Komodo

Liveaboard diving is a totally immersed diving experience. A boat is filled with people who love diving and the routine is dive, eat, sleep, dive, eat, sleep…for days. We wake at 6:30, dive at 7:00, eat breakfast, dive at 10:30, eat lunch, dive at 14:30, snack, dive at 18:30 (in the dark, with torches), eat dinner, sleep and do it all over again. Liveaboard diving gives wonderful new meaning to “same shit, different day”.

Choosing my liveaboard dive trip was an adventure in itself. Bunaken? Raja Ampat? Komodo? Which operator? Do they have dates that work? Are they full already? How much do they cost? After much internet trawling, sending emails and making calls, I decided upon diving Komodo with Blue Dragon. I often use travelfish.org when I travel in Asia and posted a quick note to check out other travellers’ knowledge. That was when I learned Blue Dragon 2, the newer vessel, had sunk six months ago.

I was gutted. What to do? Do I go diving with a company whose boat sank, or do I book with someone else? I sent Emil an email saying I had just learned of the sinking and wanted to ask him some questions about safety on board and the gear I would hire. At this point I was so glad of all the things I’ve learned in the last two years from my friends at Chelsea and Fulham Sub Aqua Club. I was glad of my Sports Diver training and that I knew which questions to ask. I was glad that I know how to take care of my kit and myself underwater and don’t need to be lifted and laid like I used to, with tropical commercial diving and boat boys who did everything for me. Thank you BSAC (and Dave Bennett), for teaching me how to be a diver.

After my conversation with Emil, where I learned Blue Dragon 2 went down in a seven-knot gale and everyone got to safety, my instincts were to book. So I did.

We boarded on Sunday after an early flight from Bali, sorted our kit, had tasty food, began to get to know each other, and did our check out dive with teeming fish on one of the most beautiful coral walls I’ve seen since Fiji. “It’s nothing special, just the check out dive,” Gusty, the dive manager, said. My expectations of diving Komodo ratcheted up several notches.

Next morning, I dived with manta rays for the first time. I watched two mantas at cleaning stations swoop and dive for ten minutes as cleaner fish fluttered like adoring birds across their wings, flipping up and returning to feast on nasties as the manta glided gracefully in its fishy bath. Swimming with eight manta rays before breakfast is the best Monday morning I have ever had. A couple of days later, as we dived Makassar reef again, I saw 21 manta rays and the closest I got was about a metre from its wing tip as one manta swooped past. I was lucky to see black manta rays, very rare, and began making up stories about how they had been using the manta force for ill and turned black on their undersides. I think there may be a story to develop there…

In south Komodo, we got in a bit of muck diving – my first experience of rummaging through rubble and sand to find odd underwater critters. My favourite moments from these dives were watching a bob-tailed squid squirt ink, change colour and dart to safety, and a delightful juvenile sweetlips, about the size of my pinky nail, shake its ass like a latin dancer in a pink polka dot dress.

One of my favourite dives was a three-knot drift dive where we were carried by the current across a spectacular coral reef that unfolded like a Pixar movie. I surrendered to the current, spread my arms, pretended to be a manta ray and flew across the top of brightly coloured soft corals and beautiful hard corals.

On my last dive, I found a huge anemone and had a long chat with Nemo, bidding him a fond farewell and telling him I’d be back before long. He sends his love to my blog readers.

There was no diving for the last 20 hours on board as most divers were booked on an early flight back to Bali. This is when we went to see the famous Komodo dragons on a one hour hike through the forest. My nitrogen laden muscles struggled to pull me round the hike and that was when I decided Labuan Bajo would be a time of rest and relaxation as opposed to mountain climbing and exploring. Later that afternoon we were scheduled to go and see the bat cave. Gina, Mimi and I lounged on our deckchairs and agreed we were going to skip it – my legs couldn’t take another hike that afternoon. Then, as the sun set, off in the distance, tens of thousands of bats began streaming out of a cave on a nearby island. From our deck chairs, we watched the most beautiful sunset and bats’ waxy wings fly over the boat’s rigging as the sky turned sunset pink to orange to deep red to blue to inky black. I watched the stars appear and imagined a seamstress in the sky stitching sequins onto a goddess’s ball gown one by one. I had a lopsided, dreamy grin on my face and if it hadn’t been for the call to dinner I might still be in bliss on that deck chair now.

Blue Dragon is a budget/backpacker standard liveaboard. The dive gear was serviceable, but not new. There were a few cockroaches on board (but just little ones, and I stopped noticing them after the first day). The standards are not western, but this is Indonesia, and they were safe. The boat had everything we needed for a comfortable liveaboard dive trip, including good showers to rinse the salt after each dive. The only time I ever had to wait for a shower was when Yao was in there singing his heart out.

I was bowled over by the crew. They poured their hearts into making our trip wonderful. On the first evening, I asked if my berth could be sprayed for bugs. He was in there for 15 minutes cleaning my room and spraying every nook and cranny, leaving it utterly spotless and bug-free. On our last night, back in port at Labuan Bajo, we hit land for ATMs and a bar. When we got back to the boat, a bit peckish, they rustled us up a snack of noodles and egg to deal with our late night munchies. Risky, the chef, and his team kept a boatload of hungry divers very happy with tasty fare.

My fellow divers really made the trip – Jouni, my Finnish dive buddy, Gina and Mimi from LA, and the rest of the gang from Malaysia and Hong Kong. Thank you all for making it such a brilliant trip – it was so great to meet you and share tremendous diving.

I have adored diving Indonesia – 22 dives and a whole lot of joy. As I sit here in Labuan Bajo, nursing an ear infection, remembering those dives puts a dreamy smile on my face. I can’t wait until my next Indonesian dive trip. Who’ll join me to dive Raja Ampat next year?

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Gili Trawangan

A minibus from Ubud to Padang Bai then a speedboat to Gili Trawangan and I was in a different world. I waded ashore, wiggled my wet toes in the sand and knew I’d found my home for the next few days.

Gili Trawangan is where the backpackers went about 20 years ago when Bali got popular. Now speedboats offload holidaymakers every day and it’s getting busier by the year. The main beach is being developed in all directions yet somehow it remains small enough. There are no cars or motorbikes on Gili T so the fastest methods of transport are bicycle or pony cart. In my village homestay, about 100m back from the beach, I was woken each morning by the mosque’s call to prayer and Yusup delivering breakfast to my terrace. After only a few days I would walk along the beach path and bump into people I knew. On my last day on Gili T, I stayed indoors with a bout of travellers’ tummy and was greeted later that evening with, “Hey, where ya been? We missed you”.

Gili T can easily capture your heart. It’s a great place to dive (lots of people learn here), to snorkel, to chill on the beach, to party, and to lose yourself with a smattering of mind altering magic mushrooms on your pizza at Rudy’s. For me, it was all about the diving, my dive buddies, sunset yoga and a few Bintangs in the evening.

I dived six times with Big Bubble – they were brilliant. I met reef sharks, turtles, witnessed Jamil the dive guide battling a female Titan triggerfish after we swam too close to her nest, and was held spellbound by male and female pharaoh cuttlefish swimming together, changing colour as electrical charges pulsed through their bodies. One of my favourite moments was watching a black and white banded sea snake weave its way to the surface as sunbeams shot through the water. And on land one evening, I had tears in my eyes as I watched a turtle lay her eggs on the quieter northern section of Gili T’s beach.

I had great dive buddies. Joe, a professional poker player, was brilliant company. We dived, chatted over great food and beer, and he introduced me to Gili T’s sunset yoga class. I laughed when Travis the banker, my other dive buddy, introduced himself to Joe and said, “Poker, trading, same thing really.” The Big Bubble dive crowd were great and we all adored Wayan, our favourite divemaster. It is such a cliché to develop a crush on your divemaster, but in my defence, Travis, the 6-foot, macho Canadian banker wanted to marry Wayan and I feel sure Joe would have let him win at poker.

I settled into a gorgeous routine of diving, eating, yoga, drinking beer and chatting with friends on Gili T. But after a few days it was time to head to Komodo and my liveaboard dive trip. Turns out diving on Gili T was just the warm up act…

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Bali

About a week before I headed off, Lydia played backpack weight manager and whittled me down to two novels, a journal and a guidebook – still about 1.5 kilos of paper. As I passed WHSmith in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 departure lounge the “Buy one, get one half price” sign hooked and reeled me like a helpless fish. I barely even wriggled. I’ve wanted Ian McEwan’s Solar for ages and the new Lisa Jewell would be a quick and absorbing read – perfect for long haul. No matter how good I get at travelling light, I can’t seem to stop carrying too many books. I’m long overdue a switch to e-reader and this trip has forced the issue.

As we descended into Denpasar airport I turned the last page of Lisa Jewell’s latest, relieved that I could dump it on the plane and leave one book lighter. I struck up a conversation with the girl in the next seat, who was headed to the beach at Seminyak, and found it the perfect new home.

Flicking through my guidebook, I debated the relative merits of Bali’s beaches with my neighbour and excess book owner. I decided upon Legian. It’s a hop, skip and jump from the airport. It has a beach I can relax on to work out where I go next and while I’m unlikely to love it, at least it’s not Kuta.

I left the air conditioned arrival hall at Denpasar airport to a chorus of, “Taxi, you need taxi?”. But I’d read my (heavy) guidebook. I knew these were the rip off merchants. So I walked past them to the window for fixed price prepaid airport taxis and congratulated myself for avoiding rip off on arrival. Later, when I realised that the fixed price taxi driver had actually taken me to Legian Road in Kuta, I laughed and cursed the cheeky git.

Kuta is sort of like Magaluf, if you live in Australia. It’s a bit nicer than Magaluf and I did have a lovely day there – lunch, hit the beach, planned the next stop of my trip, watched the sunset, made some new friends, walked for hours and booked my bus to Ubud next morning. Kuta’s just not very me.

Next morning I headed to Ubud, Bali’s artistic and cultural centre. I found a gorgeous little guesthouse on Monkey Forest Road and this was where I acclimatised to Bali and found my travelling groove. I wandered through art galleries and temples, saw dance shows, browsed unique shops and lingered in cosmopolitan cafes. The highlight of my time in Ubud was a cycling eco tour. We were driven up a volcano, put on bikes and hurled downhill for 25km through villages, paddy fields, coffee plantations and stunning scenery. My favourite stop was at the coffee plantation where we watched them make “cat shit coffee”. A strange creature called a Luwak roams the forest eating coffee beans and pooping them out intact. They are collected from the forest floor as, having been through the Luwak’s digestive tract, they have a unique flavour. Each animal generates only 300g a year so it’s expensive shit. A cup of Luwak coffee in London will set you back about £40. The Luwaks are delighted. They used to get killed and eaten. Now everyone treats their poo like gold.

We wheeled downhill for 25km and then a few of us tackled the optional 10km uphill to our lunch stop. I didn’t expect to make it in the heat but was reassured as our bus was coming behind to pick up casualties. I was the only girl to make it all 10km uphill, racing in just behind the boys with a huge smile on my face and thirsty for a decent cup of cat shit coffee.

After cycling, I went to the (cheeky) Monkey Forest Sanctuary, home to 300 Macaques who taunt paying tourists daily. There’s a link in the comments below to a video of a woman being relieved of her hair clip – her husband is more concerned about getting a photo than getting the monkey off her head. Despite their unpredictability and cheek, they are adorable. I’m glad I took Kirsty and Ian’s advice and didn’t go in waving food. Food-less tourists are dull. It’s the ones with bags of bananas who get molested.

There were some things in Ubud that didn’t really work for me. Outside Bali Buddha a wall of posters peddle a multitude of ways to achieve happiness, personal fulfilment and get rid of all the bad things in your life. I read through them and my west of Scotland bullshit detectors were in overdrive. “So, if I pay £x, you’ll remove all the bad things in my life with your psychic crystal quantum energy theta healing tarot reading while you do a barefoot ecstasy dance around my wallet?” Harumph. I’m not averse to a bit of spiritual exploration. I’ve done quite a lot of it and think it has real value. However, being presented with a wall of people proclaiming to have the “answer” pissed me off. No one has “the answer”. I think we all find our own versions of our own answers that serve us at whatever point in life we’re at. I read a booklet given out by tourist information that was packed with ex-pat westerners’ advertising copy for their alternative businesses in Ubud. I’m sure people do find answers in Ubud. I just found it all a bit much.

It really served me though. It served me to find my own travelling groove. I was in Ubud, a place of real beauty, that is universally loved, and it wasn’t resonating with me. So I tried harder, I tried to give myself a shake and appreciate it. And there were some things that I loved. In the end, I realised that Ubud just doesn’t resonate with me and remembered that the way I love to travel is to find what I love, not what everyone else loves, or thinks I should love. To quote a card Adrian gave me when I took off last time, to dance to the beat of my own drum.

So that’s what I did. I beat my own drum and headed for Gili Trawangan and diving and I found a little slice of paradise.

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What’s the best way to get an old travel blog going again?

I’ve been asking myself this question for the last few days. One of the things I’m looking forward to most is blogging about this trip, but I don’t really know where to start. I began jacsjourney.com for my first solo trip to Vietnam in 2006, and continued with my year round the world in 2007-08. But this is now. My life has moved on. Do I need to fill in all the blanks? Tell you all the in-between news? Best not, I think. Well, maybe just the highlights. The main thing is to share the highs and lows of this trip – 3 and ½ weeks in Indonesia.

Yup, I’m back on the road again. It’s been a while. I sat in Kuala Lumpur International Airport waiting to fly to Bali and thought about writing my first travel blog in so long. What do I have to say about how I’ve grown, what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed since my last blog post? I gave my achievements a thorough going over.

It was pretty cool to realise that on my round the world trip, my dream was to come home and set up my own business. It didn’t happen right away, but Jackie Daly Ltd has now been trading for 9 months and I’m on my first between contracts trip. I reflected on the life I’ve made for myself in London – wonderful new and old friends, doing lots of things I love like running, cycling, diving, theatre, galleries and writing, living in a great flat (that’s being refurbished while I’m away) in an area I love, and the flexibility I’m creating for myself through interim and freelance work. It’s not been the easiest 2 and ½ years but boy, do I love what I’m making of my life.

There you go. Them there were the in-between highlights.

So, this trip. After two frantic weeks of finishing my contract at Mothercare, packing up my flat, putting most of it into storage and moving into my temporary home, building work began on the flat and I took off to Indonesia.

I had been so busy that arriving in Kuala Lumpur was a bit of a surprise. I’d decided to make it up depending how I felt when I arrived. If knackered, I’d find an airport hotel. If not, I’d go and explore. A decent kip thanks to a poor man’s upgrade (3 seats in a row, all to myself) saw me heading to KL Sentral and on to the Petronas Towers. It was an early start next morning (up at 5am) so KL didn’t have much time to make an impression. Which is probably why it didn’t. Sprawling, lots of shops, super-fast train to the airport about sums it up for me.

What I really loved about KL was its reminder of the highs and lows of independent travel. After two “Sorry, we’re full” conversations with hotel receptionists, I lugged my backpack further down the busy road. Pumping horns and stinking exhausts made 30 degrees seem even hotter and I could hear my Dad’s voice, “You should have booked something in advance.” Nah, sweat running down your 18 kilo laden back is where it’s at, Dad.

And so I juddered back into my backpacker groove. And on to Indonesia…

Home sweet home…

It’s all gone quiet…oh so quiet. Travel blogs tend to once travellers get home.

What is there to write about once you get home? All of a sudden I wasn’t seeing new things every day, taking pictures, having adventures.

Well, not in the same way.

But it has certainly been an adventure coming home.

The last two months have been a crazy mixed up time of adjusting, catching up with friends and family, looking for a new job, finding a flat, pining for my house (my tenants are still in) and finally, deciding to move to London to live and work.

Phew.

Sometimes my trip seems a world away. Sometimes I forget to hang onto the lessons I learned. Like today, when the 62 bus driver was running ahead of schedule and decided he was going to crawl into town at 15 miles an hour. I drummed my fingers and rolled my eyes, completely forgetting the smile I’d had on my face while waiting three hours for the bus to leave the station in Udomxai, Laos. Or the seven hour bus trip with my spewing companion and live chickens.

But I have hung onto some of the lessons. One of the most important things I learned travelling was to let go and keep my eyes and ears open for interesting things happening around me. One travel buddy coined the phrase ‘to take what the road sends you’ and it’s stuck in my mind. While I’ve been job hunting during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, I’ve been the most relaxed I’ve ever been about job hunting. At first, there wasn’t much out there, but I managed to fend off the worry and maintain my belief that the road would send me something good, in time. And it did. I’ve been offered a job I’m really excited about, and I’m moving to London.

So in a small way, I feel like I’ve kept one of the really important lessons from my trip alive, and it’s given me something hugely valuable back here in the ‘real world’.

I’m excited about my next adventure. I’ve visited London lots of times – to visit friends, with work, passing through – but I’ve never felt the inclination to live there before. Somehow, right now, it feels like the right thing to do. It feels like time. So I’m going.

And I plan to be a ‘working traveller’ while I’m there, turning the pages of my guidebook as I take in the main sights, and exploring the streets and alleys known only to locals. Another travel buddy has a philosophy of life I admire greatly. For him, travelling is a state of mind. It’s about being open to experiences, to new possibilities, to differences of opinion and culture, and being ready to value those differences. Being ready to experiment and jump in with both feet.

Now which box are my wellies in?

Glasgow

It was always going to be a rollercoaster.

Imagine the joy seeing your family for the first time in a year. Imagine the amazement watching your niece feeding herself, walking and talking, when she was just 7 months old last time you held her. Imagine the joy rediscovering your own city, a city you love, through travelled eyes.

I had imagined it while I was travelling, but hadn’t anticipated how quickly I would slip into the groove. Even at Heathrow, waiting on my flight to Glasgow, everything was astonishingly familiar; seemed recent. Within minutes of my welcome hug at Glasgow Airport, it felt like I’d only been gone a couple of months. Lugging my backpack out of the airport, for the last time this trip, I was welcomed by a light rain shower; the only welcome I was expecting from my beloved Glasgow.

For a few days, I basked in the warmth of my family, then began making arrangements to catch up with friends; beginning my brief sojourn as a lady who lunches.

Spending time with loved ones around Glasgow has brought such pleasure. Continuing in the tourist vein, I revelled in the displays at the People’s Palace, particularly the photographic exhibition from 1955. I followed the ghost of my student days around Glasgow University and West End lanes, taking a trip through the Mackintosh house and Hunterian Museum, chuckling at Glasgow humour in A Play, A Pie and A Pint at Oran Mor. I drove across the squinty bridge, compared the Armadillo to Sydney Opera House, ate a floppy sandwich on a bench in George Square, admired the new Silverburn shopping centre and inevitably, sat in traffic on the M8. I basked in intermittent sunshine in beer gardens, ate in favourite restaurants, chatted for hours over coffee. I took off into the countryside, introducing my New Zealand hiking boots to Scottish mud. I felt hairs stand on the back of my neck and head-to-toe goosebumps as I joined 60,000 Celtic fans singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ on European night.

I need to come home from a round the world trip more often.

Most of the time, I feel exhilarated by the possibilities ahead of me. I have no idea where I’m going to be living and working in just a few months’ time and that is exciting. I know what I want my life to be like, but don’t know how close I’m going to get. My life turns a corner shortly and I can’t see around the bend.

That’s exciting. But it’s also a little scary. Sometimes the uncertainty overwhelms me, making me freeze and stumble and think about it all too much. Sometimes this train of thought makes me feel distant from the people I love. I can’t quite communicate the immensity of the experience I’ve had, the growth I’ve experienced, the challenges I’ve overcome, the confidence I’ve gained. I struggle to explain the tumult of emotions, from joy to sadness, that have accompanied my return home. I try to explain the array of options I’m looking at and how I plan to make choices, the tingling excitement and stomach-churning trepidation as I try to second-guess which opportunities I can turn to reality. I try to manage my natural inclination to get things moving quickly, every cell straining to get on with it; try to allow a slower, more organic process of coming home, one that allows me to adjust.

I think of my trip; trains in China, jeeps in Tibet, jeepneys in the Philippines, those wonderful Laos buses, Tuk Tuks in Thailand, motos in Cambodia, the Battambang Norry, the Champasak car ferry; it feels like a world away.

I think this is called reverse culture shock.

The coming weeks and months hold surprises for me; new opportunities, choices to make, different ways to learn and grow, to have fun, to be sad, to make happiness. The next stage of Jac’s Journey.

In the meantime, I’m a lady who lunches. Give me a call!

:-D

San Francisco (photos added)

My last stop before home.

Better make it a good ‘un.

I was excited to reach San Francisco. As well as being a vibrant and interesting city, I would be meeting up with Bill, my travel buddy from north-west China. Within an hour of dumping my bags, he’d picked me up at the hotel and we had beer in front of us. Next day he took his tour guide duties very seriously and I saw more of San Francisco in one day than I’d hoped to see in five.

Bill took me for the best Dim Sum since Hong Kong, perfect pizza, burritos that would feed an army and delectable fusion food, the inspired blending of flavours that mirrors San Francisco’s eclectic ethnic mix. Wandering around, I indulged in Vietnamese beef noodles, strong espresso, deli eats and traditional American diners. In San Francisco you can take your tastebuds on a round the world trip without crossing the street.

Wearing flowers in my hair, I followed in the footsteps of the Beat Generation and spent a delightful couple of hours perched on a wooden stool in the City Lights Bookstore, immersing myself in poetry and stories that were born in San Francisco and influenced the world.

We went along to the Chihuly exhibition at De Young’s museum, a stunning display – I didn’t realise glass could be so beautiful. We strolled through Golden Gate Park, saw almost extinct American Bison and were drawn into a debate about Iraq by a passing San Franciscan. I marvelled at the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoyed views from just about every viewpoint in the city, thanks to Bill’s Honda, and was bowled over by the vistas spead out before me.

Shopping, wandering around, quaint cable cars and trams, pastel-coloured houses gleaming in the sunshine, steep hills rewarding me with glorious views, occasional fog unrolling over the city like a fluffy blanket; San Francisco captured my heart and added itself to my list of places I could live for a while.

On my last day, Bill took me up to Napa Valley and we spent the day tasting Californian wine and enjoying the scenery, followed by more great food and a steady stream of beer, laughs and travel stories. I kept saying out loud,

‘I go home tomorrow.’

But it refused to sink in. It was a meaningless, disembodied sentence.

It wasn’t until after midnight, in a bar called ‘The Bitter End’, listening to favourite tunes on a old juke box, that I said, ‘I go home today’ and it seemed real for the first time.

Next morning, rubbing my eyes and dosing the after effects of The Bitter End with strong coffee, I took an emotional journey to the airport, bidding a sad farewell to San Francisco, a very special city, and to my incredible year of travel. I felt them both pull me back, like an elastic band at full stretch, and tried to savour every moment, to experience every sensation of this, the end of my trip.

Jac’s Journey

The end is nigh.

People are walking about wearing sandwich boards, handing me leaflets.

It really is almost over.

It’s impossible to describe this trip in a few glib words. How can I even begin to describe a year spent living my dream?

It’s maybe worth going back to why I wanted to travel in the first place.

Around the age of 18 I started to develop a serious case of wanderlust, but for various reasons, didn’t indulge my itchy feet. By my mid-twenties I had shelved the idea and filed it away as an impossible dream. Then things changed and I began to realise that little is impossible. There are only things we choose not to do; dreams we choose not to chase.

At some point I decided this one was worth chasing. At some point I began to make plans instead of dreaming. At some point my plans took shape and I had a ticket. I was going.

Often while I’ve been travelling I’ve met people who’ve told me I’m brave travelling on my own for a year. Most of the time, I haven’t felt brave. Most of the time, it’s been relatively straightforward. You decide to go somewhere. You find out how to get there. You buy a ticket. You go there. You find somewhere to stay. You explore. You move on somewhere else. It’s really just getting on and off buses.

But is it truly as simple as this to make a dream to come true? Because that’s what I’ve done.

I feel proud, I feel privileged, I feel fulfilled, I feel a huge sense of achievement.

Would I feel that way simply getting on and off buses?

There have certainly been some challenges this year. There have been times when I’ve missed my family and friends badly. Those times were tough. There have been times where I’ve been travelling in a place I didn’t like much, or around people I didn’t like. At these times I felt confused and would sometimes question how I could change what I did to try and get the most from the situation. I was a bit hard on myself because some of these places just weren’t that good and some of the people weren’t worth making an effort with. As my trip progressed, I got a lot better at spotting this early and moving on.

But all in, these challenging times add up to perhaps 3 weeks out of a year. Most of the time, I have been living the dream; on tropical islands, diving beautiful coral reefs, exploring vibrant and interesting cities, climbing mountains, trekking, awestruck by nature’s marvels. I’ve discovered the beauty of the world and the beauty of the world’s people. My horizons have broadened, my knowledge and understanding has expanded, my opinions have changed and my sense of what’s really important has solidified. I feel truly privileged to have learned as much as I have. I feel privileged to have met so many great travelling friends, some of whom I hope to keep in touch with and perhaps meet again somewhere in the world. But even if I don’t, the time we spent together was special and the magic of our brief interaction has contributed to the joy I feel when I think back across this, my year of travelling and adventure.

I’ve worked out some stuff for fun and chosen some moments that stand out for me. Hope you enjoy them…

Jac’s Journey

• 1 year and 1 week
• 10 countries
• 22 flights
• 13 inter-city train journeys
• 18 ferry journeys
• 43 inter-city bus journeys
• 2 hire cars driven 5000km+
• 29000 hits on my blog.

Things lost to the travel fairies

• Several items of clothing, the most mourned being one favourite shirt hanging on the back of a chair in Laos, an angora wool hat left in a restaurant in Dunedin and a cosy fleece lying on a bench in Auckland.
• 4 pairs of sunglasses
• 2 sets of iPod headphones
• 1 swiss army knife
• 2 torches
• 1 mobile phone
• 1 camera

New skills I’ve learned

• Scuba diving
• Thai massage
• Thai cooking
• About 35 Chinese words
• How to use a squat toilet on a moving train without touching the walls.

Worst moments

• 3 successive ear infections that almost put a stop to my diving.
• Scalding my face with boiling water in Singapore.
• A broken tooth from an excessively crusty bagel in Kashgar, China.
• Falling off the edge of a rice terrace in Banaue, Philippines.
• The bitter cold of Guilin, China, when I couldn’t get warm anywhere.
• The couple who had sex in my dorm – while I was there!
• 3 bouts of homesickness.
• Cockroach and spider-infested rooms, and filthy bed linen.
• Toilets in China. They must be the worst in the world.

Random Amazing Things and Wonderful Moments (there are so many it’s almost impossible to choose!)

• Hiking the Great Wall of China and seeing the Terracotta Warriors.
• Visiting Everest Base Camp.
• Drinking brandy and gazing at the Himalayas from the Best Pub In The World.
• Travelling on the highest train in the world (Tibet) and the fastest train in the world (Shanghai).
• Travelling on the Champasak ‘car ferry’ and the Battambang Norry.
• Riding around on the back of motorbikes across Asia, watching families of five travelling on the bike beside me.
• Exploring Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the largest religious building in the world.
• Facilitation in flip flops in Phnom Penh.
• Diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
• Swimming with sharks for the first time in Thailand.
• Winter trekking in New Zealand.
• Dancing in the sea at New Year in the Philippines.
• Kayaking, Scottish country dancing, travelling by local bus and eating deep fried insects in Laos.
• Being interviewed on camera by the BBC at Karakul Lake.
• Getting my hair cut by a Cambodian lady-boy diva hairdresser.
• All those fabulous, tasty meals – Asian food is the best in the world.

Above all, meeting so many wonderful new friends, so many brave and inspiring people, having so many incredible experiences, in so many beautiful places around the world.

Los Angeles

Hollywood. Beverly Hills. Bel Air. Santa Monica. These place names are so familiar to me that it seems impossible I’ve never been to any of them before.

Arriving into LA, I was greeted by sunshine, warmth and loud Californians. Before I’d got my bearings outside the terminal building, I’d been overwhelmed by friendliness, then asked for a donation to charity and fended off an attempt to convert me to the path of Christ. After ten hours beside a ‘Messenger of Christ’ between Fiji and LA, and I wondered if the big guy was trying to tell me something.

That evening I headed over to West Hollywood for a Fiji reunion. Incredibly, four of us from Taveuni were in LA at the same time and we had a ‘Long Time No See’ Fiji reunion, which was just as much fun as all our Fiji evenings had been. Alia and Tuukka had work the next morning, but that didn’t stop them staying out ‘til 2am.

I quickly came to realise that LA is beyond massive. People had been telling me this, but having spent time in some really large cities, I put this advice in the same category as when a Singaporean tells me the weather’s cold.

In a dark room, sometime in the early 20th century, motor industry magnates and US government leaders agreed to invest in highways not railways. The system of highways is exceptional, roads are wide and long and it’s fairly easy to navigate once you get the hang of the main artery roads.

LA has developed the way it has because of the car. I was surprised at how low-rise it is. I was expecting a sea of skyscrapers, but everything is flat, which means it extends very, very far. There’s no city centre as such, just a series of neighbourhoods that are actually more like cities unto themselves, their edges fraying into one another.

As I faced a choice of walking for hours and getting not very far or open-wallet surgery in the back of a cab, I cursed that bunch of men in suits 100 years ago.

There is a complete dearth of public transport. There’s no centre, so no logical place to be the hub of a transport wheel. This makes planning public transport harder, and it’s less likely that routes will be helpful to people. So they’re not profitable. So they don’t run many buses, which makes the buses that do run inconvenient because you need to wait too long. So people take the car. It’s a vicious circle.

With ever-increasing prices for oil, I reckon LA is facing a transport crisis. The average number of cars per family is 3, and unless billions are invested in a mass rapid transit system that gets people where they need to go, the city is going to grind to a halt at some point in future.

It’s like London, stretched out over even more space, without the underground and with hardly any buses. I couldn’t conceive that there would ever be a city that size with no public transport to speak of. So now I will listen more closely when a Singaporean tells me the weather’s cold…

With a grimace, I opened my wallet and faced the inevitable exorbitant fare, taking a long run through Hollywood, Bel Air and the Hollywood Hills to the famous Hollywood sign, passing the enormous, extravagant homes of the stars. I then pounded the pavements from Hollywood to Beverly Hills, stopping for tours of the Kodak and Chinese theatres, following the path of the Academy Award hopefuls, looping around the famous Hollywood Bl, Sunset Bl and Santa Monica Bl, wandering round the shops and finding wonderful food and great service in delightful restaurants.

I enjoyed my brief time in LA. People surprised me with their friendliness – I’ve become used to a level of unfriendliness in large cities, but in LA people will interact with you and are interested in talking to you. I’m glad LA exists because it’s obsession with the silver screen has produced some of my favourite movies. It’s an interesting place, with a high-level excitable energy that I could taste and touch during my whole time there, like the energy of an aspiring actor waiting impatiently for their lucky break. The energy there runs to a different beat from me – I don’t think I could live in LA. But the city is built on chasing dreams, on working hard to make them come true.

As someone who’s a big fan of chasing dreams, how could I not identify with that?

LA

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