The 500 Word Challenge

The laziest Frenchman/person I know (ūüėė)
One of the best and¬†laziest Frenchmen/people I know (ūüėė )

Sometimes before I sit down to write a post I wonder if I will have enough to say. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you may seriously doubt this. Some 3000 words later I usually find myself laughing at my own silly, silly naivety…

Anyway, I’ve decided to challenge myself by keeping the next five blog posts to 500 words max.

I mostly write for myself so I don’t mind if posts are long. However, I was a little bummed out when a friend of mine opened my site to read and his response was a moan.

He said it was too long and he was too lazy.

I know that sounds kind of rude, but picture a goofy Frenchman who is too lazy to use soap in the shower.

Literally.

I don’t think he was being mean, but I don’t really think he was kidding either.

Regardless, I do agree that I could use a lesson in brevity. So, challenge accepted.

Lo√Įc: Merci, mon petit Man Princess. Tu es tellement intelligent!

Funny How Things Happen

Top left: Balinese Hindu offering   Top right:  Wayan and her youngest son giving prayers and offerings outside the temple  Bottom: aerial of street market in ubud
Top left: Balinese Hindu offering
Top right: Wayan and her youngest son giving prayers and offerings outside the night water temple
Bottom: aerial of street market in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Before I traveled, I read Eat, Pray, Love three times. Yes, it’s true. ¬†Except I actually listened to the audiobook instead of reading because it was an entertaining and constructive way to spend my hour-long commute to and from work.

Why did I read this book and why on earth did I read it so many times?  Truth be told, I actually had no intention of reading Eat, Pray, Love until it came as a strong suggestion from a dear friend whom I highly respect.

I was living in California, working long hours at a demanding Graphic Design position for a reputable architecture firm. ¬†Sometimes I think one of the main “reasons” for me even working there in the first place was so that I could meet this friend of mine, Melinda.

Melinda is an interior designer who loves her job and excels in her field. I am an artist and writer who was pretty down and out at the time, feeling confused about my purpose and direction in life.

Anyways, Melinda is one of those people who smiles from the inside. She has a lot of love to give, and at the time that we met (circa June 2014), I really needed all of the love that I could get.

One weekend not long after we met, I stayed the night at Melinda’s home and really let her into my life. She listened kindly and patiently as I spoke for hours. I was so confused about everything, or I felt like I was. My job, my family, my friends back in New York, my relationship, my ability (or lack thereof) to manage my own emotions, habits, and behaviors.

Melinda gently processed the information I gushed at her, thoughtfully commenting and asking questions along the way. The next morning as we were sitting at the kitchen table for breakfast, I found myself wanting to hear her tell me that I would be Okay. In theory I knew that I was largely in charge of my life’s direction, but I was having great difficulty putting this knowledge into action.

Melinda is happy, effervescent, strong.  I value her opinions and trust her advice. Even after only knowing her for barely a few months, I knew that any thoughts she had to offer would come from a genuine, well-considered place.

“Melinda?” I managed, annoyed that I needed to hear someone else’s affirmation and unsure of my own frightened words as they awkwardly squeaked into the small, sleepy kitchen, “I’m going to be okay, right?”

I really, realllllly wanted to hear, “yes, Alex , I think you will be Okay.”

Instead, as I both dreaded and expected, she took a moment to compose her thoughts before she spoke.

“You will be Okay, but you have a lot of wounds. You need to heal.”

I felt like a moron, but I was so lost! ¬†I wanted further guidance. I also knew she wouldn’t judge, so I probed.

“Wounds? Heal them? How?”

“Yes,” she continued. “Wounds with your family, with your friends, with your relationships – your relationship with yourself.”

I kind of knew what she was talking about, but it all seemed so nebulous and intangible to me at the time. I was frustrated and wanted someone to spell out an answer.  Melinda saw the confusion reading loud and clear on my tired face, so she got more specific.

“Journaling can be really helpful,” she started. “I recommend trying it. It can be very therapeutic.” I knew she was right on this one – I’d journaled before and was always happy when I did. But journaling meant taking time out of my day, and I already felt like I had no time! ¬†Each morning I dragged myself out of bed, drove an hour to and from work through rush hour traffic, barely squeezed lunch into a 12 hour day, and considered myself lucky if I made it to evening kickboxing at L.A. Fitness on Mondays. ¬†How was I supposed to make extra time for something as indulgent as journaling?

“Read Eat, Pray, Love. I think you’d like it. I read it and got a lot out of it.” Reading on top of journaling? ¬†This was getting to be a tall order. But since I had sought her advice, I listened and kept quiet.

“Ok, journal more and read Eat, Pray, Love. That sounds like a good place to start, I can do that.” I said the words as if I were trying them on like a pair of running shoes, attempting to gauge just how big the blisters would be.

“And travel,” Melinda added. “Travel is the best.”

This is where I cut in. Was this chick crazy?!

When would I possibly travel? How would I find the time? Even if I did find the time, who would I go with? Where would I go? What would I do? Just drop everything? Ridiculous.

In true fashion, Melinda didn’t really entertain my protests. She simply said that she didn’t know all of the answers and that traveling was one of the best things she’d ever done for herself. In the years before meeting me, she too had seen difficult days. She was glad she had made a point to travel and grateful for the lessons and experiences travel brought into her life. (Several years prior, Melinda had spent 6 weeks in Australia and New Zealand, backpacking with her cousin).

I left Melinda’s house feeling partly more at ease and partly more hopeless than before. According to Melinda, my prescription for happiness involved activities that seemed impossible. At the very least improbable. But I felt desperate, so 10 days later I downloaded Eat, Pray, Love on audible.com and began listening.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book, given that I hadn’t liked the movie much the first time I saw it (I think I actually turned it off, though now that I’ve completed the book, I’d like to go back and try to watch it again).

For those of you that haven’t read the book, it’s essentially the story of a self-aware woman who is unhappy with some major aspects of her life and decides to take time for herself to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia in a quest for happiness, self-discovery, and love.

Admittedly, part of me didn’t want to like the book. I’d heard the title Eay, Pray, Love used commonly as a conversational clich√©, and liking it would mean I was just like everyone else. But it’s well-written and easy to relate to, so naturally it’s become a global hit. At least I was hooked. And for those of you looking for an audio book, Liz Gilbert (the author) does a great job of reading her story aloud.

Anyways, here I am writing from a caf√© in Bali and you can see that I clearly took Melinda’s advice to heart. I joked with her recently about it on Skype. Journaling? Somehow I figured it out and found the time. Book? Check! Travel? Check, check!

To be clear, I didn’t travel because Melinda told me to. And I didn’t go to Bali because Liz Gilbert did. Though it is funny how that worked out. While Melinda’s guidance helped lead me to answers that felt natural and essential for me, it took more than a push and a colossal shift in perspective to get there.

Why Bali? When I decided to extend my travels beyond the original JFK return date scheduled for August, it made sense for Southeast Asia to follow due to proximity to Australia. ¬†Bali seemed like a good place to start and work myself north, through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. ¬†I hear great things about Vietnam and Cambodia, too. I’m scheduled to be in Indonesia for at least two months, so I’ll keep you posted on how it all pans out.

In Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert goes to Bali, Indonesia for four months. One of the main characters from this chapter of her travels is a Balinese healer named Wayan Nuriasih.

When I arrived in Bali, I didn’t really have much interest in doing the whole EPL tourist thing. I could tell immediately upon my arrival in Ubud (Ubud is phenomenal and deserves a separate blog post dedicated to it entirely) that the island has so much to offer and I wanted to carve out my own experience. Besides, most of my time would be spent in rural areas, as I had made plans to spend a large portion of my time¬†in Indonesia as a volunteer, teaching English to Balinese children.

I flew into Bali on a Wednesday night, but my volunteer orientation in Ubud wasn’t until Sunday. For volunteers who arrive to Bali a few days early, the volunteer organization arranges a few nights of basic (but lovely and very welcoming – I would stay there again!) accommodation in central Ubud. This was perfect for me because not only was it my first time in Asia, but also I had a few days to acclimate and explore.

My “home stay” (a common word for accommodation in Bali and Southeast Asia) was centrally located, which means I was right in the middle of all the action. And I loved it. Ubud is such a colorful, vibrant and inspired place! At first I actually found myself a bit overwhelmed by it all – colors, shops, flowers, temples, people, fruits, clothing, jewelry, crafts, art. I suppose I couldn’t ask for a more amazing type of “stress.”

Because of all the activity and bustle around me, it took me three days to notice that I was staying right next to Wayan Nuriasih’s shop. Literally two doors down. While my initial plan hadn’t been to seek out her healing prowess, I figured I should take the opportunity now that it had smacked me square in the face. (Literally, I almost walked right into the sign outside her front entrance). So, I wandered in.

When I entered, Wayan was visibly stressed. She was just ending what seemed to be a long session with a German woman who was having a hard time understanding Wayan’s accented English. I ended up having to stop in again later that afternoon, but I’m glad it worked out that way. Because you never know what the day will bring.

All I will say about the session with Wayan is that it was interesting and rewarding. I entered feeling skeptical, and my attitude changed when she made some remarkably accurate and specific comments about my past relationships that she couldn’t possibly have known. But it was what followed that blew my mind.

I was getting ready to leave, reaching into my purse for the 400,000 rupiah I owed her (approx $30 USD), when Wayan looked at me and asked if I would like to join her at temple. A traditional Balinese temple experience at night with The Wayan Nuriasih!? Hell yea I did!

When I told her that I hadn’t yet purchased any appropriate temple clothing, Wayan and her children quickly found the proper attire for me to borrow. I had to bring two outfits because apparently we were going to get wet (?!). I asked if I could pay her anything, and her daughter Tutti kindly suggested that I might cover the cab ride. It was an hour each way, but it only cost $10 USD total. Again, the ever skeptical side of my conscious murmured to me in the background: “she’s only inviting you so she can get a free cab ride, Alex!” The other part of my conscious replied, “who gives a S***!? I’m going to a Hindu water temple at night!” So together with two of Wayan’s sons, we got in a cab and departed for Tempak Siring, The Holy Spring Water Temple.

I don’t think I could do justice to my experience at this place if I tried. Also, my photos are pretty crummy because my camera died early into the night (lesson, always be prepared with backup charging if you’ve used your camera all day on a volcano hike and are spontaneously invited to join a holy spring water temple ceremony…). Maybe it was a good thing because I was forced to soak up the experience without the barrier of my camera or any other gadgets¬†(No technology – God forbid! I’d purposely left my phone behind to avoid possible theft or water damage).

Before the entrance to the main temple there was a large, intricate stone shrine where Wayan stopped to make an offering and pray. I joined Wayan and her two sons, impressed with the respect and ceremony that her youngest son showed at just four years of age. Out of the middle of the shrine rose an old tree with a trunk made of undulating roots as thick as my torso, twisting upwards in a strong knot towards a thick, green canopy of leaves above.

When we entered the temple, there were people all over. Eating, sitting, chatting, napping, praying, spending time with their friends, families and children. Some were wet, some were dry. I could tell who had already been in the water to say blessings because they looked refreshed and wore beautiful white clothes with colorful belts and head dress, ready for final prayers before heading home.

On the way to the lockers where we would store our change of dry clothes, several tables and one big ornate shrine were covered in an abundance of colorful offerings – small woven leaf baskets filled with pink, white, purple, orange and red flowers, snacks, coins, and incense tucked into the side.

Since I hadn’t yet done much research about temples in Bali, everything I saw was a wonderful surprise. I’d already thought that the shrine with the tree and the temple courtyard were pretty cool, but then we made our way to the holy fountain area. What I saw there made my jaw drop.

There were three rectangular waist-deep pools of different size. In the wake of the bathers, the water’s rippled surface glittered in the moonlight and the surrounding light of the temple. At least two hundred people were gathered in this space. Some sat quietly to the side, bowing in modest prayer. Some stood by a large shrine piled high with the evening’s offerings, saying blessings and adding even more colorful abundance to the growing heap atop the old stone.

Even though I felt somewhat like the village idiot, most of my fellow bathers smiled warmly and tried to speak with me if they knew any English. There was a line of fountains along each pool’s far side, and they poured water in a steady stream onto the heads of the eager bathers lined up in each pool. One by one, people passed through each fountain, letting the water splash freely onto their face, hair and neck.

I could tell there was a specific process that guided the bathers’ practice, and I was grateful for Wayan’s older son. He spoke no English, but led by example and patiently guided me through the steps of the bathing ritual. In each founain, I dunked my head a certain number of times and then splashed water on my face. At some fountains, I was meant to add a step where I swallowed some water, then put water in my mouth and spat it out several times.

When Wayan’s son indicated that I should drink, I first looked at him with concern. I wanted to make sure I understood correctly. “No Bali Belly?” I felt bad asking, but I really didn’t want to be bed-ridden with a high fever for a week from drinking some untreated island water. He looked at me with kind eyes, “This ok. No bacteria. No Bali Belly.” I drank the water and didn’t think about it again.

Since my camera crapped out early on, I took extra care to see and feel my surroundings.  I was annoyed at first, but seeing things without looking through my camera lens was mostly relieving. I remember a lot of bright yellow and white. And stone. Most everything was old and strong, made of dark, heavy stone. Statues of ornamental animals and gods watched over us and the outdoor lighting cast deep shadows in every angle and corner, giving the waist-deep bathing pool a mirage of infinite depth.

The sound of prayer mixed with laughter and chatter filled the space, and the social buzz softened the solemnity of the statues and stone. I felt like I was in the presence of something great, but I also felt comfortable. My laughter came easily as I fumbled my way through the pilgrimage from fountain to fountain.

Since I hadn’t read up on Bali or the main tourist attractions yet, I held no expectation for this experience. It simply came to me and I happily accepted. Some might say that I’m an ignorant fool for entering another continent without doing major research, but beyond the bare essentials I’m grateful that I had no preconceived notions on this particular night.

I soon learned that Tempak Siring Temple is an important Hindu destination for many Balinese locals. People journey to the Holy Spring Water Temple from all over Bali to wash away bad influences and purify the soul, body and mind. Not surprisingly, it is also a major tourist destination, and the temple remains a symbol of renewal and healing for tourists and locals alike.

For me, an unassuming visitor, the evening at the temple was a gift. You know that corny saying, “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift and that’s why it’s called the present?” Well, it’s popular for a reason. Wading through that water in the moonlight, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more present, more alive, or more beautiful.

Looking back to reading Eat, Pray, Love one year ago in California and arriving to Bali this October, all I can say is, isn’t it funny how things play out? Some element of planning helps both in life and in travel, but ultimately we just do the best we can as we go along. No matter how much we try to control the events in our lives, life has a way of organically unfolding around us. Sometimes it is painful, sometimes it is hard, and sometimes it seems almost impossible to see the beauty through the grit. But sometimes, when the time is ripe and we look around, the beauty of our moments can be overwhelming.

Land of The Roses

Denmark and AlbanyDenmark, WA

This is W.A. (

I’ve been waiting to say those words to someone aside from myself for the past month. “So, this is W.A.!” And yes, I’ve actually said those words to myself. Though the fact that I speak to myself might not come as a surprise to many of you.

W.A. – Western Australia – is gorgeous. And totally underrated!

Since my time in Geraldton (see earlier post for reference – “The Coolest Town You’ve Never Heard Of”), I’ve consistently been astounded by the awesomeness that this side of Australia has to offer.

Crystal water beaches with miles of turquoise upon cobalt and fine, white sand? Check.

National parks with great hikes and breathtaking panoramic views? Check.

Cute towns and small cities with character? Check.

Sunny, warm, temperate weather? Check (though this might change depending on the time of year you travel – October is lovely!)

Tons of activities that I’m still sad I didn’t have time to do? Check!

Wineries, chocolate factories, art walks, tree climbs (yes, tree climbs), beaches, mountains, and sprawling green valleys of farmland. It may not be your choice spot for crazy nightlife or wild clubbing, but Western Australia is pretty cool.

I feel lucky that I stumbled across this place at all. Though it feels like a pretty big place to just “stumble into” given that it’s a huge 1000km + coastal stretch of earth.

I kept thinking to myself, “how has no one mentioned this place to me?!”

For some reason, Western Australia flies under the radar. Personally, I like it this way and if I were famous, I probably wouldn’t say anything at all so that I could keep the beaches and coves and hikes all to myself. So maybe that’s what everyone who’s visited is doing – ‘keepin’ it on the D.L.’

But somehow I don’t think so.

It seems more like a classic case of, ‘do what the cool kids are doing.’

Yes, I will admit that Sydney would be my first recommendation if a visitor could only come to Australia ONCE and go to ONE place/city. And yes, I am pretty sure that if I did get the chance to go to Melbourne, which sadly I haven’t and which I do plan to do at some point, Melbourne might take the cake because I hear it’s pretty artsy and fun and rad. But Perth – the largest city in Western Australia – and the surrounding coastal areas within 500km north/south are lovely.

Before I left for Australia, I asked around among well-travelled people I knew: where to go and what to do in Aus!? ¬†I figured that if I asked enough people and got enough overlap in suggestions, I’d probably come out with some pretty good ideas. ¬†And for the most part, this worked out for me because Australia is a huge, diverse country and there are many worthwhile destinations.

Here’s a good sampling of buzz-words that helped direct my initial travel plans:

Sydney! (Agreed, totally worth it. Too many awesome things to write about Sydney in this post, but suffice it to say it’s in my top 3 and if it were closer to America, I think I’d set up camp for good).

Byron Bay (Wouldn’t know because I didn’t make it there, unfortunately. I’m pretty sure I’d like it, but after seeing the breath-taking beaches of Western Australia combined with the funky, hippy vibe of Fremantle on the coast just outside of central Perth, I’m altogether satisfied with what I’d hope to get from Byron Bay anyways. In other words, Byron Bay is known for a great beach and its artsy, fun, and youthful energy. One big draw to Byron Bay that areas on in WA might lack is the nightlife).
Gold Coast (ew, sorry Gold Coast. You might be good for surfers, especially beginner surfers, but unfortunately I’m not a surfer. Blue Crush might be in my top 5 favorite guilty pleasures, but that’s partly because I have a girl crush on Kate Bosworth and partly because I simply like the idea of being a surfer… When it comes to the Gold Coast, there’s just too much grit and grime and cheap tourist thrills for me to consider this destination a top choice).

Airlie beach (thumbs up. This place is cute, fun, and easy-going. There’s enough night-life to keep you busy for a few nights, the shops are interesting and the beaches are great).

Whitsunday Islands (extremely beautiful and worth it. ¬†Especially if you are willing to throw down a couple of Benjamins to take you out to the gorgeous spots. However, that’s also the pitfall ¬†– you kind of need to spend money to get out to the glory, and it ain’t cheap. If you don’t have the dough to get on a private boat? Head to WESTERN AUSTRALIA! The beaches are similarly stunning with crystal clear water and white, velveteen sand).

Clearly the east coast of Australia treated me well, and I loved/love it there. It’s not to say that my time on the East wasn’t great – it was. It’s just that there might as well have not been a west coast because no one said a word about it, and it deserves a lot more than a word.

As I mentioned earlier, I feel lucky to have found myself in Western Australia and had the chance to explore even just a little bit. I wish I’d known to spend more time and make this place a destination, but I’m glad to be able to share my enthusiasm regardless.

While I’m confident that with more time my recommendation list would grow, here are a few buzz-words I’ll share off the top of my head based on my experience thus far in W.A.:

Beaches, beaches, beaches (basically anywhere south of Broome – i.e. the entire west coast of Australia – you’re going to get some great beach action. Broome isn’t my favorite because when I was there it was September and it was buzzing with flies, humid as F—, and the jellyfish were out of control. But a lot of people go out of their way to vacation in Broome, and it’s possible that Broome might be lovely during another season.

In my opinion, beaches are the most stunning towards Denmark and Albany (roughly 500km or 5 hours south of Perth), though I hear Esperance (another 400km) is out of this world. I didn’t make it to Esperance yet so I’ll rely on your feedback to tell me what you think when YOU go there. Wink.

Anyway, Denmark has several stunning beach access points, including Ocean Beach – great for surfing, Lights Beach – beautiful views from above, and Greens Pool/Elephant Rocks – I’m speechless. Go there. What’s even better is that I was able to easily bike my way to all three, though I recommend traveling by car if you’re interested in actually making a beach day out if it).

Fremantle (adorable. Grab a coffee and be inspired. Even the coffee sleeves are custom decorated – biopak.com.au is where it’s at! I actually photographed and sketched the to-go coffee cups I was given in both Fremantle and Albany because they were specially printed to showcase local artists’ work.

Fremantle has this attractive artsy, bohemian vibe that somehow sidesteps the realm of ‘irritatingly hipster’ that you sometimes get in areas of Brooklyn or L.A.

Fremantle is quaint and historic, yet eclectic and youthful. Something about it just feels sexy. I couldn’t help but make my way through the specialty grocers and purchase a stunning, hand-printed tea towel to decorate the walls of my future apartment.

Overlooking the beach there are working artists’ studios open for all to browse (can you spell awesome real-estate investment!? I’ll have a studio in Fremantle for Christmas, please…). And right on the water there’s a group of free lounge chairs where you can take a cocktail or a book and just…sit. Ahhhh.

Castle rock, Porongurup National Park (So glad I got to go – thank you Patrick from Bologna for driving!)

My descriptions are getting longer than I anticipated, so I’ll spare you the wind and go for the gold. The national parks are worth a visit, and the hike up Castle Rock is doable for most – meaning I saw grandparents and small children on the way up and down. After the 1.5 hour round trip trek you’ll feel like you got off your rear without feeling (too) wiped, and when you get to the top, the view is beautiful).

Albany is surrounded by blue water and you don’t have to go far to get it, though Little Beach – about an hour drive outside of the city center – is what gives Albany an edge. Apparently Little Beach HAS been written up as one of the best beaches in the world, though it still remains a secluded and serene place to visit. A little difficult to access, if you’re willing to take off your shoes and hustle up a few rocks, your efforts will be well-rewarded.

You already know my thoughts on Geraldton (thumbs up).

Even in the “in-between” towns and places, there are touches of color since roses bloom everywhere. Literally, there are roses everywhere and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

I’m just glad that I found myself in the Land of The Roses, and that I took the time to smell at least some of them.

Thank you, W.A.

Over and out!

It’s not that I don’t want to.

On the jetty feelin' fine
On the jetty feelin’ fine

Over the past few months, I’ve changed.
This is not surprising given that in March 2015, just prior to traveling, here is a snapshot of where I was: My boyfriend and I ended a serious 2.5 year relationship, I resigned from my job in Newport Beach, CA, I moved away from California and back to Connecticut where I grew up (for you international folks, it’s about 1 hour north of NYC by train).

I moved back in with my mom temporarily while I figured things out and sorted my next move. My plan was to find a job in New York City and live the exciting urban lifestyle I’d so sorely missed (or at least thought I did).
I seemed okay on the outside, but I was struggling. I had a gut feeling I was doing the right thing for myself at that time, but what next?

Through a series of events that are too intricate to get into right now, I realized I needed to travel. For the first time in a long time, I found myself at a crossroads where I was single, unemployed, and had savings in the bank.¬†¬†I knew I’d be crazy not to get out and do something cool. So, travel I did and here I am.

Part of how I’ve changed is that I am more of a “yes” person than I’ve ever been before. Many things we think are difficult to do really aren’t. When the thought started marinating 10 minutes ago before I opened my tablet¬†to write it down, I hesitated. Why? Because I don’t like to sound preachy and all Kumbaya.¬†“Adopt a positive approach and shift the lens through which you see the world in order to be happy” is something that would have annoyed me prior to traveling.

Actually, it still irks me now and here’s why. I’ve always known there was fundamental truth to this statement, but to me this advice is intangible and lofty. It takes steps to get to a place where you not only understand this mindset in theory, but also you experience¬†it as part of your day to day. And it’s a constant practice, it’s not a destination. (But that also sounds cheesy so here’s the deal. I’m a walking clich√© and my writing will stink¬†if I’m constantly apologizing for things deemed corny, sappy or cheesy. So, readers: here is where I stop apologizing).

Anyways, There’s really no other way to say it. Having a more positive mindset is a practice, and I am only learning. Sometimes I put forth a noticeable effort on my end, and sometimes the lessons seem to just naturally…arrive. Perhaps it’s a subconscious effort. I don’t know, who cares.

For me, a large part of this learning curve has involved bending to the whim of Travel. ¬†Travel changes you and it does so in a rapid and unforgiving way. Travel doesn’t care what your plans are. Travel is not always patient, gentle or kind. Travel will humiliate you. Travel will surprise you. Travel will frustrate you. Travel will knock you around and make you cry. Travel will uplift you. Travel is terrifying. Travel is beautiful. Travel is the best thing in the world, but Travel is not easy.

Today I was texting with my mother and I finally received the Question.
Are you coming home for Thanksgiving?

Not likely.

….Christmas?

I’m not sure yet.
Here I take a moment to honor my mother who is a total rockstar. As I expected, she was sad, but she also understands that I am doing what I need to do right now. She wants me to be happy and she fully supports me. Her support means the world to me and I am deeply grateful for it. (Don’t worry Dad and Stephen, I didn’t forget you! Your support also means the world to me and I love and miss you everyday).

I know it’s the middle of her work week and I know she’s not a morning person, so the following event did not shock me. But it did get me thinking (and subsequently typing away to all of you on the other side). I casually asked if she’d like to chat in the morning for 10 minutes (EST) on Skype. ¬†She responded that she had work. I replied with the same honest proposition in case she changed her mind – let me know if you want to set aside 10 minutes to chat before work. And I meant it. I wasn’t being passive aggressive as I might have been in the past. She replied, starting with “it’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just difficult.”
A few weeks ago, this response might have really bothered me¬†because it could sound like a weak¬†excuse. (Sorry mom, I love you but that’s the truth). I would have been tempted to preach about how “difficult” is a state of mind and how 10 minutes is hardly a commitment, especially considering that we only connected via Skype every few weeks.

But here’s the deal. I know my mother beyond loves and adores me, I know that mornings aren’t her thing, and I’m not worried about chatting at a later date. We will talk soon and it will be great. That’s not the point.

If there’s anything I hope you take away today it’s this: I observed my inner response and it surprised me. Sure I felt slightly disappointed, but mostly I was delighted by an easy, peaceful freedom. The interaction was a catalyst for reflection – I recognized how it was easier for me to happily adapt my plans and say “yes” to doing uncomfortable things in other areas of my life. And I do not intend to sound holier than thou here. I figure it makes sense to take the wins when we can – It’s awesome when it happens because it doesn’t happen all the time.

What’s more? Get this. I can now fathom doing things extremely early in the morning. I genuinely enjoy it.

There was a time not long ago where I would procrastinate waking up as much as possible. Many mornings, I wished the sun would just stay behind the horizon so that I could remain curled up and cozy and sleep for hours. And sure, I think it’s common/awesome to do this every now and then. Who doesn’t love a warm, cushioned bed, a fresh cup of coffee and a good book (or movie on Netflix)? But I would feel this way almost every day, and there were many times I wanted wine to keep me company.

So what changed? Perhaps I’m writing at this very moment to explore the answer because I have no idea. I just know it did. And here I will put forth a challenge. Pick one tiny thing in your life that would be “difficult” to do – it can be small, just as long as it would be a good use of your time and you currently have an excuse for not doing it. ¬†5 minutes to wake up earlier and shave your back hair. 2 moments to read funny jokes, 10 minutes to write and stamp a postcard, I don’t care. Pick something. And quit winge-ing, as the Aussies say.

The coolest town you’ve never heard of

I hope someone invents permanent gold tattoos soon.
I hope someone invents permanent gold tattoos soon.

Geraldton, Western Australia.

Let me preface this post with a few important thoughts:

When I first set out on this grand adventure, I never planned on going to Western Australia. ¬†I had nothing against WA, I just had a certain chunk of time to travel that I wanted to use wisely ¬†(joke’s on me there seeing as I bailed on my return trip to New York).

The majority of destinations that I wanted to see most were scattered along the east coast, from Sydney to Airlie Beach. (I’d still like to make it south to Melbourne one day, especially now that it’s not zero degrees there like it was in June).

Subnote: yes, now I use kilometers and degrees Celsius in day to day conversation. ¬†I also never expected that to happen. ¬†My American brain was programmed something like this…”What’s going on? Why bother using these weird, impractical units of measurement!? Why are they doing this!?” It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that America is the only country who insists on using inches/feet/miles, pounds and ounces, and degrees Farenheight. If you travel to any other country in the world, they ALL speak the same language as far as these measurements go, and it’s pretty much “use it or get the stink eye.”

So, Geraldton.

To be clear, I am technically staying in Isseka. ¬†Isseka is a tiny 10-property region set among the beautiful rolling hills of farmland just outside of Northampton. ¬†Northampton is an adorable town (or “shire”) 30 kilometers (approx 20 miles) outside Geraldton, with a couple of thrift shops, a grocery, a few pubs, caf√©s, a craft gallery, etc. For the purposes of “where is Alex in the world?”, Geraldton is specific enough.

Just before I arrived in Geraldton, the only feedback I’d heard about the place was a passing comment from a woman who had once lived there. I told her I was staying near Geraldton for a week and then planned to move on toward Perth. She laughed, “yea, I lived in Geraldton for four years and I reckon it’s a place you won’t want to stay for more than a week!” Ok, noted. Geraldton = lame.

O contraire, mon amie!

I headed to the town center of Geraldton with no expectations and was surprised and delighted at what I found there.  How had people raved about Broome and no one had ever mentioned this adorable place to me?!

(Broome is a vacation destination situated smack in the middle of a barren 4000 km stretch (2700 mile, 40+ hrs driving) between Darwin and Perth. ¬†It¬†has a nice¬†beach, but there are tons of jellyfish (at least there are in September), the weather is 30+ degrees Celsius (85+ Farenheight) with 99% humidity, and the town leaves a bit to be desired. ¬†There’s only so much ice cream, cheap beer and sarongs a person needs. Ok, I realize what I just said – ice cream, beer, sarongs. ¬†But trust me, it’s a snooze fest in a fly-infested, natural sauna).

The beach in Geraldton is a block away from the main strip. ¬†It isn’t quite as vast as the 7k stretch of beach in Broome, but otherwise boasts similar positives. The water is crystal clear, the sand is white and fine, the palette is a stunning mix of turquoise and deep blues. There is a running path along the water, a great park for kids and families, and various caf√©s overlooking the surf.

Sure, the main shopping street is relatively small, but compared to any town between Geraldton and Darwin (including Broome), Geraldton is a metropolis.  Meaning there is a Target in the same zip code.

In building Geraldton,  I think Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie got together with local Australian artists and made a colony of awesome meets adorable. . . (For anyone outside of the USA, hide your credit cards and then take a moment to google Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie).

There isn’t just one cool shop, there are at least 20 cool shops (notice I say “cool” to differentiate between other businesses such as banks, travel agencies, news stands, Target, etc.) ¬†All shops and caf√©s on the strip share the same artistic, hand crafted and intimate vibe, but each place has its own character. Come one come all! ¬†Hippies, snobs, fashionistas, surfers, beach babes, athletes, mommies, daddies, girlfriends, boyfriends, backpackers, gardeners, decorators, treasure hunters, Pinterest addicts, vegans, gourmands, sandwich lovers.

While I’m not a crusader, I certainly support “local.” Usually I am most aware of this when I’m back in The States, since in the USA local ¬†directly applies to my personal and geographical home base. This may sound ignorant, but the concept of supporting local business has rarely been a priority for me as a backpacker. ¬† Sure, if I like a place and¬†the option is available of course I buy local. But generally, I buy what I need (okay okay! And a lot of crap that I don’t need. Though I stand by any decision to buy gourmet chocolate and/or cheap decent wine). And I (try to) buy what is cheap¬†most economically reasonable).

Bearing this in mind, my purchasing decisions show just how much I like Geraldton. I actually went out of my way to pay more and buy things from local shops that I could buy at a larger chain store.  I am now the proud owner of:

  • gold temporary tattoos
  • a cute pair of brushed gold stud earrings
  • organic ginger candy, dried papaya, goji berry dark chocolate, and salted butter chocolate. ¬†Or, at least I was the owner before the dormant fat kid in me temporarily woke up.
  • new watercolor and pastel pencils (a necessary investment for future travel)
  • organic cinnamon to spice up my water bottle
  • A new black liquid eyeliner (yes, it’s organic and yes, I expect at least 50% of you to roll your eyes right now)
  • A scroll of decorative Cavallini paper with a map of Australia on it

I bought these things from local stores to show my support for Geraldton. ¬†And I’m glad I did.

It’s the cutest town you’ve now never never heard of, and I recommend paying a visit if you ever find yourself on the west coast of Australia.

Road trains, road trippin’

Sept 13, 2015. 10:14 a.m., Western AUS

Message to my friend, Mel, who is curious to know about my travels.

“Let’s put it this way. I never thought I’d be sitting outside a¬†roadhouse between Darwin and Perth, sharing some hard lemonade with an ex con, a polish Ironman, and two French lesbians. After camping at a major intersection in a tent for a night and before catching a ride down the coast on a road train.

What is a road train you ask? Take an 18 wheel loaded Mack truck and tack on two additional cargo trailers.”

Also All So Delighted

I wanted to call this blog “be delighted,” but someone already took that one. ¬†So, “also delighted” it is. ¬†Plus, I like the way the phrase sounds like “ALL so delighted.” Both meanings are perfectly suitable for our purpose here. More on that later.

For now:  why the topic of delight?

Short response: ¬†who doesn’t ¬†like to be delighted? Valid rhetorical question. I mean,¬†do you have a problem with enjoying life’s simple delights? Do you hate all things delightful? I hope not.

Longer response: there was a time not long ago when I did¬†have a problem enjoying life’s simple delights. By problem I mean that I rarely enjoyed them, often overlooked them, and pretty much gave up on them altogether. ¬†By not long ago I mean as recent as this past summer. ¬†As I write this out, I realize how depressing I sound. ¬†But it’s true, and I’m here with you today to share my story. ¬†Not all parts are delightful, which is how you can tell I’m human and not some joyously happy, delusional¬†caricature.

Actually, hold up. At this point I feel safe saying out loud that I have rediscovered my own joy¬†(aw, how warm and fuzzy). Though, I’m a fine artist, so I’m probably delusional a good portion of the time… (Zing!).

 

In any case, I’ve found that there is nothing sweeter than delightful moments in the day to day. ¬†This includes some of the most seemingly insignificant details that are far too easy to glance over, especially if you’re feeling lazy or tired. ¬† I’m not preaching – believe me, I’ve glanced over more than my fair share of delight. ¬†I still do it, and I’m certain to do it again. ¬†But when I actually act on things that delight me? It makes a colossal difference.

What is delight? Delight is made of the delicious details that no one else but you may ever see or enjoy.   And somehow this aspect of quietly self-indulging sometimes makes the events even that much more delightful.  Am I losing you? Here are a few examples.

Delight might be indulging in a piece of chocolate before breakfast. ¬†Perhaps you’ve come up with a few pinterest-inspired creative ideas for your home. ¬†Go ahead and paint over that canvas you’ve grown tired of. ¬†And when you get tired of it, paint over it again. ¬†Feel like painting your nails with little rock star heart and star designs on them today? GO FOR IT. ¬†Cinnamon sticks in your water bottle? Yes please. ¬†A tiny, gold stick-on tattoo? Might look great on your inner wrist.

If you’re thinking that these are my own personal examples, I have one thing to say to your assumptions. Damn straight! (Aside from the nail polish bit. ¬†My nails have taken a pretty heavy beating from pulling weeds lately).

It’s too easy to say, “what a nice idea,” and then be too lazy to actually make the tiny bit of extra effort that delight requires. ¬†But instead of just going through your day to day, what if you were also delighted?

110% worth it.

Tapped in.

Hi there.  This is me losing my blogging virginity.

Much of what I will say in the next few paragraphs is likely to sound clich√© and familiar. ¬†Possibly expected. But, I’ll say it for myself and for those of you that prefer to read through instead of jumping ahead. ¬† I invite everyone else to jump ahead to where it reads “TAPPED IN.”

This is my first blog post, but technically not my first blog. I’ve bought several domains with the purest, most honest intentions to begin writing and sharing my thoughts with others. Here is how that goes: Once I’ve agonized over a domain name, chosen my theme and picked a general topic, I find a reason(s) to get busy with something else. ¬†I always plan to come back and write later, but let’s be honest. ¬†It’s way easier to tell myself that everything is good to go and all I have to do is write when I’m “ready.” I’m never ready. In many ways, I’m not even ready now.

When I’m not developing this fascinating experiment of a blog, I keep a written journal. ¬†Some months or years I am better than others at keeping up with it. ¬†At the moment traveling the world has given me the time and inspiration to write often. So, right now, I am a “good” journaler.

I love my journal.  I make jokes and I am HILARIOUS.  I can sound like the biggest, most hormonal B-word in the world.  I can think all kinds of private thoughts. Or awesome thoughts. Or corny, sappy, sugary thoughts.  And no one knows. No one cares, and I am honest without a shadow of shame.

Why am I taking the plunge and actually publishing a blog post now? Beats me. ¬†I suppose the idea of writing this particular blog has been brewing for a while now. ¬†A dear friend suggested I put my thoughts into a blog and promised she’d read it if I did, so at least I’ve got my base audience.

Most of all I think this is a genuine attempt to appease the voice in my head that has been whistling at me incessantly. “Yoo hooo! I’m over here, Alex!! Stop ignoring me and give me some atentionnnnnnn. You know you want tooooo… Stop being such a scaredy catttt…¬† Stop thinking about other things and give me some attentionnnn….take a risk, grow a pair, and see how it feels to actually try writing this thing already…!”

So here I am. Apparently my mind – the most needy, attention hungry entity I know – wants more attention. And it’s probably time I stepped up to the plate and started writing beyond the private pages of my journal.

I realize that you may make fun of me. You may disagree with me. You make not like what I have to say. You may laugh at me.

But perhaps you will also laugh with me.   You may share thoughts and stories with me. Maybe you will ask me questions.  Maybe I will be so lucky as to hear your stories.  I invite you to share with me.

and now, I proceed at my own risk.

TAPPED IN.