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: 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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The Share House

I remember vividly the day that my dad dropped me off at the terminal. I had spent most of the day with my brother and his fiancé investigating the San Francisco airport map in an attempt to avoid getting lost and missing my first-ever international flight. Of course I was scared shitless, maybe more of saying goodbye to my family than actually uprooting to move to a new country all on my own. I hate goodbyes. To this day, a goodbye, in any form, is one of the things I dread the most. I managed a tear-free exit from Dad, James and Ashley but as I walked down what felt like the longest hallway in SEATAC to the international terminal, I knew that I didn’t dare look back. My first two days in Sydney were in a tiny youth hostel in Redfern, where I ate little {mostly out of the uncertainty of not knowing where to shop} and spent way too much money on public transport. Thinking about my state in those days and comparing it to where I stood just a short week later; in the kitchen of a share house on Newtown’s Alice Street, it’s amazing how quickly your entire life can change. My search for a place to live during my semester abroad was one of a 21-year-old who’d lived all her live in housing provided by her parents or her University. I had no idea what I was looking for. I only looked at three places. The first was old and L-shaped. The interviewer was an older man, very kind and easy to talk to, but I sat in the overgrown courtyard with fear that this was all that Australia had to offer. The other flatmates were full-time grad students, they weren’t going to want to hit up the local bars with me. I foresaw a semester of loneliness. When I got back to the hostel that evening, a new ad had popped up on Gumtree. A nice share house of ten on Station Street in Newtown. Newtown was the place I wanted to be, the place where the students were, where I’d feel like I was at home on the streets of Seattle. Stepping into the old, white terrace house on Station Street was likely the moment that everything changed for me. Joanne, the landlady who organized the house, had picked me up and brought…

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Tackling the Thai Toilet

This is not a story about poop.  I just wanted to make the clear. The Thai sun was searing down through the lower deck window as I surveyed the hungover Brit and Aussie backpackers and young European families on the ferry boat. As we finally got off the swaying boat, and shuffled single file from one boat deck to the other, my suitcase banged against the ankle of the young women in front of me. She huffed unappreciatively as I apologized. Too bothered myself to care if a stranger thought I was arrogant or not. We stepped into a sea of Thai tuk tuk drivers, hollering to take us to the resorts, or wherever it was we were going. I pushed through, attempting to mumble ‘No, thank you’ but coming off slightly more rude as other travelers pushed past. Jenn and I quickly split off down a back road, where we could see souvenir shops and guesthouses. Walking just ahead of Jenn, I could feel the irritation of the 100 degree day seeping into my fallen smile. Jenn, the positive one, chirped that we should jump into a travel agent, and see if we can find a great guesthouse to stay in. That worked for me, anywhere out of the sun. We stepped inside, wary that we might be getting ripped off. I was grumbling, not-so-silently about our lack of planning, while Jenn continued to chat with the travel agent in her cheery California accent. When the travel agent suggested, Lanta L.D. Beach Bungalow on Long Beach, we said that sounded fine. At around 200 ($6) baht a night roughly, we weren’t sure what we might be getting into. We arrived via a capped tuk tuk ride of 100 baht and were greeted warmly by the young Thai lady at the front desk. When we were shown to our bungalow, we walked into what Thai dreams are made of; a tiny bungalow with a front patio and hammock, a double bed with a mosquito net (complete with a giant beetle sitting on top) and a bathroom with a simple shower head, toilet and sink. It took well into the first night for Jenn and I to figure out how to flush the toilet. Jenn and I warned each other that if we never figured it out, we’d forgive each other for what might happen in the next few days. Thankfully,…

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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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Singapore is…

… really humid. Like, shockingly hot and muggy. Singapore was never really on the list of places that I was dying to see. It was another Asian city, that I probably hadn’t heard enough about. Living in Sydney, Singapore comes up a lot in conversation, at least in the advertising industry. Many offices are based in Singapore of have a Southeast Asian counterpart nestled in the big island city. It ended up as a stop on our much anticipated trip to Thailand (happy birthday to me!) because our Singapore-based budget airline has a standard layover there, regardless of your destination. In the effort of saving as much money as possible, our layover was particularly long; 24 hours. I’m typically quite a laid back traveler in the sense that I like to take my time around a place, I like to rest up to make sure that I make the most of my days and I tend to really weigh up options about what highlights I want to see and which I can let fall by the wayside, until next time. Unfortunately, with only about 12 hours or less total to see a city, time isn’t a luxury. Just one of the reasons I was so lucky to have Jenn as my travel buddy. A very driven and spontaneous traveller, from the gate she was ticking off things that we could realistically squeeze in on our one night and one day in the city. After arriving in our fairly posh hotel (I was chuffed to find a personal greeting on the TV screen) we headed off for the first order of business; Chili Crab. It was quite late for dinner (around 9:30pm) but we did manage to snag a table at the well-known No Signboard Seafood Restaurant. When the crab arrived, nearly in 4 whole pieces swimming in a vat of creamy, spicy sauce, I think Jenn and I were both at a slight loss. We looked quizzically at the crab, unsure of how to approach it. In the end we just went all in, I think we may be the reason the restaurant will reconsider it’s use of white silky table cloths throughout the restaurant. The waiters kept coming back, offering more napkins, I think secretly they were just getting a good laugh out of these two messy, white girls. After dinner we attempted to hit up the highest bar…

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Life with your nose pressed against the glass: lessons in gratitude

Sydney, AUS Lately, I’ve spent many an evening in my bed, relaxing and elevating my aching feet. Since one week after arriving in Sydney I have been a full-time working waitress at a hotel down on Sydney Harbour. At the job I’ve met some amazing people, some of my first new friends in Sydney, and some of whom I hope to stay friends with. But the problem is that I have been using my 4:20 am alarm clock as an excuse to do next-to-nothing. I come home from work, sometimes after working 9-10 hours and sometimes after just 7 and all I want to do is sit down. Plans of hopping on the bus to visit friends in Bondi are foiled when I realize that if I close my eyes at this moment I would be out cold and, anyway, I have to be up at the same time tomorrow and the 45 minute commute would get me home past my bedtime.   Where I should be. The truth is that I have just been making excuses for myself. Sure, I’m tired. Sure, I have ridiculous working hours. But guess what? This is still my life. When I was in Florence, I got scared. I had made a drastic life decision; uprooted myself and moved to a country I had barely given a second thought just for some guy. I got scared. I landed and realized I didn’t speak Italian, I didn’t know how the country or city ran and I had no idea what to expect. I was disappointed by what I found and I was thrown into a self-inflicted reclusiveness to save myself from embarrassment. Venturing out meant that I couldn’t get done what I wanted. Simple transactions at the supermarket or bank became a nightmarish debacle when I cut someone in line or was given the wrong change. The system was so different. Throw in my being jobless (and Lorenzo having a normal 8am-6pm work schedule) and I simply locked myself in. I made excuses like, the shopping can wait for Lorenzo so that we can decide together what to eat. I don’t really need to go out and get a new sweater because I have some here and I can’t afford it. The list went on. Braving the city streets to explore Florence. Things did get better in Florence but I still found myself to be…

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Best Brekky Spot in Sydney: my research so far

Sydney, AUS It all started one wintery Sunday in Florence. We had an invitation to one of the well-known expat restaurants in town to enjoy their famous Sunday brunch. It was a company thing actually, our little travel agency had been running the brunch for years and to be honest, the promotion wasn’t go too well that particular semester and as it was being put on by our boss, what better way to get the word out than invite all of the favorite tour guides along. As I watched the beautifully bulbous glass filled with red tomato-y goodness arriving to my table and tasted the first sip of the deliciously spicy Bloody Mary, I was hooked. Of course, I won’t even speak of the hashbrowns. Some secrets are meant to be kept. Our Sunday meetings at that little restaurant became a tradition and brunch became an obsession. I may or may not have even waited in a three-hour line to try the famous eggs benedict and french toast platter at Mama’s on Washington Square in San Fran. So what does that mean for Sydney? I welcome a new challenge willingly. It started with a couple of morning stops at the local cafe which sits on our street corner but from there, recommendation after recommendation means that I have been able to try some of the best places in Sydney. My work is far from over here but I wanted to share with you some of my favorites. Cafe Ish: This was a recommendation from the lovely Heather as one of her favorite breakfast stops in the city and it did not disappoint. Christine and I chose this as our meeting spot on one of her sporadic weekend ventures to Sydney and we vowed to both try something delicious, no matter the price! After a bit of debate I opted for the fabulous crab omelette, a recommendation from Heather, which included tempura crab and avocado. As someone who is typically not a fan of omelets, it was fabulous. The cuisine at Cafe Ish is classified as Australian/Japanese fusion and that is exactly what it is. This little Surry Hills spot reminded me what I love so much about the creativity of Australian chefs. The coffee was phenomenal as well! Cafe Ish is located at 82 Campbell St., Surry Hills. Cafe Giulia: This was a random hint from a former Chippo resident.…

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Wayward ABC’s: Travel Stories

Sydney, AUS I was nominated twice (can we say populuuurr) by the amazing Miss Melly Boo herself of TheMellyBooProject and also by one of my favorite new blogging friends Bobbi of Heels and Wheels to participate in this fun little meme floating around the travel blogosphere these days. So, without further ado… A: Age you went on your first international trip: That depends on if you want to count Canada. At the time I crossed the border for the first time you didn’t even need a passport to do it. Things have changed now and since then I hopped on my first ever international flight to Puerta Vallarta when I was 21, and not long after I took the trip to Sydney that changed everything. I didn’t even know I wanted to travel when I got on that plane! B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: Hmmm, I have been testing out some of the tasty craft brews that Sydney has to offer in the past couple months, and shamelessly comparing them to the list of the Northwest at home. Otherwise, I’d venture to say that the beer in Munich is pretty delicious and Guinness really does taste better in Ireland and as a once avid hater, I have reformed. C: Cuisine (favorite): Don’t make me choose please. The Italian in Italy is pretty much impossible to beat (or replicate), but I do prefer a little kick. I love Thai, Indian and Mexican but am always a fan of trying new things, especially when spice is involved. D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: Favorite is Sydney (obviously!) and Whistler definitely tops the list. Bars full of partying Aussie snowboarders, yes please! Least favorite would be Corfu in Greece. I’m sure that it had nothing to do with the careless and rude hostel workers or the “jizz-cuzzi” at the famous Pink Palace hostel. Students wait to get on the famous Pink Palace Booze Cruise… oh the memories… E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: While I’m in the moment traveling, I can never quite grasp the magnitude of what is actually happening and it is always someone else’s life that looks like a fairytale. That said, I think that my Italian Christmas was one of the few times that I was able to smack myself in the middle of the moment and enjoy experiences another culture, one…

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