This will by far be my shortest entry relating to Tokyo. Anyone who knows me would quickly tell you I’m really not a big city person. Yes, I love the energy of many large cities, but the sheer amount of people who live in large cities tends to put me off immediately. I only spent 2 days in Tokyo, and most of my time honestly was spent trying to find a cheap last minute ticket to my next destination: Hawaii!
Shibuya Crossing restaurant view
I will say that the hostel I stayed at, while quiet and affordable, left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It was primarily because of the front desk attendant. I’m not sure if he was the owner or not, but he was rather pushy in trying to get information out of me, which I considered to be personal. He also constantly tried to get me to take a picture with him. Maybe it was his excitement of having people from all over and he was trying to do some sort of collage with customers, but his approach to it all was just unsettling. And I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, as several others at the hostel voiced their concerns as well.
In any event, while I did not explore much of Tokyo at all, I did google ‘Top things to do in Tokyo’ and settled on going to see the World’s busiest street crossing: Shibuya Street. I know, its ironic that of all places, having just written that I hate crowds, that I would pick the most congested part of the city to visit. I didn’t expect to like it at all, but regardless made my way one evening to see what it was all about.
Shibuya crossing is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. According to one site (Worldatlas.com) approximately 2,500 pedestrians cross at a time from every direction. If memory serves, 5 streets joined at a central point in front of Shibuya station and all lights turn red at the same time, allowing for pedestrians to cross from every direction. Again, I didn’t expect to like it, but my mind definitely changed when there. Just watching people cross, and participating myself in the middle of dozens of buildings lit up to the hilt with every possible advertisement… I don’t know, I became mesmerized by it all. While being incredibly busy, somehow it just didn’t have that feel to it. It was organized chaos in a strange way, and all the lights at night made it feel so beautiful.
As I’m reading on Worldatlas.com about the crossing, I realized I absolutely missed out on a statue that I would have loved to have noticed… Apparently the Hachiko Statue is there!! Reading that now I’m so bummed I didn’t notice it as I am an avid dog lover!! Ah, well, guess I have to go back, lol!!
I took a bus to Mt. Fuji after my delightful time in Kyoto and found myself in yet another awe inspiring part of Japan. I stayed at the Backpackers Hostel K’s House Mt. Fuji, near Lake Kawagughiko for I believe 5 days to a week and wasted no time wandering around the town (as I normally do) getting acquainted with my surroundings and occasionally lost.
View from the Top
View from the Top_2
My favorite memories of staying at Mt. Fuji, were of course the volcano itself, the day tour I engaged in, the surprise of meeting a celebrity (Jeannie Mai from the TV show ‘How Do I Look?’ and last but not least having an hour long conversation over dinner with an old Japanese man, who spoke not a single word of English, and I only a few phrases.
Mt. Haneko Trail
Mt. Haneko Trail_2
From the second I saw Mt. Fuji from my hostel room, I was simply in love. Tried as I did however, no matter how many hundreds of pictures I took of the volcano, I never felt satisfied that I was able to actual capture the true beauty of Mt. Fuji. Seriously, if you could see my original pictures, I had about 200! I do recall that being one of the frustrating points of being there… That I couldn’t quite capture how glorious it was (sigh).
Mt. Haneko Trail_3
Mt. Haneko Trail_4
Mt. Haneko Trail_5
The second highlight of my trip was opting to go on a day tour. The tour was simply called “Mt. Fuji Tour” and was operated through the hostel. We stopped at 5 destinations: Fuji Sengen Shrine, which was the original entrance to the trail to climb to the pinnacle of Mt. Fuji. If memory serves, devote Japanese people would annually use this trail to get to the top of Mt. Fuji, instead of simply starting at Station 5, like most tourists. This trail was obviously MUCH longer and harder than getting a leg up to 2305m…
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_2
Inside Trail Temple_2
Inside Trail Temple
Inside Trail Temple_3
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_3
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail Entrance
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_5
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_4
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_6
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_7
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_8
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail Main Entrance
The second and third destinations included the Aokigahara Lava Forest, and Shiraito Falls. Both places were such splendid displays of nature! The lava forest was so serene, while the falls were absolutely breathtaking! I recall the color of the water there. So clear with specks of purples, greens and blue… And the sound of all that water pouring into the lake below. It was incredible!
Inside the Grotto
Inside the Grotto_2
Grotto from Above
Grotto from Above_2
Evidence of Lava
Aokigahara Lava Forest
Aokigahara Lava Forest_2
Aokigahara Lava Forest_3
Lake Motosuko was a fourth destination of the tour. And while I believe in general this is the spot where the majority of photographs adequately capture how glorious Mt. Fuji is, again, I wasn’t able to:( Also the clouds didn’t help;) Our last stop was to the 5th Station of Mt. Fuji. I was there at a time where it was out of season to go beyond the 5th station, and even attempting to do so could lead to serious injury or death. Not to mention no one really wanting to come to your rescue if you were dumb enough to try and go further! However, it was still fun to be able to get closer to the top, without being too extreme.
Mt Fuji 5th Station
Mt Fuji 5th Station_2
Mt Fuji 5th Station_3
Mt Fuji 5th Station_4
Mt Fuji 5th Station_5
Mt Fuji 5th Station_6
Mt Fuji 5th Station_7
Mt Fuji 5th Station_8
Mt Fuji 5th Station_9
Mt Fuji 5th Station_10
En route to Station 5
En route to Station 5_2
My final two best memories of my time in Mt. Fuji was randomly meeting Jeannie Mai. So a little backstory here: When I was living in Koh Tao, Thailand, the place I rented for a couple months had a TV. That TV only had one channel where English was spoken. And on that channel, one of the daily shows that would air was “How Do I Look?” hosted by Jeannie Mai. It became a daily habit after attending my morning Muy Thai training and having 6 cups of coffee at my favorite coffee shop, Through the Looking Glass, to head home and chill for a little bit by watching TV.
Fast forward to Mt. Fuji, one evening I went back to a restaurant I had gone to a couple times before. It was a gringo restaurant, meaning the cuisine was American, burgers, fries, etc. while the sitting style was all Japanese (on the floor). Anyway, as was my usual habit in the evenings, I went there, got a little tipsy and had some dinner. While I was there, I don’t recall if Jeannie and her mom were there when I arrived, or if they arrived later, but the three of us were the only customers in the place. At a certain point we all got to talking. Sharing stories, learning little things about each other, etc.
I kept thinking while we were talking that there was something so familiar about her. Her mannerisms, her voice, her face… It never clicked with me at that point. I ended up finishing my meal and drinking and headed back to the hostel (just down the road). For whatever reason, I just couldn’t get out of my head how familiar she seemed. So I got online and typed in Jeannie… and there she popped up and it immediately clicked that I knew her from watching her in Thailand! So, silly me, I then proceeded to go back to the restaurant, apologized profusely for my next question and asked, “Are you Jeannie Mai from “How Do I Look?”? She laughed and said yes, and was tickled I had recognized her. She was so gracious and also tickled that I had seen her on TV while living in Thailand. Her and her mom were such sweethearts and were kind enough to let me snap a picture with them. I even exchanged emails with her mom (which reminds me I should touch base with her again!). It was such a fun and unexpected encounter! Interestingly enough, we were both at the bus station leaving at the same time! We again ran into each other on our respective ways out, and once again, Jeannie (I didn’t get to see her mom as she wasn’t with Jeannie at the time) was so gracious, kind and loving. Absolutely amazing!
View from Hostel
My final memory of Mt. Fuji was an evening I spent at a restaurant, 3 doors down from the “gringo” one. This one however was 100% Japanese and it was just one old man running the place and cooking. The food was absolutely delicious and because we were the only two in the entire place, we of course got to trying to communicate with each other. Miracle of miracles, he had a tablet with some sort of program with the most advanced translating capabilities I had ever seen. He would speak to it in Japanese and it would translate to English writing. I would read the question, answer in English, and he would read my response! It wasn’t Google… I honestly should have gotten the name of that program, but regardless, we literally spent the next hour or so talking about everything! Why/where I traveled, politics, religion, about his family, etc. It was one of the most unique and honoring experiences I had ever had. To sit with a stranger, neither of us knowing the others language, and yet to be able to have a conversation. It was a beautiful evening. My only regret was not having my camera in tow, so I wasn’t able to get a picture with him.
While I did enjoy many parts of Osaka, by comparison, Kyoto blew my mind! It is one of the most darling, quaint, beautifully stunning and enjoyable places I’ve been. The energy there was fabulous. Quiet, very zen-like with one beautiful place after another. I spent about a week there walking miles upon miles everyday through its majestic beauty.
Kyoto was the place I first noticed the raccoon dog statues, and made it my mission to find one for myself as a souvenir. While many people I asked said I would have to travel to a different city to find one, I was relentless in my pursuit and was ultimately successful in finding a raccoon dog about 2 inches tall. Perfect for travel! He currently resides in my home in NOLA:)
Raccoon Dog Guide
View of the City
One of my favorite memories of Kyoto was seeing a man tending to the landscape with tweezers! I was in awe watching him go about the business of keeping the grounds in spectacular shape with only a pair of tweezers. Absolutely incredible! And it speaks to the dedication of their craft.
From what I recall, Kyoto had about 10 zen gardens that were scattered throughout the city. While each place offered unique sights and feels, along with mind-boggling displays of perfectly crafted landscapes, probably my favorite was the kare-sansui zen garden at Ryoan-ji. Its simplicity was breathtaking. I found myself just staring at the various parts of the garden, for what seemed like an eternity, allowing my mind to wander into a quiet space.
Another favorite part of the city for me was the Geisha neighborhood. The homes were lovely, the streets quiet, and if one was lucky enough, they might get a glimpse of a young, beautiful Geisha walking about with her, shall I call her her Madame(?) sheltering her from the sun with an umbrella. I was fortunate enough to see one Geisha walking about, but respected the posted signs to not take pictures. I was also fortunate enough to sit next to one on a train. Again, while other tourists asked to take pictures of her, I refrained out of respect. While the Madame did allow others to take pictures with her, I felt it was better to simply keep those memories in my mind.
Geisha Street Sign
Those are my most fond memories of Kyoto. I certainly could have spent so much more time there exploring even more portions of the city that I hadn’t gotten to, but alas, I always try to leave something to go back to every place I go:) Needless to say, I would highly recommend anyone to visit majestic Kyoto.
Admittedly, it has once again been YEARS since I’ve update this blog… And I still have so many experiences to get through until I’m caught back up, all thanks to the shelter-in-place mandate due to COVID-19. May as well take advantage of my down time! Forgive me for not being as thorough in these next series of posts. Its not to say I didn’t absolutely adore my time in Japan, as it’s an amazing Country, but since it has been so long since having been there, with so much happening in between, I’ve forgotten so many details. I stayed in Osaka 3 or 4 days, and while it wasn’t my favorite part of Japan, it certainly still has it’s undeniable beauty! Enjoy!
If memory serves, the bus ride from Goeje to Seoul took about 6 hours. Upon arrival in the big and bustling city of Seoul, we wandered the streets, referred to our maps and eventually made it to our hotel room down a quiet alley. We stayed in a room on the 2nd or 3rd floor, which was outfitted with a ‘descending life line’ kit for use in case we had to evacuate the room from the window… Definitely the first time I had ever encountered a need for such an item, but I guess in case of emergency (during an earthquake perhaps??) it could come in handy. (?) In any event, we settled in for our first night, making plans for things to see and do in the following days.
Road to Seoul
Road to Hotel
Hotel Room Accessory
Our ‘things to do and see’ list initially included visiting the N. Seoul Tower, the Namdaemun market and the darling and very quaint Bukchon Hanok Village. Of course during our street wanders we came across other points of interest, such as the Sungnyemun Gate, Deoksugung Palace and the Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Easy Way to Tower
City Views from N. Seoul Tower_4
Walk to Tower
N. Seoul Tower_3
My sister (a shopping enthusiast) was told about the Namdaemun market by a friend of hers, and well, being a shopaholic, we just had to check it out! Indeed, this market is a shoppers dream come true! Absolutely anything you could ever imagine wanting could be found there. Clothes, jewelry, household items, knick-knacks, food, souvenirs, beauty supplies… the list could go on forever! And it wasn’t just street front shops along the main road of the market, but you could go in to many of them and find your way to a second floor where even more shops existed. Seriously I think one could probably spend days alone just exploring the vast number of stores available in that market. Now granted, there were several repetitious stores where similar or same items were sold, but still, it was impressive how many shops were in such a comparatively small space of the city. We ended up visiting the market a couple of times. Once to just check it out, and the second to get our souvenirs.
City Views from N. Seoul Tower_3
N. Seoul Tower_2
N. Seoul Tower
City Views from N. Seoul Tower_2
From the market, we headed over to the N. Seoul Tower, which offered lovely panoramic views of the city. While views were a bit smoggy from a higher perspective, it was certainly the perfect spot to really get a feel for the expanse of Seoul. It of course was a very touristy spot and seemed to be the main location for lovers or friends to add their love locks. Hundreds of thousands of locks were attached to various places in the park surrounding the tower. We hung around for a couple of hours and enjoyed some beers until night came so we could enjoy the lights of the city.
City Views from N. Seoul Tower
N. Seoul Tower
Seoul at Night_2
Seoul at Night
Bukchon village was our adventure destination for the next day. The brochure for the village describes it as “a village frozen in time for ages” though it is right in the middle of modern Seoul. That description could not be more accurate, as once we stepped foot into the village, it was as if we traveled back in time. The homes were no longer modern and the noise from the city seemed to dissipate immediately. The streets were pristinely clean and immaculately paved. Lush greenery spilled from every wall giving the air a cleaner, crisper scent. It was absolutely darling!
Bukchon Hanok Village_7
Bukchon Hanok Village_6
Bukchon Hanok Village_5
Bukchon Hanok Village_4
Bukchon Hanok Village_3
Bukchon Hanok Village_2
Bukchon Hanok Village
We spent several hours wandering the village streets, but once we left, we came upon a tiny local shop with some artwork (my sister purchased a couple pieces) and teeny tiny, itty bitty cactus plants for sale. Literally, these cactus plants with their pot and all were maybe an inch in height at most! They were so darn adorable, we just had to get some! Very smartly, the amount of soil the plants were in, were within the legal limits for Customs, so they could be taken back to the States without any issues. In the two years since I bought my cactus, it has travelled with me to Japan, lived with me in Hawaii, and now resides with me in New Orleans:) And while it has grown quite a bit, it is still under 2 inches tall, lol!
Guards at Deoksugung Palace
Guards at Deoksugung Palace_2
Guards at Deoksugung Palace_3
Guards at Deoksugung Palace_4
What a Drum!
We visited a couple of Palaces during our stay in Seoul as well. What was particularly notable of each Palace at the entrance, was a little kiosk of sorts that rented out clothing designed after original or traditional Korean fashions. For a price, men and women could rent these traditional clothes to wear while roaming the Palace grounds. And let me tell you, those rental shops were always full with customers! While at first it seemed a bit odd, really it added to the ambience of touring the Palaces as everywhere you looked, people in traditional attire roamed about. And again it gave that feeling of being in Seoul hundreds of years ago.
What was particularly interesting about the way homes within the Palace grounds were built was how they had truly modern accessories. Though built hundreds of years ago, they had features that even nowadays you would only find in very fine and upscale homes. For example, homes were built several feet from the ground on top of rock. The gap under the whole house would be mostly hollow and there would be only one “entrance” to the hollow space in one area of the wall. In the winter, the “entrance” would be filled with wood and would be set on fire. The heat from the fire would travel all through the under side of the house and the smoke from the fire would eventually make its way to a chimney on the opposite side of the house. So essentially, during the winter, residents had the luxury of heated floors!! Pretty darn clever engineering if you ask me.
En Route to Gyeongbokgung Palace
En Route to Gyeongbokgung Palace_2
Break for Charity
Shoes of Hope
Shoes of Hope
Shoes of Hope History
On our way to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, we came across an unexpected detour. In the pedestrian passage between city traffic, Shoes of Hope had several tents set up. We stopped to check it out and participated in their charity event. They gave us a “passport” where each of the 8 stations had something educational about their program. Once you visited each station you would receive a stamp of completion. To be honest, we really had no idea what most of the stations were about, because well, they were all in Korean, however what was clear was the purpose of their mission. While I don’t recall all the details, essentially Shoes of Hope is a charity program whos mission is to ensure every child has shoes, in every country around the world. Their message was about spreading love, compassion, and making sure every child that needed shoes would have them. Pretty cool! One of the stations we visited allowed us to decorate a pair of shoes that would be donated and to add a message to that child that would receive it:)
En Route to Gyeongbokgung Palace_3
En Route to Gyeongbokgung Palace_4
City View from Palace
One last point of interest that we enjoyed while visiting Seoul was to take in a show. Nanta, a non-verbal comedy/musical, originated in South Korea. It started in 1997, making it the longest-running show in Korean history (thanks Wiki!) and has earned worldwide fame. It was indeed a delight to see! Though no words were spoken, they weren’t needed as the highly entertaining actors, through their animation, were able to convey a joyously funny story of three cooks attempting to finish preps for a wedding party while given the challenge of having a clueless new chef added to their mix. It was a delight to be able to see the show, especially in its country of origin:).
Heart and SeoulAs all great things come to an end, it was time to move on from friends and the grand times had in Australia and on to new adventures. My next destination was particularly exciting for me because I had the chance to meet up with a family member I hadn’t seen in about a year and a half.
As luck would have it, my sister had to travel to South Korea for work, so I hoped on a plane to meet her. Landing in Busan, a city in the South of South Korea, I grabbed a bus to get to an even more southern island called Geoje. There I met up with my sister and lived the in the lap of luxury for the next several days in a very nice hotel. Seriously, I’d never been to a hotel where the housekeepers would fold and organize anything that was out of place for you. It was amazing to arrive back to the hotel to find literally every personal item organized, folded, hung, etc. Simply awesome, yet I started to try to make more of an effort to not leave anything around willy-nilly so they wouldn’t have to take extra time cleaning our room because my stuff was everywhere, lol! But I digress…
Honestly there wasn’t a lot to do necessarily in Geoje. It was obviously a modern city geared toward industry and business. Hence while it did have restaurants with every cuisine possible (Indian, Italian, Irish, American and Korean of course) as well as several National Parks to potentially explore, there wasn’t necessarily THAT much to do, had I been on my own.
Luckily however, I wasn’t on my own. In the company of my sister and her co-workers we had a grand time (once they were done with their work days) sampling cuisines from around the world, wandering through open street markets stuffed with every possible kind of sea creature known to man (and some perhaps not know, lol!) and then enjoying some drinks at a pub, laughing, playing darts and listening to my sisters Scottish coworker invent ways to remember how to say phrases in Korean. For example, if memory serves, if you were to say “come up and see me dah” quickly and without pronouncing each word exactly, that was “thank you” in Korean.
Another Street View
While my sister was at work, I spent my days either relaxing in the hotel, wandering aimlessly on foot exploring around town, or visiting shops. The most noticeably different style of the buildings and shops, if you will, from any other country that I’d been to so far was that none of the shops were single story. You constantly had to look up at least to the second floor to see what shops or restaurants were available. Most every building was at least two stories, and they just went higher up from there. Each level of the buildings had at least two or three businesses (restaurants, clothing shops, hair salons, etc) to explore, and in some buildings the stores (grocery) were located several stories BELOW ground! Of course I never felt like I was below ground at any point in shopping, but it was interesting taking the escalator down two flights to find the groceries.
Open Street Market
Octopus at Market
Octopus at Market_2
Sea Cucumber at Market
Ready for Seoul
I was in Geoje (I wish I could provide a phonetic way of saying this city name but each person seriously seemed to pronounce it differently and I never got a firm grasp on how exactly to pronounce it) for only a few days, essentially waiting for my sister to finish up the work she needed. But once her work was completed for good, she and I took off for the bustling and beautiful Seoul.
After leaving the farm I stopped by to see my friends ‘J’ and ‘A’ once more before departing Australia for good. During that portion of my time with them we got our adventurous spirits on once again and visited the Featherdale Wildlife Park just about a 20 minute drive from Marsfield and the Jenolan caves nestled in the Blue Mountains.
For this post I will let the pictures do all the talking as my words won’t be able to give the proper justice to the beauty found at the Jenolan caves! As for the Wildlife Park, it was both awesome and sometimes a bit nerve-wracking to be in such an open area with kangaroos and wallaby bouncing around! Though they were all quite used to humans, I was still pretty nervous to pet them. The variety of native birds, mammals and reptiles were quite impressive and was a wonderous way to spend the day! Both would recommend both of these attractions for anyone visiting the area.
Playing I spy (and mostly winning, though another would disagree ;)) on the way to Victoria with horses in tow. Mind you it was a 12-14 hour drive each way, so we had lots of time to kill:)
Rudy: A rooster on the property that just one day showed up and staked his claim on the land was one of the many creatures that roamed around. Though I had never really had an issue with him (I bribed him daily with food!) any time a new person came on the property, he would try to attack them. He was rather sneaky at it too, even going so far as to attack unsuspecting people who had been on the property before from behind! Many people had stories of their encounters with the rooster ending in bloodshed (on the humans part, not the rooster’s!) or very close calls. Luckily I was never one of them, so from my perspective it was extra entertaining to hear about others close calls!
General wildlife on the property: goats (ham and cheese), burger the bull, bats, wallaby, kangaroo in the valley, snakes, huntsman, frogs, moths, bunnies, foxes, black cockatoos, parrots in the valley… the beauty of the wilderness that surrounded us daily was unbelievable and amazing!!
Dried bat: I had been used to (somewhat) encountering many a huntsman spider while opening and closing gates around the property as the sneaky buggers loved to hide out in the wood. They mostly stayed away from gates that were opened often, but ones that weren’t operated daily were havens for the gigantic arachnids. So one day while very cautiously going to open a seldom used gate, as the wood plank slid back and a giant fuzzy THING dropped out from the gate, I couldn’t help but scream and run away! Of course I was laughed at and for good reason that time… It turned out the furry thing that fell out wasn’t at all a huntsman, but a flattened dried, very dead little bat:( Poor buddy!!!
Mama and Baby
Goodness snakes alive!!! I had about 6 close encounters of the slithery kind while on the farm. Luckily though they were only encounters with the shy red-bellied black snakes! While they are still quite poisonous to people and animals, thankfully their first line of attack was to simply slither away. My two most harrowing encounters go as follows: one evening while enjoying a cocktail (or two) as I was sitting outside, one appeared from under the truck heading directly toward me. I didn’t know whether to move or stay still! Options raced through my drunken mind as it got closer and closer. Finally I made my move and very slowly lifted my legs off the ground to the chair. Thankfully that was enough to alert the snake to my presence and it abruptly lifted its head, flipped 180 degrees in the opposite direction and scurried away! My closest encounter however was while I was walking across the lawn (again a wee bit intoxicated, though a different day). I was taking confident strides to my destination until I noticed a coiled red-bellied black snake not three feet in front of me sunning itself in the afternoon sun. We literally didn’t notice each other until we noticed each other! I stopped and squealed and it uncoiled at warp speed and hauled away from me as quick as it could, lol!!
Red-bellied Black Snake
A wallaby sighting: in the valley around sunset it was a common sight to see several dozen kangaroos in the fields just off the main road. But never had I seen any ‘roos’ or their smaller counterparts in the mountains until one early morning while collecting one of the horses from their field. Normally this horse was always calm and relaxed as we walked out of her field, but on this day as we exited she startled quite abruptly and stared in wonderment behind her. While wondering what was wrong with her, I followed her gaze behind us only to spot a little wallaby at the entrance to her field staring back at us. We all stood frozen for a few moments checking each other out until the little guy hopped away. Very cool!
Watching My Kitchen Rules with ‘S’ and getting drunk: I had discovered the TV reality show My Kitchen Rules while in Thailand and it quickly became one of my favorite evening shows to watch and relax to. I introduced my house mate ‘S’ to the show and it wasn’t long before we started making nightly ‘dates’ to enjoy our meals and company while watching the show together. Often times we would get (or already be) a bit tipsy on our drinks of choice and would laugh hysterically throughout the show with our added commentaries. Loved it!
Scratching on Mom
T’s account of Rudy’s beating by the farrier: Just the visual of this one still makes me laugh! T, a French rider at the farm, while very good at speaking and understanding the English language still had a few things here and there that he was learning along the way. The phrase “beat the $h!t out of…” was one phrase he was introduced to. It came about as the farrier told ‘T’ about how Rudy had attacked him relentlessly one day, forcing him to retaliate in self-defense. As the rooster continuously attacked the farrier, he defended himself by striking the rooster until one particular blow ended up knocking the rooster unconscious. Hence, the phrase “he beat the $h!t out of Rudy” became a new phrase in T’s repertoire, and his recounting of the story the farrier told him was simply hilarious, lol!! And don’t worry readers- Rudy is just fine!! He is alive and well and still attacks who and when he pleases!
Enjoying a scratch
Out to Field
Listening to music on the front porch and talking for hours with A: ‘A’ was another groom I had the pleasure of working with. We had so much in common that I called him my male twin. Evening after evening we would sit on the front porch after a long day with drinks in hand and conversations for hours while listening to music from all ages and genres. One particularly fantastic night, ‘A’ put a blanket on the front lawn and we just lay there listening to music while watching a gloriously beautiful night sky, sparkling bright with every star from the heavens. Absolutely gorgeous!
Jumping over jumps drunk: ok, so I’m noticing that many of my stories here involve drinking… But hey, there really wasn’t much else to do on the property after finishing with the horses and drinking just brings out the fun in myself and my company! On this particular night, it was myself, ‘S’ and the Australian ‘T’ who got our drinks on thought it would be a great idea to try to jump over the jumps set up for the horses! In all reality however, it was mainly ‘T’ who was doing the jumping while ‘S’ and I simply laughed our rears off while running around the arena. Good times!!
Sunsets on the bench: Self explanatory
Home sweet Home
Smokes falling asleep on my hands: One of the shows I had the privilege of being a part of was down near Melbourne and unlike previous shows, it was 4 days long. All our horses were doing really well and one in particular, Smokes (my nickname for him) made it to the final round as a contender for Champion of Champions. After his jumping round I stood on the sidelines holding him while watching the other contenders being ridden. Now, Smokes since I’d met him had a habit of always wanting to lick, whether it was our hands or arms. Normally I wouldn’t allow this behavior in case it led to a nip, but he had been such a good boy all weekend that I allowed him his guilty pleasure. I stood to his side with my hands clasped under his muzzle allowing him to lick the salt off while I watched the others do their course. A couple of minutes later I realized that his licks had subsided and that he was simply resting his muzzle in my hands. A few minutes after that I started to notice how heavy he was feeling in my hands… It was about then that I noticed his eyes were closed and his body had a very gentle sway to it… He had fallen asleep in my hands!! I gently woke him giving him some loving pats while whispering in his ear that the show was almost over. Bless him!! By the way, he did win the Champion of Champions!
Champion of Champions!
Worming a young stud: I think the picture says it all! While I thought he had swallowed, he apparently didn’t and instead spat all the medicine right back on me!
Reconstructing my San Blas anklet: my anklet from the San Blas Islands had at some point come undone, so I made it a project to reconstruct. Since we had a road trip coming up, I brought it along to help kill time. What I wasn’t expecting however was how involved ‘T’ (Australian rider) got into the project himself! Along with providing helpful suggestions on how to make the slow and sometimes painful process of stringing hundreds of teeny beads on a teeny rope, he was also my cheerleader, egging me on to keep going and get the project done! It was on the leg back to the farm that I finally did complete the anklet and got it back to its place around my ankle.
Peggy the possum: Possums were common creatures to see during the night but usually only from afar. A couple of them however ended up becoming quite brave! One particular evening as we sat on the front porch having a few drinks, we noticed this creature walking along the stone path directly up to the front porch steps. It came up so confidently in its movement that we all at first thought it was a cat! But no, it was a possum!! It stopped just shy of getting on the porch, perching itself on the stairs. It looked at us, we looked at it in amazement, and it simply turned away from us, scampered to a nearby tree, climbed it to the roof, ran across the roof overhead us, down the tree on the other side of the porch to a little spot we often threw bits of old bread or muffins. Absolutely surreal! We named this possum Peggy:)
In her nest
Possum with baby
Gabrielle the frog and T’s reaction to the frog: The French rider ‘T’ may kill me for posting this, but we had a frog that seemed to appear nightly in the same spot, so it was named Gabrielle. One particular night, ‘T’ left the porch and entered the house and let out a scream that put 5-year-old girls to shame! ‘A’ and I went to investigate what happened and it turned out that one of the frogs (maybe Gabby?) got into the house and startled ‘T’. Needless to say I was cracking up over the sound of ‘T’s’ scream, and once he calmed down he too had a little chuckle over it;)
Of course there are many more, but since this post is getting rather lengthy, I will leave it at that!
Mid-January started to roll around and though I was still having a grand time with ‘J’ and ‘A’, I also didn’t want to out stay my welcome. So once again it was time to think of something else to venture to. I had really only scratched the surface of exploring Australia, so I wanted to stay a bit longer while also being able to afford it!
Oddly enough, one of my new friends whom I’d met back in Malaysia while at the horse facility emailed me in late December (once hearing that I was in Oz) about a friend of hers who was working at a horse farm on the Central Coast, about and hour and change north of Sydney. Even though I had this information back in December, I didn’t follow up at all other than simply getting an email for her friend.
Fast forward to mid-January, though I wanted to actually be able to travel more of Australia, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to at least shoot off an email and see if they needed any help at the farm. I can’t recall if it was later that day or the next, but very shortly after making contact I was given a number to call for a phone interview and a couple of days after that I made a commitment to go and help at the farm as a horse caretaker and groom. Part of the reason I decided that route was, well, because I love horses! But the other part was because it offered the potential to travel around to various parts of Australia with the horses.
I will never forget the day I arrived at the farm as it was one of the most memorable for me in a fun and funny way:) Even as I’m writing this I can’t stop smiling about it! Since the farm wasn’t terribly far from where ‘J’ and ‘A’ lived (and they wanted to make sure I wasn’t going somewhere sketchy, lol!!) they offered to drive me to the farm and we made plans for a day trip before getting there. First stop was along the coast for some beach time at shelly beach, then some late lunch at a chinese restaurant, then onward to the farm.
The part that made this trip the most memorable for me was when we were heading to the farm. Firstly the changing of the surroundings was absolutely stunning! The green, lush rolling hills surrounding us was just breathtaking! The second part is harder to describe, but it was the overall scenario. I had my backpack in the trunk, I was sitting in the backseat of the car being driven along the countryside into unknown territory and I was being fretted over by my two great friends about where I was going and whether the place was a good one… Which put together all added up to me feeling like a child being dropped off at summer camp by her two dads!! It was absolutely adorable!!
When we got to the farm we met ‘S’, my new housemate and fellow horse helper, unloaded my things into my new room (inspected first by my “2 dads”;)) and took a little wander around the front of the house. That is where we first met Rudy the rooster. I still recall ‘J’ and ‘A’ being cautious about the ridiculously fat, and I mean seriously rotund, rooster that was roaming around the front of the grooming stalls, while I simply brushed aside the notion that he could be dangerous by pointing out that surely they wouldn’t allow a rooster who attacks to roam around freely. He wasn’t showing any signs of aggression or threatening motions, so I figured he was friendly…
Of course the next day I was warned by ‘T’ (the rider) and ‘S’ that I should be VERY wary of Rudy as he was quite well known for attacking people, especially strangers (both ‘T’ and ‘S’ had been attacked!)!! So apparently ‘J’, ‘A’ and I were very lucky that first afternoon of arrival in that we did NOT get attacked! In addition, I learned that the trick to keeping Rudy at bay and happy was to feed him bits of horse feed… No wonder he was such a chunker, lol!!
I ended up spending several months at the horse farm caring for the numerous horses along with ‘T’ and ‘S’ and have so many fond memories of my time spent there (to be listed in my next post). And while I didn’t get to travel as much as I had hoped to originally, I was able to make it at least to one new State (Victoria) with the horses.
Originally I was hoping to stay for 6 months to a year helping at the farm, but energies started to change in a variety of directions that led me to decide to move on. ‘T’ and ‘S’ had also moved on to better and brighter things for their path a few months before I left, but we of course still keep in touch. It’s really amazing how even spending short periods of time with some people, you just know you will never lose touch, no matter the distance or time apart.
I hadn’t planned on visiting Australia initially because I’d learned from fellow travelers that it was a very expensive country to visit. However, it was while I was in Malaysia volunteering at the animal shelter that I just happened to receive an email from a good friend of mine whom I’d known back in New Mexico. We had lost touch over the years despite attempts on both our ends to keep in touch, but alas he found me:) And as chance would have it, he was living in Sydney! So of course I had to go see him!!
The timing of it all to this day still fascinates me. It’s just further proof in my book that everything happens the way it should. After a couple of email exchanges I made plans to see him and spend Christmas and New Years with him and his partner:)
I arrived in the ‘land down under’ mid-December and was greeted at the airport with the loving embrace and friendly faces of my friend and his partner. After a quick nibble out, we headed back to their place where I met their two kids, Willow and Bear, two absolutely adorable pups!! We stayed up quite late that first night (and for the next several nights) with bottles of vino and beer, catching up on all things past and present. What a truly amazing and still surreal time!
They showed me around all the hotspots of Sydney; Bondi beach (pronounced Bond-eye, not Bondy), the Opera House (of course!), the harbor area, Mansly, the Botanical Gardens and the Watson Bay area where sailboats dotted a quiet bay eclipsed by beautiful homes gently sloping from the water. It was all so picturesque and beautiful! We even ventured a bit further out on the weekends for little road trips to the Blue Mountains where we viewed the Three Sisters.
The thing that surprised me about the Opera house was that the roof was made of tiles! From all the pictures I had seen prior to seeing it first-hand, the roof simply looked white and I hadn’t noticed anything particularly remarkable about it. However up close, it was impressive to see that the roof was in fact made of white and beige tiles and that they formed very specific patterns giving each shell a unique and artistic flare. In addition, again from pictures, I had always imagined that the Opera house was a singular building and each layered ‘armadillo shell’ was part of the design to enhance acoustics for that one stage. I had no idea that in fact there are multiple stages allowing several productions to occur within the same season. Just goes to show you that you never really know about something until you get up close and personal with it;)
The Botanical Gardens were absolutely darling! They seemed to go on forever and though they were basically next door to the heart of downtown Sydney, they had a quiet and calm about them that made you feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. 2016 just so happens to also be the 200th birthday of the gardens, so that’s pretty cool:)
The Blue Mountains too were a surprise as I had no idea such lush green life and landscapes could be found in Oz. Again, most of the pictures I had seen of Australia boasted the main highlights of the Barrier Reef, the Opera House or the Outback where the land is red and lacking plant life. But in the Blue Mountains, I could have mistaken us for being in Virgina near the Blue Ridge! Simply beautiful!
The only odd thing to me was knowing that it was only a week away from Christmas, yet not really seeing any sort of Christmas decorations anywhere! There were a few scattered here and there, but nothing like I was accustomed to seeing in the States around Christmas time. However, that didn’t stop us from doing some decorating ourselves:) J’s mom had sent him a Christmas tree, so on or about the day before Christmas, we got our drinks on (which put us all in a jolly mood) and set up the Christmas tree and other decorations to get the place looking festive! A few gifts were exchanged, delicious food was cooked, and we all reveled in the joys of being with good friends.
Happy Birthday Gardens!
Opera House & Bridge
Christmas Day passed and New Years was quickly approaching, so the next big thing was to decide how to ring in the New Year. We settled on trying for one of the free spots at a park on the harbor (Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair). The only trouble was that once capacity for the park was reached, they closed it off therefore not allowing any new people in. And because this venue was free to enter (and honestly was one of the best in my opinion as it had a fantastic view of the harbor, the bridge and the opera house) the lines would no doubt be long. The chances of getting in at all were unpredictable!
‘A’ (J’s partner) had to work New Year’s Day, so that left ‘J ‘and I to try for a park place where ‘A’ would meet us later. We made it there around 10am to find a line that wove back and forth and forth and back with what looked like thousands waiting to get in! We got in at the back of the makeshift line and thus began the slow and arduous task of walking a few feet every couple of minutes, slowly inching our way to the entrance gates. Luckily we came prepared however with water, snacks and sunscreen.
Opera House & Bridge_2
Opera House & Bridge_3
City from the Park
I should mention at this point that the Norwegian couple I had met back in Kuala Lumpur were also in Sydney for New Year’s. We had reconnected via email and arranged to meet at the park. After about an hour or so, they arrived with another friend in tow and they joined ‘J’ and I in line (which still had only moved a couple hundred feet or so, lol!!). The mood around us was festive and it was funny to see how many people had already started hitting the beers hard! Personally it was just too hot in the direct sun for that in my opinion, plus having to find a bathroom would have been its own kind of torture!!
The hours ticked away as we crept closer and closer toward the finish line… Finally, about 4 hours later we were in! While there were already thousands of people in the park, it didn’t feel as crowded as I would have thought which I was very grateful for! We scouted a place to sit under a nice shady tree, then sent one of the fellas to the nearby food and drink kiosks for some cold beers! We sat around enjoying the cold beers and continued chit-chatting and all was absolutely perfect, save for one thing…
A Different View
‘A’ was still at work… The plan we had hoped for was that he would be able to get off work a bit early, then head to the park where he could hopefully hop in line with us and make it in before the park reached capacity. However, at this point it was already past 2pm. The line that had formed behind us seemed longer than the line we had initially started in, and according to the online information, the park had already almost reached capacity and would soon be closed off. Not happy news!! As the time ticked on it seemed less and less likely that he would be able to make it to the park.
A Different View_2
A Different View_3
New Years Crowd
Seriously a huge conundrum!! I didn’t want ‘A’ to have to spend New Year’s alone, especially without his partner!! But I also didn’t want to leave our park spot. We debated back and forth what to do and eventually settled on me staying in the park, and ‘J’ leaving the park to be with ‘A’. In addition ‘J’ had started not to feel so hot, as even though he kept reapplying sunscreen the entire time we stood in line, he still managed to get a pretty bad sunburn!! So as he wasn’t feeling the best he said he was fine with leaving to be with ‘A’. Though I know I shouldn’t, I do still feel guilty for having stayed behind because I wanted the three of us to be together for New Years. But as ‘A’ and ‘J’ said, they had “been there, done that” with Sydney’s firework show. It wasn’t so important for them to see them again, but since it was a first for me, they said I should definitely see them.
New Years Harbor
Attempted Night Shot
So I hung back with my friends from Norway and rang in the New Year watching fireworks shower off the Sydney harbor bridge and light up the harbor waters. It was such a beautiful sight! I love everything about fireworks; the sounds, smells and sight of them. Being so up close and personal to such a spectacular show was unbelievable. I’m so thankful for the chance to have been able to be there!
New Years Sailboat
New Years Eve 2015
New Years Eve 2015_2
After the show, I parted ways with my Norwegian friends and met up with ‘J’ and ‘A’ and we headed home to comfort the pups. Though we were not able to spend New Year’s night together, we did have our own New Year celebration a bit later. Popping a bottle of champagne we wrote down things we no longer wanted to be burdened with in our lives and set them on fire Zozobra style!