Embrace

It’s a natural thing, surely. People find comfort in familiarity. It’s normal to miss your favourite things, if you can’t get your hands on them wherever you are. But isn’t that part of the point of travelling, of living abroad?

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

People hear about Banff around the world and, when young adventurers get an opportunity to travel or work in Canada, it is a popular destination for them to choose. Banff is full of people from across Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Germany, the Philippines, and countless other countries.

They (and I) have come to Banff, to this part of Canada, to experience life in the mountains, to get amongst the culture, to live a certain kind of lifestyle. Yet so often I hear about what’s missing rather than what’s here.

The cheese sucks, groceries are expensive, the fries are different, TV is worse … Often the exact same complaints I heard from North Americans in Australia. Surely the fries can’t be worse in both countries at the same time. It’s just different. And that’s the point. You wouldn’t have wanted to come here if it was the same as wherever it was that you just left.

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I’m not, by any means, saying I’m immune to this trend. I have most certainly wanted for things, and verbalised this, on my travels. I’ve complained about  Australian TV commercials, about Costa Rican cheese. Yet I have noticed the tendency to do this, in myself at least, diminishes with a greater leap in cultural differences.

Barbecue

It can be easier to compare and then – often – to criticise, when two worlds are, in so many ways, similar. For Australians in Canada, or vice versa, things can look very much the same. We speak the same language, have similar socioeconomics, and are, in the grand scheme of things, young Commonwealth countries. Then, when the cheese and the fries are different, it seems to have some real significance.

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Travelling El Salvador, or Morocco, or Vietnam, one expects everything to be different and is, I believe, more willing to embrace that. You’re not expecting the comforts of home, so you’re not as bothered when they aren’t there. You respect that this is a completely different culture, and you are there to explore it.

Hammocks

That’s not to say I haven’t heard complaints about the food, the transit, the relaxed view of time, or that I haven’t struggled with these things myself at times, but it’s less of a narrative.

Chicken Bus

So here’s the challenge. Wherever you are from, and wherever you may be going, whether it’s a different province, state, country, or continent … embrace. Embrace the people, the culture, the food and the drinks, the language, the traditions, even the weather. You’ve gone exploring for a reason, to see things and do things that are different. So when you get to somewhere and it is different, be thrilled that you found what you were looking for.

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

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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!

Coming Home

I am touching down on Canadian soil after one year, nine months, and two days away. It’s a different person arriving today, really, than the one that left almost two years ago.

Yogi on a Cliff

I haven’t cut or coloured my hair in almost a year, and I’m still living out of the same 60 litre backpack that I left with, though its contents have shifted a bit. My feet spent more time aching from long shifts at the bar, or overnight hikes in soggy trail runners, than from dancing into the wee hours in 4-inch stilettos. A lot has changed. And that’s just the surface.

Abel Tasman Since leaving home after high school, I have moved 17 times to 7 cities in 3 countries. For my university years, four months was the standard length of time to spend anywhere. After a year in Calgary in the same apartment, I responded to my itch to move in a big way and haven’t look back since. For a long time, this transience has been the only real constant.

IMG_1448 My first year was spent in Australia on a Working Holiday Visa; three months travelling, three months working in a tiny beach town in Queensland, and six months working truly excessive hours yet still managing to love life in Sydney.

Waddy PointDuring my year in Australia, I flitted between easy travel, working in a laid back beach town, splashing out on expensive sailing trips, and then buckling down for six months to somehow earn enough to travel for ten. Of course, I learned. Tangible things: how to bartend, SCUBA dive, repack a backpack in record time. And then the other stuff. I either learnt how or tapped into my ability to work extremely hard to reach a goal. I learned how to listen to my body after an injury when it was telling me I needed a break.

Dive & Sunset In those first few months in Australia, I met Tim. We’d gone our separate ways for a while, as we both had plans and adventures and things that needed to happen. In April, we both returned to Sydney and we jumped right in. Moving in with someone I’d spent about two weeks with was a decision that the freedom of travel allowed me to make. It would have been very easy to both think we should take it slower, or that things could go wrong, or that it was a bit crazy, but we did it anyway. I felt free to make the decision for a number of reasons. I didn’t have a network of friends on the ground who, for better or worse, would judge it. I was literally lightweight enough to move out at a moment’s notice if it all turned sour. We took a chance, because we could, and we wanted to. And it worked.

Car Those six months in Sydney were some of the fullest of my life – literally and metaphorically. I was incredible busy, routinely working 50 – 60 hour weeks which included 5:30 a.m. starts and 1 a.m. finishes. And I still managing to squeeze in weekend trips and after-work activities. Tim and I grew incredible close incredible quickly, and I developed fast and strong bonds with a number of people I know I’ll be lucky enough to know for years to come. Tim and his friends introduced me to an entire world of activities I had never even considered. Where, in the past, I would have spent my time with friends out at martini nights, shopping, at a cottage for a weekend, having moving nights, dancing at clubs, drinking sangria on rooftops … Now my weekends were full of rock climbing, hiking, and canyoning trips. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this undiscovered life.

Climbing - Wanaka 2 In October, a year after I had arrived in Australia, the real adventure began. I would be travelling for the next nine or ten months. My family visited for a month, and we had an amazing time exploring Australia and New Zealand.

Kata Tjuta with FamI returned to Sydney for a bit of relaxation and a lot of packing, and then Tim and I were off for a jam-packed month of adventure in New Zealand, culminating with an absolutely amazing family Christmas in Auckland.

20131213-IMG_5224 We were in Mexico in time for New Year’s Eve, and we spent the next six and half months travelling south, hitting every country in Central America, with a finale in Brazil during the World Cup.

20140618-IMG_0109 Saying it’s been an amazing trip, and incredible experience, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure doesn’t capture it. We saw things that surely must rival the beauty of anywhere in the world. We’ve done some of the most amazing things I could ever hope to do. Yet I know we will still be having such adventures for the rest of our lives.

Fuego Smoking And now, I’m not sure I’m ready to go home.

20140513-IMG_1638 I’m beyond excited to see my friends and family. I’m excited to be in a land that is familiar. To know how to ask for what I want. To understand, and to be able to communicate. I’m excited for hot showers, good cheese, and nice pillows. But I also know I will get my fill of all of those comforts very quickly.

Barbecue We are going to Canada, as it somehow seemed to become the place to go. Tim can get a visa and is excited at the prospect of work on a mountain. I’m meant to be putting in some career time – I’m sick of traveller jobs and want something more challenging, fulfilling. But now I’m not so sure. I had a moment, on my last flight, when it was taking off from Panama and jetting me to Toronto, when all I could think was, “Leave me here.”

Photo Credit: Tim Binks It’s not travelling that’s the hard part, it’s stopping. So the only way to survive the transition back to what many of us refer to as “the real world” is to think about it was the next great adventure. Have I lived in this place, worked at this job, known these people? This is what we, with our restless feet and our packed bags, must remember. We are always on the next part of our adventure.

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

Immigratiation

This is where it got a little complicated. Upon arriving to at Sydney Kingsford-Smith Airport, we headed for Air New Zealand’s check-in area all cheery and ready for a seamless jaunt to Australia’s next door neighbour. Completely contrary to what STA Travel had told me, the company I had booked these flights through, it was not a simple and easy process to add luggage at the airport. Well, no, that’s not true. It was exceptionally simple and easy, but it would cost $120 per bag for each of my four luggage-toting companions. Excuse me? I think this was actually comparable to what we had paid for the flights in the first place. After about 30 minutes and a series of phone calls to Air NZ reservations, the travel agent, and reservations again, we succeeded in adding our 4 bags for $55 a piece. This was a much more swallowable amount.

I do take a good chunk of the responsibility for this, as I did not double check the agent’s advice and assumed that the baggage conditions would be similar to that of a Canadian airline in that (last time I flew on a Canadian airline, at least), airport baggage was slightly less quick and easy, but pretty much the same cost as doing it beforehand. Live and learn, I suppose, as I will not be making that mistake again.

All is well, crisis averted, back to checking in. Angela, the exceptionally friendly and helpful Air NZ staff member who had been helping us, asked to sight all of our exit tickets out of New Zealand. Ah.

No worries, as far as I was concerned. I had a perfectly valid flight back to Sydney in a couple of weeks’ time. Except. Except that my Australian Working Holiday Visa was to expire in about 3 days. The tourist visa I had been advised to apply for by immigration, to return to Australia, had to be applied for from outside of the country. It was on my immediate list of things to do upon arriving in New Zealand. But, tricky blighters, New Zealand wouldn’t let me into their country without a valid ticket out to a country I actually had legal rights to be in. At this point, that does not include Australia. Damn.

With our departure time ticking closer, I was back on the phone. Australian Immigration, the New Zealand consulate … trying to come up with a solution. I had to leave the country to apply for a visa, but I couldn’t leave the country without a visa. There was nothing that could really be done in order to bend the immigration laws (surprise, surprise), so I ended up booking a mostly refundable (less a $60 change fee) to Vancouver, from Auckland, so I could board.

Kia Ora!

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 …

It’s Like Riding a Bike

Except this time I’m plummeting downhill on a narrow dirt track, holding on for what feels like dear life. And very well could be. This is my first attempt at mountain biking. On, what I would learn after about 20 kilometers, was a track that is “suitable for experienced mountain bikers only.” When we finished the day, very nearly covered from toe to head in dried mud, I found myself both exhilarated and exhausted. Had I been put on that track by myself, I would have very likely pedaled steadily in the opposite direction, as both technically and physically it exceeded my levels. Luckily, the group I was with was full of patience and encouragement, and I think I succeeded in satisfactorily impressing most of us. There was certainly a lot of walking up hills, trotting awkwardly 2-wheel & 2-leg style over excessively rough rocks and stumps, and a couple of miniature tips. There was also some high-speed puddle smashing, saves in slippery sand, and some pretty adept navigation of various types of rocks, tress, holes, and other dangers.

This is the easy bit.

This is the easy bit.

I’ve discovered a good chunk of new world in the last couple of months, largely because of Kiwi. Adventurous to a fault, the idea of lounging around on a Sunday and accomplishing little more than breakfast has taken some selling. (Keep in mind that I am still average about 55 hours of work in a week – nothing is good for me sometimes.) I’ve been dropped into a world filled with climbing harnesses, mountain bikes, and consistent missions. Luckily for me, yoga mats still make an appearance, occasionally even adorned by Kiwi. Ive found myself drawn more to mountain equipment stores and merino wool than stilettos. Perhaps a phase. Perhaps discovering all kinds of new things that I will grow to love, that I just haven’t had occassion to explore before now. Perhaps I’ll wind up somewhere in the middle; following days on the mountain with nights out salsa dancing. It’s refreshing to know that there are still so many things to discover, and that I’ve barely scraped the surface is what is possible. So life is good and constantly exciting, which is not generally a way I would have described my life in the past (the constantly exciting bit, life has always been good).

A Month in 1400 Words or Less

“I will write today,” I said. And have said. Nearly every day that I have had an afternoon off or a couple of hours between work. For the last month. And yet here we are. As I am sure is not news to any of you, time flies, and this blog has become a victim. The general life time eaters come into play here: work, commute, yoga, work, etc. To be fair, my work does tend to eat up more hours in an average week than it should, but still. Somehow, more importantly, I’ve been so thoroughly and wholeheartedly enjoying myself that it has seemed somewhat fruitless to write about it. Why bother jotting words when I could be properly experiencing what I want? This underlying notion is perhaps why I have always had a bit of a disregard for travel writing and find it very difficult to actually come across pieces in this genre that I enjoy. Regardless, I do love to write, and this is something that I have enjoyed doing, looking back on, and getting feedback from. I want this to grow. Consistent and habitual are generally not words I would be described with, so it makes sense that the consistency of this project will waver, but I do hope to get it back on track.

So, with the rambling excuses of why I have not, now I write. I have set aside the things that need to be done for today and made this – and a cup of tea and a piece of leftover birthday cheesecake – a priority, for the first time in far too long.

I had to look back on the last post to see where I had left off, and I’m pleased that it was right before New Zealand. The moral of this story is go to New Zealand. While unmistakably neighbours – banks and shops and other companies tend overlap frequently – New Zealand is also unmistakably not Australia. I didn’t realize how much I was craving a change until we left, and even a few days in another country reignited my desire to travel. The weekend involved flying out of Sydney on Friday night and landing in Auckland, driving straight* north for about four hours to a small coastal town called Taupo Bay, spending the weekend with family and friends (Kiwi’s, not mine), driving back to Auckland and spending the night at Kiwi’s parents’ house before catching an early morning flight back to Sydney on Tuesday and heading back to work.

* Straight is not a term that road construction teams were aware of when they built NZ.

New Zealand is beautiful. Though I only saw a snippet of it, I am eagerly anticipating my next visit. It feels markedly different from Australia, from the landscape to the people. Taupo Bay was, as promised, filled with boating and diving and fun. I got back in the water after a long absence from diving and, after some fighting with my uncooperative ears, managed a reasonable dive and actually caught a crayfish. Crays are essentially lobsters without the pincers (bonus for me!) and catching them involves spotting them in dark cracks underwater, grabbing onto their backs, and wrestling the little buggers from their hold on the rocks. Those things can hang on pretty well, considering the size of them. Still not a shellfish eater, I sampled a couple bits of freshly caught and barbecued cray, and then let the rest of the crowd happily devour our haul. I was treated to some amazing fresh sashimi, which I certainly ate more than my share of. No sushi restaurant will ever have that sea-to-plate turnaround. For the sake of decreased word count. Look.

Taupo BayTaupo Bay 2

That’s all on NZ (for now). Meeting the crew went well all around, and the only hiccough at the trip came at the very end. We set double alarms and yet somehow managed to wake up two hours late for our flight in the morning, meaning we arrived at the airport at approximately the same time as when our plane’s wheels left the tarmac and started heading west. I have never missed a flight before. I have, on occasion, mocked those that have. I now eat my words. It can happen, just as anything can. And it sucks, but luckily planes fly frequently between these two lovely countries, and the rest of the day (once we arrived back in Sydney an hour or two late) went as planned.

Next stop we have another long weekend excursion (I swear, I work hard), this time north up the east coast of Australia to a place called Seal Rocks. They went to surf, and the rest of us went. A group of 10 of us rented a house (and it’s convenient backyard, where we tented, as the house technically slept 6) a few minutes from the beach. The days were spent surfing (in my case, failing at attempting to surf), lounging on the beach, playing games, and building the greatest rock tower ever known to man kind. We were a few rocks away from pyramid-esque greatness before our ambition grew more than our engineering skills, and several hundred pounds of rock came crashing down around us, narrowly avoided crushing a couple of us, saved only by my high-pitched scream. The nights were filled with the general debauchery that accompanies a group of people away for a long weekend, particularly when at least half of the consumables we brought along were alcoholic beverages. I had it in my head awhile ago that people grow up after university and parties became much less entertaining, but I have since discovered that is completely not the case, and a group of late 20-somethings will likely get more out of hand than a group of 19 year olds. But somehow in a much more mature way.

Rock Tower

Seal Rocks

Seal Rocks Sunset

Onward with the speed catch-up. The following weekend brought me into the realm of the – as my friend Amanda would say – mid twenties. My twenty-fourth birthday was celebrated with my nearest and dearest Down Under and was a perfect weekend-long combination of too many drinks, cake, and an entire day of me being absolutely spoiled. The day of spoilage included brunch, spa, drinks above the Sydney Harbour, and a chef’s menu at an amazing Japanese restaurant. I will be taking donations to fund equal extravagance for Kiwi’s birthday. But we’ll probably be in Mexico, so my budget will be much more reasonable.

And here we are! It’s Monday, and I’m talking about this past weekend, like a good blogger should. This weekend was a belated birthday celebration for me and an early celebration for Alex, our housemate. We combined forces for what turned into a rather excessive onesie party. If onesies haven’t hit the level of popularity in your current world corner and demographic as they have here, bear with me. Yes, it is the same (essentially) as a baby’s onepiece jammy thing. The most popular and readily accessible onesies come in animal form, including tails and hoods with appropriate ears. We had about 30-odd onesie-clad partygoers stuffed into our small flat in Bondi, and it was well worth the vomit that Alex bravely abseiled out of his bedroom window to clean up the following day. The neighbours may not agree. There will be no photos of this.

Bam. Now for next. The talks have continued and we (Yes, I’m part of a “we” now), have been planning. It looks as though I’ll be trotting around with my parents for about a month, first in Austalia and then in New Zealand, starting in early October. After that, a good friend of mine is most likely going to be in NZ, so we’ll be doing something for some period of time. That puts us close enough away (a month-ish) from Christmas, that the draw for family and stockings is pretty strong, so it might be another Southern Hemisphere Christmas for me, with Kiwi and company in Auckland, preceded by more adventuring in New Zealand, this time with a proper local. Following that, the goal is to jet off to Mexico by December 31st to bring in the New Year in style. And then south. Northern Hemisphere, see you soon (for a little while).