Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: A Year in Review

As cliche as it is to say, I honestly cannot believe another year has gone by.

2013 was certainly one of my busiest years to date. I spent the first half of the year as a nomad in Asia: visiting tea plantations in Malaysia, snowboarding in Japan, volunteering with elephants in Cambodia, overcoming my fear of riding a motorbike in Vietnam, participating in the world's biggest waterfight in Thailand and meeting some of the friendliest people ever in Myanmar.

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Sen Monorom, Cambodia

Yangon, Myanmar

Sapa, Vietnam

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Post-Asia it was time to move to Melbourne, where I met up with this guy who became my boyfriend, tried my hand at being a barista and went on an amazing road trip. From there it was off to tropical Fiji, where I explored its underwater world and hung out in a local village. I was lucky enough to reconnect with family and friends in beautiful British Columbia, as well as meet Ben's family in Shropshire, England for the first time. After that it was back to Australia to try living in a different city (and to earn some money for 2014 travel plans.)

This guy.

Barista-ing, Melbourne

Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Coral Coast, Fiji

Tofino, BC

Ben's house in Shrewsbury, UK

Eleven countries, one boyfriend, countless new experiences... 2013 has certainly been eventful. While this year has made me realize that I couldn't lead this type of nomadic lifestyle forever, it's also reaffirmed my belief that traveling is what I'm supposed to be doing right now. There are certain aspects of a more settled life I'm already looking forward to one day but there are still too many more things in this world I want to see, do, learn, taste and experience first.

I don't yet know what 2014 is going to look like, although I have some ideas (Diving the Great Barrier Reef? Visiting my Cambodian 'family'? Attending a wedding in England? Teaching English in Korea?) so stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dreaming of a W..arm Christmas?

Although my first eight years of life were spent in sunny Southern California, the holidays I really remember growing up took place a little further north. Christmases in good ol' Surrey, BC weren't always white but they were definitely never warm. My fondest Christmas memories have all taken place in the cold, which is why the two have always gone hand in hand for me.

Then in 2011, while living at home to save money to travel (and going a bit stir-crazy in process) I applied and was hired to work on a Hawaii-bound cruise ship over the holidays. In addition to being a pretty unique way to spend Christmas, it was also the first truly hot one I'd ever celebrated.

The following year I left home to go traveling. By December I found myself in tropical Thailand, intending to celebrate a second sunny Christmas by attending a Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Phangan. However, my grand plans were thwarted just days before by some little mosquito who was kind enough to infect me with Dengue Fever, which left me more or less bed-ridden. It was certainly a memorable holiday but not for the right reasons!

Fast forward to Christmas Day 2013 in Sydney, Australia where I'm currently living and working. I was expecting to have another sweltering Christmas but (gasp) it was actually raining here today! Although it was a bit wet, it was still warm enough to go for a nice swim in the ocean and have a beer at the beach.

While these past few Christmases have each been incredibly memorable, it's sometimes been hard to remember that it really is Christmas. I think I'll always associate this time of year with the memories I made back home: watching Christmas movies by the fire, going for winter walks in the park behind my house, sledding on nearby hills, enjoying hot holiday drinks from Starbucks red cups, listening to Christmas songs on 103.5 QM/FM from the warmth of the car (only people from the Vancouver area will know what I'm talking about on that last point) and making igloos (okay, so I only did that once... but it was one of the rare occasions where I managed to live up to a Canadian stereotype!)

Don't get me wrong, I have genuinely enjoyed the Christmases I've spent abroad/in the heat and wouldn't change them for the world (not even getting Dengue!) but I don't think Christmas will ever truly feel like Christmas for me unless I'm somewhere cold. Or more still, unless I'm at home. Until then...

Merry Christmas and lots of love to my family and friends around the world!!!

Christmas 2011 - Hawaii, USA

Christmas 2012 - Koh Phangan, Thailand

No photos, due to the fact I was incredibly ill with Dengue Fever. Boooooooo.

Christmas 2013 - Sydney, Australia

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Catching Curveballs

So there's been a slight change of plans... instead of spending three months working on a farm in the outback, we spent just three days.

In short, the farm work was nothing like what we thought it would be. We were told we would be working 40 hour weeks and were under the impression we would get at least a day or two off a week to see a bit of the area or just relax. Well, in our three days there we worked between 9 and 12 hour days, and they were expecting us to work 7 days a week for the three months that we would be there.

On top of extremely long hours, the family itself was unpleasant to say the least. The mother was a big believer in the yelling and screaming style of parenting, a trait that she had successfully passed down to each of her six children. (Literally, at least one person could be heard screaming at any given time.) Now Ben and I aren't at all opposed to working hard but for what we were earning ($50/week each) for work (cleaning, pulling weeds and more cleaning) we didn't even enjoy... we felt like we were being taken advantage of and although neither of us had ever quit a job after just three days, it didn't seem worth it to stay. 

At the end of our third day we told them that we wanted to leave (not only were they angry but they seemed genuinely baffled as to why we would even contemplate leaving) and left first thing the next morning. Catching a taxi to escape from a farm  was never something I planned on doing but there you have it!

Such an abrupt departure obviously wasn't a part of our plan, so for lack of a better idea we headed south to Sydney. We were lucky enough to have a friend of my parents put us up for nearly a week while we hunted for jobs and a flat. I'm happy to report that we have found a room in a flat (with an ocean view!!!) in the Manly Beach area, located north of Sydney. At the moment we're sharing the place with girl from Liechtenstein, who we get along very well with, and will probably have one or two other flatmates before long as there's another bedroom still available.  As far as jobs go, Ben and I both have trial shifts this week (at a ski shop for him, a cafe for me) so we'll see how we go!

The whole farm situation definitely didn't pan out as I'd hoped but by this point I've gotten pretty good at catching the curveballs that come along with traveling. Although it can be incredibly frustrating, there is always something to learn or to take away from the experience. In this case, I got the opportunity to practice being flexible and changing my plans on a dime - important life skills if you ask me. Spending the summer in a great flat less than a half hour walk from the beach isn't a bad alternative either!

Sunset on the farm

'The outback'

First night in our flat: me, Melanie and Ben

The best view I've ever had from a flat, hands down

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Into the Outback

I've always associated Australia with its renown notion of 'the outback': vast, empty and dry spaces of land. However, having spent almost all of my four-ish months here in cities I've yet to experience anything resembling the wild and rugged outback, until now that is! Allow me to explain...

See, if you're from a Commonwealth country (ie. Canada or the UK) an Australian working holiday visa is as easy to get as candy on Halloween. You fill out an online application, fork over a few hundred dollars and within a few hours you're legally entitled to work in the country for one year. Staying longer, however, is a bit more tricky.

In order to extend your visa and work in Australia for a second year, you need to complete three months of a specific type of work in areas deemed to be part of "regional Australia". This could mean picking fruit, milking cows or diving for pearls (the latter sounds absolutely amazing, though I've yet to hear of any backpacker who has managed to land a job as sweet as that).

So back to my original point: In order to extend our visas, Ben and I are heading to a farm just outside Narrabri, a small town in New South Wales. We'll spend three months working at Yera Farm Stay, a working organic beef farm that also serves as a rural getaway for tourists. From the sounds of it we'll be doing a bit of everything: herding cattle, helping with the horses and taking care of the farm owner's six children! We're not entirely sure what to expect but we're both looking forward to trying something completely new and different to anything we've ever done before.

One thing we know for sure... life in the outback will require some serious fashion adjustments!

Yes, we will actually be wearing these.

P.S. There is no Wi-Fi on the farm and the internet they do have sounds less than reliable, so I'm not sure how often (if at all) I'll be updating my blog over the next three months. Rest assured I will be keeping notes, taking lots of photos and will be posting things as soon as I'm able. Wish me luck!

The Sunshine State

After one of the longest flight itineraries known to man (London-Manila-Darwin-Brisbane, ouch!) Ben and I found ourselves in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. Situated in north-eastern Australia, Queensland has earned the self-explanatory nickname of 'the Sunshine state'. Having just visited England and Canada (where chilly autumn was in full-force) we couldn't wait to slap on our shorts and bask in the glorious sub-tropical climate.

Unfortunately, most of our time in Brisbane thus far has been spent on the couch job-hunting, although the sunny weather nearly convinced us on several occasions to abandon our search for employment altogether. (We do have a job now by the way, but more on that later!) We did however manage to squeeze in an overnight camping trip to nearby Straddie Island, known for its abundance of wildlife, pristine beaches and overall natural beauty, making it a holiday hotspot for locals and foreigners alike.

Excited to be camping

Straddie Island

Queensland, I love you

Oh hello crystal clear water and incredibly fine white sand beach...

We had it made in the shade, literally

View from our campsite, not bad!

These guys were everywhere

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, budgie smugglers = speedos

Considering we are about to start what sound like pretty strenuous 40 hour work weeks (again, details to come!) this brief island getaway could not have come at a more perfect time.
I cannot wait to see more of the Sunshine state!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Photo Blog: Windy Day in Aberdovey, Wales

Three Cups of Tea

I first visited England a few years back while I was studying in France and it pretty much charmed the pants (which to the Brits means underwear!) off me. The quaint pubs, beautiful old buildings, the accents, drinking at least three cups of tea per day... I loved all of it, and I'm pleased to say I'm enjoying it even more the second time around.

I'm staying with Ben's family in his hometown of Shrewsbury, located in the county of Shropshire, and it's absolutely lovely. I've spent the last week wandering around town, walking in muddy but gorgeous fields and hanging out at '71 The Mount' (Ben's address, located on the same street Charles Darwin was born on!)

It's been so enjoyable that I'm already looking forward to coming back, which luckily will be next July!