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I love being a tourist in my own city.  Especially with people that have never been to Austin.  Extra especially when they have never even been to Texas, or America for that matter.

Kelly and I totally slacked on the blog the last few months of our trip and never wrote about our time in Europe.  One of our favorite weeks in Spain was spent in San Sebastian, where we met and shared a hostel dorm room with Aussies Tessa and Phil.  After late nights of drinking, world cup watching, and sand angel making, we became friends.

Not only was I lucky enough to meet up with Tessa again while I was in Melbourne this past September, but Phil and one of his college buddies, Tom, were doing a U.S. road trip in December and decided to spend five days with Kelly and me in Austin over New Year’s.

Our Austin adventures consisted of the following:

-City Bike Tour (with Kelly as guide), Chris Robinson sighting included

-Two-Steppin’ at the Broken Spoke

-Lunch at Salt Lick

-Zilker Park Chillin’

-House Party where gumbo was consumed and Tom accidently hit on an Englishman

-80’s night at Highball

-Beers and Pool at Horseshoe Lounge, jokes courtesy of Dixie the Awesome Bartender

-Visit to Mount Bonnell

-Proper dose of Tex-Mex at Maudie’s, Sazon, and Polvo’s

-Western wear shoppin’ at Cavender’s

-Gary Clark Jr. at Antones for NYE

-Long walk home from Antone’s due to the bus not showing up and no taxis stopping to pick up our drunk asses

-Cabbage, black-eyed peas, champagne, and movie recovery New Year’s Day.  The boys even made us a delicious Aussie dessert: sticky date pudding!

-Greenbelt Hiking

-Sunset Drinks at the Oasis

-Rainey Street beverages followed by a late night game of Flip Cup

-Several hangovers

It was a fantastic time – our own mini ‘Staycation’.  I’m fully aware of Austin’s awesomeness, but thoroughly enjoyed being reminded of it by showing the city to Tom and Phil and seeing it through their eyes.  Kelly, my roomie Jill, and I pretty much laughed our asses off for 5 days straight – a kick-ass way to start the new year!

The gang at Mount Bonnell

 

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One bittersweet aspect of travel is making awesome new friends and then having to part ways with them days or weeks later, knowing you’ll probably never see them again.   Most backpackers accept this as part of the long-term travel lifestyle, but I say its bullshit.  Sure, the norm is that you won’t ever see the majority of these people for the rest of your life…but some you might; you just have to make it happen!

Kelly and I met some amazing people during our travels who we still keep in touch with – Doug, Marianne, the Jeffs, Meghan, Tessa, Phil, and Luke being some of our faves and we all promised to visit each other in our respective countries.   So several months ago when Luke and I tossed around the idea of me coming to visit him in Australia, instead of thinking ‘yeah right, that’s crazy’, I thought why the hell not?!  I had received a large tax refund that I wasn’t expecting and instead of buying a computer and a new cell phone or some other ‘practical’ item, maybe I should take a kick-ass vacation.   Maybe after my break-up with M, I needed to do something a little irrational.   So I said fuck it and bought a plane ticket to Melbourne.  I’m tired of just talking about things I’d like to do and want to actually DO them.

Luke and his other 5 roommates were kind enough to let me crash with them for the duration of my stay, which gave me the opportunity to be immersed in Aussie ‘culture’.  Basically, they are all crazy (in a fun, obnoxious way).  My first couple of days in OZ I spent recovering from jet-lag.  I slept in, took a train into downtown, checked out Federation Square, the ACMI museum, walked along the river AND got to reconnect with Tessa, whom Kelly and I met in Spain.  We met in Fed Square and had a hard time recognizing one another since we had on make-up, had done our hair, and had on normal clothes…we were only used to what we looked like as grubby backpackers!   It was so great to reconnect with her.  She gave me a walking tour of downtown Melbourne, took me to the Queen Victoria market to buy souvenirs, and showed me the ‘footy’ stadium where all of the AFL (Australian Football League…much different than American football) games take place.  Victoria peeps are nuts about their teams!!

Along the river

Tessa and me!

Me in front of the footy stadium

That weekend, I went to the Park Life music festival downtown with Luke and crew.  We all dressed as cyclists, which seems somewhat ridiculous, but ended up being an awesome idea…very easy to find one another in our neon jackets.   Saw some bands, drank too much, and acted like fools…overall, a super fun day!

On Monday, Luke and I departed for Alice Springs to begin our tour of Ayres Rock (Uluru), the iconic sandstone rock formation in the middle of the Northern Territory.   I was very excited about this, since Kelly and I were only able to see the east coast when we were in OZ the previous year and I was pretty bummed I didn’t get to see Uluru.  To be honest, Alice Springs is in the middle of NOWHERE and is sort of a hole.  We strolled around town, met a 69 year old Dutch woman traveling the world by train in 80 days (so inspiring!), took a nap, ate dinner, and had an early night.   I think we were both still recovering from the debauchery of the weekend.

After a 5 hour drive the next morning, we made it to our campsite near Ayres Rock.  The plan was to hike the ‘Valley of the Winds’ trail, but due to the high heat, the trail was closed.  Instead we did a couple of short hikes around the Olgas (another group of rock formations) and headed over to Uluru for sunset.  As all of my faithful readers know, weather never seems to cooperate with my travel/site seeing plans.  It was very cloudy that evening so the dramatic color changes of the rock that I had hoped to witness didn’t happen.   Still very pretty though.

Walking through the Olgas

Luke and me in front of Uluru at sunset

The next morning was one of my favorite days of the trip.  We woke up early as hell in the morning to make it to Uluru and walk around the base of the rock during sunrise.  Luke and I were able to separate ourselves from the rest of the tour group, which was nice.  The weather was perfect, the sunrise beautiful and the rock itself was incredible.  It’s fricken massive and the colors are amazing…almost like it’s GLOWING.  Honestly, it’s mind-boggling that this giant rock is sitting in the middle of completely flat terrain for hundreds of miles.   Luke and I discussed climbing the rock, but decided against it, as it’s sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people in the area.  They prefer you don’t trample all over their special mountain.  OK, fine.  The climbing trail ended up being closed due to the wind anyway, but honestly I wouldn’t have wanted to climb it either way…the ‘trail’ is basically a chain that you cling to up a steep ass mountain…it looked terrifying.  People die doing this every year…no thanks.

Sunrise

On our walk. Shadows are fun!

Uluru

That afternoon our tour group was supposed to drive another 4 hours to hike King’s Canyon the next day (supposed to be amazing).  Go figure, some arsonists had set a bunch of bush fires, which resulted in the road to the canyon being closed for the next 4 days.  We were slightly bummed, but again, you can’t get too upset about things you can’t control.  Our guide took us to watch the sunset with a view of the Olgas…Luke and I splurged and got tipsy on a bottle of wine and had no trouble keeping each other entertained for the rest of the evening.  We slept outside under thousands of stars, which were absolutely beautiful…totally worth freezing our asses off the entire night.

Waiting for sunset at the Olgas

We made our way back to Alice Springs the next day, saw some local park areas, and then met up with several people in our tour group for dinner.  Afterwards, we had many drinks at the bar next door, danced a little and basically made fun of all the crazy ass locals that were there…a lovely end to our time in the not-so-lovely town of Alice Springs.

My last full day in Melbourne was spent at Luke’s house with his roommates and friends watching the AFL Championship (basically, the Aussie version of the Super Bowl).  Luckily, the team they were pulling for won.   Lots more drinking ensued (I was able to introduce them to my favorite drinking game – FLIP CUP) and then we hit up the town for more shenanigans.   Felt pretty rough the next day, so we laid around, watched movies, and I packed up all my crap to be ready for my 3.30 a.m. taxi pick-up to take me to the airport.

It was a pretty quick trip, but I’m so happy I went.  Not only did I get to see some cool shit, but got to reconnect with old travel buddies and make more new friends.  I have to admit I was a little nervous to go and spend 10 days with someone that I had only hung out with for a couple of weeks over a year and a half ago.  I mean, what if he totally sucked in ‘real life’?  Obviously that wasn’t the case and Luke and I got along just as well as we did the day Kelly and  I met him in Turkey.  I hope we get to see each other again… I know we will, it’s just a matter of making it happen.

Marianne, Doug, Meghan, the Jeff’s…you’re next!!

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One thing that Kelly and I realized early on this trip is that some things just don’t turn out to be how you imaged…that we are not always going to have that picture-perfect experience. This was certainly the case with our three-day sail out to the Whitsunday Islands. 

When we booked our trip in Byron Bay, the first thing to decide was on what boat we wanted to sail. There are dozens of sailboats of varying sizes, different trip durations, amenities, and clientele. We knew right away that we didn’t want to spend three days on a ‘party’ boat with a bunch of drunk eighteen year-olds and due to Kelly’s issues with sea-sickness, we definitely wanted a bigger boat. Most importantly, we wanted a boat that was going to sail all the way out to the Great Barrier Reef since we didn’t have the time to make it all the way up to coast Cairns. The Anaconda III seemed to be the right fit for us, so we booked a private cabin with it’s own ‘bathroom’ and air-conditioning. The tour included all of our meals and there was a bar on board with plenty of cold beer to quench our thirst.

The Anaconda III

After killing a couple of days at a great relaxed hostel in Airlie Beach, the evening we boarded Anaconda III, it was pissing rain. We were greeted with a glass of champagne, shown our cabin, met the crew, and the thirty or so passengers were given a brief run-down of our itinerary. ‘I’m sure all of you are wondering how long it is going to rain,’ one crew member commented. ‘The answer is…for the next three months. It’s rainy season’. Fantastic. How did we not know this?

Captain's Area

The following morning, it was still cloudy and raining, although not as heavily as the previous evening. Our first stop was Whitehaven, a beautiful white sand beach. Unfortunately, as soon as we set foot on the island, the winds picked up and we had to jump back on the boat to travel to a more sheltered cove. We spent the morning lounging and walking along the shore and Kelly took a shot at scuba diving. The crew offered a free introductory lesson which covers the basics and allows you to get used to the gear and breathing naturally under water. She felt it was a bit weird and had a some trouble with the breathing, but it did peak her interest and she may take an extended certification course in the future. On our way back to the boat for lunch, it started dumping rain and all of us were completely soaked.

 

Crap Weather

Pretty beach

Kelly gettin' her scuba on

In the afternoon, we were dropped off in a couple of coves for snorkelling. We saw some pretty cool fish and the reefs were beautiful.

There was no rain on our second day, although it was cloudy and the winds were blowing pretty strong. That morning, we got our second round of bad news…due to the high winds, we would be unable to sail out to the Great Barrier Reef. This was really disappointing, as the reef was the main reason we booked this specific trip on this specific boat (and paid more money). The ocean was really choppy that day and everyone was rolling around all over the deck, which was pretty entertaining (and nauseating). Fortunately, Kelly didn’t get seasick once!

Rough Seas

Evenings on the boat were spent chillin’ on the deck, enjoying Toohey’s beers, joking around with the crew and our fellow passengers. We had a good group with us, but no one that Kelly or I really bonded with. Our last night, the a/c in our cabin went out and the boat was rocking around pretty badly. Kelly and I tried to sleep in the lounge, but it was still excruciatingly hot, so we went up to the deck where I half-slept and Kelly took pictures of the sunrise.

Our favorite crew-member, Stompa

Me passed out on the deck

Kelly's sunrise

The final day, we awoke to sunshine…not a cloud in the sky. As annoying as this was, we were glad to have one nice day sailing amongst the islands. More snorkelling ensued, but none was as good as the first place we visited. All in all, it was a good trip, but we wished the weather would have cooperated a little better. We returned to Airlie Beach late in the afternoon and our Aussie friend Chris joined us that night for drinks before we caught our flight back to Sydney the next morning.

Finally, a nice day!

Us and Chris on our last night

To anyone out there that is considering sailing the Whitsunday’s, we highly recommend it…just try and do it when it’s NOT rainy season.

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Both Kim and I could have stayed in Sydney for a few more days, but were excited to head to Byron Bay since we had heard so much about it from the Aussie boys we met in Chile. We couldn’t wait to check it out and get some more beach time. Marianne had been there before as well and was able to show us around and point us in the right direction for nightlife (to say the least).

 Byron Bay is a great little beach town, filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and night clubs. We spent our days relaxing on the beach, shopping for some items we had lost along the way and sipping cold beverages. To get some exercise, we did a really nice hike up to the lighthouse, where we passed the most eastern point in Australia!! So cool. It also gives you an incredible view of the entire coast.

 

Byron Bay Main Beach

Yaaaaay!

On the walk to the lighthouse

 

Another view

The eastern most point of Australia

Our hostel was quite large but also very accommodating for the amount of people staying there. We spent many a night just drinking on the patio after cooking and then heading out to one of the bars to do some dancing. One night I almost won a $20 bar tab by winning a game of flip cup (which I’m phenomenal at by the way), but I was screwed. Missed out by one game!! Later that night we went out with a group of Irish boys to a couple clubs and then tried to go to the infamous Cheeky Monkey’s. Marianne had been telling us about the $8 “jugs” (pitchers from where we come from) and dancing on the tables for months. She said it was a MUST in Byron Bay. Well, too bad that Marianne was kicked out before she or any of us even got in because the bouncer said we were all too intoxicated. What?? Nah….not us:)

 Soon the Jeff’s arrived and the debauchery continued. More beach time, more deliciously prepared backpacker dinners at the hostel, and of course more beer and wine. Gotta love that cheap box wine, which tastes awful and is known here as “goon”. ‘Goon’ is the aboriginal word for “pillow” so it includes any wine in a bag that is then put in a box, including our slightly more expensive and better tasting wine. But hey, when you are on a budget….

Hostel dinners and boxed wine...can't beat it!

 On Marianne’s last night in town, we decided to try our luck again at Cheeky Monkey. I just had to shake my booty on the tables with her before she left! We headed over early since they only served the cheap ‘jugs’ until 9pm. It was ladies night, so we all got a free, huge glass of champagne to start, and then proceeded to take back a good 12 or so pitchers within the hour! After a couple of hours of dancing on the tables (covered in sheet metal, obviously dancing on them is encouraged) we sent Marianne off in style by shouting “We love Marianne!!” in our horrible Norwegian accents for a good 5-10 minutes before her bus departed. I’m sure the other passengers loved us. We will be meeting up with her again in Montenegro this summer. I can’t wait!

 

Us at Cheeky Monkey's

Marianne and Jeff L. gettin' tipsy

Going to miss you...see you this summer!

The following morning, the rest of us booked a day trip to the hippie town of Nimbin. Not much to see there other than a bunch of head shops, druggies, and a quirky museum. However, we did stop at some cool markets along the way and a few scenic spots on the drive back.

 

The Nimbin Museum

Our last night in Byron Bay, the Jeff’s and I camped out on the beach so we could catch the sunrise the next morning. It was breathtaking. Though quite uncomfortable, it was totally worth it. Check out these pictures.

 

It was time to work our way north up to Brisbane for our one day tour of Fraser Island and then it was up to the Whitsunday Island for our sailing trip!! We said our good-byes to the Jeff’s and promised to see them again in Thailand. Byron Bay was definitely one of my favorite spots on this trip. I WILL make it back here one day.

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Sisters in Sydney

With almost 4 months of travelling under our belts, Kim and I said goodbye to New Zealand and moved on to the east coast of Australia. First stop, Sydney. We’ve all seen images of the infamous Syndey Opera House and Harbor Bridge, the Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbor, etc. Well, it’s all just as amazing as we imagined it to be. It was so great to finally see all of these things in person! With only a week in Sydney, we planned to make the most of it.

 We ended up staying at the Blue Parrot, a small, family-owned hostel filled with all sorts of travellers, long term residents, all looking for a good time. Our friend Doug that we met in Argentina was landing in Sydney the same day and we were excited to reunite with him after our time we spent together in the wine country of South America. Our friend Marianne we met there as well would join us 2 days later from Norway. The Mendoza clan together again! The hostel was located in the Kings Cross area, great for it’s nightlife and also known as the “Red Light District” of Sydney. Luckily, the hostel was around the corner from all the madness, so we didn’t really get that vibe at all.

Together again!

 We spent the first few days wandering around the city – a walk through the Botanical Gardens along the harbor, took plenty of pictures of the Opera House, had champagne in Darling Harbor and checked out the street markets in the Rocks, the oldest neighborhood in Sydney. We made a couple of new friends at the hostel, The Jeff’s, both from Canada, that joined us on our trip to Bondi Beach where locals and tourists alike flock to surf and soak up the rays. Marianne and I laid on the beach and relaxed, while Kim and the others did the 5 kilometer coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach, passing other small surfing beaches along the way. 

Syndey Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Darling Harbour

Bondi Beach

On the coastal walk

Another day, we all did a day trip to the Blue Mountains, located a couple hours outside of the city. They are called the blue mountains because of the blueish shade they take on from the sky and surrounding landscape. We had this crazy old tour guide that really liked to hear himself talk so we decided to take the trail instead of the cable car up to the viewing point just to get away from him. We hiked down (and then back up) the 1000 steps to take advantage of the amazing views. It was a great work out too!

 

The Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters

 

Our group

 Most of our nights were spent hanging out at the hostel with our new friends. We had some fantastic grilling sessions, a night of Marianne’s stellar caiparinas and caipiroskas ( a drink we became a fan of in South America), drunken walks to the nearby Elizabeth Harbor, a never-ending poker game, plenty of drinking games and late night parties on the stairs across the street. Um, yeah, we weren’t allowed to drink or make noise in the hostel after 11:30pm…so that’s where we ended up.

 We both absolutely loved Sydney!! Once again, I could totally live there. Now it was time to move further up the coast to the laid back beach town of Byron Bay. We even talked Marianne into joining us for a few days before she headed off to Newcastle for her semester of med school. The Jeff’s would join us as well a couple of days later. We were just too much fun to not see again:)

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