“We are crooked souls, trying to stay up straight.”
“It’s time to remember what it’s like to feel alive.” – Northlane
“We are crooked souls, trying to stay up straight.”
“It’s time to remember what it’s like to feel alive.” – Northlane
At 25 years old, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have made it by now. That I wouldn’t have my little flat in some far off land, working that dream job, with that great social life. Its laughable now, how much of an idealist I was. Today, those dreams remain as elusive as ever. I am unfortunately still very far away from where I want to be; still studying, still a waitress, still not living on my own, still going out with friends and having to order a pint while they all splash out on fancy cocktails. Just another few months I keep whispering to myself, not long to go until things change and it all happens for me.
But what if it doesn’t, what do I do then? I am plagued by doubt all the time, worrying constantly. When do you call it quits and say maybe I’m not destined for greatness like I always assumed I was?
My two years on the road travelling now seem like another life, did I appreciate the freedom I had? Did I savour every moment, or was I constantly thinking of what’s next, spoiling it by trying to make it better. I have learned the hard way that this is life, you have to work, eat and sleep, that it cant all be rose tinted fairytales.
I returned home because I missed it terribly yet still I wasn’t happy, so I decided to change things. Because I felt I couldn’t fix the unhappiness I was feeling from my inability to find a career, I decided to try and change my physical flaws. Growing up with acne, I always thought if I could just get clear skin I’d be happier… so eventually I did, and surprise, surprise, the happiness lasted all of five minutes and then voila I was unhappy once more. On to the next thing, I was too fat… so I lost some weight…. was I any happier? No. So I learned pretty quickly that changing myself physically would not lead to permanent happiness.
I felt so sorry for myself. How come all these people on social media where living the highlife, and I was being left behind, constantly struggling… and then I turned on the news and was punched in the face by guilt, how can I feel sorry for myself when this is happening in the world. I see the images of people dying in Syria, ordinary people like me and you that never wanted any conflict but just wanted to live out their lives. Now their children are dying, their homes are been destroyed and they are been forced to flee their own lands, only to be greeted by hate and slapped with a horrible stereotype just when they think they are safe. I walk the streets of Dublin every morning to go to college, and I pass five or six homeless people on my twenty-minute walk. I see my Granny out of breath trying to get up out of an armchair, and I think man, what am I complaining about? Why am I becoming bitter about my lack of success when I’m one of the lucky ones.
So, what do I do?
Just keep going I suppose, and try in the year ahead to create some good in the world and find magic in the little things. Keep the dream alive,”trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.”
Whatever it is I choose to do, I know one thing for sure, I need to get excited about life and its possibilities once more.
Travel changes everything. The harder the journey the more you learn and by God, India was no picnic… dust, dirt, and chaos. The swarms of people, the pungent air, the constant stares, the rats, the slums, the litter, sitting cross legged on the floor, eating curry with dirty fingers, horned cows and stray dogs roaming every street, the aromas of spices and incense wafting through the air, yoga lessons on the grass, crazy driving, incredible views and food and then there’s me and Tom (my best pal from uni)… a Scottish boy and an Irish girl lost somewhere amongst the madness of southern India.
Day one and a kind local invites us to his home to eat, but we realise too late he’s trouble and we are way too naive, that the world is not all rainbows and butterflies and not everyone is a misunderstood soul, when the “kind local” turns his back on you for the whole night and will only speak to your male friend, when he silences you with the infuriating words ‘ok sweetie’ and puts his hands up to quieten you, his exact and poignant use of pronouns when he refers to you as “she” and “her” are like punches in the gut and his use of flyaway phrases like “even she can teach us something” and all you can do is bite your tongue when you feel like screaming, “I’m right here you sexist twat.” He drives us back on scooters at 1.30am, insisting I ride with him, I can smell the whiskey off his breath as he says it. He drives too fast, a stray cow on the street turns his head and almost annihilates us. He topples his head back in laughter as I ask him meekly to slow down…
In Goa, we rent motorbikes and head off on a day trip to a secret beach with the ultra cool hippies from our hostel; one Indian, two Nepalese, one Mexican, one Portuguese, and one Guatemalan… all men, but this time they are the good kind. We scour the Indian countryside, stopping for a banana shake while they sip ‘holy water’, go skinny dipping (them not me) and we lie back in the white sands sipping beers on the deserted shores. Later, we take a quick ferry across to an island, the most northern point of Goa in the torrential rain for chai, returning at night to a restaurant delightfully known as the Happy Corner to bask in the sound of a cacophony of horns ringing from a Hindu Temple – Indian style live music.
Back on the bikes we hop, weaving down the twisted streets to Arambol to the candle lit beach bars for more beers. It’s all so magical. I am perched on the back of Julio’s bike and we talk and talk and talk as the wind sweeps through our hair and darkness closes in around us. He is a wise man who shares his story with me, with words of wisdom like ‘Never entertain jealousy and boredom is a great thing, because it allows creativity to come to life.” He has been bankrupt three times in his life. He is married but in an open relationship. His wife is working for the Red Cross in Myanmar, while he is setting up a hostel in India. This is why I travel, why conform when you could live like this, without rules or societal pressure, meeting people who live whatever way they feel like. This is freedom, this is life!
Only in India, have I experienced such highs and lows, an incredible day like that is followed by a brutal one… the rules of gender here are so misplaced, the men stare at me but ignore me when I ask a question, and address only Tom, ‘the man’, naturally it drives me insane. There are two prices for everything, one for foreigners, one for locals. Hassle and haggle all day long, a man putting a phone in my face to video me, they are like paparazzi and I am a caged animal in a zoo. Everyone is trying to rip you off, not many are kind just to be kind, everyone has an agenda. I know now how lucky I am to be born a white female from the western world. I have always considered myself working class, with two nurses for parents who have worked their whole lives to provide for me and my sisters. How blind I was, we live like kings and queens compared to the Indian version of working class.
Tonight we board an eleven hour sleeper bus overnight from Goa to Hampi. Packed like sardines on bunk beds. The conductor kindly lets us swap from two single beds to one double so as we are together, but then for his kindness insists we pay him a bribe of 100 rupees… everything has a price and though many preach about karma few seem to practice it. Curtains pulled, windows open on this non-AC sleeper bus, the wind cooling the sweat sticking us to the mat. Shoved and pushed, rolling around freely as the bus chugs on, we know this never would be allowed in the western world. It is like The Knight bus in Harry Potter. We giggle and chat, and try in vain to get some shuteye in this mad world as we are tossed around with every pothole and bump as we hurtle south.
We arrive in Hampi as the sun is setting, the local businessmen swarm us as we try and get off the bus, trying to push us into a rickshaw but we have our wits about us despite our tired eyes and we know it is only a two minute walk to the town. The monuments and temples loom splendidly on the hillside, long tail monkeys run across the electrical wires, while the weary people make their morning pilgrimage to the temple. Hampi is a UNESCO world heritage site, the equivalent of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. We find a place to rest our aching bodies with a toilet that doesn’t flush and a mosquito net pockmarked with giant holes patched up dismally with plasters, we finally fall asleep to the distant wails of chants happening outside as the rest of the world begins to wake.
We make new friends with people who are staying at the same guest house. Candi a strong, beautiful Argentinian woman who takes no shit from anyone, she is travelling with her best friend the delightful Mati. They have been hitchhiking and couchsurfing their way through India. Then there’s John from London, whose kindness has no limits, all the beggars we meet, he buys them food instead of giving them money. I know instantly the three will be our friends for life.
The food is incredible. It feels amazing to eat pure vegetarian, handfuls of floury parotta and chapatti swabbing up the spicy curry; the Veg Thali, Channa Masala, Masala Dosa, Aloo Gobi, Dal Fry, all slapped onto a plate or banana leaf. Using only our hands, it’s a spectacularly messy and uncivilized way to eat but brilliant in the freedom of it. I love it, I gorge and revel in the joy of food once more. Although, be warned I nearly always found a hair in my dish!
A local bus to Hospet in torrential rain through ‘roads’ that can’t even call themselves roads. We sit on the floor of the train station for four hours. The station reeks of manure, I swallow down the vomit that threatens to come up my throat. The rain makes it worse. Out on the street you see the caste system at work, one massive fancy ass hotel and all around it pure slums. We sit wallowing in the stench, drowned in the rain and the electricity goes. Typical. Everyone is in barefoot walking through the muck and puddles. There is a young girl in a green sari with wide brown eyes huddled in a corner swaddled in blankets staring at me. The lights blink in and out when a group of young boys taunt us and get right up in our faces, I thank my lucky stars that Tom is here with me. I don’t know if I could have done it alone and that thought angers me, why shouldn’t I be able to do this alone? Because this world is so fucked up, that’s why. It breaks my heart.
But alas, we survive the sleeper train, three beds stacked on top of each other. For twelve hours we lay in our caves to arrive in Mysore, where out on the streets we see cultures clash as the Muslim women stroll in their black burkas contrasting brilliantly against the colorful saris of the Hindus. After sleep, we are reunited with the Argentinians and John, we get a tuk tuk to Chimean Hill, five of us squished in the back of one, I on Thomas’ lap, hanging halfway out the tuk tuk, with Bob Marley blaring No Worries on the radio. We climb 1032 steps to a temple. The hike is a pilgrimage, the colours dabbed on each step in a benediction, a silent prayer. We trudge on, chatting, lapsing into silence as we pull ourselves up the steep incline and concentrate on our breathing. It is a stand out moment, one that I will remember forever.
An overnight bus to Kochi, a man sits next to us asks us for our name and our caste? He asks what religion we are, we say none, he says how come? We say you don’t want to know… The European vibes of Kochi are a welcome break. The boys are playing football, when I bump into Carly an old friend from university in the most surreal moment ever, the world is too small! We go for secret beers and catch up on her life, her adventures in Madagascar and Reunion Island and I just think to myself wow I know some cool people.
Its mad how progress seems to have just stopped in the country, like the 21st century just barreled through and they just cant keep up… or perhaps don’t want to? The electricity consistently goes, the utter lack of sanitation, the people in the shops/markets getting pissed off with you when you refuse to cave to their inflated price and push for negotiation, the rickshaw drivers constantly hassling you. A local woman thrusts her few month old baby at me so as the family can take pictures of the white girl holding a baby. Over the course of the three weeks I’ll have been in over fifteen strangers photos. If you can learn to embrace/handle India, nothing will ever faze you again.
Another bus, this time to the Tea Plantations of Munnar and they are incredible, even in the misty rain. We scale the cliff edges in a jeep to see them, passing waterfalls and miles of greenery; it is nature at its best. Then in typical Indian fashion, the country goes on strike and fails to tell the tourists. All restaurants, shops, buses, tuk tuks, national parks – everything shuts down, we have no food and water for the day.
Our days are numbered, on our second last night we sit on a pier back in Kochi, feet dangling, reflecting on life, when a rat runs across my bare feet. There is a frog in the corner, an Indian man pisses on the side of the street facing us… this is India. Back to the hostel to lie on our backs and stare up at the spinning fan, life is a strange and wonderful thing.
There is only one last destination left before home, Mumbai. The city is huge and bustling, here there is the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. As I look out the dirty window of the local bus, we pass the shanty towns,there is just people everywhere. Twenty five million people in Mumbai alone. Coming from a country of less than 5 million I just cant comprehend this scale. Then onto an overpacked train, full of men, pressed against them, everyone of them unashamedly staring at me. I cannot wait to be anonymous once more, to blend in with the crowd. The train doesn’t stop, just slows down and people make a run and jump and hope for the best…
Our last night in India, we invite the 19 year old Egyptian kid from our hostel to the bar with us, he drinks a double tequila when he’s never drank before. He is drunk almost instantly, slapping his head, talking to himself, we have to bring him home and put him to bed. I whisper a goodbye to Thomas in the middle of the night, the end is nigh, he is off to Cambodia for a year while I will return home to university for one last stab at that dream career.
The time has come to go home. It’s been a whirlwind, a love affair, highs and lows, both easy and terribly hard… worth it though, so, so worth it. Already my glasses are starting to tint with rose. We only have one life, and you must try really hard to live it. I am back behind the bar pulling pints and dreaming of the dusty roads, the host of colours, the spice, the smell of India and the next adventure.
“I urge you to travel. As far and as much as possible. Work ridiculous shifts to save your money, go without the latest Iphone. Throw yourself out of your comfort zone. Find out how other people live and realize that the world is a much bigger place than the town you live in. And when you come home, home may still be the same and yes you may go back to the same old job but something in your mind will have shifted. And trust me that changes everything.”
We take our bodies so for granted. At full health, what it is capable of doing is astounding; it can climb mountains, swim amongst the tides, sprint through fields of long grass… but what about those who never possessed a body at full health, those people who never had the option? When menial everyday tasks are more difficult, every outing is preplanned and climbing a stairs is an arduous task. How would you live your life if your lungs were your enemy? And your days were made up of physio, medication and hospital visits. When you had to consume 12 to 22 tablets a day just to keep you ticking over. How would you live if you were born with an illness that as of yet has no cure? Would you allow it to define you or would you rally against it in defiance?
Chris stops and sits on an outcropped rock to catch his breath on our 2km walk up to the hut were we will camp tonight. I hear his laboured breath, the painful drag in and out. Around us are dirt tracks and a brutally deforested area of Coillte. It is a muggy evening with a heavy grey sky that hints at an oncoming downpour. Chris pulls his backpack up and we walk on, heading into the trees. After about half an hour we reach our destination, a little green hut perched on a small cliff face overlooking rolling green hills. It is truly an idyllic setting to set up camp for a night’s microadventure, anything to liven up the week. We quickly unburden ourselves from our backpacks and lay down our mats and bags to gather sticks for a fire.
When I was in fifth year of secondary school my friend died from Cystic Fibrosis, he was sick his whole life, obviously sick, wheelchair and oxygen tank kind of sick. He died and we were heartbroken. We his friends continued to maintain contact with his family; his father James, mother Fiona and little brother Chris. We struck up a routine of sorts, dinners, drinks and a chat about the good times. The years passed by and one by one the friends slipped away, caught up with their own lives, their own worries and hardships but somehow I remained. I found his family liberating, strong and inspiring. They taught me so much about life and as I grew up they became my friends too. This family is different than any I’ve ever known. They are a joy to be around because they don’t suffer fools. They let you away with nothing; there is no such thing as I can’t and over the years we have lived a life less ordinary. We have kayaked the Slaney together, made it into the Guinness Book of Records for participating in the world’s longest swim, gone clay pigeon shooting, done countless Rubberman challenges and a few weeks ago we went camping for a night in the Wicklow mountains while Chris who also has Cystic Fibrosis was on IVs.
James throws some jacket potatoes into the ash to cook and we set about boiling water over the open flames. He plucks a bbq rack from those DIY bbq kits and perches it precariously between the rocks and logs to cook the sausages and pork chops on while the beans boil away contently in their tin. It’s a feast by my usual camping standards! Meanwhile Chris sits on a picnic table and lays out his syringes; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine… all glittering in the sunset on the pristine silver tray. He begins the slow process, filling them up from the glass vials one by one, lifting his t-shirt to expose the various contraptions attached to his body. He doesn’t skip a beat as he slowly injects the meds into his body, continuing the conversation as if this was totally the norm.
The risks are very real for a person with CF to camp while on IV’s; the lack of a sterile environment, the risk of hemoptysis with no easy escape route and a night spent lying on the cold hard ground is not the most comfortable. Three days ago Chris’s lungs were at 46%, the equivalent of me walking with one lung, yet he doesn’t complain. At 19 almost 20 years old, Chris is a breath of fresh air with his no bullshit attitude. CF does not define him or stop him experiencing all the simple pleasures that others his age have. Yes there are risks, but you have to live your life; “A lot of people with CF get caught up with all the treatments. It’s ok to once in a while to skip it. It’s not going to catapult you back,” he says, adding defiantly “Don’t let your treatments dictate your life. There is some leeway. A massive amount is mindset. If your health takes a small hit for a better life, its worth it.”
The sun lowers gradually but the moon is particularly bright tonight. We stare into the orange flames licking the firewood, prodding the embers occasionally. We sip tumblers of vodka and coke and red wine and we just sit and talk. A cold night ensues on hard ground, wrapped tightly in our sleeping bags to stave off the cold. Bedding down, Chris warns us of his coughing; he needn’t have, after a while he falls into a quiet slumber, unlike his father who will scare any potential predators away with his snores.
It is not an easy night and none of us sleep well, we wake the moment light returns, weary, sore and totally spent but exhilarated all the same. We get up groggily and stretch out our aching bodies. The air is crisp and damp and the birds greet us with their dawn chorus. We stuff everything into our backpacks, pull them on and walk briskly out of the woods. Time to go back to reality. A time out every so often is necessary to make you appreciate your cozy bed, the roof over your head, your life and to put those worries that seem so big into perspective. A little midweek adventure to wake us up, shake us up, anything to feel alive to feel normal. If Chris can do it, surely you have no excuse?
A short video of my travels around Oz…
After all that, I am home. Sprawled on the couch in front of the fire with the TV crackling away in the background and Mam and Dad pottering around the house, living their lives.
It’s strange but when I look back on my time in Australia, it is not the touristy things that stand out. In fact it’s the opposite, I found that I was happiest when I was doing normal things, reuniting with old friends… lying in bed sculling tumblers of red wine before a night out with Lori, then watching Netflix hung over the next morning with cups of coffee with a hint of caramel replacing the wine. A meat feast with Josh by the Yarra River followed by a drunken stroll through the botanic gardens, breakfast at Laneway with Pepi, road tripping the Great Ocean Road with him and Cas, sleeping in the back of the car at night, watching the women rip at Bells Beach Rip Curl Pro surf competition, climbing rocks, listening to the Serial podcast as we drive, debating music and politics, discovering the lilting tones of Meg Mac. Pounding the pavements on a run with Lauren, kayaking on the harbour in Sydney with Orla, reminiscing with the other Lauren while sipping sangria and listening to gentle jazz on Darling Harbor…
Nowadays, I tire quickly when living out of a backpack. I become desensitised to the beauty around me, I take it all for granted. Yet I continue to do it because I know I will never regret travelling. It has shaped who I am today. Travel changes how you see people, how you see the world. An innate curiosity is born from it, you question everything, especially what is right and what is wrong. You learn to be kinder, you learn to not care when others mock you for been different, you learn not to be afraid or be ashamed. You learn to look at the bigger picture, to worry about global warming, conservation, politics, rather than the petty things unfolding inside your own little bubble. You learn how to talk to everyone and anyone, how to behave in all kinds of situations, how to feel comfortable in your own skin. You toughen up, get a thicker skin and learn to let go of all that worry and stress you’ve been storing up inside. It flicks a switch in your brain and suddenly you can rub your eyes and see everything as it really is and you can finally see the worlds and your own potential.
I am far from done travelling but for now, in this moment, I am content to be at home for a little while. Nowadays, happiness for me is a hot shower on a cold day, that initial burst when the scalding water turns cold against my frigid skin and eventually seeps in. Hungrily ingesting a great book while sprawled on the carpeted floor in my pyjamas in front of the fire. Those breaths I take after finishing a gruelling run, hands on my knees, dragging air into my lungs, ears pounding. Lying on the couch with my head on my Mammy’s lap, her fingers gently combing through my hair. Driving with the window down and the stereo blasting, and me and my friends screaming out the tunes…
Now I know myself rather well and with a return to routine means I must be on my guard. I must try; really try every day to live. I cannot allow the days and weeks to pass me by without doing anything. I must try to absorb it all, put the phone down, look up, take it in and appreciate those little moments. I must try to get up earlier, camp every few weekends, to learn to cook, to attend talks and lectures about things that matter, to watch more documentaries, to learn something new, to get out on the bike, to live a little more spontaneously. And most importantly, I must not envy others lives but be inspired by them, to allow them to motivate me to do the same. I must try, really try, to just be happy…
Flashbacks of Vietnam flicker behind my eyes with every step I take; litter toppling over the sidewalks, chaotic drivers blasting their scooter horns, the taxi from the airport smashing his car mirror off a parked car and cursing in Indonesian but driving on. The cold showers, the toilets you cant put paper down, the mosquito bites, the monsoon rain as it tumults down…
I find myself once again, alone in a hostel, hauling myself up a ladder to my bunk, tired and agitated with my head pressed against the hard mattress in an attempt to drown out the onslaught of beats pulsing through the wall from the common room next door. I vow to escape Kuta the moment the sun rises, to an island that is more my scene Gili Trawangan.
I am whipped away on a boat to the remote haven, but I feel no thrill as we skate across the sea. I have become a weary traveller with empty pockets and a heavy heart, staying in absolute dumps. This time the dorm room has one single and one double bed. The young locals in charge try to convince two complete strangers to share the same bed, devoid of the knowledge of how our western society works. As I am the only girl I am permitted the single bed, how honoured I am. How do I get myself into these situations I wonder time and time again…
The rain pisses down and the electricity goes. I sit in the darkness, sipping coffee listening to a local strum the ukulele and sing softly. Eventually the generator kicks in like a strimmers cutting hedges beside my head. What you learn about yourself in these situations says it all, to try not to fall into a pit of despair is the key but to embrace the madness that ensues around you. Thunder and lightning clap down around me. The loudspeakers lining the streets call the locals to prayer as I sit in the room with only the bed bugs for company and I sigh. This is hard, how much easier would my life be if I were satisfied to just stay at home. I eventually succumb to sleep against a backdrop of thunder and lightning and Middle Eastern sounding music seeping through the pane less windows.
I venture out for food alone, sitting on a plastic bench in silence chewing slowly, sipping my coffee, and counting the ants crawling around in the sugar jar. There are twelve. I offer to take a picture of a group of adult Indonesians on their holiday. They cannot thank me enough and insist I get in a photo with them for I am and I quote “like a model to them because I am so white…”I laugh and agree in defeat knowing full well I couldn’t look less like a model, greasy hair, smelling of BO, no make up and drenched but I am indeed rather white… I guess I’ll be tucked away in some random photo album forever more.
The everyday life of the locals is beautiful in its rawness and simplicity. The little sacrifice to the Hindu gods of flowers and incense folded in a leaf box left outside their doorstep noon and night. Bicycles and pony drawn carts rattle down the mucky streets, swerving around the puddles or pummeling straight through them. Kids play on their hand built rafts, mischievously tipping it over in the clear turquoise waters of the Pacific and howling with laughter as they melt into its shallow waters. Outside my door boys gather around a guitar strumming youth. Kids cry, mothers bark orders, roosters crow. The sad thing is I know I would love this place normally, it is exactly my cup of tea, the simple life, hard work, engaging your whole body in a task, the wildness, the roughness, the kindness… but I am an outsider and have lost my spark. I am not one of them, a local nor do I fit in amongst the party going tourists blazing a trail of destruction through this solemn piece of paradise. I have succumbed to loneliness, hating the thought of eating another dinner alone. But what are my choices go it alone or don’t go at all?
I long to belong to a community once more. Travelling solo is exhausting. You can’t even go to the toilet without bringing all your bags with you, just in case someone steals them. But you learn so much about yourself as there is no one else to lean on. Everyone should try it at least once in his or her lifetime. But when all you do is travel alone the novelty wears off. I now dread the inevitable times I will spend waiting around for boats, buses, trains, planes with no one to talk to. When you’ve finished your book, taken your pictures, refreshed your newsfeed for the fiftieth time, had a coffee, had a think. It just gets boring. I find myself people watching, envious of others camaraderie, young love or pals having a rant… meanwhile I haven’t spoken to a single human the whole day except for the waiter to order some food. It’s hard, its really fucking hard, no one tells you this in the mountains of inspirational posts online. I know I am lucky, I know I am surrounded by beauty, and wondrous things but sometimes I just wish I had someone to share it with. Plus I burnt my back on the boat back to Bali… just one of the disadvantages of solo travelling, you cant reach your own back to lather some suncream on.
I have come here with a purpose though to tick an item off my bucket list, to do my PADI open water scuba diving course. The amount of bloody theory to wade through before they let us free is not a good omen. I get to the pool part finally but I do not feel entirely comfortable with the goggles on not been able to breath through my nose. But I persist…. And then finally something clicks and we fall off a boat into the open ocean and my mind erupts in awe. The vastness of its crystal waters, the coral reef, all these creatures you’ve seen a million times on TV just chilling before your very eyes. We float through a shipwreck covered in coral, moray eels and puffer fish glide around us. I am weightless; I am wrapped in my own little bubble and this time it’s a good bubble. It really is just you and your thoughts while around you majestic turtles, reef sharks, eagle rays and every fish you’ve seen in Finding Nemo just go on about their daily lives. It is incredible. We must conserve this. We must do something! I emerge elated and finally things begin to take a turn for the better.
From Gili T, I make my way to Ubud and I instantly fall in love. The houses are treehouses built on stilts and nestled amongst the treetops of a jungle, winding streets curve up and down, inclining and declining steeply. I get lost in the graffiti, the painted murals on the walls, the vegetation intertwining with the art, nature and humans colliding… coexisting. Too soon I must leave the place I should have came from day one, and back I go to Denpasar, for a night to catch an early flight.
I convince a fat taxi man to drive me there and quickly discover that he is a beautiful being of a driver. We talk politics, Indonesia’s democratic government, how the people have so little but are so happy with what they have. He tells me about Hinduism, about the upcoming festival of evil spirits which is followed by a day of peace where no one works and everyone stays inside and rests. I can’t help but compare it to our festivals, the partying of our western world. He lectures me like he is my Dad about the dangers of traveling alone as a girl but then slips in that he thinks I’m very brave to ease the rebuff. I asked him has he ever eaten in the restaurant he sits outside of all day everyday waiting for customers. He laughs in my face, “ahaha no, no Indonesians cannot afford to eat in there.” He works three jobs, he runs a Credit Union from seven am to eleven, then is a taxi driver from eleven onwards and in his free time he helps his brother farm the paddy fields. After an hour we arrive in the city it is late and darkness has fallen. The satnav tells him we are here, but I look up and only see a dodgy alleyway, oh god don’t leave me here I beg. “Don’t worry Orla if you don’t like the look of it I wont leave you here, we’ll find you somewhere else…” We continue to search and eventually we find the place, he walks me to the door and asks are you ok here… I smile in gratitude.
As I walk in to the plush hotel (my treat for the night) and the kind taxi man drives away, a young boy holding a balloon approaches me and gestures his hand to his mouth signaling for food. His mother carries a little girl dressed in rags half starved on her hip behind him. I have no cash on me, I have no food. I am momentarily stunned. Who is this poor family? What is there story? How have things gotten so bad that they are reduced to this? I have nothing to offer, I can only apologize and walk away with my head sagging in anger and sadness, while he stares after me hating me, judging me as I hang my head and walk into a place of luxury that he in his lifetime will never experience.
The image haunts my mind that night. I vow to never forget it, to do something, to appreciate my world, what I have but as I step foot back in Australia the next day, back to a world of comfort, back to my reality… the memories start to fade and my worries snap back to the trivial things; back to appearance, back to money, back to gossip and every time my memory is jogged I groan in defeat. I berate myself that I once again was weak and succumbed to a lifetime spent worrying about things that in the grand scheme of things do not matter. I am alive, I am healthy, I can do anything. But already knowing that this is a vicious circle that I have experienced hundreds of times, by this afternoon as the sun sets I will be lying on a couch with a bag of crisps perched on my stomach, watching Made In Chelsea or some other shite and wishing I could be like the people on the screen in front of me…
Regional Work… the bane of my life. Eighty eight days in the middle of nowhere, $350 a week, working six days a week. The things we immigrants will do to stay in a country.
In order to qualify for a second year visa in Australia, you are required to complete a three month stint of ‘regional work’ in rural Australia. It must fit under one of the following headings: plant and animal cultivation/fishing and pearling/tree farming and felling/mining or construction.
I decided to get mine over with as quickly as possible, so one month in to my new life in Oz I packed my bags and moved an hour south of Perth to a place called Serpentine, to sweat it out on a breaking yard (horse racing stables).
The ‘town’ of Serpentine was to be my living hell…The kind of place where it’s so small that you don’t have to name the shops they can just be called exactly what they are: General Store, Pharmacy, Tavern etc…
Possums clawed the roof above our heads at night, ants sucking on every spillage and dropped crumb, young horses freshly separated from their mothers head-butted, bit, kicked, cornered and ran at me daily.
Frogs, huntsman spiders, hundreds of daddy long legs, cockroaches, mice, brazen flies that don’t budge when you try and scatter them shacked up with us in the on site accommodation – an old farmhouse with patio doors that wouldn’t close and more cobwebs than a haunted house. And a constant threat of bushfires when the temperature racked up.
There was no wifi and bad reception but we got our daily dose of entertainment from our housemates, exes who regularly pulled out knifes, machetes and the odd samurai sword on each other. Once even a bottle of tequila stuffed with tissue paper ready to set alight and throw into the other ones room. Rife with racism and backwards thinking, there was no point in trying to reason with them, so I set back and enjoyed the show.
The days passed slowly, monotonously in the pressing heat, our routine 4am starts shoveling shit, feeding horses, filling water buckets, on repeat. Disappointed by the realization that this dream of mine of living the rural life in a cabin in the woods may not be all its cracked up to be.
Still I had a roof over my head and food in my belly. Once again as in Vietnam, I am learning to appreciate the finer things in life. Speeding down the dirt tracks in the Ute with the windows down and the music blaring. Head lolling back at night to take in the vast sky with so many stars you cannot fathom it. Driving to the beach to eat fish and chips and watch the sunset. The isolation, having time on your hands to see how you cope on your own, daytime napping in an air-conditioned room, lessons learned, character built and buffered. Muscles toned. New cuts, bruises and scars to add to my collection – all souvenirs of my experiences.
Sharing a room with an English girl, a gem of a human to endure it with, to share my woes. Through our shared experience of this place we are bonded, a friend for life. Our daily excursions were the only thing keeping our spirits from collapsing. The falls, the dam, the lookout, the Buddhist monastery, all the burritos… flashes of goodness in the midst of all the chaos.
Apparently I was one of the lucky ones, since finishing tales have trickled through of people stuck hours away from civilisation out in the outback with no towns or cities in range to escape to. The stories of fruit picking, labouring in the hot sun from dawn until dusk, been paid $9 per bucket picked but when it takes four hours to fill just one.
So once again I succumb to nostalgia… was it really that bad?
You have to do it if you want to stay in the country (unless you can get sponsored) so I’ll let you be the judge of that…
Here is what you need to know:
Basically you need to do 88 days/3 months work at an approved location that is classed as regional Australia. Jobs are listed on Gumtree but ask around, check Facebook groups such as Backpackers Jobs In Australia, do your research. The most common jobs going are fruit picking or packing, farms and nannying. If you can find full-time work, the 88 days includes your days off. So it’s three months’ full-time work or just count up your 88 days if it’s part-time. You can do it all one with one employer or several, the choice is yours. My advice is to try and get it done as soon as you land, it takes the pressure off and you can enjoy the rest of your stay. Also you can afford to be a bit pickier because you have time on your side. I wish you the very best of luck with it, please do let me know how it goes!
It is absolutely crazy to me how much my mindset has changed over the last few months… how can you possibly be ‘over’ traveling? Perhaps its just a bad day, or maybe I just need a day off? When you spend your life rebelling against structure, against routine, against normality, against the 9-5… and then you travel and its all so incredible at first. It changes you and expands your mind and you learn so much about who you are and about the world and its people… am I strange to grow tired of it? Perhaps its because I am alone or maybe its because I don’t have disposable income to do all the things I would like to do. The fact that I have to budget, to make cuts, stay in the dingier places, forgo a meal here or there or maybe its simply because I’m growing up?
It happened to me when I was about 7/8 months into my Vietnam trip as well… I was done I wanted comfort so I changed my flight I went home early and once again a few weeks in, my mindset snapped back to its former itchy footed self. I hated home, I hated the routine, I wanted freedom once more. So perhaps too soon, I packed my bags again and departed for Australia. Now, once more I find myself six months in back at that very same point… not happy, not fully satisfied. Jesus, I am hard to please. I’m at all the tourist spots, standing before these iconic buildings and sites that I’ve seen on TV, these incredible beaches and viewpoints that I’ve circled on my map as a teenager and torn out the pages of my travel books. I take my pictures for Instagram, I express my awe but its not quite right… I’m not really appreciating it; it does not excite me like it once would have had. I’m lonely, the bane of every solo travellers existence.
I’m nearly 25, I want a career, I want a group of friends around me, I want to decorate my own little space, I want a local coffee shop and a local pub. I want some pocket money to be able to go to that gig at the weekend. I want a two week holiday in Spain or France. I want a boyfriend. I want to learn how to cook a proper meal, to invite my sisters for dinner at the weekend, to go for a day out with my Mam, to plan another cycle trip with my Dad. How am I back here again, one year on? How have I not learned? Australia is an incredible place but I moved too soon, I do not want to work in a bar here and get hammered every night, I do not want to hop from place to place like a tourist. I want to build a life, here, home, somewhere…I want structure. How things have changed. Once again I rushed into something, made a decision with my heart not my head. That fear of falling behind, of all my friends growing up, settling down before I even figure out who I am or what I want to do. This gnawing feeling constantly leads me to make rash decisions. To book that flight before I’m ready. So afraid I will waste it all.
I’ve learned so much about myself on my adventures and finally I can proudly say I like who I have become. It does not bother me to go out and have lunch or dinner alone, to sit in a movie theatre, to join a club, to be the first to say hello … I am content with myself. But the time has come that I no longer want to be alone, I want to be surrounded by people. For a girl who has come from a huge family, when your aunties are like your second mammy’s and your cousins are like your brothers and sisters… I always thought it was too much as a teenager and I wanted away. Now finally I can appreciate what I had. After five years away and alone I can officially say that I am an independent woman, capable of anything, reliant only on myself… but what if I don’t want to be…where’s the fun in that? What are all these wonderful experiences when you cannot share them with someone? What is that funny/embarrassing moment when you have no one to turn to and laugh about it with? It is not a sign of weakness not to want to be on your own…
I am still not quite the free spirited, fearless, dungaree clad hippy I long to be, but I am getting there. Fear still gets me. And I still can’t find a decent pair of dungarees. But I have time and who’s to say I have to do it the hard way, on my own in a foreign country. I think I deserve a break, a little support system to help me on my way. So I’ve made a decision, I’m starting again, I’ve fucked up but have had such a wonderful time doing so that I’ll never regret it. I’ve travelled a good chunk of the world in the past few years. Yet often it feels like by choosing to travel that I am failing, falling behind. Yes I am 24 and still working shitty jobs, bouncing from place to place, not yet carving out a career for myself and that panics me frequently, but then I look back on what I’ve done in the past two years since graduating and I have not wasted a moment of it. Canada, America, France, Portugal, Spain, Vietnam, Budapest, London, Australia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Edinburgh, Indonesia…
For now the time has come to take a step back and get back on the right path. I’m going to go home to Ireland for a year, I’m going back to college to do a video production course. And it feels right. I think I could really be good at this with a little training. I need a year, to sort my head out, to be around my friends that I have grown up with that I have known my whole life, I want a flat with cute cactuses, arty wall hangings and scented candles, to be able to attend the family functions, the birthdays, the dinners, the weddings, to visit my Grannies, to treat my Mammy to brunch. To do the normal things, the stuff I never even considered that I would be missing out on. I have been away on and off for the last five years and I think, well I hope this time I’m ready to not live out of a suitcase for a little while. Then when May of next year comes about I hope I will finally be able to find my way in this world.
Please do not judge me, I have not failed, I have not given up, I am trying its just going to take me a little longer to get there, but I swear I will get there… in the end.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt