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When you’re safe at home you wish you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.

~ Thornton Wilder

Today, for the first time, after about 7 weeks of minor euphoria – I felt homesick.

I’ve missed my family before now, in a vague kind of way. But today I didn’t just miss my mum, I also missed the 6 o’clock news on TV3 and Wellington Harbour and TradeMe and driving my car around the bays and Lyall Bay at sunset and Wine Wednesday.

It was always going to happen of course. It was to be expected, and yet it came on unexpectedly. In a moment of tiredness, tinged slightly with loneliness. Which lead me to thinking…

I looked up the definition of “home” on Google. One which I particularly liked was “an environment offering affection and security”. Which made me think – maybe all homesickness is really just a longing for affection and security. And if that is the case, would going home really solve it? Is the place we’ve always called home really the thing we’re looking for when we feel homesick? Would being at home really fill that little gap inside us which, when we’re overseas, we define as the lack of home?

Maybe what travellers call “homesickness” is actually a feeling that we experience at home too – it’s just that at home we don’t have a handy label to put to it – “homesick” – or a logical and seemingly easy solution – “go home”. When we are at home, we just feel a vague yearning, an undefined sense of dissatisfaction, unease, a sense of something being missing that we can’t quite define. We feel it when we’re overseas and suddenly we can name it, we can place it in a box, and somehow the thought that there is a solution, even if we aren’t going to take it, makes it seem manageable and logical. “I’m feeling like this because I miss home, I could fix it by going home, but I don’t want to do that, so I will just ride the feeling out and it will all be ok”. We feel in control, the feeling makes sense within our current framework.

Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.

~ Christian Morganstern

When we’re overseas and can call it “homesickness”, we don’t have to face the reality of what the feeling really is, what it is really made up of. It’s a longing for familiarity, yes. But why do we long for familiarity? Because it feels secure. It feels safe. Homesickness is just that tug you feel when you are longing for affection and security – when you are longing to be understood. As such, maybe homesickness isn’t a sensation felt only by those who are away from what they call “home”, but rather an expression of the human condition, a feeling familiar to all – just that fundamental desire to be seen and loved for who you are – to be safe and loved.

Where we love is home,

Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

~Oliver Wendell Holmes

I’m the kind of person who feels filled with an inextinguishable love, an ability to find something to love in any place and any situation, a heart that overflows with a feeling of love for life and everything in it. I believe that happiness is a choice, and it’s one I strive to make every day. I believe that life is amazing, and it’s up to us to find the amazing wherever we happen to be. If where we love is home, then I am always home, I will always carry home with me, because I can always love.

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

~ Matsuo Basho

I somewhat cured my homesickness by going to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and looking at much art goodness, including the original Sunflowers by van Gogh (such a simple painting, yet filled with such a direct, no-nonsense sense of practical optimism) and also including a 1871 painting by Monet of the exact scene I see every day when I walk over the bridge. And then I walked home over that very bridge and saw the modern version of the scene with my house behind it and thought: I am so lucky, I am the luckiest person in the world.

And the feeling hadn’t really gone, the “homesickness” feeling – which perhaps really is just the feeling of longing to be cared for, safe and understood. It was still there, but it was mingled in with the feeling of being blessed, the surrealness of the fact that I am alive and I am living in this amazing city, and the fundamental love that beats in my chest and will be there no matter where I go.

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.

~ Maya Angelou

View over the Thames on my way home from work about 5 am one morning. Lucky biartch!

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Live life fully while you’re here. Experience everything. Take care of yourself and your friends. Have fun, be crazy, be weird. Go out and screw up! You’re going to anyway, so you might as well enjoy the process. Take the opportunity to learn from your mistakes: find the cause of your problem and eliminate it. Don’t try to be perfect; just be an excellent example of being human.

~ Anthony Robbins

I’m in love. I wake up in the morning happy and I go to bed happy and everything in between has a kind of soft rosy glow, even the unexciting and unglamorous bits.

I’m in love… with life. I’m happy.

And I’ve realised a thing or two about happiness. Happiness does not mean being constantly ecstatic, or that nothing bad ever happens, or that you don’t have any problems or obstacles to deal with. Rather, happiness just is… it just floats there as a presence, even in the presence of all the normal problems and emotions of every day life. Happy exists like a constant backdrop against which all else occurs – you can be happy and still have moments of frustration, anger, sadness, loneliness. Happy doesn’t disappear in those moments. It just sits there and is present to the issue, while still being somewhat detached from it. Happy, as I am using the word, isn’t an emotion. It’s a state of being. Perhaps “peace” would be a more accurate word – but I like happy. Happy feels like the right word for how I feel about my life right now.

And I’ve realised that happy is always present, happy doesn’t go away, we all have that steady ball of happy sitting right inside of us all the time. All you have to do is learn how to be aware of it, to hold it always within your awareness. And sometimes, I have learned, you have to give yourself and your life a good shake up to really awaken that awareness. You have to give yourself a good jolt, pull yourself out of your comfort zone, away from Safety and Security, to really become awake to that little place of Happy sitting there right inside you.

I have heard it all my life,

A voice calling a name I recognized as my own.

Sometimes it comes as a soft-bellied whisper.

Sometimes it holds an edge of urgency.

But always it says: Wake up, my love. You are walking asleep.

There’s no safety in that!

~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer

I feel like I have woken up. I feel like I am awake for the first time in so very long. I am no longer walking asleep. I still have things to deal with – lack of money, being tired, physical pain, occasional loneliness – but none of these diminish the Happy… rather they occur on the backdrop of it.

So back to the point at which I left you. When you last heard from me, I was about to leave Oxford for London, into the great unknown. I hopped on the train to London and an hour later, I was at Paddington Station, with very little money, no job and nowhere to live, my life in a backpack on my back, knowing barely a soul. I didn’t know anything beyond the next hour. It was stressful, it was full of uncertainty – it was exhilarating.

If travel has taught me one thing, it is this: the universe is magical. Magic exists and it is all around us, everywhere. If you let go and trust, the universe always has your back. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen in London, how I was going to find work, where I was going to live… but I just went and I just absolutely knew that it was all going to work out and I would be fine. I just had faith. I had utter faith and I can’t explain why. I just knew that the universe was my homeboy and it would always have my back.

I think sometimes the best thing you can do in life is just fall out into the great big cushion of the unknown with the utter unwavering faith that the landing is going to be softer than you could ever have imagined.

Of course, you have to do this in the full awareness that there will be some very difficult moments and a lot of hard work required on your part. You have to put yourself out there, and you have to do everything you can possibly do with what you have, where you are. My flute teacher used to always say that success was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, and a truer word was never spoken. You have to be willing to put in the perspiration. Ah, but that 1%… that’s where the magic happens.

So basically, my recipe for life is this: do everything you can possibly do, with what you have, where you are. Then – let go. And have faith.

But back to my story. One of the recruiters I had emailed from Oxford turned out to be a small specialist recruiter for Kiwi medical secretaries – who would have thought that even existed?! I didn’t even know that when I emailed him! Anyway, he contacted me straight away and met with me within just over an hour of me having gotten off the train from Oxford. All I did was stash my stuff in a hostel in Hammersmith and then met up with him straight away, hot, sweaty and stressed from lugging my stuff around, flustered and stressed from the fact that I had no money, no job and nowhere to live.

This recruitment guy ran his own small agency and he seemed adamant he would find me work. He also gave my number to another girl who had temped with him for a few years. She rang me the next day and said “So, I’ve been told you need a friend.” I, who hate hostels with a passion and had found one night in this particular one quite long enough, gasped a quivery “Yes I do!” into the phone. Within a few hours, I and all my belongings were on a train to met her at her apartment near Waterloo Station. She had said she would cook me dinner, I could stay the weekend, oh and by the way, she was moving out in a week, so if I liked it, I could take her place. I met her off the tube and as we walked the few seconds to the apartment block, I looked up to my right and there was the London Eye. Right there in front of me – not in the distance, but right there. I had never seen it before. It was very exciting.

The awning marks the front door of my apartment. The big ferris wheel thing is the London Eye.

Within half an hour I was having a glass of wine in my new flat and I’ve been living there ever since.

I live in a two bedroom apartment with 5 other girls. It sounds crazy, and if you’d ever told me I would be in this situation before now I would have laughed in your face, but it totally works and I love it. The girls are lovely, it’s cheap, and it’s right in the very centre of London.

The very day I moved in, the recruiter rang up with a week long temp assignment for me for the following week. So within a day of being in London, I had a flat and a job, albeit a temporary one, and a new friend or two to boot. I told you the universe was magical!

The following week I did a week’s worth of medical typing work in a public hospital in north west London. It was very good money and I was very grateful for it – and I was very good at it. But within a couple of hours I realised that it was exactly the job I had left at home and I was bored out of my tree. I realised that the whole reason I left my life in New Zealand and came halfway around the world was because I wanted to do something different, wanted to shake myself and my life up, feel somehow more alive, awaken to myself.

The assignment was only a week, so the following week I was sending out lots of job applications and went to a few interviews. The interviews I had all went well and I could have had a nice cushy well paid office job. But the thought of it just made every fibre of my being silently scream. I felt like some essential part of myself was suppressed inside me, squashed into a tiny box, and was screaming at me: Let me out, let me out!!! Give me expression, give me freedom! This is what you came here for!

“To change one’s life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.”

~ William James

So on the Thursday afternoon, I was sitting on my computer looking at job ads and suddenly I was sick of just sitting around waiting for someone to find me work or give me a job, I was sick of it being in someone else’s hands. And I couldn’t bear the thought of being in an office again. So I got up, got my bag, left the house, walked across the bridge and walked into the Australian bar that is about 20 minutes walk from my house. It kind of went like this:

me: “Hi, I was just wondering if you had any work going?”

manager lady: “can you come in tomorrow at 11 am?”

Well, basically – you get the gist, anyway.

So I started at 11 am last Friday, was put onto the roster full time, and have worked there every day since, except my one day off yesterday. It’s a mad lifestyle and has taken a little getting used to. It is on your feet, physical work and it is a very busy bar, especially with the soccer World Cup on at the moment. I’ve been working til close every night, so I’ve had a strange cycle of working all night, getting home at some odd hour of the morning between 3-5 am, being starving and not sleepy so I sit and have a snack and read for a bit, get to bed as the sun is coming up (it comes up very early here!), sleep through the morning, up around lunchtime, and then start the cycle again! The work is fun though! It’s really hard work, it’s tiring, my feet hurt (although they’re getting used to it), it can be stressful, and the pay is crap – and it’s fun, the people are cool, and I’m loving it!!

So I have ended up having exactly the bar experience I wanted when I came over here in the first place. We do serve food, but it’s not a restaurant like the place I was at in Oxford – it’s just a bar that sells burgers and some meals. I don’t waitress, I work behind the bar, and I love it. I make snakebites and Jagerbombs and laugh with/at drunk people. It’s great!

I can’t say enough how much I LOVE London. I have loved it from the moment I arrived here, even through moments of stress and uncertainty – it was love at first sight for London and I ,and the love just keeps growing. It just feels so vibrant, so alive, so vast and buzzing. I still can’t get over the fact of how my life now is, I feel like I’m in some kind of waking dream – but a dream in which I feel more alive than I ever did in my old life. Every day I leave my apartment and walk a few steps to find myself directly under the London Eye, I walk along Southbank and across the footbridge over the Thames river, looking out to my left at the Eye on one side and Westminster and Big Ben on the other as I cross, then a few moments further down along the river and I am at my place of work. And then I see it all in reverse on my way home again, feet and body aching, tired but exhilarated. This is my life! How did this become my life??! I am lucky, lucky, happy and blessed. I am very very alive.

Walking home from work at 4:30 in the morning.

And you know what?  I’ve stopped worrying about “what I’m supposed to do with my life.”  Because I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, and I’m doing it right now.

I’m living it.

Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. I invented my life by taking for granted that everything I did not like would have an opposite, which I would like. There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time!
~ Coco Chanel

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The Oxford Chapter

The view from my bedroom window in Oxford

So I lasted in my pub job in Oxford exactly two weeks.  Good effort me!  Haha. I laugh in my general direction.

But back to the beginning.  The flight to England was very very long, an impression added to by my chronic inability to sleep on aeroplanes – or really anything that isn’t a big comfy bed in a quiet room.  I arrived exhausted, having been awake for over 40 hours.

I wandered through the EU passport control section and felt like I was cheating.  I felt like any moment, someone was going to go “hey, wait a minute, you’re not really Irish!”   I am still getting used to the fact that I am a legal citizen of the EU and have as much right to be here as anyone else.

Despite that, I have pretty much felt at home here since stepping off the plane.  England is great.  It feels right.  It feels like coming home.  Must be in the blood or something.  Kind of fits with the theory I was coming up with about why so many Kiwis and Aussies do their OE to the UK – it’s like some kind of ancesterial calling, a yearning of the blood to be back “home”.  Well, for me anyway, it feels good to be here, even if I barely know a soul.

That first night in London I slept for a long long time, and then the next day took the train to Oxford, which was fairly quick and painless.  A short taxi ride later and I was wandering, still weary and dazed, into the pub I was set to live and work in.

And then followed quite a rollercoaster two weeks.  Turns out I was working in one of the busiest pubs in the UK, and when the British say “pub” what they really mean is “restaurant”.  Which meant I was a waitress.  I hate waitressing.  I already knew this.  But this place was not only madly busy from midday to practically midnight, but it was definitely a proper dining, full table service restaurant.

I have never really done hospitality work before, I have sat on my arse as a typist for a long time, and on my first shift, the day after I arrived, I worked 11 hours (with one single break which I demanded after 8 hours straight of working).  The next day I was rostered on again.  And the next.  And it was BUSY.  Turns out, the day of my first shift was their second busiest day in history.  My whole first week was their busiest week ever.  Madness.

The pub - on its winding country lane on the outskirts of town.

Having said that, the people were really lovely, it was a nice pub, Oxford is a really pretty city and I wouldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy the experience.  I mean, lets be honest, I hated the job with every ounce of my being.  But not really because there was anything wrong with the job itself – it just wasn’t me.  If I were someone else – for a while I thought it was about age, but then I remembered myself when I was 19 and knew it had nothing to do with age, I have always been like this – but if I were someone else, the job would have been a great way to make some money, meet some people, live in Oxford and have some fun.

But I’m not someone else, I’m me.  And (ironically enough) it was Kurt Cobain who said “wanting to be someone else  is a waste of the person you are.”  In the last two weeks I was confronted with myself.  And you come to a point where you just have to accept: I am who I am.  I have a dry wit, sarcastic tongue, and I don’t suffer fools gladly.  I like to be independent and self-sufficient.  I am not a servant, despite the nobility that I see in that and aspired to.  I like to take things at my own pace.  I like to be able to sit and have a cup of tea while I work.

The work I have done for the last two weeks gave me a whole new appreciation of office work.  It may not sound glamorous, it may not be exciting – but it suits me.  And I realised I have spent so much of my life doing medical administration not because I was trapped or waiting for something better – but because it suits me.  It suits my personality, it suits the way I like to work.  It suits me – not who I want to be or wish I was, but who I actually am.

On Sunday night I quit my job at the pub because I just couldn’t do it anymore and you know me – I’ve always preferred to quit than be miserable!  Life is way too short and fabulous and sometimes you just gotta know whento cut your losses.

The next day I gathered up my things (because I lived upstairs and the room came with the job) and headed out into the great unknown.  Turns out the taxi driver I happened to get owned a guesthouse and gave me a single room there for cheaper than a dorm room in a hostel would have been.  Crazy the little things the universe throws your way to say “don’t worry my love, you are being taken care of, keep going.”

I was planning on staying in Oxford, because it’s a pretty little place, but there seemed to be a dearth of work here and the pay doesn’t seem to be that good.  So I sent my CV to a couple of medical secretary recruitment companies in London and within moments had a call from a woman wanting to meet with me and find me work.  A few moments later and I had booked a week in a London hostel and a train to London for the next day.  I’ve never been one for mucking around – why waste time baby?!  When it feels right, you gotta trust the gut and roll with it.

This morning I was woken by another call from a fabulous Scottish man at another medical recruitment agency who reckons he’ll get me into work within days and is meeting with  me tonight the moment I step of the train from Oxford, backpack and all, before I’ve even checked into the hostel!

So Oxford has been a great experience, another story to add to the life list, and now I am excited about moving on and going to London.  Oxford it super cute and filled with history, but it is small, and I think maybe I would have started to feel claustrophobic here.  I am excited to be going to the big vibrant city where so much is going on and there is so much opportunity.  I think I should be able to get good, well paid work fairly soon in a field I am experienced and confident in.

Thus endith the Oxford Chapter – I’m off to turn the next page!

The main street in Oxford - a town full of history.

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”

~ Helen Keller

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Photo by ambrown (Flickr)

 

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.
 
~ Robert Louis Stevenson

For a long while, I rallied against travelling – especially the whole kiwi “OE” thing.  It seemed so cliched, and I’ve always hated following the crowd – any crowd.  If it’s a crowd, I’ll do everything in my power NOT to follow it.  This contrary nature has gotten me into trouble before – sometimes it results in me cutting off my nose to spite my face.  Case in point: the time my mother lovingly said to me, “you don’t think maybe you might be a bit young to get married…”  Note to self: listen to mum.  Note to anyone who is trying to get me to do something: tell me to do the opposite. 

I even had the outlines of a blog post in my head, which I was getting around to fleshing out to post here. The basic gist went along the lines of: I don’t believe in travelling to “find yourself”. You already are yourself. The courageous thing, the real journey, is to stay put and encounter yourself where you are. You will not find in a foreign land anything other than another set of buildings and trees and the very self you took with you. If you want to travel, make sure you do it for the right reasons – for travel’s sake, for the sake of seeing and experiencing new things and different cultures – not because you think it will reveal to you a self you should be able to find regardless of location. 

Well, it all sounds very grand and righteous, doesn’t it. But I came to realise that there was something more…. interesting…. at the heart of it. It wasn’t really the grand realisation of a deep thinker. It was the jealous justification of a lost girl envious of those living the life she wished she had and bitter about the way they kept leaving her behind. A bored, frustrated girl whose life felt… stuck. 

And that’s when I reaslied what I had to do. What I wanted to do but was too contrary to admit it. I had to embrace the crowd. 

Of course, there’s more to it than that. Part of what I have been trying to do for the last six months or so is to experiment with staying put. To try and be still, and not always running. To try just being, without having to seek. To try settling down

What I finally realised is that I was forcing it. I was forcing myself to live a life against my true nature, one that was making every cell of my body scream. Like I had grafted a foreign life onto myself and my body was crying out its rejection with a silent inner ongoing gasp. I felt like the lion I had once seen at Berlin Zoo, in a concrete cage only slightly bigger than its own body, walking back and forward, back and forward, back and forward, all day – bars, concrete, bars, concrete – so numbed that it forgot it was a lion and only knew itself as a pacing pacing piece of a grey concrete world. 

So while there is certainly truth in the saying (another cliche! embrace the cliche!) that “wherever you go, there you are” – or in the words of some fellow kiwis, “everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you” – while there is certainly truth in the idea that you carry everything you are, everything you seek, everything you think you need, inside you…. I also came to the conclusion that sometimes stepping away from everything you know, thrusting yourself into a different environment, stepping out far enough to gain a different persepctive – maybe these new inputs, this new emotional and mental and physical stimulation, can spark off or awaken parts of yourself that never could have been encountered had you stayed put in the same environment. Maybe the whole point of travel is to encounter the parts of yourself that you never knew were there. Of course everything is already within you – but sometimes it is so hidden or so numbed or so forgotten or just sitting at the edge of consciousness scratching at the corners of your brain, that it requires a complete shift of environment or perspective or interaction with the world or other people to bring it into awareness. 

We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves. 

~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld 

I think one of the most exciting things about travelling, especially on your own, is that whoever you turn up as in that new environment, that’s who people have to take you as. They have no idea of who you were or any preconceived ideas about who you are or should be, their perspective is not coloured by any previous interaction or knowledge of you or your family or your past. The person on the doorstep, right then in that moment, is who you are to them. And how liberating is that! It’s like being able to wipe the slate clean and discover yourself in that moment. Discover who you are and have become, unfettered by who you were and used to be. 

And I think it is part passive, part active. On the one hand, you can decide who you are going to be. And on the other hand, through those experiences and interactions, you discover and encounter who you really naturally are, without expectations or preconceived ideas. The more new experiences and situations you can stimulate your senses with, the more parts of yourself you can uncover and encounter. 

So I have decided to embrace this rite of passage of our generation, to not shun an experience just because it is so widely embraced. In the end, all journeys are really just variations of the human journey, the ultimate and ubiquitous quest, the search for self and self-actualisation. And each person will experience their journey in their own way, forge their own road through an oft trodden world, using it to forge a new road through a world only they can know, the world inside of them. 

 
 

So what this means in practical terms is (wait, you want me to descend from my cerebellosphere?? Give me moment to adjust here…)… ok what this actually means in the real world is that I am moving to the UK. I have gone through an agency that finds you a live-in pub job before you leave. That way I figure I have accommodation and income as soon as I land, I can find my feet and get my bearings, and then decide what do to next. I will enjoy my summer working in a pub and try not to think beyond that – after a while, the next thing will arise, and I will know when it feels right to move on, and what to.

I could have been put in a job anywhere, but as it turns out, I am going to be working in a lovely looking pub in Oxford, right on the river Thames. I am quite stoked with how it has turned out. I like that I won’t be in the midst of the London madness, that I will be in such a pretty and quintessentially English town, but that I will still be well enough located to easily make trips down to London or anywhere else I might like to go on my days off. It seems very me… again, I might be following the crowd in the sense of going to the UK, like so many kiwis do, but I have to do it my way, to put my own personal stamp on it, to do it in a way that feels right and resonates with who I am.

So I leave Wellington this coming Thursday, to wing my way towards the motherland and the great unknown and whatever adventures and experiences await me there and the rest of my life. People ask me if I’m scared, but there is no element of fear… I’m just excited – and yes, sometimes overwhelmed – but excited, because it feels right, it feels like the next step, it feels like what I have to and need to do next. Just the thought of being in Europe again, even just of getting on that plane… I feel like myself again. I feel like the self that has been asleep for the last 6-7 years of my life is stirring and awakening again within me.

I want to “feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly”, I want to risk the “cutting flints” of this granite globe and all that they might unleash within and around me.

I feel the stirring of the wings on my back that have lain dormant for so long I was afraid they weren’t there, and (at risk of mixing metaphors) that I am remembering that I am a lion.

Roar?

Roar!…. Soar!

When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly. 

~ Edward Teller 

I hope that I am taught to fly. 

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Day 5: Coober Pedy and on to Port Augusta
After saying good morning to the cockroaches (why do they feel so much dirtier than other bugs?), we visited an opal mine/museum for a spectacular piece of Australian commercial film making about opal mining and a bit of a tour of the replicated underground house and mine. The young tour guide was very forthcoming about life in Coober Pedy, the benefits of homemade explosives as a cheap mining method and the prevalence of using these explosives on each other’s vehicles to express neighbourly displeasure. “But the last one was 3 weeks ago, so it’s not like it happens every day or anything” she hastily assured us. Phew, I feel much reassured.

Interesting fact: people in Coober Pedy initially started building their houses into the rock because they were unable to lug timber and supplies the big trek through the desert to get to this opal-rich area. Nowadays, apart from being tradition, the underground homes maintain a steady, pleasant temperature in a landscape prone to extremes.

An underground church I found during free time

After lunch it was back into the van – “Alright! Good job guys! HILARIOUS stuff!” – and we made our 6 hour journey to a caravan park in Port Augusta. As we arrived after dark, said caravan park was about the extent of our experience of Port Augusta.

Heading to the kitchen area to help with dinner, I found our HILarious guide Steve setting things up on his own, intermittently muttering “alright! good job guys! excellent!” to himself, to the confused and bewildered sideways stares of the other couple already in the kitchen. Hilarious is right, that guy cracked us so consistently up. Once dinner was underway, he decided he was in need of wine (beer just didn’t cut it for this Aussie bloke) and he promptly returned not only with a quality bottle of Shiraz that he merrily proclaimed to all and sundry had only cost him $6, but also with the latest copy of Who magazine. He then proceeded to be deeply enthralled with the latest goings on of Angelina and Pink, leaving our poor British Matt, shaking his head in despair of any truly male solidarity. The very sweet little Swiss girl also managed to get very tipsy on 3 cans of Australian-strength beer (read: weak!), which was really all the amusement necessary for an avid people-watcher.
Day 6: Port Augusta to Adelaide
On the last morning, the crew went on a hike up Devil’s Peak, while I, not quite feeling equal to the ‘scrambling’ required, remained in the van with Who magazine. After that, it was about a 5 hour drive through the rest of the South Australian outback and another stunning sunset to finally arrive in Adelaide sometime after 6pm that night.

I loved Adelaide from the moment we entered it, but I wonder how much that had to do with the city itself and how much it was my pure city-girl joy on re-entering metropolitan civilisation after weeks in deserts and small towns. I had never before realised just what a true city person I am until that moment of immense joy and relief upon seeing the sky lit up by a horizon full of suburbs, the streets lined with tarmac and stately old houses. Joy! I believe Dave Barry had people in me in mind when he said “Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business”.
Adelaide and Onward
I spent the next few days in Adelaide, and from as much as I could see, I really did like the city in and of itself. North Terrace is lined with fantastic, majestic old European style buildings – the university, the library, the museums – that I would love to go back healthy and explore one day. Rundell St Mall was vibrant and funky and reminded me of Wellington but with a streetier, more European feel. It was definitely a city I could happily have stayed in, despite its cooler climate.
However, the flu really wasn’t making any signs of leaving, every day was costing me money I didn’t have and I didn’t feel up to presenting my raw and snivelling face to prospective employers with enough enthusiasm to find a job. Thus I had to make a quick decision, and that was to come home.
On Wednesday, June 3, I flew from Adelaide, via many hours in Brisbane airport, finally home to Wellington. I learned a very valuable and important lesson about the inadvisability of flying with blocked sinuses and still can’t hear out of my left ear, but I am now finally home. I have been quietly recuperating with plenty of antibiotics and Jane Austin (to be honest, it’s kind of blissful but I know I must re-enter the real world at some point… sigh) and considering my next move.
Thus draws to an end my whirlwind tour of Australia. I absolutely loved what I saw of the country, I loved the warmth of Queensland and the unique landscape of the Northern Territory and South Australia. It is definitely somewhere I want to go back to and could happily live.
I’m going to leave this little escapade with the same words I intend to start the next with – a quote I found in a backpacker’s magazine while travelling:
What has travelling taught you?
Shuk Fan Ip (traveller): When I first arrived, I acted like a
tourist. I was attracted to the beautiful landscape. I took tons of
pictures and wrote my diary every day. Later, I found that life is just
the same no matter where I am. It is always the people I meet that make
the difference.”
~ TNT Magazine, Issue 524 (May 09)

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Day 4: Uluru and Coober Pedy
On this morning, we did make an attempt to experience the sunrise over Uluru, but as it was still grey, cold and drizzly, I opted to view it from the van again. Then it was on to the base walk – a 2 hour walk around the base of Uluru. Feeling decidedly worse for wear but having no real choice in the matter, I joined the group in setting out. Steve was off to get petrol and supplies but told me if I was feeling sick, I could met him at a shelter about halfway through the walk.

As it started to rain, my heavy lungs wheezing and realising with dismay that I had forgotten my box of tissues, I spied the shelter quickly and headed straight for it, leaving my fellow intrepid travellers to experience the rest Uluru had to offer. Unfortunately, my lot at the ‘shelter’ was not much better. I cannot describe how very very cold I was. I managed to hide and defrost in a friendly tour driver’s bus for a little while, but then his tour group returned and I was relegated once more to the outside bench. The worst part of it was that I was not entirely sure, from Steve’s sketch in the dirt, that I was in the right place. Also, being the in middle of the Outback and behind a giant rock, my cellphone had no reception. All sorts of what ifs were flying through my head – what if I’m in the wrong place, should I stay here and hope they figure it out, what will I do if they don’t, will I be stranded in the wet, cold desert…?!

Luckily, my feverish imaginings were put to rest when finally, after 2 hours, the Groovy Grape van pulled up in the parking lot and I collapsed shivering, sniffing and yes I admit, crying just a little, into that most joyous of all vehicles and we embarked on our 7 hour journey out of the Red Centre to Coober Pedy.

Arriving in the evening to our little house in Coober Pedy buoyed my spirits immensely, the promise of sleeping inside a real house on a real bed now within reach of being fulfilled and Steve’s talk of hospitals and IV drips (and my acute awareness of my naive lack of travel insurance) all adding to my determination to feel much, much revived.

Our house in Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy is an opal mining town, provider of over 80% of the world’s opal and the population of which lives largely in underground residences carved out of rock. It is a most bizarre place, seeming desolate from ground level but very cosy once inside said residences (multitude of cockroaches notwithstanding…). Steve told us of how he had had the house we stayed the night in offered to him to buy for $30,000 but he dithered too long, so long that the owner started to make renovations (read: hack into the wall) and discovered many 10s of thousands of dollars worth of opal. As opal mining in the area is now strictly licensed and you are only allowed to mine within a small area, apparently many people make considerable “renovations” to their underground houses, many having 10 or 20 rooms and god knows how many “bookshelves”.

After a pizza dinner and glorious showers (and being told, upon my shower and changing, that I looked “cute” and “female”, making me despair as to how I had looked the rest of the trip…), we wandered over for a drink in one of the town’s bars, many feet underground, boasting the dubious honour of “the only underground poker machines in the world”. It was a very quiet night though and we soon retired to bed.

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Waterfalls on Uluru

Day 3: Uluru and Kata Tjuta

The sunrise being about as forthcoming as the sunset the previous night, Steve decided to let us sleep rather than rouse us for it, but we were nonetheless off pretty early to visit the Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the base of Uluru. Uluru is a very sacred site for the aboriginal people of Australia and they were not too long ago given the land back, on the proviso that they lease it to the government for 99 years. Yah, generous. However, they seem to be making a fairly heartfelt effort to educate tourists on it’s cultural significance. It is actually very culturally insensitive to climb Uluru, and if you had seen the steep section people nonetheless choose to climb up, you would wonder why anyone would actually be stupid enough to attempt it anyway. There are also ‘mens’ and ‘womens’ areas of the rock which it is culturally rude to photograph, and the road has been set in such a way that the special ‘mens’ area is not visible from it, which is why you will only ever see certain parts of the rock in commercial photographs.

I think this is Kata Tjuta – about all I saw of it!

As interesting as all this is, one huge bonus inherent in it was the warmth to be found within the cultural centre. After lunch we were meant to be heading to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas – another interesting rock formation not far from Uluru that actually has equal if not more cultural significance) and the brochure promised a hike through “the majestic Valley of the Winds”. We valiantly set off in our van towards Kata Tjuta amid ever more insistent rainfall and I must admit, the “Valley of the Winds” was sounding more traumatic than majestic at this point. On arrival, the skies decided to empty their entire supply of rainwater for the year upon us and I decided to keep my ill self firmly ensconced in the warm van. Almost all of the others save one decided to they weren’t giving up that easy, one girl fashioning a stunning rain-skirt out of a rubbish bag – gotta love the ingenuity!

Me rugged up at Kata Tjuta

The brave (crazy?) crew returned after about 20 minutes and we went for a drive to see the waterfalls that the rain had brought about on Uluru. Apparently, this is something truly amazing and unique to see. Frankly, we felt we would have been happy with something less unique if that entailed warth and sunshine. But the waterfalls were very pretty. Majestic even.

The rain cleared up enough for Steve to take us to his special, little-known spot for a beautiful sunset that night, which I did my very best to appreciate. The whole Uluru area is certainly very powerful and very special and I would love to see it in the warmth one day.

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