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Reflecting on Agonda and last few days in Anjuna

So the last two times I’ve blogged, I did it after our experience in the particular town. However, this time I’m still in Anjuna and will be for another few days.
Anjuna is a relatively small area with a beach and not much else surrounding it, in that aspect it’s very similar to Agonda. Apart from that though, it’s like being in two different worlds. 

While there wasn’t much to do in Agonda, I didn’t feel bored or frustrated or as if I was wasting away my days by just sitting in the lounge all day. In Anjuna, we’ve still got a fair few days ahead of us here and I find myself wishing we’d stayed a bit longer in Agonda and shortened our stay here.

Our hostel in Anjuna is called Red Door Hostel and is costing us a whopping 2000 rs a night. It’s close to the beach, but not a stone’s throw away like our hut in Agonda, which makes leaving the hostel ‘a thing’ if you catch my drift. We’ve been here for about a week now and have not even once put on our swim gear and chilled by the ocean. 

The first four days in Anjuna, we went out every night to party (which is what we came for) and by the fifth night, we were spent. While it was an amazing few nights, I sometimes found myself wishing for a quiet drink at a bar somewhere. Must be the age, I guess? 

So after we got fed up with partying, we started looking for things to do to fill up our days. Well, there’s not much going on around here except partying.

We walked to Baga and back (about 11km, keeping up the fitness!) Baga is bigger and younger and busier than Anjuna but the vibe overall is the same. I’m glad we ended up in Anjuna instead of Baga because it would’ve been too much for me after Agonda, as Anjuna is still relatively quiet and relaxed.

Yesterday, we walked to Arambol (20km) in under four hours. The walk itself was busy (no back roads or trail to follow) and uninspired, we had no desire to walk back even though we initially planned on it.

Arambol is a very hippie and relaxed place. The feel of it is worlds apart from Baga and Anjuna. And still, we only stayed an hour or so before we hopped on a bus to Mapusa (30 rs) and on a second bus back to Anjuna (20 rs.) 

Having walked around quite a bit, I feel more at ease in Anjuna than when I first got here but I still don’t feel “comfortable.” It’s not a very nice feeling and I didn’t realise I could feel like this because in all of my years traveling (heading towards five!), I’ve not really felt like this before.

Traveling can be unsettling at times and sometimes it’s hard to adjust to a place, but after a few days (or hours), you inevitably end up in some sort of comforting routine. 

In Agonda, we would have a morning pot of coffee, then we would either walk down to Saxony, where Dane’s mom was staying, or laze around at our place. The 2 km road was a familiar sight after only a few hours, and we got to know the people behind the stalls, the best places to grab a coconut for a refreshing drink and felt at ease with how we spent our time there.

I guess I feel very out of place in Anjuna and we haven’t really fell into some sort of routine here (not that I think that’s essential to traveling. If anything, you travel to break routine. I’ve just observed how having some sort of routine to my day while traveling has made the experience nicer for me.)

Most days we wake up and don’t really know what to do. I can’t speak for Dane but I think we’re both looking forward to leaving this very westernized part of India and travel up north to meet up with an Indian friend we made while in New Zealand (the very same who shared a room with us when we first met.)

I’ve tried very hard to give this place a chance and to not let my negative thoughts cloud my vision. I’ve had fun here and I’m sure we’ll go to one or two more parties before we leave, but I won’t be sad to go. 

Agonda was a slice of heaven I could’ve stayed in a long time. (Dane feels different about this, he reckons he would’ve gotten bored. I’m sure I would’ve eased into the slow lifestyle and caught up with my writing and drawing.) Anjuna is a “weeks tops party town” I’m eager to leave.

Do I regret coming here? Nah, not at all. It’s still a nice place and it gave me some memorable times I won’t forget.

Next up: Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Pushkar and Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan (the desert!) After that, it’s one more month in the Indian Himalayas before we make our way to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. 

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Agonda, Goa

I’m sat in the shade at a lovely hostel in Anjuna, Goa. I’ve lost all track of time; I don’t know what day it is or how long I’ve been here but I know that I should make use of this bit of time I’m having to blog about the last two weeks I was in Agonda.

So we flew from Delhi to Dabolim airport, which was a comfortable two hours or so (I honestly can’t remember.) The difference in heat was apparent immediately; whereas Delhi was unexpectedly cold at times, Goa is sweltering hot.

About an hour to two hours from the airport lays the tiny town of Agonda. I had no idea what to expect since Dane was the main organiser of our time here in Goa. Well, he did a great job!

Apart from relaxing on the beach, eating delicious food and drinking a bit, there’s not much else to do in Agonda as it literally one straight road next to a beach (about 3km long.)

It took a few days to get used to, but once you get settled into the slow lifestyle, it was hard to leave. I started drawing a bit more and ideas starting crawling in my head of stories I wanted to write.

Dane and I walked to Canacona/Chaudi a few times, which is 21km (there and back.) We took a bus once from Chaudi, which was only 10 rupees! A tuk tuk would’ve been at least 200 rupees. We only paid for a tuk tuk once from leopard valley (between Palolem and Agonda, where there’s a market every Wednesday), other than that we walked everywhere.

Dane’s mam came out to Agonda as she hasn’t seen Dane for over three years, and it was my first time meeting her as well. She’s positively fun to hang out with and I felt immediately comfortable around her. I absolutely loved meeting Julie and look forward to seeing her again (probably in Australia.)

Dane’s dad and future step mom came out a few days later (this was the second time I met them, the first was a week long road trip on NZ north island.) It was really nice seeing Kevin and Sharon again. All three of them were so generous and kind as always.

Our hostel/lodge was called Duck N Chill and though the place wasn’t flash, it was amazing. Our hut was very basic but it’s all you need in Agonda. We had our own little porch that could be closed off by curtains and when you leave the hut, you’re walking on beach sand. 

The lounge area was inviting and cosy (and right in front of the beach), which is where we spent most of our time if we weren’t at Julie’s place or spending time with Dane’s dad.

The place had been wrecked about two months before and we’d been worried we’d lost our money or if the place wouldn’t be running properly but all was fine at Duck N Chill. There were so many bad reviews on tripadvisor which is curious because it’s honestly one of the best places I’ve ever stayed in my life and the food was gorgeous.  

Whereas we ate mostly street food in Delhi, Agonda was our first real experience with authentic Indian food. There were a few dishes here and there which weren’t my favorite, but quality wise, I was enjoying all of them. The naan is to die for, and I could eat curries for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I tried a few Israeli and Chinese dishes as well and was in a state of absolute bliss. The only dish I didn’t like was the Indian yoghurt called Raitha. Yuk, never eating that again!

Time flew by so fast while we were in Agonda even though we weren’t doing much. We spent our last night in a bar I can’t remember the name of but they made the most amazing cocktails ever, and even served me another drink for free (leftover in the blender.) We met so many nice people there and it suddenly dawned on us that we had to leave the next day.

There were so many little things about the place that I loved. Our lodge had a few cats about and there was one kitten that was absolutely adorable and hung around us all the time. Seeing cows walking about everywhere you go is pretty neat. Even dodging traffic and learning how to barter was getting to be fun. We even ran on the beach a few times because we’re trying to stay fit (but goddamn it’s hard to motivate yourself haha.) Apart from the alcohol, at least we’re eating healthily.

After a bit of going back and forth, we decided against taking the bus-train-bus route to Anjuna (which would’ve been about 100-200 rs) and snagged a taxi for 2000 rs (most were asking 2500.)

This is really something we should be doing a bit less in the following months though as we need to start looking at our budget a bit more. Our budget in India is about 1600 rs a day, which was easy to stay under in Agonda because we paid for our accommodation before we left New Zealand as well as the fact that Julie and Kevin were often paying for our meals and drinks (thanks guys!)

Our accommodation here in Anjuna is 1000 rs which leaves us with only 600 rs for food and everything else which is a bit hard considering we came to Anjuna to party … hard. Needless to say, we’ve been blowing our budget every single day and compensating on food (no need for transport and water costs here, we still walk everywhere and the hostel offers free filtered water.) 

It was difficult for me to adjust to the busier atmosphere here but after a few days, I was alright. I felt so safe and comfortable in Agonda that it was kinda sad to go back to being on guard and careful all the time. It’s India after all … 

It’s been about three weeks since we left “home,” and I still find it odd to think of Queenstown as home .. I mean, where do you draw the line in calling a place home? Is it time related? Roots? A feeling?

I haven’t missed it much considering I’ve been enjoying myself and there’s so much adventure ahead of us. But whenever I see a picture of Qtown on Facebook, I think “ah home” with lots of love in my heart. But I don’t regret leaving, because even though I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, I’ve never traveled in non-western countries and it’s been so great already. It’s such a different experience to traveling in North America and Europe.

It’s going to be an amazing eight months.

Agonda : 5/2 – 15/2 

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Delhi

So it’s finally here. I lived and worked in New Zealand for nearly three years and plans were made and rearranged, cancelled and made again and at this very moment, I’m writing to you all from an incredibly comfy couch at a lounge overlooking the beach at a small village in India called Agonda.

 So what was Delhi like before we got to this magical place? There are honestly no words. I thought I’d be fine dealing with culture shock until an hour into arriving in Delhi and all of my thoughts could be summed up by “Get me the fuck out of here.”

Delhi is busy. Unimaginably busy. And there’s rubble everywhere, dilapidated buildings where people live .. stray dogs roam the streets, as do cows and goats and cats.

Our pre paid taxi ticket server tried to rip us off 30 minutes after landing in India. Men stared at me … non stop. No matter if I was wearing long jeans and a shirt, or a long dress and a shawl to cover my shoulder and arms. Everyone is ‘friendly’ but nothing is for free and everyone has an ulterior motive. You can literally not walk down the street without being approached several times and it’s always the same dig “nice tattoo, where are you from, where exactly, what are you doing today,etc” and then they’ll either direct you to a tourist center where you cannot get a free map as promised or they turn out to be a tuk tuk driver.

I don’t mean to be so negative about Delhi. Once I got used to the place, I learned how to cross busy highways without being hit. I got used to the stares and used to the prices. We got used to being asked to go on pictures with people.  Dane and I have become more aware of how things work around here, and for me, I guess I stopped taking it personally. 

So we only spent three nights in Delhi but became accustomed enough to forgo the tuk tuks and started taking the metro everywhere. And boy, did it lead us to some amazing places.

The place we stayed at was Maurya Hotel in the district of Karol Bach. We were originally staying at Guatam Delux but upon arriving were told it was closed for maintenance. Having heard of the many scams in India, we were sure this was going to be one of them but the staff at both hotels were more than helpful, even giving their personal phone numbers. 

Karol Bagh is a mixture of residences and shopping areas. The market is absolutely massive and we indulged in so much street food of which the names are hard to remember so I can’t recommend anything to you. We ended up having two meals in two different restaurants during our time there (and came to the shocking conclusion that everything is taxed .. whoops!) Everything else we ate was street food, and God, is Indian food lovely!

I don’t have much to say about Connaught Place as we didn’t stay there for a long time. It’s a few expensive shops in a big circle. The area looks quite interesting but I didn’t even dig out my camera to take a few snaps there.

The lotus temple and Ghandi memorial/museum left more of an impression on me. Surprisingly, despite being major tourist attractions, it didn’t feel as busy as the rest of Delhi. 

My favorite part of our few days in Delhi was our visit to the Akshardham Temple. Mobile phones, cameras, etc were not allowed and I couldn’t have been more gutted. It was indescribably beautiful. Walking up the temple … And then going inside .. And walking around the other structures … It is by far the most beautiful man made structure I’ve witnessed in my entire life. The detail, the shapes, the ornaments, .. It was immensely impressive.

So yeah, there you have it. A short blog entry for our days in Delhi. I’m going to try to keep up blogging about our travels (unlike my three years in New Zealand where I had loads of new experiences but never seemed to blog about it .. I don’t even know why. Possibly because it felt like home to me and nothing “special.” Which it was, obviously but still …)

No pictures are included in this post, I know .. I have no laptop so I might include them later but until then .. Namaste friends.

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Four Years of Travel

Four years ago today, I stood sweating and swearing in the middle of a busy train station in Perpignan, trying to figure out which train would go to Argèles-sur-mer, a small town nestled between the mountains and the Mediterranean ocean close to the border of France and Spain.

Three months prior, I’d received a job offer to work as an Assistant Manager at a campground in said little town. The journey ruined my first ever and incredibly oversized suitcase and ended with a very painful twisted ankle before I even worked a single day. Not even a month later, I found myself home bound in a bus, defeated and ashamed.

My travel story starts about seven months before that moment, researching Canada and Working Holiday Visa’s online. I’d wanted to go to the US but I couldn’t work there and I soon became obsessed with all things Canada.

I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to just do it; I don’t recall clicking the button to confirm anything. I only remember the years of dreaming about traveling, I remember the conversation I had with Edward, a guy I worked with at my first job at an Irish Pub, that instigated the thought that maybe, just maybe, it’s not as impossible as people make it out to be. After all, if you can work and earn money to support yourself, why would it be so unfeasible?

So when I got fired from my second job as a Sales Advisor, I applied for a seasonal job in France, not thinking I would actually get it, while waiting to depart to Vancouver in Autumn. The whole experience was confusing, exciting and terrible at the same time. There were many days where I felt homesick, but there were also days where I regretted booking that return ticket. Most of all, I felt incredibly unprepared.

I considered cancelling my flight to Canada, but pride and determination stopped me from doing so. Nervous as hell on the way to the airport, I was thinking about all my past failures. What if I don’t like it? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I can’t find a job?

Four years later, I’m living in New Zealand and have done for the past two years. Getting on that plane was the best decision I’ve ever made. My life has changed immensely, in more than one way. The past four years have offered me so much, not all necessarily good, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I cannot express the gratitude I have for this life.

So what exactly have I been up to for the last four years? I use to update weekly, sometimes even daily when I first started out and now I barely manage to update once a year. So here goes!

July – August 2012 : Argèles-Sur-Mer, France

Well, you know how the trip started and ended but what about those 30 something days in between? I spent a lot of time on my bike exploring the neighboring towns, lounged on the beach a few days, went horseback riding and got lost while running and consequently ran my first 10K. Oh yeah, and I did work for like 5ish hours a day. Although I did get along with the other girls at the campground (I had no real co workers, they worked at the neighboring camp but lived in the same place), I made no lasting friends and have not heard from any of them since. I was kinda a loner …

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Video: France

 October – December: Traveling around British Columbia, Canada

It was raining when I arrived in Vancouver and jet lagged as I was, I blocked my own credit card and was now stuck on the other side of the world with no money and only two days accommodation sorted. My first reaction was the wallow in self pity like I’d always done before. “Why does this always happen to me?!” It all worked out in the end, sorta, and I ended up traveling around BC for three months until the situation was mostly resolved.

I WWOOF’ed in Vancouver, Victoria, Grindrod and Killiney Beach. I took care of elderly people, babysat young kids and every now and then, I’d actually do some farm work in between. I sorted through my first bout of homesickness after two and half months and wrestled my way through convincing myself to go home yet again. I drank copious amounts of coffee and discovered Tim Hortons; I bagged carrots, felted my first hat and made my own muesli; I learned how to make my own fruit roll ups, discovered Bowen Island and made friends I am very much still in touch with. After three months, I decided I wanted to stay and booked a ticket to Banff, Alberta.

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Video: On the way to Vancouver ❤

Video: Vancouver, Victoria, Grindrod

Video: Grindrod, Killiney Beach, Vernon & Kelowna

+ More Videos on my YouTube Channel !

 December – March : Work for stay, work for money and jobless in Banff

I arrived in Banff on the eve of the supposed end of the world and made even more friends on the bus and at hostels. Despite my reclusive nature, I was making friends left, right and center and snagged myself a work for stay gig at the HI on Tunnel Mountain Road. The HI is where I met my good friend Radka, whom I’ve met up with in France, New Zealand and Fiji since then.

Those few months were filled with hilarious sober and not so sober work days, Sunday Fundays with the locals, impromptu (terrible) movie nights, amazing dress up pub crawls, sunset hikes on Tunnel Mountain, bathing in hot springs, tobogganing nights where I got concussed .. all round hilarity and fun with fellow ‘vollies.’ I got myself a real job after a few weeks but quit after only a week (haha!) and stayed at the YMCA Hostel for 7 weeks where I completed my first novel, Asphyxia. Well, I pretty much completed it while drinking coffee at Tim Hortons. After which I went back to volunteering at the HI.

History repeated itself when I booked a bus ticket to Seattle when I first got to Banff and I found myself not wanting to leave this little mountain town, but I was also really excited to travel down the West Coast of the USA!

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 Video: Beautiful Banff ❤

Video: Making Lifelong Friends

Video: Fun Times at the Hostel

+ Many More Videos in Banff

March – June 2013 : West Coast USA

Washington

Ah .. How do I recap those three months in a short paragraph? So much happened in so little time, both physically and psychologically. I guess I’ll never be able to really explain any of my adventures in a few short words, so I’ll just .. recap it haha.

I started off in Seattle where I met a few goofy characters, walked to Kurt Cobain’s old place, went up the Space Needle, visited the Gum Wall and chilled at Pike Place Market.

After that I spent a few weeks at Milktopia, a wwoof’ing gig 10 miles outside of Forks, Washington (yes, the Forks ..) where I was responsible for watching goats eat grass for eight hours a day. The shack made out of recycled materials had no running water or electricity. It took some time to adjust, but once I did, it became an amazing experience. I drank out of the river, ran in the rain forest, bathed in the Bochagiel River, had some enlightening talks with my hippie hosts, and drank some moonshine with an old man who turned out to be an amazing conversationalist.

Video: Magical Washington

Oregon

Oregon brought with it the lovely, green and hipster Portland where I spent many days running and hiking in the woods. It’s one of my favorite cities I’ve visited so far and would love to go back there one day.

After my week in Portland, I ended up 10 miles outside of Gold Beach and 3 miles up Kimball Hill at a place called ‘Cloudplay Homestead.’ It was the best wwoof’ing experience I had out of all of them. Brent and Scott, my hosts, were extremely inviting, open minded, generous and kind. A fellow wwoof’er joined me a few days later by the name of Heather, who also made an incredible and lasting impact on my life. There are no words to express how happy I was in that place .. The simplicity of those few weeks hiking in the Redwoods, drinking wine while playing cards, swimming in the river and enjoying the sunsets on the hill were divine.

I’m actually still in touch with my hosts and they have recently sold their property which really saddens me (but I’m happy for them) because I really wanted to go back there one day. I ended up extending my stay, thus shortening my stay at the last farm in California.

Video: Hipster Portland<3

+ More in Oregon

California

Fort Dick is situated next to Crescent City, the place where my book takes place (and yeah, the reason why I went there) and home of Ocean Air Farms. Short but sweet, I had a lovely time on this farm planting onions, exploring the Redwoods and running alongside the ocean. Chris, an intern at the farm, gave me a ride to Eureka where I got a bus to San Francisco, another favorite city of mine. I ran my first race and earned my first medal here and fell in love with the unique city after only three days. I ended my three month trip in Santa Monica/Los Angeles and ran my first half marathon. The week in Santa Monica was a bit of an anti climax to the trip. I was mostly bored and spent my birthday alone, without any of the many friends I made along the way, on a Hollywood Tour in LA. I was happy to go back to Vancouver, a 36 hour bus trip away …

Video: Loving San Francisco ❤

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June – August 2013 : Vancouver – Banff – Vancouver Island – Montréal

I spent a few days in Vancouver visiting friends I made while I was there 7 months prior (see, I did make friends!) before I headed back to Banff. I spent a few weeks in Banff while I experienced my first flood and went back to doing work for stay.

Pretty spontaneously, Radka decided to quit her two jobs for the year and we hitch hiked our way to Vancouver (because no busses were running due to the flood) to eventually end up on Vancouver Island. We spent the following three weeks traveling around the Island to Victoria, Nanaimo and Tofino and eventually went back to the mainland to Whistler and Oyama.

These few weeks of traveling are very dear to me and I think of them very often. Hiking, running, ocean biking, lake swimming, laughing, cherry picking, hitch hiking, all round foolishness and my first ‘Canada Day.’ It was all pretty freaking amazing. Ah yeah, I also lost my purse containing my wallet, phone, passport, everything and my first reaction wasn’t the usual self pity .. It was “Alright, I’ll contact the right people to block my bank account and get the embassy to sort out the passport thing and you know .. that’s all I can do” and relaxed for the rest of the day. Like, for real, that’s what I did. Talk about growth!

After a quick stop in Banff (snuggle party!), I boarded a 3 day bus (!!!) to Montréal to work on my last farm. Days were spent getting up early to cycle 20K to the farm, pick some beans, get eaten alive by sandflies, goof around on the field and cycle 20k back to the house and eat some delicious meals after a cool swim in the pool.

The last 10 days in Canada were spent getting a septum piercing, running my first Color Run and spending my last few dollars on an oversized Incubus sweater I never wear. I also took a metro and a bus to an abandoned building, went to the top and sat there for a few hours with a bunch of strangers and some beers (filed under: maybe not the best decision but I didn’t die so its okay?) I ended up underestimating the bus fare to the airport (blocked bank account, no money!) and scrambled together a few euros I found in the hostel I stayed when I first arrived in Vancouver (!!!) and exchanged them in the bureau next door. And that pretty much concludes my time in North America.

Holy shit, this post is getting too long already.

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Video: Amazing Vancouver Island ❤

Video: Banff Flood

December – February 2014 : Saalbach, Austria

I spent a few weeks in my hometown in Belgium, and adjusting back to normal life proved to be a little challenging. I felt out of place and restless; I felt disconnected from my friends and unsatisfied with the regular routine. So I found myself another seasonal job in Europe.

I worked at a ski lodge in Saalbach, Austria alongside one co-worker and two bosses (a couple) from the Netherlands. They paid for a seasonal mountain pass, my boarding equipment, stay and food included while I worked split shifts and divided my time snowboarding, training for my first marathon and editing my first novel. I left after only two months when my mother informed me my granddad’s cancer had come back (I first learned about it when I got to Banff, Canada.)

A part of me wanted to stay, but another was eager to leave again. My granddad ended up living for a reasonably long time but I’m glad I went home to see him because he died while I was here in New Zealand.

I made a pit stop in Paris to meet up with Radka before flying to Auckland, New Zealand after running my first marathon. Needless to say, I spent those two days barely being able to walk to the Eiffel tower and around Montmartre.

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Video: Working in Austria

Video: Paris

May 2014 – Present (July) 2016 : New Zealand

February – March 2015 : Fiji (Vacation!)

Two years and two months.

I’ve been in this country for over two years. Radka was supposed to be here with me but ended up not getting a visa but I did have another friend over for a few weeks. We pretty much came straight to Queenstown and apart from one month of traveling up North, I’ve been here ever since. She left after a few weeks and it’s been just me ever since .. Well, me and a bunch of awesome fucking people.

I moved into a 10 people share house in June after securing a job at Shoe Clinic. I didn’t like the job much so I left after only 5ish weeks and became an Au Pair on Waiheke Island. I lasted even less with that job .. Barely two weeks before I decided I didn’t want to live with any boss, needing some independence, I got myself a job with Greenpeace. It seemed perfect on paper and the managers were so impressed that they decided to put me on the travel team. And yeah, this job I kept for just one week. I hitched a ride with my ex co-workers to Queenstown and crashed at my old place for about a month until I found another job at Eichardts Private Hotel. This is when my life changed forever.

I’d booked a flight during my first two weeks in Queenstown (can you spot the trend yet?) to both Fiji and Vancouver. I’d had every intention of immigrating to Canada … somehow. All of those plans changed the day I fell in love with the love of my life, Dane Aaron Dixon. I vividly remember meeting him for the first time when I first moved into the house in June and even blogged about him 🙂 When I moved back in August, we became pretty close but it was all very innocent. One thing led to another when we became roomies and it all went really fast after that. I cancelled my flights to Canada and asked my boss if he could sponsor me.

The last two years have been so life altering and filled to the brim with so many new experiences, I don’t even know where to begin. 15A Huff Street has given me friendships and memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. I laughed and cried and screamed and talked and tickled and snoozed and sung and … just everything. Summers were spent going on road trips, going go carting, cliff jumping, hiking, drinking cider on the beach/field, rock climbing, dinners out, nights out … Winters were mostly filled with nights spent playing music, watching ridiculous tv shows and movies and .. well, drinking. Lots and lots of drinking. Did I mention drinking? Yeah, lots of that.

Dane and mine’s relationship got increasingly serious as we started going on trips around the South Island, getting a car together and searching for our own little place. April 29th marked the day we got engaged and it took another 10 months for us to move out of the house into our new place alongside Lake Wakatipu. We’ve seen pretty much all of the South Island and recently explored the North with Dane’s dad and step mom. We’ve said goodbye to all of our friends and pretty much keep to ourselves nowadays. February 1st 2017 is the day we will finally leave Queenstown and travel Asia for 7ish months before heading to Australia to find jobs there. The first year I lived here, I couldn’t wait to leave and now I can’t imagine myself going.

It’s been a packed two years even though I’ve spent a lot of it working and just living a routine life like I did back home, yet it’s not the same. I’ve had six different jobs and boarded 15 planes, took 3 vacations all together (one to Fiji with Radka) and have been on business trips. I’ve become the person that gives directions to tourists and offers advice where to go to co workers who want to travel New Zealand. I am the local.

It’s been two years of laughter but also growing. Two years of a lot of new experiences, both boring and exciting. Skydiving, cliff diving, paying taxes, buying my/our first car, getting promoted, paying rent and moving house, raves and psychedelic drugs (which deserves a whole blog post on its own but I might just keep that to myself ..), caving, making jade necklaces, seeing kiwi’s, surfing, walking on glaciers, going vegan and losing 15kg (yah totally!), bathing in my first natural hot springs, trying to sleep next to someone you’re angry with (haha), seeing many natural wonders all over New Zealand …

It’s just been … Amazing.

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Video: Fiji !

Video: NZ with my friend from home

Video: Skydive

Despite the fact that I’ve been in New Zealand for over two years, I haven’t gotten around to making any decent compilation videos. Keep telling myself that I’ll start editing when we depart but it’s gonna be horrible considering I’ve now got over 291 videos to look over ..

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Earthlings

Earthlings is a multi-award winning film that goes beyond the standard ‘factory farming’ that most films show.

I was almost too embarrassed to say I cried throughout this whole movie, then thought to myself “Why in the hell would I be embarrassed about crying because I was exposed to so much suffering and death?”

I became a vegetarian over six years ago and have been ridiculed and lectured to on a regular basis about nutrition, the ‘food chain’ and loving animals too much. I’ve always loudly proclaimed that I was doing it for health reasons and that there are plenty more reasons besides compassion to become a vegetarian/vegan (environmental and YES, even economical in the long term.)

This ends now. I will no longer be embarrassed about feeling anguished over the suffering of animals. I am proudly making the transition into veganism because besides health, environmental and economical issues, I AM also doing it because I feel compassion for all sentient beings. I refuse to consume, wear/own or watch anything that was a direct result of suffering.

And yes, I am proud of this.

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Fiji with Radka: Bula Vinaka !

So it’s been more than a month since I’ve been back from my short holiday to Fiji so it’s about damn time I should write about it, eh?

Let’s start with Part One: The First Time I Experienced A Flight Cancellation.
I can’t remember how many planes/ferries/buses I’ve boarded so far (it’s a lot, that’s for sure!) but having my first cancellation after two and a half years of travel .. I think I’m doing pretty well.

So I missed my non refundable flight to Fiji (direct, 3h30, €236.) I booked a new early flight for the day after (€424.) I waited 4 hours to find out I wasn’t flying out at all that day, which meant I had to cancel that second flight again (free within 4 hours, fucking lucky.) Jetstar booked me (without consultation or notification, I had to call!) to the SECOND next available flight the day after, which was too late to book a direct, cheaper flight to Fiji so I was ‘forced’ to book an 18hour, €777 flight to Nadi via Brisbane. All the while, my friend Radka was already in Nadi, waiting for me … IMG_0242

I had a 9 hour layover in Auckland, which gave me plenty of time to decide on whether or not to spend a night in a hostel in Brisbane or to tough it out at the airport. Eventually, I decided that I was stressed out enough as I was and wanted a good night’s sleep. I’m thankful I did end up booking everything ahead, since I got sick on the plane (this has never happened before?!) and desperately wanted to lay down in a comfy bed. The worst part is that I somehow ended up in Premium Class on my flight to Brisbane .. but I didn’t get to enjoy any of the benefits obviously since I was hurling in the bathroom the whole flight.

IMG_9756It was stupidly easy to enter Australia; it didn’t even take me longer than five minutes, even though everyone thought it was suspicious I only had one carry on and would only spend one night in Brisbane. (It makes complete sense to me, I still don’t understand why everyone thought it was strange I only had one carry on?) Obviously, I didn’t get to see as much of Brisbane as I’d have liked but I’m still glad I did it. Total cost price of my short layover: $30 return shuttle, $30 tourist visa, $30 hostel.

IMG_9755Still a bit queasy from the night before, I boarded my flight to Nadi, Fiji in the early morning and arrived in the early afternoon (two days later than anticipated.) The humidity and heat hit me like a ton of bricks as soon as I stepped out of the airplane and I was eager to get to the hostel so I could change into something light. Everyone was greeted at immigration by locals playing guitar and singing local songs. It was incredible.

IMG_9778So our first stay was at Bamboo Backpackers in Wailoaloa, which is about 10 minutes from the airport. The beach isn’t much to look at but the place was insanely inviting. We slept in a 16 bedroom dorm and ate dinner in their very own restaurant while watching the sunset. Radka had already been there for two days but you’d think she’d been there forever by the way she was interacting with the staff and locals. It was very amusing to witness.

IMG_9783After our dinner, we attended the daily kava ‘ceremony’ at night. Kava is a plant of the western Pacific and the roots are used to produce ‘a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties.’ They’d told me that it could make you drunk after 2 liters, but I never made it that far nor did I want to. The whole night was a lot of fun, there were people playing guitar and singing and every few songs, they’d stop to let everyone have a bowl of Kava. You’re supposed to clap once, then drink it all at once, then clap three more times. The taste isn’t really all that horrible but it isn’t exactly nice either. It did relax me though which was the perfect beginning to my vacation after a few stressful weeks !

IMG_9828The day after, we got on a ferry to Mantaray Island. And guess what, I got sick again ! All I wanted to do was enjoy the scenery on top of the boat and I ended up puking my guts out in a smelly bathroom. I forgot my miserable ride from hell as soon as I caught sight of the island though, with yet again another group of locals playing on guitars, ukulele’s and singing. We were offered a delicious coconut drink while we were filling out paperwork.

IMG_9858One unexpected and unpleasant surprise was that we were obligated to pay an additional 174 FJD for the food for the duration of our stay. Radka almost threw a fit, asking “well what if I starve, would I have to pay?! to which the receptionist basically said ‘yes.’ We weren’t the only ones that were taken by surprise by this so we know we haven’t just been blind or ignorant. You’d think they’d include it in the price …

IMG_9873Meal times were announced by a drumming sound and everyone would eat in the same ‘bure.’ There was a selection of 5 to 10 meals. None of them were vegan, only one would be vegetarian, but there were plenty of pescatarian options (that’s veggies who eat fish for those who don’t know.) The food was pretty good, but not incredibly excellent like you’d expect in a resort. The pancakes at the breakfast buffet were amazing though!

IMG_9820Our first ‘day’ was spent sweating profusely, scratching mosquito bites and wondering what the hell we were gonna do there on the island. Eventually, we ended up having a nice time once we got used to the slow pace of life. We hiked around the island, made bracelets out of palm leaves and coconuts (two separate ones), Solo (a really cool guide) climbed a tree to cut off some fresh coconuts for us, there were game nights every night (limbo, etc.), we watched an incredible sunset on our last night there and went for a village trip on the morning we left the island.

IMG_9891Most people stay for two or three nights before moving on to the next island. I was honestly relieved I decided against ‘island hopping’ in Fiji, which seems to be a popular type of vacation. A beach is just a beach in the end, and I’d much rather spend my time exploring a different culture in the cities and hiking to various places.

IMG_9931The last few days, we basically ‘hopped’ from hostel to lodge to hostel. I’d misread the schedule for the departing ferry from Mantaray Island and we didn’t get back to Denarau until 6pm. From there, we took a local bus to Nadi and took another shuttle to Koro Levu. We didn’t get to the hostel until 9pm !

IMG_9999 (1)The Beach House in Koro Levu was such a cool place. There was a pool table, a swimming pool, free breakfast, views on the beach, etc .. I wish I could’ve stayed at least a day longer though Radka said she didn’t like the vibe of the place too much. There were many activities we could do there but we had to take yet another bus to Suva to get to our next stay. It was a bit insane, I feel like I spent most of my vacation going from one place to the next without much time to relax.

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The last place Radka and I stayed at though was totally worth the effort. After taking another bus (I know!) out of Suva, we arrived at Rainforest Eco Lodge. The place was absolutely stunning !

IMG_9999 (35)Located just outside of Colo-i-Suva Rainforest, it was the perfect location to finally do some hiking and swim in the countless waterfalls ! It was really beautiful and we ended up having so much fun. The last pool we arrived at was filled with teenagers and moms because it had a rope swing. We watched in amusement as time and time again, the boys tried to get as many of them on the rope before they all fell off. Their record ended up being 5 people ! I was a bit nervous to try it but after watching them for about 20 minutes, I told Radka “if we don’t do this, we’ll regret it forever.” So that’s how Radka and I ended up rope swinging into an awesomely beautiful natural pool in Fiji 🙂

IMG_9999 (43)After eating the most disgusting noodles I’ve ever eaten in my life, we went to the lodge’s restaurant and ordered desserts as a sort of celebration of our last night together. (As if you need an excuse to ever have dessert?)

IMG_0295We took a bus back to Nadi the next day, Radka was flying out the same day. I had one more night to go. It was a anti-climactic goodbye even though we knew we weren’t going to see each other again for at least another year or so.

IMG_0296I met Radka in Banff and we’ve since then been together in Paris, New Zealand and now Fiji, but there are months and months between those trips. I wish she could be here in New Zealand, but didn’t get in again for a visa application. C’est la vie, I guess?

IMG_9999 (31)I wandered around the city for a while trying to find a nice hostel/hotel (I’ve never wandered a city without booking upfront!) and ended up in a hotel that had bad reviews but I thought “How bad can it really be? It’s just for a night.” The receptionist informed me there were no more dorm rooms available even though I checked the night before that they were, so I booked a regular room (she ended up ‘upgrading’ me to a room with airco for free.)

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The room was the most expensive one I had during my entire time in Fiji and was single handedly the worst. It was a small cube of a room with no windows and just all round depressing. I thought “what the heck, I’ll just hang around town until I go to bed, it’ll be fine.”

In town though, my naivety ended up being taken advantage of … I’d met so many nice and helpful Fijians on my trip that I wasn’t even aware that I was being led on at first. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve looked a little lost on the street and someone just came up to help us. No one ever asked for money or made any rude comments whatsoever so I assumed these guys were genuinely just being friendly. I ended up in a shop outside of the main street, where the owner put a tie waist dress on me and told me to have a seat because he wanted to give me a traditional farewell from Fiji. He brought out some kava with a friend and we had a little chat about my time in Fiji and where I came from. Then I could just look around to see if I wanted to buy something. I don’t even remember how it all happened but all of a sudden, he kept putting things on the counter I needed to buy for my friends, my family, my boyfriend. Statues were shown where he would traditionally carve people’s names in. He told me the kava was on the house and put a turtle necklace (a symbol of friendship, since we were now ‘friends’ because I would tell my friends to come to Fiji and so I was doing a service for the locals) on my neck which was on the house as well. I asked for a few prices but he would never give me a straight answer, merely saying he would make a deal depending on what I’d eventually like on the ornaments. I struggled to get away with just one necklace for a friend in Queenstown that drove me to and from the airport a few times. He became very brusque and quiet. I wanted to make a quiet exit after being duped into buying a 38 dollar necklace, but he stopped me and showed me a bowl where I’d have to make a donation for the children in Fiji. He kept shouting out how much he wanted me to donate. “Just 10 dollars, 20 dollars. Make it 15, no, make it 25!” and I eventually located my balls at that point and said point black “Really? I need this money for other things. I’ll give you the rest of my coins but that’s it.” He was very rude and walked off and I hightailed it out of there.

My next mission was to find a postcard and envelopes to send a few gifts to my mom but the post office was closed because of the weather. It started pouring down and it was a relief after a week of sweating my ass off but all the shops in town were out of power. I started to become really miserable and angry that my last day was so shitty compared to a reasonably good holiday and that I’d been so naive.

I arrived back in my room merely an hour or so later and found there was no power, no airco, no wifi … Nothing. I told the receptionist I wanted to check out and wanted a full refund since I hadn’t even touched anything. She initially agreed and when I collected my bags, she suddenly added she wanted to keep 20 dollars. I almost yelled at her … I’m not proud of it but I was sick of people thinking they could just do whatever they wanted because I’m this small, white girl. I ended up getting a full refund so I hope this sticks with me the next time someone tries something funny with me. I decided that if it was gonna rain like hell and there was nothing to do, I’d wanna spend my final night in a place I knew and liked, which was Bamboo Backpackers. It was 5km away from town and I had to take one bus and a cab there but I decided to walk instead (psh 5k is nothing and I needed time to work off my anger.)

The rain felt very nice to my skin and my bare feet (yup I pretty much walk barefoot anywhere anytime these days.) About halfway to the hostel and already soaked (getting worried my camera and sketchbook would get soaked as well), a couple (two teachers) pulled over and asked where I needed to be. I remember asking if it was a cab haha but it was just that they were worried about me and drove me all the way to the hostel, which was so nice. I had a nice dinner at the hostel and had a lovely last night in Fiji (some of it thanks to my boyfriend on the phone.)

Mainland Fiji was really interesting, more so than the islands which is a nice place for couples to relax and stuff but I’d really like to go back one day to explore more of it. I missed so many great hiking opportunities and the mud baths and such.

IMG_9770I got so used to saying “Bula” in Fiji that I said it to immigration in New Zealand which caused a bit of a laugh. The guy at immigration ended up asking m ZERO questions, nothing! I was happy to be back in Queenstown though. It was still pleasantly warm, with no mosquitoes and heaps of friends 🙂 I’ve sent out my application so it’s definitely happening: I’m staying in Queenstown!

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Ten Months In New Zealand: 4 Jobs and a Promotion !

When I embarked on my first great adventure, it seems I updated my blog every few days or at least every few weeks. I can’t even remember the last time I updated this blog and so many things have happened since then.

The last you heard of me was an update on my experience on Waiheke Island, which is where I originally intended on staying until November 16th to return to Queenstown to run a half marathon. Plans after this were sketchy at best and I still had my tickets to Canada and Belgium. So let’s see what’s happened since …

After I left Waiheke Island, I stayed in Auckland for a week or two, spending my days by the harbor and going to interviews.

It was nice to be in a big city again for a while. I don’t want to say I dislike big cities because they do have a lot to offer. For instance, I really love going out at night in the brightly lit streets filled with people and music. After a while though, like always, I get bored with the city. Unless you intend on going for a drink every day and shopping til your bank account screams out at you to stop, there’s really not much to do in a city.

Foto0799(Studying at Auckland Harbor, wearing flip flops in the middle of winter.)

Both Greenpeace and Unicef (and a hostel) offered me a job and after careful consideration, I decided to go with Greenpeace. The staff ended up being so pleased with me, they put me on the Travel Team. Being on the travel team means they pay for your flights and accommodation so you can travel all over New Zealand to sign up people. For obvious reasons, only the very best get this opportunity.

10541890_732503703509359_1687770495_n2(Baldwin Street – Steepest street in the world.)

I received a day or two of training at the base in Auckland, my inner hippie incredibly excited to be working for this ‘company.’ I worked my first day in Auckland with fellow newbie Rob (from NY State) and got a ticket to Christchurch the same night.

We met up with Jade, who got promoted to team leader the next day, worked a day in the shipping container mall and another day in Riccarton. Rob fell into the job easily, signing up people here and there. I got discouraged very quickly. I toughed it out for several days until I started waking up, not wanting to wake up and go to work.

Being an outreach campaigner is such an understated job. Going out there for 8 hours a day, getting people to stop long enough for you to deliver your carefully crafted speech … It’s hard work, it’s downright mentally exhausting.

10638165_732506853509044_865560107_nWe drove down to Dunedin, where we worked for another day at the university and then had two days off.

I absolutely loved Dunedin. Someone once described it as a product of San Francisco and Scotland having a baby and I’ve been using that description ever since. I liked the charming hostels we stayed at and all the places we visited on our days off. My team members were a bunch of crazy weirdos and so much fun to be around.

On my first day back to work, our team leader Jade asked us how we were doing and I confessed that this just wasn’t for me. I’d left Queenstown because I was getting a bit depressed and I told myself I’d never do another job ever if it made me not wanna get up in the morning. So I decided to stick to my word and quit. I stuck around the team for a while, traveled with them to Gore and then eventually Queenstown.

IMG_9389(View from the first hostel we stayed at in Dunedin.)

They dropped me off in front of my old house and even though I’d mentioned I was heading back to Qtown, all of the guys were super surprised to see me. They were all so nice and made me dinner as well. It really was like coming home. Between going to Waiheke and working for Greenpeace, it felt like it’d been forever since leaving Queenstown, when in reality, it’d only been a month.

IMG_9565(Arriving back in Qtown by nightfall. Home sweet home.)

Finding a job this time around was a lot harder and more frustrating. I went on several trials and slept on the couch in my old house. It was still winter at this time so I was constantly freezing. I spent my days in the library or hanging out at the lake/beach. The house was always crowded at night; jam sessions, movie nights, etc. It’s calmed down a lot since last winter, which is kind of a shame since I really enjoyed just hanging out in the living room with pleasant company 🙂

IMG_95831(Anna, Dane and Ducky at an impromptu BBQ session in Frankton.)

IMG_96141(The gang at 36A Fryer: Anna, Dane, Brittany, Ducky, Sweppes, Laurens & EJ.)

After a month, I got a call from Adam at Eichardts to go on an interview the same day and got offered the job on the spot (whoops this is the second time I got offered a job on the spot – Greenpeace offered me a job on the spot as well!) I started the next day as a housekeeper and after three months got promoted to Housekeeping Manager.

IMG_95981 IMG_95911(Laurens, Sweppes and I at Moke Lake.)

Two days before I got the job, someone moved out of the house and I managed to move back into my old house, albeit in a different room. My ‘new’ roommate was the first person I talked to when I moved into the house (the first time) and the first person I mentioned in my first blog post about Queenstown. Turns out I didn’t just fell in love with this country … but also my roommate.

IMG_96291(Typical spontaneous winter party .. Fun fact: Dane and I were NOT dating at this point but there’s a picture of us snogging in there 😉 )

I’d bought tickets to Vancouver and Belgium when I worked my first job in Queenstown (at Shoe Clinic) and was dying to go back to Canada. When things got a little more serious with Dane though … I actually canceled my tickets and asked my boss for a sponsorship. The sponsorship led to me becoming Manager and here we are …

IMG_96441 IMG_96871(Climbing Ben Lomond & hanging out at Moke Lake with the gang.)

Ten months later, I changed and rearranged plans several times. I’m no longer returning home after one year in New Zealand, nor am I flying to Vancouver to find a job and immigrate. The plan now is to continue to work as a manager for Eichardts for another year and a half (the longest job I’ve had in my entire life, might I add) and save up to NZD 30,000 to go to South America for a year. Yup, you read that correctly.

The sketchy, vague plan after that is a working holiday visa in Australia, followed by six months of Asia and then maybe back to Canada. Dane (my boyfriend, ha the first in 5 years!) still has a working holiday visa in Canada … I’m hoping I can apply for some sort of partnership visa to join him in Canada.

Anyway, that’s all very very far away, but it seems I won’t be returning home (at least long term) for another 5-7 years. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll ever really return home. I don’t think I’d be able to even though I love Belgium and I really love my hometown.

I didn’t start traveling because I hated where I lived, I started traveling because I wanted more out of life than most people settle for. I wanted new sights, new people, new scents, new adventures, new languages, new food … Mental stimulation. Living day to day, switching off autopilot.

Foto0904(When Dane makes me icecreams …)

I don’t know if I’ll be able to tough it out another year and a half in Queenstown but that’s the plan. Time seems to be flying by here, in another 6 days I’ll be taking a holiday in Fiji with my Banff friend Radka (who briefly met up with me in Qtown last week!) I’m constantly seeing updates from other travel friends who are currently living in NYC, Michigan, India, etc. My feet are itching for adventure, for spending long days in the bus going to the next city and using google maps to walk 3 miles to the hostel. Figuring out the currency while buying a cup of coffee. Getting my hands and feet dirty working on farms and not getting paid for it and not caring. Leaving a place when I get tired of it and staying longer in places I love.

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(Geocaching in Queenstown!)IMG_97051(Celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer! Gavin, Sam and the German as newbies.)

I only had two real ‘adult’ jobs in Belgium, the first being a bartender for a few months in the weekend and then two months full time. After that, I worked as a sales advisor for six months. I started traveling in June 2012, at age 22.

The longest job I’ve had since then was working in Saalbach, Austria for two months. The longest I’ve stayed in one place since was in Banff in the winter of 2012-2013 for three months. That’s two and half years of continuous travel and working short jobs, and I’ve loved this lifestyle intensely.

There’s a part of me that’s scared that I’ll always grow restless after a while and itching for a new adventures and there’s a part of me that absolutely loves it. So many people have remained skeptical throughout my travels and my ideals (not wanting to work too much and focusing on experiences and most importantly, my happiness comes first before EVERYTHING) but after pulling this off for about three years, I feel like I’ve proved it’s possible to travel continuously with little money and plenty of happiness. If I can keep this up for a while … why not?

IMG_97011 IMG_97391(Dane and I out rock climbing !)

I can’t complain too much about Queenstown. There are definitely worse places to be ‘stuck’ in. I still have those days when I look outside my bedroom window and marvel at the Remarkables. The hotel I work at is directly in front of the lake, which is an amazing spot to relax at in the afternoons. There are plenty of hikes and activities to around here. I’ve gone rock climbing and kayaking with Dane, cliff diving (!!) at Little Thailand, climbed up Ben Lomond with Laurens, celebrated Christmas on our balcony, hitch hiked to Wanaka with Radka, gone on many many trips to Arthur’s Point, Arrowtown and Glenorchy with the gang.

Dane has been keeping me occupied by getting me back into drawing and paying (!) for a canyon swing and testing out his tattooing skills on my body. The most amazing thing he’s done so far has been a surprise evening at Onsen Hot Pool. I’m telling ya, Boyfriend Level: Expert. That boy man is hands down the most amazing boyfriend I’ve ever had.

IMG_97121 IMG_97381(EJ from Taiwan and Dane getting ready to cliff dive. I jumped as well !)

I truly am very happy here.

IMG_97161 IMG_97331(Hitch hiking to Wanaka with Radka.)

10846654_632754870180160_1967058712_n 10850885_632754946846819_39547088_n(Onsen Hot Pools … A+++ for the boyfriend.)

Until the next time I update.
Love and Light.

Ali