Saturday, April 10, 2010

This is it!

I am going to officially close down this blog now. Thank you so much for reading! You were with me when I landed in Sydney, at Dane's on the beach, in Melbourne at the tennis, in the backseat of a van in New Zealand, seasick on the Anaconda, holding a koala in Brisbane, tanning in Hawaii, and finally home.

I'm going to be making this blog into a book so I can look back on all the memories. It was truly the most incredible, unimaginable experience of my life so far and I can't wait to look back and read about all that happened. I'm very sad it's over but I know that even though this particular adventure is done, another one is coming my way.

I want to create a new blog and will post the link to it here... it's Medieval Mel !! Check it out! or follow me on Twitter @MelanieReiff
Thank you so much to everyone I met and who was with me while I traveled, I couldn't have done it without you and you really made it the best time I ever could have had!

This is Mel, signing off... and I leave you with my favourite picture of the trip. It looks like an optical illusion and shows that not everything is as it seems. I hope that, whoever you are and whatever you do, that you are risking it out there!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Let me sum up

As Inigo Montoya says so aptly in the movie The Princess Bride "Let me explain... wait there is too much, let me sum up", well that is what I am about to do right now. I thought it would be fun to put together a few facts about all that happened on my trip now that I'm back and am in need of blog material.

In terms of being on the road, let's just say it's been one big journey with nary a place to call home. Many times my bed changed night to night, and other times I was stationary for up to 3 weeks (Melbourne). Either way, the distance and time clocked in as...

Consecutive days of travel: 92
Pictures taken: 3,052 (avg. 33 per day)
Time spent on airplanes: 59 hours
Time spent waiting in airports: 24 hours
Kilometres traveled: 49,365 km
Circumference of the earth: 40,075 km
Spot where I was farthest from home: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia at 16,280 km away
Time zones adapted to: 8 zones
Nights in a hostel: 19 (the rest I was lucky enough to have friends to stay with)
Hours spent on the road driving in a car/van: 40 hours
Hours spent on the water in ferries/ships/boats: 78 hours

I went for 12 amazing runs in 6 different towns/cities: Bondi Beach walkway, Melbourne Wattle Park, Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Rotorua hot springs, Whitianga beach, and the Brisbane riverside. My favourites were probably Bondi and the Rotorua run.

A lot of time was spent walking on trails and going for hikes in parks and through towns. The best hikes were in The Blue Mountains in Katoomba, Australia and Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand to name a few; and I walked around all the cities I stayed in, probably walking at least 2 hours on average each time I went somewhere new.

The people I met made up 99% of my trip... in fact the number of new friends I traveled with for one night or more was around 15+ ... so that's basically 15 strangers who ended up being close traveling companions. We all agreed that fate had a hand in many if not all of those encounters.

Traveling for 92 days would require many to pack for at least one third of that. However, I was able to survive with my small pack and few belongings.

Backpack weight at time of departure: 25 pounds
Backpack weight at time of return: 30 pounds
Items sent home via mail: 1 small box sent Jan. 29 via air to Toronto
Number of times people commented on how light I traveled: I lost count
Number of times I had to repack my bag after a hostel/friend's place: easily over 50 times
Times I checked my luggage for a flight: 8
Number of times my luggage was lost: zero --- yayyy!!!

I didn't lose my backpack once although the thought did cross my mind many times when I sent it through on the black conveyor belt, hoping it would be there to meet me at the other end. The only time I was separated from it was actually on the return flight from Vancouver to Toronto. I was lucky enough to jump on an earlier flight but my pack was sent on the original 9am flight to T.O. It wasn't waiting for me when I arrived back home at Pearson and for the first time, I felt worried like a huge chunk of me was missing. It was. My bag had gone everywhere with me. The Canadian flag on the back always displayed prominently and its entire contents my world completely. Luckily Air Canada tracked it and had it delivered to my house in Toronto that night.

I also have a few miscellaneous things I tracked for fun:

Number of movies I went to see: 4
Average cost for an adult to see a movie: $17/ticket
Number of days when I made it to a beach: over 30
Bottles of sunscreen I went through: 3 (spf30, then two spf15's)

That is all!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kihei... paradise in Hawaii

The sweet smell of pineapple and the ocean breeze greets you as you walk off the plane and into the open air airport in Kahului on the island of Maui. This is where I'd be spending the final phase of my journey, in gorgeous Hawaii with my mom and sister. The plan to meet there had slowly evolved after Mom had the idea in January. From then on, the idea was in the back of my mind before I actually sat down with a man named Stuart at a Flight Centre in Wellington to change my flight itinerary. That was on Feb. 18 and suddenly, there I was on March 15 standing in the airport in Kahului waiting for mom and Kate's plane to arrive two hours after mine did.

It was such a great reunion! I hadn't seen my mom since Christmas and she was so excited to reunite with her firstborn. We also had 10 fabulous days of sun and sand to look forward to. We made it to our condo called Maui Vista and found our place easily in the darkness of the island. It was around 11:30pm when we arrived in our rental car. The place was modest but cute. We instantly felt at home. Kate and I had to share the pull-out couch and mom was in the only bedroom. We were on the ground floor and the lanai, or the patio, overlooked the tennis courts and pool. We were a short walk to the ocean - only about 1 minute - and that's where we headed the next morning.

I wasn't quite sure how my jet lag worked at this point. I'd been tossed around time zones like sneakers in a washing machine and I was pretty sure I was still on Sydney time. It actually worked out really well to go back in time a bit and settle into the island vibe and I was over my jet lag in a few days. We spent the first few days relaxing at home. Mom said from the start she didn't want to do a lot of driving but I was just fresh off a journey devoted to exploration and was keen to explore the island. Kate and I took a few drives, one of them down to the south near Makena and the other up north and accidentally stumbled on a ranch. Both excursions reminded me so much of my New Zealand travels and hitting the road to explore new places.

We frequented the shops and market places - they have the best stuff! We stocked up on hair accessories, dresses, creams and handmade soaps as gifts for folks back home. The food in Maui is so amazing and doesn't help the bikini situations, but we still didn't hold back. We ate fish, Mahi Mahi and Walu, snacked on pupus (haha) and enjoyed wine. Mahalo!

There also isn't anything quite like a Maui sunset - they say it's one of the best in the world. Da Kine. One night we dressed up and went to the famous Marriott hotel in Wailea. Our plan was to watch the sunset and have cocktails and we did just that. I've never been to a more gorgeous hotel. The lanai overlooked the pool and then the ocean, with very strategic palm trees in view. The entire place is set like a romance novel with newlyweds everywhere. The sun sets over the ocean, something I missed being on the east coast of Australia. We witnessed nature's show and couldn't fathom our lives back home, we were so far away from it all. The sight was unbelievable and every picture we took was postcard worthy.

Kates and I were also lucky enough to partake in a whale watching excursion and it was easily the highlight of the trip. We jumped on a boat called the Alu Nui and, despite the cloudy weather, there were whales a-plenty. Even when we saw the arch of a humpback's back from 1 km away or the spout of a blowhole we were ecstatic. The whales and their calves had come to nurse in the warm waters before heading north for the summer. They are such magnificent creatures. Baby whales gain 5 pounds an hour. Male whales, or the dads, peace out after the calf is born and mama takes charge. But oftentimes there is a male escort who is not the paternal father but comes and acts as a bodyguard for the new family. It's amazing to think of. At the end of the two hour cruise we spotted a mama whale who actually rolled on her side and stuck her fin up as if to wave us goodbye. Everyone on the boat reacted on instinct and waved back and we had our connection to non-human nature.

It was a gorgeous afternoon when we drove along the windy roads to the airport. The afternoon sun is my favourite and it shone on the hills and ocean, reminding me of New Zealand. I have to tell Mike and Zoe that we were right - the drive to the Pancake Rocks is very similar to Hawaii. Wow, that feels like ages ago.

The journey home was a reflective one. It was indeed all over. No more 'last phases', no more hostels and hotel rooms. I'd been gone since December 28 and it'd passed by like a flash of lightning. Funny to think of the awkward girl standing on a street corner in King's Cross, Sydney, with no idea what was before her. The whole thing was easy enough to hold onto as a giant wave at Big Beach. 'How do you keep a wave upon the sand?' well, how do you hold onto such a fantastic adventure like the one I just had?

We took a red eye from Kahului to Vancouver where I was lucky enough to jump on an earlier connection back to Toronto. My luggage was on the later flight and for the first time in 3 months I was separated from my backpack - it was like missing a chunk of my soul.

Mahalo, Hawaii! What a perfect way to end my travels and reunite with my family. It was gorgeous to be there but also bitter sweet, as I knew it was the end of it all and I'd have to go home to reality soon. Now here I am and it feels like a faraway dream in my mind. I'm not very good with endings. Beginnings are scary and endings are sad, but it's what's in between that counts. Lots of people are telling me that but it still hurts. A friend, Andrew Lackie, told me that the depression will get worse when I really settle back in. Great, can't wait! There's only one place to go now, though, and that's forward...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Discouver Vancouver

I left you off in Vancouver where I reunited with my sisto. We stayed in a hostel downtown and awoke the next day to catch a ferry to Nainamo. The next day we went to the Crow and Gate pub in Nanaimo, such a cool old English pub.

The visit was short and sweet, Kate and I headed back on the ferry the next day to check back into the hostel for one more night. But before that, I messaged my friend Brad McGoey to see where he was, as I knew he'd been traveling as well and might be in Vancouver. Sure enough, he was, so we all met for dinner, including Kate's friend Erin and her Kiwi boyfriend. It was a great impromptu reunion with them! Brad, Kate and I headed to an Irish pub downtown where a homeless man sketched our portraits and we shared a pitcher. Those were our last few hours in Vancouver before heading out to Hawaii.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Back on home soil

I'm back. I can't believe it! I'm on Canadian soil. Yikes! It's been so long... I've done so much and now I'm back where people have Canadian accents, where the money includes the lingo 'toonies' and 'loonies', and where the weather is cold and grey. The cold ocean welcomed me from the plane -- from where I spent 14 hours locked in a seated limbo.

I actually was able to entertain myself better than on the United Airlines flight I took from L.A. to Sydney... I watched a few movies. They were: Star Trek -- yes I finally watched it. I loved it. Then I watched Up in the Air, and I really enjoyed it. I love Anna Kendrick. Then I subjected myself to torture by watching New Moon - the worst movie ever but I still sat through it (I had no other choice as I was craving R.P.). Finally, after tossing and turning and unable to sleep in the upright position I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox and loved it! It was kinda weird in parts but I love Wes Anderson and love how he reuses celebrities for all his movies. I was a little weirded out by the stop-motion animation but loved the characters.

It was 7:36am in Vancouver when I landed. I was so excited to see Kates but knew I had to go through the obligatory customs and baggage claim. Also, I wasn't sure my Kates was going to be there at the time I walked out as it was an early hour. Either way, I went through customs in a flash but waited 15 minutes for my bags. Finally, I claimed my little bag (it'd been with me through so much) and it made it back to Canada just like me. I headed for the exit, with my customs form in hand. I walked around the wall and down the corridor, already spotting the eager faces awaiting their relatives through the security doors.

In an instant I noticed the gorgeous blonde girl, holding two Tim Hortons cups and a box of 10 timbits! I was elated and raced past the ever-slow people to get to my sister. It was the best reunion ever. Kates had gotten me a French Vanilla Timmy cappuccino and we had the best shrieking embrace in the middle of the Vancouver airport. AMAZING!! I immediately began to spew stories like it was my J-O-B and Kates listened with anticipation and excitement. I was still reeling at being home. Jet lag started to encompass my cerebrum but I was alerted by being home and the reality of being home was sinking in - sadly.

We took a few trains and buses to get back to her friend's place - recapping all the way. Recapping is an understatement. How do you recap 3 months and a life-changing experience? There's still so much to tell. Either way, no one could have gotten a word in edgewise between us as we made our way to our hostel and checked into a 4-bed dorm. We made it in, napped, and I awoke to Kates saying her friend Andrew Lackie was enroute to meet us for drinks. I was sooo jet lagged but knew I had to force myself. Within 20 mins I was up, dressed, and drinking vino on this Vancouver Saturday night when Lackie arrived. He's this gorgeous family friend who's traveled through Australia also, so I had much to discuss when he arrived. Slowly but surely we all polished off our booze and made our way to a bar across the street.

If you've ever been jet-lagged by 15 hours and decided to make it to a bar, I applaud you. Apparently I took a nasty spill and botched my ankle. I don't actually need to add the 'apparently' as the evidence is obvious looking at my ankle this morning. It's a bit ravaged, with some nasty cuts and an obvious limp which doesn't add to my attractiveness at all.

We stayed at the bar for a few hours and danced, drank (Lackie decided to snap the neck of my beer bottle and it hurtled towards the ground, shattering into a mess of glass and suds), and headed out by 3am. I am not sure what time this is in Sydney but decided not to convert it for psychological purposes.

What a great night back! I love Canada and of course had no trouble going out and getting back into the swing of things in this great country. I really miss my travels and I'm so sad it's over. I can't begin to describe the weirdness of it all. I've been planning it for months and now it's done. I want to go back, already, and will do so. I've caught the travel bug... cough* cough*

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Brisbane, and the realization it's almost over

I`m having a bit of an episode... I`ve been traveling for 75 days and even though I still have another 14 to go, it`s really starting to hit me. I`m leaving Australia and going home - how can that be?! You get so used to a certain way of life and now, thinking about who I was when I arrived for New Years, I can`t believe all that`s happened and how I`ve changed.

I`m staring out at a beautiful urban landscape as I type this. I`m at my Canadian friend Felix`s place on the outskirts of Brisbane and his back deck overlooks a giant valley dotted with tropical houses and palm trees. It really is surreal for this Canadian girl. I`ve been staying at Felix`s for 2 days so far and leave tomorrow A.M. for Sydney. I`m happy I decided to finish the Australian part of the trip in Brisbane with friends. But it`s not over yet.

HAWAII HERE I COME! I can`t wait to see Kates in Vancouver, have a few days there with her where we`ll go visit our Papa on Vancouver Island, then fly to Hawaii with Mum and Kates for 10 days of relaxing on a beach. Can life get any better? Not that I haven`t had enough relaxing on the beach. Yesterday, armed with my Australian Open towel and a bottle of SPF15, I made my way over to Brisbane`s South Bank beach, a manmade watering hole where everyone seemed to be sun-worshiping. Perhaps this is because the weather here has been bad, save for yesterday when we all had a taste of sunshine. I spent several hours outside in the sun enjoying its strength, knowing I had to take it in before leaving Australia. I don`t think I`ll have another chance to sit on a beach before I fly out Friday morning (it`s Wednesday here right now).

Two days ago, after I left you off at the Koala Sanctuary, I went back to my hostel and got my bags, then decided to walk to Felix`s. It was only about a 15 minute walk from the hostel and, determined not to cab it, I threw my backpack on my back `Valderie, Valderahhh` and started walking. Brisbane is a very twisty-turny place. Within 5 minutes of walking I`d realized I`d taken a wrong turn. Add to this a ginormous pack, 30 degree heat, and full-on rush hour traffic and I was providing much needed entertainment for the rat race battling the afternoon roads.

At one point some older guy in his car noticed I`d taken a wrong turn onto a sidewalk that was ending and shouted out from his window `You`re a long way from Canada, eh?` He either saw the Canadian flag on my pack or just assumed I was Canadian thanks to my lack of direction. That set me off laughing pretty hard. From then on I was getting friendly, supportive honks, waves and shouts from other drivers as I tried to make my way back in the right direction.

45 minutes later I arrived at Felix`s and we had some much needed beer as we recapped what`s been going on. Felix is a close friend of Nina`s, the amazing Nina who helped me book my trip, and she`d put me in touch with him. He`s currently on a school exchange here from Montreal and is studying Business at a local uni in town. He`s only 20 but the age gap barely shows - maybe it`s because I`ve become more laid back since leaving Canada - haha. It`s so great to know people where you go and I`ve said this before but I`m really lucky to have had so many friends to stay with while on this voyage.

So here we are. Today I`m chilling and catching up on my internet time before heading out to meet my cousin, Teresa`s, friend Angela - another great connection! Then it`s Uber bar later on tonight and I`m debating whether to go, since I have to wake up tomorrow at 6am to catch my Sydney flight. Think of me at 8pm on Thursday night (that`s Toronto time) where I`ll be sitting on my plane to Vancouver. No, seriously, think of me. All the customs, security checks, and ground travel to and from the airport will be done! It will be so weird to leave and let the realization sink in that it`s all over. I`ll have 14 hours on a plane to think about it - yikes. So this may be my last blog from Australia. If I can get to a computer tomorrow or in the airport on Friday morning I will write again. Thanks for being a regular reader and I`ll be coming at you next live from Maui.

Thanks, Australia, for such a great time. I'll undoubtedly be back, maybe next year, maybe in a few years, but I'll be returning soon because I love it there and can't imagine a better place.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Avatar and Serenity

Dr. Reiffenstein figured out her issue - the snorkeling 'done me in'! It was definitely the snorkeling and scuba dive that made my legs go all freaky on me. I guess I'd never used those muscles before and that's why they decided to complain later on. This morning I awoke feeling normal, thank goodness!

Yesterday was a typical day spent mooching around an unknown city. I have a pretty good sense of direction so I set off without a map, leaving my hostel and heading for Starbucks. Then I wandered the streets of Brisbane, popping into shops and bookstores. I didn't feel like a tourist at all, which is a good goal for someone traveling on their own.

What would you do with an entire day to spend doing anything you want? I'd been wanting to see AVATAR since it came out, but hadn't anyone to go with during my trip. I'd seen Sherlock twice, and Shutter Island, and decided to buy myself a ticket into the much-hyped flick. I also treated myself to M&M's, the peanut ones please! and some popcorn. It was my lunch. Armed with a pair of 3D glasses, I made it into the theatre alone. If this sounds sad, well, it is a bit haha. The last movie I saw alone was Casablanca which was playing at Princess Theatre in Waterloo. It was relatively empty and I got settled in for the epic-length movie.

I really enjoyed it, but it was predictable and so similar to Fern Gully! Despite there being no 'Batty Rap', the general theme of FG reverberated throughout Avatar. They did a really good job with the effects and you get so used to the 3D after about 9 mins (very aptly put, KT).

Afterwards, I headed back to the hostel and met up with Leigh, Mary (a German girl in my hostel), and John, and we all went to RG's for $5 steak/fish and chips. It was so good! So much for my night of avoiding beer. I only had two, then we went to Pig 'n Whistle for a glass of vino. Mary and I headed back to the hostel around 11pm as we had a big day ahead of us. That's right, I just returned from the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Mary joined me for the first bit, but had to catch a bus to Rainbow Beach.

I actually got to hold a Koala! Her name is Serenity and she's just so cute and cuddly. She kept licking my hair and gripping my tank top strap - she was light but like a little ball of cuddly somethin', I love her! I have a picture taken and it's posted online here: but for some reason the link isn't working yet. I hope it starts to work, or I'll attempt to figure it out and post it in the next blog posting.

I'm back in downtown Brisbane right now and am meeting up with a fellow Canadian named Felix who has so kindly opened up his house to me for 2 nights! He's got 5 roommates but says the couch and/or hammock are free, so I have my choice. It will beat staying at Base again - and do you know what this officially means? It means I will not have another Australian hostel experience for the foreseeable future, as I'll be with friends in Sydney then off to Vancouver! WOW!

Vancouver and Hawaii are coming up fast and with only 3 full days left in Australia, I'm starting to get into the mind frame of leaving. It's really hard! I wish it was all starting over again. BOOO! I can't complain, though, it's time for life to go on but that doesn't mean it's not hard. I'll leave it at that for now.

PS, The internet cafe is for sure playing Big Shiny Tunes 2 - I still remember the song order of that CD and with Blur 'Song 2' having just completed, White Town 'Your Woman' just came on. Hmmm, must download that one when I'm back!
PPS, I'm now heading to Scotch and Soda, a clothing store from Europe with only 1 location in the Southern Hemisphere here in Brizzy!