Sorry for the late blog entry I am in remote villages and the internet connection is either non existent or very very slow.  I do have pictures and videos but uploading them seems impossible so bear with me until I reach Cambodia.

This week I have had the fabulous opportunity of traveling around the beautiful country of Laos. It's landscape is like a scene out of a movie. Many amazing jungles, tall mountains, and many rivers decorate the countryside. Also a placewith ricefields, extreme poverty and many left over bombs made in America dropped during the Vietnam War. This  is the first communist country I have travelled in and surprisingly is a place where I feel completely safe and taken care of by every person I have encountered.

 On my tour with me we have a Cambodia guide named PK, 2 Canadian women named Jen and Teran , a Portuguese woman named Maria and an Australian guy named Andrew. Everyone is in their 30s and it is a good group of people. We started our tour in the crazy city of Bangkok Thailand. Bangkok was full of lots of people, large numbers of tuktuks (3-wheel carts that work as taxis- pictures coming soon), and many street vendors. We spent a few days in Bangkok exploring the culture and seeing the Grand Palace and the famous reclining Buddha statue that is in Wat Po, the oldest monastry.  On our way back from the Grand Palace Andrew and I decided to take a taxi back to the neighborhood our hotel was in.  Andrew tried to explain to the taxi driver (who spoke no english) where to go and the taxi driver nodded and smiled indicating he knew where to go.  As we drove the taxi driver polished his DVD player on his dashboard and played for us the movie Independence Day dubbed in Thai.  We should have known then that he might not know where to go but we trusted the guy.  After about an hour and a half in the taxi we ended up on the other side of Bangkok at what he thought was our destination, the train station.  When we tried to explain the destination with the guy he got all flustered asked a few other taxi drivers about it and then proceeded to drive us back to the area we were just in.  Apparently our hotel was in walking distance of the Grand Palace.  Afterward we just thought- well it was an interesting way to tour the city, driving around in a taxi watching a dubbed version of an American movie while sitting in crazy Asian traffic.  (:  We determined that Bangkok is a crazy but fun city to visit but our tour was more about seeing the countywide of Laos and Cambodia.  So we quickly set off on a night train from Bangkok to the capital city of Loas, Vientiene. On the train ride to Laos PK taught us some of the local language he knew of Laos. Saba dee means hello and Kop chay lie lie means thank you. These words have since become second nature to us as everyone here says them multiple times In Conversation.

In Vientaine we explored some of the Buddhist temples, and went to an awesome restaurant called Makphet. Makphet is a restaurant that was created to teach street children of Laos how to cook and run a business. The students then prepare meals at their restaurant and practice the art of amazing high quality service. It was easily the best restaurant I have ever eaten in and the students were amazing. They also have a program that teaches the children to use recycled goods to make quality items to sell that are then sold in their restaurant gift store. It was an awesome organization to learn about and see in action and the food was amazing.

The next day we headed to another organization called COPE (The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise).  This is an organization whose sole purpose is to work with the government to help with rehabilitation and rehab services in Laos.  Laos is considered the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world.  The US Airforce dropped a planeload of bombs every eight minutes for nine years on the country of Laos during the time of the Vietnam War.  Often these pilots did not know their targets or ever see how these bombs impacted the people they fell on.  2 million tons of bombs were dropped on this country and over 260 million cluster bombs where dropped.  There were often rules during the war on what could be dropped on Vietnam but those rules did not apply to Laos and since the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran through Laos it was impacted greatly by these bomb drops.  Today it is estimated that 78 million bombs are still in the ground undetonated.  In areas of great bombing people are very poor and see so many bomb shells, bomb clusters, and scrap metal that they try to find ways to use the metal.  They may use the bomb casings as boats, pots, plant holders, or even stilts to hold up their houses.  The children may see the bombies (small cluster bombs) and play with them like they are a ball or a toy.  This stuff is so dangerous and there is so much of it that it often leads to people getting hurt or dying due to their lack of education on how to deal with the material.  There is also a large illegal scrap metal collection going on that leads to really poor children and families hunting for bombs to trade to the black market scrap metal collectors for money to feed their family.  The level of poverty mixed with the lack of education also causes many bombs to be detonated and people to be killed. 

The COPE center helps the people of Laos deal with the effects of these bombs.  They produce artifical limbs, supportive devices and offer physiotherapy and occupational therapy.  They help support the costs of the devices, surgery and treatment so that it is free for those who cannot pay.  They also provide transport costs and work to increase awareness amongst communities about the impacts of the bombs and how people can rehabilitate themselves to get their lives back after explosions.  They help all people with physical needs but the largest number of people come from bomb explosions.  While there we were able to tour the visitors center and see what the bombs look like and how they explode.  We also saw what a typical house looks like for people that live in areas with high number of bombs.  We were also able to see how the prosetics where made and how rehabilitiation is done.  We met a young teenager who had a bomb explode on him.  He lost his eyesight and both his arms but was so happy to talk to us and introduce himself.  It was just heart renching to see how something that happened so long ago has such life altering affects today for so many people.  After touring the visitors center we were able to watch a documentary on how the government is working with local NGO's to train people on how to locate, detonate, and remove bombs so they will no longer be a danger.  In the documentary they interviewed many people on their thoughts of the bombs.  When they go in to try to remove the bombs they often have to evacuate villages until the bombs are either detonated or removed.  They stated that the hardest people to evacuate are the older members of the village.  One man who was 96 years old said his whole family was killed by the bombs in the 60's.  He survived.  He stated, "they dropped the bombs I had to leave, the clear the bombs I have to leave- I don't want to hear any more about bombs."  Another little boy about 6 years old lost his best friend (to a cluster bomb he stepped on) said, "These bombs were not ours we didn't ask for them.  They brought them, they should take them away." 

It was statements like this that broke my heart.  Yes the US is giving Aid to Laos to help remove the bombs but it is a very difficult job and not many are trained to do it.  This area is no longer farmable due to the bombs and the people are greatly suffering.  I left this organization with a great sadness in my heart over this issue.  I love the country I live in and am happy to be from it.  I have been given lots of opportunities and privledges because of it and am greatful for the freedoms I have.  I know that many in America are struggling but as I travel this country I wish more from my own country.  I wish that Americans had more knowledge of the longterm horrors that some of our actions have on others around the world and that we looked at things through a more global lens.  I am one of the first to say that injustice and cruelty in the world needs to stop but often dropping bombs or going to war does not stop it.  It just ends up creating much more poverty and more poverty continues to enflame the problems the world faces.  America is not the only country to do something like this and it won't be the last but spending time in a country that is so greatly impacted by the actions of my country created a sense of disappointment and sadness in myself.  I will from this point on always look at war as a crime against humanity. 

After Vientiane we headed by public bus to the small town of Vang Vieng. On this bus I sat next to a really cool relaxed French Canadian named Guillaume who was traveling solo for one year also. He also happened to be a teacher in Quebec.  We chatted for the  full four hour public bus ride about education and Edpowerment.  I tried to convince him to come teach in Tanzania, which i am sure he will do one day. :) I was happy to have such a nice guy to sit next to for so long.   After checking into our hotel we walked around the city and ran into Guillaume again. I invited him to join us for dinner and from that point on he was an additional member of our tour for a few days.  We had dinner that night at an Irish pub located in the middle of town. It was a place run by an Irish guy who had moved to Laos three years prior and opened up a business. It was a fun place to stay and watch the monsoon rains outside the restaurant (the first rains we had experienced during the so called rainy season). While it was raining our guide, PK convinced us to show off our countries dance moves. The owner put on some Irish music and the Cambodian, Australian and American danced around the pub. It was good fun, made the entire place laugh histerically and a memory we have since tried to recreate everytime we hear music.  The next day our group and our new French Canadian friend set out to explore the caves around Vang Vieng. We learned that during the Vientnam War and the heavy bombing many people came to live in the caves around the area. Often the woman and children would stay in the caves for weeks while the men went out to get food and water. The bombing lasted for 9 years so their life in the caves also lasted that  long. Many of the caves also had temples built into them so people could also worship in safety. It was cool to see the caves but very hard to imagine living in them. One thing that I admire about the Laos people is their perseverance to move forward.  Although Americans bombed the heck out of their country not a single person treated me poorly or looked at me badly because I was an American. When I asked about their opinions they would often state that it was a time long ago and they are looking to move forward not backward. It was an amazing thing.

After Vang Vieng we headed to the sleepy town of Laung Prabang.  Before our travels we had heard stories of some landslides along the mountain (sorry mom but I left out this bit of information in my emails).  We were told they had sent the tractors to rebuild the road and by the time we reached it the road would be ok to cross.  Coming from flat land this was a bit nerve racking but there was no other way to get there so we drove on.  When we reached the area of the landslide we were backed up in traffic.  We got out of our bus to investigate.  We saw the area of the landslide and learned that four houses with families inside were hit by the mud and killed.  It was a very sad feeling.  We watched as tractors dug out the road and all the travelers trying to get through discussed how crazy it is that this is everyday life for people who live on a mountain during monsoons.  After a while our bus made it to the other side and we continued on.  I was glad to make it across and find our way back to lower ground.

Laung Proaang our next destination is a UNESCO world heritage site due to the amazing architecture and beautiful historic buildings that cover the town. It was a quiet sleepy town but full of culture and cool experiences. Our first day we explored some amazing waterfalls and stumbled across a cool NGO called Stay Another Day that was studying ethnic Culture in Laos. They put together a cool multimedia display of the different aspects of Laos culture and had a cool shop that displayed work of the remote villages.  A very cool volunteer told us about the organization and how it worked.  A very cool education program that I was happy to find.  On our way back to our hotel we once again ran into Guillaume who came on his own by bus. Being that we didn't think we would see him this was quite funny and we were able to hang out together for a few more days. During the time in Laung Probang there was also a water festival going on. This occurs once a year and many of the locals gather for boat races on the river and to have a good time. It is like a big street festival on the river front. We woke up early that day to see the monks procession.  It is done everyday at 5:30am.  The people give monks alms of rice and food for them to eat for the day.  Afterward Andrew, Maria, Guillaume and I walked through the morning market where we saw people trading local vegetables, native fruits, all types of animal products and many types of live fish. It was cool to see how the locals function when the tourists are still sleeping. We then headed to ride some elephants through the jungle. This was pretty cool but I was a bit scared. They have you sit on a bench on top of the elephants and ride them through muddy jungles trails. All I kept thinking is, "I hope this elephant does not trip and fall."  Although our elephant chose to go up and down every hill and swampy area she did her job and got us through safely. When we returned to town we headed to the water festival to watch the wildness of festival life. People were everywhere eating, drinking , selling stuff. It was wild. (I have a video of it but Internet is not cooperating) After hours of observing and walking around town we made it to dinner at a local restaurant where we tried to navigate the binder menus they give you of assorted Laos and asian food options- all mainly with different versions of rice, noodles, chicken, beef, and fish.  After dinner PK asked us if we wanted to go to a Laos disco. We said yes and headed in a tuktuk to an interesting dance club where a Laos band was playing and we were the only westerners in sight. We had alot of fun dancing with the locals and learning the different dance style of the people here.  In Laos there is a common saying said by people, "same same but different" and this was all I kept thinking throughout the day. Same same but different.   Festivals- Same Same but Different.  Dance Clubs- Same Same but different.  All in all we were so glad we spent the day amongst the locals and we had so much fun. It was definatly a great group of people to travel with.

The next day we said goodbye to Guillaume who is going to try to explore Laos on foot walking North until he finds a small village that will allow him to stay. It is sure to be a great adventure and I am excited to hear about what he encounters.  We also said goodbye to Andrew who is going to head to see some of his friend that are scattered through southeast Asia.

I am writing this from a small island called Don Khong which is located in an area known as the 4,000 islands.  They are small islands located in the Mekong River (one of the longest rivers in the world- it runs from Pacific Ocean off of China to the Indian Ocean by Cambodia).  We spent today riding bikes around the island and seeing the local life.  We saw fisherman fishing, woman harvesting rice, and kids playing.  It was a great day.  Tomorrow we are headed to Cambodia to stay in a small village and learn about how women make money through a co-op using their tailoring skills. My next post will be all about Cambodia but for anyone interested in coming to Southeast Asia- Laos is definitely worth the trip. 

I hope things are good a home as many of you are getting back into the school year. For those of you who want to skype I will be in Tanzania in a week or so and will finally have a more consistent home.  I wish you all my best. 

As they say in Lao- Bow Pen Nyang (No Worries)

And to the blind young teenager who lost both his arms to a cluster bomb that was dropped on his village 25 years before he was born I say, "I am and will always be thinking about you from this day on."

For more information on COPE check out:
This week I spent my time learning how to surf on the west coast of Bali in an area known as Changuu.  Bali is a cool island full of culture and rice patties but it is also home to some great surf sights.  And where there are surf sights there are surfing schools trying to make money teaching tourists the art and skill of riding waves.  I chose to stay at a surf retreat called The Chillhouse.  I chose the Chillhouse mostly because I liked that Chill was in the name but also because it was outside the tourist trap of the city of Kuta (a city with more tourists than Balinesse people).  The Chillhouse is also good because there are only two surf students per guide where most other schools are 6-10 people per guide (which is a crazy way to learn to surf).

One of the coolest things about the Chillhouse is the number of travellers travelling from all over the world to try to surf.  There is a good mix of experienced, semi-experienced, and beginners but everyone is fabulously supportive and friendly.  The owners of the Chillhouse are an Austrian couple which might explain why most of the guests here are fabulous Austrians, it could also be their general wish to know how to surf but I have never met an Austrian in all of my travels so meeting 6 in a retreat with only 22 people is pretty impressive.  We also have a handful of really fun Germans and the manager is from Switzerland.  If I have learned anything from them the biggest lesson is that although they all speak German, there is an Austrian version of German, a German version, and a Swiss version, but all versions at times sound like they are arguing.  But since all of them are always smiling and it is the Chillhouse, I know better. What makes this group of people so awesome is that they are all warm and friendly people and they often will start speaking English if I am around so I understand what is going on- for that I am thankful.   At the Chillhouse we also have some others; a woman from Zimbabwe and her boyfriend who is South African, a couple from San Francisco, a family from Melbourne Australia, and three people who became pretty good friends of mine, Harold, Alain, and Chie.  Harold is a funny Austrian who was trying really hard to learn English and often says he is funnier in German. Alain is a Canadian from Montreal who spoke little English, the first Canadian I met who did not speak fluent English- but it was better than she thought it was. And Chie who is a 4ft 90lb Japanese woman who is a serious surfing machine.  The four of us sat together for every meal and every time we laughed so much my stomach hurt.  It was great fun.  All in all an awesome group to spend a week learning to surf with.

The weekend I arrived Alain and I set out to explore the beach and see what surfing looked like.  Since we both had never done it and were a bit apprehensive we wanted to see what we were up against.  We walked down the beach to an area called Ecco Beach.  This is a beach with lots of sea rocks and when it is high tide the waves are huge.  We sat and watched the waves and some amazing surfers riding them with speed and agility that I know I did not have.  As we watched we got more and more nervous about what we had signed up for.  As we were watching the surfers we were talking about some of the other things we could do in the area while we were not surfing.  At that moment we saw a group of Asian tourists horseback riding down the beach and discussed the idea of possibly riding horses.  As we watched and discussed an old Asian man started to slide sideways on his horse.  It seems his saddle was not on tight enough and his saddle and himself slid down on the side of the horse.  With one leg wrapped over the top of the horse the man cried out for help.  The Balinesse guide was on a horse that looked pretty agitated and when he jumped off him to help the tourist his horse took off down the beach at a full gallop.  The other Balinesse guide saw this happened and jumped off his horse to try to catch the other horse.  When he did this his horse saw the other horse and also took off.  So in front of us we had an elderly Asian guy hanging on his horse sideways saddle and all, two horses galloping full speed down the beach and two short skinny Balinesse men running in a full sprint after there horse.  All that was missing was our video camera and a direct link to you tube.  It was a scene that would have gotten us 1 million you tube hits and a spot on the Ellen Show.  It was hilarious.  After catching our breath from laughing we decided horse back riding was not something you do in Bali. (:

The next day was our first surfing lesson and I was assigned a small Balinesse man named Ramly to be my guide.  After talking to him for a bit he picked out a 10 ft fibreglass board for me.  It was immediately given the nickname “The Tank” due to how large and heavy it was but I was told it was a beginner board and who I am I to argue.  In the first day we were taught how to get up on a surf board and stand while the waves push us forward.  All of us beginners were also introduced to some new vocabulary in our first day.  We learned the words whitewater, greenwater wave, beach break, smash, washing machine, and lower lower.  The white water is where you learn how to stand up and it happens after the wave already breaks on the beach.  Beach break is when waves break on a sandy beach (which is wonderful because there are no rocks or reef under you when you fall).  A greenwater wave is when you try to catch a wave before it breaks- which you try in day 3- and smash is what happens as you try most waves and fall and get smashed by the waves.  The washing machine is the worst- it is when you fall and are turned over in the water like a washing machine.  It usually results in you thinking you will not get air anytime soon, a bit of disorientation and salt water down the mouth.  Lower and Lower is something you hear from every guide all the time as they yell at you to get lower so you do not fall off the board. 

The first few days are usually spent trying to understand your guide.  In most cases all guides speak English but it is often accented and broken.  If English is your first or second language broken accented English can be hard to understand.  The first few hours while you are in the white water can lead to learning as well as clarifying what you are supposed to be learning.  For example my favourite story is when one of the Austrian girls was on the water and her guide told her “no-no-no” and she thought he said “go-go-go”.  She paddled into a huge wave where she was smashed and got crushed in a huge washing machine.  After that experience she had to clear with her guide that instead of “no-no-no”- “stop” would be a better direction to give.

Day two you learn how to paddle and continue white water practice and day three you move to attempting a greenwater wave.  This is when your guide starts the day by asking if you can swim.  This is a funny question because they have already watched you get pounded by some waves and you did sign up for surf school.  Knowing that swimming was a prerequisite should have been a given, but they want to be thorough and know the type of person they are working with.  Once they are aware that you can swim you are taken to the greenwater waves.  Greenwater waves are where you finally start to see if surfing is what you like or what you hate.  You have to put your skill with paddling and combine it with your skill of getting upright on your board while moving at a pretty fast or a pretty slow pace, depending on the tide and the waves.  This is also where you have to learn to crash since you will probably end up in the washing machine and smashed on most of your greenwater waves.  While in Bali we had the unfortunate privilege of seeing one of the largest swells of the year.  This is cool because you can watch huge waves in the ocean but bad for surf schools because many of their beginning beaches are too dangerous to learn on.  So what do they do when surfing is unsafe on most of the island- they take all the beginners into a cove and try teach them there.  When you have all the beginners on the entire of Bali in one cove trying to learn how to surf mixed with waves that are a bit unpredictable it ends up being a pretty crazy scene of flying boards, freaking out students, and lots of surf guides that do not know what else to do.  We knew it was also going to be bad when our most experienced surfers showed up to our cove because now we had people who did not know what they were doing crashing into each other and experienced surfers getting really pissed off because of the inexperience and danger in front of them.  Part of me felt like I was in a sea full of flying surf boards.  On day 4 we had to return to the same beach- there were so many people that I felt really unsure of my self and a bit unsafe.  Romley, my guide, was great and did not push me to take waves that I was not ready for.  As he shivered next to me from the cold water he never complained or forced me to go.  I eventually tried one wave where I smashed and got washed.  As I was doing cartwheels through the water I decided I was done for today. 

My last surf day I found out we were going to the same beach and I was really nervous.  I did not think I wanted to go.  But I grabbed “my tank” of a surf board and followed Romely through the water.  One thing that is really hard is getting out of the breaking waves out to the green water.  The day before I think I drank a few gallons of water trying to do it, but today I listened to some of the others and started holding the leash on my board and going under the waves instead of over.  It was like I discovered something amazing.  I was amazed by how easy it was.  I felt such relief and such a sense of finally having some sort of idea what I am doing.  I got out to the green water and caught the first wave.  As I comfortable stood upright and got lower to my board I was able to turn a bit left and right I felt such a sense of happiness.  After I hit the shallow water I jumped up and down like a small child.  I surfed a beautiful wave.  I really was learning to surf!!! Now everyone here will tell you one good wave is not an experienced surfer, but one good wave and you do feel like you are a rockstar for a little while.   I was able to hit my second wave really well also and I started to loose all my previous sense of fear.  My final surf day proved to be a great time and a time I will not forget. 

All in all I survived.  I learned how to stand up on a surfboard, ride a wave, and crash with a new found elegance.  It was a lot of fun and an experience I will always look back on with pride.  Will I do it again, Maybe, but I do love the Chillhouse guides who thought to give me the tank of a surfboard and worked with me through my fear of the ocean.  I had a great time and loved every minute, even the crashes and smashes.  

Next week I start my tour of Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  I am not sure how often I will have internet access so my blog might not be as regular but I will try hard to keep you posted. 

Thanks to all who read this- I love the comments and emails.  And to my new friends from the Chillhouse- Ride on!


So this week was a bit of a rough start with an amazing finish. I arrived at Bali airport, purchased my visa, changed my money, found my shuttle driver, bought some water, and reached my hotel with no incident. Being that that was the first time that I had been able to do that without a plane delay, cancel, missed flight or something else go wrong should have made me wonder. Arriving at my hotel I was shown To my single room and single bathroom (never good for the solo traveller- makes it much harder to Interact and meet people when you are alone.) I was so tired though I welcomed sleep like a good friend I was missing.

Bali is an island located in indonesia, a country made up of tons of a large number of islands. Bali is also one of the largest tourist filled islands. Ubud is a city inland in Bali that is known for it's art and culture. Culture is exactly why I choose to come to Bali. While Indonesia is one of the largest peaceful Islamic countries, Bali remains a predominately Hindu island. Everywhere you look are statues of different Hindu deities and everything people do is about Hindu celebrations and traditions. Everywhere you look people are making offerings to god and their culture is seen in every interaction you have. It is a Truly beautiful culture full of spirituality, wisdom, and kindness .  I have never been somewhere and seen an entire culture and population so impacted and so passionate about their beliefs. It is often known is the island of over 1000 temples. Next to this amazing culture you are also surrounded by beautiful green rice paddies and a sky is full of magically decorated kites.

In such a great place you may wonder what happened to me...

Well my first day I called my parents to tell them I arrived and they told me they really missed me and were worried about me. This made me incredibly homesick and sad. I then walked around the city trying to take in the sites and thought I would sit down at a cute cafe and have lunch. I ordered an amazing veggie wrap dish ( not sure of it's actual name) and was so thrilled by how delicious veggies rolled into japati could be (sorry kiwis and Aussies but your foods are not always big on veggies). I realized while I was eating that I forgot my book- this is a bummer because when traveling alone and you spend time eating alone you want something to distract you from all the other people eating with their loved ones. I finished lunch then headed off to tour the palace. I also made a plan that day two I would participate in a bike tour around Bali so I would meet some people.

This plan was great until I woke up at 3am with an awful stomach ache and an urgent need for the toliet. Anyone who has ever travelled the tropics or seen Guns Germs and Steel Into the tropics, knows this is not a good sign. Tropical diseases or sickness don't give you warning they just hit you head on like a semi truck. Being alone can be hard but being alone and sick is awful. I cancelled my tour at 6 am, walked my sick self to the 24 hour convenient store at 630am, bought some version of gaterade and stomach pain medicine and went back to sleep. I slept for about 36 hours on and off and became pretty familiar with the layout of my hotel bathroom. Finally at about 6am Thursday morning (I arrived on Monday)  I started to feel hungry again. I was determined to see more than my hotel room so I dragged my weak body to breakfast where I had some pancakes.  And that is how I  survived what is known in Bali as the Bali belly.

After my rocky punches in the air in celebration I decided to walk to the monkey forest- a sacred place where monkeys are protected and the major temples of Ubud are located. It was a bit freaky as monkeys try to steal your stuff and jump all over you. My scared self latched onto a park guard and asked for his protection. It worked because the nice man walked me to the temple and I was not touched my a single monkey. After the forest I headed to the art museum- ARMA - it is a pretty cool museum mixed with traditional and cultural pieces of art. All in all i know it sounds great but my original homesickness followed by my being sick and then I was surrounded all day with people traveling together and cute families that I was sad. All I kept thinking was, "Why do I keep doing this to myself? Go to all these awesome places only to remind myself I have no one to share the experiences with." I know a bit depressing.

So I went back to my hotel and thought- get your act together and stop feeling sorry for yourself.  I showered and walked to a local cafe for dinner. Remembering my book this time. (I am reading Rob Lowe's book and I love every page). Anyway at the cafe the hostess took me to the back and gave me this amazing seat overlooking the rice paddies. And there eating dinner, watching the sunset over this amazing place, while Bob Marley was playing in the background I had an apiphany. I realized I do this because I love more than anything watching the sunset over mystical places you only see on tv and books and being able to say I have been there. I have experienced that.

The next day I went on my bike tour. We ate breakfast at the top of an active volcano, rode through local villages, saw how indigenous crops are grow and harvested, tasted different types of coffee, and enjoyed the breeze in our hair as we rode downhill. I met some amazing people and saw some amazing things. And that night I went back to that amazing view at the cute cafe and sipped some ginger tea while Bob Marley played in the background.

This week I am going surfing- stay tuned.- and due to the awfully slow Internet signal I might not have pictures up for a while- but I do have some on Facebook so look there.

This week I left my friends home in Melbourne and headed to Sydney.  This part of my trip was still unsure and I knew I would be starting out the first few days on my own in a hostel.  I did have a friend, Kat, who lived outside Sydney about 4 hours but I hadn't heard from her so I planned a week stay at a bohemian type hostel in Glebe Point in Sydney.  I often spend my time traveling solo, as many don't seem to be as daring or crazy as I and tackle three continents in 2 months.  (: Anyway I have traveled alone through Europe and parts of South America and I have come to learn these two things:

1) It can at times be very liberating to be on your own
2) It can at times become very lonely

Other lone travelers will tell you that this depends on what you make of your travels. The first day is always the hardest in a new place.  It is always better to get a bunk style room so that you can meet people right away.  In the first day I ventured through Sydney solo seeing the sights.  I walked to the Docklands and the Sydney Fish Market.  I saw some cool things but it definately was a lonely day.  When I got back to the hostel I was determined to meet some of the other people at the hostel so I had people to explore with.  As luck would have it I was rooming with an awesome Spanish girl named Bear and she had become good friends with a German guy named Marco.  It definately made my next three days much more interesting and less lonely.  We had some meals together and shared a few bottles of wine in the hostel.  All in all it was a good stay.

I then got an email from my friend Kat saying that I should come stay with her in Orange (4 hours outside of Sydney) on her parents farm.  So I checked out of my hostel early and went to the bus station and booked a journey on a train through the Blue mountains to Orange.  When I got there Kat's father Trevor greeted me and took me to the pub that the family owns.  After a while Kat and the rest of her family arrived.  I had a great time at their farm learning the way of a dairy farm, riding horses, seeing Trevor's amazing decorating skills, and watching the seasons finale of Master Chef (.  Pictures will be coming soon (internet connection is bad so I cannot upload them yet).

After my stay with the Lawry family I departed for my trip to Bali.  In Bali I am staying 6 days on my own in a small homestay and then 7 days at a surfer camp learning to surf.  Bali is a country full of culture and amazing cafes, stores, and Hundu temples and sculptures.  I will tell you more about it in my next post as I just got here.  After two days though I did come down with travelers stomach- which is a stomach ache from eating a variety of new foods your body is not used to.  In this expereince I have also learned that traveling alone means you have no one to complain to when you feel sick.  I am going to lay low today and hopefully settle my stomach then I plan to go mountain biking through the local villages and the rice fields.  Miss you all- I wish you were with me.

Before I get into what I have been up to this week.  Here are some links to videos from my New Zealand Adventure that I didn't get to upload until now. 

Castle Rock
Arthurs Pass
Franz Josef Glacier
Punikaiki Pancake Rocks
Seal Pup Waterfall Pool

Ok....So now what have I been up to this week.  Well I left New Zealand Tuesday morning after missing my first flight and luckily getting on another one.  I think the island and Mae and Mark were just having a hard time letting me go, but I did arrive in Melbourne safe and sound.  I am staying with my friend Sarah and her beautiful family.  Her husband Juergen, who is a fabulous chef and their three kids under the age of 4.  Xavier who loves to talk and is a great helper in the family.  Finn who is the little dare devil and then Amalia who is 7 weeks old and has a great set of lungs.  Staying with them has been alot of fun, especially because the kids say the funniest things.  While here I have seen FInn practice and practice signing head shoulders knees and toes thinking no one was watching him .  I have seen Xavier realize how puzzle pieces go together and seen Amalia learn how to smile.  It has been a great time.  Everyday I wake up singing a different kids song and go to bed thinking of Finn say "Oh Man" every time something doesn't work out in the day (Check out Finn Here).  I have also seen the stress and chaos of having three kids under the age of 4 and watched in awe at how Jeurgen and Sarah have managed it.  Then on top of that Jeurgen is from Germany and they are raising the kids in a dual langauge household.  That means Sarah talks to them in English and Jeurgen in German.  Which is great for the kids but sometimes hard for me to understand what they are saying.  Alot of their words are coming out half in English and half in German.  Needless to say I am picking up a bit of German due to the fact that the boys think it's funny to try to get me to read the German books they have. 

Since I have been here things have been alot of fun.  The first day Sarah and the boys took me to the National Forest by their house where we took a nice hike and tried to feed the killer birds.  The birds were a bit tramatizing but the hike was nice.  The next day we then went to Phillip Island, which is about 90 minutes outside of Melbourne.  Phillip Island is known for it's cool beaches and it's nature parks.  We went to see the Penguins.  Every night large groups of Penguins come out of the ocean onto Phillip Island to their homes.  They come up the beach at dusk and make their way to their homes on the dunes where they rest until the morning.  The area has come to be known as Penguins Parade.  We went to see the penguins and watched in amazment as over 500 penguins came up the beach and marched off to their homes.  It was such a site to see them and wonder how they knew where they were going.  The next day we explored a bit more of Phillip Island and took a stroll through town and around the boardwalk of the Nobbies, which is a point on the island.  After the 90 minute return trip home with the overtired kids and the screaming baby we all relaxed and went to bed early. 

The next day Finn and Jeurgen walked me to the train station and I ventured into Melbourne to see the sights of the city.  I had learned that Melbourne was considered the Cultural Capital of Australia and when I got there I could see why.  It was a pretty great city full of old buildings mixed with modern ones and some very cool street performers surrounding fun cafes, and store fronts.  Melbourne is also one of the only cities in Australia to utilize a tram system which was very cool.  I made my way on the free circle tram to the Queen Victoria Market where I walked around the huge market space seeing some really cool things and doing some shopping.  I continued venturing through the city on foot seeing some more sites and made my way to one of the art museums that had free admission.  (Check out a short video of my adventure) I ended the day returning to Sarah's to see Finn and Xavier waiting in the window for me to get back.  Sarah then ordered some fish and chips and we dinned together.  The fish here is actually shark and was quite good.  I have never had shark so that was a new experience. 

For my last day in Melbourne all of us went to Healesville Sanctuary which is home to many native Australian animals.  We were able to walk around and see so many animals I have never seen before live.  Things like the Tasmanian Devil, Wombats, Wallaby, Kangaroos, and Koalas.  We say many native birds and even watched a native bird show.  Did you know that Australia has over 50 types of parrots?  We even were able to see one of the few successful breeding grounds for the duck-billed platypus.  The breeding ground was called the Platypusiary, which gave us a good laugh.  We were able to take a picture by the kangaroo street sign and then see the kangaroos up close (Check out the video here). We saw the Koalas sleeping, they sleep 23 hours a day.  Due to the fact that they eat 60 different types of eucalyptus that are hard to digest they sleep most of their day away.  (Sleeping Koala video).  We were lucky enough to catch the koala wake up for a 30 seconds to scratch his leg and move around. (Koala Awakes video)  All in all it was an awesome wildlife sanctuary that is working hard to protect the animals and environment of Australia.  The animals and enviornment are very important to the people here due to the fact that they an island and their animals are unique to their country.

Saying that we returned home to have dinner.  Juergen made a lovely meal of Kangaroo Roast and Sausages.  As much as Australian's love their animals, kangaroos are all over the place and some people have no problem eating their own country's coat of arms.  (:  In my opinion in was really good, lean meat and it was quite tasty.  All in all a great day and a wonderful week.

Tomorrow I am off headed to Sydney for week.  Stay tuned for the next part of my Australian Adventure! (: