Set Up

It feels like it’s been a whirlwind couple of months. After Brazil, I returned to Canada while Tim extended his holiday for a few more weeks to meet up with some friends in Europe who were trotting around with a tiny house towed behind a car.

It worked out quite well in my favour that flights from Rio to Canada were significantly cheaper to Toronto than to my hometown in Saskatchewan, so I could easily justify adding on a mini-holiday in Toronto to visit one of my best friends who I hadn’t seen in over two years.

I hadn’t been to Toronto since I was about 13 years old, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the city – I’ll admit my expectations weren’t high. Though smoggy and a bit clogged up with traffic, Toronto had a much more interesting feel than I expected, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending a few days catching up with old friends (one who had made the trip to Vancouver to reconnect) and exploring interesting corners of the city, browsing in great markets, and fulfilling all of the cravings for food I’d been having that were either too expensive or simply non-existent in Latin America (think, mainly, Brie and sushi).

Coming in to Toronto and catching up with some of nearest and dearest was the best way to return. It helped me ease into the idea of being back in Canada, helped enormously by generous quantities of wine and girly movies. Too soon, it was time to end the reunion and continue on my journey “home.”

Home is home because I grew up there and my parents are there. But I won’t be moving back there and the ties that bind slowly fade, as more people adopt new lives and move away. One day, not right now, I’m sure I’ll have to figure out a new place to label home.

As I flew over the checkered fields of the Canadian prairies I realised, once again – as one often does after stints like these away – how beautiful home really is. Saskatchewan is known as Land of the Living Skies and for good reason. I’ve never seen a sunset, anywhere in the world, that rival those from home. The area is simply vast. The flat, and occasionally rolling, prairies stretch for hundreds of miles, and it is far off into the distance before land meets sky. My dad tells a joke about a prairie native complaining about the view in the Rockies – the mountains block the views. And it is true, in a sense, for those of us who are used to endless sky and being able to see distances too far to run. I believe this is why I am now drawn so much to the ocean – you get the same expansive view, the sense of endlessness, the feeling of freedom.

After a lovely month or so of catching up with friends and family, doing life admin tasks such as buying a car, getting a job, and such, TIm joined me in Canada and we quickly set off towards Banff where life in Canada was to truly begin.

As the Rocky Mountains rose up to us in the distance, I tried to envision how and explorer would feel, having reached this part of the country – having had smooth and flat travels for thousands of kilometres, and then seeing the mass of cold stone rising in the distance, thickly forested and seemingly impassable. It would not have been a good day.

We stayed in Canmore, which is about an hour west of Calgary and twenty or thirty minutes outside of Banff, for about a week. My mom has an incredibly generous friend who let us stay at the condo they own in Canmore while we sorted out where we were living. Banff, and Canmore, I had been told – repeatedly – were incredible tricky places to find somewhere to live. The vacancy rate is approximately 0%, and we certainly viewed a few duds before finding a great condo to move into, which we share with three girls from Australia.

Arriving in Banff after the summer season helped – it is such a transient town, and summer is much busier than winter. Many people were leaving as we arrived, at the beginning of “shoulder season,” which worked out rather luckily, rather than something we planned. I would certainly recommend this strategy for anyone planning on turning up in a tourist town any time soon.

And here we are, settling into Banff and enjoying all that mountain has to offer before our world becomes blanketed in snow. Busy, busy, will try to keep the words flowing!

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Crash.

So much for my boring, non-blog-worthy life, which has resulted in no blog posts. Sort of wish it could have stayed that way for a little longer. (I don’t actually think my life is boring, but you probably would if you had to read about it on a daily basis.)

There has been an unfortunate incident. I’m sure this was bound to happen at some point, as evidenced by my brother’s epic adventure a couple of years ago, which ended rather abruptly due to an untimely run-in involving his tibia and the front of a motor bike. Luckily my incident involved exactly 0 nights in an Egyptian hospital and was nowhere near as severe.

There was a crash, and there was my knee. Initially, I thought things were bad. Really bad. Initially, I couldn’t talk, or move, or do anything other than yell and groan in pain. But then I could move, I could stand, and I could even get slowly back into my bindings to board to the next rest stop where ice and elevation happened. One test run later and I was back in the game, as boarding actually felt reasonably okay (walking significantly less so). One run after the test run and I was reevaluating this decision, so I moseyed back to the chalet and packed my gear in for the day. A couple of hours later, when the returning crew woke me up from my cozy dozing in the car, things seemed bad again. The dull throbbing in my knee had changed into an excruciatingly sharp pain at almost any movement. Even having a comforter over my legs put painful pressure on my knee. Not ideal.

So, some time off from the bar, some crutches at the cafe, some inconclusive physiotherapy sessions, and I was sent off for an MRI. Results came back positive: ACL is sweet, all tendons and ligaments are sweet, cartilage is sweet. Winning! What actually happened?

There is quite extensive bone marrow oedema within the medial tibia plateau, particularly posteriorly, and there is a subtle undisplaced subchondral microtrabecular fracture at the posterior aspect of the plateau on the T1-weighted sequence. There is subchondral bone marrow oedema further anteriorly without a definite fracture line seen on the T1-weighted sequence in this location.

 

There is a moderate-seized associated knee joint effusion and there is extensive surrounding soft tissue oedema.

MRI

Which seemed like good news to me. And it was, really, but I was still told to expect 8-12 weeks for recovery time. And then I’d be 100%. (When I informed my physio that this was good, as I had a a month of hiking and canyoning planning in New Zealand in December – which is longer than 12 weeks away – he looked at me as though I was slightly insane. Perhaps people’s definitions of 100% differ slightly. Mine means 100%.) Regardless, this seemed like an awfully long time for a non-broken, non-ripped-ligament knee to heal. But here we are. The downside of all of this is multi-sided. First of all, my knee hurts. I have to stop doing fun things. I miss these fun things immensely, especially when I go on trips where others are doing fun things and I become resident photographer. 55+ hours on my feet at work each week is not conducive to healing, so I cut my hours back at the bar significantly before quitting entirely in an effort to expedite the healing process. My insurance has a cap of $300 on physiotherapy which I have long since exhausted. I figured out that the additional costs coupled with the lost income means this knee has cost me roughly $2500. When I’m planning on a budget of $10,000 for 6-7 months in Mexico, Central and South America, plus a few extra grand for 3 months in Australia and New Zealand, that loss represents a significant chunk.

This is where it’s quite easy to fall into the woe-is-me puddle of self pity. Of course this is not ideal, but it could have been much, much worse. If I had needed surgery, I would have had to return to Canada, as my insurance wouldn’t cover it here. This, needless to say, would mean no more jobs and no more income for a much longer period of time. A friend of a friend ruptured his achilles shortly after this, and his prognosis of two weeks complete bed rest after surgery, and six months with no sport helped me put things into perspective a little bit. $2500 is a good amount of coin, but I would pay numerous times that in order to be in shape and able to do what I want to do once we actually start travelling. When grappling with the decision to continue work at the bar or not, I asked myself what was more important: A couple of thousand dollars to travel with, or the ability to walk when we start travelling. The answer is a no-brainer.

The good news is that I am happy with all the moves I’ve made and the way I’ve gone about it. A couple weeks after stopping work at the bar, and things are improving rapidly. My body, mind, and sleep reserves are benefiting massively from the decrease of work. Most excitingly, the countdown to unemployment and adventures is on! Just a few more days …

Third Time Charm

So now I have three jobs. Overkill. And too complex. In order to suss out the situation at the new job before pulling the plug on one of the others, I had to do some schedule finessing which unfortunately and unethically included me calling in sick at one job to work at another. This was shortly followed by me actually getting sick, so I definitely reaped the karma on that one. It was also for the place that sneakily made me pay for three work shirts when I only work two days a week, so I couldn’t really feel too bad. A few shifts at the new place and I was sold, so I called in my resignation at the cafe (a.k.a. The Haven for Screaming Privileged Children) and job count is back down to two.

This time around I think I’ve done it, kids! I am now working full time days, Monday through Friday at a lovely cafe, picturesquely plunked down on one of the piers in central Sydney. I’ve just told (I mean, asked) the bar that (is it okay that?) my new availability is now two days a week, any evening of the week from Monday to Friday. If you haven’t been following my math formulas, this equals normal schedule, weekend fun, and money. Yay!

Pier 8

Speaking of weekend fun, this Friday it’s off to New Zealand, the land of sheep and Middle Earth and zorbing and kiwis. I expect Frodos all around, I will let you know if I’m disappointed.

Hanging

First of all, oops. This post is embarrassingly late. So I will lie on the published date and put when it was actually meant to have been posted (the delay mostly due to waiting for pictures – photo creds to Kiwi for this post).

Sydney’s good. I’ll refrain from complaining about the cooling weather, as I did enough boasting about the summer heat when most of the people I know were freezing somewhere a long way north of the Equator. Onward past the weather and on to the updates!

Work is work. With the current mix of almost equal parts of screaming children and drunken Aussies (which are really not that different, when it comes down to it), I am beginning the slow search-for-a-job process. Again. The appeal of having evenings and weekends off to spend time with most of the people I know who have evenings and weekends off is huge, so that’s the goal. As with the hospitality industry anywhere in the world, hours are never guaranteed and my two jobs that left me shattered after a 55 hour week around the time of the last post barely managed to scrape together 35 hours  last week, so cash flow is something of a concern as well. As much of a creature of routine I am not, consistent income is a nice thing.

Speaking of cash, I recently plunked a rather reasonable amount down (think a one-way flight from Calgary to Toronto) on round-trip tickets to Auckland to visit Kiwi’s homeland and entire family for a weekend. All of the normal meet-the-parents feelings are going into this, not lessened much by the fact that we’re still pretty new at this as well. But an exciting weekend is sure to be had north of Auckland at a favourite family spot called Taupo Bay, where I’m assured boating and diving and fun things will occur.

In the meantime, fun things have been occurring here. In our limited coinciding hours off from work, we have managed a couple of excellent activities. These seem to have left me covered in scrapes and bruises, but are fun nonetheless. I had my first indoor rock climbing experience about a week and a half ago, which was actually much more enjoyable than I was expecting. While upper-body strength has never been something I’ve possessed, the key to climbing is to actually use your legs more than anything (which is a bit tricky to do in the beginning, as you want to pull yourself up to where you are looking), but I definitely got better the more I did and am keen to go again soon. I think it may become a regular Monday night activity. We also had a housemate outing to the concrete Esplanade that goes from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay in the city. One of us (well, to be honest, not me) would ride a bike with a strap attached to the back of it while another of us (this time, including me) would hold on to the strap and get pulled along on a skateboard behind the bike. I don’t skateboard. In fact, I somewhat recently crashed into a woman near the Opera House on this exact skateboard. However, practice makes perfect, so off I went. After a reasonably successful couple of rides, the speed of this game increased, and with it came me crashing headlong into a fence. With any sort of skills I could have avoided this fence and/or stopped, but it was like watching an accident in slow motion: I saw it happening, but there was nothing I could do about it. I probably should have just jumped off of the board, but didn’t manage to make that happen, so the board hit the massive concrete base of the fence first, then my body hit the fence at full tilt, then I fell and rolled onto the ground, and somehow managed all of this with only a minor bruise on my elbow. Back on the board, and first things first: stopping lessons. I thought I had learnt the lesson about learning to stop after my last incident, but apparently not.

The best adventure has definitely been a trip to the Blue Mountains. I visited them on my first go-around in Sydney, and spent about three days in Katoomba and the surrounding area. This time we had the luxury of a car and sort-of locals who knew that the area around Katoomba, though beautiful, is full of tourists and other fun-killers such as fences, so we headed off to a spot close to Blackheath called Hanging Rock. Aptly named.

Hanging Rock

Our thoughtful roommate had brought along a few beer and we had a lovely, if slightly terrifying, moment hanging out (ha!) on the end of the rock, drink in hand. With only another couple for company in the entire area (who were nice enough to snap a few shots of us on the rock), this was definitely a much different experience than the tourist stops of The Three Sisters and surrounding sights around Katoomba. And by different, I essentially mean better. Being in a place with such incredible views and  general senerity is definitely enhanced when you are not in the company of 45 shutter-clicking buddies.

Blue Mountains

55 Hours

This last week has been completely hectic. After finding our place to live with no issues, we succeeded in moving and setting up pretty much completely by Sunday. And by we, I mostly mean Kiwi, as the majority of my week was taken up by work. The two jobs are having a bit of a fight for my time and somehow managed to take all of it this week. Not only were the hours a bit excessive, but the schedule was rather dismal and on a couple of occasions late night closes at the bar were followed by early mornings at the cafe followed by late night closes, repeat. I realize I should not complain, as I’ve done this to myself, but somehow things seemed to pile on a bit faster than I was expecting them to. Something’s got to give. My plan is to search for a different cafe job, giving me mostly days, and then cutting my shifts back at the restaurant to give me a more manageable schedule. I enjoy the bar and want to keep that job, as they have made me a bartender which is excellent fun, great experience, and prepares me nicely for finding future under-the-table jobs in sunny countries around the world.

The cafe is another story. It doesn’t take a Dr. Seuss calibre imagination to picture the type of people who would turn up at a cafe in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, which is an area chock full of organic grocery stores, boutique clothing shops, and some ridiculously priced real estate. Especially when said cafe literally has an item on the menu called “Hipster Bircher” and charges you $20+ for your average breakfast. Someone actually ordered a side of avocado and a side of spinach for breakfast the other day, along with their weak decaf skinny soy extra hot cappuccino with added foam. The downfall of this cafe vs. every other cafe anywhere is that it has a large backyard area with picnic tables and sunshine. This would not normally be cause for alarm, but it is what – or rather, who – this area attracts that is the issue; the suburban housewives come in droves, pushing their designer prams, not controlling their unruly toddlers, and chatting for hours about the imported muslin they have used to decorate their nurseries and the downfalls of public school. Spending hours wading through a sea of children pushing toys with wheels , cleaning up after them, and making sure they don’t get 3rd degree burns from knocking over someone’s coffee is not what I signed up for when I began working at a cafe. This is what people who work at daycares do. There are people who like to work with kids and find rewarding careers doing so. I am not one of those people. So the cafe has to go. I have a feeling that the job search will wait for another week, as it’s already nearly halfway through my weekend and I intend to spend most of the rest of it doing nothing, with a splash of wine and most necessarily a yoga class thrown in. I can’t imagine how your body would feel after spending twenty or thirty years working in the hospitality industry; a week has done me in pretty well.

The game at the moment is finding the balance between work (which equals savings which equals future travel and less work) and life. It’s easy to vote for enjoying life right now, and I definitely need to, but there are few countries where I will make as much cash with my time as I will here, so the argument for using this time to save is pretty strong as well. If my hopeful notion of spending at least six months in Latin America (vastly unemployed – except for the slim possibility of pouring drinks or teaching English at some point) works out, I will need a solid bankroll to fund this, and need to keep that in mind.

Even with my limited free time at the moment, enjoying life is easy. Living out of the city centre was a brilliant decision, and even after finishing work at 12:30 a.m., I haven’t (yet) minded the 40 minute commute. It’s like taking a breath of fresh air. I do enjoy the city, but after working in a hectic cafe and then a hectic bar for ten hours, wandering back to my cruisy beachy suburb is the best thing in the world. Our apartment is a funky art-deco place with high ceilings, wooden floors and finishes, and all of the strange quirks that come with these types of buildings. It’s as if people who were building things a few decades ago had not yet lived in a building, and did not grasp the fact that it makes absolutely no sense to put a light switch in a place that requires you first close the door before turning it on, and other such amusing abnormalities. The two roommates are great, and include a rather tatted Brit who undoubtably has an extensive arsenal of interesting stories, hinted to by the fact that he is getting belongings shipped to him from at least three countries around the world (Paraguay, England, and South Africa if my combined memory and guessing ability is correct). The other is an Aussie, Kiwi’s friend, and the reason that we found the place in the first place. Roommate dinners appear to already be making a regular appearance and the flat is an excellent place to hang out and relax. I’ve also discovered not one, but two bagel shops in my area. I hadn’t had a bagel since leaving Canada until today, and they have been sorely missed. Bagels are delicious. They are so much better than bread, and more countries in the world need to catch on to this (Spain missed the memo as well – that was a long bagel-less five months). So with the promise of lots of bagels on the horizon, I am very much so looking forward to the next bit.

Cheap Thrills

Again, when the travelling stops and the “real” life begins, I feel as though the stories will begin to become less entertaining, but for now all I have are the tales of living in this city. In practice it is far from boring, but I’m not sure the retelling will be quite to thrilling so I’ll just mention a couple of key new happenings.

The big happy news is that Kiwi is back, and suffice to say things are good on that front and it’s almost impossible to believe that it has been four months since we saw each other. As when I’ve reunited with some of my best friends after a year or more of being apart, we haven’t really missed a beat, which is excellent. The house search went impressively well, and the place that we viewed on Sunday afternoon (the day he got back) was a winner. The bond and rent are paid and the move-in date is set for Wednesday (tomorrow). We will be living with a friend of his and another roommate who is new to the place as well. It’s about a five minute walk from Bondi Beach which is excellent for lifestyle if a little draining for commuting. My job at the restaurant is about a 40 minute transit ride away. There is another location right in Bondi as well, but most of the reason that I like my job is the people that I work with, so I’m not sure if asking for a transfer would be worth it. I have also collected a second job as a waitress at a cafe. It is generally good, but the atmosphere is a bit lacking, and it is still a commute from home. I think I will start scouting out other options within walking distance as a second income to save myself a bit of headache. My combined hours are plentiful, if a bit draining and I’m going to have to finesse the schedules a bit to create a balance that leaves me with heaps of savings and still gives me a life. All of the hours (as I essentially could be working any day of the week any hour of the day from 7 a.m. until midnight or later) generally clash with Kiwi’s schedule as he has A Day Job. The promise of fun weekend missions including canyoning, rock climbing and diving are also beginning to encourage me to consider my options, though any hospitality, hotel, or retail job will require weekend work so I think I’ll just have to go with it and request the occasional Saturday off.

Future missions are already being schemed upon, as I consistently get asked “what next” after Australia. I still don’t have an answer, but the future looks bright. Two of my good friends appear as though they will be both be in Thailand in June, so I may have to justify a trip there for a couple of weeks to visit them. One of best friends from Canada has broached the subject of coming to Oz for a couple of weeks in September, which would be a definite highlight of the year. My parents, aunt, and uncle are planning a trip to Australia and New Zealand in October, which coincides nicely (and purposefully) with the end of my year-long visa. Finally, another great friend and her boyfriend are seriously considering moving to New Zealand in November and are in the process of convincing me this is a good idea for myself as well. Not to mention squeezing in as many mini holidays in this area as I can. All of this on the horizon, and the goal is still to have a substantial stack of money in the bank at the end of these six months to travel, and it’s looking as though New Zealand and/or South America are winning the destination race at this point. The world is our oyster, my friends.

prettyugly

Time is already flying by at an alarming speed. Work at the restaurant has been going well and I’ve really been enjoying it. Everyone I work with seems really great and the atmosphere is professional yet fun. As long as you are working – and working hard – the bosses are fine with you having a laugh along the way. I’ve been assured by a couple of members of staff that I’ll be moving up from food runner (where they have everyone start to learn the basics) to waitress soon. Unlike in Canada, where this move would result in a huge increase in income due to tips, I can probably expect only around $30 – $50 extra per night, as Australia is not a big tipping country. Serving vs. running has other benefits, one of which is simply being a bit easier on the body. My arms, shoulders, and upper back have definitely been feeling the effects of trays full of beer and platters of bratwurst. I’ve begun to combat this by scoping out yoga in my current area and signing up for a one-week unlimited introductory offer at hot yoga studio called Hom Yoga. It had been about a year since my last hot class, and I definitely got a good kick in the … abs. Most studios offer very cheap introductory rates for about a week, so I plan to just hop from studio to studio to get my yoga fix for the next six months.

A while ago, I had a conversation with someone – I think it might have been someone I was couchsurfing with – about useless superpowers. For example, a friend of mine has the uncanny ability to tell the time at any given moment, almost down to the minute. A couple of years ago, while travelling in Greece, our motley crew of temporary friends were all declared to have a power. I can’t remember all of them, but I do remember that one of my glorious powers was the power to lead the group to ugly places. In Santorini, this is quite a feat, as the island is probably on of the most picturesque places in the world. Somehow, without fail, when I was steering our wanderings, we would turn up in crumbling car parks with graffiti on the decrepit walls. I tend to be drawn to ugly places such as these, and I’m always the one taking photos of tagged dumpsters and crumbling ruins. (See Exhibit A: Greece and Exhibit B: Melbourne).

Greece

 

IMG_3641

The moral of this rather unrelated story is that I think I have discovered another (somewhat more useful) power of mine: the ability to find the best coffee shops. This is a lofty statement, I know, but as I think I’ve mentioned before, I love a good coffee shop (such as The Sweatshop in Townsville). I can’t think of many places I’d rather be than curled up in an eccentric coffee shop, with mismatched everything, excellent brew, indie creativity-inducing music, and slightly hipster staff. Indeed, most of what you read was probably written in such a coffee shop, first scribbled into my trusty Moleskine notebook and then transferred to the Mac to enter it into the blogosphere. Just this weekend, I found myself drawn back to Rozelle for markets and wandering. I managed to snag a $20 wool blend pea coat in preparation for winter, its only flaw being that it is slightly too short in the sleeves. Debating a more expensive but enjoyable ferry ride vs. a cheap and boring bus ride back to the centre of the city, I wandered somewhat aimlessly until I came across The Old City. Something about its eclectic collection of pillows and record player drew me in, despite the fact that the cafe was entirely empty. About ten minutes after I arrived the place started to fill up and the owner (who had taken over only five weeks previous) announced that there would be live music that afternoon. He also asked us to have patience, as their barista had called in sick and a young (14?) barista-in-training was doing the role, so I forgave my slightly cool cappuccino. The music was great, the staff genuine, and the coffee would be excellent when this mini barista was all trained up. Most importantly, I was happy to be supporting – unknowingly at first – this new business endeavor.

Yesterday marked my 6-month anniversary in Australia, and the bones of a life reflection post have slowly started to come together. They will hopefully make their way up here sometime soon. A few days ago I added some photos to a post a couple of posts ago about Sydney, scroll down if you missed them!