A Perfect Day To Paint

Hey y'all!

After months of design and planning, my buddies at BannanBlasko are starting on another beautiful mural for a local University in dowtown Spartanburg, SC. And I get to help! 

 [Start]

[Start]

Public Art has been a side passion of mine for a while now. 

I was on detail duty. 

This is our fourth project together. Seriously, these guys are so great to work with.

I'm so grateful to get away from the computer for a bit and spend time painting and socializing in the sunshine.

The weather was perfection; a pleasant temperature and cloudy skies. And scaffolding shade is always nice! But don't get me wrong - I still got plenty sweaty.

We spent seven hours today start to finish. We got a lot done, but there's still lots left to do! 

 [Finish]

[Finish]

Enjoy the journey!

The Hardest Thing To Brand Is Yourself

I would consider myself pretty good at branding and design considering I've been practicing it for my whole educational and professional career. I have so much fun designing logos and developing the look of new brands. 

Until, of course, I quit my full-time job to freelance instead and had to develop my own brand. Only then does it become a massive struggle. 

It's like this insane little voice in your head saying "YOU are a designer, your brand has to be the best thing ever in the history of things! It has to appeal to the masses, yet stand out and be different, it has to perfectly capture your personality and all of your expertise & experience, it has to be versatile and simple yet different from every other creative person and it has to convince clients to pay you money to do work for them." No pressure, right?

My logo and branding looks incredible simple now, but it's taken at least two years to get there. Unless you're a creative yourself, you may not realize that for every finished product you see, there are bazillions of unfinished, rough drafts, sketches, scribbles, hidden layers, alternate versions and countless abandoned thoughts and ideas. 

I feel like I finally had the breakthrough for my current logo when I stopped trying so hard. I was literally doodling in the dirt with a stick in Nepal or India or somewhere when I made this M shape the looked like a rune. And I've committed it ever since then. 

Anyways, I thought it would be fun to look back at the evolution of my Mirambling brand. It's both humbling and hilarious. 

Moral of the story: Keep doing, learning and growing, y'all. 

I'm happy with where I am now, but it was and still is a journey of personal development. 

Which of these is your favorite? How would you brand yourself? 

Much Love,

Painting Tibetan Thangka in Kathmandu, Nepal

If you've been to Nepal, you will see some beautiful, incredibly detailed paintings for sale everywhere from the urban capital in Kathmandu to the rural villages. Thangka (also sometimes spelled tangka, thanks or tanka) is a traditional Tibetan Buddhist art form. Paintings of Buddhist deities, scenes or mandalas are painting on cotton or silk and used to be displayed only in monasteries and during religious festivals. They can be also be used as teaching tools or for meditation, but nowadays are mostly sold as souvenirs to tourists. (And they are worth every rupee, by the way.) 

But wait, why are they all over Nepal if they are Tibetan? Ever since China annexed Tibet in the 1950s, many refugees, including the Dalai Lama, fled the country and many ended up in neighboring Nepal. 

Many of the galleries that sell these paintings had signs advertising schools so I assumed that they would accept foreign students, if for nothing else than the money. Many of these studios were understandably clustered around Boudhanath, the famous Buddhist stupa on the outskirts of Kathmandu which is one of the largest in Nepal. It's normally a very impressive structure but it was under renovation, partially due to the earthquake last year so I mostly saw scaffolding during my visit. I inquired about painting at one of these schools and was advised that it would take 7 days and cost 5,000 rupees (about $50 USD). This was a bit out of my budgets for both time and money and was too far to travel from my home stay in Swayambhunath (aka the Monkey Temple). 

 Swayumbunath Stupa (aka the Monkey Temple) near Kathmandu, Nepal

Swayumbunath Stupa (aka the Monkey Temple) near Kathmandu, Nepal

When I got back to my home stay, I explored the immediate area hoping to find another Thangka school since Swayambhunath is also home to a Buddhist stupa. I found no schools but I did discover Swayambhu Environmetal Park, which was free to enter and enjoy and boasted three huge Buddha sculptures representing (left to right) Avalokiteshvara, Amitaba Buddha and Padmasambhava (aka Guru Rinpoche) all over 19 m (60 ft) tall. 

 Swayumbh Park (or Buddha Park) near Kathmandu, Nepal

Swayumbh Park (or Buddha Park) near Kathmandu, Nepal

The next day I searched the internet and found a supposed school located just inside the city and well within walking distance at around 3 km/1.8 miles (one way). After walking the dogs, I headed into town in search of said school. When I arrived, I found it boarded up so I kept walking and ended up at a school in Durbar Square. I was thrilled to find a secret entrance where I wouldn't be hassled by the tourist police to pay the 10,000 ($9.50 USD) rupee World Heritage entrance fee, which I had already paid upon my first visit during Holi, but no longer had my ticket to prove it. 

The owner of the shop, Dev, gladly agreed to let me paint my own and we bargained a price of 3,000 rupees ($28 USD) for the process and supplies. After I looked at a few paintings for inspiration, he agreed to prep a canvas and sketch out a simple mandala shape based on what I liked. I agreed to come back the next day at 10:30 AM.

 Day One

Day One

When I arrived the following morning, my canvas was waiting and the pencil-sketched skeleton on it was about 20" x 20". (I actually still haven't measured the full canvas.) I could tell he used a compass for the circles but freehanded all the straight pieces so I had to spend a little time erasing and realigning parts of the sketch with a ruler. 

I had an assortment of acrylic paints but kept a limited palette of blue, orange, green, red and black. I sat next door on a cushion on the floor of a shop that sold masks and singing bowls. Everyone was very friendly, not to mention curious about what I was doing so I frequently had an audience of locals watching me paint, all offering words of praise and encouragement. I painted for five hours that day, stopping only for a quick lunch break from a nearby vendor who make me a fried egg sandwich which others called a 'Nepali Burger.' I finished the first layer of colors (phase 1) and most of the '[out]lining' (phase 2). 

 Day Two

Day Two

On the second day, I arrived around the same time and painted for six hours. I got through the majority of the gold detailing. This color was literally powdered 18 karat gold mixed with a bit of water. I wanted a gradient of blue rings around the main image so Dev MacGuyvered a compass together out of string and pushpins and penciled in some perfectly circular guidelines. 

One day three, I walked to town with two other girls from my home stay. I showed them my painting-in-progress and Dev bought us all tea. We all chatted for a bit while I started working and once their cups were empty, they headed off to find the Horse Festival. Gotta love Nepal! Another day, another festival!

 Day Three / The Finished Product

Day Three / The Finished Product

It took me about three more hours to design & paint the outermost gold border and paint the blue rings and the background. I was so thrilled to paint those final few brushstrokes around the edge of the canvas. Even though I knew I had just spent days doing it, the painting still didn't feel real. All the locals that I got to know over the past few days complimented me on my work and one even volunteered to take pictures of me holding the finished product. 

The painting process itself was somewhat meditative - especially the intricate detail work with the tiniest of brushes. It's complete focus and concentration, trying to translate the design from my mind to the paper. Maybe one day I'll be able to return to Nepal or Tibet and study at a proper school with a Lama. In the meantime, I'm going to keep seizing every opportunity I have to be creative. 

Body & Mind : My Last Week in Sri Lanka

So I'm still at the same beach house in Ambalangoda but this last week is all about relaxation and introspection. Two other girls are participating in this week's activities as well; one from Austria and one from Germany. The only things officially on the agenda are a daily morning massage, a short yoga class in the afternoon and then maybe meditation on Friday with a monk at a local temple. I supplemented the mind part on my own by devouring several books during my abundant free time. (I also still helped out with the turtles, too.) 

 Full/Blue Moon

Full/Blue Moon

BODY // MASSAGE

My morning ayervedic massages were performed by a small, smiley Sri Lankan lady name Udena. First there is the topless head, scalp and shoulder massage. (Beth, you would slip into a blissful coma and possibly die of complete, tactile nirvana.) I sit in a chair and she pours some herbal, ayervedic oil on my head then works it into my hair and scalp with a sequence of scratches and strokes. Then she braids my oily and slightly thicker hair. For some reason, I find head/scalp massage the most relaxing - it affects the entire rest of my body. After that, I lay down on the padded table for the foot massage. It's very thorough and relaxing with a bit of reflexology-ish pressure point stimulation. (Dad, you would fall asleep and instantly have dreams of walking weightlessly on cotton candy clouds.)

The first time, I thought she was only going to do my head and feet, but she transitioned on to rub down all the parts in between. Arms, hands, thighs, legs and then stomach and chest. It was a bit awkward for me because I've never had a boob-and-tummy massage before but its not bad. Then I flip over and she does the back of my arms & legs, my glutes and finally my back. My muscles are temporarily the consistency of banana pudding and it takes all of my willpower to convince my coarse motor skills to start functioning again. 

At this point I'm covered head to toe in ayervedic massage oil. I looked at the bottle but it's all in Singhale so I can't read a word of it. I asked Udena what was in it and she said simply "herbs." So my last resort was to try to identify it by smell, which is my third failed attempt at deciphering what the oil is made from or what's in it. I can say it smells rich, savory, herb-y and earthy, almost like a mossy forest floor after the rain mixed with wood, mushrooms and maybe some nuts. It honestly smells and feels like I'm being tenderized and marinated in preparation for a large Thanksgiving-style feast. It's not a bad smell but I don't love it either. 

If I could, I would fold her up and put her in my pocket so I can continue to experience her magical massage powers throughout my travels and share them with others. But, I just don't think the rest of the world is ready for the massage equivalent of self-actualization. 

MIND // BOOK CLUB

Walden | Henry David Thoreau, 1854

I finally finished Walden after starting it months ago. This is because 1) I read it very sporadically, and only during my travels, 2) its 373 pages of tiny type and 3) I frequently had to make note of and look up definitions to tons of antiquated and/or SAT-level vocabulary words. 

Basically, it's his adventure in self-reliance and self-reflection while living at a house he built on Walden Pond. There's a ton of satire, great poetic descriptions and narration, philosophy, advice, observations and even some rather prophetic predictions. I'll read it again or possible several more times and more quickly now that I have several words defined in the margins. 

Paper Towns | John Green, 2008

 A roommate of mine left this book so I picked it up and decided to give it a try. I finished it in under 48 hours, not because I found it particularly enthralling but because it's an easy read and I have a lot of free time. 

I was expecting it to be your typical vapid YA novel describing the same old tired high school stereotypes but I was surprised to find I could actually relate to it. Girl is fed up with conventional life (in Florida of all places) and decides to leave everything behind in search of something more substantial. 

A good part of the plot is built around poetry by Walt Whitman: Song of Myself and Leaves of Grass. I coincidentally just finished reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Both men were writers and part of the Transcendentalist movement in America during the nineteenth century. So, a lot of the underlying philosophy overlaps between those two books, despite them being written over 150 years apart. 

I also like the message of trying to see people for who they really are, not what you expect them to be. The irony is, in high school when I would have been the ideal target for this book, I was definitely more of a Q but now several years later, I've definitely transitioned to being more of a Margo. 

TRAVEL TIP #3: BOARDING PASSES MAKE GREAT BOOKMARKS!

The Fault in our Stars | John Green, 2012

There was a small, makeshift library of left-behind books in the corner of the common area. Since I had just finished Paper Towns, a friend suggested I read another book by John Greene called The Fault in our Stars. It's about a couple of star-crossed teenagers with various forms and stages of cancer. Kind of a modern, more maladies version of Romeo and Juiet, sans suicide.

It's a great insight into what it feels like to have a terminal illness and makes you appreciate your own health for sure. I wasn't a fan of the ending, but I think it's referencing the inceptional, fictional book-within-a-book An Imperial Affliction which just ends leaving several questions unanswered. I plan on watching the movie at some point next week in Malaysia when I have more reliable internet. 

I Wonder Why | Thubten Chodron, 1999

Curious to learn more about Buddhism and meditation in anticipation of visiting the temple later that week, I read I Wonder Why, a free publication that I picked up earlier at a temple in Singapore. It concisely and simply answers the questions asked most often about these aforementioned topics. It was written by a Californian turned Buddhist nun who started meditation and visited Nepal in 1975 and was fully ordained in 1986 in Taiwan. Very interesting and makes it easier to comprehend some of the more complex topics, especially since she has the Western perspective and wasn't just born into the culture. 

BODY // YOGA

After the peak heat and humidity of the day had waned slightly, our Yoga teacher Sasantha would arrive around 5 PM via motorbike. He wore white Kundalini-style yoga clothes was trained in and teaches Hatha style.

Along with Om chanting, he would open and close our practice with Ayubowen (Wishing you a long life; Singhale) instead of Namaste. I tried to go in with an open mind, but I felt like this class was way too basic, maybe on par for toddlers or geriatric clients. There were a handful of poses that I recognized but there was also a lot of filler like glorified stretching of feet, hands and fingers and laying down in savasana for several minutes in the middle of the practice, which I have never done before, and really felt like it interrupted the whole flow. But he did mix in a noticeable amount of meditation, which I liked. 

The worst part was the insects. I put on citronella oil but the mosquitos and flies still buzzed around us. I can't think of a worse hell than trying to meditate amongst mosquitos. I'm still grateful for his time and effort and was a nice, relaxing, not-too-sweaty way to end the day. 

I still continued to do my own Vinyasa practice almost every morning alone in the common area of the beach house. Last week, a few German girls took notice and asked if I could teach them. I ended up teaching two short classes (with simple moves that I was confident I could describe and direct) on two different mornings with up to four girls attending each class. 

MIND // TRIP TO THE TEMPLE

On Friday afternoon, I and the two other girls participating in B&MW piled into a tuk tuk to make the journey to the nearby Shailathalaramaya Temple in Karandeniya, built on a hillside about two centuries ago. It's claim to fame is a 35 meter long reclining Buddha statue, the longest of its kind in Southeast Asia.

The temple was particularly packed with people due to it being a holiday related to the full moon called Uposatha Observance Day or Poya Day. (This would explain why both the Post Office and our favorite Ice Cream place were closed on Friday.) So, we were lucky to get an hour, or any time at all really, with a monk there named Somissara. He was an amiable, 24-year old monk that just radiated happiness. The only space left for our meditation was in their narrow little alms room, where lay persons brought all kinds of food offerings for the monks. 

He had great English and gave us his life story in a nutshell, including coming to live at the temple at age 7, how he started meditation and his more recent travels across Europe to teach meditation. He recommended starting with Metta (or Loving Kindness) meditation. The goal of this practice is to cultivate a strong wish for the happiness of all other people and animals. We were instructed to close our eyes for 10 minutes and repeat the mantra I wish for all to be well and happy. I edited this a bit to I wish for _______ to be healthy and happy and made it into a med-lib™ (meditation + mad-lib, get it?!), in which I would fill in the following blank with things like: my parents, my sister, my friends, all beings, etc. (Is it coincidence that when I grabbed my phone to take pictures of the temple directly after the meditation, I noticed a rather happy WhatsApp message from my mom?) 

The time went by pretty quickly and even though my eyes were closed, the darkness faintly seemed like I was moving backwards through a tunnel, passing under sporadic overhead lights. However, I couldn't hold the traditional cross-legged position for the entire time. One of my legs started to go numb so I shifted a few times. I raised this concern to Somissara afterwards, and he said it's normal and totally acceptable to shift your physical position when meditating.

Then he gave us a brief tour of the statue, the temple and the grounds. I really enjoyed and appreciated the time he spent with us and approached to shake his hand, but just as quickly recoiled because I suddenly remembered that we're not supposed to touch or take pictures of the monks out of respect for their holiness. 

 Reminds me of my grandma's quilted creations

Reminds me of my grandma's quilted creations

The Moonstone Mine and My Shiny Souvenir

Unrelated to Body & Mind week, my last excursion was to a Moonstone Mine in Meetiyayoda. It was a typical tour-then-try-to-sell-something experience, but while white moonstones are found all over the world, blue moonstones are so rare that they (supposedly) are only found in this single village in Sri Lanka.

Traditionally, the moonstone is known as the Traveler's Stone and is supposed to be especially protective when one travels by night or upon the water when the moon is shining. The blue, or cat's eye, variety is believed to promote clarity, focus, awareness and balances energy. 

Upon hearing this, I decided I needed one immediately so even though I'm not typically a "ring person," I purchased a sterling silver ring set with a small blue moonstone for 10,000 rupee ($75 USD). I'm sure I probably overpaid a bit but it came with a certificate of authenticity and I'm directly supporting the Sri Lankan economy. 

 Sifting for stones

Sifting for stones

 My blue moonstone

My blue moonstone

The Cat Savior & Spectacular Sunsets

My last and completely unanticipated experience that I need to mention happened Friday night when a group of us were walking towards town for ice cream after dinner at the beach house. We are regularly escorted by Milo and some other street dogs, as we were on this trip, but they suddenly and uncharacteristically broke into a full sprint. I saw why as a small cat scrambled up a tree limb. The cat fell and in what seemed like a nanosecond, it was then in Milo's mouth, being shaken violently. 

What happened next was kind of a blur. I didn't really think - I just reacted and kicked the dog, not hard enough to really hurt it, just enough to startle her. She dropped the cat and I reflexively tried to grab the cat and move it away from the dog but instead felt claws puncturing my flesh. I flinched and spun around to see the cat safely behind me. I stood between Milo and the cat, yelling at Milo to go away, until the cat disappeared to safety. Thankfully the other dogs were gone and Milo eventually retreated as well. (I'm choosing to believe that the cat is totally fine now and eternally grateful for me saving it's life.) 

Only then did I stop to evaluate the damage done to my finger. I had a long, jagged scratch almost the entire length of the inside of my right ring finger - the one with my new moonstone ring on it - that was trickling blood and I was super thankful for another girl in my group that had a first aid kit with her and handed me an alcohol wipe and a band aid. I used them immediately then cleaned the wound more thoroughly and applied Neosporin when I got back to the house. 

Last but not least, I need to share pictures of some spectacular sunsets we got to admire this week! 

Mirambling Muses: Singapore

Well that week pretty much flew by. It was so nice to catch up with my sister and just let my guard down and relax for a bit. We didn't have anything really specific planned beforehand, so I just kind of made things up as I went along. 

The typical Singapore tourist comes here for perpetual shopping trips, fancy hotels and/or cosmetic surgery. Therefore, I didn't notice a ton of backpackers and probably wouldn't have stopped here had my amazing sister not been here with a free place to stay. However, there is a ton of budget-friendly culture, fun and excitement to be had if you know where to look.

Here are my highlights:

Red Dot Design Center

If you're a design geek like me, you have to visit the Red Dot Design Museum. It's a bright red building on the outskirts of Chinatown and it's full of all kinds of innovative and modern design including industrial, product, packaging and concept. There are lots of interactive iPad displays and you can touch and play with everything! There's some neat stuff in the shop as well. I picked up a couple letterpress postcards and seriously considered a recycled vinyl laptop sleeve. Learn more about Red Dot and their international Design Awards here

Chinatown

Of the designated traditional ethnic areas, Chinatown was the most fun. The streets are lined with lanterns small shops selling everything from silk robes to custom cut paper portraits and any & all kinds of Singapore and traditional Chinese souvenirs. And there is also no shortage of meal options. You'll find fresh produce (including the spiky, stinky-foot-smelling fruit, Durian) street food vendors and more traditional restaurants. I'm quite sure I need to start employing a food chaperone that is more familiar with these exotic foods, because I've made some regrettable decisions. The most memorable being a delicious-looking mountain of rainbow snow cone bliss, which turned out to be more like miscellaneous, dessert nachos. The base was beans, mystery jelly and pieces of mangosteen supporting an odd-tasting assortment of flavored ice and then topped with creamed corn. Taste, texture, everything, was just weird. 

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a must-see with its colorful, ornate decor and literally hundreds of statues and I was quite surprised to see people square dancing (to modern, English pop music, no less) near the Chinatown Complex. 

Gardens by the Bay 

These giant greenhouse gardens are located in the shadow of the huge and hideous (IMO) Marina Bay Sands Hotel. There are actually two Gardens by the Bay, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. Jamie and I opted to only do one as we were short on time and didn't want to pay double the cost. The cloud forest was a nice respite from the city summer heat and we walked past the waterfalls, up the ramps, around the top and back down to the educational area. The flora was immaculately maintained and they even used misters to simulate foggy clouds. At the end, there is a dark room full of colorful, projected info graphics that educate you about the environment and it's biggest threats and you end by watching a short doomsday video about climate change where they describe a dying earth over the next hundred years. Then they rewind and give you hope again saying all that can be avoided if we take action today. They're preaching to the choir with regards to me and my sister but I hope it had an impact on everyone else passing through. This time, I didn't mind exiting through the gift shop because they had a bunch of awesome & eco-friendly stuff. I found some beautiful post cards designed by Peranakan Inspirations as well as this awesome little travel backpack that folds up into a small pouch. 

And I can't forget the super trees! They are these hybrid plant/solar structures that stand about 16 stories tall and collect solar energy so they can light up at night so they're self-sustaining. And the look pretty cool too. 

Street Art

I found the biggest concentration of street art in the Malay/Muslim district on Haji Lane. While admiring the incredible colors & designs, I turned the corner and found a group of  girls with American accents doing inversions in front of one of the murals. Turns out, one of them is kind of a big deal and teaches all over Asia but is based in Sinapore. Marysia invited me to one of her classes at Pure Yoga and I enthusiastically accepted her offer. I actually ended up doing two classes in a row the following morning; first a moderate Hatha class followed by a class called Upside Down, which is the hardest class I’ve ever attempted. The main focus was handstands and arm balances. I got a ton of tips from both Marysia and a pretty petite yet bad ass yogi next to me named Sen. The poses seemed almost effortless for her and she had short black hair with blonde streaks and an asian/egyptian pair of eyes tattooed at the base of her neck that stared at me everytime we posed facing the left wall. I was so satisfied with and grateful for the classes and really feel like I made significant progress in my practice. 

 

Public transportation is plentiful and my sister and I took trains, busses, Uber and cabs. My biggest gripe is that stamps and letter boxes are nearly impossible to find here. 

Australian Adventures: Rainforests and Rapids and Leeches, Oh My!

Monday, June 15 /// Ballooning

I woke up around 3 AM to get ready for my first ever hot air balloon ride. I took my backpack containing essentials like my gopro, rain jacket and neck pillow.

The rigmarole of getting there and back took longer than the actual ride itself. When I got picked up in a large can around 4:15 AM, there was already a handful of people on board and we went to another hotel after that to pick up a big group of Chinese tourists. The 45 minute ride was pitch black and we stopped for one last potty break before arriving at the launch site. It was still very dark but you could just barely decipher the outline of the deflated balloon on the ground and the trucks and people surrounding it. 

Admittedly it was a "do it once" kind of activity but now I can say I've experienced it. The captain was super friendly and informative and it was neat to see the sun rise from the same sky it would be rising into. The only drawback was the group of Chinese tourists that were a little too fond of their selfie sticks. 

So how sustainable was this trip? Well sharing one large van definitely uses less fuel than everyone driving there individually so that’s a plus. The balloon runs on liquid propane/butane (or LPG here in Australia). This is a byproduct of processing natural gas and refining oil, which would otherwise be discarded. According to exceptionalenergy.com, LPG is one of the cleanest conventional fuels available. It is non-toxic and has no impact on soil, water and underground aquifers. It also helps to improve the quality of indoor and outdoor air, as it produces substantially less particulate matter and NOX than diesel, oil, wood or coal.

It also releases much fewer carbon emissions than gasoline/petrol. I asked the pilot and he estimated that we used about 120 liters of the stuff during our 30 minute flight. According to ecoscore.com, 1 liter = 16.6 g of CO2/km so that’s 1,992 g/1.9 kg/km total CO2 emissions. A minuscule amount, really. For comparison, a liter of petrol/gasoline is about 24 g/CO2/km so 120 liters burned of that is 2,880g or 2.8 kgCO2/km, about 45% more.  

Obviously, the way to have the least impact is to just travel by foot or bike within a small radius of wherever you are staying, but you have to be realistic. People travel to experience new places and activities they can’t experience at home so it’s good to at least try and make them a bit more aware of the impact they’re having and inform them of better choices that are still stimulating and fun. 

I got back to Calypso around 8:30 AM, took an hour nap, then finished packing up. And the honeymoon was officially over. I checked out of my single room and into a four bed share which was half the cost and more efficient. It was 10 AM and there were two girls occupying the two bottom bunks and their shit looked like it had exploded everywhere else and there was a stale, unpleasant, unwashed-everything smell. I barely had any floor space to walk let alone set my bags down and they had makeup and hair products all over both of the top bunks. I wanted to just grab everything that was in my way and throw it on the floor to physically vent my initial frustration but instead I gathered it up and piled it on top of some other pile of their crap. Never before have I stayed in a shared hostel room that was so disheveled. 

So after making up my top bunk and considering my options, I went back to the front desk and asked if there were any other rooms available. I’m so glad I did because they ended up moving me to the largest four person shared room available. And the people were more welcoming and well-kempt. I moved my sheets and my bag so everyone wins; I get a new room and they get to keep living in their own filth. The only catch was, the desk didn’t have enough keys for it, so they had to have a few more made so I should be able to access my room by the afternoon. (And I did.) 

Tuesday June 17 /// Tully River Rafting

It was another early morning as I got picked up from Calypso at 6:30 AM to start my rafting adventure. The van picked up a few more people then dropped us at the Raging Thunder tour headquarters to check in and fill up the coach bus waiting outside. During these travels, I met and Irish guy named Neil and an Aussie named Aaron who were both in the area to compete in the Half Ironman on Sunday and were getting another adrenaline fix on the Extreme Rafting Tour after a well-earned day of rest. Our tall, lanky host named Tim was great and kept us all well-informed and entertained for the duration of the drive to the Tully River, which is actually a World Heritage site. During the rest stop, I asked Tim if it was too late to switch from the regular rafting trip to the Extreme trip and he said all those boats were full. Oh well, I tried. 

When we got there, I was able to cover my bikinied body in a long sleeved thermal top and attached my gopro to my helmet. I was in boat 2 of 6 in the front, right position along with a skinny Japanese guy front right, a German couple behind us, a Japanese girl and Irish girl in the back and our guide Daz bringing up the rear. 

Daz told us that the rainforest through which we were rafting was the oldest in the world at 110 million years old. No wonder it reminded me of Jurassic Park and more recently, Jurassic World. The fast moving water was also some of the purest and cleanest in the world as there was no industry or farming nearby to taint it. The German guy and I used our hands to take a few gulps and it was incredibly refreshing. 

The first bit of the river was pretty easy to navigate, until we slammed head on into a giant rock and the reverb knocked me off the side of the raft. The current dragged me under the raft and then I dropped slightly under water before coming up for air again. I opened my eyes to see the guide on the nearby safety boat throwing a rope to me,which I grabbed, flipped over onto my back and pulled it over my shoulder like they instructed in the safety video we watched on the bus earlier. The group of American retirees occupying that boat grabbed me and pulled me aboard to safety. I’m sure all this happened in a matter of 5 seconds but it seemed much longer. 

I insisted I was fine, except for a large bump on my right shin that I’m sure would turn into a purple and green bruise later. Daz climbed back along the rocky shore to retrieve me and I climbed back over the rocks to my raft. At some point during the pandemonium, my paddle got loose and floated downstream much farther than I did, so Daz handed me the little Japanese girl’s paddle since I was in front and said we would replace her paddle really soon, which we did after a handful more rapids and catching up with another boat. The group of boats kind of leap frogs for the first few rapids and each one takes turns being first, last and/or on safety duty. 

After several more kilometers, all six boats stopped for lunch, which consisted of buns, burgers (including meatless patties for us veggos) and lots of fixin’s. I piled caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and coleslaw on top of mine along with ketchup (called tomato sauce here). Then Daz handed me a slice of beetroot saying it wasn’t an official Aussie burger without this critical ingredient. It tasted surprisingly good and I relished every bite because I knew I’d need more energy to get through the next 10 kilometers. There was so much lush, virid landscape on either side and every so often, an electric blue butterfly would flutter by. Everyone made it safely to the end of the trip where our bus was waiting for us.

I was so prepared for this trip that I packed everything... except a change of clothes, so I had to sit in my wet shorts and vibrams for the duration of the nearly 2 hour return trip. Along the way, we stopped at a small pub in Feluga, where I met up with my Extreme Rafting friends and another Aussie named Kendall, who was  also a Half Iron finisher. Once back in Cairns, the four of us decided to meet up later for dinner and drinks. We went to the Bavarian Beer House located near the Esplanade. About the only thing on the menu I could eat was a cheesy pasta called Käzespätzle (I have to say I was very pleased with my correct pronunciation of this) and a drink that I dubbed Beerjuice, which was a blend of a Hefeweizen and Mango and Banana juice, because I hate the taste of real beer. Of course I got some flack from the guys both for being vegetarian and for my wimpy beer, but ask me if I care. (I don’t.) 

Skydiving and bungee jumping and really popular here but you definitely get the most adrenaline for your money with this trip. Not to mention, it's incredibly sustainable as long as we take back everything that we brought with us. Along with the glow worm caves in Waitomo, New Zealand, this is one of my favorite travel experiences. 

Wednesday, June 18 /// Tablelands

Today was the last of my three day excursion binge. I took a $99 day trip with a company called On The Wallaby where a tour guide drove a busfull of backpackers around the tropical Tablelands located on the small mountains that rise up and cast a shadow over the coastal areas of Cairns. We made several stops to marvel at natural wonders like the Cathedral Fig Tree (inspiration for the mother tree in Avatar), Lake Barrine, Lake Eacham, the Millaa Millaa Waterfalls, the Dinner Falls and Yungaburra. I met my Canadian counterpart, Devon, on the bus and we hiked together for most of the day. We seriously could have been separated at birth; we both just quit our corporate jobs, love cats, yoga, healthy eating, wine, etc.  

 Cathedral Fig Tree

Cathedral Fig Tree

Anyways, we had the opportunity to swim in the lagoons created by the falls, but after being cold and wet on the bus the day before, I decided I didn’t want to get soaked. Instead I hiked along the rocks piled up behind the falls and got soaked anyways. Lesson learned: you will get wet if you walk under a waterfall. 

I was pleasantly surprised again by lunch, which was a Subway-style assemble your own sandwich station. I geeked out over the reusable plates, cups and containers and our guide Lawrence told us all the vegetables came from local farms. Even the water was in a big cooler, to which we had the option of adding a concentrated, fruity cordial flavor. The only waste was really the plastic bags that the buns came in as all the dishes would get washed later by employees at the On the Wallaby lodge in Yungaburra. 

The only thing that sucked (literally) was the affinity that leeches seemed to for me. I didn’t even know leeches were a thing around here and I can’t remember ever being bitten by one before, ever. I found the first one when I was on the bus and felt something wet inside my shirt near the top of my ribs on the right side. When I lifted it up to investigate, a slimy, black little leech fell off and started squirming on the seat. I, and everyone in my general vicinity, were horrified. I had the leech latch onto a pen then flicked it out an open window. Then there was the bleeding to deal with. It just wouldn’t stop and no one on the bus had bandaids so I help a napkin over the open wound until we reached our next destination. Once arrived, I went into a changing room to strip down and check and didn’t find anymore little bloodsuckers. 

 Millaa Millaa Falls

Millaa Millaa Falls

But then, once on the trails at Dinner Falls, I felt something wet on the inside of my thigh  and I rolled up my right pants leg and flicked off another leech. This one appeared to have made three attempts before deciding to latch on. It left a more sizable wound on my leg that would not stop gushing. I found a secluded area and pulled my pants down completely to be certain there were no more and ended up MacGyvering a makeshift tourniquet out of a make-up remover wipe and an elastic headband that I’d been wearing wrapped around my wrist as a bracelet (I knew those bands would come in handy!) I’m more annoyed than anything that I was such a leech magnet because I was the only one dressed in proper hiking attire: pants, long sleeved shirt and boots (whereas most people were in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops) and I have no idea how they wiggled their way inside my clothes. 

 Volcanic crater

Volcanic crater

It was a lot for one day, so I recommend this trip for backpackers and travelers who are short on time or budget in Cairns. And bonus points for the super sustainable lunch! 

Once back in the city, Devon and I went to our respective hostels and cleaned up before meeting up again. I got a veggo burger and chips and we bought a couple bottles of wine and hung out at her hostel for the night. 

Thursday, June 19

Today I recharged everything, including myself. I charged my computer and all my gopro batteries. After three days of Aussie Adventuring, it was nice to sleep in, spend some time on the interwebs and do laundry. For some reason, it’s incredibly expensive to clean your clothes here as it cost me $10 AUD per load; $4 per wash, $4 per dry and $2 for powdered detergent. 

Later that afternoon I met Devon down at the Esplanade for some sunset yoga. We got a lot of various looks from passersby ranging from admiration to confusion to envy but it’s all good. We had a lot of fun posing for pictures with the sun as it sank down below the horizon before heading to the (mostly Asian) Night Market. If you’re ever in Cairns, the Night Market is not to be missed!

We each got 40 minute Chinese massages for $15 each and they sell a huge variety of jewelry, souvenirs and packaged foods. I bought a really cool tank top designed by a local artist and Devon bought some loose lemon ginger tea. Then we some relatively cheap but yummy Chinese food in the food court before heading back to her hostel to crack open the last bottle of wine. Then I walked back to my home base and finished packing before bed. I seriously cannot think of a more perfect evening. 

Ultimate Beach Party with Sea-Doo

I'm so stoked! In previous posts, I talked about how Devin Super Tramp is a super inspirational person for me and then about what it was like to participate in one of his videos and now here's the final product:  

And here's the Behind the Scenes video:

The 3:45 official video looks like nonstop action, but we were actually there all day for about 12 hours getting the right light and the right shots. I didn't actually get to ride a Sea-Doo myself but I did get to go tubing, play volleyball, play cornhole and now I'm considering being a career extra. 

I'm actually featured more in the BTS and I'm only a little bummed that the slow-motion dive on the volleyball court (for which I did several falls and received several bruises) didn't make the final cut. But the video is sponsored by Sea-Doo, not the AVP so I get it! I was just glad to be a part of it at all and get to meet Mr. Super Tramp himself and make some new friends and memories. 

 Team Super Tramp

Team Super Tramp

Beach Party: Supertramp Style

Today is going into the top five best days of my life. That's because if you read my previous post, The Pursuit Of Passion, you'll know that I cited Devin Graham as one of my inspirations so being able to meet him, let alone be featured in one of his videos today, was literally living out one of my dreams. I've been an avid fan, following his videos since I discovered this one in 2011, and never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.  

 That's A Wrap! 

That's A Wrap! 

I found about this gig via Facebook and Instagram when they advertised a need for extras in their next video sponsored by Sea Doo which was scheduled to be shot in Deerfield Beach, FL. It was unpaid of course but they did promise to provide lunch (which I correctly predicted to be pizza). I and eleven other strangers between 18 and 30 met and had to become fast friends as we were supposed to be portraying a beach party full of besties. 

Around lunchtime, we all gathered around the picnic bench and a particularly precocious extra started asking Devin a ton of questions, sparking kind of a impromptu interview. Devin accurately described himself as an open book and gave us more insight into his own inspirational journey, which included a mission trip to Jamaica, quitting college in Utah less than a year from graduating and moving to Hawaii alone for a year to start making videos he was personally passionate about (as opposed to becoming a puppet for whoever hired him). His nickname Supertramp pays homage to Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) whose Alaskan Adventures inspired the book/movie Into the Wild. And he's just a really, really nice dude. Seriously, I don't think I saw him without a smile the entire day. 

As the most experienced and skilled volleyball player present, they took some super slow motion shots of me diving for and spiking the ball, which I hope make the final cut. I also got to take a spin around the lake on a tube tugged by a Sea Doo with a particularly fit couple, a gopro and a selfie stick, which was all good until we finally all tumbled off the tube at once in a tangled pile of flailing limbs.

Back on the beach, we played cornhole, frisbee and football, and waited around. A lot. But at least we had bright yellow tents to shade us from the sun (and occasional summer showers) and they kept us pretty hydrated. It ended up being almost a 12 hour day for us extras, and I'm sure it was even longer for the crew and the sponsors. I wanted to stay a bit longer and help clean up, but I wanted a sandwich even more so my hunger won out over my altruism. 

 Blast from the Past

Blast from the Past

I also had a serendipitous reunion with an old friend from my Delta Zeta days. I didn't recognize Ashley right away with her crutches, bright pink leg cast and sunglasses but she eventually made the connection and we caught up on the past several years since matriculating from the University of Tampa. I told her about my upcoming trip and she told me about how she got into racing jet skis. Which is pretty awesome, except when you get flung off of it going 70 MPH and fracture your leg, of course. 

So I got to take home a selfie with Supertramp himself, a few bruises and some amazing memories. Can't wait for Team Supertramp to edit and release the final video on YouTube, which should happen mid-late June. :D

Culling the Clutter

General life cleansing has been an ongoing process for me this and last month since I decided to go on this trip. My life has gotten so cluttered over the years that I've been distracted by school and work so it's time to cull all the crap.  

JUNK EMAIL

Think about how much junk e-mail you get in your inbox. Just a few examples of mine were weekly triathlon training tips (I haven't done a triathlon since 2011), unsolicited emails from Crate & Barrel & David's Bridal after only buying one registry gift and one bridesmaid dress, respectively, and tons of emails from the likes of kate spade and Anthropologie. I have more than enough purses and clothes already without being tempted by OMG SURPRISE SALE up to 80% OFF TWO DAYS ONLY. So instead of just deleting these or ignoring them as I usually do, I made a conscious effort to unsubscribe from each source of superfluous messages as I received them.

Sometimes I'd unsubscribe from an email list and then become infuriated briefly because of the obnoxious irony of receiving one more email from said list confirming I had unsubscribed. >_< Anyways, I'd estimate I've unsubscribed from at least 150 different lists so far. So now when I see that little red number on the corner of my mail icon on my iPhone, I know it's all important stuff. 

JUNK MAIL

But all those intangible messages aren't nearly as bad as the mountain of paper junk mail that you undoubtedly receive each year. According to forestethics.org

  • Junk mail in the US accounts for over 100 million pieces of mail each year – about 20% of all mailed delivered in the world
  • Every year, American households receives a total of 104.7 billion pieces of junk mail, or 848 pieces of junk mail per household, which requires 6.5 million tons of paper
  • Approximately 44% of junk mail goes to landfills unopened

Personally, I don't get much junk and when I do, it goes directly from the mailbox to the curbside recycling bin. If there's a credit card offer, I usually take the extra step of using a sharpie to black out my name & address and ripping the papers and envelopes in half to protect my identity before they too get recycled. But after I leave my adorable little home, I'm not counting on the next resident to do the same when he or she still receives my junk mail for a few months because according to my own personal experience, most Americans don't give a sh*t about recycling.

I'm not sure why I stopped in the first place, but I'm going to start using Paper Karma again to unsubscribe from unnecessary credit card offers and catalogs. It's a free app that only requires you submit photos of the unwanted mail and then they do all the work to get you off multiple mailing lists. 

MOBILE PHONE

Think about how many contacts you have in your phone. How many of those people have you actually spoken to in the past year? The majority of my contacts I hadn't actually contacted in over a decade and includes people and places from what seems like past lives. (I have had the same phone number since high school after all and I intend to keep it as long as possible.) 

So every now and again when I have some downtime waiting at a doctor's office or when I'm placed on hold during a phone call, I start deleting old contacts in my phone one by one. Almost all of them bring back a brief memory or two or at least a vision of that person's face in my mind if I remember them at all. As of today, I've purged A-S and will make it to Z before I leave in June.

With the seemingly unlimited amount of free apps available today, it's easy to accumulate a ton of phone clutter. I've made a conscious effort not too download too many but I also went through my phone again and deleted non-essential or rarely used apps. 

HOME

Even though my little house is only about 400 sqft, I'm still amazed at the amount of stuff I have accumulated that I don't actually use or need. Over the past few weeks I've donated six large bags of clothes and miscellany to the thrift shop nearby and I'm sure more stuff will make it's way there before I leave Florida. Starting next week, I'm selling almost everything in my place on Craigslist and will be storing only the essentials like my Vitamix, my favorite clothes, various art collected from friends and foreign travels, some tools and basic kitchen utensils. I'm expecting everything that makes the cut to fit in my little Mirazda when it's all said and done. 

 

Honestly, it feels really good to get rid of so much clutter and to detach from so many material things that just don't matter. Decluttering your life will lead to decluttering your mind. I'd rather focus my attention on people and places and experiences instead of having it divided among so many distractions.  

The Pursuit of Passion

Even though it seems like this happened over night, I've actually been inching closer towards a dream goal, even before I knew what it was. It was like this dream was in a glass box but the sides were all condensated, like your bathroom mirror after a shower, and I couldn't see exactly what was inside and slowly I was able to rub away parts of the foggy glass. Then the conditions became right and enough of the fogginess faded for me to realize this dream was a long term trip on the other side of the world. Several people who are already living their dreams have contributed to me taking this journey, whether they realize it or not. So, thanks y'all! 

Jamie: My own little sister has quite the collection of stamps in her passport. Our first international trip was to the UK when we were just getting into high school. Then her later academic pursuits led her to a semester in Copenhagen, Denmark with side trips to other parts of Europe including Paris, Vienna, Bratislava, Berlin, London and Spain. While pursuing her Master's degree she had a particularly serendipitous trip to Toronto, Canada where she met a ginger Swiss guy named Stefan, and well, the rest is history. Now she lives in Switzerland as Mrs. Gloor (when she's not utilizing research grants at universities in Australia and Singapore, of course) so you never know what can happen when you travel! 

Laura Lee: I met LL through a mutual friend in Miami years ago. But before that, she spent 6 months backpacking Africa and ended up meeting a former Mau Mau general about whom she felt compelled to write an autobiographical novel. This book has been a passion of hers since I've known her and I'm so excited it's being published now! Congratulations, Friend! 

Sarah: I really admire Sarah's commitment and tenacity. She is so serious about maintaining a healthy, plant-strong diet that she can sit there unaffected while the rest of us in the office would order oily take-out food or binge on office birthday cake. Her amazing blog is the reason I started cooking so much more and so much healthier. Also, nothing can stop Sarah from traveling, not scooter accidents, not food poisoning or even fire coral. She's also been an incredible dancer since she was a teenager. I don't think I've ever been able to stick with anything that long besides activities crucial to general survival like you know, breathing, eating, sleeping. 

Sean: We indirectly worked together a few years ago at an advertising agency in Miami. I left for a Regional Art Director position at Whole Foods Market and he left to travel the world and document it through amazing pictures. He's even been published in the New York Times and some nationally circulated magazines. I've casually stalked his travels on Facebook and always thought "I wish I could do that." And years later, I believe that I can; well the travel part at least, I'm not as good at photography. 

Jessy: We started Miami Ad School together and couldn't have been more different. I was a somewhat naive, Southern, blonde sorority girl and she had just moved from the mean streets of NYC and had a bunch of tattoos and illustrated pornographic coloring books. I was a little intimidated but it turns out over the next two years we found out we had a lot in common like our work ethic and intrinsic motivation and general optimism. Now I'm one of her biggest fans and she's living the dream as an independent artist in Miami who has been commissioned for murals, had her own gallery during Art Basel and had three gallery shows throughout Europe last year in London, Vienna and Zurich. But I think my favorite piece she's done so far is her studio/house in Miami which I've been privileged enough to visit:

Jochen: I met a lot of kids (I use this term loosely to describe anyone between 18 and 30) during my last trip to the South Pacific, mostly from Europe, who were traveling for several weeks, months and perhaps even years at a time. I thought "Wow, if they can do it, I can do it."  I met Jochen in Auckland, New Zealand and heard amazing stories about his current trip with his backpack and a surfboard pursuing the world's best waves. I find it very inspirational to just go wherever your passion takes you with barely any advanced planning. 

Devin Graham: Also known as devinsupertramp on youtube. I don't actually know him but I've been following his videos for years since he was first getting started. I've said before I want to live life like a Devin Graham video, because they are so adventurous and so much fun and so well executed. He posted a video recently about how much work it actually takes to make those videos happen, but as long as you're passionate about it, you don't mind putting in long hours. Now he doesn't exactly have to rough it every time because he gets sponsors that fly him around the world and pay him to do what he loves. 

 

Lindsey Stirling: Related to the previous post because she and Devin are friends and he filmed a lot of her early videos. Despite being incredibly talented and original, the judges on America's Got Talent told her she basically wouldn't ever be successful. But she proved them all wrong after amassing an eclectic collection of videos, original music and millions of followers on youtube. They actually invited her back recently as a guest performer on the show and she blew them all away and got a standing ovation. I actually got to see her last year in West Palm Beach during her last tour and it was incredible. Here's one on my favorites called Elements:


Also, here's my recent reading list that I've also found particularly inspirational:

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
and now, after planning my trip I'm working through:
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert