A world in which all professionals and ordinary alike can travel and work together from all around the world to achieve a greater purpose and fulfillment in life.
The current shift in the world is allowing that more than ever. It’s hard to see that now, as the world stumbles to find it’s feet and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
But in these changing times, we are challenged to see opportunity instead of suffering. The opportunity for the world to do better, to learn from our past mistakes and our past inability to take the action that was needed. I don’t just speak of the ever-increasing risk of pandemics, but also other global challenges we all face; those of climate change, growing inequality, social and racial injustice, and the continued loss of biodiversity just to name a few.
The amazing thing is that we are all capable and willing hands, we all seek to contribute to solving these great challenges of our generation. The real challenge is finding exactly where that purpose and sense of achievement can be found for each and every one of us and I believe that can be found by broadening our horizons outside of not only what we know but also whom we know.
Feature image – On a warm and cool day, graduations would be taking place in a few hours time. Taken on the 20th of January 2020.
In this post, I introduce two sections to help you run around this city and make the most of it! The first shows you things you the things you must do as a traveler here and the second is a list of my own little discoveries I’ve made over the time I’ve been here.
At this point of time when more and more of my friends are travelling abroad, one of the big destinations is through Europe so in doing so, and knowing I’m living in this big bad city, they ask me about where’s the go-to, what’s the must sees and where are the must go’s. So here’s what I think from first glance, from my first few months of living in this beautiful city, the city of London.
Section 1 – To travel
Everyone travels differently depending on a whole number of factors. Here, I give you a quick rundown, with each category, I give you about 2-3 days worth of things to do. So, without further ado, what kind of traveler are you?
Cultural Seeker – I want to know what it is like to be a Londoner, their daily lives, patterns and things they live by.
PRET – What? you’ll know what I mean when you get here. Pret is the most famous of the many “sandwich shops” that keep the cities population moving for another day. They’re a chain that you can find around almost every corner because a part of the London lifestyle is to grab a sandwich (and maybe a meal deal) during lunch or on your way home. Don’t *Pret though, the sandwiches are actually really good, super fresh and well priced so what’s not to love?
Markets – I know there are some pretty great markets around the world and you can probably find them greater, larger or more extravagant than those found here. However, I’m talking about literally many dozens of markets littered all around London and in every corner and crevice. During lunchtimes, these markets provide a good break from the daily sandwich and over the weekends they are beaming with local shoppers, artists, creatives and foodies! Some of my favorites include the Brick Lane Markets, Camden markets, Borough Markets and the Colombia Road Flower Markets.
Parks – If you’re here in the summer, you’re going to loooove this (check out my re-blog of the London summer https://jayysnotes.blog/2019/07/18/london-summer/), but if you’re not, they’re still worth a visit. Parks here are seasonal, so be ready to see all the beautiful changing colors of all the seasons, the bright oranges of Autumn, the colorful yellows, pinks, blues and purples of Spring, the bright greens of summer and of-course, the brown brushes of winter…but not only will you find the parks incredibly gorgeous and well maintained here, you will find them absolutely empty one cold day and intensely crawling with people from all walks of life in the next sunny day! It’s really quite a sight. Check out some of my favorites, Regents Park, Primrose Hill, Greenwich Park and of-course Hyde Park; and if you have time and want to see wild roaming deer, check out the enormous Richmond Parklands.
Beer – I can’t not mention this as it is probably the most English thing I know. Pubs are found literally around every corner of this city. The English see pubs as such: Cold Day – Let’s go to the local pub with our buddies and sit inside where it’s warm, packed like sardines, loud and smells. Sunny Day – Let’s go to the local pub with our buddies and all stand outside creating noise while having a pint to soak in as much sun as we can before the coming 9 month winter. Let me say again how prominent the street drinking is here, so much so we have men’s urinals (the ones we see at carnivals) on the corner of public roads!
Free Museums – London is super great for travelers because there’s actually a lot of free stuff to do! (strictly travelers, living here burns holes through your wallet!). One of the best free things are museums and galleries, many of which top of world in terms of ranking. You can find many of the popular ones around South Kensington station and others spread out across the city. Some of my favorites so far are The Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), Tate Modern and the British Museum.
Live Music and Theaters – Other than having beers 5 times a week, theatrics is something that locals here love to go and see. There are an absolute limitless number of shows that are happening every single day to pique any of your interests! The more popular and world renown ones include the plays at Shake-sphere’s Globe, Phantom of the Opera and of-course Harry Potter’s Play.
Special mention to the Regents Canal – Definitely one of my favorites walks on a sunny day, don’t miss out on the canal walk around Kings Cross and the up towards Little Venice and Paddington!
Party Seeker – I want to know how to have a good time in this city, I want to stay up and party all night!
SOHO – This is a prominent and central area for a night out. I’ll be honest, I’ve not had a big night out in the area but from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s wild and odd!
Shoreditch – Shorditch is a hippie, youthful, artsie and super energetic area especially at night. Walk the main streets, take lots of turns and corners and even explore it’s outskirts for something different, jazzy, fun and exciting. At night the whole area is buzzing, there’s no specific place I’d go check out because there’s always something cool around the corner. I did here something about a place called the Dinerama which is great for food and bars, something for me to check out too!
Specific Bars – There’s a lot to mention here. Like seriously a lot and it really depends on what you’re after. This city has a bar for and to suit everyone and anything. I’ve been to super cool themed medieval bars to modern futuristic ones. Bars with huge putt putt courses, bowling alleys and karaoke’s in them, I’ve seen pubs where people play board and e-sports…there’s just everything here…maybe ask me to join?
Specific Clubs – Again, there’s a lot to mention and sometimes it depends on the night and the artist who’s playing. Special mention to the Ministry of Sound, Fabric and XOYO along with Printworks but once again, you need to think about what music you like and what you’d like to see.
Section 2 – Discoveries
Bogan bingo – All Aussies who visit the city must go on a night out of Bogan Bingo! great fun and laugh for everyone and a good reminder of what we Aussies look like to others!
TK MAXX – This is a really great place to shop for good quality branded clothing at super great prices. There’s a few of these stores littered around London, mostly in the outer Zone 2, definitely a great place to find a bargain, pretty much always 80% off the retail price of branded shoes, clothing and everything else.
Thai Food – Spicy Basil is really great for authentic Thai food that I’ve yet to see replicated anywhere else in London
Indian Food – Vijay is something unexpected when you first walk in, it’s warm and welcoming glow pulls you in and the amazing food keeps you there!
I’ll leave it at that for now as those are the two main types of travelers coming into London itself. I guess I could of added some landmarks as well but i’m sure google has you covered there! e.g. don’t forget to check out the Tower of London! (of-course you wouldn’t forget).
Thanks for reading my friends. Happy travels! ❤
Feature image – View from the 58th floor of the currently in construction 22 Bishopsgate, London, United Kingdom taken on the 3rd May 2019
Title: The Great Lakes District Multi-Day Hike and Camp
Dates: 18th April 2019 to 22nd April 2019
Objective: To trek the most popular mountains and gorgeous Lakes District over the Easter long weekend.
Route: Self-determined involving Inland, mountainous terrain, lakes and river systems.
Approx Distance: 100+ Kilometers
Approx Hiking Time: 35+ Hours in Total
Accommodation: 4 Nights Camping
Facts and Insights
Two of the highest peaks in England were tackled during this endeavor. Scafell Pike (978m) and Helvellyn (950m).
England’s longest lake was an incredibly popular destination, Windermere stretching over 16km long!
Weather; a low of 5 degrees and surprising tops of 19 degrees! Windy but not enough to close off any trails. Weather took the surprise of all who visited over the weekend, sunny everyday, an incredibly rare sight for all.
This was a personal challenge. Climbing almost a dozen mountain tops including the two highest in England has inspired me to undertake other great endeavors throughout the United Kingdom, Europe and in time, no doubt mountain ranges of the world.
A colleague said that this was more like an expedition! haha makes me feel like Indiana Jones, exploring and discovering hidden treasures. Although it was only 4 days, the fact that it was a unique and personal path made it the more special.
During the hike, I pondered over many thoughts, one of which was the reason why I chose to do this. I think for me, it’s not just a hike up the mountain. It’s not about all the incredible sights that you set your eyes upon nor is it predominantly for my own physical fitness. The journey to me is a mental challenge I choose to face, it is continuing to walk even when your whole body is shaking and aching for you to stop. It is making it to the top, to the finish line without doubt in your mind that you have stuck to your own word. I think everything else, the lakeside views, mountaintops, sleeping under the stars and moon, the physical fitness it brings…they’re all bonuses, incredible and amazing bonuses that come with all great achievements in life.
Also, dogs climb mountains too, so many of them! so cute!
The Lakes District is an incredibly popular destination for the English not only for it’s natural beauty but also for it’s challenging hikes and mountainous ranges. Over the past few months I have taken my time to plan a personal route (made up of many others whom have come before me) to experience a one of a kind trek through the district. From the early morning’s and till sunset, I spent hiking and during the evening’s I set down my tent and gear and prepared for a night under the stars in the mountain tops! Before you think I’m crazy, I’ve done this before! and with each and every adventure I become better equipped both mentally and physically.
I’ve missed home sweet home Australia for all of her natural beauty. I hope for my friends out there whom are home, they never take it for granted. In so many ways, I will always return home to finish my round trip along her beautiful coast. This to me, is just a little detour.
Day 1 – Friday
What a great idea it was to spend the first night at a bed and breakfast. Arriving at Windermere quite late into the night, there was no time nor the light to hike to the first random checkpoint; plus, the time was spent well making preparations for the long journey ahead. I loved the whole homey feel of the place; an old wooden charm and the warm and inviting fireplace and lighting made me feel right at home. She also had a great history to tell, with photo’s, artworks and decorations dating back to the old days. Bed and breakfast’s are a big thing out here in England, they’re in-between air-bnb’s and hotels because the owners are usually also living in the home, retired and invite guests along to enjoy their home, they also cook you breakfast to top it off. There is also no doubt in the world that the traditional English breakfast that was served that morning was delicious and aided in my survival throughout the first day.
How nice it was to follow the beautiful walls of stone that climb the sides of these mountains. Often would I think about how and who had the job of placing each and every one of them, perfectly in a position that looks as if it has held for decades.
It was not long after the beginning that I stumbled upon a bunch of young travellers, taken aback on the hillside inhaling what I could clearly tell was a joint. In fact, this wasn’t only a singular occurrence, I saw this numerous times during the hike and furthermore there were groups of people hiking whilst half drunk! How this was achieved is beyond me, I was more worried about not twisting my ankle on the first day of the trip and asking for them to take photo’s of me hah! If it wasn’t for them, all I had was my non-steady Go-Pro to rely on which took longer to set up than I’d liked.
Day 2 – Saturday
Who knew that after today Scafell would be conquered?! I should of known that, but really, it was hard to know where you would end up by the end of the day. The plans and tracks that had been made, the checkpoints were only a guide, it would take me a few more great hikes to be able to predict how long it would take me to climb any one mountain; and so the sights were set to go as far as one could along the planned route.
It was an incredibly rocky road to Scafell Pike, and I don’t say that figuratively! Three paths to take up the peak and the toughest of them all had to be taken, but I guess I’d say, for have we really conquered a mountain if we did not take on her greatest challenge?
Scafell was busy. Like really busy! Forget about a peaceful climb to the top with nature and the birds and bees following you around. Dozens of hikers arrived at any one time, small and large tour groups made it to the top with cheers and clapping heard all around. When I’d finally overcome the rocky pass, my arms were in the air, a big smile could be seen and an aura of one who had just made a great achievement came over me. From a distance, the peak looked really cool, a pile of rocks stacked on the top allowed visitors to stand and sit up there in unison to enjoy a 360 panorama of the entirety of the lakes. It was beautiful, the energy up there was a high and so there I sat and let time pass me by for hours on end.
The “easy” way down the mountain was towards the lake of Wast Water. It was a long way down which felt like forever but what made it all the worthwhile was the sun setting down against the lake, probably one of the biggest highlights of the entire trip. A warm orange glow encompassed everyone going down that mountain and after achieving such great heights, it was the best way for most to end their day.
I on the other hand had taken a slight detour shortly before arriving down at the lake. Making my way down to a super small town called Wasdale in search for a place to camp. As luck would have it, the tiny town had a little campsite with food and drinks to be served along with all the amenities required by those who hadn’t showered for days!
Day 3 – Sunday
I would say that Sunday was the most relaxing of all the days. Despite a slow start to the day (slow because of an alternate far tougher path up a hill), the day was spent mostly on the lower ground or shall I say, on the lower levels of the mountains.
There was a moment of real peace when I stopped by the riverside, between two adjacent trees that gave off a perfect shade beside the rapids. There I kicked up my feet in the water and took a much needed break from the sun as by then parts of me were as red as tomatoes! (And FYI, if you’re wondering, of course I used sunscreen and wore a hat!).
Another mountain top later we were overlooking yet another gorgeous lake right off the small town of Buttermere. More tourists flocked here to walk around the lake on footpaths meant for child strollers and bicycles. The one ice cream parlor was overrun by eager children hoping for something sweet and cold. I was definitely one of those children and couldn’t resist one myself; with chocolate icing of course!
Close by was the nice town of Keswick. Keswick is a must visit local town in the Lakes District if you do come up here, it’s a really beautiful old town with some great spots to take photos of the streets and town square. I have to also mention how great it was to meet two locals travelling in for the weekend with their dogs, it made for such a great conversation about the Lakes and other hikes to be done. They’d told me how in all their years they’ve been here, they’ve never seen it so sunny all weekend around because of all the mountains and all. I guess I was lucky! or I’d just brought the sunshine with me haha lame joke*
To end the day, I made my way up as high as I could towards Helvellyn, this was an exciting part of the trip and couldn’t stop thinking about the “scramble” across the Striding Edge, you’ll know what I mean by that soon. An hour into the hike I’d completely lost the pathway but with my trusty compass I was never too far away from one I’d make myself. I put in the extra effort to climb till the sun set further before I pitched my tent, by then and because of the constant upward battle for over 2 hours, I was sweating a heap and there I was, shirtless half way up the mountain without a town in sight as the sun set in the distance.
Day 4 – Monday
I woke up this morning with the wind rocking the tent side to side. It was 6:30am, cold outside but surprisingly warm on the inside. It really pays to know what is required in a good tent! Despite this, I found it hard to fall back asleep till the sun rose above the mountains. I made the decision right there and then that I was to have my breakfast consisting of some tuna, nuts, a carrot, an apple and some sweets to top up that sugar level. I cuddled back into the sleeping bag to let the food warm me up before I lept out there into the cold, damp and slightly foggy morning to unpack it all.
Today, I made an incredible head start on the track towards Helvellyn. As the night before I had put in some extra effort to get as high as I could, I was almost at the top before 7am. From up there, the suns warm glow was a sight for sore eyes and so I sat there basking in her delight. Pillars of rock were all around me and as for those who are experience hikers knew, the pillars are a piece of each person who’d made it up there with a rock of their own to place on the mountain. It was a beautiful sight when I added yet another one to the pile. Would you call these checkpoints? I think you would, they’re checkpoints for the individual to be proud of, to have made it so far.
At the top it was quiet, peaceful and calm. Because I had made it up there so early, there was no one else there. Oddly enough and don’t tell my parents, there were some sweets in a goodie bag stuffed at the peak of a pillar, they looked fresh so I took it upon myself to have some and say thanks to the kind mountain gods, I in turn added some of my own goodies to the bag to pay it forward. Shortly after, I’d basked in the sunlight some more, a couple arrived at the top and we sat against the wall and talked of mountainsides around Europe and the way ahead. For ahead me was yet another challenge known as the Striding Edge!
Now, the English have a saying for walks like this, they call it scrambling, I’ve not actually heard the term before so I’m not sure if it’s entirely an English thing but it pretty much was rock climbing on the peaks of the mountains ranges! Most people do so monkey-like but not holding 10kg of baggage as I was so I made sure that I climbed on slow and steady, for one slip meant falling hundreds of meters down below. To be honest, I’m not sure why this is even allowed and again to be honest, it was the first time I’ve actually been scared for my life in a long time. Sadly many people actually die from this very scramble (20 deaths in fact and many more injured in 2017 alone!) I won’t be taking on any more challenges like this for now, no thank you! Looking back it was fun and thrilling but I love life too much to risk that again haha
Did I also mention there is a gravestone with a touching story of a life lost because of this edge? In summary, a man climbing these edges fell to his death, his dog was found wandering around his corpse in incredible sadness and distress. The plaque is to remind us all of the strength and enduring love of our companions during great endeavors. And then a tear fell from my eyes.
The final stretch of the hike proved to be quite merciful and with gorgeous views of Lake Ullswater, there was nothing more that could have ended this trip on a high…
Except, a really pretty town and lamb shanks by the lake!!! Seriously was well deserved after conquering such a beast in which was The Lakes District.
Thanks for reading my friends. What challenges do you choose to face in life to help you prepare for the worst?
In my travels I have met many people, each and every one of them with beautiful stories to tell. What I enjoy doing rather than it’s opposite, is listening.
There are a number of topics which I love to bring up, that I love to ask and learn from others. Here is just one:
“If you could choose one place in the world you have been to that moved you, that you find incredibly amazing, where would that be and why?”
Here, I will tell you the where, but not the why, because the why is for you and I to experience ourselves. It is my goal to embark and visit these places, uniquely moving to those whom I have known personally. It’s not something that can simply be googled or seen on social media because these are the places that have truly been felt by those who have been. So, here goes, and in no particular order:
James says “Zermatt, Switzerland”
Stephanie says “Les Nympheas, France”
Matt says “Covent Garden, London, United Kingdom”
Erick says “Thaipusam, Batu Caves, India”
Carmen says “Naples, Italy”
Kim says “Pamplona, Spain”
Kevin says “Zell am See, Austria”
Agatasays “Zakrzowek, Poland”
How could this list not be complete without my own right? As as tough of a question this is, i’ll do my best to answer.
Jason says “Queenstown, New Zealand”
Undoubtly this list is long and will only grow as time passes. I can only hope that one day I visit as many as I can and understand why it was their one choice.
With love, Jason ❤
Feature image – Rob Roys Peak, New Zealand. Taken on the 23rd November 2016
It just so happens that today is no typical day. In the background, music to my ears, my niece of 3 runs around the family home laughing and playing with whatever she finds intriguing, that of which is everything. Her parents are busying themselves in the kitchen, preparing for a big day ahead to celebrate the 1st birthday of their second born, Alicia.
My part in all of this comes in later today, when the guests arrive and the chicken and chips are to be fried.
So for now, on the hammock I sit and write this memo to my present and near future self. It seems like an opportune time to do so, 3 months before I say see ya later to all of this, so much I cherish and will miss.
A heartfelt start to a post in which is to support me in the next 3 months through this incredible time of the year. I chose the presents to reflect upon the near future because this will allow me to remember the how and the why’s and align my thoughts and vision for where I see myself in the time coming. So without afurther ado, I begin with the first and foremost;
A Look at You – For those of you who have been the support in my life, I dedicate a time and space to look at you and in rememberance of you and what you mean to me. In the upcoming months, I will share our past and present annonymously in a post with a tagline that only you and I would understand. I can only hope that in doing so, you will know that you always have a place in my life and wherever we end up in the coming years, we can kick off with where we left off, the present in which we left off.
Pictures – In recent time’s I’ve underestimated the power of a photo, an image or a drawing to represent the ideas and emotions that we encounter in our lives. In my future posts, I intend to learn more about this, I hope to find and share pictures which we can all relate and accompany them with my thoughts and feelings.
Community – Where do we hope to find a sense of community in this vast world we live? It never came to thought until I realised I might actually be all on my own when I move away from home. For many I think this is incredibly daunting and one of the big reasons why we stay where we are, comfortable with what we have, content with all the love and support that already surrounds us. I’d like to think that I am also, but at the same time i’ve always had a longing to to stray from everything that is in the norm. If you know me well then you’d know that I have alrady invited you to come join me when I move, even if that chance was super super low; I guess, in a way I wish I could bring the community I already have with me wherever I go.
Preparations – The last of which I must make note of within the next few months is preparation. I won’t go too much into the details as mostly this is for my own reference so I will list some of the things I have to wrap my head around in the next 3 months. The job. My one way flight. A friends wedding in Bangladesh. My search for affordable accomodation. My selt taught cook-book and search for the inner chef. My health and wellbeing or lifestyle. Travel and social tools and apps. Managing my finances. Managing my finances again.
There are certain places in the world that are unlike so many others. Many of which have been lost and hidden in time and history.
When I ask myself the questions which ponder at our worlds greatest histories, it often revolves around how they came to be, what was it that made it so incredible and how can I today recreate it. I speak of the great routes and paths of ancient and modern history, routes which have defined much of the worlds cities, societies and cultures that we see today and for centuries to come.
From the ancient Silk Road to the path Gandhi took on his peaceful Salt march, from Alexander the Great’s conquest to the Germans march across Belgium which sparked WW1, from the many pilgrimages millions take each year for their faith in religion and/or spirituality, these are the paths in which history has and continue to be written. These paths not only gave way to the trade of rare commodities, knowledge from travellers of far away cities, cultural and societal norms and beliefs; but they also gave way to much of the violence and conquest that we have seen in histories past.
To re-enact and follow in these great footsteps of history, I hope to seek a greater understanding of our past. Some of my major goals in life revolve around completing these journeys ahead, following the towns and cities, the cultures and stories in which they passed; because maybe, just maybe by seeking to understand our greatest histories can we begin to build and even greater future.
Thanks for reading ^__^
Some of these major routes I seek are listed here below, is there a famous route that changed the world that you would like to embark on one day?
The Silk Road – An ancient trade route connecting the East to West
The Gospel Trail – Following the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples
Alexander the Great – His journey of conquest
The Salt March – Led by Gandhi which in turn began a wide protest for Independence in India
The Inca Trail – A hiking trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, an ancient civilisation which thrived in the Peruvian mountains
The Eight Great Sites – The path of Buddha and his journey to enlightenment
The Hajj – The annual pilgrimage for millions of Muslims to the city of Mecca
“When he had been a child, at home, he had imagined the joy of being a free spirit, so he had been surprised when, on his first wanderings, he had so often felt sad, lonely, even heartbroken. Even after he had grown accustomed to this rootless lifestyle, though he did feel every bit the legendary lone hero, at other times it was good to feel the warmth and security of company.”
Objective: San Francisco to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to San Francisco
Route: Inland, mountainous & coastal
Approx Distance: 3000 Kilometers
Approx Time Driven: 50 Hours
Accommodation: 3 Nights Camping/ 5 Nights Car/ 6 Nights Hotel & Home
Camping is expensive
Camping has all amenities
State taxes, insurance, laws and regulations
You meet friends when you least expect it in places where you
We are not on this Earth to live or be alone. To be social with one another is core to our existence whether we consider ourselves introverted or otherwise.
Tackling your fears head first is the best way to overcome them (Safely ofcourse).
It’s more difficult than you think to foresee where you may end up in life, where you might settle and live, how your relationships will turn out and what career you might set your path upon.
It’s possible to live life or atleast short bursts of it purely based on spontaneity and trust in your gut feeling.
Always, always make time to take the scenic route, miss a turn onto the highway and drive off the beaten path. You’ll be surprised where it takes you.
Simply ask the locals what you should do when you get there, they’ll talk of places and things to do that you just can’t find anywhere else. TripAdvisor is one thing, but a true local is another!
I guess there was a lot to expect; preconceptions of what it means to be in The States…
But before I get to that, we start at the very beginning. Flying the kangaroo half way across the Earth was absolutely wonderful, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a more comfortable flight. 14 hours was what it took, ten of those were spent sleeping and the other four eating and snacking. There is a certain pride and joy flying with our own airline, even when it is slightly more out of my own pocket, it still kind of feels like home but just at 35,000ft. Imagine that, your home suspended at 35000ft *giggles*. The food is also surprisingly good, in fact for plane food it is even great. I would suggest getting doubles when the scent of the mid-flight hot dog and mini burger arrive while you are dreaming away. I guess in retrospect, I am one of the lucky ones who can sleep on the plane, It’s one of the things I try not to take for granted and I often cite it as one of the greatest transferable skills on my CV. Anyways, I digress…which I do often when speaking of sleep and food.
It kind of took me about 5 hours to get out of the airport, sort out my rental car, sim card and onto the road, three of which were spent waiting in lines, mostly for my rental car. That was an unexpected hump, already hours late to meet my friend Sabrina for lunch so she could show me around the city. Luckily she is awesome and forgives me for any harm done hehe. It’s the best thing to see a friendly face across the world, especially when you can use them as a free tour guide! hah, but you know I’d do the same for any friend coming to Sydney.
Straight off the bat is lunch at the Panda Express. Now I’m not usually one to talk about food in my blogs but if the food is somewhat iconic or a representation of culture then I should probably run it past. So I didn’t actually know it was a thing until I came back to Sydney and people asked me if I’d been to Panda Express! and so it was a coincidence. Pretty much the epitome of Asian food court delicacies. Yes, Asian food court food and it was actually pretty good, keeping in mind that it was food court food.
Moving on, the first thing to see was the Golden Gate bridge, from every angle it seems. It was nice both walking and driving across the bridge; beautifully draped in its red velvet. All I could think about was how tough it would be to repaint that thing, half true. I was thinking more of its history, it’s construction and engineering marvel. At the same time, the inescapable sad truth that something so beautiful is also known to be a place where so many lives are taken. It was a bittersweet moment but at least one spent in good company.
Lombard Street was our next stop. With the rooftop off we drove down the worlds crookedest road along with so many other tourists. It was actually really fun, the plants and flowers surrounding the area were pretty and with the backdrop of the city, what isn’t there to like.
Now to the Fisherman’s Wharf, I was in search of that iconic sign and found it soon enough. A bit of an evening walk and catching up later we found ourselves having a nice warm dinner at a restaurant with live music to our ears. It was there where I found that most nice restaurants serve chowder as their entree, we don’t really have that in Australia or at least we don’t always call it that. Truth is I didn’t know what it was until an age I’m too embarrassed to admit. let’s just say I never really understood the “chowder” reference in The Simpsons.
To end the first day of my trip we went to have some Asian dessert, wish I’d taken some photos because it was nice but I’m usually too busy getting started on the food…kind of reminds me of Meet Fresh!
I took off from San Francisco quite early in the morning to get a good head start on the road as I’d suspected it would take me some time to reach Yosemite; little did I know that I was to stop almost a dozen times before reaching the National Park. From toilet breaks beside the road to country towns and gorgeous lookouts to turning back around after seeing a caravan parked beside a gas station with colours all around it…how could you not be curious right? As I approached the caravan I noticed a lady hanging some really colourful clothing along with some beef jerky. She was so welcoming when she saw me approach. We talked about how she and her husband had escaped the city back in the 80’s and had been living on the road ever since, dyeing shirts all sorts of patterns and colours, selling them to just have enough to keep going. Half an hour later she offers me one of these shirts as a gift, of course I couldn’t accept this without offering a small gesture of my own too. The gift was perfect, now I had something to wear over the EDC weekend!
A few hours later and I’m at the entrance to the National Park. I’d got my hopes up when I saw the entrance, ready and eager to jump right into some hiking trails, too bad it was another hour or two till I actually reached the falls; mostly because again I’d stopped to enjoy the view countless more times. But have a look at that entrance, in spectacular American fashion!
*INSERT* – YOSEMITE TIME LAPSE
I took my time to wander around the village once I’d finally managed to find parking. From the gift shops, to restaurants and campsites to their very own convenient store it really was more like a small busy tourist town rather than a remote place out in the mountains, nothing like it is in our peaceful and quiet Blue Mountains.
I made my way down to my first hike, I thought I’d start with something pretty easy and so it was. Popular with families with young kids and babies in strollers, I should have known this would be a piece of cake. Nonetheless, the Yosemite Lower Falls walk was beautiful. I tend to get off track so I got drenched at the base of the waterfall, all for the selfie as I do.
*INSERT* – LOWER YOSEMITE FALLS
After my slow, very slow “hike” to the Lower falls it was already the late afternoon! I’d still wanted to hike the upper falls, totally behind schedule 😦 . About an hour up the Upper Falls i passed by a ranger who told me it would still be hours till I’d reach the top, by then it would be cold, dark and by the looks of it, rainy and wet! I’m somewhat glad I didn’t embark on that journey further up because the moment I got back to the base it poured rain like no tomorrow. Meanwhile, I was happily enjoying a pizza all to myself by a nice fireplace inside the restaurant. So warm and cosy!
That night I drove back outside the National Park (because they don’t let you camp just anywhere inside) and pitched my tent down by the river just outside of the Indian Flats campground. Not for the lack of trying, the campground wanted to charge me $60USD to sleep in my own tent inside the campground somewhere. Why do that when there’s a perfectly nice illegal camping spot down by the river…Some would argue with me, but I’m poor, rebellious, daring and a bit spontaneous in that way. So that night I slept with a knife under my pillow just in case a bear did decide to come strolling into my camp. lol.
Day 3 –
I survived my first night camping and it was absolutely freezing cold! I should have known better than to camp at the bottom of the valley where the wind gushes by and the river water flows with all the might of nature…let’s just say that’s a lesson learned. I was up really early just as the sun came up to make the most of the day. I wanted to go on a real nice hike, spend all day up there in the mountains and so I did, it was to be the longest hike I’d ever attempted and completed. It all began here, at the entrance of the Mist Trail.
It was still early in the morning as I made my way up the trail. It couldn’t have been later than 7am when I came across this view. I think it’s beautiful the way shadows climb up the rocky faces of mountains. In the shadows it drops below 10 degrees but out in the open sun it could be easily triple that, and when making your way up the trail means that you get one or the other for a few minutes at a time you really don’t know what to take off or put on. A chill runs through your spine every time you hide behind the rock face and end up with a view like this.
Now at the top I thought it would be a good time for lunch. Before I’d even unpacked my sandwiches, fruit and snacks, a squirrel found me, no doubt looking at my fancy trail mix!
So that was it, time to leave my newfound friend alone. Next stop, Nevada falls, another 3 kilometres up ahead. It was here where I’d bumped into two sisters who, like me had lost the main path! And who couldn’t with forests like this below. At one point I’d followed a path that led me right back to where I began, talk about Deja Vu! The sisters, from Cleveland (just in case I ever visit) were headed the same way. We would soon bump into each other a dozen times with me nudging them to continue along the Panorama trail and down the 4-mile track! Well worth it and an absolute great company to have met on the hike.
Much of the next 14 km can be summarised by one photo below. It felt like I was always following a path around the mountain, never being able to see what was just that bit further ahead. What you could see though, was the Half Dome almost throughout the trail, It’s as if no matter how far you walked, the Half Dome and it’s mountains never moved, never shifted away from your sight.
At the end of the trail was an incredible lookout where most people had not hiked to get up, but instead made their way by car or bus. I could have saved myself 14 km’s of mountainous death if I had taken that option and as I stumbled past all the tourists who took the easy way up, I could see why.
But the hike had yet ended, as the clouds rolled in I kept my fingers crossed for the 4-mile hike back down. It was quite amazing and just my luck that just as I reached the base the rain poured in like none other.
So with much relief and good company from the sisters, we were back down on the valley camp. We had dinner at one of lodges where they served a buffet / food court like meal which was pretty simple yet interesting. We said our goodbyes and hoped to visit each other across the world one day.
That evening I continued the journey back outside the National Park and towards the one and only Viva Las Vegas. On my way out I could not help but stop at what would be the last of about a dozen amazing lookouts at my time here in Yosemite and wow was it an absolutely incredible farewell. Farewell Yosemite, but sure not a goodbye ❤
That night I drove into the sunset, swirling and twirling through the mountains and soon found refuge by a lookout and so took up camp. I sat there for such a length of time that I could not tell, but because the view was something that I could not explain. It was with moments like this that make me wonder why I am out here, all on my own and so far from home; moments like this that make me more sure than ever that I am heading in the right direction. Because so often do I feel that I am out of place, that the world is trying to make me someone I am not; it is so often that I feel there exists a place where I belong and i’ts so close, within a hearts reach.
So it was on Day 4 that I continued my way through the mountains. The drive down and back up these mountains was a lot longer than I’d expected, the twists and turns felt like they’d never end and what looks like 20km on google maps is more like 50kms worth of twists and turns. As fun as they were though, it pushed my timetable a bit back and so later on I would miss my chance to see the beauty of Death Valley (hot desert and more hot desert from what I’ve heard).
The drive, however was gorgeous and once again in my good old fashion I can’t help but stop at the many lookouts along the way.
INSERT VIDEO OF SCENELAPSE
INSERT VIDEO OF ME DRIVING
The next stop was Kings Canyon which was supposed to be on my way out of all these national parks but turned out to be a whole day trip. The one thing I really wanted to see was the largest tree in the world known as the “General Sherman”; a giant sequiola. If you’re curious as to what they mean by the largest tree in the world, it’s measured by total volume, so it may not be the tallest or widest, but it’s combination of the two does make it so.
To be honest, the tree was big, but not as big as I’d imagined. I’m not sure why but when I think of a big tree I’d like to think I could look up and not see the top, that above me would be something of a stalk into the sky. Now, I know what you’re about to say, this isn’t some Jack in the Beanstalk or Avatar movie, this is real life; well let me tell you, real life is underwhelming sometimes then *sad face*. But nonetherless the trip here was wonderful and the short hike was full of surprises, among some of them was overhearing tourists be in awe of the tree, one of them sounded just like this when they saw it “aauuuuhhh zes zes, zat is big tree”, I couldnt help but giggle. Then you had others who tried taking photos from perspective, trying to hold the trunk between their fingers or leaning against it from an angle that made them look as tall as the tree, this was fun to watch as I sat there admiring the nature around me.
A short drive later and I was met with some construction work up ahead, they were repairing some of the tight bends around the mountains edge that must have collapsed recently. It was quite a long wait, so long that I turned off the car, opened up the roof and had lunch sitting on top of the car whilst everyone watched behind me.
*INSERT VIDEO OF HAVING LUNCH ON TOP OF CAR*
Just like that, I was out of the mountains and the colours of the landscapes changed dramatically.
From green to yellow. It was so sudden and to be honest, i hadn’t even noticed the scenery change until i looked twice. Driving is sometime’s like that, especially longer journeys. The landscapes all blend into one long road of ash and pavement and not until you look for a second time do you really notice your surroundings.
Sun was dawning now and a yellow glow in the distance complimented the earth. Driving into it, i was met with machines, hundreds upon hundreds of machines drilling into the earth. It’s hard to explain the sounds and feelings that emcompass you as you sit there watching, watching them turn and twist, like the drinking bird that never stops drinking and sucking from the earth. It’s hard to believe that this is what society is based upon and every ounce of your being tells you that this is somehow not right, that this is very wrong and yet this is how it is.
*INSERT VIDEO OF MACHINES*
I stopped by a Denny’s for dinner. Classic American fast food described simpley as large in proportion, cheesy, meaty and fatty!
That night, i drove into the sunset and took my rest by the side of Highway 15, just hours from the lights of Vegas.
The early morning drive was met with a really cool sight. Right in the middle of the Mojave Desert i drove past the Ivanpah solar thermal plant. Couldn’t help but stop by the side and take a few photos of this awesome engineering project, just one of a few i would plan on seeing today!
Next stop, Walmart! I had to go to atleast one while i was here right? do they really sell guns? is the pharmaceuticals aisle larger than the sweets? nope, but it was pretty big!
Hoover Dam. I was here, now this was truly an incredible marvel of engineering! Sweltering hot outside though as i made my way from the car park to the tourist centre taking plenty of photo’s, enjoying the view and reading all about the project.
After a few hours at the dam, it was time to head out towards the Grand Canyon! This was no simple feat, over 4 hours of driving in the desert, with literally nothing to see and nothing to do inbetween can drive someone crazy! You know those cartoons of the desert landscape where you see the dry round shrubs bounching from one side of the screen to the other? well, that’s real, there really are shrubs bouncing across the road on these desert highways!
I spent a lot of time walking the various tracks of the canyon on my own. It has a certain grandness where you’d just like to be alone in the peace and quiet. There’s not much else to be said about the Grand Canyon as the photos speak for themselves. Absolute wonder.
Another 4 hours of driving back into Vegas had me in a dazzle. From sunset to city rise i could see in the same distance as i headed into the city!
That night i met up with friends, enjoyed a yummy In-n-out burger and retired the night at The Luxor!
Sadly, I’d never spent the time to finish this blog post 😥 Plenty of stories and photos to tell of the other half of the time I was out here but maybe they will be told another time.
It has always been one of my greatest endeavours to complete a road trip around the coast of Australia. After all, Australia is my home and what is a better way to understand more about your home but to travel around it yourself.
This long-term goal will be likely split into 6 parts (as far as I can foresee right now).
Part 1 – Sydney > Melbourne > Adelaide (Completed Jan 2017)
Part 2 – Sydney > Tasmania (Expected Completion sometime late 2017)
Part 3 – Adelaide > Perth (Expected Completion sometime 2018)
Part 4 – Perth > Darwin
Part 5 – Darwin > Cairns
Part 6 – Sydney > Brisbane > Cairns
Rules of engagement:
All trips taken will be strictly by road only and be using flights as a means to arrive at the beginning or end of the trip.
Camping on beaches and grounds will be the number one option when on the road with the exception of when in major cities.
Self-made / self-cooked food (including by campfire) where possible unless tasting a local cuisine or delicacy.
Plan only the major routes and attractions and plan for worst case scenarios. Leave the rest to intuition and fate.
Meet locals wherever possible and ask them for knowledge of local things to do and see. Embrace all cultures, indigenous or otherwise with respect and an eagerness to learn and contribute.
Overcoming my Fears
Biggest fears for this trip include the following – Snakes, spiders, drop bears….well pretty much every dangerous animal that might stalk me in the middle of the night. The water level rising up to my tent in the middle of the night making bringing my tent into the ocean floating. Breaaaakkkkkdowwwnnssss as in mechanically for my car, not mentally, hopefully not mentally. Sadly hitting animals on the road :'(. Obviously crazy people!. Picking up hitchhiker’s (although I maybe shouldn’t hmm i don’t know how I feel about this yet, probably too risky as I am alone). I fear the loneliness might get to me. The looonnngggggg drive, possibly leading to fatigue. Monsters in the dark, including ghosts and aliens and the whole paranormal and supernatural *shivers*…(come on Jason you’re not 5 anymore harden up).
Update Jan 2017: So far I have overcome all of those fears and none of them has stopped me on my track! Shows you how much fears actually play a part in your life when you just jump over them.
Accommodation: 6 Nights Camping/ 1 Night Car/ 2 Nights House
We are not on this Earth to live or be alone. To be social with one another is core to our existence whether we consider ourselves introverted or otherwise.
Tackling your fears head first is the best way to overcome them (Safely ofcourse).
It’s more difficult than you think to foresee where you may end up in life, where you might settle and live, how your relationships will turn out and what career you might set your path upon.
It’s possible to live life or atleast short bursts of it purely based on spontaneity and trust in your gut feeling.
Always, always make time to take the scenic route, miss a turn onto the highway and drive off the beaten path. You’ll be surprised where it takes you.
Simply ask the locals what you should do when you get there, they’ll talk of places and things to do that you just can’t find anywhere else. TripAdvisor is one thing, but a true local is another!
And Kaboom! It’s 2018 and we’re off to a good start! First of all, Happy New Year to all the amazing people in my life who have all contributed to my happiness and success over the past few years, I truly wish you all the best. Here’s to bigger, bolder and more amazing years for us to come!
For me, however, the journey begins here at day 1. Preparation is the key! So here we are, my stock for the next 10 days (not including my exclusive clothing collection). Please for my sake let me know if there’s something I’ve forgotten ❤
Sometimes things just work out for the best. Day 1 was a lot about that! Only from missing a turn off the highway did I discover the route through Kangaroo Valley and oh how that was such a beautiful drive. Between Mittagong and Glenquarry I drove through a pass on the Range Road, it’s one those drives that is so reminiscent of what Hollywood movies would portray as a a dreamy road trip.
It was often that I could not help but stop the car to just enjoy the view in front of me. Think about the image below, imagine yourself standing where I was with a paintbrush and a blank canvas. Maybe this is where inspiration truly comes from, you tell me.
After following the road for some time I stumbled upon a place called the Fitzroy Falls Lookout, completely unintended as I had not even known it was there. After a short hike, I was presented with this view for the Sunset!
It was just about dinner time I thought, cheating for the first night I pulled out what mum had packed for me this morning. I was surprised at how empty the lookout was considering the view in front of me. I sat down and had my own little picnic by the lookout.
And of course midway through my meal I was met with some passerby (I don’t know how to spell that). A Spanish couple here on holidays, 4-day road trip to Melbourne and a family of 5 whom I took a photo for. They had a son who as soon as he saw the book I was reading (Harry Potter) was excitedly talking to me about how he’d just finished it and absolutely loved it; mind you he was like 5 years old. I then proceeded to make my way down the mountain through a series of really fun tight corners. Now, won’t you look at that beauty.
The next pit stop on the map was Ulladulla. When I got there and to my happy surprise there was a carnival on! Lots of noisy machines, fun rides, carnival games and food littered the park. I couldn’t help but stop for a little walk.
By this time I found the beach to camp at for the night it was already midnight! Luckily the full moon was out, beautifully lighting up the night sky and sea. There is not much that can compare to the peaceful sound of waves coming ashore throughout the night. I took out some snacks and began by nibbling on some biscuits and a celery stick before I fell into a deep sleep that would prepare me for the next day.
Rolling hills as far as the eyes can see. That’s how I would describe today. But before that let’s start from the beginning. Breakfast in one photo…
Then off to our next stop, Batemans Bay! Oh, the memories (shoutout to TBL!). I ended up taking a break in this…water gazebo…and didn’t even notice the time go by reminiscing about good old times and just generally enjoying the great sunny weather. Next thing I knew it was half past 12.
Back on the road I go, on my way to my next destination when I bumped into a town called Mogo. This old mining town has changed a lot in the years and it now boasts over a dozen dedicated antique/gift shops along with a variety of local restaurants serving everything from homemade pies and desserts to candy and well more candy! I was surprised to see most of the shops open and a great buzz in the air from all the passing tourists, I couldn’t help but check out some of the shops, sadly a lot of the things I wanted were too large or heavy for me to take on my flight back home. Back on the road, I made my way down to a town called Narooma. There is where I found what I had been looking for since the beginning of this road trip. Showers. Public showers for the beachgoers coming out from the seawater. Little did they know that I was literally taking a shower, after jumping on the beach of course! The water was super nice! Not too salty, nice and cool, not too cold and calm gentle waves, here’s a photo of that beach, not so much the sparkling clean Jason.
And another photo from the lookout on the right side of the photo above. The beach I was just on you can see to the left of the photo below. Absolutely stunning!
Now back on track to Eden taking the scenic routes through Tilba Tilba and Wallaga. Soooooo many hills as green and grassy as the eyes can see, it’s quite dreamy actually. The pictures don’t do them justice, it gives you that feeling of hey… I want to escape everything, I want to build a house on top of one of these hills and have this view every day!
Now I’ve been to Eden before, twice actually, but not like this. I don’t know why I’d never been up to the lookout but here I was, and there I spent Athens next hour or so having dinner and just overlooking the beauty of nature. Mind you that by this time the weather had totally changed, shortly after arriving a storm began to build and in the distance you could hear it all unfolding. This storm is still raging in the distance and as I lay here in my tent, ready for another night on the beach, I feel that I won’t be able to help being awoken by its distant rumbles.
In the light of the full moon, sounds of the waves coming ashore and the distant rumbles of a storm not too far away, good night my friends ❤️
What an incredible day. Today was an example of a day where time felt like it was not a problem, that it would go on forever. It’s a point that I make when I travel that I don’t plan things too tightly, that I make sure there is leg room for me to explore what I see in that very moment instead of rushing off quickly to the next (It also gives way to Murphy’s Law).
For example today I reached the town of Griffith’s, I thought I’d stay here for maybe 3 hours before I journeyed off…I ended up staying here for 7 hours and spending the night as well…now how the hell did that happen? I’ll explain further below. I woke up early today, I must have had a wonderful sleep because I was wide awake and ready for the next journey ahead. Half an hour later I was at Lake Conran, a short scenic route I decided to take for no particular reason. When I got there, however, there was quite a few cars and a dozen people doing Yoga on the grass! This is crazy because I’m pretty sure we were far from pretty much anything and here I am watching these people doing Yoga. Well, I didn’t stay long as the BBQs nearby were making me hungry…they had sausages and steak and I had a banana, apple, carrot and a tuna sandwich…not very appetizing once you’ve had it 3 days in a row. I walked down to the beach and climbed some rocks where the waves were crashing up against. To my surprise in the distance were a number of surfers riding some pretty big waves, this was quite a nice scene to just sit and watch and so I did for awhile.
A little further down and I was at the Snowy River Estuary which was reaaaaaly pretty, I’m pretty sure this was man made right? #factcheck.
Another little further down I passed a sign saying the old Stony Creek Trestle bridge driving at 100km/hr, I quickly made a stop, literally reversed back to the turn and asked myself (out loud), what the hell is a Trestle bridge??? I guess I’ll find out so I made my way to the dirt road which was quite fun kicking dust around and wearing out my tires (which I would do a lot more later). I get to this bridge and I’m like wow, it’s beautiful! So then I set upon climbing some of its trusses lol just for monkey fun.
The dirt road back to the main highway was bumpy and posed a serious car bog threat (I’m just making up my own words and grammar now). But hey I kind of felt like I was in a rally car, thank god this was a hire care because the amount of dust I was kicking up when I was drifting those corners was incredible (don’t do this at home kids, don’t be like badass Jason). See back to the main point, when you give yourself the freedom of time you can randomly do things like this, just casually go on a rally course. Okay, that was a bit risky and somewhat irresponsible but yeah well it’s done…moving on! I saw a camel farm way out there as well that was incredibly random; they were grazing on green grassy hills…not dessert like sand dunes…
It’s about 2pm when I arrive at Griffith and 5 minutes in, I’m already loving this sea town. Fresh seafood restaurants and takeaways everywhere! I’m lying in my tent at midnight getting hungry writing this down but oh hell yeah did I get a fisherman’s basket for lunch Yumm!!
I then sat by the water for an after snack with my carrot and apple when these black swans come sliding over like a gang rounding me up. So I gave them some carrot and some apple; neither of which did they proceed to eat and only slowly swimming away after that. I realised at that moment that I also wanted nothing more to do with carrots for the rest of this trip.
I was then about to head off when I saw something really cool in the distance, an amusement park! And I was hooked right back in again, sadly it wasn’t open until 6pm…one look on the other side of the river had me curious though so I crossed the bridge and that’s when I decided I’m going to be here for the rest of the day and into the night. The beach was absolutely gorgeous! And I’ve said this a few times already I know but wow this was my favourite yet. So I spent the rest of the afternoon on the sand and in the sun reading and snacking before I made my way back to the amusement park for some more fun.
Oh, and plus, I’m bringing sexy back, with my farm hats (super effective against the sun). Gosh, I look like such a Chinaman!
Oh and also the sunset was on point (y)
To retire for the night I am camping on this incredible spot high up in one of these sand dunes on the beach. Imagine this, to your behind you have the town across the long stretch of the river, along with that town is the amusement park. On each of the sides, you have dunes full of sand and those beach plants (Iunno) in the front is the ocean full of waves crashing ashore and up above is a full moon and stars shining so bright. That is where I am now and that is where I will fall asleep tonight. Good night you all ❤️
So day 4 comes along and it’s probably the most driving I have done on this trip so far. From berry picking to hiking and making my way right up to Melbourne rural towns I’ve almost made it to midway! The day started late for me as the night before I’d stayed up late admiring the view I had. Midway through the drive, I came across a massive corn field (that is corn right?). Couldn’t help but stop to contemplate whether I should jump the fence and run around inside of it, maybe find a crop circle or something. So tempting but in the end, I didn’t have the guts to trespass. One day I will experience that movie like feeling of running through a cornfield though.
Shortly after, and hungry, I made my way to a berry picking farm! The farm was actually really cool! I thought I’d only be picking some Strawberries but it turns out there were heaps of others, a large assortment of blueberries and blackberries of many types which were great to eat while I was picking. That was breakfast sorted, berries; and probably some bugs I mistakenly ate with those berries (oh well, more protein right?).
Then it was the long drive to Mt Oberon where I’d opted for the scenic route. Farm and more rolling hills everywhere. These were the roundest bumps I’d ever seen, so smooth you just want to lay on them. By my gosh were there a lot of farms in those Hills!
To get up to Mt Oberon’s summit, you first go to this massive camping spot called Tidal River and catch a free shuttle up to the entrance of the hike. When I got there I realised I’d missed the last shuttle up so when that happens they allow you to drive up the mountain and so I did. The twists and turns and the 100ft drops at first were pretty scary but hey remember that we have an experience Rally car driver here so no worries. Once at the top you being your hour-long hike to the summit. Being the first hike I’d done on this trip so far I quite enjoyed the walk at first. It was only an hour each way but if you’re fat and unfit like me out felt like a lifetime with plenty of water and snack breaks, mostly snack breaks (and now you know why the struggle is real). Well worth it though because the view was absolutely amazing from the summit! Comparable to the hikes I’d done in New Zealand which is quite a feat. When I reached the top I was greeted by four Korean travellers who had also just reached the top of the peak so they were ecstatic for all of us congratulating our success when we got up there. We talked about fried chicken and Soju and wished we’d had a bottle up there to celebrate the moment.
Back down to Tidal River walked along the beach where so many families were playing games and riding bikes around. I camped for the night with what looked like thousands of others, it’s a really beautiful area to camp. So with that, I leave you at day 4 so exhausted but happy to almost be in Melbourne.
Melbourne was just the way I remembered it. I’ll keep this day a bit shorter because for me this was a mid-way pit stop to take a break, catch up with a friend and just generally recover. I arrived in the early afternoon in the posh suburb of South Yarra, okay that’s not fair to say posh but it was quite a peaceful area with expensive cars roaming the streets around most corners and nice clean cut shops lining the main street. I don’t know how else you would describe that. Making my way into the city was easy having both the option of train and tram, I decided to go on the train as I thought the old Victorian style of the station was quite cool.
Before I knew it I was already at Federation Square, oh the memories here where I’d attended in a flash mob dance with 80 other people. I don’t think I’d ever forget that (shoutout to TBL again!)
For lunch, i made my way to Roule Galette for some authentic French Crepes which were an absolute delight! It’s a small and cosy French restaurant hidden away in an alleyway, everyone who works there speaks French as well and it just gave the place a really chill vibe. I ended up just roaming the city centre very slowly soaking up the local busker’s music as I walked past or took a seat in the shade. Hours passed like this so fast and the next thing you know I was catching up with a good old friend of mine. A nice cold beer and some fried chicken later we tried out this really cool bar called Storyville! Walking inside really was a bit like a fairytale scene with the heavy roots of trees climbing the stairway, glowing mushrooms all around and Alice in Wonderland type decorations. Eventually, i met up with another friend as well and it was just really nice just to have some good friends to talk to after going about it all on my own in the past 5 days. (Shoutout to JinLu for coming by to say hi and catching up and Christine for hanging out after work and the awesome hospitality of letting me couch crash for the night! Plus the nice breakfast <3)
Continue the road trip on the next post from Melbourne to Adelaide…
Hot hot hot! Was it really 26 degrees yesterday and today 41? and for the rest of the week back to 21? I don’t understand how weather works, if anyone does, please educate me. Anyhoo because of this extreme weather today consisted of me mostly jumping out of my car for a photo or two of whatever it was and sprinting back to my car which was still on with the aircon on full blast. Have you ever complained that the aircon in the car wasn’t enough? even on full blast and dial maxed to the blue? I have not until this day.
First stop was Geelong, nothing much to see so I didn’t stop (wasn’t worth stepping out into the scorching fire of hell outside), okay so technically that wasn’t a stop. Torquays surfing town was the real first stop and I tell you now, everyone was at the beach today, there was simply not enough sand for the number of people wanting to pitch their tents of lay down to bathe. That is all I saw, 5 minutes later I was back in my car with the (still disappointing) air conditioning.
Now some of your guys know that i like lighthouses. I think they’re pretty cool, I mean their function and use are pretty simple to understand but I guess it’s just the thought of it in the dark.
“It’s the late 1800’s, you’re out there in the middle of the ocean and your main source of navigation is still a map and your trusty compass. The ocean waves are pounding against your ship from everywhere below, the strong chilly wind is fighting against your every will to keep any direction ahead and then suddenly you see a flash of light; and then another, and of course another follows. The one light in the absolute pitch darkness of the ocean where you have been for months guides you along the coast safely and soundly, a bright beam of hope and warmth.”
Neglecting the fact that I’ve not much accuracy in my historical facts and that the stars and moon had suddenly vanished from the sky those few months in my tale, I think it’s quite an inspirational image (in my mind at least). I guess I’m also a bit warm towards lighthouses because of one of my favourite games called “To The Moon”…but you can check that out yourself (10/10).
Anyways, here’s a picture of the Split Point Lighthouse. (While on the lookout my farm hat flew off my head and I had to fetch it from one of the cliff faces but hey I survived and that’s all that matters).
The Great Ocean road continued and at about every 10 minutes drive there were cars parked all along the road and lookouts where so many people would go down to the beaches off the coast for a swim. There are literally dozens of beaches along the first 1/5th stretch of the Great Ocean Road and most of them were full of families. Did I stop and get out to have a look? hell naw.
Shortly passing under the Great Ocean Road Arch I reached Lorne was a really nice seaside town (and trust me, I’ve seen many on this trip *rolls eyes*). It was sort of a combined holiday destination, pit stop and backpackers hut so it had a mix of everything. A cool line of Golden Cypress Trees lined one of the streets which I really liked, shops lined the main road and at the end was a pretty cool bar and rooftop bar which played some loud music that echoed through the town. I don’t think I was cool enough to enter though, everyone seemed to have long golden locks and surfer bodies and I had short black hair with a dad bod. Anyways, the award-winning chunky steak pie was nice!
Lookout’s galore! There was a particular lookout that stood out though, this one talked about William Buckley and his endeavours in the early 1800s. The text and his quote kind of touched me a bit, see for yourself.
“It is sheltered by very high overhanging land so that the sun seldom shines upon it, the tide apparently never receding from it as the depth of water seemed to be always the same”.
I sat there for awhile, looking at the high walls of the cliffs and deeps waters of the ocean and understood him as if I were there 200 years ago.
“I remember a fancy coming over me that i could have remained at that spot for all the rest of my life; but this solitary desire was but temporary,…as it was never intended that man should live alone…”
This struck me hard, being on my own for the past few days on this trip, how right he was how man was not intended to live and at that moment I was excited to continue the trip, ever closer to being home with my family and friends.
Some drive later I reached Apollo Bay and another carnival. What is with these coastal carnivals I asked myself and they seem to be of such popularity as well. I thought hard and well for a moment and realized that apart from all the beautiful beaches and landscape, there isn’t much else to do in towns like these. I wonder, is the carnival some big event for them? is it like something really special when it comes? Do the families, couples and kids all come out to play when they arrive? I think it is all a yes. I giggle a little as I think about my options if I were to take a girl out on a date. “Oh Nancy, I heard about this really cool carnival coming to town later this evening, would you like to join me on some of the rides?” and excitedly she’d accept and we’d have a great time. Of course, this could only be true if girls were real and not some figment of my imagination.
Pizza was for dinner and I think after all that loneliness of today there was only one really bright side to it all. That I didn’t have to share any of the eight beautiful slices of pizza. Oh how that was like heaven in my mouth, if I was kidnapped and tortured to death after that moment I would have died a happy man. I found it curious however that the price of a Margarita (all cheese) pizza and a pizza with “The lot” (ham, cheese, onion, mushroom, prawns, capsicum, olives, anchovies and pineapple, yes pineapple) were the same price. Of course, i’d go for the latter, who in their right mind would not right? I’m not sure I can be your friend if you said otherwise.
For dessert, i got sucked into this ice cream shop which had a line all the way up till 10:30pm in the night….like what! Turns out it was Dooley’s Ice cream, apparently multi-award winning ice creams with over 378 awards and 30 trophy’s under their belt! Check out that wall! How could I say no to that? Half an hour later I was slobbering all over my chocolate and amereno cherry ice cream scoops on a cone and yeah, they were pretty good.
That night, being as it was so late by the time I’d finished that ice cream, I parked by the side of the road and slept in my car.
Rocks rocks and more rocks. Today I saw a lot of rocks by the sea, I met a french guy who’s hair was as wild as his ideas for life and an Aussie with two German girls who all worked at a winery which I may visit in the following days, maybe. I’ve yet to acquire the subtle fruity crisp dry oaky finish….okay I’m just saying random words now to describe wine but yeah, that taste. Cape Otway! Yay! another lighthouse, and this time I can see it for more than 5 minutes because it’s not flaming hot out there. Then I realized it was $20 to enter the park area…..or I could go on a little hike and see it from a distance, so I took the long route. I did, however, buy this cool little fridge magnet about why ships are typically called by the name “she”.
A ship is called a she because there is always a great deal of bustle around her; there is usually a gang of men about; she has a waist and stays; it takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking; it is not the initial expense that breaks you, it is the upkeep; she can be all decked out; it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly; and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable. She shows her topsides, hiders her bottom and, when coming into port, always heads for the buoys.
I saw some Koalas! omg, are they cute sitting up there on their eucalyptus trees eating and sleeping. The one closest to the ground, I could see him sitting on one thin branch, his butt wrapping around that branch and looking ever so comfortable and stable. I’m not sure if I could do that and still be that comfortable or even be able to walk the next day. Sadly I don’t have a good enough camera to take photos of small objects at a distance so yeah, you’re going to have to deal with this fuzzy one. P.S did I mention Koalas are so cute?! ❤
And then I reached the great and almighty 12 apostles! Before that, i had taken a walk down to the beach which saw two of the 12 apostles. It was super duper pretty and I definitely recommend you do so if you’re ever in the area. I like the really high cliff face contrasts against the apostles, the cliff wall or whatever I’m making up names kind of looks like the “The Wall” in Game of Thrones if it were covered in Ice but hey maybe that’s just my imagination running wild.
Then we have the main lookout for the apostles and well it was pretty beautiful, you could look straight down and almost align the apostles together. Sadly with all the weathering of the apostles, there is kind of only like 7 left. They still look nice and the viewing platform is great for it although there were sooooooo many tourists trying to get their own perfect shot… I’ve never really enjoyed places where there are just too many tourists trying to take photos over and over again. So I bid the apostles goodbye and I made my way along. Oh and I also used that machine thingy to print my own penny, that was cool.
Shortly after there were more rocks at the Arch and the London Bridge (which has now since fallen due to natural wind erosion), not to jinx the real one but yeah, probably some conspiracy theory there somewhere.
Side note: Why are there so many flies everywhere I go???!?!? you’d think all the deadly Australian outback spiders would have webs the size of your car to catch them all right? if only they’d stop wasting their time trying to kill us, humans, they’d have plenty of flies for food by now.
A random decision to turn into this dirt road actually led me to one of the best camping spots I have taken upon this trip so far. In fact, I am sitting on a cliff face right now (the next morning) with my laptop on my lap writing three days worth of blog posts with a view which is just amazing. I guess a photo or video will mean a thousand words here.
I spent a lot of the early hours today continuing my drive up to Adelaide. Nearing the end of the Great Ocean road and upon leaving Victoria and entering South Australia there wasn’t too much to see apart from lots of dried yellowed brush on the hills in the distance.
A few small country towns also placed themselves on the great highway, most of which were quite empty and slow. It seemed like these towns were a great place to live the rest of your lives carefree, quiet and peaceful, a friendly and supportive community. I stopped by a small town looking for a place to have brunch. Not too many choices on the plate but I went to the one which looked quite busy (busy meaning more than 3 people in the restaurant at any one time). The food was great! Charcoal chicken and a salad on the side. As I ate I watched quietly, the restaurant owners would greet everyone who came in by their first name and strike up conversations as if it were just a continuation of the days before. When these people asked how the other was doing it really felt like they cared, as if already ready to offer a hand if ever in need.
Crossing the border was one hell of a sight. For hours on end, I would be driving through massive blocks of pine trees, lined perfectly throughout the hills. I was crossing the Palpara Plantation, hundreds of kilometres which were cleared and designated for lumbering. The trees, as densely packed as possible made it impossible for light to penetrate into the plantation floor making the view from the outside looking in, very grim. Dirt roads would lead into the plantation and it would be absolutely pitch black, I don’t think anything could survive in there, an environment only humans could conjure where nothing else lives but these wooden towers. The picture below, which is sadly the only one I remembered to take at the time is an area which wasn’t so bad compared to others I saw on the drive.
Then I reached Mt Gambier. Whenever you arrive at a town or place with the title Mt you’d think you’d see some tall mound of earth towering over some town, but this was not the case here, I didn’t really see a mountain anywhere. The Umpherson Sinkhole is where I arrived at first, some of you may have heard of it before, recently popularized in some travel videos on Facebook and the such. It’s pretty much a really big hole in the ground created through thousands of years of corrosion in the ground. This big hole was owned by some rich guy with the surname Umpherson who’d made it into a garden in the backyard of his mansion, and then so and so until this day. I was actually quite impressed with it, it was really nice and cool down there and the plants and little ecosystem were buzzing (literally with all the bees) all about. Look how green and lush it is!
Another really cool attraction at Mt Gambier was the Blue Lake. At first hearing it you think omg not another one of these, lakes are such common attractions and they usually give lakes common names such as this to attract tourists so I really wondered how blue this lake would be (especially since I’ve been to New Zealand where the blue lakes are seriously blue like the sky blue (Yeah wow)). It turns out that the lake was actually pretty blue! the photo does it no justice though. Oh and the lake was not just any lake, it’s an old extinct volcano ❤ Oh and also someone built this house on the inside edge of it.
The sun was beginning to fall now when I hit this crossroad on the Princess Highway. To the left of me in the far distance was the longest strip of wind turbines I have ever seen, on the map I realised it was going to be a 2 hr detour out to the middle of nowhere if I decided to go, and the sun was falling fast, if my car got stuck out there i would have been in trouble but I went anyway. Wind farms have always been really beautiful things to me, so sleek and sexy, an environmentally friendly giant, whats not to love.
I bet you didn’t notice my super pro camera technique above where you can see the shadow of my car against the backdrop. You can thank me later for what you’ve learned.
After some Thai food, Pad Se Ew and Fried ice cream. I food coma’ed heavily on the sands of Beachport and slept like a baby.
Salt creeks, salt lakes, clay creeks, clay lakes! they all don’t smell very good, do they? or maybe you’re lucky enough to have never driven through one before. The whole morning was spent driving through a coastal area known as the Coorong which leads up to the city of Adelaide, much of it was clay and salt and a mix of them both. From the Granites to the Salt Creek up to the lookout at Jack point there wasn’t much to see but salt, dead or struggling to survive trees and bush and clay.
Once I got out of there and back to where things actually survive I reached this really cool little park called the Old Tailem Town. An old Pioneering town where you could have a glimpse of how early settlers lived. Super Super cool! It takes over 3 hours to see everything inside the park, sadly I didn’t have time to go in and see the majority of it but here are some awesome pics from the outside. I’ll be back one day Old Tailem Town!
And then I reached the beautiful city of Adelaide and the first thing I did was find a place to eat, any place. Ended up having a yummy gourmet hot dog, some calamari rings and chips, ahhh nothing better than fat food to satisfy bad cravings. The second thing I did, because I had arrived in Adelaide relatively early is I went to the YMCA for a swim, spa and sauna <3. The pools were right in the middle of this large park in the eastern posshyyy suburbs of Adelaide, so I had time for a bit of a stroll in the park afterwards as well.
I was then off to the Botanical gardens where I spent the majority of the rest of the day. The gardens were really pretty! and there were plenty of spots where I just chose to sit down, relax and open up my book to read. a dozen chapters and hours later, the sun was saying goodbye to which would be my last night spent out on this road trip.
But before the night would end a friend would offer to take me on a drive throughout the city. From almost forgetting where she’d parked her car the night took a better turn from there, taking me on a route that would pass through Chinatown, the main road leading up to Rundle Mall and Adelaide’s tiny red light district. We then made our way to the 24 hour and very busy O’Connell bakery and had a drink to catch up at the bar next door. A shoutout and thanks for taking me around Liz!
With the last night of my trip, I decided I deserved a nice break and a good nights sleep. I took up a room in a backpackers lodge as it was quite late and slept on a comfy bed ready for my last day spent in Adelaide.
I woke up early this morning, rolling comfortably in bed, quite missing my own one back home. I think when you get the feeling of being ready to go home, that means that you are quite content with where you have been.
Mt Lofty was only a short drive from the city to my surprise. 30minutes from the city and you’re on this mountain top looking over the entire city. The day was a bit gloomy, clouds overhead but that didn’t deter me from enjoying the lookout and taking some short hiking paths on the mountaintop. I was still early so there weren’t too many people about but from what could see, this would be a really nice spot for a family picnic. A small souvenir shop helped me make another cool little penny and the restaurant up top served me a big breakfast with a view.
I then made my way down the mountain to the Mt Lofty Botanical Gardens, sat by this tree and enjoyed taking some selfies and reading my book. It was a pretty big botanical garden with not too much to see around the park, after walking for like an hour you’d only manage to pass one or two areas where there were flowers or interesting plants.
What is a trip to Adelaide without visiting the main downtown road of Rundle Mall? so that I did, making my way back into the city. After driving around looking for parking I quickly realised that the car parks are well priced unlike in the Sydney city CBD. I wondered the main strip of the CBD which if you asked me to describe it, I’d say it’s like a mini Melbourne. If the city could talk it would say that “when I grow up, I want to be just like Melbourne”! With street performers, art decors and savvy shops and events lined up throughout the year there’s no wonder I’d say that.
Note: Look out for Adelaide’s annual Fringe Festival! (16th of February to 18th of March 2018) where the entire city is transformed into one big cabaret, comedy, circus, dance, film, theatre, music, visual art and design centre and street performers from all around Australia get together to take part.
Staying for as long as I could, I took my last glance over at the city before making my way to the airport. There, I cleaned up the really messy car before I handed it back to the rental desk and made my way to my flight. Content with the success of this trip and ready to go home, I boarded the plane with a big smile and an eagerness to start what would hopefully be a big and successful year for me.
Thank You for making it down to here! I hope that you enjoyed the read and that in some way I could help inspire you to take on the challenges and fears that you may face when you attempt anything that you have always wanted to do. For me, this has always been on my bucket list and it is something I have been putting off for a long time using the same old excuses. In the end, I just decided to go and follow my gut. It is with that one line that I continue to believe in, that if we trust ourselves to overcome anything, we can achieve it. A lot of the times we don’t do something because we are scared, because we fear the unknown, that we have not done enough to prepare. We hold back on doing it until it becomes harder and harder for us to complete that goal, to a point where it may feel impossible. At that moment we look back and realise how easy it would have been to start it when we had the chance.
Think about something in your life that you are holding back on right now. It could be something small like going to an event that no one you know is going to or something big like a career change / moving overseas and think deeply about the way that you are disguising the fact that it is actually fear that is stopping you from doing it Maybe you’re saying things like, I don’t really like that event anyways or there’s always a next one or wait till I have my life settled in this and that way before I do it. This is no easy task because it is in our nature to deny that fear has a part to play in why we can’t achieve something.
I wish you all the very best in taking on your goals for 2018! Remember to always dream big and use action as your blade that will drive through the mist of the unknown.
Love to all,
P.S. End + Bloopers + Random
So this is like me the whole time driving on the road trip. Yes, those are pretty much like driving gloves, I don’t know what you call them but if it’s not obvious it’s to help shade my arm against the burning hot Australian sun or else I would have come back with one burnt and dark arm. And yeah, a towel for my legs. #YouLearnEveryDay
It was a chilly winters day when the plane touched down in Pyongyang. An cold chill ran down my spine as I saw the grey scene, amplified by the cloudy skies and rain coming down above us.
We took to the asphalt as we exited the plane, guided by North Korean officials towards the main building where all of our belongings would be checked. An hour later, we were on the bus with our three guides, all of which would be taking care of the five of us for the rest of our trip. A curious and excited Australian, two tall friendly Canadians and another two daring Americans.
How and where do I start? Well, firstly let’s have a quick look at the history of what has now become such an increasingly interesting and misinformed part of the world.
In 1910, Japan invaded and occupied Korea. During the Japanese occupation, Korea underwent some major cultural and economic changes much against the people’s will. From censorship of newspapers, changes to education and religion to the destruction and theft of historical artefacts, not to mention the forced labour of both men and women, the Korean way of life was changing rapidly in the name of “modernisation” by the Japanese government.
Fast forward to 1945, the United States and it’s allied countries marched to victory in World War II after the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left Japan with no choice but to surrender and leave the Korean peninsula. American forces quickly arrived in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula while the Soviet Army had stationed themselves in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.
An emergency meeting was gathered and a proposal was made for the temporary split of the nation at the 38th parallel while negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union continued which eventually failed to lead to an independent, unified Korea. The United States supported the South, the Soviet Union supported the North, and each government claimed sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula. In 1948, UN-supervised elections were held in the US-occupied south only. The anti-communist Syngman Rhee won the election while Kim Il-sung was appointed as the leader of North Korea by Joseph Stalin.
Hence, the beginnings of a state as such we see today held by the grandson of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un.
So now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about getting into North Korea. There’s a general misconception surrounding North Korea and not being able to visit the country. Maybe it’s because people call it the hermit kingdom because they “isolate” themselves from the rest of the world or maybe it’s because we only ever hear of people trying to escape the country. Whatever it is, it’s not entirely true. You can visit the country, but maybe not how you would like to. So, in saying that, the rules for who is allowed in seem to change a lot but essentially they are: 1) You aren’t a South Korean citizen, 2) You aren’t a journalist, and 3) You have some money.
You can visit the country, but maybe not how you would like to.
What most people don’t know is how you can actually visit the country. Well, for the most part it’s through a dedicated tour group. There are now quite a few tour operators you can choose from with a range of different prices, but most of them follow a similar schedule as you will see later in the *Tourism Plan*. The tour I went on was all inclusive paying for the flights and visa, hotel and food and also transport and guidance for $1,500. A few years ago most of the tour operators had a pretty good track record as far as not having had any detainees, but in this day and age of bible thumpers and sign stealers I think just about every country has had at least one tourist detained.
As our group met at the Beijing airport (currently the only way to get into North Korea), I got lucky. The group I would be touring with was very small. Only five people – myself as an Australian of course, two Americans and two Canadians. From places I had read online some of these tours can have as many as 30 people in them which would kind of suck. Another plus is that I quickly deduced that one of the Americans on the tour, who was … umm … interesting to say the least was definitely going to get detained before I ever would.
As I waited in the Beijing airport to board the Air Koryo (the North Korean owned airline and worst ranked airline in the world) the first thing that marked me was the number of North Koreans who were there waiting as well (they are easily recognizable because they all wear suits with flag lapels of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il). I think the common misconception is that North Koreans cannot leave the country. In reality it is only about 99.998 percent who can’t leave the country. Those who can travel outside the country are the top class of North Koreans who really have no reason not return to the country where they are treated so well in.
As I boarded the plane to Pyongyang (North Korea’s capital) I really didn’t know what to expect. Would I be hated because I was Australian? Would I accidentally start World War III or maybe better yet I accidentally bump into Kim Jung-un on the street and we would smooth out all this nuclear blowing things up stuff? or would i be detained? even worse detained for something i did not do. Spoiler: None of those things would actually happen.
* Define: Imperialism – “A policy of extending a country’s power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or other means”
A Day In Pyongyang
Landing in Pyongyang the first thing that you realize is that the airport is actually really nice. In fact you soon realize that everything you see in North Korea is actually really nice. The roads are nice. The vehicles (while not common) are nice. Everything I saw in North Korea was pretty nice. This is because when you are in the DPRK, you only see what the DPRK wants you to see. The picture below from blogger Tim Urban that I am using without his permission describes it pretty well. We drove along the same roads so frequently that I actually got pretty knowledgeable regarding the layout of Pyongyang. But to be fair North Korea isn’t the only place that tries to hide it’s poverty.
Going through customs was simple. I was randomly selected to get my phone searched for western media. While GPS isn’t allowed into the country I was able to bring my smartphone, which has GPS allowing it to automatically tag my coordinates to any picture I take with it (that was a surprise).
After exiting the airport we were met by the two North Korean appointed guides who would be with us the entire week. These guides (often called “minders”) evidently always come in pairs of at least two – so one can watch the group members and the other can watch the guide to make sure no bribes or anything fishy takes place, oh they also stare at you as you take photos and videos and ask to see them. At first I found our interactions to be incredibly awkward and stilted. However over the week things improved tremendously and soon I found myself trying to share western media and lame jokes such as “What is brown and sticky?” (these are the foundations to world peace). By the end of the trip we even discussed a little bit about the upcoming US elections and yeah you guessed it, Donald Trump and even had a somewhat honest (or at least peaceful) discussion about the Korean War. Our guides were with us the entire trip. And by with us I mean they made sure that we never left their sight the entire trip. I have been known to wander off occasionally when something takes my curiosity so our guide always had to tell me to get back with the rest of the group.
The only place where we weren’t within constant eyesight of our guides was at our hotel. We were staying at the Hotel Koryo which was supposed to be Pyongyang’s nicest foreigner hotel. And it was actually pretty nice – complete with a Karaoke Bar, tailor, swimming pool, massage parlor and revolving top floor restaurant.
As far as the 1984-esque government surveillance – I never felt like that was an issue (at least as a tourist). First off North Korea is a country that doesn’t have enough energy to power half of its street lamps let alone be able to afford a slew of cameras or recording equipment to spy on visiting foreigners. The whole time I was there I saw maybe five cameras. “Maybe that is what they want me to think?” you say, and maybe that is. But then I think of the massive workforce that would be needed to surveil our group, especially considering they would need someone who spoke fluent English – a valuable commodity in North Korea. And if someone was watching my group the most valuable information they would have received would be how many pair of undies i carry in my backpack. Zero. Just joking. You’ll never really know. However there is one other thing worth mentioning and it’s that mysterious door with no handle right outside our rooms. Thank god I held my curiosity back at this point because we were specifically told not to stray from our rooms.
Touring North Korea was actually pretty exhausting though. I saw a lot of stuff in the week I was there. As a general rule I would say it was split 34 percent monuments to the Kim Family, 33 percent “Look at our children/farms/factories we are a successful country!,” 16.5 percent “look at how unbelievably fast we built this thing and that thing”, and 16.5 percent really old UNESCO World Heritage sites. Here are my non-serious thoughts on the most memorable places:
Mansudae Grand Monument: Larger than life bronze statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il. Pretty cool actually, you have to bow to them though.
Arch of Triumph: Big arch with cool carvings and a song engraved into the stone.
Kumsusan Palace of the Sun: Got to see the embalmed bodies of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il. Yeah, if you know what that word means then you’ll know that it was weird, very weird. All I could think about while I was bowing to their dead bodies was how many years of forced labor camp I would get if I threw my shoe at Kim Il-sung’s body. It would probably be record setting. I also got to see Kim Il-sung’s only honorary degree from a western university – Kingston University. An unaccredited university out of California that is now shut down.
Kim Il-sung Square: Just isn’t as cool when it’s not filled with a military parade. Nice view of the Grand People’s Study House and the Tower of Juche Idea though.
Manygyongdae Native House: Kim Il-sung’s birthplace. Super boring.
DPRK Metro: The deepest metro in the world. Make sure you notice the three blast doors at the bottom of the escalator for use in case of nuclear Armageddon. Note that this was the closest we ever got to the locals.
Tower of Juche Idea: Best view in Pyongyang. No lines to get in. Costs like $20AUD to go to the top though. The elevator has buttons for other floors but when asked the attendant wouldn’t say what they were for or where they went …
Grand People’s Study House: Rather dark and musty but actually quite grand…until you see all the empty corridors and study rooms. You can definitely find some people acting like they are studying – not sure if they were actually studying. I found an old engineering textbook dating back to the 90s, makes sense why everything looks like it was form back then.
Science Technology Complex: Actually quite nice and beautiful. It opened early this year so it’s brand new. They have a lot of computer terminals where people seem to be researching stuff or watching videos.
Victorious War Museum: The accuracy of the information was questionable…very questionable. However the presentation was absolutely beautiful. Definitely have to check out the captured USS Pueblo and the 360-degree diorama of the Battle of Daejon.
Three Tombs of Kangso: UNESCO World Heritage my a$$. Three big humps in the ground where some super old people were buried. If you want to see inside the tomb you have to pay 100 euros.
The DMZ: Our assigned military guide said that he wanted peace in the world. But he also said that if the US tries to invade them there will be a big boom.
The Co-operative Farms: Even outside of the city, propaganda and statues of the Kim’s still instill themselves across the countryside.
The Arch of Reunification: Gorgeous arch with a strong meaning to reunify North and South Korea. The guides said that all of North Korea and it’s people will gladly sacrifice their lives to see their country reunited.
Why I Wouldn’t Do It Again
I have rather mixed feelings about my trip to North Korea, and have been struggling with how to explain it all. In the end I will say that the biggest takeaway from this trip to North Korea was getting to see the people. Before traveling to North Korea, the country and its people felt surreal to me – it was just a place people made fun of on the internet. I didn’t really care about them or whether or not they accidentally blew themselves up with a nuclear bomb. Now after visiting North Korea, well to be honest most of the weird shit there still doesn’t seem real, but the people, the people seem real. I am really at odds with how i feel about the people there and i still don’t think i know or may never truly understand their lives. North Korea is an odd place, it is odd because the word freedom is twisted in a different way. There is an entire generation of people here that have been taught to despise America, that have been taught to follow and never diverge, that have been misled* their entire lives. I don’t say these things lightly. I am not afraid of North Korea’s future as a country, but i am afraid for it’s people. On the outside they are just like us, initially you feel the bond between two humans, but there is a subtle difference, for example, in the way they walk (always marching) and in the way they talk (always praising their great leader). And now that i have been I would be bummed out if they accidentally blew themselves up, I would be losing some, what I consider, friends.
*When i say misled, it is because the propaganda is strong. Very strong. I could actually actually feel the propaganda during the short time i was there. It is hard to explain but when you are surrounded by 24/7 propaganda music all around the city (even in your rooms slightly) that signify the strength of being together, when you are surrounded by statues stating the leaders and how they make the country strong, when you are are taken to nice restaurants and guided through the “beautiful” parts of the city – You can’t help but understand why the people have become how they are today, why they seemingly stupidly bow down and break into tears when they see a statue of their leader. But understanding this does not mean i still don’t think it is absolutely ludicrous.
The Random Other Stuff
Everyplace was eerily deserted. When my group ate at restaurants we were the only ones eating. When we went to memorials we were the only ones there. When you get outside Pyongyang, other than a few cars here and there, the eight lane highways were deserted.
Foreigners can’t use the local North Korean Won. Instead the shops would accept US dollars (USD), Chinese RMB, or the Euro. Each shop has a preferred foreign currency that gives you the best exchange rate. So when I visited the stamp store to pick up some post cards (i had to get the anti-American ones) their preferred currency was USD. Three anti-American postcards for $1 USD. If I had paid in Chinese RMB the price would have been three times as much.
Rolling blackouts occur several times a day but no one acknowledges them. They just wait until the power goes back on and resume their activities.
One of my guides was quite positive that there was not one but two McDonalds in Pyongyang. I am quite positive that there are no McDonalds in North Korea.
My theory on recent American detainee Otto Frederick Warmbier. It was surprisingly easy to obtain alcohol (at least for foreigners) in North Korea. Beer was served at meals and alcohol such as the Korean wine soju was available for purchase at the hotel store. Warmbier allegedly tried to steal a propaganda poster at 2 am on January 1st … aka New Year’s Eve/ Day. I’m guessing alcohol had something of a role in the incident. I’m guessing the whole “church used car thing” is probably North Korean fiction.
I assisted two North Korean’s attempting to leave North Korea. At least that is the way I like to phrase it. On the plane ride back to Beijing I sat next to two ~25-year-old North Korean men who had obviously never flown before. They were struggling greatly in filling out their China entry card (the card is only written in Mandarin and English and they knew neither). So I helped them fill theirs out. Once we landed in Beijing they were so happy to have safely landed they gave each other a congratulatory pat on the back. To clarify, they were happy that they had survived the flight not to have left North Korea. I don’t believe defection was on their itinerary.
The group of Americans I was touring with had an obsession with North Korean grocery stores. A prerequisite of visiting North Korea is to watch the not too good James Franco and Seth Rogen film The Interview, a film about two American journalists visiting North Korea and attempting to kill Kim Jung-il. If you haven’t seen it you only need to watch this part to understand our intrigue. We drove past North Korea’s largest department store, Pyongyang Department Store No. 1, multiple times but were never allowed inside. From my pictures it was very difficult to tell if the products at the store were real. We were finally able to convince our guides to let us walk into a small grocery store next to where we were eating one day. I can only imagine the confusion by the locals as they saw us Westerners with huge grins on our faces taking pictures of their produce section. From what i saw there (a much smaller grocery store), the food seemed real.
I sang western music at the karaoke bar in our hotel – despite western music being banned in North Korea. While the other two Americans sang I came to an awkward moment where I realized that Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA has the lyrics “So they put a rifle in my hand, Sent me off to a foreign land, To go and kill the yellow man.” I shivered when they sang that part (sigh…Americans).
I shot a gun in North Korea. In Pyongyang they have a shooting range where you can do some target shooting. It was US$0.50 a bullet which is quite expensive, but who can resist the opportunity to tell people you shot a gun in North Korea? They also had a pheasant, a chicken that you could shoot at for $10 a bullet. If you shot and killed it there was someone on site who would cook it for you. I’m happy to confirm that no animals were harmed in the production of article.
My hotel room actually had satellite TV with stations like CCTV (China), NHK World (Japan), and Al Jazeera (yeah…iunno). So after a day of seeing the sights in Pyongyang I turned on the TV only to hear one pundit on Al Jazeera say “Everyone would like to see North Korea collapse” as they discussed the UN’s recent sanctions against North Korea. It was interesting hearing about people talk about the likelihood of North Korea using a nuclear bomb while being North Korea. It should be mentioned that foreigners were the only ones with access to these channels. My guide told me that the only international news they get is a once a week segment aired on the state-owned channel.
The Subway train was the one and only time i was able to get up close with the people of North Korea, not that i could speak Korean anyways but we definitely had eyes on us. However during the actual ride, everyone stared deeply into the television screens scattered around the train as cartoon propaganda depicting battles and shootings were played over and over. I did not think this was appropriate for the children to watch as there was violence involved.
Epilogue: Stuff i don’t know where to put
Pyongyang by night
Propaganda like this is scattered throughout the city
Bunches of North Korean Flags placed strategically at intersections
Traffic Lady – They’re pretty disciplined and move a certain way all day
The Victorious War Museum
Soon to be Young Soldiers Marching and Chanting
More Young Soldiers Parading
Central Subway Station
Re-painting the face of a building
Driving through a Flooded Road
Streets of Pyongyang
Juche Tower Lit Up in the Night
Science and Technology Complex
Grand People’s Study House – Study Hall
Monument of Party Founding – Represents the Worker, Pheasant and Intellectual
Housewives conducting their early morning dance routine scattered all around the city (yes, housewives)
Workers off the main road (not sure what they were doing but there were hundreds of them)
Traditional North Korean food
Entrance to the DMZ
Primary School Classroom
Classroom which looked like something from the early 90s
View from my hotel room
The Ryugyong Hotel – Construction began in 1987, still has not been completed. I bet when it finally is completed, they will tell the people it was completed in “just” 2 years! #truestory
Traditional Korean Noodle
An empty amusement park which was closed the day we were there.
The Hotel Dining area. Empty as always with just us, the music and food.
A small supermarket we visited. Very few people were shopping inside and shelves looked too “packed” and untouched. Could this just be for show?
A very Traditional meal for people in the higher class
It’s 6:00 am on a cool Tuesday morning. It’s quite in a peaceful way and the air is crisp, waving before your eyes as you stagger it with your slow breath. Your toes tip as you make your way around the home careful not to wake the others, more importantly the alarm; the baby niece. There’s a familiar chill that runs down your spine as you step outside to the deck. The sun springing to life in the horizon sits ever so still through the mist that is suspended in time, an aura from the earth to you speaking the words good morning.
You huddle closer to the others on the platform. It’s already quarter past 7. Being so few in numbers, those you do encounter greet you with an amiable nod as if to wish you a good day. The train arrives right on time, unlike yesterday. You stand expectantly as it comes to a standstill and doors open directly in front of you. You board, with a subtle leap in your step, bouncing up the stairs, eager to begin your journey in your favorite seat – the two-seater four rows down on the right.
Reclining into your seat, adjusting for comfort, your open plan office is ready to go. The doors close and you take off leaving home behind. Several minutes have now passed and you take a moment to look outside your window only to see the sun has not yet fully risen above the forest tops. You see stretches of tall grass bewildered by it’s untouched nature and frosty tips, and beyond that, national parks and mountain ranges. And then you see adjacent to you the most exotic chequered suit. Who knew they could be pulled off so well?
7:36 am and you’re just over halfway. You’ve been sitting for a while now; the scenery has been replaced by aged buildings and the humming of city folk. With each stop, more and more people board. The further you go, you notice each stop brings aboard more passengers with indignant expressions.
7:56 am and you’ve become engrossed in a page-turning fantasy, even though you promised yourself to get some extra work done. How did it even find its way back into your bag? A few more pages shouldn’t hurt. Your heart beats faster as the story’s climax approaches, only to suddenly jump as the train once again comes to a stop. This time, you have company. A passenger places themselves down next to you. That’s okay. You still have plenty of space, somewhat. They seem exhausted. This observation prevents you from being surprised when, just a few minutes later, they’ve fallen asleep next to you. No matter, I’m sure they’ve had a big week so far. You lose the battle to continue working and resume your thrilling engrossment.
Soon your quiet carriage isn’t so silent. A bellow is coming from the passenger next to you. Yep, they must be reallytired. Their snores fill the carriage. No matter, you’ve come prepared and promptly place your headphones on and proceed to meditate, listening to today’s latest track.
8.26 am and you’re feeling incredibly relaxed. You’ve spent 90 minutes catching up on work, appreciating phenomenal inland views, watching the sun rise over the harbour as you cross the bridge, getting caught up in an author’s fantasy thriller and relaxing to your favourite music while your body wakes itself up for the day.
You’ve already done a lot with your day, so you’re feeling somewhat satisfied. You disembark from the train, leave the platform and enter the bustling city. And while your sleepy travelling companion begrudgingly follows, you’re content in knowing you’ll be doing it all again tomorrow. You’ve travelled 90 minutes to a job you enjoy, and breathe easy on the fact you’ll be travelling 90 minutes at the end of the day back to a home you love, but this time to the warmth of the settling sun.