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...
TROUBLE IN PARADISE | THE AUSTRALIA SERIES
Before I just dive into the next couple parts of my life Down Under, let me preface with this: I’m no longer writing from Western Australia. Surprise! Or not? After much thought, consideration and certainly a few tears, I decided to come back “home.” That would be Florida for now. I’m currently in Port Saint Lucie, living at Mom and Dad’s house once again. I’ve got a job, have already put a huge dent in my Australian debt and am working towards what’s next. And no, I have no idea what that is just yet. I’ll figure it soon enough, and when I do, you’ll be the first to know. All of this said, I’m happy to be back this time. Really happy, actually. Australia beat me up, which is much of the reason I’ve put off this post for so long. The decision to leave Oz was hard for me to wrap my head around, and I wanted to be in a far more positive headspace before I wrote again. Now that some time has passed, I think I can tell a more fair, yet honest version of my last couple of months in Australia. Please don’t take my story as anything other than my very own personal experience. Most of the people I met there absolutely loved it, as was proof by their second year visa extensions. My story and feelings are different, however. And that’s okay! If we all loved and hated the same places, we’d be stuck in a tiny corner of the world together, unable to enjoy it anymore. And that would be tragic. So look at my feelings on Australia this way: I’m just doing my part to ensure we spread the travel wealth.
Once 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 planned, I took a Greyhound down to Byron and reunited with Shira and Zac. I spent most of my days by the beach, at Shira’s pool or just lounging around the house. It was peaceful and beautiful, which was just the medicine I needed to help cope with the recent loss of my dog, Stella. Byron Bay might be the most chilled-out, “no worries, mate!” town you’ve ever visited. No one wears shoes and everyone can at least pretend to surf. It’s what people picture when they dream of that beachy, Australian summer. Honestly, I had to pinch myself about once a week to make sure that I was not, in fact, dreaming. My first week there just happened to fall on New Year’s, and with one of Australia’s hottest festivals on, Byron was the place to be. There were locals and tourists everywhere, and traffic was backed up for miles coming into town. It was absolutely buzzing and I was thrilled to have arrived at such a perfect time. Australia summer is celebrated, by the way. I’ve never seen anything like it. The closest thing I can compare it to is the way Americans hype up the Christmas holiday. Instead of presents, it’s good surf, and instead of the possibility of snow, it’s the certainty of perfectly sunny summer days. I was so fascinated by the energy behind the season. It was one of my favorite things about Australia and I wasted no time getting in on it. Shira and I kicked off the first week in style, which basically went like this: Pool, beach, beers, food, sleep, repeat. Falls Fest was also coming to town, and I, for one, couldn’t miss it. It’s one of Australia’s biggest music fests and I was dragging Shira along with me. The entire town of Newcastle was also coming up for it, so there was no shortage of fun getting around that week. Aside from the part where I (apparently) decided to redefine ‘disgustingly drunk’, it was a great weekend! I wont’t go into details, but I will share this valuable piece of information with you: Do not drink a bottle of champagne and a shot of vodka in the Australian sun, whilst skipping meals. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well! I’m still unclear how I was the only ass hole to end up in this condition that particular day, but it happened. I woke up the next morning in a friend of a friend’s tent (thank GOD), with a splitting headache and only a few memories of the day before Oh, and I “slept” straight through Alt-J, one of my favorite bands in the world who I’d never seen live. Falls Fest: 5, Emliy: 0.
Days in Byron look like this. This is The Pass, one of my favorite spots. It’s also one of Byron’s most popular surf breaks and I don’t think anyone knows where time goes here. And we’re fine with that.
Shira and I with the rest of the Newcastle crew. This is about the last I remember of my very first Falls Fest. I know, my eyes gave it away.
Brownie is another buddy from our wonderful summer in Utila. No matter how many reunions we all might have, it still feels surreal every time. Most of us have kept in touch for nearly 3 years now, despite living tens of thousands of miles apart.
Once the masses of Falls-Fest-Goers left town, I began to settle into Zac’s house. Despite him not begin there for the month, I enjoyed my newfound Byron life in his home. He lived with two lovely girls, Hannah and Bec, who I quickly grew to adore. I couldn’t have imagined a better living situation, honestly. We all had so much in common and clicked almost instantly. To make life even more wonderful, Bec had been taking on a new vegan lifestyle, making me one happy pescatarian/wanna-be-vegan. Hannah was game for it as well, so most of our nights consisted of stupid amounts of vegetables, a little wine and chats about life. As an added bonus, I had a couple of visitors while living in Byron. My favorite Irish girl, Suz was backpacking around Australia for a few weeks and we were absolutely not going to miss a chance to see each other again. I met her in Arequipa, Peru in August and it was friendship at first sight. Both tired of the massive amounts of ‘bros’ on the gringo trail, we instantly clung to each other for dear life. We traveled through Peru and Bolivia together for about a month, before saying our teary-eyed, ‘goodbye for now’ in Chile. We kept our promise and four months later, here she was. Shortly after she left town, a couple of friends from home wrote me, insisting that I meet their friend, Ricci. Oddly enough, Ricci was also from Atlanta, as was proof by the dozen or so mutual Facebook friends we had in common. Despite the fact that we shared quite a few close friends, we’d somehow never formally met. She had just finished traveling through New Zealand in a camper and was now taking on a little adventure Down Under. Our friends connected us on Facebook and we met each other at a little restaurant in the middle of town. When I walked in at midday and saw a girl with long hair, drinking a mimosa, I laughed and thanked the universe for our friends back home. They were right — we had to meet. We sat and talked for hours, feeling like we’d know each other for years. Maybe it was Atlanta, maybe it was the fact that we were both in denial of how challenging solo travel can really be — something neither of us admitted to until much later in the friendship. Whatever it was, it was necessary and I was grateful. I think Ricci and I needed each other equally during that time, so I can’t help but acknowledge the role fate played — along with a couple of awesome people back home.
A typical night at the house with the girls. On a happiness scale of 1-10, I was cruising at about an 11.
Sweet potato enchiladas? Yes, please! I think Zac’s first words upon returning home were “I’m about to de-veganize the shit out of this house.” We all knew he secretly loved it though!
Shira, Suz and I, enjoying a few arvo cocktails at a The Balcony, one of my favorite spots in town.You can people watch for hours from the upstairs area, and I promise you this: Byron Bay does NOT let down in that department. The fashion. My God, the fashion! Not to mention the beautifully bronzed, perfectly fit bodies roaming around in next-to-nothin. Easy on the eyes, that Byron Bay.
If love could be summed up in a single photo, I’m pretty sure this is it. Suz hates goodbyes so much that she didn’t bother to wake me up the morning of her departure. Instead, she wrote me a lovely little note and left it on my pillow, along with a package of our favorite Australian cookies – TimTams!
I also happened to be in Byron Bay for Australia Day, which, for Americans, is kind of like Thanksgiving. It’s the same idea and thus, the same controversy surrounds it. Instead of a turkey dinner though, you’ll find quite the opposite: Beach parties, beer and an abundance of Australia-flag-everything. Australia’s (awesome) government-funded radio station, Triple-J, plays the year’s “Hottest 100” songs all day long, which has become more popular than the holiday itself. There isn’t a person on a beach or a pub on a street not streaming this countdown. It was one of the coolest celebrations I’ve been a part of, although celebrating the day that white men so wrongfully took away life and land from the native aboriginals isn’t something that should sit well with anyone. That conversation is for another post though.
This was about a ten minute bike ride from my place. And it looked like this every day.
The Pass at high tide. Still a looker.
I was finally able to visit one of the many picturesque waterfalls around Byron, thanks to Bec organizing a day of it. We may or may not have gotten split up on the ride there, which ended in not seeing Bec until we returned home. But it was a top day of rock-jumping, nonetheless.
New Year’s eve day. This was Shira’s house, and yes, this was her pool. Champagne was always in order, but especially the entire week of New Year’s.
This is Ricci and I in Melbourne, where we met for as second time in February. She took off for home the next day, but found time in her short and sweet layover to have some cocktails with me. One night while in Byron, we walked to 3 different bars, asking for a shot of whiskey. Each one told us no, and finally, the last one explained to us that we wouldn’t find that anywhere in Byron Bay, as it was against the law. [Eye Roll number twelve for Australia’s ridiculous drinking laws.] Well, good news: In Melbourne, the law’s are quite the opposite and we had absolutely zero trouble finding shots anywhere. Like this bar.
My time in Byron was a gorgeous one, but there was one major downside: I couldn’t find work. I dropped off over 30 CV’s and even snagged three interviews and two trial shifts — all of which were fruitless. Desperately trying to think outside of the bartending-box, I tried my hand at a travel agency. They agreed to a trials shift after a couple of pushy phone calls from me, but like everyone else in town, they had a slew of quality resumes piling up in front of them. The job competition is oh-so-real in Byron Bay, leaving me feeling defeated and hopeless. I would bike the few miles into town on some of Australia’s hottest summer days, just to be told “no”, after “no”, after “no”. Looking back now, this was the beginning of the end for me in Oz. My funds were disappearing faster than I could log into my online banking, and there was no sign of job openings until April or May. The damage on my credit card was well underway and the loan from my Father was dwindling quickly. Everything’s expensive in Australia, but Byron Bay really takes the cake. Even a trip to Woolworth’s (Australian grocery store) seemed to cost a fortune. I think it’s important that I mention this as well: Whether I realized it at the time or not, I was most certainly hitting my limit with the whole “budget traveling” life. I’d been doing it for two and a half years, and even when I returned to the states in-between trips, I was still living like a penniless backpacker. Since I’d dreamt of making Australia my home, I think I prematurely settled into a different mindset. I kept thinking that since I was finally here, I could do, and thus spend, like the locals do. But there was one, rather big problem with that — I wasn’t making the money the locals did. Looking back, I now see that, and I own it. My only saving grace was that since first leaving the U.S., our dollar had steadily increased in value. Instead of a nearly even exchange rate, I was now only spending about $.80 for every $1AUD. It certainly worked in my favor, but the reality was still glaringly obvious — I could not sustain this Byron life. Once I accepted that, I started thinking about my options. I needed second and third opinions, so I wrote various friends from around the world and asked for just that. Within a couple of days I had a game-changing reply from my dear friend Jack in the UK. I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to have this family-like, International network of people in my life.
I’d met Jack in South America, and if I were a more consistent, better-disciplined blogger, you’d already know both him and Suz. That pattern’s changing, but I’ll get to it later. Since I never wrote about my favorite three months in South America, you have no idea who he is. I met Jack in Cusco, Peru and we hit it off straight away. I always tend to get on well with the English, which I attribute to my Father. I knew that when Jack told me he was from Manchester, I had made a new friend. That was last September, and here I was months later in Australia, writing him for advice. Jack being the legend that he is insisted I get to Melbourne, where his twin sister would be awaiting me with open arms and a couch to crash. Her name was Vanessa and I’d never met her, so Jack introduced us via Facebook. I knew I had to move quickly, and Jack assured me that I wouldn’t be intruding on her life or her space. I remember thinking, I didn’t plan on hitting Melbourne until the end of my stay, but when did plans ever suit me anyhow? I told my roommates and Shira the news, and found a cheap-enough one way flight to the big city. The job search defeat quickly faded, and was replaced by a sense of excitement that only a new city can make you feel. I told Zac and the girls about my decision and they all completely understood. Aside from Hannah trying to lure me to stay with the upcoming arrival of her new golden retriever puppy, I felt good about leaving Byron. I’d given it a solid go, but all signs were pointing to the next town. There’s a popular little saying about Byron Bay that I now fully understand: Byron will either suck you in and never let you go — or it will chew you up and spit you out.” I was feeling like a member of the latter, but was finally okay with it. Zac, being the lovely person he is, drove me to the Gold Coast airport early one February morning. We hugged and I told him I’d be back for a visit soon enough. I was sad to be leaving the scenery and the people, but I felt Melbourne pulling me. And I knew better than to resist the pull of possibility. I anxiously boarded the Virgin flight with a grin on my face for the unknown, and a tear in my eye for what I was leaving behind. Such is life on the road…