Nicaragua: That hostel.

I was running. Sort of. I was planning to travel anyway, but I booked that trip in the days that followed the break-up if I can even call it that. And in those same days that I had an intense desire to jump out of an airplane. To really feel something that wasn’t heartache. At first, I didn’t think I would find it. I couldn’t ever imagine what would actually happen on my travels that could change me. You never can. Three weeks later, as the rain pounded down onto the only paved roads I’d walked in all of Central America, I wrapped my arms a little bit tighter around him and I smiled because I knew that I’d found it. His face wasn’t particularly friendly, but I’d struck up the conversation anyway. He looked like someone who could tell me where to surf. As we rode together, just the two of us, in the bed of that white truck along the bumpy dirt and gravel road that would take us to Playa Maderas, we talked about kids. He wasn’t sure he wanted them, I was afraid mine would turn out all wrong. He admitted he was only twenty; a kid himself. But I already knew it wouldn’t matter to me. From him, I took what I needed. I felt more than he did, but that fact didn’t hurt the way it did all the times before. He put his arm around me as he walked me home from the party only two short nights later and he told me all of the best things about myself. He marvelled at the way that I let everyone in, the way that I found commonality and built friendships around it. The way that I smiled, all the time. Without knowing what he was doing, he continued to describe the heart that was inside of me. The thing I was trying so hard to protect. The best moments we spent together were sitting in the kitchen of that hostel. That hostel that would become the catalyst to my story, the kind of special that can’t be put into words, forever engrained in my memory. I watched him stick out his tongue and bite down on his lower lip as he chopped onions at 10 o’clock at night, and I fell completely in love with him. I smiled for the entire time we were in that…

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Nicaragua: Gringa’s definitely on the wrong bus.

That’s definitely what she was thinking. I sat there huddled into the back corner of the mini-bus. The only backpacker. The only non-Spanish speaker. When I’d flown out of Honduras, I was determined I’d be a better backpacker in Nicaragua. We’d lived in luxury in Honduras mostly because we were there for a wedding, but also because the choice was between money and desperation. In Guate, I took the easy route. I paid for taxis and a nice hotel. I told myself it was because I was short on time, but maybe I was a little scared too. In Nicaragua, I was going to rough it. I started by promising myself that, although I’d have to take a {$20} taxi to the bus station, I was getting on that public bus. Where he dropped me was not the place I’d researched online. They said there was a sign with a lion on it. Lion, León… get it? But every single person in that long line, snaking through the bus shelter, assured me that this was the bus for León. After about thirty minutes, I was halfway through the line when I realised I only had U.S. dollars. I carefully negotiated the conversation in my head before tapping the girl in front of me. Can I pay in U.S. dollars? Yes, I think so. How much? 33 Córdoba. Something like $2? I relaxed a bit. I quickly did the calculation on my money conversion app. $1.99. I had 2 one-dollar bills. Phew. It was another thirty minutes or so until I finally got to the front of the line; I handed my pack off to the driver and quickly, purposefully crawled to my hiding spot in the back corner of the bus. I had noted about forty-five minutes prior that there was a definite lack of gringos around the bus station. I’d been sure this would be the backpackers preferred mode of transport, but it seemed to be just me. I was all in. The driver came around the back to collect our money and as I shakily pushed my two one-dollar bills over the back of my seat he began grumbling loudly in Spanish, throwing his hands around dramatically. Is it enough? It was the old women next to me. Yes, exactly. Then it’s FINE. She waved her hand in an equally dramatic gesture. A series of Spanish conversation followed in…

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Honduras: there’s always one.

When James and Ashley left on our fourth day on the island, I threw my I love you over my shoulder as I braced myself to run through the streets in a tropical downpour. I seriously hate goodbyes. If there hadn’t been the need to brace against the rain, I probably would have had more time to think about how sad it was that I wasn’t sure when the next time I’d see them was. I’ve never been one of those people who gets stuck to home, who wonders what I’m doing every time I get back on the plane to Sydney; but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to look my loved ones in the eye and tell them how I really feel every time I walk away. I guess on some levels, I’m still an avoider when it comes to matters of the heart. I planned my second dive accordingly so that an extreme high would follow what I knew would be one of the lowest lows of the trip. So I ran away from the goodbye and changed into my shorty wetsuit. When I surfaced, feeling that same high as the day before, the lightness in my head was attributed to more than just excitement. I was feeling slightly nauseous. At first, I worried I’d had bad air, but the truth was that I knew too well that feeling in my head and the heat rushing through my body. I was hungover. And diving hungover is not recommended. I decided to head back to the hostel and have a nap, since I didn’t have anyone to meet for galavanting around the island, and it was pouring anyway. As I laid down on my bunk in the empty four-bed dorm, the door opened and in walked one of the girls who worked at the front desk of the hostel. You’re getting a roommate. It could have been perfect timing, my family had just left and I was alone again. It couldn’t be a bad thing, right? When he came in a few minutes later, he introduced himself and promptly took himself outside to smoke a cigarette. All travellers smoke, so I didn’t judge. We got to talking, about where we’d travelled to and what we were doing in Honduras. For a while, it was a fine enough conversation, he’d been travelling around SE Asia and lived in Singapore…

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Honduras: Searching for Nemo.

It was always just one of those things I wasn’t. But when I saw that first cuttlefish; watched it spread its tentacles and change colours from white to brown and back again as it moved effortlessly through the Sydney Harbour, I knew I’d been missing something. I knew a lot of SCUBA enthusiasts, but I just wasn’t one of them. I’m not quite sure why it never crossed my mind considering my love of the ocean; the fact that all it took was one deep dive under Bondi’s rolling waves to relax me. To be honest, that trip was never a part of my plan for 2015. I was planning to go to Europe with Seamus and Elaine for a month. I had just started looking into getting the time off when my brother mentioned that he was going to be in Honduras for a wedding around the same time. We were texting every day, exploring the possibilities. That was when James told me that they were going to Roatán, so I googled it. What I found were pure white sands, turquoise waters and reviews of some of the best diving in the world. Do you want to get certified to dive? James did, but juggling one-year-old twins didn’t exactly lend itself time to getting pre-certified in Seattle and we wouldn’t have the time to do it all on Roatán. So, I would go it alone but, I would be adding diving to the long list of hobbies I’d collected through the past couple of years. It started on a cold winter’s day in Sydney. In the early hours with the heat blasting, we drove through Sydney to the Victoria Park pool where we waited as long as we possibly could to change into our swimmers and brace our sun-loving skin against the cold winter air. That first lesson was all about overcoming that weird and completely understandable anxiety of doing something as unnatural as breathing underwater. But the worst part of the day was having to go to the toilet in the middle of the lesson and peeling the saturated wetsuit off only to squeeze it back on, wet and cold. That day ended in utter exhaustion, we all sat silently staring out the window of the truck as we drove back to Bondi. Annie.  My instructor broke the silence. Make sure you continue diving, you’re a natural.  I…

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Honduras: Just don’t leave the hotel alone.

How long are you staying for?  7 days.  The immigration agent froze and looked up from my passport. Wow, really? But that was all he said. He never elaborated on his reaction, which I can only assume as surprise. I guess most people don’t stay, at least not in Tegucigalpa. Landing in Tegus was not unlike my very memorable landing in Queenstown less than a year before. The biggest difference was that rather than a play-by-play of the pilot’s actions and decisions, there was just utter silence. I assumed it couldn’t possibly be an issue if the pilot and flight crew didn’t have anything to say about it. Only after I cleared customs and was standing outside arrivals that I remembered my brother telling me that Tegus was one of the most dangerous airports in the world to fly into. Selective memory. When I did see my brother and sister-in-law finally come out of arrivals after what felt like ages, it was a little bit like shock; seeing them for the first time in a year, and for the first time away from my niece and nephew since they’d been born. The first thing Ashley asked for was an iced coffee and it felt nice allowing myself to take comfort in her familiarity of this place that I wasn’t so sure about. We loaded into a minibus and were off to our fancy hotel in Tegus. I tried not to think about the expense, I tried not to fear too much for my travel budget after only one week. But Ashley let me in on a little piece of wisdom: in Tegus you either pay, or you sleep in fear of your life. So, I shut up. Oh, and don’t leave the hotel alone.  The next two days were packed with wedding activities. It was a reunion for James and Ashley as they were reunited for the first time with the other volunteers who’d worked at Montaña de Luz alongside them two years ago. It was fun, it was busy and I was so grateful to be a part of it, to be welcomed with open arms into a ceremony at which I knew only two people. But it was also about this time that my German friend went off the radar as he ventured into the depths of the Guatemalan jungle for a few days. He’d been my most constant point of contact since…

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Guatemala: lost experiences, gained friends.

I missed a lot. Okay, okay. Maybe it’s not the best way to set the scene as I begin to unfold the tales of my last month. But when it comes to Guatemala, I missed a lot. I thought I learned a lot about myself on my Sri Lankan travels. Things like: I’d rather take a taxi in my first moments in a brand new country, even knowing it was going to cost me. Like: I always wanted to book my first night or two so I could take comfort in knowing I had somewhere to go. Like: after three weeks in a third world country, I would want some of the comforts of home. I thought I learned these things about myself in Sri Lanka, but in Central America, I learned so much more. Because of what I thought I knew, I booked my first two nights in the small village of Santa Cruz la Laguna on Lago de Atitlán. It wasn’t a hostel, so I missed the chance to meet other travellers right from the beginning. Or so I thought. But I guess I’d sort of accepted that I wouldn’t meet many people in the first few days, so I didn’t think it would matter so much that I didn’t pick a hostel. It had taken me two whole days in Hikkaduwa to find Steve, and that being my only experience with solo travel, I assumed it as the standard. But I met someone my first day in Guatemala. In fact, I didn’t even have to make it to Atitlán first. From the airport, I took a shuttle to Antigua because there were no taxi drivers. As I’d walked out of the airport I’d braced myself for the onslaught of Guatemalan locals eager to snag a tourist fee for a short trip. But when I’d exited the sliding glass doors of La Aurora International Airport all I saw was a sea of unsmiling, indifferent Guatemalan faces. They were there for their families, fuck the gringa. When we got to Antigua, my driver palmed me off to another driver and I carefully crawled into the van, exhaustion setting in. Inside I found two Japanese faces turned expectantly toward me, and the side-profile of a German boy. The Japanese couple were eager to know me; What’s your name? Where are you from? Where are you going? The German didn’t care who I was, or…

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Things you thought you’d never do.

We’d come from Mirissa; endless beach parties of backpackers too young to drink in their own countries. The sound of the bass pounded through the wooden walls of our guesthouse until well past 3am. Maybe if the music had been better I would’ve wanted to dance, but a mixture of intense strobe lights and pounding techno turned me off the party scene of Sri Lanka’s beaches. Guess I’m getting old. When Hannah and I arrived through the pouring rain, early on Christmas morning, sleepy Midigama was waiting for us with her calming, open arms. We checked into a family-run guesthouse, a German couple on a surf holiday and a French girl on a long-term stay our only companions. Christmas was a wash of torrential rain. Taking turns riding on the back of Steve’s motorbike to the corner rotti shop, the only place we were brave enough to venture for food. And a carefree run through the farm fields of Midigama back to the guesthouse because no umbrella would’ve saved us anyway. When the sun came up the next morning, we lay still in our shared mosquito net, listening. There was no continued pound of the promised rains outside. The sun was shining and we took to the beach. A sunburn, a sunset and a yoga session in a field of cows later, we were off to give the parties of Mirissa another shot. We were taking the bus, but as the tuk tuk started their bartering, we raised our eyebrows in consideration. 500. This was the standard price, we’d never paid less or more. Last night we got it for 300.  I looked at Hannah, intrigued at her sudden desire to barter, something she never did. I let her go. Fine, 400. She flicked her wrist rather casually as she walked away. A price we’d never even been offered, but she didn’t want it. We headed for the road to give it another shot. We both saw the bus at the same time as we ran across the single road that runs all the way from Galle to Matara. Buses, trucks, and tuk tuks serving between each other for the length of it. We both looked up at the same time to see if it was the bus we needed, we’d spent 30 rupees on that trip instead of 400. I saw it happening. I looked down a split second…

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It was just one of those things.

I always thought I was above it. Said I’d never say it. I mean, the saying is so ridiculous. YOLO. And the tattooed tourists in Koh Phi Phi didn’t help the cause. The reality is: it’s a pretty good motto.  It was one of those things where, everyone talks about being present, right? Living in the moment? It was one of those things. When in the last few months many of my perceived safety nets started crashing down around me, against my will I was faced with more uncertainty than I had been, likely ever. And I had a choice: New Zealand or not? I really had no idea if I’d have the money or the right to stay in this country much longer and all I could think was: if I have to leave, why not one last hurrah? If I get to stay, won’t I be pissed if I say no? So we booked it. The first 24 hours was a story in itself. We just laughed in the face of choice, asking New Zealand what else it would throw our way. We had been so caught in the moments it took to get there that we had forgotten to have expectations. So we came in carefree; we weren’t making any decisions because it looked like we were in for a week of the decisions being made whether we liked them or not. When we did finally walk through the door, onto the dark blue carpet and a view of the most beautiful place on earth, we busted out the gin. It seemed the obvious choice. That first night we actually kicked ourselves out of Speight’s Ale House in the event that we all knew what was coming after an eager fist and a spilled tray of 12 tequila shots {not a single one standing}. The hunt for a comfortable place to watch the rugby was dotted with vodka sodas and political debates. A little late to the party, when I finally did walk into the pub what I found was ten lovely people cuddled into each other’s arms on the pub floor directly in front the big screen. My heart melted just a little bit. I stopped in my tracks and smiled. These are our friends.  It was only five days for me and Kelie. And the length of the trip is the only regret, or rather, lesson we’ve taken. It…

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It’s really up and coming.

There were always things that Tassie meant to me. But it wasn’t like when I got back, I instantly knew the stories I wanted to tell. In fact, it’s taken me over a month to scribble a smattering of words that someone may be interested in reading. Because the thing about Tassie is, it needs to be seen. Words will never cease to fall short of what defines this island. It’s about the journey, not the destination; that’s what they say. And it was. It’s about long highway drives, where you are so engrossed in silence that your mind can get away from you. I built a whole new history in my head as we passed through the Bay of Fires with the setting sun. I looked out on the black glass of the ocean, and I was reminded of an intensely lonely walk across the Seacliff Bridge, when I most certainly discovered the vast salty thickness of being lost at sea. I imagined whales out playing under the tiny pinpricks of white light in the sky. Stars which never cease to take me back to childhood road trips, my forehead pressed against the glass of the back window and my mother, father and brother co-existing in the silence of late night somewhere in the middle of Washington State. They told me that Hobart was really up and coming. Really, people kept saying it. It was as if they assumed that my big city mindset needed convincing that small towns had culture too. I knew there’d be culture there, the Tasmanians are all their own, but telling me it was up and coming set me up with expectations that I was heading into some small scale Melbourne. As I sat in the hippest cafe in Hobart on our final morning of the trip, I looked down at my plate of softly poached eggs, pulled rabbit meat and corn puree and I thought, this wasn’t the point. My life in Sydney thrives on the latest and greatest, the strangest and most tasty meals I can fit in. But Tassie was never about that. We gave that up when we wandered around a frosty Launceston only hours after landing to find all of the best restaurants booked out, and we settled on a tiny cider house and an ordered-in pizza. That cider bar was probably one of my favorite finds of the trip.…

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The {real} Hangover in Bangkok

In light of being honest with you, usually, I let a hangover get the best of me. I mean, I’m precious. Wallowing in the pain of my head pounding through the tops of my eyes, my stomach convulsing; threatening. I sat in the hotel bed in Bangkok, dressed in my black cotton skirt and grey tank top, backpacker garb. Was I, or wasn’t I? Jenn offered to let me stay in bed, call her later and meet up. Yea, okay, I agreed. But, it was already 12:30pm on our last day in Bangkok. I stood up, sat back down, a wave of nausea washed over me. Stood up. I was going to see some temples. In the cab Jenn kept trying to make conversation. My clenched jaw only allowed me to grunt and shake my head. All I had to do was make it outside of the cab on Khoa San Road. When I got out, the chaos enveloped me. I can’t handle this, I thought. Then I saw Johnny approaching. He reached out to hug Jenn and I, took one look at me and said, ‘Let’s go get you a coconut’. Let’s do that. Thirty baht and I had a fresh green coconut in my hand, pink straw and all. I was hoping I was on my way to being hangover free. Johnny led us down the road, into one alleyway or another to his favorite Khoa San restaurant. Jenn and Johnny ordered a feast of green curry, Tom Yum Kung and other tasty treats. Which I eyed from the side of the table, head on hands, pink straw in my mouth. Later, I’ll have my feast later, I thought. I had told Jenn at 12:30pm, sitting on the edge of the hotel bed, halfway between staying and going, two kinds of hangovers exist in my world; the 2 o ‘clock hangover and the 5 o’clock hangover. ‘Let’s hope this is the 2 o’clock kind,’ she’d answered. Sitting at the table outside the restaurant, miraculously, a cloud lifted. The headache pounds into dissipation and the nausea subsides. I’ve beaten my hangover into the submission of 2 o’clock. Score. After the feast, we bought day tickets to the Bangkok water taxi and squeezed into spaces below deck. Jenn and I hopped off as our stop at the Grand Temple approached while Johnny stayed on, heading to the Indian Consulate in preparation…

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