HOW WE CAME TO BUY AN AMBULANCE, THAT WE’RE GONNA LIVE IN

That’s right, we bought an ambulance.

It’s not a fully functioning one, as many have questioned, but the lights and sirens do in fact work. Although, we have yet to try them out, apparently they’re rather loud– and illegal. The inside has been gutted and set up as a camper. Before I tell you all about our funky new vehicle, I’ll back-track a little to our entire car-hunt in general.

Abel and I had been browsing online, craigslist mainly, for used campervans, RVs, conversion vans etc. In the weeks leading up to our departure it seemed like we were constantly coming across good finds. Low prices, low miles, lots of potential. A whole variety of things would pop up and we’d think, that could be the one. Then of course, as is often the case, many hiccups and mishaps stopped these “good finds” from becoming “good buys”.

About a week before we left, I emailed a woman about a campervan she was selling. It seemed perfect: not too big, completely fitted out and self-contained, only $7k. Her reply said something like this:

Hey Annika, the van is still available. I am selling because my husband passed away recently and I don’t use it much anymore. I am actually away at the moment, and the van is located in Indiana. I would like to do the sale through ebay because they are more reliable and have never let me down. The process is quite simple. You just need to make a down payment of $2000 and I will have the van sent by courier to where you are (it will take 5 days-a week). You have 5 days to inspect the van and make sure you’re happy with it. If not, you may send it back and I will refund your deposit. If all looks good with you, you can complete your payment and the courier service will provide you with the title transfer details. Let me know if this interests you and I will create a private ebay link to send to you.

How good does that sound, right? I summoned Abel over, summarised the email and he said, yep, let’s do it. I definitely wanted some more details before providing this lady with a deposit, so I asked for the VIN and a bit more information on how the van itself runs. Other than that, we thought it was pretty much sorted. I showed lots of people photos and had my fingers crossed it would all work out. Guess crossing your fingers does fuck all, because this was nothing but a heavy-weighted scam. I can thank my mum and her friend Denise for making me think carefully before signing a deal with devil. Mum sent me a link to some articles about campervan scams on the internet. Apparently there’s a HUGE market for it. If it wasn’t such an awful thing to do to someone, it would almost be a really great way to make some quick cash… almost. The article listed some pretty basic warning signs:

  • The sale is usually linked to some kind of tragedy (this lady’s “dead” husband)
  • They often say they are out of town
  • They will provide a courier service
  • They would like a down payment
  • They would like to do the sale through ebay

This lady pretty much ticked every box with gusto. I was hoping she would prove me wrong, and after asking for the VIN (for the 4th or 5th time) and a phone number I could contact her on, she told me she had done everything I had asked for and she felt as if I was wasting her time. In actual fact, she was wasting her own by not answering my god-damned questions. I told her as much, that I knew she was a scammer, and where she could stick it.

Safe to say this got my hopes down a little. It helps that Abel is generally an optimist, “we’ll find something”.

About two days before we left, my friend Kate sent me a link to a post on Instagram. An Australian girl who had just travelled across the US with her boyfriend in a converted ambulance was now selling as their trip came to a close. Immediately after seeing the photos, I frantically waved my hands, said “oh my god”a handful of times, and asked my friend Elle if I could borrow her phone as mine was dead. I messaged Alissa (previous ambo owner) and told her I was extremely interested and would love to hear more.

The ambulance was up for sell with all the necessary gear included: Tables, gas cooker, loads of kitchen supplies, mozzie nets, yoga mats, fishing rod and tackle. So much good stuff. Alissa and I messaged over the course of the next week, talking part about the ambulance but also about their entire trip in general. It was so lovely being able to ask someone for advice on so many of my central concerns; talking with her really put my mind at ease about a lot of things. For example: how did they go travelling without a shower/how did they access one? She told something I would have never thought to do. They joined Planet Fitness, a gym franchise that has 1,500 locations across the USA. The full membership, with all the bells and whistles, is only $21.95 a month and lets you bring a guest for free every single time. That way, she told me, they were able to shower and stay fit while on the road. Goodness knows we’re gonna need to stay fit, we both like the bad foods.

I asked question after question and Alissa totally indulged me, she loved talking about this stuff, and wished she’d been able to ask someone these things when they first started off.

There was only a few things turning us off the ambulance in the beginning: 1. Alissa warned me it was most definitely not insulated. They had done a few stints in cold weather and made do with thermal blankets and a campfire before bed. At this point, our travel-route was going to endure some cold weather, so this was a little concerning for me. And 2. The van was located in Florida. Lucky for me, my parents live there, but then the question was, how do we get this van up to the North-East? So we kind of pushed the ambulance to the back burner. It was awesome, but not completely feasible.

We had a bite whilst in Hawaii, but the seller was a tad odd. I spoke with him on the phone and he didn’t give me a whole lot. Tons of short, closed off answers that made me question whether he really wanted to sell the thing. I told him my aunt would be more than happy to come look, since we wouldn’t be on the east coast for another week or two. He said I could give her his number but he finished off the call with, “Yeah ok, well we’ll see when you’re out here and if the van is still available”. Uhh, ok. Denise called the following day and he told her it sold that morning. I was soo grateful that he gave us the opportunity to check it out.

It wan’t until the end of our NYC trip, as we headed out to CT, that we seriously began looking at more vans and trying to contact people. To be honest, most people gave vague responses, if any at all. Anyone who sounded eager to make a deal, was usually another scammer. I was feeling frustrated and unsure how we were going to move forward with this. Why did people continue to list their van or campers and then made no effort to try and sell them? Most options were oversized too; I could never seem to find the basic high-top camper you might see cruising along the coasts in Australia, parked at a beach carpark for a night or two before moving on to the next.

Denise didn’t have a lot of work on while we were visiting Fairfield and she graciously offered to take us to check out any vans that interested us. People were always telling us to head south to Florida and buy there. It’s warmer and swarming with oldies, so more vans would be floating around. During our first dinner at my Aunt and Uncle’s place, they shed some light on things I’d actively avoided thinking about. Gross administrative things like registration and insurance. Registering your car with your state of residency isn’t an enormous issue, but I’m not really a resident, so I’d have to use my parent’s Floridian address in order to do this. The lingering question was then, how would I get the plates in order to move the vehicle from A to B? We decided going to Florida was our best, and probably last, option. Dad would be able to help us sort out the details and we could take our time with it.

Once this decision was seriously in the works, Abel asked me if the ambulance was still available. Two weeks had nearly passed since my last contact with Alissa and I thought the odds were pretty slim. “Just check”. I couldn’t believe our luck when she replied to my message saying, “Actually, it is”.

Alissa and Lachie had been super busy whilst in West Palm Beach and didn’t have much time for any viewings with other potential buyers. I told her we would be flying down in the next week and if it was still available, we’d love to come and check it out. She pretty much pushed all her other appointments until after we had booked in to see the ambulance that coming Monday. When we’d been messaging previously, Alissa had told me we were at the top of their list. I think they liked knowing it would be going to a good home, to another Aussie couple doing the same thing. Rather than a 40-year-old man who only planned to use it to tailgate football games.

We did the three-hour drive to West Palm Beach and shortly after seeing the van, we were certain we wanted it. We made an offer, paid a deposit and picked it up the following day. Dad used some points he had to put us up at the Hilton Hotel that first night (score), and during check-in the concierge upgraded us to a suite (double score). The next day was leisurely, we laid at the beach for hours (the bonus of heading to Florida and altering our travel-route, more summer weather!) and went to an Aussie/Irish bar in town where we drank $3 margaritas and ate $2 tacos (pretty decent considering this place was anything but Mexican). The waitress told the owner Rod that we were Aussies and he wandered over, plonked himself down with his large, filled wine glass and chatted to us for a good half hour.

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We spent our first night in the van (and only, so far) that evening. She was a hot one, so now we’re kind of looking forward to some cooler evenings. While cooking breakfast that next morning in a beach carpark, we made a heap of older dude friends. They were all going for a morning surf and in awe of our ambulance. “Nice rig you got there,” this one guy said as he walked towards us, leaning his head for a peak inside. They wanted to talk vans and then even better, they wanted to talk Australia. Trust me, I told them, you’ll be getting better waves than this down under. Safe to say she’s gonna be a great spark for conversation, our ambulance.

Once we were back in Tampa at Dad’s place, we did a large Walmart haul to get any of the necessary gear they didn’t already give us. Not that we had to get much. We still spent a lot, but we saved a shit load too.

The ambulance also has three spare batteries that aren’t in use, but they’re practically brand new. We’ve bought an inverter so we can utilise them (we’ve been collecting all the parts over the past few days and Abel will be setting it up soon). We bought a mini-fridge for the front cab area, which will hook up to the spare batteries, and when the time comes, we’ll be able to buy and use a cheap electrical heater to fight off the frosty winter evenings.

It’s been so nice making the ambulance into a home. We’ve slowly been moving our things in, organising the cupboards and getting it all set-up and ready for the road. Our journey has been off to a slow start due to an issue with our “arriving” inverter from Amazon. It says it was delivered on Saturday, but it most certainly was not. Not the best of luck in that department, but I can’t be too ungrateful… because we bought a fricken ambulance! I don’t really know my opinions about the operation of the universe, they’re still forming and shaping, but I guess when Alissa said the ambulance was still available, I took that as a sign– it was meant for us. In some cosmic sort of way. I guess.

So here she is, meet our ride:

 

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(If anyone can think of a good name for her, please let me know. The previous owners named her Bambi, but I think we should shake things up little)

I’ll be back soon to talk about our first part of the road trip and van life.

A

OUR TIME IN NEW YORK

Every time I’m back in “the city” it feels familiar with a subtle air of difference. Although, it’s most likely I who has changed and not New York itself. Since I grew up in Connecticut, New York was always just “the city”, much like Sydney is back home. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been there. Five years ago on my last visit to the USA, I was 18 and NYC was very impressionable on me. No doubt people feel differently about it, but to me, New York forces you to dream big, feel alive and believe you’re capable of absolutely anything. It’s filled with 8 million different kinds of people and I think that’s where this whole lack of judgement among its citizens stems from. Everyone and anyone can find their niche in this city and that’s what makes it so great.

The Jane Hotel is over a 100 years old. I booked this hotel not just for it’s prime location along the Hudson, settled right into the West Village and not far from Chelsea, but for the atmosphere I knew it would have just from looking at the pictures. Total Wes Anderson vibes. Here’s some pics from their site itself, because I repeatedly forgot to take my own…

Lobby
Ballroom and Mezzanine
Rooftop Bar

 

Rooftop Bar Balcony (all images sourced from here)

The Jane Hotel is an old sailor’s cabin, men would come and retire here for the evening after long journeys at sea. Abel overheard one night at the bar, that back in 1912 when the Titanic sank, all of the survivors were sent to The Jane. They still host a remembrance night on the anniversary each year, apparently. I knew none of this, obviously, when booking, but these photos were enough to entice me and overlook the price. I booked us a sailor’s bunk (our cheapest option) and figured we would either enjoy the space away from each other, or I’d force Abel to squeeze into one bed together (we tried this one night and it only lasted a few hours). The cabin was a shoebox. Literally, we couldn’t lay any of our bags on the floor. One person was forced to sit on their bed and wait patiently while one of us dressed and readied for the day– then we would swap. The room also meant we shared a bathroom with others, but this didn’t phase me. I’ve done the whole hostel thing many a times (some nasty, some not) and these bathrooms were exceptionally clean (I knew they would be, take a look at more photos on the link).

Quickly after shuffling into our room for the first time, and stumbling over our bags, we deeply questioned an upgrade. Fuck it, we’re in New York baby! This idea deflated real fast when I checked and noticed a standard double suite would cost us an extra $200 a night. Not entirely in our budget. We wouldn’t be spending much time in the room anyway, so it didn’t really matter. And apart from the size issue (and the springy beds) the room was nice. We both had our own TV, fresh towels, robes and slippers each day– we really couldn’t complain. Besides, the allure of the hotel was in its public locations anyway. A ballroom, rooftop bar and restaurant all on site. The first few nights the ballroom was closed for private events, so we drank at the rooftop. All the while I was thinking, where is this grand room I was promised in the photos? After talking to the bartender, he told us it would be back in full swing by the weekend and he assured us it was a good time: “Literally there will be a line outside around the corner, it gets really busy. But you guys are guests so you get to come straight through and skip the whole line.” That made party-hunting a little easier, we didn’t have to go anywhere and no stress about late night subway or taxi rides.

Now I’ll talk a little less about our hotel and a bit more about the city itself and what we did while we were there. We pretty much ticked most of the stuff off the list. I’ve done a lot of the main tourist attractions, so this visit was more about fuelling Abel’s NYC desires. He’s a simple guy though and honestly wasn’t too fussed. A lot of pressure was taken off as well because we know for a fact we’ll be coming back here, and at Christmas time too (!!), which is just magical. I really can’t wait to see the tree all lit, starry and bright, towering over Rockefeller Centre. A favourite spectacle of mine.

Since there was no pressure, we didn’t get around to visiting the World Trade Centre (I’ve been twice), but we will certainly go when we are back. It really is a must for anyone seeing the city. It’s moving and eerie, but you just can’t avoid going. We also didn’t go to the top of any buildings, such as the Empire State. I hate heights, although my dear friend Claudia dragged me up there last visit and it wasn’t too frightening. The elevator was the worst part, but the twinkling view was rewarding.

Instead of The Met (I have also frequented) we visited The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), mainly to experience Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Monet’s Water Lillies, both surrounded by plenty of other amazing artworks. Not that we really know much about art, but it’s nice knowing that despite the small amount of knowledge we might have on a topic or piece, it can still move you and make you feel a certain way. Often we don’t even know what that feeling is or what it means to us, but art is enthralling like that. It sparks something within you, allows it to burn for a few moments while you question yourself and everything around you and more often that not, we are left with more questions than answers. Answers are boring anyway, how we ask questions is what keeps life appealing. Here’s some of the works that did that for me:

I’m a fool for not remembering or taking note of this artist. Hopefully this isn’t illegal. Anyone who knows, let me know. Because I loved this.

Plus the two main attractions:

Claude Monet’s Water Lillies
Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Earlier this day we visited the Central Park Zoo and it’s not that I was disappointed– not at all, in fact– but Madagascar (the film), whilst it is a classic, is a total sham. There is not a single lion, zebra, hippo nor giraffe at the Central Park Zoo. The penguins and monkeys were definitely there though. The red pandas were the real highlight. Mischievous little cat-dog creatures, actually related to raccoons, constantly rummaging through the ground foliage and climbing tree branches. I wanted to take one home with me. It was like a boutique zoo, small in its overall size, but not in regards to the animals’ spaces or the quality. Walking all around were zoo workers offering facts and conversation with the visitors. It really was a sweet place.

Red Panda
Sweet sleeping grizzly. If the claws weren’t there, I could cuddle this thing forever.

One of the most exciting things we ticked off was a broadway show. I wasn’t too sure how I could drag Abel to one of these, since he’s not much a ‘musical’ guy. I don’t mind the simple breaking-out-into-song, I kind of wish life was like that, so musicals really do it for me. Not to mention there were some killer choices: Mean Girls, Pretty Woman, Frozen. Like honestly, any of those would have served me well. Not to worry though, on our first day I spotted a little advertisement perched on the top of a yellow-taxi. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Not a musical and pretty perfect for two die-hard HP fans.

We lucked out in the ticket department, because this show is actually a two-part act. Not your standard show with intermission, but two shows. I knew we couldn’t really see one and not the other, that just wouldn’t make a lot of sense, right? So I purchased the two-part tickets and damn, we got lucky. Orchestra seats booked the evening before. We had been mentally preparing to sit down for a good 5-6 hours of play-time. I thought that was pretty weird, but who was I to question these things. Part one ended and when everyone was up and leaving we asked the lady next to us when we would see part two, “Come back at 7:30. Your two part ticket gave you the matinee, part one, and the evening show, part two.” Now that made a lot more sense. A quick break for Chipotle and the whole time we were thinking, what will part two bring?! 

I had seriously questioned this play when it was first released. I remember flicking through it whilst in Kmart once and seeing names of deceased characters in speaking roles and I thought, well that’s just fucking stupidBut honestly, not only was it well-written, but the entire performance was top notch. I mean, we did watch it on broadway, but the acting, the music, the theatrics was all of such a high calibre. All that talent on display, while being back in the magical world of wizardry, was just sublime. Don’t question it, just go. And see both parts. I have no idea how someone could go to part one and that alone. You’d be left hanging in the middle of an epic tale… so that’s how they make the money!

The last big tourist thing we did was venture over to Ellis Island. Ellis Island is where, for years, immigrants came through for processing before entering the United States. I’d been here once before, in 5th grade on a field trip. It was nice to go back with a bit more appreciation for history. Our ferry over stopped at Liberty Island, but we didn’t get off. You can see the Statue of Liberty as you pull up, and to be honest, that’s the best view you’re gonna get of her. Out in the water while she stands tall in the distance.

Lady Liberty

Those were really the main things we experienced while in NY. I mean, we ticked plenty of other things off our list, most of them being food items. A good slice of New York pizza on more than one occasion. We frequented Village Pizza, a few blocks from The Jane. Serious authentic quality, the sauce was a treat to the taste buds. And on our first night we took full advantage of “the city that never sleeps”– we ordered pizza and hot cookies to our room, well past midnight, just because we could.

Village Pizza

I’ve been following a Chef (named Anthony, @chefanthony_ballatosnyc) who works at Emilio’s Ballato for over a year now on Instagram. I actually came across his page from, I believe it was Miley Cyrus. The photos he posts of their food is seriously mouth-watering. I used to scroll through his feed, starving for one of these authentic Italian meals. I knew it was of high quality, not only because of their patron Miley Cyrus, but the entire array of celebrities that go there. Obama included. They don’t take reservations, they operate on a first-come first-served basis, which made things a bit easier for us. I knew we’d have to arrive as soon as they opened to snag a table. Surely people in the city aren’t going to be feasting on their evening meal at 5pm, right? Luckily we got a table, because they were filling up fast. Not long after we were seated, a queue slowly started to form and snake its way onto the street. The food was exceptional. Simple, high-quality, fresh food. No wonder so many well-known people frequent there. Abel was seriously convinced that seated behind us was former vice-president Joe Biden. Any time we weren’t in silence from shovelling homemade pasta into our gobs, we were debating about the white-haired man. It was not Joe Biden. I repeat, it was not Joe Biden.

However, we did spot one ‘celebrity’, a man staying at our hotel. On our first night I saw him at the rooftop bar, turned to give a casual smile and probably held his eyes for a moment too long. I instantly recognised him, but for the life of me, I cannot tell you where from. I’m not crazy either, he’s definitely ‘known’, because a few moments later a young girl went up to chat with him and take a selfie. She shuffled out of there pretty quickly so I couldn’t catch his name. I spent a lot of my time in New York googling “actors with grey hair and scruffy beards”. One day I’ll spot him on the screen and squeal with pure relief.

It was really just nice to wonder the streets, ride the subway, and visit the hotspots (Washington Square Park, Times Square, the Chelsea Highline) like we were little live-ins. If you can get enough time to visit the city properly, you’ve kinda gotta pretend you’re a local. I mean, no doubt we gave off tourist vibes with the Aussie accents (although, fair warning, mine is becoming a pure hybrid at the moment), but you really have to do your best to live New York like a true New Yorker. Push through the crowds, walk fast, do whatever you want to do, how you want to do it.

But don’t worry, we still managed to stop and look up at the towering buildings in awe, and let the bright lights wash through us. Plus Abel got really excited about the squirrels in Central Park (way to blow our cover, man).

Squirrel! (He is still getting excited by them)
Central Park

Empire State

Chelsea Highline

Now we’re in my hometown of Fairfield, CT, staying at my Aunt Melissa and Uncle Michel’s place. This was always my second home while growing up, so it’s really nice to be back here. We have done… not a lot this whole week. Once again, we’ve been snoozing ’til about 10 or 11 am most mornings. But hey, why not? Most days consist of going for a stroll, starting a fire outside and reading by it for hours to warm up. The leaves are turning more orange and yellow with each day that passes. The air is fresh, a lot like our winter temperatures back home, but we’re slowly becoming acclimated. Abel has been wearing thermals under his clothes the past few days, but you do what you’ve got to do! It really is my favourite time of year around here. Halloween is creeping up and I forgot how much I loved that holiday. Just ask Abel, I can’t stop randomly chirping, “Happy Halloween!”, “Trick or treat!” Autumn brings so many things with it: the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, apple cider and freshly fallen leaves. There’s nothing like it.

Though we won’t be experiencing it for too much longer. This week was meant to be our time to buy a van, but we’ve made slight alterations to our original plans. Since we’re going to have to register a car in the country, you need a permanent address, which my dad has in Florida. Buying a car down there, closer to him, makes more sense. Plus, there are a lot more options for vans/campers down there. Tomorrow, we fly to Tampa. This definitely changes our road-tripping route, but we don’t mind. I haven’t seen my Dad since January, so seeing him before Christmas is going to be really nice. Plus, there is a real funky vehicle we’re going to check out on Monday. Fingers crossed it all works out. Stay tuned, because I know y’all are gonna love it.

A

LIL BIT OF SAN FRANCISCO

We finally made it to the mainland and reunited with some of my family–hooray!

It was so nice to feel “at home” and be able to relax a little without feeling completely guilty for not getting out, doing and seeing things.

My aunt Lauren, uncle Kurt and their kids Max (11) and Natasha (5) live just outside of the city in Lafayette. I visited last time I was in the states, but the kids were real young then. It was nice to “re-meet” my cousins and spend time with the family. Max is sweet and quiet and definitely turning into a very smart cookie. Natasha was exuding excitement about meeting us. She arrived home from school, grinning ear to ear as she gave me a little cuddle, then she watched me attentively, her head pressed against the window, while I sat outside and read. It wasn’t long before she started climbing all over Abel, begging us to play tag and Peppa Pig with her.

To be honest, most mornings in Lafayette Abel and I arose at around 10 or 11 am. We had done a red-eye from Honolulu. I passed out for the whole flight, experiencing weird dreams about sleeping on a plane. It’s damn strange how our brains do that. I was in a deep sleep, but I was very aware of where I was and what I was doing. Abel took a sleeping pill too, and just like our first flight, barely slept a wink. I don’t know how he managed to fight off the drug-induced hallucinations as well, but he had a decent 6-hour nap our first day in Cali.

We really only had three main touristy days. The first was a visit to Stinson Beach and the Redwoods. We drove in my aunt’s Ford Explorer–a little beast– around winding roads, with huge escarpments banked to the right, and a steep drop with no railing or fence to our left. Our mission was completed, we’d made it to the park entrance, only to be told we were required to reserve parking and wouldn’t be able to return for another hour and 30 minutes. No problem, Lauren had told us Stinson beach was a cute little town, so we journeyed back up the climbing roads and down some more towards the coastline. Time ticked away pretty quickly as we drove, so our visit to to Stinson was a mere stroll along the beach, a quick coffee and stop in the cutest little bookshop.

Seeing beaches that are so vastly different from the ones back home is always interesting. At Stinson, there are houses built directly on the sand, with metre high walls to stop the tides from causing any damage. I thought living a street back from the beach was enough create to worry about tsunamis, but these guys would be toast.


This is the little literature shop I dragged Abel into (and subtly hinted at the card section for my upcoming birthday haha). The owner had a vast but nicely curated selection of books. Working for the past six or so months in a bookshop has taught me a lot about the industry (on top of my organic adoration for books and writing) and I immediately want to talk and ask questions upon questions. It wasn’t really needed, because the owner muttered to herself behind the counter, apologised and went on to tell me about issues she was having with arriving shipments from her publishers. I could wander (or loiter) in a bookshop for hours and not even buy anything. Looking at the different stories and texts that are out there, breathing in the distinct scent of ink and fresh paper, is more than enough for me.

The Redwoods had a few different trail options. We decided to take the “middle” one, meaning not the shortest nor the longest. Turns out it was a lot longer than we had realised, starting with an incline that took us up through the woods and out into an open space, with a valley falling out far below us. Huge hills sat cuddled close together and you could just vaguely see the ocean in the distance (always a sigh of relief and comfort for me). The Bay Area is foggy as hell so the strip of ocean almost felt like a mirage. We struggled to get high quality photos, especially since we’re learning photographers.

After making our way up and out of the valley, the trail circled back through the forest and the trees slowly became more mammoth like. I questioned Abel on the possibility of mountain lines, but figured there weren’t any warning signs at the beginning of the trail, so surely we were safe. Maybe two minutes later Abel stopped dead in his tracks, grabbed me and told me to look to my left. A furry, brown blob appeared in my peripherals and I screamed at an intense decibel. It was just a stag.

Two days later was my 24th birthday and it just didn’t feel like it all. I mean, I had such a wonderful day and entire weekend (Lauren bought me cute pressies, cooked us a wonderful dinner on the Sunday and ordered a selection of delectable cupcakes), but all day, I kept forgetting it was my birthday– I guess that’s the burden of ageing. That was the first day Abel and I ventured into the city, an easy 40 minute (if that) train ride from Lafayette. The day was spent walking along the pier, gorging on In-N-Out, visiting Reformation and buying myself a classic black dress, cocktails, wine, more gorging, more wine.

In-N-Out has a huge reputation around it and there was no disappointment for us. While the place was packed–the line snaking around and out of the front doors– the food was fresh, cheap and came out within a matter of 15-20 minutes. We visited again two days later.

During my last visit in San Francisco, my cousin Elise took me on a mission across the city so we could shop at her favourite store. Literally, I think she said “just two more blocks” about 10 times. I ended up with blisters from my jelly sandals (what was I thinking?) and had to walk barefoot in the city. Abel and I had a good laugh because I pretty much did that exact same thing to him on this visit. I believed Reformation was a matter of a few blocks away and led Abel far up Fillmore Street (known for it’s steep hills and steps). Totally worth it, in my opinion– the dress is gorgeous and I’ll have it forever.

All the walking meant we were ready to start drinking and we pretty much bar-hopped around the Marina District for the rest of the evening. We went to the Tipsy Pig twice. In the late afternoon it was packed with young people enjoying early cocktails in the beer garden. When we returned later in the evening, it had calmed down considerably, but the heaters and fairy lights were in full swing, and we had planked ourselves right next to an Aussie! Hearing that familiar accent was beyond comforting for us. Something about being with someone from home just means you can sit back and relax– you’re all on the “same level” in a way. Regardless that he was a bit of dickhead, it was still just lovely.


Our third and final tourist event we ticked off was our visit to Alcatraz Island, where there was once a maximum security prison. We didn’t walk around the entire island, even though there’s much more to see, we were mainly interested in the prison. The free audio tour was spectacular. Voices from the officers and surviving prisoners took us through the prison depicting what life had been like there. A few of them had tried to escape, some successfully and others not. I use “successfully” lightly– they made it out, but were never seen again. Whether they drowned or went to South America, no one knows. One of the quotes plastered on a big sign said that when you broke the rules, you went to prison, but when you broke prison rules, you went to Alcatraz.

Some families of the guards even lived on the island, in this house:

Prisoners could sometimes see the San Francisco skyline, depending on where their cell was located. They talked of hearing party sounds on New Years Eve from boats on the water. Imagine being so isolated from freedom but so close to it? You’d rather be in a prison settled into the middle of nowhere, so you can’t remember the sounds and smells of the free world.

Balancing the relaxing with the exploring was key for our time in Lafayette and SF. The nice thing was knowing we’ll probably be back there at some point and we can do even more. We’ll be in California by April (Coachella baby) so another visit with the fam will definitely be on the cards.

New York City is over now too and we’re back with more family, East Coast this time. I’ll be back to tell y’all about it soon.

A

ALOHA AND MAHALO

It’s funny looking back now at the first leg of our trip, when we’re actually at the tail end of our second. I’m currently sitting at San Francisco airport, about to board another red eye flight. Tomorrow morning we’ll be in NYC– my all time favourite–but albeit extremely exhausted. So instead of thinking about the small amount of asleep we may or may not get, I think I’ll tell y’all a bit about our time in Hawaii.

It’s funny how time seems to just totter along when you’re experiencing something new and different, but then all of a sudden you’re looking back at what happened and it’s a bit like, how did I even get here? Sort of like driving and daydreaming.

Our first day on Oahu was pure magic for us. Back home, winter had dragged its frigid limbs for far too long. We were desperate for sun and salt. We landed at about 7 am and the humidity welcomed us as we sweated through border control in our jeans, jumpers, boots and all the layers we couldn’t quite fit in our bags. Entry went fairly smoothly, Abel does have to exit the country for some amount of time (possibly 30 days), regardless that he has a five year visa but, hey, what can you do? It definitely effects our overall plans, but we’ll make the most of it: a month in Canada won’t be terrible.

After picking up our little silver whip and hopping into the wrong side of the car, we drove straight to the north shore where our airbnb was. A quick stop at Foodland was necessary, only because we forgot to pack some essential beach items: towels and sunscreen (which unfortunately both ended up in the bin on our last day, due to a lack of room in the suitcases). Then we headed straight to the beach: Waimea Bay, where we spent a decent amount of time dipping in the water and exposing our pale, tired bodies to the UV rays. Abel then asked me if I was hungry (his way of telling me that he’s hungry), and I was a little desperate for a decent sandwich. Two turkey, bacon and cheeses and the little girl inside of me was begging for a root beer. It went down a treat for me, but Abel took a big swig, scrunched up his nose and said it tasted like the smell of danker rub: “If you like that, you would love the footy change rooms”. I seriously doubt that.

The next few days pretty much consisted of beaching, eating, drinking, some walking and exploring.

The infamous Diamond Head Monument walk was something we had to tick off the list. It was only slightly shitty because of the intense humidity. Rain had been predicted that day and it definitely came, heavy yet sporadic. It pretty much down poured the entire hour-long drive to the other side of the island, until we drove straight into a clear patch that circled our destination. Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with a much deserved tiki pineapple drink (served in a real pineapple). Then it rained the entire drive back to the north shore, except for our short visit to the Shrimp Shack for lunch. I don’t normally do much seafood (only a bit of fish and that’s pretty recent), but these spicy garlic prawns were to die for. No wonder this truck had killer reviews. I was thinking the holiday gods were really working in our favour weather wise, until the next day.

The rain continued to come and go all the next morning. It arrived in full sheets just as we pulled up to the bay, but this only taught me one thing: the rain doesn’t deter the Hawaiians. Nor its visitors. We ran to the sand in nothing but our swimmers, no point getting our towels wet, right? And there were people still laying there, sunbaking. Barely flinching at the crying skies. Tourists were still fighting over car parks and we were just looking at each other, questioning everyone’s level of crazy. Back home the rain locks everyone indoors, but not here. Everyone just waited patiently for it to pass, not even bothered that it had come at all. We made a sneaky exit to the Waimea Valley botanical gardens and falls across the road on this particular morning. For the first part of the walk, we followed the historical plant guy, Dave. Abel was in nature heaven; this guy knew every little detail about every plant’s origins and needs for pollination. It was actually rather interesting, but we were moving along at a serious glacial pace and wouldn’t have made it to the falls for another week or two, so we split off and finished the tour on our own.

We were lucky our airbnb had a perfectly equipped kitchenette. Money was saved by cooking breakfast every morning and the occasional dinner. Majority of our meals were enjoyed at the cluster of food trucks up the road. Probably about five or six different cuisines all adjacent to each other; it was perfect for my indecisiveness. Abel and I could get whatever we wanted, but still enjoy dinner together with a sunset in the distance: purples and blues, with streaks of citrus, all painted behind a few lanky palms. I remember that first night we ate with such a calming quality. This was the beginning, day one. The thought of ‘work’ wasn’t going to dawn on us anytime soon and bring us back to reality. This was our reality for now. At least for the next four evenings. After that it would consist of something similar, perhaps with a varying backdrop.

We drove back across the island a couple of times. On our way back from the Diamond Head walk, Abel had spotted a trail in the distance, climbing up a mountain across from Hanauma Bay. He said we would come back in the next day or two, attempt it and then snorkel. To me, it looked like an impossible 90-degree trek. I wasn’t interested. Walking constantly ‘up’ just didn’t really appeal to me. I lost. So we climbed the old Koko Head Tramline. I have no idea how in the world a tram could have made it up this mountain, nor why it needed to. But now it was used for hundreds of tourists to climb and shed tears on. I was really out of my comfort zone, before we even got to the bottom of the walk. I hate heights.
The first part of the trek was just a lot of broken wooden sleepers acting as steps, with a few cinderblocks thrown in here and there for balance. The path looks steep, then kind of flat, and then unbelievably steep– more like climbing up a ladder. The flat section looked like a dream. Turns out it was a fucking nightmare. The sleepers laid flat over a 1-2 metre drop which isn’t high for many, but plenty for me. Abel’s really calming and encouraging in these situations. I had already moved to the side, repeatedly said that “I couldn’t do it”, convinced and partially happy that the walk was over for me, but still panting from non-stop steps and height anxiety. Abel told me I was fine, I’d be fine and that I could do it– no shame, just crawl on your hands and knees. And I did. I hated every moment of it, but I made it. Even the 90- degree ladder part too.

To be honest, we got to the top, surrounded by sweaty delirious humans and I was thinking: is this it? We climbed that for this?! Meanwhile, Abel is calling my name telling me to walk further up and around the corner and I’m thinking, I ain’t walking anywhere. I finally got off my ass and followed him and there it was, sprawling out beneath us: mountain ridges, beaches, and ocean. Lots of ocean with another island settling on the horizon. Ok, so it was kind of worth it.

That afternoon we also went to Hanauma Bay, which is a bit of a novelty for tourists. I was expecting epic snorkelling and my hopes deflated slowly, over the course of the hour or two it took to finally get down to the bay. It’s a fair mission to get in and down there– once you’ve watched your nine minute intro/safety video and queued up for your snorkelling gear–but then the water was seriously murky and lacking in fish. I saw a handful. Plus Abel is an experienced diver and I’ve snorkelled maybe twice. I had a blocked nose too, so that put a damper on things. It really wasn’t worth it and I wish Abel had told me sooner that he’d already been here before and thought the same things as me. I was expecting flourishing colours and an array of bright fishes and coral. That was not there.

All in all though, it was perfect. Our mind and bodies were thirsty for summer notions. Time was gradual and kind and we did all the beaching, eating, reading and drinking that we needed. Not that I could ever really get enough of those things.

The weather’s been exceptionally pleasant during our time in San Fran and Lafayette. I’ll be back at some point to talk about it. But, for now, get me a slice of that NY pizza (cause I don’t eat enough pizza as it is).

 

A

PS. If you made it to the end, hurray, and consider yourself lucky because my first draft was almost twice the size of this post. I also wanted to include photos (as I plan to be doing with most posts), but for some reason they wouldn’t upload and this would’ve sat in my drafts for too long.

THE BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING

The moment we’ve been waiting for since around 2016 has finally arrived. Abel and I have left the country indefinitely.

Not long after Abel and I started dating, maybe a year or so into the relationship—once we realised things were serious and a future was definitely feasible—we started to make plans. Abel would finish his electrical apprenticeship at the end of 2017 and I would finish my university degree half-way through 2018. At first this kind of freaked me out. I thought he might be itching to get up and get out of here, leaving me behind, studying furiously and jealous of his freedom. He reassured me that no, 6 months was not a long time to wait around, because we would go on a trip together and some serious saving would be in order. So we began to talk and plan. I have a whole country that’s intrinsically a part of who I am, and there’s so much of it I haven’t seen. The US has such a vast landscape begging to be explored and we couldn’t deny our desire to get amongst it. To do that, we decided road-tripping would be our best bet. The trip-planning continued to grow and develop over the past two years. We went from saying, “Oh, not next year, but the year after”, then “Yeah, we’ll travel next year” and finally, “We leave on October 5th”. Being able to tell people we were leaving in a few weeks was the best feeling. Everything we’d been working towards was coming to a point where it would all begin. It’s pretty strange how we talk, plan and discuss something at such length and so in-depth before it even has a chance to start. I mean, our trip would be in shambles without the months of organisation, but it’s such a mountain to climb before you get to the top, and apparently the top is where it all starts.

People talk about turning points in our lives and holy cow, I never really knew how much you could feel it when it’s actually happening. I always figured it was something you noticed later in life, when you’re looking back at a period and you think, “Yeah, wow, things were really starting to go in a different direction for me then.” But this shift was like a sneeze: I knew it was coming.

Two degrees done and dusted and on the brink of my 24th birthday. October 10th marks the anniversary of when my family first moved to Australia. It was three days before I turned 12. As of next week, that was 12 years ago. Half my life in the states and half down-under. It’s a little ironic that I’ll be celebrating this anniversary back in my home country— don’t ya think? (Sorry, I had to).

Here we are now, sitting on our flight to Honolulu (the one part of America Abel has been to, but not me) and it completely rattles me to think I won’t be washing dishes five days a week at one of my three jobs any time soon. I’ll be able to read. I’ll be able to write. I’ve been wanting to kick-start this whole blogging thing for such a long time. My attempts have been fleeting, sporadic and often weak. I’ve always struggled with what to write about (in non-fiction terms; fake is easy). I could write posts about the horrid people I serve on a daily, but living in a small community doesn’t really allow for that. Although, I’m sure Judith and Gloria don’t get on the internet, so I’ve missed an ample opportunity to bad-mouth them for the past few months. But now I have all these new experiences headed straight for me, begging for me to share them with the (my) world. That’s exactly what I intend to do.

I’ll tell you a little bit about day one:

After waking early and ensuring every last item had been stuffed into my slightly underweight bag, Abel and I could finally start cleaning our space. For the past couple weeks things have been chaotic in our living quarters. Not only had we been too busy to think about it, but slowly accumulating all the necessary items for travel and not really knowing where to put them, took its toll on our physical surroundings. Piles of clothes, bags of toiletries and medicals strewn about; it was a sty. Moving these things to anywhere but the laundry or our suitcases seemed pointless, so we had to wait until majority of our lives were packed and ready to go. Then the space would be spacious enough for a vacuum.

The weather started getting pretty hideous yesterday—musty skies and fat water drops— but it held off for a brief stint this morning. We took our bikes out for one last ride along Werri path and it felt strange saying goodbye to our neighbourly ocean. Guilt overwhelmed me when I realised I hadn’t been for a dunk in a while. Sea salt has magical powers in every ocean, but there’s something extra special about the one you live next door to. You feel like you sort of know each other. You’re always watching the ocean’s temperament, while its helping with your own, and each night the moon shines on you both, whispering its own little voodoo. It’s pretty special and I often question how people can live away from the ocean— I know the US national parks will answer that for me.

Down at North Werri a few black, yellow-tailed cockatoos were playing in plain sight amongst the dune bush. I warned Abel that the bird-life in the US wouldn’t quite compare to what we have here. We take for granted the bright coloured lorikeets and the constant far-off squawking. Although I’m sure he’ll be plenty excited to spot a Robin or Cardinal—but probably more so a squirrel running along the telephone wires. It was nice that a little part of Australia came out for us just before we left, even though I’m going “home”, I know I’ll long for it. That’s why I made sure we packed vegemite. When I reminded Abel that we needed to get some he looked at me perplexed, “What? Who for?”

“For us!”

“I’ll be fine,” said the boy who eats vegemite toast every second day.

We got back from our ride and then it was just making sure everything was in its place. And then the one thing I was dreading most about leaving: saying goodbye to Winnie, my cat. I didn’t cry saying goodbye to anyone but her. For her, I cried much more than once. “She’ll be fine”, Abel constantly reminds me. Like, I know that. I’m very well aware that she’ll be ok— I just feel bad. She expects me to be there every morning to have a little snuggle with her and then, after a week passes, she’s gonna be like, that fucking bitch left me high and dry. I just hope she forgives me when we’re back. You’re all probably rolling your eyes and calling me a crazy cat lady, but I most certainly am not. If this was a dog you’d all be with me right now. But honestly, leaving a dog would be that much worse. They need you a whole lot more. Cats have their independence and I’ll let that ease my mind for now.

We’re about an hour or so into our flight and Abel’s watching Jurassic Park next to me and I’ve got Judy Dench to my left. She’s flicking through on her kindle and I think it’s about time I do the same. In approximately 8 hours we’ll be landing, picking up our car, trying our best to stay to the right, and headed for the beach.

I’ll talk about Hawaii when I know what to talk about. Photos included.

A

MEMORIES

It’s interesting to me how everyone’s brains are so different. Not so much in the way that ‘you might be better with numbers and I’m better with words’, but rather our memories. How we involuntarily choose to store certain information, and not just facts and anecdotes, but the things that happen in our lives.

I’ve always felt as though I remember every waking moment I’ve ever lived. Obviously, that’s truly impossible. There are many days and evenings that wore similar colours and emotions, they blur into one big pretty picture. But if someone were to bring up a specific event to me, I can almost always transport myself back to the moment. I could tell you what most people were wearing, why we came to be there, a few conversations that may have been had. This is not me bragging about my fantastic memory– it’s not even photographic. Perhaps I can reminisce clearly on a moment in time, but I couldn’t tell you all the information on a page after looking at it for a mere minute. I just find it fascinating how these moments are banked and filed in the back of our minds.

Sometimes I’ll be lost in my own head and a memory from the age of six or seven will surface, and I know that I probably haven’t really visualised that memory at all in my life since the moment it happened. What brought it forward to my immediate thoughts? Besides the train reaction of thoughts that transported me to that memory, what part of my brain decided that I might need it one day to understand the way I feel about certain things?

What really rattles me is repressed memories. If anyone hasn’t seen the Netlfix series ‘The Keepers’ you need to do so, immediately. It might not be the most pleasant of experiences if you err on the religious side of things. Heck, it’s not pleasant at all really, but it certainly consolidated my opinion in that area of things. Anyway, a woman in that series experienced sexual abuse for a number of years while she was a teen, repressed those memories, and they all came flooding back to her when she was about 50 and happily married with children. She was forced to relive those moments and accept this horrifying thing that had happened to her.

How are we to know that we don’t have handfuls of repressed memories? Ones that may never float to the top. Ones that fester and grow weeds and force us to become a version of ourself that we cannot control. Not trying to get dark here, but even the depths of our mind is uncertain. Maybe we don’t ever truly know ourselves. I definitely read something the other day (couldn’t tell you where– there’s my fantastic memory in action) about how the person we think we are is different from the way each person views and experiences us. So we’re not always the person we know ourselves to be, but a multifaceted gemstone that glitters for some and looks dull to others. No matter who you are or what you do in life, not everyone is going to like you. Some people are pieces of your puzzle and others are of a whole different game.

I’m a very nostalgic person (I even wrote a piece on that, have a flick through the categories section to find it) so sifting through my memories is something I do often. I like to see how time has changed things: relationships, appearances, our overall outlook. When I’m lost reminiscing it occurs to me how crucial time is to the memories we have filed. Does our opinion of something alter the way we remember it? A certain moment in my life looks completely different to the others who were there– maybe I thought I was being hilarious and they thought I was being kind of a bitch.

The moments that link together to paint the portrait of our lives are simply that: ours. How we remember these moments and let them unintentionally define who we are is, to me, uncertain. We can control how we respond to situations, of course, and that tells a lot about who we are, but can we really control how we perceive and remember stuff?

There’s probably a scientific/psychological explanation for all of these musings. But I’ll leave them at that.

A.

 

 

Side note:

I often feel like when I write little observation/musing posts that it sounds like I’m leading up to a point that never eventuates. Let me know if you’re getting that vibe too. Not sure if I like that.

 

 

 

 

THE FEAR

I often wonder if it’s just me, or if we all have a massive fear of pursuing the the thing we love. I suppose it really comes down to a fear of rejection. That we won’t succeed, or that even if we do, it won’t be in quite the ways we set out to.

After four and a half years, I’ve completed my university degree. A double degree in Journalism and Creative Writing– I am verging on 24 years old and I have two bachelors recently tucked under my belt. I’m chuffed, to say the least. What’s slightly freaking me out is the horizon, and the thing sitting on top of it: a cocktail of tantalising and daunting. I need to keep writing. At uni, that was my homework: go home and write. Whether they gave me a topic, a prompt, or nothing. I was doing the thing I love all the time, but mainly because there was an eccentric lady or a surly man 45 minutes north of here waiting for my content. Now, nobody really gives a damn about whether I write or whether I knit. I mean, the people close to me maybe care a little, but more because they want me to continue relishing in the thing I love and the thing that gave me a hefty hecs debt. So here I am, once again, writing about writing or rather, writing about how scared I am of writing.

The most wonderful and inspiring lecturer I had at uni– Hi Shady! (if you so happen to be reading)– once gave us a lecture about rejection. She put everything she had on the line and literally read out every moment of rejection or failure in her life. But then, she read another list: the silver lining that came from each of those moments. I guess we have to continue pursuing the dreams we have because the silver lining will always shine brighter than the mishap. Well, that’s what I’ll continue to tell myself, otherwise we’ll never do anything we really want to.

I’m really here to say that my butt is going to be whipped into gear and producing more content for my “readers” or even just the empty, cyberspace abyss. Either way.

In the next few months I could be writing any kind of nonsense: anecdotes, observations, fiction pieces, whatever.

Then come October, the blog might get a little more riveting. My boyfriend Abel and I will be heading back to my mother land. First stop: Hawaii. We’ll stay there for a brief stint, four nights, before we head to San Francisco, where we’ll visit my Aunty Lauren, her husband Kurt and their two kiddies. Next stop: NYC, about five nights there and then it’ll be crunch time. After our little city-hop, we’ll be buying a van, and visiting my family and friends in my hometown in Connecticut. We’ll drive up north along the east coast and head back down to be with family over Christmas. Once the holiday season comes to a close, we’ll make our way south along the coast, visiting my Nan in South Carolina and my parents in Florida. Then we’ll go west, ensuring we’re in California for Coachella in April. This is a pretty rough outline of what we’ll be doing, we’re both open to all kinds of possibilities and changes to our plans. I’m an organiser, but travelling is about spontaneity and going with the flow, whichever way that may be.

In the meantime, I’ll be working, reading and hopefully writing.

A