Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mojo Surf Camp (September 19th-23rd)

Byron Bay (September 23rd-29th)

Have you ever seen the movie North Shore? It’s a surfer movie from the 80s about a guy named Rick Kane who won the Arizona surfing championship (wave pool) and decided to use his winnings to see how good he “really” is by going to the north shore of Hawaii to surf the big waves. At first during his trip he gets robbed, is treated like an outcast and finds that he does not know anything about surfing. And just when it seems all hope is lost he makes a few friends with some locals. These friends teach him what it means to be a “soul surfer” and help him achieve his dream…surf camp was kind of like that…We hail from Az and do not know how to surf, at times we feel like outcast when all the traveling Germans are only speaking German among themselves and I had my stuff stolen. We also made some great friends who are also travelers at surf camp. With those friends we enjoyed camp to the fullest and now have other parts of the world we hope to visit...The similarities are uncanny...All that is left is to become great surfers, hopefully.

Crescent Head
We started our trip up the east coast of Australia by going to Mojo surf camp. We did some research into the various camps which all seemed to offer the same thing, yet Mojo continuously had the best reviews. We booked the five day experience which picked us up in Sydney and would end in Byron Bay. The first two days were spent in the Mojo Beach House at Crescent Head. The camp is located at a secluded beach in a national park. It was great. There was no one else around except the camp. We got a wakeup call for Brekki (breakfast) and got our daily surf report about the tides and what to expect for the day.  Then we climbed into some wetsuits and went to the beach. Once there we grabbed some boards and went out with our instructors.  I managed to stand and catch the 2nd wave I tried which made me stoked! Only I did not catch another one for the better part of an hour. After the morning session we went back to camp for lunch before we went back out for the afternoon session. In the evenings we had epic dinners followed by a bond fire party with our fellow campers. The next day we would do it all over again. There was no cell service and no internet which was quite a freeing experience. All we had was each other at the camp and as a result the group slowly started to bond into a mini-family.


Beach all to ourselves
The first night Patrick and I were drunk and sitting on the deserted beach contemplating the meaning of life, happy to no longer be tethered to a desk. (Patrick would like me to mention here-“no homo”) We gazed in astonishment at the brightest stars we have ever seen and felt so small. Not only because of the illumination of the sky, but also because the constellations were foreign to us as well. It felt strange to look up and not see the same familiar stars we have always seen all our lives in the northern hemisphere. It helped to reiterate that we were actually on the other side of the world. Up to that point Australia had felt like USA Jr. Yes, different but not so drastically dissimilar that we had experienced any kind of culture shock. Yet here, under these stars, you know without a doubt that you are a long way from home…As if the universe understood the gravity of this moment a beautiful thunderstorm was rolling out at sea, lighting up the night sky purple at a far distance that seemed so close. It was like watching a lighthouse rolling through the ocean in the rearview mirror of a car. Perhaps it was the alcohol talking but it was quite a Zen moment. 

As for the surf…well, it was mixed. It was solid for the first day and a half. During our 2nd afternoon session the wind kicked up and it became choppy and hard to surf, so much that the instructors gave the group the option of going surfing or just hanging out on the beach. Pat and I figured that we paid for this so let us surf. As a result, we got worked…but that was part of the fun of it. And when we did manage to catch a few waves it was a rewarding experience.

Stephen and Mandy...Living Legends
After a few days there the group hopped a bus up to the next part of the Mojo experience and made our way to Spot X. Sport X is more of a relaxing resort where you can go for as little as one night or as long as 4 months or longer. They offered other activities than just surfing. There were several travelers there who were making the same trip as us, but fell in love with the place and decided to get jobs there for free accommodation. Spot X had the same surf routine, only the surf was mostly flat so it made for shitty sessions. But to make up for that, the night was a bigger more epic party. The Spot X crew were a good time and had crazy games/contest each night. I swear their motto was “Get Naked!” because it seemed that every so often someone was cuffing their balls or chest nuts and taking a lap around the camp.
After Spot X the Mojo trip ended in Byron Bay but the party was just beginning. The entire crew ended up with in the same hostel. The party continued for the better part of a week and slowly people made their exits and back to reality. By the end we were all family. 

Byron Bay is a smallish laid back and beautiful place with some crazy night light for all the backpackers. What is great about this kind of travel is that you meet many other backpackers making the same kind of trip but at different times. For instance, in Byron, we met back up with Mandy from Canada who we met in Sydney and had a great time together. We also ran into this kid name Neko from Finland that we met at Spot X and got a bit crazy together. It is never a dull moment. So many people coming and going all the time and yet we meet back up at some point later in your trip. It never makes for long goodbyes which I think is the way everyone prefers it.

we don't look like tourist...
In Byron there is also a lighthouse that we walked up to so we could enjoy the view and perhaps see some wales out at sea. Mandy convinced us to take the walk by saying that it would take like a thirty minutes…an hour and fifteen minutes later we were almost there. It was quite the hike in sandals since we were not prepared. But in the end it was worth it. It was a calming and refreshing place. For those of you familiar with San Diego, think Point Loma. Unfortunately, we did not see any whales on that trip but it was still worth it. Also we got to stand at the most easterly point of the mainland Australia where we happened to run into another American which was only the 2nd one we did not know on this trip…come on USA…step your game up.

30 minutes eh'?
Oh, I have to mention the PIES! Apparently in this part of the world there are bakery’s everywhere and most of them make meat pies! Maybe the best thing ever when you are wasted at the end of the night. One Bakery in particular is open 23 hours a day in Byron and we had a pie late every night we were there. They should make these back in the states because I would prefer this to a late night slice….ok I had my fat kid moment.

After about a week it was time to close this chapter of our trip and continue our way up the coast. It was a bit bitter sweet because it was coming to an end with the Mojo family, but I believe I am right in saying that it was an experience that none of us will ever forget. From Byron, Pat and I made plans to head to the surfers Paradise...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sydney = Awesome (Sept 3 through September 18, 2011)

Back To Civilization

Coming from Fiji to Sydney was somewhat of a culture shock. We had spent the last five days living the slow paced “Fiji time” way of life and now we were in the center of a vibrant city with all the hustle to go with it. I think we both were a little relieved that we no longer had to buy all our drinking water.

We took the train from the airport to central station which was two blocks from Big Hostel where we were staying. We get checked in and headed up to our room. As we walked through the lobby to the elevator there were several people watching a marathon of last season’s Jersey Shore. Apparently the new season premiere is set to start sometime that week in Australia. Funny because we just arrived from half way around the world and we still cannot escape Snokie. I am officially seventeen hours ahead of back home but living at least three weeks behind when it comes to media.

One of the First things we notice was that Sydney (OZ in general) is expensive. I guess Sydney is now like the 7th most expensive city in the world. Also, since the dollar has been suffering up to this point it made things worse for us. We initially lost more than we expected on the exchange rate, but we figured no point in stressing about it now. Besides, even though things are more expensive, tax is already included in the price of everything.  Also Australia is not a tip culture so that makes things a bit better.

"Where'd You Get the
Pink $20s You Cheating Whore"
The currency notes here are made of plastic and are various sizes and colors. The locals even have names for them like a lobster for a 20$ because it is red, or pineapple for a 50$ because it is yellow. I guess it makes it easier for them to gamble on rugby or whatever by saying, “put a lobster on it?” I don’t know about the sizes or colors, but the US government should seriously consider moving the currency to plastic notes. For at least the 1$ bill anyway…The average lifespan of the US 1$ bill is 18-24 months, if they were plastic they would last longer and save on having to reprint new ones daily. Also it would be nice for those who constantly wash their money with their pants, but I digress…

One thing that does suck in Oz is the price if Beer. To buy say a 30 pack of beer it runs about 38-45$ (AUS) depending on the brand and specials. A six pack is about 12-14$...and since we are on the subject, the beer here is shit. Perhaps it is because we only buy the cheaper stuff, but so far all of them have been unremarkable with limited options. If you want to drink cheap then you buy a box of Goon which is wine. Again not the greatest but you get four liters for like 12$. It seems to be the backpacker’s way of doing things and it gets the job done, so I cannot complain too much.

Watch Out...They Bite
This Guy ROCKS!
At the suggestion of the front desk at the hostel we took a“free” 2 ½ hour walking tour around Sydney. It turned out to be a great way to get a feel for the city and to see most of the main tourist sights. Also the guy giving the tour was hilarious. Apparently the walking tour was his company and he worked on tips based on your enjoyment of the tour. For a culture that does not work on tips, this guy is an exception. But everyone in our group gave him at least a “lobster” so he knows what he is doing. The tour its self was fun. We walked around the city and learned the history. Went through the botanical gardens and fed the wild cockatoos and saw the flying foxes which are enormous fruit bats. The tour ended at the famous Sydney opera house where our guide told us that “a private tour is about 65$ or you could walk into the middle doors and use the bathroom for free.” So of course, we did that.

"X" Marks the Pot in
Sydney Opera House

Sydney is a very clean city, which was very surprising to me. It also felt extremely safe. I did not feel the need to examine any shady looking characters in passing on the streets. That being said, I had my laptop stolen from my room by some shady French guy who checked out one morning. It was my fault I should have had it locked up, but lucky that my insurance paid replacement cost so now I have a netbook which is smaller and easier to travel with. Positive attitude, so it worked out for the best.

Believe It Or Not
This Was One of the Tame Nights
Two guys that Pat knew from back home named Nick and Brad have also come to Australia for a few months and we were staying in the same hostel, small world indeed. We hit it off and went out to party almost every night. We were definitely “those guys” which helped us make a few more friends with some more Germans along the way. We mostly went to backpacker bars/clubs which were all a good time. But after a party bus, crab races, toga party and just going out almost every night we finally were getting tired of the same places and hearing the same fifteen songs on loop everywhere. Also, nothing against backpackers from around the world, but we were trying to meet more Australians. We did make it out to a club in Kings Cross which was the best of all the bars we went to. Less backpackers and more locals which was nice change of pace.

The Rugby world cup started a few nights after we got to Sydney. It is hosted in New Zealand which is the favorite to win the cup but apparently never do. Needless to say, people are in a frenzy about it in this part of the world. And wouldn’t you know it, the USA has a team and I read somewhere that we are ranked 18th in the world out of 96…who knew?

Look Up Bondi Rescue 
One of the days Patrick, Nick, Brad and I all hopped the bus to Bondi beach which is a nice little beach town area. We took a walk down the coastline and just enjoyed the perfect day. About half way through the walk we came across a lawn bowling club and decided to get a few jugs (pitchers) from the bar and play a few games. It turned out to be a great time.

Not As Easy As it Looks

On our last night in Sydney we went with a new Canadian friend named Mandy to the Australian hotel for their famous kangaroo and salt water crocodile pizza. Apparently Kangaroo is very lean and healthy for you. I am not sure if it was because it was on pizza, but it tasted a bit sweet. It may be different in steak form which I’ll try at some point in the future. As for the crocodile, well, it is rubbery and fishy. Not too interested in trying it again.

Any Other Country Where You Can
Eat The National Animal?
After two weeks it was time to move on from Sydney. Originally we had planned to buy a van or car and drive up the eastern coast to Cairns. But we calculated fuel cost and decided against it. We got a hop along gray hound pass and can catch any bus going north and get off where we please. So we are just going to bus it up the coast at our own leisure. But first, we decided to go to surf camp which would take us as far as Byron Bay.
Rub the Nose For Luck
Rub the...To Get Lucky

Sunday, September 18, 2011

It Begins In Fiji

"Leaving on a Jet Plane"
We boarded the plane at LAX and Patrick and I are saying our goodbyes by text to friends and loved ones. We have no idea what we are getting into. All we know is that in about ten hours we will be in Fiji and a few days later Sydney. I look at Pat in disbelief and say, “This is actually happening.” We give each other a fist pound and get back to our texting. The day has finally come. We are actually moving. Our intentions are to stay in Oz until our working holiday visa expires which is good for one year. After that we may get  “serious” about life and go home. Of course there is always the chance that we will go broke and return home before the year is up. Either way, we agreed that we will approach everything that happens with a positive attitude and just enjoy the ride.

So many people have been curious about our journey. Wondering why we would quit our jobs in this time of economic hardship. Or why we would want to live anywhere else but the US. I guess the best answer for me is, “why not?” I feel blessed to have this opportunity. The way I look at it is that I am semi-retired. Taking a year to live in another country and enjoy it to the fullest. This is something that I imagine I will not be able to do when I am 60 and am actually retired. Or at least I would not be able to enjoy it in the same youthful way.

"Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again"
The plane departs and we are on our way. The flight was not full so we decided to try to commandeer an empty row of seats so we could get some decent sleep. However we appear to be noobs at this kind of travel. The second the seat belt light goes off the empty rows are snatched up by other travelers. Guess we need to step our game up. The flight was smooth with very little turbulence and two uneventful meals between hours of terrible sleep. At one point I woke and decided to watch an in-flight movie. Several movies were showing however I only had one channel that worked. That one channel was showing Soul Surfer. I find it somewhat amusing that my friends and family know I want to get decent at surfing while in Australia and most of them told me to watch out for sharks. And here I am on my way to chase that dream, watching a movie about a surfer who had her arm taken by a shark but still achieves her dream. (Good movie, inspirational) I smile and think, I guess it could happen, but it’s not very likely…I hope. Besides, my travel insurance will cover my remains being sent back to the states. Let us just hope my family does not have to file any claims…no one likes to fill out all those forms.

Courtesy of Nickelodeon without out permission...
 Don't tell them

(side note: does crossing the international dateline officially make us time travelers? It reminded me of that Adventures of Pete and Pete episode where younger Pete rides his bike across three time zones on daylight savings day so he could relive the same hour over and over again.)

"find your beach"
Our flight lands in Fiji before the sunrise and we find our ride to our hostel named Smugglers Cove. We are exhausted and looking forward to sleeping in a bed but unfortunately we cannot check into our room until at least 10am. We walk out onto the deck of Smugglers as the sun starts to rise showing us the calming first light of the Pacific Ocean. I have never seen the Pacific so calm and lake like. It was like we walked into the Corona beach commercial. We have breakfast and go for a walk amused in knowing that not too long ago we felt trapped in jobs we had no passion for. I think of all those days tethered to my desk by a phone headset and tell myself that this experience is at least two years overdue.

Getting lost in Fiji
The next five days in Fiji were impromptu. We did little research before we went and only spent some time there because it was cheaper to fly Air Pacific which connects through Fiji. We had no plans and figured we would just go with the flow. That flow introduced us to a German girl named Lena and a British guy named Andy. Lena just graduated from high school and wanted to spend a year traveling before she went to University to study journalism. Andy moved to Australia two years ago like we were doing and now lives in New Zealand with no real plans of returning home anytime soon. The four of us decided to try to “get lost” by hoping on a three and a half hour greyhound bus from Nadi to Suva. After about two hours we asked to get off and followed the only road to what became another backpacker’s hostel. This one was more secluded and a little nicer. We decided to spend the day there and enjoy the area.

Ending Up Here
Another Day we took a boat cruise to one of the outer islands. Apparently Fiji is some 300+ islands and many of them are uninhabited. The Cruise was a great idea. It took us snorkeling and we got to see the clear blue waters and white sand beaches that you see in pictures and postcards. Take note, if you are planning to go to Fiji someday, make sure you go to some of the outer islands as they are true paradise.

Andy and Lena
The nights at the hostel were mostly just having drinks and talking with other travelers. It seems that spending a least a year traveling is common in other parts of the world, especially for those from Germany and Britain. Most of the travelers were intrigued to hear that Patrick and I were from the US. They say they do not meet many people from the states on their travels. I guess it is because most of us are paranoid back home and do not travel. Honestly I cannot think of one parent who would let their 18-21 year old girl travel around their world by herself for a year. Yet we have met several young men and women doing just that in our travels so far. Still, everyone was friendly and accepting. From those leaving Australia after a year, to the British guys who were taking a year to make seven stops around the world. It was great to hear about them and their travels. It made me feel like I was now part of a tribe of people who enjoyed experiencing new things and cultures. It was positive reassurance that this trip was a good idea.

One of the nights Patrick and I joined the Kavaholics. Kava is some kind of root that they boil and strain water through like tea and then you drink it. It looks like muddy water and does not taste much better. Apparently if you drink large quantities you experience some kind of high, but all it did was make my tongue numb. Still, the locals said you do not truly experience Fiji unless you try it. So we did.

And just when we were getting comfortable with Fiji it was time to leave. We enjoyed our time there but it was time to move on to the real journey which begins in Sydney.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I was sitting at work one day when I came to the realization that I was at a crossroads in my life. Stay in my “good” job and actually start trying to apply myself so I can move up the corporate ladder or quit and find new work that I was actually passionate about. After thinking about it for a bit I knew that my time had come. I could not keep doing something that I had no passion for. I know a lot of people work in jobs they hate for various reasons. Pay, obligations, convenience, but I had none of these reasons. Plus the idea of advancement had very little appeal to me. Sure making more money would be nice, but I didn’t want to kiss ass and play the corporate game. Plus I decided that if I did advance, I would eventually kill myself. And so it happened. I went to my boss’s desk, sat down and said, “I’m done, it is time for me to move on.” The second I said it, I knew it was what I truly wanted. A great sense of relief soon came over me. I was free to do what I wanted to do. But rather then look for new work, I decided to make good on a question that I had been asking myself every few mornings for the last five years, “Is today the day I move to Australia?”

The proper way to quit your job
About a year ago my friend Patrick and I had been talking in jest about moving to Australia. We were never too serious about it back then. It seemed like just a pipedream. I mean how many people do you know who actually drop everything and move to another continent?  We were all talk and no action. We knew it, but we also knew that given a real chance, we might just actually try it. That seed of chance was planted when two other friends of ours became adamant that they were going to quit their jobs and move to Australia…Patrick who was like me in his work situation seemed intrigued at the idea of adventure and I saw this as an opportunity to finally make good on my morning question. Plus, it is always easier to have a drastic life event when you experience it with some friends. The four of us got together to have a little planning session. It was nothing too serious, but rather a meeting with the simple goal of setting a destination. After all, if we know where we are planning to go then we can actually plan to get there. And so after about two hours of doing some quick research about the various cities of Australia, we four came to an agreeable conclusion...Melbourne.

And so we each left and started to prepare in our own ways. But as it always seems to happen, life gets in the way and our two friends backed out for various reasons. And so once again Patrick and I were in bars talking about making the move, only this time it was less of a pipedream because we had a real goal in mind. We actually started to plan and the trip has become a reality…Truth be told, Patrick did most of the research and for that I will be forever grateful. But we are on our way, and this blog is going to tell of our adventures…hopefully.