After 28 hours - mostly in the air - I land at LAX, retrieve my mobile home, and make it through customs. I am greeted by my younger sister, and it is one of the best hugs I've had in a long time. It is utter confusion as we pull out into LA traffic - I keep thinking she's on the wrong side of the road, there is a ton of traffic, and I'm in a time warp delirium and barely able to communicate. Culture shock, jet lag, and 8 months out of the US could explain some of it! Add to that a phone call from a parental unit inquiring about where I'm going to live and I'm ready to turn in! The next day we head back to LAX from Burbank to pick up my older sister - we are reunited and it feels so good! It's off to Santa Monica to meet up with an old friend from high school and we head out to cure one of my largest cravings of the trip - margaritas and guacamole! Great day catching up and enjoying delicious things - the weather is perfect & the company can't be beat.
The next day we drove up to Santa Barbara for Easter dinner with my LA sister's friends. It is a beautiful house overlooking Santa Barbara Bay and we are given a very warm welcome and a reallllly comfortable bed. We decide to explore SB on bikes, and it is excruciating with all of the hills and my travel-atrophied muscles! It is a great little town, and we came across some natural areas, a craft market, and nice people. We make it back in time for a delicious Easter dinner, however! It's tough to leave, but we head back to LA on our way to San Diego - a sister cottage in Ocean Beach is waiting! I love OB, and we were able to relax on the beach for a few days. The water was freezing, but in I went :) Had to wake up those cells! Great sister time with dinner at our cottage, tapas at The Joint, taco Tuesday at a local... I even went to my first movie of the year - Captain America at one of those fancy theatres where you can sit in a comfy recliner! I had a feeling it would take a while to readjust to being home, but it was a great five days spent with sisters, and a perfect welcome back to the US. We ended with sunset drinks back in LA at the harbor - pelicans included! Next it was off to Plymouth, Massachusetts for a wedding... East coast here I come!
The Great Ocean Road has been a must-see for me for a while, and that is where we headed when the skies cleared. What a gorgeous, wild coast down to the 12 Apostles! We spent the night at Surfside Backpackers in Apollo Bay. It was so homey I felt like I was visiting my grandmother. Clean, cozy, dated... Perfect. They even had a resident (wild) koala. We got down to the Apostles in plenty of time to enjoy their magnificence, along with a few other awesome coastal overlooks.
After a tour of the coast it was back to Melbourne for an Australian Rules Footy match at MCG. Richmond Tigers vs. Collingswood Magpies - It was 96 to 67 (or something), but really I was interested in the uniforms, watching Aussie fans, and tasting the Carlton draught. Successful night at MCG :) We were staying with an Ambo friend in Geelong so we decided to head down to Torquay for some surfing & live music - the 2014 Rip Curl Pro was in town! Great crew of people and the singer had a beautiful voice. On our way back we stopped in downtown Geelong with some new friends and went to play a few games of pool. After just 2 games, we decided to call it a night and returned to the car to find the surfboard and all of our fishing rods gone. Talk about a bummer... Bugger that!
Our last day on the road was spent flying kites in Bells Beach, watching the pros, and checking out the surf outlets - our losses of the previous night forgotten. Our plans to camp on the way back to Sydney were rained out, so we drove the entire 850km straight through over about 11 hours. I don't recommend this - there are kangaroos out there and they will jump in your path! Plus, the temptation of Magnum ice cream bars and grapefruit soda is very high after the first 8 hours, and the resulting sugar high could make you crazy! We did make it back physically unscathed, but our mental states were questionable!
I spent my final day in Australia checking out downtown Sydney - and it just so happened Will & Kate were also in town. Yes, it was very crowded by the Opera House. I got to reunite with an old friend from my time at University of Queensland, and after saying goodbye to Aussie #1 he took me out to show me his Sydney. Fun town, but the 28 hour trip home was weighing on my mind a bit, so it was a short tour! I was headed back to the US after all this time, and I was going to have plenty of time on airplanes for some reflection. It was a grueling 11 hours to Seoul, Korea followed by a 4 hour layover, and another 11 hours to LAX... And I got back in the same day!? At the end of the rainbow my sisters were waiting, so US here I come!
The flight to Sydney was what you'd expect - looong. Even coming from Kuala Lumpur it feels like you are truly going 'down under'. But it was all worth it when I walked out to the lobby and a smiling Aussie #1 was waiting! Nothing like getting picked up at the airport by a friend! It's great to reunite, and I was immediately ushered off to an "Ambo" bar in Penrith to get my first dose Aussie culture. Wow - what a place! It was a theme for my time in Oz - Aussie #1 is a paramedic (Ambo), and knows them all over the country. That weekend I was also invited to an Ambo engagement party in Magras Hill. I got to dress up for the first time in a while, and it was great to feel like a lady!
Aussie #1 has time off, so we decided to the coast and camp all the way to the Great Ocean Road. The weather wasn't looking promising, but we packed the car with tents, toys, and plenty of food and hoped for the best. Our first night was spent camping at Brou Lake and fishing in the Tasman Sea. The rains came, and we stuck it out but caught nothing. I woke up freezing to a soggy campsite - I would have to invest in some pants and a few more layers! Aussie #1 had friends in Moruya, so we headed that direction for lunch and my first western food in a while! We even bought cheese from Bodalla (mmmm), a local dairy. That night we camped in Cape Conrad, where there was more fishing (and the “big one” seaweed scare) and sightings of possum, potoroo, wallaby, kookubura, magpie, seal, and PELICAN! More rain, however, and the forecast was not favorable for the coming week.
Day 3 we made it to Melbourne, and it was still raining. So much for this camping road trip! We sucked it up and stayed in the largest backpackers I've ever seen. I felt like a sock in a drawer, but it was at least a warm drawer! Aussie #1 and I toured the city in the rain, had awesome burritos (yay!), and went on a live music hunt. Melbourne is a great city - lots of people, multicultural, tons going on. There was a slice of sun in the forecast, however, so we cut our time in the city a bit short. It was time to head to the Great Ocean Road for the 12 Apostles!
It's a late arrival back to KL, but I manage to catch a bus to Chinatown, picking up 2 wayward Russians in my path. At 3am we arrive to a sleeping Chinatown and are forced to wake up the proprietor of the Birdnest Guesthouse. Lucky for the Russians he has some beds. I was up early to find the Gleneagle Hospital. It's on the bus line, so I head east. The place was humming and I waited a while despite having an appointment. I saw the doctor and they sent me away with a prescription for the Rabies shot. I walked next door, waited to buy the shot, and headed back to the other waiting room. I'm back with the nurse, and the injection is quick (but not painless!). Finally my rabies adventure is finished. Malaysia health care is a bit pricier, and this time the visit costs $235. One expensive monkey! It was a rainy day, so I hit the Central Market, and my favorite food stalls in Chinatown for curry laksa and coffee. There were a bunch of Aussies at the Bird's Nest that helped me prepare for my next 2 weeks... an adventure in Oz!
Friend: "I love the term rucksack. Sounds very primitive and pioneering."
Me: "That's pretty much how I feel at 11pm walking down a street full of tourists, neon, ladyboys, pole dancers, ping pong show pushers, and drunk Australians. Primitive and pioneering."
We moved onto Patong from Phrang Nga via two buses and some wandering with our rucksacks through Patong's hot, crowded streets. The city is built up and full of tourists. I am already missing the peaceful beach of yesterday and that delicious papaya salad. We settle into our guest house, which is a bit off of the a main drag, and head out into the madness. Had dinner with some friends of Czech #1 and finally had a little Pad Thai. Just okay, but the watermelon shake was delicious. We attempted some shopping and I had some major negotiation fails so I went away empty handed - probably for the best! The walk down Bangla Road (main party drag) left me ready to hit the Family Mart and run back to the room. The next day we rented a motorbike and escaped to the end of the peninsula. We found Na Harn beach and enjoyed our last meal watching some boats come and go in the harbor. Unless you are into the total party scene, I would recommend moving a bit south of Patong - much better vibes.
Back in Phuket for my bus to the airport - a warm goodbye with Czech #1 and I was headed back to KL for injection number 4 - oh the excitement!
The breeze on the longtail boat was a welcome change to the stifling heat of our guest room. Tonsai was behind me, and I was feeling better. Czech #1 and I were headed to Phrang Nga to see Ao Phang Nga National Park. After a much longer bus ride than we imagined, we arrived to the tiny town of Phrang Nga. We had a nice guest house - complete with electricity and windows! Our first step was to find some wheels. We rented a motorbike from a local, and went off to find some nature. It felt great to be back on two wheels. We found a nice hike nearby, and enjoyed caves and waterfalls. On our way back we came across the Heaven and Hell temple. It was dusk, the temple was deserted, and it was unbelievably creepy. We climbed up to a crazy view from the top, dodging bats all the way up. There was a fire breathing dragon, morbid statues staring at us, and very large animals everywhere. We made it out alive and perhaps a bit more enlightened about our daily struggles with heaven and hell... on earth. A memorable first temple experience! Back in in Phrang Nga we found a nice local restaurant and enjoyed red curry soup, mango sticky rice, and great conversation. It was wonderful to reunite with a beautiful friend.
The next day we motorbiked it out to the Dan Pier to find ourselves a longtail boat. We booked through the National Park office, and Lim picked us up for our own personal tour. We rode by James Bond Island, but didn't stop since it looked a bit like a tourist trap. Instead Lim stopped off for swimming on a small island, took us through a cave, and stopped by a Muslim fishing village/island that was touristy, busy, and a bit stinky. That afternoon we took a motorbike ride to Natyai beach. Halfway there there was a rainstorm, but we were lucky to be driving by a coffee shop! We had lunch by the sea on a beautiful, quiet beach and witnessed a ceremony. There was a nice sunset on the ride back to Phrang Nga town, but the ride was a bit terrifying since it was getting dark. After a few close calls with very large trucks and buses we arrived safely back, and I vowed never again to motorbike in the dark! The next day we were off to Patong Bay - exciting but all I could do that night was lie in bed and think about my pending flight back to the US 2 weeks later... so soon! The resulting insomnia attack was not to be my last...
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference & a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born.
Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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