Having spent a day in Melbourne and a week in Wodonga after we got back, I’m now in Port Macquarie, living with Hannah and my sister Kate, in Kate’s house, along with The Boys (Archie and Fin) who are my sister’s “children”. Hannah is working in nearby Laurieton four days a week. Kate is a paramedic here. I’m not working.
I walk the boys once or twice a day, depending on who’s home. For the first week it was just Archie here, then Fin came along but couldn’t go for walks because he hadn’t had his Parvo injections. For the last two weeks he’s been walking too and loves it. There are a few dog beaches, a walk along a stream and some state parks that we go walking in. Fin is learning how to be a dog quite quickly and rarely pees inside, generally follows instructions and unlike Archie, likes food. Archie didn’t like Fin to start with because he’s used to being Top Dog, but now they are friends. Once I leave and they spend more time together without humans, I’m sure Archie will love that he has a little brother instead of loneliness. Fin has a little cape on his collar that has a picture of Archie on it. It's great.
I’ve been setting up and starting a vegetable garden for my sister. It includes spinach, garlic, spring onions, chives, tomatoes, beans, capsicum, carrots, strawberries, parsley, mint, basel, coriander, cucumbers, zucchinis, pumpkins which we can eat, plus lavender, marigolds and some natives that are good for the birds and the bees (literally, not figuratively). The before and after shots below don't necessarily make it look like that much of an improvement to my eye, but we have a plan and I think it'll all work out well. There's been a lot of conversion to natives, and removal of trees that we (mum and I) don't like.
I’ve binge watched Dark (decent) and The Expanse (great pretense, relatively scientifically plausible, kind of fell away a bit though, or I got sick of it). I’ve non-binge watched Fargo season 2 (not as good as the first, but still good) and The Vietnam War. I’ve read/am reading Ordinary Men, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Discipline Equals Freedom, On Liberty and The Boy Crisis. I’m listening to my normal podcasts, plus season 3 of Serial (didn’t get into the first two, but I’m loving this one), The Indicator, NADDPOD and Teachers Talking Teaching. I’ve done a two day fast finishing last Friday and I’m trying new vegan things (scratch and pre-made things). I have a deal with a publisher and my vegan recipe book should be out by February 2019 /s. We’ve been playing Scythe a bit which is more fun the better you get at it.
I’ll be heading to Melbourne in mid-November to study and live on campus, 50 contact hours a week or something. I’ll come back up to Port Mac for Christmas, then road trip down to Hobart at the start of January, arriving in Hobart around the 14th. I’ll have two weeks of uni type things, then start teaching at the start of term 1. I’ll be teaching maths or science at a high school, probably near Hobart (within an hour), but still potentially in another part of the state. I hope to confirm where I’ll be within the next couple of weeks. Hannah should be able to find a job nearby pretty easily, and I’m scouting out BJJ in the areas that I might be. I’ll be at that school for two years doing 80% FTE and still doing study. At the end of the two years I’ll have a Masters in Teaching. The current thought is that we’ll probably move to Vic or NSW after that, but that’s two years away so who the hell knows. Two years ago I was working temp hospo and thought I was going to be some sort of business type person.
We’re now back in Australia after a great holiday. I’m trying to recall the trip from day 21 onwards in as much detail as I can using Google Maps Timeline to jog my memory. Enjoy.
Day 21 (and some of 20)
We arrived in Hannover on the evening of the 20th day of travel, put our bikes together, then caught the train south before cycling to Phil’s place, arriving in the middle of the night. Even cycling in the pitch darkness of a cloudy German night, it just felt nicer to be on tree lined roads with wheat and corn on either side. We got to Phil’s around midnight and he was walking the streets waiting for us. I think he could feel us coming deep in his heart, so he came to greet us. We washed off our stink and went to bed.
Phil’s place was great. Phil was briefly home from study in Bremen before going to Brazil for a year. His family home is joined to his grandparents place so there are no doors between them inside and they are fully self-contained, but have a gate in the backyard. I really like this layout. Phil’s grandparents aren’t so old that they would otherwise be in a home, but I suspect they will be able to stay at home a lot longer because of the living situation. Phil has two dogs, Hector (ridgeback) and Luna (vizsla). Hector has balls. Balls are not something I'm used to on a dog.
Anyway, on the first day we were there we went for a walk with the dogs up a little hill, eventually overlooking an old quarry. Phil sometimes goes up there to read, and the serenity made me realise how long it’s been since I went for a walk to a place there is nobody and read a book (around two years). In the afternoon we cycled up to a castle, but couldn’t really go in because they were setting up for a book reading which you can go to in a castle in Germany if you want. I’m told that similar things happen here. Phil happened to casually work for the catering company doing the event, and was able to smile, persist and talk his way into us being able to have a little look around. On the way home he told us about “Vitamin B” which is what they call the concept of some people being able to talk their way into somewhere while others will get turned around, even if they say the same thing. Kind of a “who you know” type of thing, also an appearance thing. That evening we had a barbecue with delicious veggie burgers.
At this point we hadn’t cycled for around 10 days (since cycling up to Whistler), so we were getting a bit itchy. Phil went to the mardi gras in Cologne on Saturday, so we cycled up to Steinhuder Lake via Hannover. Looking at it now it was reasonable cycling for Germany, but at the time we thought it was great compared with Canada. There were lots of cycle paths and we did some cycling through the forest. We found a place to camp next to a little canal off the lake.
I went for a walk in the morning while Hannah slept. I think I was somehow into the Europe sleep cycle by then, but Hannah didn’t sleep until 4am, so she was tired when I was awake. The lake was windy but really nice to ride/read along. We rode back to Phil’s place, arriving around 7pm. Nothing too notable occurred.
The plan from here was to get to Heidelberg within 6 days. My friends who live there, Meret and Patrick, were going away the following Thursday, and we wanted to have a weekend with them arriving on Saturday the 14th. It’s around 600km and we’d generally been going less than that per day. Plus on my previous trip I generally did 4 days of riding in a row, then had a rest day, so we thought 600km in 6 days would be tight. We made it 102km to Kaunitz for dinner, where the only option seemed to be a fairly gross pizza place where we had fairly gross pizza and normal beer. At the train station (where there was wifi), there was a group of around 20 old ladies who cycled there to play boules/péntanque/bocce. We pumped out another 20km and it was getting quite dark while we were looking for a place. Google maps helped us find some bush off the main drag and we were able to get a good night’s sleep.
We arrived in Lippstadt at 10:15am and had a quick look around. It was a lovely historic town with a cafe lined square. About 5 minutes after we sat down for the morning coffee it started pouring with rain. We were forced to eat a waffle and crepes, resulting in a longer than anticipated stay. We went to Unna via Welver, including some light drizzle and a headwind. It was nice to find respite when cycling next to corn crops and I thought a lot about the relationship between wind and crop height while it’s raining and one is cycling. We got to Unna and hit a little package of luck. We were going to look for a place for wifi in Unna or keep cycling. As we entered the old town, Hannah heard the ping of a message being received. Unna happened to have the same wifi network as a previous town that Hannah had connected to. We immediately checked the weather and saw that a downpour was imminent. We went to the nearest restaurant to eat and about two minutes later it started to absolutely bucket. Our meals were both absolutely delicious, genuinely Italian, maybe the best food on the whole trip. The weather cleared up and we cycled 35km on a wet road in glorious sunshine. Next to the cycle path to the south west of Hagen there was a small field that we camped in, with super damp air. We made 104km in total that day.
We were aiming for a Warmshowers host in Bonn, so we knew it wouldn’t be a massive day (around 75km). When we got to the town of Lennep, we were pleasantly surprised by an old town square. By this stage we had learnt that German coffee was trash and if we couldn’t find a place with something Italian written on it, the coffee wasn’t going to be worth it. Fortunately this small town had that and we luxuriated in the sun for an hour or so before continuing on. We made it to Alex’s place in Bonn roughly on time and he made us the world’s greatest salad. I don’t think that’s 100% what we felt like on arrival, but it was exactly what we needed. I had my first shave of the trip and we had an early night.
Rhine Time! But first, time to clean and oil the chains on the slimmest footpath on the slimmest street I’ve ever seen a bus drive down. The result was bliss. Everyone should clean and oil their chains more often. The Rhine was great too. Previously when looking at my Google Maps Timeline, the points are really close together because I was constantly looking at my phone. Once we get to the Rhine, it basically goes from coffee break to snack break in a straight line because I didn’t need to get my phone out at all to see where we were. In Koblenz there is a giant man on a giant horse statue that I must have totally missed last time (around 50m tall). We kept meandering along the river, racing cargo boats as we went until we got to the same Aldi I went to last time in Oberwesel where there was (last time) a guy at the checkout who was the fastest checkout person I’ve seen by around 30%. He wasn’t working this time. We found a really nice spot to camp between the cycle path and the river. We had a quick wash in the river, much deserved after doing 93km on a hot day.
This gets monotonous. Woke up, had a coffee in a nice German town, cycled 93km along the Rhine (we went through Mainz just before lunch and I found the spot that Kyle and I camped next to the Rhine last time), had ice-cream on a hot afternoon, had dinner at a German restaurant on the river and slept next to the Rhine just off the cycle path (there was a guy fishing near us, I think he went there for peace and quiet, but by the time we saw him the tent was already up. Sorry German man!) Not far to go tomorrow!
Arrived in Heidelberg after just 45km by 11am to meet Meret and Patrick before they left to a party in a nearby city. Don’t add up the numbers to work out that the distance from Phil’s place to Heidelberg wasn’t correct, I was probably exaggerating.
Heidelberg is lovely. I went there on my last trip and had a great time and the same thing happened again. The first night we walked down and watched the fireworks with seemingly everyone else in the city.On the second day we went to watch the world cup final. We generally walked around the old town, made and ate spätzle, watched Patrick at jugger training, drank radlers, got a rotor replaced, saw the castle, visited the cemetery (my favourite place actually, I think I wrote about it last time) and had a generally relaxing time. It was ambitious to get there in the time that we did (considering that we hadn’t been doing many k’s in a day previously), so it was nice to rest.
I started writing this post as soon as I got back (end of Aug), and have written a little since coming up to Port Macquarie which got me up to here, but for the last month I’ve been doing other things. I’m going to promise myself to finish the writing today, so from here on in it might be brief, nonsensical, more of a list of things that happened, repeating things above etc. I’m not proofreading it.
Day 33 (18th July)
Back to the Rhine (Speyer), though the path from here was more ambiguous. The stretches north of Heidelberg which were smooth and cyclist only have now generally become stretches on regular roads. We have an afternoon break near Neuberg at an open air park thing next to a lake. It was great. I was really enjoying Dune at this point, which I had not read previously and is apparently a classic. Afterwards we crossed the border into France and eventually took a path into the forest and camped next to “Hellwasser”. We did 125km in total.
Finally some decent coffee. The coffee in Germany is generally trash, so we’d been scouting for places with Italian coffee machines. Now we were in the land of amazing bakeries which also have amazing coffee. We stopped in Strasbourg to check out the Cathedral there which we’d heard is one of the best in Europe. It was great, though carrying all our stuff around was not. Out of Strasbourg we followed a canal for about 80km to a weird place called Neuf-Brisach. We crossed a bridge over a dry moat to get into the town, and in the dry moat there were life size sculptures of African animals. There was literally nowhere to eat even though it was a decent sized place, so we ended up eating salad. We rode another 25km and ended up camping in an orchard. 135km cycling total today.
We had accommodation lined up in Basel, and because we’d had two good days previously, only 50km to go to our destination. We had enough time that we arrived in Basel early and surprised Hannah’s parent at the Basel train station. They happened to be travelling in the area at the same time. Hannah didn’t think of it until the day before because it wasn’t going to be an option with us going to a different continent, but it was great to see their reaction as they had no idea we were going to be there. Our host in Basel Jamila was great and had fun housemates (they were all German). We made an amazing salad loosely based on Alex from Bonn’s. Despite not meeting any Swiss people, I generally don’t go much on Swiss people it seems. I get the sense that they are obsessed with how people see them and think they are better than everyone. I’ve thought this previously when meeting Swiss people overseas, and walking around Basel only confirmed this.
We cycled to Aarau though some beautiful countryside and I think two decent climbs. There were a few small village dairy type places selling roadside cheese which we bought and devoured. We also kept pace with a Lambo sports car going down the other side of one of the climbs which was fun. Anyway, in Aarau, we realised that we hadn’t had much sleep. In general we were camping around dark which was around 9:30pm and getting up with the light which was around 5am, which just isn’t enough sleep for me (I’m a 9 hour guy). I was falling asleep while trying to read, so we decided to find a place to camp asap and sleep from arvo through to the next morning. Eventually we found a place which had enough cover and was far enough removed from dog walker areas that we could sleep from 7pm until 7am which we did comfortably. Only covered 60km, but we probably needed it.
Went towards Lucerne via Sursee. I’m having real trouble trying to work out which route we actually took. I can’t even work out which way we went around some of the lakes, but that may be because the edges were private property so we didn’t actually see the lake. We didn’t go into Lucerne, rather headed east towards Zug then down towards Sattel. It was hilly as Switzerland is, so we couldn’t find anywhere flat and relatively private to camp. We were still sleep deprived, so we just asked someone in the hills if we could camp next to their house. The view was amazing. Around 100km done today. (Note to Future Chris reading this, if you want more detail on the route than you have on Timeline, look up the cycling app you used to find a route from Basel to Obersee)
Cycled to Einsiedeln then over some mountains to Obersee. The climb up was tough and there were some really steep up and down sections on the way there too. The view of the lake from the top was amazing. Once over the top it should have been an easy downhill ride to the lake then across a bridge. I messed up and took a wrong turn which ultimately meant we needed to do some more uphill during the downhill section. Then I realised that we just could have continued downhill and made up the route seeing as we still had plenty of altitude above the lake. One of relatively few navigation mistakes, though reasonably costly seeing as we both had tired legs. We bought some fresh roadside eggs which were delicious for lunch. We cycled next to another lake for a bit in the afternoon (St Gallen Glarus), which was maybe the most beautiful lake of the whole trip. Then we ended up camping in maybe the most beautiful camp spot of the trip, in a valley next to a canal, and had some delicious charred capsicum with amazing cheese to go with it.
Days 39 and 40
We cycled through Saargens and met up with a much smaller Rhine, then decided to nip into Lichtenstein for breakfast, then decided to cycling the length of it because it’s tiny and why not. We did a quick tour of the capital Vaduz, then kept going north towards Lake Konstanz. We were in Austria by this point, and very unsure about the plan for the night, let alone the next few days. I thought it would be difficult to find a place to camp seeing as we were close to the lake, so we tried some last minute warm showering at around 5pm and found Sanjay who lived in Lustenau. Sanjay was maybe the best host of the trip. He had an amazing vegetable garden, super outlook on life and we made some delicious food. Because of him we totally changed out route across the alps which ended up being great. He let us stay an extra night even though a Spanish family was coming (we just camped in the backyard). That family was also inspirational as they were a young couple travelling with their 4 year old daughter. On our day off we went up to Konstanz and mostly relaxed by the lake and ate nice food.
Thanks to Sanjay the plan is now to go through the Arlberg pass, then the Reschen pass before descending into Italy. So we head back south along the Rhine then follow some rivers up into the mountains. The switchbacks to the final bit of the pass are tough but not really that bad, and after a short descent we stop for a beer and burger in St Anton Am Arlberg. From here things don’t go according to plan. We cycle for another 25 minutes before finding a lush field with a bit of cover to camp in. The field is off a gravel road with no fence. We probably knew it was private property, but there was nobody around. Tent goes up, but we haven’t fully unpacked everything. We see a guy stop and take some food over to some cows. He didn’t see us, but we figured he eventually would so we went to say hi. He did not respond well to our presence. First he told us to get off the grass because it’s for the cows and why the hell were we off the track. Our bikes and the tent were out of view at this point. We tried to say sorry, but he was furious and was threatening to call the police. We communicated that we had bags and were going to get them. He went back to his car and we started packing up, but as he drove further along the road he saw us packing up and his mood deteriorated further. He was on the phone, presumably to the police who presumably asked what we were currently doing which was packing up and leaving so they presumably told him to chill out. We kept cycling for a bit, but it was difficult to find a spot to camp (we were in a valley so it was either close to houses or quite steep). There was a campground next to the road which was closed for the evening, but we camped there anyway and just paid in the morning. Around 88km of mountainous cycling today.
We continued to cycle down then up mountain rivers until we eventually got to the bottom of the Reschen Pass. There were some overweight e-bikers also going up which annoyed Hannah quite a bit. The pass was OK, the ride down the first bit of the other side was amazing. There were some steep smooth bicycle only bits which were so smooth that even with panniers you could fly down them and it was in the trees so you couldn't’ really see what was coming but you could trust it. It was probably as close to downhill that you get on a touring bike. Every 10km or so the path went into a small quaint town with nice Italian restaurants, then went back to the path. After we ate we were looking for a spot to camp but it took a while because there were towns everywhere, so it ended up being quite dark by the time we pitched the tent at the end of a row of apples. About 115km covered.
At around this point we were learning that using couchsurfing or warmshowers in Italy in July/August is really tough. The Italians go on holiday, either overseas or within their own country, especially couchsurfing and warmshowers hosts. We were aiming to be in Verona in a couple of days, but had been searching for a place to stay in Merano, Bolzano and Trento too, just to have a day off and wash things. We were stopping every now and then to get wifi to check responses which slowed us down a bit. After coffee in Merano and a wrong turn in Bolzano, we decided to stop early at a lido (Lido di Egna) and spend the afternoon there. It was a really nice rest and made up for some of the lack of sleep. We had to pump it into the wind for 20km to get to the supermarket before it shut, then had pizza for dinner which was becoming a staple. We found a relatively hidden spot next to the canal to camp after around 95km total for the day.
Days 44 and 45
In Europe you remember which days were Sundays. It’s difficult to find anything, which often sucks when it’s a million degrees and you’re cycling. At some point I think today someone mentioned Lake Garda to us and we thought we might as well go there instead of going to Verona. Turns out we’re fools and should have been planning to go to Lake Garda all along. We went south through Trento and Roverto, then headed west through a valley to the northern end of the lake. We found an open supermarket which had no cold beer section which was normal, but one cold beer in red bull fridge which I bought, intending on drinking it in 10 minutes with lunch when we found a good spot down the road. While putting away the other shopping, I heard the lid pop and my heart sank. This will be forever known as the carpark beer incident, though Hannah is mostly forgiven by now. Coming into Torbole which is at the northern end of the lake, there is a very steep, straight descent. At the top there are a few bars with ridiculous views of the lake. My photos do not do it justice, though if you zoom in, you can see maybe 200 wind/kite surfers. We had a mojito and caipirinha at the top and luxuriated a little before going down to tourist town below. We swam then sat in a super hot laundromat and tried to make a plan. That didn’t work so we were still planning as we cycled down the eastern side of the lake, and we eventually decided to stay at a campground for two nights so we could have a day off. This turned out to be a great decision (though the first night our camp spot was too close to the road and was quite noisy). On our day off we drank coffee, ate food, read and rested in the shade (basically what we were always doing but without cycling).
I think by this stage we knew that we were aiming to meet up with Hannah’s parents again in the hills south of Reggio Emilia at the end of the following day, so our goal was to make it at least half way there. We got up early to avoid lakeside traffic and decided on the slightly longer cycle route next to the Mincio river instead of roads. We did a bit of uphill to find a nice spot for coffee and a baked treat in Monzambano, then got to Mantua by early afternoon. It was super hot so we decided to hang around for the afternoon, but most places shut between lunch and dinner, so we had to shuffle around a bit between empty lakeside bars and cafes with closed kitchens. At around 6:30pm we headed south to get gelato then pizza, before finding a camp spot just off the main road near an industrial complex. This was the night that was around 100 degrees Celsius with a billion mosquitoes, so I wanted the tent closed because I was getting eaten and Hannah wanted it open because it was too hot, and it was just general unpleasantness in a pool of sweat. This eventually led to us decided that it’s too hot to be camping all the time and that we should find a workaway for a week or so. Just on the weather, northern Italy is super hot. Like, way hotter than anywhere I’ve lived hot. Apparently similar daily max and min as Brisbane in summer (30/20), but 5 degrees hotter on average than Melbourne or Sydney in peak summer.
We got to the Po River and cycled along it for a bit. It was foggy and we were on local roads with a bit of forest so it was kind of cool. There were a few houses on stilts down by the river which looked fun. Coming in to Viadana we were debating about stopping at a cafe or having cereal when we decided to go to a servo to at least use their toilet. They turned out to have a hole in the floor toilet which wasn’t the best, but they had amazing coffee, superfast wifi, filled us up with water and A1 aircon (it was already 33 degrees outside at 8:30am). Coffee in Italy is great if you like espresso, but the main thing is that it’s great everywhere. You can’t find a bad coffee. They care. We crossed the river and went to Reggio Emilia which is a big city. After gelato and trying to work out which road we could and couldn’t go on, we went to a park to douse ourselves in water. There was an old guy also dousing himself in water who we had a chat to. He was also on the phone the whole time, relaying our super broken english conversation to his mate. Then it was time to head for the hills to try to arrive at our BnB before Wal and Donna. On the way I decided my rotor was too badly bent so I tried to put another on, but couldn’t even get the first one off with the crappy torx thing I had, so I ended up bending the rotor with the pedal wrench which actually worked a treat. It was a small incline up the road over the mountains, until we got to the turnoff, then it was as uphill as it gets. The driveway was gravel and halfway up we got a beep from behind which was Wal and Donna arriving in their hired Panda. We just made it up, then had the afternoon eating and by the pool before having dinner at the BnB which also became a restaurant in the evenings. They tried to put us inside, but the Meyers ended up convincing them to let us move the table so we could enjoy the view. The Joneses would have accepted being inside, so I’m glad I was accompanied by Meyers. The food was delightful and hand made that day.
No cycling, just four people in a Panda looking for food, wine and castles. We found plenty of each, including one castle that was being renovated by a fella into a BnB argiturismo place (similar to the one we were staying in). It wasn’t open, but he let us look around and chatted for a while. Curious to know how much money you need to have to buy a castle. We went to a winery where the Joneses would have listened to the thing and maybe asked a few questions, but the Meyers talked with the person for hours and it was really interesting. We bought a ludicrously cheap nice bottle of wine and Wal and I contemplated shipping pallets of wine to Australia. More cheese by the pool, then dinner. At some point we confirmed that we would be arriving at the workaway in Motrone in a couple of days.
The workaway was on the other side of the mountain range, so we were just aiming to get to the top today if possible. Actually maybe “we” were just aiming to get part way up because it was a decent climb, but I was definitely aiming to get to the top. Hannah was generally not very confident about her ability to get up the hills, but we’d just come across the alps, so I don’t think her expectations were high enough. We started on the main road through the mountains, and in Castelnovo ne’ Monti headed off onto side roads to stick to the weird direction across the range that we wanted. This meant going through some tiny villages in the mountains that don’t normally get tourists and evoked a few genuinely curious reactions of “what are you doing here?” We stopped for dinner at a very cool pizza pub near the top of the mountains, presumably there because there were often tourists coming to see San Pellegrino on the other side. We smashed the last bit of the climb as it was getting dark, and struggled to find anything vaguely flat and hidden near the lonely mountain road down the other side. We were a little more cautious about camping in an obvious spot because there were many signs saying that we shouldn’t. Covered around 65 mountainous kilometres.
Only 40km to go to our destination, so we took it easy in the morning. There were some beautiful old towns to go through, and we had a stop at Castiglione di Garfagnana to look around the town (they were preparing for a medieval festival that weekend) and coffee (and toilet) with a view. We got to nearly where we were going (just a mega climb to go), and decided to check internet, which was lucky because we were told that we should’t arrive before 5pm. We spent all afternoon in a cafe with a closed kitchen, then did the 8km climb to the finish. This was maybe the toughest climb of the trip and takes around 20 minutes in a car to go up or down. We arrived, ate dinner with our hosts and slept in anticipation of 10 days of country work.
Workaway (Days 51 to 61)
The Place: Motrone is a tiny Italian mountain village at the end of a steep, winding road. The population is around 100, with only 3 kids in the village. You can see from the photos what kind of place it is.
The Work: The people we were working for were a Jewish Kiwi couple (Jenny and Geoff) who owned a few small farms in the area. The work included feeding animals, weeding, clearing terraces, gardening, cleaning, clearing out sheds, putting up fences, clipping and transporting chickens, securing a water source, getting dried corn from the cob (I don’t know the name for this), mucking out sheep pens, watering trees and preserving fruits. The hours varied, and it ranged from very hard days (clearing terraces for 5 hours in the morning, then doing animal things for two hours in the evening), to quite easy days (just feeding animals morning and night plus a little weeding). In our spare time we ate lots of delicious fresh food, read, watched Fargo, listened to podcasts and hung out with Jenny and Geoff.
Lucca: We were waiting on bike bags for a second time (first was in Whistler where they didn’t make it) and Geoff mentioned that courier companies pretty much don’t come up to Motrone. It was a nightmare trying to work out how to track the parcel from Wiggle to their shipping company to the Italian shipping company, to the place that has the drivers, but eventually we decided to go into Lucca on Friday afternoon to speak to a person at a place. They said that the parcel wasn’t there even though I was sure it was, then they said that it would definitely be delivered next Tuesday even though I was sure it wouldn’t (they had “tried to deliver” it a few times which hadn’t worked). We came up with some contingency plans and stayed in Lucca the night which was lovely. The next day we touristed around a bit. Lucca is a really nice city. Great gelato and pizza, and little wine bars. Geoff ended up picking up the bags on Tuesday the next week, they weren’t going to be delivered.
We set off for Florence early in the morning on Ferragosto (the biggest day off in Italy). Things started with a crash coming down the steep 8km at the start as we weren’t being sufficiently cautious down the hills after the first rain in a while. All superficial, except some damage to a pannier which is now quite annoying because it’s difficult to fix and make waterproof (any tips welcome). It was just a normal hot Florence type day when we arrived, though the best gelato of the trip helped. Florence is the capital of fashion, and I won’t hear any argument against that. Luckily, I had my bearveralls.
We cycled to the airport, flew to London (Luton), and made it to Carmen’s place where we were staying for a few days. We did a quiz which we went terribly at, but it was good to catch up with Carmen, EJ, Corin and Youngy.
A bit of London tourism, then a London night out with the boys.
A giant hangover, then Secret Cinema. The movie was Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. I wasn’t sure how fun it would be, but it was ridiculously fun.
Days 66 to 68
On Sunday we got a train to the Cottswolds and spent the best part of three days there looking around. It was fun once we realised that we didn’t have to see all the things and could just relax if we wanted to. We thought our flight home was on the Thursday, but it was the Wednesday (found this out on Tuesday), so we came back a day early. Did another quiz Tuesday night with EJ and Gareth. We won this one because Gareth, plus it was an easier quiz and they gave loads of hints.
Days 69 to 71
We did more London tourist things in the morning, then rode out to see the Brompton factory in the afternoon where Boonie works as a testis or something. It was great to catch up albeit briefly, then we got the train to the airport where it took way longer than usual to get our bikes on the plane and it took much negotiation. Arrival back in Melbourne was brutal as it was 6am and around zero degrees. We cycled into the city which is where this tale ends.
This is now nearly 6000 words, some of it repetitive, so that’s it for now. I’ll write up things between then and now (inc puppy photos), plus a post on cycling things and post next week.
Blow by Blow Days 1 to 20
Right, so, it’s been around a month since we left and here is the first blog post. It has a bit of day by day stuff, then some general stuff. Things have deviated greatly from the original plan, definitely for the better.
Day 1 - 17th June
Longest day ever. Sunday started by waking up at 4:30am Melbourne time and finished by going to sleep at 12am East Coast time around 40 hours later. We travelled by taxi, plane, bicycle, bus and ferry. We had to fix a bent rotor, buy anti-bear equipment and put our bikes on the front of the bus otherwise we would miss the ferry. We were originally going to cycle south from the Vancouver airport to get a ferry to Vancouver Island from Tsawwassen, but realised that there wouldn’t be time, so we went through the city and north, to Horseshoe Bay so we could get to Nanaimo where we stayed with Kiersten from Warm Showers. [Warm Showers is like Couchsurfing but for people who are cycle touring and may just need a place to pitch a tent and a warm shower.]
Super tired after post midnight bedtime, woken at 7:30am, could have slept until 2pm. Slow brekkie with Kiersten then changed plans a lot before settling on Cathedral Grove. Super hot day for Canada, 30 degrees. It was slow going, only made it 50km to the Little Qualicum Falls campsite. In hindsight, should have planned on having a few rest days to deal with jet lag and bike maintenance post flight, but whatever. Anyway, highlights were fresh strawberries from Kiersten’s garden, raspberries, swimming, snapple. Lowlights were starting late, the heat. I think we’re doing a good job considering the general fatigue. I hope we sleep for the next 12 hours. Tomorrow we’ll go to Cathedral Grove then pack up and head back to Nanaimo. No bear sightings yet. We have a horn, spray and a canister for food.
Cathedral Grove was aight, but we didn’t have much time there before needing to be back at camp to pack up. We slept in again. We stopped at Parksville on the way back to Nanaimo for coffee, bowls and a lesson on tipping in Canada (15-20%). We cooked Kiersten tofu stir fry after going to sugarloaf to see a great view of Departure Bay.
Left at a record early time of 9:45am, got a flat which we change surprisingly quickly. Arrived at Lake Cowichan at around 4:30pm. On the way we nearly ran out of water, found a dog/cat man to fill us up. The plan now is to relax by the lake for a while before starting along the bike path for tomorrow to find a spot to camp. We want to have enough time tomorrow to see Butchart Gardens before meeting our Victoria hosts Steve and Melissa at 7pm.
The bike path sucked so we camped there then came back to the road, almost all the way to Duncan, then went down the coast. Hannah had her first Aeropress coffee and it was gross (terrible beans). We stopped at Shawnigan Lake briefly for a frolick in the water, then left with just enough time to get to the ferry. We got a flat on the way then the tube which got put in already had a hole. We had to pump it to get there on time, but the ferry was late anyway. On the other side in Brentwood Bay, we went straight to the Butchart Gardens. There, things happened and decisions were made (more on that later). We stayed with Steve, Melissa and Merlin the Border Collie in Victoria.
Catching up with Anna, Jack and Lucille, checking out the vegan cafe action.
Coffee with Anna and Lucille then went to Witty’s Lagoon with Sarah, Chris, Abby and Jake whom I met in Trujillo a few years ago on a workaway. Then had beers on their deck. I wish we’d had more time there, maybe we could have done a Jake and I vs. Abby and Hannah cookoff or something. I loved their house. It’s on a cul-de-sac, has established fruit trees, a veggie patch, chooks and a balcony bathed in dappled sunlight with a view. I’ve kind of generally thought that I would end up near a town, in the bush. The cul-de-sac life is pretty sick though, so that might be a contender. We cooked tofu stir fry at Steve and Melissa’s for dinner then slept early in anticipation of a long day.
We left only a bit late and had only a short wait for the ferry from Schwartz Bay. Getting there on the bike path (Lochside Trail) was great. We washroom stopped at a sports complex and saw some kids playing softball chanting mean things at each other. We cycled from Tsawwassen to the bike shuttle through nice farmland on quiet roads. Arrived at 2:30pm, no shuttle until 3:30pm, nowhere to eat. At this point got worried about not making it to the talk (Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson) on time. Anyway we got to Tom and Susan’s (Vancouver WS hosts) in North Vancouver and Tom drove us, so we got to see the start. JBP was on the street talking to people beforehand. He’s great when he talks to people, he’s really talking to that person. I imagine he was there late afterwards talking to people too. He really helps a lot of people. The talk was great. I like that they were not recording so they could really explore ideas without fear of being misrepresented. It was much better than previous conversations I’ve heard of theirs.
We bought Marathon Plus tyres, any other tyres suck for touring/anything. We chilled out and ate raspberries and peas, and read.
After a wrong turn at the start we smashed out of Vancouver earlyish and got to Squamish (~halfway to Whistler) by lunch. It was hot and I bought about 2x the food I should have. Fine in normal circumstances, but not if you want to fit it all in a bear canister. That derailed us a bit, but in the end, energy levels were more of a factor than time. We got to Tom’s recommended spot near Lake Lucille and camped on a great beach.
Getting to Whistler was fairly easy once we found a guy with water. We had coffee, vegan burger and I’m currently sitting in an Irish pub catching up on writing.
Day 11 was the 27th of June and I’ve written nothing in my diary since then. Typing that out made me feel like it would be boring to read and maybe seems like it assumes the reader knows our general plan.
Days 12 to 18
Stayed with Butch and Elliot for the first 5 nights then with Helen and Dave for the last two. Went mountain bike riding one day, reading on the lake one day, rafting and ziplining one day, played Catan a few times. I hadn’t played before and I loved it except Hannah won one of the games even though I was trying to thwart her which was really disappointing. Went on a hike, tried to go on a hike but ended up trekking through snow, went up the mountain on the gondy.
Days 19 to 20
Caught a bus back to Vancouver, cycled to the airport and flew to Hannover, Germany.
What Are We Doing In Germany, I Thought This Was A North American Trip?!
While we were in the Butchart Gardens, I had a thought that I mentioned to Hannah and she said that she’d been kind of thinking that for a while (like, months). The thought was “what are we doing in North America, not Europe?”
One thing we were thinking of when choosing to go on a long holiday is that I’ll be teaching for at least the next two years, and in that time won’t have time off during the Northern Hemisphere summer for more than a couple of weeks in a row (which we both think is too short to go all the way to Europe or North America for). This is why we ruled out cycling in south-east Asia. I was kind of going for a one month holiday and Hannah for a longer one, and when I mentioned that I would like to go to the Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris talk in Vancouver, she seized her chance and we bought tickets for it before flights. Then we kind of planned the trip around that as a start date and location, which is pretty arbitrary.
There are a number of things that are as good or better in Europe than in Australia, and those things are also worse in North America than Australia. Food. Towns. Cycling views. Cycling practicalities. Number of tourists. Culture. These are all massive things when considering a cycling trip. Anyway, within around 8 hours of first having the discussion “why aren’t we in Europe” we’d booked flights from Vancouver to Hannover the following week. As you’ll hear in the next installment, the decision turned out to be a great one. It’s not that we were having a bad time in Canada, we weren’t at all, it’s just that this will be the last time north of the equator for a while, and we both love Europe.
Vegan to Vegetarian
Another change for me is that since coming to Europe I’m not eating vegan, just vegetarian. There are practical cycling reasons and deliciousness reasons for this. As with all decisions, I try to work out the ethical cost of the production of something and compare it to the the benefit it brings me.
At the moment (compared with a normal time at home):
I’m still having vegan things where it doesn’t make much difference like if it’s on the menu at a cafe, but I’m also sometimes having cheese in cases where I really could choose something else.
I'm going travelling again and moving about a bit, so I'm going to start the Cycling and Bussing section of the blog again. I’ve updated the “Route” page with a rough itinerary. Here’s some more detail. Most dates are estimates. Estidations. It’s all with Hannah, except for 3rd Nov to Xmas and last 3 weeks of Jan when she’ll be in Port Mac.
17th June - Land in Vancouver, cycle around Vancouver Island.
24th June - Return to Vancouver, go to a Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson discussion.
25th June - Go to Whistler to hang out with Butch and Elliot(t?), do some downhill MTB.
1st July - Train to Jasper, cycle to Banff.
3rd July - Cycle towards the coast (hit it somewhere north of Astoria).
14th July - Cycle south, along the coast until Santa Barbara.
6th August - Cycle towards Yosemite.
19th August - Cycle towards San Francisco.
23rd August - Fly to Melbourne.
25th August - Drive to Port Macquarie. Volunteer for 5 weeks. Hopefully do some blogging about what I'm doing (if it's meaningful/interesting).
1st October - Start online teaching course thing with ACU.
12th November - Start studying at ACU (Melb), 8am-6pm, Mon-Sat, living on campus.
22nd December - Go to Port Macquarie for Christmas/NY/why not.
17th January - Go to Hobart to study.
29th January - Term starts for teachers in whatever high school I work at in Tasmania as a secondary school physics teacher.
This will be the last post in the section for the foreseeable future because I've finished with the whole travel gambit for a while. Time to find a job!
The (US) Election
It just makes me angry and I know how this rant sounds so I'm going to leave it out.
Two Funky Guys I Met
The night before the primary I was out knocking on doors. I was about five minutes away from finishing and a came across two guys on the street having a couple of beers outside their house. The address was on my list so I asked for Grant and Andre. They were Grant and Andre. Andre seemed a bit of a stoner. He thought he was told he couldn't vote but I assured him he could because he was No Party Preference. They said they would go down in the morning and be sure to vote. Who knows if they did.
Anyway, Grant had bought an old ambulance for $8k which was pretty cool, and he seemed switched on and fairly interesting so when he offered me a beer I accepted. It was dark and I was nearly done, so why not really. We sat in the van and talked politics for a few minutes, then Grant alluded to a topic of conversation he had ready, almost like a presentation of sorts. Andre and I finished whatever we were talking about then Grant came at me with zero point energy generators and the Disclosure Project. It was full conspiracy theorist mode. Every time I asked him to explain some part of it that didn't make sense to me he just said some more vague and complex sounding stuff which made no sense and reiterated that he's not a physicist, but it's all real. He was totally normal apart from that.
Lucid Dreaming and Buddhism
I was walking to the park to have a read and there was a guy sitting on a step having a read. We made eye contact and exchanged hi's and as I passed I inquired as to the content of his book. It was about Chernobyl. Interesting I said. Turns out he was waiting for someone to pick him up then they would go for a walk in the park. Se we chatted for about an hour. I got some book recommendations. I also got some advice about lucid dreaming. I'm not in a writing mood though and I can't remember why I thought this would be interesting enough to make it a heading.
I didn't go out in San Fran much at all, but there was one time I went to a dive bar called the saloon and had some whisky. I'd just finished watching Peaky Blinders in which the characters drink whisky all the time. It was delightful. There was a live band in this small room and everyone of all shapes and sizes was dancing. It was a very American experience.
Homeless Guy Picking Up Trash
On the day of the primary, a group of people, myself included, were doing a “honk and wave” to remind people that voting was today. My bag was behind me so I was generally staying aware of the few people who walked along the path at our rear. Anyway, some fella was walking along with a trailer behind him, upon which he was stacking trash that he found in the park. At first glance I assumed he was homeless. He had a dog who wasn't fat, but was quite muscular. The man of the duo was talkative and we saw him throughout the day. Afterwards I wondered if he really was homeless or if it was just his job to pick up trash. Again, I finish this tale with little idea of why I started
Anyway, I left Greg and Erica with whom I was staying and couchsurfed over in Oakland for a few days before flying back to Melbourne where my parents who happened to be in Melbourne and my Aunt and Uncle picked me up and whisked me up to Wodonga. I'm now looking for a job online in Melbourne, but really the location and role are less important than the purpose of the company for whom I am working.
I may, as a method of job hunt procrastination, continue to post in the thought section of my blog, but I think this travel section is finished for a while because my day to day life will be even less exciting to the outsider now that I'm living in the same place. In exceptional circumstances, like if I see a man poo in the middle of a crowd in a busy train station like in Rome, I might mention that.
I know this post is barely coherent but to be honest, my heart's not in it. San Francisco was interesting, but very similar to Australia, so not great to write about. Plus my mind is on other things like finding a job and the prospect of starting real life.
One final thing to mention is that the tone of my travel blog hasn't been as overtly positive as I imagine most travel blogs are. I think the most interesting parts of travel are the troubles you get in and who wants to hear about someone else's amazing adventure anyway? Especially mine. Obligatorily, I've had an amazing time, met many amazing people and learnt a lot about the amazing world we live in.
While canvassing I bumped into three Christian kids from New Mexico who were walking the streets asking people if there was anything they could pray for. When they asked me I asked for Bernie Sanders to win the election. I thought he was a long shot until then, but now I'm so glad that he's actually going to win!
We crossed paths later and for some foolish reason I engaged them and we ended up talking for maybe half an hour. I was surprised a bit by how deluded they were, and I only tried to impart kindness and logic upon them. A lesson I think I've learnt is that while God probably isn't real and religious people are probably idiots, but that doesn't mean you can't be nice to the innocent ones among them. These kids were innocent. Plus I think I got three votes for Sanders in the New Mexico primary.
Seppos are Generous
I'm not the most financially generous person. That is an understatement. Tight is an adjective. I'm tending towards being more generous with money. I'd rather give money to a charity than to someone on a street, because I think the money (depending on the charity) will affect more people in a greater way. There is an indirect consequence of in person generosity which is that people who see it and people who receive it becoming more likely to be generous from that point on. If someone buys me a coffee in Starbucks, I see them as a good person whom I wish to emulate in some way.
Anyway, someone bought me a coffee at Starbucks. I know what you're thinking and no, that's not the case. The coffee was for Greg, who is currently hosting me and is a gun on the Bernie Sanders campaign trail. I would never say a bad word about him, but his taste in coffee speaks for itself. I was in the line and a man saw my Bernie stuff and posed a question. We got chatting and once he learnt of my travel/campaign situation (I didn't even say that I was running out of money) and got to the counter, he paid for my small black.
This doesn't even mention the fact that I've been staying with people for two week stretches and they are into it because I'm doing God's (Sanders') work.
I like the idea of starting my own business because I'm a human and that's how things work. I had never really produced a feasible idea, and I probably still haven't, but the thing I mentioned last post and on Facebook about a fruit and vegetable market with some sort of environmental impact indicator on each item has sparked a vague business plan.
I'm thinking about education a lot.
Poor People are Friendly
On Sunday I canvassed in a poor part of town. There were many people just hanging out at the bus stop and living on the street, plus the houses were run down. In this neighbourhood, people were almost exclusively friendly. Everyone was answering their door, people on the street would stop and talk to me (not with the intention of mugging me, just a friendly chat), and it really reinforced what I've said before about the people with the least giving the most. I'll never be rich. I always used to think I would be, but now I know it's not what I want
Pleasure from looking at Faraway Things
When I'm at lookouts, I try to snap pictures as quickly as possible then start just sitting and looking at the view. While I was canvassing the unsavoury 'hood, I could see a few little views and there is something just really nice about taking in a view and trying to look at each little bit in the distance in detail. Maybe it's a hunter gatherer thing.
I accidentally knocked on the door of Mr. D. Alexander because I thought I was on Inness Avenue, but I was actually on Jerrold. He came out and said some things about Bernie which were nice, then he when to find his nephew so he could register to vote. While I was helping the little fella with his form, Mr Alexander mentions that he's constantly getting things in the mail from the Canadian and Australian lotto people to try to wring money out of him. And wring money out of him they did until he finally won $1000 and then realised it was to be split between thirty people and he barely covered his expenses for that one ticket, let alone the non-winning tickets he bought. I don't like that Australian lotto does that.
$2, Take a seat
,When I stepped on to the bus this morning I had out my two $1 bills and my 25c change was ready in my pocket for the $2.25c bus ticket. After I put in my notes, I put my hand in my pocket for the coins and the driver, an old guy, tore off the ticket and said “Take a seat please, sir”, not allowing me to pay the balance. This seems like a fairly normal experience, and it is. The only reason I'm mentioning it is that the whole situation, including the voice, was like the guy was a prison guard in a prison where the prisoners were being mistreated, but not by him, they rebelled, he could have foiled their plans, but he chose to stand aside because it was the right thing to do. It's like he was taking a stand against the extra quarter for the ticket because he thought the price was too high. This sounds really boring written down, but maybe I'll come back and read it some day. I'd like that. I'm not convinced anyone else would be particularly interested.
Winelda P Blum
I was canvassing last night and the next person on the list was Winelda P Blum, 93, female. She apparently lived with a Monica, 20, and when I rang the doorbell, I did hope I wasn't going to make a 93 year old walk all the way down the stairs just to speak to a rabid Bernie Bro. The frequency of descending footfalls was low so I knew Winelda was on her way. She is the oldest person upon whose door I have knocked.
We spoke of Bernie for all of 30 seconds, before she mentioned my accent and began recounting her trip to Australia. She didn't go along the Murray, but crossed it a few times while venturing west to east. She told of the underground town with pretty rocks and was delighted when I reminded her of the name (Coober Pedy). She recalled Kangaroo Island and being unable to open the door of her accommodation before being told that the key was under the mat. She even remembered that she flew there from Adelaide.
As a reference point, I can't remember the name of and of the cities I stopped at on the coast of Greece between the Turkish border and Thessaloniki. That was less than a year ago. Winelda went to Australia with her late husband in 1988. She's 93. When she was telling the story of the key, she was gesturing with her hands as if picturing the exact scene.
The first real American experience was on the plane. The captain constantly gave updates on the progress of the flight which was good because we started out delayed but caught up. The flight attendant had a stand up routine which was reasonably funny, but I imagine would have become really old really quickly for his workmates and indeed himself.
As I popped out of the underground (BART) station, some baller was angsting down the street in dark clothes, ripping posters and public notices off bus stops.
It smells like weed everywhere here. It can be legally sold for medicinal purposes here, which results in reasonably widespread use.
I've seen people living in tents before. In Montpellier there was an area on the ride to work by the canal where a bunch of tents and campervans housed maybe 100 people, before spontaneously evaporating within half a day. In London, you see people who sleep on the streets. I mean, it's in every reasonably sized city. But nothing like this. It's illegal in most of the state, but happens to be legal in SF, so many a hobo makes the journey to the most expensive city in the country.
It's normal to talk to yourself every now and then. I probably do it every day. I do it reasonably often when I'm drunk and trying to make a decision where there is a nice, easy option and a right option. When I make my way to the bathroom, I take a look at myself in the mirror and do the devil in my head and the angel aloud. I think this is very different from walking the street having full conversations all day with yourself, talking about people as they walk past.
A very mild but interesting example of this occurred while I was canvassing. I was speaking to a woman on her stoop (lean Hilary, By Mail) and a guy asked if the speakers on the side walk belonged to anyone. We clearly didn't know, the woman went back inside and he started talking to me about where was I from and all that. Some of the questions got a bit weird like “where are you staying” progressed to “are you looking for somewhere to stay”. He was clearly living rough. I think the reason I find this example interesting is because I think he was kind of on the brink of becoming most of the people on the street. He wasn't crazy, but he was definitely lonely. I talk to myself far more while travelling, peaking when I was cycling and often wouldn't have a conversation for days. Like it or not, most humans need to interact with other humans. It's really sad when you know something as small as a simple conversation, which might bore you because you've had it ten times that day already and prevent you from doing something you should be doing, can have a decent sized impact on someone life, if they got that interaction regularly.
By all accounts, the crazy rate in SF is much higher than in other parts of the state and country.
I don't want to sound like I'm contrasting inwardly focussed people with myself. That doesn't make any sense. I can only contrast them with other people I've met, so that's what I'm trying to do.
The best way I can think to explain this is to use a first person role playing game (RPG) as an example. More people here than other places seem to act as though they are the protagonist in their very own simple RPG and everyone else is a non-player character (NPC). When you play a new game and you either don't read the instructions or background very well and just go for it, you need to spend a bit of time figuring out how it works. For instance in Fallout 3, you play the game for a couple of hours and you realise that you can't just go round treating people like dirt, because it affects your future choices in the game. In Morrowind, you need to crawl and have a high level in sneak if you want to get past someone without them noticing. You level in speechcraft affects your ability to convince someone of something. In the original Pokemon games on the other hand, you only need to learn that walking in someone's line of sight will start a battle.
In real life, the rules are far more complex. Most of the people I interacted with in Australia were way more in touch with the rules of real life than people here. I think it's because for those people, the feedback loops were tighter. Feedback loops are tighter generally when you are better friends with someone, because they will call you out on strange behaviour, not in a nasty way necessarily. Then there are people that will call out that stuff even if they don't know you very well. My housemate in Melbourne is an example of such a person. Even after only brief encounters, we would be getting deep in to trivial issues. It goes with my general ideal that if you can't justify something you do, then you shouldn't do it. Sure you don't need to justify it to me, but if you want to consider yourself a good person, you should at least be able to justify it to yourself.
Anyway, back to the people here, I think here there are more people who don't spend a lot of time with people they grew up with and are good friends with, so they don't get quality feedback on their actions. If someone I don't know racks up $900 in parking tickets before they realise that they should park on the other side of the street where it's free, it's easier to say “damn, that sucks” than “wot”. The people I've met here seem to have a higher threshold of friendship to reach the next level of honesty. I would say generally Australians are fairly straight up, so I guess it makes sense that people here might be less so. That said, my sample size here is small (though I would say quiet varied because I've been door knocking and meeting people with different backgrounds) and my sample at home is generally my group of friends and people attached to that which is reasonably specific.
Incidentally and to nationally stereotype, I think the people I've met who are the most straight up about this stuff generally are Israelis. I've found two types of Israelis in my travels. There are some who travel alone, are atheist and try to avoid other Israelis. They are super cool and have no qualms questioning you about anything which is really refreshing. They are the reason Tel-Aviv is seen as an “innovation hub”. Then there is the type of Israeli which travels in a group for one year after military service, plays loud obnoxious music and has loud obnoxious conversation in really inappropriate settings like 3am in a hostel dorm room or midnight in a Patagonian campsite. Anyway, the first type are amazing. Everyone should read Sapiens.
I realise I skipped a step. If I saw my life as a simple RPG, I would just test how things reacted when I interact with them and go forward operating based on what I learnt (probably finding some sick weapon early on and absolutely pwning because I researched how to do the Daedric Quests before I even started the game). Always as you go through life you get a better understanding of the rules of interaction, especially if you travel a lot and need to learn new rules for new places. But some people here who don't travel and live in their bubble seem to have decided that their rules won't change. If someone is set on their rules, it's really difficult to get them to change. I wish I could give decent examples.
This is largely irrelevant in the context of this post, but I've observed that I use generally more complex language than most people I've interacted with here. I'm reasonably often asked “what does that mean” or told “that's a great word to use”. The words indicated in those instance are generally words I've used for over twenty years, because my parents used them while I was young. Rigmarole is one example. Epitome is another. The point of this is that when you become a parent (maybe you already are), you should use as many words as possible as regularly as possible in front of your kid, from day one. I've listened to a lot of Freakonomics podcasts lately about education, especially early education. There is a thing called The Thirty Million Words Initiative:
“A world-famous study by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley (1995) found that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4th birthdays than others. The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school. These same kids, when followed into third grade, had bigger vocabularies, were stronger readers, and got higher test scores. The bottom line: the kids who started out ahead, stayed ahead; the kids who started out behind, stayed behind. This disparity in learning is referred to as the achievement gap.”
It's the same as someone learning a second language while they are young with more brain plasticity, they find it easier to learn than someone who is older. I find learning new words now reasonably difficult. To have a decent initial lexicon is something I'm grateful for. Don't improve for you, do it for your kids.
I don't really know what research mentions about this next bit, but I would say from a non-scientific, observational viewpoint, people who smoke more weed seem to have more trouble remembering relatively simple words. I suspect this is more due to the fact that people who have trouble remembering words are more likely to smoke the reefer than people who have a good memory for words.
Young People in Sports Cars
One thing I've noticed while walking around canvassing is that there are a whole lot of young people in expensive cars. Tech for the win. Also, Lamborghini's are really common here. In Australia you very rarely see them.
My Godfrey's Guitar
I don't mean the guitar of my Godfrey. I mean my “Godfrey's guitar”.
My friend Godfrey (aka Gobby, aka Ziekfrey, aka Dees, aka Andrew) loves guitars. It's normal to like things. I like pasta. But I recognise that some pasta is rubbish and I do not like that pasta, but I like pasta generally. Godfrey is not like this with guitars. He will pick up any guitar, play it a bit, maybe tell you it needs tuning or some new strings, then tell you it's a good guitar. Even if it's rubbish. He just gets off on guitars.
I've know my Godfrey's guitar now. It's bikes. There are many bikes in San Francisco. It's the US version of Melbourne in many ways. Every time I see a bike I get really excited and want to ride it. Actually, that's not quite true. Anything more mountainy than a hybrid is off the table. But everyone here is riding commuters and single speeds so it's great. I really can't wait to get back home and have my own bike. Once I find a job of course
I heard a rumour that Bernie would be at a rally starting at the Ferry Building (thanks Greg). The people I'm staying with and I headed down there to check it out. We put on some Local 2 paraphernalia and started marching around. As Le Meridien Hotel we heard a few speakers then lo and behold the big guy himself pops up to say a few words. He's an inspiration. I wish a little that I'd aimed for the front a big more, maybe to get a touch on, but still, seeing him was great
I would love a supermarket which had not just the country of origin on the price sign for fruit and vegetables, but also the distance it has travelled since it was harvested. Including the method of transport would also be good and the shop would have a sign displaying the emissions per tonne kilometre of transport by that method. Actually, having thought about it and received some stimulating feedback, it would be better to just put the transport emissions on there.
I've only seen three.
This is just a brief update, nothing super interesting, just letting you know what I've done recently
After my adventures with the Kazakh, I flew to London for Sanj's wedding. Curry on Thursday, beers on Friday (including Sanj who hadn't written his speech and was coming for maximum two beers which turned in to six), a glorious wedding on Saturday, Super Cider Sunday Funday, beer > theatre > beer on Monday then a flight which I barely got to on Tuesday. Hectic. All of it was good. The opportunity cost for this trip was probably two weeks on Galapagos and I'm infinitely happy that I made the decision that I did.
I returned to Bogota then immediately flew to Cancun. So American. I Couchsurfed with Viki and Angel who were super chilled out. I tried some mescal which is the Mexican version of whiskey kind of. Not at all really, but it had the same sip and warmth and deliciousness. Infinitely better than tequila. There were a few variations which were also delicious. One day we went to the beach which was fun. That night we went to a hostel with some of Viki's friends and played games which was also fun. The night before we also went to the hostel, then out to the party zone of Cancun which I absolutely hated. So much so that I wrote in my little book some ideas about it, but I can't be bothered with it now.
My sister arrived and we headed south to get away from the party tourists of Cancun, and apparently arrived in the laps of hostel style tourists in Tulum. We went to a cenote and Katherine went diving in some too. They are great fun. We Couchsurfed with a guy who slept in a hammock which was attached to the door handle of the room we slept in, essentially locking it from the outside. No bottles were required.
We then spent a few days on the island of Cozumel, a diving mecca 18km from mainland Mexico. There we found the potentially the world's best burrito. I had 5 in the 3 days we were there, plus one from a competitor's shop (wasn't as good, too much lettuce). One day Katherine dived and one day we decided to cycle around the island (65km). The hired bikes were disastrous and it was a literal pain in the bum to get back to town before the burrito shop closed.
We had different flights to Ecuador, but eventually got to Quito and met up with Sarah, a friend we met in Scotland two and a half years ago. We immediately set off to Banos, a small town south of Quito. The first day we spent walking to the “end of the world” place which is really just a normal sized swing on a steep hill (not even a cliff) where you can make it seem like you're in an awesome place but really it's just pretty good. The walk was fun though as was the asking around for directions. Highlight was Katherine falling a minute behind then us waiting fifteen minutes for her. She was waiting for a life which she got through a 100m section of road because there were a couple of chooks vaguely near the road. The next day we hired bikes (infinitely better this time, but by no means good) and rode down to Pailon del Diablo which is a waterfall. It was fun, waterfalls are cool.
Next stop was the Amazon via an eight hour bus which was impossible to sleep on. We arrived at 6am, found a place with WiFI for breakfast and downloaded GoT (it was a Monday). The bus from there to the rainforest was partially spent watching it, instead of socialising, but I'm comfortable with that decision. The next four days were spent in the rainforest going on boat rides to see animals, night walks to see insects, day walks to see “tribe people” which were just normal people except one shaman. We saw a bunch of animals, but nothing too unexpected. My favourite was a prehistoric bird, the babies of which have claws on their wings so that when they are attacked, they fall into the water and can use the claws to climb back up the tree.
I haven't put up too many animal photos. If you want to see good Amazon photos, just do a Google search.
After four flights yesterday, I'm now in San Francisco. My plan is to volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign until the primary. It's proving harder than I thought to get involved, but I am getting there. Americans are very diverse. I should start a list of all the weird stuff I see here, but I know I won't keep it up. It's a little odd to be in an English speaking country again.
Update: I have since had a few days here and I've walked the streets knocking on doors and registering people to vote. I think I will actually try to do a post on some of the stuff that goes on here that I haven't generally seen in other places I've been.
I couchsurfed in Bogota for just one night. That was last night. I'm flying to London tonight. This morning, I had an adventure with a new Kazakh friend of mine, Aidos. He decided he wanted to walk to the top of a forbidden mountain. I didn't want to go, but he convinced me. Here are some photos of some things.
Faris, Ryohei, Nour, Aidos, Yo
It was pretty rough going for a while. There were many signs saying we should be there.
Aidos is a bit mad. He started hitch hiking in Kazakhstan in October and went all across Europe, flew to Sao Paulo, lived in a favella in Rio, then hitch hiked down to Patagonia then up to here. Next he'll be in Cuba then through the US, Canada, Alaska, Russia and China, to get home within six months, spending 5 USD per day.
Walking back down we found a wild zucchini. Aidos wanted it for food.
It was delicious, but too oily for my taste.
The last bit of time in Boraceia was good, but there was an English couple coming to take my place. Fortunately the Spanish girl in Boicucanga bailed, so I moved there for my final week of teaching. It was awesome. There were two Australian broads and a German guy there and we got on well. Maybe too maybe. I got Jennie Bingham levels of familiar with people, becoming an absolute creep and completely removing the brain to mouth filter. The classes were up and down, some of them not too promising but some of them were amazing. My favourite was one with Cecilia and Tomas who knew way too much about the world and were too funny to be 14 years old.
“Would you rather have looks, money or brains?”
“If you're hungry you can't eat looks or money.”
No more beach
As I was on the bus leaving Boicucanga to go to Sao Paulo, I wrote a bit in my book.
I'm not normally sad when I leave places and I thought I had no special connection to this one, so I find myself surprised to be feeling the way I am now. I'm not really sure why I'm sad. The last week has been great. For the first time since Trujillo I've felt like I've had people that I've met on my team. There have been other people on my team at other times, but they've always had someone else even more on their team. Maybe this shouldn't be surprising because they are the first Aussies I've met in a while and I've always loved Germans and Poms. Plus I know there are many good times ahead for them here that I wish I was part of. On top of all this, I love some of the students and see so much potential in them which makes my perspective of the world so much brighter. It's too bumpy on this bus so I'll sleep now and write more later.
I can't help but think that all the things I'm good at compared with most people, I'm still not even close to the people in the fields. That is to say that I seem to have chosen to be mediocre at everything useful. I like to seem impressive to people that aren't interested in a particular topic, but when it comes down to it, what am I actually good at? Whether or not this is true, it's definitely why I've done nothing useful with my life so far and why I keep putting off the decision of where to focus my attention.
I'm looking forward to going to the US and travelling with my sister. Only 11 days to go. Though for the first time as I leave a place, I'm not super excited about my next few steps AND I don't feel like I'm ready to leave.
Well that got depressing, didn't it? I can't believe I wrote that. I guess it just shows what mood I was in, which is the point of writing in a book in the moment. Suffice to say that my current outlook is much more positive. More on that later.
I basically saw none of Sao Paulo. At the airport I looked a bit lost and some young fella came up to me to see if I needed help and he got on my train and took me all the way to my station with good chats about the state of things in Brazil. I'm not sure how much it's been in the world news, but some stuff has been has been going down in Sao Paulo. I wasn't there for the stuff happening, but the political situation was interesting to hear about from someone without an idiotic mainstream opinion of it. The kid's name was Luiz and he works in or studies actually I think tourism. He seems to have a great grasp of the real effects of tourism, beyond the cash injection. He was talking a lot about how simply seeing a foreigner subtly reminds people who don't travel of what's out there which ultimately promotes growth.
Anyway, my Couchsurfing host wasn't at the station yet and while I was standing around for maybe five minutes, I had another person come up to me and ask if I needed help. People are super friendly here. My host and I basically just hung out for a few days and while he was at work I caught up with House of Cards. Underwood so dark.
Ecuador Primera Vez
Then after flying through Panama and Bogota, I arrived in Quito. I spent a week gardening at a B&B in Tumbaco which to be honest wasn't much fun. Redeeming this experience was the Elon Musk autobiography and Scott Hall telling me that there have been two new seasons of Trailer Park Boys that I haven't watched yet. Elon Musk to Ricky and Lahey. What a contrast.
Also, I got in touch with an old friend and made some plans. More on that another time.
After gardening I moved to a Couchsurfing place in Tumbaco. Cari, her kids and I went to some thermal baths in Papallacta one night which was amazing, though I had another little altitude experience. I was a bit hungry and dehydrated from the baths and at one point I got out and went to my stuff, then all of a sudden I couldn't see and had to sit down. After that I was fine though. Since then there have been a few other people come to stay here too and we've had good chats about various things. Cari believes in crystals and energy which is clearly idiotic and I tell her that, but we talk about it like it's just a different way of defining some real things. She also taught me how to massage someone using the feet and standing on them and stuff. That was fun.
The plan was to wait for my sister (Bub) in Quito until Wednesday the 30th, but she's decided to meet me in Mexico in three weeks instead. Now I've come to Bogota (cheap flight 36 hours in advance) and I'll probably spend the next week between here and Medellin which is hear is fun and also isn't cold.
I flew to Bogota and ended up in a penthouse couchsurfing which was unexpected. I really only had one full day there, on which I did a bike tour. I still love cycling. It was good to see a lot of Bogota too, and I wish I was there longer. There was lots of cool graffiti on the bike tour. As it transpires, I have flown to Medellin which apparently gringos love. I think it's OK. Apparently the women are better looking here too, but I tend to disagree. I'm going back to Bogota on Tuesday.
New Future Plans
I got enough advice from enough people from the last post to decide that I shouldn't go back to Uni and I should start with the useful stuff now. My plan is to return to Australia around the middle of June (after the California Primary, GO BERNIE) and get a job. There are three types of jobs I could get:
I think this can work because I currently feel like 168 hours in a week with 40 at work, 50 sleeping and 15 doing things like commuting, showering, shopping and eating leaves me a lot of time to do other useful things instead of playing Dota and drinkin', both of which I won't be doing. That's even if the work is just for work. If the work is something I really love then I can spend way more time on that. I know I should add 20% to everything because that's they way it'll turn out, but I'm demonstrating my current levels of optimism. I've come to the realisation that if you want to do something, you need to do it. So I'm planning on doing that. I'm pretty sure I'll be heading to Melbourne, so if you are from there and reading this and you know of a good social enterprise or something that I'd be interested in (something like cycling), then please let me know.
In Other News
At the Quito Airport they make you take your shoes off for security. I'm fairly sure that there's only ever been one shoe bomb attempt in history and that failed. Well done South America security. I know, you need to do it all through the US too.
Also, I've been booking a lot of flights lately because the buses are super long and sometimes not even cheaper. Anyway, I decided to work out how many flights I will have been on from London in October to my arrival back in Australia in June. If you don't count transfers, it'll be 15. That's a lot. I should think about my environment impact. I'd better start doing something good soon.