A Dream Come True

February 14, 2011

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

May 19, 2010 was the day I decided I wanted to raise $1000 for the charity, Doctors Without Borders.  I chose this specific charity for the work they do abroad in providing aid to people in nearly 60 countries whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect or catastrophe.

It took almost 9 months from the day I had the idea for a fundraiser to the day I made it a reality this past Thursday, February 10, 2011.  The night was filled with dozens of people enjoying a night out in DC, buying a number of photographs from my trip and bidding on items from the silent auction. In total, over $2700 was raised in just over three hours, which was nearly triple my goal! The amount of support, the comments, the number of people who showed up, the silent auction…it was a huge success beyond anything I could have imagined.  The amount raised is enough money to provide one week of clean water to over 27,000 people!

Thank You
A special thank you to the 9:30 Club for allowing me to hold the fundraiser in the Backbar, Chrissy Gilroy for coming up with the suggestion to hold the event at the club and to Karen Traeger for her bright ideas and endless support from beginning to end.  I also wanted to thank Matt/Amanda and Kelly for their blog support. Last but not least, a huge thanks to all those who contributed to the silent auction/raffle and to each and every one of you for your continued support.

Future Fundraiser
With the success of this recent fundraiser, I’m already in the process of planning another fundraiser before the end of the year.  Several people have already expressed their interest in helping out,  so my hope is have a bigger and better event with a goal set at $5000.  I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated on any details.

Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for all your support and help these past few months.  I couldn’t have done this without you.

Listening to: James Blake – James Blake
Up Next: The sky is the limit…


DWB Fundraiser Confirmed!

February 2, 2011

I am pleased to announce that a fundraiser to benefit Doctors Without Borders has finally been confirmed!

What:
I’ve had the idea to raise money for Doctors Without Borders for the past year. The time has finally arrived. In addition to a silent auction, the fundraiser will have drink specials, a raffle for concert tickets, photos from my trip for sale and good music. Invite your friends and family as we enjoy a fun night to raise money for a good cause!

I’m currently looking to see if anyone had anything they wanted to contribute to the silent auction. Any goods, services, giftcards, or anything unique you had in mind. Send me a message if you would like to help out. A list of silent auction items will be available early next week.

When/Where:
Thursday, February 10th
7:00-10:00 p.m.
@ 9:30 Club Backbar (Downstairs)
815 V St. Washington, DC

Transportation:
A limited (free) number of street parking is available if you arrive early enough. Green line metro is only 2 blocks from the 9:30 Club (Stop @ U St./African Amer. Civil War Station). If transportation is an issue for you, I have no problem picking up/dropping off anyone before or after the event.

Goal:
$1000 (All proceeds will go directly to the charity)

You can learn more about the charity, Doctors Without Borders, by visiting www.doctorswithoutborders.org/aboutus

Click here to view the flyer for the DWB Fundraiser.  I encourage anyone to post or email the flyer to any of your friends and family.  If you plan on attending, please visit the Facebook event page I created.  If you have any questions, email me.  I hope to see you all there!

Upcoming: DWB Fundraiser on February 10th!
Listening to: Destroyer, Kaputt


4 Months and Beyond

December 29, 2010

Keeping my feet on the ground

*Scratching my head staring at a blank wall..*

Hard to imagine it’s been more than four months since I arrived back home.  These past few months I’ve been looking to write this post you’re reading now, but I kept making excuses to postpone something that helped me communicate a majority of my life experiences during 2010.  Prior blog posts were written from dodgy internet cafes about strange, new and interesting events during a two week block.  Things have changed a lot since then.  I’m writing from a couch inside my parent’s house. No skydiving or bungy jumping stunts. No outdoor rock climbing or scuba diving adventures anytime soon. Reality has officially settled in.

The transition home was something that I always expected since the day I left on December 27th, 2009.  In some way, shape or form, I would be a different person.  It was inevitable.  The first thing I did with my family when I got home was share many of the pictures and stories I had from my trip that couldn’t be relayed over our common form of email and phone communication the previous eight months.  Seeing their faces, hearing their questions, re-living those memories and being around them meant the world to me because I was able to share something that meant so much to me.  I’ve only sat down and shared my pictures re-telling stories to only one other person besides my family.  It wasn’t until just the other week that I realized the real importance of those moments and the people with whom it was shared.

My reaction to seeing people for the first time in so many months was mixed and different with each person, that I ended up being frustrated everyday I was home.  I look back and each time someone asked me the question of where I was, what I did and how it all went, my answers were refined and much shorter with each time I answered them.  It wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do.  Looking back I see myself being frustrated at lots of people because I couldn’t answer those questions in 3 minutes and have it do any justice to my travels.  It’s hard because the trip was a lot more complex than that.  There were pictures, people and odd stories to go along with those 8 months that whenever I retold some of my stories, I felt like a kid again…and I wanted that feeling to run through me over and over again.  We live in a digital world now where a medium such as this blog is supposed to be enough to explain to everyone the highlights, and in the end you could say it did just that, but to me it accomplished the opposite.  It told a story so basic that some of the best parts were left out that I wanted to share with everyone.  In a way it had the same effectiveness as a text message does to actually talking to someone in person. It’s weird. I have no idea if it’s selfish to have wanted that, but it’s how I felt at the time.  I don’t say all of this to make people feel bad or point fingers. I just felt the need to express it on the blog as part of my experience in transitioning back to society.

My Photos for a Cause project to raise $1000 for Doctors Without Borders, which has been something that I’ve been meaning and wanting to do for several months has been anything but moving forward. I have 30 of my favorite pictures printed on 8×10 prints and in my possession, but finding a way to hold an event and raise money has been a struggle. It’s strange because I had so much motivation and passion for this project while I was traveling, but living at home, not having steady work and dealing with a lot of things as of late has caused me to put it all on the back burner.  Another issue I had was pricing.  How much would someone be willing to pay for a picture where they weren’t there to experience the image captured?  To me, it sounded like an easy thing to do at first, but in reality I don’t know how to move forward with it.  I’ve plugged away at numbers and at a reasonable price of $10 donation for an 8×10 picture (cost to order and ship from shutterfly.com would be about $4/each), I would have to sell 100 pictures and on top of that i would have to shell out $400 of my own money to cover printing/shipping costs.  I guess what I’m looking for right now are ideas.  From what I know, I can have the charity event downstairs at the 9:30 Club in DC and the idea of having a friend DJ an event down there has been raised. I also have the thought of selling the 30 prints I have on me now, where people can view and order the prints online or in person. It would only raise less than 1/3 of my goal, but it would be an excellent start and a good morale booster to motivate me in moving forward with an actual event.  Don’t worry though, I will get this done. It is on my list of top three bucket list items to get accomplished in early 2011.

A few weeks ago I also thought of an idea to start up a professional looking charity based website where photographers (amateur and professional) would be able to upload their pictures to a site and sell their images online, and money would go directly to a charity of their choice (it would be limited to a number of charities available on the website).  It could get big too and eventually all different types of art, not just photography, could be sold with money going to charities.  The design and logistics of the website would be large and the cost to hire a webmaster and run everything would be pricey, but it’s something that’s been on my mind.  If anyone knows of a website designer or contacts of whom I could talk to discuss an estimate or even a ballpark range of how much something like this would cost to create, please let me know.  As far as money is concerned, I have the idea of creating a Kickstarter account to try and generate funds to get this started.  Even if you have ideas or think you’d be interested in helping in any way possible, email me.

I was interviewed by RateYourStudyAbroad.com back in July, but I completely forgot to post it on the blog.  A link to the interview can be found here.

About four or five months into my trip, with my hair growing long and my wallet growing thin, I decided to grow out my hair out until it was long enough to donate to Locks of Love. My hair grows fast and at 367 uncut-days strong I’m already looking at a mid-January cut!

Care to take the Polar Plunge and run into the freezing waters of Maryland with me on January 29, 2011? I started up a team a few days ago to help raise money for Special Olympics Maryland.  I need team members to join! If you’re interested in joining the team, all you have to do is raise a minimum of $50. Click here to sign-up.  If you want to make a quick and easy (no amount is too small) donation, click here.

To say the least, 2010 has changed me.  It’s worth saying that I’ve learned a lot about myself here and abroad.  I’m always hoping to better myself year in and year out, learning from experiences and mistakes that have challenged me over time.  With all this being said, I can only hope that you too will be there with me as I take in 2011.  Clear eyes. Full hearts.

Upcoming: Get a job and move out ASAP
Listening to: Jeff Buckley, Grace (one of the greatest albums ever)


A New Beginning

August 6, 2010

134 Meter Bungy Jump in Queenstown, NZ

Over 200 days and 7 countries later and this is what it has come down to…less than one week.

Whether you like it or not, you live in a fast pace world as a backpacker.  People come.  People go.  Memories are made and then they fade away as you anticipate the next phase of your trip.   Over time I’ve learned that making new friends from countries all over the world can be the highlight of a place rather than the destination and sights itself.  It’s the times I’ve spent with these people that I’ve learned to cherish the most.  Being out here and doing new things I thought were impossible with people I just met creates a unique bond where trust is made within minutes rather than years or even a lifetime.  A lot of the people you meet you’ll never see again, and for the most part that’s fine.  It’s a part of traveling.  Then there is that very small number of people you meet, perhaps you met them in the kitchen, your hostel room, or even when getting a random lift to the next town, but these are the people you’ll never forget.  These are the faces you hope to see again.   They are the ones when you show pictures to your friends and family that you’ll think back to that time or place and just smile and laugh about how simple and good life really is.   Then the ever burning question repeats over and over again in my head and I ask myself something that I can only hope for, will we meet again?

I’m sure it’s not a surprise to anyone, but my passion for traveling has skyrocketed ever since I started this trip.  Back in June while I was in Cairns, Australia, I did some thinking. A lot of thinking. Lots of writing and random thoughts were jotted down on a notepad, and then it hit me. I felt the need to do some public speaking to upcoming high school and college graduates about the importance of world traveling/studying/teaching.  I don’t think a lot of students know about or are educated about the possibilities abroad and the importance it can make on their life, but I’m hoping to change that in one way or another.  Public speaking is something that scares me, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  At the moment, my idea of public speaking is just at the beginning stages.  Once I get home I hope to get some concrete brainstorming ideas down, make a draft presentation and go from there.  Any help or ideas on this would be much appreciated.

My love for photography has undoubtedly grown in 2010.  While I’m by no means a professional, I will continue to take pictures with hopes to improve my techniques and style.  I have brainstormed a future blog that will be dedicated to any new photos I take in the future.  Over time I think I can narrow my three favorite types of pictures to reflections, silhouettes and yes, clouds.  I’m still planning on selling a number of my photos in a show/party of some sort once I reach home.  100% of the proceeds will go to the charity, Doctors Without Borders.  As stated in an earlier blog post, I hope to reach my goal of $1000 in donations.  More details on this will be announced in the upcoming weeks.

The entirety of the trip can only be compared to a dream.  A lucid dream. Words can’t describe what I’m feeling right now.  Yes, I’m still the same Massoud who smiles a lot, has big teeth, tells the occasional good joke after several bad ones, but at the same time I’m much different than I was just 7 months ago. so bear with me if I have a hard time getting used to things at home.

I plan on writing one, maybe two more posts after this one.  It’ll be more or less of an update on how the transition home has been and any changes I have on my future plans. Before I forget, I wanted to thank anyone and everyone who helped me along the way.  To my sister for influencing me to do a trip beyond anything I could have imagined myself.  To my family for putting up with me through good times and bad.  To those who helped to try and find me a job in Sydney or just gave me advice. To the countless people who let me stay at their house, live in their tent or sleep in their car.  To old friends and new ones.  I couldn’t have done this without any of you.  From the bottom of my heart to yours, thank you.

With Love,
Massoud

Upcoming: San Franscisco, California in two days
Listening to: The waves of Waikiki, Hawaii


The North Island of New Zealand

July 16, 2010

Tongariro National Park

On the first of July I took a short three hour flight from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand. My remaining flights leading me back to Washington, DC are booked, which means my month in New Zealand is more or less on a deadline.  While I’ll still have the freedom to pick up and leave a place at my own leisure, my list of places I want to visit and things I want to see has led me to create an organized timeline and be a little less spontaneous with choosing my whereabouts.

The winter weather here in New Zealand has been much more tame than I had originally expected.   I was expecting cold frigid temperatures and heaps of snow throughout the country, but in actuality it’s been the opposite.  Sunny days with short scattered showers and an occasional burst of high winds set the tempo during my two weeks in the North Island.

Hiking is called tramping in New Zealand.

The 19.4 km Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been listed in several local publications as the best one day hike in all of New Zealand.  A trek that starts with a hike through steep volcanic terrain, a number of lakes and ends with a walk through a lush green forest.  It sounded both doable and scenic, but there were two key factors that proved to be the biggest challenge in completing the crossing, wind and snow.  Doing the crossing in the winter isn’t recommended so an experienced guide can be hired, but at a cost of $130/per person.  There was no way I was going to pay that much for someone to walk with me for a day so I tried finding a mate to go with me for the following day.  Most people at the hostel were there to ski and snowboard, but after striking up some conversations with people over dinner I found someone who was interested.  Funny enough, they were from the US and went to school in Washington, DC at GWU.  The hike was closed to the public the last three days due to high winds, but the day we decided to go, the receptionist at the hostel said the weather improved enough for it to be safe to hike.  I don’t remember a whole lot from the Lord of the Rings, but the first hour and a half of walking on the flat terrain torwards the Tongariro Alpine Crossing seemed straight out of the movies.  During the next two hours of the hike, a change in elevation became our worst enemy and showed just how out of shape we really were. A dusting of snow soon covered our tracks and a short time later our grip on the path got bad enough that we had to put on our crampons.   Not even 10 minutes later hell froze over.  A heavy set of clouds came in from the north, covering the sun and dumping 90+ kph winds and snow.  It was my first taste of snow in a long time, and in July, nonetheless.  I knew it was bad when I saw dark clouds below us and not above us, but I figured we were almost at the point that we would be descending on the other side of the mountain so we pushed on.  I’m not sure how high we got or how far we had reached at that point, but the weather went from bad to worse and my crampon for my left shoe was now hanging by a string.   From time to time I would slide down one side of the rocks, but prevent myself from falling even further thanks to my properly fitted right crampon.  The paths were non-existent and the winds, wow the winds, they were down right brutal to the point where you could fall back and not hit the ground. My thin gloves I received from my moms friend’s house in Melbourne couldn’t hold out the cold air from the wind and snow so my fingers were starting to numb.  It wasn’t the easiest of calls because we thought we were close, but the decision was made, so we turned around.  It’s a bit hard to describe the entirety of the day through typing, but I’ve never been so scared in my entire life.  Even writing this right now has started to make my heart pump faster and faster.  I had just finished reading a book several days earlier about Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild) and his successful summit of Mt. Everest.  Where we were cannot compare to Everest even on the smallest of scales, but the moment things got serious and I could start picturing scenes from the book, where people had to turn around from the summit, it made me feel like I was on Everest.  It was probably one of the dumbest things I had done on this trip because I felt completely unprepared in the snow, but with time it has become more of a learning experience for future hikes.  Seeing the sun again on the descent down to the car park put a big smile on my face.  Thankfully, we were alive!

I hate it when you wake up and you go to clean your eyes of the gross gunk that was created in just a few hours time, and when you remove that one big chunk it irritates your eyeball so you can’t help but shed a few tears.

For the duration of my time in New Zealand I’ve been taking buses to all of my destinations.  There are a number of services that travel to all parts of the country, which has made getting around quite easy.  I chose to use the NakedBus for my travel needs since it was one of the cheapest and more convenient options out there. Cheaper has proven not to always be the greatest choices. With the winter season in full force and not as many backpackers roaming around, there have been several times where I have been the only person on the bus. To cut to the chase, the bus service had some issues and forgot to pick me up for my trip to Wellington.  I was pissed, but had no other option than to stay another night at the hostel in the National Park.  Come to find out the hostel was already booked full.  Desperate, the guy was nice enough to help me out.  Since there was a climbing wall gym at the bottom of the hostel, he put a mattress on the floor and said I could sleep there for the night.  Cheers mate!

Tires in New Zealand and Australia are spelled, tyres.

Over the last few months a number of people have asked me how I’ve been able to fund this extended trip.   To put it in a nutshell I’ve worked two jobs for the better part of the last five years.  Long hours and hard work helped me save up for this once in a lifetime trip.  To make things work I took 25-30% out of each paycheck and placed it in my savings account.  Splitting my time living at home for a number of years and with cheaper than average priced accommodation with some friends for the better part of 2009 was a huge help in saving.  While it wasn’t something that was accomplished overnight, I can say that it’s something that anyone can do.  The amount of time it takes to raise money for a trip this size depends on a number of factors.  Where you want to go, the type of accommodation you choose, what you want to see, what you want to do, the length of your trip, your choice of transportation and so on.  The flight to your destination is going to be your biggest expense by a long shot, but from then on out it’s up to you on how your money is spent.  Staying at hostels instead of hotels, preparing your own meals instead of eating out at restaurants and taking slower modes of transportation such as a bus as opposed to a flight (in most cases) can stretch your dollar even further than one might think.  At home in the states I would go out to eat with friends or hit up the bars, but I was conscious of how I would spend my money.  I would constantly think, alright, I could get two beers at a bar or I could have accommodation for one night in a hostel.   The decision was easy at times, but of course you’ll have the nights where you’ll cave in and have a big night out.

I think knowing that I wanted to do this trip and having a goal of how much I wanted to save was key in getting me out here.  Even if you end up running out of money on your trip (as I have right now), you shouldn’t stop yourself from doing the things you want to do.   “Who knows if I’ll have the opportunity to do such a trip again?” is a common question I ask myself at times when I have no money.  Yes, I will be in debt when I get home, but who cares, I know it’s something that I know I can eventually get out of when I get back to the work life again.

As I stated before, I created this blog with the purpose of getting others inspired to hopefully do an extended trip of their own.  If anyone has any questions at all, even if extended traveling has skimmed through your mind for a split second, feel free to contact me.  I don’t care if you’re a complete stranger who I haven’t talked to in ages or someone I’ve never met, just ask me and I’ll do whatever I can to help.

Pictures during my two week visit to the North Island of New Zealand have been uploaded and can be found on the Photos page.

I’m currently in Nelson, which is in the northern part of the South Island.  Tomorrow I’ll leave for Abel Tasmen National Park to do some hiking and kayaking over three days.  The 13th of this month marked the one-month countdown till I get home and I’m not quite sure what to make of everything just yet, but I have a lot of questions that need to be answered.  What will I do when I get home?  How long am I going to have to live at home before moving out again? Will my transition back home be easy? Hopefully by the time I write my next post I will make sense of these questions, but one thing is sure for the moment, home is right around the corner.

Listening to: This American Life Podcasts
Up Next: South Island of New Zealand for 20 days


A Great Barrier Reef Finale to Australia

June 29, 2010

Driving on Fraser Island

After spending almost two full weeks in the small city of Cairns, I had no other choice but to leave.  If it wasn’t for my booked flight to New Zealand in less than 48 hours, chances are I would have stuck around for an additional two weeks.  There isn’t much to do in this backpacker friendly city if you aren’t diving in the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s a great place to just sit back and get lost in the sun.  I spent a good amount of time there updating my journal, sleeping in a real bed, watching soccer, anticipating my dives on the largest living organism in the world and cooking pasta in a warm hostel kitchen as opposed to an outdoor stove.

The much anticipated World Cup started while I was in Cairns and with the time differences between here and South Africa, we were given 9:30pm, 12:00am, and 4:30am time slots to view the games.  The game times aren’t ideal at all, but besides spending it with friends back home I can’t think of a better way to celebrate one of the biggest sporting events than to spend it with a bunch of backpackers from all over the world.

Is anyone else fascinated yet disturbed as to how frequent slow motion replay is used at the World Cup?

My initial plan on the Great Barrier Reef was to do some diving for a day or two maximum, but after taking a look at the prices for just a day trip out to the reef, it was easy for me to decide that pursuing my Advanced Diving Certification would be a wise choice, considering that I already had it on my bucket list.  The price included my advanced diving certification, living on a boat for 3 days/2nights, 11 dives and a smorgasbord of good food!  A typical day involved getting up at 5:30 a.m., dive, breakfast, dive, snack, dive, lunch, snorkel, dinner, night dive, sleep.  The schedule was a little much for a lot of us on the boat, but we all came out there to dive, so dive we did.  The main highlights in the Great Barrier Reef were blue spotted sting-rays, the famous wrasse, oversized clams, several green turtles and sharks during our night dive.  The reef is an amazing place and I wish I had more time and money to spend out there, but one thing from my experience that I noticed was that the reef is deteriorating at a rapid rate.  When I was at the beach in Cape Tribulation just days earlier there were hundreds of pieces of hard coral washed up on the shore.  Small pieces, large pieces and fish of all sizes were everywhere throughout the sand.  There is no doubt that global warming does have an effect on the deterioration, but the main contributor to the destruction of the reef are by the people like myself who dive to explore the unknown. During a number of dives our instructors and those getting certified would accidentally have parts of their diving gear or fins brush up against the reef snapping off bits and pieces of coral that take years to grow.  Lots of divers who are naïve pick up coral and move them around or touch the marine life such as the green turtles, which sounds fun to do unless you are educated that over time this will actually kill them. The thing is, I’m brand new to the diving world.  I’ve gone diving in Thailand and just recently, the Great Barrier Reef.  In this short time I have slowly understood the ramifications we as people are making on this natural wonder that surrounds us all over the world.  I’m not saying I’ll never dive again.  I have loved every minute of each dive, but I’ve learned there is a world in the water that is dependent on us as much as we are dependent on them.  I understand that many of the people reading this don’t dive at all or don’t plan to do so, but I hope that those who pursue diving in the future do their part in making sure we keep these treasures for our future generations.

A great surprise over the last several weeks was making a trip out to Fraser Island. The largest sand island in the world is an adventure even before you arrive since only 4×4’s are allowed, which means heaps of off-roading!  Since the German guy I was traveling with had a 4×4, we saved a huge amount of money by only needing to pay for the ferry to and from the island.  Once on the island we saw several wild dingoes, a shipwreck on the shore, and probably one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in Australia, humpback whales passing by along the coast just 150 meters from shore.  It was completely unexpected since it was still a few weeks away from whale watching season, but this made it all the better.  Just seeing this modern beast jumping into the air and crashing into the blue water below put the three of us in a trance for over an hour.  When things were great, it only got better when the three of us ventured out to the northwestern part of the island, which seemed untouched.  Crystal clear water, white sands, blue skies and no one else in sight.  We felt like we had found the Fountain of Youth. Jumping around and swimming we probably looked like fools, but it didn’t matter.  We were trying to soak up as much of this urban legend as possible, and I think we did a pretty good job in doing so.

Tim Tams. I eat an entire tray of them, get sick and two days later I’m back at it again.

At the moment I’m outside of a coffee shop in a beautiful town called Coolangatta with my two friends from Germany and France, respectively.  As some of my close friends know I do this bit every now and then (typically when I have a few drinks in me), where I take my cell phone and pretend I’m talking with high-end clients about mumbo jumbo. It usually involves a mythical million dollar contract or the occasional firing of some employee who sent me a PDF file instead of a Word document I requested.  It’s all made up on the spot and I usually get some friends involved too, which makes it fun. Well, we’ve been playing this bit for the last 24 hours and used it a few minutes ago next to a guy who just sat down at the table next to us.   After I got off my phone call involving a ‘million dollar contract in Sydney with a computer software company’, I told my German friend Niels that I would need the updated PowerPoint presentation before our meeting at 5. (I usually go off on specific tangents when I know people are wondering what on earth is going on).  At this point, the guy next to me, leans in and asks what kind of business we were in.  I was puzzled that anyone would actually take us seriously, but I just rolled with it.  I went on talking about our make believe company based in the states and that we were doing some networking in the area.  He explained that after his meeting with a client that he was about to talk with, he wanted to chat with me about our company and possibly network our two businesses, so I agreed.  After a few minutes I sort of thought things through and thought it wasn’t funny anymore because I was joking around, and the guy was completely serious.  At one point the guy took a break from his meeting and looked over at my computer screen to see me on Facebook.  After a quick think I told him I was taking a break from business and that Facebook had been an essential tool for our growing company.  (I was there to use the free wifi from the McDonalds next door so I wasn’t going anywhere).  After thirty minutes the guy started this long spiel about this company he’s involved in and how he wanted me and my ‘co-workers’ aka my travel mates to get involved.  He said him and some business members were getting together for a meeting at a local venue later that night and invited us out.  While it all sounded interesting yet strange at the same time, I cut to the chase and told him that we were flying to Sydney in a few hours, which was actually true for a change.   Needless to say, after the guy left we stopped with the make believe business calls until further notice.

Pictures from my time on the Great Barrier Reef and travels from the remainder of the East Coast have been loaded in the photos section.

In less than 48 hours I’ll be leaving Australia, my home for the better part of the last four months.  It has been quite a journey to say the least.  I had no idea how I was going to get around Australia once I left Sydney, but it all worked out in the end.  Lots of sleeping in tents and cars helped slash accommodation costs and the number of people looking for travel partners around Australia far exceeded my expectations.  In order to get a true taste of this beautiful country you need to take the less luxurious path.  Flying from city to city or taking a bus from town to town won’t allow you to take in the sights and sounds between the major cities in Australia.  The slow road is the only way to go.

My original goal of coming to Australia and working for two to three months then traveling didn’t pan out as well as I had anticipated, but in the end it worked out for the best, as do most things when traveling.  If things worked out the way they were supposed to, life for me right now would be different. I wouldn’t have met the great people I have met, chances are I wouldn’t have traveled where I have traveled and the memories I made with these people wouldn’t exist.  It all sounds dramatic re-reading what I just wrote, but I’ve found it interesting that one small decision or move can completely change ones life for better or for worse.

The weather outside has definitely changed over the last week as I’ve made my way south along the east coast towards Sydney.  Winter is now in full effect and will be made even more apparent when I step off the plane in Auckland on Thursday.  I have a little over a month to spend between the two islands, but will make better use of time down in the southern island.  To be honest, I have no idea what to expect, except the fact that everywhere I look is supposed to be more or less like a picturesque postcard from Lord of the Rings.  Winter in July, here I come!

Listening To: LCD Soundsystem, 45:33
Next Up: Fly to Auckland, New Zealand on July 1st


Riding the Sun to the East Coast

June 9, 2010

Stanley and Us

Less than 200 km north of Alice Springs, we reached the Tropic of Capricorn, which meant warmer weather ahead. The road from Central Australia to the East Coast was full of long days driving hundreds of kilometers through a deep haze passing through small towns that had nothing more to offer than overpriced gas and oversized windmills. The heat kicked in once we hit the east coast and the city of Townsville, which has resulted in far better sleeping conditions than that of the Outback. They have improved so much that I’m happy to say that I’ve been emu-attack free over the last 10 days.

The French couple I have been traveling with had been talking about skydiving ever since we left Central Australia. I figured that while they were skydiving during the day, I would get a chance to finally kick back and relax on the white sandy beaches. Less than 48 hours after coining this idea, I found myself 14,000 feet in the air. It wasn’t hard convincing me to go skydiving. While I have gone skydiving before this one was a little different than those in the past since our landing zone was on the sands of Mission Beach. I can’t describe a better way to get your blood flowing and your heart pumping faster than to go skydiving. Once you’re strapped in the plane lifting off from the ground, the world below you becomes nothing more than vivid colors, faint lines, and small moving dots that represent buses and cars. I remember being almost 10,000 feet high feeling cool, calm and collective, when I could start to feel the heart of my instructor (whom I was attached to) pumping faster and faster. I kept thinking to myself, is he nervous? Did he pack the parachute properly? Opening the door to the plane and feeling the rush of wind flowing across your face meant that it was game time. I was the last to leave from the group of six so I was able to watch the others shoot out of the plane. One thing I remembered prior to boarding the plane was my instructor asking if I wanted to do anything crazy when exiting the plane. I didn’t remember what I had answered him with until I was sitting on ledge of the plane about to leave. Before I could even think we jumped out of the plane and in to the blue sky. It was then that I knew that I had answered yes to his question. We did several flips, twirls, and spins before becoming level and I could see myself rushing towards the earth below. It was an indescribable feeling. You could see the Great Barrier Reef in the distance, the islands close to the mainland, and soon the dots that were cars started to look more like cars. Within 60 seconds of free falling, the parachute opened up correctly as I slowly sailed through the air. It took a few minutes to get to the ground but I couldn’t help but think what everyone back home was doing at that very moment. I took it all in during those few minutes back to Earth, smiling, as we landed safe and sound on the sands of Mission Beach.

Sometimes I completely forget I’m in Australia.

Spending the last 20 days with the French couple has created a daily routine that is done each morning and night. Soon after waking up to the sun rising at 6:30 a.m. I fold up my sleeping bag, deflate the air mattress, and disassemble the tent. The outside of the tent is usually wet from the moisture in the air the night before, so I locate a tree or a spot on the ground that is positioned in the sunlight to have the tent dry. The couple disassembles their bed in the campervan and we reposition the bags so that they don’t fall all over the place during the days drive. Coffee and tea are prepared on the stove and breakfast is made. We each make our own breakfast, which usually consists of peanut butter sandwiches and a piece of fruit. Dishes are washed in water fountains, water tanks at camp sites or rest areas, and if worse comes to worse public bathrooms. By this time the tent is dry from the sunlight and I get frustrated that it never fits properly inside the tent bag. From there we usually fill up the gas tank, use the bathroom, see if there are any showers in town, then hit the road.

Every night is different since locating a free campsite or rest area varies from place to place. At times it can take us up to an hour to find a place, but we generally try and locate a place to sleep before it gets dark to avoid hitting any wildlife roaming the roads. Information centers have been a lifesaver in locating campervan sites and places to stay within a 50km radius. After settling into an area to sleep, each bag is taken out of the campervan so the table and chairs inside can be assembled for dinner. I setup my tent, air mattress, and sleeping bag usually with the help of my headlamp since it’s dark and there are cool yet sometimes strange noises coming from the woods (maybe an emu). The stove is lit and since every night is Italian night, pasta is cooked. While waiting we usually listen to music on my iPod, reminisce about the day we had and talk about the differing and similar lifestyles of America and France, all over a plastic cup filled with goon (boxed wine). We usually call it a night around 9 or 10 p.m. so we can get an early start to do it all over tomorrow. It’s not a lifestyle that I would like day in and day out for the rest of my life, but I can honestly say that for the time being and with the people I’ve spent it with, this has been an experience filled with unforgettable memories.

For those who have visited Australia, would it be wrong to guess that ¼ of the population is French? I have met more French people in Australia than I have Australians.

Showering over the past two weeks has been a bit of a struggle. Laziness is a huge factor of a NSD (no-shower-day). Some clothes can be worn for days in a row and the smell test ultimately decides whether or not things are clean. Something as simple as taking a shower is one thing I have learned to appreciate more and more with each day.

I was staring at the sky the other night when it was clear out and noticed the Milky Way, but this time there was a huge black area covering a portion of the sky. I haven’t done much research into the Black Hole, but could it be possible that this is what I saw? It is a whole new world out there.

Vegetable salt. I crave this whenever I eat.

The great thing about road trips around Australia is that there are a number of rest areas and camping sites that are free. Free is great, unless of course you are surrounded by those who could care less about others. Upon arrival of a free site, I usually scan the area to make a quick judgment on sleeping conditions for the evening. Is it too bright from the lights above? Is it going to rain? Are we close enough to the road that cars/trucks will wake me up? Where are we? Wildlife has taken a backseat at waking me up in the middle of the night over the last 10 days and humans have taken over. Each time I have guessed that it will be a quiet evening; some asshole ruins it not just for me, but for everyone at the camp site. Trust me I’ve told them to shut off the music each and every time. I love music, but playing anything from Kenny G to Rammstein at 2am will drive just about anyone insane. That clarinet from Kenny gets me ever time. Damn him.

It is a fact that you will see more dead kangaroos in Australia than alive ones unless you plan on visiting a wildlife park. There is some good to come from this; several sightings of eagles eating up their decaying bodies. It sounds wrong, but it is a very cool sight. It’s not that often you see a half dozen eagles all at once.

Wherever you go there are a number of beaches all along the coasts of Australia. With the large quantity of beaches, each one tries to prove to you that their beach is better than the others by highlighting one of their awards, most which should apply to standards of all beaches. Every beach has awards claiming to be the tidiest, the best or the cleanest in all of Australia at one point or another. This has been most notable in the Queensland area. One thing that everyone should know is that most beaches only allow you to swim in a safety net area due to anything from alligators, sharks, stingers and the deadly, boxed jellyfish.

I just arrived to Cairns a few hours ago where I will stay for a few nights and get a chance to spend some quality time in an unfamiliar home away from home, a hostel. First thing I did when I got to my hostel was throw my bags down and check out the bathroom, which is attached to our room. No one told me though that the doors to the bathroom had no locks so I just rolled on in to find a girl changing. Apart from embarrassing myself and the girl inside, and before I could say anything the door slammed shut in my face. Ah, to be “home.”

Over the weekend I will finally have the opportunity to spend a day diving part of the Great Barrier Reef, which is something I have been looking forward to do since I got my PADI Open Water certification back in March. Only 3 more weeks in Australia until I fly out of Sydney and brave the cold weather in New Zealand.

Pictures are now up from the Outback portion of the roadtrip as well as some of my latest photos from the East Coast. Till next time.

Next Up: Find a ride from Cairns down to Brisbane
Listening To: Galactic, We Love ‘Em Tonight: Live at Tipitina’s


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