Singapore & Supertasting

So here's my first impression of Singapore so far. It's pretty much one big urban sprawl of glass and concrete as far and wide as the eye can see. There is no shortage of shopping as you have multiple, giant mazes of air-conditioned malls to choose from, spanning the spectrum of retail; everything from Forever XXI to Armani Exchange. The streets are full of speeding cars and taxis and while there is public transportation, it seems to be underutilized. It's also an interesting feeling to be the ethnic minority as Singapore is mostly made up of Chinese, Indian & Southeast Asian inhabitants. It's not really intimidating though, because almost everyone speaks English and there are enough Europeans and Ex-pats around that my sister and I aren't much of a novelty. 

There are some green spaces that serve as a respite from the industrial landscape, which I have yet to visit but am looking forward to. The city is pretty modern with a few strict rules like imprisonment for chewing gum and the death penalty for trafficking drugs.

Death to drug traffickers

Death to drug traffickers

(However, I find it ironic that they don't want drugs and gum littering their streets yet a ton of people smoke and there doesn't seem to be much consequence for stray cigarette butts.) I love the architectural and cultural diversity as you can see Sikh temples and Buddhist temples and Catholic Churches all within a few blocks of each other and according to my Uber driver at least, everyone is pretty tolerant of each other. For such a modern city, I haven't noticed a ton of recycling, but I do like that all of the restaurants (except the American fast food joints which we avoid, of course) use metal utensils and real, washable dishes. 

I flew from Cairns to Darwin to Singapore and Jamie met me at the airport. I'm incredibly thankful that I get to stay at her flat for a few days and I even get my own bed since her roommates went back to Switzerland. My fist meal was at a Hawker Center, which is basically a Pan-Asian food court on steroids. Think of the foodcourt in your local mall, then dim the lights, double the amount of people and triple the overall size. 

There was little English and even fewer vegetarian options, but I found a cool little spot where you use tongs to fill a metal bowl with fresh, raw veggies and protein of your choice before they weigh and cook it. The cashier asked me two questions: soup or dry and spicy or not spicy. I very clearly said dry and not spicy but they took the liberty of adding peanuts, a not-at-all-mild sauce, chunks of red chili pepper and cilantro to my bowl during the cooking process. Gag. 

Hawker Center = Singapore food court

Hawker Center = Singapore food court

Notice that nothing is labeled

Notice that nothing is labeled

OK I'll admit to being a bit of a picky eater - but now I can prove it's genetic and there's nothing I can do about it! I hate cilantro because I have this recessive gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. Seriously, it's science. And my sister has suspicions that I might be a supertaster after she stumbled across some research about it so I investigated further and now I'm 99% sure I am.

About 25% of Americans are supertasters, which means we have an abnormal amount of tastebuds and are far more sensitive to taste. Particularly the bitter stuff like coffee, beer, grapefruit, dark chocolate etc, which are all things I find repulsive. We also tend to avoid really fatty foods which would also explain why I don't like meat or things smothered in cheese. More intense taste also means that I have a lower threshold for spices so a dish that may tingle someone else's tongue will set my mouth on fire. And as much as I hate bitter food, I alternatively love the sweet stuff. Even as a baby, my mom said the only baby food I liked was carrots and sweet potatoes; so much so that I actually turned orange. It all makes sense now! See, mom, green beans really do taste like anger and misery if you're a supertaster! 
(Sources: WSJ, Supertaster Labs, Wikipedia

So back to my first meal at the hawker which turned out to be burn-your-face-off spicy. I could barely eat it so my sister took on some of the torturous food as well. After that, we planned the rest of our meals a little more carefully. We went grocery shopping and have cooked a few meals at home, paired with white wine, which is hella expensive. It's hard to find anything under $25 per bottle - even the Australian Yellowtail costs over double what it does in the US - which is about as close to local as you can get here.

When dining out, we had an amazing soup and salad lunch in Chinatown and a delicious dinner in Little India. We're still not sure exactly what we ate at a place called Komala Vilas but I wasn't particularly worried because the menu was all vegetarian. Our food was served on Cafetaria style metal trays and Jamie's involved some kind of Briyani rice with lots of side dishes, I had a Masala Dosai which was kind of like an Indian burrito and that radioactive-Pepto-Bismol colored beverage was rose milk. Mmmm, flower flavor! (We asked for tap water because its totally safe to drink here but he brought us a bottle instead.) We were definitely both full for just $16.90 SGD ($12.50 USD). Then we spent the rest of the night wandering around Little India, taking in all the exotic sights, sounds and smells before cabbing it back to the flat. 

Legit Indian Food

Legit Indian Food

Statues for sale in Little India

Statues for sale in Little India

Another highlight so far was a free concert by the Victoria Alumni Chinese Orchestra that was part of Singapore's Festival of Biodiversity which we discovered accidentally, but enjoyed for sure because the Chinese instruments gave it that twangy, distinctly Eastern sound. My sister and I also have a tradition of getting a manicure and/or pedicure together so we continued that legacy as well with an Express (no spa stuff and cheaper price) to freshen up our feet. 

 

Mirambling Muses: Cairns, Australia

I had so much fun in Cairns that I wanted to share my favorite cheap, free, local, sustainable, inspirational and/or must-not-miss things to do there. It's incredibly tourist and backpacker friendly, boasting tons of hostels, rentals & hotels and there is free community wifi in several spots throughout the city. The main part of town is relatively compact and easy to walk to all of the locations listed below. Oh and one last tip: the locals drop the i and the r pronounce it like cans

7. Snoogie's Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurant 

This gem is a bit hard to find, tucked away in the Main Street Arcade (82 Lake Street) a bit north of Gilligan's. I found out about it myself after chatting up a local shop owner after lusting after her lunch. It's pretty much the most affordable and delicious healthy food and juice bar you'll find in Cairns. I really wish I'd discovered it sooner because this was my favorite food place. And I'm not alone; it's ranked #1 out of 381 restaurants in Cairns based on its 42 glowing reviews on Trip Advisor

6. Cairns Regional Gallery

An eclectic Art Gallery with a variety of exhibitions where you can escape the sun or the rain and see lots of work from Aussie artists. Admission is only $5 per adult and they're open 7 days a week. Or just visit the shop which offers a unique collection of design, crafts and jewelry by local and national artisans. You'll find much better souvenirs and gifts than the generic, tacky tourist shops you'll find everywhere else. 

Image Source: Trip Advisor

Image Source: Trip Advisor

5. The Night Market

Located 71-75 on the Esplanade, the quirky Night Market is not to be missed! There is a self-serve food court serving up a variety of Asian favorites, hair and nail services, lots of souvenir shops and the famous $15 massages. You can find everything from locally crafted clothing & jewelry to custom airbrushed hats to postcards to kangaroo scrotum keychains. Shops are open 5-11 PM, Food Court from 10 AM - 11 PM and Massages from 12 noon - 11 PM. 

Note: I do not endorse the sale nor purchase of these. I just needed pictorial proof of their absurd existence. 

Note: I do not endorse the sale nor purchase of these. I just needed pictorial proof of their absurd existence. 

4. The Esplanade

A super fun and free place to hang out, situated along 2.5 km of the Cairns coast. The lagoon is a free, public swimming pool, there's a boardwalk for exercise and/or people watching, plenty of open grassy areas and playgrounds and free community wifi. I often saw street performers and lots of people relaxing with a book or enjoying a picnic. If there are any events or festivals going on, they'll most likely be here. There are some free Active LIving classes you can take advantage of as well. I participated in yoga on Fridays at 6:30 AM. 

The Lagoon

The Lagoon

3. Graff Alley

The largest concentration of Street Art I could find in Cairns. Located off of Grafton Street almost across from Gilligan's (the biggest and most infamous hostel in the city). Amongst all the murals, there's also a rather popular coffee shop called Caffeind and the Alleyway Paint & Skate shop. 

2. Rusty's Markets

Great place to buy local groceries or grab a bit to eat. I found all kinds of foreign fruits I can't get back home and I found the stall owners are really friendly. There's also a fresh juice bar and reflexology & thai massage as well as jewelry and clothing for sale. However, it's only open on the weekends; Friday & Saturday 5 AM - 6 PM and Sunday 5 AM - 3 PM. (Also located just past Gilligan's on Grafton Street.) 

1. The Great Barrier Reef

The harbor is packed with boats that will take you to see and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I can recommend Passions of Paradise ($159/adult + $10 reef tax) since that's the eco-certified boat that took me out to discover their natural treasures. But there are other sustainable options like the Reef Daytripper ($124/adult + $15 reef tax) and Ocean Free Green Island & Reef Pinnacle Tour ($190/adult includes reef tax). There's a full list of options on the Cairns Visitor Centre website


The Great Barrier Reef

This was my last big adventure in Australia, because honestly, you can't visit Cairns and not go see the Great Barrier Reef. 

GBR7.jpg

Friday, I got up early again and took the 7:15 reef shuttle from my hostel to the Reef Fleet Terminal on the south side of Cairns past the Esplanade. I was ready for a day trip of snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef that I booked with Passions of Paradise. I was really impressed with this company/crew and would totally recommend them. Our group got to exclusively dive and snorkel around Paradise reef as well as Michaelmas Cay. 

They take sustainability seriously and even did a little educational presentation on the return trip about their commitment to it and the reef. For just one dollar, you could offset your carbon emissions for the day (I donated $2) and a percentage of sales from the bar is donated to anti-shark finning campaigns and shark research. Lunch was pretty good as there was plenty for veggos and all the plates and flatware got washed and reused. The catamaran itself, is Eco-certified, and they put up the sail on the way back, which they said saved over 400 liters of fuel. The crew was super fun and friendly. 

I met a pair of Aussie sisters from the south who I sat with while aboard the boat. We sat up front during the outbound trip, and got sprayed with seawater on several occasions. The whole day I had goosebumps and I had to wear two wetsuits when snorkeling because I was so cold. (It is technically Winter here.) 

GBR1.jpg

I’ve been trying to think of words to describe the GBR, but its so incredibly awesome and colorful and beautiful that I can’t find words worthy enough of its natural beauty. Even my pictures and video don’t do it justice, because the spectrum gets a little distorted underwater, and while you can still see the red wavelengths, cameras have a hard time picking it up. I felt like I was the little mermaid swimming amongst all her sea friends. I saw heaps of coral in all shapes, colors and sizes and a rainbow of fishes. I even got to see a couple sea turtles and a sting ray. Everyone should put the GBR on their bucket lists and try to see it before its destroyed by starfish or farming or dredging. (I have tons more photos and videos that I will edit later but I wanted to get a few photos up right away.) 

The only downside was that I had my hair braided and to the side to keep it out of my way. I was expecting to have lovely, mermaid waves in my hair when I removed the elastics, but it was more of a tangled rats nest which took me ages to brush it out properly. RIP and a moment of silence for all the good strands I lost that day. 


Random Road Trip (Bush Week)

Monday was going to be a laid-back, relaxing day. Until I found out about Bush Week. What is this Bush Week Festival, you ask? Well according to the website, it’s a week long celebration of art, music and lifestyle that happens only once every other year at a camp site in the rainforest in far north Queensland. In reality, it was more of a mud-covered hippie fest. But more about that later. 

I had nothing else planned for my last week in Cairns except a day snorkeling on the GBR (Great Barrier Reef), which was completely flexible. Once I found out about the festival, I decided I had to go. I was kind of annoyed because the site was just above Cape Tribulation, where I had just spent the previous weekend and returned from there on a tour bus just the previous night. 

TRAVEL TIP #2: ALWAYS GOOGLE FESTIVALS AND EVENTS FOR PLACES YOU ARE VISITING BEFORE YOU GET THERE. 

Common sense, really. And I usually take my own advice. That’s how I found out about the Auckland Arts Festival and Pasifika Festival that I experienced in New Zealand a few months ago. Not sure why I didn’t do it this time because I could have planned way better. But I digress. 

I first checked out the bus schedule and there was no easy way to get there. So I ended up renting a car from a place around the corner from my hostel. I talked to a few other friends at Calypso whose eyes lit up and said they were super were interested in going, but when it came time to actually buy the tickets, they flaked out on me. (It was probably for the best though because I ended up sleeping in the backseat of my car for two nights. I have no idea where they would have slept.) I conquered my irrational fear of driving on the left and went to Cairns Central to buy some groceries for the trip. I packed up most of my stuff and set my alarm for 5 AM because I wanted to get an early start the next morning. 

Keep an eye out for the Roos! 

Keep an eye out for the Roos! 

Tuesday was the only time I’ve slept through my alarm so I got a bit of a later start and finally got on the road close to 7 AM. I had printed out directions, but I pretty much only took two and a half roads to get where I was going: Route 1 up to Mareeba and then Route 81 up to Rossville and the rainforest. It took about 300 km (186 miles) and nearly 5 hours to get there. It was raining at first, which made the winding road out of Cairns and through the Tablelands a bit treacherous but once I got on the wide open highways, all I had to worry about was avoiding cows and kangaroos. I could drive for miles without seeing another car on the road. There were caution signs everywhere and I saw about a dozen dead roos and whatever the Aussie equivalent of a possum is on the side of the road, but also saw a couple live kangaroos as well. One was perked up on the side of the road, seemingly waiting to cross once the cars were clear, and another, riskier roo hopped across the road between my car and a truck coming from the opposite direction and made it across just in time.

The roads were smooth and paved the entire way, until the last terrifying 3 km where I was basically off-roading on a wet, muddy and bumpy dirt road. I had to drive over rocks and creeks and avoid fallen limbs and stray rocks in the road and was scared my little Hyundai wouldn’t make it but it did because I was driving as slow as possible. I parked on a grassy spot not to far from the “road” or the entrance which decreased my chances of getting stuck in mud and increased my chances of an easy exit three days later. 

I ate a quick lunch in my car then went out in the rain to make friends. I met a friendly group a few meters away. One of them was painted white and purple and was mumbling about mushrooms. I chatted with the group for a while then followed the signs to a tent where I could get a hair wrap. The girl I met there, Ashley, was a festival regular and a super sweet hippie type with dreads and pixie point bangs. She wrapped a section of my hair in blue yarn and string and I picked a silver Om charm and two small feathers to fasten to the end. She also happily did a French braid which rippled along my crown and cascaded down the right side of my face. 

Ready for a purple party. 

Ready for a purple party. 

It was raining intermittently all day but you could still hear the reggae over the precipitous wind. When it finally let up for a while, I was able to make it back to my car, eat some dinner and go to bed after listening to some music, which had transitioned to dubstep (I think). 

The next day I decided to walk to the waterfall rumored to be in the area. I met another lone traveler along the way and we Hobbit-hiked it (barefoot) to the waterfall, which was a way farther and more arduous journey than I ever expected. It took over an hour to get there, traversing thick mud, slopes, tree branches and slippery rocks so there was no way I wasn’t jumping in for a swim after all that. The water was cold and I was more than a little paranoid about crocs, even though there were no warning signs. I put my clothes and jacket back on which I had stashed under my umbrella to keep dry then we started the same unruly trail back to the camp. It would not stop raining but there was one bright spot when my new friend found a $20 note on the ground, which we used to buy a well-deserved lunch from one of the food tents. 

I hung out with another group for a while which included one of the DJs who would perform that weekend, his petite French wife, a hitchhiker from Canada who did our tarot card readings and a few other characters. They had one of the most spacious and driest spots, with three tarps strewn across some trees and vans. We entertained ourselves there until the rain stopped and we finally saw the sun for the first time in two days, just before it started to set, of course. There was a live Reggae singer on a small stage and people were dancing in the mud. Pretty much everyone, including myself, was barefoot because it was just easier than getting your shoes stuck in the mud. I was a bit surprised to see so many kids there. The older ones were clothed and the younger ones looked feral as they were all running around naked except for the mud splatter that covered them. 

Celebrating that the sun finally made an appearance! 

Celebrating that the sun finally made an appearance! 

I got my feet as clean as I could and curled up in my car for a second night. I left early the next morning and of course the day I leave, everything was bright and sunny. Of course, driving a car by myself was not the most sustainable way to get there and back, but the tree to car ratio along the road was about a bazillion to one so I’m pretty sure most of my CO2 was absorbed. Still, I’ll probably pay to plant an extra tree at the end of my trip.

The main part of the festival took place over the weekend, so I was a bit bummed to have to miss it, but glad to get back to Cairns for a proper, hot shower. I did yoga, enjoyed my long-awaited shower and then visited the night market one last time for some lo mein and a $15 full body massage. 

A Walk in the Woods

I've really been enjoying reading Walden lately, so here's my attempt at letting nature inspire my thoughts and writing, Thoreau-style. (Intentionally posting no pictures since there are none in my novel and I'm practicing being descriptive. But you can see some in my previous post about a weekend in Cape Tribulation.) 

At first I was striding along annoyed that humans are so helpless that we can't even walk through the woods unaided by a wooden Boardwalk. And then there's the irony of walking on a bunch of dead trees to admire the living ones. But then I slowed down and realized that without the crunching of leaves underfoot, I could walk as silently as a ninja. Of course everything hides when heaps of tourists are traipsing through, but once I became silent and still, the forest came alive around me. I saw birds both in the trees and on the ground. I admired small spiders in their elaborate webs and listened to an omnipresent symphony of insects. 

I heard leaves crunching and witnessed a pair of scrub fowls scratching at the leaf litter. I tried to get a closer look, but they must have sensed my presence and disappeared deeper into the undergrowth. I really liked the thick vines that contorted themselves into corkscrews and were intertwined amongst the mostly straight tree trunks. Tall trees, short trees, thick trunks, skinny trunks, young ferns frolicking around the legs of their parents. It's like I'm a tiny spectator and the trees are the legs of Giants, standing tall and socializing at some eternal and etherial social event, to which I am an uninvited guest. 

For the most part, I was alone. But whenever I did encounter other people, they would scurry past me as if trying to get the walk over with like it was their morning commute to the office and they were whizzing by in the carpool lane. "I have to get there before the coffee is all gone so I don't have to make the next pot." Hardly pausing to stop and admire the deep green magic around them that they have likely traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to see. This is nature's job- to create and manage everything on earth. What's yours? To create a spreadsheet? Manage a budget? Sorry but you should feel a little insignificant from time to time. Nature never takes a holiday or even a day off.  

Gravity is the force against which everything in the forest must fight, but will succumb to sooner or later. This is evident from the felled trees and myriad fallen leaves and limbs that lie in so many layers along the forest floor. They'll eventually decompose into dirt and then help others defy gravity once again. Does a rotting tree trunk represent life or death? You might be inclined to say death since the life of the wood has come to an end. But in reality the decomposing log sustains more life than ever: moss, fungi, bacteria and a whole host of insects and maybe even small mammals and amphibians may use it for shelter. It's all a simple yet perfect cycle. 

I noticed small, red lily-trumpet shaped flowers strewn along one part of the path but could not find their origin. It was green as far as the eye could see in any direction. They must exist high up in the canopy as vibrant treats for birds and butterflies, beyond my humble visual range. 

The ancient forests faded onto an empty beach. The sand is fine and soft and the ocean was a gradient of green to turquoise to slate blue on the horizon with small yet constant white-capped waves rolling in to shore. The landscape was deserted as far as the eye could see in either direction due to the presence of saltwater crocodiles, which tourists should be well aware of due to the abundance of red and yellow warning signs. A small, mossy-looking mountain rose to the north while the forest continued to border the beach to the south. The sky was muffled with gray clouds which were fluffy mounds towards the horizon, but dissipated and blended into a smooth, gray blanket towards and over the trees. 

It felt strange and foreign to be walking along this beach in boots whereas at home I would be barefoot, feeling the sand beneath and between my toes. Walking towards the water, then turning around, you could see a sliver of mountains rising above the tree line into the gray, misty clouds. It's probably quite breathtaking on days when the sun and sky are friendlier. 

It took me 2 hours to meander down a 1.2 kilometer Boardwalk through a 100 million year old rainforest. I wondered how long it took people to build this long and winding bridge. However long it took, I'm certain it is a microscopic amount of time when compared to how long it has taken nature to build the forest around it. People are forever building barriers between themselves and nature. We build buildings and roads and buses and boats to aid in our own survival, often to the detriment of so many other species that rely on just water, sunlight and whatever makes up their meager diets. It's really pretty incredible when you stop to think about how helpless humanity has become and how that helplessness has compounded with each new technological marvel of the modern day. 


A Weekend in Cape Tribulation

Friday June 19

So here I am in a cabin surrounded on all sides by rainforest aka Daintree Rainforest & National Park which is a World Heritage Site and part of Cape Tribulation (so named by Captain Cook because of his troubles navigating the reef there). No TV, no internet, no modern distractions except the ones I brought with me. 

Home sweet home - for the weekend, anyways. 

Home sweet home - for the weekend, anyways. 

I arrived by bus around noon after a scenic drive up the Queensland coast from Cairns. The landscape alternated between rocky beaches, rugged mountains and tall, ripe fields of sugarcane. The journey also included a short ferry across croc-infested waters (actually almost all the water up here is full of "snapping handbags" as our driver/guide calls them) and a short walk through a small patch of roadside rainforest complete with tea, coffee and restrooms. I'm at a self-proclaimed "resort" called Ferntree in a 5 person dorm room but there are a few other lodging options in the area. These are the last traces of civilization before you head off into the great green yonder, preferably with 4WD. 

I saw this sign on several occasions. 

I saw this sign on several occasions. 

This place lived up to its name at least at first because I had a few tribulations myself when I checked in. The girls at the desk immediately tried to upsell me on a bunch of overpriced excursions from horseback riding to snorkeling to zip lining but I declined as I think just having the opportunity to stay in a 100 million old rainforest is enough. Next they gave me a key and a map - one of those old-fashioned, rare, genuine paper maps no less - and directed me to room 55. When I walked in, I discovered that all five beds looked occupied so I dropped my rucksack and trekked back to the office to inform them that I was not planning to sleep on the floor. So they moved me next door to cabin 54, which pleased me to see that it was empty upon my arrival so I had my choice of bunk. I chose one right next to the window and made up my new sleeping spot with the linens provided. I did find it necessary to switch blankets with another bunk because the color scheme of mine was just tacky and visually awkward and I don't want to accidentally absorb some bad design vibes via osmosis while I sleep. 

After settling in it was time to find food, which should have been the nearby Cassowary Cafe which was open noon - 2:30 according to my archaic paper map. However when I got there, the lights were off, doors were locked and chairs stacked upside down on top of the tables inside. I can't be 100% certain but I'm pretty sure they were closed. 

Luckily a friendly middle-aged Aussie approached me saying that I looked lost. I said I was starving and my map lied to me and he confirmed that the cafe was only open for breakfast and dinner and had also changed its name to Off the Grid Cafe a few weeks ago. He asked "which of the great 50 states" I was from and I asked him to guess. He supposed California. I corrected him then we chatted for a bit. He was impressed that I was staying for 3 days because apparently most people just spend a single day and night here to cross it off their list. He directed me to walk through the forest to find food at a few other cafes and lodges nearby. 

After enjoying a roasted veggie wrap at the nearby Turtle Rock Cafe, I ended up at the community swimming hole (the safer alternative to the croc-inhabited oceans) with some new friends from Sweden & the Netherlands. I wasn't prepared at all for swimming but I was feeling spontaneous so I went anyways. We walked down the road at least a few kilometers then past a petrol station, across a field, through a small patch of tangled trees before we finally laid eyes upon the crystal clear creek. A handful of kids in their 20s were already congregated in the area, taking turns splashing into the deeper part via the raggedy old rope swing that hung from an even older tree limb. I took off my Birkenstocks and walked barefoot over the smooth yet perilously placed stones scattered across the creek bed. My mind wandered and I thought maybe some cultures might consider this some kind of natural, deep-tissue foot massage. 

The swimming hole

The swimming hole

A few hours later we headed back to our respective lodges and when I re-entered my cabin around 4:30, I found two women asleep on two of the other bunks. One was snoring and one had stinky feet. Or maybe the sounds and smells were emanating from the same one - I don't know and I'm not investigating any further to find out. 

The cafe with an identity crisis that had thwarted me earlier was open for dinner around 6 so I went and was the only one out of a handful of customers that chose to sit outside. I ordered a glass of Chardonnay seeing as my top three wines (Rose, White Zin, Moscato) were unavailable and a Rege's Veges pizza with a circumference bigger than my head. It was very tasty and piled high with a veritable garden of veggies like pumpkin, spinach, tomato, onion and mushroom. The cheesy glue that held everything together was a blend of feta and mozzarella. I could only make it through 3/8 slices so I took the rest back to the fridge in my lodge for safekeeping. I got two more meals out of it the following day for lunch and dinner, which helps justify the $20 price tag. 

I fully intended on meeting up with my new friends again at their place PK's down the road and walked a few hundred meters before my imagination and fear took over. Once the lights from Ferntree had completely faded behind a paved hill, and now it was just me and stars and woods for what seemed like infinity, I panicked. Just my tiny flashlight and I were surely no match for whatever I was sure was lurking in these foreign woods. I was probably close to halfway to my destination but instead of walking, or more likely running, the rest of the way, I turned and walked briskly back to my cabin. Face palm. As I begrudgingly changed into my pajamas, I noticed my right leg now bears the marks of a battle zone with a record 10 bruises and three leech bites. The left leg by comparison has only two bruises and a small scrape on the knee. 

And then, just as the Brazilians (I discovered they were mother/daughter) and I were all in our beds about to go to sleep around 9 PM, we heard the clicking sound of key-in-lock as someone was attempting to open our door. In walked two guys in their twenties and I knew immediately by their accents that they were American. They said hello and immediately invited me and the Brazilian girl to join them for a beach party down the road. And they had a car. Now I had no excuse. I agonized over the decision for a moment then drug myself out of bed and to the bathroom to redo everything I had just undone. I was ready in about 5 minutes and John, Brian and I headed out to the parking lot to their car. Turns out they are finishing up a semester abroad in Sydney and took a side trip to Cape Trib during finals week. We drove a few kilometers north then parked on the side of the dirt road amongst several other cars. We walked down a steep grade in the dark and followed the sounds of music towards the party. There was a live band and a small bar where I ordered a bottle of cider. We followed the younger crowd out to the beach where we found a bonfire and sat around it chatting for a while. Long after I finished my drink, I was starting to get really tired and around 11 PM suggested we go back to Ferntree. They agreed since they needed to drive back to Cairns early and catch a flight back down South. 

Saturday June 20

I fell asleep pretty quickly but found it difficult to wake up the next morning. The Brazilians slept in too, which reinforced my decision to do so. By the time I was pretty much ready to go and the rain had let up enough, it was close to noon. 

I enjoyed some amazing walks through both the Dibuji and the Kulki rainforests of the Daintree National Park. They were both walking distance from Ferntree with Dijubi just down the hill and Kulki about 2 km north. There was tons of forest to explore and the greenery gradually transitions onto the beach and the beach becomes the Great Barrier Reef. I saw more kinds of plants than I can count and some pretty weird sand formations on the beach that are apparently made by crabs. 

The sun was going down by the time I finished Kulki but thankfully I ran into a cute, young Aussie couple that offered to give me a ride back to Ferntree. I had some serious Thoreau moments in the woods and wrote down almost everything I was thinking. I was walking pretty much nonstop from noon til sundown which was close to 6 PM since it is winter here at the moment. I did a few sketches in my moleskine and took tons of footage. 

The canopy at Dubuji

The canopy at Dubuji

Kulki National Park - Lookout

Kulki National Park - Lookout

Crab Sand Art at Kulki

Crab Sand Art at Kulki

Once back at the lodge, I noticed I had the place all to myself as no one else had checked in while I was gone. I rested physically and mentally just for a bit before rolling out my mat on the front porch and doing about an hour and a half of yoga. Thanks to the humidity, I got good & sweaty & was ready for a nice hot shower but there was none to be found. It wasn't an ice cold shower but it was definitely below room temperature so I cleaned myself very quickly. I played with my gadgets and listened to the few songs I had on iTunes for a bit before I burrowed into bed. 

Sunday June 21

It was absolutely pouring rain this morning so I took my time getting up and packing. I had to check out of the room at 10 and my bus wouldn't arrive until 12 so I had a couple hours to kill. I walked down to a nearby cafe and had a muffin the was most likely devoid of any nutrition and an overly processed peach tea. One thing I do like about this place is the abundance of recycling receptacles - everywhere recycles here! By the time I finished my "meal" the sky levy had broken again. I waited as long as I could but it didn't let up so I had to walk back to Ferntree in the downpour. I wrapped my rain jacket around my backpack to keep it and all the gadgets inside dry and my umbrella was enough to keep me from getting soaked. So glad I did my exploring yesterday when it was relatively dry! 

I was the last to load the bus and had to take the only remaining seat up front to the left of the driver, which was fine. I never caught his name, but I'm going to name him Mr. Morbid because every story he told us during our return trip to Cairns involved death, dismemberment or despair. Seriously, there was the one about the American couple that was left out on a reef by their tour, never to be seen nor heard from again (presumed to be eaten by sharks), the one about a boy being attacked by a bull shark a few weeks ago, people that died during a heatwave a few years back, a plane crash that happened in the mountains decades ago and was not discovered until the 90's and then my personal favorite, the one about sugarcane farmers putting dynamite in trees full of cockatoos to blow them to keep their crops from becoming bird food. He looked at least part aboriginal and told us several of the old legends that had been passed down to him, most of which involved kidnapping young women, untimely deaths and lost souls forsaken to forever wander the Earth. So, yeah. It was a very interesting trip back.

Our bus stopped a few places along the way back, in between grisly stories, of course. At the Daintree Ice Cream Company which makes exotically flavored ice cream from the fruit that they farm. Today's flavors were Mango, Passionfruit, Jackfruit & Wattleseed, all of which were yummy because my sweet tooth doesn't discriminate. 

I wasn't terribly impressed with our next two stops, which entailed a short boat ride down the Daintree River and a pit stop at the Mossman Gorge. We saw exactly one snake, one and a half crocs (one was a just a foot long juvenile) and one frog on the "cruise". After seeing so many gators and other wildlife every time I've ventured out to the Everglades, the cruise was pretty lackluster. And the mangroves our guide kept gushing about just aren't exotic to me after living in Florida for so long. Later, we had less than an hour at the gorge, which had a bunch of natural elements I already saw on other tours: rainforest, river and a bunch of rocks - although the suspension bridge was pretty cool and reminded me of Costa Rica.  

I arrived back at Calypso later that evening and was beyond grateful to have a hot shower that night. 

Australian Adventures: Rainforests and Rapids and Leeches, Oh My!

Monday, June 15 /// Ballooning

I woke up around 3 AM to get ready for my first ever hot air balloon ride. I took my backpack containing essentials like my gopro, rain jacket and neck pillow.

The rigmarole of getting there and back took longer than the actual ride itself. When I got picked up in a large can around 4:15 AM, there was already a handful of people on board and we went to another hotel after that to pick up a big group of Chinese tourists. The 45 minute ride was pitch black and we stopped for one last potty break before arriving at the launch site. It was still very dark but you could just barely decipher the outline of the deflated balloon on the ground and the trucks and people surrounding it. 

Admittedly it was a "do it once" kind of activity but now I can say I've experienced it. The captain was super friendly and informative and it was neat to see the sun rise from the same sky it would be rising into. The only drawback was the group of Chinese tourists that were a little too fond of their selfie sticks. 

So how sustainable was this trip? Well sharing one large van definitely uses less fuel than everyone driving there individually so that’s a plus. The balloon runs on liquid propane/butane (or LPG here in Australia). This is a byproduct of processing natural gas and refining oil, which would otherwise be discarded. According to exceptionalenergy.com, LPG is one of the cleanest conventional fuels available. It is non-toxic and has no impact on soil, water and underground aquifers. It also helps to improve the quality of indoor and outdoor air, as it produces substantially less particulate matter and NOX than diesel, oil, wood or coal.

It also releases much fewer carbon emissions than gasoline/petrol. I asked the pilot and he estimated that we used about 120 liters of the stuff during our 30 minute flight. According to ecoscore.com, 1 liter = 16.6 g of CO2/km so that’s 1,992 g/1.9 kg/km total CO2 emissions. A minuscule amount, really. For comparison, a liter of petrol/gasoline is about 24 g/CO2/km so 120 liters burned of that is 2,880g or 2.8 kgCO2/km, about 45% more.  

Obviously, the way to have the least impact is to just travel by foot or bike within a small radius of wherever you are staying, but you have to be realistic. People travel to experience new places and activities they can’t experience at home so it’s good to at least try and make them a bit more aware of the impact they’re having and inform them of better choices that are still stimulating and fun. 

I got back to Calypso around 8:30 AM, took an hour nap, then finished packing up. And the honeymoon was officially over. I checked out of my single room and into a four bed share which was half the cost and more efficient. It was 10 AM and there were two girls occupying the two bottom bunks and their shit looked like it had exploded everywhere else and there was a stale, unpleasant, unwashed-everything smell. I barely had any floor space to walk let alone set my bags down and they had makeup and hair products all over both of the top bunks. I wanted to just grab everything that was in my way and throw it on the floor to physically vent my initial frustration but instead I gathered it up and piled it on top of some other pile of their crap. Never before have I stayed in a shared hostel room that was so disheveled. 

So after making up my top bunk and considering my options, I went back to the front desk and asked if there were any other rooms available. I’m so glad I did because they ended up moving me to the largest four person shared room available. And the people were more welcoming and well-kempt. I moved my sheets and my bag so everyone wins; I get a new room and they get to keep living in their own filth. The only catch was, the desk didn’t have enough keys for it, so they had to have a few more made so I should be able to access my room by the afternoon. (And I did.) 

Tuesday June 17 /// Tully River Rafting

It was another early morning as I got picked up from Calypso at 6:30 AM to start my rafting adventure. The van picked up a few more people then dropped us at the Raging Thunder tour headquarters to check in and fill up the coach bus waiting outside. During these travels, I met and Irish guy named Neil and an Aussie named Aaron who were both in the area to compete in the Half Ironman on Sunday and were getting another adrenaline fix on the Extreme Rafting Tour after a well-earned day of rest. Our tall, lanky host named Tim was great and kept us all well-informed and entertained for the duration of the drive to the Tully River, which is actually a World Heritage site. During the rest stop, I asked Tim if it was too late to switch from the regular rafting trip to the Extreme trip and he said all those boats were full. Oh well, I tried. 

When we got there, I was able to cover my bikinied body in a long sleeved thermal top and attached my gopro to my helmet. I was in boat 2 of 6 in the front, right position along with a skinny Japanese guy front right, a German couple behind us, a Japanese girl and Irish girl in the back and our guide Daz bringing up the rear. 

Daz told us that the rainforest through which we were rafting was the oldest in the world at 110 million years old. No wonder it reminded me of Jurassic Park and more recently, Jurassic World. The fast moving water was also some of the purest and cleanest in the world as there was no industry or farming nearby to taint it. The German guy and I used our hands to take a few gulps and it was incredibly refreshing. 

The first bit of the river was pretty easy to navigate, until we slammed head on into a giant rock and the reverb knocked me off the side of the raft. The current dragged me under the raft and then I dropped slightly under water before coming up for air again. I opened my eyes to see the guide on the nearby safety boat throwing a rope to me,which I grabbed, flipped over onto my back and pulled it over my shoulder like they instructed in the safety video we watched on the bus earlier. The group of American retirees occupying that boat grabbed me and pulled me aboard to safety. I’m sure all this happened in a matter of 5 seconds but it seemed much longer. 

I insisted I was fine, except for a large bump on my right shin that I’m sure would turn into a purple and green bruise later. Daz climbed back along the rocky shore to retrieve me and I climbed back over the rocks to my raft. At some point during the pandemonium, my paddle got loose and floated downstream much farther than I did, so Daz handed me the little Japanese girl’s paddle since I was in front and said we would replace her paddle really soon, which we did after a handful more rapids and catching up with another boat. The group of boats kind of leap frogs for the first few rapids and each one takes turns being first, last and/or on safety duty. 

After several more kilometers, all six boats stopped for lunch, which consisted of buns, burgers (including meatless patties for us veggos) and lots of fixin’s. I piled caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and coleslaw on top of mine along with ketchup (called tomato sauce here). Then Daz handed me a slice of beetroot saying it wasn’t an official Aussie burger without this critical ingredient. It tasted surprisingly good and I relished every bite because I knew I’d need more energy to get through the next 10 kilometers. There was so much lush, virid landscape on either side and every so often, an electric blue butterfly would flutter by. Everyone made it safely to the end of the trip where our bus was waiting for us.

I was so prepared for this trip that I packed everything... except a change of clothes, so I had to sit in my wet shorts and vibrams for the duration of the nearly 2 hour return trip. Along the way, we stopped at a small pub in Feluga, where I met up with my Extreme Rafting friends and another Aussie named Kendall, who was  also a Half Iron finisher. Once back in Cairns, the four of us decided to meet up later for dinner and drinks. We went to the Bavarian Beer House located near the Esplanade. About the only thing on the menu I could eat was a cheesy pasta called Käzespätzle (I have to say I was very pleased with my correct pronunciation of this) and a drink that I dubbed Beerjuice, which was a blend of a Hefeweizen and Mango and Banana juice, because I hate the taste of real beer. Of course I got some flack from the guys both for being vegetarian and for my wimpy beer, but ask me if I care. (I don’t.) 

Skydiving and bungee jumping and really popular here but you definitely get the most adrenaline for your money with this trip. Not to mention, it's incredibly sustainable as long as we take back everything that we brought with us. Along with the glow worm caves in Waitomo, New Zealand, this is one of my favorite travel experiences. 

Wednesday, June 18 /// Tablelands

Today was the last of my three day excursion binge. I took a $99 day trip with a company called On The Wallaby where a tour guide drove a busfull of backpackers around the tropical Tablelands located on the small mountains that rise up and cast a shadow over the coastal areas of Cairns. We made several stops to marvel at natural wonders like the Cathedral Fig Tree (inspiration for the mother tree in Avatar), Lake Barrine, Lake Eacham, the Millaa Millaa Waterfalls, the Dinner Falls and Yungaburra. I met my Canadian counterpart, Devon, on the bus and we hiked together for most of the day. We seriously could have been separated at birth; we both just quit our corporate jobs, love cats, yoga, healthy eating, wine, etc.  

Cathedral Fig Tree

Cathedral Fig Tree

Anyways, we had the opportunity to swim in the lagoons created by the falls, but after being cold and wet on the bus the day before, I decided I didn’t want to get soaked. Instead I hiked along the rocks piled up behind the falls and got soaked anyways. Lesson learned: you will get wet if you walk under a waterfall. 

I was pleasantly surprised again by lunch, which was a Subway-style assemble your own sandwich station. I geeked out over the reusable plates, cups and containers and our guide Lawrence told us all the vegetables came from local farms. Even the water was in a big cooler, to which we had the option of adding a concentrated, fruity cordial flavor. The only waste was really the plastic bags that the buns came in as all the dishes would get washed later by employees at the On the Wallaby lodge in Yungaburra. 

The only thing that sucked (literally) was the affinity that leeches seemed to for me. I didn’t even know leeches were a thing around here and I can’t remember ever being bitten by one before, ever. I found the first one when I was on the bus and felt something wet inside my shirt near the top of my ribs on the right side. When I lifted it up to investigate, a slimy, black little leech fell off and started squirming on the seat. I, and everyone in my general vicinity, were horrified. I had the leech latch onto a pen then flicked it out an open window. Then there was the bleeding to deal with. It just wouldn’t stop and no one on the bus had bandaids so I help a napkin over the open wound until we reached our next destination. Once arrived, I went into a changing room to strip down and check and didn’t find anymore little bloodsuckers. 

Millaa Millaa Falls

Millaa Millaa Falls

But then, once on the trails at Dinner Falls, I felt something wet on the inside of my thigh  and I rolled up my right pants leg and flicked off another leech. This one appeared to have made three attempts before deciding to latch on. It left a more sizable wound on my leg that would not stop gushing. I found a secluded area and pulled my pants down completely to be certain there were no more and ended up MacGyvering a makeshift tourniquet out of a make-up remover wipe and an elastic headband that I’d been wearing wrapped around my wrist as a bracelet (I knew those bands would come in handy!) I’m more annoyed than anything that I was such a leech magnet because I was the only one dressed in proper hiking attire: pants, long sleeved shirt and boots (whereas most people were in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops) and I have no idea how they wiggled their way inside my clothes. 

Volcanic crater

Volcanic crater

It was a lot for one day, so I recommend this trip for backpackers and travelers who are short on time or budget in Cairns. And bonus points for the super sustainable lunch! 

Once back in the city, Devon and I went to our respective hostels and cleaned up before meeting up again. I got a veggo burger and chips and we bought a couple bottles of wine and hung out at her hostel for the night. 

Thursday, June 19

Today I recharged everything, including myself. I charged my computer and all my gopro batteries. After three days of Aussie Adventuring, it was nice to sleep in, spend some time on the interwebs and do laundry. For some reason, it’s incredibly expensive to clean your clothes here as it cost me $10 AUD per load; $4 per wash, $4 per dry and $2 for powdered detergent. 

Later that afternoon I met Devon down at the Esplanade for some sunset yoga. We got a lot of various looks from passersby ranging from admiration to confusion to envy but it’s all good. We had a lot of fun posing for pictures with the sun as it sank down below the horizon before heading to the (mostly Asian) Night Market. If you’re ever in Cairns, the Night Market is not to be missed!

We each got 40 minute Chinese massages for $15 each and they sell a huge variety of jewelry, souvenirs and packaged foods. I bought a really cool tank top designed by a local artist and Devon bought some loose lemon ginger tea. Then we some relatively cheap but yummy Chinese food in the food court before heading back to her hostel to crack open the last bottle of wine. Then I walked back to my home base and finished packing before bed. I seriously cannot think of a more perfect evening. 

Ultimate Beach Party with Sea-Doo

I'm so stoked! In previous posts, I talked about how Devin Super Tramp is a super inspirational person for me and then about what it was like to participate in one of his videos and now here's the final product:  

And here's the Behind the Scenes video:

The 3:45 official video looks like nonstop action, but we were actually there all day for about 12 hours getting the right light and the right shots. I didn't actually get to ride a Sea-Doo myself but I did get to go tubing, play volleyball, play cornhole and now I'm considering being a career extra. 

I'm actually featured more in the BTS and I'm only a little bummed that the slow-motion dive on the volleyball court (for which I did several falls and received several bruises) didn't make the final cut. But the video is sponsored by Sea-Doo, not the AVP so I get it! I was just glad to be a part of it at all and get to meet Mr. Super Tramp himself and make some new friends and memories. 

Team Super Tramp

Team Super Tramp

Athletes & Artists

So I seem to have developed a habit of automatically waking up at 5 AM. It happened again this morning so I headed down to the common area to use the free wifi. The night guy on duty asked if I had just woken up or just gotten back from partying, lol. I confirmed the former.

I ate a simple banana and granola bar breakfast in my room and left a little bit later to head to the Esplanade to watch the Ironman Cairns competition. The most ridiculous endurance athletes in the world compete in these races. I got to watch Sam Appleton cross the finish line in just under 4 hours to win the 70.3 race which consists of a 1.2 mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56 mile (90 km) ride, and a 13.1 mile (21.1 km) run. And that's just the half course!

A full Ironman is a whopping 2.4 mile (3.9 km) swim, 112 mile (180.25 km) cycle and a marathon distance 26.2 mile (42.4 km) run. I got a small taste of this when I took up sprint distance (.47 mile/750 m swim + 12 mile/20 km ride + 3.1 mile/5 km run) triathlons a few years ago in Miami. Of course my races would just be leisurely warm ups for most of the men and women I witnessed swimming, cycling and running today. 

The finish line was started to get crowded so I meandered off on a mission for lunch. The rain suddenly surged from sprinkling to soaking so I took shelter in the Cairns Regional Gallery of art which was only $5 ($3.40 USD) entry. The first floor held an eclectic collection of watercolor paintings. I looked at all of them but didn't love any of them. The second floor was more my style, titled Resolved: Journeys in Australian Design and displaying a collection of modern and minimalist design pieces. I particularly liked the colorful collection designed by Marc Harrison called Husque which incorporated crushed macadamia shells (which would otherwise just be discarded at harvest) into resin and shaped into beautiful bowls and dishes.

image source: husque.com

image source: husque.com

The third and final floor featured works by an emerging Artist named Nickeema Williams. She did beautiful charcoal portraits of several family members in addition to a few color photographs that honestly reminded me of instagram. When I exited the museum (through the gift shop of course) the rain was back to sporadic sprinkles. 

I found a food court on the way back to Calypso and got to break in my reusable bamboo chopsticks on some Thai food that was just a tad too oily. Back at home base, I caught up on some writing and uploaded some pictures. I also looked up the definitions of 101 words that I didn't know and had underlined while reading the last three chapters of Walden. I wish I had been more acquainted with my homeboy HD Thoreau in high school because he uses a ton of vocabulary that you're likely to see on the SAT. 

Anyways, that night the hostel hosted a BBQ where for $5 AUD you could eat barbecued crocodile and kangaroo. I had less than zero interest in this so I splurged and binged on Indian food at a nearby restaurant instead. I had naan, a mango lassi, basmati rice and Subzi Malai Balar; translation: mixed veggies in a creamy cashew sauce. I waddled back to my room and had to unbutton my pants to make room for the food baby I had just conceived. 

Earlier in the day I told myself that I was going to do some yoga before bed tonight but if I attempt anything that involves inversion right now, I'm quite certain I'll see my dinner again. I need to at least find the energy to pack as tonight is my last night in my single room of solitude and I'll need to check out tomorrow as soon as I return from my early morning excursion. 

Sidenote: I found this particularly amusing. In case you forget how to use a toilet, these helpful illustrations are posted throughout many of the public restrooms:


A few more pictures from around Cairns:


Cairns: Day 1

After sorting out my room for the next week and a half, I talked with Front Desk Dave about recommendations for my to be determined Australian Adventure. He spent at least 30 minutes answering all my questions and giving me great advice. 

After that I paid my $2 for unlimited toast and made two toasted PB&J sandwiches. I started talking with a kid from Germany who has been living and working in Australia for four months. He worked in Sydney as a furniture mover for two months to fund two more months of travel. Everywhere I travel I meet at least one German. Germans here, Germans there, Germans are freaking everywhere.

Anyways, the German (never got his name) convinced me to give the infamous vegemite a try. Apparently Hugh Jackman was on Jimmy Fallon's show and taught him how to properly eat Vegemite which is a thin layer spread on top of already buttered toast. Which is how I tried it. Still can't say I'm a fan though. And I don't know how they get away with the Vege prefix: it's basically just concentrated yeast extract and salt - there are no vegetables to be found in the ingredients. 

I extended my single room for two more nights through Sunday and then switched over to a four share room for the rest of next week. Then I went back to my room with full intentions to start sorting through all the marketing materials I had discussed with Front Desk Dave, and promptly fell asleep. I slept for the better part of 3 hours until noon when I was abruptly awoken by a knock on my door. I shot up out of bed and the door opened and closed in a flash - I’m guessing it was a custodian coming around to empty the trash because my bin is right next to the door. 

It was dark and rainy for most of the day - the perfect time to spend planning what to do for the next few weeks and make the most of the 24 hours of internet that I bought for $6 AUD. At first, I get really excited and want to do everything and go everywhere and completely blow my budget. Front Desk Dave got me all excited about a trip to the Whitsunday Islands but that would entail a long overnight bus ride each way and at least one night in a hostel in addition to the 3 day/2 night Eco Sailing Safari that I was lusting over because OMG I’d get to live on a boat in the Great Barrier Reef for a few days! Not to mention it would put me $600 over budget and it’s not very eco-friendly to travel so far from my home base. Nope. If I wanted to do the Whitsunday Islands, I should have stayed in the Airie Beach area. 

So I crunched some numbers and picked a variety of activities including a local pub crawl, white water rafting, a hot air balloon tour, a day trip to the waterfalls and rainforest in the Tablelands/Yungbarra and a weekend trip to Cape Tribulation. Then I’ll come back to Cairns and stay at another hostel because there are about a bazillion in the area and then book a reef sailing/snorkeling day trip next week. 

It’s so great starting out with my own room and being able to spread out and not worry about anything being stolen. But honestly I’d imagine most backpackers are like myself and are lugging a bunch of their own crap and don’t have the room or desire to take on any more. 

Hearing the rain beating down on the roof makes it really hard to motivate myself to get dressed and go out to find food for dinner but I’m really hungry as I’ve locked myself in my single room all day and only had a granola bar since breakfast. I assembled a quick-dry outfit including my vibrams and my raincoat. The sun was down before 6 PM so it was already dark by the time I made it outside. I ended up with a falafel kebab wrap and a Ginger Beer at a nearby walk-up joint, but they did have a few plastic tables and chairs outside. By the time I finished eating, the rain had stopped so I headed back to the hostel. I used the last bit of my energy to do a quick yoga practice then showered in the communal bathroom before bed. (Feels like being in college again.) 

Viva Los Visas

The most time consuming and complicated part of this whole planning process are the visas. Every country has different costs and requirements and procedures and it's kind of like putting together a big puzzle. Again, a great resource for me was Visa HQ.com where you can easily find all the information you need and they can even take care of all of them for you, for a hefty fee. In my case, it would have pretty much doubled the cost of the visas themselves. However, I was able to take care of most of them myself, then left the really finicky one for India up to Visa HQ. (The following info only applies to US Citizens of course and currency is USD.) 

Australia
This one is easy. A tourist visa is $20 AUD and can be applied for online on the ETA website. With this visa, you can stay for up to 90 days at a time and re-entry is permitted within 365 days without needing a new one. I received one during my last trip in March, but I've renewed my passport since then and since my passport number changed, I had to apply for another one. But the turnaround is pretty quick, though and I had an approval email in my inbox in less than 24 hours. 

SIngapore
This one is even easier. No visa required for stays up to 90 days. All I have to do is book a flight! 

Sri Lanka
It's $30 for a double entry tourist e-visa up to 30 days, which is easily attainable online. I talked with my contact in the country since I'm going to be there slightly longer and she said I could easily get it extended there but it will cost between $60-$100 USD. 

India
This one was a particular pain for me since you have to apply for your visa within one month of arrival and I'll already be somewhere in Southeast Asia by then. I attempted to figure this all out on their website but it was super complicated so I just hired VisaHQ to take care of it. For a single entry tourist visa up to 30 days, the embassy fee was $60 and the service fee nearly doubled that cost at $49 but definitely worth it for the peace of mind. 

Indonesia
Also easy. You'll get a 30 day visa on arrival for $25. 

Thailand
Same as Indonesia, you can get a 30 day visa on arrival but I'm going to be there longer than that. My best option is to get the 60 day visa either through VisaHQ (for an additional $79) or at a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate. Luckily, there is a Royal Thai Consulate in Miami, however with very limited hours, so I completed all the paperwork and actually got approved for a six month visa for $80 (plus about $20 for a prepaid Fedex envelope so they could mail me back my passport since I was moving and wasn't able to drive back to Miami to pick it up.) I was only originally planning to stay in the country for six weeks but I had to get a six month visa since the visa starts from the day you get it approved (which was not mentioned anywhere on the Consulate website that I could find.)  So I guess I have a Plan B and can change my plans if necessary and fly to Thailand at any time in the next few months - but this probably won't happen. 

Cambodia
Easy enough to apply for a visa online for $40, but you have to apply within three months of arrival so I'll have to wait until September. I'm not too worried since I have a three month window. 

VIetnam
Also easy enough to acquire online via myvietnamvisa.com, which is actually a third party that will get you a pre-approval letter for $19.99 so that you are guaranteed a 30 day visa on arrival, which costs another $45 at the airport. You also have to provide 2 passport photos and fill out a form. 

The easiest thing it to just outsource all this work and mail my passport to VisaHQ but it would have cost me an additional $325 in service fees. I'd rather spend that money on some delicious street food or on temple tours. The basic takeaway here is that you'll have the least hassle by just staying in places for less than 30 days, but I'm being a little bit stubborn. Overall, I feel like you are punished for planning in advance when it comes to Visas and it's a bit of a Catch 22 because they want you to have all your flights and things booked before applying, but there's no point in booking travel somewhere if you don't get approved for your visa. Que sera sera. 

Beach Party: Supertramp Style

Today is going into the top five best days of my life. That's because if you read my previous post, The Pursuit Of Passion, you'll know that I cited Devin Graham as one of my inspirations so being able to meet him, let alone be featured in one of his videos today, was literally living out one of my dreams. I've been an avid fan, following his videos since I discovered this one in 2011, and never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.  

That's A Wrap! 

That's A Wrap! 

I found about this gig via Facebook and Instagram when they advertised a need for extras in their next video sponsored by Sea Doo which was scheduled to be shot in Deerfield Beach, FL. It was unpaid of course but they did promise to provide lunch (which I correctly predicted to be pizza). I and eleven other strangers between 18 and 30 met and had to become fast friends as we were supposed to be portraying a beach party full of besties. 

Around lunchtime, we all gathered around the picnic bench and a particularly precocious extra started asking Devin a ton of questions, sparking kind of a impromptu interview. Devin accurately described himself as an open book and gave us more insight into his own inspirational journey, which included a mission trip to Jamaica, quitting college in Utah less than a year from graduating and moving to Hawaii alone for a year to start making videos he was personally passionate about (as opposed to becoming a puppet for whoever hired him). His nickname Supertramp pays homage to Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) whose Alaskan Adventures inspired the book/movie Into the Wild. And he's just a really, really nice dude. Seriously, I don't think I saw him without a smile the entire day. 

As the most experienced and skilled volleyball player present, they took some super slow motion shots of me diving for and spiking the ball, which I hope make the final cut. I also got to take a spin around the lake on a tube tugged by a Sea Doo with a particularly fit couple, a gopro and a selfie stick, which was all good until we finally all tumbled off the tube at once in a tangled pile of flailing limbs.

Back on the beach, we played cornhole, frisbee and football, and waited around. A lot. But at least we had bright yellow tents to shade us from the sun (and occasional summer showers) and they kept us pretty hydrated. It ended up being almost a 12 hour day for us extras, and I'm sure it was even longer for the crew and the sponsors. I wanted to stay a bit longer and help clean up, but I wanted a sandwich even more so my hunger won out over my altruism. 

Blast from the Past

Blast from the Past

I also had a serendipitous reunion with an old friend from my Delta Zeta days. I didn't recognize Ashley right away with her crutches, bright pink leg cast and sunglasses but she eventually made the connection and we caught up on the past several years since matriculating from the University of Tampa. I told her about my upcoming trip and she told me about how she got into racing jet skis. Which is pretty awesome, except when you get flung off of it going 70 MPH and fracture your leg, of course. 

So I got to take home a selfie with Supertramp himself, a few bruises and some amazing memories. Can't wait for Team Supertramp to edit and release the final video on YouTube, which should happen mid-late June. :D