How Ya Goin?

Wollongong Local Rockstar

Halloween. A holiday met with resistance here in Australia. Many people scoff at the idea of dressing up and asking for candy, not fully realizing that only the kids (usually only the kids) go trick-or-treating in America, and the real draw of Halloween is to dress up as adults and hang out with each other. It is just another excuse to celebrate life with your friends, and given that Australians love holidays, I was baffled to hear how they brush off halloween. 

Granted, I am still unsure of exactly what halloween is.

I wish you could hear this wind. It’s 3 AM and the wind is blowing with such force the whole house is shaking. I can only imagine the halloween decorations outside and their current whereabouts. Winds like these have always reminded me of fall, which is comforting given the fact that it is fall back home. Here, Spring is passing its time off to Summer. Storms roll through with a quick and poignant ferocity, leaving just as quickly. The wind blows with a strength that makes me want to get out of bed and run down to watch the sea. I have always loved the way wind howls as it blows through spaces. Tonight is no exception.

My current location is in my new house. I haven’t learned the sounds yet, and the novelty of renting a room as a traveler in a foreign country is bizarre to me. This is the first room I have rented in a house with less than 5 people in it. Maybe I’m finally growing up? The yearnings for home have their fingers delicately balanced on my heart strings. I didn’t realize how much I would miss fall, with its warm winds and crisp mornings. The contrast of the leaves back home turning to orange, vs. the flowers blooming purples and pinks here summons a strange nostalgia for the familiar. I do not know the seasons here, and my body feels backwards with its cravings for the cozy, chai drinking, pumpkin carving, warm scarf days of home. 

My New Home

Then pops in the age old question, “What is home.” Home is where the heart is… Home is wherever I’m with you… Home home on the range… home… Well if you ask webster dictionary, as a noun, home is “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” That is fair, I suppose, though the definition of family seems to be constantly in question as well. There is blood family, and then there are those people who you happen upon in life that make you feel a little more you. Both are equally important for creating the person you identify yourself as. I like the “permanently” part of the definition because that is a word I rarely frequent. Nothing in my life is permanent. It seems that things are coming and going constantly. 

The definition of home that seems more suitable for me comes in the verb form, “(of an animal) return by instinct to its territory after leaving it.” Now I am not sure that I have landed in my territory, but some of me believes that I need the separation from California in order to feel her calling again. My instincts pull me back to the sandstone mountains and Santa Ana winds at the same rate that they push me towards everything else in the world. The freedom of being a human echoes across the escarpment, through the turqouise waters, and into my heart as I bury my feet in the sand and walk home holding hands with strangers and swimming in the ocean with the moon bright above. 

Currently, Australia is a beautiful home. I have fallen in love with the gumtree forest and the way the people here talk in their round lazy slang. I’ve learned that when people ask “How ya goin,” not to respond with how I am doing, but rather just to say hi. I now know that they call squash, pumpkins here and that capsicum are bell peppers and Cilantro is called coriander. Australians put cocoa in their cappuccini, a flat white is made of heaven, and that “afternoon” can be shortened to Arvo. When someone asks “You alright?” It isn’t because you appear to have something wrong, but rather it is just a nice way of saying “All good?” Banana is pronounced with the long A sound, and no longer rhymes with Hannah unless you pronounce my name with a british accent.

My name is maybe the most endearing part of being in Australia. You see, Australians inherently nickname everything and everyone. Shortly after introducing myself as Hannah, I am called “Han.” I have never liked that nickname before, but the accent here softens it up, and the sweetness of having strangers call you by a nickname brings a level of closeness I have only found in a select crew of humans back home. I have never had a nickname that stuck before, and I love the novelty of having one here. For now, this home is one of the best I have ever had.

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Backyard Ponder

Views From a Bike Ride North
I sit here in the backyard of a house is mine for 3 more weeks in a bikini and a hat that I traded for a hat this past weekend at a festival. The hat is approximately 3 sizes too small, but just big enough to fit over my long sand laden hair, salty from days spent in the ocean. The wind is blowing the water out of my drying laundry and threatening to blow the hat off my head. The sun is gloriously warm, taunting me with the hints of a sunburn. I am proud to say I haven’t been burnt yet down under, which comes as a surprise due to the impressive number of warnings I received before coming here. That being said, there is always today, and I haven’t applied my usual 3 rounds of sunscreen. 

Well. What is there to be said about living in a town, full of amazing people, with a cool job that pays a living wage and easy access to endless beaches? Should I start with how wonderful and strange it is to consider almost-strangers my closest friends? Or how I now give directions to places without pulling out the map to decipher it all? Or should I start with the fact that homesickness still exists, though it comes and goes like spring storms? There is so much and so little to say at the same time. 

The balance of work and play is forever in question as a working holidayer. The traveler in me wants to savor every second of every day with as many different kinds of people as possible, learning their stories and their lives with limitless amounts of “yes.'” I want to say yes to everything. I want to go to as many social events, as many national parks, as many beaches, and camp trips, and adventures as possible. I want to do it all, though the reality of time and money seem to always be singing melancholy tunes on my eyelids drooping from not enough sleep and too much sun. Something in me keeps going though. As a barista, I question whether my happiness comes from the world around me or the espresso inside me, and usually I just accept the happy synthesis of the two. Without my undeniable attraction and addiction to espresso, I would potentially be one of the least productive humans out here. I am forever amazed by its simple power.

Painting with Friends After Work

So, what am I doing here? I am an American girl with a college degree working as a barista in Wollongong Australia. Is there any order to the chaos? Do I doubt my decision to jump into something so huge with so little forethought? Sometimes. Honestly. It is not easy to not have answers to the questions everyone seems to want answers for. I wish I could paint a pretty little map with a timeline of my life. The current section would be titled “That time I went to Australia to live life for a while because I wasn’t ready to commit to adulthood.” Cause the truth is that I am not ready to sell myself to a 9-5 in an office or to additional schooling that I may need for “Whatever I am doing for the rest of my life.” I am happy to be in a country, quite honestly doing what I love while being immersed in one of the most wonderful communities I have come across to this day. 

You see, coffee for me has always been a way to connect. A warm cup of coffee in the morning is one of the simplest and kindest gestures you can do as a host or friend or lover. So, making coffee in a coffee shop is in a similar way giving people a space to slow down before they speed up into their days, and catch up with the people that matter. Even if those people are just themselves who need to sip on a warm drink in a comfortable arm chair. I enjoy the rush of caffeine-crazed individuals, and the precision of weighing out each espresso shot, and the madness of grouping orders with milk types and numbers of shots. I love watching the community move in around me, just detached enough to watch everything as though I am living out my own personal drama. I love the coffee culture and I don’t regret for a second being immersed in it. In a sense I am living out my degree too. 

Environmental studies is the awareness of the environment around us. Working in high quality coffee brings awareness to high quality ingredients and therefore the quality of care which went into the products that eventually enter our bodies. The care it takes to make each individual drink is nearly magic in itself, and that people are willing to wait the extra 5 minutes to get their orders shows the attitude of patience that is being cultivated through the understanding that things take time. Great things take time. Great coffee takes time. Healthy bodies, minds, and nature take time. Time takes time to heal and change and craft everything in its path. And as I take time to make the perfect coffee, I take time to let myself become whatever it is I will. No matter how winding the path, I trust that time will get me there. Even though it is scary not to know, I know I am learning all the while, and enjoying the ride the whole way. 

Beach cafe before the Bike Ride

Flowering in OZ

Gum Tree Flowers
I believe in flowers. Perhaps more than anything else, I trust flowers to exist exactly as they should exist. I believe in color, and the sun, and the way the moon waxes and wanes and the patience involved in it all. Nothing beautiful happens instantaneously. Walking through the tropical rainforest of Queensland, Australia is a reminder of this. The ground is primarily made of clay as if it is trying to say “We have enough water here, we can’t handle any more.” While the trees grow to staggering heights, nearly touching the stars, the roots are the most impressive part of the puzzle to me. The earth is deprived of oxygen in these soils, yet every plant finds a way to exist and grow and compete for that last inch of sunlight slipping through the canopies. 

A week in the rainforest of Northern Australia could never be enough to uncover all of the mysteries mixed into the GREEN that perpetrates everything in sight. Leaves the size of my entire torso shoot up and drop down like umbrellas with ridged leaves to help maximize sunlight and minimize the chance of being weighed down by water. Years of change, of life and decay, of growing and falling and growing and growing. The strangling figs, slipping up the sides of ancient trees while twisting and turning and growing until they completely take over the other tree, enveloping it and consuming it until the tree dies, and all that is left is a labyrinth of the Fig tree that won.

A Strangling Fig Stands Where a Tree Used to…

All of this life and growth and abundant nature fills me up in a way I haven’t experienced for years back in the dry homeland of California. The entire four years I spent in the redwood RAINforest only consisted of 3-5 major rainstorms, and while the beautiful sunny weather is hard to complain about, the lack of rain had started to psychologically stunt me. I ached for water the way the earth did, and I didn’t fully realize this until I was standing under the canopy of the Daintree Rainforest listening to the rain pour down from the sky, yet I was barely touched by the drops. The trees literally drank the water, and every plant that grows through the levels of the canopy reaches out for their own sip. The forest is alive with sounds and smells and an energy so vibrant that it is impossible not to feel awe amidst it.

To be fair, it is never right to compare something. Though, I guess I didn’t really know how much I missed rain until I saw it every day in violent storms that would last for about 5 minutes and pass. The climate of Cairns was strangely nostalgic of long days sitting on my grandmothers back porch in Florida. The hot, heavy hair clings to your body and clothes and you cannot escape it. Yet, everyone embraces and accepts it. It is like a never ending hug from the sky. The trip was the apex of my vacation expenditures in Australia. I figure getting the holiday part of my work holiday visa out of the way is a safe way to buckle down and experience the community of Wollongong. 

I have already landed 5 separate jobs, and have had to decline 3 of them as a Barista. It seems the tides are in my favor, and the gratitude I have for the people back home who have trained me and believed in me in the hospitality industry is immense. Though I don’t want to be a barista forever, I enjoy interacting with the community in this way. The two shops I have accepted remind me of home in the way the staff takes care of each other, and puts quality over quantity. Not to mention both shops being decorated with plants and wood. 

Though I would love to continue writing… The next subject breaches into the GReat Barrier reef which I will have to save for another time. Thank you for sharing my journey with me…

Yours,

Hannah

To Float Like a Mangrove Pod

Avicennia marina, Gray Mangrove

A Mangrove seed pod floats through rivers, oceans and bays until it finds a place to land. When it does land, it tries to bury it’s roots down to grow. Unfortunately, it can’t grow everywhere and the brave little seed pods perish upon foreign land. Now, not to be dramatic or anything, but I feel a strange connection to the fate of these pods. I’ve floated across the skies to many different countries, waiting for the one that I could sink my roots down into. Of the places I have been, none have been able to hold me for long enough for roots to grow. There has never been the right combination of whatever’s to keep me in one place. Yet, here I stand on Australian sand, and unlike the Mangrove pods that can’t grow there, I feel my roots slipping down. 

Yesterday, my pen pal and I went for a walk in the Booderee National Forest on a stretch of sand called Green Patch. The sky was cloudy, but the ocean was so ferociously turquoise that it could not hide it’s translucent hues. Our feet, bare in the white sand, walked across sedimentary rocks lined with colors leaching through the soil by the gum trees. And the gum trees grow all the way down to the sea, kissing the salty air with their long fragrant leaves and twisting branches. 


We walk in silence mostly, followed by bursts of random stories usually pertaining to the world around us. As a marine biologist, I often find B stooped down over a tide pool, flipping over rocks or looking for anenomes. This world is very alive for her, and her enthusiasm for the creatures is nearly impossible not to let overtake you. I find a smile on my face every time I check. As the reality of Australia being a home for me settles in, I allow myself to become excited about a place. The desire that is necessary to fall in love with something is there, and I find myself opening to the endless list of uncertainty. 

Our nature count for the day tallies up quickly. We chance upon three separate Wallabies grazing along the beach. The tide pools are full of an assortment of names I can no longer remember, and the sky is full of colorful lorikeets and parrots.  All of this is only a 2 hour drive south from where I plan to reside. It is hard not to be excited about the inevitable approach of Summer. I count myself lucky to be experiencing my third spring of the year, cuddled up in an Australian jumper with my Australian friend. Below are some more photos from our day.

Actinia tenebrosa, Red waratah anenome

Neptune’s Necklace

Before Going Down Under

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I have always wished there was a list for how to gracefully leave a place. A list for who you need to see, what you need to do, and how you need to pack. For me it always seems like a desperate whirl-wind of chasing the people I love around California, unloading everything I own into a giant pile in my parents house, and then making last minute trips to the thrift store to drop off the unwanteds and no-longer-needs before meticulously packing my bags up until the minute I HAVE to get into the car to go to the airport. Because of this wish for a straightforward list, I will try my best to make one later on in this post.

What no one really says about traveling is how hard it is to leave the ones you love. There always seems some kind of glorification around the traveler’s ability to up and leave on the flip of a coin, but the truth is that it is never that easy. Every time you leave a place, you are choosing to put your life with the ones you love on hold. Social media can only go so far to act as a buffer from that separation, and so you share your life through pictures and the occasional facetime. However, it is never easy. Liberating, sure. But easy, no. There is always a tug pulling you back towards the lives of the people you have cared about for your whole lives, whom strangers can never truly stand-in for.

This being said, for many of us, it is worth it. By letting go, we find ourselves. Yeah, yuck, it’s cliche, but in full honesty no one knows who they are until they find space from the people that think they know who they are. And when the traveler gets onto the plane and steps into uncertainty, the only person they have to believe in is themselves. The true traveler recognizes this separation. She can acknowledge the choice she made to travel, and the goodbyes she had to make, and the hellos she will be able to create. And then, in the end, the people who are there when she returns are the ones that are meant to stick around. It’s an unusual test, but it’s just another way to sort through the chaos.

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Without further ado….

Who to see: You usually will have a limited number of days to say your goodbyes. This means you need to be selective about who you say goodbye to. Spend quality time with your closest friends and family and write down their addresses before you go. Everyone loves letters. Do not waste your time on acquaintances. You will probably end up spending more money on coffee and beer than you need to in the days before leaving.

What to pack: 1. Shoes are the most important thing. Do not pack any shoes you can’t walk more than a mile in. I like to bring a pair of boots, sandals, and running shoes to keep up with whatever comes my way. 2. The little black dress. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the black dress. It will love you on the days you can barely move from exhaustion. It can dress up and down. It is lightweight. Everyone loves a black dress (I got mine from Ross.) 3. Enough shorts and shirts and pants not to have to do laundry every day, but not too many that you’re faced with the crippling decision of what to wear every day. I like to bring an assortment of clothes that all match with each other so I can swap shirts and pants accordingly. 4. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, the camping essentials are a must. I never travel without my sleeping bag and a pair of long underwear to get me through long nights. This addendum to the list is bulky, but saves you in the long run by being able to camp instead of book a room. 5. Toiletries, duh, but facial wipes are amazing for long stints without showers. Nail clippers seem to be the friend I always forget, so I’ll throw that up here for fun. 6. A good book. Only one. You will find more as you go I promise. 7. A shawl for the plane. It doubles as a blanket and is an amazing travel companion. I just discovered this one recently.

What to do before you go: 1. Put everything you’re not taking into a cozy storage space somewhere so as not to burden anyone with your belongings. 2. GIVE AWAY EVERYTHING. I mean sure, if you are super thrifty you can throw a garage sale or sell to consignment shops, but trust me the things you have left will only beckon you to come back sooner. The less you have, the more free you are. I cannot stress this enough. 3. Notify your banks that you are leaving…. otherwise you may end up in a foreign country with no money, just saying. 4. Check the visa requirements and read the fine print. If you are doing a work holiday visa, make sure all of your forms are filled out and turned in. If you can only stay in a country for 3 months, make sure your final destination there is near a border for a quick escape (just kidding kind of). 5. Triple check what you packed to make sure you have everything, and then get on the plane and go! Let the stoke fill you up as your stomach drops into “what the hell am i doing?” and then back to “hell yeah, lets do this.” Traveling is always worth it. Always.

I am currently packing up for Australia. The goodbyes have been said, and all that is left is to get myself down to the airport. Stay tuned for the adventure to follow.