Saturday, September 29, 2018

Life is a Beach. 2018

"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour or his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both."
-L.P. Jacks

The quote above came from a great book I read at the beginning of 2018 called Let My People Go Surfing by Yvonne Choinard, the founder of Patagonia. In brief, Yvonne was a climber, surfer, and traveller without much education. He had little money and fewer belongings and lived out of his van to pursue his passions. He eventually started selling crampons out of the back of his van and the rest is history. 

Stories like his inspire me. I know I'm living my life in quite an unorthodox way, but I love it. I've unabashedly been throwing myself into the world, living out my dreams, finding my passions, developing friendships, discovering beautiful corners of the world, and educating myself in ways beyond how any school subjects ever could.

I'm not really sure how I've let 10 months go by since my last blog post. To be honest, I'm not sure how 10 months have possibly gone by so quickly, but that's life. The better it is the faster it flies. 

Originally I only planned to stay in Airlie for a couple of months. That quickly changed once I settled into life there. I had a great job at Banjo's, a local pub, wonderful friends and people in my life, a great house right down the street from the beach, and no real reason to leave. It's been a great place to call home while I enjoyed the Whitsunday Islands and travelled around Australia. 

Starting where I left off last, my mom and dad came to visit last November. It was great having them in Australia and getting to show them around a country that I love so much. 

They arrived early in the morning after an overnight layover in Brisbane so we didn't waste any time!

We started off in Sydney and visited the Harbour and saw the Opera House and Bridge and then took the ferry over to Manly Beach. I love taking the ferry as it gives you all of the best views.

The next day we didn't have the best weather. We still wandered around Bondi Beach, Darling Harbour, and even went to the Titanic Exhibit which was amazing. 

After Sydney, we headed up North to Cairns! We wandered around for a day and then caught our boat early one morning to head out to the Outer Great Barrier Reef. I've never stayed on a liveaboard before so it was a really cool experience. The boat had a large galley underneath along with the dive deck. Our rooms were located upstairs. It was amazing to wake up every morning and look out of my porthole and see the reef right there. 

There's definitely a lot of diving going on on a liveaboard. It felt like we spent more time in the water than out. You'd grab a snack or a have a meal, just about dry off, and then start kitting up again. 

It was also quite different because you don't have a dive guide. The instructors give really detailed briefings before each dive and then you're pretty much on your own, so I was really happy I have so much diving experience. It made navigating a lot easier. 

The wildlife on the GBR was amazing. The coral bommies, as they call them in Australia, were big and beautiful. Everything we saw also happened to be massive. Giant fish, turtles, rays, and sharks. 

Of the many highlights of our liveaboard trip, I'd say the night dive we did was one of the best. 

As we were about to get in the water, the dive instructors and captain were shining spotlights onto sharks right off the back of the boat, which is coincidentally where you get in the water. I happened to be the first of about 20 divers getting in. As I went to put my regulator in my mouth and jump in, sharks literally splashed at the surface about two meters in front of me. 

As comfortable as I am in the water, jumping into pitch black water knowing there are sharks right below the surface was pretty exhilarating. Once I was in the water it was easy to look around and see them lurking a safe distance away.

Once in the water, we swam around for a while and looked at all the creepy nighttime water creatures. One neat thing is that the bigger fish are used to diver's lights. They're smart enough to know that if you're pointing a light at something, it is most likely something edible. As you shined your light, you'd see a flash of the bright red fish as they try to eat whatever it is you were pointing at. It was quite entertaining. 

After awhile we turned our lights off to play with the bioluminescent algae which is always one of my favorite things to do on a night dive. It feels like your floating in a galaxy full of stars that are swirling around you. It's mind bongling and amazing. 

Another cool thing we did on our night dive was to hang on a bar that was floating about fifteen feet under the boat. The boat had a gentle green light glowing underneath it so we were able to turn off our lights and watch the sharks circle the boat. It was crazy. If they got too close you could turn your light back on and shine it in their eyes and they'd swim away since they don't like the lights. Really, really cool experience to watch these massive reef sharks circle all around you. It was definitely a dive I will never forget. 

Another memorable dive was the one where we saw Brian, the massive, extremely old turtle.  In the dive briefing our instructor told us where he would most likely be, and there he was. I'm not kidding or exaggerating when I say that his shell was probably 5-6 feet across and his head was bigger than mine. The visibility wasn't great where he was hanging out under a coral overhang so we didn't get the best picture. But this will probably still give you an idea. 


Definitely one of the coolest things I've seen underwater. It really makes you think about how long some of the creatures have been living there and the changes they've seen. 

Here are some other various pictures from our dive trip. We were lucky and the dive company had a photographer on board and they had him dive with my mom, dad, and me so we got some great pictures. 

Also, here is the video I put together with some cool shots.

After our dive trip, we drove eight hours south to Airlie Beach, where I live. It was great having them see what an amazing place I live in.

Here are my mom and dad on the boardwalk that stretches from Cannonvale Beach, where my house is, all the way to the other side of Airlie, to Port of Airlie, which is about three miles in total. 

It was hard as usual to say bye to my parents. But I'm so lucky that they came all the way to Australia to see me. 

Not long after they left, my best friends, Sophia and Ryan, got a Bengal kitten named Kanye! I was able to drive them to the airport to pick him up and ever since he's been my favorite little kitty. Kanye is one of the coolest pets I've ever met. If you don't know anything about Bengals, they're extremely intelligent cats that grow quite large. They're also incredibly soft and vocal and make a ton of crazy cat sounds. So here are some pictures of Kanye because everyone can use some cute kitten pictures in their life. 

He also walks on a leash like a dog. Bengals also like to swim too. 

Me and Kanye chilling in my hammock on my birthday.

What is that leg even doing there?

He wasn't too excited about his hoodie at first, but he learned to love it.

Look how cute that face is. 

My birthday weekend was one for the books. Australia Day, similar to our Fourth of July, is January 26th and my birthday is the day after. I spent Australia Day at the beach obviously, having beers with friends. We then went out that night. The next morning we woke up and continued drinking to stave off the hangover so the day started early. We went to Anchor Bar, which is high up in the hills and has a swimming pool and killer views. Then we finished the day at Ryan and Sophia's house.  It was such an epic day and a great birthday. My friends even made me a cake and gave me presents and everything. I'm so incredibly lucky to have wonderful people in my life. I've had a lot of 'families' throughout my travels but none can compete with my Banjo's/Airlie Beach friends.

You know you should go home when you end up in a pile of humans in the alleyway. 

Obviously started my birthday with breakfast beers at Banjo's.

Unfortunately, I don't have that many pictures from Australia Day and my birthday. I was too busy having a good time which is how it should be. 

I guess I should also mention my boyfriend, Kurt, who has quickly become my best friend and partner in crime. We spend most days doing fun things like hiking, going to the lake, taking out the jetski, buying more fish for our fish tank, camping, going to music festivals, and pretty much anything and everything else. Neither of us likess to sit around so we are pretty much always on the move when we aren't at work. It's great and I'm so lucky to have him. Every day is a laugh and life is never dull when he's by my side. 

In February we went down to Sydney to go to Sydney City Limits and see one of my favorite musicians, Vance Joy. We had the best time. We wandered around Sydney with no real agenda as we've both been there plenty of times. The festival itself was a blast and Vance Joy was everything I'd hoped he would be and more. That weekend has easily become one of my favorite weekends ever. 

In addition to Vance Joy, there was also Justice, Gang of Youths, Dune Rates, All Day, Oh Wonder, The Head and the Heart, Ocean Alley, and Mall Rat. Lots of good Aussie bands.

We also went to Groovin' the Moo, a festival in Townsville which is about three hours from Airlie in May. This time we opted to camp close to the festival which was also really fun. We also enjoyed just being in the city and did normal things like go to the mall and see a movie. Airlie Beach gets a little small after a few months so it was nice to get out. 

Pregaming (or pre's as they're called in Australia) in our tent before heading to the festival. 

There's nothing better an sitting in the grass listening to some epic bands. Groovin included Dean Lewis, Duke Dumont, Paul Kelly, Portugal the Man, Flight Facilities, Skeggs, and Ball Park Music. 

Beyond the music festivals here are some other snaps from our adventuring. 

Lake day at Lake Prosserpine, floating in my pineapple floatie. 

A hike up Mount Rooper.

And here is me sitting outside on our patio drinking cans of rum and coke out of a beer hat. It was honestly harder than it looks. 

Kurt, Sophia, Ryan and I had a great weekend camping out on Whitsunday Island. We took the jet ski over with all of our camping gear and then Kurt went back and picked up Sophia and Ryan. We went over to Hamilton Island and had some cocktails and lunch by the pool and then went back to enjoy our campsite for the evening. 

Getting back was a bit sketchy as there was some intense wind going on. We were going over massive waves on the jet ski. We probably shouldn't have been out on the ocean at the point. Definitely an experience I won't be forgetting.

This reptile on the tree is called a goanna. It's a giant lizard that'll get into your food if you're not careful. They move pretty slowly though and won't really hurt you. 

Our campsite was epic. 

We've had a lot of good days just exploring the islands. 

The color of the water in the Whitsundays is honestly unlike any other water I've seen in my life. It's beautiful, bright blue, and crystal clear.

Every day is a beach day in the Whitsundays. 

Another thing I've been up to since January is playing AFL (Australian Football League). It's a hard sport to describe but it's kind of like a cross between soccer and rugby. You play on a massive oval with 16 girls on each side spread out over the field. You kick a football shaped ball that's a bit bigger than a football but smaller than a rugby ball. Other players catch the ball and either run it, kick it, or pass it as you try to move the ball up the field to kick a goal. It's a really, really fun sport and I wish I had been able to play it growing up. It was all new to me as I have never played a sport where I had to kick or tackle. Also, tackling. Wow. I am not good at tackling. But that's alright as I usually played in the forward line.

Our team wasn't that great and we only won a few games. We honestly should have done a lot better but we just never could seem to get a win. It was still a blast though and I'm really happy I played. I feel like I got a really genuine Australian experience out of it and learned a new sport at the same time.

My cheering squad, just missing my bestie, Ita who also came to lots of my games.

At the end of May, my mom and I met in Hawaii! We spent a week relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Oahu. We stayed in a great Airbnb in a really local area on the northern, windward side of the island. From there we were able to get anywhere on the island. We went to the North Shore, the East side of the island, Waikiki, and even throughout the center of the island. By the end of the week, there really weren't many roads we hadn't been on. 

Hawaii itself was amazing. The massive cliffs, white sand beaches, blue water. All of it was just what we needed. It was such a good mom and daughter trip. We chatted for hours, sat on the beach and read our books, and just did a whole lot of nothing. It was probably one of my favorite trips I've ever been on. I love my mom so, so much. She's my best friend and such a rock in my life. I don't know what I'd do without her. I hate it every single days  that we are on opposite sides of the world but I'm so happy we were able to meet up and have such a great time together. 

Waikiki Beach. 

The trees and scenery throughout the island were unreal. 

We also visited the Dole Pineapple Plantation which was a lot of fun.

I definitely think a mother-daughter trip needs to happen every year (wink, wink mom). 

Just beware, if you get really busy and forget to check in with your parents occasionally, you will wake up to some serious threats and concerns. Case in point featured below. But in all seriousness, I'm incredibly lucky to have such supportive parents. I can only imagine their thoughts each time I call them from X country. ******

In July, Kurt and I took a two-week road trip down the east coast. We stopped in Brisbane on the way down. We went to the Gold Coast which included stops at Movie World (theme park) and Top Golf (which just opened and is the first in Oz!!!). We also went down to where Kurt is from, Yamba, a picturesque small town on the coast. From there we went to Nimbin and then to Byron Bay where we camped for a couple of nights. On our way back up the coast, we also stopped and camped in 1770, the only town in Australia named with numbers.

Again we did city stuff that we can't do in Airlie, like shopping and this time bowling. Here is Kurt laying on the dirty bowling alley floor after I beat him again. 

We rode the largest roller coaster in the Southern Hemisphere at Movie World, which was insane! For an extra $10 you could ride in the last seat which was turned around backwards. When you were going up to the top you're basically just hanging straight down. It was definitely the scariest ride of my entire life. If you don't believe me, check out the look of pure terror on my face below, which is a close up of the picture above that just looks like we are enjoying ourselves. 

See. Terrified. 

The Gold Coast is pretty with the buildings butting right up to the long, long beach. 

Kurt's hometown has some of the best surfing beaches in Australia. 

Byron Bay was beautiful and the town was amazing to wander around. We had a great campsite really close to the beach so we did some night fishing every night. 

Here is the Wobbygong shark I caught and then quickly returned to the water. 

It's easy to see who caught the biggest fish...

Seven Mile Beach was a fun place to take the truck off-road and drive along the beach. We kicked the footy around and just walked up and down in the waves.

Obviously couldn't camp without the hammock.

We made it to 1770 just in time for the sunset. 

Our road trip was so much fun. We drank too much, stayed up too late, woke up too early, got way too hyped on Red Bulls, made too many pit stops, and had just the best time. I've already said it before but I'm so lucky to have such a fun human that will do stuff with me and that I can spend two weeks with without wanting to smash my head against a wall. That's rare for me as I'm a pretty independent person. 

Our bestie, Ita. The boys are all a bit much sometimes but I love them.

The roomies at Ita's 21st birthday in Townsville. It had a 'sneakers and jeans them' AKA Sneanz.

I had a whirlwind last few weeks in Airlie. I went on a flight over the islands to the reef with my best friend, Sophia. As I looked over the 74 islands, whales in the water far below us, and the beautiful colors of the water and reef, I felt so lucky to have spent the last year of my life in such a beautiful area.

Our plane landed on the reef where we got onto a small pontoon and went snorkeling. 

The infamous Heart Reef.

I also had one last Big Night Out with my Banjo's family. 

Tania is on the left, and Rachel is on the right. I actually met Rachel in Cambodia for just a few hours at a hostel. A few of us girls bonded over a bottle of fireball. Fast forward a year later and Rachel and her boyfriend were in Airlie Beach and I got her a job at Banjo's. It's a small world.

Here are some random pictures of nights out, etc. throughout the last year.

And yes, we basically do live in our Banjo's flannies. We wear them to work and subsequently everywhere else. 

Me and my girls.

Kurt humours me and takes too many pictures with me.

Alas, it was time for me to leave and start a new adventure. I said some teary goodbyes and hopped on a few planes, and headed back to the US for a couple of weeks.

Somehow against all odds, I was upgraded to first class on my 14 hour flight from Sydney to LA. I can't even put into words how good the food, beverages, fully reclining lounge, fluffy blankets, and pillows were. It was heaven. After so many horribly long flights, busses, trains, etc. I feel like the travel gods finally smiled upon me and gave me this gift. And now my life will never be the same because I know what the good life is like.

My brother's cute pups, Cash and Remmy, his new German Shepard that I finally got to meet. 

I was briefly in Texas before getting back on a plane and heading to Reno, to see my best friend from Prague, Haley. We've managed to see each other quite a bit in the last few years. She came to Portland and Thailand to see me, then we met in Austin, and now I made a trip to Reno. 

I'm so lucky to have her as a friend in my life and I love the effort we make to see each other and stay in touch. Even though we go weeks without talking and see each other once, maybe twice a year, we always pick right back up where we left off. In a world where I'm always in opposite time zones somewhere random in the world, it's so good to have a friend like her.

We had the best time. She showed me around Reno, we went and laid at the beach in Tahoe, did the brewbike tour where you ride a massive multiperson bicycle to different breweries, went hiking and drove around Tahoe, and even had the most amazing spa day. It was such a great weekend. 

Monkey Rock!

After Reno, I spent about ten days just hanging at my parent's house and seeing one of my best friends from High School, Kaitlin. She actually had a baby 11 months ago. His name is Reece and he's the cutest, sweetest little boy I've ever met. I love seeing the paths my friends' lives take and I'm so grateful that they have a happy little family. Her, Jace, and I also continued our tradition of going to Six Flags together. 

I was coincidentally home for Labour Day as well so we had some family friends come out for the weekend. It was great seeing them, too.

All too soon I was back on the road, officially beginning another great adventure. I just spent three weeks in Costa Rica, where I volunteered for Corcovado Foundation, and organization that helps protect and increase the survival rates of sea turtles. It was an amazing experience.

The project site was very remote, on a beach in the Osa Peninsula on the pacific side of the country. Getting there was a process. I arrived and spent two nights in San Jose where I wandered around and picked up some things before eventually taking a bus to Palmar Norte, a taxi to Sierpe, staying another night, and then a boat to San Josecito Beach and then hiking to the project site Rincon San Josecito Beach.

Here are some pictures from San Jose. 

My boat from Sierpe started out in a crocodile infested river bordered by mangove trees and monkeys swinging through the branches, then opened up into the ocean.

I actually had to leave a day earlier on a Sunday because the country had just announced that on Monday there would be a nation wide strike in which transportaion would be extremely limited. Three weeks later and they still haven't resolved the issues and the country is still a little haywire.

The project site itself was at a lovely little eco lodge. Volunteers and staff stayed at the back of the property deep in the jungle. I ended up having my own room and bathroom for most of my time there.

The full time staff, Fernando, Laura, Emily, and Taylor were absolutely wonderful people whom I really enjoyed chatting with and getting to know. I can't say enough good things about them.

The food was also amazing. It was all vegetarian/vegan and mostlty made from scratch. We even made fresh coconut milk every morning to go with our coffee.

Fresh cacao beans and coconut.

I'm currently in the process of sanding this coconut down to make a bowl!

At night, we patrolled the beach in the dark in pairs, sometimes in the pouring rain, looking for sea turtles as they came out of the water to make their nests and lay their eggs. When we found the turtles, we would measure them and record various data about themselves and their nests. Then we would take the eggs and relocate them to our hatchery, where we would wait around 45-60 days before they hatched. Once they hatched we released them as soon as it was possible to safely do so. When I arrived the first nests of the season were starting to hatch. I probably helped release about 500-600 hatchling while I was there.

We use a red light when we gathered the eggs into a bag to put them into the hatchery.

Eggs look exactly like ping pong balls and feel similar but more malleable. Here is a bag of 100+ eggs.

It was amazing. The sea turtles, in this case Olive Ridley turtles, are so cute. It amazed me how they just knew to climb out of the sand and instictevly made their way to the water, unafraid and keen to start their little lives. It was beautiful to watch them slowly make their way to the water, hopefully retaining enough strength to survive the first few days, weeks, and months until they are bigger and less vunerable.

Don't worry. My hands were super clean and we only touched them very briefly when released them. We always wore gloves to handle the eggs which have important mucous on them.

Here is what they look like when they first emerge in our hatchery nests.

Sadly, the current estimate is that only one in 10,000 turtles will make it to maturity. By protecting the eggs from poachers and predators and helping them make it safely into the ocean, we are greatly increasing their chances of survival and hopefully bolstering the future populations of sea turtles, which are extremely important to ocean ecosystems throughout the world.

I was unlucky and kept missing seeing the turtles on the beach laying the eggs. But finally luck smiled on me and on my very last patrol saw a beautiful mama turtle. We came across her as she finished laying eggs and were able to measure her and watch as she filled the nest back in with sand and then patted it down.

As I followed behind her as she slowly made her way back to ocean, I couldn't help be amazed by our beautiful planet. Here was this mother, who was born on the same beach so long ago, fearlessly leaving the safety of the ocean to come on shore and lay her eggs. She was exhausted, audibly breathing heavily and taking breaks as she crawled the 25 meteres back to the water. And here I was, under a mess of bright stars, witnessing such a beautiful act of nature. It's moments like this that fuel my desire to see, discover, and protect our beautiful, wild world.

My day time activities included lots of hard work. I spent a lot of time sweeping, raking, and digging to maintain both the property and the hatchery.

We also did exhumations on the nests a few days after they hatched. We would dig up the entire nest, removing anything we found. We usually just found the egg shells which we would then count and compare with the number of hatchlings we had. We would also find a few eggs in most nests that didn't hatch for one reason or another. For those, we would open them up and see if there was an embryo or not, whether the egg was predated by fungus or bacteria, and determine what stage the embryo developed to if it did develope at all.

Doing the exhumations was pretty gross at times. The nests smelled bad, sometimes there were maggots, you had to pick up dead and malformed turtles, and then open up the eggs to find either gooey egg yolk or gooey half-formed turtles. This part of the volunteering wasn't my favorite but I learned a lot and feel like I got to experience the full nature of a biologist's work.

In my free time I read a lot of books and National Geographic Magazines and completed a lot of crosswords. I also did some hikes, swam in the ocean and in a nearby river, and just relaxed. It was so nice not to have any pressing concerns.

We did a beach clean every Saturday and entered the types and quantity of items into a an online database. Seriously guys, I beg you to stop and think for a second about all the plastic waste you use each day. It's so incredibly easy to cut down on single-use plastic items. They're destroying our oceans, wildlife, and planet and it's not getting better any time soon. I can literally make a list of things you can easily cut out and give you some tips if you need it. We've got to stop needlessly creating plastic waste.

Internet was scarce there so I also spent the weeks faily unplugged from the rest of the world. It was an excellent and refreshing start to my travels.

Here are some cool little carpenter ants that were everywhere in the region. Really neat to sit and watch. 

I put together this video of my time in Costa Rica:

Yesterday I traveled from Costa Rica to Panama. I'm currently in Boquete, a beautiful mountain town in the cloud forest of central Panama.

The hostel I'm staying at is an insanely cool castle with amazing views.

Currently sitting on the terrace, looking at this cloud covered mountain as I finish my blog.

I'm enjoying hot showers and wifi and a nice change of scenery. I'll be in this area for a few more days before heading to Panama City, where I will meet Kurt. I'm incredibly excited to see him and start what is sure to be an epic trip through Panama, Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador.

Stay tuned for more blogs (hopfully) of the rest of my travels in Central and South America!!


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