Oops I did it again

In 2012 I caught an aggressive bug as I inter-railed around Italy and France. I should have known it would happen. I slept in dirty hostels in Rome and ate cheap bread and cheese for days. I wore crinkled, back-pack-squashed clothes and got a lobster stomach from the French sun. I’m not sure whether I caught the bug from the questionable hostels, the dirt cheap food, maybe even the crammed, budget airline flight home? But catching the travel bug hit me hard. “Time to start saving.” I thought.

Fast-forward 4 years and I have just come back from a trip of a life-time exploring New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Determined not to get the ‘travel blues’ when I arrived home, I pumped myself up and put my energy into looking forward to getting a job in London again, and catching up with my beautiful family and friends.

But during my job-hunt and catch ups galore, an incredible opportunity arose… I won’t go into too much detail right now, but long story short, I got the chance to go to California for 3 months.

Mammoth Lakes.

I visited there last summer. It is, hands down, my favourite place in the world. The appeal is a combination of breath-taking scenery, challenging running routes and the community’s support of athletic endeavors. It’s also a place where snow-capped mountains, peaceful forests and bald eagles are often the runner’s only companion. I remember getting the plane home and thinking, ‘I’ll be back. I don’t know when, but I know that I’ll be back.’ I certainly didn’t expect it could be so soon!

I pride myself on being sensible with money. Somehow, I managed to come under budget for my last trip. So the money for my flights to Mammoth was sweetly staring me in the face.

‘But you’ve just had an epic trip’ I told myself. ‘You don’t deserve this.’

So the London job-hunt and catch ups continued. Now, I’m not usually one to crack under peer-pressure, but EVERYONE who I spoke to about the Mammoth opportunity said, ‘GO!!!!!’

So I did.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Oh hi there England

‘What the hell just happened?’

This sentence goes over and over in my head whilst I sip on my jasmine tea from Hong Kong.

I’m not in Hong Kong. I’m in England, North Yorkshire, Dishforth village, parents’ house, kitchen. I’m sat on one of the six wooden chairs around the wooden table that we’ve had for as long as I can remember.

I stare out of the window. The window to the right of the home-phone and the drawer with the address book in. It’s the same window that I used to stare out of to see if I needed to wear a coat to school. The same window that Dad bangs on to scare away the cat from eating the bird food.

I stare at the bird-feeder (which is the same). I stare beyond the bird-feeder and my pupils absorb a collage of greenery – the fields and hedges merge into one (possibly due to the dizziness, due to the jet lag).

My flight went OK, thanks for asking. Hong Kong > Bangkok > Dubai > Manchester. 21 hours in total. Easy breezy. Lots of things seem easy now, which is nice. I mean, I had to get home and so I had to take a long flight. What good would complaining do? Just get on with it and try to enjoy.

I thought it would be different though (the flight, that is). I thought I would end up speaking to somebody about my trip and get all emotional looking back on it. Or I envisioned myself, sitting there in silence, listening to music and welling up at the incredible, life-changing moments…

Neither of those happened. It was just a flight. I think actually I was trying too hard. I was trying too hard to feel something, I just felt numb.

I slowly sip on the jasmine tea and I still feel a bit numb.

‘I’m unemployed.’ That sentence rolls around in my head a lot. For those that know me, I can’t sit still for 2 minutes. I’m hooked on doing new things and achieving new goals and so that word ‘unemployed’ makes me feel a little bit sicky. Over the past 4 months there has been 14 flights and each time on the immigration form when they ask for ‘occupation’ I put ‘Writer’ as my pride can’t quite take ticking the unemployed box. I was going to write ‘Astronaut’ once because, well, that would amuse me. Even better, ‘Body Builder.’

I think in the next few days, things will sink in more. I’ll meet up with friends, eat lots of Mum’s home cooking and I’ll embrace the job hunt.

I’m determined not to be sad, but to think fondly of the trip. Although right now, even that’s a struggle because I can’t seem to digest that it even happened. Already, it feels like a dream.

14 flights, 22 boats, 4 sleeper trains, 52 buses. A huge cluster of cars, metros, tuk tuks and scooters. A long list of adrenaline activities, breathtaking scenery and strange foods, delicious foods, seeing people with no food. A concoction of paradise and poverty. Swinging from silk blankets and room service to dirty sheets, no sheets, sleeping on the floor. Being so hot, your scalp is a fountain and not an inch of your body is dry. Feeling true exhaustion. Feeling every amplified emotion under the sun: excitement, hope, anxiety, fear, love, sadness and complete joy. Speaking of sun, I am now a different race. 4 and a half months of backpacking have seen countless memories, mosquito bites and life-long friends. THANK YOU to everyone who has made my trip so very special.

I’d also like to thank people who have kept up with my travels via the blog, and thank you so much for all of your kind comments, it really means a lot.

I plan to keep this blog and do some more posts (tips for first-time travellers, why solo travel is the way forward, etc…)

As for now, it’s time to inhale a roast dinner (and then probably sleep for 24 hours straight). IN MY OWN BED!!! How can I be sad when home luxuries are so incredible? And when I say luxuries I mean – toilet paper, being able to drink out of the tap, having various clothes to choose from, a fridge full of food, tight cuddles, dog slobber from an excited Syd…

Something that stuck with me when I was away and feeling homesick was, “It’s good that you’re missing home. It means you’re lucky. It means you have something that’s worth missing.”

My thoughts on Thailand

16/05

There was a storm last night. I have never heard thunder so loud before (it sounded like a bomb going off above my head), waking me up from my deep sleep. The explosive sound caused me to sit bolt upright, eyes wide. I got up and looked out of the window to see that a little back-street had been transformed into a fast flowing river. I hope Anne and Charles can fly home ok!

I am going to spend the next 3 days in Bangkok to rest and re-charge. The last few months have been full on and exhausting. My body is weak and raising up the little red flag. “Please, slow down and look after yourself, Liv.”

So, as the next few days will be pretty slow in terms of ‘adventure’, I’d like to dedicate this post to my thoughts. Before this trip, I was naive in thinking that Indonesia and Thailand would be similar. WRONG. The smells are different, the sounds are different. Bali smells of strong, musky incense. Thailand smells of street food. In Bali you get hassled and pestered more: “yes please, transport. Yes please, transport. Taxi for you.” I’m surprised that here in Thailand, you rarely get pestered. You’ll be offered the odd Tuk Tuk, but it’s not nearly as hectic as Bali. Bangkok is still very busy and crowded though. Another difference is that Thailand has more crazy, animated influences. Bali feels more historic. BOTH have hideous amounts of traffic.

The area I’m in in Bangkok (Silom) feels (touch wood) very safe. It’s not that touristy and is mainly locals on their way to work: beautifully dressed, picking up their iced matcha green tea on their commute. The metro is not how I expected it to be. It is pristine clean, with very high security. I feel safer here than I do in London. But if anything, that is a bit how this area feels (central London). As always it’s, ‘same same, but different.’

I have found the differences in how our cultures perceive beauty very interesting. In England, having a tan is an attractive quality. We, as a country, spend goodness knows how much every year, contributing to the fake tan industry, in our efforts to deepen our natural tone. Or as soon as there is the tiniest bit of sun, the vest top is on in the hope to catch some colour. If you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense: a tan is just damaged skin. Thai people, on the other hand, worship the pale beauty. They cover up head to toe to avoid the harsh rays. Also, pretty much every beauty product / moisturiser has a ‘whitening agent’ in an attempt to whiten their skin. And you know in England, some girls have a ‘slag line’ where there is an accidental orange line on their jaw where they have not blended their dark foundation and bronzer correctly? I have noticed the same same thing in Thailand, but instead it is a line from white powder.

Clothes are smaller here (perfect for little me). If anything, I walk around Thailand feeling like a powerful giant (a feeling I have never felt before). The women here are teeny tiny (most smaller than me in both height and width). I have also noticed that most underwear shops sell extremely padded bras with no room for boobs. (Lady-boys!?!?)

***

I met up with Monica for dinner. She flies home tomorrow. This got me thinking more about going home (only 10 days now). On the one hand, I’m so excited. To feel that tight cuddle from Mum and Dad. To have a fridge full of food. To have my own bed. To go to my running sessions again. To be able to drink out of the tap without severe risk of death. To have a snack that isn’t bright green and loaded with syrup and sugar. To have a decent toilet. Yes, part of me is very ready for home. But the other part of me isn’t. I want to continue to explore and to meet incredible people. I want to continue to try new foods, smell new smells, feel emotions I’ve never felt before. At the start of my trip (4 months ago) I felt an overwhelming pressure to do everything and see everything. “This is your time, Liv” I said to myself. “Don’t waste it.” I have now come to realise that this isn’t my time (not my only time, I mean). I’m only 21 and this will not be my one and only big travel trip. The amount of people I have met in their late 20s, 30s, 40s… You can travel the world at any time in your life. You can have the best day of your life at any age.

18/05

“I hate Bangkok.” I said that the other day.

Now I take it back. I love Bangkok.

Sometimes you need to give a city time. I now love the craziness. Not just the hustle and bustle but I love the fact that crowds of people are on the street, eating crispy pork with glass noodles floating in a spicy lemongrass and ginger soup for breakfast at 6.30am. Too funny. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t live here permanently (too tiring!) But the quirks of the weird street food and the kind people have softened my heart. For example, I had a lovely experience in Lumphini Park this morning. I braved the humidity and went for a jog. I was going very steady as I haven’t trained properly in quite a while and I don’t want to get injured. An oldish man about 60 (he looked younger but the Thai people always do!) he ran passed me at quite a speed and it made me very jealous. Suddenly, a wave of energy hit me and I thought, ‘sod it.’ I let my legs stride out and I kept by his side. It felt great to run again. Not just jog, but run. At the end of our stretch out (about 2.5k) we both slowed down. The sweat was pouring out of my skin like a garden sprinkler. The little man bowed his head to me and closed his hands into the prayer position.

“Thank you,” I said. “That was a good run.”

“No spee Glish. No spee Glish.” (He doesn’t speak English).

I closed my hands into prayer position and bowed my head too. “Kob khun ka” (thank you) I said.

He gave me a massive smile. “Kob khun ka” he replied.

Cooking Course, Thai Massage and Wild Monkeys

I made a little bucket list before leaving the UK. Bungy jump (tick), volunteering (tick), working on a farm in NZ / Aus (tick) Great Barrier Reef (tick), swim with turtles (tick), see elephants that aren’t in a zoo (tick) Thai Cooking Course…

A little old lady took us around the markets and helped us with choosing ingredients. Then, back at her house, let the cooking begin! I was smiling throughout the whole thing and was in my element. We were taught the fine details such as how much sugar is the perfect amount to compliment the salt, what smells we should be searching for and how to tear a Thai basil leaf correctly. I have now perfected the Thai green curry, Pad Thai, and for dessert: mango and coconut sticky rice.

***

06/05

Today I spent the day with Anne. We laughed and bonded a lot re. getting the shits. Wow that girl knows how to make me laugh. Never have I met such a vile, hilarious human being. I swear she needs her own TV show. We look quite the pair walking around together. Anne is twice my size with porcelain white skin. When we walk around together, some locals point and laugh.

Speaking of locals, let’s get a traditional thai massage. I think it’s time.

I was a little nervous because I have quite tight muscles. But, no pain, no gain. As my Dad would say: pain is just a weakness leaving the body.

Good lord it was amazing. I now feel as light as a feather and at least 6 inches taller. The little Thai lady was stood on me at one point. Her elbows prodding me in all places (probably would be arrested in England). At times it was a very fine line, especially when she was pressing her elbow up my inner thigh. But what can I say, it was certainly an experience. At one point she was stretching me out by pushing her feet in my armpits. Weirdly relaxing.

07/08

Slept like a baby on the sleeper train last night (heading back to the bustling Bangkok). There is something strangely satisfying about sleeper trains – being in your comfy elephant travel pants, get rocked to sleep by the motion, praying you don’t get killed in your sleep. Just kidding, as long as I sleep with my phone, wallet and passport under my pillow, I feel quite safe on them. Then getting woken up about 5am by the little train man with his selection of breakfast drinks: “Copi? Oran joo? Copi? Oran joo?”

***

Dodgy stomach again today. Oh Thailand.

***

Explored Chinatown in Bangkok. It was SO busy. A back-street maze of pashmina scarves, tacky key-rings, street food and hair extensions. Heaven for pickpockets, I’m sure. I cuddled my backpack to my chest like a real loser.

The craziness of Bangkok continued into the evening. We took a taxi to the famous Khao San Road. It is exactly how you would imagine Bangkok to be. Loads of flashing lights, loud music, lady-boys dancing outside bars and clubs and Tuk Tuks galore.

Had the spiciest food I’ve ever had in my life (and I’m pretty good with spice). I made the mistake (mistake because I currently have a fragile stomach) in asking for “normal spice” i.e. how the locals have it. Even though I was sweating, nose running and my chest to my scalp felt like it was burning with blisters, I would still say the dish was phenomenal. Because at the time when I was eating it, there was no pain. Just the most complex, glorious concoction of flavours that my tongue has ever sampled.

***

Hatred for Sek, our local guide. He told me and Anne that two new people were joining our group: 2 professional 23 yr old rugby players from Melbourne. We saw them on the name list, “Phillip and Laren” and painted a glorious picture of them in our heads. It was too funny when we finally met them. Firstly, they’re not from Melbourne, they’re from Canada. Secondly, they don’t play rugby. And thirdly, Laren is a woman and Phillip is her husband.

09/05

I’ll be home in under 20 days. How mad is that? I’m up early, sat on the train, looking forward to what the day will bring. (…madness)

After our third sleeper train experience, we arrived in Surat Thani about 8am. Me and Anne headed off alone to Khao Sok national park to do some hiking. Anne told me it would take an hour. When I asked to confirm that it would be about 60 minutes, she replies with “ha, I don’t know. I guessed. An hour sounded about right.”

At this point, we were already on the sweaty, very suspect local bus with little water and no snacks. I checked the guide book and my heart sank when I read ‘journey time: 3 hours 30.’

It was one of those experiences when you laugh a lot because you’re delirious. And because Anne makes my stomach hurt with laughter so much anyway. I asked her to articulate our adventure:

“Separated from the herd, we boarded the tin can of hell. The smell on board could best be described as wet Swiss cheese in sweltering 40 degree heat confined in a used ziplock bag. I am to this point unsure if that scent was emanating from the vehicle, my body or Liv. I have a strong suspicion it may have been my feet, but some things are better left unknown. We sat at the back, surrounded by windows -turned hot plates. The windows were rolled up in an effort to preserve the AC I’m unsure actually existed. That combined with a short water supply made for ideal dehydration conditions. There were locals also on the bus, causing the vehicle to stop many times to deliver what I assume must have been great Thai drugs or rotten fish (which may have contributed to the smell?). The bounce of the vehicle made me wish for a bra with better support as I worried my breast might knock me out at anytime. Not to mention I sustained severe brain damage and Liv possible haemorrhaging of her organs but rib puncture. The only treatment available was hysterical laughter.”

Thank you Anne for your perfect word choice.

Spirits were lifted on our glorious hike. We saw wild monkeys swinging from the trees and we got extremely close to them. One was eating a snake. An actual snake. We swam under waterfalls and discussed how perfect life is right now.

Perfect minus the dodgy stomachs. We feel we ought to take a step back. We have become too cocky, too confident – drinks with mountains of ice, swimming in unknown waters, eating raw salads, street food chicken and smelly prawns. We must look after ourselves and realise that we are not invincible.

Bikes, Powercuts and Happy People on Gili T

After the amazing climb up Mount Batur, our driver bought us some banana fritters to try. Sounds good, right? WRONG. I love fried banana at home, but this was something else. They were soggy and stodgy and what looked like grated white chocolate on top was not grated white chocolate. It was cheese. CHEESE ON DEEP FRIED BANANA. Why Bali, why? The food here so far has been amazing, but that right there, was just plain wrong.

17/04

Said goodbye to my little Eilidh this morning. Only known her a few days but it seems like years. People have asked, “Oh so you’re travelling together?”
“Nope. Just known each other 47 hours.”

Today I venture alone to an island just off Lombok: Gili Trawangan. There are 3 Gili Islands – Gili T (most popular), Gili Meno (smallest and most remote: perfect honeymoon destination) and Gili Air (not so busy as Gili T, not as untouched as Gili M). Even though Gili T is the largest – it’s still a very small island! It currently has a population of about 800 and is about 8km around the whole island.

I got a bus, then a boat and then asked directions to my hostel and got ever so sweaty. You sweat constantly here, you have to get used to it. All in all the journey went very smoothly and am proud of my navigation skills.

Gili T has no roads – the only way to get around is by foot / bicycle / horse and cart. There is one strip that is fairly busy with lots of bars, but apart from that, it’s ever so quiet and peaceful. I have instantly fallen in love with island life for that reason: peace. No engines, no hustle and bustle. Just seeing the odd smily pedestrian and saying hello.

I thought when booking my room on booking.com that I had my own double room. Almost, but not quite. I have my own double air bed. It’s squashed in a little hut so there is no floor space and the roof is so low, that even little me has to crouch. The shared outdoor toilets are quite dirty and the hose-like shower isn’t the best, but c’est la vie. It is backpacking after all.

18/04

Barely slept last night. Bed was awful. Also woken up at 5am to a the Islamic call to prayer on a loudspeaker (lasts about 10 minutes). It sounded like he was singing right on my shoulder. It must have woken up the whole island.

***

Headache / hydration / humidity made me feel ever so rough in the afternoon and it’s always when I feel rough that I miss home. I sat alone on the beach, staring at the calm turquoise waters, and listening to my music, getting a bit too into my thoughts. I miss my family – but I’m in such a beautiful place in the world. I miss my friends – but I’m so proud of everything I’ve achieved by myself. I have got myself here and seen so many incredible things. Reflecting on some of those amazing moments, before I know it, my glossy eyes brighten and I smile as I see a group of Indonesian children, no older than six or seven, playing and splashing in the water by an anchored boat.

***

Yay, Ronnie and Jade have arrived!

19/04

Woken up at 5am again. Can’t be angry though, that’s how they live here. I saw a stunning sunrise at 6 this morning and thought, you know what, today is going to be a good day.

It was.

We rented bikes (Ronnie, Jade, Arne). We swam, drank coconuts and sun bathed. It was funny when I thought Ronnie was Jade (Ronnie is white and Jade is black). I had got up too quickly so I was a little dizzy.

“Wow Ron, you’ve really caught the sun today! Your tan looks great!”

Nope, it’s just a black girl.

Laughter and good times continued over lunch on the beach. I had a delicious local dish (Olah Olah – a veggie dish in a rich, tasty coconut sauce). The service on a chilled island is SO slow because nobody is in a rush. We were all so hungry and it felt like my stomach was eating itself as we waited in anticipation for our food to arrive.

Island life continues with several power cuts on a daily basis. Had my shower in the pitch black.

Island life strikes again as we meet up with Daisy and her sister to watch the sunset. The forever changing colours were breathtaking.

Thanks for such a wonderful time Gili T. Next stop, Gili Air! (I thought with my lack of husband I’d miss out Gili Meno).

The Insane Journey to Ubud

12/04

There’s a note in the room about how to protect yourself from crime (thieves, rape etc). Pretty serious stuff. It’s a long list of suggestions about how to stay safe, and then at the end, in capitals it says: ‘HAVE A NICE STAY.’ Quite amusing.

I’m trying to be more positive today. My headache has cleared up. On my hunt for breakfast I tried to absorb the crazy culture. The noise, the hustle and bustle and strong smell of incense. The banana milkshake with my fruit, yogurt and cereals went down a treat. One fruit was the brightest purple that my eyes have ever seen – literally glowing. It was a pitaya fruit – something I have never tried before.

If you read my last blog post, you’ll be up to date with my sketchy transport booking to Ubud. My bus is supposed to arrive at 1pm (I think it’s a bus?). At 12.45 I was waiting at the lobby entrance.

1pm: I start pacing around a bit.

1.10: I ask reception if they know what the deal is. Lovely man gives the phone number a call. “This is not valid number” he says. Oh dear…

1.20: He tries to call again. No answer. Ah man, I’ve been scammed! Knew I shouldn’t have paid yesterday. What a tit.

The nice man at reception suggests that I walk down the dodgy street to where I made the booking and ask them what the deal is. He said he would look after my luggage and ask the bus to wait if it arrives.

I found the little lady that sold me the ticket yesterday. She becomes angry when I ask her where the bus is, aggressively shooing me away. “Back to hotel! Back to hotel!” She shouts.

I’m frustrated at my vulnerability. I know it’s not the end of the world – I’ll just book an overpriced taxi. But it felt a bit upsetting that I had been scammed. The kind man at reception sees that I look upset and worried. He takes the ticket from me and vanishes around the corner. Aw, my little hero, I think to myself. Then, out of nowhere, another man comes up to me and says “Ubud? One person?” YES! My bus! But shit! Where did the receptionist go with that darn ticket!?

What a nightmare. We eventually find him. All good. I follow transport man around the corner, expecting to see a bus for my 1hour 30 ride to Ubud.

It is not a bus.

It is a sketchy little scooter.

Oh hell no.

He throws my backpack over the handlebars, and taps the seat behind him. “Quick, quick. We go now.”

It all happened so fast. I should not be doing this. This is not ok. Mum would be fuming. Does my travel insurance even cover this if I fall!? A thousand thoughts whizz through my mind…

Oops. I’m on. No helmet and I’m wearing flip flops. This is not ok. I cling on for dear life as we go through the chaotic dodgy street, where people drive like they are playing a video game.

“I thought it was a bus!” I call over his shoulder.

“We go find bus now. Bus on main road.”

“Did it forget me?” I ask.

He laughs. “Yes, yes. Bus forget you! We try find it now.”

Me, my luggage and my little scooter man weave in and out of the traffic, on the race to catch my bus. Eventually, we find it. I’m alive!

There is one seat left. It’s jam-packed and people have to get out and move around luggage so that me and my bags can fit too. Squeezed in tightly, we’re off to Ubud! Hurrah!

***

When we got to Ubud, the smart thing would have been to get a taxi to my hotel. Easy peasy. No dramas. Instead, foolish, cocky Liv decides to walk. I’m confident I know the way and that it won’t take that long.

Rooky error. It was so far. But you know when you start something, you think: oh well I might as well finish it… I’ve got this far. I was also thinking, I’m already dripping with sweat, might as well continue. I know I’ve said in my past blog posts “this is the sweatiest I’ve ever been.” WRONG. I was young and naive. THIS, without a doubt is the sweatiest I’ve ever been. My back was like a waterfall and my face – it was like someone was constantly pouring a bottle of water above my head. I was soaked. I’d walked for ages and my back and calves were killing. I must have gone the wrong way. I asked a security guard and he pointed me in the other direction. For goodness sake. Another 20 mins or so, I couldn’t take anymore. The road I was on was very quiet and it was an extremely poor neighbourhood – many stray dogs and chickens running free. Looking very out of place, a nice looking gym appeared on the corner. I went in to get help.

The man at the gym was CONFIDENT I had gone the wrong way and I needed to be back where that security guard told me the wrong information. Feeling truly defeated, I was about to ask the desk to get me a taxi. Then, in my dizzy state, I did something pretty risky. A young-ish British looking guy was exiting the gym, getting on his scooter.

“Excuse me!” I called. “Could you please give me a lift!?” (What am I doing!?)

He was lovely and all was well. Felt like a scooter pro. He kindly dropped me at the hotel.

Oh my god it’s the wrong hotel.

“Don’t worry, I drive you” said the man at reception. Exhausted, I clamber onto the back of my THIRD scooter of the day. Hilarious.

Finally, I arrive at the correct destination. It’s paradise here. The exhausting / scary / stressful commute was worth it. Looking back on it now, I’ve already forgotten the sweat and pain. It’s just a funny memory. And now I’m chilling in my spa robe and being treated like a princess. LIFE IS GOOD.

Car Crash, Crying and Chicken Nuggets with Satay Sauce on Toast

16th – 20th March

It feels great to be in a routine now. Travelling is ace because it encourages the unexpected. But having a job gives you purpose, and that’s pretty rewarding too. The jobs that MUST be done everyday are the morning feeds, morning medications, hay, poo pick yards, evening feeds, evening medications. To give you an idea of how long this takes, with one person (going like the clappers) it would be 6am – 6pm with 1 hour for lunch. May I remind you again that there are 110 horses. However, with two of us, we end up with a couple of hours spare to do other jobs / have a ride.

Connie rode Fabio and my baby RJ today. I have fallen in love with RJ. He was almost sold as horse meat, but Shelia rescued him from the sales. He has the sweetest nature I have ever known. Kind brown eyes with a glowing bay coat – he reminds me of my old pony, Maisie, which in turn, makes me think fondly of home in North Yorkshire.

I want to buy RJ so badly. I genuinely researched how much it costs to transport a horse from Australia to UK.

Up to $30,000. Maybe not.

***

It had been a hard day. Our backs were sore and our heads were tired from the sun. We finished late but then drove into town to do some grocery shopping, buying lots of nice food and looking forward to cooking up a storm in our cute cottage kitchen. After the day we had had, we were starving so very ready to get back. Oh wait. Who do we see in the supermarket car park? Shelia.

Shelia had been out all afternoon getting the horse trailer fixed. On her way back to the farm she crashed the car, wrapping the trailer around a post at McDonalds making it impossible to drive. She asks us to give her a lift. She wants to get a big hammer from the house to then have us drive her back to the trailer to try and fix it herself. Oh Shelia. “First let me just pop into the $2 store and see if they will sell me a hammer.” You’re kidding right!? Shelia was not kidding.

Surprise, surprise, the $2 store did not sell any equipment worthy of fixing a car crash.

After watching Shelia use her own brute force (her foot) to try and fix the dents, she eventually let us drive her home. We then felt pretty sorry for her. “This is the worst day of my life” she moped. “What else could go wrong!?”

Within seconds of her saying those words, Connie and I smelt smoke and struggled to contain our laughter. The timing would just be too hysterical. Turns out, the air con makes the car overheat (of course it does), so flicking it off soon sorted out the nasty BBQ stench.

Defeated, Shelia eventually called it a day. We finally started our dinner at almost 9pm. What a day!

***

I can’t work out Shelia. Sometimes she is so predicable – for example, it’s a classic Shelia thing to think she can fix a car with something from the $2 store. And it’s classic Shelia to have leopard print wellies and have lipsticks and mascaras amongst the head collars in the back of the truck. However, she can also really take you by surprise. She is very, very involved in the farm and really gets her hands dirty. Even though she’s scared of most of the horses, you’ll see her working all day, fixing fences etc. I have no idea how her false nails stay on. Also, even though she’s a little crazy and I’ve never met anyone quite like her, I respect her a lot. She’s an extremely independent, kind hearted woman.

***

Sweet Shelia gives us wooly hats, fluffy socks and big rain coats on the day of the storm. Who’d have thought it was 32 degrees yesterday! Today our toes are numb and our lips are blue. Before Shelia came to the rescue with winter clothing, we were in our summer gear and trainers. Torrential rain all night meant the fields were a bog. We were cold and miserable but moods were soon lifted when Connie dramatically slips under the Ute when trying to get in. I swear I pulled a muscle from laughing so much.

Laughter continues when the Ute gets stuck going up a hill. I’m out in the pouring rain, trying to push as black smoke comes from the engine. A good 10 minutes later we’re free and Connie calls out, “oops! The hand break was on!” Sorry Shelia.

***

Last day on the farm – emotions were running high. I can’t believe I cried when I said goodbye to RJ. Nothing else has made me shed a tear this whole trip, but something about saying goodbye to that velvet nose, brown eyed beauty really got to me. We had a really strong bond and he reminds me of home. Perhaps it was also the realisation that this incredible experience with Connie has come to an end? Perhaps they’re happy tears too. I’m having the time of my life and feel incredibly lucky.

Now we can’t end a crazy week without having a crazy last meal. We had run out of food but couldn’t be bothered to go into town. I had baked beans. Twice. Connie had chicken nuggets with satay sauce on toast for lunch and for dinner she had chicken nuggets with satay sauce and a frozen vegetable pasty. The best thing is, we did not buy these bizarre ingredients… We stole them from next-door’s caravan!

A Crying Criminal, A Boss with Botox and 110 horses

11th March

So I’ve spontaneously decided to work on a stud farm for a week and a bit with Connie. We venture to the farm (about 50 mins from the centre on the train). Dilemma 1: Connie loses her Myki card (a bit like an Oyster card) and has to purchase a new one.

Dilemma 2: we arrive in the dark, waiting for a lift from Shelia (our boss / owner of the stud). We’re approached by some guy who’s just got out of jail. His name is Blair. He tries to shake my hand and I am reluctant.

“Erm. Hi Blair.”

“Do yous minds if I sits down with yous?”

Me and Connie look at each other and then spot two policemen coming our way.

“Sure.”

Blair then tells us his life story. How he’s just been let out of jail and how the other day he caught his best friend sleeping with his girlfriend in his bed when he returned home. Blair then starts to cry.

“Is this man bothering you girls?” One of the policemen asks. Before we can answer, Blair gets in a strop and starts swearing at the policemen left, right and centre. The policemen take him away.

5 minutes later he shimmies around the corner. “Yay, I didn’t get arrested!” (Those were his actual words).

Finally, Shelia arrives. We’re safely in the car. Connie had warned me about Shelia and I thought she might have been exaggerating. She wasn’t. Let me paint a very realistic picture for you… Shelia is in her mid sixties. Head to toe plastic surgery – Botox, fat lips, huge boobs, false eyelashes, false nails, false bleach blonde hair. She has a screechy Australian accent and uses intonation in all the wrong places. She seems nice though…

Word on the street is, she used to have a drug addiction. Successful, millionaire Daddy helped her out by buying her a couple of horses, to give her something to focus on. 30 years later her addictive personality has turned to breeding foals. 110 horses later and, here we are. All her staff have quit. So, present day: me, Connie and 110 horses. I can’t wait for what this week will bring…

Eggs, Sticks and Crazy Hat Lady

2nd March

Rotorua smells of eggs. Not the “Mmmm eggs & bacon & buttery toast” kind of smell, but the rotten eggs kind of smell. This sulphur city is pretty stinky due to all the hot mud pools and thermal activity.

Today is a big day. It’s the Maori experience. We learnt lots, ate lots and then we ate some more. Before we entered the village, we had to elect a chief. We voted old Paul. Old Paul and the Maori chief greeted in the traditional way: touching noses twice, saying “Kia Ora” and then giving a short speech about why we are here. Old Paul almost went in for a third nose touch. Damn it Paul, making us look bad. Keep focused! Our feet walking on their land was a big moment. Women had to walk behind the men, and when we entered the sleeping rooms, no shoes were allowed.

These people take tradition very seriously. You can’t laugh. But with man-boobs jiggling and their eyes bulging, I had to bite my tongue a little.

We learnt about the carvings on the walls – the different Gods, influences and morals.

“Does anyone have any questions?”

Crazy hat lady raises her hand. “Can you remind me where the bathroom is?”

Crazy hat lady always asks irrelevant questions.

Time for cake. Unlimited cake. The banana bread was unreal. Deep fried scones with jam and cream was then followed by leaning Maori songs and dances and playing traditional games with sticks. The sticks were big – human height.

Crazy hat lady did not listen to the rules and threw her stick at the wrong time and almost took Jess’ eye out.

After more playful activities and learning about tattoos, carvings, fitness and fighting, it was time for the feast. Our little backpacker bellies were over the moon to digest mountains of roasted veggies, salads, fillets of fish, every meat you can imagine and the biggest, juiciest mussels on the planet. All meats are cooked underground for hours on end, to ensure tasty, tender goodness. Dessert didn’t disappoint either. Toffee sponge, custards, fruits and passion fruit pavlovas.

Our bloated bellies then got semi naked in bikinis and we got in the hot tubs and hit the bar. Then around midnight we gathered around a ginormous fire, roasted marshmallows and listened to Maori stories.

We stumbled into our beautiful tent room that might as well be a hotel and, quote Matt: “I think this was the best day of my life.”

***

Crazy hat lady wakes up before 5am, waking up innocent fellow travellers (ME).

Crazy hat lady unpacks her backpack and viciously rustles plastic bags.

Crazy hat lady gives a loud, running commentary: “I’m opening up my bag now…”

“I’m folding my clothes now…”

“I’m putting on my socks now…”

Crazy hat lady then irons every item of clothing with her hair straighteners.

What is life.

***

Breakfast was fit for a king.

Apart from my disturbed sleep, the Maori experience has been amazing. I’m relaxed, well fed, but most of all, I now have SO much respect for their culture and history.

Volcanoes, Dolphins and a Minor Mental Breakdown

19 Feb

Had some sweet as transport today: on the back of Brett’s stunning vintage motorbike. Unbelievable how smooth and comfy it was. My last memory of being on the back of a bike was when I was about six and Dad zoomed down to the cricket field in the village. I cried.

Brett on the other hand was a lovely, safe driver. He loves his facts and told me lots about the south coast of Wellington through the helmet inter-com as we cruised around the picturesque bays.

20th Feb

Up and out the door by 7.30 with all my gear, plus a little Tupperware box with my lunch in. Ah, it’s been rather blissful these last couple of days. Being on the move constantly is exhausting and so I’ve been very lucky to stay at Julie’s IN MY OWN ROOM these last couple of nights. What luxury.

Hurrah! Veronica is on my bus (we thought we’d said goodbye for good about a week ago). We chatted for ages about anything and everything.

Driver is called Dave. He seems chirpy.

Arrived at the ginormous lake Taupo about 3pm. It’s cool, but in my opinion, not as pretty as lake Tekapo in the south. The whole scenery is a lot different here. In the south, the scenery was UNREAL with all of the breathtaking mountains and turquoise lakes. However, so far, the North is like England on steroids. So still very cool, but not quite as OH MY.

21st Feb

Alarm went off before 5 this morning. Me and my new friend Fran are going to tackle the Tongariro Crossing (a 20k hike through volcanoes, zig zagging around emerald lakes).

At 5.20 I rushed back into the room to find Fran fast asleep. Come on Fran! Bus leaves in 10 minutes!

Let’s do this. Others that had already done the crossing and had also got to know me joked that I would probably run it. At some points I wanted to go a little quicker, but I didn’t want to leave Fran – I was enjoying her company too much. She’s a fabulous human. Because I was so comfortable, I was tempted to do the add on 3 hours up Mount Doom. But then sensible Liv said no. I was wearing shorts and trainers. It was extremely steep, slippy and sharp. Others were returning with slashed legs, muddy blood trickling down to their ankles. Maybe not… Instead I did the Tongariro summit (an extra hour or so). Fran waited at the bottom to have some recovery time whilst I marched on into the sun. I’m glad I did it. The views were incredible. I picked up Fran again at the bottom and we saw the Emerald lakes. Stunning!!! I take back what I said about the North being a bit more ‘meh.’ The views were crazy. It all felt pre-historic with clouded smoke rising from the ground.

The long, steep downhill towards the lakes was really tricky, but also fun. We were sliding all over the place! I cut myself a tiny bit on my hand as I saved myself from a tumble. The last few hours were long but I still felt pretty energised. I wish I had captured Fran’s happy face when we finally reached the car park. They say the crossing should take 6-8 hours. We took 6.10 (but that’s with me doing the summit as well), so we did the normal route in 5.10. Not bad!

Sat waiting for the bus to leave, Fran realised her sports bra was on back to front. Her boobs were poking out the back hole that was accidentally in the front, and the front bit on her back was all baggy. “I thought they weren’t very supported.”

24/02

Came through Auckland yesterday and now in the beautiful Paihia (bay of Islands, at the top of the North Island).

Mental breakdown: bank card is blocked.

I have $6.

Damnit it. I have $5. Shouldn’t have bought that banana.

It was a stressful 6 hours but by that evening, it was all up and going again. Thank goodness! Had a celebratory salted caramel and cashew nut gelato.

Now to enjoy this beautiful little paradise… Cruise on a boat and come by a pod of 20 dolphins? Why not. I don’t know how else to describe it other than saying it was ‘magical.’ They all seemed so happy. They were extremely playful but also had such a peaceful manner about them. The male and female would jump side by side, perfectly in sync whilst the youngster showed off by the boat.

On the way back, I sat right at the front of the boat and stripped down to my bikini – attempting to fix my hideous tan lines.