Trans Mongolian Dreaming

 

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Stunning light as we crossed over into Mongolia

I was reflecting the other day on the fact that being in lockdown is somewhat reminiscent of being on the Trans Siberian Railway. I wish this was because I could see the Siberian wilderness outside my bedroom window, instead of my neighbours brick wall, but no. There is something in the forced stillness and need to be present just where I am that brings me back to the journey I took last September. So, it seems like the perfect time to finally write and reflect upon that beautiful time where I could be so close to people and also, through forced stillness, become closer to myself.

It would be fitting then to start with this snippet I found in my journal from the time, a few days into my journey.

“I find myself now with nothing to do, except look out the window and admire the view.
The land speeds by as we stay still, just being in peace with no tasks to fulfil.”

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I can’t say exactly when it was that I’d first learnt about the Trans Siberian Railway, but I know I was very young and that the wonder and intrigue it sparked in me was akin almost to the idea of a journey to the moon. My experience of train journeys up to that point had been that of piling into a crowded train of football fans with my brother and grandma, travelling in to watch Collingwood play at Victoria Park. The notion then of embarking on a journey in a rickety train across Siberia was almost too much for my tiny imagination to grasp. So, 30 years on, when my brother and his fiancé told us that their wedding was to be in Greece, a little seed of an idea started to form in my mind. Maybe, just maybe I could grab the opportunity to get up to Russia and take that train. Mongolia was another place I had always wanted to go to as well, plus, working as a tour guide, I was meeting more and more people from China and becoming very curious to see their homeland.

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I’ll spare the details of the tedious visa process (you have to send your passport away three times to attain a visa for all three countries- slightly stressful and expensive!). I opted to join a Gadventures tour, rather than book all of the train tickets myself. I’m so happy I did as it was lovely having someone who knew the system really well and could speak Russian, plus lovely having a beautiful community of 16 people from around the world to share the journey with. If I was to do the train journey again, I think I would feel comfortable now to save money and just book my own way through.

I could write so much about St Petersburg and Moscow,  I fell so deeply in love with those cities, vastly underestimating just how much they would take my heart. St Petersburg was like the lovechild of Berlin and Prague, while Moscow was like nowhere I’d been, an almost dystopian world of giant, stark, stalinist buildings; underground metro station-come-art galleries and big gardens with modern art and the most dazzling flea market I have ever seen.

The Train

I was very aware that I didn’t want to build up the experience too highly in my mind, before the journey. For one thing, I knew it wasn’t going to be super comfortable or necessarily incredibly dramatic landscape. In fact, I was actually somewhat looking forward to this idea of being uncomfortable, dealing with the cramped spaces and lack of food options etc. There’s something refreshing when your options are limited and creativity/ acceptance has a chance to flourish.

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Before we embarked on the train journey in Moscow, our guide had told us that it was a bit of a roulette in terms of what sort of train we would get on. Some trains are new and flashy with personal power points at each bed and proper flushing toilets. Other trains were older, more traditional rustic trains that had been in operation for decades. We were likely to experience a few different types of these trains, as we were disembarking for a couple of short stays along the way before China.

To my relief, our first train (and train we would spend the most time on), was old. It was as I imagined the Trans Siberian to be all those years ago- so rickety with furnaces and toilets that flushed out directly onto the tracks.

 

The first 90 hours of the tour, once getting on at Moscow, were spent on the train. That’s four days of non stop train, occasionally getting off to stretch our legs for 10 mins at various rural stations along the way. There was a list on the wall each day with the times that the train would stop, where it would do so and for how long. Each time, I would excitedly put on my shoes and down jacket and get ready for the breath of oh-so-fresh air and the chance to see local Russian people selling their wares.

MVIMG_20190926_142150~3The options were broad and also sadly often far too heavy for a backpacker. Smoked fish, extensive fancy tea kits, porcelain vases and my personal favourite, taxidermy ferrets and owls. I wonder how many people have walked back into their carriage after a stop with a new stuffed ferret to their name.

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In those 90 hours we travelled the equivalent distance of Perth to Melbourne and crossed five time zones. It took us just over halfway across Russia – Russia is big, did you know?  We had second class tickets for the whole way through. The second class carriages were comprised of multiple four person berths. A rather intimate space with two bunks and a tiny table. There was no room to be precious about the amount of space available and thankfully all the people in my tour were incredibly lovely to be around. There was a perfect flow in terms of time spent playing cards and interacting versus time spent in solitude, each of us respecting one’s need for both along the way.

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The landscape for the first few days of the journey as we travelled through the outskirts of Russia was gritty and interesting with many abandoned buildings and factories. So many stories to be told of all those little towns.

One of the most exciting things though for me in those first days was the walk up to the dining cart, at the top end of the train.

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The dining car in this train was incredibly charming. I squealed the first time I ventured in. I had stepped back into the 1950s. I was in heaven. Contrary to what I had originally imagined, I didn’t end up drinking much vodka at all. Beer was cheaper and even then I only had a few here and there.

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Being a vegetarian, there was only a minimal amount of options on the menu and I’d already planned on saving money and bringing my own food. I couldn’t go past the borscht however every now and then. Beer and borscht and cards and laughter really made for a lovely end to the day.

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One of the many delicacies on board.

To get to the dining cart we had to walk through three third class carriages. Each time you opened the door of one of these carriages, it was like stepping into a new world.

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Instead of the private berths in second and first class, the third class carriages were all open with as many bunks as could fit up the length of it. It felt almost intrusive walking up through these train dormitories, there were bodies everywhere. Sleeping people with limbs dangling off the top bunks, small children playing Uno, older ladies working through crossword books and all sorts of smells coming from people’s instant meals.

There was one particular older gentleman named Meder that I met on my journey through these realms. We smiled at each other on my first passing through, and then each time afterwards the greeting became more enthusiastic. He had a huge smile, punctuated by a couple of missing teeth and impossibly deep dimples. His sparkling eyes betrayed his childlike spirit and his joy for life was just so infectious. Meder’s english was as non existent as my Russian but we somehow managed to share tiny bits of information about ourselves. I was the first Australian he had met and he the first person of Kyrgyzstani origin for me. Meder left at one of the tiny stations in the middle of darkness on the third evening of the journey. He gave me a small chocolate when he disembarked and I cursed myself for not having any gifts on me to share with him and his family. While he waved goodbye from that night-drenched platform as my train crawled off though I realised, it didn’t matter I didn’t have a gift; the gift for each of us was that short, joyful connection we had shared. Two lives colliding for a brief time, both so different yet somehow alike, in our humanity and enthusiasm for connection. I wonder how he is doing now.

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To my utmost excitement, on the fourth morning as I opened up the window shade, I was greeted by a new world.

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“I have my mind and heart pulled out the window as we now cross into
Siberia and into the vibrant autumnal colours, birch trees, hills and
open rolling landscape.
Auburn, yellow, green the leaves
Brown and white branches of the trees.”

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I really had so much to keep myself occupied on the train- reading, cards, journal writing, drawing etc. At this point however, all I found myself wanting to do was just sit and look out the window; with a peaceful mind and a full heart. I could never get sick of the rhythm of the train- the clicking over tracks and the constant, gentle sway. I have a lot of energy so being forced into a situation where I just had to sit and be, this was something fairly new for me. I really, really loved it. I listened to music and watched the landscape shift; the houses began to look more like something out of a fairy tale. All wooden with colourful doors and fences, smoke coming out of the chimneys indicating life and warmth. Lakes and bridges, endless forests and the occasional abandoned factory.

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After four nights on the train, we arrived in Irkutsk. Here we were to stop for a couple of nights by lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake by volume in the world. (Apparently it has the combined volume of all five great lakes of the United States!) It was so exciting getting off the train and arriving at our cosy accommodation. Our sleep in that real bed that first night there was pure heaven. After two days though exploring the markets, local hills, sauna and lake we were all rather excited about the prospect of getting back on the train. We had gotten used to that life.

 

The second train that scooped us up on its way through was much more modern. It was lovely to experience the difference, but I did miss the rickety nature of the first!

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From the lake we travelled south, making our way into Mongolia. The landscape became more and more sparse as we travelled down and across into the steppes.

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We disembarked the train and stayed for a number of days, both in Ulaanbaatar and in the hills at a ger camp.  It was magic.

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Again, my prior knowledge of Mongolia was very limited. A highlight was visiting the 70 meter tall, oh-so-kitsch stainless steal covered statue of Genghis Khan in the middle of the vast and empty undulating hills of the steppes. I became fascinated with Genghis during my time in Mongolia. It’s hard not to, with the country revering him with such deep pride. There is an estimated 16 million male descendents of Genghis living today, so they assume he must have fathered hundreds, if not thousands of children. Busy bee.

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In our journey out of Mongolia, it started to snow. It was the end of September so still two months off winter. It was perfect. Seeing so many houses with gers in the backyard with drifts of smoke coming out their chimneys made my imagination sparkle. What were these people’s stories?  How did they spend their time? There is an estimated 25%-40% of Mongolians still living a nomadic life. Children will ride 100km  on horseback to boarding school at the start of the week in Ulaanbaatar and then have their horses sent back for them at the weekend.  These people with houses clearly didn’t live nomadically, yet the ger it seemed was still such a big part of their culture and warm place to gather in the darkest winters. Surely, the concept of ‘cosy’ originated in a ger.

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The border crossings both into Mongolia and then into China were something else. Armed guards entered the train and took our customs cards and passports. It was exciting and also somewhat nerve wracking. What if I hadn’t done my visa properly? I loved looking at the various outfits of either side’s customs officials and army representatives. Some of the guards looked like they could be 14 years old and at a costume party. I didn’t tell them that though.

Entering China was very exciting. We had to get off the train and remove all our goods and have them scanned through customs. They also had to change the wheel gauges as the track sizes are different. So fascinating! It took a couple of hours sitting in the station at the border in China and we were finally allowed back on the train just before 2am. I excitedly woke up the next morning early, eager to see the mountainous Chinese landscape. It did not disappoint though was different to what I’d expected it to be. SO many solar panels along the mountain sides and so many villages along the way. Each town we passed through had many apartment buildings with window after window after window of evidence of human life.

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Coming into Beijing was rather mind-blowing in that sense. I was excited to explore Beijing however was also somewhat sad to be leaving the confines of the train and forced stillness it had gifted me. It took a few days to settle in Beijing. Chaotic is not a strong enough word to describe how it felt at that station, after the peace of the train and space in Mongolia. But once I found my groove and changed hotels from the business centre to a hostel in the hutong district I felt much more alive.

There were a few times when I caught myself during the train journey and reminded myself that This Was It. I was ACTUALLY ON the Trans Siberian Railway. You tend to forget when you are in the moment travelling, that you are in that place you had dreamed of for so long. I would really love to do the full journey across, perhaps starting in the far east at Vladivostok and travelling all the way across to St Petersburg, next time, during winter. But there are so many other places to go and trains to take and people to meet. For now I am just here, in my room, looking out my window to the plants and the fence. It is not quite as inspiring, but i feel so lucky that I have had the experience such that now I can remember, reflect and escape my lockdown confines somewhat. It’s lovely to be reminded that while travel is so much about the inspiring, exciting moments in newness; it is also about an investment into future memories and stories for family members and friends locked at home, dreaming of another world.

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Happy camper in her tracksuit pant train uniform

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kite Flight Sight and Write

It’s been so long since I’ve found any inspiration for something to write. As scintillating as the wake, work, sleep cycle is, I just find I’ve been a little blunt of mind. Not surprising then that it would be when I am away on holidays in northern Queensland that that juicy inspired brain state should strike. It did take a few days though. Palm trees and warmth are all well and good, but I was still laden with the weight of the busy days leading up to my trip. I resented myself even more for not feeling any holiday fuelled creative spark, I just felt like a cliche even thinking of taking out my notebook and pen. Those white pages taunted me, “stop staring at us with your tired face and blank expression! You’ve got nothing!”

MVIMG_20191016_164249~2Today though, three days in, having given up on the hope of ever being inspired again, something happened. I was sitting on the beach, about to pack up and leave, when some movement caught my eye. To my right, a little further along the shore, a man was flying a kite. The wind had picked up and its chill had been the catalyst for my wanting to leave; but this same wind was the perfect song for the dance of the fluttering, white, joyful kite-bird. I felt my mind zone in and then, just like that, everything else ceased to exist and all there was was the movement of the bird on a string. With each dip and soar I felt lighter. It wasn’t even simply that the kite looked pretty, but upon deeper reflection, I found myself admiring the person on the other end of the string.

This man’s daughters were budding little architects in the sand, absorbed in their castle craft a short distance away- so his mastery of the toy was not for their benefit. He was simply flying the kite for the joy of doing so. I can’t remember the last time I flew a kite. I do remember the feeling of the weight of the wind against such a light object. I think the last few times I did it though there was barely any wind and we just sort of ran and dragged it along the grass. “Let’s go drag a kite” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

The inspiration that struck was not one that will lead to a new invention or a series of award winning novels, but it was a simple reminder to let myself stop. Trying to relax is not relaxing, it is just a reminder of our unrelaxed I am. I need to actively seek activities that have my mind disappear, or tune in acutely. I mean, this is nothing ground breaking. There isn’t any wonder that over the past few years colouring books for mindfulness have populated the shelves. Everyone knows that these simple activities bring deep, peaceful escape-be it colouring between the lines, or flying a kite on a beach in Cairns. I just always seem to forget these joys when I’m stuck in the hamster wheel, plus I guess it’s hard to fly a kite in the train on the way to work. But, I can put my device down for 2 minutes and become aware of my breath. Or, if I’m feeling particularly weird, look up at the person opposite me and watch them breathe, counting each one at them as they do so.

Taking Five.

I spotted this smiling, resting man the other day in the Yarra Valley 😀

Transformative Road Blocks

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I mean, life doesn’t always go as we plan it. When I read over my last entry I see that all too clearly! Past Emily, bright eyed, full of conviction in her decision to study Occupational Therapy last year, not having any idea how it would all play itself out. I caught up with a friend the other week that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Naturally, she asked me how my study was going, as this was the last real thing I had reported to the planet through the portal of my blog. The unfortunate snag in that plan however was the fact that I didn’t get accepted into the course. Funding cuts and whatever other reasons made it all just fizzle out as each round of offers passed by.

The truth is now, however, I’m so glad that I didn’t get in. While it took a little bit to reconfigure, it quickly became apparent that had I been accepted, I would not have been able to take on the other adventures and challenges that were coming my way. Working in the care industry for so long, it just seemed like a natural progression for me to step forward and become more qualified in that area, as I was feeling rather burnt out and also craving some more intellectual stimulation. Study just seemed to be the right fit. Plus, it would mean that I would have an excuse for not pushing my drumming business as much as I could and therefore not feeling guilty in myself that I wasn’t taking all the steps I possibly could in order to feed and nurture that dream.

Why do we trip ourselves up so much in our path to self fulfilment? It seems so counterintuitive.

I stayed in my care role, which afforded me exciting opportunity to go to Miami twice. That was such a special experience, being there to help relocate my client back home to be with his family, while also getting an insight into the crazy world of South Beach, padded undies and jeans with Butt Enhancement Technology. I knew once all that was over though that I had to move on. My passion was waning and I felt a little stuck. A friend of mine had spoken to me years ago about his time working as a tour guide and that memory had been germinating in the depths of my mind ever since. When travelling in Europe I had thought about how I might enjoy being a guide at some point, but upon returning home I got caught up in my beloved Australia Post role and then the convenient care support jobs were always there. But, the idea returned in June when talking to that same ex-guide friend again. So I got my MR licence, wrote to a few tour companies then by August was training with Go West tours.

I love it so, so much.

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Open plan office.

I can’t believe I haven’t thought of being a tour guide before?! I get to shepherd 24 unique people* from around the planet on day trips through all sorts of stunning landscapes, talking with and to them through my headset and choosing music that I (and I hope they) love.

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The clouds shift, constantly changing the colour of the water along the Great Ocean Road.

*Big families from Taiwan, sharing with me about their home and schools and the crazy nature of the streets; a sweet old Chinese man travelling so far on his own to giggle at the little penguins in Phillip Island- neither of us speaking the other’s language but finding connection through the adorable and vulnerable nature of precious creatures; beautiful Italian honeymooners shining in their love for each other and delight to be travelling Australia; a four year old Chinese toddler who picked me a piece of dry grass and implored me to “look after the flower” he’d picked at the end of the tour – I could write pages and pages of the various characters I’ve met on tours.

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A pair of honeymooners at Cape Woolamai beach.

I am so happy that I get to earn money doing something I really enjoy, while now having more time to run Boomshop. I am no longer feeling burnt out from work and therefore zapped of inspiration to follow other passions. I should write a thank you letter to VTAC and the Victorian universities for setting up that transformative road block.

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Watching people watch the 12 Apostles

When reflecting on my not having been accepted into OT I realise that there are so many people who would be make fantastic occupational therapists and that is why it is such a popular course. I too may have gone through and found joy in that career path, however I do feel there is something else much more tuned to Emily. This guide work is definitely a step in the right direction! I do look a little like a park ranger in my uniform and quite often get asked questions about animals/trees/the location of toilet blocks etc. I generally just go with it, trying out my broadest Australian accent in the process. “Gday matey! Yeeeah ‘course the dunnies are just round that corna behind the bushes! hahaha she’ll be roight mate just wotch out for them bloody snakes!”

Stay tuned for more tales from the world of Ranger Stacy.

 

On Quitting

I have quit quite a number of things in my life: judo, in grade one, when my pant’s elastic failed in front of a large crowd; ceramics, in first year uni, when my only ability with clay was to smoosh it down into a pancake and draw on it like paper; first year uni, when I realised my only ability in “youth studies” was to study the bottom of the cheap pots of beer readily at my disposal. But this blog post is not about any of this. This post is about when I quit my famed job at Australia Post.

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It was rather funny timing really, being asked to be on a promotional video to encourage more women to work in a transport role, days before I was planning to hand in my resignation letter. I couldn’t really say no to the request, plus I was sort of curious to see how it all played out- I do love these odd opportunities that seem to find me! As the interview progressed, however, I found it tough to find the appropriate levels of enthusiasm in the answers that I gave. I definitely did not find myself gushing about the joys of parcel collection and transfer-and I am known to gush about the most seemingly mundane things! But, as I sat there scanning for truthful ways to answer why it was that I loved my job, I was definitely solidified in my choice to leave it. After writing about the Big Red Tree 5 months earlier and finding inspiration for newness and excitement in life again, I had slumped back into routine, making excuses as to why it was okay that I was still in that role, but deep down knowing that I wanted something different/more. It’s amazing how long we can continue in a state of “I’m okay” when the potential for “oh my gosh I’m so great!!” is just a couple of steps away, potentially. Change is daunting and financial security is a selfish, needy partner that we can’t really remember ever being in love with. No, I get it. Money is important, especially when there are other people relying on us…but if the job we are doing is zapping alllll sense of “Me” from the equation and there is no space left for any creativity or joy then really, what’s the point? Are we alive to be just a cog in the machine? Or can we be a cog but also have a chance to step back and assess the machine/see beyond it/see the stars from time to time. I had lost sense of the stars.

So, I quit!

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7 year old Emily learning about the unfortunate combination of elastic failure and gravity.

It was amazing. Australia Post were a fantastic organisation to work for but it really wasn’t where I knew I wanted to be. I am a People person not a Sitting Alone in a Van person. I found ways to make it fun from time to time, but that inner voice asking me where I’d disappeared to couldn’t be ignored any longer! So, I took more tentative steps with my drumming business (and will write a blog about that unique adventure at some point soon) and am very excited for the future outside of the red van and high vis. I see the post vans on the street now and feel a bit nostalgic, giving the post boxes a loving caress as I walk passed them, wondering what curious smells are hiding inside; plus I miss the lovely people I worked with, but I have the strongest sense of relief to be on the other side of my resignation! I missed using the left hemisphere of my brain.

I am now waiting to see if my application to study Occupational Therapy this year will be accepted. It’s rather scary and exciting, having my future somewhat in the hands of the dream makers/breakers that are VTAC. Bizarre. Life really is/can be great. Even if not travelling the world, like I so truly madly love, I am still travelling through time; making decisions that empower future Me and that is exciting. Then from this, hopefully, being more qualified to help other people in transitions in their own journeys.

Last year was a tough year, but it gave me a real insight into how it is for people that do suffer from depression and who go through life feeling lost/empty or just feeling nothing at all. Life can be so tough, I’m grateful that I am surrounded by people who know me and support me. Family and community really, truly are everything.

 

Autumnal Coincidence

Autumn! Those red leaves, that delicious crunch. I seldom like to use the word ‘delicious’ beyond a food descriptor, but in the case of autumn leaves, it really is just what my feet are thinking! I was driving along, admiring the presence of autumn and I realised (seems to be quite a theme in my blog) that I can learn a lot from trees.

I feel lately I’ve fallen into a bit of a slump, putting off the things that fundamentally will build me up, ie. creativity and exercise. It is a vicious cycle as the slump makes me not feel like being creative or active but, by not doing these things, I end up feeling down and get deeper in the depths of the slump and so on. I can recognise it, but inertia grows and hovers, like a thick film over unstirred hot milk. It was all this that was playing on my mind as I was driving to work the other day.  Then, the sun came out and sparkled through the reds and oranges and final bits of green, letting Autumn pierce through my grey.

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I thought to myself, those trees will change no matter what is going on in my, or anyone’s, life. There is a truth beyond my own and somehow there is liberation in that! It lifted me.

Step beyond myself and into the realm of the autumn leaves.

After this little episode I turned on my audio book. A minute later, the narrator said, “as she stepped outside, noticing the Autumn leaves she thought to herself, no matter what war is raging, the leaves still change…” At first I just thought it was normal – of course that would be what comes on in that particular point in time. Then I realised I wasn’t a character in a movie and that this was delightfully, perhaps inspiringly coincidental!

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Just as the leaves change, so too can I get creative, no matter what society is coming to, or Trump slump I am inhabiting. The Earth just keeps on turning. We must embrace the moments, or else we just watch them all drift by.

Emily and the Big Red Tree

Sometimes, all it takes is for a big red tree to shake us from our treadmill state of existence. It has been over a year now since I returned from overseas. My travel blog has lain dormant and I hadn’t realised until yesterday that is some ways, Emily has too. For the past year I guess I have been travelling, but in a different, less awe-inspiring way. It has not been me with a backpack surrounded by Europe; but rather me in high vis work clothes surrounded by a big red Australia Post van. From the old towns of Eastern Europe to industrial areas of new Melbourne. I have still managed to find joy in the work I’ve been doing in my role as a PTO- very important ‘Parcel Transfer Officer’. It is great for my fitness, it does not drain me emotionally at all and I can choose all sorts of interesting podcasts to listen to (the other day I learned about how flea circuses worked- I never thought I’d feel sorry for a flea!). I also get to plonk around in giant work boots and wear a stylish, delicately hued, womanly shade of fluorescent yellow.

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One of the most interesting parts of my job is that I get to have a sticky beak into so many different types of work places; from giant bustling factory floors to boxy offices where the sound of fingers tapping at computer keys, coupled with barely audible whispered conversations, makes for a very snoozy environment. I also have the privilege of admiring the Friday fashions worn by the receptionist models, all ready to get heels-off plastered at their beloved knock off drinks.

To be honest though, the work is not at all intellectually stimulating and I do spend a lot of my time imagining about all the other things I could be do/lives I could be living and occasionally get a pang when I realise it has been a whole year of dreaming and,while I’ve made a few positive steps, all those dreams are still just that!

Yesterday, however, I was driving along and a big, beautiful explosion of red in the form of a tree shook me out of my robotic state while I was travelling along a Clayton street. It made me open my eyes and do a u-turn to see it again, properly. I had been driving along in a tunnel of routine, looking towards the pickup I was about to do from a post office. It was as though I had been squinting through the moment, ignoring everything that was present, attempting to see all future tasks and events. This magical red tree managed to reach into my head and snap me out of my machine state and reintroduce me to Emily, the human, who likes to write and draw and drum and sing and interact with groups of people. When I was roaming about overseas I was always in the moment, but something with this job had changed that! The Red Tree slapped me back into the Now and out from the eternal ‘Soon I Will, Then I’ll Be’ frame of existence.

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While I’ve been so happy in my life back in Melbourne, I’ve taken an age to settle in and my work-life and personal aspirations have been stuck a little in quarantine. I have been comfortable enough, which I guess has been the issue, as I haven’t had a great need to step up and out and try for more. But who wants to go through life being comfortable enough, when the opportunity is there to be so incredible fulfilled, inspired and satisfied beyond measure? Why settle for the treadmill of life when there are fields of splendour to walk, run and dance upon??

I needed that Red Tree, to remind me of Me.

It’s time for something new and I’m excited for what that will be!

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

So, sometimes travel isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Occasionally it is just storm clouds and rain without any bows. I was given some advice from a friendly stranger at a bus station in Turkey a few months ago which lead me to taking a bus that took me not to the airport like I had originally hoped, but to a bus station at least an hour away. Because of this, I got on another bus that took me on a tour through the back streets of Turkey’s own Footscray and I missed my flight.

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In Germany, a couple of months later I took some more advice from a “helpful” stranger on where to stand to wait for a bus I had booked to the airport. The signs were a little confusing and the man was so willing to help. When the bus came 15 mins late I showed my ticket to the driver and he said that I was holding a ticket for a completely different bus company. That bus, it turned out, hadn’t been 15mins late but had just arrived at bay 8 not bay 15 where I had been obliviously sitting, reading my book. The only thing left for me to do in order to make my flight was to pay the extra money and get a train. To say was a little frustrated at myself would be an understatement. I wrote this in my journal as I sat on the train that day…

A fury that burns like wild fire through the dry fields of my mind. Soaring through me as I storm back through the train station to buy another ticket, I weave my way through the rent-a-crowd of station inhabitants. Once on an equal, friendly plane to me, the general public now seem like a plague of locusts surrounding me, irritating and relentless. I can’t believe I let it happen again!!! This screaming thought takes over like an obnoxious police siren down a busy city street. Why do I seek help from strangers??! They only ever *muck* things up. I should trust my own ability to find an answer. Alas. I know people don’t ever consciously lead me astray…to err is human and to err with a helpful heart should be forgiven. In the end, I wasted no real time as the train is quicker than the bus. However it cost me an extra €25 when the bus was only €6- Im just throwing money away like it’s the end of the Monopoly.

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In hindsight, these moments never are that bad, plus, it’s good to remember the frustrating times as well as the good times- it wouldn’t be a proper travel experience after all if there weren’t at least a few disasters.

It’s funny, in missing a flight, the worst moments are those leading up to the flight-when there is still a minute chance that you might make it. The stress is palpable and the frustration like a hungry lion in a vegetarian restaurant. Once the flight has definitely taken off however, there really is nothing that can be done but to accept the fact that you were never even meant to get it anyway. Acceptance, flexibility and a sense of humour are definitely keys to happier, carefree travel/life. Continue reading

Happy HelpX

After i returned to the UK following an amazing summer back home in Australia I had a bit of time to fill before I started my new job. My other plans had fallen through so I had to come up with something new! I learnt about HelpX from a friend of mine and it had always been in the back of my mind as something I wanted to try. It is a brilliant way to see a new part of the country while also contributing to something beyond oneself in exchange for food and board. I was so excited when I received an email from Grant at The HoBB saying that they were happy to have me come and stay for the weekend. I must admit that I was a little nervous going to a strangers house for the weekend, however, the plethora of positive reviews on the helpX webpage by previous guests instilled me with great confidence that I would be in for a happy weekend. Indeed I was!

I was lucky enough to fit so much in the mere 3 nights that I stayed there. I learnt how to mix cement and build a wall, I gathered firewood, helped narrate a YouTube video, went to a folk music night at an old aerodrome, created milk bottle planters and ate many a hearty and delicious meal! I find myself daydreaming about that heavenly apple crumble far, far, too often.

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I could go on and on about the incredible projects that are in motion at the HoBB but I don’t possess nearly enough knowledge about them to do them justice. All my words would just get jumbled up in my mind when I attempted to do so and would end up with some nonsensical convoluted sentence like, “the HoBB is ahh…a sustainable aquaponic DIY home grown Welsh country rabbit hole wonderland. Cosy fireplace, fertile dream space.”

To give a sense of how I was feeling while I was there, here is an excerpt from my journal at that time.

The HoBB. Wales. March. 2015.
I must write this down while it’s still as fresh in my mind as the air is here in Wales. Where oh where do I begin? When I signed up to HelpX I had a vague notion of what it was that I wanted- but how on earth was I lucky enough to end up here? Am I still on earth for that matter?? Is this some enchanted elfin dream land?? The HoBB, it seems, is what you get when someone looks at their imagination, admires it and then actually lets it become them in real life. It’s one thing to have an idea and daydream about how lovely it would be for it to become real- but to actually go ahead act upon it and make it your reality is just taking life to the next level. The HoBB is a dream, nay a fantasy realised- and I am so, so honoured to be here!

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I got off the train in oh so chilly Knighton, in the heart of Wales. I was alone with my backpack, guitar and the knowledge that Helen from the HoBB-my home for the next 4 days- was going to collect me. The thought did pass my mind ‘what if no one comes to collect me? Will I seek refuge in a local free house??’ I felt a little like I’d gone back in time- I forget how old and charming the buildings can be here in the UK!

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Sure enough though, I was collected. Helen drove up and immediately upon seeing her, I felt warm and welcome and at home. We arrived at the HoBB and I found myself melting into the sheer charm of the place. There is a certain energy here and a sense of…light. Glorious, almost magical light across the hills at sunset- the bleats of the sheep in chorus, echoing across the valleys and the plains; and glorious light of my hosts with their enthusiasm, kindest and willingness to teach.

The HoBB is evidence that we shouldn’t just live our life but that we have the power to CREATE out life- a life that inspires us and has us bounding out of bed in the morning with the enthusiasm of a child.

Cosy, quirky, beautiful, inspiring.

❤️