Surf Camp: Where all my walking did not prepare my feet muscles!

It’s funny to be writing this right now – I’m on my second stop in Yamba (the real Surfer’s Paradise) to work on the skills I picked up at Surf Camp. I suspect that I’m not a natural, although I prefer to just blame the waves. I don’t understand! Every time I try surfing the waves are too big, too small or too dumpy! The ocean conspires against me I say!

Anyway, if you’ve landed here looking for a review of Surf Camp Australia, I’ll get that out of the way first.

The Too Long, Won’t Read Surf Camp Review

Surf Camp is at Seven Mile Beach in Gerroa, about 2 hours south of Sydney. For a really reasonable price you get 4 hours of surfing a day (except the first and last day where you only get 2, but, really, that’s enough), surf lessons, food, accomadation and transport to and from Camp. (And I think, if you purchase the 7 or 10 day experience, you also get transported to Byron Bay and Yamba.)

Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach is fantastic for learning since it’s deserted (or at least it was in the winter while I was at camp!) and the waves are perfect for beginners. The lessons consist of a little bit of theory and practice on the ground, then you’re free to go play in the waves. The instructors change all the time, so it’s hard to know what they’ll be like when you go, but when I was there, they mostly let us do our own thing but would help if asked.

The campground has a giant bouncy pillow!

The campground has a giant bouncy pillow!

I liked the food and accommodation. For the price, you’re obviously not staying at the Ritz, but the surf cabins are cozy and everyone fights over the comfy hammocks. The food is typical Aussie barbie-style. I don’t remember exactly what we ate but I enjoyed it and never went hungry.

If you haven’t discovered Australia’s awful internet situation yet, know that internet in Australia is expensive and unreliable. Surf Camp is no exception. I think Wi-Fi was about 7$ for 24 hours. The connection was pretty decent, though, possibly because no one other than me used it.

Choosing between the 3, 5, 7 and 10 experience is a head scratcher. I found that at the end of the 5 day camp, I was pretty tired of surfing but loved that I had lots of time to bond with my cabinmates. 3 days is probably enough to get a good introduction to surfing but not long enough for the camp part of Surf Camp. The 7 and 10 day packages bring you to other great surf spots and, though I was tired of surfing, I kind of felt like I missed out by not going.

My recommendation: If you just want a quick intro, go for 3 days. If you want a real surf camp experiences but are short on time, go for 5 days. If time isn’t a problem, pick the 10 day experience.

That concludes my review, feel free to wander off. If, however, for an unfathomable reason, you take interest in my personal adventures, you’ll find the recap here.

The Departure

It was my second morning on the Other Side of the World. I slept longer than the night before, until 3 am insteal of 2 am. It shorted my wait for a reasonable time to go food and wi-fi hunting at Central Station.

The bus was to pick me up at 9 am, so about 30 min before, I made my way across the street to the pick up point. I thought I’d be the first one, but there was already a huge line up.

I immediately hated everyone there. I felt too old, too tall, too underdressed to blend in with all the 5ft nothing, 20 year old, German speaking, make-up wearing, short short sporting backpacker crowd. I mean, it’s freaking winter. I was cold in jeans and a jacket. How do they even stay alive in short shorts?

The urge to run away was taking a hold on me. What was I even doing here? How am I going to survive 5 days with these people? What a stupid idea, I told myself, to give up all my comforts, fly all the way to Australia, spend all my money. What was I going to get from this? An extended torture session with some small bragging rights when I get home?

Then I realized what I was doing. This always happens when I go somewhere new. A little believed secret about me is that I suck at travelling. I live for it, but it also turns me into a pouty teenager. I reminded myself that it’ll get better, I just have to power through for now.

By then I was at the front of the line.

Within a matter of seconds, I was identified, tagged and asked to “stand over there with the train group“. I wasn’t sure what that meant, there was a bus with a “surf camp” sign right there and the brochure specifically said it was a coach, not train transfer, but there were others in the “train group” so I figured I’d wait and see what happens.

After what seemed like a forever of me wishing I spoke German, a guide showed up and walked the group toward Central Station. I had to say, I did feel a little bit of happiness when everyone swung their packs over their shoulders and marched along without complaining. There’s no room for princesses in the backpacking world.

I guess we were an extra large group so the bus didn’t have enough room for everyone. The first people to show up were to get to camp by train. I was okay with that. I like trains, as long as I know where I’m going.

Two hours later, a van and a truck met us at the Gerroa train stop. We tossed our bags into the back of the truck (“What if our stuff falls out of the truck?” someone asked. “That’s why we follow it!” they answered.)

Canada 2 and Australia 1 065

We piled into the common area (in front the right cabin on the picture) for our welcome briefing, then for the cabin sorting.

I’m not the most outgoing person in the world (understatement) and I was one of the few people travelling without a posse, so when they told us to form groups of 7, I was obviously the one out. I looked for a group of six and fidgeted a little when I realized the only one was a group of six boys. Fortunately, the head instructor, Shayne, noticed and promised me he wouldn’t let me be stuck alone with all the guys. He directed me to a group of 7 and told us we could have the “special 8 person cabin“. It looked like the “couples” group (I hate couples) but I figured it was better than rooming with six strange guys.

On our way to our cabin (the picture above was taken from our cabin), one of the girls asked if I was travelling alone. I nodded. Turns out she was also a solo traveler, a nurse from Ireland. It’s almost embarrassing how relieved I was to find out I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know anybody!

My cabinmates ended up being totally awesome. A pair that I had mistaken for a couple were actually a brother and sister team from Germany. She was studying in Sydney so, unlike most German backpackers, she was confident in her English. Her brother was a lot shyer so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him much. One pair was a couple from the UK, but as much as I hate couples, I had to admit they were pretty cool. I had lots of laughs with them and I hope our paths cross again. The other pair were two girls from Germany. They were friendly, but not too confident in their English so they mostly kept to themselves and to the other Germans.

Surfing at Surf Camp

The first challenge of Surf Camp is not surfing. At least, not the first challenge of Surf Camp on the second week of September.

The first challenge is getting your wetsuit on. Your cold, wet, tight wetsuit.

Let me detail this. You’re already cold after a chilly Australian winter night. Then you remove your sweater and jacket, your shirt and your jeans, until you’re standing there shivering in your bikini. Then you pull a cold, damp wetsuit over the goosebumps on your arms and legs.

It gets better as soon as you’re in the water but the morning ritual did draw a lot of complaints.

After you win the wetsuit dressing battle, you walk with your board down this pretty path to get to the beach.

After you win the wetsuit dressing battle, you walk with your board down this pretty path to get to the beach.

After our walk to the beach and our theory session, we ran into the water to warm up and give our massive foamboards a go.

Now, I’d taken a lesson before, but I’m not sure how much quick lesson in Tofino, a few years ago, counts toward “surfing experience”. In the end, I was at the same level as everyone else, except for that I could catch waves. I could catch them, but not do anything with them.

It’s shameful to say, but I don’t even remember when I stood up for the first time. I don’t think it was the first session. Maybe the second. Anyway, I wasn’t the first to stand up, but I wasn’t overly slow either.

I nose dove a lot. I mean, a lot. To where I still refuse to lie properly on my board out of fear of sliding off the front. I was told it was the waves, they were too droppy, but I found it odd that I was the only person struggling with nose dives. Maybe my boobs are just too heavy.

Then, once, out of nowhere, I stood up on my board.

After that, provided I caught a wave properly and was positioned right on my board, I could almost always stand up.

I’d stand up, ride the wave onto the shore, jump off and get back out.

Surfing is hard on the foot muscles

I think it was as early as Tuesday morning (Surf Camp started on Monday) when the top my foot started to hurt. I ignored it.

Soon, I was limping and getting teary trying to push against the waves as I walked out into the water. By Tuesday (or was it Wednesday? I’m not sure anymore) afternoon, I broke down, hobbled my board back up on the beach and sat down. To my surprise, one of the instructors came running to see if I was ok.

Between sobs, I explained. Honestly, I was more frustrated than in pain. I hate not being able to keep up and it pisses me off to no end when my body doesn’t obey me. (I suppose I’ve been spoiled by being born with a pretty tough body. I’m not used to it refusing to do something, so on the rare occasion that it happens, i throw a temper tantrum.)

The instructor gave me a hug and told me how touched he was by my commitment to surfing. That made me think. I’m a pretty perserverant person. I’m very slow with everything I do and I have the attention span of a three year old, so I’m used to compensating by just hacking away at things, long after everyone else has quit. It only made sense to me to keep practicing until I really couldn’t take it anymore. But now that he mentionned it, I did want to learn to surf. I probably wanted to learn to surf more because my body wasn’t cooperating.

In turn, I was touched by how much my instructor loved his sport and how happy he was to see someone determined to learn it.

My foot didn’t get better. I was usually ok out of the water. Going barefoot or in sandals hurt but if I put on my hiking boots, I had enough support to walk pretty much pain free. But in the water, walking out into the waves and jumping off my surfboard were just too much. I spend the remaining lessons mainly practicing my paddling and wave catching and quitting early when it hurt too much.

The only lesson I skipped was Thursday afternoon. I was, and am still, ashamed, but I was hoping that a few hours rest would have me in top shape for the last lesson on Friday morning.

Sadly, it didn’t, but given that it was my last chance, I gave it everything I got. After all, who cares now if I made my foot worse?

I’ve talked to a few people about my foot injury since then and they all agreed. It was probably a strain, and foot strains are apparently the most common surfing injury. It most likely happened when I was jumping off my board into the sand. While I wasn’t the only one at camp with that injury – one of the German girls in my cabin did the same thing to her foot, only she did it Monday and needed crutches – it surprised me because I’m a hiker. I’m supposed to have strong, powerful feet! Not silly strain-vulnerable ones!

It took a bit over a week for my foot to heal completely, although I suspected my recovery was seriously slowed by the obscene amount of walking I pushed myself to do in Melbourne and the Blue Mountains over seven days after Surf Camp.

Wrapping it up

After 5 days of triumphs and failures, of commiserating about cold wetsuits, of sneaking across the campground to find the secret showers (most of the girls gave up after the first few lessons, but until then, the women’s shower lineups were always super long after coming back from the beach), of huddling together as we drank teas on those chilly evening, it was time to say goodbye.

Sunset on the walk back from the beach on our last evening.

Sunset on the walk back from the beach on our last evening.

I’d grown quite attached to my cabinmates that week. I was catching the overnight train to Melbourne shortly after camp so I sadly had to miss the last party. I was so overlwhelmed that i forgot my daypack with the group (the daypack that had my wallet, my phone, my passport). When I realized it, I turned and ran back, almost crashing head-on with my awesome cabinmates who were looking for me to bring me my bag.

Careful now, they warned me, we won’t be here next time to help!

And with one last hug, it was over and I was off to the next city.

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Sydney or The First 24/36/48 Hours

It took investing in a private room for a night for me to sit down and write another post. As I write these lines, I’m in Noosa, Queensland, an upper class touristy town a few hours north of Brisbane. I got here this morning and while I did some exploring as I waited for my room to be ready (I needed a post office and a grocery store anyway), I choose to savour my few hours of solitude to their full extend. The end result is a recap of my first night and day on the Other Side.

I’ve been working on the next post, but as usual, who knows when I’ll find some quiet time again!

* * *

Welcome to the Other Side of the World!

For visual types; Sydney is on the East (right) coast of Australia, between center and South.

For visual types; Sydney is on the East (right) coast of Australia, between center and South.

It had been quite the journey to reach Sydney, but I eventually emerged from customs a little disoriented and very eager for an authentic Australian experience.

How kind of them to put a McDonalds in the international arrivals to lessen cultural shock for us North Americans.

How kind of them to put a McDonalds in the international arrivals to lessen cultural shock for us North Americans.

I didn’t have to look very far, actually. The 17$ price tag on the train into town was a quick introduction. I knew Australia was expensive, but I didn’t occur to me until then just how much.

It seems that at least we’re getting something in return for the payment though. In North America, public transit is usually cheap but dirty, confusing and frustrating. Oh, and the employees tend to range from indifferent to total assholes. In Australia, trains and busses are usually clean, efficient and easy to navigate, staffed with people who range from friendly to super super nice. In return, they only expect you to hand over your lifesavings.

I made it to the hostel easily, thanks to the signs every few steps. I love this about Australia. You’d have to walk around with your eyes closed (or not know how to read, but even then, many signs are assisted by pictograms) to get lost. They say that the US is idiot-proof, but Australia takes idiot proofing to whole new levels.

I was staying at the YHA Railway Square Hostel which is right in Central Station so after the 10 minute train ride, I didn’t even have to leave to find my bed.

The Obligatory First Night Tale

It was as you’d expect. I don’t think it was even jet lag. With jet leg, your body’s just stuck on your home time. After nearly 60 hours of travelling, my body didn’t have a home time to be stuck on. I had no idea what time it. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and when I woke up refreshed, I was ready to start my day!

Except for that all my roomates were sound asleep. I peaked out the window to get an idea of the time, but since my room was adjaced to platform 7, all I could see were artificial lighting a few people waiting for their ride.

It wasn’t until I made my way through the empty hallways (man, people are sure sleeping in!) to the clocks-in-all-timezones wall in reception that I found out the time: 2 am. Dammit. It’s gonna to be a long one.

I explored the hostel, read a bunch of brochures, skimmed through my book and attempted some phone games (YHAs never have free internet, but if I stuck my arm out the window, I could get some of platform 7s reception). I must have dosed off a little bit too. Eventually, the clock moved forward to an appropriate getting up time and I left the hostel in search of food.

Sydney: Exotic Mystery City

By the time I got outside, I was pretty hungry so I went to where I knew I’d find food along with free wi-fi: back to Central Station.

On my way there, I had my first Australian wildlife encounter! A large bird with the strangest beak I’d ever seen. It was all long, skinny and curved. I gaped at the creature, wondering in awe how people could just walk by and not notice it. Not wanting to act like a silly tourist on my first day, I didn’t grab my camera, but I did take a photo of one later on as we fought over my lunch.

Presenting the ibis. They prefer to be in the shade (just like pretty much every other non-tree living being in Australia) so it's tough to get a good photo of them using your phone.

Presenting the ibis. They prefer to be in the shade (just like pretty much every other non-tree living being in Australia) so it’s tough to get a good photo of them using your phone.

From Central Station, I ate a bit, I called Ed to tell him of my adventures thus far, then I wandered out to explore the lovely streets of Sydney.

I didn’t have much time here so I had to be efficient:

THE HARBOUR AND THE OPERAHOUSE!!!!

THE HARBOUR AND THE OPERAHOUSE!!!!

While my cloudy picture of the harbour doesn’t make it look special, I can see why people flock here from all over the world. As far as harbours go, Sydney’s is really, really nice. The view is nice, the shops are nice, the overpriced restaurants are nice and the seagulls stealing people’s lunches are most entertaining. (Or rather, the surprised victims of hungry seagulls are most entertaining. Kinda felt bad for them a little bit though. The stolen hot dogs were probably worth 20$.)

Same harbour, different angle.

Same harbour, different angle.

I stopped for lunch at one of the many harbour restaurants called The Opera House Cafe. Had some overpriced but quite delicious oysters (20$ for 6) and some equally overpriced but delicious fries (10$).

I made it up to the opera house itself just to say I was there. Didn’t go to a show but I might consider it if I go through Sydney again. I’ll have to work very hard when I come home to pay for it, but how often would I get to go to the opera at THE opera house?

Murphy's law of travel: you will always visit famous monuments during their maintenance.

Murphy’s law of travel: you will always visit famous monuments during their maintenance.

After getting a few shots, I continued on to the one thing I usually visit if I only have one day and a tiny budget: the botanic gardens.

Canada 2 and Australia 1 061

Sydney’s gardens gave me the same impression as Sydney itself: majestic, impeccable, exotic and still. Perhaps I just didn’t spend enough time in the city, or I visited on a bad day, but it felt like the few people I came across were tourists like me. I’ll get into it deeper in another post, but later on I would notice a huge contrast with Melbourne’s botanic gardens that were less of a picturesque tourist attraction and more of a lively picnic spot for local families.

Wrapping Up Day 1

I explored the gardens until my feet bled (the succulent garden, in particular had my interest. I love looking at cacti!) and the sun began to set. Too cheap to use public transit, I limped down the main street toward my hostel. I stopped for the worst ramen ever. (I forgot the name of the place, but if you come across an empty chain ramen shop downtown, don’t eat there. Go to the busy ramen place a block down the road. I didn’t eat at that one, but it has to be better. The empty place served one giant noodle – the noodles had all stuck together – and burned my broth.)

The next day was the start of surf camp! Not wanting to oversleep and miss the bus, I crawled into bed and passed out the second I got home. Who cares if it’s 6pm.

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The Great Flight from Sydney to Sydney

After 6 weeks of happily living and working on a farm, I realized I had some hostel vouchers I need to use up so I’m on the road for a few weeks to discover the coast.

But let me pick up where I left off last – the long, dirty, painful flight from Sydney, Canada to Sydney, Australia.

Flight1

Sydney to Toronto

The day started early at 2:30 am. I hadn’t been sleeping well the past few days (apparently the stresses of last minute pre-trip stuff and of sharing a room with a boyfriend when you’re used to having your own sleeping bubble were getting to me) so I had probably only gotten about an hour’s nap in.

Whatever.

You don’t need to be well rested to sit on a plane for two days.

Since Ed and I were flying out the same day, me to Australia and him to New Jersey, we had arranged to be the same flight to Toronto. The same ungodly 5 am flight to Toronto.

So up at 2:30. Last minute baggage rearrangements. Force down a breakfast (doesn’t it feel like we just had supper?). Pile into the car. Panic that we’re running late. Go over packing list in head. Check for passport, phone, wallet. All ok. Check for credit card, bank card, hostel card. Shit. Forgot hostel card. We’re about 15 minutes away from home. No time to turn back.

Where is your hostel card? Maybe I can mail it to you?” My mom offers.

I try to remember the last place I put it. I thought it was in my wallet. Guess not. Ed reminds me I took a picture of it so I’d have the number. I leaf through the card pictures I took. It’s not among them. Dammit. Ed insists that he remembers me taking the picture. I scroll through my emails to the scanned documents I send to myself. Ah! There it is, on the last page, after my passport. Which explains why I can’t find the card. Like all last pages of scanned documents, it’s still sitting in the scanner. Looks like I’ll be using that scanned image from now on.

We get to the airport much earlier than expected. I guess even in places where there is no traffic, it’s still faster to drive at night. And, unlike its Australia namesake, Sydney, NS airport is very small. Only two gates. After goodbyes to my parents, we went throught the security queue and squeezed into the tiny waiting room. I tried to fill up our water bottles, but no drinking fountains and the facets seemed specifically designed to not fit a bottle under them. I refuse to pay 3$ for water so going thirsty it is.

When boarding time came along, Ed nudged me onto the plane, where I promptly sat down and passed out.

When I opened my eyes, we were sitting on a runway, not moving. Did I miss take off and landing? Are we in Toronto?

Ed shook his head. “There’s something wrong with the fuel tanks, they can’t get fuel in.

So much for sleeping through my first flight, but for once I’m glad that both of us have really long layovers at Pearsons. We could sit on the runway all morning and still make our connections. I go back to sleep.

From then on, the flight was uneventful. Despite our delays, we were barely an hour late into Toronto. We roamed the airport looking for food we could agree on. Ed hates breakfast food while I could dine on bacon and eggs all day. We found some place that looked like it could serve both our needs and sat down. Unfortunatly for Ed, though, they refused to feed him lunch yet, he was forced to trade his meaty sandwich for an eggy one. At least the food was pretty good. I got eggs and steak and was quite impressed with the quality of the steak.

Ed’s layover ended before mine, plus he had to go through customs, so after eating, we walked to the airport border and I watched him go through the door towards the customs agents. I gave myself a few seconds and wandered back to my terminal.

All By Myself – Toronto to Vancouver

Not sure why, but the 9 hours I had left to wait went by fast. I don’t remember what I did, probably a combination of reading, playing phone games and staring at the wall, but before I knew it, I was getting on the plane.

Despite the airline completely ignoring my seat selections when I had booked the ticket (why did they even ask me to choose a seat when I booked if they totally ignored it?), I was still sitting somewhere decent and the flight to Vancouver was pretty smooth.

Vancouver was to be a quick stop to trade passengers, but they asked us to get off the plane with all our belongings anyway, to “clean” the plane. Oh well. Would be nice to stretch my legs. Plus Vancouver airport is pretty interesting.

Reboarding, however, didn’t happen when it was supposed to. Accustomed to delays, I didn’t look up from my book. I had no one waiting for me on the other end and my 9 am predicted arrival time gave me lots of time to make it to my hostel before night!

Finally, after about a 20 minute delay, the airline agent picked up the mic.

“Thank you for your patience. On the way to Vancouver, there was an incident.”

The waiting room went dead quiet. Except for one girl on the phone who clearely didn’t catch the word “incident”. She looked startled when everyone turned to stare at her.

“We hit a bird.”

There was a communal sigh of relief and the agent let us know that we’d be kept updated on our flight status.

In the end, though, it was decided that they couldn’t confirm the safety of the plane until morning and that we’d all be sent to hotels. It was getting pretty late at night and I’d been travelling for well over 24 hours already so the prospect of a free shower and a few hours in a cosy bed didn’t bother me as much as it bothered the other passengers.

The process was surprisingly smooth. The airline gave priority to families, which is fair considering travel and delays are a million times harder on kids and parents than on the rest of us. Eventually, after a few other queues, I queued up for the shuttle to the Delta.

Now, while reception at the hotel was totally ready for us, the shuttle didn’t change its schedule to accommodate 200 sudden patrons. Being a backpacker, I got kinda lucky. I’m so used to carrying my luggage that it didn’t even occur to me to queue up to stow it. I just walked up to my seat and crammed all my belongings into my lap. Those queueing to give their luggage to the driver had to wait up to 2 hours to get on their hotel shuttle.
Just in case you were wondering, it was pretty glorious to have a hotel shower and have a big soft bed ALL TO MYSELF. I made sure I took up as much room as possible.

It was a short night and by 8 am, along with the rest of the “bird plane” as we had been named by the airport staff, I was standing at the gate with a family and an airline agent.

“We were wondering if you would mind changing seats. See, this family with small kids is split up. If you would agree to move to this seat here, they could sit together and you would be next to an empty seat.”

We’re all going to the same place and I definitely feel for parents travelling with small kids, so I shrugged and told them no problem. The family must have been pretty stressed about the situation because they were the most grateful people I’ve seen in a long time.

Vancouver to Sydney

My new seat ended up being pretty amazing. I was moved from a window seat (nice views once in awhile but having to climb over two people every time I want to pee) to an aisle seat in the middle sections with an empty seat next to me (so no views but total bathroom freedom and no one next to me bugging me when they have to go). The woman two seats over was quite awesome as well – a former world traveller from Newfoundland who was moving to Australia with her Australian husband and their two young children. We shared long distance dating stories, comiserated about Newfoundland weather and compared travel logs. I expressed my admiration of her bringing two young kids litterly around the world from St. John’s to Australia, with all their worldly belongings. I had enough trouble going by myself with a backpack. I can’t imagine the strength this woman had to manage it with her entire family as a permanant move. She didn’t even look tired. Her kids, as well, were probably the most well behaved kids in the history of flying. I want to know her secret.

Finally, FINALLY, we touched down in Sydney, Australia.

Flight2

The flight crew distributed immigration cards. My heart sank a bit as I read them.

Are you carrying medications, firearms or explosives? Not sure why they’re all in the same question, but yes, no, no.

Are you carrying any items that have been used in freshwater? Sandals from the New Jersey canoeing trip. Shit.

Have you been to a farm or a national park within the last 30 days? Dammit dammit!

There’s no way they’re going to let me in their country!

I though about doing this trip in reverse and panicked a little.

Immigration, however, proved to be totally different than Canada-US immigration. When travelling between Canada and the US, they question you a bit as they stare at your squirming, deciding whether your squirming is suspicious or not. In Australia, they used an invisible stamp on my passport and wordlessly waved me along. I swear the guy didn’t even look at me.

The next stop was a lady who asked me if I was carrying medications. I said yes. She asked me if they were for myself. I said yes. She let me proceed to quarantine. (Wait! I thought, aren’t you going to ask me about firearms and explosives?)

At quarantine, they asked me about my freshwater use and farm experiences. She seemed uninterested and waved me along. I have heard of people having to get sprayed at quarantine, but I suppose it depends what country you’re arriving from. Apparently, no one cares if you pet a sheep in Canada.

At last, exhausted and loaded up with bags, I stumbled out of customs into arrivals, completing the journey from Sydney to Sydney. I tweeted and Facebooked a quick picture, then went to search for the train into town.

They put a McDonalds at International Arrivals so us North Americans don't have too much of a culture shock.

They put a McDonalds at International Arrivals so us North Americans don’t have too much of a culture shock.

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The End of the Epic Drive: The Maritimes

At the New Brunswick/Nova Scotia border. Note the Acadian flag in the background.

At the New Brunswick/Nova Scotia border. Note the Acadian flag in the background.

After almost a full month on the road, I was finally at the last leg of the drive, the Maritimes.

maritimes

First stop was my aunt’s place in Miramichi, New Brunswick (1 on the map) and the second was my parents place outside of Sydney, Nova Scotia.

My aunt lives in the house my grandparents build when my dad and his siblings were young (I like to lightheartedly refer to it as the “family homestead“.) I hadn’t been there since I was a teenager, but I love going when I was a kid. The house in deep in the Miramichi region, on a large piece of land out in the country. I have so many memories of running through the field, climbing trees and jumping off the wharf… I hope my aunt lives there a long time so that I can bring my kids, once I have kids.

As usual, our schedule was kinda tight so we only spent a night. I didn’t get a chance to show Ed my favorite neighboorhood attractions: Gordon’s Warf (apparently renovated from the ruined warf I used to jump from as a kid) and McDonald Farm. I did, however, make a point of visiting my grandparents before we left in the morning. The graveyard by the little church they used to attend is just across the street. It’s really not the same as meeting their physical bodies, but regardless, i was happy to introduce Ed to them.

We made it to Cape Breton in pretty good time. Even with my GPS getting all weird and sending us across a cute and short but stupidly overpriced and necessary ferry. (I suspect the ferry pays Garmin to have their GPSs send visitors.)

I hoped that a couple of days at my parents’ would have been sufficient, but it was still pretty rushed. My parents are very supportive of my adventures in a “we’ll be there for you but we’ll let you make all your own mistakes“, which is fantastic for my independence but perhaps not the most time efficient way of doing things.

After about 6 trips into town (my parents live almost an hour out of town so each trip is an en-devour) over 4 days due to my forgetting yet another piece of paperwork, we had my car tuned up and transferred over to my dad for safekeeping, and my banking arrangements made (other than the parts where the bank screwed up and I had to chase after them to fix. I love my bank but their Sydney branch makes me want to scream. My parents tell it’s the Cape Breton way – everything is sloooow and stress-freeeeeee. Except for that kind of pace just makes me more stressed out.)

In there, we did find the time to squeeze in a trip to Louisbourg (and I congratulated myself on bringing my family national park pass – that trip alone was worth almost as much as the whole annual pass) where I befriended a sheep, ate 17th century style bread and learned how to spin wool. I tried to teach Ed about French Canadian history, but I think by then he was a little tired of my constant lectures.

This sheep likes to be scratched behind the ears.

This sheep likes to be scratched behind the ears.

We also stopped by a McDonalds so I could show Ed that the McLobster is a regular thing in Nova Scotia.

The McLobster!

The McLobster!

We did a little scenic road trip too (my parents love scenic roadtrips – something I kind of inherited, I think), stopping at a canal. My dad caught a fish on the second cast so we figured the fish were hungry that day and gave fishing a try. Even though I’d fished a lot as a kid, I still struggled to get my line without accidentally assaulting my neighbours. Ed, on the other hand, picked up a rod for the fist time and fished as if he’d been doing it all his life. He’s such a natural at the most unexpected things. The fish my dad caught was a fluke, though (or perhaps it was the last fish in the canal), and no one there caught anything else that day.

First (and only) catch of the day.

First (and only) catch of the day.

Then, before I knew it, it was time to packup and head over to the airport for the very action packed flight “From Sydney, to Sydney“.

Cher, my parent's ninja cat, says hi.

Cher, my parents’ ninja cat, says hi.

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The Epic Drive: Quebec City

Whew! After some unplanned oopsies that threw me into the thick of things for about a week, I finally sat down long enough to edit and post the Quebec City portion of the Epic Drive.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about living on a farm, it’s that you never know what will happen next. Thankfully, I got a nice, relaxing weekend off. A heat wave settled in on top of our drought and anything more exerting than eating ice cream on the couch takes a lot of effort, so the weekend off is doubly appreciated. I did a bit of writing in hopes to catch up to today…I’m really excited to post about my adventures in Australia, but, before that, I really do want to relive and share my visit back home. It’s a long post, especially considering we were only there for two days, but I guess that if you move fast, you can pack a lot of adventure in two days.

I also found the pictures Ed took, which is why this post is suddenly filled with pictures of me. I apologize if my unruly hair and lack of posing skills break any computer screens.

Homecoming

Highway 40! (Yes, I know 20 is faster but I wanted to take the 40, dammit!)

Highway 40! (Yes, I know 20 is faster but I wanted to take the 40, dammit!)

Quebec city is home. Always has been, always will be. I mean, my Rocky Mountains are home too, but Quebec city is slightly more home than the Rockies. Not sure I’d want to live in Quebec anymore (political drama, much?), but it’s still as home as home gets.

I hadn’t been back since moving out West three years ago. In that time, my parents sold the house I grew up in, most of my friends moved away and my baby brother bought a house in the distant suburbs.

So Ed and I showed up at Andy’s house with my car full of luggage and unloaded into his spare bedroom for a few nights.

I should probably mention here that I hadn’t seen Andy since I don’t know when. It may have even been before I went out West. And I think I had only talked to him once, at Christmas or something. Every family has something they’re terribad at and mine is keeping in touch. Still, siblings are siblings: the kids you once took your baths with, the kids you picked up and threw out of your room when they messed with your Barbies, the kids you banded with when your parents lost their tempers, the kids you fought over the TV remote control with. When I was little, I’d see my dad visit his siblings and his siblings visit him (my mom never visited siblings because she was an only child) and I couldn’t wait for my brothers and I to be adults with our own separate lives so that we could visit each other.

Andy and Ed got on well (which wasn’t a surprise, really, Andy is super charismatic and Ed gets along with almost everyone) and I got to enjoy my childhood wish of being an adult who visits their adult sibling. Andy and I have always been on the same rhythm too (our middle brother, Chris, functions on a different beat… I’m not sure how to explain it other than with musical terms), so it’s almost eerie how easy it is for us to reconnect after a long time. Even though we haven’t spoken in years and live on separate sides of the continent, we still use a lot of same words and tend to say the same things.

Sight Seeing

La Chute Kabir Kouba, in my brother's neighbourhood. (Random fact, a good CEGEP friend of mine sat on the Chute Kabir Kouba park's board of directors for years. That friend is now also in Australia, but nowhere near me.)

La Chute Kabir Kouba, in my brother’s neighbourhood. (Random fact, a good CEGEP friend of mine sat on the Chute Kabir Kouba park’s board of directors for years. That friend is now also in Australia, but nowhere near me.)

Poor Ed got dragged all around town, to my old neighboorhood, my old ski center, my old lake beach, my old scout meeting place and all my favorite nooks and crannies downtown. I’m not sure what he thought of the whole thing. I don’t think I left him much room for opinions! I feel like he didn’t quite get the fiery passionate love I have for my hometown (he was probably too overloaded with all the stories and info I threw at him), but he did notice a lot of the city’s characteristic traits and ongoing soul-searching.

While we were downtown, we walked by the parliament which had this growing on front of it:

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I thought it was a brilliant idea: it’s a public vegetable garden. While most of the garden is used to grow food for a charity organisation that provides to needy families, a few rows are for visitors to help themselves. It’s super nice – instead of wasting ressources on a pretty but otherwise useless flower garden, they’ve planted something lovely AND practical. (Note that the practice is not new, I can’t remember where the original public vegetable garden – but it started somewhere in Europe I think. I’m just really glad that the idea was trasmitted to the parliament grounds. Hopefully more public gardens will follow suit.)

Ed and I each ate a tomato. They were delicious.

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We also stopped to relax at the Artillery Park, which was one of my favorite museums as a kid (I used to be a huge local history nerd and just loved these interactive sites.) Even if you don’t want to see the exhibits, there are a lot of spots in the park to sit and relax. Plus the view is pretty nice, as seen above.

In terms of food, we had brunch at Chez Temporel, a tiny cafe on a side street of the historical part of town. Its semi-hidden location gives it a local secret feel, though Trip Adviser makes sure that travellers who do their homework are rewarded with yummy soups and sandwiches.

Another restaurant we went to was Le Gros Hector, which claims to have invented local delicacy pain à viande (basically seasonned ground beef in a hot dog bun) upon my brother’s suggestion. It was a good idea. Despite rollerblading by it all the time in the summer (it’s right by the multipurpose trail that I was a regular on), I had never been there and it is somewhat of a local landmark. Over the years, it kept it’s authentic old school Quebec casse-croute vibe too – a vibe I can’t really describe with words out of fear of “getting it wrong”, but that I was happy to show to Ed (accompanied by stories of epic casse-croutes in random trailers along remote highways).

While in the city, we stopped for drinks at two places. The first, Le Sacrilege has lovely courtyard, perfect for cold beers on hot, sunny days. It’s been a favorite of mine since before I was old enough to really know what bars were. When strolling down St Jean with my mom, I’d see the long, narrow courtyard entrance and imagine all sorts of stories of magic and mystery. Now that I stop by once in awhile for a drink, it’s less mysterious, but it still has a ancient magic feel.

Stop to check a message and someone takes your picture.

Stop to check a message and someone takes your picture.

The second place was l’Atelier, another recommendation from my brother.

Look at us, taking an artsy picture!

Look at us, taking an artsy picture!

L’Atelier is a new (meaning I don’t think it was around the last time I was in town) place on Grande Allee specializing in creative cocktails and tartar. Two of my favorite things! To my deepest sadness, I had no room in my belly for tartar, no matter how delicious (I’ll just have to go back!), but Ed and I did have some fun ordering funky cocktails while soaking up the nice weather on their terrasse.

Tracking down friends

Of my friends who were still based in the city, almost all were travelling abroad. I love that my friends are globe trotters too, but it does make homecoming meetings a challenge to coordinate.

My old childhood friend S, however, confirmed that he was currently in town and that he’d be happy to get together with Ed and I.

S I hadn’t seen in…13? 15? years. This is where Facebook is pretty nice. S was a friend from my scout group – as the troup’s two resident computer game geeks we gelled pretty fast. (As a side note, we also went to the same high school, but I don’t think we ever really crossed paths in the hallways. )Sadly, after I moved away we fell out of touch. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, we started leaving each other likes and comments, so when I thought of friends still living in QC that I might like to visit, S came to mind.

Like most other reunions of old friends, it was like we’d only last seen each other the day before. (Except, perhaps the hour or so we spend getting up to date about our respective life event from the past 15 years.) I don’t think either of us has changed all that much. Plus, much to my relief, his English is fantastic him and Ed could interact without me having to translate everything.

The Road Must Go On

After cramming a week’s worth of activities in 2 days, we said goodbye to my brother and thanked him for his hospitality.

As usual, I left with an endless mental list of things I want to do next time I visit. Becase I think it’ll be less than 3 years before I visit again. I might even visit for a decent amount of time. I’m not sure I ever want to deal with all the drama that comes with living in Quebec capital again, but it’s still home and I feel that the city with feature in one or several upcoming chapters of my life.

Never too old to take a picture sitting on a cannon! (But it is easier to climb on when you're 10.)

Never too old to pose for a picture sitting on a cannon! (But it is easier to climb on when you’re 10.)

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Epic Journey: North America cross country drive, Sherbrooke/Montreal

I had been looking forward to bringing Ed to my home province for so long. I’m a Quebec city girl through and through and I couldn’t wait to show Ed my old stomping ground. As I look through my photo gallery, though, I realize that I was so much in my emotions that I totally forgot to take pictures. We spend almost a week in French Canada and I took a total of two pictures. One with a high school friend I was visiting (not a blog-type picture) and another for the next post.

So first stop was Sherbrooke. First stop should have probably been Montreal, but the map in my head was wrong so I made arrangements for Sherbrooke first, then Montreal. (By the way, the Quebec part of the trip was probably the most work to plan because there was so many people I wanted to see and I had to coordinate my schedule around them. Which is probably easy for all you socials out there, but I can barely send a Facebook message, much less coordinate visits with 5-10 different parties in a matter of 5 days.)

Oh! And I remembered you can do maps with Paint (I’m so spoiled with nice software that I forget Paint can do a lot of things, and is way easier to use too), so here’s a map:

That's sorta the road we took.

That’s sorta the road we took.

Anyway, to get to Sherbrooke from New Jersey I had to take a tunnel through NYC (a 13$ tunnel dammit. Another thing about East Coast driving, avoiding tolls is waaaaay harder than in the Midwest.) There were lots and lots of cars and it moved very slowly and I gave myself a pat on the shoulders for travelling on a weekend and not during weekday rush hour. From that day onward, I have been bragging about the time I “drove in NYC“.

We stayed with my friend MC in Sherbrooke, whom I was really excited to see again. We became friends in CEGEP in Quebec city and fell out of touch for awhile. She contacted me when she was travelling in the Rockies and her and one of her friends stayed a night or two at my appartment. I have a lot of admiration for MC, she’s extremely genuine, intelligent and thoughtful. Her friend is just like her, so we hit it off really well and I was very happy to have supper with both of them in Sherbrooke.

An interesting fact is that I actually lived in Sherbrooke for nearly 3 years. I did my undergrad at the university there. Another interesting fact is that I remember next to nothing about the city.

My friends took Ed and I for a walking tour around town and, with a few exceptions (funny how well I remembered the bus station) it was like the first time I was there. I mean, Sherbrooke HAS changed in the…8? (omg has it really been 8 years?) since I left, it’s always been a lovely place but I feel like it’s really growing and finding its identity now, but still, you’d think I’d remember more of it.

After a night in Sherbrooke, we got up early and set out to meet my high school friend and her young family in Longueuil (south shore of Montreal). I tried to show Ed my old school on the way out, but the roads were wierd (I accidently even ran a red light..oops!), we were running late and I couldn’t find the way into campus. So I pointed it out in the distance and we drove as fast as possible to Montreal.

The meetup with A and her family was sadly pretty short. I suspect I caught them at a bad time, so we just had brunch together and went our separate ways. A was the first out of our circle of friends to get married and have kids (actually, I think she is the only one married since our other friend with a family doesn’t believe in marriage) and I was so thrilled to meet her little one. It’s funny how I feel like none of us have really changed, yet our lives are so different than they were when we went out into the world at 16-17.

After brunch I painfully made my way onto the island (for the geographically challenged, Montreal proper is an island) to meet up with another friend, also named A. Again, I congratulated myself on the choice of day: Sunday is the perfect time to visit Montreal. The parking was both ample and cheap. And to my greatest relief, no one broke into my car (nor vandalized it for no reason, which seems to happen to a lot of people when they visit Montreal).

A2 had just moved into a trendy apartment near the old port so after showing us his cool new dwelling (and his fantastic workplace…I was seriously considering a career change after seeing where he works!), we brought Ed down to see old Montreal. “It’s like a crowded Quebec city” I explained to him, eager to show him the real thing.

And because I was anxious to get to my brother’s place in Quebec city before it got too late, after supper we hopped in the car, I got us onto the 40 (I know the 20 is faster, and my GPS was quite angry with me but I have so many happy childhood memories of the 40 that I was determined to stir up) and off we went. (Hmm, I made that sound so much simpler than it was… After been honked at dozens of times, caught in a handful of intersections, hyperventilating as I barely made it through a bagillion left hand turns, we made it onto the 40 without me dying of a heart attack. I brag about the NYC drive, but the Montreal one was so, oh so so so, much worse.)

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Epic Journey: North America cross country drive, New Jersey

So much about writing regularly about all my adventures, yeah. It’s been awhile.

I don’t know if anyone still remembers my existence, but a promise is a promise (and that does include post cards which I promised many people… they are sitting next to my bed waiting to be written) so here I am, trying to catch up.

I made it to Australia, I got to tour the Sydney and Melbourne regions a bit and I’ve been working on a farm on the Liverpool plains for the past two weeks. It’s everything I dreamed of when I decided on this part of the Epic Journey so you won’t be hearing any complaints from me! (Except maybe on how expensive the internet is, which is a major reason I haven’t been around but that’s a topic for another day.)

But before we were so rudely interrupted by my lack of writing, I was telling about my drive across the continent. I believe I left off while I was staying with Ed in New Jersey. It seems right to pick up from there.

I did originally write part 2 of the Epic North America Drive as one big post, but even by keeping my writing to the depth of “we went to x and it was fun“, it was too long to be worthwhile. So to make this travelling journaling more readable, I’ll feed it to the blog bit by bit.

Oh and I was going to make a nice map of the whole drive to make visual types, like myself, happy, but I realized I don’t have any imaging software on this computer and not enough data to download one. So you’ll just have to look at the one on the previous post and imagine the line being all the same colour. (The map isn’t 100% accurate regarding my itinerary, but it’s close enough.)

The second part of that journey leg was really different from the first. No less hectic – I don’t know how to be not-hectic, but instead of exploring my focus was more about reconnecting with (and showing Ed) places that are significant from me. Because, no matter how much I try to escape it, I was born and raised on the East Coast.

New Jersey

When you’re driving, you know when you cross the invisible border between the Midwest and the East Coast. Your thoughts go from “why is everyone driving so slow?” to “HOW THE HELL CAN EVERYONE DRIVE SO FAST?!?!” Your bladder becomes easier to empty, the gas prices skyrise and you longingly reminisce on having 6 lanes to yourself as you try to squeeze into the one, winding, hilly lane that somehow fits two directions of traffic, several packs of joggers, a lost herd of cattle and a pair of cyclists (plus that guy who finds some way to pass you).

I’ve always kinda wondered how anyone could live in New Jersey. It has the knack of being too crowded and too sprawled at the same time, it has very little local pride, it’s stupidly expensive for no reason, and, besides beaches and Atlantic city, it doesn’t advertise any really memorable feature. Since sampling its driving conditions, I REALLY wonder how anyone can live in New Jersey and be willing to step outside their houses.

But regardless, it’s Ed’s home state and we had plenty to do. (“What are we going to do at your place for almost one whole week?” I asked. Silly me.) We met up with our guild leader for most of a day (which is something I always look forward to when I got to New Jersey. Meeting up with guildies is like my favorite to do and our guild leader is a super cool guy.) We went to dinner with one of Ed’s clients/friends and her brother in New York (Becco’s – a higher end but still super reasonably priced Italian place in…um… a part of NYC that looks a lot like everywhere else in NYC), also a fantastic evening. Thinking back, I should have used the oppertunity to dress up, with it being NYC and all but… I think by the time I reached the East Coast I was so tired of packing and repacking that I was just wearing one of two outfits (nice outfit or comfy outfit) all the time.

Then Ed talked me into canoe-camping.

Generally I’m the outdoorsey one in the relationship. He’s a great sport (and i mean it – a really great sport. I’ve dragged him to do so many crazy, uncomfortable things and he NEVER complains) about eveything. Camping, though, is one of those things I did lots of as a kid/teenager and I feel like I’ve been there, done that about it. But Ed loves camping. And he likes canoing. I don’t play well with others so kayaking is my sport. My canoeing excursions generally end with me turning my paddle into a weapon. But since he always follows me on my adventures, I gave it a go. And it ended up being really fun.

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We floated down the Delaware River Gap, which runs between Pennsylvania and New Jersey (and not Delaware, at least not at that height).

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I can see why a lot of canoe camping journeys use it: it was perfect. (If you’re looking to do the same thing as us, the company we went with was Kittatinny Canoes. They did a good job and, as far as I can tell, they were easy to book/deal with.)

The water is calm, but there’s enough of a current to keep us from having to work hard. I asked for a shortish route, so we did 21 miles and we probably could have finished in one day. (But what’s the fun in that?) The whole river is beautiful (I swear! My pictures just kinda suck.) and there are nice campspots to choose from along the way.

We were lucky with the weather (besides the lack of light not being ideal for photos). It did rain. And thunder and lightning and flash flood warnings and everything, but it did so after we finished supper and got our campsite all ready. So we barely go wet at all. I was nervous about the canoes getting washed away, but clever thinking had us pull them way up on the shore and tipped outside down, so everything was fine the next morning. (Other people we met were not so lucky: one group had to hunt down an escaped canoe at 3 am. If any of my childhood canoe camping in a wet climate adventures taught me anything, its how to keep canoes from fleeing into a swollen river.)

By morning, the rain had almost stopped and by the time we were ready to set off, it had dried up completely. I know. Look up “lucky” in the dictionnary and you’ll see a picture of our faces.

As a side note, I got really dirty. Like, really, really dirty. No matter how much I scrubbed, it took me a good week to get all the dirt off me. I realize how old and no-fun I’m getting: there was a time where being THAT dirty would have been the coolest. Ah well.

Next stop, the Westernish part of La Belle Province!

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