And with those places, that each held elements of my ideal life, I am leaving so many friends. I have spent these past two weeks in the company of so many souls I’ve truly connected with, and these places that have arranged themselves to feel like my home. I miss these places and people. I miss them along with the many places and faces I’ve encountered and fallen for this year.
The surreal adventures, mind boggling conversations and the inspiration they’ve brought to me. I am, partly, what these people have brought out of me… I have been shown so many inspiring (and terrible) parts of myself.
Leaving friends behind rips me to pieces every time. I’ve shed tears for people I’ve known a month and people I’ve known a day. I’ve left towns, hostels and bus stations heaving as my heart felt like it was trying to escape my chest and run away with those new friends. It’s overwhelming and often in these times I struggle to remember the point of this type of travel. Gaining a lot and walking away, always leaving it behind…
But of course, that’s not true. It all becomes a part of me. I have a heart full of souvenirs, a soul full of stories, a mind full of lessons. I am lucky to know such love, from so many corners of the earth in so many forms, however short lived.
I have created lifestyles around the countries I’ve been in. Early mornings and crazy weekends in Kathmandu, paragliding and lake swims in Annecy, strolls and spaghetti in Rome, sun bathing, reading and relaxing in Greece, yoga, surfing, dancing and tagine in Morocco, river swims and hikes in sapa, sunsets and sunrises in cat ba, coffee and exploring in Hanoi.
And I love them all, I hold them all within me. How many will translate onto Australian soil?
With each day passing, every goodbye and sunset, I’m reminded of, and brought closer to, the end of my travels.
How crazy that now, after the severe home sickness I dealt with earlier in the year, the thought of home is… What makes me feel so uneasy.
I don’t know who I’ll be when I stop.
I suppose I just have to be excited to find out.
(And yes, I’m excited to see my family, friends, pet and beaches)
Cat ba island… Hammocks swaying gently in the breeze, pink sunrises, wandering down to the waters edge for a fire after dinner.
I arrived in the night, was shown my sleeping quarters for the night (a hammock on the balcony) and quickly invited to join in on a beach fire.
The sun woke me, it’s pinks and oranges dancing on my eyelids early in the morning. The first view I had on the bay, from my hammock at first light… I think I’m going to like this place.
A fruit salad later I’m in a van, then hopping on a boat. I met two girls the night before booking a day tour to Halong bay, lan ha bay and monkey island, I followed suit.
We are on the top deck on this boat, lazing around on cushions using the sun as our blanket. The water reflects the bright blue of the sky but is sprayed with glitter from the sun. The brilliance of these bays on a sunny day… The rock formations jutting out of the water, the greenery they hold. The legend is that
When the Vietnamese had to fight against invaders coming the Jade Emperor sent a dragon and her children to help. They attacked the enemies breathing fire and giant emeralds. The emeralds formed a defensive wall and eventually became the islands of Halong bay.
One guy gets too drunk and falls overboard, no one else had even began drinking yet. We kayak (without the drunk guy) through caves and spot monkeys then dine on the boat. We jump of the boat and swim in water like a salty bath. Monkey island is, as you might guess, crawling with monkeys which kind of freak me out. I hike up to a view point and it’s magnificent.
Back at Woodstock beach camp I am exhausted and content, I have upgraded my hammock to a mattress and its looking ever so inviting after a bit of time getting to know the staff over a few beers on the beach.
Another sunrise to welcome the day, followed by a dip in the ocean. A staff member has the morning off and we agreed to motivate each other to go hiking. We speed off to Cat Ba national park on a scooter and hike through greenery for a bit less that an hour. The trail ends as we emerge from the top of the trees, we have a view above all the other mountains which look like a big, interconnected, land version of Halong Bay.
The afternoon is spent doing yoga on the shore, a sunset swim and reading ‘eating animals’ (which I can’t recommend highly enough- well written and shocked me to tears).
I was thinking about leaving on this day… Of course I didn’t.
Morning yoga down by the beach. The bartender and I were on similar levels of laziness on this day so we watched cartoons together and drank mango smoothies. Eventually we were restless enough to agree we needed to get up. I jumped on the back of his bike and we rode down to a secret little cove at an unfinished resort. We rode through the thick of the island on a tiny overgrown track (a line through the jungle where trees weren’t- but rocks and bushes definitely were). We stopped occasionally to explore and admire.
I read during sunset laying in a hammock on the beach.
My last night. We all moved over to the beach bar after a big, group feast. The stars were bright and so was the phosphorescence in the sea. I met even more new people, more kind souls I got to know and connect with so quickly. And all too quickly it was time to leave.
A group of us, horrified by the litter on the beach asked for some bags to start cleaning it up. The staff offered a free beer for each bag of rubbish we collected (which is awesome).
I hung out in the art zone for the rest of the morning, making bracelets, necklaces and coating shells in glitter.
Woodstock created such an idyllic little hideaway from all things bad and busy. There were hugs goodbye and personal jokes and I left with such a good feeling about my time spent there and all of Vietnam. About my time spent this whole year and al the people I shared it with.
These wings are spreading across my shoulder blades and they’re full of strength. They’ll save when (if) I fall, so I have no need to give in to this fear nagging at my feet. I have wings!
Are you willing to look like a fool for your dreams? The very thought of it makes me… Itchy, unprepared, but also… Bursting out of my skin with potential.
Ambitious people inspire me. Inspiring, intelligent, loving people.
Loving. How many times I have fallen for life of late; a sunrise, a smile from a stranger, a puppy, a child, a headstand accomplished. I can do, go, love: anything, anywhere, the whole universe with my whole being.
Freedom hangs in the air today, it’s on my shoulders but it’s an upward force. It’s those wings, begging me to fly.
I fall off the bus in a daze, it’s dark and freezing, did I even sleep last night? Probably but not enough.
I am shivering, the mini shorts seemed like a great idea when I was sweating in Hanoi. The Vietnamese kids I met did warn me, “sapa has 4 seasons every day.”
I am in the middle of winter.
A man appeared out of the crowd with a sign bearing my name. We piled ourselves, along with all my luggage, onto his motorbike. He had a spare jacket he leant me for the ride. We rode through the town and soon left it behind, the sun slowly crept out of the horizon and leapt into the valley, painting the sky, lighting up the river and abundant rice fields.
At the home stay I’d booked were a few fellow travellers also just off the night bus. There were puppies and children running around while we slumped over the table. We ate nearly in silence and inhaled a few coffees. One girl, Lin, is from Hoi An in the middle of Vietnam and she was keen to go hiking. Together we began the 8km back to sapa, stopping along the way to eat mandarins and chew on sugar cane. I’d never done this before, Lin shows me which bits to eat, how you suck out the juice and spit out the pulp. There we sit on palm leaves on the side of the rode, chatting, chewing, spitting.
She told me a lot. About her childhood of school in the morning and tending to buffalo in the afternoon (I was returning home from the river the next day and Lin found me tryin to walk through fields. “What are you doing Thalia?” “I’m scared of the buffalo!” She laughed, “come on girl!” And took me by the arm. “They just want to be friendly.”) she told me how her town of Hoi An has become over priced and over run with tourists so much that she doesn’t like it any more. She showed me new foods, which fruit to buy, a few phrases to use.
We met her sister in the town and hired bikes, we rode to a waterfall in the mountains and ran around posing for photos (‘do something Thalia!’ They’d say, pulling me into ‘model’ poses).
Riding back was the most incredible sunset, one side of the mountains burning orange and the other cool blues and pinks and the valley filled up with fog. The heat of the day was gone when we returned and I cursed myself for the second time that day for wearing too little.
We ate barbecue for dinner: rice rolls, corn and sweet potato. Followed by raw peanuts and sesame snaps.
The next day began with petting puppies and watching children pay. Eventually we parted from the ever relaxing breakfast table to wander to the waterfall but quickly got side tracked as some kids joined us and lead us to a spot on the river.
This river is now one of my favourite places in the world.
Facing forward there’s children sitting on the grassy river bank, eating the snacks we gave them. Behind them the mountains stretch up to the sky, terraced rice fields, little houses and every so often a person wandering around, more often a buffalo. Behind me the same.
Left and right the river runs, icy water flowing over my skin so cold it burns. We splay ourselves out over rocks, the light in the valley is golden. Everything is glowing. We have this place all to ourselves.
I abandon showers and return the next morning to bathe again.
The home stay (Mikus’ chill house) exceeds my highest expectations. The children are adorable, running around wild. The combination of puppies, children and views onto the never ending rice fields from hammocks on the front porch add up to a kind of therapy.
I wake to the sun rise, sipping a coffee, reading a book (Shantaram by Gregory Davis Roberts- so far so good!) banana pancakes are close behind. The guests of all ages chat while petting puppies, we bathe in the river, we hike and come together for a family meal and a modest bed time of 9pm.
Hanoi and it’s traffic feel planets away. It seems crazy that the rush of the world can coexist with this little slice of paradise.
The atmosphere here makes my every muscle relax. A massage from the beauty, the pace of life.
Hanoi swept me up in a rush of traffic, street food and coffee.
Let’s put an emphasis on the coffee.
Arriving at 8pm I decided on going for a walk, I struggled to find vegetarian food (I didn’t know where to look!) and probably paid too much for some average rice paper rolls.
All was not lost, I knew exactly where to look for a glorious egg coffee. Well, I did after I walked around the same block four times and asked numerous people for directions…
Cafe pho co:
Just back from hoan kiem lake, walking through a little hallway in from the Main Street you’ll be in darkness until it opens up to the cafe.
The staff took my order as soon as I walked in, egg coffee, to save them walking up the stairs twice I supposed.
A few flights of stairs later and I am seated, a view of the lake and all of its surrounding lights, sipping on my coffee. Sipping might be the wrong verb, scooping up its sweet goop with a spoon.
Black coffee underneath thick, whipped egg… Sweet and gooey like a meringue custard.
Coffee success number one.
Number two happened the next day (and again that same day).
I managed to test out the first Vietnamese word I’ve learnt: “chay.”
I wandered all over the place looking for a Bahn mi and ended up in street after street of mechanical devices. But there, down that alley, sat a woman who looked kind and in front of her was a little cabinet containing bread, eggs and various pates.
“Bahn mi, chay?”
She smiled and held out pickled carrots and cucumber for me to approve. She held up some money to show me how much. 15000 dong! (99 cents)
Lathered with hot sauce, the bread was warm and its contents dripped out onto the flyer she’d wrapped it in.
My mouth was full of a pleasant burn and I was sweaty and thirsty…
They have 6 locations around Hanoi and I am all the happier for it. I meant to order coffee with condensed milk as I haven’t tried it yet but I got tempted by the coconut coffee smoothie and I have no regrets.
It’s not a smoothie by normal standards, it’s a mound of frozen coconut yoghurt in a pool of coffee. The ultimate twist on an affogato.
So good that I went back again after dinner.
I like finding places in cities that take me out of the city and into the people. Parks, beaches and lakes work well. My hostel here is right by hoan kiem lake so I’ve been there three times so far. The first time I was asked to hold some ones baby so they could take a photo, the baby cried, finally smiled and it was all laughs. The second and third time I went with the idea of writing or reading and instead I was quickly encircled by Vietnamese students wishing to improve their English.
I met a girl the same age as me who worried greatly for my safety as a solo traveler. One boy has a book where he gets everyone he talks to by the lake to write a message in their native tongue- he speaks six languages! My initial response was to tell them to go away so I could read my book. How silly of me. Speaking is such an efficient way to learn and it’s so easy for me to do.
I get a homey feel from the city. I feel like I belong. Someone came up to me while I was shopping asking if I was a regular and could I point them in the direction for bread? I could, but only because I’d seen it a few minutes prior. I was recommending cafes to people.
The city is confusing with the language barrier and the mess of traffic.
I have arrived in Vietnam! And it only excites me further knowing I have time to get to know this country better.
I’d become a part of a small group that formed in pai and together we traveled to Chiang mai and ended up in Chiang rai.
We all hired scooters and set off, wobbly helmets, t shirts and silly grins exclusive to naive tourists. We were headed up to Mae Salong. (I DID hire a scooter. As soon as I left the shop the staff ran after me asking if I was sure about driving, all bearing very worried expressions. I was confident, “yes I’m going to Mae salong!” Alas, I just barely made it back to the hostel. In those 5 minutes I came scarily close to crashing into a police car (of all cars!) which sent me screaming to a halt 3/4 of the way across the main road. So I decided driving a scooter wasn’t for me (yet!) Joe, my new Bavarian friend, stepped up as my chauffeur 😎).
We rode north and the highway was soon swallowed up by glowing rice fields and valleys breathing in the days sunlight. This was what id been looking for from Thailand.
Joe wooped and I yelled compliments to the land we were winding into as each bend revealed new wonders. The mountains rose and the fields became terraced. The road slid away below us and the wind grazed our skin so fiercely it was left feeling strange.
We arrived and ate at a cute Chinese restaurant, the locals were speaking Chinese, Chinese lanterns were strung across the street. We were right near the border of Myanmar and somewhere history lead a group of Chinese people to set up this tiny town atop the mountains of Thailand.
We head back to Chiang rai such that the sky went through all of its outfits, blue, pink and black, during our 2 hour ride. I found it: Beauty.
Music is vibrating the bench seat of the tuk tuk. Four of us are crammed into this little carriage, our features lit by neon pink and blue lights, the driver seems totally oblivious to the music he’s blaring- and to the reactions of those we pass.
Stuck in traffic we stop behind a ute full of people, we smile at them and them as us, before long we are all dancing to this weird mix of 80s and techno music.
The night was just beginning, the traffic was so thick because we were all headed to the same place at the same time: to the river! It’s November 14th, the super moon is on the rise and loy kathrong festival has arrived.
We wedge ourselves into the crowd that is shuffling down the narrow alley of market stalls selling food, flower baskets and small, live turtles and snakes in bags (to be released along side the flower baskets). We each buy a flower basket, delicately full of petals and containing three incense sticks and a candle. Finally the crowds disperse as we reach the water.
Shoes off we are knee deep in the river, mud reaching up between our toes. The water is black and dotted with candles drifting down current, an abstract mirror of the night sky.
We light our candles, waft the incense around and release our little baskets along side the many locals, paying respects to the goddess of water. That was such a moment. One of the moments that make you stop and just think ‘this is the point.’ And I did stop, the others went back to shore but something held me there, the ground became quick sand and it was sucking me in to show me life’s beauty. So I stayed, staring somewhere between the epic super moon shining down on me and the hundreds of baskets floating by my sides…
The desert tour was a mixed bag…
It was get me out of this car, off this camel, away from this wind. And also, leave me by this fire a little longer so I can soak its warmth deeper into my skin, let me linger by this view, let this continue, this; conversation, sensation, amazement.
We drove through the Atlas Mountains and stopped at ait Ben haddou- an ancient village where game of thrones and gladiator (among a dozen other movies) were filmed, it was unbelievable that people continue to live there and they have to rebuild the buildings annually using dirt, straw and, for some parts, stones.
A tasteless couscous was served for dinner at a big hotel in the valley of roses, in which we saw many signs for rose water but no actual roses.
Another day of driving and by sunset we had arrived at merzougha: the door of the desert.
Is was bizarre. Impressive but not overwhelming, I believe my words were “oh wow, it’s actually quite pretty”. We were lost in a lack of communication, our guide made us laugh uncomfortably until we realised he was actually aware of how inappropriate he was being (“my bed will be cold tonight, won’t you join me?” -No. No we won’t.) the whole group lead to their camels except for us three Aussie girls and a Japanese couple. We weren’t told why as they started putting our bags into a car.
They had run out of camels.
This didn’t really phase us as the others had been on camels before and it didn’t appeal to me anyway. So we sped through the dunes on the roof of a 4×4, sailing the orange sea. They waves curved over on one side, lit by the setting sun, and hollowed out on the other, casting deep shadows.
We arrived at last light and were determined to run up the biggest sand dune we laid eyes on. It was huge and tiring. Foot cramps and coarse throats we complained and laughed our way to the top, feeling accomplished we turned away from the dune to look over the desert only to look into never ending darkness. Still, I felt alive. Wind on my cheeks, my baggy pants blowing in every direction.
Running down was my favourite part of the three day trip. We bounded down, sprinting and landing on darkness. It was how I imagine it would feel to jump on clouds… Surreal and limitless.
We met an Aussie guy and after dinner everyone went to bed save us and the Moroccans working. Together we made music, drums, cymbals, clapping and song. They asked us to dance so I obliged (happily) spinning in this tent full of noise… They know how to create a beat, and laughed at my drumming attempts.
We shared jokes which surprisingly overcame the language barrier. We played the memory game ‘when I went to the desert I brought…’ And when they asked for Australian songs we sung ‘we are one’ the quantas song and our national anthem, followed with enthusiasm by avril lavigne and spice girls.
The guys lead us out into the dunes. “Are you sleepy?” They asked, “yes, very” I replied. “No! Let’s make a fire!”
So we gathered sticks along the way, passed the camels and found a spot well away from camp. The fire raged in the wind of the Sahara. There were no stars, a light, misty rain set in. The fire died and we warmed our feet on the sand thrown over the coals.
We laid out blankets on the sand and snuggled together in the open. We had the desert all to ourselves it felt.
Before first light we rode camels (somehow more camels appeared overnight.) back to town. Waves of sand eventually rolled into the light of the sun rising by our backs.
My legs are still aching from that camel ride.
We had a 12 hour drive home. We drove through flooded rivers because our driver asked us to vote wether or not we should go. We had sing alongs and ate our way through a tub of peanut butter on stale corn cakes.
It wasn’t my ideal way of travel, I doubt it’s anyone’s ideal method when it involves so much time in transit and basically no freedom. But the company was incredible and kept my spirits high, the desert was intriguing and I felt I lived out a little bit of my personal destiny shown to me by the alchemist… Haha.
“The desert will give you an understanding of the world; in fact, anything on the face of the earth will do that. You don’t even have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.”
“He had lived every one of his days intensely since he had left home so long ago.”
“Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”
-Pau Cohello, the alchemist.
So in England a few days later: I meet a girl on a bus and we share an uber home, we happen to be staying around the corner from each other. The driver stops me before I get out, “now you are a traveler, everyone you meet is an angel to help you along your way. Kate helped you just now. You’ve seen this haven’t you?”
Yes. 100% I have witnessed this. People coming into my life at the perfect moment, and leaving me too.
“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream,”
-Paul Cohello, the alchemist
I feel like the Shepard right now… Hunting for treasure, finding it all around me. I could surely turn myself into the wind if need be, I feel so capable.
The four of us, 3 Australians and one Canadian, just recently aquatinted wandered through a colourfully tiled hallway into reception of hammam mouassine. We paid 100MAD (10€) and were directed by gestures to go into the next room and strip. Giggling at the situation of getting to know each other so quickly, we stumbled along to the next room. It was warm and steamy and filled with Moroccan women splayed about on mats on the glistening tiles washing themselves (the entry for this was about 50cents, a lot of houses in Morocco don’t have showers so it serves as a communal one). In the centre of the ceiling was a dome pricked with multi coloured holes, poles of light fell through sparking upon contact with the wet floor.
We sat and observed as buckets of water were placed around us. Warm water was thrown violently over us and one by one we met our personal… ‘Scrubber?’ (For lack of a better word). We were soaped up with black Argan oil soap and scrubbed down with mits. We were shown to lay down on the floor were we slid around and relaxed, feeling our layers slowly come off. The women pointed, laughing at all the black skin rolling off us.
They scrubbed our every inch, stomach, feet, our underarms and… Well everywhere!
They then washed our hair and I was brought right back to the bathtub I sat in as a little girl, my mum pouring cups of water over my head. It felt amazing, a sensation id forgotten. I felt completely taken care of being cleaned head to toe, the women took on a strangely maternal role.
A quick rub with something that looked like mud and another wash down we were picked up off the floor and wrapped in towels and lead out to drink mint tea.
I don’t think I have ever taken the time to be so thoroughly cleaned. We all agreed we felt like new born babies and couldn’t stop touching our new skin with huge grins.
Looking back on my time in Essaouira I feel so nostalgic. I bathe it in a light of perfection, air brushing flaws. Truthfully I didn’t like it to begin, I thought I would leave after a week. Thank goodness I didn’t because the love and lessons presented to me there are unparalleled…
I stumbled upon what I wrote when I arrived to Essaouira, how I felt being in the town and compared it to what I wrote after a few weeks and also just yesterday, everything I feel for the place now in hindsight.
Some things take time.
A few days have passed in Essaouira:
There is some part of me that feels lost here. Focussing inwards would surely help, easier said than done. I want to learn but am uncertain as to how. I need to move my body more, inspire growth through this movement- inspire joy! Go ahead: Wash your clothes, make real food. Meet a local, form a real bond. Open yourself up and give yourself over when you can. Be real, be alive but be you. Focus. Do yoga, go surfing, walk lots, listen too.
Be still and reflect then dance and forget.
The time is now. Now or never! Respect that you haven’t chosen this- it is the universe who has created this path of events to place you here with all those who surround you. If you feel the need to leave, that too is the universe guiding you. Either way, make sure you take time to listen first. Really allow yourself the opportunity to hear the voice of the universe. Hear its plans- however unseeable.
I am yet to see the point of this stop. That, for now, is enough to tell me I am not finished here. I am not ready to accept that the lesson here is that I don’t fit in everywhere, that my social skills are still so messy, that I am still so uninspiring (To myself and others). Wait and see. What an exciting prospect that something awaits you now. That you are on the verge of discovering something that will make you look back and go “wow, it all makes sense…”
Nearing the end of my stay:
The hostel had emptied and it was nearing 10pm, but I couldn’t let the day finish with this boredom looming over me. I head outside.
The streets of this city were always hiding friends, whether i knew them already or not didn’t make too much difference.
I ran into Imad, and he was with a bunch of other guys i knew. We crowded around buskers (who I also knew by now) where an elderly Moroccan guy danced. One of the breakdancing buskers who’d been in Essaouira for a while now ended up joining in along with a female tourist. A hilarious show proceeded into the night. These new friends welcomed me, joking around, making me laugh.
Imad walked me home where I found my other friends, “let’s go! Ali is playing!”
Ali is a drummer at a nearby beach bar so together we piled in the taxi. We danced a few hours and wandered home around 2am, along the beach the wind blowing a gale the guys piled us girls up with their layers claiming to be warm.
Felafel sandwiches and mint tea before bed.
My last morning I went for one last walk around this city. This home. God I love this place. I ran into Imad and we walked along the beach together for a couple hours. “Religion, marriage, love, travel…”
Ibrahim invited me for one last coffee.
Anna prepared one last feast of many types of bread.
Hugs and tears, the bus pulled away and my heart hasn’t quite left those white walls and blue doors, those kittens hiding in winding alleys, the wind has captured my heart in its chilling tentacles. I’ll be back.
Wow, I am grateful. I can’t believe the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met. Thankyou, Thankyou, Thankyou…
I have learnt not to waste time. Call people you want to see. Do things always, don’t waste spare time. Do head stands, learn, learn, learn. Make new friends, invite them over to eat. It will be okay. Give in. LOVE.
one month later:
I miss Morocco.
I am resisting England with all of my might, which I know is the totally wrong way to go about it.
But I can’t help it when no one meets my gaze walking down the street, where the streets are emptied of friends and music and fish guts and kittens…
The coffee is good but the company is nonexistent. How I would love to go back and accept every invitation for coffee I ever received in Essaouira. Oh and the roof tops. And the cheap food that was, most importantly, shared. The sugar laden tea that surely my teeth are cursing me for. The peace of mind that allowed me to truly practice yoga. The dancing in the street.
The friends. The love.
I will move on, let it go. It’s over now, I realise this. My friends are now dispersed across the country. Still, I can’t help hearing this cry from within that I left too early. Did I live out the experience to its full? Did I learn all I could?
Then again even in leaving early I have learnt. I have abandoned so many relationships on the cusp of real, lasting connection. If I had of pushed them that inch, that mile further… What could they have become? Try that next time.
It helps to be recognised as a tourist (sometimes)- it’s a conversation starter. You’re interesting. They’re interesting. You are united in you differences. You are both experts in things the other probably knows very little about.
It just felt so FREE! And now I feel locked in chains, the streets here push in in a totally new way. Before it was anonymity I was after. Now they’re telling me to keep my head down, to accept anonymity. And now that I’ve known such recognition I can’t BARE this solitude.
I want crazy back. Salsa, Spanish, camping for the hell of it, neck massages as I walk the streets by moon light, strangers approaching so openly.
All in good time… Insha’allah.
And it does… It all makes sense.
let the cycle begin again: change, resistance, acceptance, adoration, change.