm…. hell yeah you can make me some food! So then I wind up with a pasta covered in parmesan and olive oil with prawns and garlic. Amazing!

So then the real work began. And it was flat out. It was such a busy night that I struggled to keep up with things, but what made it all the more fun was that I got to listen to flamenco music playing live from just outside of the kitchen and it was incredibly uplifting. I was floating on air given  that several hours earlier my options were Mr Noodles, Mr Noodles and more Mr Noodles. So I washed and danced in a state of merriment and before I knew it, it was getting on towards close time. Things were winding down. They had some desert left over from the night. Hello caramel flan!! I will have two of you thank you!

What is even better is that at the end of the night they had food in the fridge that they were going to throw out as they were closing for the renovations. Like a mad woman hoarder I am stuffing sliced oranges, tiramisu, chopped vegetables, half a prosciutto leg and whatever else I could get my hands on into multiple shopping bags. I must have looked like the biggest scab of a homeless person ever. If I felt that I could have carried more I probably would have stuffed another flan in my bra! But needless to say I finished up my night of washing, thanked them kindly for everything and headed home at 2am with my $80 cash in my wallet and my bags of goodies.

It is funny to think of how quickly the tides can turn in some situations. Eight hours ago I was walking down the street contemplating Mr Noodles flavours, and at 2am, I am happier than a pig in shit trotting down the street with all of my food and money with a flamenco music band dancing around in my head shaking my booty. Most of the patrons on the street probably thought I was drunk I was so goddamn ecstatic. Life couldn’t have been better! And neither could my stomach!

A woman's lifelong aversion to the word 'No'….