BMcG Travels

At least my 3rd attempt at a Travel Blog

Words cannot honestly express how much I have enjoyed my time working and traveling in Australia, so I’m not going to try to debrief just yet.

For now, I’m off to my next adventure in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore — If you’re wondering where I’ll be. feel free to follow along!

1 July: Trek day 1 – Kerinci National Park (https://www.wildsumatra.com/)
2 July: Trek day 2
3 July: Trek day 3
4 July: Trek day 4
5 July: Trek day 5
6 July: Walkout/end trek – Flight to Medan
7 July: Car out to Bukit Lawang; staying at Thomas’s Jungle Lodge
8 July: Genung Leusur Trek day 1 – NO CELL SERVICE
9 July: Genung Leusur Trek day 2 and back to Bukit Lawang/overnight at Thomas’s Jungle Lodge
10 July: transport out to TukTuk on Samosir/stay at Romlan’s Guesthouse
11 July: TukTuk/Samosir
12 July: TukTuk/Samosir
13 July: TukTuk/Samosir
14 July: Medan to Kuala Lumpur
15 July: Kuala Lumpur
16 July: Kuala Lumpur
17 July: Singapore afternoon/stay at Galaxy @ Chinatown pod hotel
18 July: 8:55 AM depart Singapore to Tokyo/Chicago/DC – Sleep for 27 hours

(disclaimer: this post will discuss issues of depression and suicide. Please know that I am very much OK. My process involves speaking/writing about any issues I face in order to give things perspective)

I knew it was coming.

My brain had been bathing in dopamine for the past few days as I bounced around the beautiful northeast. I had done a good job of keeping an eye on my spending and planning, which can both be issues when I’m ‘up,’ and now, with Ari gone, I knew the crash back down was coming.

The ‘up’ time, at least in my own mind, is something to behold. I am a toppler of empires. I’m the funniest person in the room. If I wanted, I could write political and philosophical treatises that would revolutionize the world.  I am the most humble person you’ve ever met!

Fortunately, when these kinds of intrusive thoughts flow, I know the come down is just around the corner. So I prepare.

First, I tell someone. Ari, knowing these moods as well as anyone, is usually the only person I need to tell in my goal for solidarity.  Generally, I will note that I will “need to sink into some darkness” for a bit, and she will know what’s coming.

I prepare for it like I would a hurricane.

Finishing all of my grocery shopping on the Friday after Ari left, I battened down the hatches.

My process involves Netflix, and lots of it. Fortunately it was a rainy and cold weekend in Melbourne so I didn’t feel too guilty about staying in.

How to describe the feeling? A mixture of a emotions in a swirl, punctuated mostly by a sense of inadequacy. Thoughts that I’m a fraud and everything good that’s come to me is undeserved. Mix this together with a total lack of motivation and, a general anger that I’m having these thoughts at all, and you have my weekend in a nutshell.

Through the week and towards my trip to Darwin, it was difficult for me to get out of my funk. A visit back to the MCG to watch some Rugby certainly helped, and my excitement to travel picked my spirits up. Then, landing in Darwin, I heard the news that Anthony Bourdain had ended his life in Paris.

A knot immediately formed in my stomach.

Suicides are difficult to read about for anyone who has felt or been around that darkness, but Anthony Bourdain was somewhat of a hero to me.

A rebel traveler who broke away from the stale, velvet-roped path most trod by TV hosts, initially, I truly didn’t like him. I thought he was too snarky. That he didn’t really appreciate the culture around him because he was too food-focused. Over the years, I realized that my dislike was based in the deep sense of jealousy I get when someone has seen more of the world than I have.

Anthony Bourdain was also an addict. And anyone who has tackled that beast and gets through the other side is an immediate kindred spirit.

Sitting in the cab on the way into humid Darwin, it was hard for me not to wonder — is this the inevitable future for people like us? Do you ever really beat it?

Reading through his quotes, I came across one that stuck — “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world, you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often though, they hurt.”

This was a travel story that hurt, but one has to keep fighting and reaching for the moments that are beautiful.
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The hostel, I quickly found, would fall on the ugly side of travel.

Just after 2am, the walls bounced with techno music. Stumbling kids lined the hallway as they planned their late-night feasts. Turning on the lights, the ground moved. Roaches, and lots of them.

I laughed. This, oddly enough, is my kind of travel. Give me a wild card any time over a cookie-cutter hotel room.

Knowing I had 4 hours before I was supposed to be up and out to see the jumping crocodiles of Adelaide, I cocooned myself in sheets and slept face down.

Mere minutes before my alarm was to sound a door slammed above me. Causing something to fall from the ceiling making a noticeable **ping** on my mattress. Coming eye to eye with the mother of all roaches was yet another reminder I was in the tropics.

Using my kindle to flying the monstrosity away from my face, I got ready to face the day.

The first stop was the Adelaide River – home of my favorite animal, the estuarine, or saltwater, crocodile. Since Steve Irwin awed me as a child, I’ve wanted to see one in the wild. And see them I certainly did.

Though in the safety of a caged boat, it was still evident how dangerous these animals are. Especially when the 5.5m, 1-tonner gave us a push with his tail that made the entire craft shake.

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After the Adelaide River, I was off again to Litchfield National Park, where I was saw spectacular waterfalls and strange landscapes dotted with magnetic termite mounds.

Deeper into Litchfield, I was able to swim in some non-crocodile infested water, though there were plenty of other animals around!

 

The next day, I was off to Kakadu National Park.

I should mention that the entire time, I had been watching my phone intently. My sister was back in Austin, very pregnant with her first child. He was set to arrive at any moment and I was going out of cell range.

The drive out to Kakadu was long, but we couldn’t go 10 minutes without sightings of emus, kangaroos, wallabies, dingos and tons of different birds.

The first stop on the trip was the Yellow Water Blillabong, which was lush with life (and, of course, crocodiles).

Next was the famous Angbangbang cave paintings — made by aboriginal inhabitants over thousands of years. The paintings were fascinating — making the long drive well worth it.

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But, when we got to a cave with paintings depicting childbirth, and suspected of being where aboriginal women gave birth for hundreds of years, I had a feeling that I would see the news from my sister soon.

Asking the local deity, the Rainbow Serpent, for a safe delivery, I left Kakadu and, as soon as I came in range, my cellphone buzzed frantically. The baby was on the way.

Once back into Darwin, I was a ball of anxiety. I hated being so far away and feeling so out of control. Pumping my parents for information they didn’t have as they flew to Austin, and frequently calling them once they landed — I settled in for a long night.

My sister’s labor lasted over 30 hours. (not a typo, that’s thirty)

By 7am on Sunday, 11 June Darwin Time (10 June in Austin), I was an uncle.

Seeing the first picture of Jack broke me and I let it all out – quickly leaving a cafe as I burst into tears.

Mere hours later and with Jack on my mind, I was lowered into a tank with a saltwater crocodile at Crocosaurus Cove.

It was then I decided to leave my mark, however small. To share my time and travels with someone who has yet to explore the world around him.

Quickly turning my camera around, I recorded myself — talking directly to Jack and sharing facts about my favorite animal. Thinking about all the other videos I can record before he’s 7, 10 and 15. I found my point of light.

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The morning after our trip up Cape Tribulation, I awoke like it was Christmas morning.

Today was the main event, the reason why most people come to Port Douglas…The Great Barrier Reef.

We were signed up for a full day snorkel, including a guided snorkel with a marine biologist, at one of the great (and quickly vanishing) wonders of the world.

As we walked to the Marina, I was on pins and needles. I wondered if the water would be too murky and how Ari would fair on only her second snorkel.

We boarded the massive Quicksilver II and rocked slowly out of Port Douglas harbor to Agincourt Reef on the outer edge of the reef system.

Though it was a bit rainy and dark on the way out, the sun came out for us as we pulled into the snorkel platform. The reef itself seemed as though it was at the end of the world. Beyond the edge of the reef, the true pacific loomed, dark blue and with heavy waves crashing against the far reef.

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Donning a full, head-to-toe lycra suit. We were ready to go. (apologies for the below image)

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The guided tour took us away from the masses and out to the further reef where we were met with beautiful coral gardens in crystal clear waters,

 

Giant clams,

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Stunning fish,

And even a sea turtle.

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Rounding the bend, we came across a 5ft white-tipped reef shark, who was off before I could take a picture. Despite a bit of current, it was a fantastic tour, with the biologist popping above the water to give us interesting tips and lessons on the sea life around us.

After spending over an hour in the water, we went back in for a quick lunch, after which we immediately dove back in for more time in the water — staying until the horn sounded to bring us back.

What shocked us both was the fact that a full 1/3rd of the boat simply didn’t enter the water… not once. Instead taking glamour shots on the boat, drinking and, in some cases, sleeping. If you are one of these people, why?

The boat ride back had us both feeling satisfied for a day well seized.
however, I was to be challenged in another way that evening.

The night before, we noticed a circus running as part of the Carnival celebration.

Not just any circus, however, but one that billed itself as a, ‘Circus for grown-ups.’

The show, called ‘Rouge,’  promised a night of hilarity, operatic cabaret and sensational acrobatics. Perhaps feeling a bit more emboldened than I normally would be, mixed with a dash of showing off in front of Ari, I bought us tickets.

Now, with the show upon us, I was terrified.

What had I signed us up for?

My delicate and puritanical east-coast sensibilities were about to be shattered by these down-under rogues.

“Too tired after the snorkel? We can always just turn in early?” I asked Ari.

“Nope.” She replied.

Typical Californian, I thought to myself,  no sense of decency.

With thoughts jumping between my old Catholic priests (I haven’t been to church in 18+ years) and my boarding school headmaster (15+ years on that one), I shamefully crept into the old-style big tent.

These seats are too close together, I can’t breathe in here.

I began to sweat.

Hands held crisply to my side, and wearing a button-down shirt and khakis for some reason, I bobbed and weaved until I was seated. I’ve never been one for parties or crowds and this was one crowded party.

Ari, loving everything, was laughing the entire time, pointing out the old ladies in the front row and the other patrons who were clearly dressed to attend the show.

What, I thought, do these people expect to happen? Oh god, what IS going to happen? Maybe they know something that I don’t!

Then the lights went out.

Shrieks and hooting pierced the air. My back began to ache from tension.

Then the show began.

At this point, Ari was just as excited to see my reactions as she was to watch the show.

The performance was…not that bad! The jokes were no worse than your standard episode of South Park and, despite the occasional bawdy gesture, the primary focus was on the acrobatic and singing skills of the performers.

And honestly, nothing could ever be worse than my 30th birthday in Bangkok, but that’s a story for another blog…

Our final day in Port Douglas was a sad one.

we were both lamenting leaving  the warm sun, green jungles and beautiful waters. We did one final swing through the downtown area before (very) reluctantly boarding our bus to the Cairns airport.

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Ari is sad to be going

As if to say goodbye, the natural world of Australia came out, with a resting crocodile and a mob of wallabies visible from the road as we drove back.

Ari’s final days in Melbourne were a blur. As I was working during the days, our remaining time together was spent in the evenings.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but this one was especially tough. Each day closer to her departure felt like an added weight. I hoped to avoid going to the airport to see her off — selfishly preferring to rip the band-aid rather than having to endure a long ride of inevitability. But, as Andrew said to me, “Mate, we’ve been over this…”

Sometimes I feel like saying goodbye has become an institution in my life — to my family and friends when I would leave to go to boarding school; to my roommates and friends, who would get kicked out the same school; to everyone in Massachusetts; and to all the folks I met in the odd times and inbetween.

I wait with Ari as she checks in, wishing I could be more numb, but somehow, over the past year, I’ve forgotten the art of burying my emotions.

The moment of truth comes and we say our goodbyes (several, to be honest) and she walks through security.

I hop on the bus and start the ride back, noticing that things suddenly seem a bit less bright.

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After a packed weekend and more delicious food, we were off to the real adventure!

Yes, I’m talking about the NSW In-house Counsel Day conference in Sydney! (All joking aside, it was wonderfully done)

In truth, we were off to Sydney were I would be working a conference while Ari had time to explore the city. In fact, getting a jump start, she took an early morning flight out to enjoy her holiday.

Before my afternoon flight, I noticedsomething odd on my ticket.

In small parenthesis, next to the word MELBOURNE, was Avalon.

“What the hell is Avalon?” I said to the office.

Coffee cups shattered and phone conversations cut out as every head turned to me.

“Mate, you booked from Avalon?” Asked one of my coworkers in disbelief and disgust.

Too scared to verbally reply, I cast my eyes downward and nodded shamefully.

Avalon, as it turns out, is Melbourne’s OTHER airport – located in the distant wilds near an eldritch habitation locals call Geelong. I was in for a bus ride.

As I shuffled on to the bus I glanced at the other despairing tourists, for no local would make such a grievous error. Without a word, a silent pact was made – that none would identify the other nor admit to this tragic mistake.

No tickets were checked as no person in history has ever tried to lie to get to this place.

The driver, with dead eyes, and faced with the Sisyphean task of plying this route for eternity, mumbled something in what I thought was Latin and we were off.

As we left Melbourne, the skies began to darken. A blight of sorts had warped the terrain. But, was it even the same land? I was a stranger.

Despite my alertness I began to doze, only to startle awake at the sound of nether laughter, which came from nowhere … and everywhere.

As we pulled in to a corrugated tin structure the size of a Trader Joe’s parking lot, I noticed there were fewer passengers on the bus than when we began. The ride had taken its toll.

Somehow I made it through the madness and made my flight to Sydney.

That Evening, Ari and I had a decent meal but with a view that couldn’t be beat.

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The next morning, knowing that my time as a tourist in Sydney was limited to mere hours, I ran off to catch the sunrise view of the famous harbor bridge and Sydney Opera House.

After a long day at the conference, we set out into Sydney. Knowing we had an extremely early flight out to Cairns, we had a nice meal nearby on The Rocks and turned in before 9pm.

The next morning, we were off! My hope was that we would be able to fit in an afternoon snorkel but everything, from flight times to other guests cancellations, had to go exactly right.

Meanwhile, across space and time, my beloved Tampa Bay Lightning were playing in Game 7 against some team from Washington. I knew in my heart that if we made the snorkel the Bolts would lose.

We made the snorkel.

Pulling out of the harbor, we had beautiful views of Port Douglas as we raced out to the Low Islands. Though the water was murky and the current swift, the main goal, of getting Ari snorkeling as a warm up for the big snorkel out at the Barrier Reef, was a success.

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That night, we stopped into a lovely restaurant for our first relaxed date night together.

The next day we were off early — up to Mossman Gorge, crocodile spotting, the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. A packed day that promised some prime opportunities for wildlife spotting, some light jungle walks and seeing the only place on the planet where two natural World Heritage Sites meet (The Daintree Rainforest and the Barrier Reef.

Our first stop, Mossman Gorge, did not disappoint, with beautiful greenery and serene waters.

Up next was our big chance to meet the apex predator of Australia, the saltwater crocodile. Knowing I would get a grander opportunity to meet these animals (my favorites), I hoped Ari would get the chance. Fortunately we were lucky and, waiting on the banks as we pullyed out, was this 6ft lady aptly named ‘Fang.’

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After the river trip, we drove north of the Daintree River into the true wild of the rainforest. Up here was a wild land without power or running where. Were people live off-grid and the dinosaur-like Cassowary abounds.

The scenery was stunning.

and the wildlife equally so. (Including a red-bellied black snake, one of the most venomous snakes on the planet and the elusive jungle turkey [actually a thing])

Throughout my travels there are few places that truly embody the ‘paradise on earth’ feeling I felt on Cape Tribulation.

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As we drove back, enjoying some uniquely flavored ice-cream on the way home, we were both glowing after a day well traveled.

Upon arriving in Port Douglas, we enjoyed the Carnival. Complete with a parade, games and fireworks to round out an incredible day.

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On the day Ari was set to arrive, I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I was awash with emotions and invasive thoughts – “Will she still like me after not seeing me for 6 weeks?” (She does)

“I hope Sim and Cata get along!” (They do)

After some stern reminders of common propriety from my coworkers, I went to the airport to surprise Ari, who was thrilled that I came to pick her up. (Again, thank you to Andrew, Deon and Nes who all gave me a serious look and talking to after I indicated that Ari, “would be fine getting to my apartment in Melbourne on her own,” – sometimes I need help connecting the dots)

Like the champ she is, Ari immediately wanted to get out to see the town. After a short walk down the Southbank promenade, we had some dinner then planned for the next day.

Just like old times, Ari fell asleep in my arms seconds after her head hit the pillow (Note: This is not jet lag related, that girl can fall asleep in an instant and it makes me supremely jealous as I do my usual 1.5+ hour ‘Brendan falling asleep routine.’)

The next day, we got rolling early and took the train out to Upper Fern Tree Gully Station to get to the Kokoda Memorial Track, or 1000 steps, in the Dandenongs Ranges.

“Plaques along the trail depict the lives of the soldiers who fought and died on the real Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, during World War II. The steps represent the ‘Golden Staircase’, a name given by Australian soldiers to the 2000 steps cut by the Australian Army Engineers and others into the track between Uberi and Imita Ridge.” (https://visitdandenongranges.com.au/1000-steps)

As if to welcome Ari to Australia, a plump kookaburra was waiting right at the trail-head to meet us.

 

The beautiful, but physically taxing trail, cuts through the temperate/cloud rainforest of the Dandenongs, giving us the shocking colors I’ve come to love and expect in Australia.

Closer to the top, we were greeted with views of Port Phillip Bay and greater Melbourne – I’m still stunned that so much nature can be offered so close to an urban landscape.

After riding the train back to Melbourne and a quick rest back at the apartment, we made our way into Chinatown stopping down some of Melbourne’s famous alleys for some graffiti viewing and finishing things off with heaping plates of Dim Sum.

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The next day, it was a typical fall day in Melbourne – cloudy, chilly and rainy. Nevertheless, we made our way down to my favorite spot, the botanical gardens.

Again, Australia rolled out the welcoming committee of wildlife to ensure Ari quickly acclimatized.

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Showing Ari around the peaceful gardens was a treat – if only to see her reactions to some of my favorite spots – including a quick visit to my birthday tree.

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Following the trip to the gardens, we walked across South Melbourne to their famous market. I had pegged this location as a likely candidate for Ari’s favorite spot in Melbourne and I wasn’t disappointed by here reaction. (“Oohh, look at all this fruit! Oh my god, these bowls are only $6!? How many bowls do you think I can fit in a carry-on?”)

After loading up our shopping bag with some healthy veggies and meats, we made our way back to the apartment, just as the rain started to come down.

After a nice salad for dinner, and my body rejoicing at the end of a truly horrendous streak of the finest fast food and/or ravioli for dinner, we tucked in for some Westworld and bed – Just like old times.

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