My journey through Oz: reflecting mindfully (now) on my 2006 backpacking trip (then) to Australia

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

While 2003 was a memorable summer of travel in Western Europe (also the summer before I started law school),  the summer of 2006 was also a memorable summer of travel, but for different reasons.  In 2003, I travelled for two-thirds of my trip with a group of fellow travellers on a tour bus hitting 10 countries in 13 days (the first 1/3 in the Languedoc region in the south of France). I finished law school the first week of May 2006.  A week or so later, I was on a Qantas plane en route from Vancouver to Sydney, Australia – a country everyone had always told me I should explore with a backpack (including my older brother who had gone himself to Oz years earlier).

I think  I must have worried my mother when I left Canada; I only brought my backpack, a week’s change of clothes, and my Lonely Planet guide book; but, I had all the enthusiasm in the world!  (As I write this, I recall actually checking my final law grades from an internet cafe on George Street in downtown Sydney next to my Youth Hostel Association (YHA) hostel…) Being a neurotic A-type personality (at the time, but much less so now!), I attempted to mitigate any sense of surprise and spontaneity (having become accustomed to dismantling the fictional adversary’s position in law school exams and the like the previous 3 years) by planning out each leg of my 2-month journey to Oz.  I believe this attempt at pre-planning was somewhat ambitious and unrealistic, 9 years later, and all  through the lens of hindsight.

Speaking of lenses, as an aside, I admit I have “drunk the koolaid” on mindfulness as of late. But, do you know what?  I’m glad I did.  My practice of mindfulness has “opened” my eyes to a whole new world of not just living, but living consciously, purposefully, and non-judgmentally.

When I reflect on my travels through Australia, I cannot help but reflect mindfully on many of my experiences along my journey. I first paid a visit to my friend Ollie in Sydney.  Ollie and I met on our trip to Western Europe in 2003 and became good pals during that summer. Ollie introduced me to his friends and his uni (University of Sydney) and basically how Aussies like to have fun in Sydney! His family graciously took me in for a few nights before I took a midnight bus from Sydney and began my journey up the eastern coastline to the Gold Coast. I found myself in complete awe at the beauty and changing landscape  of the Australian coast line.

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One of the major cities along the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, was exceptionally beautiful.  It reminded me of Vancouver’s waterfront.  From Brisbane, I travelled north to Noosa for the glorious beaches and sand, and then headed further north to Rockhampton for a spontaneous 2-day sailing trip to check out the exquisite Whitsunday Islands. Following this, I spent one-night at the YHA on Great Keppel Island on the recommendation of a friend I met in Noosa.  As it turns out, I met a girl there from Calgary, Alexa, who was travelling on her own in Oz. We spent a lovely day together on the beach, cooking in the communal kitchen with other hostellers, and watching the sun set over Great Keppel.   We even drew our names in the sand (which we had completely to ourselves that day!). Then, as it must be with fellow travellers, Alexa was off to the next island in the morning.

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For me, it was off to another island my brother told me I could not leave Australia without experiencing: Fraser Island. Fraser Island was one of the places I had pre-planned to see (based on my  brother’s recommendation).  I’m so glad I decided to join a 2-day tour of the Island (you need a really powerful 4×4 to get across the sand dunes on the Island).  We were taken to the interior rain forest where we saw beautiful waterfalls, creeks, and also we got up close to the wild dogs (or ‘dingos’).  The picture you see below is another solitary tree (see my previous post on the Curious Tree of Lahaina) that for some inexplicable reason, completely grabbed my attention.  I could not help but notice the immense beauty and peacefulness exhibited by this tree.  I think it’s because it rose out of the middle of the sand, as if it shouldn’t be there (and really, it shouldn’t, it’s growing in the middle of a desert island!).  And maybe that’s the point.  It is there, as it always has been (come what may).I must have spent 15 minutes staring, transfixed by it.

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On the second last leg of my trip, I arrived in Cairns in the tropical northeast portion of the country.  I loved the humidity and relaxed feeling of this place. It was every bit an oasis away from the big city.  I met so many inspiring souls in Cairns. Many were from around the world, and in town to watch the World Cup Soccer (I ended up watching the Brazil v Japan playoff match on a jumbotron with what felt like several hundred other people).  Sadly, the YHA was not ideal in terms of upkeep and location; but, it was close to the Esplanade which was the main pedestrian walkway that meanders through the centre of Cairns. IMG_0098IMG_0111IMG_0099IMG_0105IMG_0091sydney with samuele (2003)IMG_0124IMG_0114IMG_0113IMG_0121IMG_0119IMG_0115

I had expected to end my journey in Cairns, but a part of me wanted to keep going.  Many of my fellow travellers expressed to me that if I had additional time and money, I should take a flight down to Melbourne and Adelaide – the latter as a jump-off point to see the majestic Twelve Apostle rock formations that rise out of the sea along the Great Ocean Road. I knew I had to see the Twelve Apostles for myself (there are only 8 left).  I had to book the flight to Melbourne. And the next thing I knew, I was in a travel agency booking a Virgin Atlantic flight to Melbourne.  This had to be the most impulsive decision I made on my journey in Australia, but well worth it. In fact, it was the highlight of the entire trip.  I met up with a few new travellers in Melbourne who wanted to travel the Great Ocean Road to see the Twelve Apostles, like me.  The road itself leading there was breathtaking; but, the Twelve Apostles took my breath away.  We had to see them from the air (heli-tour).  From up there, the Apostles were awe-inspiring.

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It was admittedly very hard to get back onto a plane to fly home to Canada after ending my trip in South Australia.  It is such a massive country; I know one day I will make the journey back to Oz to experience the rest of it.  And when I do, it will surely be with a view of experiencing all the sights, sounds, and smells mindfully, as they are in the present moment. It goes without saying that I unreservedly endorse anyone packing up their backpack and embarking on their own journey “into the wilderness”!   There is no better time, by the way, then today to start planning a journey that will undoubtedly change your life. I hope that your have a wonderful weekend filled with mindful reflection and contemplation (among other things). Namaste, Alex

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