Clairvoyants in New Orleans & Pastel Cars in Cuba

Arriving in New Orleans was like driving into a bubble. That first night, we didn’t even go into the heart of the place, but we knew it was vastly different from anywhere we’d been and special beyond words. I suppose I can compare it in the way I did with New York City and Nashville— how neither of these places are alike in any way, except for their contagious, atomic energy.

As we often do, we began searching on the app iOverlander for free, overnight parking places in the city. This app usually helps us, but not every place has locations that previous travellers have “checked-in” on. New Orleans had quite a few, most of them situated in the City Park. I guess you could kind of liken it to Central Park based on its enormity and the array of things that sit within it: botanical gardens, a Storyland world, mini-golf courses, roadways, a Catholic Boys’ school, etc.

We set up camp in an open carpark, situated between grass fields, shaded with low-hanging branches. It was close to the edge of the park, surrounded by well-lit areas, yet managed to stay quiet throughout the evening— about a 10 minute drive from the heart of the city. Perfect and a tad nicer than being parked alongside the road.

That first evening we were pretty tickled with the botanical gardens being nearby so we made our way through them—lush and tranquil. Being submerged in that much flora just makes you want to take deep, yogic breaths. Oxygen rich and dense.

The gardens contained lots of artwork, mainly progressive sculptures of humans. My favourite was of a woman, standing straight and strong, looking into the distance, breast-feeding her baby under one arm. Powerful stuff.

The next day was our main exploring day. We ventured along St. Charles street, where the infamous Mardi Gras operates each year. This boulevard is littered with cafes and bars ordained with 24-hour signs. A party place for sure— not certain if there’s anywhere back in Aus that serves alcohol around the clock, but I know they’d make a killing.

It was convenient for us when the time hit midday and we indulged in a guilt-free cocktail: the New Orleans Hurricane. Two different types of rum, orange juice and grenadine. That one rocked me a little bit to be honest, so we walked a great deal and took in the grand southern houses. Tall, quirky, with chairs rocking on every front porch.

As always, parking is a nightmare in the more populated cities. The two hours was up and we wanted to make our way to where the action was: Bourbon Street.

I  didn’t know a lot about New Orleans but I had a lot of expectations. Music being played on the streets, strong southern accents ringing on every corner. Knowing where to find this was the issue, but luckily Abel knew where we needed to go. As we turned the corner, the live street music danced directly into the car and people swarmed around. For once, I felt like the ambulance fit right in. We did one of those slow drives down the street, both turning our heads, pointing our fingers at different shops, people, signs, everything. Nightmare parking again— $18 for 30 mins, 1 or 2 hours. We settled in for a few, there was lots to see.

There were heaps of daiquiri shops, with spinning mixtures of various flavours and everyone was drinking them out of enormous cups as they swayed in and out of bars. There were clubs functioning as if it was 2 am on a Sunday morning. The huge Saints game contributed to how busy it was that weekend, but we were told its not much different the rest of the time.

Slurping on our green apple daiquiris and taking in the scene, we came across an open courtyard with tourist market stalls and various tarot card readers, palm readers, psychics. This type of thing has always intrigued me and while I’ve wanted to have my future told, or something like that, many times, I’ve been scared of what they’ll tell me. I spoke to one woman wearing an emerald, fish net scarf tied around her hair, purple drapes and epic eyeliner— your typical Esmerelda. She was frank and honest with me, she told me that her skillset was very fine, purely based off the readings of the cards and how she learned to do that. All fortunes were “donation based”, yet they still manage to give you a ballpark range. She didn’t do a great job of selling herself to me, but let me know that each and every one of them working this spot had different skills and I was welcome to chat around to find my perfect match.

A few tables up was a set of sisters, beckoning us over. “I can see your interested darling, let me explain to you what I do.” Tarot cards, palm and crystal readings: one of the above or a combination. She knew I was nervous. “I think you would benefit best from a card reading,” she nodded at me. For the lot, it was an average of “$65”, I told her I’d give her $50. I got one sister and Abel had the other— his was supposed to be a palm reading, but halfway through she suggested the cards so his reading would have more accuracy (Scam, scam, scam. His was meant to be $35, but she finished and claimed it would be $65). We ended up paying $100 for the lot and left.

It wasn’t the best timing to spend such a hefty fee for a short, somewhat average, fortune telling. Abel was not impressed whatsoever with his reading— he said it was all basic and merely guessing. I felt a little different. Sure, there were moments where I kind of shrugged along with what she said and didn’t always agree, but for the most part, she said some very accurate things about me. I’m indecisive, drawn to water, I have a churning belly and get goosebumps often (apparently this is my paternal Grandfather who makes that happen— Thanks Grandad) among other stuff. I enjoyed it, mainly because it was something I always wanted to do, but otherwise, probably not worth the expensive donation.

We spent one more night in New Orleans and played mini-golf at the nearby course in the park. The following day was spent running errands, packing and organising for Cuba. Our flight left at 6 am on the Sunday morning so it meant an early night for us. There was a brief moment of terror when I finally decided I better check out the whole visa situation. Very silly and irresponsible of me to leave it to the last minute, and certainly on a weekend. Everywhere I googled, you applied online and it got sent to you in the mail… not an option for us. I had a panic/tantrum thing and thought, “Guess we ain’t going to Cuba!”, but after calling a woman who worked at a Cuban Travel Centre (about 5 minutes from where we were— convenient right?), she informed me that I could buy the visa at the airport prior to boarding the plane in Miami. I took a deep breath and hoped with all my might that she wasn’t fooling me.

The journey to Cuba was time-consuming and treacherous. Both flights were short and sweet— under two hours each. But, we had a 9 hour 50 minute layover in Miami. To be honest, it wasn’t all that bad, the day moved along fairly quick. I basically just read all day. The last two hours or so were the longest, as the plane continued to get delayed for 15 minutes about five or six times. Then we landed in Cuba, and had to wait a good half hour to park due to our delayed take off. We were exhausted and feeling pretty anxious that our taxi driver may have just up and left.

He gave a little laugh when he saw us— he’d been waiting a while.

We spent our first three nights in a hotel/apartment that I booked on airbnb in Old Havana. We had a private bed and bathroom and there was a little kitchen where they served a $5 per person breakfast each morning. The room was clean, but bare. It didn’t matter too much as we knew we’d be out exploring most of the time. We lucked out on the location of the place, only about a block back from The Capitol and right near plenty of restaurants and tourist strips with shops.

The first day we ventured out, around three or four different Cubans said hello to us, went out of their way to strike up a conversation. Asking where we were from, what our plans were, offering suggestions on things to do and places to eat. Everyone had told us that Cubans were friendly as anything and this certainly proved it. After that first day, however, I found most people stared and didn’t offer a warm smile. Western tourists are new to Cuba, so I suppose that’s fair enough.

We ate a restaurant recommended by our host, Los Nardos at least twice. The food was exceptional, enormous servings and plates cost about $5-$10 each. Apart from doing the Havana Bus tour to see all around the city, we basically roamed, frequented shops and filled time between meals and beverages— dining on jade-tiled patios, with overhanging grape vines and deep-bellied female Cuban singers.

I’ve never known a city to be so beautiful and dirty at once. Huge, amazing pieces of architecture (like The Capitol) flanked alongside crumbling buildings, apartments with bundles of laundry hanging from balconies; plastic bottles, bags and other rubbish crammed along every gutter of every street. Sidewalks with chunks of cement disheveled and protruding. Brightly coloured 60’s and 70’s-styled cars speeding around every corner, tall palms billowing in the city breeze. Beautiful. Dirty.

Horse and buggies are used for tourism AND practical use– it’s like being back in time.

After three nights in the city, we had the next six booked in a little old fishing town called, Cojimar, about 20 minutes outside of Havana  The place where Ernest Hemingway got most of his inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea— there’s a bust of him sitting tall and proud, overlooking the harbour.

Upon checkout in our Old Havana airbnb, I noticed something fairly disturbing. I had packed jewellery with me, most of in an old Mimco pouch apart from my 21st birthday necklace, which I had in a separate box— so it wouldn’t get tangled. Rummaging through my suitcase, trying to organise, I noticed this weird white, square-shaped thing. What the dickens is this? Then I noticed the necklace box—open, empty. The white square thing was the backing that belonged inside the box. My heart sank and my hands frantically pulled every item from my bag. The necklace was nowhere and more importantly, I hadn’t opened that box once since being here. It had sat on the bottom of my suitcase, untouched, at least, by me.

Of course, I freak out and cried and had no idea what to do. The host wasn’t at the apartment, only one of her workers who didn’t utter a word of english. She knew we were about to leave and could see I was distressed, she phoned the host and let me have a word with her.

I felt awful accusing her or anyone of something like this, but I had to mention it.

“No one has a key to that room except for you,” she reassured me.

“Yes,” I told her, “but someone must… because someone changed the roll of toilet paper.”

“That was me… but I changed the paper and went straight back out. I did not go up the stairs to your room.”

There was not a lot else I could say or do. Besides, Abel and I had started thinking about the night we packed our things. I held the box in my hand, unsure what to do with the necklace. I didn’t want to leave it in the car incase it was broken into, especially not in the box— it’s kind of asking for it, I now realise. Plus, I knew I’d want to wear it. During this time, I was going through other jewellery, moving some from one pouch to the next. Abel and I both agreed that perhaps I had removed the necklace from the box and put it in my other jewellery pouch that I’d left in the ambulance and, silly me who didn’t realise, packed the box anyway.

The lingering question though… who opened the box from my suitcase? The springs on it were too tight for it to have accidentally opened while sorting through my things.

I messaged my host just asking to let me know if it turned up. She replied saying they’d cleaned the room and found nothing,”I think you must have lost it on the street.” Well I didn’t, but whatever for now.

Our taxi over to Cojimar

The airbnb we stayed at in Cojimar was beautiful. A renovated garage into a perfect little apartment suite. It was clean, private and our hosts Rossana and Felipe were just the sweetest people I’ve ever met. They went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable and felt at home.

Rossana greeted us with a big kiss and fresh cups of espresso. We sat on their patio, enjoying the sun, the mango tree rustling in the breeze, and having a conversation in broken English about life in Australia and Cuba. It wasn’t that broken though, Rossana and Felipe continued to apologise for their “terrible English”, to which Abel and I would shake our heads furiously, telling them how good their language skills were, to stop apologising, we could barely offer any Spanish, for God’s sake! I haven’t studied the language since 2011 and before that, not since 2006— all at a minor level too, so my skills were limited. After conversing with French guests at our other airbnb— mainly broken English and some French on my part— I kept confusing myself and often saying “excusez-moi” on the streets. Fool.

We’d decided we wanted to stay in Cojimar for a more quiet and relaxing experience. The location was ideal, it was close to the city and the beach, an easy bus ride either way. Rossana drew maps and assisted us with directions to get anywhere we wanted to go. The town was walking distance, right by the water. Rossana and Felipe gave us a 10% discount card for a really high-quality, reasonably priced restaurant just two blocks down from the apartment. We ate there many times, the house mojitos were the best I’d drank the whole time in Cuba.

They also provided the same $5 per person breakfast service: eggs, bread, ham, cheese, fresh fruit, juice and coffee. Waking up each morning and walking out to their polished-stone patio, with the table set waiting for us, hot fresh food and coffee, was everything we needed and more. While I’m a creature of habit and eat the same breakfast every morning, we may have tired of this one a little bit. The service and quality made it worthwhile however. Not having to prepare and do dishes was precisely the kind of break we were after.

 

On two different days we took the bus to the beach— the kind where you can rent lounge chairs, umbrellas and get drinks service. We did this the first time, had a few cocktails and enjoyed the luxury beach outing. Then we got the bill and saw how much they overcharged for the drinks and service. On our next visit, we packed water and primitively lay with our towels on the sand (even though that’s how us Aussies prefer it).

The water here was aqua and crystal clear— postcard-like. Abel and I laughed with each other about the people who obviously don’t frequent the beach. I saw at least four different girls, laying or kneeling near the edge of the sea, posing for a photo, as a wave clapped down and catapulted them a few feet in the air. It was hilarious. Many of them barely walked out into the water, they kept their sunglasses on and didn’t wet their heads. For someone who needs to be submerged in the ocean for long periods of time, this was difficult to watch.

There was a sandbank a little ways out on our second visit, and as Abel and I swam to it, standing up to catch waves, I saw people on the shoreline staring and pointing at us. Then two dudes swam out, “Wait, you can stand out here?” You sure can. People amaze me. But I guess I’ve been lucky enough to grow up alongside the sea and never know any different— being too far inland kind of freaks me out.

We spent one day back in Old Havana. Abel and I both had to connect to the wifi, even though being disconnected for a little while was nice and ensured that we had more conversation and reading time. The internet situation is old school— you have to lineup at certain technological shops, buy a wifi card for 1-5 hours and then you can only use it in specific parks that have a tower for that particular service.

We used this day to go see Hemingway’s mansion outside of the city. The visit was quick, as you pretty much just walk around the house and peer inside. It was stunning— vast and open, lots of natural light, hanging plants, half-filled bottles of booze, tons of books— a real writer’s haven.

 

The cigar factory was the next thing to tick off on the list this day, but unfortunately the tour service had been relocated from where we thought it was, plus they had finished for the day. We bought four different random cigars and made our way back to Cojimar. We haven’t smoked one yet and I don’t really have much interest to, but hey, when in Cuba.

The weather overall was really pleasant, there was only one cloudy day until our third last evening. A storm hit not long before we fell asleep and the power went out. Rossana came knocking our door about 10 minutes later with a battery-powered LED lamp, bless her. In the morning, she told us how a tornado had hit another town just outside Havana. Nowhere nearby had power. A bus had tipped on its side. 175 people were injured. 3 dead. It was horrific and she explained how this is not common for Cuba. Had we heard the winds in the night? No… but we’re from Gerringong, so we didn’t notice anything radically different.

The power was out until our departure. It didn’t affect us all that much, most of our things were charged and we could handle some darkness. Felipe and Rossana kept apologising for that too, like they had any control over the weather. The nicest people in the world, honestly.

I think if we’d booked a tour and travelled across the country more, we wouldn’t have felt as ready to be back “home” (ambulance). Not that we didn’t enjoy our time at all, we loved it and desperately needed the solace, but by the end, we couldn’t help but think about our cosy little bed back in our home-on-wheels, ready to hit the road again.

Since arriving back, we’ve been cooking non-stop. We indulged in meals out and endless cocktails while away, mainly because we had no other option and they were so cheap— but I really love to cook and missed it a lot. We spent the first few nights back in New Orleans, but felt we’d seen everything we needed to.

From there, we camped in an open field in the middle of farmland in southern Louisiana. Free, and there were other campers there too. Abel had a look on his Alltrails app to see if there were any nice walks/hikes nearby. He found one called “jungle gardens” on Avery Island, about 45 minutes from where we were— gators and plants. As we pulled in to buy our entry tickets, we discovered this island is actually where Tabasco sauce was founded, invented and the main factory still operates today. Avery Island is a salt dome and one of the few hilly areas in an otherwise flat Louisiana. We did a 4-5 kilometre walk around the gardens, no gators to be seen, then we did a tour of the Tabasco factory, complimentary with lots of tastings. Shipments from this small little part of America go out to 185 countries each day. Literally, most of the world (bar North Korea and a few African and Middle-Eastern countries) buys and consumes Tabasco sauce. And we just happened upon the factory by accident. Little did we know that every single bottle says “Avery Island, LA” on it, but still.

Now, we’re still in Louisiana, but very close to the Texas border. We drove a secluded highway that snaked in and around swamps/bayous, and we saw an otter in the wild (!!!!!!!!!!!!). The cutest little darling, lobbing over reeds and swimming in the dirty, shallow water. By dirty, I don’t just mean brown— loads of plastic. Disgraceful.

We’re parked on a beach (yep, actually on the sand) and relaxing before we head to Houston to see Fleetwood Mac on Tuesday. Excited is more than an understatement.

’Til next time.

A

PS. The necklace was not back in the ambulance. It was stolen, somehow. I’ve had a back and forth with the host and she is just as confused as I am— she’s confronted her staff more than once, and says she trusts them like family as they’ve been working together for three years. She also got a bit upset with me and said how Cubans might not have much, but they earn their living through hard work. I had to be clear with her, I am not blaming this on Cuban people… there are thieves all over the world. And clearly there was one there, guest or worker, I have no idea. But I’m pretty devastated about it.

SOME THINGS (PLACES, MOMENTS ETC.) THAT I’VE LOVED SO FAR

I talked in my last post about how everything’s not always hunky dory, smooth sailing while on this kind of journey– and that’s ok. After having a chat with my dear friend Simone she made me realise something. I mentioned how cleaning the van is a constant activity. There’s not a lot of space to leave dirty clothes strewn about (ahem, Abel) and they pile up quick-fast. Plus, you’re constantly going from outside to inside your personal living quarters, so dirt is sure to be prevalent. Simone said, “It’s funny how even though you are living on the road and it’s a bit of a dream, the realities of normal life like cleaning and stuff never stop.” Absolutely correct, and in lots of ways, the cleaning is worse and more constant than if you were hanging about in your house. When you’re at home, there’s more space for things to be messy, so that kind of allows more time for you to put cleaning off. We don’t have that luxury. But then she said, “which in a way is good, because it keeps you grounded!” Right again, Simone. I hadn’t thought of it that way. We can’t always be caught up in how amazing our lives are right now, we need to have some reality thrown in to remind us that life is life, and there’s always gonna be some shit in the good.

That’s enough of that though. I want to touch on the things I’ve loved about this trip. A lot of that has to do with the places I’ve imagined visiting for most of my life, as well as the really simple moments.

The one constant thing that keeps me happy is waking up every single morning. Which is kind of hilarious for me to be saying, or even feeling, since I am NOT a morning person at all. Ask any of my close friends, getting me up before 7 or even 8 am is a slight mission. Not that we ever really wake up too early– it kind of just depends on where we are, what we’ve been doing. Sometimes you forget how exhausted driving and setting up makes you, and then you sleep for 10-12 hours and it’s a bit of a shock, like oh, I really needed that. But I can honestly say that I wake up each morning, in our tiny little bed, and look around the ambulance and I feel so damn happy to be there. It doesn’t even matter that we’re parked on the side of the road, we’re somewhere completely different and we can do anything we please. It’s even better when you wake up and it’s raining– like it was this morning. The pitter-patter makes crawling out of bed a little bit more difficult.

Making coffee and breakfast is the other simple treat that keeps me smiling. Even though it’s not always simple– we have to set up the gas stove, general prep isn’t easy and neither are the dishes– but I enjoy nothing more than cooking up our breaky this way, it’s just more satisfying somehow. Abel and I pretty much alternate each morning whose turn it is to brew the hot pot of jo. We’ve talked about how we really love either end of that– I love getting coffee made for me while I’m still snuggled in bed, but I also love making it for Abel and watching him enjoy the steamy cup whilst tucked in. The simple things.

 

As for places, we’ve been to quite a few in the past few months. Sometimes I feel like we’re speeding along and then I stop and look back over the course of the week and think shit, that felt like a fucking month ago… how did we even get to this point? Time operates differently on a road trip.

I want to talk about how much we loved Philadelphia, but it’s kind of hard to, based on the incident that occurred there. Abel and I were really keen to check this city out. My Nan and all of her family are from Philly, so I feel like that’s kind of where some of my roots are– my Dad was born there. Abel and I also love the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. For anyone who doesn’t know it, it’s basically just a group of fucking idiots doing stupid, dickhead stuff all the time. Very intelligent humour.

Anyway, this got us really pumped for Philly. We spent the first part of our day exploring around the city centre, there were beautiful Christmas markets sprawling the open complex areas and we felt that holiday cheer beginning to creep on us. Rain splattered down as we enjoyed a German beer at the market, so we made a plan to head back towards the Ambo and grab a bite and a drink. After having a couple drinks and playing some pool before our food came out, I was starting to feel a little queasy– not highly unusual for me, I have a weak belly. After dinner, I was ready to call it quits. But it was a Saturday night and Abel was fairly intent on drinking.

 

He begged and dragged me to a cider bar. Which was awesome, I usually find that cider isn’t as common over here and I love nothing more than knocking back a cold, dry apple cider. We had a couple drinks each and then we tried the flight of different ciders, than we had another to ourselves. I thought we’d go home after this bar, but Abel had a specific location in mind. Maps up on his phone, he zeroed in and took me on a little journey to a certain street he remembered seeing. Turning the corner onto this street, I recognised it immediately. “This is from the opening of It’s Always Sunny! Look at the lights!”

I must say, life was different as soon as you walked down this street– things were happening, people were about. On the surrounding roads, there was the occasional sweet restaurant or boutique bar, but the vibe was unlike this one. Colours shined bright, people poured out of shops and bars, they lingered on the streets dressed in incredible attire, homeless men sat humbly with their dogs. Abel and I shared a glance and a giggle and thought yep, this is where it’s happening. We made our way into a bar that was fairly busy and Abel was immediately content. “This is what I wanted– to be in a real Philly bar, just like It’s Always Sunny.” The top of the drink menu said: $5 MARGARITAS. ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. Sold. We had one, and then another, and then things went a little pear-shaped. I remember talking at length with a guy chowing down on a burger next to us. He told us about how liberal Philly is, how he spent his whole life here, how much he hated Trump etc. I remember making friends with a group of women in their 30s to my right. They laughed at how young I was, saying they had kids my age– but they shared their penis straws with me and stood up for me when the barmaid cut me off after I spilled my second margarita. Fair enough. Then she kicked me out and Abel proceeded to call her “Dee” (It’s Always Sunny character) and tell her to chill out– fairly certain she didn’t hear it or catch on. Things went hazy after that. I remember walking out of the bar and struggling to keep my eyes open.

Fast forwards a few hours and I woke up in the ambulance, fully dressed with a throbbing palm and lip. Abel stirred and said, “can you please grab me a pillow?” It appeared he hadn’t been using one.

“Sure. Where’s yours?” I responded.

“I threw up on it.” Oh. “When did you throw up?” I asked.

“Right after you did.” Well, that was news to me. I have no recollection of that happening. For a while I drifted in and out of sleep and I slowly became aware that the red stuff on my sheets wasn’t blood from my hand, but it was vomit. Great, I was laying in Abel’s vomit. Turns out I had it in my hair too. I arose not too long later and noticed that Abel’s shoes on the floor to my left were covered in vomit. It was definitely mine, and I don’t need to explain how I knew that.

“I am so confused about what happened. How did we get here and why is my hand cut open?”

Abel then told me about how I had tripped over a bike on our walk home. I have a vague memory of falling and biting my lip. Another memory attempted to form: a burning sensation rising in my throat. Trying to think about the night before made me want to be sick again.

That entire Sunday was spent cleaning vomit from the ambulance and sitting in a laundromat for three hours as we washed all our bedding, sheets and any vomit covered clothes.

We shouldn’t be allowed alcoholic beverages, and we’ve been mostly tame since that incident. There was no further sight seeing to be had in Philly. Instead, we dozed in our clean bed, parked on the side of a main road, as it continued to rain and be gloomy.

Despite the incident that caused a lot of pain– pain that continued in the coming weeks as I dealt with an infected and healing hand wound– Philly is one of my favourite places we’ve been.

We actually got to go to an Amish market on our way out there. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. It was not as I expected it to be. To be fair, it was probably better. But you know, I envisioned a barn with some tables of assorted goods and everything to be sold in cash. This Amish market was located in a shopping complex, like where you’d find a grocery store, a bank, a pet shop and a hairdressers. It was an enormous set out market with separate vendors; fruit & veg, a bakery, meat, cheese, health, lollies, etc. Everything was perfect. Picture perfect; the stuff you see in magazines and think nothing looks that good in real life. Here, it existed and it was real and every single thing we bought was mouth-watering.

I was perplexed by the Amish people though. We studied Amish communities during Society and Culture in year 11 and I expected them to be…more old-fashioned, I suppose. Some of them were wearing crocs. CROCS! They were using credit card machines, and when my card had a bit of an issue, the young Amish girl spoke to me like she was very in-tune with the modern technologies of payment. Sure, this would be learned from working in a place like this, but they just felt so close to modern technology that I was a little baffled about how “old-school” they actually are.

 

My next favourite place was Salem, Massachusetts. Which is funny because we had another incident there. I won’t flesh it out like I did with Philly– it’s not nearly as interesting. To put it briefly, we woke up there on our first morning with all four of our car batteries not just flat, but completely dead. It took us a while to realise that’s what was going on. The car had to be towed and spend the night in the shop. While this was not something our budget really had room for, it allowed us to spend a night at the Salem Inn and escape the negative temperatures.

Salem is known for the witch trials that happened there in the 1600s. I have been fascinated by witches since I was a little girl. I dressed up as one multiple times for Halloween (being an October baby, I always had Halloween birthday parties too). I loved the anime movie, Kiki’s Delivery Service. I thought there was one living in my closet for the better part of my childhood. Whenever I was being a little brat, my Mum used to call me “witchy poo”– I think she still wants to a lot of the time.

Regardless, I was intrigued by the historical events in Salem and was super keen to learn all about it. Our original plan had us visiting Salem in October, possibly over Halloween. We learned while we were there that October in Salem is complete mayhem– you can barely walk. It’s amazing, but crowded. In some ways, I was grateful we didn’t make it there until December.

We’d spent all day dealing with the car, but we made it to check-in at the Salem Inn just in time for our haunted and historical walking tour of the town. This went for just about two hours and was incredible. Our tour guide was especially spectacular; she told each and every story with such conviction, passion and expression– and there were only four of us! You couldn’t help but be glued to her face.

The funny thing is, the Salem witch trials only lasted for 1 year… back in the 1600s. One year in Salem’s history and this city is known as “the witch city”. Police cars have witches on them, lots of signs for different business have a witch or a cat or broomstick incorporated somehow. Modern day witchcraft shops litter the city. Modern day witchcraft is real and not evil and to be totally honest with you, I’m thinking of converting. Converting from the religion I do not have to join Wicca. Basically they believe in lots of natural stuff, things to do with the seasons and astrology and their “gods” are both male and female– neither gender dominates. It sounds pretty radical. I will continue to read up on it.

 

Salem has such an epic history aside from the witch trials. They were totally interesting and a really huge part of the city’s history– 20 something innocent people were killed and this has lead to a huge part of the city’s identity today. Not to mention, these people were not actually witches. If something was not explained by God, then it was the devil’s work and was witchcraft. If you were different, a social outcast or a spinster, you were a witch. Salem is 400 years old though, so a lot happened in this place apart from the trials. It was a wealthy area, a shipping port for 80 years prior to the trials. Many of the buildings built back then, still stand. A couple 100 years before Australia was “founded” aka invaded by white men. The old Town Hall and derby square consists of these original buildings. Our tour guide told us stories that happened in our exact standing location, 300-400 years earlier. Many buildings in Salem are haunted and while I’ve been skeptical at times, I am not completely opposed to ghost stories. I genuinely believed most of what she told us about recurring ghosts in certain town buildings. It just kind of makes sense to me.

Salem is stunning because of these ancient buildings and the rich history made it a really exciting place to explore.

This grand boulevard is Chestnut Street. The wealthiest street in Salem in the 1800s and still is today. People would to elegant parties here. Some of these mansions are selling for $700k. Below the average house price in Gerringong… crazy.

The original Town Hall. Scenes from Hocus Pocus were filmed on the top storey.

The Salem Inn, where we stayed. So beautiful and cosy, with a fireplace. Apparently a ghost cat lives here. Wished I’d seen it. 

 

There’s a little bit about our experience with some of the places and moments I’ve longed for. I’ve realised I’m not always going to be writing or story-telling consecutively. You’re gonna get little snippets here and there and some might have more to do with a theme. These are just some of the moments or times on our trip that have made me really happy. They’re some of the times that I already find myself looking back on often.

It’s funny though, because I really wanted to keep this post on a positive note, ya know. Really highlight some of the greater moments, the better places etc. (even though Philly and Salem are tainted with a bit of error, they’ve been two of my favourites) and since beginning to write it, we’ve had all these funny/weird/shitty things happen and that’s all that’s been playing on my mind. The irony, hey.

I’ll tell y’all about that in good time.

PS. I knew I picked up accents easily– mine has been a serious Aussie-US hybrid since our arrival– but now we’re in the dirty south and I sound like a full-blown southerner at times. Lawd, help me.

 

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.