Australia

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I have always been afraid of the dark.  I do my best to say this with as little shame and embarrassment as possible, given my age (let’s just say, “twenty-something”).  From childhood my irrational fears transitioned from monsters to ghosts to intruders in the night, with scary movies serving as fuel for my overactive imagination. I remember once confessing this fear in my late teens only to be asked the question, is it truly the dark you fear, or the unknown?  I was stumped, and I could only mutter, “Both?”

Many years after that moment my travels brought me to Australia, and as an avid SCUBA diver I had to explore the Great Barrier Reef.  I signed up for a three-day, two-night live-aboard excursion to the lesser-touched outer reef.  While I had been diving for years I had yet to experience a night dive.  Though each dive was optional, the thought of being sixty feet below the surface of the water in pitch-black terrified me, but I could not pass up the opportunity to see what mischief subaqueous creatures got up to at night.  I decided it was time to face my fears.

All divers were gathered for the briefing, paired up and then sent out to gear up.  Before we were dismissed, our dive master yelled out to the crew at the stern of the ship, “Are the sharks here yet?”

Taken with natural curiosity we ran to the stern to be met with a sight I was not prepared for.  Sharks circled the swim platform feeding on the squid the staff members were throwing overboard.  It was this exact spot we were to enter the water.  To say I was apprehensive was an understatement.  Though I liked to consider myself enlightened about the true nature of sharks, and had encountered them in prior dives without incident, you never know what may happen in the darkness.  After all, sharks feed at night.  Suiting up my heart raced as I was about to immerse myself in the unknown.

Thankfully, as divers entered the water the sharks scattered, but I knew they were everywhere.  I would have nothing to protect myself; the only accessory I would be taking with me into the water was a flashlight.  In air the light spreads, but in water, a denser medium, the light is emitted as a narrow beam, illuminating only what is directly in front of it.  Unlike the previous dive, the reef wasn’t under the boat so my dive-buddy and I would have to swim through thirty feet of open water alone to reach it.  As I swam through the abyss I shone my little beam of light around it reflected in pairs of green dots.  Shark eyes.  These curious, inquisitive yet unnerving creatures were everywhere and there was nothing to protect me from them. Though, as far as I knew, they were not the man-eating species, I clung to my dive-buddy as Jaws played in my mind in high definition.

Once we made it to the reef I relaxed finding comfort in the more enclosed space.  The activity I saw amazed me.  At night the fish sleep in crevices and an array of life feeds in the corals; you can even help the larger fish feed by shining your light on their prey.  So long as you weren’t one of these unlucky creatures there was nothing to fear.  Feeling more comfortable on the swim back, I let go of my dive buddy and watched the silhouettes of the sharks swimming under the boat without fear.  Once back on the boat I felt so silly that I almost let fear hold me back from that incredible experience.

Fear, I truly realized, is all an illusion we allow our minds to create.  We let movies, television shows and especially other people, convince us that the world is a scary place and because of this many people never step outside their comfort zones.  They never challenge themselves to live to their full potential.  They never live their dreams because they are afraid of the unknown. This to me truly is the greatest tragedy of life.   So going forward I decided to not let what others say paralyze me with fear, I’d have to embrace it and face experiences with no expectations.

Since that night I sleep peacefully engulfed in complete darkness, fearing neither the pitch nor the unknown.  The unknown, it turns out, is the best part of life.

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My reason for falling in love with Melbourne, the most livable city in the world

Oh, the city of Melbourne…
 
When I think of Australia…. And why shouldn’t I be thinking of this wonderful country…. Being a cricket crazy Indian, I make sure that I wake up early morning every single day and switch on the TV set to watch the scintillating cricket match going on between the two great cricketing nations.
And every break between over, as we are shown the Australia Tourism advertisement welcoming us to this picturesque country, I can’t help but think and dream of only Australia. With the current test match going on in one the greatest cities of this country, which place other than Melbourne can I dream about. The modern, cutting-edge designs of its skyscrapers and buildings added to the fascinating mix of heritage architecture, makes us feel that that this city is never the same every single time we visit it, with its constantly changing skyline. But mind you, talking about skyscrapers, building height limits and heritage controls have kept the city at a human scale while highlighting its diversity and creativity.
There is a lot to love about Melbourne – just ask the locals. Melbourne’s lifestyle, the climate and its future plans are all part of what inspires so much passion in those who live hereWith the city’s vibrant energy, restaurants, fashion boutiques, café-filled laneways, cool bars, unbeatable galleries, spacious parks and village-like inner suburbs, each with its own special character, no wonder, it has been ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities.
We just need to take a walk through the streets of Melbourne to really enjoy it’s labyrinth of connecting laneways and arcades which provides us an ‘other world’ experience of intimate spaces and mystery. And believe me, it is while you stroll through these streets, where you get a feeling of openness and natural light, but still you find it home to many of Melbourne’s bar, dining and shopping ‘secrets’.
The streets of Melbourne provide a logical canvas for artistic expression and its laneways are home to sometimes controversial street art. And did I not mention that the locals also love a party, with the year-round calendar of events offering something for everyone.
And if you lose your way through this labyrinth, there’s no need to worry at all, because the locals are known for being friendly and inclusive, strongly advocating the city’s strong culture of philanthropy and volunteering. Looking worried and lost, and don’t be surprised, if you are confronted immediately by the City Ambassadors, the dedicated team of tourism volunteers.
Being and odd man out in a foreign country is something which you would never feel in this city. Melbourne has a multicultural population, being home to people of 140 different cultures: Indigenous Australians, post war European migrants, and recent arrivals from India, Somalia, Malaysia and beyond. Yeah, you heard it right! Indians, you find in plenty there.

And in all these absolutely stunning things that I mentioned about Melbourne, did I forget about its geography. For those who are keen on this, Melbourne is located in the south-eastern part of mainland Australia, within the state of Victoria. It is the capital of the state of Victoria and the second most populous city in Australia.

But believe me, it’s not the geography, but the lifestyle that makes Melbourne a magnet for so many people lie in the combination of these things. It is the sum of its parts – and more.

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After three days of constant packing, driving, and roadside camping, I was relieved to make a longer than usual stop in Byron Bay, a famous beachside town on Australians east coast. Slowly, my girlfriend and I had journeyed up from Sydney, stopping at Forster and Coffs Harbour along the way for a night before our arrival. With the surfboard strapped to the roof of the car and the backseat rammed with blankets, guitars and camping equipment, we cruised toward the town in the early hours of the evening and watched young local’s parade around the streets on their custom made skateboards in board shorts and tie-dye singlets. Young backpackers with stylish nose piercings and homemade dreadlocks sat roadside, busking their favorite Bob Marley tunes whilst friendly neighborhood dogs laid outside boutique shops, panting with a mild look of fatigue on their faces.

A sign reads ‘Welcome to Byron Bay: Cheer up, Slow Down, Chill Out’, inviting us in with warmth and hospitality as we made our way closer to the coast, bumping along the road that was littered with deep potholes. We pulled up to a campsite at the back end of town and found a small spot before making our way to the beach for the final hours on sunlight. In the twilight haze, birds could be heard singing in unison amongst the lush green flora whilst a few dedicated beachgoers made the most of the remaining surf, paddling out on their long boards to glide along the mellow humps of rolling water that gently crashed into quiet white bubbles. Beyond the perfectly formed waves the ocean sat almost perfectly still, reflecting the orange glow of sunset which shimmered all the way to the horizon. From this bronze haze, spouts of water rose to the sky, revealing a group of humpback whales that breached the surface at steady intervals; the weight of their huge bodies crashed down into the water and could be heard from the shore. Not far from us, a surfer catches a wave and rides it all the way to the shore, walking to the nose of the board and back in peaceful nature before dropping of the side.  Just as the sun was setting, a pod dolphins turn up and play with the boarders in the surf, cruising alongside them and leaping out the waves with incredible agility. The frantic journey up to Byron had been worth it for this brief little moment.

Strolling along in the ankle deep water and watching the incredible display of serenity, the two of us held each other closely and uttered not a single word as night crept in on the warm coastal winds. I can’t describe how grateful I was right then, for her and for us, for life and for the journey, for those whales and those dolphins, for the surf and the surfers, for Byron Bay and for Australia, for nature and for that beautiful moment it revealed a peaceful side to us that some don’t ever to witness.

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Grateful for the Journey

It started with a dream in June 2012, shortly after my cat Hamish, the last of my animals, died. In that alternate landscape, I was climbing polished wooden stairs as large bay windows revealed the dark night sky on either side of the staircase. I tried to make out the stars but they were eclipsed by the moonless sky. Suddenly from nowhere, an almighty bang and a streak of lightning so brilliant in its metallic energy,  broke through the blackness completely revealing  the landscape in every detail.

When I awoke I knew what I had to do. The clarity of the lightning bolt had galvanised me to change my life completely. I would sell everything and move.

Two years year later, constant movement is a big part of my life. Through synchronicity, that wonderful connection between desire and manifestation, a friend Elizabeth had suggested I try house sitting. She knew my love of animals and my new found fear of being stuck in an environment which might be beautiful like the previous one,but did not feed my soul. House sitting seemed to fit the criteria I was after in a lifestyle; freedom to learn and grow, animal companionship and travel. Suddenly fear emerged in the form of “Ifs” and “buts”. I recalibrated my attitude asking  “What have I got to lose?”  and decided to take the plunge. I remembered the Tarot card of the Fool, a youth with all his possessions wrapped in a cloth at the end of a stick which he carried over his shoulder while he smelt a white rose. A small dog accompanied him, while with one foot on the ground and one in the air above a cliff, his face had that joyful look of optimism that everything would be provided for on his new journey into the as yet unformed land. He became my role model.

I was fortunate to start off well and will always be grateful to my first home-owners, Lorna and John, who welcomed me to their beautiful home in Jan Juc on the coast of Victoria.Such a positive initial experience gave me the confidence to continue. If you have ever seen the film “Puss in Boots” then you will know what Archie, their cat looks like! and Della, his sister also bears a striking resemblance to Kitty soft paws from the same movie. How lovely it was to have animal companionship again and the opportunity to explore one of the most beautiful parts of the Australian coastline.

In meditation, a daily journey into inner landscapes, I had another epiphany, I could use house sitting as my magic carpet to travel around Australia, visiting places, the many places, to which I had never  previously travelled. So in December 2012, on my first interstate house sit, I travelled to the Adelaide hills to care for three dogs while their owners went on holiday. Since then I have perfected the skills of adaptation and flexibility which are the core requirements of the lifestyle and make the most of each house sit. Like the Fool, I travel lightly with one suitcase, a handbag containing my tablet,  borrowed cat, dog or horse, and absolute trust in the journey.

Australia is a huge country and to traverse it from coast to coast, or Pacific to Indian Ocean if you prefer, is a similar distance as between Moscow and Paris. The land itself shifts and changes as you fly across the country, from the viridian hinterland of the East coast, across the browning dust of outback Queensland and New South Wales, over the leached silver of the dried up lakes of outback South Australia and finally to the pristine turquoise waters of Esperance and Albany in South Western Australia. The first time I took this flight I clutched my heart and fell in love with the land. Since then when reprising the same flight across the ancient continent, it feels like reconnecting with an old beloved. I can never tire of flying over this land.

As I travel around the country , meeting new friends, human and animal, and reconnecting with old ones, I feel grateful to be at this stage of my life where my sense of adventure is restored and I have the confidence and trust in myself and the Universe to lead me into new territories. I also give thanks for that lightning bolt.

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Whim Tripper

By Ray Beard

She stood on the clean white sand in her pink bikinis under a brilliant blue sky.  A few surfers were catching four feet waves gently rolling in on an otherwise smooth sea. It was all round a picture perfect scene, albeit if she had not been in the frame I may not have noticed it.  With so many days like this you take it for granted.  She raised her arms to the sky at a forty five degree angle and they remained there for a good minute before she ran back to my side.  

“What was that all about?’ I asked.

‘A thank you for all this glory,’    

‘Oh.’

I liked her despite her peculiarities. Her many. She dried herself and announced ‘I must get back to my hotel, I have to ring Mom before she goes to sleep.’   I obeyed. A minute from her hotel in the city center of Perth, a twenty minute drive from the beach she said ‘quick, turn into Kings Park, I’d like to see it.’  I obeyed.

‘Did you know Jack is it about nine hundred acres of mainly natural bush?  I couldn’t find any other city with that sort of acreage on the edge of the CBD in a natural state. ‘

I replied with ‘that’s interesting’ rather than ‘of course I did.’  On reflection I wondered if I did.

We parked and walked through a plethora of wild flowers. It took an hour before she would budge from the plants. ‘This one must be the most beautiful flower  in the world’  she would say with regularity, to a different plant each time.  We eventually made the edge of the park overlooking the city skyline and the vast expanse of the Swan River. She raised her arms again. ‘More thanks?’ I asked. ‘Too right’ she replied,’ as you locals might say.’

‘Well, it is a long way from New Jersey’ I said.

‘That’s why I came here. I discovered Perth was the most distant city from my home.’

I laughed. ‘So I guess you came on a whim.’

‘No way. Oh, I decided to come in five seconds of learning how far away it was but I then did my research.  Do you know it’s on the same latitude as San Diego, but with more sun and with more rainfall everything is so much greener.  You have an area of forest starting just beyond the suburbs bigger than England and with some of the biggest trees on the planet and tons of brilliant local food and wine in it ……and then there’s another  million square miles in this state to explore and thousands of miles of beaches where you’ll be lucky to see anyone else……. Isn’t that wonderful, you know, having beautiful beaches all to yourself. Sorry I’m gushing.’

‘Probably. Of course if I went with you I guess that would spoil the isolation bit.’

She squeezed my arm and smiled. Darn, I was hooked.  I sighed and nonchalantly said ‘I suppose this knowledgeable Yankee could teach me a lot about this state of mine.”

‘Too right. Got a few weeks?  Lets go.’

I obeyed.

 

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A Special Place

The invitation came out of the blue and couldn’t have come at a better time.  I was twenty three  and had been caring for my mother for the last four years until she died.  I was alone and at a low ebb and when I was invited to spend a week at a friend’s holiday cottage by the sea I jumped at the chance. 

The lady who invited me was someone I hardly knew. She was much older than me but we got on well and she seemed a pleasant peaceful person to spend time with. 

Her cottage was close enough to the sea to hear the waves breaking on the sands and as the week went by we didn’t do very much at all.  There was a hammock on the veranda and I spent a lot of time there reading and sleeping.  We walked along the beach barefoot and sometimes we swam and afterwards sat on the sand  in the sunshine and watched the horizon.    In the evenings we sat and talked and from being little more than an acquaintance, she became my confidant and friend.   She told me that she had known what a difficult time I had been through and she wanted to help and she said she often asked people in need of a break to come and stay with her.  It was a wonderful week and when I went home I felt renewed. Even now I have only to hear the sound of the sea to be transported back in my mind to that special place and that special friend.  

Time went by and my friend was no longer with me except in memory.   I married, had children and got on with my busy life.  Things went well for us and as our children grew older we often went on holiday by the sea.    When the children were in their teens we bought  a small cottage close to the beach not too far from where I had spent that magic week so many years before.   The family loved being there and it became our special place where we could relax and enjoy being together.   

More years went by and once again I found myself alone.  I lived in the city but still kept the cottage by the sea and my children and eventually their children too, came and spent time with me there.  I had many friends and acquaintances and sometimes I became aware that life was not always treating them well so I began do for others what had once been done for me.  I invited people to have a week at my cottage.  Often they were people I barely knew and I am sure my invitation came as much out of the blue for them as it had for me all those years ago.  It  pleases me to think that the kindness shown to me by my special friend and the renewal it brought  me is being passed on once again. 

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About the author:  I am 75 years old and I immigrated to Australia with my family 45 years ago.  I now live on a farm 100klm north of Sydney.

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The faint peaceful intro of “in the morning” by the Living End disturbs my sleep, before the guitar kicks in and I quickly kill it so as not to disturb the house, Living in a big South Tyrolean family house on the edge of Caldaro Italy is definitely a little bit of a culture shock for this Australian. But I’m used to it, ever since I lived in Hanoi when I was 18 I have loved the feeling of a different culture or situation to live in its apart of what makes travelling so exciting and this is the best place yet. I decide to leapfrog my slowly stirring Girlfriend and run downstairs for a coffee run before a quick shower, I’d better make her one as well, she usually always does the morning coffee run. Today is going to be hectic, no doubt about it, an early start with Ivan, a 14 year old German speaking Italian, his English is good but he is lazy at times so the challenge is to get him enthusiastic, not a bad challenge for an English Teacher. I get dressed, kiss my girlfriend goodbye and walk down the long winding hill to the bus stop.

This is my favourite part of the journey because at quarter past seven in the morning the temperature is cool and the suns light is flowing off the mountains like an endless wave. It’s something special to take in that beauty and I usually like to bask in it for as long as I can but today out of sheer luck my girlfriends Mother spots me and offers a lift, into to Bolzano we go. For those who aren’t so sure Bolzano is the biggest city in South Tyrol an area that once belonged to Austria but was then handed over to the Italians at the end of the first world war, it still has it far share of German speakers including the majority of Caldaro which is the small town where we live, about twenty minutes from Bolzano by car. The hour with Ivan goes smoothly, he forgets to do his homework so I threaten to tell his Mother, and then we read. Being an English teacher is different to what I’m used to in Vietnam. My classes are small or privates and they desperately want to learn, but they don’t have a set curriculum, I plan my classes with my own ideas. Involving a lot of reading and a little bit of talking as well as grammar activities, and generally they love them. As you can imagine this gives me a kick as a budding teacher who is still finding his feet in the educational world, every lesson is a little bit of a learning experience as well and it helps me grow in confidence, it gives me more and more ideas.

Enough of that, I have a test with a Wall Street student; I’ll have to catch a bus over to Bolzano south, the industrial side of town. Wall Street Institute of English is my main school and they deal with upper class Italian Adults, mostly easy people to deal with and usually some fun to be had. But really it’s not about the students I work with, they were born into this life, they decided what they wanted to do and worked at it, some are doctors and some are nurses but all they are really is a few common nouns with a lot of money, I will always enjoy teaching, whether it be English or Australian culture or god forbid mathematics because it shows me a life other than the one I’ve known, I’ll go home to my girlfriend again with her beautiful smile and indulge in a little German because well that’s when in Rome right? My students will go home to their wives or their mothers, they kiss them and smell the sweet smells, it isn’t a culture shock to them, they don’t know that phrase, for me however every day is new. Is it freedom? Is it a true chance for me to be myself? Well I tell this story from an apartment in Hanoi and for the first time in my life I know exactly where I want to be and it isn’t here or Australia, I don’t care what freedom is, all I want is my girl in a little town in northern Italy where they’re surrounded by mountains and speak a lot of German. Freedom is a state of mind, I know where my mind belongs.

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The Musings of a Backpacker in Canada

There are many things that I have come to realize throughout the last few months of travels. Things that under normal circumstances, surrounded by familiarity and comforts, one would likely never think about. With everything I need stuffed indecently into my 75 liter backpack – spontaneity is no longer a luxury, but a lifestyle.

It did not take long to become aware of the fact that the life I was living prior to departure carried on despite my absence. Everything continues – people stop at the same red lights, open the same doors, and take the same classes. No matter how egotistical it is, when you leave that behind there is a part of you that assumes life pauses while you roam. Your old life seems frozen in time and space. Or perhaps I imagine that there is a Kayla shaped hole in the wall – my absence physically manifesting in a negative space which everyone must take notice of, step around, and comment on. Life continues whether I am there or not. This is quite the humbling realization. It is not swallowed easily and it is thought about often. There are, however, some incredible benefits that come with taking what you can carry and following an unprecedented path of your own making.

Backpackers learn something early on – necessity demands that the public becomes the private. Without a home, where a door can be closed to the outside world the only option you are left with is to perform private acts in public. Whether clipping toenails on the beach, applying deodorant next to someone in a cafe, or giving yourself a sponge bath in a public washroom- there is no sanctuary to escape to. Your grungy exterior becomes a shield, with the unwashed clothing spilling out of your bag, the dirty hiking boots unceremoniously fastened to the outside, and a headband covering up your unkempt hair – people often avoid looking at you. There is another device in the backpackers tool kit that must be implemented in any act of publicly abandoning your modesty – if you act like what you are doing is normal the average person, so caught up with their own happenings, will skim over your existence with glazed eyes and not even register that you – or that taboo you are committing – is there.

There is something unbelievably freeing about living entirely outside normal life. The people you meet are united by their liminal existence. On the threshold of real life and adventure people can come together and share their time – desperately grasping onto any sense of community that they have so willingly left behind. Pulled in so many directions, with so many options, it has been surrendering myself to the universe, to the signs and omens that pass by, that I have had some of the greatest moments of my life.

Travelers come together in the in between space – the borderlands, the black line on the map that signals the end of one nation and the beginning of another. Roaming without ties, responsibility, and normal social etiquette will quickly make you realize that you can be friends with anyone. The anonymity of travel means that you can be completely genuine because interactions are free from preconceived notions. You are whom you demonstrate, there is no previous knowledge about a person to color an interaction. You show people who you are and in that moment they choose to accept you. It’s that simple.

It’s almost like there are people all over the world who carry a bit of your soul with them and you theirs. You are drawn to each other by some magnetic pull for any duration of time. When you part ways, whether after two hours or two weeks, you return the missing piece of the other person and become more whole as you say goodbye. These people are rare. If you find a connection with someone – that click or piece that just seems to slide so naturally into place – don’t let shyness or fatigue stop you from exploring the possibility. Those people were meant to be in your life, meant to pass on some vital piece of knowledge, or cause you to think about something – creating a ripple affect that may change the course of your life. I have only been traveling for five or so months and I can say without a doubt that I have met at least 6 people who have given back a little piece of me that I was missing. Whether I see those people again or not (let’s hope so) they have contributed to my growth and given me something completely priceless – the knowledge that there are people in the world that truly understand you and that genuinely believe you are worthwhile. Even if they are not near you, they exist even on your darkest days.

It just goes to show that whether you left a few of your pieces at home in the safekeeping of a best friend or you encountered some you didn’t know you were missing, it is the people in your life that you surround yourself with that allow you to be your whole self.

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The only time I feel free is when I am alone.

But what does alone mean in this world? We can be on our own, yet our phone and computer lures us, tempting us with Facebook notifications, tweets, emails, and text messages.

Despite most people needing solo time to recharge, we’ve become addicted to company. It’s not necessarily the internet we’re addicted to – it’s being in constant contact with other human beings.

Are we that afraid of being alone?

Personally, too much human interaction suffocates me.

Even from the safety of behind a computer screen, too much contact feels like electronic shackles binding me to the world.

So, my only escape is being truly alone – away from people, away from electronics, and away from the internet.

There aren’t many places left that are unfettered by access to the internet.

And I’m on the search for one.

My destination is two hours drive out of Sydney, past suburban and then rural New South Wales in Australia. I’m bound for the Blue Mountains, a dissected plateau carved in sandstone bedrock. It’s part of the Great Dividing Range – the third longest land based range in the world.
I exit the highway and take the scenic route along Bell’s Line of Road. The drive up is as beautiful as the destination, passing the forests and valleys of the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains.

Arriving at Echo Point, I’m met with a vast expanse of greenery. The sandstone cliffs drop into dense bushland, and bushland slopes down into the expanse of the Megalong Valley. The sunlight refracts the oils in the native eucalyptus trees, changing the color of the leaves from green to blue.

The air is clear and unpolluted. The locals say the sky changes on a daily basis: one day it’s so foggy you can’t see 50 meters in front of you, the next it’s perfectly clear, perhaps a solitary cloud in the distance. When you breathe in, you smell the scent of fresh gum trees. I feel like every breath cleans my lungs.

The walk I’m taking starts at the Giant Stairway, descends more than 1,000 feet down to the valley, curves its way along the valley floor, and winds back up to the historic railway built in the 1880s for the coalmines.

The first section of the walk is a little challenging on the quads and calves. But my cell phone reception drops out quickly, which is what I’m after. And I’m grateful for my attire – sweatpants and a sweatshirt, with sneakers. Some polished looking Japanese tourists in heels are turning around, realizing this walk requires sturdier footwear.

After a throat-burning decline down the Giant Stairway (more than 800 steps, I’m told), it’s an easy walk along the valley floor.

The foliage changes where the high rainfall and sheltered gully heads have nurtured the wet forest. Tall, open Eucalyptus trees form an over story, and a sub-canopy of Blackwood trees provide shelter for the groundcover of grass and ferns.

Beams of sunlight filter through the canopies. It seems I’m at the right time of the day, midweek, to enjoy this bushwalk on my own.

I have three hours walking.

Three, glorious hours of unfettered alone time.

At first my mind wanders to trivial things. Songs I’m listening to on my phone, recent conversations I’ve had. I’m almost fearful to waste my alone time such unproductive nostalgia.
But, I calm my thoughts.

Exercise is not Zen meditation after all. The very act of being alone and letting my thoughts wander, no matter how trivial they seem, is relaxing in itself, and worth the time.

When I reach the end of the valley floor, and arrive at the historic scenic railway to take me on a steep incline back to the top of the mountain, I realize how quickly those few hours alone elapsed. And yet how far away they already seem.

As I hope back in my car, I’m already planning my next dose of freedom in the mountains.

About the Author:  Jessica is a travel blogger, a writer, and a lawyer. She loves the Australian bush and any vacations involving the ocean.

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When I saw this treetop retreat on airbnb.com, I knew I had to go to Sunshine Coast, Queensland. The thought of my own glass capsule perched up high in the lush Australian bush brought me to the hinterlands in spring 2013.

I arrived as the sun set into a breathtaking canvas of peach and tangerine streaks in a clear cobalt blue sky. Speechless, I climbed up narrow wooden steps and entered the Bali-styled thatch-roofed escapade. It was like a dream with floor to ceiling views through glass enclosure held firmly by bamboo structure. A king-sized bed with silky white drapes filled the centre of the space. Leave-motif flowed through the furnishings, from bed cover to plush pillows.

I picked up a pair of binoculars from the dresser and stepped out to the small balcony. I could see black and brown birds on the trees. A sea of muted greens embraced me. I spotted a wooden chubby house, dolls and teddy bears sitting in a row in its doorway, and laughed. I felt rejuvenated.

The secluded lodging was hosted by a carefree, nature-loving couple, Andrew and Amy, who welcomed me warmly to their piece of heaven. They gave me a tour and explained every little detail to help me settle down before leaving me to bask on my own.

I pulled on the thick warm bathrobe and descended the stairs to a wooden deck connected to a semi-outdoor bathroom. I stepped into a white bathtub with wooden façade and turned on the rainwater shower. Rubbing creamy goat’s milk soap onto my tired body, I could hear gentle sound of wind chimes behind the ornate wooden partition. Feeling refreshed from the hot shower, I got dressed and looked around. There was a modern toilet bowl behind a weave partition.

The couple had thought things through. There was even a rack with a kettle and microwave. I boiled water and made a cup of piping hot peppermint tea. I brought my beverage to the deck and sat on one of the two rattan chairs next to a hammock.

As night crawled, the sky turned dusky. I switched on the fairy lights using the small remote control that Andrew gave me. The white lights danced up high, enhancing the glowing green and red ones planted in flower pots on the deck. I sipped my tea slowly, basking in the jingle of the rainforest and singing crickets, feeling so close to the elements.

Just then, I heard voices of a man and a woman talking. It was Andrew and a Middle Eastern woman. He introduced her as Saleema, my masseuse, who travelled two hours for an exclusive Lomi Lomi treatment. He left her to set up the space in the yoga studio adjacent to the deck.
Minutes later, I walked into a dim room with glittery star-shaped ornaments hanging from the ceiling. The walls were covered by weaved palms.

Saleema asked me to undress and lie face down on the narrow massage bed. I closed my eyes and stretched out my hands at the sides of my head. As she rubbed warm coconut oil onto my body and kneaded my tight muscles with her strong smooth palms, the tensions left me. I felt lighter and lighter, almost as if I was floating. The spiritual Hawaian songs she chose, the wind that blew with her sharp movements, the sound of the forest, all blended into a harmonious symphony of nature, lilting me to sleep. It was my most memorable two-hour massage.

After saying goodbye to the masseuse, I stumbled up the narrow steps back into my cocoon. The mattress was soft and comfortable, and my host had even spread a magnetic topper for therapeutic effect. I snuggled under the blanket, watched stars dancing in the blue black sky, feeling one with the universe, until I fell into a dreamless sleep. I was free.

About the Author: 
Rumaizah Abu Bakar has practised public relations in Kuala Lumpur for fifteen years. Her collection of short fiction and travel tales, The Female Cell, was published by Silverfish Books in 2011. She also co-authored News From Home, an anthology by Malaysian authors, in 2007.

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