30 November 2012

Getting to New York City - The long way

Three years ago in late 2009 I remember daydreaming about what I wanted to do with my life once I had finished my University degree. I was 21 at the time, living out of home, tackling my third year of a four year University degree, and working part-time as a software developer (full-time on holiday periods) . Life was good, but as is my nature I would frequently dream of how I'd like the future to be, with 'where do I want to live' being one of my favourite topics to ponder.

I remember I had my choices of 'where to live' narrowed down to either by a beach (not sure which country), or New York City. The beach is an obvious choice... I mean, how cool would it be to have a beach within walking distance from your house (or better yet, viewing distance) to enjoy those summer days and nights with friends. And New York City... well, perhaps I had simply watched far too many episodes of the TV shows 'Friends' and 'How I Met Your Mother', but it appealed to me greatly and felt like a place I would want to be in someday.

Little did I know where this kind of daydreaming may lead me some day.

The following year, 2010, I was extremely busy having embarked on my Honours year at University. It was challenging and demanding, and a constant reminder that the following year would be the first time in my life where I wouldn't be tied down by my studies.

Throughout the year I'd constantly think back to my 'where to live' idea, with New York City sounding more and more alluring every time.

I've never been one for excuses as to why I can't do something, so when debating my own proposal to make the move to New York City a reality rather than a fruitless dream... well, I couldn't think of a reason not to really. What did I have to lose? Well... a hell of a lot really, but whatever, I was sure the potential rewards would far outweigh any negatives!.. in theory at least, and it really came down to one simple, although difficult to answer question: am I even capable of actually doing it? To quit my job, leave my home, my family and friends, and for an extended amount of time live in a foreign country?

I'd oscillate between 'supreme confidence' to 'turtle shell cowardice' within a matter of minutes.

"If you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere" - Someone

By early 2011 my University degree was now complete and I had gone straight into full-time hours at my software development job. The workplace was great... but wow was I bored. Sitting at a desk Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm is not my ideal of a 'good life', and it was during those long hours that I would research into what this crazy idea of mine would actually involve.

For starters, could I get a Visa? How do I get there? How much does it cost? Despite all the unknown I knew that whatever the costs or risks were, there was simply no reason not to go.

And that my friends sealed my fate, and in March 2011 I had officially decided that in one year from that moment I was to head off and tackle my grandest idea yet, to live and work in New York City.

I used to have this picture up on my bedroom wall to remind me everyday
The preparations took an entire year. I trained quite hard physically every week, building my strength and cardio in the hope that I could cope more easily with carrying bags, long walks, and reduce the chance of getting injured or sick. My mental preparation was the toughest to accomplish, whilst at the same time the easiest; it is easy to prepare for something when you live in a constant state of denial ha, although there were plenty of moments where I started to question what I was getting myself into. And the logistics weren't too bad I guess, such as applying for Visa's, flight tickets, buying equipment and so on... but when you are as lazy as I it can be quite intense.
I only got my Visa approved a month before the leaving date, for example...

And the plan? Ha! What plan? My plan consisted of two variables.

1. I hate long plane flights. I get headaches, time stands still, and I seem to have the worst luck with whom I get sat next to.

2. New York City is the ultimate goal.

So 'the plan' was to avoid the 20 hour flight from Sydney, Australia to New York, America by landing in Los Angeles instead, where I would chill out, get my bearings, then head off to New York City at my leisure a week or so later, and on March 22nd 2012, exactly one year after first making this idea official, I boarded a flight from Sydney, Australia to do just that!

Although as we now know, this is of course is not how it turned out in the slightest! The 'one week stay' in Los Angeles somehow turned into six weeks, and by month eight of my trip I was at that moment in Vancouver, Canada, still not having stepped foot out of the West coast of America in the slightest... ha!

Where had the last 8 months gone? Why was I still not in New York City yet? Was it not a priority anymore? Of course it was still a priority, but when you are traveling alone without an itinerary, you don't know anyone, and you don't having the slightest idea on what you are doing, then you kind of just go with the flow, and it appears that my flow was to head North along the West coast at glacial speeds.

Come November, my instincts were telling me that it was time to move on was more, so on November 19th I finally set out to achieve the dream of this entire trip and I boarded a flight from Seattle, Washington bound to New York City.

A six hour flight later (where upon I got sat next to a guy who was nearly as large as the airplane itself... bah!) I had touched down at JFK airport! This was followed by a three hour 'sight seeing' tour of the subway (I got terribly lost... by the time I emerged above ground again it was dark outside!), a long hunt for my hostel (it was a house with no sign on the front door), a very welcomed unloading of my bags, battles with jet-lag, to conclude it all with a walk outside which is what I have just returned from only moments ago.

I've done it, I'm here!  And wow it is so terribly surreal, while at the same time I awash with the great sense of self-pride that I have ever felt before, for after 2 years of dreaming of it, 1 year of planning for it, and 8 months of traveling towards it, I have finally accomplished it all and have stepped foot in New York City!

An uneventful and poor quality photo... but significant as it represents my first ever photo I took in NYC

26 November 2012

Damn Vancouver!

Quite the milestone on my trip to report today guys. As of this moment I have crossed the border into an entirely new country... Canada! I know I am only like 1 hour from the America-Canada border so it isn't that much of a feat, but still, it is a little surreal for me to think about that I have now technically traveled to two countries.

And with the only thing you can predict about travel being that it is always going to be completely unpredictable, I took my first steps into Vancouver...

So my bus ride from my previous HelpX hosts in Bellingham, Washington state, America was uneventful. I managed to get through customs rather smoothly for the first time on this entire trip, and when I arrived in Vancouver I think I actually had a fair idea of where I needed to go for a change.

It was looking like it was going to be a great day! I was eager to sit down and relax.

I made my way to the sky-train station which was a convenient 100 meters away (win!), and determined which train and ticket I required. I put a $5 note into the ticket machine, but it spat it out. I put it in again, but out it came again. Sigh, what now? Already I was worried at what the day is going to bring me.

I recruit the help of a nearby lady, explaining that the machine won't seem to let me buy a ticket. She gives me a strange look and mumbles "This is not Canadian money, what is this?"

Oh.... ha! I had completely forgotten that Canada (obviously) has its own currency and here I was trying to put in a $5 American note into the machine, whoops! Thankfully she was kind enough to give me the $2.50 I needed for a ticket. Cool, all is good, I will simply withdraw money from my money card at a Canadian bank once I get into the city. 

If only my trip could be so easy...

Upon reaching the city I quickly track down an ATM, where my travel money debit card allows me to take money out in any currency (it's awesome,I highly recommend one for travel). A quick 30 seconds later I am now in possession of... a message on the screen informing me that an error has occurred and that I am unable to withdraw money from my card. Sigh. Moving onto an ATM of a different bank company I am annoyingly told the same thing.

Hmm... this could prove troublesome. I was somewhat berating myself for being so thoughtless, if I had remembered the fact that Canada obviously has their own currency in the first place, I wouldn't have to be lugging my very heavy backpack all over the cold and busy city.

But hey, times and situations like this really are what travel is all about, and when something goes wrong you must adapt and continue on no matter what. My next stop was logically a bank in the hope to talk to a real person who might be able to assist me.

Upon reaching the first bank I stumble across I notice a piece of paper stuck to the door of the bank. Oh, what's that? The bank (and all the others in the city) are closed because I just happened to have arrived on a public holiday?

Yep, that sounds like my luck.

Alright, fine, let's go into this nearby convenience store and try their ATM, maybe this one will be different. No luck... again I get the same error message. It has easily been over an hour by this stage, my legs and back are aching from carrying my bags, I am tired from being awake since 6am, and I am starting to stress a little at how I am going to get money to pay for my accommodation and food. Suddenly a great new idea springs to mind! How about I use my normal Australian debit card! It isn't meant for travel, and only has Australian dollars on it, but it should work with no problems.

I take it out of its hiding spot and place it into the machine, proud of myself for thinking outside the box on the fly so well. The familiar 'Please enter you PIN' request flashes on the screen.

I freeze for a moment, staring at the keyboard...

So it turns out that after being on the road for such a long time and that the last time I used this card was way back when I was still in Australia, it appears that I have completely forgotten my PIN haha!

I laughed quite hard at this to be honest as I stared down at the keyboard below not having the slightest clue which number to press first. The store clerk looked nervous.

Ok, scrap that idea, next! A new idea came to mind. I've got $70 USD on me (luckily!), I should hopefully, if they aren't closed, be able to exchange it for CAD. After asking for directions I find a currency exchange office nearby... they are open, yes! A while later I am now in the possession of $70 CAD... phew! That provides a little room to breath at least, however I am not in the clear yet. For instance, the hostel I have booked for the next two nights is $55 in total... which means that that would leave me with only $15 remaining for food and other expenses.

Hmm... that won't suffice. A new idea is needed.

Well I knew my travel money debit card has plenty of money on it, but it is in USD, although perhaps if the money was converted into CAD on the card I would be able to withdraw from Canadian ATMs for some strange reason? It was worth a shot.

I find a nearby McDonalds and commandeer their Wi-Fi connection from my iPhone, to then login to my back's webpage. Oh, what's this? My bank's webpage is down for maintenance and I have to return back later?



Ok, I'm tired, let's just go to the hostel, pay for my stay, and just use my remaining $15 for food for the day and deal with it tomorrow when the banks are open.

While still using the Wi-Fi connection I search for the location for of my hostel on Google Maps. It tells me it is about 20 blocks away from my current location, which means I'll need to take a bus. Although catching a bus is $2.50 for a ticket... which is money coming out of my food fund mind you! Damn. Reluctantly I had no choice. I get on the bus and take a seat... about 40 seconds later I look out the window as we were stopped at a red traffic light... only to see my hostel right there across the street! What the!?

My hostel was only like 2 blocks away, not 20! What the hell Google Maps! I just paid $2.50 for nothing!!!

I got off the bus, and couldn't help but laugh because when I looked down the street I could literally see the spot that I had jumped onto the bus it was that close... haha!

I'm now down to $12.50. Sigh.

I enter the hostel, thankful to be able to put my bags down, and explain my situation to the staff member. She laughs, and informed me that for future reference, the sky-train and the buses use the same tickets, so I could have used the sky-train ticket that I bought when I first arrived for the bus instead of buying a new one.

... brilliant.

She then suggests that we try the travel money debit card to see if it works anyway, as she has seen them before and has never had a problem with one.

It. Freaking. Worked...

I was both immensely relieved and annoyed at the same time. Turns out that while I can't for some reason take money off the card via an ATM, I can in fact pay for things with it for some reason, thus making the entirety of the last 3 hours completely unneeded.

Hello to you to Vancouver...

After the... eventful first day, my following day is when the adventure began. Although it was a completely solo affair as I had no friends what so ever here, and my attempts to make friends over breakfast failed. Fine by me!

The city is extremely beautiful and modern, already I felt at ease and jumped at the chance to just wander around aimlessly.

Shortly later I stumbled across the Vancouver Museum of Art. I find museums are a great way to spend a solid few hours, and I try to attend one in every single city I go to.

Sadly however... this one sucked. I was in and out within the hour, and considering that my ticket was $14 it was not a great investment what so ever. Sigh. I am no artist, not by a long shot, and by far the majority of the time I miss the 'message' an artist is trying to portray, but I cannot get onboard, nor understand in the slightest, the style of 'modern contemporary art', which is what the museum just happened to be showcasing upon my arrival.

For instance: A piece of wood painted white lying diagonally on the floor in the middle of a room, in my humble although strong opinion... is not art! It is a waste of time and money. The whole exhibition just flew right over my head.

After that I decided to head to a nearby park, known as Stanley Park, that I had heard about from quite a lot of people. It was awesome.

I got lost in this forest for 20 minutes...
And that was my day really.

The following day was to be science day! I am a huge nerd I gladly admit, and relish at the chance to spend at least a couple of hours at any kind of exhibition that involves science, computers, the Universe, dinosaurs, nature etc, and luckily Vancouver has their World of Science building, sweet.

I suspected by the time I emerge from this building, the sun would be down.

Dinosaurs are awesome
So how was it? Well damn expensive for starters despite my student ID card ($25!), and I found it catered towards kids way to much to the point where nearly every piece of information you read is in the form of a comic, game, or involves cartoon characters of some sort. Which would be fine if I didn't feel that they were summarizing the information too much. So that was a shame.

Although I did see a pretty amazing IMAX movie about polar bears! Their habitat is disappearing guys... the rate at which the ice caps are melting is increasing dramatically and noticeably every year, and if things don't change it will disappear all together. Global warming is real people!..

The next day I decided to try and attempt to figure out this travel money debit card situation that was still plaguing me. While I had now determined that paying for things with my card thankfully works without a problem, I still could not get cash out of the ATM, and a big rule I have when traveling is to always carry at least a little bit of cash on you.

After two hours and five banks later, I still had no answer.

Although upon my travel throughout the city I stumbled across the sight which piked my interests.

Is that an awesome looking snow capped mountain off in the distance? I must get a better view of that I think.

My quest objective was set for the next foreseeable hours. Along the way I stumbled across some true hidden gems of the city, specifically this amazing bookstore that I would of loved to have spent the entire day in really. They had a huge variety and the entire store had great character.

Wow! Now this is a bookstore.
Further along my quest I nearly tripped over my own feet when I glanced upon the picture below! My Australian friends and readers will definitely appreciate these next pictures ha.

Does that say... Koala Kebabs!? I don't even think we have those in Australia, so why on Earth would they be here in Canada haha! I went inside to investigate further, hoping to talk to someone who works there in the hope to clarify if it is indeed kebabs made of Koala meat or just some kind of marketing play. Annoyingly there was no one at the counter, and after 10 minutes still no one came to the counter, so I didn't get an answer...

Although upon turning to leave the store I saw this gem too haha!

I am very confused right now
Is that a polar bear!?  Hahaha! I couldn't figure out what was going on. I truly hope they don't think that that is what a koala looks like... if so, the story of 'drop bears' would take on a whole different level of horror.

After thoroughly enjoying being lost and exploring the streets for a while more, eventually I reached my intended destination. I think you will agree it was worth the effort to reach.


I had to walk through an expensive looking hotel, pretending I was a guest, to get access to their balcony to get these shots too, but it was worth it.

Often times getting lost in a new city can be quite remarkable and is one of the best ways to experience what it truly has to offer. The trick to make the experience even more memorable however is to get lost in a great city, and Vancouver truly is just that. The natural beauty is world class, matched only by the beauty of the city itself. The streets are alive, clean, friendly, full of atmosphere and hold many secrets that I am sure that I missed (although I was lucky enough to find the bookstore at least).

I had been in Vancouver for three days by this stage yet had still not managed to make friends, which is extremely uncharacteristic of me and my travels, so my best bet was to enroll in the hostel pub crawl planned for that night.

And what a blast that turned out to be!

Our first pub we went to was holding a trivia night so our band of 7 or so fellow travelers from all parts of the world formed a team and tried our best. Being completely different people from different countries and backgrounds paid off immensely, it seemed that there was always at least one person in the team who knew the answer to the question whether it was science, music, movies or whatever.

Some of the team thinking hard! Beers in hand of course.
During the 'guess the artist and the song title' quiz round, the announcer had this to say:

"Now this next song is actually a cover, so it isn't the original artist singing. In addition, it has been remixed, which makes it even trickier. I highly doubt that anyone knows who the singer is, although they are one of my favourites, so I'll make the bet the if any team gets this particular question right I'll buy the entire team a round of shots"

We had a listen. No one had a clue. I had an inkling that it was a singer called Tori Amos (who I have been a fan of for years) but wasn't sure, but hey, it was the best guess we had.

Turned out I was right! Win! Haha! The team thought it was absolutely brilliant, and we all got a free round of shots! Great times.

Then, to add to the night even further... our team won the trivia night!

On. Fire!

We won a heap of 'Canada' branded stuff like t-shirts, hats and the like. We thought it was the funniest thing to end up winning a pub trivia on a pub crawl so randomly like that. With my newly won 'Canada' t-shirt the remaining night was spent at a few more bars, concluding with crazy dance moves with an 80's rock band! It was epic.

Come the following day however I was not thinking it was a great night at all... I had easily the worst hang over I have ever had in my life. Simply brushing my teeth in the morning took immense concentration, and I spent the entire day in a haze and spin. The day was a complete write off to be honest ha.

And that about sums up my time in Vancouver, Canada. It was an awesome yet short 6 days all up, complete with huge challenges but memorable rewards, and it is always nice to have some surprises thrown your way so in that regard Vancouver certainly did not disappoint. There were times whilst lost and just roaming aimlessly around the city where I could easily picture myself living here some day, it really had everything I would want in a city; natural beauty, structural beauty, a great atmosphere, plenty of diversity, and a feeling of security.

Who knows, maybe I will return some day? For now I am content to say I have at least experienced it.

Now it's time to move onto my next destination, and what an amazing destination it is too!

22 November 2012

Why am I here again?

Why am I here again? And I don't mean my current location, that being Bellingham, Washington state, in the house of a HelpX host resting after another extremely grueling day of hauling concrete, gravel and nailing fence posts.

Why am I still in America on this trip I mean?

In two weeks it will be officially 8 months since I first stepped off the plane in Los Angeles without the slightest idea what the hell I was doing or how I was to survive, but wow, that was so long ago now, I can barely even remember how life was before all this. While I still have a few 'must see' places to visit (New York City!) I am starting to wonder if staying here for a while more like I currently plan to is worth it.

What am I getting out of still being here?

The last time I have had an absolute blast was over a month ago now, back during my road trip and few days layover in San Francisco with Chris, and the new friends I made in that short time, Will, Pam and of course Clare. Since then I have been constantly on the move, jumping from one HelpX host to the next. I haven't even added a new Facebook friend in all that time, let alone made a legitimate new friend! So, I guess I am in a bit of a slump, and getting new invites to cool events happening back home in Australia that I know that I will no doubt miss doesn't help.

So again I have to ask myself, what am I getting out of still being here?

Being at these HelpX locations has been an awesome experience I have to admit, and the current one is great too. They have all been quite challenging, as having come from a computer science background I have never been one for prolonged lengths of physical labour, and now all of a sudden I am thrust into weeks upon end of digging, lifting, gardening, construction and so much more. Yet somehow, I rise to the challenge! I still have 3 more days of work ahead of me before my 1 day off for this week, but I am getting stronger everyday. I know already that I am physically much stronger than I have ever been due to these HelpX places (hey there ladies), not to mention all the new experiences and learned skills I now have, especially with construction, gardening, animal care, geography and countless other areas really, all of which I doubt I would of had exposure to back home.

So... I guess, that's my answer? That this trip, and of course life in general, can't just be all fun and games all the time, and that it is necessary to have difficult times that you just need to push through, despite how much it may suck, or how pointless it may seem, because at the end of it all you will always be a better person because of it.

It still doesn't change the fact that after 7 months I am now missing home immensely.

The other day I met a fellow Australia who had dinner with us, it was strange how easily and high my spirits rose simply from being in the company of someone from my home country. This trip has been quite the challenge.

Alas, I still have a few things that I must do before returning home (else I'd regret it forever) so I will push through and take comfort in the fact that I am sure another 'amazing San Francisco' like time will happen again before long. I just hope I can end this trip with a bang rather than a fizzle =)

When am I coming home you may ask?

Shortly, it would appear? Perhaps. We shall see. Who knows!

20 November 2012

Talk about a challenge

After leaving Lopez Island a little while ago now I headed further North, arriving at a town called Bellingham, Washington state for another HelpX stay. It is about 1 and a half hours drive South of Vancouver, Canada, which is my eventual intended destination actually so it was the perfect location to stop for a while.

This marks my forth HelpX experience now; the first being the Bed and Breakfast back in California where I stayed for a very long time (not sure why now that I think about it), the second was a short stop over in Olympia, Oregon at Leeann's house, and the third HelpX was the farm on the amazing Lopez Island.

My first order of business upon arriving at this new house was to join the Halloween festivities, sweet. The stereotype of Halloween being quite the big deal in America is definitely true, they even hold pumpkin carving parties! My pumpkin carving attempt is shown below, of which I am quite proud of actually. I kind of just carved a bunch of random styled and shaped faces around the entire thing:

On a completely different topic of note, I have come to the conclusion that the entire North-West of America holds arguably some of the most beautiful environments in the world. And I say that because it isn't just 'certain areas' that are quite nice, because really my impression has been that the entire of Oregon and Washington state is nice where ever you go, still managing to hold some impressively pristine and undisturbed environments despite being a highly developed area of the country I have yet encountered. If only the rest of the cities in the world could be so green.

Right down the road from where I am living
This for example is the street that I am currently living on, with every single street in the entire town looking just as green and natural.
Although there was little time to enjoy the scenery or explore the town, there was work to do! And a lot of it too. This current HelpX is tougher than all of the previous three HelpX hosts combined. I'm working six days a week, with my first project being to help build a concrete block wall... what a breeze! (sense the sarcasm...).

These concrete blocks literally weigh half of what I weigh but thankfully my HelpX host Todd lifted most of them, while I was on 'fill buckets with gravel, carry said buckets over to said concrete blocks, and fill said concrete blocks with said buckets of gravel' for about 4 hours straight a day duty. It's been about a week of this now and somehow I've seem to have made it through, although it really was grueling work. Every single night I would get into bed with huge aches over my entire body, my muscles all strained and my back a mess really, eventually falling into a deep slumber only to wake up and do it all again the following day. Working in the rain and cold didn't help either.

Concrete and gravel are heavy...
But alas, despite all signs to the contrary, the day came that I at times thought never would... we actually finished the wall! The picture below only shows half the wall (some polishing touches still required of course) with the remaining of the wall of out of shot to the right. It was quite the accomplishment I realized when I thought about the effort put in, so that was cool.

After 5 days the wall is complete!
With the wall finished my remaining week was doing other random jobs like building fences, pruning trees and the like, none of which are really worth writing about. Thankfully none of them were quite as challenging as the wall, but they were definitely all very varied and I learned quite a few new skills in the process.

Hmm... well, there was the very last job, one in which I was really paranoid about to be honest.

Todd (my HelpX host), his son, and I were to be digging out these two medium sized trees from one of Todd's friends houses and transporting them via a trailer back to one of Todd's rental houses. The digging them out of the ground was the same back-breaking work I was now accustomed to, but then came the interesting part of tying the tree to the back of the truck and winching them out of the ground, transporting them onto a trailer, driving over to the rental house, and then somehow getting them back off the trailer again. All valuable skills to witness I am sure, although you can't blame me for stressing that something may go wrong.

For starers... Trees. Are. Heavy.

I was going to come back to Australia with something broken I was sure of it.

Thankfully this last month of HelpX challenges has made me noticeably more fit than before, so I was able to handle the tree fairly well. Long story short we did manage to transport both trees out of the ground and over to the other house while still keeping all of our limbs in tack, relief!

When not working however I had an extremely slow and relaxing time really. I was usually finished work by mid afternoon which gave me the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted... which when you have no friends you know around, no car, it is cold and often raining, and it is only a medium sized town, the choices of entertainment were slim. The vast majority of my time was spent reading, which became easy with my complete failure to restrain myself from continually buying new books despite how heavy the are to carry around!

This is my current collection, and is only this size after giving away the 'Alchemist by Paulo Coelho', book number one and three of the 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams' (books two and four are in the pile still), and trading a few other small books away also.

Books are heavy, so why do I keep buying them!
A lot of time was spent at the dinner table having absolutely amazing meals cooked by my host, Todd. I learned so many tips from him, and every single dish he made was brilliant! It was easily and by far the best I have eaten on my entire 8 months abroad, which was great because I definitely needed the nutrition with all the physical labour done during the day.

There was also the day where I got invited along to see a high school play, which seeing as my stance on plays has always been that they are ridiculously boring and I hate them, I was torn because my number one rule while traveling is that I must be up for absolutely anything that comes my way. I figured I had nothing to lose and went along.

Surprisingly it turned out pretty cool actually. While I probably won't see another one any time soon, by far the most entertaining aspect of the night was the talent of the young adult actors whom were all simply incredible and damn impressive to say the least. So that was a great experience that I am glad I agreed to.

Shortly after the play I also got invited to a 'Contra Dancing' night... which I had no idea what it was but as per the rule mentioned above I said yes anyway just to see what would happen. A decision I do not regret in the slightest! It was one of the most fun times on my entire trip to be honest haha.

It is a group based dance where, while you have your primary partner to dance with, you have to spin, swing, duck, swerve, side step and clasp hands with all the other pairs in the room too, all while keeping with the beat of the music and choreographed moves. So basically the entire room becomes one big mix of dancers, constantly moving around the room and flinging from one dancer partner to the next... it was awesome to say the least. Although I admit it is most likely 'you had to be there moments' to appreciate it, so just take my word that it was awesome.

And that my readers was my two weeks in Bellingham, Washington. It was physically exhausting, but the family I stayed with were awesome and it was a pleasure to be around them and in their home for sure. I felt very welcome, comfortable, and was fed extremely well with Todd being an amazing chef.
The point of coming to Bellingham in the first place was because of its location really, that being just below the Canadian border which worked out perfectly as I planned to slowly make my way to Vancouver, Canada. Yet another destination that I originally had no intention to visit what so ever, but by just going with the flow and hearing what fellow travelers have to say, further North seems to be the best place to be at this stage.

Wish me luck

16 November 2012

Goodbye Lopez Island

Been having quite the adventure here on Lopez Island! But alas, after spending three weeks here now it is time to move on and continue my travels once more. Yikes, that went fast! Being here was awesome, with lots of ups and downs as my entire trip has been, but it was definitely one of the most unique places and experiences I have yet to encounter by far.

It has been over 7 months since I first left my home of Australia (wow that is such a long time) and there were times I wished I was going home already, actually I admit there were many times that I wished I was going home soon, but I know that I didn't really mean it and it was just the result of being so isolated for so long I guess, seeing as there is hardly anyone my age on the entire island. Besides, the chance to spend time in a place like this doesn't come around very often so I really did appreciate where I was in the world and know that it far outweighs the negatives.

A big part of the fun of being here was definitely the chance to explore the island, made possible by borrowing Rita's truck (I have opted against riding bikes for a while ha). Some of my favourite pictures:

Found a path in the forest to follow

And this is what I emerged into once I reached the other side!

My favourite photo I think

Picturesque where ever you went really.

So what did I do on my three weeks here in terms of actual work? An absolutely huge variety of things really, many I had never done before.

I picked apples for hours upon hours for a day or two, with the two buckets you see below only being two of ten in the end. Yikes. Although it was quite relaxing with my music playing, and quite fun with the challenge of having to drive the truck into certain positions so I could climb onto its roof to reach the higher branches.

Hours of apple picking
Another project involved the greenhouse that was starting to fall apart from the strong winds we had had the last few days. The white sheeting was torn up on one side, and both doors were pretty mangled and splintered from banging around. A staple gun, rubber tubing, metal sheeting and a few hours later, Rita and I had repaired it all quite nicely =)

The newly repaired greenhouse
Also accomplished during my time there, although are void of any pictures, was the very many amount of odd jobs such as dismantling a big wooden structure which was pretty fun, organizing the barn, planting garlic plants, building a fence around said newly planted garlic plants to keep the chickens out, organizing countless stacks of materials (bricks, wood, sheet metal etc), and using the tractor (pictured in my previous post) to move a lot of random material around the farm (one of my favourite activities).

One of the most challenging tasks was easily the day we organized the pile of wood planks that we had acquired over the days from all the wood lying around the farm. Having a pile of wood planks in the middle of the barn floor wasn't the greatest use of space however, with the best place for all these planks to go being in the roof of the barn... sigh. So with Rita standing atop of the hay barrels and me down on the ground, I spent an hour hoisting planks off the ground and lifting them over my head as high as I could so Rita could reach them and drag them up onto the roof beams. It was manageable but was certainly no picnic, my shoulders burned!

A welcomed challenge nonetheless.

And that sums up my duties really, basically whatever needed doing, I was on the case. Some days were quite nice where I could listen to my music and work at my own pace, while other days I got into bed absolutely aching all over.

On top of spending a lot of time working, exploring or driving, I also did some pottery... ha. One of Rita's friends runs a pottery class so I took it for the fun it of. Check out my 'Cow Mug'!

Behold the wonder that is, Cow Mug! This is before it was coloured and glazed.
Cow Mug after it has been glazed. Turned out alright actually ha.
When I wasn't working, out driving, exploring, or pottering, the activity I did most above all else was easily staying warm with a book or watching a movie in this awesome little hide-away space that was in Rita's house, which included a mountain of books to choose from, a pillow, and lots of blankets, brilliant! Now you have to remember that it has now reached Winter here in America, and this island gets damn cold, so you can definitely see the appeal of this spot =)

Hours spent up there... just a very long time really! Such a great spot, I am going to build one in my own house I think.
So while this certainly wasn't a repeat of the crazy fun times I had whilst in San Francisco (which are still by far my favourite times on this trip thus far), it was a highly welcomed change of pace, with completely new challenges to adapt and overcome. Rita was fantastic, cooking absolutely amazing meals every single night, providing me with an extremely comfortable room and bed, Wi-Fi and access to her MacBook (mine is still dead), and the chance to accompany her on her many outings. We went apple-cider pressing one time, a bunch of dinners at different friends of Rita's, there was even a free beer and pizza night at the yacht club that I got to attend, win! Free beer and pizza always tastes so much better really.

One thing I am glad of is being able to leave Rita's house with quite the sense of accomplishment. In three weeks I had done a considerable amount of work on the farm where you could definitely see the difference I had made. The yard looked cleaner, things were much more organized, buildings got repaired, plants got planted... it is nice when you can actually see the difference you have helped create.

So, where to now? Well, believe it or not, I have decided to head further North! I am less than two hours from Canada now, so I might as well stop in for a visit in Vancouver wouldn't you agree? Although before I get to Vancouver I have yet another HelpX to work at, which is just below the Canadian border (thus is still in Washington state, America), where I would like to stay at for a week or two to give me some more 'free accommodation' days on this trip (money is tight!).

Wish me luck!

The moon poking through the roof of clouds one still night

07 November 2012

Lopez Island and a Seattle visit

After my arrival on Lopez Island last week, things have continued to go well with plenty of adventure!

The neighbour's horses. Beautiful.
Rita's backyard
Rita's backyard
Rita's backyard
Rita's pigs. They are ridiculous, I now truly understand the expression "Don't be a pig"
Rita's 15 turkeys. Talk about being a nuisance, these guys were insane! They for some reason would follow me (and only me) around the entire farm, waddling and clucking away only 1m behind, completely ignoring my shouts and threats.
 There are also 2 cats and 12 chickens, so it is a pretty lively place.

My first week of work was pretty good actually. Pretty physically tough work, but in a challenging way that is rewarding. Her land is large and littered with all these unfinished projects, resulting in huge piles of wood, bricks, and many other random objects that lay scattered about, all interwoven between the chicken house, the greenhouse, the turkeys cage, and hip-high grass. Lots to do! I spent hours upon hours shuffling stuff around.

I had to sort this huge pile of wood into three piles based on their size; small, medium or large. After about 3 hours I had barely made a dint!

But I did get to have a hell of a lot of fun using this!

"Outta' my way Turkeys!"
Drove this all over the place, great fun! Mostly to carry stuff like bricks and planks of wood from one side of the farm to the other, and then sometimes I'd just get lazy and use it simply for the sake of using it haha.

Over the weekend Rita and I went to stay in Seattle for 3 days for she wanted to visit her daughter for a few days and I was hoping for the chance to see the city properly as I didn't get too much of a chance when I first arrived last week as Rita picked me up very shortly after I had arrived.

It was also nice to be able to get away from work for a few days, be able to sleep in, and just be with my own thoughts for a little while too.

Aboard the 6.30am ferry... ergh... far too early
Seattle seems like a nice enough city
I am really getting into art lately, I am not sure if it is the case of 'I have nothing better to do' or 'I am becoming more cultural'? Regardless, the idea of visiting the Seattle Art Museum was quite enticing.

Travel tip (or just life tip really): Always keep expired University student cards. Normal ticket price for the Seattle Art Museum: $24. Ticket price when flashing your now 2 year expired University student card? $12! Win =)

The museum was pretty good, but wasn't great. There were only very few pieces that really gripped me, but it was a great way to spend the day whilst it was raining outside.

This was very cool I thought
This one was ridiculously amazing. It was in a room where the theme of the art was 'Light', and you can see here the amazing capture of the light from the fire. Very impressive.
Afterwards I wandered around the city, stumbling across what is a well known market, Pike Market (I think?) which was pretty cool. It had everything from food to crafts, but what I enjoyed most about it above all was definitely the lively and varied atmosphere around this place, with plenty of foreigners mixed in with the locals to create quite the experience.

And that was my entire day really, and after the 5.30am wake up I was more than happy to spend the rest of the night reading my books.

The following day I had lots planned! I had heard of this awesome Seattle Underground Tour that was highly recommended, there was an awesome Egyptian exhibition somewhere in town, and a list of other cool places scattered around too. Exciting stuff... all of which I ended up completely missing out on as I opted for a quick stop in Starbucks in the morning to enjoy a drink, warmth, comfortable couch and my book, which somehow turned into four hours. Whoops. There goes my day.

Although the book I was reading and subsequently finished was brilliant; 'Into Thin Air' by Jon Krakauer, recommended to me by Rita. It retells the true story of a Mount Everest climbing exhibition in 1996 from the eyes of the author who was one the the climbers present on that day, where 12 people died (including the exhibition group leader!) due to a strong unexpected storm. It was an incredible story, extremely raw and thought provoking.

Just after finishing the book I got a phone call, and while about midway through my call the guy next to me randomly said "Hello" to me. I looked over at him and indicated that I was on the phone, and continued my conversation. Once I had finished I expected him to say hello to me again to continue whatever he was wanting to say to me, instead he stayed silent. I waited 30 seconds, purposely making movements to indicate that I am finished on the phone and that he can now talk to me. Instead, nothing. The guy just sat there drinking his coffee. Why say hello to me and then say nothing after?!

I was too curious to stay quiet.

"Hi" I said to him.

"Hello" he replied.

... silence. What the hell?

"Umm... you said hello to me before, while I was on the phone?" I said.

"No. You said hello to me, so I said hello back, and then you gave me an angry look that I was interrupting your phone call"

What! I never said hello to him first, he said hello to me!

"Huh? No, I was on the phone and you said hello to me"

"No, I was sitting here drinking my coffee, and you said hello to me, so I said hello back"

Now either this guy was trying to be funny, or he legitimately thinks that I had somehow, while on the phone, had said hello to him. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and started up a conversation out of pure interest.

"Where are you from?"

Turns out that while I was on the phone he thought that I had indeed turned and said hello to him, hence why he randomly said "Hello" to me, so it was a pretty funny mistake actually. He was a friendly guy, had a lot of questions about Australia, and we easily talked for a good 30 minutes so it was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.

In my very brief time in Portland a few weeks back I mentioned that I didn't make any friends. I guess that wasn't completely true as on a walking tour around town I did make one friend, Beth, who lives in Seattle. She is a fellow swing dancer and invited me along to her weekly class for that night here in Seattle, sweet!

Such a great night! Had a lot of fun and met so many cool people. Back home in Australia my swing dance class has roughly 14 people in it, whilst in Sacramento (California) the class I went to with my friend Margaret had around 22.. this class though had easily 50 people! It was pretty awesome seeing so many people in the one class, many of whom were very advanced.

Oh and having an Australian accent is very useful.

After such a long time traveling I am somewhat over the 'sight-seeing' aspect of the big cities, and very much prefer the experiences I have with fellow travelers or with newly acquired friends, so I was rather fond of saying farewell to Seattle and was more than happy to return to Lopez Island with Rita early the following morning.

2 more weeks of Lopez Island to go, let's see what happens shall we?

The closest I got the the famous Space Needle... fine by me!