Hola!

I didn’t intend for this to be a silent 6 months on the blog front. Aside from Patagonia, it has been everything but silent!

When I first told everyone that you would be hearing from me through wadsie.com, I wasn’t aware that this travel adventure was also going to have a relationship adventure added to the experience. An added bonus for me :) but not so helpful for finding (and prioritising) blog-writing time! I am certainly not complaining… No amount of unbrushed hair, week-long hiking smells, unlady-like behaviour or indecisiveness has deterred the beautiful man who has been in the seat beside me on every single long distance bus ride in the last 5 months. So it seems he might be sticking around :)

We are currently on an overnight bus back to Buenos Aires to fly home for some time with family and friends and to contemplate the next part of the adventure. As we come to the end, I will take my blog back to beginning.

In September 2013 I fulfilled my long term dream of spending a month in Buenos Aires learning tango and spanish and trying to make sense of the crazy city on my own.

Outdoor tango at the 'La Glorietta' milonga in Buenos Aires :)

Outdoor tango at the ‘La Glorietta’ milonga in Buenos Aires :)

In October, Todd arrived and after another 2 weeks in BA, we began to explore Argentina – to the east (Santa Fe province, Iguazu Falls, Misiones province), in the center (Cordoba, Mina Clavero) to the west (Mendoza and even up into La Rioja province), and then down into Patagonia (Peninsula Valdes, a 36 hour bus ride to Ushuaia, and back up the infamous Ruta 40).

Towards the end of November we deviated into Chile to hike the epically beautiful Torres del Paine with a friend but then continued the Argentinian Ruta 40 into the Lakes District for Christmas.

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In late December we crossed into Chile again and made our way from the south to the north of this stretched country balancing the necessary travel time with fewer but longer stops along the way (Puerto Varas, Pucon, Bahia Mansa, Malalcahuello, Santiago, Valparaiso, Elqui Valley, San Pedro de Atacama, Arica).

In late January we crossed into Bolivia which promptly slapped us in the face with our own lack of research…despite being adjacent to Chilean and Argentinian deserts, summer is rainy season in Bolivia! We persisted with as much as we could around La Paz, followed it up with a week of doing nothing jn Cochabamba, and then moved further south to enjoy everything that Sucre, Tupiza and the Uyuni salt flats had to offer between rain bursts.

In late February we crossed back into northern Argentina (Jujuy, Salta and Tucuman provinces) to finish it properly and now here we are heading home!

Somewhere along the way, we dropped Peru off the itinerary and decided that anything further north in this massive continent will have to happen in another trip.

Somewhere along the way I also got tired… tired of continuous unpacking and re-packing, tired of constantly planning our next move and homesick for my family and friends. For now, its time for a break.

I will endeavour to write a post about each of the three magnificent countries we have explored over the last 6 months. Thank you Argentina, Chile and Bolivia – it has been epic!

Jumping for joy in the sunset at the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (largest salt flat in the world) - it seems there are some benefits to the rainy season after all... a wet and  stunningly reflective salt flat!

Jumping for joy in the sunset at the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (largest salt flat in the world) – it seems there are some benefits to the rainy season after all… a wet and stunningly reflective salt flat!

It seems the photos didn’t load for Japan… so let’s try again!

Shops, colour and katakana (Japanese characters) overload in Sapporo 's shopping malls

Shops, colour and katakana (Japanese characters) overload in Sapporo ‘s shopping malls

who knew you could make SHOES out of Salmon skin!! amazing

who knew you could make SHOES out of Salmon skin!! amazing

Amazing fish and traditional 'chika' deer soup for lunch with our Ainu community hosts

Amazing fish and traditional ‘chika’ deer soup for lunch with our Ainu community hosts

Hanging out with a lovely Ainu elder and the Kiwi boys

Hanging out with a lovely Ainu elder and the Kiwi boys

Kikuye, Shuka and I having deep and meaningful chats on  the bus

Kikuye, Shuka and I having deep and meaningful chats on the bus

Hokkaido coastline

Hokkaido coastline

Ainu rock band

Ainu rock band

Dance competition in Osaka

Dance competition in Osaka

Summer purification ceremony at a world heritage temple Kyoto

Summer purification ceremony at a world heritage temple Kyoto

Koi at the conference venue

Koi at the conference venue

Tea ceremony

Tea ceremony

Caligraphy exhibition... this really is 'art'

Caligraphy exhibition… this really is ‘art’

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Good luck mania

Good luck mania

Glimpsing Geishas

Glimpsing Geishas

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Koyasan

Koyasan

Out for a morning run on one of the pilgrimmage trails in Koyasan

Out for a morning run on one of the pilgrimmage trails in Koyasan

Buddhist statue

Buddhist statue

Buddhist temple accommodation in Koyasan

Buddhist temple accommodation in Koyasan

Monks praying in a really OLD cemetery

Monks praying in a really OLD cemetery

Rice paddy landscapes

Rice paddy landscapes

Japan

Today as I write this, I am on a bus winding my way up into the mountains of Koyasan, a Buddhist temple complex, in the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan. The valleys and ridgelines offer diminishing shades of forest green extending as far as the eye can see. Then every now and again the view is punctuated by road works, forestry and / or construction machinery and vehicles… as the guy in front of me just said “They [the Japanese] seem to always be building something here [as in every place he has been in Japan thus far]!” It’s a broad sweeping statement but I tend to agree.

 

If I am completely honest, Japan has never been near the top of my places to visit (on the list for sure, but not a top priority). However, I am now super grateful that my work bought me here because it has really opened my mind to a culture that I used to find strange and bemusing. Everything makes more sense in context I guess.

 

Our Indigenous Peoples Knowledge & Rights Commission (IPKRC) organised a mind-blowing few days learning about the Ainu people in Hokkaido. Although they are the Indigenous peoples of northern Japan, there is still little appreciation for their contemporary culture (for reasons that I will not harp on about here). In our line of work, the challenges faced by Indigenous communities are woven with a common thread and it meant a lot to everyone involved to share experiences and in some cases, deeply personal stories. The fresh seafood was incredible… so was the sake… there was a lot of singing and dancing… and even a haka in reciprocation for some funky traditional / contemporary Ainu rock.

 

After Hokkaido, it was conference time in Kyoto. Having formed such a tight bunch during the pre-conference tour (20+ IPKRC’ers), we were able to take the conference sessions to a whole new level of discussion!   It is certainly one of the best conference experiences I have ever had.

 

Of course the sightseeing in Kyoto was also top-class – such a beautiful city surrounded by mountains, FULL of temples, and markets and festivals and parks and efficient transport and more! One highlight was a summer purification ceremony which was totally slow and boring (coz we had no idea what was going on) until a whole lot of young men jumped in a pond and fought over a limited number of flags / arrows in the name of good luck and prosperity. And then there was the sophisticated and artistic Tanabata lights festival displays alongside the two main canals in Kyoto; it was just so great to stroll around with locals in evening and enjoy the LEDs, lasers and bamboo – both sculpted and decorated like Christmas trees.

 

My final few days are here in the world heritage area of Koyasan which has history that I can’t even fathom. Painted silks and Buddhist sutras written in calligraphy on beautiful scrolls from the 8th and 9th centuries… craziness. Time is such a crazy concept. It is also hard to believe that I have been away for almost 3 months now. I am looking forward to touching down on home soil… for the heart, for the head and for the body :) A home-cooked meal, a massage and getting rid of a few kilos of accumulated luggage are all high on the priority list!

The United Kingdom

Having been in Central America in June and the UK in July… I now have an interesting perspective on Europe’s colonial influence around the world. Northern Ireland, Scotland and England boast natural landscapes that are much more beautiful and extensive than I had ever imagined… I can see why settlers carried fond memories of their ‘motherland’ and attempted to re-create that in the new landscapes they settled.

Five Fingers Strand, Ireland

Five Fingers Strand, Ireland

Looking back along the Portrush coastline, Northern Ireland

Looking back along the Portrush coastline, Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

A wee hurrah in the Scottish highlands

A wee hurrah in the Scottish highlands

St Andrews cathedral, Scotland - this kind of construction blows my mind...

St Andrews cathedral – this kind of construction blows my mind…

Right in time for the birth of the new prince... lucky me

Right in time for the birth of the new prince… lucky me

Life on the Kennet & Avon canal

Life on the Kennet & Avon canal, England

Mmmmm beautiful smelling roses galore!

Mmmmm beautiful smelling roses galore!

I have been referred to as ‘antipodean’ numerous times and to be honest, I actually had to consult Wikipedia for a definition… where did the concept come from? to what extent does my so-called ‘antipodean’ heritage influence people’s first impressions of me? and mine of them?

In true ‘Antipodean’ style, I feel I should make comment on the weather… and marvel at the fact that it has been beautiful, warm and sunny for a whole month… perhaps it has been putting on a special show just for me 😉 I swam in both the northern Atlantic and the North Sea (and sadly had no appropriate swimming attire on my birthday when I could’ve swum in the English Channel too) – the heart re-boot effect of the shockingly cold water is a tad addictive and it seems to get easier with practice.

Swimming spot #1: Portrush, Northern Ireland

Swimming spot #1: Portrush, Northern Ireland

Swimming spot #2: a secret spot on the North East coast, England

Swimming spot #2: a ‘secret’ spot on the North East coast, England

Well, this post started as a kind of intellectual reflection on what I have been seeing through my eyes, processing with my brain and doing with my body. But, as I write, I realise that July 2013 has actually had the most dramatic impact on my heart. I saw a side of the UK that can never be seen through our eyes. It was a month of beautiful people. The photos below are in fact my most treasured memories of the beautiful people I shared some time with (albeit way too short!).

Shaz n David in Portrush, Northern Ireland

Shaz n David in Portrush, Northern Ireland

Bruce, Hilary and family in Dunning, Scotland

Bruce, Hilary and family in Dunning, Scotland

Emma, Leigh and family in Wylam, England

Emma, Leigh and family in Wylam, England

Couldn't avoid the work colleagues in London... Darryl, Silvia and Flo

Work colleagues that I actually like… what a concept! Darryl, Silvia and Flo in London

Old friends are the best - Harry, Clive, Pam and Val

Old friends are the best – Harry, Clive, Pam and Val in Worthing, England

Clive & I getting up to all kinds of mischief

Clive & I getting up to all kinds of mischief on the Kennet & Avon canal, Newbury

Felicity / Fliss / Aunty Bliss / F-Dawg / Felicitas / Gibb / Gibblet... I could on...

Felicity / Fliss / Aunty Bliss / F-Dawg / Felicitas / Gibb / Gibblet… she is all these things and more… in London

… and the other gorgeous girls in London (whose photos I will put up when I work out how to make my iPhone either a) talk to my laptop or b) detect free WiFi signals)… Cleo, Margaux, Nic, Em, Bridget and Sal.

I am so grateful to have such kind, loving and inspirational people in my life… no matter how near or far :) 

Mexico retrospective

As my train whizzes through the Scottish countryside (with a cold and rugged coastline on one side and lush green pastures on the other), my adventures in Mexico seem a lifetime ago. In reality, that was only two weeks ago – wow. Nevertheless, here goes a quick snapshot of my time in Mexico.

The snorkelling and diving on offer in Mexico is completely mind-blowing – especially when you venture into the fresh-water underground world! I had my first ever diving experience in the cenotes (caves) near Tulum and it was unreal. I know they tell you that the most important thing is to keep breathing normally but there were numerous times when I was awestruck and breathless! I think the photos speak for themselves…

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Dos Ojos Cenote

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Dos Ojos Cenote

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A whole new world

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Then, after a friendly conversation with the owner of our hostel (Casa Del Sol in Tulum), Ella, myself and two other English lads found ourselves travelling local style (in the back of a ute) to a completely isolated beachside town called El Uvero where we ‘camped’ in the owner’s unfinished house! We had to keep pinching ourselves as we kayaked out to the reef, snorkelled, caught all kinds of fresh seafood for dinner, found hidden cenotes, watched soccer games and shared our love of music… all under the full moon and all in the presence of swarms of mosquitos… hungry enough to bite through thick clothing! Totally surreal.

Ella putting her spear-gun skills to work

Ella putting her spear-gun skills to work

Hidden cenotes... apparently noone has ever found the bottom of this one!

Hidden cenotes… apparently noone has ever found the bottom of this one!

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Dinner... that lasted a couple of days and nights

Dinner… that lasted a couple of days and nights

We were literally the only ones in this paradise!

We were literally the only ones in this paradise!

Campfire cooking

Campfire cooking

Road trip to El Uvero

Road trip to El Uvero

Fresh coconuts

Fresh coconuts

Having spent longer than planned in the Yucatan, we then headed straight for Mexico city. Although we didn’t spend long there, it was surprisingly pleasant! We wandered the historical centre at night, visited the Museum of Anthropology and I got to negotiate the full suite of hectic transport options on offer. My rush-hour subway experience involved police blockades to separate men from women and children in order to prevent people getting trampled in the surging crowds but even in that situation, I was greeted with friendly smiles and help.

 

From the air, Mexico City reveals its true endlessness...

From the air, Mexico City reveals its true endlessness…

Out and about in the Historic Centre of Mexico City ... a whole crowd sing-along to Mexican love songs

Out and about in the Historic Centre of Mexico City … a whole crowd sing-along to Mexican love songs

Saying goodbye to Ella after incredible adventures together

Saying goodbye to Ella after incredible adventures together

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After a sad farewell to Ella, I headed for the mountain town of Taxco where I was welcomed by Jaime and Romelia; a lovely couple I met at a conference in 2012. Taxco had Spanish charm, more amazing (although dry) cave formations and entirely different culinary options to try. My room at the Posada de la Mission convent from the 1600s was gorgeous and I only wished I had longer to enjoy it.

 

Taxco

Taxco

A night time panorama over Taxco

A night time panorama over Taxco

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Romelia and Jaime

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A regional specialty ‘Pozole’ – corn soup with pig fat, chicken, chilli, onion and avocado

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Grutas de Cacahuamilpa

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Nevertheless, a day or two later, I crossed back to the Gulf of Mexico coast where I met some family friends in Veracruz – Boca del Rio. This place showed me yet another dimension of Mexico as a drug-trafficking nexus, the old capital, a port-based economy and laid-back coastal living. Dare I say that it almost felt like life on the Sunshine Coast, QLD.

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Isla de Enmedio

Isla de Enmedio

Breakfast with the Mabarak ladies

Breakfast with the Mabarak ladies

Veracruz zocalo - town centre

Veracruz zocalo – town centre

Mexico definitely upheld its’ reputation for amazing food. Highlights include:

–          fresh seafood galore (some of it thanks to Ella’s spear-fishing talents!)

–          limes galore (in beer, in tequila and squeezed on top of everything including plain tacos!)

–          black beans (that taste better than I have ever been able to make at home)

–          and quirky regional specialites (like jumil / roasted beetles and all sorts of variations on tacos and yummy sauces)!

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All in all, I know that there is much more to explore in Mexico and hopefully, one day, I will be back :)

 

Would you BELIZE it?

From Guatemala’s waterfalls, limestone bridges and caves at Semuc Champay and the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, we headed straight to Caye Caulker (one of Belize’s many islands amid the second largest reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef). A completely unplanned stop but I’m really glad we ended up there for a few days.

Caye Caulker - the main street

Caye Caulker – the main street

We were travelling with a couple of American friends who managed to score an old beachfront shack (cabana) and we all promptly invested in 7 large lobsters straight off the neighbour’s boat (for USD25 – oh so happy). We had no idea that our timing was perfect for the Belize Lobster Festival… pure luck!! We spent the next couple of days experimenting with different ways of flavouring, cooking and devouring lobster, snorkelling trips out to the reef and enjoying the Caribbean-style night life (reggae grooving til the wee hours!)

Michelle getting intimate with the lobster!

Michelle getting intimate with the lobster!

Cabana fun

Cabana fun

Thunderstorms are another particularly dramatic feature of Belize at this time of year – one minute it can be stinking hot and sunny and then it is rapidly followed by an hour of pouring rain. When you combine pouring rain, hot temperatures that make raincoats (and even sunscreen) unbearable and the tropical wood / thatch style of construction on most buildings, you quickly realize that there is no escaping the weather! It rains just as much inside as it does on the outside. And whether due to rain or pleasure activities (swimming, sailing, snorkelling etc), whatever you wear gets wet… you just gotta get over it.

Drenched but the day must go on...

Drenched but the day must go on…

Belize is such a small country but there is plenty to explore and it has a fascinating mix of cultures: several different groups of indigenous peoples, the Spanish colonial history, African Caribbean / Creole influence, waves of Asian immigration and a range of other visitors that have chosen to settle into / ‘got stuck in’ the laid back lifestyle on offer. Rasta-influenced pick-up lines and friendly compliments seem to be a normal part of walking down the street here :) Hey, its always nice to be told you’re looking very beautiful today… “sweet honey pie” :)

Both Ella and I also got told to ‘slow down’ numerous times! As I write this, a week later, I think we’ve finally mastered the slow stroll!!! Hmmm, perhaps that crazy little thing called relaxation is happening.

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Poor quality picture but a beautiful Manatee nonetheless!

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Guatemala

Well, well, well…. you’ll be pleased to know that I made it through the transition process from work to travel without too much disruption from my anxieties and unrealistic expectations! Instead, there were lots of beautiful moments with the special people in my life :) It was an incredible experience having so many of my favourite Brisbane people in the same room for my going away party (and I’m glad they all got to meet the two people responsible for giving me the travel bug in the first place! Mum and Dad, I’m talking about you!)

It was devastating to have not finished the Indigenous Landscape Values report before embarking on my travels. 5 years of work is yet to be shared with the wider world and all sorts of feelings are coursing through me. Have I been wasting my own and everyone else’s time? Am I capable of finishing the tasks that I start? If I ever wanted to do a PhD, do I actually have the skills that I thought I had gained during my time at Griffith? By drawing a line in the sand and stepping away from the project, have I acted with integrity?

Regardless of what the answers to these questions might be, here I am in Guatemala… the travels are underway… and I know I must let go.

Ella Lawton, bless her soul, had organised a friendly face holding a sign with my name on it to greet me at 11pm when I touched down in Guatemala City. Ernesto spoke Spanish while I responded in English and periodically nodded off during the 45 minute drive to Antigua. A hot shower and comfy bed in a private room awaited me. After 30 something hours in transit, it was exactly what I needed.

Antigua is a beautiful city; a comfortable mix of Mayan and Spanish history (a UNESCO world heritage site!), international and local cuisine, smiling faces amid the bustle of local activity, travellers from diverse backgrounds and ongoing rumbling and crumbling of the small city as a result of earthquakes and volcanic activity. A perfect place to start this new adventure. You could happily wander around the small 11 block by 9 block grid of cobblestone streets for days. Although I didn’t manage to do it justice in a photo, my favourite view is looking along the long straight streets with continuous colourful walls of buildings, Volcan de Pacaya in the distance and ‘life’ taking place in between. We have now moved on to Lago de Atitlan (a huge lake surrounded by several volcanoes) where the travel pace slows right down.

Thus far, I like the fact that most locals speak less English and most travellers speak more Spanish that I imagined. The tourist / local divide is not quite as drastic as most other places I have been and already, I’ve met so many inspiring people… why don’t we make more time in our every-day lives for talking about the things we love?

Speaking of love, it is now time for some kundalini yoga by the lake… oh yes, life is good. Wherever you are reading this right now, I hope that you’re feeling the love too :) Buenos Dias

Roman Catholic churches everywhere… the old

El Mercado

Roman Catholic churches everywhere… the new

Football behind El Mercado, with Volcan de Agua in the background

so many different types of chillis!!

The view from our Holistico Hostal rooftop

AMAZING DINNER… Duck with roasted grapes (try this at home!) and just as awesome ravioli (although I’ve forgotten the ingredients… poor form!)

my favourite… an early morning snap of the streetscape with Volcan de Agua in the background

Volcan de Pacaya… rumbling and throwing rocks at least 50m into the air while we were up there!

a very hot little cavern in the side of Volcan de Pacaya

Looking back over Antigua

Transitions

Well this is strange ~ a transition into cyber-space. Story-telling in the ether. Am I writing to myself? or to a lover? or to others in the Wadsie clan? or to the world in general? I think for now I’ll pretend that its just me and worry about everyone else later :)

This is going to be my place for telling stories, capturing memories, exploring new ideas and reflecting on life.

Insight. Perspective. Reflection. All things I need right now as I transition from the beautiful comfort of a lifestyle I love here in Brisbane into the unknown and unpredictable life of a traveller. My heart and my mind are struggling with this idea at the moment. Especially now that it is less than one month until I leave – Sunday 9th June 2013… YIKES

Some nights I wake up hot and twisted from semi-conscious nightmares where my brain tries to nut out unresolved issues… where to leave my ‘stuff’? where will I stay on my first night in Guatemala? should I buy a new laptop before I go or lug the heavy, slow old one?

A lot of people are asking where ‘home’ will be when I get back. But all these definitions feel blurry – what is ‘home’? what does it mean to come ‘back’? Footloose and fancy-free is such a different mindset to the settled lifestyle I have come to enjoy here in Brisbane over the past 5 years. I take comfort in the feeling that New Zealand will always be ‘home’ so that is something… but for now, I like not knowing what is ahead.

It is reassuring that my long term dream to travel with no fixed itinerary or time restrictions is finally happening! The current challenge is making sure I enjoy the transition without letting my anxieties and unrealistic expectations get in the way.

Dancing is helping – it allows me to feel the chaotic clash of emotions, embody them, and then somehow, move on. Maybe I will be brave and put up a video post. I’m not sure how to do that yet. We will see.