Oh the Places You’ll Go

Sorry for slowing the pace of the blog but I’ve been working on some fiction projects the last few days. In a futile attempt to outwit the all pervasive soreness I’ve had since starting training, I’ve also been rubbing on a number of ointments that would make Eddie Harris from Major League blush.

I called my parents last night, and they had some of their oldest friends down to “The Babin,” as their future home in retirement is known. After talking to Mom for a minute, I made her put Holder on the phone, as I have loved giving him grief (mostly for his wildly inappropriate shoe selections) since I was a kid.

We spoke for a few minutes about this and that from the trip, some of the things I’ve seen and some of the travelers I’ve met. Then he asked how I was received by the locals. I laughed as I thought back, from “Mama” on the Castaway cruise in Halong Bay, to Man in Hoi An, to Snow and the rest of the absolute sweethearts running the hostel in Nha Trang. I told him about Nam, the novice monk in Luang Prabang and about my powerful jealousy of the 4 generation daily dinner picnics on An Bang beach in Vietnam.

He-yen for instance, our cooking teaching in Hoi An, only 3 weeks older than me, but mature and wise in a way that words can’t really describe.

It hasn’t all been roses. Just yesterday I was party to an incident where a minivan tried to run me over on my moped, then strong arm me into paying him for “damage” to his van. I know just enough Thai to know that when he was calling “the police” he was just saying foreigner and money over and over again. Everything was fine until he reached into his glove box and pulled out either a knife or something that he wanted me to believe was a knife and shoved it into his waistband.

Its low season in Thailand. People are hungry, and you’ll get that kind of thing occasionally, but I stood my ground, and cocked those “HELL-bows” that Zac has been training me to throw.

Then I told Dave about BBQ-ing with Koh, Zac and the rest of the trainers here at Lanta Gym.

I’ve drank a lot of beers in a lot of places. My mother would probably say too many. From $10 Budweisers on a rooftop full of the dregs of B&T society in Manhattan, to my first illicit Bud Lights with Al Spreen and co in a cabin in Williams. Sitting out in that handmade shack laughing with a bunch of people, total strangers mere days ago, who have lived lives so incredibly different than my own was really a powerful experience.

Koh is a madman with a…colorful past but a heart of gold. After a few shots of Sangsam, he gets to waxing “eloquent” about how we are all from different places, but all friends. Sitting there that night I saw the truth in what he said. Along with the 6 Thai trainers, there sat Glen, a 4 year sober recovering addict from England, Maiyo, a Finnish girl who could probably hammer toss me clear to Malaysia on a good day, and Oliver, a Belgian of Congolese extraction who speaks 4 languages fluently and is working on Mandarin now.

Here we were, sitting together swapping stories, laughing hysterically at the antics of the trainers, and discussing everything from politics to ill-fated moped rides.

I was reminded of that greatest call to adventure, “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss.

The town I grew up in was 99% White in the 2010 census. Those who could speak a foreign language were pretty much relegated to the women who comprised the foreign language department at the high school, and from my experiences with the French teacher, even that is a stretch.

I haven’t seen another American in 2 weeks. When Dave asked if I thought that the things I’ve seen would have an effect on me. He answered his own question before it was all the way out of his mouth.

For travel like this to NOT have an effect is impossible.

One of my favorite documentaries, 180 Degrees South, has a great quote by Yvon Chouinard, founder of the clothing company Patagonia.

Speaking about those who climb Everest in the most luxurious fashions possible:

“Climbing Everest is the ultimate and the opposite of that. Because you get these high powered plastic surgeons and CEO’s, they pay $80,000 and have sherpas put the ladders in place and 8000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”

You see the truth of these words when traveling like this. There are any number of ways to travel in this part of the world. You can have every luxury known to man: 5 star resorts, drivers with SUVs, and daily spa treatments. You could be sheltered from the heartbreaking poverty that afflicts many locals here in some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Sip Mai Tais on the beach, eat Australian beef hamburgers for dinner, and snap selfies as the sun sinks majestically into the water.

But you were an asshole when you started out and you’ll be an asshole when you get back. You were merely the exploitative tourist. The one who came and effectively said to the locals, “Oh your homeland looks nice. Now take this money and leave me alone.”

You didn’t interact, you didn’t experience any culture other than talking to the posh English girl on the beach chair next to you. You just sat on a beach with a cellphone, thinking about the best way to post something pithy copy with your Instagram picture to create maximum jealousy among your peers back home.

A part of me feels bad for these kinds of people, but another part wants me to give them an “HELL-bow” to the head to see if I can knock some introspective sense into them.

There is a massive gulf between “travel” and “going places.” I didn’t really realize it before, but now I can see it retrospectively  in some of the travel I’ve done in the US.

One of my best friends managed a “lodge/long-term hostel/guesthouse/den of iniquity” known as the Park Meadow Lodge, in Vail, Colorado for a ski season. Just about everyone living there was working somewhere on Vail Mountain for almost no money, merely the opportunity to ski as much as possible.

Scotty B, the de facto mayor of the Vail ski bum community, had been at Park Meadow Lodge for nearly 10 years. His disdain for “gapers” as jackass tourists are known in mountain lingo, was unrivaled. He managed a ski rental shop on the mountain, and would constantly come back with a story about some rich idiot who just didn’t get it, who thought that money would fix any problem, and who treated Scotty and every other worker like some sort of second class servant.

I stayed out with Craig for a powder filled couple weeks before moving to NYC in 2010, and I got to “live like a local.” I took part in the non-monetary “favor” based economy that the locals have. Someone runs a ski shop, and they get your friends free rentals when they come visit, someone else works at the pizza shop, and they throw a messed up pie your way now and again. Others work at the spa, and will look the other way when you want to go have a little Presidential workout in the hot tub and steam room after a hard day’s skiing.

In reality, the locals are living even better than the rich tourists spending countless dollars. What they lack in loot, they make up for in the social skills that so many people try to compensate for with greenbacks.

The rich look down on them as minimum wage monkeys, who in turn look back with scorn on the rich as cake eating jackalopes for substituting cash for substance.

Whether Vail, Colorado, Hoi An, Vietnam, or Koh Lanta, Thailand, travel is about more than a place. It is about interacting with people and letting the stories of the people you meet move or change you.

Don’t tell me where you’ve been. Tell me who you’ve met, and how their story affected you.

I’ve sat with Glen for countless hours now, talking about abstenince based recovery, his life as an addict and some of the things he’s seen on the other side. He’s graciously opened up in a way which few of even my friends back home ever would. He’s got a story that has something to teach anyone willing to listen to it, so long as they can do so with an open mind.

That’s what life is about. Just a bunch of souls bouncing about at random, creating unexpected reactions when the universe flings them into one another.

If we’d all just take time to put down the selfie stick, we might actually learn something. Hell, I bet that fella over there would be willing to take a picture for you if you’d just smile as you walk up and ask.

It is the people, infinitely more than the places that make travel an enriching experience. We’d all do well to remember that.

 

Coups, Kicks and Settling Down

Settling down. A phrase most commonly preceded by “find a nice girl and…”

Not that there haven’t been more than a few nice girls to be found on this trip, but I still don’t reckon I’m there yet.

Well the Conquest has “settled down” for a least the foreseeable future. I’ve taken a gorgeous apartment at Lanta Gym to “settle down,” do some serious writing, get in shape while learning some Muay Thai, and do a little detoxing after the thousand or so cheap beers I’ve consumed since entering SE Asia.

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I was ready for a place to call my own for a while, to completely unpack my bag, leave all of my things laying around without the concern that someone might make off with one.

Deflating my Ziplock clothes bags

Deflating my Ziplock clothes bags

I was ready to be in 1 bed for more than 3 consecutive nights, to slow the pace which has put me in 53 beds in the past 100 nights.

So far, I’ve:

Flown 88% of the way around the world (21,829 miles over 45 hours)

Bussed 3300 miles (roughly 146 hours)

Trained 400 miles (12 hours)

Spent 3 days on the Mekong River on a boat from Saigon to Phnom Penh

I’ll risk a little moss growth. This stone is tired of rolling at the moment.

**************

But boy oh boy, what a detox it will be.

I got dropped off after a 3 hour van ride from Krabi, which included 2 ferry rides to finally get to Koh Lanta, a largely undeveloped island in the Andaman Sea. I accidentally left my flip-flops in Bangkok, so I’d been barefooting it exclusively for 3 days.

I’m sure there are a fair few people who would’ve paid good money to see Chris Moorman, former buttoned up, Young Republican Wall Streeter, standing on the side of a Thai island road barefoot wearing a Buddha ring, singlet/tanktop, “hippy pants,” and ankle bracelet. All of my worldly possessions strapped to my back like some “goddamned dope smoking hippy.”

Life is a strange thing. Some days tuxedos, some shoeless weeks.

I stepped into a roadside stand, where I grabbed a sandwich and some free WiFi to get my bearings. I walked down the gravel road to Lanta Gym, where I met the crew and signed up.

They showed me the gym, the luxurious accommodations and the pool. I looked at them and said, “Sign me up.”

View from my front door

For 3 weeks of private Muay Thai training, an all marble 1 BR apartment (cable, AC, dual shower heads, all cleaned daily) 3 steps from an Olympic swimming pool, daily made to order breakfast, motorbike rental, and access to their full Western style gym with steam room and unlimited yoga classes I was charged the grand total of…

 

 

$800 USD.

By comparison, for a flex 1 BR (one bedroom split in half by a fake wall) in Manhattan, I was paying $1575 a month. That didn’t even include utilities, which ran another $150 a month.

Good to be in Thailand for low season.

I got my bearings, found the nearest 7/11 (of which there are approximately 1 for every 4 human being in Thailand) and put on my preposterous looking Muay Thai shorts. I walked the 30 yards down to the open air gym, with a few stray dogs and cats following behind me like I was the Pied Piper.

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Then the sweating started.

My instructor, Anglicized name Zac, was great. He put me in the ring with Ko, one of the other instructors for an “IQ test.”

I probably have 35 lbs and 3 inches of arm reach on Ko, but I’ll be damned if I landed more than 3 punches in the 3 minutes that he danced around and laughed at me. He caught me with a couple sharp jabs to the jaw, laughing merrily as he did.

“Han UP! Han UP!”

Smack!

“Han UP me say!”

Smack!

He yells something in Thai as everyone laughs, then puts both gloves over his ears.

“Falang no HEE me!”

At this point, I thought I saw my opening to finally get him with one in the guts.

I “almost” got him.

SMACK!

“HA HA. Falang IQ no GOO.”

Zac finally ended the mild humiliation, putting his arm around my shoulders and saying “One WEE, we’ll make you good. And you hab twee WEE.”

He then proceeded to work me like a borrowed mule for the next 75 minutes. He patted the finely marbled American flesh that I hold around my midsection and laughed.

“You hab vewy nice one pack. Vewy nice. No wowwy. We make 6 pack in no time.”

I will chalk that up to good news.

I got through it and walked across the road to catch one of the fabled Thai island sunsets. I was far from disappointed.

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I jumped on the motorbike to find a roadside stand for some food. Found one where I got a huge pile of sticky rice, a couple chicken breasts, and a few skewers of some very chewy “beef” for $1.50.

I’m going to keep telling myself it is really beef. Not exactly the ribeye a la Johnny Zarse that I’ve become accustomed to, but yeah, “beef.”

I came home and checked out Thai cable, where I found a station with a very mournful music video going on. There were English subtitles, so as I chewed through my “beef” I continued to watch. The whole thing was basically a promotional video from the National Committee for Peace and Order (NCPO), which is the proper name of the military coup which is ongoing in Thailand.

The videography was completely professional, mostly scenes of positive interactions between uniformed soldiers and civilians and the subtitles in English read things like “Trust in us, we will restore your country. For the people. Order and peace will come. It will take some time, but the Army is on your side.”

I’ve been trying to read as much as I can in the English language press here, mostly picking up newspapers like the Bangkok Post and The Nation. I can’t really tell the level of censorship going on, but the people I’ve spoken to are generally in favor of the coup from what I can tell.

Military coups are largely a way of life here in Thailand. Since the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932, there has been a military man in power for 54 of the subsequent 82 years.

This is the 12th coup the 62 year reign of King Bhumibol Aduljadej.

It is a concept that an American could no more wrap his head around than the possibility of a talking dog.

Other than the military presence in the big cities that I’ve encountered, I can’t really tell that anything is going on. Even that “military presence” seems to be nothing compared to some days when I’ve walked down North End Avenue or into Penn or Grand Central Station in NYC and seen 50 police cars or 35 National Guardsmen with M-16s patrolling the area. (My negative thoughts on the militarization of the American police force could fill volumes.)

It is pretty funny to see music video propaganda though, and I’m very glad that they were kind enough to put English subtitles up for me. Really made me feel like part of the team.

Well I’d love to write more, but I’ve got to find some bananas to recharge before my 4PM session.

 

Suburban Nightmares

I always told myself that if I wanted a tattoo, I should write it down, put it in a drawer, and pull it out a year later to see if I still wanted it. That saved me a lot of unnecessary laser removal bills when I was younger.

Still tattoo free

Still tattoo free

The same is true in life. When I was younger, I really thought I had THE plan. Get a good job, move to a big city, marry a pretty girl (whose mom still looked good, this is chess not checkers) and raise some cool kids in a nice suburb. I’d seen it work for other people, or at least thought I had, and I wanted that American dream for myself. I was getting the hell out of the podunk town where I grew up and goddamnit I was going to drive a nice Lexus crossover SUV to get there, and I’d park it in a garage with real wood garage doors.

Someone else got that life, and I hope he’s happy with it.

Mostly for her sake.

I got this, and I’m thrilled.

Giving rice noodles a shot

Giving rice noodles a shot

Then life happened. I watched my model for this lifestyle completely blow up. I watched what a lifetime of “doing the right thing” and “playing it safe” had done to a couple who I considered an absolute example in this life.

I saw the suburbs be a defective competition of people who had tried to eliminate all risk from this life, and in doing so had manufactured a game of “keeping up with the Joneses” to stay engaged at all. The delusion that fulfillment can be achieved through the high regard of others is dangerously fragile.

One day they woke up and neither one felt fulfilled. The only way to get out of the trap was to blow it up completely.

The collateral damage of that is staggering. Kids, spouses and extended family all feel the repercussions of a life that just couldn’t bottle up the pressure anymore. It is no one’s fault, just the consequences of taking the safe road one time too many.

We’re meant to throw off the bowlines, test the high seas, and fail occasionally. America’s suburban class has made failure an outcome that must be avoided at all costs, with the victim being greatness. We tell 14 year olds to do 3 hours of homework a night so that they can get into a “good school” and do the same for another 4 years. Then we immediately go to work and work as hard as humanly possible to “get ahead.” Eventually there will be a payoff, some magical Kathmandu which will make it all worth it.

Making woven sleeping mats

Making woven sleeping mats

Then we see the All-American Dad die one Thursday night on the treadmill. We stand around a casket and wonder how life is so unfair that he never got to reach that magical “retirement” so that he could see the world and finally enjoy himself.

That really throws some people for a loop. Now we want fairness, we want to know why, and we want to protect ourselves from a premature end like that.

Life isn’t meant to be lived at the end. It isn’t supposed to be safe and riskless either.

Life’s goal should not be a destination, it is the journey that should be enjoyed.

That isn’t found in a Lexus SUV behind a wooden garage door beside a perfectly manicured lawn. It isn’t an Instagram picture with 112 likes of a $15 cocktail from an urban rooftop. It isn’t having your kid go to an Ivy League school, or having the prettiest wife at your 25 year class reunion.

It is appreciating a laugh with your best friends.

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Laying under the stars and pondering your own insignificance.

Put down the iPhone

Put down the iPhone

It is sitting across from an Argentinian girl and temporarily forgetting the names of every girl you ever thought you loved in this life.

Eating a meal on a 12 inch tall plastic stool in a dark alley where no one speaks English, and not pulling out your phone to check your text messages.

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It is sweating your ass off in 95 degree heat in a concrete shell of a house making rice noodles with a mother and son who don’t speak English, and understanding why they smile so much.

83 and happy, in a house with dirt floors

83 and happy, in a house with dirt floors

It is going to a beach without a single tourist, and watching four generations of a dirt poor family play in the waves and sand while eating dinner, smiling like a staged picture at Disneyland.

4 generations eating together nightly

4 generations eating together nightly

Life is meant to be enjoyed everyday. Not at some point in the mythical “future.” If your life isn’t fulfilling, don’t wait for the next pay raise or girl in the bar to make you happy. Go find a way to do it.

A wise man with an uncanny resemblance to a former American Vice President once told me that he’d promised himself two things when he was younger. That he wouldn’t sell things for a living, and he wouldn’t live in a suburb of Chicago. At the time he told me that, he was doing both.

I always wondered if he ever thought about the road not taken.

We rush and we rush, and we tell ourselves it’s worth it. We consume heaps of nonsense that we don’t really need, in order to save face with our neighbors.

Not beating the Joneses

Not beating the Joneses

We sacrifice our dreams on the altar of safety and get nightmares for our trouble. We work ourselves ragged 50 weeks a year, so that we can go “enjoy” ourselves the other 2.

Boat builders in Com Kim

Boat builders in Com Kim

The finished product

The finished product

As scared as I was to start the Conquest, the factor that pushed me to buy that first plane ticket was the fear of ending up like that All-American Dad in the casket, who had done everything right, but always put the rewards off until tomorrow. He was one of the best men I ever knew, and he deserved better than that.

I hope when they put me in the ground someone doesn’t cry for the things I didn’t get to do, but quietly appreciates the things I did.

I’m trying to live life in a way which makes each day a reward unto itself. Just because it doesn’t work everyday doesn’t mean that it is wrong.

Naperville please don’t be expecting me anytime soon.

“Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness. If they are happy by surprise, they find themselves disabled, unhappy to be deprived of their unhappiness.” Albert Camus

On the Beach in Byron

Sorry for the delay between posts. 5 days in Byron and some additional travel have kept me away from solid internet and my computer, so heaps have happened in the interim.

Byron Bay

Got up to Byron on Thursday afternoon. Took a bus from Ben’s grandmother’s down to Byron, which took a little over an hour and a half. The drive down was beautiful but strange. The landscape reminded me very much of home, but with more variation in elevation. Most of the land was agricultural, probably 90% pasture and 10% cultivated. Cattle were everywhere on the green rolling hills, and the cultivated land was mostly sugarcane.

Bit of a difference however, between the “beach” at the Williams Dam, and the outstanding coastline that abutted the farmland in New South Wales. The agricultural land went all the way to the ocean, only being bisected by the highway. This concept seemed absolutely mental to me as there is no where in the States that has good weather and 70 consecutive miles of beautiful coastline that hasn’t been developed. Not sure whether it was the sea air or the cowshit, but the Conquest smells an opportunity. Might need to recruit a Spreen for this one though. I’m still rating “Unsatisfactory” with my gentleman farming skills, so I’ll defer to the experts.

The Lookout

The Lookout

Upon arriving in Byron, we checked into our hostel and went to have a look around. Again, the beaches were beautiful, but Byron was the busiest beach we’ve seen by far since I’ve gotten to OZ. Between 35-40k people a day attended the Blues and Roots Festival, and Byron Bay is a town of 9,000 people. It was absolutely packed to the gills as it was also the Easter Holiday weekend, and families from around the area converged as well.

Byron Bay

The hostel was well appointed. We basically had a 2 BR apartment with kitchen, sitting room, and a deck. Our bedroom was 2 sets of bunkbeds which we shared with a rotating cast throughout the weekend. The other bedroom was a single full bed, which was occupied by 3 different couples. We were about two blocks from the center of town, with bikes and surfboards available for free through the hostel.

Hostel LIving

Hostel LIving

One morning I jumped on one of the beat up beach cruiser and headed up to the beachside market. Every handmade good imaginable was on offer, from hand pressed natural antibiotic from tea trees, to painted concrete mushrooms, all the way to some of the most beautiful sunset surfing pictures I’ve ever seen. The whole atmosphere is one of community first, sales second. There are booths stretched for over a half mile, and people are elbow to elbow moseying through, arms full of artisanal this and that, cash being put into the hand that made the product.

Not a bad little economic system they’ve worked out there on the beach.

Byron is the most easterly point of continental Australia, and on Monday morning, our Kiwi roommate Ryan and I headed out to go take a peek from the point. A friend of mine from home, Jade Wagner, had also suggested this, so I figured it was worth the time. The view was phenomenal, about 200 feet above sea level looking down over Byron and then Tallow Beach to the south.

Most Eastern Point of Continental Australia

Most Eastern Point of Continental Australia

Beyond the point, there is a group of about 800 dolphins that congregate in the area. Unfortunately without a telephoto lens, I couldn’t get the pictures to turn out very well, but I saw heaps of dolphins swimming just northeast of the point. To see 10-15 fins going around was outstanding. We were too early (or is it late since winter is beginning here) in the season to see the whale shark migration, but if anyone ever has the desire to see it, Byron Bay would be an absolutely outstanding place to do it from.

Now onto the colorful cast of characters. From the hostel, we had a super friendly New Zealander and a standard polite but mirthless German. Also had two girls from Brisbane in the second room, who brought along with them a fantastic complement of local professional hippies/buskers (street performers.)

From these guys, I got to hear about Nimbin, the local hippy run town, complete with police force, post office, etc. It is just a wild place where anything goes, drugs are available anywhere you ask, and people just generally hang out and make handmade goods for sale at local markets. I also got to hear about the busking end, one of the guys, Yamos, has been a “professional busker” for over 30 years. He’s a Greek from Devonport, New Zealand originally, and he is absolutely terrified of cities.

“Man, Melbourne. Place just about brought me to tears with all the people bustling around. Scary scary place man.”

“Nimbin, ha. They’ll sort you out man. Just get sorted…then go out to the waterfall.”

Heaps of surfers

Heaps of surfers

Yamos was really interesting though. Coming in sporting a thin blue headband over his neck length white hair, Yamos gave me the flavor of Byron. First he started talking about the population growth in Byron (a town of 9,000 that is aggressively trying to thwart a western “suburb” which would increase the population to about 12,000 total. He also talked about teaching music in Devonport, and his friendship with “Ellie” a woman who would become Lorde. She was a child prodigy discovered at age 9, and would give free concerts in town often until she signed with Universal at the age of 13. Yamos said she is absolutely brilliant scholastically as well and that she’d be the biggest star in the world someday. Considering her fame at the age of 17, I’d say he’s got a decent chance of being right.

Yamos and John also talked about cops and busking. Byron recently passed a shire wide ordinance requiring buskers to be registered. This…displeased the local busking population. After the festival one night, I saw 3 cops busting two buskers on Jonson Street about 2:30, and hiding around the corner in an alley was…John. Just refused on principle to register, so he was playing cat and mouse with the police all night. Yamos told me that he typically makes 250-350 most nights he performs, so John’s ideological purity was costing him mightily.

These interactions are really the best part of travel.

You might have worn the same 2 shirts for the last week and smell a bit like that kid in 3rd grade everyone avoided, because you don’t have access to a washing machine. The limited sleep you catch, on a sweaty twin sized mattress, in a camp style bunkbed, is punctuated by a couple of new strangers every night. Checking in at the airport, tells you you’re going to Sydney, not Melbourne, then routes you back through Adelaide and double charges your card, pushing you off on an exasperated check-in girl at the end of her shift. Two hippies roll up to your unlocked hostel room in the middle of the afternoon and seem to know no one.

Waking up to see this

Waking up to see this

Then you talk to the two hippies who have made a life of singing on street corners, and have every line on their face and a roach burned thumb to prove it. The sweaty stranger above you becomes a buddy, and you find out about how life is for a gourmet dog food sales rep in New Zealand and Australia. A couple of British birds come in in the middle of the night, and give you an arms length list of things to do in Vietnam. That horsed up flight gets fixed by that exasperated girl, and you end up getting a direct flight that lands 3 hours earlier.

It is all worth it.

The stink, the shitty beds, and the 6AM bus rides, every bit is worth it because you’ve experienced something. You look back in a month and say, “I remember exactly what I did that Thursday, I hiked in the morning, swam in the ocean in the afternoon, and saw an 80 year old named Buddy Guy do things to a guitar that seem impossible. Then I walked over 200 yards and watched a coked out of his mind John Mayer entertain 20k people for 2 hours. Yeah, I remember last Thursday.”

Sure as hell beats your average Thursday.

Byron Bay

Leaving Paradise

I suppose if I set up permanent camp this quickly into the trip, the Moorman Conquest would have to rechristen itself the Moorman Siege. It almost happened with Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays. Rarely if ever have I been to a place more beautiful and untouched by human hands, and that beauty truly spoke to my soul.

After riding out the hurricane on Sunday, we piled into the boat and commandeered a mile of totally untouched beach on Monday. Seeing no one for miles on a perfectly white beach with sand so fine that you could buff the face of your watch was a nearly surreal experience.

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We set up camp with a huge spread of food, drink and sporting equipment. Between biscuit (tube) rides behind the jet ski, snorkeling on the reef, a heated game of beach Foursquare, and a bunch of Aussies teaching me to how to properly kick a footy, we entertained ourselves for hours on this pristine coastline. I couldn’t believe that we had such beauty all to ourselves.

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

After that, we headed up to a lookout point over Whitehaven Beach. The tide was nearly completely out when we got there and there were hundreds of thousands of Soldier Crabs scurrying about looking for a meal before the waters came rushing back in. Seeing these palm sized crabs in such staggering numbers was a sight in itself, but then we got to the lookout point and got a better perspective on the enormity of the Whitsunday Island chain.

Uninhabited islands abounded in the area, from small hard spits of land no bigger than a semi-trailer, to massive miles long islands jealously keeping wildlife and waterfalls underneath a lush green canopy of deciduous and coniferous trees, there is a biological diversity that few areas can match.

Tuesday night, we celebrated my 27th birthday with a phenomenal Greek dinner of zucchini fries, mudcrab and lamb chops. Nick once again outdid himself, making a feast that most professional chefs would be proud to call their handiwork. God also jumped in on the birthday celebrations, leaving a beautiful lunar eclipse to be viewed over the vibrant blues of the ocean. It was just one more reminder of the amazing beauty that abounds in our world.

Look up from that iPhone screen, you might see something breathtaking.

Put down the iPhone

Put down the iPhone

Wednesday afternoon, we left for the Gold Coast en route to Byron Bay for the Blues and Roots Festival. While I hope I someday see the Whitsundays again, as Frost so eloquently stated in his immortal poem, “The Road Not Taken”,

“Yet knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

I suppose I should be thankful that I took the road less taken to begin with. The twinge of regret on the road not taken would be nothing compared to having never seen the fork.

Upon arriving to the Goldie, as it is affectionately known, we were taken to yet another beach lookout, where the full moon illuminated a massive swath of dark water into a lighted southeasterly arrow. I took some time to glance at a few of the constellations that I’ve been trying to learn (I’ve got you now Gemini and Cancer) and took in the pounding of the massive waves. Our friend Brittney asked if I was sick of ocean scenes yet, and I laughed that after spending 22 years living in the midst of cornfields, it would take a whole lot more than 3 weeks in OZ to lessen my appreciation for a lungful of salt air and the rhythmic onslaught of waves on rocks.

We stayed with Ben’s grandmother in the Gold Coast, a wonderful woman of 78 who made me realize that whether in the US or OZ, grandmothers know no borders.

I can’t act as if I wasn’t jealous, seeing a grandmother interact with her eldest grandson as I had so many times with my own, but it made me again appreciate the 26 years that I got to spend with the sainted women that called me their grandson. As with my trip to paradise, all things end.

What we so often fail to realize in our own lives, whether a relationship, a job, or a friendship is that an end does not diminish the good that was. I think it is an important lesson to reflect upon.