My daily Instagram piece turned into a lengthy one, so I thought I’d post it here instead. In the wake of yesterday’s horrific shooting in Oregon, I felt obliged to...
A BUMPY ROAD TO BYRON BAY | THE AUSTRALIA SERIES[I apologize now for any typos that my still exist. I cannot go through the torture of updating this post one more time on this Western Australian Internet. It’s physically painful. I’ll get to that issue in a later post. Probably from somewhere with more advanced Internet, like Bolivia. Anywhere.]
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Okay, that was a bit dramatic of my inner Dickens, but I just couldn’t resist. This blog is a place where I come to talk about my life of travel and adventure, most of which is positive, some of which is laughable — even if it is at the expense of yours, truly. I’m fine with that. I love this space I’ve created for myself, and even more-so, for you. Writing about the gorgeous & even comedic sides of travel has become my favorite hobby, just after travel itself. Logging in and gushing about all of the beautiful people and places along the way is always so refreshing. Nearly three years of blogging has certainly allowed me to reflect on my life in a more positive way than I once did. All of this said, I simply cannot deny the fact that life ain’t always rainbows and butterflies — even when you are chasing some of life’s biggest dreams in Australia. I would be a phony blogger and human if I only wrote about how grande life is out here — wherever “here” is at a particular time and place. Shit happens, even when your Instagram account may reflect a seemingly perfect and blissful life of beaches, mountains, friends and romance. It’s a fine line we bloggers walk on, but I think those of us committed to story-telling must find the balance between the picture-perfect life of travel — and the real one. And so with that in mind, let’s get to the next part of this Australian life of mine.
Last time I wrote, it was with salty hair and bronzed skin, and per usual, I wasn’t entirely sure what or where was next. While I was transparent about that part, I failed to really dive into why I left Newcastle for Byron Bay after just six weeks. Thanks to my buddies, Billy & Allira, I had a couple of friends, accommodation, a bicycle and a surfboard. I’d quickly sorted out a job and was overly excited about working again. Really, I was. There was enough sunshine for a couple of beach days every week and the scenery was pretty spectacular. I was even (slowly) starting to run again. Things started off beautifully in Newcastle, but as we all know, things can change oh-so-quickly. As I so easily got settled in the new gig at The Wharf, I also so easily met a boy at that very same place. (Cue all of my friends at home eye-rolling and laughing.) The story played out just like most love stories do on the road. Boy meets girl. Girl and boy like each other. Neither of them can stay because they have plans to be in other places and love their lives too much to compromise any of it. So, one of the two, if not both, go their separate ways and promise to see each other again. And it’s sad. And the goodbye sucks. But that’s love on the road, and it can be really beautiful and difficult at the same time. It’s something I don’t talk about much here, as I only like to be so vulnerable publicly and I need it for book material. (Neither of those points are sarcastic.) Because this particular guy played such a big role in my first part of Australia, I thought I had to include it. After her left for his own adventure in Canada, I continued to work as much as I could. I needed to stay busy and keep my mind from drifting, but I also needed to make money. I was barely hitting 25 hours per week though, so I looked into a second restaurant job that would allow me to work an additional 20 hours or so. I worked a two-part (unpaid) trial shift for them and hated it. You know those jobs you start and after your first day you think to yourself, I cannot possibly work one more time? Yeah, it was one of those. And so I didn’t. I wasn’t in Australia to work a miserable job and have a crappy time now, was I? I can do that in a small town back home and save a hell of a lot more money. I’d come here to have fun and make a bit of cash — and I wasn’t going to settle for any less. So I didn’t. I stuck with the gig at The Wharf and picked up any and all shifts I could. It still wasn’t enough, leaving me in a constant state of, “Why am I even in Newcastle anyways? If I’m not making money, then I might as well be somewhere that better suits me.” So I rang Shira, who was spending some time up the coast in Byron Bay, absolutely raving about it. Then I reached out to another buddy from my Utila days who’d been living in Byron for a couple of years now. Zac was happy to hear from me and just as happy to let me crash at his place and check it out for a week. I just felt like I needed to get out of Newcastle for a few days. I needed to see if perhaps somewhere else was a better fit and offered more opportunity. So I booked a super-last-minute ticket on JetStar, gave work a heads up and packed whatever would fit in my free carry-on bag.
I’d booked my ticket via Sydney, which meant having to take a train fromNewcastle to Sydney before flying into Byron Bay. Generally speaking, it’s an easy transit. I, however, had chosen to fly on the day of the Sydney Siege. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably remember this quite well. It covered newspapers, televisions and social media feeds for weeks. And here I was, taking a train right into Sydney’s Central Station at exact same time the news broke. I didn’t even realize any of it was going on until the train pulled into Central Station, at which point my little month-to-month Nokia regained service. You can imagine the state of my texts and Facebook inbox at this point. I’d just happen to mention to Mom, Dad and a few others that I’d be flying out of Sydney that particular day as well. Oops. When will I ever learn to leave the details out when speaking with the parents? I took a quick wander before catching my next train to the airport, just to see what the atmosphere was like in town. While there was certainly a somber tone in the city, there wasn’t any panic or hysteria like one might imagine. In other words, it was nothing like a crisis in America. People were worried and heartbroken, yet calm and collected. There were rumors about all planes being grounded and city trains being halted — none of which turned out to be true. With a very heavy heart, I continued on with my day, arrived to Sydney’s domestic terminal without any problems, and boarded my on-time flight to Ballina Airport, Byron Bay.
View just outside of Newcastle at about 10,000 ft. It was so much greener than this picture lets on. Quite a scene, this flight was.
I arrived late that evening and took a shuttle bus into town for $20AUD. I met Shira at the bus stop and we headed straight for a coffee and a chat at one of the many little cafes in Byron. It was so nice to be able to chat with a good friend about everything that had been on my mind in Newcastle. We were able to laugh at a lot of it, which is obviously the best approach. After a little catch-up time, Zac arrived. We’d not seen each other in over two years, making for such a lovely welcome to Byron. He introduced us to his roommate, Beck, and we all went and enjoyed takeout and beers on the beach at sunset. Byron Bay was already winning at everything. Within hours I felt like I’d been able to take that deep breath I’d so desperately needed the past couple of weeks. The next few days went the same way. Shira and I explored the surrounding beaches, which were out of a perfectly photo-shopped postcard collection. Except they weren’t. They were real and they were better than the images I’d google prior to coming to Byron. I was in awe and in love, which is why it should come as no surprise to you that within 36 hours, I’d text Zac telling him I didn’t want to leave. Perfectly enough, Zac was going on holiday in the U.S. for the month of January, leaving his bedroom vacant. He immediately suggested that I sublet his place for the month and try to find work in Byron. He didn’t have to twist my arm though — I was sold when I landed. I needed a fresh start and so that was that. Shira was also happy with my decision, as we’d get to bond over some amazing food, booze and beaches for the next month. Things were looking up. Kind of.
This is real life. Welcome to Byron Bay, guys.
This is the beginning of the lighthouse walk, which is a path that runs a few kilometers along the coast and just might be the most gorgeous walk you’ve ever taken. I’d say the Australians do a great job of encouraging exercise.
Shira and I wasted no time taking beach selfies. It’s the only kind of selfie you’ll catch either of us taking. Or selfies with animals. Those are allowed too.
Standing on the most easterly point of the continent? Check.
View from (almost) the top of the lighthouse walk. Oh, and it’s actually called “The Lighty,” as Australians cannot resist the urge to abbreviate anything. Any. Thing.
Made it, but lost my bottoms. What? It was too hot for that. Chill out, they’re swimmers!
Standard Australian warning signs. I’ve quit even reading them now.
Somewhere around this point, I had a “Holy shit. I really am in Australia!” moment. I still get those occasionally, to be honest.
My alarm seemed louder than usual on my last day in Byron, thanks to too many Stone & Woods the night before with Zac & company. He’d taken us to a popular locale in Byron called The Rails, a wonderful hangout for beers and live blues & rock music. It sure beat the hell out of the smelly uni-bars I’d visited in Newcastle. I finally peeled myself off the couch that morning when I heard my phone ring. The number was an international one and at once, my heart sank. I knew exactly who it was and what it was regarding. I haven’t shared this on the blog until now, but the day before I left L.A. for Sydney, I got the heartbreaking news that my dog had cancer. She was only eight years old and had always been healthy. I’d spent weeks with her at Mom and Dad’s home in Florida before saying an emotional goodbye and I knew she seemed different. In an attempt to pretend everything was fine, I wrote it off to her age. I knew better though. Unfortunately, my instincts were right and she was sick — really sick. We were told there was nothing we could do for her other than let her live her last few weeks or months out to the fullest. True to the incredible woman my Mother is, she pampered Stella like a queen. “That dog’s eating better than me, Emily,” my Dad would say on our Skype calls. And I knew he wasn’t lying. Even he, despite feeling like he’d once again been left to take over a responsibility for one of his girls, fell hard for her. He and my Mother loved her as their own, and because of my being away for so much of the past few years, she became a family dog — not just my dog. My sister kept her for a while as well, so everyone had been lucky enough to spend a little time with Stella. So, the morning this phone call came in while packing my bags for my flight back to Newcastle, I was horrified. I couldn’t bare hearing the words from my Mom. The teary voicemail asking that I please call them back A.S.A.P. was enough. I was in Zac’s house though, rushing to get ready for the airport. I didn’t want to deal with it right that second, but sometimes we don’t have a choice. I rang them straight back from the kitchen, as it granted a bit more privacy. I spoke very few words, knowing that anything more would push me into a full on breakdown. I knew I had a long day of solo transit ahead of me, so I switched to robot-mode. Zac so kindly drove me to the airport and we hugged goodbye, knowing I’d be straight back after tying up loose ends in Newcastle. I quickly checked-in for my flight and got on Skype with my sister. At that point, I lost it. I didn’t care what anyone around me thought or wondered. I needed to cry and to hurt, even if it was in a public place. She comforted me the best she could, and I spent the next seven hours transiting back to Newcastle in a complete state of shock and sadness. It was the first times in nearly three years of travel that I just wanted to be home.
This is my sweet girl, Stella, at about 5 years old. What a beauty is she? The most loving, playful spirit animal you’d ever met. I find comfort knowing she’s up in doggy heaven eating all of the cheese and biscuits her little heart desires.
I made it back to Newcastle late that evening and quickly crawled back into my bed. I didn’t want to speak to anyone, even my housemates. I just wasn’t ready. I got up the next morning and everything felt surreal, almost as if it was all a bad dream. I soon realized it wasn’t, but knew I had to get up and do something with myself, nonetheless.Within the next few days I told Billy and Allira that I was planning on moving up to Byron for a while and would be taking over Zac’s room for the month. They both loved Byron and knew I would too. I spoke with Liam, my manager & friend at work, letting him know the deal. He and the others already knew though. Everyone who visits Byron wants to stay and they knew I’d be no different. They were so kind to me during such a tough time. They knew I needed hugs and laughter, so they provided both. To boot, they were so supportive of me going to Byron, making my very short notice feel a little less guilt-ridden. They were my sliver lining during a tough time abroad and I love them for that. I was still chatting with the boy, now in Canada, daily. He was also all for my move to Byron, acknowledging that Newcastle was perhaps not the best fit for a solo-traveling, single gal. I had also been speaking a lot with Choppy, who more-than supported the Byron idea. She loved it there and knew we’d get to hangout again soon outside of Newcastle. She also kindly offered for me to spend the holidays with her and her family, which made me feel so much better. Whether it was at the restaurant or via my Utila family, I had great people around and was so damn grateful for it. I worked as much as I could during my last week in Newy and it flew by. Christmas was quickly approaching and after so much deliberating, I’d decide to spend it with my dear friend, Elissa, up in beautiful Noosa. She and I had talked about this for a year, and after a lot of plan-shifting, we worked it out. She knew my situation and simply wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. That’s Elissa, in a nutshell. I’d fly into Brisbane to meet her, spend the holidays with her family, then bus it a few hours south to my new home, Byron Bay. For the first time in weeks, life seemed back on track. The universe was telling me it would all be okay — and I believed it. Christmas was proof of this, reminding me that family isn’t limited to just your bloodline. It can be found 10,000 miles away from home, through a friend you met on a Caribbean island nearly 3 years ago. I think they call that “love.” I had the most wonderful first Christmas abroad a girl could ask for. Having little ones around at Christmas is so special, isn’t it? Using my imagination for the first time in a long time felt so good. The family, the food, the champagne, the weather — I could go on and on. It was all so beautiful. I even scored an amazing new (albeit 5 year old) friend this Christmas. Things really were looking up! I was able to capture most of it, so enjoy a little bit of Christmas joy, even if it is a few months late.
You might recognize that face on the right from many other posts of mine. That’s Elissa and I think we were related in another life. And the little one in the middle is her niece and my new BFF, Milla. Yeah, we know. And so does she – she’s the cutest thing ever.
And she’s already onto the selfie trend. She had my camera figured out in no time.
Milla and big brother, Tally. Cuteness overload.
Auntie Elissa (Lissy) helping the kids listen out for Santa’s reindeer and sleigh. How magical is having children around at Christmas? I was instantly six again!
LOOK at this dinner table. This was Christmas Eve at the neighbor’s house and it was just gorgeous. Everything was so well thought-out, down to the individual gift bags.
Even the food was thoughtful. Ever dish had cherries in it, as that’s a Christmas staple in Australia. They’re in season and delicious in anything – even the bruschetta seen here.
Um, did I mention the hosts were vegans?! Well they were. And in that moment, I knew Santa was looking out for me. They cooked a beautiful duck dish for the rest of the crowd, but I was more than happy with my greens, potatoes and cherry-everything. It was a beautiful meal, a beautiful time.
An Australian take on the Christmas tree. They certainly don’t gear up for the holidays like we do, but the few decorations they do put up are trendy. Those damn Aussies, always making us look tacky(er).
This, my friends, is a traditional Australian Chrsitmas brekky: Jaffas and fresh cherries. Jaffas are a popular orange flavored Aussie chocolate. So yeah, it is possible that I was more excited than the kids.
And again, LOOK at the table setting. Elissa’s Mum has impeccable taste, if you haven’t yet noticed.
Christmas dinner at the Brinckman’s looked like this. Sweet potato wedges, feta salad, button mushrooms, potato salad…the list goes on. Again, being a veg-head was not a bad deal at all.
Elissa’s sister, Kirstie, made a gorgeous trifle, which used minimal sugar (if any) and mostly avoided dairy. And it was ridiculously wonderful. Do you think the Brinckman’s will adopt me while I’m here in Australia?
My BFF and I, obviously. Let’s just say Milla and Emily bonded over Christmas. She insisted the place settings be moved accordingly so she could sit next to me. At every meal. And it was awesome.
Elissa and I may or may not have cracked open the ole Flor de Cana (also something you’d recognize from any post ever by me) to ’tis the season. She’d been saving it for a special occasion and this sure as hell counted. Rum & piña by the pool with my favourite girls on a perfectly sunny day. My first Australian Christmas was literally out of a magazine.
Once the Christmas and Boxing Day were over, Elissa and I drove back to her place in Brisbane and enjoyed our last night together. It was a wonderful little end to our reunion, which as always, is to be continued. As promised, I took a Greyhound down to Byron and reunited with Shira and Zac. My month in Byron had begun and I was ready to dive into all things Byron Bay. I’ll save that beauty of time for the next post. For now, I’ve got to figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life in Australia! I mean that in the most positive way ever, I swear. I’m just a few miles away from Byron now, in Perth, Western Australia. That’s right, I am on the other side of the country now, where summer sticks around a little bit longer and things move a little slower. And I like it. I have a good feeling about this whole left coast thing…