Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The End of The Beginning

Alright, it's time to wrap this up.

It's been too long now to cover the rest of the trip in as many details as I'd planned, so what I'll give you instead is a highlights version of the last two months. Unfortunately my computer and phone was stolen in Cairns, which meant every photo from Byron Bay to Cairns was lost.

I arrived in Sydney early one morning after a 13 hour bus ride. Waiting for me there was Adam.

I'd met Adam about five years prior, working as a stage-hand in Copenhagen. I think we did two shifts together, and as far as I recall we didn't get to know each other that well. Still, for some reason I kept in touch - though mails were sometimes years apart. When my plans for Australia started to take shape I sent him a mail saying I was coming his way, and I'd love to meet him again. He told me he'd moved from Melbourne to Sydney, so before I left Grant and Kristen's place, I called him up and arranged for a meeting.

Adam was heading for work as I arrived at the bus-station, but he came to say hello and give me the keys to his flat. That came as a complete surprise, although you'd think that by now I'd be used to this sort of legendary hospitality.

I spent a glorious week at his place. In the daytime I'd go sightseeing, and the evenings were spent talking to Adam and Mishi, his wonderful fiancée.
I went and saw the compulsory sights - the opera house which was designed by one of my countrymen, the harbour bridge (or coathanger, as they call it), but I liked the botanical gardens the best. For some reason I'd always thought that parrots existed only in the tropics, far from civilization, but here they were in huge numbers, right in the middle of the city, rubbing shoulders with flying dogs! (that's a type of bat, by the way, not canines with wings. They're huge though.)

Those are bats, not fruits.

Adam and I talked about many things during the week. Passion, following your dreams, and especially music.
I remember one conversation in particular. He used to play in a punk band, and from what I could gather they were quite succesful. He played me some folk-songs on his 12-string and sang his lungs out. I remember him explaining to me that a great performance didn't come from skill, but from presence. "Just pour you heart into it and I tell you, people will stop and listen!"
And man did he live it. So much so that the hairs on my arms stood up when he sang.

Adam had a cousin who was visiting. She was from Denmark originally, and it turns out she knew my dad! She was the second random encounter on this trip who knew my father. Small world indeed!

From Sydney I went on a day trip inland to the beautiful Blue Mountains. I saw the Three Sisters and went for a walk down the longest staircase I've ever seen (I pity the people going the other way), and along the cliffsides in the bush.

The Three Sisters.

Proof that I wasn't the first dane visiting Australia, and that those first danes made a big impression on the locals!
(man, I've been waiting more than a year to tell that joke!)


While the days in Sydney slowly unfolded, the business with the broken motorbike was resolved. Soon I'd have to make a decision about how I'd continue my travels. After a bit of research I settled on buying a ticket with a company called Oz Experience.
Oz Experience is basically a bus-tour catering to backpackers. They have a couple of stops up along the east-coast, and you just hop on and off where ever you see fit. Too easy!
As a matter of fact, it was just that. Too easy. It just didn't live up to my idea of a good adventure. Everything had been sorted for you. Like a chartered trip in a backpacker framework. Felt a bit phony. Besides, it was what everybody did. I wanted my own adventure! What's the fun in doing what everybody else does! I spent a lot of energy trying to 'break free' of the Oz-Ex plan. Finding my own hostels. Doing what I could to meet locals. Trying to create my own adventures. I think I succeeded, but I spent some time moping and never enjoyed the bus-rides. Except this one driver called hoops. She was awesome.

Here's a few pictures of Adam and Mishi. For some reason I didn't think of taking any photos during my time with them in Sydney, so I stole some off his Facebook profile (with permission, of course):

Cooking for Adam and Mishi

The day I left Sydney I had a burger. Big mistake. Second foodpoisoning of the trip. It was with me all the way to Byron Bay.

Byron Bay was a cool place to stay. At the wonderful YHA (the one closest to the coast if you're planning on going) I met Sarah Heary from Ireland and Kirsten, or Kiki, from germany. Great company both! One early morning we went and saw the sunrise from a nearby lighthouse. I don't know if I've ever done that before. In itself, a sunrise is a splendid and majestic thing. When you can see dolphins in the water below, it is unrivalled.

I went kayaking with dolphins in Byron. They came pretty close.
When we left the shelter of the bay the sea showed its teeth. What a blast! At the start of my trip I'd bought a pair of aviators. I never pay more than 15,- AUD for sunnies since, knowing myself, I expect them to get lost or broken within a few weeks, but to my surprise I still had them when leaving New Zealand. Sadly though, I lost them that day.

And diving! Some of the best diving I've ever done was done from Byron Bay
Just off the coast, you can see it easily from shore, is a little group of islands called Julian Rocks. They had everything I'd ever wanted from a dive. I'll never forget the first dive I did there. Cuddlefish, big groupers, sting-rays, eagle rays, swim-throughs, all that jazz. But one experience in particular will always remain with me.
At the end of the dive while heading for the surface, one of the others suddenly got excited and started pointing at something behind me. I turned around and gliding serenely through the water was this big manta-ray. 3-meters fin-tip to fin-tip. Not a care in the world. I had to get closer! I've always been absolutely captivated by the angels of the deep. He didn't mind one bit. I never realized how powerful these things are, and while he looked very much at ease, I was kicking with all my strength to keep up. He was awe-inspiring in all his glorious serenity. Of all the pictures and videos I lost, this one stings the most. I thought about having a manta-tattoo somewhere. We'll see, but man! They're beautiful!

I developed quite a rapport with the owner of Sundive and his girlfriend (who worked as a receptionist in the hostel I was staying). So much so that he offered me the third dive for half the price and gave me a VIP-card for use with ProDive in Cairns. In return I gave him my card and told him to look me up if he ever found himself in scandinavia.
Friendship aside, if you ever find yourself in Byron Bay and have just the slightest interest in diving, go talk to Sundive. I'm very cautious about who I dive with, but these guys were just awesome from beginning to end. And very fair prices too!

One of the last things I did in Byron was learning how to surf. I loved it! Unfortunately those three hours were all the surfing I'd do in Australia as the weather turned sour for the next couple of days and surfing further north is impossible because of the reef.

Up until Byron, Australia hadn't really been that grand adventure New Zealand was. It felt bogged down with obstacles, but mainly, it hadn't been any lack of eventful days, I just hadn't really been 'present' in the same way I was in New Zealand. In NZ all my senses were at full alert all the time, and I had to really think about taking care of myself. That third busted motorbike coupled with the bad decision of joining the oz-experience had a dampening effect on the rest of the trip that never truly lifted. Don't ever settle for the easy way. Go for the adventure, no matter what.

I spent one horrible night in a Base hostel in Brisbane. I'd been warned about them, and this would be my last and only night in one. A group of people decided to have a shouting competition in the kitchen around midnight, right next to my room. I got up and asked them to be quiet or piss off into town as I had to be up and about in five hours. When they learned I didn't work there they ignored me. I fetched the receptionist and had 4 hours and 55 minutes of sleep before catching the bus out of Brisbane.
That same morning, litterally hours after I left, Brisbane was submerged in huge floods. I have to admit I was a little bit sad about missing it. Coming from a tiny, safe country myself, it would have been quite something to see!

I went quickly through Surfers Paradise. Casinos, theme-parks, huge hotels, that sort of place. A bunch of genius entrepreneurs had built so many huge hotels that the beach was in shade half the day.

A couple of days later I found myself in a bus headed for Hervey Bay in the company of three Irish girls I'd met twice before. Once at the Tongariro crossing in New Zealand, and again at the Three Sisters in Blue Mountains here in Australia. Good company those.

Hervey Bay had one and only one function for us. It was the gateway to Fraser Island. Fraser Island is off-limits to any car that's not 4WD, and the rental companies are having a ball. We found one that seemed ok and booked a two night trip. Now that was an adventure! Nine people with no off-roading experience whatsoever crammed in a 4WD on a sandy island with no roads. Dingos in the woods, tigersharks in the sea, crystal clear lakes, a rusting ship-wreck on the shore, offroading, great company, grand adventure!

That first night on Fraser a storm made it impossible to camp so we were staying at a beach-side hotel. I love storms so I got myself slightly drunk and went to the beach alone. It was pitch-black. I could hear the ocean long before I could see it. I passed some people, but they did not notice me go by and I kept walking until I couldn't hear them any more.
I stood alone at the water's edge. The surf broke maybe 50 meters out. The smell of the sea was homely. The wind, terrifying.
Standing still for a long while I started to feel like I was standing on the edge of a great chasm. I looked around. Above me, stars. Eternity in space. In front, ocean. Eternity in water. Behind me was safety. Friends. Home. Family. It was time to leave those for a while. To throw my spirit to the abyss and the void and see who would answer.
The void was not empty. The abyss was not chaos. The ocean had its own life. A violent but fulfilled life. The heavens were animated too, but by a different spirit. Patient and calm, but eternally optimistic. I reached out to the sea with my soul. I felt it immediately. There, in front of me. After a short while full contact was created. The surf came in harder than before, touching my ankles. Rushing forward to meet me. Show me its strength. When I stood my ground it decided to test my resolve. A single wave came crashing in. It was terrifying to hear its charge. Enough to make my knees go weak, it sounded like a mountain caving in. The wind added to the crescendo and I wanted to turn and run back up the coast. But I had decided to communicate, and I knew now that it was not going to be on my terms. I decided to stand, and I spread out my arms to accept whatever terms were offered. A huge wave came in. The water reached my toes with tremendous speed and I felt sure it would soak me through. "Tigersharks" I thought. The water went to my knees and abrubtly stopped. The sand underneath my feet had been blown away and I staggered. I'd realized I was defenseless against such a force of nature, and I was surprised when the water swirled around my knees for an instant before receding. The message had been sent. When dealing with Poseidon I could not speak. Only listen.
There in the water He offered me an agreement. I would respect and honor the ocean, and in return the ocean would always take care of me and keep me safe. In the presence of a Deity, how could I do anything but accept?

When the ocean went back out I looked down and noticed a plethora of little bio-luminescent organisms blinking up at me like green stars in the sand. Parting gifts. I stood there for a while longer. At last I turned back towards my home, my family and my friends.


After Frasier I travelled north up the east coast for about another month. I went cruising the Whitsunday Islands on a two-masted sailing ship. I visited a croc farm and Steve Irwin's Australian Zoo. I learned to lasso and crack a whip, and shoot a shotgun well enough to hit 7 out of 10 clay pigeons at medium range. I spent a wonderful week in Mission Beach, fishing in croc-filled waters. I went bushwalking, spotted a Cassowary (an endangered ostrich-like bird), got covered in some twenty leaches, shaved them off with my knife, and carried my female hiking-partner across a river to safety, feeling very manly throughout. I went croc-spotting on a river boat. I went white-water rafting on the Tully river. Twice. I went camping in the bush with four wonderful Aussie doctors at the ethereal Laura aboriginal dance festival. I learned how to catch and eat green ants. I went diving on the great barrier reef along with turtles, fish and reef-sharks. At night.

One morning I was on my way to Cape Tribulation and found myself bathing in a creek not long after sunrise. I swam to the other side and went a short distance into the jungle. I was marveling at all the things I'd done during the last six months. At how much I'd changed. It had all gone so fast, but at the same time it felt as if I'd been gone forever. How could I ever go back to an everyday life in boring old Denmark? I'd tasted adventure, and as all-consuming as it had seemed, I knew that I'd only scratched the surface. There were moment's where I really, truly felt like Indiana Jones. Sitting there in the jungle in my board-shorts I just could not imagine myself functioning in Denmark ever again. I was terrified.

This is where I'll leave you.

A year has gone by since I touched down in Copenhagen. I remember being so used to friendly, smiling people that it came as quite the shock when my smile was met with averted eyes and discomfort.
I was weeping when I saw my family. I hadn't even realized how much I'd missed them.

I started courses not long after and started planning for university starting the next (this) summer. After three months, with winter approaching, I couldn't sit still anymore and went driving around Ireland for 10 wonderful days. Cliffs! Castles! Wind! Irish people! Guinness! Nature!

Nature. The one thing I miss the most is pure, unharnessed nature.

Christmas came and went, and along with it came the first batch of exams. Top scores all-round. Winter was long and cold, and we had more snow than anyone could remember. I got my first tattoo, a mark to remind me of the Spartans and how they didn't let themselves be motivated by fear. I tried ice-diving and came within twenty seconds of drowning. I finally found a place to live. The sun started peeking out and I started looking around for a motorcycle. I spent a glorious week climbing in Spain. I found and bought a motorbike. That was little more than a month ago. A real beauty. I was freaking out that it might break down like the others, but so far it's still with me and running smoothly.

But I miss it. I miss travelling. I miss not knowing what the day, let alone the week, will hold. What kind of people I'll meet. What kind of adventures I'll be having. What dangers I'll be facing next.

Good things have happened, they definitely have, but looking back on the year that's passed I realize that, although I've learned a lot, I don't have many stories to tell. Not compared to the six months that came before. I want a full life. I want to live my dreams. I want to turn my passions into reality. It is possible. I know it is. There are many things on the way I fear, but most of all I fear dying with regrets.

For a few weeks I've felt disheartened. I allowed myself to take other people's expectations of life seriously, and not long ago I realized that I'm letting other people's expectations of me take control. But then, not long ago, a thought occurred to me:
What do I care what other people expect!
If people expect me to start a career down a well trodden path - make this much money, have that much success, and so on -  and I don't deliver, it's not my failure, it's their mistake! I have no responsibility to live up to what other people think I ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be! It's their mistake, not my failing.

For a long time I was planning to start uni this year, but suddenly I'm not so sure. I've been bitten by the travel-bug and there's no denying it. Maybe traveling is that passion I've been looking for for so long. I've thought of ways to make a living off of it. I could write books, do inspirational lectures, or even make travel-documentaries. In fact, I'm working out something tv-oriented with my brother and a friend and we'll be making a pilot this summer. I'm very psyched about this.

I have a long life to live. I'd better get started.

I love this shot.

The guy standing up was our guide, Fish. He'd lost his teeth to an oar, his finger to a crocodile,
and his sanity to the river.


PS: Since I've arrived home and re-established contact with the internet, I've rediscovered Dresden Codak. I know I've linked to him before, but he creates things of beauty in his drawings. They remind me of dreams I have. Uncanny.


David Klevang said...

Skøn afslutning. Held og lykke med dokumentaren. Hvis den er lige så godt fortalt med billeder som med din tekst her, kan det næppe gå galt ;)


Jophiel said...

Thanks man :D