Australia

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There is a phenomena of travelling to ‘find oneself’. Despite the fact that this phenomena was surely born of a need for a cryptic response to the question ‘why are you travelling’, there is some truth to it. When you strip back the artifices of how we legitimize ourselves in life, through career, through family, what is left is truly ourselves.

This is all well and good when you’re on the road, but presents quite the challenge upon return home. Driving back into the grit and the dirt of the city, sliding over highways, slipping between lanes, through suburbs I’ve lived in, worked in, got lost in, got drunk in, visited friends and lovers in. It’s not that I don’t know who I am here. It’s just that I’ve been so many different people here.

Hello Sydney, with your overwhelming history.

Six hours northwest of Sydney is a forest in danger of being replaced by a coal mine. Home to endangered animals and plant species, it is just one of many forests under threat that environmentalists are flocking to defend. I can’t express how heartbreaking it is to have spent 2 months travelling around a beautiful country, only to come back and find your own home is being permanently gutted for temporary gain. I’m not ready to be home yet, but I also need to be reminded of where home is.

So off I go. Driving out of the grit and the dirt of the city, the suburbs turn to shrub and highways to dirt roads.

There is no place like Australia.

It is not a traditional beauty.  You won’t find any lush forests or snow-capped mountains. Mostly the bush looks a bit post-apocalyptic. Its’ beauty is in its strength, and how it endures, through bush fires and droughts and cyclones. Outback Australia is tough. Stoic. Too cool for school.

We camp on a farm on the outskirts of the forest. Camping under the stars, the air cold and fresh, I sleep so good when I get to see the sun go down. No one is in my face, I am free to read and write and take long tromps in the bush to pee. By night we cook communal dinners over a campfire under an obsidian star-jewled sky. Everyone is passionate and opinionated, usually about different things. The only time we truly see eye to eye are those nighttime walks to the bush, when the miners and police have retired for the day and the way is lit by starlight, and the wind is speckled with fireflies on a nighttime surf, and the sounds of the forest blend into a hypnotic roar the way a healthy forest should. That’s when we are reminded what’s at stake and why we’re here.

There are many forests like this, perched on hilltops, lining the valleys, woods that have spent hundreds of years unconcerned by the comings and goings of man. There is an epidemic of environmental destruction sweeping through Australia, and whilst humanity scraps in the courtrooms and holds the land ransom to politics, outback Australia stands silent in the background. Tough. Stoic. Too cool for school. As long as I endure, so too must this.

 

I am many things. I am the cat with too many lives. But something all those lives have in common are roots in this country. Roots that long to roam as far as physics allows, but are ultimately nourished by the land that I call home. A land that teaches me how to be strong and brave and free. The place I learned to be me.

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Rainforest Retreat

I’d closed down my life in Vancouver, Canada to embark on a new life in Byron Bay, Australia.  True Love requires us to be brave and take chances.  Only problem – it wasn’t true love.  Don’t you hate when that happens?

            I needed to retreat – freak out in private – and figure out what on earth to do next.  I couldn’t run back home.  I’d sold nearly everything I owned. Luckily, my friend Penny offered me her cabin for a few weeks while she was away.  It was nestled in the rainforest near Broken Head Nature Reserve. It was a sign.  I’d hide in Broken Head with my Broken Heart.

             The cabin was right out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.  I was greeted by a note on the rough-hewn kitchen table. After reading about where to find sheets and towels and the compost bin, Penny had written, Oh, and don’t worry about the bush rats, your houseguest will take care of them when he’s not hibernating on the rafters above the fridge.  The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up on full alert.  I had my back to those rafters.  I turned around in the slowest of motion and looked up.  A forked tongue was flicking in my direction and unflinching eyes were boring into me accusingly like I was the intruder. I moonwalked right out the door, and raced up the hill to the main house, hoping for a little advice.  Like, how to find a snake removalist in the Yellow Pages.

             The environmentally correct activists living in the house – the kind of people who risk their lives jumping on whaling ships with protest banners – looked at me like I was The Great Canadian Wimp.  They proceeded to explain Python 101 to me like I was a herpetologically challenged child.

            “It’s just a carpet python. It’s not an African Rock Python.  It can’t hurt you.” 

Well, that explained the National Geographic show I’d seen of a snake in Africa devouring a pig the size of … me!    

            “This rainforest is their home.”

            They made me feel as if I was the Serpent in this Garden of Eden.  Maybe I was.                                         “It’s winter.  They’re just chillin’.”

            The lecture was finished off with a contemptuous What is your problem, City Princess?  eco-warrior sneer.  Geez, Greenies can be Meanies.

            Chastened, I trudged down the steep forest path to the cabin.  When I got to the threshold, I stopped and made a decision.  With shoulders thrust back, I walked in with authority.  I looked directly into that python’s eyes, cleared my throat, and gave my first, person-to-python speech. “Monty,”(it just came out). “You and I can live here, together, in peace.  Just stick to the rafters.  Thanks, mate.”

            I was finally learning about the importance of setting boundaries.

            For someone who grew up in suburbia with neighbors on all sides, it was daunting to go to sleep all alone that first night in a dark forest.  Well, almost alone.  Monty stuck to his end of the bargain, and stayed in a stupor on his rafter. Still, I tucked the mosquito netting in the mattress extra tight.  

            I’d grown up in a boisterous family home, and always lived in shared housing with lots of chatter.  This foreign silence was unnerving. But, by the end of the week, I found the symphony of silence extremely soothing.  The cicadas, frogs, lizards and crickets were hibernating as well, resting their voices for the upcoming Summer Opera.

            Monty and I coexisted peacefully in our rainforest hermitage in companionable silence. Nothing beats a roommate without vocal chords, especially at six a.m.   Monty never used the last of the milk, or played loud music late at night, or ate all my cookies. 

            When I felt lonely, the trees gathered around the moss-covered cabin, and consoled me with their unwavering strength and gentleness.  We will prevail, they whispered.  And so will you.   

             One night, sipping tea and reading in front of the potbelly stove crackling with warmth, my peace-loving companion snoozing on the rafters, I smiled.  The trees had become my neighbors, the swoosh of the fruit bats’ wings the only traffic, and the distant waves, rumbling and tumbling at King’s Beach, beckoned me to come and play whenever I was ready to come out of hiding.   

            The day before I left, Monty slithered into the forest, and I got a bit teary. I was used to hugging my roommates when it came time to move on.

 

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Australia was one of the furthest places I could think of going and I took the plunge. Leaving my life in New York, I traveled over 9,600 miles across the globe to study abroad in a place where I knew no one. All I knew was that I’d be embarking on a brand new adventure.

The slow-paced and laidback beach culture of Australia was completely foreign to me. I was used to constant movement, working a couple jobs, and attending school fulltime. If I wasn’t on the subway, I could generally be found running down the street to make it on time to the next place I needed to be.

After nearly drowning at a young age and then watching endless hours of Shark Week, I became terrified of the ocean. Yet still I moved to the Gold Coast of Australia, which is riddled with beaches. I was forced to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone.

In one of the first days of my trip, I went on a boat excursion to the Great Barrier Reef. Once we were far out, the crew stopped the boat, dropped the anchor, and said, “Oi! Everyone grab your snorkels and jump in!” I can’t deny that I was scared. We were in the middle of the ocean with thousands of sea creatures lurking beneath us. I handled the snorkel like a rookie, choking on water and my heart raced as giant fish swam across my legs. But in a matter of minutes something changed. I became so enchanted by the beauty of the colorful reef that I forgot about being scared. I just appreciated the moment taking mental snapshots of this magical underwater world I had never seen before. This was the start to a love for the ocean I was unsure I would ever resonate with.

Shortly after my encounter with the Great Barrier Reef, I decided to try surfing. I frequently ran into bronzed surfers, some biking to the beach with surfboards in tow, and I wished to be like them.

I’ll be honest. Standing up on a board was not instant for me. I swallowed water and took a few painful nosedives before riding out my first wave. My body was exhausted, but the adrenaline running through my veins kept me wanting more after every fall.

I did not want to give up after only one day of surfing so I tried again the next morning. There were dark grey clouds in the sky overhead, but the thought of a storm only got me more excited for bigger waves to practice on. I experienced something during the session that I had never felt before. I was lying on the surfboard far from the Australian shoreline without anyone else near me. It was quiet aside from the water’s movement and pitter-patter of beginning rainfall. I suddenly felt the most peaceful sensation.

Usually my mind is racing wildly with a hundred different thoughts at a time, but in this moment it was completely blank. I was in some euphoric, meditative state that I didn’t even know could exist for me. Nothing mattered. I wasn’t thinking about my past or panicking about my future. I wasn’t even thinking about the hundreds of things that could kill me in some of the world’s most dangerous waters regardless of the fact that a bull shark was recently caught near my apartment. With my mind seemingly switched off, all that remained working were my senses. The smell of the air and the movement of the water brushing up against my fingertips. The tiny drops of rain drizzling all over my body and the rolling waves picking up speed beneath me. For one of the first times in my life, I felt like I was exactly where I belonged. I wanted to hold onto that feeling forever. I will always be grateful for my time spent in Australia, and proud of myself for taking the amount of spontaneous risks needed to have the most rewarding trip.

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Even with the protective wet suit I paid extra for, I got stung.  Red jellyfish regularly roam the waters where I grew up and my first jellyfish sting was half a world away in Cairns, Australia, on a boat tour of The Great Barrier Reef.  Inside my hand it felt like my nerves were slowly burning.  The pain was seething, as disorienting as the storm quite suddenly blotting out the midafternoon sun.  From the boat I could not identify my attacker inside those turbid waters.  A reel of dangerous creatures played in my mind, the box jellyfish of particular fascination since my arrival to Queensland.  Just that morning the lady at the front desk of our hostel had used the deadly box jelly as excuse for why she had remained off the reef.  The pain remained localized, indicating a less brutal fate, but there were other reasons to be frightened.

 

The boat that had seemed stately in the harbor rocked atop the roiling liquid surface like a runaway cradle, and I could only hope that the saltwater crocodiles that lurked beneath these continental waters lacked the stamina to venture this far out.  Nausea and growing skepticism about the protective capacity of our seafaring vessel gnawed at me just as our tour guide announced on loud speaker that sharks had been seen nearby.  He sounded jolly about it, oblivious clearly to the fact that a movie recently had been made about the real life disappearance of a couple touring the reef, who presumably died from shark attack after their tour boat left without them.

Panic fiercely rose within – the ocean was everywhere, our boat was small, we were hours from shore, I was trapped.  I wanted off, away, to be back in the harbor, to have this day over.  We were spending a shared average of five dollars a night to backpack our way around the world, our bank accounts at best anorexic, but I wanted to scrap all future destinations for an immediate air lift out.  Others were doing it, retreating, I repeatedly watched them go.  For a few hundred we could leave too, retreat to the safe quarters of our hostel, perhaps get a beet root burger or some frozen yogurt, anything but the imagined finality of this ocean excursion.  I wanted to feel solid, stable ground, to regain equilibrium.  I convinced my partner we should leave but as we approached the man arranging the transfers I saw him signaling the air lift to depart without any more of us.  The storm was too serious.  It was not safe.

It was at that moment, between courage and collapse, when I learned of my bravery.  My only choice was face the storm, face the ocean, face the sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish, that or face my imagination as I sat paralyzed on the deck.

My partner stayed behind but I lowered myself into the water.  Of the dozens left, only a couple of us were that brave.  I was handed a flotation device, a foam noodle, advised even the strongest swimmers could be swallowed by the storm.  I sensed the water was deep.  How deep I could not tell.  The dimension was distorted, by the violent curling of the waves, throwing me sideways every time I attempted to stay still, by the muted palette the impish storm painted into the molecules of water and air.  Without light to illuminate the oceanic landscape I had to trust my intuition, trust that from behind me a shark would not with bladed grip clamp down on my feet, or surprise me from the side, trust the salty slap of the waves would not shove me under.

I focused on what I could control.  There were dangers, everywhere, but danger need not also hedge from within.  What was going on inside me, that I had control over.  I felt with my hands the sultry curves of the waves.  I listened to the ocean vent her frustrations.  I looked back to see my partner standing there watching, and then I looked within.  Even in the dark it was beautiful.  Coral caverns coiled like mighty beasts, and wild fish added breathing color to the calm underworld.

How could two such different worlds exist within feet of each other?  Above tumult, below peace.  With each stroke I felt my initiation deepen, into an ancient ritual of bravery.  Conquer what consumes you, take back your breath, focus on what you can control.  Fears splashed away, I forgot about the sharks, the sting of my hand, the rocking boat.  I felt drenched instead with the inner peace of the ocean beneath the storm.  I watched that harmonious world silently surrender to its natural rhythms and I felt hopeful that I too had that power.

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Burnt Offerings

 

After Adelaide, South Australia, was hit by severe wildfires last month, it was with some reluctance that I visited one of the scenes of the fire.    

The new year catastrophe had cost South Australia dearly. The final tally was 27 houses destroyed, 125 outbuildings razed to the ground and over 130 reported injuries. Animals including koalas, kangaroos and family pets were killed or injured as they struggled to get clear of the flames. The monetary cost is expected to be around A$13 million. The saving grace of the event is that there were no human fatalities. But this does not take away the truth that many things were lost in the fire.  

In the township of Kersbrook, which was arguably the worst hit area, 12 houses were lost. I felt myself becoming dizzy when I saw the havoc that had been wreaked by the fire.  Tree skeletons were all that remained, despite the best efforts of the CFS (Country Fire Service), who worked tirelessly to stop the wildfires from spreading further as temperatures and winds soared, intensifying the disaster.

There were some 700 firefighters battling at the fireground to contain the inferno, which had spread out from Sampson Flat, and swept across over 12,500 hectares of the usually picturesque Adelaide Hills.

In the face of such indiscriminate devastation, there comes a point when there is nothing else you can do. Except be brave. 

I visited the fire-fields a week after the final blazes had been extinguished. Scorched trees waved branches stripped barren of leaves to cloudless, rainless skies. Black and grey were the primary colours of this desolate-looking landscape. Verdant such a short time ago, this place had been stripped of colour. And the blackness everywhere marked the scars.  

However, the lengthy and difficult clean-up process had started. Members of the community and outsider volunteers alike had cleared away the fallen trees and darkened matter that had swept across roads in a futile bid to get away from the inferno and the searing heat it brought with it.  

It was overwhelming to see such an altered place. The stark remains made me feel weak. It seemed hopeless to think that this place could ever look like it had before the fire. But then I peered at the charred remnants more closely. Inspecting the bare trees at close range, it was clear to see that something was happening.

Many of the branches showed red splotches of colour that, at first, looked like bloody wounds to the very wood. But these were not wounds. They were fiery red blossoms that had been woken by the fire. The life cycle of these trees had not been cut short. Resurrection was taking place.  This was a landscape in the process of change and it promised to be beautiful once again, despite – or perhaps because of – the fiery purge it had endured.

After just a short time since the disaster, there is already regrowth on many of the trees, shadows of their former selves in this thankfully temporary state. The burnt offerings are transforming into something strong and living, proving that in the face of ruin, life still finds a way.

 

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Sydney wasn’t at the top of my most desired places to go on my trip around the world. Africa was first, since that was the reason why I had planned the trip in the first place, but I definitely thought I would love Thailand more than Sydney.

When I arrived in Sydney, it was freezing cold, and raining – not the typical warm, sunny weather that everyone boasts about. However I wasn’t the least bit concerned about the weather. I was just happy to have made it there on Malaysia Airlines and with absolutely no money at all.

My debit card and credit card had gotten stolen in Thailand, and I had used my last bit of cash for the cab to the airport. Luckily, I had gotten a hold of my mother who was able to wire my money to me when I landed in Sydney. I was grateful to have cash, but it still made me worry, especially since I was traveling completely solo…for the first time.

At first I thought it was going to be a complete bust. I thought I’d end up sitting by myself at a café with nothing to do, and no one to talk to. But boy, was I wrong! I stayed in Bondi Beach, a local area, and immediately fell in love. The shop, café, and restaurant-lined street made me feel like I was meant to be there, and I even texted my mom to tell her I wanted to move.

Since I was solo, I was really able to take in my surroundings, and discover how it feels to live in this other world. I figured out how to budget my money, and although I ate pizza for every meal, I felt so proud and excited to be figuring out how to be completely on my own. It wasn’t long before I felt comfortable walking from place to place in Sydney, and taking the City Sightseeing tour bus – which doubled as transportation – to and from my “apartment” in Bondi.

I became so confident with myself that other tourists would stop me to ask if I knew how to get to certain streets! It also made me not only comfortable, but also eager to meet people.

Just by smiling, saying hello, or even taking a photo for someone led to a new friendship, which six months later, still exists. These new friends made me love Sydney and Bondi even more than I already did.

I told my new friends about my volunteer trip in South Africa, my misfortune in Thailand, and how I had be winging it with my limited amount of cash in Sydney, and their responses were the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.

They told me I inspired them. They said they were so inspired that I had made it around the world despite many hurdles, and was still so confident and happy, that it made them want to travel more and help others.

Suddenly, I had found my purpose in traveling. I travel to inspire others.

As luck would have it, my new friends took me in, and took me around Sydney and Bondi as if I had lived there forever. I knew I couldn’t afford to eat at the places they would take me, but when they noticed I was only ordering one house wine and a glass of water, they insisted on treating me so I could really experience local life.

These strangers who I had only just met helped me so much, and it made me realize something. If you’re kind, grateful, genuine, and confident, your energy will be noticed and appreciated by other people. I realized that I really was all of those things, and even more importantly, I was happy.

 

I thought I was so lost when I first got to Sydney, both literally and figuratively. But by the end of my journey…I realized I had found myself.

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I have always been afraid of the dark.  I do my best to say this with as little shame and embarrassment as possible, given my age (let’s just say, “twenty-something”).  From childhood my irrational fears transitioned from monsters to ghosts to intruders in the night, with scary movies serving as fuel for my overactive imagination. I remember once confessing this fear in my late teens only to be asked the question, is it truly the dark you fear, or the unknown?  I was stumped, and I could only mutter, “Both?”

Many years after that moment my travels brought me to Australia, and as an avid SCUBA diver I had to explore the Great Barrier Reef.  I signed up for a three-day, two-night live-aboard excursion to the lesser-touched outer reef.  While I had been diving for years I had yet to experience a night dive.  Though each dive was optional, the thought of being sixty feet below the surface of the water in pitch-black terrified me, but I could not pass up the opportunity to see what mischief subaqueous creatures got up to at night.  I decided it was time to face my fears.

All divers were gathered for the briefing, paired up and then sent out to gear up.  Before we were dismissed, our dive master yelled out to the crew at the stern of the ship, “Are the sharks here yet?”

Taken with natural curiosity we ran to the stern to be met with a sight I was not prepared for.  Sharks circled the swim platform feeding on the squid the staff members were throwing overboard.  It was this exact spot we were to enter the water.  To say I was apprehensive was an understatement.  Though I liked to consider myself enlightened about the true nature of sharks, and had encountered them in prior dives without incident, you never know what may happen in the darkness.  After all, sharks feed at night.  Suiting up my heart raced as I was about to immerse myself in the unknown.

Thankfully, as divers entered the water the sharks scattered, but I knew they were everywhere.  I would have nothing to protect myself; the only accessory I would be taking with me into the water was a flashlight.  In air the light spreads, but in water, a denser medium, the light is emitted as a narrow beam, illuminating only what is directly in front of it.  Unlike the previous dive, the reef wasn’t under the boat so my dive-buddy and I would have to swim through thirty feet of open water alone to reach it.  As I swam through the abyss I shone my little beam of light around it reflected in pairs of green dots.  Shark eyes.  These curious, inquisitive yet unnerving creatures were everywhere and there was nothing to protect me from them. Though, as far as I knew, they were not the man-eating species, I clung to my dive-buddy as Jaws played in my mind in high definition.

Once we made it to the reef I relaxed finding comfort in the more enclosed space.  The activity I saw amazed me.  At night the fish sleep in crevices and an array of life feeds in the corals; you can even help the larger fish feed by shining your light on their prey.  So long as you weren’t one of these unlucky creatures there was nothing to fear.  Feeling more comfortable on the swim back, I let go of my dive buddy and watched the silhouettes of the sharks swimming under the boat without fear.  Once back on the boat I felt so silly that I almost let fear hold me back from that incredible experience.

Fear, I truly realized, is all an illusion we allow our minds to create.  We let movies, television shows and especially other people, convince us that the world is a scary place and because of this many people never step outside their comfort zones.  They never challenge themselves to live to their full potential.  They never live their dreams because they are afraid of the unknown. This to me truly is the greatest tragedy of life.   So going forward I decided to not let what others say paralyze me with fear, I’d have to embrace it and face experiences with no expectations.

Since that night I sleep peacefully engulfed in complete darkness, fearing neither the pitch nor the unknown.  The unknown, it turns out, is the best part of life.

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My reason for falling in love with Melbourne, the most livable city in the world

Oh, the city of Melbourne…
 
When I think of Australia…. And why shouldn’t I be thinking of this wonderful country…. Being a cricket crazy Indian, I make sure that I wake up early morning every single day and switch on the TV set to watch the scintillating cricket match going on between the two great cricketing nations.
And every break between over, as we are shown the Australia Tourism advertisement welcoming us to this picturesque country, I can’t help but think and dream of only Australia. With the current test match going on in one the greatest cities of this country, which place other than Melbourne can I dream about. The modern, cutting-edge designs of its skyscrapers and buildings added to the fascinating mix of heritage architecture, makes us feel that that this city is never the same every single time we visit it, with its constantly changing skyline. But mind you, talking about skyscrapers, building height limits and heritage controls have kept the city at a human scale while highlighting its diversity and creativity.
There is a lot to love about Melbourne – just ask the locals. Melbourne’s lifestyle, the climate and its future plans are all part of what inspires so much passion in those who live hereWith the city’s vibrant energy, restaurants, fashion boutiques, café-filled laneways, cool bars, unbeatable galleries, spacious parks and village-like inner suburbs, each with its own special character, no wonder, it has been ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities.
We just need to take a walk through the streets of Melbourne to really enjoy it’s labyrinth of connecting laneways and arcades which provides us an ‘other world’ experience of intimate spaces and mystery. And believe me, it is while you stroll through these streets, where you get a feeling of openness and natural light, but still you find it home to many of Melbourne’s bar, dining and shopping ‘secrets’.
The streets of Melbourne provide a logical canvas for artistic expression and its laneways are home to sometimes controversial street art. And did I not mention that the locals also love a party, with the year-round calendar of events offering something for everyone.
And if you lose your way through this labyrinth, there’s no need to worry at all, because the locals are known for being friendly and inclusive, strongly advocating the city’s strong culture of philanthropy and volunteering. Looking worried and lost, and don’t be surprised, if you are confronted immediately by the City Ambassadors, the dedicated team of tourism volunteers.
Being and odd man out in a foreign country is something which you would never feel in this city. Melbourne has a multicultural population, being home to people of 140 different cultures: Indigenous Australians, post war European migrants, and recent arrivals from India, Somalia, Malaysia and beyond. Yeah, you heard it right! Indians, you find in plenty there.

And in all these absolutely stunning things that I mentioned about Melbourne, did I forget about its geography. For those who are keen on this, Melbourne is located in the south-eastern part of mainland Australia, within the state of Victoria. It is the capital of the state of Victoria and the second most populous city in Australia.

But believe me, it’s not the geography, but the lifestyle that makes Melbourne a magnet for so many people lie in the combination of these things. It is the sum of its parts – and more.

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After three days of constant packing, driving, and roadside camping, I was relieved to make a longer than usual stop in Byron Bay, a famous beachside town on Australians east coast. Slowly, my girlfriend and I had journeyed up from Sydney, stopping at Forster and Coffs Harbour along the way for a night before our arrival. With the surfboard strapped to the roof of the car and the backseat rammed with blankets, guitars and camping equipment, we cruised toward the town in the early hours of the evening and watched young local’s parade around the streets on their custom made skateboards in board shorts and tie-dye singlets. Young backpackers with stylish nose piercings and homemade dreadlocks sat roadside, busking their favorite Bob Marley tunes whilst friendly neighborhood dogs laid outside boutique shops, panting with a mild look of fatigue on their faces.

A sign reads ‘Welcome to Byron Bay: Cheer up, Slow Down, Chill Out’, inviting us in with warmth and hospitality as we made our way closer to the coast, bumping along the road that was littered with deep potholes. We pulled up to a campsite at the back end of town and found a small spot before making our way to the beach for the final hours on sunlight. In the twilight haze, birds could be heard singing in unison amongst the lush green flora whilst a few dedicated beachgoers made the most of the remaining surf, paddling out on their long boards to glide along the mellow humps of rolling water that gently crashed into quiet white bubbles. Beyond the perfectly formed waves the ocean sat almost perfectly still, reflecting the orange glow of sunset which shimmered all the way to the horizon. From this bronze haze, spouts of water rose to the sky, revealing a group of humpback whales that breached the surface at steady intervals; the weight of their huge bodies crashed down into the water and could be heard from the shore. Not far from us, a surfer catches a wave and rides it all the way to the shore, walking to the nose of the board and back in peaceful nature before dropping of the side.  Just as the sun was setting, a pod dolphins turn up and play with the boarders in the surf, cruising alongside them and leaping out the waves with incredible agility. The frantic journey up to Byron had been worth it for this brief little moment.

Strolling along in the ankle deep water and watching the incredible display of serenity, the two of us held each other closely and uttered not a single word as night crept in on the warm coastal winds. I can’t describe how grateful I was right then, for her and for us, for life and for the journey, for those whales and those dolphins, for the surf and the surfers, for Byron Bay and for Australia, for nature and for that beautiful moment it revealed a peaceful side to us that some don’t ever to witness.

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Grateful for the Journey

It started with a dream in June 2012, shortly after my cat Hamish, the last of my animals, died. In that alternate landscape, I was climbing polished wooden stairs as large bay windows revealed the dark night sky on either side of the staircase. I tried to make out the stars but they were eclipsed by the moonless sky. Suddenly from nowhere, an almighty bang and a streak of lightning so brilliant in its metallic energy,  broke through the blackness completely revealing  the landscape in every detail.

When I awoke I knew what I had to do. The clarity of the lightning bolt had galvanised me to change my life completely. I would sell everything and move.

Two years year later, constant movement is a big part of my life. Through synchronicity, that wonderful connection between desire and manifestation, a friend Elizabeth had suggested I try house sitting. She knew my love of animals and my new found fear of being stuck in an environment which might be beautiful like the previous one,but did not feed my soul. House sitting seemed to fit the criteria I was after in a lifestyle; freedom to learn and grow, animal companionship and travel. Suddenly fear emerged in the form of “Ifs” and “buts”. I recalibrated my attitude asking  “What have I got to lose?”  and decided to take the plunge. I remembered the Tarot card of the Fool, a youth with all his possessions wrapped in a cloth at the end of a stick which he carried over his shoulder while he smelt a white rose. A small dog accompanied him, while with one foot on the ground and one in the air above a cliff, his face had that joyful look of optimism that everything would be provided for on his new journey into the as yet unformed land. He became my role model.

I was fortunate to start off well and will always be grateful to my first home-owners, Lorna and John, who welcomed me to their beautiful home in Jan Juc on the coast of Victoria.Such a positive initial experience gave me the confidence to continue. If you have ever seen the film “Puss in Boots” then you will know what Archie, their cat looks like! and Della, his sister also bears a striking resemblance to Kitty soft paws from the same movie. How lovely it was to have animal companionship again and the opportunity to explore one of the most beautiful parts of the Australian coastline.

In meditation, a daily journey into inner landscapes, I had another epiphany, I could use house sitting as my magic carpet to travel around Australia, visiting places, the many places, to which I had never  previously travelled. So in December 2012, on my first interstate house sit, I travelled to the Adelaide hills to care for three dogs while their owners went on holiday. Since then I have perfected the skills of adaptation and flexibility which are the core requirements of the lifestyle and make the most of each house sit. Like the Fool, I travel lightly with one suitcase, a handbag containing my tablet,  borrowed cat, dog or horse, and absolute trust in the journey.

Australia is a huge country and to traverse it from coast to coast, or Pacific to Indian Ocean if you prefer, is a similar distance as between Moscow and Paris. The land itself shifts and changes as you fly across the country, from the viridian hinterland of the East coast, across the browning dust of outback Queensland and New South Wales, over the leached silver of the dried up lakes of outback South Australia and finally to the pristine turquoise waters of Esperance and Albany in South Western Australia. The first time I took this flight I clutched my heart and fell in love with the land. Since then when reprising the same flight across the ancient continent, it feels like reconnecting with an old beloved. I can never tire of flying over this land.

As I travel around the country , meeting new friends, human and animal, and reconnecting with old ones, I feel grateful to be at this stage of my life where my sense of adventure is restored and I have the confidence and trust in myself and the Universe to lead me into new territories. I also give thanks for that lightning bolt.

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